Mudchute Farm

Monday, May 1st 2017

One of the oft-praised features of London is the number and quality of its green spaces. These include the obvious in the form of parks, gardens and sports fields and the less obvious in the form of nature reserves and city farms. It may seem counterintuitive that there are farms in the city but there certainly are. They number at least 16, according to this list on London Footprints. Our visit today was to the Mudchute on London’s Isle of Dogs. Here is a map showing its location:

Isle of Dogs and Mudchute Farm
Isle of Dogs and Mudchute Farm
(Click for Google Map)

The Isle of Dogs is not a true island but a piece of London bounded on three sides by the largest meander of the River Thames. There are no more dogs here than in any other district of comparable size and the origin of the name is uncertain. According to some, King Edward III kept greyhounds here and according to others it was originally called the Isle of Ducks after the large number of water fowl. For an outline of these theories, see the Wikipedia article Isle of Dogs.

Entrance to Mudchute Park and Farm
Entrance to Mudchute Park and Farm

The name of Mudchute, however, is much less mysterious. Originally grazing land and a brick field, the area’s fortunes changed abruptly in the 1880s and 1890s with the digging of Millwall Dock. The spoil of mud and silt was sent here, apparently through a gigantic pneumatic tube. In 1918, the local council took charge of what was originally called ‘the Mud Shoot’ by means of a compulsory purchase order and it then served as allotments and piggeries until the Second World War when anti-aircraft guns were sited here. In 1977, it was designated a public facility consisting of wooded and open areas, nature reserves, a stables and the Mudchute Farm. Though the latter is a working farm, visitors are welcome and admission is free (though donations are of course welcome).

Crossing the field
Crossing the field

To reach the farm, you walk across a large open field. You might almost feel here that you are out in the countryside but…

Surrounded by buildings
Surrounded by buildings

…this oasis is hemmed in by buildings. You are remain aware of the city surrounding you.

Wash your hands!
Wash your hands!

A farm affords an excellent environment for breeding the animals we have come to see but it is equally good at breeding organisms that are too small to see but are nevertheless dangerous to human health. Notices warn you to wash your hands before leaving and facilities for doing so are provided.

Photographing animals can be fun but can also be frustrating. The concept of the ‘photo opportunity’ is something they do not grasp! Animals move about erratically and are often too far away for a good photo. They are as likely to lick the lens as gallop off to the other end of the field just as you press the shutter release. And it’s not only the farm animals. There is another set of animals who are adept at getting in the way and spoiling your chances. This species is called People. But, however selfish and annoying they may be, you have to remember that they have as much right to be there as you do and that imprecations will not be kindly received!

Here then are a few photos of the denizens of Mudchute Farm.

Alpacas

Alpacas
Alpacas

Though not traditional British farm animals, llamas and alpacas have become popular with British farmers. Most of us find it hard to tell llamas and alpacas apart. They are related species and can interbreed. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and I think the above are alpacas but correct me if I am wrong.

White Faced Woodland Sheep
White Faced Woodland Sheep

Sheep are among my favourite animals. I remember once crossing a field in which there were sheep. They all ran away except for one young sheep who came rushing up to me and allowed himself to be stroked. I can only guess he had been hand reared and was therefore accustomed to people. There are so many breeds of sheep that it takes an expert to know them all. I believe this one is a White Faced Woodland but I could be wrong.

Young sheep socializing
Young sheep socializing

At this time of year, the spring lambs are beginning to become less dependent on their mothers and can be seen hanging out with their peers and getting into mischief. The adult in the picture is, I think, an Oxford Down.

Anti-aircraft gun
Anti-aircraft gun

Why would you have an ack ack (anti-aircraft) gun on a farm? I think I will let the plaque that accompanies it explain:

3.7” ACK ACK GUN

This is one of four gun emplacements on the Mudshute which
provided a vital part of the anti aircraft defence of the docks.
This 3.7 anti aircraft gun was the type most commonly used
in defence of London. The shells were stored in the bunkers.
The gunners had a barracks and storehouse on site which were
severely damaged by a landmine. Captain Fletcher, in charge
of the unit, received the military cross for bravery, the only
one awarded for action on British soil.

