Archive for May, 2015

A seal at Mallaig

May 31, 2015

Life has taken us to Mallaig a couple of times. We were at this west of Scotland fishing harbour and ferry terminal in 2009 having travelled up from Fort William on the regular steam train that operates throughout the summer.

But we won’t look at that, this time. Instead, let’s take a look at the harbour seal. Clearly this beast had got used to sharing its life with the humans.


A head appeared in the calm and clear water of the harbour. A fishing boat had returned with its catch.




The seal hoped for a share and made its way nearer the boat.


What sleek animals they are when in the water. They are perfectly adapted to their life style, although this one chose to hunt for scraps from fishing boats which, no doubt, is a fairly modern and innovative scheme.

He provided a fine sight for us tourists who had come off the Jacobite Express.


I love that view with those enormous paddle feet at the back, controlling speed and direction through the water.

I may also love my steam trains but you can’t beat a bit of wildlife!

A Well Tank

May 30, 2015

Do you know, it is just about a month since I last wrote about trains although I did have some luggage labels about three weeks ago? No wonder I am suffering from withdrawal symptoms!

Perhaps it is time again to look at an old friend from the very early 1960s – it’s a sweet little tank engine which for some reason was classed as an ‘0298’. The class was also known as Beattie Well Tanks. They were designed by Joseph Beattie and a well tank, for water, was sited under the boiler and footplate.

These tanks were introduced in 1863 to operate what were then very lightweight London suburban trains. They worked well but as train sizes had to grow they became too small for the task. Production ceased in 1875 and locos migrated to the west of England to operate branch line services there. The engine I show here was part of a batch produced in 1874.

By 1895 most of the 85 engines built had gone but three had found their way to the Bodmin area in Cornwall where they were found to be the ideal loco for the china clay trains on the Wenford Bridge line. The three old locos stayed put until 1962 enabling me as a train spotter to see them and as a rail enthusiast to travel on a special train around south west London which was hauled by two of them. It should be said that the locos were quite considerably altered during what proved to be a very long working life.

Two of them have been preserved and here is one of them on shed at Bodmin as a preserved loco in the year 2003.


What a lovely old lady this is – and it is one of the locos I have been pulled by. Of course, I have my ticket for that journey – but no photos taken by me.


Here we see (not for the first time on this blog) my brother, on the right, and I spotting the loco at Wadebridge in 1961.


No doubt, like most people, I can be amazed at the changes which have taken place during my life time. It seems unthinkable, now, that you might find mainline railways being powered by locos or trains that were close on 90 years old. But there she was and still doing a useful job.

Bird Song

May 29, 2015

I am sufficient of an idiot that I can still think that despite the fact that we have ten clocks in our lounge (not to mention any watches we might wear or computers which might be on) we could still do with another.

Most of my clocks have a family connection and are good old clockwork devices but I’m not averse to modern quartz clocks. For a start, there’s a chance they’ll tell us the right time.

At a recent charity event in our village one stall had one of those clocks that tweet bird song each hour. It was cheap and the money I paid was for a very good cause (The British Red Cross) so I came away with the clock which of course, had no instructions. And here it is.


When I got it home and had time to look at it, I was not sure the bird song was working. The clock certainly worked and seemed to keep time but as hour followed hour, no birds tweeted. There was just a click.

Two things came to mind. My son has a classier version of this clock idea and the birds only sing in daylight. Maybe it was too dark for my bird clock to sing. Or maybe there was an on/off switch.

I found no evidence of either, but I did find a button to press which produced the bird song and seemed to loop through the different birds.

Anyway, as I write I have just heard the clock tweet 9 o’clock. I’m not sure I heard the blue tit but some of the clock sounds are rather vague trills. Maybe at 2 0’clock I’ll hear the cuckoo and then I’ll know if I have the right bird at the right hour.

Happy madness, one and all!

On a trig point

May 28, 2015

It’s funny how little concrete structures on the tops of hills have featured in my life. They are correctly called triangulation stations and before the era of satellite photography they were the places where map makers could mount a theodolite and ‘triangulate’ – work out distances and the lie of the land for maps.


