Runcorn Railway Bridge. Then and Now 1920 - 2016

Built in 1868 to connect the towns of Widnes and Runcorn across the river Mersey, the bridge is still in operation on the same line today but has seen a great deal of change around it. The invention of the car led to the construction of the Widnes transporter bridge in 1905 (seen behind the railway bridge in the top photo) which proved to be inadequate for increasing traffic, and by 1961 was demolished and replaced by the Runcorn bridge (in the foreground) which again could not cope with the ever growing flow of traffic in and out of Liverpool, and was later extended and reopened as the Silver Jubilee Bridge. The bridge now carries 80,000 vehicles a day which is more than triple its intended capacity. Due for completion this time next year, a much wider bridge, the Mersey Gateway, is being built a mile down the river that will eventually ( theoretically ) solve the problem once and for all.

The Death of ICI

One by one, the last remnants of one of Britain's largest industrial institutions have been torn apart since it was acquired by foreign company's in 2008. It's factories either sold or shut down, jobs lost and operational profits sent overseas. Since then, the latest site to meet its fate has been the 140 year old soda ash works on Wallerscote Island in Winnington. Once a thriving industry that fed the region through its productivity, it is now being demolished to make way for new housing and all evidence of its past will have been removed. It may have been considered by many as an eyesore, and had been dormant for many years, but it at least served as a memorial to something that we were once proud to call British.

 Παλατάκι στα Λιμενάρια (Palatáki Limenária)

Limenaria, with the continuing settlement of Kalyvia (or St. George) is a coastal town on the southern point of the Greek island of Thassos. The first inhabitants of the village were workers from the mountain village Kastro (Castle), in the heart of the island, which is now isolated. The mysterious 'Palatáki' looms over the landscape of the town with its brilliantly bold colours and striking architecture. From a distance, you almost cant tell that it has been left derelict for over half a century.

The region flourished in the beginning of 20th century, when the German company “Spiedel“ began its work there, running its mining excavation for export all over the world which gave the local harbor its first ever commercial activity. The offices of the company, known as the palace or “palataki”, were built in 1903 and constitutes a vivid example of eclectic architecture as it is characterized by a strict geometry and influenced from central European adherents during the time period that was seeing a shift in styles across the continent. This explains why many people mistakenly assume the building is several hundred years older than it actually is. 

The palace looks over into the vast open horizon of the North Aegean sea. Beneath, hidden away from the busy streets of the town are the iron mines themselves. The terrain is rich in cadmium and argentiferous lead which Spiedel began to excavate in 1905 and it ceased in 1912 due to the First World War. The exploitation was continued by Belgian miners 'Vielle Montagne' in 1925 until 1930 when they interrupted the operation owing to the financial crash in the build up to the Second World War, when the Nazis occupied the island from 1941-1944 and reportedly used the palace as a base for their high ranking officers. In 1957 another company poached the mines in parallel with local Greek operations. However, all the activities in the region stopped in 1963.

 The mines are a strong indication of the islands industrial legacy and a lost place of interest in a place so commonly overlooked by visitors who seek the marble beaches on the coastline. The ground is covered by a black metal giving the soil an impressive brown color, which as I later found is an absolute pain to clean off. 

Last Visit

Living almost next door to daresbury Hall I've been able to see it change through the seasons in the years since it became derelict, and it's slow but steady decline into vandalism. The pool was eventually stripped of all its stainless steel and only now after the arson attack earlier this year that very nearly destroyed the manor, has it actually earnt some protection. I never thought I'd be happy to see an abandoned site lit up with floodlights at night but the authorities severely let this brilliant place down over the years and thanks to 'Save Britain's heritage' it now has people fighting for it. This is the most recent and probably the last visit of mine, when the overgrowth beautifully crept over the domed roof of the pool as it does each summer.

