A Place in History — The British Plaque Trust
TheChairman of the British Plaque Trust, broadcaster and writer Mike Read, recently brought us up-to-date on the organisation’s recent events.
“In the last two years the British Plaque Trust has unveiled four Blue Plaques to recipients deemed worthy by the Trustees. Blue Plaques have been commemorating our people and our history since they were first proposed in the House of Commons in 1863. For 160 years we have had to make do with some 20 words or so to tell us about the person and their historical importance, but we now include a QR tag which carries the history of the recipient which can be imported to a mobile phone or other device.
“Our plaque to the Founding Fathers of Football was unveiled at Wembley Stadium by former England player, Sir Trevor Brooking, in October 2013. This commemorated the birth of the Football Association, with the FA flying-in descendants of the founding fathers from around the world.
“In the spring of 2014 the Trust unveiled a plaque on the Giaconda café in London’s Denmark Street to celebrate the amazing history of what was known as Tin Pan Alley, the home of British music publishing since 1911. This was the hub of the industry, with a history that includes the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, Paul Simon and even Charlie Chaplin. The plaque was unveiled by Donovan who began his recording and songwriting career in the street. He even wrote and performed a special song for the occasion, serenading many fellow songwriters who attended including Don Black. Vera Lynn, who owed much to the songs from Tin Pan Alley, recorded a personal message which was relayed at the unveiling.
“October 2014 saw a plaque erected to Nipper the iconic HMV dog. Nipper, who led a peripatetic life, having been born in Bristol, although of uncertain parentage, before moving to Liverpool and ending his days in Kingston-on-thames. He is buried behind Lloyd’s bank where there is already a small brass plaque close to Nipper Alley. There is also a plaque in Bristol and several statues in the USA, but the Blue Plaque that now graces the wall of the Cavalry & Guards Club commemorates the building where Nipper’s owner, Francis Barraud, completed his painting of the dog which became one of the most recognised and iconic global images.
“On 25th April 2015, the British Plaque Trust unveiled a Blue Plaque at The Orchard, Grantchester, to declare that this, and The Old Vicarage next door, was where the poet Rupert Brooke lived and wrote between 1909 and 1912. The date was the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli and two days after the 100th anniversary of Brooke’s death who just missed the beginning of the campaign. The Brooke Museum at The Orchard will eventually be situated in the main house.
“The Trust, under their patron Lord Grade, is currently looking at further plaques for 2015 and 2016.”
To find out more about the Trust visit http:// britishplaquetrust.org.uk .
Plans for Brooklands Museum Race Ahead
race track witnessed many firsts and thrilling finishes in its heyday and, thanks to a Lottery grant of £4.7 million, the final stretch of this historic track is currently being restored as part of an exciting project at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.
Brooklands opened in 1907 and became the backdrop for many significant events in motoring and aviation history. The first public demonstration of powered flight in the UK took place there in 1909 and, four years later, it was the place where Percy Lambert became the first person to travel over 100 miles in an hour. In 1926 Brooklands hosted the first British Grand Prix.
At the outbreak of the Second World War racing stopped at Brooklands and the aviation industry, which had already been in early operation at the site, rapidly expanded. The factories of Vickers-armstrongs and Hawker used the site for construction and development. Vickers assembled Wellington Bombers in a hangar, which has formed a central part of the museum.
The restoration project will involve the relocation of this Grade-ii listed hangar from its current position on top of the track. The finishing straight of the track will then be restored to its 1939 appearance and motoring and aviation activities will take place there.
The relocated hangar will become The Brooklands Aircraft Factory where visitors can trace the story of the design, development and building of aircraft from biplanes to Concorde. Other plans are for a new annexe, the Flight Shed, where more of the museum’s aircraft collection will be housed including a Sopwith Camel and a Hurricane.
In addition to the Lottery grant, the museum has raised more than £1.2 million and still needs to raise a further £775,000. It aims to complete the project by next summer.
For further information go to www.brooklandsmuseum.com .
