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40. Ramblings ‘Up North’ & Locally.


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13th January 2012. Gigs In Darlington and Newcastle-upon-Tyne called us up the A1. The sun shone and it was calm. Therefore the steam from the cooling towers of the Ferrybridge power station rose near-vertically, and was visible for many miles. I have seen this phenomenon before, and so resolved to photograph it. This was taken from the south. Also, there are two more power stations to the east of Ferrybridge. You can’t get them all in one shot, but on the right you can see the other two steam plumes from them.


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23rd January 2012. Again ‘up north’, but this time in the north west: Grasmere, in the Lake District. This lucky shot was taken from the village itself, using maximum zoom, but with the camera resting on a wall. After playing two sessions, which went well (I think), we decided a little walk was necessary, and a trip around the lake – Grasmere – was recommended as a gentle amble, not exceeding perhaps 3 miles. So off we went; the session had been a short one, but as is inevitable, we had ‘missed lunch’, on the simple grounds that it was a lunch-time session. However, a substantial meal was in the offing in the evening; so what better than to work up an appetite for it?


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We started around the lake widdershins, so were travelling south; and as the sun sets in the, er.. west, the glorious refulgence of its declining rays fell to the north-east. A tiny stream plashed down by the roadside, and the sun illumed the hills &c. The many small dark markings in the foreground are molehills. Actually, it was with some slight misgiving that we viewed the setting of the sun, in that we had not started on our perambulation until about 3:30 p.m., and the sun would definitely set not much after 4:30 p.m. in this latitude at this time of year. Indeed, a twinge of alarm and dismay passed through us, should we get lost and end up blundering around in the dark, tripping over tree-roots &c. I keep two electric torches in the car… but my car was 175 miles away in Birmingham; a fellow-musician had driven me to Grasmere. However, all was well, and we reached the hotel at about 4:40 p.m., when it was definitely getting dark. As you may imagine, our dinner was much relished.


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1st February 2012. A brief hour-long walk today, and very close to home. On the left you see an apparently uninspiring path. But it used to be the Harborne Branch of the LNWR (London & North Western Railway), a short single line branch that was opened (from Birmingham) in the 1860s I think; and closed to passenger traffic in the late 1930s, but was used to deliver coal &c. to Harborne until it was finally closed about 1962. Railway buffs will either know this already, or be able to look it up on-line. The gap between the two pairs of railings is actually the bridge just to the north of where the station used to be. Naturally, there still is a ‘Station Road’ in Harborne; and for 35 years I lived in a house just off Station Road, so this is all very familiar territory to us. On the right you see the evidence: a wooden railway sleeper has survived. It is so far rotted as to be pretty well hollow inside, and must offer an excellent home to all sorts of insects, micro-organisms &c. But the track-bed, recently metalled, is an excellent walkway & cycleway, provided by Birminham City Council.


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Just over the road from the walkway is the Harborne Nature Centre, which borders Edgbaston. The little Chad Brook runs through it. It’s a steep-sided hollow and unsuitable for building. Here is a tree stump with least 4 different fungi growing on it. I don’t know what they’re called, as Fungi ’Я not us!


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This gives a good idea of one end of the hollow. Many butterflies are to be found here in due season; in fact, we came here very early on in our butterfly snapping days – see Diary #9 of July 2007 – how time flies!


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7th February 2012. A cold day; the maximum temperature was 2° C. But, as yet again we had sat in front of a PC monitor for two solid days, it was essential to get out of the house. But it is also essential to have a definite purpose in mind, rather than just to go out and mooch about getting cold. Bearing in mind our free local travel pass, which extends to Coventry in the south east, Walsall in the north and Wolverhampton – where I was born & spent the first 9 years of my life - in the north west. Accordingly, the decision was made to go to Wolverhampton and have a bacon sandwich in a little café we know in the town – sorry! – City Centre; for Wolverhampton has been a city for some years. But: it also occurred to us that we have never visited the Birmingham Catacombs… So they would be our first stop! On the ’bus into the centre of Brum, and then to walk to the Jewellery Quarter, where is the cemetery with the catacombs. This is Cornwall Street, just behind the Council House. Birmingham is not noted for its buildings, but these are rather nice. On the left is the Birmingham & Midland Institute, and on the right is now part of Birmingham City University – originally, the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, dating from the 1880s.


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Next, we go down Newhall Street, crossing the canal. Here is a view up part of the Farmers Bridge flight of 12 locks IIRC.


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And on the other side of the road, the Birmingham Assay Office, where precious metals are hall-marked. It was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1773. Before that, I believe, silver & gold items made in Birmingham had to be sent to Chester (over 70 miles away) as that was then the nearest Assay Office. It has been at this location since 1877. We were surprised – and gratified – to learn that this Assay Office is the busiest in the world: in 2006, over 12 million articles passed through this building. Oddly, the Birmingham Assay mark is an anchor – as you can see from the lower windows – yet Birmingham is nearly as far away from the sea as anywhere in the UK!


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Next, through St. Paul’s Square. I think this area was grievously threatened by the re-developers years ago, but happily was preserved largely intact.


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I would not pretend that St Paul’s Church itself is a building of staggering beauty – but who are we to ‘back-dictate’ what buildings (or anything else for that matter) should have looked like when they were first put up? In this case, it was consecrated as St. Paul’s Chapel in 1779. A snowman slowly wilts in the foreground.


