Friday, May 30, 2014

Gravelly Hill

The sign at Gravelly Hill station in Erdington.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Coach & Horses

The Coach and Horses pub in Banbury.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Horse drawn tramways (2) : Building the Stratford & Moreton Tramway

Continuing the adaptation of my MA dissertation...

As described in part 1 Stratford-upon-Avon was keen to improve its transportation links for communications and commerce in the nineteenth century. This was not only to improve the flow of goods into and out of the town but also to ward against the town being bypassed by new transport links elsewhere. Town elders were fearful of Stratford being left behind if they did not keep up with rival towns like Evesham. A grand vision for Stratford was for it to be a major regional transport hub. The Stratford and Moreton Railway was a tramway intended to be a key part of this vision. The main promoter of the project William James had grand ambitions and wanted the tramway to be just the first part of a railway line to London.

In the end the actual tramway that was built was a much more modest affair, the line was laid from Stratford to Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire with a later branch line added to Shipston. The line visited a number of small towns along the route including Atherstone, Alderminster and Ilmington. Newbold was already involved with the coal trade with nearly 3000 tons of coal a year taken through it to destinations along the route via turnpike road. As detailed below the building of the line harmed Newbold’s coal trade with most coal travelling through the town along the tramway to either ends of the line and bypassing the facilities in the town.
Stratford & Moreton Tramway route plan
Despite being scaled back the plans for the tramway were still ambitious. An acre of warehousing in Stratford was proposed to serve trade along the tramway as well as quays along the river. These ambitions were never played out although sidings were laid alongside the river and canal basins at Stratford. Tonnage estimates for the tramway in the original prospectus were kept vague though were assured to potential investors to be ample.

As was common with new transport projects of the time investors funded the building and initial operation of the tramway with investors needing to supply £15 at the start of the project and more shares issued later on in return for shares in the company. Building the tramway was not an inexpensive business, around £15000 was spent on earthworks alone in 1826 and another £5000 on gravelling and rails. Progress was slow because of rising costs and the need for further fund raising, in 1825 a “Looker-on” wrote to the newspapers to complain that the “whole subscription expended - not a mile of the Rail completed” although this may have been an exaggeration as the tramway did become operational in 1826 on the sixteen mile route between Stratford and Moreton-in-the Marsh.

Despite the investment in the tramway a poor job of building the line appears to have been made. As early as 1831 a survey of the line found it in a “pretty dilapidated state” with poor stability of waggons along it and a poor record of maintenance, an agreed schedule of maintenance not being kept to. These problems continued for a while, a 1832 survey also found the tramway waterlogged in places and fences and rails neglected. It took until 1840 for surveys to be satisfied with the state of the line. The tramway was slow to make much money from tonnage, the poor state of the line no doubt not helping matters. In 1833 most income coming into the company was still from loans and rents, and expenditures were still high. Even as late as 1846 the company was still discussing ways of improving aspects of the line such as fencing.

Next : The problem with the Stratford & Moreton Tramway

Image and text (c) Kris Davies

Selected bibliography

The National Archives (TNA) RAIL 673/2 General committee minutes
TNA RAIL 673/1 Shareholders' meetings minutes
Stratford Birthplace Trust Record Office (SBTRO) ER 8/1/162 Statement to shareholders
SBTRO ER 8/1/186 Notice of repairs (attached survey of Mr Trubshaw)
Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads) (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1966)
Charles Hadfield and John Norris, Waterways to Stratford (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1968)

Horse medicine

A selection of medicines available for canal horse owners to care for their animals (and locomotive power). At the wonderful London Canal Museum.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Sunday morning roadblock

Nothing much usually happens on Sunday mornings, a leisurely breakfast perhaps then do some chores... well except this week when at around 10am i noticed the road had been blocked off! As i live on an A-road thats quite a big deal.

