16 July 2019

Rogiet windmill

What a delight it was to discover this new windmill earlier this week. That’s new, as in the first time I’d seen it or even knew of its presence, not new as in newly constructed, as you can tell immediately from its appearance. I was walking from Severn Tunnel Junction train station in Rogiet, in the nearby county of Gwent, to Slade Wood for a day’s butterflying with my friend Sharon when this structure appeared on the hillside in front of me.

Unfortunately, I’ve found very little information about the former windmill – what I list here has come almost entirely from the British Listed Buildings (BLB) website. This now ruined structure was once a tower-type windmill, most probably used for grinding corn into flour. The BLB lists a reference to the mill having been found in a lease document dating from 1526, so the mill is assumed to have been built around 1500. The lease or deed, between the parties Gamage (the lord of the manor), Lovelye and Mylward, relating to a ‘windmill and appurtenances’, is held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, so I haven’t been able to examine its content.

The tower is shown as a round building on a survey document dated 1746, is labelled ‘old mill’ on an Ordnance Survey map of 1830, and is shown as a dot on ‘Windmill tump’ on the 1881-82 Monmouthshire county OS map. The BLB website describes the structure as follows:

Of small scale rubble. Walls c 1m thick taper slightly and are offset below present wall head. Three original openings, possibly 4.
Former narrow stairs to upper floor S.
Doorway SW with rubble jambs, possibly a window above it.
Opposite is a second opening probably a window with doorway above; heads of both broken.
Intact slit window upper floor S.

3 tiers of beam slots. Slots also indicate stairs from ground to first floor and plaster line indicates former continuation to top floor.
Diameter suggests one pair of millstones.

Next time I visit this area, I’ll try to get better photos of the ruin and will update this post with them, and any additional information I manage to find.

15 July 2019

Penarth : Fake news!

It seems the concept of fake news is not a new one. One hundred and twenty years ago today this newspaper report related the ‘startling news’ of a meteorite falling in Penarth ... but did it?

Evening Express, 15 July 1899:
Startling news fills up the gap in the weather conversation this morning. A meteorite is stated to have fallen near the esplanade at Penarth ...

Seventy-nine people telephoned and telegraphed and called on us this morning to tell us of a meteor which fell at Penarth this morning. The office scientist wrote an account from hearsay, proving it to be the comet of 1817, just a bit used up, but active. Members of Cardiff scientific societies were of [the] opinion that it was a spoonful of meteoric matter out of the milky way. Then our matter-of-fact man took a bus there, and came back and said the strange thing was a mammoth rocket. The scientific people waiting here to hear about it proved immediately that the phenomenon was a successful endeavour of the men in Mars to signal us. Great excitement prevailed, until the news came that the rocket was a stray one from the life-saving station. Then the scientists invited us out to take to drink, and say nothing about it.

10 July 2019

Penarth : a royal assortment of post boxes

If you’re looking to post a letter in the lovely Glamorgan town of Penarth, you can choose from a wide variety of post boxes in which to place that letter for collection. There are pillar and wall boxes of various shapes and sizes, all bearing some version of the royal cypher of the king or queen who reigned at the time they were installed. The cypher usually consists of the monarch’s initials and a number in Roman numerals to indicate which monarch they are to have used that name, sometimes but not always surmounted by a crown.

The oldest post boxes date from the Victorian era (pillar boxes have been in use in Britain since 1852), when Penarth was an extremely popular seaside resort. There are at least three VR (Victoria Regina) pillar boxes, two tall and one slightly shorter and fatter (these would all have particular design names but I’m not so fascinated by post boxes as to have researched them). Penarth also has at least one wall box – there may be more lurking in the older streets that I haven’t yet walked along. Interestingly, this doesn’t show the official royal cipher in cursive script; instead, it simply has the letters VR, with a crown between, along the top of the box.

The next British monarch to reign after Victoria’s death in 1901 was her oldest son Albert who became Edward VII. 

So far I’ve located one post box from his nine-year reign, the pillar box shown at left. 

Edward VII certainly wins the prize for most elegant cypher, I think.

Next up was George V. Interestingly, his cypher does not include the Roman numeral V – it is simply GR. 

