Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trains, and more trains

Several people told us that if we were anywhere near York we should definitely go to the National Railway Museum. So off to the museum we went - it was free, but we had to pay an 'all day' fee to park the car. I'm glad we started in the morning because we were there most of the day. So the car park fee wasn't wasted :)

It's a huge collection, of trains and everything associated with trains and railways. They have a huge room full of  shelves loaded (in an orderly way) with models, signs, clocks, tools, seats, timetables etc etc. There was a big research library for the train fanatics. The children's playground was a joy for parents and grandparents as well as children. There was a viewing deck with an electronic timetable displayed so that we could see the real trains going past. We could see the Flying Scotsman in pieces in the (very clean) workshop, undergoing a complete restoration.

We saw a replica of Stephenson's Rocket, and dozens of other trains of various ages including royal trains. There were a lot of people around but in such a big space that wasn't a problem. I'm glad we went but I think I've seen enough trains now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Peak district, Derbyshire

Elizabethan splendour

I've seen several documentaries featuring Hardwick Hall and I wasn't disappointed when I saw it in reality. One of the National Trust volunteers told the story of 'Bess of Hardwick' who built the house in Elizabethan times. She only lived in it about ten years and her descendants mainly used the house as a hunting lodge! But because of that the house was never modernised and remains Elizabethan in furnishings and fittings.

Because it's early spring the gardens have yet to bloom but the landscaping is spectacular of course and I imagine it is stunning in a month or two. All the lines of sight lead to or from the splendour of the house in a way that draws to the eye. We were intrigued by the ha ha wall and ditch that is invisible but keeps the sheep where they should be and think we might put one in at our farm :)

A feature is the very large herb garden and it must be a drawcard for the herb fanatics. In one corner of one of the gardens a chalkboard has been set up in a small building, mainly for the use of the numerous groups of children that get taken to the Hall on excursion. One of the entries for the 24 March amused me.

The mill

Early in exploration of the UK we went to see the site of a flour mill operated by one of Phil's ancestors. This week we went to see a working flour mill, the Stainsby Mill. It's owned at operated by the National Trust and is on the Hardwick Hall estate. The volunteer guides were excellent and we were very pleased we'd called in to have a look. It's a three-story building, deceptive when you see one level from the road, has a millpond from which they regulate the water supply to the wheel, and grind various grades of corn and wheat. The grinding stones have to be reground every now and again and eventually replaced so they are often part of garden landscaping.

I was very interested to see that the millers traditionally wore smocked uniforms - often made by their wives.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oundle and Great Gidding

Nan's grandmother, Mary Ann Andrew, was just a child when her parents and grandparents decided to move to Australia. She had just had the measles and had to get a doctor's certificate to say she was OK to travel. (The original certificate is in the Pyramid Hill museum). Her father, John Andrew, born in Great Gidding, was a baker. He married Rhoda Wade in Oundle, her home parish. They lived in North St, Oundle before they moved to Australia in 1856 where they became farmers at Inverleigh and Central Mologa. I don't think North Street has changed much since they were there. All the houses front straight onto the long street near the centre of town.

Great Gidding is smaller. This is the view from the church porch, and also one of the delightful cottages in the main street. John Andrew's parents, John and Susannah, lived in Great Gidding and migrated to Australia at the same time as John and Rhoda. John (senior) is buried at Durham Ox and Susannah at Inverleigh.

Greetham and Uppingham

When Samuel Sims left Uppingham in Rutland in 1852 and went to Australia he left behind his widowed mother, Mary, and his siblings. They were struggling financially because William Sims, the father, had died. Thirteen years later Samuel was able to bring his siblings to Australia after the death of the mother. Samuel was Phil's grandma Phelan's grandmother.

We know that the family lived in Leamington Terrace in Uppingham so we went to have a look. We found it to be a narrow one-sided street between the church and the prestigious Uppingham Grammar School. Most of the buildings in the terrace looked like they could have been there 160 years ago. We saw some of the school's pupils in the main street on their way to a sporting field.

Mary Sims nee Litherland (or Leatherland) was from a village called Greetham in north Rutland. We noticed a plaque on the little store, awarded for being village of the year in England several times.

Phil's interests

For a change I thought I would show you some of the photos Phil has taken. See, we have been seeing a few things other than churches.

Top to bottom: Dairy farm; traction engine; Fergie in a playground; Rutland Railway; old workshop setup in Snibston Discovery Park; Colliery railyards at Snibston Discovery Park; Petrol bowser at South Molton.


As a birdwatcher it was a difficult decision not to bring my binoculars or a bird book on this trip. Luggage weight was one consideration but, also, I wanted to concentrate on history and photography this trip. So the birds I've seen remain unidentified. But yesterday we went to a railway museum near Oakham and one of the volunteers there, obviously a birdwatcher, told us we couldn't leave the area without checking out Rutland Water.

