Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Miscellany : Read, White And Light Blue

READ : I tend to have two books on the go at any one time : a morning book (which is usually non-fiction) and a night book (usually fiction). Just why I tend to need non-fiction in the morning to wake me up and fiction at night to put me to sleep, I am not sure and I would be interested to know whether others share this peculiarity. I have just started a new morning book : "Family Britain" by David Kynaston. which is a social history of Britain in the early and mid 1950s. Kynaston has that invaluable trick of being able to judge the exact amount of detail that is necessary to make history informative, enlightening, and engrossing. The book starts with the 1951 Festival of Britain and much comment is made about one of the main features of the Festival site on the London South Bank : the Skylon Tower. The steel tower was held in place by thin, almost invisible, wires and the joke of the time was that, like the British economy, it had no visible means of support. After the Festival it was taken down, melted down and turned into steel ashtrays. With the current state of the economy, perhaps it's time to start constructing it again.

WHITE : The promised snow came down yesterday (and again - as my picture shows - this morning). In the main the weather forecasts have managed to get it just about right this time, but the surprise inherent in this outcome merely emphasises what an uncertain science weather forecasting is most of the time. Why this should be so I cannot imagine for I think I have discovered the secret of near foolproof weather forecasting for the UK. I am lucky enough to have a considerable number of blogging friends who live in the northern states of the USA and I have noticed that whatever weather they may be getting in Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio, we get here in Yorkshire about a week later. This discovery makes life much more certain, so keep that weather information flowing. 

LIGHT BLUE : Light blue is the traditional colour of Cambridge University, and Cambridge Blue  - unlike Oxford Blue - is an official shade of blue (Pantone 557, web colour #A3C1AD). I was lucky enough to spend the first part of the weekend in Cambridge, being treated to an extended pub and bookshop crawl as a delayed birthday present. Few things compare to that powerful combination of books and beer, especially when enjoyed in beautiful surroundings and charming company. My picture was taken on Saturday morning and shows King's College Chapel and the frost-covered Backs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sepia Saturday 51 : A Royal, A Triumph And A Panther

My Sepia Saturday post last week featured a picture of my mother and Charlie Pitts, a motorcycling friend from the 1930s. Several people asked for pictures of my mother and father in their motorcycling gear along with their motorbike.So here is a picture which must have been taken in the 1930s : and that is my father and mother astride the Royal Enfield on the left. Readers of last weeks' post will recognise Charlie Pitts on the Triumph in the middle and I am unsure who the fourth member of the group, the Panther rider, is.

I am no expert on motorcycles and I am sure there are plenty of people who are, and who will be able to add information about the three motorcycles featured in the photograph. A little Google research suggests that Panther motorcycles are now long gone, their manufacturer, Phelon And Moore, having gone out of business in 1967. Triumph motorcycles are still thriving and, I believe, are still an iconic brand in the motorbike world. I had assumed that Royal Enfield. like Panther, had long gone into liquidation, but I was surprised to discover that Royal Enfield motorbikes are still being manufactured in India. This, seemingly, makes Royal Enfield the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production. I rather think that my father would have been pleased about that.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For Nurse Garton : A Tale Of Two Buildings

To : Nurse Garton, Main West Riding Asylum, Wakefield
Dear E, A let you know that we are both well. Thanks for your letter. I have got over my fall very nicely. We had Robert yesterday and Hilda. They are both well and wish to be remembered to you. Been walking today. Will write in a few days. Love from Francis and Mother.

An old 1913 postcard I bought few a few pence from an antique market stall. People are pictured enjoying the sands and the sea at the popular Yorkshire resort of Scarborough. But, to me, the card serves to focus attention on two iconic buildings. The first is the truly magnificent Grand Hotel which can be seen in the centre of the above view. When it was built in 1867 it was, with its 365 rooms, one of the largest and the finest hotels anywhere in the world : a veritable palace of pleasure, comfort and relaxation.

