Skytrain

The undercarriage and fuselage of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, registration 42-108982. The aircraft came down on the western buttress of Bleaklow in Derbyshire, sadly killing all 7 crew on 24th July 1945.

The aircraft, often known in the airforce as the 'Dakota' crashed on James Thorn, just metres away from where Lancaster KB993 had crashed a couple of months earlier. Much of the wreckage was pushed down the hill and into Ashton Clough, so that passing aircraft would not report it as a new crash

The crew had stopped at Leicester East and took off from there during the morning of the 24th July and failed to arrive at its destination. On the 26th July the wreckage was discovered by a member of the RAF, who was on leave, when he and his girlfriend were walking on Bleaklow.

Admittedly I somewhat misjudged how tricky the wreckage would be to find, not only due to the mist across the moors on this cold January day but the terrain surrounding the wreckage, which lead down into a crevice in the hillside where the majority of the debris fell during and after the accident. In the decades that have followed, the wreckage has slowly been stripped by the harsh weather leaving barely a carcass of an aircraft behind. Just a few dozen yards up the hill lies the RAF memorial to the Avro Lancaster which is easier to reach and has regular tributes left in its memory.

Northern Monument 36

High above Tameside, and visible from miles around, is the curious tower called Hartshead Pike. It was built in the 1860s to commemorate the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and to honour Queen Victoria on the occasion of her son’s marriage. The hill is said to have been home to an ancient beacon during the Roman occupation of Britain, as a warning beacon for local garrisons, possibly lit during times of unrest. Local trackways were routes for the Romans to access the Roman road at Limeside. It has been the site of a beacon or signalling station several times, most recent records suggest it was last the site of a beacon in the late 16th century which was replaced in 1751 by a stone pinnacle bearing the legend ‘This Pike Was Re-built By Publick Contributions Anno Do 1751’. The plaque from the original Pike is now displayed on the present tower.

By the time the writer John Aikin saw it at the end of the 18th century, the tower had become a ‘favourite and well-known object’ and was a popular resort for walkers. It was however already in a poor condition, with a ‘split from top to bottom near half a yard in width’. Aikin thought that ‘a few pounds laid out in repair’ would secure the structure for the century to come. But this was not to be, and the Pike continued to decline throughout the first half of the 19th century. In autumn 1862 it was announced that the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, would be married to Princess Alexander of Denmark early the following year, and across the country committees were convened to decide how best to mark the occasion. The Mayor of the Manor, Samuel Lees, suggested that the event be marked by the repair of Hartshead Pike. The inscription from the collapsed earlier pike was relocated to the new tower, along with further inscriptions recording its history, and a plaque with the Grey family crest and motto A Ma Puissance (To My Power). A hart’s head weather vane is known to have topped the earlier pike, and this was either salvaged, or a copy was commissioned for the new tower. There is a well on the summit enclosed by a stone slab.

Over the next century the tower, high on the exposed hillside, continued to be hammered by hurricanes and hooligans, and remedial action was taken on a number of occasions to ensure its survival. In 1911 it was announced that the tower would be restored to ‘commemorate the Coronation of King George’, but it was not until 1914 that work was completed, and by 1928 vandalism and a storm meant that yet another restoration was required. In the years leading up to the Second World War the tower was open to the public, and a small shop sold refreshments. It became a Grade II listed building since 1967. In September 2019 metal fencing was erected around the tower as it was once again crumbling and falling masonry posed a risk to the public, and in May 2020 there was good news when Tameside Council announced that £61,000 was to be spent restoring Hartshead Pike. Work was almost complete when I visited in Autumn 2020.  

Then & Now 1928 - 2020. After its most recent restoration, and during it's current remedial works.

Then & Now

1890-2021 Feniscowles Hall, once one of the great houses of Blackburn. Built in 1808 as the family home for William Feilden, a well known Lancashire industrialist. In its heyday herds of red and fallow deer could be seen surrounding the hall in what was originally created as a deer park.

Feilden made his fortune through cotton and calico and was one of the first industrial barons to fully grasp the concept of the factory system, introducing shift work to maximise production in the mills.

