Friday, 22 March 2019

At a hundred yards...

I wasn't even looking, I swear. I was just walking past and something caught my eye; I thought 'something's not right there' and I had to turn back and look until I'd worked out what it was.
Proofreader woman. Never off duty. It's a blessing and a curse.

And yes, I am only too well aware that this blog is frequently very poorly proofread.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

A thought...

It occurred to me as I was walking to work today that thost three girls who starved to death in 1868 - Elizabeth, Mary, and Alice - were my great-great-aunts.

The same relation to me as Auntie Doreen is to Aurora.

Ninety-nine years separate Aurora and Doreen; 102 me and Alice. That's all.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019


William George Hale was born on the 5th March 1860, to Stephen and Bethia Hale. Stephen was an agricultural worker at Worton, near Devizes in Wiltshire, and William was one of nine children.
This extract from the 1871 census shows five of them: Henry, Charlotte, William, Jabez and Arthur. Ezra, who would have been 21, was presumably living elsewhere. Elizabeth, Mary and Alice had all died in 1868 - Elizabeth aged 14 and Mary aged 11 from consumption, and Alice, aged five, from 'marasmus' - severe malnutrition. Malnutrition of course probably contributed to the deaths of the other two girls as well.

The following year, William and one of his brothers - presumably Henry, who up to that point had been an agricultural worker like his father - walked the twenty-two miles to Swindon to get jobs on the railway.

William was indentured, at the age of twelve and three-quarters, as an apprentice boilermaker.

These rather poor photocopies are from the Great Western Railway Loco and Carriage Dept Register of Apprentices' Indentures. Unlike some (who 'absconded' or were transferred elsewhere), William served his full seven year apprenticeship, seeing his daily wage rise from 10d in the first year to a respectable 3 shillings in the seventh - more, no doubt, than his parents could have dreamed of.

Having completed his apprenticeship in Swindon, somehow William ended up living in South London, married at twenty (in 1880) to a woman eight years his senior. Before long, however, he was back in Swindon, as the 1901 census shows:
 - he and/or Annie still lying about their relative ages as they did when they got married - and working as a 'Rivetter (Iron) G.W.R.' Someone - possibly my father - has added 'boiler' above this. Son George (George William, or William George Stephen - take your pick, but he was known as George) was at that point, aged fourteen, working as a grocer's assistant.

But by 1911, he was a 'plateworker' in the Swindon works, while his father, by now aged fifty-one, and with only another eleven years to live, was working as a frame builder in the wagon department. I guess boilermaking is a young man's game.
I don't have a date for this photo, but this is William in his Sunday best.

George, meanwhile, carried on working for GWR and in or around 1915 (family legend has it) was on a works trip to Jersey when he met one Irma LeLuan, a woman of his own not very tender age of thirty. Undeterred by the fact that she spoke no English, but only Jersey French, they married in 1916 and settled in Swindon, where she lived until her death in 1985 at the age of 99. That's my Grandma, and the only one of the characters in this story so far that I met.
Here's George in around 1921, with Auntie Doreen
And in 1947. He died in 1958 so I never met him.

Hence my interest in the boilermaking shop at the museum. Although both William and George may have spent much - even most - of their working lives in other jobs at the GWR Swindon Works, it seems pretty clear that they were both, at one time or another, boilermakers - a dirty, dangerous, high-pressured (no pun intended), highly-skilled and above all, deafening, job - and that's something I'm quite proud of.
It may of course also explain my love of rivets.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Waggons roll

I enjoyed this display of a part-built wooden carriage in the waggon workshop. One of my ancestors was listed in one census as a waggon builder...  what he - and my other GWR forebear did primarily we'll come to tomorrow.

Monday, 18 March 2019


For that, sadly, is what the Great Western Railway Museum now feels it has to call itself, which is a bit misleading really, as they don't actually have any real live steam.

It's nine pounds something to get in, which makes it considerably less good value than the National Railway Museum in York, which has a lot more stuff and is free. But that's a national collection, and as such rightfully subsidised by the taxpayer, whereas Swindon's still very significant collection has to pay its way for the local authority. It's moved since I was last there, and now shares a site with an outlet shopping village, or shopping outlet village or whatever the right term is. I should not in fact be sniffy about this, as having arrived a little early for the museum, I killed a happy half hour buying four Monsoon blouses for fifty quid. Not since I worked in Portsmouth has such an opportunity presented itself. The only problem now is that I can't find any skirts I like to go with them - skirts seem to have seriously gone out of fashion - and am reduced to attempting to make one. That, however, is another story.

