Tuesday, 30 September 2014


I love the seashore and so too do the people who own this beach chalet at Silecroft as they have woven it in fishing line and string on their fence. I took this looking out to sea
but had to give the photograph the 'lomo' treatment to boost the colour viewed from the 'right' side. The full sentiment is Peace and Love, the mantra of the sixties which the world could do with more of right now.

The steps to the chalet from the beach  are decorated with the flotsam and jetsum of the tide - nets, floats and lifebuoys;
including one lifebuoy from an old  fishing boat the Gertrude Ann which plies its trade in the Irish Sea and must have lost this on one of its trips.  September has been an unusually warm and calm month so the beach had little of interest for the beachcomber but the rougher winter seas will bring all manner of items.  You may have noticed that the windows of the hut have their protective boards on so no-one was in residence. I hope they notice this mound of string next time they visit
because a bit of sunshine yellow would add to their pallet of colours and perhaps this balloon tag the theme.
 Peace and Love

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week sojourning at L here

Sunday, 28 September 2014


I have visited Antwerp twice, once by accident when taking the wrong exit off the ring road and once by intention for a longer stay because I was fascinated by what I saw on my first unintentional visit.  In my last War Illustrated post our French dragoons were looking for Germans and a few pages on in the same 29th August 1918 edition it was probably where they should have been galloping.
As the article implies Antwerp was considered the great redoubt built by the one of the leading fortification engineers of his time.  After Belgian independence in 1830 the city of Antwerp was proclaimed the National Safe Haven of Belgium, the last bastion of Belgian army in case of invasion by enemy troops and a safe haven from which to wait for help from allies.

As planned, the government, royal family and civil service in 1914 had decamped to Antwerp from Brussels to hold fast and the War Illustrated reported

"Gay, bright, picturesque Brussels has bravely prepared for the greater Waterloo.  The Government has been shifted to Antwerp, and the unfortified capital has opened to the enemy without a struggle. It had become a city of hospitals.  King Albert gave his splendid palace for hospital work and big hotel-keepers and large shop-owners turned their buildings into Red Cross institutions..."
"The immense fortress town, with triple belt of forts where the Belgians prepared for their last heroic stand"
The Gothic cathedral spire with its carillon bells still dominates the Antwerp skyline today as it does in the photograph and map. The optimism of holding the city for a year was ill founded as the Germans attacked with heavy artillery and on September 28th captured many of the outer ring forts.   The Belgian troops fought a rear guard action but were heavily outnumbered.  On October 1st the Belgium government sent a telegram to the British saying they would retreat in three days time.
Two more photographs of Antwerp and the Scheldt River that could be taken today.  In the background of the photograph on the right is Steen Castle
Steen Castle, Antwerp
where next month on the 3rd October 2014 a reconstruction of the pontoon footbridge across the River Scheldt to the Left Bank (Linkeroever) will be built by the Belgian and Dutch Engineering Corps and named the Peace Bridge. (See the Flanders Today article here)  Its purpose in 1914 was to be able to fortify the city with supplies and as a last resort be quickly evacuated. This was the route that the inhabitants would escape.
Belgians fleeing Antwerp to avoid entrapment (from 1914)
I have not found any pictures of that original pontoon bridge but the War Illustrated shows the rear guard in action
"Belgian rear-guard covering retirement"
And a reminder that after perfect weather the harvest of 1914 had been especially good
"Fighting Amongst the harvest. The Belgians and their black helmets with wheat-stalks to escape notice until they fire"

The pictures of the fleeing populace down tree lined avenues remind me that a hundred years later civilians are still fleeing violence in huge numbers in the Middle East.  Lets hope that in a hundred years time they too will live on a continent of peace. 
Antwerp surrendered on 9 October 1914 and one in five Belgians fled the country some to the Netherlands, France or Britain.   The Germans had a scorched earth policy because of the fear of guerrilla action.
"The rear of the German Army leaving Mouland burnt and sacked"

The village of Mouland or Moelingen in the photograph is near the Meuse river and was rebuilt after the war when the streets were widened and the central square enlarged.
"The railway from Landen to St Trond, destroyed by the Belgians to hinder the German advance".
(This was 6 miles of a single line of track first opened to traffic on 6 October 1839 )

Thursday, 25 September 2014

On Horseback

"Have You Seen Any Germans Pass this Way?"
Captioned "A unique war photograph taken last week on a Belgian highway. It shows a scouting part of French dragoons who are endeavouring to get in touch with the German Uhlans."

