Archive for the ‘past times’ Category

The Garden in 1975

September 21, 2016

Back in 1975 we lived in a pleasant little semi-detached house which we had bought as the first owners of a new house in 1971. It had a small garden, but backed on to the disused Devizes railway line. Our dream of buying it had become reality and we (and neighbours who bought) had a landscaping job to do. The railway was in a shallow cutting and the ballast was still there. The ballast needed a goodly layer of soil on top but would always be well drained. We decided a rockery with steps was the way of coping with the descent down to the old line level. We were able to transfer soil down to make the lower tier of the garden level. And here is what we finished up with in the summer of 1975.


There’s the rockery with our cat, Wilmot, sunning himself on a warm stone. I built a reasonable flight of steps to get down the level. The grass down there does look a tad parched but that was on the ballast. We can just see that our neighbours had a different scheme and just made a gentle slope.

The following year we moved to our present house so we have been there for forty years now.

This photo, of course, was taken on my little Canon Demi using Agfachrome slide film.

Visiting the gents

September 3, 2016

When in Rothesay you simply have to visit the Victorian gents’ toilet. That’s easy enough, if like me you are of the male gender. You pay your money and make use of them. For ladies, you need to find a time when they are not in use and then you, too can visit. I was able to get my wife in with no problem. She was impressed for the ladies have a modernised set of facilities.

However, I have jumped into my tale without setting things out. Rothesay is in Scotland and is the main town on the Isle of Bute. You can travel straight to Rothesay on a ferry from Wemyss Bay or you can sail to Bute from Colintraive – a very short crossing. That’s what we did but we were staying quite near Colintraive.


This building houses the Rothesay loos.

They are well labelled.image003

And inside they are just magnificent. Look at these wash basins.


And see what a fantastic mosaic tiled floor they are on.

The urinals are magnificent.


The cisterns for flushing are glass so you can see what happens.image009The cubicles and lavatory pans are pretty good as well.


It may all be historic but it is spotlessly clean and, no doubt, as hygienic as any public loos.

It does cost more than a penny to make use of the facility, but really, at just 40p it makes this a very cheap to visit utility and museum in one.

It’s definitely a place to visit.


The Scottish Flyer

September 2, 2016

It was wild and windy and cold at Ettrick Bay. We went in the café and had a hot chocolate. We could admire the place and have some warmth. I became aware of a plaque. It was a memorial to a pioneer Scottish flyer – Andrew Blain Baird.


The wide flat beach was, no doubt, ideal.


We were looking across to the bottom end of the Kames Peninsula with Kintyre beyond.

This Wikipedia photo shows Baird in his plane in 1910.


Apparently the anniversary of his flight is now celebrated by a Baird of Bute day with lots of flyers and spectators on or over the beach.

I had never heard of this flight pioneer. I’m pleased to know more.



The incubator

August 29, 2016

My paraffin egg incubator was already a museum piece when I acquired it nearly 40 years ago. I used it when I was a poultry keeper but it has been unused for more than 30 years, for much of that time occupying space in my coal shed which is now, rather more a log store.

It has just been brought to the surface and dusted off ready for a starring role in somebody else’s life story. It is a fab bit of kit which solved the problems of egg incubation in a simple but effective way, using a paraffin burner as the warmth source. Let’s see this item outside on a bright sunny day.


So how can a simple paraffin stove maintain a steady temperature of 103o Fahrenheit for hens eggs, be adjusted to 102o for duck eggs or about 99.5o for goose eggs. The answer is simple and all depends on the capsule which is this little chap below.


This item sits on a shelf high up in the incubator the gas in the blob in the middle expands and pushes the metal outwards. A rod rests on the capsule and passes through a tube and out of the top of the incubator.

Here it can push the weighted bar up and down. Adjustments can be made by altering the screw or by moving the weight on that horizontal bar. At the end of that bar a lid hangs over the heater.


If the capsule thinks the incubator is cold the rod is slightly lowered and the lid shuts over the heater which diverts heat and combustion products into the incubator. As it warms, the lid rises and heat just escapes into the air. Amazingly, it works well and it can be checked by reading off the thermometer which hangs in the incubator.


This thermometer – and the whole incubator – was made by the Gloucester Incubator co ltd of Woodchester which is near Stroud.

This particular model is the Gloucester Junior.


And there we see the closures that give access to the inside for turning eggs and filling water trays.


Now as an extra, when we got this incubator we popped into our local Ministry of Agriculture Office to see if there was any information on how to use it. Yes, they had one which included this picture.


It looks remarkably familiar!

Mr Punch at Swanage once more

August 24, 2016

On a recent visit to Swanage I took a six year old grandson. I had an excuse to visit and watch the Punch and Judy show.