I have not discovered why this was. (The royal cyphers are apparently designed by the College of Arms and subsequently approved by the monarch.) Penarth has at least one pillar box and one wall box from this 25-year reign (1910 – 1936).

George V’s replacement was, of course, Edward VIII, the king who famously abdicated, after just 326 days on the throne, to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. 

Although post boxes were issued with his cypher, they are few and far between, and Penarth does not have one. (There is an Edward VIII pillar box in Cardiff though – see here.)

Replacing his brother, George VI became king on 11 December 1936 and served as monarch for the following fifteen years, until his death on 6 February 1952. Penarth has at least one pillar box and one wall post box from this period.

Last and longest of the British monarchs to be represented on the local post boxes is, of course, the current queen, Elizabeth II. Perhaps because of the length of her reign, Penarth boosts several different post boxes showing her royal cypher. I suspect, both from its design and its condition, that the pillar box on the right is the oldest of these. The box on the left was a ‘modern’ design that dates from 1980, but that type was replaced in 2000 by the pillar box shown in the centre, which has the words ‘Royal Mail’ emblazoned below the cypher instead of the more traditional ‘Post Office’. And that’s it until Britain gets its next monarch.

28 June 2019

Penarth : Alexandra Park

One hundred and seventeen years ago this week, on 25 June 1902, Penarth’s Alexandra Park was officially opened. What was once a steep-sloping field, with tree-filled dingles on each side, became a place to promenade, to admire the views, to sit and enjoy the music from a band performing in the bandstand, to marvel at the birds in the small aviary and the brightly coloured fish in the pond, to breathe in the fresh sea air amidst well-manicured gardens and mature trees.

The main entrance
And it still is some of those things – though I’ve yet to see a band using the bandstand, and most of the views have been obscured, either by growing trees or the modern high-rise apartment blocks that now tower over the streets below the park.

The land for the park was gifted to the town by Lord Windsor, and the local Town Surveyor already had his plan ready for submission to Penarth Council’s Parks Committee by March 1899. Tenders for the construction of the various paths and buildings and the planting of gardens, shrubs and more trees were issued in 1901, and by March 1902 work was well underway, as this article in the Evening Express of 4 March 1902 reports

A number of public improvements are now in progress at Penarth. A park, six and a half acres in extent, lying between Beach-road and the Dingle, and commanding a view of the Bristol Channel and the English coast, is being made. The natural beauties of the Dingles will be maintained, and the under portions will be laid out with footpaths and shrubberies. A large public shelter to seat upwards of 100 persons will be erected. There will also be an ornamental bandstand and a picturesque lodge for the park-keeper. The Dingle on the north side will be spanned by a rustic footbridge, and numerous seats will be scattered about.
Above, the bandstand; below, the bottom entrance and park-keeper's lodge

Alexandra Park was named in honour of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, and the opening was timed to coincide with their coronation, which was originally scheduled for 26 June 1902 but had to be delayed until August as the King required surgery. There was talk of delaying the park’s opening too but, in the end, the Town Council decided to proceed. Here’s a report from the Barry Dock News, 4 July 1902:

The Park and Cliff Walk Grounds [a separate area], Penarth, which have been appropriately named Alexandra Park, in honour of her Majesty the Queen, were formally opened on Wednesday week last by Mr Samuel Thomas J.P., the chairman of Penarth Urban District Council. Three years ago Lord Windsor, who is the largest landowner in the district, generously offered various pieces of land, amounting in all to about sixteen acres, to the Council, who decided to lay out the most suitable and picturesque of these sites as a park to be closed at sundown, while the others were to be laid out as recreation grounds, to be left open at all times. The park is a decided acquisition to the town. It is charmingly situated between Beech-road and the Dingle footpath, and overlooks the Bristol Channel, and commands a. splendid and uninterrupted view of the Somersetshire coast. Being well wooded with full-grown trees, with rustic walks, excellently laid-out footpaths, and possessing an ornamental bandstand and numerable seats at convenient spots, the ground forms an ideal place wherein residents and visitors can spend a pleasant afternoon.

Of course, over time many things have changed in the park – some buildings and the original glasshouses have been demolished, small parts of its grounds have been sold off, a Cenotaph was constructed in 1924, but the park also retains much of its Victorian flavour, with its topiary yew trees and the annual plantings of riotous colour in its garden beds. And the aviary still houses a small population of budgies, canaries and doves, and the pond its goldfish, perhaps the descendants of their original inhabitants.