The second building cannot be seen, but its presence is there, in the shadows, like some ever-damned twin. Look at the address on the card and put together your own picture of the West Riding Asylum for Pauper Lunatics at Stanley Royd, Wakefield. No palace of pleasure or comfort this, but a grim and dark sanctuary for those whom society would rather forget. Built in 1818 for the insane-poor (a phrase which manages to allow cause and effect to cohabit) at a cost of £36,448.4s.9d : here is a building that never saw the sea, the sands nor carefree laughter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Alphabet Of Yorkshire Pubs : A

Victoria Lane, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 2QF

The current building dates from 1879, but it replaces an earlier Albert Hotel which was opened in 1853. Just where the claim, which now adorns its frontage, that it dates from 1777 comes from I am unsure - Albert would have been an unusual name for an eighteenth century hotel in Britain. The architect responsible for the current building was Edward Hughes, a noted local architect who was also responsible for the Ramsden Building which is now the central feature of the University of Huddersfield. Situated in the centre of town, adjacent to the Town Hall, the Albert Hotel has long played an important role in Huddersfield history and it was in one of the meeting rooms of the pub that Huddersfield Town Football Club was founded in 1908. The pub has been recently restored to its full Victorian glory.

It was 12.20 on a busy weekday when I entered the Albert Hotel. The streets of Huddersfield town centre were full of shoppers and office workers, but sadly the pub was deserted except for me and the barman. The recent refurbishment has created a smart interior of dark red leather seats, cast-iron tables and a fine dappled carpet, all of which deserved a larger audience to appreciate it. The barman serves me a pint of Timothy Taylor "Landlord". We did not speak, he was talking to someone on his mobile phone and I was deep in yet another depressing contemplation of the decline of the British pub. On embarking on my alphabetical tour of Yorkshire pubs, I ask myself the question as to whether there will be any left by the time I get to the letter Z. Time will tell.

At 12.30 another customer comes in. He sits at the other end of a leather bench seat, drinking his pint and, like me, making notes in a notebook. Perhaps he too is examining the Decline and Fall of the British Pub. Together we must look like eccentric bookends at either end of our bench seat. The barman sits on one of the bar stools and watches the television bolted to one of the walls. My note-taking companion watches the barman. I watch my note-taking friend. We are like characters from a Samuel Becket play, cocooned in our own unique version of reality. Perhaps we are waiting for Godot, but perhaps we are just waiting for yet another fine English pub to close its doors for the final time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Miscellany : A Turkey, A Cake And A Hearse

A TURKEY : This strange beast has suddenly appeared in the field across the road from us. I assume it is something to do with the Farm Shop up the road. I am a little suspicious : I frequently pass the farm on my walks with Amy and neither of us have ever seen any free range turkeys or geese wandering around (and Amy, who is rather fond of all kinds of poultry, would have noticed). However, there are several very large wooden sheds to the rear of the farm : perhaps free range is a matter of perspective. 

A CAKE : It was the family party to celebrate The Lad's 21st birthday yesterday. A cake had been specially made for him and managed to feature most of the things that are important to him : hokey and ice-holey sticks, stethoscopes and skeletons, and the badge of his beloved Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Several people commented that the cake must be richer than the club (which is currently on the brink of going into administration) and a convenient space had been left for a "For Sale" sign to be added.

A HEARSE : A cold and frosty morning and as Amy and I walked through the Crematorium on our morning walk we came across a horse-drawn hearse. The steam rising from the black-plumed horses made for a spectacular image. Not a bad way to make a final journey.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday 50 : St Ives' Sepia Antecedents

Congratulations to Sepia Saturday for reaching its' half century (on the same day that the Sepia Saturday Blog gained its' 100th follower). Looking back through my archives I notice that Sepia Saturday 1 took place on Saturday November 28th 2009, but the idea was born a few weeks before as part of a throw away line in a Theme Thursday post. Joke or not, the idea took off and everyone who has participated seems to have enjoyed the experience. We are not the biggest meme in Blogland and that is part of the attraction. Most weeks you can still manage to get around and visit all the participants without abandoning sleep altogether.

Over the last fifty weeks I have used both old family photographs and old postcards as subjects for my Sepia Saturday posts and I thought I would mark this small anniversary with a post that draws both themes together in one place : St Ives in Cornwall. The Valentines Postcard above shows the wharf in the beautiful Cornish town of St Ives. The picture was probably taken around 1900. Now, move forward some 30 years and swing the camera slightly around to the right and you get my second photograph.

