Archive for May, 2016

On the canal in 1975

May 31, 2016

During the mid-70s, before the arrival of children, we had thought of buying a canal boat. We made a brief excursion into boat ownership with a strange little craft that had the name ‘Snatcher’ written on it. In theory, it had a car engine driving it with three forward gears and a reverse. In practice it was difficult to keep going and perhaps this was one of those occasions.


That’s me at the front, paddling the boat. My wife is at the back with a pair of nephews. I’m guessing we were somewhere near Honeystreet. Well perhaps the photo – I guess taken by my brother in law – captures the spirit of adventure in those days when our local canal, the Kennet and Avon, was not a through waterway and anything went. Nephews certainly look nervous!

These days this stretch of canal is the haunt of modern, luxurious narrow boats with some wider ones as well for this canal is a barge canal and can, mostly, take two narrow boats side by side through the locks. With Snatcher we never had to worry about locks for it was and still is in the middle of a 15 mile lock free stretch.


May 30, 2016

I’m afraid this refers to a train – one of the old Southern Electrics. I was raised in Sussex and the main lines had been electrified in the 1930s. By the time I was a train spotter in the late 1950s the electrified lines and trains were well established. We ‘experts’ knew, more or less, what we could expect to see when and where. We all had our favourite types. For me it was the style known as 6 PUL – a 6 coach unit with one of the six being a Pullman car. They had been built for the Brighton line electrification which fully opened in 1933. My best mate, always known as Boz, had a preference for the Portsmouth line electrics which were a little newer. By the time they were built the greater flexibility of four coach units had been realised and also they were gangwayed right through the train – they had a corridor right through and they were classed as 4 COR.

I grabbed a not very good photo of one of these units at my local Three Bridges station.


I think this was in 1969 and I used Kodachrome film which I never found as good as Agfachrome.

This is the back of the train – the red square in the destination indicator tells us this but the front would look otherwise identical. Some people referred to these units as Nelsons which may have been because they were built for Portsmouth services or it may have been in reference to only having one window for the driver – the other being replaced by the route indicator and being akin to the blind eye of the Admiral.

A lousy photos, but happy memories.

Hoyles Cave

May 29, 2016

Back in the early 1980s we took a holiday in Pembrokeshire. We took our nephew with us. Amongst our adventures, we found a cave called Hoyle’s Cave. And there are nephew and son in the cave.


We also visited Tenby which has an island accessible at low tide. We got across to this and found it was labelled as ‘The Castle of the Count of Monte Cristo’. We explored this island and got back before the tide covered the beach.

image004This was in my era of writing computer programs and back at home I set about writing a text adventure which had Hoyles Cave emerging into the Castle of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Text adventures are things of the past. They had no graphics and used words to create an atmosphere about surroundings. They were a kind of puzzle trail where you had to find things that enabled you to move on. The basic frame work was a grid of locations from each of which, with luck you might be able to move to a neighbouring one. Sadly, I remember almost nothing of the aim of this puzzle program or how many locations there were, or what problems had to be solved. It needed a huge amount of testing after it was written. I thank many family members and friends for that. I thought it had been published as a listing in a computer magazine but I can’t locate it. And that, sadly, means it is lost and gone for ever.

But the real locations and my imagination still remain.

A Canadian Soldier

May 28, 2016

A while ago I did a post about a somewhat distant relative called Harriet Selden . She was a part of my Mallion tribe and today’s post is about one of her grandchildren. His full name was William Caleb Selden Mallion and he was born in 1892 in Eastbourne in Sussex. William was truly a distant relative – a third cousin three times removed. We have to go back to my five greats grandfather, born in 1765, to find our common ancestor.

When William was born his dad, Caleb Mallion, was a plasterers labourer and his mother was a laundress.

On Feb 28th 1907 young William set sail for Canada on the Dominion Line ship, Southwark. Other members of the family made the crossing at different times. I think the family may have been fragmented for a while but they are all together on the 1911 Canadian census.

In 1915 William signed up for the Canadian Army – to come back to Europe and join World War One. We have his attestation papers.


These are great documents. They sort out a bit of family history although I wonder why William gave his mother as next of kin rather than his father. Page two gives a brief description of William.image004So we know William, by today’s standards was of slight build – not all that tall and certainly not big around the chest. We know he had a light complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. As far as religion was concerned he was a salvationist.

It is good to report that William returned to Canada and at the time of the 1921 census he was married, with a daughter and was working, as far as it can be read, as a painter.

Milton Lilbourne School

May 27, 2016

At the beginning of the month it was the Urchfont scarecrow weekend. This is a wonderful event, not least because it is very friendly and you can chat with perfect strangers.

I found myself in conversation with a man who lived in the little village of Milton Lilbourne. It brought back memories.

Back in the 1970s, my wife was a teacher at the school in the village. She left in the early part of 1977. Our first child was expected.

But the following year we were at the school for a celebration. It was 100 years old. We have a commemorative mug.


I fear the glaze was always crazed. This mug has been kept as an ornament and never used. It outlines the facts. Milton Lilbourne School opened its doors back in 1878 so celebrated its centenary in 1978.

A small leaflet with some school history was produced as well.


There’s the school – typically Victorian. It is semi-detached for the far end was designated as the schoolmaster’s house although by the time we knew it the house was occupied by others.

Inside there are extracts from the school records from those 100 years.

This little leaflet ended with a look forward to the next 100 years.

But the school didn’t make it. Pupil numbers dwindled – not because of any problem at the school. The number of possible children just got less. Inevitably, the school was closed with the end coming in 1985. The village has now been without a village school for more than thirty years.  The children my wife taught are now well into their 40s. The oldest children from when she started at the school will be in their 50s now.