Anglo-Nubian Goat
Anglo-Nubian Goat

If you visit a typical country farm, the inmates largely ignore you. In contrast, when you visit a city farm, you have the distinct impression that you are being watched. I photographed this Anglo-Nubian goat while she was giving me the hard stare.

Pygmy Goat
Pygmy Goat

Not content with stares, this pygmy goat came galloping up and thrust his head at me through the fence. The bald patch on this nose shows he is in the habit of doing this. Of course, this interest is in no way an indication that they like you and want to be your friend. It is purely materialistic. Everywhere there are notices reading DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. So what do people do? They feed the animals, of course. The latter become hooked on sweets, chips and sandwiches and are continually on the look-out for more. They don’t know that it is bad for them.

Large Black Pigs
Large Black Pigs

Pigs tend to get bad press (and Orwell’s Animal Farm didn’t help their reputation). They have become a symbol for people who are dirty, lazy and slovenly. This is most unfair: if pigs live in filthy conditions it is because their human owners impose these on them. There was nothing dirty about these Large Black pigs, busily rooting about in their enclosure and keeping a hopeful eye open for hand-outs.

Pony
Pony

Before the comparatively recent invention of mechanical motors, horses for centuries provided mankind’s motive power, pulling carts, trams, coaches and ploughs and being ridden. This intimate relationship between the species still endures as witness the number of riding stables throughout the land and even, as at Mudchute, in built-up areas. Bread is no longer delivered to your door by horse-drawn baker’s van as it was when I was a kid but horses and ponies are still trotting and galloping through human history and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Parkland path
Parkland path

Leaving the farm (having carefully washed our hands!), we took a walk in Mudchute Park along one of the paths, enjoying the strange feeling of being in the country while being in the city. It’s not often that a spoil heap, created without any thought of its effects on the environment, has blossomed so successfully into a multi-purpose green space in the heart of the city.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Huddersfield

Wednesday, April 29th 2017

Huddersfield is a town in West Yorkshire, just to the north of the Peak District National Park (see here for a Google Map). One can think of it as occupying one corner of a triangle whose other corners are held by Leeds and Sheffield. By rail, it is just under 3 hours away from King’s Cross or Euston.

There has been a settlement in the area of Huddersfield since ancient times but the first mention of it in writing is in the the Doomsday Book where it appears as Oderesfelt and Odresfeld. According to a plausible etymology, this indicates a feld (a field or stretch of open land) held by an Anglo-Saxon farmer called Oderer or Odhere. How the name subsequently acquired its initial ‘h’ is a matter for speculation.

Farmland it might once have been but that was before the Industrial Revolution turned fields into factories and country air into smoke and grime. The smoke and grime have largely gone from Huddersfield but they have left behind a legacy of fine Victorian buildings, many of which have been listed as historically and aesthetically important by Historic England.

Huddersfield Station
Huddersfield Station

We encountered the first of these as soon as we stepped off the train: Huddersfield Station. This imposing building, seemingly modelled on a classical Greek temple, was built in 1846-50 to a design by James Pigott Pritchett (1789-1868). With six Corinthian columns across the front and two more at the sides, it was clearly intended to impress and to advertise the wealth of the town. It is Grade I listed.

Harold Wilson memorial sculpture
Harold Wilson memorial sculpture
Ian Walters, unveiled 1999

In front of the station, in St George’s Square, stands a sculpture. By Ian Walters and unveiled in 1999, it shows a famous son of Huddersfield, Harold Wilson, Prime Minister 1964-70 and 1974-60, later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, striding energetically forward, feeling in his pocket, perhaps, for his trademark pipe and tobacco.

Estate Buildings
Estate Buildings

This is one of the largest structures that we encountered. I thought at first that it must be the town hall but it is not. The Gothic style edifice was built between 1861 and 1874 (different sources give slightly different dates) and was designed by William Henry Crossland (1835-1908) of Huddersfield. It was commissioned by the Ramsden family, owners of Huddersfield Manor and major property owners, as their estates office. Today it is known as the Ramsden Estate Buildings or simply the Estate Buildings. Originally serving as office accommodation it has now been converted to residential use. The narrowness of Railway Street doesn’t lend itself to capturing the whole of this building in a single frame and the above is a composite of several photos, leading to a small amount of perspective distortion.

