Monday 30 November 2020

Model Week : Growler and passengers

There has been a double substitution this month, hot on the heels (or wheels) of Ruby replacing Black Beauty, the iconic Growler has returned from store and replaced the Bear. The currently active brown coach has had passengers added to it as well. Growler's first duty following it's return to service was to take this coach on a test run.

Sunday 29 November 2020

War memorial, Woburn Sands

Woburn Sands (which until Victorian times was known as Hogsty End) is on the Buckinghamshire-Bedfordshire border. This memorial was erected for the inhabitants of Woburn Sands and Aspley Heath who died in the First World War.

Friday 27 November 2020

Colin P Witter Lock in Stratford-upon-Avon

Just downstream from Bancroft Basin in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the river Avon and Stratford Canal meet, used to be the Lucy's Locks. These were staircase locks which allowed for a difference of nearly two and a quarter metres in height in the water level on the Avon to allow for boat navigation. These locks were filled in in 1959 [1].

They were replaced by the new Colin P Witter Lock built in the early 1970s, next to the old site of the Lucy's Locks [2]. The lock has steel girder supports due to the depth of the lock and the unstable nature of the ground. Much of the work was done by volunteers from Gloucester prison. The gates were donated by the Port of London Authority from the abandoned Grand Surrey Canal.
Head on view of the lock

A river cruise boat is in the lock

[1] Charles Hadfield and John Norris, Waterways to Stratford (David and Charles, 1968) p. 60
[2] Jamie Davies, Shakespeare's Avon - the history of a navigation (Oakwood Press, 1996) p. 141

Wednesday 25 November 2020

IBM 360 and Social Security

A lovely little film which shows how the IBM 360 mainframe works behind the scenes at a Social Security office.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Warwickshire Places (13) : Wishaw

Wishaw is a parish and small village in the far North-West of Warwickshire near to Sutton Coldfield. The manor of Wishaw predates the Domesday Book and in the Norman period was subordinate to the Earls of Warwick. Later on the Ryland family had their Moxhull Park home in Wishaw until it burnt down in the early 20th century, on the site was built the Belfry golf resort which has held the Ryder Cup and other major competitions.

A notable building in Wishaw is the parish church of St Chad which has 13th century origins. The church is nowadays a popular venue for weddings due to it's apparent rural surroundings though close proximity to Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.

Monday 23 November 2020

Model Week : Return of Ruby

Ruby has returned to the active fleet after some months in storage. After a week of testing and running in it will replace Black Beauty in the active fleet. This marks a change in policy as up until now the active fleet has consisted of three mainline locomotives and one shunter, however as the latter fleet is built up (and another shunter may be joining the fleet soon) it has been decided to mix things up a bit.

Saturday 21 November 2020


No trains this month during lockdown 2.0 but as it was a nice morning i headed off to drive to Kingsbury which is a Warwickshire village not that far where i live. The railway does run through the village though there hasn't been a station for some time. There is a Norman church and the ruins of a fortified manor house as well as the mighty river Tame. You can see my photos here.

Thursday 19 November 2020

Playing fields of dreams

Time for a little nostalgia. I like to walk, it helps me clear my head. One of the nearby locations in Erdington that i like to walk around sometimes are the Spring Lane playing fields. Its a popular spot for dog walkers too, though i go to walk myself. Its a special place for me as the first school that i went to backs onto the playing fields and indeed back in my youth, in the late 1970s and early 1980s the playing fields was where we went and played various kinds of sports and the odd nature trail.

That school in question is St Barnabas Primary School which these days has a good name. I don't really know how good its name was back in the day, i recall my parents forever moaning about it but i don't think i turned out that badly. The school is a typical example of late 1960s architecture which i personally like to be honest. The below photo i took in 2008 and, apart from a few additions in the play ground, the school hasn't changed a great deal. It probably has changed a lot more inside.

I went to the school from the ages of 5 to 11 (there was no nursery class back then though one did form after i started school). The only thing i remember about my first day was that my Mum gave me a banana for lunch. Like most of your memories though they tend to be a blur (as the mundane is easily forgotten). I do remember when Concorde came to Birmingham Airport though, as the approach flightpath went right over our school. We all waited in the play ground and watched it fly over. A truly wonderful sight. Later on the Space Shuttle (atop a 747) made a flyover Birmingham though unfortunately it was a cloudy day and we never got to see anything.

One thing i do remember about school are the various events and shows put on. Often i was in the choir with my angelic voice. I was in the choir in one production of Rumplestiltskin (my Mum kept the programme - my memories of this are vague), one of the older girls was dressed in green including green skin paint. I think that was my first crush. Nicola Carter what are you doing now? Hopefully you are not still green.

