31 March 2011

BBC2 - And The New

Bishop Burton College has made happen a £25m development of its campus. Harmonised with the attractive older buildings (YMGW passim) are new resource centres and learning facilities (above), student accommodation, sports facilities, horticulture suite, and a full-size equine indoor arena. This last is complete with spa (below), water treadmill, and solarium - all for horses. A number of older buildings are also currently being replaced.

29 March 2011


The original castle at Conisbrough was built around 1070 by the first Earl Warenne, son-in-law of William the Conqueror. The fifth earl was Hamelin Plantagenet, bastard half-brother to Henry II. The stone castle was built during his earldom, between 1163 and 1202. The cylindrical keep, unique to Conisbrough, was erected circa 1180. Only that at Mortemer, near Dieppe, is similar, and this too is thought to be the work of Hamelin.

Conisbrough was later held by Edward II, was returned to the de Warennes in 1326, but reverted again to the Crown under Edward III. By the time the castle was settled to the Crown in perpetuity, in 1495, it was already over 300 years old, and showing its age. When Henry VIII had it surveyed in 1537 the gates, bridge and one floor of the keep were found ruined. Ironically, because it was no longer secure it avoided Civil War bombardment and slieghting.

The castle, which features in Scott's Ivanhoe, is now in the care of English Heritage. It's very worthy of a visit, but telephone first, as EH appear unable to ensure it's open on all the dates stated their handbook. The town of Conisbrough itself though could be closed entirely and one not notice. On the road to/from the motorway however is a rather nice water tower, built 1951.

24 March 2011

BBC1 - The Old

Bishop Burton College, the UK's only Centre of Vocational Excellence in Agriculture, and lead college in a CoVE in Equine, has its origins in the 1950s, when the Bishop Burton Farm Institute was formed to meet the needs of the local farming industry. The fine and extensive grounds include a walled garden of one-and-a-half acres, once part of the estate of the eighteenth-century Bishop Burton High Hall, long gone.

The conservatories are magnificent, as is the Victorian propagation house (above). The erstwhile stables have been converted into a higher education institute (top). The sympathetically-updated and well-maintained older facilities are complemented by a suite of new builds, in an emergent house style - to be featured as BBC2 in the near future.

22 March 2011

Howden Minster

Howden is an interesting market town, renowned for its Georgian horse fair; once home to the north-west contingent of the Admiralty's airships; and, oddly, the headquarters of the Press Association. Between the wars and during WWII Nevil Shute, aeronautical engineer (he worked on the R100 airship), pilot, novelist (A Town Like Alice), and racing driver, lived here.

There are numerous fine Georgian and Victorian buildings. Looking kindly over these is Howden Minster. William the Conqueror gave Howden and its church to the Bishop of Durham in 1080. Rebuilding of the Norman church in Early English style commenced in 1228, and it became collegiate (a minster) in 1267. The rebuild was completed in the Decorated style circa 1340, although an octagonal chapter house was added about fifty years later.

In 1548 came the Dissolution of collegiate churches and chantries. The chancel was abandoned for lack of funds, and the roof of this collapsed in 1696. The roof of the chapter house went the same way in 1750. The ruins, abutting the operational minster, are now in the care of English Heritage. Nearby are the remains of the Bishop's Manor, Howden being a stop on the way from Durham to London.

Derelict Brighouse

Just off the M62, and on the River Calder, is Brighouse - the "h" is silent. The town has clearly seen better days. Curiously, the public mortuary (closed and derelict) is neighbour to the public baths and swimming pool (closed and derelict). Some of the old mills alongside the Calder and Hebble Navigation, which runs through the town, have been converted into apartments, but these look out on wasteland and more dereliction.

19 March 2011

Hack Green, Nuclear War Bunker

Hack Green started life in 1941 as a fixed radar station. It was one of only a dozen provided with both searchlights and the communications facilities to control fighter aircraft. After WWII, radar technology needed to be updated to cope with jet aircraft, and to be protected against nuclear strikes. Accordingly, Hack Green was refitted as a Rotor radar station. Fully staffed, the site was home to over 260 personnel.

In 1958 the site was one of four that provided joint civil and military air traffic control. As an RAF station, Hack Green closed in 1966, yet a decade later the Home Office acquired the site from the MoD, for conversion into one of the regional seats of government proposed to operate in the event of nuclear war.

A massive bunker was constructed, partly underground, to provide for self-contained power generation and air filtration; decontamination facilities; and communication, control and broadcasting functionality. Were the Emergency Powers Act to be invoked, the 135 civil servants and military staff bunkered in the RGHQ at Hack Green would have sought to govern the area from Cheshire to Cumbria, or at least what was left of this.

Hack Green RGHQ operated from 1984. Like its counterparts in other parts of the UK, it was sold in the early 1990s. It is now home to a splendid collection of radar, civil defence, and cold war exhibits, drawn together by Rodney Siebert, the site's curator. Some of the communications equipment, all valves and flashing lights, came from Criggion (YMGW passim).

16 March 2011

Crunk Cruckton

Crunk: slang for exciting. After explaining where it is, the Wikipedia entry for Cruckton gives as the first of its three descriptive lines: "The village has a crescent of council houses." Wild. It does though have a wonderfully derelict pub, the erstwhile Hare and Hounds.

09 March 2011

The Taj Mahal of the North

Williamson Park was laid out in the sometime quarries of Lancaster Moor from which was extracted the stone used in many of the city's buildings. It was landscaped in 1877 by John Mclean, and financed by James Williamson Snr, providing employment for locals put out of work by the cotton famine occasioned by the American Civil War.