26/8/1940

Found scrawled into the foundation stone of a ww2 pillbox bunker hidden in the hills of the Brecon Beacons, Wales UK. Pillboxes were stationed all over the UK during the war, and occupied by the Home Guard which operated from 1940 until 1944, meaning that this was most likely carved into the stone during the construction of the pillbox itself. The Home Guard was composed of 1.5 million local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, such as those too young or too old to join the services, or those in reserved occupations.

On this day, 26th August 1940; "Over Britain... the German attacks continue. They send three major raids against RAF airfields and one on Portsmouth. One of the airfield raids gets through almost undamaged but all the others are heavily engaged by the RAF. The day's losses are 31 RAF fighters and 19 German bombers and 26 fighters. As the Luftwaffe’s assault on Britain’s air defences continued the RAF had to develop tactics that avoided unnecessary air combat with enemy fighters and targeted the bombers. Squadron Leader Peter Townsend led No. 85 Squadron’s Hurricanes into the attack on 26th August." According to the original timetable Hitler ought to decide now whether the invasion should be attempted.

Torpantau

Also known as Beacons or Beacon Summit Tunnel - Torpantau claimed the record for the highest tunnel on the UK's standard gauge network at 1,313 feet above sea level. Reached by a three-mile climb from the south, trains passed through it curving sharply to the right before emerging onto the notorious Seven Mile Bank at a falling gradient towards Brecon. This was an extremely ambitious attempt at somehow maneuvering long carriages through the winding hills of mid-wales. The tunnel opened in 1863 although construction work had finished the previous year.

The Brecon & Merthyr Junction Railway (B&MJR) which passed through the tunnel gained the unfortunate nickname of the "Breakneck and Murder Railway" due to the number of accidents it suffered which, thanks to those steep inclines, were often severe. Neither was its reputation done any favours by the slowness of its trains. By the time the section through the tunnel closed on 4th May 1964, the line was only carrying freight. Passengers services across the B&MJR system has ended by January 1963.

Torpantau Tunnel itself is 666 yards in length and features a masonry arch springing either off shelves cut high into the rock face or lengths of brick or stone sidewall which were added incrementally over time as the need arose. Refuges are incorporated throughout. The south portal is masonry-built and wedged into the end of a vertically-sided cutting, the west face of which is retained by a wing wall for a short distance.

The north portal (actually ESE-facing) is a larger stone structure, projecting out into the cutting which has more gently-graded sides. Though generally in reasonable condition, some small falls of loose rock have occurred, accumulating on the solum, and a stream flows through the tunnel resulting in both approach cuttings being waterlogged.

Torpantau station was left derelict after the passenger trains ceased operation in 1963 exactly 100 years after it opened, and it wasn't for another 18 years until the narrow-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway occupied the trackbed which lies south of the tunnel where the station once sat, having now served since 1980 the mountain railway asserts the long-term aspiration of extending its operation northwards through the tunnel. Until then, the tunnel lies dormant among the lonely mountains.

Perseid Gazing

Officially starting on July 17, the annual shower of shooting stars aka the Perseid Meteor Showers run until August 24. Whilst camping within the Brecon Beacons I found the perfect opportunity to view the sky without any disturbance from civilisation. On a clear night here, you can see the Milky Way, major constellations and bright nebulas moving slowly across the pitch black hills. Shot with Fujfifilm x100t @ 23mm f2.0 / 30"

Teaching Crisis

Greece will again be unable to open dozens of schools and kindergartens across the country due to a lack of teaching staff despite the scheduled start of the new school year. The new school year begins in Greece in September, but because of insufficient funding tied to the country's economic crisis, Athens cannot pay salaries to the required number of teachers. It is also reported that in the southern Greek region of Laconia, where schools have resorted to inviting volunteers to teach classes. The Greek authorities allocated additional resources, from the European Union and public investment funds, to hire additional teachers and attract more volunteers but they were unable to fill all the gaps. The ongoing staff crisis in the Greek education system resembles 2014, when there was a shortage of some 12,000 teachers in Greece before the beginning of the new school year.