The aviary, above, and the pond, below

My photos were taken during a walk in the park earlier this week but you can see some wonderful old postcards and photographs of how it looked in its early years, and read more of its history, on the Penarth Parks website.

25 June 2019

Penarth: the Dolly Steps

I must have been up and down this flight of steps a hundred times before, thanks to a local I know through social media, I found out they were called the Dolly Steps. (Thank you, Conrad!)

Looking up  from the bottom and looking down from the top

The steps lead down from Plymouth Road in central Penarth into an area known as the Dingle. There, huge old trees tower over a small stream that bubbles out of the hillside before meandering its way alongside Alexandra Park and on down to the sea.

The risers of these steps are incredibly shallow – taking the steps singly feels awkward but their treads are a little too wide to easily negotiate two at a time, unless you’re running. (I do not run!)

The reason for the design of the steps harks back to when they were created, in the late Victorian era. Women then still wore long, floor-length gowns and modesty prevented them from showing their ankles. The shallow steps allowed them to walk elegantly down to the seaside to take the air whilst still staying within the bounds of propriety.

04 June 2019

Brits and their beach huts

Is this a purely British concept? The idea of paying thousands of pounds for what is basically a small shed, which, most of the time, is only used for a few hours on a few days of the year and which, mostly, can’t even be overnighted in?
Eastbourne 'bathing machine', August 2014

Apparently not, as huts can now be found in countries like France and Norway, though the idea does seem to have evolved from the bathing huts that prudish Victorians would have wheeled into the sea so they could enter and leave the water in relative privacy. 

The brightly striped ‘bathing machine’ outside the Langham Hotel in Eastbourne is a wonderful example, this one lovingly restored by a former owner of the hotel, Julian Martyr.

From those humble beginnings, the hut evolved into a fixed beachside structure and the concept didn’t only become popular in Britain, but also travelled with the Brits to their colonies abroad – particularly noteworthy are the vibrantly coloured ‘bathing boxes’ in the Brighton of the south, in Melbourne, Australia.  

Beach huts in Lyme Regis, December 2017

According to Wikipedia, there are now around 20,000 beach huts in Britain. In recent years, there has even been a competition, sponsored by insurance company Towergate, to find Britain’s best beach hut of the year – see here and the 2015 finalists here. One particularly luxurious ‘hut’, in a ‘desirable’ location in Dorset, that had a fully-fitted kitchen and the capacity to sleep six people, was for sale in 2018 for £270,000! 

Beach huts in Seaford, March 2019

The practical purpose of a beach hut is, of course, to have somewhere to change into and out of your bathing costume; to store the buckets and spades, deck chairs and sun umbrella; to make a cup of tea and perhaps prepare your picnic lunch, maybe have a barbeque; and, of course, this being Britain, to shelter from the ubiquitous rain. Personally, I like a bit more privacy than these huts provide, jammed as they are cheek by jowl with a host of other huts, and my ideal beach experience is more about long, empty spaces to walk, but I know people hold treasured memories of spending their summer days at huts like these.

Those same Seaford beach huts in summer, July 2018

My eye is drawn to the design of the different huts and their wonderful vibrant colours, and the way they sit in the land- or town-scape. They are very photogenic, and I hope to find more to photograph.

Beach huts on Barry Island, in south Wales, February 2019

29 May 2019

Barry : a drinking fountain

During a recent thirst-inducing walk along the coastal path from Rhoose to Barry, I was delighted to notice an old drinking fountain when we finally reached Barry’s Cold Knap Park. Unfortunately, the fountain no longer works so we were ‘forced’ to visit a cafe across the road from the park, where they also sold nice cakes – a real hardship! But I have a bit of a thing about old drinking fountains (see my post on Penarth’s drinking fountains here and some in Cardiff here, so I’ve been trying to find out more about this one.

It seems the lack of drinking water has long troubled visitors to this area: in the Barry Dock News of 14 September 1906 an article reported the minutes of the latest Council meeting, at which the issue of a water supply for Romilly Park had been raised – that park is just across the road from Cold Knap Park, which did not exist at the time (that same newspaper contained an article reporting that the trustees of the Romilly Estate had decided to sell the land along the foreshore between Barry and Porthkerry where Cold Knap Park is now located).