I do like a recreated room, and I wanted to move into this office.
Then there was the stores...
But no man in a brown coat.
There were plenty of tableaux, big photos, and artfully arranged objets, but not much detail; not much hard history - it's very much a museum in the new mould now and I did feel I would have enjoyed it more if I had been a school party.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Streets of Swindon

The morning after Auntie Doreen's birthday bash, I was determined to visit the GWR museum (now - clearly far more enticingly - called 'STEAM!'), so after Sebastian, Izzi and Rory had departed in the car, I took a slow stroll through a cold by fantastically sunny, quiet Sunday morning in a twon I'd not visited for probably twenty years (at which point I should probably note that cousin Janice doesn't quite live in Swindon, but in nearly Wootton Bassett).

There were some beautiful bits, and some breathtaking ones.

The sheer size of the Works, one building going on forever. Apologies for the stark shadows in the low morning sun.

Somewhere in the works, there is regeneration going on. There was a sign in the window, the usual optimism about craft spaces and cafes. There wasn't much sign of life, but it was a Sunday.
And the streets were deserted.
Still evidence aplenty that this was a company town.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Station to Station

It's a long time since I last visited Swindon, and I look at things differently now. For a town that should be so proud of its railway heritage it has allowed some awful things to befall it.

Auntie Doreen has lived in Swindon all her life. Until she was the age I am now, the sight of the main GWR station would have been recognisable from this rather earlier photo:
Not a flamboyant building, but dignified, and with gravitas.

So of course in 1972 they knocked it down and built this:
Which I'm sure looked nice and shiny for a while, but most assuredly doesn't now.

What I hadn't realised was that until 1961, Swindon had two stations: this one, Swindon Junction, on the Great Western line, and then also Swindon Town, which belonged to the Midland and South Western Junction Railway.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The centenary of my Auntie Doreen

Finally, long-delayed by our trip down the Sheffield canal, the more important centennial celebrations.
On the day the canal was celebrating its first hundred years, February 22nd, 1919, my Auntie Doreen was born in Swindon.

Her father, William George (rather confusingly known as George William) Hale, like her grandfather William George Hale before him, worked as a boilermaker at the GWR Locomotive Works. Her mother, Irma, was from Jersey, and when she first met George, spoke no English. Irma lived until 1985, when she was ninety-nine, but her older daughter has gone one better.
This is George and Irma's wedding in 1916. George was a strict Methodist, a teetotaller and a pacifist, but being in a reserved occupation fortunately didn't have to worry about being a conscientious objector.

The middle child of three, Doreen had an older brother, Leslie - my father, and a younger sister, Ina.
Here they are in the early 1930s.

So, a few weekends ago I met up in Swindon with Sebastian and Izzi and Aurora, to celebrate Auntie Doreen's birthday at her daughter, my cousin Janice's house, where we met up with lots of relatives, some of whom we hadn't seen for ages, including a new second cousin once removed (I think) of mine (and either fourth twice removed or third three times of Rory) who rather marvellously is called William, like his great great great grandfather.

And here is Rory, meeting her great great aunt.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Getting my hands on Naburn

Following a couple of abortive attempts, someone finally got back to me on Tuesday about Naburn. It turns out that Naburn is still owned by CRT after all, and is run by them with volunteer crew to do what sounds largely like amenity improvement on the canal. This of course in one way is, from my point of view, very bad news, in that there will be a high cost entailed in getting involved in this, viz. the wearing of a bloody lifejacket. I wouldn't do it for anything other than a large GU motor.

Anyway, yesterday morning I took a very windy stroll down to the Basin to meet Anthony in the newly furbished and opened CRT office/public interface there. I'm not quite sure he knew what hit him as I engaged him in conversation, and fortunately for him I had to be at work by 9:15 which curtailed me a bit.

I also completed a form to register as a volunteer. The way it seems to work is that jollies on Naburn pulliing shopping trolleys out of the cut are very popular and have to be rationed, especially as there are only three qualified skippers. Most of the volunteers are retired, so not much happens at weekends (when I'm free), and there are fewer skippers available then. So, clearly what they need is more skippers. Ones who are available at the weekend. Me. Apparently two of the three existing ones are volunteers who have just been put through the requisite training by CRT so I have volunteered quite forcefully to do likewise.

I shall keep you posted...