The problem, according to the head of the Federation of Primary School Teachers, Thanasis Kikinis, stems from cost-cutting policies that have resulted in few new hirings. According to figures, 8,500 primary educators have retired in the past five years and only 850 new teachers have been hired, with none of these being in the past two years. “The data do not do education any honors,” said Kikinis. “Putting off problems to the future has resulted in the downgrading of education.”

High Royds Clock Tower

Visitors to High Royds Asylum, now disguised as an extensive residential development, are at first impressed by the striking roofline complete with fairytale towers. Depsite its history now being hidden, the site was once a psychiatric hospital founded in 1888 and for more than a century, dominating all was the great clock tower, it’s solid bulk sparsely decorated with low battlements and heavy gothic arches.

The clock was manufactured by the great clockmaking dynasty Potts & Sons, who had been involved in the business since 1790. In 1847, William Potts was commissioned by Lord Grimthorpe to manufacture a clock for Ilkley Parish Church. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship which produced many introductions for further work with which Lord Grimthorpe was involved. The latter part of the Victorian era saw many large clocktowers being built. This was a pioneering age of order and discipline and the clock at High Royds was inescapable for inmates and staff alike. It served as both a landmark and practical feature. Try as they might, patients and workers could not escape the clock. Time had to be kept: this was an ordered institution.

Architect’s Narrative: "The Roof hipped with decorative iron finials has central tower (former water tower) which has 2 transomed windows to lower stage; clock in painted arched recess of several orders to upper stage; and machigolated, embattled parapet (formerly surmounted by timber framed, gabled water tank)."

Despite standing alone as a single reminder of the infamous West Pauper Lunatic Asylum institutions, much of the old building is still largely intact, including original mosaic tiling and majestic carvings. The gigantic clock tower has been restored to full working order, providing a sense of splendour from its stance over the other buildings. It remains locked away amidst the derelict, crumbling interior to present visitors with a truly unique statement of architectural authority as they enter the grounds of the residential estate. Within time, most people who live here will have forgotten what it once stood for.

Janubio Salt Flats

Once a thriving industry on the Spanish island as far back as 1895, the windmills pumped the sea water to huge reservoirs and it filtered down through narrow channels into the stone lined flats where it was left to crystalise, the salt then raked up and shovelled into piles for export. This work was and in some parts still is, done by hand by ‘salineros’. The salt, harvested several times between June to October, needs a temperature of 25 degrees to crystalize so lies unattended for most of the year. Despite almost 30 salt farms once running at its peak in 1940, only three are left. The sea water now freely wades through many of these abandoned man made panes.

The Ballroom

Liverpool Olympia, originally purpose built in 1905 as an indoor variety and circus theatre, was converted into an ABC cinema and used by the Royal navy as a depot during ww2. It is one of very few (if not the only one) if its kind left in the country. The animals would appear in the auditorium by being lifted from the basement where they lived. Evidence of the lift mechanism and living areas for elephants and lions can still be found under the theatre. It has seen numerous spouts of abandonment throughout its years after 90% of all grand cinemas were demolished before the turn of the century, it somehow survived and remains on its last legs but still standing after being used on rare occasions as a ballroom and venue for gigs and wrestling matches in more recent years. A struggle with funding for maintenance has brought forward more fears for its future.

The Welsh Streets

Today I travelled to my favourite city, Liverpool and along the way visited the infamous ghost village that consists of row upon row of around 450 empty houses where Ringo Starr once lived as a child. They have been part of a ruthless campaign to halt their demolition after the local government condemned the entire area as part of the city's regeneration. The area is full of grieving poems plastered on walls, signatures and art installations but the only noises heard around here are the birds.This particular street has been used to film the tv drama 'Peaky Blinders'.