This shows my mother and Charlie Pitts, a good friend of my parents back in the 1930s when the three of them would go off on motorcycling holidays together. The photograph will have been taken by my father. I was going to include a third photograph of the same spot : a contemporary one stolen from Google Street-View. But the modern view is so characterless, so boring, so anodyne compared to its sepia antecedents, I thought it kinder to leave it out. Which just goes to show - you can't beat those old sepia snaps.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Square : Square 8 - Stanley

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

I used to have a cat called Stanley. That was my first thought on discovering that my eighth square would take me to the village of Stanley, about two and a half miles north-east of the city of Wakefield. I had never heard of Stanley (the village) and, as far as I knew,I had never passed through it. If it hadn't have been for the wonders of Google Earth, I wouldn't have known what to expect when I got there : Google Street-view and all the other virtual mapping applications have made life easy for the random traveler.

Stanley is the kind of place you would expect to find in West Yorkshire. When I started my Ten Square project, I half expected to come up with ten Stanleys. There are terraced houses, council houses, pubs and chip shops. There is an industrial memory of coal pits and stone quarries and a contemporary patina of small town industry and commerce. There is a bit of nature, but nothing profound. It is mankind that has left its mark on Stanley, and although that mark can be a bit shabby in places, there is a honesty about it which is as much a part of Yorkshire as the bleakest moors or the prettiest dales.

Like any good Yorkshire place, Stanley can trace its origins back as far as anyone could possibly want to go. Palaeolithic stone exes have been found here which means that there was the odd Saturday night fight after the pubs closed some 10,000 years ago. The Romans set up camp here, and after they had left a long succession of Angles, Vikings, and other miscellaneous travelling salesmen sailed up the river from the North Sea and plundered and pillaged their way through Stanley.

From the village you can look down the sloping ridge to the River Calder and you can see why it was a popular spot. You can also imagine the miles and miles of woodland that used to stretch as far as the eye could see and appreciate why Stanley - along with, it must be said, every self-respecting village between Nottingham and Leeds - makes its own claim to being the home territory of Robin Hood. There was even a minor battle fought here during the English Civil War, once again illustrating Stanley's role as being one of the busiest bit actors in English history.

My square was dominated by the great ruin of St Peters' Church, Stanley. The first church was built on this hill that overlooks the village in 1825 but was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1911. Another building was soon put up on the same site and the solid and fine-looking church was re-opened in 1913.

The new building may have looked solid but within 90 years it had to be abandoned (in 2001) when major structural cracks began to appear and the building was declared unsafe. And so it stands today : boarded-up. empty, strangely threatening, like a massive stone reminder of something. And you can still walk around the grounds, still walk through the graveyard, still look up at those massive stone walls as you try to work out what it is trying to remind you about. Maybe it has something to do with man's insignificance in the universe, maybe it has something to do with the dangers of building on land riddled by old mine shafts.

During the 1950s Stanley played host to another burst of building activity, this time houses. The new estates just next to the church were part of the great attempt to provide decent houses for all in the post-war world. During the last half of the twentieth century plenty of criticism has been directed at this type of 1950s and 1960s Council House estate, but the one in Stanley looks neat, tidy, generous, and the kind of place I would be more than happy to live.

What more could you want? A Fish and Chip shop? Well there's two. A pub? Well there's probably half a dozen. There are shops and schools and little patches of grass with a slide and some swings for the kids to play on. It may not be the most beautiful place in West Yorkshire. It may not be the grandest, or the oldest or the newest. But it feels like home and it feels like Yorkshire, so what more could you possibly ask for?

To read the other installments of this series follow these links :

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Straight Lines And Circles : Sir John Hawkshaw And The Lockwood Viaduct

As I have said several times before, one of the great joys of blogging is the freedom to go where you like. You can plan an in-depth series on the history of the apple, dash off a preliminary post about Eve and the fall from grace and then abandon it and blog about Victorian mousetraps instead. You can set off to produce a detailed photographic record of the mighty A58 as it snakes its way from Halifax to Leeds and stop off for a pint in the Travellers and abandon the project over a pint of Ossett Pale Gold and a bag of peanuts. Nobody really cares. If you are lucky enough to have blog followers, these will be people who have grown used to your wandering ways and your inability to stick to the subject. Bloggers are bloggers because they can't stick to the subject : otherwise they would write best selling novels or dissect brains. 

