Sunday, 22 October 2017

Down the tubes

As well as my tour of 55 Broadway i did some exploring on the Bakerloo and District Lines yesterday of the London Underground. Mostly it was to take some photos for future entries in my Calling At... stations blog and also to explore some new stations (to me) like Regent's Park and Gloucester Road which i have travelled through but never stopped at. You can see my photos here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

55 Broadway (Hidden London)

Another Hidden London tour, however this one i wasn't 100% sure about when i booked it earlier in the year. 55 Broadway is the headquarters of Transport for London so it was a tour of an office block not railway tunnels or a disused station. An old office block mind you, 55 Broadway was the first skyscraper built in London back in the late 1920s but still... an office block. Would this be as interesting as say Charing Cross or Aldwych?

I needn't have worried, the tour was fantastic. Maybe even the best Hidden London i've been on yet! 55 Broadway is a wonderful building in the Modernist style with Art Deco flourishes. If i could choose an office to work in it would be here. The views from the roof of central London were also fantastic. I highly recommend this tour when they run it again next year. You can see my photos here.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Earliest Railways (3) : The iron road

In part 1 of this series we saw how the idea of the railway went back millennia, in part 2 we saw the rise of wooden wagonways. Wooden rails quickly wore out, a more durable alternative was needed.

Some tramways added an iron wearing rail atop the wooden rail. However the thin wearing rail, while more durable, also wore out under heavy use or became detached from the wooden rail underneath [1]. What was needed was to make the rails solely out of iron, a much stronger solution and with reduced friction compared to wood. Iron rails could also carry heavier wagons which might break wooden rails. The strongest rails were fish-bellied rails, a type patented by Willian Jessop, which had the thickest iron (the "fish belly") in between the sleepers [2]. However cast iron rails were much more expensive than wood.

Fish bellied rail, public domain image [3]

Among the earliest iron rails were at Coalbrookdale in 1767 [4], they may have also been used at the Middleton Railway as early as 1758 [5]. The Caldon Low line in Derbyshire also had iron rails not long afterwards. Cast iron rails also appeared in South Wales in the early 1790s. The extra expense of iron rails meant that such a railway was a more long term investment often attracting interest from canal companies who saw railways as a cheaper way to extend their network especially in areas of hilly terrain where a canal would need to major expense of lock flights [6]. A major line was the Cromford & High Peak Railway which linked to the Cromford Canal.
Cromford & High Peak Railway

The rails used on these tramways were known as "edge-rails". They were intended to work with flanged wheel, as railway tracks do today. However there was a competing type of track which gained popularity in the late 1700s, the flanged rail or plateway. These were L-shaped and intended for use with wagons which had flat (unflanged) wheels [7]. They were first developed by John Curr in 1787 and were cheaper and easier to make than edge-rails [8]. They would also allow normal road carts to use the plateway, though in the event this seldom occurred. Networks of plateways quickly expanded, especially in the Midlands and South Wales though the North East of England where the largest wooden wagonway networks had been built the edge-rail remained the rail of choice. Plateways lost their popularity as steam power began to be used.

A drawback with cast-iron rails was their brittleness under heavy load [9]. Plateways helped alleviate the problem somewhat. The main breakthrough came with the wrought-iron rail. Wrought-iron was stronger and was patented by John Birkenshaw in 1820 [10] as a T-rail with a flat top and a fish-belly to add strength between sleepers, a development of which is now standard on railways across the world. Birkenshaw's rails were supported by George Stephenson and used on the Stockton & Darlington main line in 1825 and the rest (as they say) is history...
Wagon of the Stratford & Moreton Tramway, notice the rails

[1] Andy Guy & Jim Rees, Early Railways 1569-1830 (Shire Publications, 2016) p. 18
[2] Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks & Iron Rails (Tramroads) (David & Charles, 1966) p. 43
[3] John Elfreth Watkins, The development of the American rail and track (US Govt, 1891) p. 657
[4] Baxter p. 40
[5] Mark Jones, Discovering Britain's First Railways (History Press, 2012) p. 25
[6] Baxter p. 22
[7] Jones p. 26
[8] Guy & Rees p. 20
[9] Michael Bailey, "The history of tracks and trains: a lesson in joined-up thinking", Proceedings of ICE Civil Engineering 158 August 2005, p. 135
[10] Baxter p. 53

World of Learning

I've attended the World of Learning event at the National Exhibition Centre a few times now and today i went again for the 2017 edition. As usual i took in a few free seminars on learning and development and tried to avoid sales people. The event is more aimed at staff training than what i do which is create courses for a private college but i did pick up a few pearls.

As with last year though most of the expert hints on best practice seemed to be stuff i already do, which is self-affirming of course though maybe also slightly annoying as it would be good to hear more ideas on how to improve what i do.

One problem with going every year is that it does become a bit samey, even some of the freebies were the same as last year. But its good to get out of the office at least once a year. Now to try and implement some of the good ideas i picked up. Sound! My courses need sound. Luckily we do have a plan in place...