The show, I feel, has been modernised a bit. Some little bits were quite clearly aimed at the adults. There were some political side swipes (and being Punch and Judy of course the swipes were real ones by Mr Punch and his stick) and also some innuendos which one has to hope were way beyond the little ones but which gained guffaws from the adults.

This year the Punch and Judy man is Professor J Burns. His site is where Punch and Judy shows have always been in Swanage – and they’ve had them for more than 100 years.

The plot was much as usual. Mr Punch was thoroughly bad to baby and was ticked off by a policeman who got sideswiped out of the way. Quite where the sausages came from I Wasn’t sure but they appeared and after some crosstalk and knockabout stuff, the crocodile ate them. At the end, our Professor proved that no real harm had come to anybody.


There’s Mr Punch with Joey the clown.


The shows main protagonists – Punch and Judy.


Punch, the croc and the sausages

I, for one, am delighted the old tradition keeps going. And at a pound a person it really is cheap entertainment these days.

Thornbury Railway opens

August 13, 2016

Recently I was browsing at some older Railway Magazines I had and in the December 1957 edition I came across this item.


First of all then, let me give credit to Colin H Maggs for the photo and for the extract about the opening of the line, below.

The railway, 7½ miles long, was opened on Monday, September 2, 1872, after the works had been at a standstill for twelve months, as the Midland Railway had the costly London extension under construction and its directors were undecided whether to proceed or not. On the opening day shops were closed in Thornbury, the town decorated and in the evening the inhabitants were entertained with fireworks and illuminations.

The Mayor of Thornbury left Bristol by the first train, and, with a hundred other guests or passengers, was welcomed to his town by a brass band. Fifty people booked from Thornbury on the first train to Bristol. In the afternoon 600 children and teachers travelled by a special train of 18 coaches to Yate and back for 4d. each, and also were entertained to tea.

Now I never knew the railway at Thornbury but I know the place for my wife’s great grandmother was born there in 1857. She died, aged just over 100 years later a couple of months before this article was published. My wife knew her great granny who had long since moved to Cornwall.

But would she, I wondered, have been at the opening of this railway line? I decided probably not for she was already 15 when the Thornbury branch opened and in service in Bristol.

But her younger sister, Edith, born 1864 may well have been one of those 600 children enjoying the trip to Yate.

We know a little of Edith who was living with her mother, recently re-married, in 1871 in Thornbury. By 1881 Edith was in service at Westbury on Trym in Gloucestershire and by 1891 she was in service in Bristol. In 1892 she married Maurice O’Brien who was a bookbinder originally from Yeovil in Somerset. They seem to have set up home in Edmonton in Middlesex. We know the names of 6 children born between 1894 and 1906.

Maurice died in 1929 in Edmonton. Edith died in 1947, still in Edmonton.

Quimper Market

August 10, 2016

One of the things you don’t always notice in real time is that ways of life change – people move on. Looking back at older photographs can bring these things to the front.

Yet having said that, I can’t be sure things have moved on. Maybe there are still people selling a few odds and ends at market stalls out in Brittany in France. For it was at Quimper and back in 1974, that I took this photo.


This chap looked so typically Gallic with his beret. I just had to take a snap of him with his box of apples and splendid blooms. I find it hard to imagine that anyone would take such a small collection to a market stall now. Actually, I’d love to be wrong. It would be good to think this less grand scale style of life continued.

I think, though, I captured a little bit of an old France which has gone. This is being written after the awful carnage in Nice – no doubt always a far cry from Brittany, but who can say we live in a better world now?

New Year 2002

August 4, 2016

I have just come across this piece I wrote some 14 years ago. I thought I’d share it.

2002 – and another fantastic beginning for me, with this view of the world as I opened the curtains on the morning of January 1st.


On January 13th, my picture was rather more with words.

Today seemed such a perfect January morning in an English village that I felt a need to write about it.

Well to start with, it isn’t quite perfect, for the sun is not shining. In fact, it’s a bit drab and grey but the early mist has lifted. Visibility is quite good, but it is better to look at the close scene, rather than our wonderful panoramas across to the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain. There is virtually no breeze. It is ideal listening weather. And the sounds of this English village 120 kilometres West of London, are lovely.

I could be tempted to say that there is no man made noise – but this would be utterly wrong for the dominating sound is that of our village church bells. We have 6 bells in our church and the team of campanologists are ringing the changes well this morning. It is loud, but from my distance of a few hundred metres, it is such a lovely sound.

It can’t drown out the wren, shrieking her way through the winter bramble bushes. Such a tiny bird, she is, yet equipped with a mighty voice – and a charming song she sings. From local trees come the incessant call of ‘teacher, teacher, teacher.’ This is the attractive great tit’s song. Not exciting, but an essential part of our rural sound pattern. They can be seen, flitting from tree to tree, and with them are their smaller cousins, the blue tits and the long tailed tits.