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

And back to the city

We'd taken so long over our walk down the canal that the sun was setting by the time we got back.
Tomorrow I may have some news to impart relating to last Thursday's post - although it may not be very exciting news.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

And so we come to the end

Or what would have been the beginning, had it not been for that obstructive lock keeper back in 2009. Imagine tying Warrior to those bollards there...
Getting the lock ready - it would have felt quite small after some of the ones we'd come through
And in a few more hours, we'd have been in Sheffield and off to the Kelham Island Tavern - which was CAMRA's national pub of the year that year. In fact, I have still never been there, because it's impossible to walk past the Fat Cat.
And I'd have looked back at the River Don, and thought about our journey from Keadby, and the thought of doing all those bloody electric swingbridges again on the way back...

Of course, quite a few people have a full length boat and a short one...

Monday, 11 March 2019

Go west!

West Yorkshire, that is.Today, I've been back in Saltaire, thanks to David Lowe mentioning at the AGM last week that he would be performing today on the Victoria Hall's magnificent Wurlitzer. I even rounded up someone to go with me, and we had a splendid time marvelling at the prices in the Salts Mill antiques shop (I reckon my dining room lights would have at least a £500 tag on them in there), enjoying the splendid tea and cakes available at the concert, and beforehand, in a ten minute lull in the rain and snow, a brief walk up the canal.

Now, the fact that we walked up the canal is significant, because on my two previous visits, I have only gone in the other direction, towards Shipley. Which means that today, for the first time, I saw a Leeds and Liverpool lock.
So I didn't even know that this was a ground paddle. 
Wonder if I'll ever get to operate one...

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Canal and river

Sheffield Canal on the right; River Don on the left...

And that reminded me of another photo I tool last year:
Easy, but which canal and river are these?

I'm off out on a jaunt this afternoon, so I might tell you about that tomorrow. Not that it's anywhere I've not been before...

Saturday, 9 March 2019


I am of course delighted that CRT can afford to spend £25,000 on repairing a 61 metre section of collapsed bank on a scarcely-used section of waterway, through 'the installation of Larsen piles with reinforcing mesh installed into the concrete behind the piles' and a 'new concrete capping beam', and still find a little small change for a massive blue sign to tell us about it.

The cost is clearly incurred not only by the spanking new workboats engaged on the repairs,
but also the man in the hut guarding them.

I wish Marple had re-opened on time though.

Friday, 8 March 2019

And on down we go

A few scenes from the long pound of the Tinsley flight...
But Tinsley what..?
Concrete and waste land...
And a bank collapse?

Thursday, 7 March 2019

A boat with an identity crisis

Obviously, what I was most looking forward to on reaching Tinsley top lock (apart from the toilet) was seeing Naburn. Naburn is a cut-down large Northwich, formerly a BW maintenance boat, then leased to a community group, disposed of by BW in 2009, and apparently in community ownership again when I first saw it - completely by surprise - in October 2016. In 2016, Naburn looked like this:
BW workboat cabin and nameplate, and presumably engine...
No cross planks or chains, but shuts and gunnels, and looking like a boat capable of doing some work.

There was a certain inevitably in discovering that Naburn hadn't escaped the blue paint - although thank goodness she's hung on to her BW nameplate -
Or the new-style CRT transfers:
Nor was I terribly surprised that the pre-painting preparation didn't appear to have been all that thorough.
I was slightly more surprised that she had lost her gunnels, and gained a considerable amount of key clamp, including, of course, steps with handrails,
and a gazebo which I would be quite surprised to see go under Bacon Lane bridge. This may have been something to do with the fact that apparently - I have it third hand - this was the conveyance for the brass band which attended the 200th anniversary celebrations (in which case, presumably, it must have negotiated said bridge).

Which brings me to the biggest surprise:
Whilst the cabin is still clearly called Naburn, the fore end appears to have been re-named Industry.
The reason for this presumably being that Industry was the name of the first boat ever to navigate the Sheffield Canal from the River Don into Sheffield, on February 22nd 1819. And what the hell, an old boat's an old boat, isn't it, even if it's a cut-down Grand Union and nothing like a Sheffield keel.

I am currently doing my best to find out who does actually own and run Naburn, and what they use her for (putting blue signs on the wrong bridges, would be one guess), because I really quite fancy getting my hand on the tiller (after all, I passed my Certificate in Community Boat Management on a large Northwich). So far I haven't had any success, but I shall keep you posted.