Westgate House
Westgate House

This unusual corner building is the result of two episodes of construction. It was originally founded in the mid-19th century (my sources are not more precise) but underwent rebuilding in 1923 with a steel frame and bronze cladding. Despite its mongrel nature, however, it has achieved a Grade II listing.

The street in which Westgate House resides is itself called Westgate. In this context, the word ‘gate’ means, not a gate in our modern sense, but a street. Another example in Huddersfield is Kirkgate. The use of ‘gate’ rather than ‘street’ derives from when the northern parts of England were dominated by Viking settlers.

The Royal Swan
The Royal Swan

The Royal Swan has a long history behind it but its future is in doubt. Even before it closed, the building had been partly given over to other businesses, reflecting the decline in the pub trade. The forerunner of this pub existed by no later than 1822. However, it was then called The Swan with Two Necks and occupied a site next to the current one upon which then stood a larger pub called The Victoria Tavern. It seems that the Swan did well, so well that it took over the site of its neighbour and renamed itself The Royal Swan. It present appearance dates from rebuilding in 1932.

The name ‘Swan with Two Necks’ may seem rather odd. It has been suggested that ‘necks’ should really be ‘nicks’, referring to the tradition by which owners of flocks of swans marked the birds belonging to them by making nicks in their beaks.

The Byram Arcade
The Byram Arcade

In any town with a strong Victorian legacy, there is the hope of finding one or more shopping arcades, those elegant forerunners of the modern shopping centre. Huddersfield has several arcades but none is finer than this one, called Byram Arcade. This three-storey precinct, crammed with shops, seems very lively and popular. It was created by William Crossland, architect of the above mentioned Estate Buildings and built 1881-2. The name comes from the country seat of the Ramsden family whose crest appears above the entrance.

Kirkgate Buildings
Kirkgate Buildings

Victorian in age but Queen Anne in style is the elegant Kirkgate Buildings, built in the 1880s, again by Crossland.

Kirkgate Buildings, detail
Kirkgate Buildings, detail

This close-up shows examples of the decorative detail, less flamboyant than some Victorian Gothic designs but intricate and finely worked.

Parish Church of St Peter
Parish Church of St Peter

This is the only church I ‘collected’ on this trip and we didn’t visit the interior. Perhaps we should have as it is Grade II* listed. As usual, there are claims that there has been a church here since ancient times but this one, dedicated to St Peter, was built by James Pigott Pritchett in 1834-6, right on the eve of the Victorian era. If ever we return to Huddersfield, perhaps we’ll take a look inside.

Palace Studios, once the Palace Theatre
Palace Studios, once the Palace Theatre

Theatres. like pubs, are finding it difficult to survive in the modern world and many have been demolished or made to serve other purposes. Huddersfield’s Palace Theatre is a typical example. It opened as a music hall in 1909 thrived in various roles until 1936 when a fire – an all too common scourge of theatres – destroyed the interior. The theatre was rebuilt and opened again in 1937. I believe the façade was made ‘reminiscent’ of the original, rather than being an exact copy of it. Declining fortunes meant that in 1969 it turned into a bingo hall. 1997 saw another change of fortune with the old Palace becoming the Chicago Rock Cafe and nightclub. The second decade of the 21st century brought further change. The Palace Theatre is now the Palace Studios, an accommodation block for students.

The Mechanics Institution
The Mechanics Institution

Mechanics Institutions sought to bring the benefits of education to young men, both to help them in the future work and to provide educated and skilled workers for industry. As such they were often supported by local industry. Classes began in Huddersfield in ad hoc accommodation but as numbers of students increased a purpose built centre was planned. The foundation stone was laid in 1859 and the institution opened its doors in 1861. This building was superseded in the 1890s by the Huddersfield Technical College and this building was occupied by the Friendly and Trades Club. Who inhabits it now, I do  not know.

Huddersfield Open Market
Huddersfield Open Market

Markets have been held in Huddersfield since early times though a charter was not granted until 1671, by Charles II. This one is called the Huddersfield Open Market despite sheltering cosily under a Victorian iron and glass canopy. A plaque on the outside gives a succinct history of the market: Built 1888, Restored 1980, Project awarded Civic Trust Commendation 1983, Repainted 1998, Refurbished 2008.

Inside the market
Inside the market

We found the market quite busy and lively with a wide range of goods on sale. We even had lunch in one of the market cafes.