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Duffield Castle

Duffield Castle in Derbyshire dates from Norman times, the castle was built by one of William the Conqueror's soldiers Henry de Ferrers who had been granted a number of estates in return for his service. He already had a castle at Tutbury but another castle was needed at Duffield to protect the North of his Derbyshire estate. The site the castle was built on has probably also been a defensive position in Saxon times and earlier.

The original Duffield Castle was made out of wood in the traditional Norman motte and bailey style. The castle was rebuilt in stone following the original's destruction by Henry II after Henry de Ferrers great-grandson William picked the wrong side in a rebellion. The rebuilt castle had the third largest medieval keep in the land, only slightly smaller than the Tower of London.

Two generations of owner later and the castle was destroyed again, this time on the order of Henry III after the castle's then-owner Robert again rebelled against the king. This time there was no comeback for Duffield Castle. It was razed to the ground and the stone reused in other buildings. The site was rediscovered in 1885 though the Victorian archaeologists missed some of the features of the castle when they cleared the site and marked the foundations.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


I've been to Duffield in Derbyshire quite a lot over the last few years but whenever i go its just to catch a train on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway up to Wirksworth (some examples of visits this year are here and here). Today i decided to explore the small town instead including the remains of Duffield Castle (which will be covered in a separate post).

I also visited the fine parish church and saw a number of interesting and quaint buildings, as well as some cattle. You can see my Duffield photos here.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery

Anne Hathaway's Cottage is a farmhouse in Shottery, 1 mile to the West of the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon. Called a cottage though probably larger than most people would think such a building. It is a large building with 12 bedrooms and was where the wife of William Shakespeare lived as a child. The original parts of the house was built in the 15th century [1]. Later extensions occurred in is 17th century.

During Anne Hathaway's day (her grandfather John was the first Hathaway to live there - the family were sheep farmers) the house was known as Hewland's Farm and once had 90 acres of land attached to it. It remained occupied by the Hathaway family until 1911 (though as tenants after 1838), it was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892. The cottage was damaged by a fire in 1969 but fully restored and is now a museum.

[1] Nikolaus Pevsner & Alexandra Wedgwood, Warwickshire (Penguin, 1966) p. 397

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Bell Labs' Holmdel Computing Center training videos

What was intended as a training video for new employees to Bell Labs' iconic Holmdel Computing Center (which after all was where the likes of C and Unix originated) in 1973 is now a fascinating insight to high-end computing back in the pre-PC age and a nostalgia fest of old iron. This reminds me of my minicomputer days at university, writing programmes using a Volker-Craig terminal and then going to the library to collect my print outs on big fan fold paper...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Earliest Railways Part 2 : The wooden wagonways

As we saw in Part 1 the concept of a tracked transport system dated back to Ancient Greece. The first railway in Britain dates back to the mid-16th century used in mines in Cumbria.

The first recorded surface "rayle way" or railway is the system set up by the entrepreneur Huntington Beaumont in 1604. He set up a 3km wooden rail track between Wollaton Manor and the river Trent in Nottinghamshire [1]. This railway system transported coal in horse drawn wagons from his mine to a yard at Wollaton Lane [2]. The reason for laying wooden tracks was due to the poor state of the roads at the time. Even a simple wooden track would allow for a more even transit and less friction for goods reducing costs dramatically. A horse could haul a wagon twice as heavy along rails than on the road. They also did not suffer from road obstructions and potholes and were easier to clear of snow and mud.

The competitive advantage gained by using these wooden rails or wagonways meant that they spread across the country with lines being built in places like Broseley (1605), Wickham (1650),  Ravensworth (1632) and the first line in Wales at Neath in 1697. By the start of the 18th century new lines came on rapidly.

New mines and quarries were opened as a result of the transport benefits of the wagonways. More ambitious mine owners helped push the technology further, sparking a boom in civil engineering as cuttings, embankments and bridges were built for the wagonways. The Causey Arch built for the Tanfield Wagonway in 1727 is a surviving example of this work [3] and is the oldest surviving railway bridge. The North East was a major user of wagonways due to the number of coal mines and the nature of the landscape. By 1800 most major pits in the region were served by wagonways with over 250 miles of track laid (often referred to as "Newcastle roads").

Interestingly these systems used flanged wheels from the start [4], though it may be earlier systems with non-flanged wheels have simply left no trace. Rails were made out of a variety of woods such as oak, ash or beech. Beech became more popular as time went on due to its resistance from insect damage [5]. Sleepers were often made from oak, once bedded into the ground they were intended to be undisturbed (or allowed to "sleep" - which may be where the name sleeper comes from!)

The main drawback of the wooden wagonways was the wooden nature of the track. The rails wore out quickly, regular replacement adding to the cost of operation. To help alleviate this a second rail was pegged atop the original rail. To start with these were also made of wood but later an iron wearing rail was put on top of the wooden rail, this happened from the early 1700s. The height of the rails was also increased so a layer of earth could be laid over the sleepers to aid the horses (and also protect the sleepers from damage).

For 200 years the wooden wagonways spread across the country, with hundreds of miles of track and millions of wagon movements. However the technology did not change greatly for a long time. Until the advent of the iron rail road that is.