Ironically the origin of the fortune that built the hall would eventually bring its demise. The proximity to the river Darwen, a heavily polluted watercourse, would bring an overpowering smell coming from the dark waters. Much of the pollution was caused by the town’s mills, many of which were owned by the Feilden family itself.

The hall was home to three generations of the family before they left to build a new home on the North East Coast away from the industrial heartlands of Lancashire. At the turn of the century the hall’s days were numbered. Various attempts were made to try and find a buyer but none could be found and by 1911 it was effectively abandoned, and the land has barely been been used for anything more than grazing ever since. The hall slowly but surely reduced to a mere shell of it's former grandeur.

Alone in the jungle

Staley & Millbrook Goods Warehouse. One of the last remnants of Hartshead Power Station, which opened in 1926 and was demolished in 1989. Few places I've visited have changed so drastically in such a short space of time since being abandoned. The entire site is now a wooded jungle totally reclaimed by nature, making these randomly surviving structures a strange thing to stumble upon. It's hard to believe the whole area once entirely consisted of concrete, brick and metal.

The goods shed was built due to the power station being unreachable by rail across the valley. Coal was dropped into a hopper underneath the sidings and then fed onto the conveyor system that towered above the site, and small sections of which still poke above the trees, built for transporting coal over the Huddersfield narrow canal and across the valley to the power station. These surviving sections are now hidden by more than three decades of growth.

The goods warehouse shown before and during the demolition of Huncoat power station. Then in its later years as a distribution centre before the site was eventually left to the elements.

Then & Now

Late 1800's-2021. Pen-y-Crisiau, which translates as ‘Top of the Steps’. One of the few surviving vernacular buildings in Barmouth, Gwynedd that still exist in anything like their original form. It marks a strong contrast to the classical Victorian Cambrian Drapery found elsewhere on the High Street. Originally there would have been three separate living units, one on each floor. The Fisherman chose protection from the coastal weather over the luxury of sea views, and as a result it is one of the very few buildings in Barmouth not facing the water. The date of the original image is unconfirmed, however by the late 1800's it is clear that the street-facing section of the building was already in operation as an independent business, shown here as what appears to be a cobblers and a Newsagent. It is still in use today as a craft store, with the annex having since been removed to make way for pedestrian access on the High Street. Built in the late 18th century with traditional Welsh whitewashed rubble construction under a slate roof, it earned Grade II listed status in 1995.

Martholme Viaduct

Man's lasting contribution to an otherwise natural landscape. The grade II listed Martholme viaduct opened in 1877 and was built to carry the Great Harwood Loop of the East Lancashire Line over the River Calder until the section closed in 1957. The line was demolished beyond the structure, and whilst the path over the viaduct doesn't lead anywhere it's always nice and all too rare to be able to walk across one of these sleeping giants.

The Dart Champion's Cottage

In a quiet corner of Lancashire sits a house that only a few years ago spent it's 20th anniversary of dereliction. There are very few clues inside as to the history of the building itself but one thing is clearly for certain. Who lived in a house like this? A dart player did, and quite a successful one as far as local tournaments go. Trophies could be found all over the house, won at several iconic Lancashire pubs such as the Kings Arms in Ormskirk, where runners up badges were earned in 1983 and eventually league winners shields were brought home in 1987. 5-aside winners were achieved in 1991 at the Greyhound, which is another iconic pub over in Ormskirk. The name 'Tony Davies' inscribed on the trophy leads us to think this was a sporting man's legacy however one of the trophies states 'Individual Runner Up Ladies 1986' so this was clearly a darting-mad household. The final month on the calendar displays June 1999, and a creaky old barn lies outside in the overgrown gardens that gives clues to Horse-riding haven taken place on the land as well as some good old classic car maintenance. There was clearly a quaint family life here with chess boards left out alongside toys, ladies shoes and fashion catalogues. All in all a pretty nice rural life was led here. No dramas or hauntings to talk about, so I won't make anything up for the sake of it. Sometimes a place's story is best told through photos alone, and the stories are kept private in the memories of their relatives. Enjoy

Then & Now

ethelfeda

1900-2022

Ethelfleda Railway bridge ticket booth. The oldest crossing at Runcorn gap, the bridge opened officially to goods trains and pedestrians in 1869. Named after Ethelfleda the Queen of the Mercians of the late 9th century whose kingdom’s most northerly border was at Runcorn.