I also remember having to sing "The Rainbow Song" on stage at some sort of end of year gala. I was one of a number of classmates who sang the song, each of us represented one colour of the rainbow and had to dress head to toe in that colour. Luckily i was "Blue" which was easy to achieve.

The below photo shows one of the shows my class put on at the school, telling a story by the medium of Chinese dragon dance (or a kind of approximation anyway). The class was split into two groups representing the two factions in the story : a dragon and a panda. I was on Team Panda, i am the one right behind the panda mask carrier in the photo. I've always been tall. I don't actually remember this event apart from a vague memory of creating my mask. A horrible task involving glue and fake fur.

But one day it was all over. The below photo was taken on my last day and shows my last form teacher (and the best teacher i ever had at school) Mr Saunders and the headmaster Mr Bennett. The last year at the school was great. Mr Saunders let us spend most of the year on individual (and barely monitored) projects. One reason for this was that he was rather busy and had many things to do, including planing some new wardrobe doors he had got actually in the classroom in front of us.

Not that i am complaining, this opportunity for personal research i probably found the most valuable of lessons at primary school even if i did spend most of the time filling book after book with pictures of airliners. Most kids completed a book over the course of a year, i filled seventeen. I have always been prolific. School books then, blogs now. 

Even back then i have been nostalgic for the past and melancholic about change. I remember the last Summer at that school very fondly. Often on that playing field, hoping the term would never end and the horrors of big school would never materialise...

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Warwickshire Places (12) : Wilmcote

Wilmcote is a village a few kilometres North of Stratford-upon-Avon. The village is best known for being the birthplace of Mary Arden, Shakespeare's mother and the location of her farm. Wilmcote was listed in the Domesday Book as Wilmecote and was later a hamlet of the nearby Aston Cantlow.

Wilmcote remained a small agricultural settlement until the eighteenth century when limestone quarries resulted in the then-new Stratford-upon-Avon Canal being routed through Wilmcote. The village gained a railway station in 1860. The quarries are no longer in use and nowadays the village is mostly residential though it also attracts tourists who come to see Mary Arden's Farm.

An interesting find in the Wilmcote stone quarry was a fossil of a young Ichthyosaur. This is now on display in the Warwick Market Hall Museum.

Sunday 15 November 2020

Model Week : Cleaning the track the easy way

As anyone who operates a model railway will know, the rails get dirty very quickly (a mixture of dust and oil ground up by the train wheels). One way to clean the tracks is to run your finger along them, or a cotton bud. However, an easier way is to let the train do it. There are various track cleaning devices available for the popular gauges but not for narrow gauge... or is there? Birches Green is a HOe scale layout which uses N gauge width track and the bogies and wheels of the rolling stock are pretty similar to N gauge size. 

So would some track cleaning pads intended to be attached to N gauge rolling stock axles work on Birches Green? Well yes! One of the departmental wagons was been fitted with a pad and has spent some time going around the layout, picking up the muck!

Saturday 14 November 2020

Love the 1970s blog

Time to introduce my latest blog. I've wanted a blog based on the 1970s for some time, and have had a couple of failed attempts to get one off the ground. Love the 1970s is the latest attempt and seems to have taken flight, as it were, so i feel confident to announce it! It is a nostalgic blog which harks back to the pop culture and some major events of fifty years before. Therefore currently the blog is looking at 1970, next year will be 1971! The blog contains music videos, album and movie reviews and photos from the 1970s. I'm not sure what will happen if the blog is still around in 2030, maybe it will just change it's name to Love the 1980s!

Friday 13 November 2020

Churches (85) : St Mark, South Farnborough

The Church of St Mark in South Farnborough was built in 1881 in the Victorian Gothic style harking back to the 13th century. The church has a small nave with North and South aisles. The church also has a chancel and North and South transepts. There is a single bell in a bell gable. The church was built from red brick with stone dressing.

Thursday 12 November 2020

The strange beauty of historic computers

Wired have a great article on the sights and smells of historic computing, the strange beauty indeed of the "olden days" of computing : mainframes, minicomputers, line printers and other historic computing artifacts. Many of the computers and peripherals at places like the Computer History Museum in California (somewhere i must visit one day!) or at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley (which i have been to) still work after being restored adding an extra dimension to the experience. The sound and heat of a punched card reader...

It was a very different tech world to now, a bigger world too. Computers filled huge rooms with printers being the size of small cars, plus tape units the size of wardrobes. That is part of the fascination i feel, its just so different to the computing we use now.