Northumberland Street Post Office
Northumberland Street Post Office

This fine old 1914-vintage Post Office remains in use, unlike so many of its ilk, and is supported by the local population. Let’s hope it will survive for years to come. The only shadow of trouble concerns the two light-wells either side of the entrance. These have been accumulating rubbish for years – to complaints by the neighbours – but it seems that it is no one’s job to remove it. If this problems continues, then it will become a matter for archaeologists rather than cleaners…

Views along King Street
Views along King Street

These views show King Street in the heart of the shopping area which includes the large Packhorse Shopping Centre.

Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery
Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery

This blocky but quite pleasantly styled building is the Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery, designed by E.H. Ashburner, whose principal work it seems to be. It was built in 1937 and is Grade II listed.

Library sculptures
Library sculptures
James Woodford, c1937

Before the entrance sit two allegorical figures sculpted by James Woodford. Historic England describes them as ‘free-standing statues in classical style with modernist influence flanking entrance steps, representing Spirits of Literature and Art’, though in the absence of any labelling, I am unable to say which figure represents which noun.

Huddersfield Town Hall
Huddersfield Town Hall

In 1974, the Kirklees Metropolitan Borough was created and it absorbed a number of towns including Huddersfield. Much of the administration of Huddersfield has been taken over by Kirklees with its own borough offices. While some council functions remain in the town hall, principally the register office, the building has largely been converted into a venue for weddings and live entertainments. It was designed by John Henry Abbey (1831-80) and built in two stages in 1875 and 1881.

The Commercial Hotel
The Commercial Hotel

Standing on the corner of New Street and High Street, the Commercial Hotel has a plain, no-nonsense Georgian air about it. This early 19th century pub, sometimes known as the Jug & Bottle, is Grade II listed. What is no longer apparent is that the building once included a tobacconist’s shop with its entrance on the corner and windows looking onto both streets. In later times, when tobacco felt into disfavour and the then owners vacated the premises, the tobacco shop was erased by rebuilding that corner of the pub. No sign that the shop ever existed can now be seen.

4 and 6 High Street
4 and 6 High Street

This building caught my attention with its dramatic air, its obvious quality and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be treated with the dignity that it deserves. It doesn’t even have a name, being generally referred to (even by Historic England) as ‘4 and 6 High Street’. It could do with a clean but, on the other hand, the dirt does bring out the decorative features which cleaning would render bland. All that I could discover about it is that it was built in the mid-19th century as a commercial property and that it is Grade II listed. Even the architect’s name seems unknown. It is a fine little building and it and its architect deserve more recognition than they are currently receiving.

The Lion Buildings
The Lion Buildings

Because it is near the station, the above building was one of the first we saw on reaching Huddersfield. However, owing the the layout of the streets, the various photos I took of it did not satisfy me. It was only when we were returning to the station that I found angle from which I could capture the whole building albeit in pieces which I have here stitched together. It is called the Lion Buildings, and sometimes the Lion Arcade, and it is much larger than may be apparent from the picture. It was designed by James Pigott Pritchett (responsible also for the station and St Peter’s Church) and was completed in 1854, comprising shops, offices and storerooms. It is Grade II* listed. The original white lion was made by John Seeley but began to  crumble as a result of weathering and pollution and was replaced in 1978 by a fibreglass replica.

Waiting for the train to London
Waiting for the train to London

And so we came to the station once more, to take our scheduled train back to London. Though not as famous as some of its near neighbours such as Sheffield and Leeds, Huddersfield had proved well worth visiting and had kept us busy exploring it treasures. Even so, we could not see everything and had to neglect items just as deserving as those we photographed. A return visit seems called for!

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Some pictures of Basildon

Sunday, April 28th 2017

As it was Sunday and we had spent the morning shopping, we needed to find somewhere nearby, or at least, easy to get to, for our afternoon ramble. Tigger chose Basildon, mainly, I think, because we had never been there.

Basildon is in the county of Essex and is fairly near to Southend-on-Sea. It’s easy enough to find on the map if you want to do so. The name is about the most interesting feature of Basildon. It is thought to be composed of the Anglo-Saxon personal name Boerthal with the addition of dun, meaning a hill, thus Boerthal’s Hill. We can never be sure that this is the correct derivation but it seems plausible to me.