The threat to Ringo Starr's birthplace announced in 2003 prompted uproar in parts of the neighbourhood and among fans all over the world. A proposal was made in September 2005 to take down the house brick by brick and rebuild it as a centrepiece for the Museum of Liverpool Life. This was a reversal of Liverpool council's earlier claim the house had no historic value. However, as of 2012, number 9 Madryn Street and several hundred other houses still stands, although most have been emptied of residents. Starr said it was not worth taking the house down simply to rebuild it elsewhere, as it would not then be his birthplace. Many suggested demolition of the area surrounding Starr's home was unsatisfactory, claiming "People liked the city's character, not packaged replicas". Council survey data published in 2005 showed the Welsh Streets were broadly popular with residents and in better than average condition, but were condemned for demolition because of a perceived 'over-supply' of 'obsolete' terraced houses in Liverpool. The land was offered to private developer Gleeson's and social landlord Plus Dane and proposals published for lower density houses. Some residents were happy to be offered new homes, while others were determined to stay.

The proposals have divided the local community. Clearance has proved highly contentious, with some taking the view that the houses are beyond rescue, while others believe they are fundamentally sound. Campaigning charities led by Merseyside Civic Society and SAVE Britain's Heritage have asserted that renovation would be preferable and cheaper. By 2009 over 100 residents had been rehoused together into a neighbourhood nearby which they had helped to design. Others had left the area altogether.

In 2011 the Secretary of State quashed planning permission for demolition and required an Environmental Impact Assessment. In summer 2012 new proposals for demolition of 250 houses were endorsed by Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson and Housing Minister Grant Shapps, who visited the area to announce retention of 9 Madryn Street and 15 adjacent homes. Local residents in the Welsh Streets Home Group have consulted on alternative renovation proposals that retain the majority of the houses, remodelled as environmentally friendly eco-homes.

Tapestry Decay

The peeling walls inside a derelict school for deaf children that still sits along the west coast of England, and operated between 1904-2003.

Arson at the manor

Then and now - Daresbury Hall manor, built in 1759 fell victim to an arson attack on Saturday 25th June 2016 which completely destroyed the interior of the building. The photo below taken last year was part of my two-piece documentary project on the site that has been derelict since its owner died two decades ago. Planning permission had been granted earlier this year to build 31 homes on the site and part demolish most of the outbuildings. Restoring a manor of this size to its former glory would be a costly ordeal, leading to suspicion of the cost-saving advantages that would warrant the 'accidental' destruction of this brilliant grade II listed building, potentially allowing the plans for redevelopment to be brought ahead far sooner than expected. In layman's terms: this wasn't just a bunch of kids playing with fire.

It deeply saddens me how daresbury Hall has been treated since its owner left it behind some 20+ years ago. After the cannabis farm siege and numerous vandalism incidents the site has never been given any level of security. With the area deemed one of the more up-market villages in the town, I have to say that the listed status has reluctantly held back any potential developers and incidents like this are all too convenient for the land to progress to the next stage of conversion for new properties and the entire removal of its historical value. Whilst countless people have been allowed to wander the site scrounging any kind of valuable materials and ruining what was once such a great part of daresbury village, I now realise I was lucky enough to document this place before the inevitable was allowed to happen.

EU Referendum

EU referendum day for the United Kingdom. I'm not an overly political person but whilst travelling the country visiting the places I photograph, I inevitably meet people, hear stories and find evidence of how businesses and forgotten institutions, hospitals and factories were pushed to breaking point by EU legislations that worked against their favour and those are the places I admire with a certain degree of sadness. From the outside many people might think that London represents the UK but that could not be further from the truth, and today's result signifies the faith people have in that the economy can stand on its own two feet. Leading the way towards a stronger future, thereby finding moments like the one pictured below will be far rarer than before. The union may be diminishing but Europe will always be United. One day we might all be like Switzerland..

One mans legacy

In my college days I'd pass by this farmhouse on the bus twice a day, catching a brief glimpse through the gates enough to notice the collection of old volvo's and countless piles of auto parts amounting to over fifty years of one man's work. Recently I returned here only to realise the man had surely passed away and the house for some strange reason had not been sold on.

The farmhouse is empty and most of the cars are gone, whilst the yard now seems a shadow of what it once was, but I can't help but feel somewhat glad that it hadn't been cleared out and wiped of all its history before I had time to revisit. I'll always take a messy back yard full of old memories over a modern building with no stories to tell.