In the distance, I hear another noise of human technology as a train rumbles by about a kilometre to the North. To be quintessentially English this would need to be a whistle blowing steam train (and we get them on special charters from time to time). But this is a hooting diesel – perhaps dragging stone to make the trackbed of the new channel tunnel rail link being built in the South East of England. The sound reaches me as a gentle and restful drone.

But back to nature! Sparrows have clustered in a shrub. There seems to be no organisation to their chatter. It is as though they have met up after a night out, and are gossiping about what they saw. The flock of speckled starlings are too busy for too much chatter. They rush across the grassland, and when one bird finds a tasty morsel, the others dive in to try to get their share. From further afield the woodpigeons are cooing contentedly. Are rooks ever contented. The croak of the colony, a couple of hundred metres to the West sounds like a major squabble.

The robin, though avoids any rows. He sits high in a tree and sings loud and clear to tell us all that this is his patch and that we had better keep out. His relative, the blackbird, is doing the same in a more distant tree but the blackbirds are a bit close packed around here. Squabbling blackbirds chase one another from tree to tree – a sure sign that spring is on its way.

Another spring like sight is the jackdaws, sitting together and sharing food. How romantic. And a pair of winter squirrels have decided that this day is good enough for a chase through the trees. Ah yes! Spring is on the way. It won’t be long before Sue and I decide to take a walk down Windmill Lane to see the first snowdrop flowers of the year. We won’t see a mill. There isn’t one. We won’t see cars either, for Windmill Lane is a narrow footpath through the sandstone hill which leads down to the wet, heavy clay lands.

But winter hasn’t passed by yet, and the flock of fieldfare which fly over are a testament to this, for these birds are winter visitors to our island.

The church bells stop. It is one of those rare mornings when I can hear two other sets of church bells. A couple of kilometres away lies West Lavington church. On still days they can often be heard. But today I can now hear the bells of Urchfont, 7 kilometres East of here. It’s a faint sound, and a mellow one.

Whilst listening and looking, I have been feeding my own, domestic animals. My geese – handsome birds – are now freed from their overnight, fox-proof home and their gentle and polite squawking has joined the bird noises. I note with some dismay that my cockerel is getting far too dominant. One goose, and my ducks are clearly frightened of him. He chases the loudly quacking ducks around.

I am happy to lean on a fence post and observe the sheep. They are very quiet and content today, but it won’t be long until we have the first lambs of the year running in our field. And by the size of some of the ewes, there’ll be twins around.

But now another man made noise begins – a gentle clicking. It is the noise of my hoe, as I prepare ground for planting up our vegetable crops. We persist in growing vegetables despite the fact that we see to get less and less of them for our rarely seen, neighbourhood badgers are also fond of carrots and sweetcorn and the squirrels are happy to nibble peas, the woodpigeons just love cabbage and the rabbits eat anything green. But we’ll keep growing, for nothing can beat the taste of a freshly dug, roast parsnip or a slow baked potato.


A Bakelite plug

July 29, 2016

Most folks wouldn’t think of an electric plug as being interesting but this archaeological find certainly pleases me.


This might look ordinary enough except that its past ‘in the soil’ life means that mud is spilling out of it. It was clearly made by MK – still in business but it is made of elegant brown Bakelite. I see similar plugs described as art deco in style.


Here we can see that the three pins are round. This was a large size plug rated at 15 amps. Once upon a time houses had different sockets for different purposes and smaller 5 amp plugs and sockets were available and even smaller 2 amp systems as well.

A third photo shows the typical brown Bakelite best.


We can see the three pins are labelled L(ive), N(eutral) and E(arth). The grip screws are labelled as well. Back in the day we were expected to be able to put our own plugs on appliances. They were often sold with bare wire ends with the good excuse that they, the manufacturers, didn’t know what style of plug you’d want.

Ten Years ago

July 24, 2016

24th July 2006

This may look like a scene from the 1950s but it isn’t. It is perfectly possible that I could take photos of a similar scene today. We have fairly local farmers who grow long straw wheats for thatching. Combine harvesters trash straw so harvesting is in 1950s style with a tractor hauled binder (correctly a reaper binder). The cut wheat is ‘stooked’ up to dry and later a threshing machine is used to remove the grain from the ears. The straw is fed to a reed comber which makes up neat bundles of straw for the thatcher to use.

I didn’t see any of the mechanical processes on this day – but stooks of corn just look lovely anyway.



The binder has left neat rows of sheaves on the ground. It needs a team of workers to erect the stooks.


And there they were, away in the distance. It’s a labour intensive business.



Doesn’t it look grand? Maybe it would loom more 1950s if we converted it to monochrome.


For the record, what I saw operating that day was a combine!