I have read various reports of the "last" cavalry charge in World War 1 which all have different times, years, places and participants but when this photo was taken and used on the front page of The War Illustrated on 29 August 1914 the realisation that barbed wire, trenches and machine guns had changed the face of warfare had not dawned.   Despite this the horse remained an essential part of the war for transport but conditions for them as for their solders companions were horrendous, 8 million horses died.  The peaceful interlude of the photograph is indeed the calm before the storm.  At the outbreak of war the French had 32 dragoon regiments.  The use of the world Uhlan for the German cavalry was a term used for all types of German cavalry regiments by the British but in actuality there were only 26 Uhlan regiments of the Polish style who were dismounted in the early weeks of the war and served as cavalry rifles, all were disbanded in 1918.
Photo from "The History Place"
Here are the men the French dragoons were "endeavouring to get in touch with".  A charge against the Belgian positions by the Uhlan cavalry armed, like the French, with lances.



Tuesday, 23 September 2014


We came upon this little group of kayaks while wandering downstream from the Jackfield Bridge I showed in last week's ABC Wednesday.  They were practicing on a small fall of white water, the red kayak was paddling downstream but
then turned around to make another run
 meanwhile the yellow kayak was still enjoying trying to progress against the flow
 My preference over a kayak would definitely be a Canadian canoe with those reassuring life-jackets as my swimming ability is negligible.  There are quite a few hire companies offering maps, canoes and journeys of varying length on England's longest river, the Severn.  It  is the perfect vantage point to see wildlife while gently drifting through Shropshire.  One of the day trips on offer is a paddle down the river and then a return by steam train on the Severn Valley Railway which goes over the Victoria Bridge which is a similar design to 
this bridge, the Albert Edward, which today only carries coal traffic to the power station.  Built in 1864 with two tracks but today only one is used due to the age of the bridge, possibly one of the last cast iron railway bridges to be constructed.  When we were here in late August the first touches of Autumn colour had started to appear  but at this point the riverside still retained its summer green.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week sojourning at K here

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Seychelles 1989 stamp of 'Liberty '; one of set commemorating the 125th Anniversary of International Red Cross
The ocean going steam ship that caught my attention on my previous World War 1 post was the 'Liberty' whose owners had the unfortunate habit of dying on board.  At the outbreak of war it was in the possession of Courtenay Morgan who in 1913 had succeeded his uncle as Vicount Tredegar and inherited an income of £1000 a day and £2.5M in the bank.  With  all that money one of the first things he did was purchase the steam yacht 'Liberty' and  as you can see he had an eye for beautiful ships.
Photograph from Roll of Honour - ships
  With the outbreak of war in 1914 Vicount Tredegar offered Liberty to the Admiralty and paid for it to be fitted out as a hospital ship (initially also providing and paying for the crew).  Leaving home he took command of the yacht and was given the title of Commander of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves.  The Seychelles stamp at the top shows it in its Red Cross guise.  The question in my mind was why had the War Illustrated referred to it as Lady Tredegar's yacht?  The daughter of James Carnegie, 9th Earl of Southesk Lady Katherine ran with the arty set in London and from all reports grew to loath her husband "with a passion" as he was her exact opposite being the archetypal hunting and shooting lord of the manor.  However Lady Tedegar took an active part in the war effort running fundraisers, galas concerts and exhibitions.  She also loaned out her London town house at 37 Bryanston Square to the fledgling Royal Flying Corps who opened it as a  hospital in May 1916 where, after a visit by the King and Queen in 1917, she also contributed £372 to cover maintenance of the hospital for 6 months and an extra bed. Given all this she must also have been involved with Liberty's use as a hospital ship.
Postcard of Liberty as a Hospital Ship from Newport Past
Lord Tredegar's command of Liberty only lasted until 1915 when he was transferred to the Royal Naval Division in charge of recruitment in Wales and in 1916 Liberty set sail for the Mediterranean with a full set of naval and medical crew.

