Wednesday, March 28, 2012

iPhone o'clock

Finally my exhausted c510 mobile phone has been retired (or put into reserve anyway) and i have got a new phone, an iPhone 4S no less. I love it of course, the only question being why did i wait so long to get one. Well of course the answer to that is i didn't actually buy it myself but it was bought for me by my wife. I did buy a rather nice and funky case for it though.

It is of course a big step up from my old phone which was barely a smart phone (though was OK for its time) but the novelty of nonsense like FourSquare hasn't yet faded away. I'm the mayor of the patch of canal i walk most lunchtimes of course.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Merging my twitter accounts

I've been using Twitter for some time, as well as my personal account i set up a work account a few years ago with the intention of it being a shared account by the web team at the university i worked at. It never worked out that way though and became a secondary personal account. However it soon became my primary account because more people followed me (no doubt because of the BCU link).

I've decided to let my original account go (it will just fade away) and de-link the account from my employers and have renamed the other account to @chrischowdavies. In case you wonder my nickname at Tw2, where i worked before was Chow. I've de-linked it for no nefarious purpose, just that people think the account is an official one and have expectations i can assist with their IT problems...

So if you follow my original account please follow the other one instead. If you follow the other one you don't need to do anything, just sit back relax and enjoy the flight.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Berwood Bridge

Berwood Bridge, one of the Listed Buildings in Erdington, is one of the last remaining traces of the Berwood sub-manor of Erdington.

Berwood Hall, which once stood where the modern day Farnborough Road is now, dates from the 13th century. The land originally, it is recorded, was given by Hugh de Arderne1 to the Abbey of St Mary of the Meadows in Leicester for use of a monastic grange. A moated hall is recorded in the 13th century but by the 17th century it had fallen in disrepair. A chapel on the manor (built by the canons in return for the gifts of land to sing masses for the souls of Hugh's descendants) fell into disuse by the early 15th century. The manor remained the possession of the abbey until the dissolution of the monastries and the manor was sold to Thomas Arden in 1540.

It remained owned by the Ardens until a later descendant (Dorothy) married into the Bagot family of Staffordshire2. The Reverend Walter Bagot was lord of the manor in 1783, his son was also later lord of the manor at nearby Pype Hayes Hall. The Bagot Arms pub still bears their name.

Much of the land was sold in the 1880s by the Bagots to the Birmingham Tame & Rae Drainage Board (a sewage farm is listed as being here in the late 1800s before it was moved to its current location in Minworth) but by then the manor probably no longer existed in any real sense.
December 1945 view of Berwood Bridge (via Google Earth), the bridge can be seen just left of the centre of the image. 

A farmhouse built on the site of the former manor house served as the officers' mess at Castle Bromwich Aerodrome during the First World War3 though by the Second World War the farmhouse and much of the rest of the Berwood estate had been swallowed up by the airfield. Following the war the Castle Vale estate was built on the site of the old airfield.

A few names survive here and then on new buildings and roads but it is likely the only surviving remnant of the old manor is Berwood Bridge which was built at the end of the 18th century or early 19th to allow Berwood Lane to cross the then-new Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.
Going through Berwood Bridge
1) L. F. Salzman (editor). "Parishes: Curdworth." A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 4: Hemlingford Hundred (1947): 60-67. British History Online. Web. 26 March 2012. <>
2) William Fowler. "A history of Erdington: an address to the members of the Erdington Institute... delivered April 27th, 1885 (London:British Library)"
3) William Dargue. "A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . . from A to Y" Berwood, Berwood Common <>

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gardening season 2012 begins

I broke out the hoe and fork and began preparations of the veg plot for its latest growing season. Last year i branched out a bit and created Veg Plot 2.0 further back in the garden (though only grew peas in it). They came up ok but not as well as on the original plot, i think plot 2.0 is a bit too shaded. What i am doing this year is dispensing with plot 2.0 and instead have increased the size of plot 1.0 a bit.

I have dug it all over and will be enriching the soil with some compost and coffee grounds. I shall be seeding some peas in nursery pots soon. Radishes were a success last year so i'll be seeding them directly into the ground again. Carrots and tomatoes are also on the agenda.