To be continued...
Horse drawn wagon at the National Railway Museum

[1] Michael Bailey, "The history of tracks and trains: a lesson in joined-up thinking", Proceedings of ICE Civil Engineering 158 August 2005, p. 134
[2] Mark Jones, Discovering Britain's First Railways (History Press, 2012) p. 16
[3] Bailey p. 135
[4] Andy Guy & Jim Rees, Early Railways 1569-1830 (Shire Publications, 2016) p. 9
[5] Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks & Iron Rails (Tramroads) (David & Charles, 1966) p. 37

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Grand Union at Hemel Hempstead

Another long canal walk today as i returned to Hertfordshire and the next station down from Berkhamstead at Hemel Hempstead. It was a very good canal walk in a lovely part of the world with so much to see: locks, bridges, a marina, moorings, an arm and so many boats! You can see my photos here.

I walked along the canal in the direction of Berkhamstead, in fact i was only about 2 miles away when i turned back. I suppose i could have just gone on up to the other town but maybe that can be done one day in the future.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Oakham Market Cross

Oakham Market Cross is a buttercross, a type of medieval cross often found in market towns. The name buttercross comes from the practice of selling local dairy produce and eggs around the base of the cross. Oakham cross consists of a stone pillar with a wooden octagonal pyramid roof around it held up by 8 timber posts [1]. The cross is located outside of Oakham school and near the market place. A set of stocks lies underneath the roof by the pillar - no longer in use!

[1] Nikolaus Pevsner, Leicestershire & Rutland (Penguin, 1960) p. 318

Monday, 2 October 2017

IBM 5100 Portable Computer advert

An advert for IBM's 5100, one of the first portable personal computers... though as it weighed 22.7KG "portable" was maybe a matter of opinion. Interestingly it was the 5100 which the "time traveller" hoax John Titor had come back to the past from 2036 for, as he needed one to debug legacy computer programs.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Earliest Railways Part 1 : England's first railways

Many people assume that the story of railways began in the early 19th century with the Rocket and other early steam locomotives, however the story of railways goes back many hundreds of years before that. This series will examine the earliest railways of Britain until the dawn of the steam age.

What is a railway? Well a definition many people will agree with is that a railway is a track system which wheeled vehicles run on, guided by the tracks. The earliest of these tracked systems goes back all the way to the Classical World [1].

Ancient Greece and later Rome had a number of tracked systems, the most well-known of which being across the Isthmus of Corinth called the Diolkos which was used by the Corinthian Navy from 600BCE to transfer ships [2] from the Corinthian Gulf to the Saronic. These tracked systems were unlike what we would consider a modern railway though, consisting of deep grooves cut in stone slabs for the wheels of vehicles to travel in. Such grooves have been found in a number of locations across the Classical World, a notable one being at the TrĂªs Minas gold mine in Portugal [3].

One problem with tracing tracked systems of this period is that the passage of time and the lack of supporting evidence means that it is difficult sometimes to know for sure if grooves are the remains of a track system or just the natural wear and tear caused by thousands of carts over the years [4]. However consistent gauge and depth is a good indicator that a tramway once existed at a given location. The gauge usually used by Roman tramways was around 1.2m which isn't far off standard gauge today [5]. The grooves usually cut across the centre of the slabs, which would be remarkable to just be by coincidence.

After the fall of the Roman Empire such tramways fell into disuse or at least their continued use in the so-called Dark Ages has not been documented. Railways began to reappear in Europe during the late Medieval Period, a common type being known as the Leitnagel which used pins on trucks guided by a wooden track. A method similar in manner to a Scalextric! [6] These railways were generally short in length and usually underground in mines to transport mined materials to the surface. Leitnagel trucks were small in size, around 1.2m long and 1/2m wide (early mines often had narrow tunnels) and were pushed along by miners. The blunt pin running in the groove in the track to stop it from leaving the track. The trucks were known as dogs as when they moved they were said to make a sound like a dog bark! [7]

It was this type of railway which was introduced to England in the 1560s. Queen Elizabeth set up the Company of Mines Royal in 1564 to mine copper which was needed in ever greater quantities for bronze production for cannons. Surviving inventories from the time list, and physical evidence has been found, of Leitnagel type railways at mines in the Keswick area of Lake District in the late 1560s. These railways are probably the first in England.
Leitnagel Trucks by Georgius Agricola (De Re Metallica) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Within a few decades the earliest surface railways would appear, a network of horse powered lines that would soon exceed over 1,500 miles of track. [8]

To be continued...

[1] Andy Guy & Jim Rees, Early Railways 1569-1830 (Shire Publications, 2016) p. 7
[2] J. G. Landels, Engineering in the Ancient World (Constable, 2000) p. 183
[3] Mark Jones, Discovering Britain's First Railways (History Press, 2012) p. 15
[4] Landels p. 182
[5] Jones p. 10
[6] Guy & Rees p. 8
[7] Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica Book VI (1561) p. 156
[8] Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks & Iron Rails (Tramroads) (David & Charles, 1966) p. 15

Arriving at Stone

The train arrives at Stone to take me back home.