After the war Lord Tredegar once again took charge of the yacht, refitted it, and embarked on a world cruise visiting every colony in the then British Empire and every state in the Commonwealth.  As far as I can gather Lady Katherine remained in London and continued her life but became "delightfully dotty" building and sitting in human sized bird's nests.  Her son Evan had a liking for parties and wildlife and kept a menagerie of animals at their country seat which including a boxing kangaroo called Somerset .  He would be the last of the Tredegar line (his sister having committed suicide) and today their 17th Century house is in the care of the National Trust and considered "one of the wonders of Wales"
The fate of the Liberty did not last as long for after Courtenay Morgan had sailed around the world he sold the steam yacht to the shipping magnate Sir Robert Houston in 1919/20 who died on-board in 1926 leaving the ship in his will to his wife Lucy, Lady Houston.   She spent much of her time living on the yacht and famously in 1932 when she had offered the British government money to strengthen the army and navy (and been turned down), sailed around the British coast with a huge electric sign on the Liberty's rigging with the words 'Down with Macdonald the Traitor'. After Lady Houston's death in 1936 Liberty was sold to John Cashmore for scrap and dismantled at Newport in 1938, only thirty years after her original launch in 1908.

Ship Stamps, 2 Oct 2008  -" Liberty yacht"
Lost Hospitals of London - Royal Flying Corps Hospitals
Gentleman Spy Blog - Evan's Ladies No 1 (Lady Katherine 1867-1949)
Gentleman Spy Blog - The Lords Tredegar (Courtenay Morgan 1867-1934)
Steff Ellis' Tredegar House - Evan Morgan and the First World War
Wikipedia - Lucy, Lady Houston

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Jackfield Bridge

I had something in mind for this week's ABC and remember thinking it would be perfect but alas whatever J it was has slipped as easily out of my mind as it did in.  Happily this soaring structure also begins with a J 
It is the Jackfield Bridge over the River Severn, just a few miles away from the iconic Ironbridge I showed last week. It replaces an earlier bridge which was the first toll free bridge crossing of the gorge and was funded by public subscription with the land donated by the land owner. Built by Liverpool Hennebique to an open spanned arch design by LG Moushell it was an early example of the use of reinforced concrete.
Here is the grand opening of the what was then called the Free Bridge or Haynes Memorial Bridge in 1909.  A 14 ton steam roller was sent over to load test the bridge.
The years were not kind to the Free Bridge with decaying concrete carbonising. chloride attack from de-icing salts and rusting steel.  Repeated repairs were tried but the tonnage limit kept having to be reduced until by 1986 there was a 3 ton limit.  It was decided to demolish and replace the bridge which created its own design contraints due to the unstable banks caused by the river undercutting and the repeating River Severn floods, one of which can be seen in the above photograph taken in 1950s of a bus crossing the Free Bridge.

The design also had to be sympathetic to the Ironbridge Gorge which is designated a UNESCO Heritage Site and the ultimate result was a counterpoint to the old ironmasters bridges that cross the river.
The new Jackfield Bridge has an overall span of 57m with a 30 ft steel tower and cable supports and was opened in 1994 (designed by Gifford and Partners, built by McAlpine Construction).  As part of the opening celebrations a vintage steam roller trundled over the bridge (to recreate the original 1909 load test) accompanied by its modern counterpart.