Originally a ticket booth was located on both sides of the River Mersey. On the Runcorn side the booth was located in Lord Street at the bottom of the access steps, and in Widnes at Viaduct street. In later years tickets were only sold on the Widnes side. Persons wishing to cross from Widnes to Runcorn purchased their tickets before they went onto the footpath but people coming in the other direction paid their fare after they had already crossed the bridge.

During the Second World War a sentry was posted on each side of the bridge. The sentries checked each person who crossed the bridge to ensure that no saboteurs accessed the bridge which carried such a vitally important railway link between Liverpool and the South.

The new Runcorn-Widnes bridge eventually provided pedestrian footpaths that would be free to use in 1961. Because of this, tolls for using the footpath were withdrawn in 1962 and staff who manned the booth were taken away from the bridge. However even though the new road bridge was available for the public to use, more people continued to use the railway bridge footpath. Most likely due to the feeling of suddenly getting a good deal!

Without a staff presence problems occurred on the Ethelfleda Bridge footpath including the throwing of stones and bottles by youths which caused a great deal of annoyance to householders in the West Bank district of Widnes. The wooden walkway had also started to perish and gaps had appeared, allowing pedestrians to catch a glimpse of the water below. British Railways were very keen to close the footpath and eventually the steps were demolished and the booth entrance bricked up to this day. There are still many residents including myself that never got to enjoy the experience of crossing the Ethelfleda and seeing her up close, who hope that one day the walkway will be restored.


We saved Borrows Bridge!

This little structure alongside the fields in Cheshire will now always be know as 'our bridge'. In September 2021 I woke up one day and walked across the beautiful route on the canal behind our house only to notice that a Homes England poster had been stapled to a telephone mast. On it was a notification of intent to survey this land for 'new' access to open up potential development in the fields beyond. Hours of paperwork and emails later the long journey began to save it from from potential damage or even demolition by building a two-lane replacement just yards away. Workmen came and went. Alarm bells were ringing for many months but eventually after Historic England agreed to visit the site and evaluated the application, the documents were handed over to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in February this year. Borrows Bridge and it's hand cranked crane and stop planks were built to James Brindley's design on the extension of the Bridgewater canal in 1770. They are now officially Grade II listed.

You can view my interview announcing the news here

Read the article on the story published in the Liverpool Echo here

To view the listing visit the Historic England website here

Manor Farm

The property which gave Manor Farm road and Manor Park in Runcorn its name. Originally part of the Brooke estate at Norton. It was one of two farms cultivating land where the Sandymoor houses are today, the other being Keckwickford Farm. It was on the north side of the Daresbury Expressway, just before the roundabout where the dual carriageway ends. The pictures show the farmhouse in 2017 just a year or so before it was demolished to make way for a small housing development. Only the barns survived, having been sold separately to the house and developed into accomodation around a decade before.

The property was unfortunately never listed, and as you can see the slate was removed from the roof by the final land owners, said to be the applicants for it's replacement with housing, allowing for the weather to take it's toll and bring the state of the house beyond repair. The only reason it survived demolition for so long was due to nesting birds and bats that were frequently found in it's loftspace. It became renowned in it's final years by explorers who admired it's 'wacky tacky' wallpaper. The coat of arms above the front windows were painted on by the 'Willets' family that use to farm there. The farmer George Willett was reportedly the last to live there, with the farmland having disappeared with the creation of Sandymoor in the late 80's / early 90's.

1970's - the last decades of the farm in operation

1960-2017

2017-2021

Cheshire Day 2022

To celebrate National Cheshire Day 2022 here are three of my favourite spots in the county that I call home.