This must have been an early introduction to these structures and I fear there isn’t enough evidence to give me a definite location, but it would, for sure, have been on the South Downs in Sussex.

I choose to show this photo more as a family reminder. My brother, who so sadly died far too young back in 1980, was always more of an adventurer than me and he managed the task of scrambling up to the top of the station and he’s standing there, proud as can be whilst our mother looks on admiringly.

I am the third person, standing a little forlornly alongside. I do recall my annoyance that I was quite unable to master the feat my brother had achieved of clambering up on top.  Well, he was a good twenty months older than me and I’m guessing this photo was taken in about 1953.

My most recent encounter with a trig point as we always called them was on Sand Point near Weston Super Mare in Somerset. This was on March 27th 2015


And that’s my wife peering over the top. These days we do not even think of clambering up these little monuments to what is now old fashioned map making.

Wall art

May 27, 2015

When our children were young we used to encourage them to scribble on walls but only in that short space of time after old wallpaper had been removed and before new went on. Our walls are a bit uneven and not all of the plaster is totally sound so we feel we have to use wallpaper. Emulsion paint isn’t really an option.

Back in 2005 we redecorated a room which had previously been done in 1989. Removing the 1989 wallpaper revealed, once again, some of the doodles done by our youngsters and here are a couple of them.

This one, dated, is clearly the work of our son and below, judging by the cat we see the work of daughter.


Re-finding these old ‘works of art’ is such fun. It almost makes it a pleasure to remove old wallpaper!

August 8th 1918

May 26, 2015

August 8th 1918

This day was oft called the black day of the German army. It was the first day of the Battle of Amiens and it really was the beginning of the end.

It was also the day on which my wife’s grandfather won a Military Cross. He was, by then, a captain in the Tank Corps. We know his tank was hit and caught fire. Still under fire he rescued as many as he could of his crew – but sadly, not all of them. Grandfather’s tank had been attached to a Canadian regiment and using their wonderful on line diaries we have been able to trace just where grandfather went on that fateful day. Near the point where his tank was hit there is a cemetery and it contains Tank Corps men. We don’t know, but maybe they were with Grandad and failed to escape from the blazing inferno of his tank.

Grandad, of course, survived but like so many Great War veterans, he never talked about it. My wife never knew he had been awarded such a high bravery award until long after his death.  So of course we do not know the names of his tank crew.

But here is one of the graves in the Beaucourt British Cemetery.


Note it has two names on it. We know nothing of Private J Oliver or Private W Barrett who sadly, along with so many others on both sides of this conflict, paid with their lives.

A Yellowhammer

May 25, 2015

A few days ago I was out walking in the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire, with wife, son and granddaughter. We were lucky enough to see a yellowhammer. That’s not a painted device for knocking in nails. It’s a bird in the bunting family.

Not only did we see it. The bird sat on a rather roughly chopped hedge and posed for us.


Isn’t that a glorious sight? I certainly thought so as did the adult members of the walk. I think granddaughter had fallen asleep by this time.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of birds this species is severely endangered. They are on the red list. The population of these birds ‘dropped like a stone’ in the 1990s but there are still thought to be about 700000 pairs of them which is, I guess, about 1 pair of yellowhammers for every 100 people.

I certainly don’t often see these more or less sparrow sized birds  so that lovely fellow was enough to draw gasps of wonder from us.

We suspect there were others about but this was the one which stayed and could be identified.


On Maid of the Loch

May 24, 2015

I feel incredibly lucky to have travelled on Loch Lomond on the paddle steamer, ‘Maid of the Loch’. This old paddle steamer still exists. It was 1970 and my (then fiancée) and I were youth hostelling in Scotland. I can tell you this was a grand holiday for me as we did much of our travelling by train, covering the West Highland line, The Kyle Line and the far north line. We also used ferries and one of them was from Balloch Pier to Tarbet and this was our trip on Maid of the Loch.