Key to this year of course will be to actually eat the veg produced. Apart from the peas and some of the radishes i didn't have that great a track record on that front last year...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breaking my archive virginity

As i continue with my History Masters i will probably be needing to consult archives at some stage so i thought it would be a good idea to go along to the archives at Birmingham Central Library now to get some idea of what to do. I also needed to get a County Archives Research Network (CARN) card to get me access to the inner sanctums that are archives rooms.

The staff were ever so helpful, showing me around the archive room, what indices were available and how to request a source. I had something i wanted to look at and the staff kindly waived the usual waiting time to get the source so i could have a look today. What was the source? Well it was the plans for a proposed hostel for canal boat children in Erdington.

The plans were duly found and unrolled onto a map table and i was given plenty of weights to keep the various sheets under control (could do with some of these at home). The plans were interesting, it seems there was a proposal in the late 1940s to build a hostel for canal boat children on what looks to have been adjacent to the Jaffray Hospital site at Woodend House by Jaffray Crescent. I don't think they ever went ahead with the project which seems like it would have been a pleasant building with coloured asphalt and dados!

Something to look more into at some stage perhaps. Now i have at least some idea about what to do. Soon the library will be moving to the new building of course and that looks more and more impressive every time i see it.
New Birmingham Library

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

F-89 Scorpion completed

My second model of the year has been completed with decal application and varnishing taking place earlier today. Well i say "completed", it may be i need to touch up the varnish here and there though its hard to tell until its all dried properly. This has been the first non-Airfix model i have done (this kit by Academy) since i restarted model making a couple of years ago. Its been fun and a good quality product though i prefer Airfix which, although sometimes the quality is variable, feels more at home to me.
F-89 Scorpion completed

Monday, March 19, 2012


I can't remember if i've ever been to Shrewsbury before up near the Welsh border in Shropshire (which means i probably haven't or if i did it was when i was a child a long long time ago). In any event it was certainly worth waiting for, Shrewsbury is a lovely place by the river Severn (indeed the river wraps around the centre of the town and includes a castle, an abbey and an amazing mix of old and new buildings. In some ways the architectural mix reminded me a bit of Oxford though of course no where near as many spires!

Of course i took a lot of photos and you can see them here. I will certainly be returning some time fairly soon.
English Bridge, Shrewsbury
English Bridge

Tried dynamic... didn't like it

As you hopefully noticed (as it means you are a regular visitor and not someone who has simply blundered here by mistake) i tried dynamic views on this blog for awhile. This is one of the latest features from Blogger and allows you to employ some cutting edge web technologies and have everything all slidey and shiny.

However there are some drawbacks, you lose a lot of customisability and flexibility with your site and that doesn't work well with the way i like to do things and also doesn't work perfectly with how i write posts and in the end the thrill of the new quickly dispersed and was replaced by the annoyance of the new.

Well i gave it a week or so but have now reverted to a more traditional template, and a new title graphic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The demise of the (printed) Encyclopedia Britannica

The Encyclopedia Britannica is to cease publication of a printed edition after 244 years and go digital only. In 1979 my parents bought for me a set of the books assured by the salesman (who gave us a nice slideshow) that it would be a worthwhile investment both in me and financially as the books would never lose their value. They were not cheap though i was too young to understand such things at the time but it must have cost my parents a sizeable chunk of their salaries to get it for me (we've never been a rich family).
I still have it now though have barely opened a volume for years. While i was at school it was opened now and then but did not prove that useful for school work. I did use it fruitfully for some private research, i remember reading up on a number of Native American Tribes and on European countries. Nowadays if i want to look something up i use Wikipedia like anyone else (and of course then check up the references to make sure!)

But it has kept its value of course... or has it? Actually no. One of my volumes did have some minor printing errors (a few pages getting mangled) which was not noticed by anyone for years so a few years ago i had a look on Ebay to see how much it would cost to get that volume again. To my shock the entire set of volumes (the same edition and bounding i had) was on sale for... £60! It would have cost my parents the equivalent of a few £1000s back in the late 70s and early 80s so one cannot say its kept its value.

Still it looks good on the shelves... though i am running out of shelf space. I won't get rid of it though, it was the gift of knowledge even if i never used it and sought my knowledge elsewhere myself.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hatton to Leamington Spa

I returned to Hatton to revisit the amazing Hatton Locks flight which i had only been able to visit briefly last year because i had a train to catch! I left myself more time this time and was determined to walk the whole flight.