Halton Castle. Which was first built in 1071 as a motte and bailey castle, and rebuilt in the 13th century in local sandstone. It's purpose was to oversee the passage of the River Mersey estuary from Halton Hill near Runcorn and was besieged twice in the civil war. A courthouse was added in the 18th century to sentence and house vagrants from across North Cheshire and it is this building that's now a public house, playing host to without doubt one of, if not the best the best pub garden in the country. One of the highest points in the county, it's easy to see why a castle was built here, providing views of Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester and the rest of Cheshire up to 40 miles away.

Lewis Carroll Centenary Woods, dedicated in lasting memory to the Alice in Wonderland author who was born here in Daresbury in 1832. These beautiful rolling Cheshire fields were without doubt a huge influence to his novels. You can easily imagine the Cheshire cat hanging from this curling branch as you pass by. It's one of my favourite places in the world

The historic crossroads in Vale Royal, one of the most central points of the county. There are two rare vintage iron signposts here and a red postbox in the middle of the lane. Before the invention of the car, country roads would have been much more primitive and Cheshire was known for it's secluded rural villages. Some such as this in Budworth Heath still show very few signs of the modern world. With the A559 only a quarter mile away, this quiet lane would only ever typically be visited through the centuries by local travellers on their way to and from Knutsford, hence the name of the road.

To read more about Cheshire Day click here

The Crooked Beauty

One of the most jaw dropping buildings you'll see anywhere in Britain. This photograph isn't doctored, it really is that wonky. Starting in 1504 it took just over a century to complete this fairytale mansion. Due to sitting on a natural bog surrounded by an ornamental moat, the timber eventually warped and sank under the weight of it's whopping 200 tonne roof tiles and fashionable extensions that would make a modern day architect weep. Amazingly it is still 100% structurally sound thanks to extensive preservation works, and due to the crippling financial fate of the Moreton family it quietly lived through the influential Georgian & Victorian eras under tenancy of working class farmers. As a result Little Moreton Hall is almost entirely unaltered and is one of the most original surviving Tudor buildings in existence.

Then & Now

2015 - 2021. Worsley new hall's walled garden, Greater Manchester. Shot during the end of a long stint of dereliction before it was extensively restored into RHS's newest gardens, taking on the name 'Bridgewater' from the estates original owner. The Duke of Bridgewater is best known for building Britain's first inland navigation - the canal of the same name which runs adjacent to the site. The furnace in the distance once used coal from the Duke's own local quarries to heat the walls of the garden, allowing for exotic non-native plants to be grown.

The Duke Of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton was not entirely over-joyed with his new Estate at Worsley and he was recorded as describing the area as “a God-forsaken place, full of drunken, rude people with deplorable morals.” Nonetheless, he commenced with a new building project to create a new country seat. He decided to replace Brick Hall, which was built in the eighteenth century, with Worsley New Hall. The foundations for the New Hall were laid in 1839 and the Gothic-revival building was completed in 1846. Below is a comparison between the entrances of the gates in 1905 compared to now, showing what was once known as 'church lodge' guarding the entrance to the estate as per tradition.

At the same time Egerton began to plan his new country house, he also redeveloped the gardens and grounds of his Worsley Estate. Edward Blore (1787 – 1879), the architect who designed Worsley New Hall, was also commissioned to design a gardener’s cottage in a sympathetic Gothic-style to the architecture of the main house. Blore was a leading architect of the early-nineteenth century and he was perhaps most famous for his restoration of Lambeth Palace and the completion of Buckingham Palace. There is some debate over the age of the head gardener’s cottage. It was originally presumed the cottage was completed in 1834, however more recent archival research by the Archaeological team at the University of Salford has determined that the cottage was more likely constructed around 1840, and this ties in more with the construction of the New Hall itself. The first gardener to occupy the cottage was Peter Clare lived there with his wife, Alice and it survived along with the estate as it progressed through generations right up until the first world war when it was vital to the running of the estate and to the war effort, as they supplied the Red Cross hospital which had been set up in the Hall. This period of use sadly resulted in a fire breaking out, leading to it's inevitable demolition. No trace of it exists now, leaving the gardeners cottage as one of the only clues to what the main hall would have looked like to this day. The image shows the cottage in 1905 compared to now at the recently opened RHS Bridgewater.