An article about Brooklands appears in This England’s 2016 Annual, published in October (see page 23).
Poldark’s Family Home in Gloucestershire
TheBBC’S remake of Poldark set hearts aflutter thanks to its eponymous hero, played by Aidan Turner, when it was screened earlier this year. The romantic saga, set in 18th-century Cornwall, and based on the novels of Winston Graham, proved to be such a success that a second series is currently in production.
Apart from the superb performances, scenery and coastline, many historic locations played their part in the production. Although not in Poldark’s home county, Chavenage House in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, starred as the Poldark family’s Cornish home, Trenwith, where Francis, Elizabeth and Verity lived.
It is thought that a house has stood on the site of Chavenage since the 14th century, and parts of the current residence date from the medieval period. In 1564 Edward Stephens of Eastington purchased the house and started a major reconstruction. In 1576 he gutted the medieval building, added two wings and the porch to create a manor house of the classic Elizabethan style, as we see today. The house has numerous Civil War connections including tapestry-lined rooms stayed in by Cromwell and his second-in-command, General Ireton, in 1648.
Today, Chavenage is a lived-in family home and is one of the 1,600 properties represented by the Historic Houses Association. During its history only two families have owned Chavenage and its current occupants the Lowsley-williams family have been there since 1891.
This is something which was important to the Poldark production team, as a spokesperson explained: “We chose to film at Chavenage because we wanted the Poldark family house to have a wonderful lived-in feel, which it most certainly does.”
Caroline Lowsley-williams commented: “We were thrilled they decided to choose Chavenage as one of the main locations for Poldark. We can really imagine what it would have been like for the family living here in the 18th century and now the viewers will be able to as well. It’s important to us that other people are able to experience the house and all of its charm. Now if people are unable to visit they can at least gain a glimpse behind the doors.”
Nick Way, Director General of the Historic Houses Association, stated, “Filming, along with opening to the public and hosting events, helps to support the upkeep of many Historic Houses Association properties. The houses that the HHA represents are of great cultural and historical importance and it is always wonderful to see them being used on screen.”
Chavenage House is no stranger to starring roles, it has recently been used for filming for the BBC’S Wolf Hall, in addition to earlier productions including Lark Rise to Candleford and Tess of the D’urbervilles.
The house is open on Thursday and Sunday afternoons from May to September, plus Easter Sunday and Monday. Group visits can be arranged on any day throughout the year. For further information go to www.chavenage.com or telephone 01666 502329. Details of the Historic Houses Association can be found at www.hha.org.uk .
Get Set for Heritage Open Days
biggest festival of history — Heritage Open Days — takes place from 10th to 13th September. This year’s event is set to build on the successes of 2014 with new funding, original events and a host of wonderful properties right across the country participating for the first time.
Heritage Open Days is now wholly supported by the National Trust, with funding from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, enabling the four-day festival to continue to grow and develop.
The 2015 festival promises to be the most diverse yet, with a greater variety of places taking part and regular participants invited to create original and innovative events for all ages. Join guided walks, visit secret archives, discover hidden works of art — or simply soak up the sunshine in a garden of your choice.
To find out what’s going on in your area and further afield visit the website www.heritageopendays.org.uk and check local press for further details.
Hall Place House — Bexley’s Tudor Gem
Place House in Bexley, Kent, dates back to 1540, and was once the home of wealthy merchant Sir John Champneys. There were alterations made in 1560 and a second wing added by the second owner Sir Robert Austen who was the Sheriff of Kent in 1724 and MP for New Romney from 1728 to 1734.
The main 16th-century building is built from recycled stone taken from nearby Lesnes Abbey (a monastery demolished by Henry VIII), while the rest is built from 17th-century red brick.
The house remained in the Austen family until 1772 when Sir Francis Dashwood purchased it and his family continued as its owners until 1926 even though it was used as a boarding
school for much of the 19th century and later leased to various tenants. Among them, from 1917, was the Countess of Limerick whose social gatherings at Hall Place, included George VI.