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As we get into the Jewellery Quarter itself, there many old survivals contrast with the stark and utilitarian buildings which surround them. This neglected factory is one. Having said that, the upstairs windows have been renewed…


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And another superb old building, but this one fully-functional still!


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And here, perhaps because of some ancient right of way, a long passage has been suffered to remain between a new building and old ones.


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At last arriving at the edge of the Warstone Lane cemetery, we find that it contrasts oddly – and not very well, actually –  with the new building on the other side of the road, containing many brightly-lit shops & high-pressure outlets for jewellery. But then, it is inevitable that the present and the past must have an interface somewhere; and that such an interface is often uneasy. Still, our destination is the past, not the present – so let us proceed…


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It is with some shame that we confess we have known about the Catacombs for many years, but never visited them until today. Very well: let our chilled, numbed and fumbly fingers, as we awkwardly try to press semi-microscopic buttons on the camera, remind us of our omission. This cemetery was privately opened in 1848, as the churchyards in the centre of Birmingham were impossibly overcrowded. An outcrop of sandstone allowed these tombs to be excavated back into the sandstone. They were tenanted by the departed of the more exalted classes, as they were expensive.


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Still, expensive as they may have been, they were commodious, evidently going back some way into the sandstone escarpment. And thus, a relatively large number of the departed could be housed in a single tomb. When they fell out of use I don’t know; you can find plenty about them on-line. But it must have been well before 1939 and World War II; because, it is averred by those who know, that some of these Catacombs were used for temporary housing of citizens of Brum who had been unlucky enough to have their houses destroyed by German Air Raids.


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The cemetery above was confined to those of the Anglican faith; but the neighbouring and larger Key Hill (Hockley) cemetery, separated only from Warstone lane by the old Great Western Railway line, admitted Nonconformists. There are Catacombs in Key Hill cemetery too, as illustrated above. They are excavated in the same sandstone outcrop. Quite a few of my own forebears are present in this cemetery, as my father’s family lived in Park Road, Hockley, very close by. Though I doubt that any of them aspired to a catacomb. Memo: More research to be done.


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And here is that very same old Great Western Railway route, looking towards Birmingham from the Jewellery Quarter station. Now this is a dual station; you see here the Metro side of it – which is a tramway. To the right is the actual railway station. The Metro is without doubt one the great recent innovations in local transport, and has been a great success since it opened in 1999. It runs from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. Mostly along the old GWR route, but comes onto the roadway near Wolverhampton.


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Here is a tram bound for Birmingham Snow Hill station – see also Diary # 20, 2009 – ours will arrive in a couple of minutes, and transport us in the opposite direction, to Wolverhampton.


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Here we are looking along Lichfield Street, to the intersection with Princess Street, coming from the left, and continuing to the right into Stafford Street. Three red traffic lights gleam balefully at us. So what is the purpose of this shot? Well, I was always told as a kid, that this intersection was the very first place that traffic lights were ever tried out in the UK. In 1926, IIRC. Certainly, when I was young, there was a little bollard in the middle of the junction, which had illuminated blue glass plates, with white lettering which said: ‘TURNING RIGHT, KEEP RIGHT’. I wonder what happened to it? In any event, traffic lights were, as we all know, an enormous success, and there are countless millions of them today. We celebrated this by having our bacon sandwich & a large mug of tea.


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Here a poignant moment. As a child, when my grandfather would take me ‘up town’, I would always look at this modest but thought-provoking monument

in the gardens near St. Peter’s Church. There was something peaceful and reassuring – inspiring  – in the face of poor young Douglas Harris, who met his death in the Adriatic Sea in 1917, on a vessel sunk by enemy gunfire. He was the wireless operator; but read for yourself…


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“He died doing his job: which he did far above and beyond the call of Duty.” I simply don’t know how they did it, and in their hundreds of thousands: in their millions. Douglas Harris was just 19 years old when he was killed. Read more about him on-line. And now meet him…


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There is little doubt in my mind – by which I mean all that follows is my opinion alone: it will be distasteful to some – that many of the tribute sculptures produced in the aftermath of the Great War, mostly done in the early 1920s, are some of the most beautiful, human, realistic and inspiring works of art ever made. A subtle balance seemed to prevail, briefly, at this time. The over-inflated pompous grandiosity of the Victorian epoch had been laid aside; but the remorseless march of the abstract movement in art was still (thankfully) inappropriate in tributes to The Fallen. Accordingly, artists (especially sculptors I think) attained the greatest heights in depicting, either actually or symbolically, the aspect, appearance and humanity of their subjects; whether they were real individuals (as here), or as composite allegorical figures, e.g. the four bronzes to be found at the Hall of Memory in Birmingham. As a child who as yet knew nothing, I learned to somehow trust this figure, and, without knowing it, benefited from the timeless assurance and composure that the sculptor Robert Jackson Emerson had embodied in it, when he created it in 1919. Time has brought many changes. After World War II, other things were created as tributes and symbolic memorials to The Fallen, such as Coventry Cathedral. I was still only 18 years old when the new Coventry Cathedral was consecrated in 1962. I thought it was horrible then, and still do. Being an arch-conservative, it could hardly be otherwise, I suppose. But then again: perhaps it was a ‘Product of its Time’? Then let me put it another way: I do not tend to like Products of that Time. There was a great tendency, then, to destroy and put away the products of ALL former times. This was definitely (IMHO, and I am not alone) a Great Mistake!  






Page written 7th/8th February 2012.