"Suspicious items" were found in a nearby house and soon a police officer came to ask me to evacuate! Residents were advised they could go to the nearby church though my Mum is nearby so i just went there and waited. By 11am there was the all clear though the Army bomb disposal had been called out and was still on site. Excitement over.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Don't look back in anger

Following on from my musings on how small decisions can have dramatic effects on your future life (which touches on history) now i will touch on something more religious...

Often (and too often really) people lament past events, they wish things could have gone differently, they regret their past actions and how its come back to bite them. But really this is a waste of time. Our fates are decreed from birth, this is one of my most fundamental religious beliefs. I believe at birth our fates are decreed by one of the Great Gods and so our future lives follow a pre-defined plan. Of course we do not know this plan, this would take the fun out of existence...

So dwelling on the past is ultimately a waste of time, this is why i find it interesting how a minor decision could affect me in later life but i do not waste too much energy worrying about it or bemoaning the decisions made. Ideally i wouldn't worry about it at all but humans are imperfect creatures.

Now if your life is already predefined some might think that it therefore does not matter what you do as your ultimate fate is already fixed. Well it does matter as your decisions are pre-defined too. Its a computer program installed in us at birth. Luckily by someone a bit more skilled with programming than myself.

Now an important question arises, is there any point to prayer? If life is already defined can a prayer to the Gods change anything? Well its polite to pray to the Creator is it not? Praying for a change is probably pointless, the Gods have quite enough to do already i guess. Maybe they can amend your program though, modify your fate if you ask nicely enough...

Horse drawn bus

London Transport Museum is excellent and is well worth a visit, here is a horse drawn bus with a model of the one of the crew.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How one minor decision can affect the rest of your life

Lets talk about teeth, as i'm English i have bad teeth (natch) and indeed lost my fourth on Monday. Considering the state my teeth were in in my late teens thats actually something of a miracle. However this sorry state of dental affairs could be largely down to a decision i made in my mid-teens.

At around 15 and with already poor teeth i was checked by a dentist visiting the school and given a letter to give to my parents telling them i should go to the dentist. Unfortunately the trauma of my previous dental visits (when i was 7 or 8) were still with me and i threw the letter away. Hence my teeth were allowed to get worse until an abyss finally forced me to go to the dentist when i was at university. Then i found that the horrors of fillings actually were not so bad because my mouth was a bit bigger than when i was 8...

But one simple decision so many years ago has probably caused me over 25 years of trouble (and a fair bit of cost too). It could be that if i had gone to the dentist as a teenager i wouldn't have lost the teeth that i have and my mouth would be in rather better shape. We'll never know of course.

But that is something i found interesting. Often people talk about major decisions and events that can have dramatic effects on the future course of history but minor decisions can have significant ramifications too. I remember at college i arranged to meet a fellow student at the weekend, unfortunately there was a mix-up and we didn't meet. I was pretty annoyed but decided to give him a second chance. A quarter of a century later he's still my best friend who i speak to every day.

Its because of how small decisions, forks and changes can have dramatic changes that the genre of "what if history" is entertaining but highly problematic. In some ways i think predicting the effect of small changes on a history time line is more difficult than major changes.

Hitting the buffers

The buffers at the end of a siding at Worcester Shrub Hill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Betty's angel

An angel statue on a grave, a present to Betty from her Granny. This is in Witton cemetery.

Monday, May 19, 2014

West India Docks

Returning to London i visited the West India Docks starting with the Poplar Dock and Blackwall Marina basins before moving onto South Dock where the German Navy were paying a visit! Its a great area of London for those with a marine or waterway interest.

You can see my photos from the West India Docks here.

Cooler times

With England enjoying a bit of a heat wave (or warm weather anyway) this is a photo from a couple of years ago at my previous employers Birmingham City University, in more Wintery weather.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

All aboard the German Navy

One thing i've never done is been aboard a warship, until now that is. A walk along Blackwall and Poplar river basins in East London took an unexpected turn when i suddenly spotted a group of warships! It was the 5th Minesweeping Squadron of the German Navy no less, on a visit to London and they were allowing members of the public to have a look around one of the minesweepers, M1098 Siegberg, and the tender A512 Mosel.