To my surprise (and it genuinely is as i don't like to look up what awaits me when i walk a canal stretch for the first time) the bottom of Hatton Locks flight is virtually in Warwick so i decided to continue... and walk straight through from Warwick to Leamington Spa as i have also been meaning to do. The longest canal walk i have ever done i think and you can see the photos here.
Hatton, Grand Union Canal

Sunday, March 11, 2012

F-89 Scorpion

My latest model project, Project 027, has now reached the painting stage. The kit, a Northrop F-89 Scorpion, is my first non-Airfix one since i resumed making models a couple of years ago, made by Academy. Although the kit is technically very good i do prefer Airfix, which just seem more familiar.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Birmingham Snow Hill Station

Birmingham Snow Hill has had a long history though the current station is very different to the original GWR one.

This station opened in 1852 on the London Paddington to Wolverhampton line with major rebuilding and enlarging in the early 1910s to compete with New Street. The station had a huge roof and an ornate facade like many major rail stations of the time. Snow Hill was a victim of the Beeching railway cuts of the 1960s which saw the station closed1. The facade was demolished in the 1970s, the station area itself surviving as a car park for a time. Interestingly it featured in the 1970s BBC TV series Gangsters which had a fight scene take place in its crumbling ruins.

In this clip from Gangsters you can see the old station in its crumbling 1970s "glory".

The original station clock was bought by a commuter for £125 when the station was closed as he had met his future wife under the clock years before. He said he intended to put the clock up on his farm in Uttoxeter2. Some items from the original Snow Hill including the Booking Hall sign were later reused in the refurbishment of the nearby Birmingham Moor Street.

Snow Hill was reborn in the 1980s as a very different station though reusing the old lines with services to London Marylebone, Stratford-upon-Avon and Worcester the main destinations. The Midlands Metro when built in the 1990s had its Birmingham terminus located at Snow Hill. New developments in the Snow Hill area around the station plus a planned extension to the Metro mean that Birmingham Snow Hill is likely to have a much brighter future than seemed possible in the late 60s and early 70s.
Birmingham Snow Hill Station
1) The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 01 July 1966: 12.
2) Daily Mirror, Tue 1 Jul 1969 Page 2-3

Monday, March 5, 2012

MA Chapter 2

My MA in History i am studying with the Open University has now reached its second phase. After concentrating on historiography and source analysis we are now moving onto studying various themes in history in greater depth. We have a choice of themes and i have just started the theme on Urban history and will probably go onto studying Industrialization, Poverty and welfare and finally The role of families.

As we are now starting to get into the nitty gritty so to speak i also need to start thinking seriously about my topic for my extended essay later in the year, which will form the basis of my dissertation next year (i think). I've had a few vague thoughts about what my extended essay will be on but i think its time to think in more concrete terms.

I want Erdington to be a focus for it, mostly as thats where i've lived for the last 36 years and is on my doorstep, though in any event Erdington is a good place to study having a long history from rural farmlands to industrialization to the post-industrialized urban decay of today. I also want to involve the canals as i am obsessed with inland waterways obviously...

Perhaps i can research how Erdington along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal has changed over the last few centuries. A rich topic i think which can include former industrial icons like Fort Dunlop, surviving industrial sites like the Jaguar factory and industrial sites now lost. I could even mention the old airfield, the last remnant of which is of course next to the towpath...

Its not the only idea i've had, another one would be to research the tramway that used to run into Stratford-upon-Avon and how the new communication changed people's lives. Harder to study maybe but rather more scenic.
Cincinatti, former large scale industrial unit canal side in Erdington now ripe for redevelopment and reuse?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gower Branch Canal

The Gower Branch Canal is a short (half-mile long) canal linking up the James Brindley's Old and Thomas Telford's New Birmingham Main Lines in Tividale. Despite being short and straight it still includes a number of locks as the Old and New Main Lines are at different levels. At the Bradeshall Junction end of the canal is the only Staircase Lock (a number of locks close together to enable a rapid change in height with the exit of one lock being the entrance of the next) on the Birmingham Canal Navigations network.
Gower Branch, Brum Main Line
A major benefit of the canal was to enable boats on the old main line to use the Netherton Tunnel Branch Canal without having to make a long detour. The Gower Branch Canal was authorised as part of the Birmingham Canal Navigation Act of 1768 but wasn't actually built until 1836.