Northern Monument 35

Whitby Abbey, a 7th-century Christian monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey, situated overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire. Once the centre of the medieval Northumbrian kingdom, the Abbey and its possessions were confiscated by the crown under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1545, and the ruins of the Abbey have continued to be used by sailors as a landmark at the headland ever since. It has also long since the Victorian era been associated with the inspiration for Dracula; Bram Stoker's 1897 novel featured Count Dracula as a creature resembling a large dog which came ashore at the headland and runs up the 199 steps to the graveyard of St Mary's Church in the shadow of the Abbey ruins. The Gothic literature of the time was set in foreign lands full of eerie castles, convents and caves. Whitby’s windswept headland, the dramatic abbey ruins, a church surrounded by swooping bats, and a long association with jet – a semi-precious stone used in mourning jewellery – earnt this spot on the Northern coastline a fitting association with the story.

Then & Now

1890-2020. Preston Brook north tunnel, the Toll House. After approaching the Trent & Mersey canal to or from Runcorn laden with goods and materials, barges would need to pass through several tunnels in order to pass the rolling Cheshire landscape on their way to or from the Midlands. This toll house was one of at least two that I know of in the village, tasked with charging each canal boat as it passed though. Beyond the tunnel lies the first set of locks where the water would by all accounts be 'owned' by another canal company which at the time of the photograph was the North Staffordshire Railway Company. At this point shown the water is still shared with the Bridgewater canal, and the giving and taking of water at the meeting of the two canals was extremely regimented. There was no tow path through the 1239 yard tunnel, so the horses were detached from the boat and lead to the south portal along the lane directly above the tunnel known as 'tunnel end', while two of the crew or paid men passed the barge through the dark tunnel by lying on planks positioned near the front of the barge and pushed with their legs all the way to the other end. It was a strenuous and time consuming job that often resulted in long queues at either side. These bottlenecks eventually became part of the driving force behind the need for the Anderton boat lift, which allowed a much quicker route from Northwich to the Mersey. It would have been in operation for a few decades by the time of the first image, drastically reducing traffic through the tunnel. Before this time it would have been unlikely to get this photograph without a waiting barge during daylight hours. The Toll House would eventually see it's purpose begin to diminish with the introduction of engine powered barges that removed the need for workers to escort them through the tunnel, but by this time the industry had already started to die down. The railways and ship canal had drastically improved both the volume and speed of goods travel across the region and eventually the tolls would no longer provide bountiful profits for the canal owners. The structure reportedly still existed in the 1980's although it goes without saying that modern amenities would have been almost non existent and it's unlikely to have been lived in until it was demolished, leaving the bridge itself giving almost no hint of a toll house ever existing at all.

The second image shows the view from the south portal of the tunnel after passing through the entrance in the first photograph. Having now passed through, the canal boat here is heading towards lock 76 on the Trent & Mersey canal known as Dutton stop lock. The cottages above remain largely unchanged in more than a century, but the towpath has seen significant improvement in the years since the canal was repurposed for pleasure boats and the path primarily used by pedestrians.

Then & Now

1967-2021 Norton Priory. In the years following the moment when the Brooke family left the house in 1921, the house was almost completely demolished in 1928 yet the undercroft was retained and roofed with a cap of concrete. In 1966 the current Sir Richard Brooke gave Norton Priory in trust for the benefit of the public. The original black and white photos were a document of the state of the site following hand a century of dereliction. Four years later in 1971 J. Patrick Greene was given a contract to carry out a six-month excavation for Runcorn Development Corporation as part of a plan to develop a park in the centre of Runcorn New Town. What followed would eventually become the most extensively excavated monastic site in Europe, with one of the UK's most iconic museums and gardens at it's heart. The first image shows the 12th century grade I listed medieval undercroft, the last surviving section above ground of both the original priory and the subsequent house of the same name. The undercroft was left open to the elements for many years until it was later sympathetically restored and the museum built around it for permanent protection. The second image shows the summer house or 'garden loggia', a grade II listed structure in yellow sandstone, possibly designed by James Wyatt in the late 18th century. Situated in the Brookes family gardens, having been left open to the elements for half a century. Nature had all but consumed the structure until it was later re-landscaped.