And, in a letter to the Barry Dock News published on 26 August 1910, ‘Holiday-seeker’ raised the scandal of ‘pleasure-seekers’ picnicking at Cold Knap having to pay twopence to a local farmer for a kettleful of water to prepare tea – outrageous!

According to a Coflein report I managed to locate (Coflein is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales), the main construction phases of Cold Knap Park can be dated to the 1920s, and the Knap
Lido, which was located within the park and was one of the largest open-air swimming pools in Britain in its heyday, was opened on 1 May 1926. (The Lido closed in 1996, its buildings were demolished and the pool filled in during 2004.) So, I assume the drinking fountain also dates from the mid 1920s.

This date ties in well with an unofficial comment about the fountain that I found on the Friends of the Knap Gardens Facebook page. 

The post, dated 31 August 2016, contained comments about the recent sprucing up and painting of the old drinking fountain, and local resident Joanne Creek commented that she believed the drinking fountain had been installed in 1926 and had been cast by Goulds foundries of Barry – the firm of W. H. Gould, Iron and Brass Founder, was based nearby in Barry Dock. 

Joanne had also been lobbying the local council to have the water supply reinstated but, sadly, had not been successful.

The Coflein report confirms that the drinking fountain is, indeed, made of fluted cast iron, with two bowls on one side, and I have since discovered that the bottom bowl was intended for use by dogs needing a drink – brilliant idea! 

The structures within Cold Knap Park are Grade-II listed so I hope this means the drinking fountain will be protected for future generations to admire, if not to use. I’m sure the local Friends group will be keeping a watchful eye on it.

26 May 2019

East Sussex : Rye windmill

I realised when compiling my previous blog, in celebration of National Mills Weekend, that I had never written about one of the windmills I’ve visited in East Sussex, the one located in the historic old town of Rye.

This grade-II-listed building is a reconstructed smock mill and it sits alongside the river Tillingham, a very short walk from the centre of Rye, but this is not the first mill to have been built on this site. According to the windmill owner’s website, which references the 1594 Symondons map of Rye, there has been a mill here since at least the sixteenth century. It goes on:

The first recorded owner of a Rye Mill was Thomas Chatterton who built a 'post mill' in 1758. After his death his widow, Mary, passed it on to a Frederick Barry who demolished the 'post mill' in 1820 to erect a 'Smock Mill', similar to the one we see today. Milling continued until 1912 when the premises became a bakery. Eventually to be owned by the Webbs, a well regarded family of Rye bakers who were to become custodians of the Windmill for over 60 years.

Unfortunately, on a Friday 13th in 1930, the ovens of the bakery overheated and destroyed the wooden structure on the mill, leaving just the two story brick base. The mill was reconstructed in 1932 and it continued as a bakery until 1976. The ovens were put to good use when the mill became a pottery. The original oven doors can be seen in the base of the Windmill.

Since 1984, the mill has operated as bed and breakfast accommodation – now wouldn’t that be a special place for a weekend away? (No, I’m not on commission and I haven’t stayed there ... yet.) You can find out more about the mill and see some wonderful old images, both photographs and paintings, on its website.

08 May 2019

It’s National Mills Weekend!

This coming weekend, 11 and 12 May, is National Mills Weekend, an annual event organised by SPAB, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, to celebrate Britain’s wind- and water-milling heritage.

Hog Hill windmill in East Sussex - on the list for closer investigation

Wind and water mills, some not usually open to the public, creak open their doors and welcome visitors who want to explore their fascinating innards. This year the focus is ‘A nationwide celebration of Britain’s mills in pictorial form’. As the SPAB press release explains:   

With their quirky shape, elegant sails or distinctive waterwheels, it’s not surprising that windmills and watermills appear so frequently in paintings and photographs, posters and postcards. These instantly recognisable buildings feature in some of Britain’s favourite works of art too: in a recent poll, John Constable’s The Hay Wain, featuring Flatford Mill in Suffolk, was voted the nation’s second best-loved painting.

Why not go and visit a mill near you this weekend? The SPAB website provides links to events up and down the country. 