You can see the photos i took here. I can cross off "go aboard an active warship" off my bucket list, if i had one that is.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

First Dinky

The first Dinky toy i ever had, unfortunately as i was rather rough with it as a child its a bit less than premium now. Though to be honest there is nothing sadder than an old toy thats still in pristine condition. I always wonder if there is a sad story around it, was it bought for a beloved child who died before they could receive it? Or maybe they just didn't like it...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jeanne d'Arc

Project #056 is our first ship of the 2014 model making season and is a model of the famous French Cold War warrior Jeanne d'Arc.


A set of floodlights at a small sports ground in Worcester.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Parry People Mover

One of the 2 flywheel-diesel hybrid trains running on the Stourbridge branch. The flywheel harvests energy from the brakes which is then used in powering the unit assisted by a small diesel engine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Canal crane

Cranes have many uses at waterside though these days those along the canal are often for decorative purposes. This is one at Fradley Junction on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gardening 2014

Off to a later than usual start but the 2014 gardening campaign is now on full swing, though more scaled back than last year. I'm only going to sow peas on the veg plot, which has been augmented with ashes from some old fences which were burned last week and some coffee grounds from Starbucks. I've sown some peas in a nursery trough but also in the veg plot itself. The only worry i have is that the pea seeds may be a bit old now but we'll see what (if anything) comes up...

Anything else vegetable related will be grown indoors, as this seems to be the only way to prevent slug attacks. I've put some chilli pepper seeds in a pot and that will be nice and warm in the porch. I've had good results with chillies before so hopefully these will grow nicely too.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

POTD : Instagrammed Sprinter

I don't use Instagram as much as i used to but here is one i took yesterday of a Class 150 Sprinter at Worcester.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Horse drawn tramways (1) : Introduction

My dissertation was on the economic impact of a horse drawn tramway in Stratford-upon-Avon, now i present parts of it here, slightly rewritten and augmented...

Tramways have a long history in Britain though often they have been neglected in studies of railway systems. Often historians such as Bogart for example in a study of transport networks in the Industrial Revolution have not considered rail systems before 1830 (when steam traction began to be used widely) at all, another study by Bagwell and Lyth on transport in Britain also fails to include much at all on horse-drawn railways. However horse-drawn rail in Britain dates from the early seventeenth century at least with systems still operating as late as the Second World War.

The heyday of these systems was in the eighteenth century and at their greatest extent the distance of horse-drawn rail in Britain exceeded 1500 miles. Tramways were often closely linked to canals with the two systems supplementing each other. Many lines were feeder systems for a canal navigation, for example bringing coal down from mines to the waterway. Often tramways were a way to extend the reach of a canal without going to the extra expense of building a new canal arm up to a mine or quarry, one example being a line connecting the Stratford canal to the Temple Grafton Quarries in Wilmcote (a line contemporary to and very close to the Stratford tramway). This cost-saving became increasingly important as greater demand for coal saw new pits opened further and further away from available waterways and hence the costs of extending water navigation became too prohibitive. During the eighteenth century coal and other mined or quarried materials like limestone were the main loads carried by tramways. The final period of tramway operation beginning in the nineteenth century did see a diversification of loads to an extent and even the carriage of passengers!

Horse-drawn tramways were operated in a similar manner to the canals they so often supplemented. The tramway was generally open to all carriers who owned their own waggons and could also own their own sidings on some routes. The owners of the tramway used a system of toll gates and weight bridges to charge carriers for the loads being carried, tolls often on the basis of a ton of freight per mile. Weighing waggons was also important to reduce the strain on the rails from overweight vehicles, the poor quality of rails and maintenance being a problem which often plagued tramways.

