Lighthouses are a much-loved part of our coast

With our island being surrounded by sea, lighthouses are a vital coastal guide for mariners, and are much-loved by visitors.

We all know of the magnificent exploits of the builders of the famous Eddystone, and Bishop Rock lighthouses, and I expect each of us has a favourite lighthouse view.

Almost ten years ago we visited Orford Ness, a shingle spit on the Suffolk coast, used by the military for armament testing for decades. The spit’s lighthouse has protected mariners for more than 200 years.

On our visit we soon realised the threat posed to the lighthouse by shingle erosion. Winter storms do the damage, such that the lighthouse is in danger of collapsing into the sea. Iconic, a much overused word, is absolutely appropriate in this context. It’s location, so close to the sea that wants to claim it, marks it out as an icon of coastal erosion.

Orfordness lighthouse was acquired from Trinity House in 2013 by the Orfordness Lighthouse Trust, with the aim of saving as much of the lighthouse as possible. It is currently being dismantled, the eventual conclusion of which will be the collapsing the walls inwards to minimise the environmental impact on the shingle spit.

Here’s our photo of the lighthouse in 2011, and the current state of demolition.

After days of preparation, deconstruction work at the historic Orfordness Lighthouse is now under way

Finding a fun blog on London history

We mostly all use Google to search for stuff on the Internet. I occasionally use other search engines that I hope will uncover things that Google misses.

There’s such a lot of good stuff that no search engine places in its first few page views. I’m sure you’re like me, in that boredom and or irritation quickly settles in if having to open more than a few pages in a Google search. I know, refine the search is what we should do, but, ah well, you know that it’s often fruitless.

One of the reasons that I’m a twitter user is that it’s another source of links to interesting people and things. I only follow 40 or so twitterers, not that many really. One I do follow is @MrTimDunn, who tweets about railway history, model railways and architectural history. It’s from his tweets that I’ve found a blog site called A London Inheritance, and this site is seriously good. Obviously, as it says in the title, it’s about London, and its history.

What led me to the site, was that Tim Dunn, on his London walkabouts in the lockdown, came across Horselydown Old Stairs. See Tim’s photo below, about which he tweets,

Horselydown Old Stairs at Shad Thames. By George Rinhart, 1900; and me, just now. Nothing’s much changed round here in 120 years other than maybe just somewhat fewer people

I’ve written about other steps leading down to the Thames, and my interest was piqued. As I say, the full story of these stairs and others are written about in glorious detail in A London Inheritance blog.

Learning about the Avebury stone circles

When we’re free to travel again we’ll investigate Avebury stone circles and the associated set of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites, which include West Kennet AvenueWest Kennet Long BarrowThe SanctuaryWindmill Hill, and Silbury Hill.

We think we’ve driven through Avebury some years ago, and have never stopped to investigate, shocking really, considering it’s one of our World Heritage Sites. From descriptions of Avebury and the ceremonial sites by the National Trust and English Heritage, many can be reached on foot from the village of Avebury. On the day we choose to visit, sometime in the future, we’ll start out early, put on our walking boots, plan for a lunch stop, and wonder what life was like in 2500 BC.

That man William Ormesby-Gore, the author of Ancient Monuments – Southern England, about whom I wrote in Avebury the greatest British stone circle, says this about Avebury,

The greatest stone circle is Avebury. Its circle of very large blocks of sarsen contained two other smaller circles, and was surrounded by a huge bank and ditch 50 feet deep. The modern village  is mostly within the great circle, and the breaking up of the megaliths for building purposes in the 18th and 19th centuries has done much to diminish the spectacular appearance of the monument. It is the largest prehistoric circle and ditch in the world.

From the main circle an avenue of stones led eastwards towards the village of West Kennett. The northern end of this avenue has been systematically excavated and any stones found have been re-erected in their former positions, and the sites of the missing stones have been determined and marked, with the result that enough can now be seen to give a very fair impression of its original appearance.

That so much of the Avebury stone circles can now be seen is mostly due to the enlightened work of Alexander Keiller, a Scottish archaeologist, pioneering aerial photographer, and philanthropist. Wikipedia records that,

He used his wealth, from the Keiller marmalade business, to acquire a total of 950 acres of land in Avebury for preservation, where he conducted excavations, re-erected stones on the Avebury site, and created a museum to interpret the site. In 1943 he sold the land at Avebury to the National Trust for its agricultural value only.