James Williamson Jnr, later Lord Ashton, made his millions from the linoleum and oil-cloth for which Lancaster was famous. He raised the 150 feet tall Ashton Memorial to his second wife, Jessie. Commenced in 1906, it opened just three years later. Sir John Belcher's design made use of a steel structure, supporting Portland stone cladding. The grand steps are of Cornish granite, and the dome is clad with copper.

The folly was damaged by fire in 1962, but it was the steel armature that proved to be its undoing, having suffered from severe rusting. The memorial was closed in 1981, and restored 1986-87. The internal floor is of red, black and white marbles.

Also not accessible in the 1980s was the Edwardian Orangery, now renovated and reopened as the Butterfly House. Unfortunately it has had built beside it a rather tacky cafeteria and, behind, some even tackier small animal and insect enclosures. A red rose of Lancaster has been laid out in pebbles between the orangery and the memorial.

08 March 2011

Satis House Located?

The hard winter hasn't been at all kind to Calcott Hall (YMGW passim). The walls appear in reasonable shape, although they won't be for much longer, as in many places there is very little mortar remaining. The first two floors of the central staircase seem fairly sound, but the rooms giving off these are in a very poor state of repair.

The photographs suggest that the Hall is in better condition than it is. New floors are needed throughout, and new joists in a number of the rooms. The doors with semi-circular lights, giving off the hall and stairs, are in good condition, but all the exterior doors and windows likely need replacing. The latter are universally broken and letting in much water. Some rooms have been invaded by ivy.

Compeyson jilted her at twenty to nine, not twenty-five to twelve, but it could be Miss Havisham who stopped the clock - the Hall is in a decaying time warp. The top floor is in a terrible state. The roof is missing slates and the lantern has collapsed entirely. Miss Havisham must have sat below it in her wedding dress.

It will not be much longer before the central staircase, inundated with water from above, starts to deteriorate badly. The extensive courtyard buildings are suffering too, many slates having been deliberately removed. Not content with owning one of the most awful cars ever made, the erstwhile occupants of the Hall had two Morris Marinas!

04 March 2011

Karan Anne Porter

Thursday 4 March 1965 to Wednesday 4 February 2009.
Photograph: University of Lancaster, 1984.

Hereford, Not Mappa Mundane

Hereford's pièce de résistance is, naturally, the cathedral, but the city is home to a number of attractive buildings (and some dire ones). Grade II* listed, the town hall is in the true tradition of local authorities ensuring the best for themselves. Opened in 1904, it's constructed of brick, the Baroque frontage faced with terracotta mouldings.

Fosse House, so named as it is built on part of the moat (Latin: fossa) of long-gone Hereford Castle, was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, erstwhile pupil of Sir John Soane. Smirke is famous for the British Museum, Covent Garden Theatre, and Edinburgh's Royal College of Physicians. Completed in 1825, Fosse House is late-Georgian. Note the hexagonal chimneys and the octagonal glazing bars.

The Old House, built 1621, stands self-consciously in the middle of a modern shopping centre and with its feet about a foot below current pavement level. It started life as part of Butchers' Row, which was progressively demolished from the early nineteenth century, when the street alignment was altered; and now stands alone, somewhat Disney-esque in its isolation.

01 March 2011

British Petroliana?

The Anglo-American Oil Company Ltd was formed in 1888, a British affiliate of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. This last was dissolved in 1911 following a ruling of the US Supreme Court, and over 30 independent companies resulted. One, Standard Oil, acquired AAOC - anti-trust legislation has never been that effective in the oil and petrol business!

AAOC employed numerous brands for its imported motor spirit - Pratts, Pratt's Perfection Spirit, Anglo's Taxibus Spirit (commercial vehicles), Anglo's Benzole (a petrol and coal-tar mix), Pratts Ethyl (a petrol and alcohol mix), and Pratts High Test. The possessive apostrophe came and went, but in 1934 Pratt's/Pratts disappeared as AAOC adopted the phonetic version of Standard Oil - Esso.

The Mexican Eagle Oil Company was formed in 1900 to exploit the Mexican oil fields - it had exclusive rights in several states of the country. In 1919 Mexican Eagle was bought jointly by the Royal Dutch Petroleum and the Shell companies (now combined as Royal Dutch Shell). "Shell-Mex" was a resultant brand. "Mex" signs are likely pre-1919. In 1938 Eagle was nationalised by the Mexican government and became Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX).

British Petroleum has a long and complex history. In 1901 one William Knox D'Arcy negotiated an exploration agreement with the Shah of Persia. D'Arcy sold the majority of his rights to the Glasgow-based Burmah Oil Company, which in 1909 formed the subsidiary Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

Winston Churchill, instrumental in moving the Navy over to oil, negotiated with APOC to secure supplies, and by 1913 the government took a controlling stake. Ironically, the British Petroleum brand was a German creation, an agency for the sale of Shell petrol in the UK. Its assets were seized on the outbreak of WWI, and in 1917 purchased from the trustees. It became a marketing subsidiary of APOC.

When Persia changed its name to Iran in 1935, APOC became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It was not until 1954 that the company became officially known as British Petroleum, although the brand had been in use for over 45 years. The BP shield was designed in 1920, when the "BP" letters acquired their rounded serifs. With its pointy serifs, and despite the Union flag, this sign is possibly from the 1910s and, hence, for the German agency.

Surely Dunlop was a British company? The Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company Ltd was formed in Dublin, but in 1889, when all Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. Divisions were established in Europe and the States in the early 1890s; and in 1896 Dunlop registered its trademark and created a subsidiary in England. Car tyre manufacture commenced in 1900, and in 1918 production moved to Fort Dunlop, Birmingham.