Basildon, I suppose, is neither better nor worse than hundreds of towns the length and breadth of Britain. The people who live there probably like it but I found in it nothing of interest. Possible we missed the best bits and I am being unjust but I doubt it. We took a few photos as we went about and a selection of mine appear below.

Basildon Station
Basildon Station

Basildon can be reached by a 30-minute train ride  from Fenchurch Street. Basildon Station, as you can see, is rather small and of understated appearance.

Market Square
Market Square

We wandered hither and thither without any fixed plan though I subsequently discovered that the town publishes a Heritage Trail Map (PDF file). Would this have made a difference to our trip? No, I don’t think so.

St Martin's Square
St Martin’s Square

One thing I can say in favour of Basildon is that a large part of the central area is pedestrianized. This is a policy I approve of and wish more towns would adopt. Vehicular traffic has been favoured for too long, to the detriment of our health and convenience, and it is time the balance was restored.

The Basildon Centre
The Basildon Centre

The Basildon Centre is Basildon Council’s main administrative building and also has rooms and conference facilities for hire. It forms part of the new town centre developed in the 1950s.

St Martin's Bell Tower
St Martin’s Bell Tower

The bell tower of the Church of St Martin of Tours is adjacent to the church but separate from it. The tower was opened by the Queen on March 12th 1999. It contains a peal of eight bells (one dating from the 15th century) which originally belonged to the Church of St Nicholas in Coventry. (See here for more details.)

Church of St Martin of Tours
Church of St Martin of Tours

The Church of St Martin of Tours was built in the 1960s and its styling is perfectly consistent with that date.

Sculpture of Christ
Sculpture of Christ
T.B. Huxley-Jones, c1968

Rendered even more eye-catching by the plainness of the walls, above the entrance hangs a fibreglass sculpture of Christ. It is by T.B. Huxley-Jones (1908-68) and when unveiled was expected to cause controversy. Some 50 years later, however, it no longer seems as avant-garde as once it might have done.

Church interior
Church interior

The church was quite busy with people milling around engaging in various activities but they were happy to let us in to look around and take photos.

Stained glass window

Stained glass window, side chapel
Stained glass windows

The church is decorated with a set of modern-style stained-glass windows, of which the two above are samples, the upper in the main church and the lower in a side chapel. They were designed by Joseph Nuttgens.

Unascribed sculpture
Unascribed sculpture

Continuing on, we found this sculpture in a nearby street. I know neither the name of the sculptor nor the title of the work, if any. Was it always free-standing or did it once form part of a larger structure? I have no idea.

Mother and Child Fountain
Mother and Child Fountain
Maurice Lambert, c1960

The Mother and Child, by Maurice Lambert, is a sculpture that forms part of a fountain but the fountain is not working at present. The poses of the figures seem to me rather awkward and unlikely but I hear that it is very popular with the townsfolk.

East Square
East Square

Superman in mufti paying a visit to East Square, possibly on his way to the nail bar.

Man Aspires
Man Aspires
A.J. Poole, 1957

This oh-so-1950s sculpture graces the side of Freedom House. It is by A.J.Poole (1926-2009). For a long time, the sculptor’s own title  for the work was unknown and it was called the Treble Clef. More recently, the sculptor’s daughter has vouchsafed that the artist called it Man Aspires.

Sculptures with strings or wires stretching across them seem to have been a fad of the middle decades of the 20th century, now happily relegated to the past though not before some quite famous sculptors tried the genre. For example, see this work by no less an artist than Barbara Hepworth.

East Walk
East Walk

East Walk forms part of the Eastgate shopping centre that opened in 1985. Its launch was accompanied by all the usual superlatives and I suppose it is a good place to go either on a shopping spree or when trying to buy some special item. Unless you have some such special purpose in mind, though, it is a pretty dull haunt of the usual retail suspects. I left Basildon without any regrets and don’t expect to return.

The Railway Squirrel
The Railway Squirrel

While on the station platform waiting for the train back to London, we spied a squirrel running along the track. My reflex was to worry that he might be run over by the train. Having watched him for a while, though, I could see that he was perfectly familiar with the lie of the land and was in no danger. Animals are often cleverer and more competent than we give them credit for.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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