Blast from the past - around a decade ago before the term 'time capsule house' was even a thing, this gem hidden in plain sight along a rural country road in Cheshire became iconic among explorers. The stories it told through the artefacts left inside earned it the name 'House of the Soldiers Widow'. The personal element of this home paired with the delicacy of the items made it feel somewhat intrusive to post online, so I've barely touched the images some six years later. However having passed by several times as of late I'm delighted to say the house has almost completed a total restoration. This is why sometimes locking your images away in order to protect what they reveal can be worth the wait! Expect the photo album to appear online soon
A secluded relic of the second world war. An Alan Williams gun turret, one of less than 200 built in 1941, and only a handful of which still remain. This one stands on the desolate landscape of Frodsham score in Cheshire, where one man would've been stationed to fire at low-lying enemy aircraft or infantry crossing this vital stretch of industrial coastline in the event of an amphibious invasion across the ship canal. Made entirely of steel, the base of the turret would be sunk into the ground where the soldier would be most protected, whilst the top hatch could swivel and rotate 360 degrees to allow for all-round field of fire. It would luckily have seen very little action, and instead reclaimed by nature in the decades that have followed without any viable means of public access to the marshland.
Then & Now 1934*-2023. Filming location for the final scenes of Peaky Blinders, Season 6 episode 6 "Lock and Key" in the English Peak District. A month after saying goodbye to the Shelby family, a solitary Tommy prepares for his final days by going back to his gypsy roots deep in the countryside. (*2021)
The crew behind Peaky Blinders spent a day filming in the Peak District in April 2021, choosing the location because of its views within easy reach of their Manchester base.
David Mason, head of production for Caryn Mandabach productions, said: “The greatest challenge we had was getting Tommy’s caravan, and a mountain of film equipment, special fx equipment, and all the crew and cast, (and a horse) up to the top of a rugged hill with no road - and hoping that the weather would be kind, which it was! The spectacular view was worth it!”
1940-2023 St Peters Church, Aston. Built as a chapel of ease to Runcorn parish in 1637 on the site of its century-old predecessor, the chapel was refurnished and restored by Sir Thomas Aston, the 1st Baronet of the adjacent Aston Estate which once oversaw the entirety of this small hamlet until it was largely dissolved around 1950.
There are very few images of the church from throughout its extremely long stint of service. This archive image taken around 1940-1941 shows the church badly damaged by a land mine on 28 November 1940 when destruction was caused to the roof and the interior of the church. The roof was eventually replaced but the church was still unusable and services were held elsewhere, apart from a few open air weddings inside the hollowed out chancel. It remained derelict until restoration completed in June 1950 on behalf of Wright & Hamlyn, and it was awarded the prestige of Grade I listed status in 1970, making it one of the most valued historic structures along with Halton Castle & Norton Priory. In the graveyard are also several protected graves and tombstones that have been given Grade II protection.
Today the church operates on behalf of the diocese of Chester, under the Deanery of Great Budworth. The vicar is Rev Dr Collette Jones, serving the parish of Aston-by-Sutton.
Then & Now 1890's-2023. Daresbury Smithy, Chester Road. Built in 1830 on land owned by Samuel Beckett Chadwick of the adjacent Daresbury Hall who owned much of the land in this part of Runcorn rural district at the time, and married Elizabeth Whiteley of Runcorn in 1843. Not only would the blacksmith have shoed horses, but he would also have made and repaired tools and farm implements. It was designated as the village fire station during WWII, with hoses, nozzles and fittings kept in a purpose made cupboard on the outside east end wall of the smithy. In 1911 a Mr F.C.Dutton who owned an agricultural repair business 'Dutton & Co' in Warrington purchased the building as an outstation, employing a John Acton to run it for him, who eventually bought the house from Mr Dutton. John lived in the smithy house with his wife, two children and an apprentice, all from Runcorn. For a time it then became known as 'Acton Smithy'.
It continued its business until the last blacksmith, Colin Dale, died in 1969. Today it is again used by Duttons, the same garden machinery specialist who moved their main premises from Buttermarket Street in Warrington after buying it back in 1969, shortly after the smithy ceased trading and the acquisition of a rival company by the name of 'Mowerworld', hence the current trading name of Dutton's Mowerworld. It is one of the oldest agricultural businesses in Cheshire, and the only business left in the village beside the Ring o' Bells pub. Sadly it reportedly will soon be shutting up shop itself, ending a long line of legacy in the process. The smithy cottage was lived in by the tenants of the smithy throughout its years of trading, and remains in residential use having spent a short spell of time in the last decade as an Alice in Wonderland themed tearoom before returning to use as a dwelling.