Porcelain

These picturesque ruins of a porcelain works on the north coast of Wales once produced porcelain from deposits of china clay found on the head of the cliff. The site closed in 1920 after being damaged by fire, adding to the list of historic ruins here that include the remains of an ancient church, and the remains of an Iron Age settlement on the headland above the works. Nowadays only those on the coastal path will ever come across this site, as the road to the works was eventually reclaimed by nature.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Silver Jubilee road bridge c1961, an Airbus A319 en route to Liverpool Airport, and the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge c1868. For many decades this has been the central artery of the River Mersey at Runcorn gap where all modes of transport meet. The only thing missing here is a ship on the canal in the distance, which would take some serious luck and planning.

Northern Monument 34

Situated deep in the moors off an ancient Roman road known as 'The Street' is St Joseph's shrine. When the Goyt Valley was a flourishing community in the mid 1800's, the shrine was a popular destination for people seeking a peaceful place to pray. Now the villages and farms of the valley are long gone; vanished with the advent of the 20th century reservoirs of Fernilee and Errwood, leaving the monument now isolated and forlorn amongst the pine trees.

9/11 - Two Decades On

20 years ago to the day I remember vividly the moment I became aware of the events unfolding in Manhattan. At 12 years old I was in the early years of high school, and it was quarter past 3 in the afternoon in the UK. I'd arrived home and put my bike against the garage before peering in through the window to say hi to my Mum who was usually always busy doing something on any normal day, but she was on the edge of the sofa pointing and telling me to look at the TV screen. For the next few minutes I just stared in silence through the glass. By this time the second tower was billowing smoke and those images would only get worse as I eventually made my way inside. At such a young age I was incredibly impressionable, having grown up on American media during the 90's it felt personal despite being more than three thousand miles away. As the events unfolded, whether I liked it or not an anger boiled up inside me that I couldn't quite explain. Having a comfortable, trauma-free upbringing in a place that never brought any struggles I had no reason to hold any social grudges or retaliate against anything that threatened my way of life. Suddenly that changed not only in me but in my friends and those around me. Two decades on, I am sceptical as to whether or not my reaction was a natural one. Whether or not it was sculpted by western media or exaggerated by our own personal background, we simply detested the idea of what had attacked us from afar. We became angry, and that anger would bubble away inside me for several years as a young teenager. The images on TV fairly quickly turned to the villainous footage of those identified as responsible for what happened in New York, and as young teenagers we felt as though there was a Muslim culture brewing on the other side of the world that threatened everything about what we previously felt was a safe future.

Unlike some people of my age around the country, I came from a predominantly non-multicultural background, so it was unfortunate that my first experience with this culture was a negative one. My hatred turned into curiosity and through no real intention I suddenly found myself getting full marks in religious studies classes concerning this 'new found' culture that was suddenly on the news and a topic of conversation wherever I went. In hindsight I realise these classes were more than likely put there to make us understand the culture so that we wouldn't automatically vilify it. Either way, September 11th 2001 stayed with me for many years. I remember creating an art piece I put together depicting the events alongside a written piece in memory of the victims, which my teachers decided should be spoken out in front of the entire year in the assembly hall. Not my calmest of moments, but looking back it was clear that should I have been 10 years older I'd have been the ideal recruit for the forces heading into the middle east. Those men were likely no different to me, but simply had the misfortune to be born earlier. They had the passion, the patriotism and the anger built up inside of them with the will to bring peace and normality back to our lives. We now know many of them never returned home, and only became statistics in a campaign that almost exactly 20 years on achieved very little. Unlike me, they never had two decades to come to terms with what happened that day and detach themselves from the outrage that our leaders fed to us in order to justify an unjustifiable war. Churned up into political motivation and sparking intense cultural divide. It's quite surreal to know how much time has passed since that day, and to reflect on how it impacted the world around us. 2,977 people will never get that luxury, but they will never be forgotten.