The Alexander Keiller Museum, at Avebury, displays many notable finds from the Avebury monuments. Here are some photos I’ve put together of the Avebury stone circles,

Avebury the greatest British stone circle

This isn’t my comment, it’s an abbreviation of the words of Rt. Hon. William Ormsby-Gore, M.P., later 4th Baron Harlech, who as First Commissioner of Works in the government of Ramasy MacDonald in the mid 1930’s, appeared in a small 78 page book written by him entitled, Illustrated Regional Guide No.2 – Ancient Monuments -Southern England, published in 1936 by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.

His exact words on page 16 are,

If Avebury is the greatest, Stonehenge is undoubtedly the most famous of British stone circles.

Two things are fascinating to me. One is that a government minister wrote four of the six volumes, No.1 on Northern England, No.2 on Soutern England, No.3 on East Anglia, and No.5 on North Wales. Methinks, how times have changed. The aim of the series of guides to the Ancient Monuments of Great Britain in the care of the Ministry of Works was designed. In his preface to the guides he say,

The ever increasing number of visitors to our national monuments shows there is a growing circle of those who take a pride and interest in such things.

As an indication of the depth of his knowledge of history and erudition – of course the Ministry of Works would’ve provided much of the information for the guides, even so, the Minister in charge wrote the guides, with chapter headings such as: Prehistoric Period, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Period, Anglo Saxon Period, The Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Secondly, I’ve not understood the importance of Avebury and its stone circle. I’ll follow up by writing more about Avebury and its history.

Visiting St Tarcisius war memorial church in Camberley

How many times have I passed by St Tarcisius War Memorial Church in Camberley? must be thousands, and I’ve never been inside, till this week.

On Tuesday this week I visited the church. Entering into a vestibule, I studied the names on a marble memorial plaque to some 150 catholic officers who had died in world War 1, a number of whom will have worshipped at Catholic churches in the area. Other plaques list the names of the clergy, and of benefactors. Going inside I heard an organist practicing.

A variety of places of worship for the local Catholic population in Camberley had existed from as early as the 1870s. Plans for a permanant home were subseqently developed, land had been acquired and a building fund begun. The first World War halted the fund raising for a new church. Fundraising recommencing after the war and having regard to the very many of Catholic officers who died in the war, the church was designed as a memorial to them.

The church was designed by Frederick Walters as a War Memorial for fallen British Catholic military officers in the First World War. The foundation stone of the church was laid on 12 September 1923, and by the18 November 1924, the church was opened. In 2005 the church was designated Grade II. The church is built of Bargate stone, with the nave and the arches inside the transepts made of Bath stone.

I’ve compiled a brief video of the church, which you can see below.

Historical research connects us to our past

It seems I’m on a history kick, where I enjoy historical research that educates me about our past.

Earlier this year I listened to a talk – Ragstone to Riches –  by historian and archaeologist Simon Elliott. His talk was on how Kentish Ragstone, a very hard grey limestone found in seams in Kent, was used by the Romans as a major building resource for London.

Around AD200 the Romans decided to surround Londinium with a protective wall. Large parts of that wall remain, with a prominent part at Tower Hill near the Tower of London. To build the wall the Romans needed a source of building material. They found it in seams of Kentish Ragstone, which they quarried, then shipped by boat into the heart of London via the River Medway and River Thames.

Simon Elliott’s research identified the quarries they were used by the Romans, concluding that the quarrying, dressing, and shipping of the Ragstone was on an industrial scale, where the Roman military were key to the smooth running of the process. Simon calculated that they shipped more than one million blocks of ragstone, quarried near Maidstone, in Kent – amounting to some 1750 boatloads – up the Thames, and set about building a massive wall around the city. The remains of a medium sized ship was unearthed, containing ragstone, during building excavations.

While the locations of quarries has changed, the exact same seam is still used today by The Gallagher Group, the company which owns the last two ragstone quarries in Kent at Hermitage Lane, Maidstone and Blaise Farm, West Malling. Hermitage Quarry supplies everything from quarried aggregates to blocks for walling and high-quality finished stone for use in London and across the South East.

Here’s a photo of the Roman wall at Tower Hill, courtesy of Rept0n1x in Wikipedia. This is followed by photos of some of Simon’s slide show of his talk. [Click on images to expand]

Stonehenge: images of straightening, re-erection, excavation and renovation

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire that is estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

What visitors see today is the product of archaelogical work to stabilise and re-erect the stones in the early part of the 20th Century, where for example in 1901 one of the sarsen stones and its lintel had fallen down, leading to the straightening of a large leaning trilithon.