So we went to Rutland Water. It's well known in the birdwatching world, and we were there on a weekday but there were quite a few cars in the carpark. The birdhide/information centre is excellent and there was a telescope set up for casual visitors to use. If I'd wanted to explore other areas of the wetland I would have had to pay a fee.

The information boards included interesting sitings as well as progress reports on the nesting Ospeys, the success story of the wetland.

New wetland areas are being developed and a public art installation, made of recycled shopping trolleys, commemorates the opening of one area by David Attenborough.

I'm not convinced about the ethics of this installation. The feeding posts are just outside the info centre and were attracting a lot of little birds - until a helicopter flew over. A bird hide has been set up several metres away so it's easy to observe the birds.

If ever I get back to the UK I'll take binoculars and Rutland Water will be high on my list of places to visit.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jewry Wall

We've been doing a bit of this - standing at a parking metre trying to work our what coins we need to feed into the slot. This one in Leicester really had us tossed because it asked us type in our rego number as well.

We were in Leicester to visit the Jewry Wall and Museum. The wall is Roman, part of what were baths. The museum next door was also very good, and it was free!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


We must have driven through hundreds of roundabouts in the last fortnight. It seems to be a very efficient system - if you know where you're going. Thank goodness for the Tom Tom. Our conversations at roundabouts go something like this:

Tom Tom: At the roundabout take the third exit.
Phil and me (in unison as I point at each exit): One, two, three ... THAT ONE!
Tom Tom (after a very slight delay while the satellites catch up with where we are): Exit now.
If we do take the wrong exit Tom either recalculates the route or tells us politely to turn around.

Smith territory

I mentioned Ephraim Smith and Elizabeth Darker in the last blog. They were my Pop Smith's grandparents. There is a family story that Ephraim walked the six miles from Old Dalby, where he lived, to Plumtree, where Elizabeth lived, on the morning of his wedding, and fell into a ditch full of water on the way!

Ephraim and Elizabeth lived at Old Dalby for several years before they migrated to Australia in 1852. I don't know where they lived but it was good to have a look at the village.

As we arrived at the church we met the parish rector who was inspecting the new gate being installed. He opened up the church for us and showed us around. They have some amazing treasures tucked away behind cupboard doors, some rescued from an earlier church that was burnt down in the early 1800s. He showed us several interesting headstones in the churchyard - one is an old slate headstone that has been utilised as a draining board for newly pressed cheeses, one is of of style unique to this area depicting winged angels.

We also went to see Willoughby on the Wolds because Smiths were there as well. I would have liked to be there to hear the bells, as per the notice in the church vestry, and it was nice to see the list of  plants noted in the churchyard, even if it does include nettles and couch grass.

It would have been nice to linger in these villages, and I can see why people choose to live in them. Village life is a very appealing option, particularly when they're so close to big towns and cities.

Darker territory

Elizabeth Darker was my Pop Smith's grandmother, and she was born in Clipston in Nottinghamshire, not far from Nottingham. We went to have a look and found a few houses and a most amazing Farm Shop that has been operating for 60 years - fantastic meats, vegetables, cheeses and marmalades for sale and farm animals for the children to feed and touch as well as a playground with toy tractors to drive around. The Darkers would be amazed to see it. And there was a reminder of home - a pair of cockatiels.

Elizabeth's parents were John Darker and Alice Pegg. They were married in the nearby village of Plumtree and some of their children were baptised there as well as Clipston and the family may well have also lived in Cotgrave, another little village nearby, because the Smith family farm in Australia was called Cotgrove. This is Cotgrave and the photo below it is Plumtree where Elizabeth Darker married Ephraim Smith several years before they came to Australia in 1852.

I'm presuming John Darker was an agricultural labourer - we don't know for sure - but he had been a soldier when he was a young man. The village that he was born in, Bradmore, has been almost swallowed up by Nottingham or Nottingham commuters but there are few interesting old houses left.

None of these villages are very far from each other. It is a constant delight to me how the church spire of the next village can be seen from the village that I'm in. The roads are windy and hedge-lined but all of them are sealed. Not a gravel road in sight. But it must have been a different story in 1850 when muddy roads restricted travel.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Engineering marvels

Brunel was a marvellous engineer and we have been able to see one of his early masterpieces, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, at Bristol. It spans a very deep river valley and is quite spectacular and so is the view from the bridge (third photo). We didn't have time to go to a spot where we could see the bridge from down below unfortunately. Truly I trust his ability to engineer a safe structure but it's disconcerting to see the bridge flex as it adjusts to the weight of the traffic. Another of Brunel's designs is in Bristol as well - his ship called Great Britain is open to the public. We'll have to see that next time.

On the day after the equinox we visited the village of Avebury surrounded by circles of stones and henge and ditch that are 5000 years old. Some of the stones weigh more than 40 tons, one weighs about 100 tons. How did they ever get the stones in to place? And the ditch was dug with red deer antlers apparently. An awe-inspiring place.