Bexley Council took over the house and gardens in 1935 complete with Lady Limerick as sitting tenant until she died in 1943. In 1944 the building was used by the American Army as an intercepting wing of Bletchley Park and after the war it became an annexe for a local girls’ school.
The house was later restored by Bexley Council and used by them between 1968 and 1995, although the gardens were open to the public. Now, with the house and gardens fully restored from a £2 million Lottery grant in 2005, both are open. Visitors to Bexley are able to see hothouse gardens, a butterfly garden and an owl house as well as a gallery, plant shop, wonderful gardens that sit either side of the River Cray and a riverside café. There are often exhibitions on in the main house.
This is one of Bexley’s historic and picturesque jewels and is well worth a visit. For more information go to: www. bexleyheritagetrust.org.uk .
Dorset’s Memorial to German Prisoners
in the churchyard of St. George’s Church, Fordington, in Dorchester, Dorset, commemorates German prisoners who died in the town — some of them during the flu epidemic of 1918. It shows a kneeling soldier mourning his lost comrades, and the translated inscription reads: “Here rest German soldiers, in foreign soil but not forgotten”. The memorial was carved by one of the prisoners.
During the First World War there were only a few prisoner of war camps in the UK, one of these being at Dorchester. Conditions in the camp were good, with adequate food, the means to take regular baths and sufficient clothing for the prisoners. Some worked on surrounding farms, and all were given plenty of exercise, being allowed to play games and being taken on long walks.
In spite of this some prisoners tried to escape. Among them was a young man called Otto Koehn, who tried a very daring and dangerous method. Some elderly German civilians were being repatriated, and included in their luggage was a wooden box which measured 3ft x 2ft x 2ft. This was transported with other boxes and treated quite roughly, even being sent down a chute and later rolled over and over. Suddenly, the lid gave way, and inside was found a very bruised and shaken-up Otto!
Two other escapees, this time from a camp at Bishops Lydeard, in Somerset, were caught and imprisoned at Dorchester. They were two officers, who were spotted tramping through the rain by a Dorset policeman. Although they spoke good English, they were given away because they had overlooked a clue — one of them was carrying a large German sausage!
The Old Sea Dog and the Ancient Mariner
Youwill find them on the quayside of the old Somerset port of Watchet, two men of the sea just a few yards apart. One is Jack Short a contented old man clad in a sailor’s cap and jersey comfortably seated on a capstan with a view to the boats in the harbour.
The second stands tall with his back to the sea presenting a troubled image. We do not know the second man’s name but his appearance demands attention. Capless, his hair is long and encrusted with salt, behind him he grasps a crossbow — as if wishing to hide it yet fearful to let go of it. The veins stand out on his arms, a stress that is reflected in his entire appearance. Around his neck a loose-fitting noose, with the rope trailing over his bare chest, ends at the lifeless body of a ceaseless wanderer of the ocean skies — an albatross. Captor and captive, but which is which — prisoners each of the other?
Both have stories of the sea to tell. The first sailed from here and came home to an active happy retirement with many an account of his adventures and to sing again the shanties of his days under sail attracting the interest of folk music collectors including the founder of the English Folk Dance Society Cecil Sharp.
For the story of this old sea dog the visitor can turn to his framed biography at the harbour. He is “Yankee Jack” or to give him his birth name John Short. Short by name but long in life. Born in 1839 he spent 40 years at sea when sail was king. During the
American Civil War he ran the blockade where he acquired his nickname.
As the Victorian era ended, aged 63, he took on the job of town crier where the voice that once competed with the waves was heard loud and clear in the town. Another appointment came his way as he went on to take charge of the local fire brigade. Did the lines of one of the old shanties come to his mind — “Fire in the galley, fire down below, fetch a bucket of water boys, fire down below”?