So here I go, off on a tangent again. Having walked across one of Huddersfields' great viaducts yesterday, today I visited another : the mighty Lockwood Viaduct just south of the town. You can't walk across Lockwood Viaduct : trains still run over it, I am glad to say. But you can see it from any one of a dozen vantage points and it is one of those structures where it is even better to look at it rather than look from it. Putting it simply, it's magnificent.

The viaduct was built in 1850 by the Yorkshire and Lancashire Railway Company and forms part of the line from Huddersfield to Sheffield. At a height of over 120 feet, its 32 arches span the valley of the River Holme. It was designed by the then Chief Engineer of the company, Sir John Hawkshaw who went on to become one of the greatest civil engineers of the Victorian era. He was a consulting engineer for the Suez Canal project and also a member of the International Commission that examined proposals for a canal in Central America between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. 

For a post which started with a restatement of what has always been the mission statement of this blog - to never travel in a straight line when a circuitous route is available - it seems odd to praise someone who was responsible for so many iconic straight bridges, tunnels and canals. But I should add that before his death, Sir John saw the error of his ways and acted as the Chief Engineer for the construction of the London Underground Circle Line.

Maybe I will be back tomorrow with another viaduct. But there again maybe I won't.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Walking The Viaduct

Amy and I decided to blow away the cobwebs of post-holiday lethargy by taking a walk over the magnificent Bradley Viaduct which forms part of the rather splendid Calder Valley Greenway. The viaduct was originally built in either 1867 or 1901 (depending on which version of history you subscribe to) as part of the extension of the Midland Railway from Mirfield to Huddersfield. Whilst the line was closed in 1937, the viaduct remained and for many years it was in a very dilapidated state, but in 2008 it was restored and incorporated into the new Greenway, a cycle and walking route between Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

I have managed to track down an illustration showing a postcard which featured the construction of the viaduct, which suggests that the later of the two construction dates is the more likely.

The grandeur of the viaduct combined with the crispness of a November morning was certainly invigorating (well, I found it so, Amy says it wasn't quite smelly enough for her), and it has prompted me to try and walk the rest of the Greenway over the coming week or two. I will report back on my progress.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sepia Saturday : The Lad Comes Of Age

I am not sure of the significance of reaching the age of 21 any more. It used to be the age at which you could get married, vote, die for your country and take out a mortgage : but I suspect you can do most of these things now at the age of 11 rather than 21. But even if the 21st birthday has been stripped of all its meaning, lets try and give it some back by declaring that on achieving the age of 21 you can feature in a Sepia Saturday post. And therefore let me introduce you to my son, The Lad, Alexander Holroyd Burnett who was born 21 years ago today. I seem to remember taking the above photograph when he was just a few days old. He's a bit bigger now, but to me and his mum, just as beautiful.

We won't see him this weekend - he's now in the midst of his clinical years at Medical School and no doubt he will be hosting a good few parties down in Sheffield - but we will be thinking of him. And we'll be thinking of that day 21 years ago when we both looked at that new life that had just come into being and wondered what was in store for it. Happy birthday Pal : there's not been a day of the 21 years when I've not been proud of you.

This is a Sepia Saturday post. To see other Sepia Saturday posters go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kirklees Hall And The Slight Aftertaste Of Sadness

Kirklees Hall is just down the road from here, when there are no leaves on the trees you can just about see it. Built on the site of the 12th century Kirklees Priory (which was supposed to be the last resting place of none other than Robin Hood), the Jacobean Hall is a listed building which has now been divided up into private apartments (one is still on the market for just over £500,000 in case you are interested). The above photograph features on a W H Smith Kingsway Real Photo series postcard dating from 1914. The reverse of the card is as follows:

As far as I can make it out the message is as follows:
"Here with Will tonight. Pleased to hear you are having a good time, keep it up. By the way, tell L that those postcards she sent me have evidently gone astray. Kind regards to all. F"
As always, there are more questions than answers. Why was the sender staying at Kirklees Hall? Could the date of the card (27 August 1914) have anything to do with things? This was three weeks after the outbreak of the First World War and all over Britain, troops were on their way to join their regiments. Could the sender of the card be about to join his regiment and move to France? Who knows. But perhaps the slight aftertaste of sadness is a suitable memory on this particular day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I'm back. Whilst the logistics of the return journey were comparatively easy - plane on time, engine didn't fall off : all that kind of thing - the  shock to my system of such a sudden transition from summer-heat to the middle of a cold, wet and windy winter has taken its toll. I still occasionally look out of my window expecting to see a pod of passing dolphins and find nothing more than a stray starling trying to peck its way through the icy crust on the bird bath. It would be nice to write that at least Amy is pleased to see us back, but she is in the middle of a major sulk which, experience suggests, will extend for a good week or two yet.