Actually, back then she was still a comparative youngster for she had been built in 1953 – the last paddle steamer built in Britain. Interestingly (to me at any rate) was that she was made as a construction kit and delivered to Tarbet by rail for assembly,

The memory of sound shifts in the Glasgow area stick with me. As we awaited the arrival of the Maid at Balloch Pier an excited Glasgow youngster saw her coming and called, ’Mammy, It’s a beg shap’. Or, as we Sassenachs might say, ‘Mummy, it’s a big ship’.

I surely have a photo of The Maid somewhere. This was the era of half frame colour slides on my little Canon Demi camera.

What I have here is a bit of the sharp end and a view of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond.


I have driven up past Loch Lomond several times since and I have to say I find it hard to actually get to the banks to find out if they are ‘bonny’. But on Maid of the Loch it was a glorious experience and I am delighted to have made that trip. Yet I do have one regret for it means there is a part of the West Highland railway – the bit alongside Loch Long – that I have still never travelled.

Kit Williams

May 23, 2015

Christopher Williams was the brother of my wife’s great grandmother which must make him a great great uncle. He was a Cornish man from the Redruth area and an extremely elusive man to find.

He was known as Captain Kit. We don’t think he was a military captain, but rather a mine captain. And like many a Cornishman he travelled, not just within Cornwall or England, but all over the world.

He was born in about 1853 in Hayle but being part of a mining family would mean he moved around.

In 1861 he was with his family in Camborne and in 1871 he was with the family in Redruth. He married Mary Harry in 1879. She had been born in Australia but was part of a Redruth mining family.

In 1881 Christopher was described as a shopkeeper at 8 Fore Street in Redruth.


We have copied examples of adverts he placed in the Cornubian newspaper. Above is 1882 and below is 1883


We rather think it was his wife who ran the shop for Christopher was managing a mine in India for much of the time, but got home enough to father four children between 1880 and 1891.

Mary appears on the 1891 census but Christopher must have been away from home.

Neither Mary nor Christopher were blessed with long lives. Mary died in 1896. Christopher died in 1900


The newspaper carried this notice.

In 1901 the three younger children, Thomas, May and Christopher lived with an Aunt. Edward can’t be found and by 1911 all four of Kit’s children seem to have vanished.

Of course, we’d love to know more.

William Lanceley

May 22, 2015

In reply to a blog comment, the other day, I suggested that genealogy which is a list of names and dates is just a tad uninteresting. I like censuses because they give just a bit of information. Gravestones can, as well and I know my great great uncle, William Lanceley, via census and gravestone only. Let’s start with the gravestone which I snapped (with the camera) back in 2003. I knew I was related to people called Lanceley back then, but at the time I had not identified William. So as ever, I broke that rule of genealogy which says ‘start from the known and work towards the unknown’.  This was an unknown and I was able, very easily, to work towards the known.

In terms of technology, 2003 was almost the dark ages. We didn’t have mobile access to the internet back then and so research to identify William had to wait until I was home from a family history hunt in Cheshire. So, my raw data was a grave photo.


This was in Timperley churchyard and straight away stories appear. Freddy, infant son of William and Emma died in 1891. One can imagine the sadness. And William himself was no great age when he died. Emma had nearly twenty years as a widow.

Something else that was not available in 2003 was the 1911 census.


Had I seen that we might have searched out 89 Oakfield Street in Altrincham where William and Emma lived.

One of the aspects I like about the 1911 census is that it asked the fertility questions – how many children have you had and how many are still alive? It means we know that after 28 years of marriage William and Emma had had just two children, one of whom was Freddy. The other was Alice who was born in 1883.

We also know from the censuses that William was a blacksmith. This wouldn’t have been a romanticised rural blacksmith. Quite probably William worked in a factory for he was listed (in 1901) as a worker.

Alice married Joseph Ashley, a waterman working on the River Weaver Navigation in 1909. They had had no children by the time of the 1911 census.

Timperley church is not, in my judgement, the prettiest structure. I took this photo on the same 2003 visit.