Not being particularly handy with a pencil or paintbrush, my salute to Britain’s mills is in the form of photographs. I’ve blogged about those I’ve seen in Cheshire (watermills) and Sussex (windmills) and here in Glamorgan (one very much neglected windmill ruin). Here’s the list so far (I already have plans to visit several more), with links to the individual blog posts - just click on the mill's name if you want to read or see more.

In Sussex, the Argos Hill windmill

In Cheshire, two watermills: a mention and photos of Nether Alderley mill

and a brief mention and a couple of photos of the watermill on the Dunham Massey Estate

In Wales, the ruined and neglected and overgrown Hayes Farm windmill.

04 May 2019

Penarth : the rail trail

A few weeks ago I took you on a tour of parts of the Cuckoo Trail, a walking and cycling trail that runs along the path of an old railway line in East Sussex. Well, here in Penarth in south Wales, we have our very own rail trail.

This is part of what was the railway line to Barry but, just as with the Cuckoo Trail, this local line also fell foul of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. Goods trains stopped running to Barry on 7 October 1963 and trains stopped running through to the cement works (now long gone) in Cosmeston in November 1969, according to an article on Penarth railway station on Wikipedia.    

The passenger trains now stop at Penarth Station and, for two kilometres beyond that – though, unfortunately and rather short-sightedly, not accessible directly from the station – the trail has been converted, in part, to a much-used walking and cycle path. Also unfortunately and short-sightedly, the old track bed from Cosmeston to Barry was not retained in public hands – it would have been a wonderful public resource and environmental link to have a walking/cycling track along the entirety of the old railway line.

Though most of the indications of the former halts and stations have now disappeared, the four railway overbridges are all still in place, carrying road and pedestrian traffic across the rail trail. A couple have odd-looking metal attachments still hanging from them – some sort of signalling equipment perhaps?

The trail is edged on both sides by houses and, indeed, encroached upon by a later housing development at one point – you simply walk along the pavement for a short distance. Though the trail only continues as far as Cosmeston Drive, it still provides a pleasant stroll along a tree-lined alley, which, depending on the season and the aggressiveness of the council strimmers, is also lined with wildflowers.

The rail trail also provides a nice sheltered spot to search for wildlife, mostly of the winged or small-and-crawling varieties, though a friend whose garden backs on to the trail has quite recently seen a fox, and I once spotted a slow-worm in greenery next to the tarmacced path (thanks to an inquisitive cat). You can see just a few of my local finds by heading on over to earthstar, my daily nature blog, and putting “Penarth rail trail” in the search box.

30 April 2019

Penarth : the billiard room with a view

I’ve always wondered about this ruin. It sits on the cliffs of Penarth Head and must have spectacular views over the port of Cardiff and Cardiff Bay, but looks to be sited in an incredibly precarious location, especially as the Penarth Head cliffs seem to be constantly crumbling.

So what was it? Well, it used to be a summerhouse-cum-billiard room for a mansion sited further up the cliff. The mansion was, rather appropriately, called Northcliff and, according to one of several articles about this location on the Penarth News website, ‘It was originally the home of one of the Batchelor brothers who had a shipbuilding business in Cardiff Docks.’ The Batchelor brother was John Batchelor, a renowned but controversial figure in 19th-century Cardiff (you can read more about him here).      

The location of John Batchelor’s former home is also attracting controversy in the 21st century. The original mansion was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with a rather ugly development of flats, as shown in the photo above. And late last year, Northcliff Lodge, a five-bedroom annex to the mansion, was also demolished and is once again being replaced with a controversial construction of ugly box-like apartments, much to the disgust of many local people and despite strenuous efforts to halt the development in the planning stages. It’s such a shame that so little value is placed on the history and heritage of Penarth ... and don’t even get me started on the horrendous environmental impact of the new development!

As to that billiard room with the incredible views ... well, it’s at risk of falling down the cliff at any moment but no one seems particularly bothered about that. There was a serious rock fall in the area in May 2013, which prompted the Cardiff Harbour Authority to erect some mesh-fencing to keep the public back from the bottom of the cliff. But the fencing is flimsy and the path is still within a couple of metres of the cliff bottom – if the structure above did fall while anyone was walking past, I doubt they’d live to tell the tale. Until it does fall, only the birds get to enjoy the billiard room with the million-dollar views.