The building started life as the Parsonage of Hale estate, sitting just across the road from St. Mary’s Church. The Rev. William Langford added the impressive west face to the house in the 18th century, and his coat of arms and monogram sit carved in stone over the entrance. Later on, alterations to this part of the building reduced the storeys from three to two, so increasing the ceiling height of the rooms. The Fleetwood-Heskeths family moved in to the Parsonage in 1947 because of the poor state of the adjacent Hale Hall that they had bought from the Ireland-Blackburne family. It is a much smaller building than Hale Hall, the grand manor of the estate which was demolished nearby in 1981. It became a Grade II* listed building in May 1958.
Like the rest of the village, Hale Manor, once built as part of a south lancashire estate in Whiston Rural District, became one of the northernmost villages of Cheshire in 1974 as part of Halton Borough. Outside the hall stands the Childe Of Hale statue, a sculpture that was designed by artists Phil Bews and Geoff Wilson who carved the giant out of a dead beech tree in 1966, and after deterioration replaced by a three metre bronze statue in 2013 by Halton Council, cast by Castle Fine Arts Foundry, after villagers were consulted for their views. It celebrates the life of John Middleton (1578-1623) who was said to be the same size as biblical warrior, Golilath.
o The archive image is taken from an undated 19th century postcard.
The 'Beautiful Northern Boozers' project continues with The Swan With Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire. Dating back to 1722 it has sat in the heart of Ribble Valley serving customers for 300 years, having been run for the past three decades by Steve and Christine Dilworth, who earned it the prestigious national CAMRA champion pub of the year in 2013, with regional awards to follow almost every year since. Because of this, punters travel from all across the country to enjoy the finest, most cared for ales on offer. The building is a Grade II listed two roomed, traditional 18th century pub built using local limestone with open fires, oak beamed ceilings and old fashioned pub paraphernalia. Pendleton brook runs through the village in front of the pub, and views across Pendleside can be viewed from the beer garden at the rear, but we'll have to revisit in summer for that one! Either way, it doesn't get much more British than this.
You may have heard in the news today that 86% of British pubs are considering closing their doors for parts of the week to combat the pressures of the cost of living and energy crisis. Together they pose a bigger threat to British pub culture than covid, which we all thought would be their biggest ever hurdle. It's down to us the public to support and save our local freehouses, many of which have survived for hundreds of years. Freehouses are pubs which are not operated by corporate breweries or businesses, they operate independently. They create their own food menus, they order in their own ingredients. If they don't brew their own beer, they order it in from whoever they think deserves their custom and that their customers deserve to enjoy. They are the most valuable, and most vulnerable. Pubs such as the Britons Protection in Manchester City centre have defiantly stood in the face of giants through industrial revolution and metropolitan regeneration, yet this could be their biggest challenge to date.
It's easy to see why this historic pub is on Campaign for Real Ale's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. Having stood on the corner of Great Bridgewater street since 1806, the pub's name recalls its use as an army recruiting venue. A set of murals inside the pub commemorates the Peterloo Massacre when in 1819, a protest for parliamentary reform took place outside the front door, when 80,000 protesters were stormed by a sabre wielding cavalry. Now famous for it's huge selection of over 360 whiskies and constantly rotating real ale, it's most recently been in a very public battle against star pubs, a subsidiary of Heineken who refuse to renew its owners license, and wish to take over the pub forcing it to only sell Heineken-supplied products. Pair this with the battle against the 26 storey skyscraper development towering over the pub that threatens to blot out the sky for pub-goers. This was all before Putin's war brought forward a looming recession that puts further pressure on the business. These corporations are not supporters of Great British pub culture, they are the opposite. To really support and save our pubs and their independent breweries, we need to know who really brews the beer we're buying, and who is selling it.
Many of the beers we drink are unknowingly owned and brewed by companies that have agendas against our local pubs and the British beer industry. Molson Coors, Carlsberg Marstons, AB-InBev, and Heineken to name a few, are foreign brands that have plagued the industry and have a strong-hold on much of the market, having acquired countless brands that many of us mistakenly perceive as still being independent craft breweries, meanwhile feeding profits back into their hands. For more info on this, take a look at this fantastic eye-opening article by Pete Brown. We need to ensure they are not the last ones standing after this crisis. Get out into your local freehouse, chat to your landlord behind the bar about the beers on tap, try new and exciting locally brewed beers, embrace British real ale and help save an institution that has been admired and envied across the world for generations. Leave those shop bought, big brand cans and bottles on the shelves this winter.
Buy local. Buy independent. The pubs and breweries
need you at the bar!
This year I have started to document Great British freehouses as part of a micro-project called 'Beautiful Boozers'. There will be many stories to follow. Thank you.
Please support the 'Save the Britons Protection' campaign on justgiving.
The prep hallway and swimming pool at Malsis School in Glusburn, Yorkshire. An independent prepatory school which was founded in 1920 and closed in 2014 citing falling numbers as the reason, three years before our visit. It had since been plagued by reports of abuse, and in September this year the rugby coach Peter Holmes received a sentence of 12 years for 28 offences of indecency. The building itself was converted into a specialist care facility in 2019 and the grounds covered in private housing, probably leaving the aforementioned details out of the sales brochure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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