Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sir Joseph Paxton

Joseph Paxton was from a humble background. He was born in August 1803 at Milton Bryan in Bedfordshire. His father, William was a tenant farmer and Joseph was the youngest of nine children. At the age of 15, he left school to work on the farm of an elder brother. His interests however lay in gardening and within a few months he had found employment with Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, Woburn.  He stayed  in this post for five years and during that time created his first lake.

In 1823 he applied for a post at Chiswick Gardens, a property leased by the Horticultural Society from the Duke of Devonshire. Still only 20, he lied about his age, claiming to have been born in 1801. Within a year, he was promoted to foreman and often met the 6th Duke, William George Spencer Cavendish who owned the nearby Chiswick House. At the age of 23, Paxton was offered the post of Head Gardener at Chatsworth, the Cavendish family seat. The gardens were considered to be one of the finest of the time and he immediately accepted.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

On being ten with two shillings and sixpence to spend on an adventure

by Andrew Simpson

When you only have 2/6d [12p] pocket money where you can have an adventure away from home and still have something left for sweets is an important consideration when you are 10. 

Now I was an urban child born in south east London and my adventures were circumscribed by the sheer size of London.  Not for me the lonely walk along a country lane, or a journey through an enchanted wood hard by a babbling brook.  Apart from our back garden, trees, vast expanses of grass and water was by and large offered up by the local parks and the river.

But the Thames was a working river, which made it fascinating but dangerous and a place where great stretches were out of bounds.  Likewise the parks were where grownups had sought to curtail your fun by flower beds, and signs warning you to keep off the grass.

But that is perhaps a little harsh on the park authorities.  For some time after it was opened as Telegraph Hill Park in 1895 a small section of the lower park had been given over to a play area, including a hollowed out tree truck which became in succession the conning tower of a submarine, a tank and the gate of an old castle.

Some South London Memories

Throughout my childhood, a fortnightly visit to New Cross in South East London was obligatory. My grandmother lived at 105 Woodpecker Road, a house that she shared with my aunt and uncle and their children. My grandfather had died in 1944. the year of my birth. My Nan was a dour victorian woman, the sort who gained her only pleasure by constantly grumbling. Auntie Dolly was cheerful and always gave a warm welcome. Her husband Vic, was jolly too, although I always had trouble understanding his strong London accent. This was a large house in a terrace. Two reception rooms, a dining room, a kitchen and three bedrooms. The bathroom was only added in the 1960's. The small back yard had a toilet and a coalshed. Outside the back door was the meat safe; a wooden box with a mesh front to fend off the flies. The tin bath hung on the wall. It was always a gloomy home, even in  bright daylight. Come evening, the 40 watt bulbs would be grudgingly illuminated when it was almost too dark to find the light switch.

There was just one more street between Woodpecker Road and the railway sidings so the clanking of waggons and coaches being shunted was a common sound. Of a Saturday afternoon, the air would be filled with the roar of the crowd at Millwall football ground which was just across the railway.

The woman next door but one was known to be eccentric. She lived alone with Tibbles and when her feline friend failed to come home one day, she went out in search. Around the corner in Chipley Street, a tabby cat lay in the gutter. Carrying the body home, she was sure that a little warmth was all that was needed to bring about a revival.  It was only when the real Tibbles came through the door a couple of hours later, that she realised that the dead cat still roasting in the gas oven was an imposter.

The highlight of these visits was the journey across London. In the early years, we would sometimes take a tram from Victoria. This waited at its' terminus in the middle of Vauxhall Bridge Road. I think this was route 36 and took us along Old Kent Road into New Cross. As a young child, I was always thrilled to sit on the top deck of the swaying and rattling  old car. This was one of the last tram services in London, replaced by buses in 1952, the latter offering little excitement.  Another route involved an ancient relic of the Undergound. Changing trains at Whitechapel we would descend the stairs to the platforms of the East London line. The railway would soon pass under the Thames and it was clear from the moisture running down the station walls that not all was watertight. The ancient train, of only 3 or 4 coaches, had sliding doors - passenger operated. One had to heave on a shiny brass handle and remember to close it behind you. We travelled only 2 or 3 stations to Surrey Docks where we would wait for a single deck bus. I never saw a ship but sensed that masts and funnels were hidden behind the high dock walls. The bus wound it's way through the south London streets crossing the Surrey Canal where a Thames lighter  or two, laden with sawn timber,  would always be seen moored at a woodyard. The canal is now sadly filled in and turned into roadways. Nearby was Folkestone Gardens, now a small park but then a group of forbidding tenement buildings known as "mansions".

As I grew older and bored with family chatter, I would go out exploring the neighbouring streets. This was near to dockland and had suffered wartime bombing. There were a number of cleared sites where houses once stood. Some of these served as used car lots, others were occupied by pre-fabs. My aunt worked at Pecry Haberdashers in Deptford High Street. I seem to remember an open fronted shop, wooden floors and a pneumatic payment system . Each counter was connected to a system of pipes and payments would be sealed into a container which would be propelled by air pressure to the office upstairs. She was the cashier and would receive the money, prepare the receipt and send it back to the counter with any change.  On New Cross Road, the Frank Matcham designed Empire Theatre had not yet been demolished. The last curtain had fallen but the house opened again for a record attempt by a pianist. There was no entry charge but people out of curiosity were looking in to see this man who had already suffered two sleepless nights and by this time had bandaged fingers. Wandering another day, I went in the opposite direction and found that the strangely named Coldblow Lane, dived under the railway line through a narrow tunnel. The other side was an abandoned level crossing and diminutive signal box. The tracks led into what appeared to have been a wagon works. The large sheds and empty yards were open to anyone who cared to wander in. There was no vandalism, no graffiti; they stood as they had on the day that the last worker had left.

My visits to New Cross eventually became less frequent. My Grandmother died, my cousins married, Aunt and Uncle moved to Lewisham and Woodpecker Road was demolished to make way for a new estate.

David Easton

Friday, 4 January 2013

Stockport Heritage

Stockport's Heritage is a superb blog maintained by the Stockport Heritage Trust with a vast number of articles about Stockport's history. 

Whilst in Stockport, take a look at Moor Magazine, the website for the Heatons. It has an interesting history section with well written and illustrated articles.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Furness Vale Printworks

Our new publication "The Life and Times of Furness Vale Printworks 1794 to 1925 by Chris Bond is now available from the History Society and from the village Post Office, price £5.  There is also a Kindle edition, price £1.96 available from Amazon

Although the buildings remain, many in their original form, the Printworks is now an industrial estate. These photographs show how it once looked.

The entrance to the Printworks is seen here looking down Calico Lane

A view of the Printworks from Marsh Lane. Beyond the mill complex can be seen the cottages of Furness Row and in the background, beyond the canal and railway is Buxton Road.

This scene is little changed. This is looking down from the canal. The lake on the right.

The weir in the River Goyt. The leat or goit in the foreground supplied water to the mill lodges. This channel can still be seen on the south eastern side of Station Road but only fills with water in rainy weather.

The mill lodges viewed from Station Road. These have long since been filled in and little sign remains of them.
 This was probably the boiler house yard.

A works outing

Cleaning out the lodges

Furness Lodge, now demolished stood between the canal and Calico Lane, where the houses of Furness Lodge Close are now situated. This had been the home of former mill owner, Mr Saxby and always remained part of the Printworks estate