What I also found fascinating about the bridge was not only had they to stabilise the ground before building could begin but because of the narrow winding roads to the gorge everything had to be brought to the site in sections (unlike those early bridges when the industrial revolution was in full swing and all the foundries were still operating nearby).  The tower was delivered in 4 sections and hoisted into position by a 200 tonne crane.  The crane itself was so large it also couldn't navigate the roads and was delivered in sections taking 2 days to erect on site.
Photograph from the Tata Steel site.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week sojourning at J here

Monday, 15 September 2014

Red Cross Volunteers

This recent Red Cross newsletter reminded me that before I went on holiday I was delving into my inherited War Illustrated magazines.  The Red Cross are also remembering the outbreak of World War 1 and their volunteers and staff who "did everything from nursing to air raid duty to searching for missing people and transporting the wounded" and of course the Red Cross work did not end in 1918 (or indeed ever) and by 1919 the numbers of volunteers had reached 90,000.  The majority of female VADs (Volunteer Aid Detachments) were nurses who organised and managed  the 3000 local axillary hospitals throughout Britain which were set up in a variety of buildings and places but many were also deployed abroad to help in field hospitals. From 20th October the records of the VADs will be available to browse at -  redcross.org.uk/ww1
World War 1 VAD Recruitment Poster

But lets return to August 1914 when the British Red Cross formed the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John and the War Illustrated edition of 22nd August devoted a page to "Woman's Healing Work Amongst the Wounded"
"Group of Red Cross nurses at Newport in the Isle of Wight"
 which gives the impression that the whole of womankind were on the march, setting sail or boarding trains:

Apart from those marching red cross volunteers the other thing that attracted my attention on this page was the ocean going steam yacht

which took me on a fascinating journey through the Internet where I discovered the story of the ship 'Liberty' and the eccentric Tredegar family but more of this later.

 Related Information:-
1. List of Auxiliary Hospitals in the UK During the First World War 

Saturday, 13 September 2014


Millom School's "Its your Tern Project" has certainly added a welcome splash of colour to the RSPB Hodbarrow hide whose solid dark concrete has a tendancy to look more like a nuclear bunker than a place to  watch birds.
Panels designed and painted by pupils at Millom School and installed in 2013, the colours are still vibrant.
Heron and Natterjack toad contemplating, detail from the middle panel.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Iron Bridge

Erected in 1779 and opened in  1781 this is the first arch bridge in the world to be made of cast iron and spans the gorge of the River Severn whose nearby settlement takes its name, Ironbridge.  The area has a valid claim to be considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution for it is where Abraham Darby first smelted iron ore with coke in 1709 (rather than charcoal or coal) meaning  it could be produced in large economic quantities.  The bridge was closed to traffic in 1934 although tolls were still collected at the toll house until 1950 when the council took over its upkeep. 
The steepness and instability of the gorge was another challenge for the original constructors,  they also had to make the bridge high enough to allow sailing boats through and its 100 ft span is supported by 5 cast iron rib members. Both beautiful an functional it is thought that three forges provided the iron one, one of which is the nearby and aptly named Bedlam Forge.
The view from the bridge today is  very peaceful but I imagine in the past it would have looked very different with the rising smoke and fire of the furnaces.
   "Coalbrookdale by Night" by Philip de Loutherbourg 1801.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet this week sojourning at I here

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


I wonder where you would put a table like this?  I imagine in a very large hall where those heads would be irresistible to hang a hat after returning from hacking around the countryside.  This is the 'Deerhound Table' designed and created by the sculptor John Bell (1811-1895) for the Paris International Exhibition of 1855.  The life-size deerhounds support a table top painted to look like marble.  On display in the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron you may guess from that name that it is made of the material loved by the Victorians, cast iron. and it weighs a massive 800 kg.
It would be impracticable for me to own a dog but that does not stop me musing on what type I would like to have.  These hounds might be perfect, the puppies are very lively but once they reach about three they like to lounge around and sleep, the place of preference being on soft furnishing. however their attention is always grabbed by food and the chance of a long walk.  Sounds a bit like me. Perhaps I would take them to the beach
but watch out for the Sea Holly
Bethecar Moor and the Coniston Hills
Their own place of preference would be the high hills with plenty of room to run for, as their name implies, they were originally bred to hunt deer. Want to see some real deerhounds bounding around?  I know I did, here is the Flickr Group.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet this week sojourning at H here