John’s death, aged 94, in 1933, was recorded in the obituary columns of The Times and today the sculpture by Alan Herriot adds to his place in the history of the town. But what of the other figure who towers over the quayside? This modern sculpture, also by Alan Herriot, pays tribute not to a sailor but to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was while visiting Watchet, near the end of the 18th century, that he is said to have mused on what was to become his most famous poem, the sailor’s legend that he who harms an albatross would be visited with great misfortune.
For a retelling of the story you must turn to Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, but for now who does not recall at least a line or two from the story of the becalmed sailor?: As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean... Water Water every where, Nor any drop to drink.
British Museum is a Top-10 Destination
tourist destinations and places of interest were recently highlighted by the UK’S Association of Leading Visitor Attractions on their list of top 10 places — based on visitor numbers. Occupying the number one spot was the British Museum, with the National Gallery in second and the Southbank Centre in third.
The top 10 includes only one attraction outside London, the new Library of Birmingham, which was ranked the tenth most popular. Other London sites were Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the V&A, the Tower of London and Somerset House.
Cheshire Attraction that’s Worth its Salt!
TheLion Salt Works near Northwich in Cheshire, have been transformed into one of the finest industrial heritage attractions in the country.
A £10 million project by Cheshire West and Chester Council to restore the crumbling 19th-century buildings has taken four years to complete. The site is one of the last four historic open-pan salt-making sites in the world and it represents the survival of salt practices dating back to Roman times.
The museum gives a fascinating insight into a period of history when Cheshire produced 86 per cent of the nation’s salt. It also explains the national significance of the industry and how it shaped life for the local people, the economy and landscape. The significance of the Lion Salt Works’ industrial heritage is recognised by its status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and as a hub for the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH), a network of the most important industrial heritage sites in Europe.
Visitors will discover fun, interactive and imaginative exhibits, including a walk-in “subsiding house”. Theatrical lighting, sound and film also evoke the giant clouds of steam once produced by the site’s huge saltboiling pans.
The extensive museum features two restored pan houses and three restored stove houses. The Red Lion Pub at the entrance to the site (from where it gets its name) has also been incorporated as an education centre. For opening times and admission see: westcheshiremuseums.co.uk .
Chateau that Pumped Bromley’s Water
Theold north-west Kent market town of Bromley, and its neighbouring village, Shortlands, are now almost completely absorbed into London. (Bromley is now officially “The London Borough of Bromley”.) And yet, if you walk away from the built-up town centre, towards Shortlands village — and this community still manages to preserve a true village feel, despite the cars, vans and red London buses that flow through it each day — you will find green gardens, suburban avenues lined with blossom trees, many handsome 1930s Elizabethan and Tudorstyle houses and what looks like a French chateau.
In Valley Road, which runs alongside the railway line and the still-visible River Ravensbourne, now “cruelly confined to a concrete channel” (the words of the Bromley Civic Society), there stands a water pumping station — a splendid folly made of local Kentish ragstone for the then North Kent Water Company. Now a treatment works for Thames Water, the 19th-century buildings — listed — stand above deep wells, with part of the structure converted into private flats. In a 1959 report on the Borough, the Medical Officer for Health noted:
“…The rest of Beckenham, including Shortlands and Elmers End is supplied from the Wells in a chalk strata through a Pumping Station in Valley Road, Shortlands. These Wells are 250 feet deep.”(the Shortlands Residents’ Association puts the depth at 180 feet — no doubt there is some fierce local debate!)
The buildings, which were opened in 1867, also attracted the attention of the editors of the Pevsner architectural guidebooks, who noted the local interest and attention to detail which the pumping house displayed. Steam engines were used in the pumping process, and one such engine — previously of the Whitewebbs Pumping Station in Enfield, Middlesex — was installed at Shortlands in 1910.
As Sir John Betjeman told us, there is much overlooked history and curiosity in our suburbs. A trip to Shortlands — just 20 minutes by train from Victoria — will confirm that. Just turn left out of the station and keep walking along Valley Road, to the ragstone tower and chateau which pumped Bromley’s water!