Time flits by!

Tight curves

May 26, 2016

The heritage line The West Somerset Railway is delightful in many ways. It runs neat, tidy trains and uses a good and suitable variety of motive power. It has length – some 23 miles of it between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, so you get a decent ride through attractive countryside and along the coast. Photo opportunities abound.

As a rail enthusiast I have a taste for travelling in either the first or the last carriage. If you are in the first coach you can really hear the loco and that tells you just how hard it is working as it goes up hill or else taking it easy as it goes down dale.

But the rear coach provides photo opportunities when the line is curving for you can see engine and train up ahead.


It looks as though I am not on the train, but I am and up the front we can see our loco. She’s puffing out plenty of spent steam so she is working hard. I was lucky with this photo. First of all, I have got a mile post in shot so I can locate it precisely as 170 and three quarter miles from Paddington.  It’s near Crowcombe Heathfield. Secondly, I love the serpentine curves of the track as it wends its way towards the Somerset interior. And I love the gangers hut, clearly kept in respectable condition by the volunteers who work on the line. And of course the curve is tight enough for me to see the loco quite clearly.


Those two heads peeping out of the second carriage won’t have got anything like the view I got.

The loco, by the way, is really a freight engine but such locos were used on holiday excursions and are well suited to a hilly line. Small wheels gives them pulling power but also a lower top speed. That low top speed is no problem on the speed restricted light railways of the heritage world.

Cute cats

May 25, 2016

Pictures of cute cats were not invented in the internet age. They have been around for as long as images have been made. These are on cigarette cards collected by my dad’s cousin, Ernie Stevens.





image010These cards were in cigarettes by a company called De Reszke made by J Millhoff and Co Ltd of London.

These date from about 1931. You might think 27 is an odd number (well literally it is, of course) for a set of cards. Maybe the album these are in helps to explain.image012There are nine cards to a page so 27 is precisely three pages. And you can see that the set includes cute other animals too.

The company must have thought them successful. My four photos above include examples from sets 1, 2 and 3. I gather sets 4 and 5 followed in years up to 1935

If you want to know more then take a look at this site –

Yes, cute cats can become a bit of an academic study.


May 24, 2016

I used to love train spotting at Lewes. It was a busy station and there was always something happening. In any ordinary hour you’d see:

  • The fast train from London to Eastbourne and Hastings
  • Two stopping trains from Brighton to Eastbourne and Hastings
  • A stopping train from Brighton to Seaford
  • A stopping train from Horsted Keynes to Seaford
  • A train from Brighton to Tonbridge

Of course, there were the trains in the opposite direction to match so there were certain to be 12 trains an hour. Most of them were electric, but the Tonbridge trains were steam hauled and on top of the routine there’d be a few freight trains, holiday specials and the unlikely train heading off to Birkenhead which all could be steam hauled. Newhaven boat trains usually had one of the electric locos on the front. There was plenty of variety.

My photo is not the best and dates from after my train spotting days.


The train we see is one of the stoppers to Eastbourne. The rear unit, nearest us, is a 2Hal. It has been painted in the awful BR plain blue with an all over yellow end. It made a neat little train look hideous. The leading unit had escaped the blue paint and is in green.

Clearly some kind of work is going on at the platform ends. Perhaps it was to be the end of the lovely array of semaphore signals which, I presume, were operated from the box just beyond the platform.

We can see the now closed Tonbridge line curving off to the left by the train and beyond the train is the Caburn range of the South Downs with the infamous Lewes cliff.

Happy memories for me!


May 23, 2016

Bertha was once known as a dredger – a boat which was designed to keep channels clear for shipping by removing silt. I now understand that correctly she’s a drag boat in that she was like an underwater bulldozer which just shoved silt elsewhere.

I saw her many years ago – in the 1970s I think – at the Exeter Maritime Museum which was a great place.


And there she is – or at least was. She looks a bit unprepossessing but this little vessel has claims to fame.

Let’s start with the motive power. This is a steam powered vessel but without screw or paddle wheel. She had a specific use in a specific location and she hauled herself along a chain which was anchored at some convenient point. Bertha would have been a dead loss in open waters for she had no method of propulsion other than the chain.

And then there is the age. Bertha dates from 1844 and was built to keep Bridgwater Harbour clear of silt. She was still operational when presented to the Exeter Museum in 1968.

And then there is the question of the designer. This boat is attributed to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Nobody is 100% certain but it is very, very similar to one he did design for use at Bristol docks.

She is currently at Eyemouth – the other end of the country and out of the water. Actually, Eyemouth is in Scotland.

All Brunel fans hope she’ll be returned to working order and will be seen in operation.


The bricklayer

May 22, 2016

Not so long ago I featured a Hoffnung book and I could, here, mention a Hoffnung monologue entitled, ‘The bricklayer’. But I’ll gloss over that absolutely hilarious tale of woe and move on to my own attempts at bricklaying.

It was before 1980 that I built a porch on the front of our house. And here I am in the early stages of construction work.


I see I have some mortar mixed on a board. I have hammer, bolster for halving bricks, kevel and rule as I start on the third course of bricks, just above the damp proof course. The porch still stands, well over 35 years on so I can’t have done too badly. But I really lacked speed. You watch the professionals slap on a trowel’s worth of mortar and bang on a brick – all done in seconds. I seemed to take minutes over each brick, trying to make sure it was as perfect as possible.

But what I really love about that picture is the cat flap hole in the front door.


That’s our baby son peering through, trying to see what dad is up to.

Once the porch was built the cat flap in the door was closed. Our cats, if out, can access the porch but not the rest of the house. They have learned to ask if they want to come in and we are spared the remnant of rat that we sometimes found in the house.