Between 1919 and 1926 the south-eastern half of the monument was excavated and further work carried out to re-erect some of the stones, In the 1950’s further extensive excavation and renovation was carried out.

Thought you might like to see some images of these works. See these English Heritage document for more information on: the World War I Aerodrome, and Historic England reports, including one on Restoring Stonehenge.

Did you know about the Ramsgate Tunnels?

You didn’t. That doesn’t surprise me, as I didn’t either.

On our recent sojourn to the Isle of Thanet, basing ourseleves in Ramsgate, we took in many of the local tourist sites. One being a visit to the Ramsgate Tunnels, which were only a short walk from our hotel. What did surprise us was that the main entrance was almost on the beach.

Here’s a description of the history of the tunnels,

As the second World War approached, Ramsgate Borough Council embarked upon an ambitious, but controversial, plans to create a network of deep shelter tunnles linking to the former mail line railway tunnel which would provide shelter for 60,000 people. Despite initial resistance from government the paln was finally given the go-ahead and the network was foramlly opened by HRH The Duke of Kent on 1st June 1939. In the dark days of war part of the system evolved into an underground city with over 1,000 permanent residents.

The story of the wartime tunnels is told in splendid and fascinating detail by the guides in a tour of the tunnels. They served their purpose in saving lives, when on 24th August 1940 Ramsgate received more than 500 bombs dropped by Nazi aircraft in an air raid on Manston airfield. The tunnels have only been opened as a tourist attraction in recent years.

Here are photos of our visit.

Seeing what’s been hidden for over 40 years

At the beginning of July I wrote about our taking a mini-adventure to the Isle of Thanet and hopefully to see some sound mirrors up close.

How lucky we were, the weather was fine, and we saw much that was new to us. We based ourselves in Ramsgate, which has a busy little harbour, plenty of eateries, and has attractive regency and Victorian buildings that have so often been demollished elsewhere in the country.

One of the main items on our agenda was to visit the recently uncovered first World War sound mirrors on the White Cliffs near Dover.

Built as aircraft and airship early warning devices for coastal towns between 1915 and 1930, parabolic sound mirrors concentrate sound waves enabling detection of incoming enemy aircraft. They were developed from sound ranging experiments during WW1 to fix the postion of enemy gun batteries by plotting the sound of gunfire.  Many of the 20 or so sound mirrors survive being located in quiet and out-of-the-way places. They became redundant as the speed of aircraft increased such that the amount of early warning time became so small as to be of little benefit, and the arrival of the more efficient radar.

Two sound mirrors at Fan Bay near Dover were covered up by Kent County Council in 1970’s along with all evidence of adjacent three coastal gun batteries to rid the coast of unsightly redundant wartime buildings and tunnels. In 2012 the National Trust acquired a stretch of the White Cliffs coast and knowing that gun emplacement, searchights and tunnels existed at Fan Bay decided to open them as a tourist attraction. These are the photos of our visit to the Fan Bay Deep Shelter and Sound Mirrors. [More info about sound mirrors can be found HERE, and HERE and HERE].


Continuing my perambulations and thoughts on bowl barrows in Brentmoor Heath

On Thursday, a lovely dry day this week, I looked for the bowl barrow near the houses at New England, which the estimable Speedicus pointed to the Historic England record, in my article HERE].

In preparation for my investigation I printed the pages about the bowl barrow scheduled monument from the Historic England record. I also looked again at the 1930’s photo of the four bowl barrows, which I claim shows a fifth bowl barrow – see my article HERE. On reflection, I wondered why the archaeologist Leslie Grinsell hadn’t thought there were five bowl barrows when he studied the photo. My conclusion is that his interpretation is more likely to be correct than mine. More research needed by me.

Anyway, back to the bowl barrow at New England [see Historic England record HERE]. Here’s part of that record,

Bowl barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods.

Although it has suffered from some subsequent disturbance, the bowl barrow at New England survives well and will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction and original use.

The barrow has a roughly circular mound 16m in diameter and up to 1m high, partly disturbed by long term use of an east-west aligned public bridleway which crosses the monument. Surrounding the mound is a ditch from which material used to construct the barrow was excavated. This has become infilled over the years but survives as a buried feature up to 2m wide. The northern side of the ditch has been partly disturbed by a deep depression, part of a modern sports cycling route.

Here are my photos of what I found. Must say that the bowl barrow is hardly recognisable as such. As a scheduled ancient monument it isn’t identified in the same way as the four bowl barrows.