The GLW is back at work and daily I repeat my promise to make a start on unpacking the cases. But the longer I leave this thankless task. the more I am simply tempted to book another holiday so that I can re-brand my delayed unpacking as nothing more than precipitous packing. 

Our holiday was an excellent one and one which had an unexpected twist in the tail which occurred after the "Postcards From The Pond" series ended. If you recall, we were heading in the direction of St Lucia but at the last minute a troublesome hurricane caused the ship to be diverted. It was diverted to the island of Dominica which just happens to be the other West Indian island whereI have family members living and - with the help of a little hasty planning - we were able to spend a memorable day with my brother Roger, his wife Denise and their family.

Please bear with me for a few more days whilst I manage to wrap my old routine around me once again. In the meantime, thanks to everyone for their comments on the "Postcards From the Pond" series, I will be getting around to see each and every one of you as soon as I can.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 10

Monday 1 November 2010
Tortola, British Virgin Islands

And so we arrived. After all those days at sea we woke up to discover that we were sailing through a landscape/seascape as beautiful as any other you could ever hope to see. It is as though some great cartographer had frown tired of drawing continental coastlines and decided to see what happened if he was to flick is pen like some mischievous schoolchild of old. And as all mischievous schoolchildren of old, like myself, will know you finish up with a random pattern of blotched and ink spots - some small, some even smaller - which you can then attach romantic names to and call the British Virgin Islands. Salt Island, Beef Island, Fallen Jerusalem, Pricly Pear, Dead Chest : you can no doubt think of sillier names but someone in the BVI has probably beaten you to it.

Oh but what a day we had. Tortola was always going to be a safe bet for the highlight of our holiday - it is not ever Caribbean island that contains a posse of relatives who will fete you and treat you and give you a day that will live long in your memory (strangely enough not entirely true in my case but we weren’t scheduled to visit the other qualifying islands on this trip). After writing about very little happening for the previous nine days, it is now strangely difficult to switch modes and write about a day full of images and memories.

But perhaps I can just give you a flavour by giving you a selection of brief images. On my return home when I get chance to download my camera images maybe I will have captured something of the essence of at least a few of the following:
- Sitting on the balcony of my nephew and nieces house gazing out at the yacht harbour and drinking a cooling lass of beer at 9.30 in the morning;
- Being played with like some insignificant pebble by the force of the sea as we swum in a palm tree fringed bay which we had to share with little other than a passing dog;
- Driving over the mountainous spine of the island, an island so narrow that you hadn’t time to name the tiny islands you we seeing off the south coast before you were having to name the islands off the north coast;
- Having lunch at a restaurant at Long Bay which must surely be one of the most gloriously situated restaurants in the world;
- Drinking a beer in a pub on the south of the island and getting into a friendly argument with a group of Americans who had just  sailed in on a catamaran as to whose boat was the bigger (we won by a factor of about a thousand);
- Wandering down the main street of the capital of the island group accompanied by nobody else other than half a dozen hens and a rooster;
- But perhaps most of all the kindness of Diana, Nat and beautiful young Tasha in giving us a day we will all remember.

The remaining days will no doubt flash by very quickly now (we will be visiting a different island every day) and therefore I know you will forgive me if I save my thoughts and images up until we get back to cold, dark Britain at the weekend (and despite all the Caribbean sun I am still a Yorkshireman and my internet time is almost used up and the choice would be to buy some more or spend the money on an extra crate or two of beer). And anyway, my crossing of the pond is now over; our coming visits to St Maarten, St Lucia, St Vincent, and Barbados or merely local perambulations compared to the transatlantic journey.

So until next time,
Yours in restful sunlight, AB

P.S. I am glad to say, not only did I manage to complete Chapter 2 but also Chapter 3 as well. Over 14,000 words written whilst in transit from Europe to the Americas. All I need to do now is book the rest of the round-world trip and the Great Novella of the Twenty-first Century might get finished at long last.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...