Unfortunately by the time i entered work the world was largely moving past the age of old iron, though i did get to use a Prime minicomputer at university. This was great fun but the closest i ever got to the hardware were the rooms full of dumb terminals and a large remote printer (though that made a wonderful noise). 

The biggest computer i've ever had physical access to is a HP PC server which was the size of a small fridge. Big but not the same as a room full of IBM 360 or an ICL...

Photo from Flickr Commons

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Warwickshire Places (11) : Maxstoke

Maxstoke is a hamlet in North Warwickshire near to Coleshill, although being mostly rural Maxstoke has a number of historic buildings and places of interest. Maxstoke is home to Maxstoke Castle which was built in 1345CE by Sir William de Clinton. The castle is in a good state of preservation and is privately owned. Of a similar age is Maxstoke Priory, also established by Sir William de Clinton and was a full Augustinian priory. It was dissolved in 1556CE. Now only ruins remain of the priory though the gatehouse is reasonably intact.

Next to the priory is the parish church of St Michael, it was built around the same time as the priory and may have been it's chapel ante portas. Between Maxstoke and Coleshill was the latter's first railway station which was built in 1839. The station was closed for passenger traffic in 1917 though remained open for freight (not that there was much of it) until 1923 and was renamed Maxstoke station. Remains of the platform can still be seen.

Sunday 8 November 2020

Model Week : Dominie progress

Project #90, a HS Dominie, is approaching completion after some complicated painting. There was a bit of a clearfix mishap with the windscreen but other than that is looking OK. When completed it will be the fourth kit of the year, hopefully there will be time for a fifth!

Saturday 7 November 2020

The voice of Alexander Graham Bell

Despite the fact his inventions like the telephone have helped billions of people hear other voices (and record voices and sounds) no one knew what Alexander Graham Bell's own voice sounded like (apart from people who knew him at the time of course).

One of the earliest wax disc recordings from 1885, which comes complete with a written transcript by Bell, has been scanned using a non-invasive optical sound recovery process and the audio extracted by calculating how a stylus would move through the grooves of the disk. So here it is, one of the earliest audio recordings.

Friday 6 November 2020

Churches (84) : Holy Trinity, Seer Green

The Church of the Holy Trinity in the Buckinghamshire village of Seer Green was built in 1846, though did not become a parish church in it's own right until 1866 when the Parish of Seer Green was created. The church is a small, simple building with a nave, chancel and a bellcote in the Early English Gothic style with lancet windows. The church was built out of knapped flint with a stone dressing.

Vestries were added in 1960 in a matching style.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Story of the Tram (4) : Rebirth

As we saw in part 3, the once extensive electric tram network was gradually run down and withdrawn until by the early 1960s only the Blackpool tram network remained. Was this the end of the electric tram as a major part of the British public transport mix and would the tram only now exist in museums (Blackpool excepted).

In the late 1970s the need for a new generation of light rail was by city planners and politicians, especially as a means to drive urban regeneration. The first example being the Tyne & Wear Metro which opened in 1980. The Docklands Light Railway was another light rail scheme in the 1980s which was a major component of the regeneration of the former dock area in East London.

In Manchester a new light rail system incorporating existing rail tracks and new street lines in the city centre was built called Metrolink. It opened in 1988 and heralded a wave of new modern tram systems which are slowly spreading across Britain's cities. Metrolink now stretches for over one hundred kilometres with ninety nine tram stops and is still expanding.

Metrolink was joined by new tram networks in Sheffield (1994), the West Midlands (1999), South London (2000), Nottingham (2004) and Edinburgh (2014). The venerable Blackpool system was also converted into a modern tram network in 2012, although heritage trams can and do still run in the town. It is likely there will be more networks opening in the coming decades and most of the existing ones have ongoing or planned extension works.

From near oblivion the electric street tram has returned to British towns and cities. Although the networks will never be anywhere near as extensive as they once were a hundred years ago millions of people, once again, travel for work or play along city streets in an electric tram.

Two Tramlink trams meet at Mitchem Junction in South London

Aboard a Tramlink tram

A Metrolink tram in Manchester

A West Midlands Metro tram in Birmingham

Monday 2 November 2020

One last little trip to Cheltenham

With November looking like it is going to be pretty blank for rail adventures due to the second lockdown my weekend trip to Cheltenham had added importance. The problem was the weather. The forecast was bad and unfortunately pretty accurate. Very heavy rain and high winds hampered me somewhat but i still managed to see pretty much everything i wanted, though was as wet as a drowned rat afterwards! You can see my photos here. Let us hope adventures can resume in a few weeks.