Horse drawn waggon
Although the technology used did improve during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (the original tramways used wooden rails for example later replaced by iron) tramways had a number of disadvantages, mostly due to the method of propulsion used: the horse. The tramways were slow, the speed of trains limited to how fast the horse could pull them and this was typically no more than walking pace as was the case also with most inland water transport. Some systems which used pulleys or gravity could be quicker but this was heavily dependent on favourable geography. The limitations of the horse and it’s ability to pull loads largely dictated the design features of a tramway route such as having to make cuttings as even quite minor gradients were best avoided. This could have major cost implications on building the line. An example tramway the Brecon Forest Tramroad was badly affected by this, steep gradients greatly increasing building costs though in the case of the Stratford and Moreton Railway geography was not too much of an issue with a fairly even landscape to be traversed. Uneven terrain could be an advantage for tramways over canals however, expensive as cuttings and bridges may be they could be cheaper than the equivalent lock systems or lengthy diversions which might be required by a waterway. Horses on tramways were more restricted on the amount of freight they could haul, a horse could pull about three times the amount of cargo in a canal barge than it could in tramway waggons. Shortages of horses could also be problematical, the demand for horses during the Napoleonic Wars for example greatly increased the costs in procuring horse power (though this also affected the canals and roads). Despite their disadvantages tramways could compete well with waterways and were a cheaper and quicker to build alternative on routes where the available traffic could not justify the cost of a canal.

(c) All text and images Kris Davies

Selected bibliography

Philip Bagwell and Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (London: Hambledon & London, 2002)
Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads) (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1966)
Mark Jones, Discovering Britain's First Railways - a Guide to Horse-Drawn Tramroads and Waggonways (Stroud: History Press, 2012)
Stephen Hughes, The Brecon Forest Tramroads (Aberystwyth Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales, 1990)

POTD : The Ducketts

The Ducketts canal maintenance boat, as seen near Kings Cross on the Regent's Canal.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The madness... the Eurovision

Its Eurovision week, this time being held in Copenhagen. I've always been a big fan of the pan-Europe music contest, of course in the UK that seems to signify you are either gay or like cheese (or both). Well neither really but i like to make up my own mind about things and not just rely on tired stereotype criticisms being rolled out for the umpteenth time. I love the nonsense, the irrelevance, the outrageousness of it all. I also like the chance to see some non-Anglosphere pop culture on TV, we don't get much of that though the recent European TV drama wave on BBC has been very refreshing.

Watching Eurovision and following it in the media can be a bit frustrating because of the tired endlessly repeated angles. You know the kind of thing, "its all political", "everyone hates us", "they all vote for their neighbours" et cetera. Now you can easily debunk these but there isn't much point because someone else will just repeat them all again anyway.

Moving on shall we... i've now seen both semi-finals and i'm looking forward to Saturday's final. Much of the attention has been on the bearded lady from Austria though i'm looking forward more to a bit of turbo folk and... well... Italy.

POTD : Dallas Chicken

Dallas Chicken & Ribs in Newham.

Monday, May 5, 2014

POTD : New Metro

The track is being laid for the Midland Metro extension to Birmingham New Street.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Speaking to aliens?

Over 77, 000 videos have been uploaded to Youtube by a user called Webdriver Torso. All the videos follow a distinct pattern, they are 11 seconds long, include simple blue and red box graphics on a white background and have a retro computer tone tune, rather Atari 2600-esque actually.

So what are these videos for and why so many? They are pretty mesmerising thats for sure, oddly relaxing. Some have speculated its an attempt to communicate with aliens, an internet version of the shortwave radio numbers stations of the Cold War, a technical test or an advertising campaign. As the BBC article shows the origin and purpose of the videos is certainly a mystery. Until its solved enjoy the following...

Or if you want to play every single video back to back here you go, will only take 289 hours!

POTD : Warning floods

During the floods in Worcester earlier in the year.