January 27, 2017

In Memoriam

The National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire has a monument at its heart, the Armed Forces Memorial, that is still under construction.

It is a vast enclosed space with sculptures representing the grief and loss that armed conflict causes. It consists of a circular wall with two straight walls across the centre. It is dedicated to the service men and women who have lost their lives in the course of their duty since the end of WWII. There are 224 columns of names with about 80 in each and the list continues to grow.

It is one of the most moving places I have ever been.

The atmosphere within the memorial is added to greatly by the skill of the sculptor - Ian Rank-Broadley. If you're British you are already familiar with his work, since he designed the portrait of the Queen on UK coinage introduced in 1998. He's one of my personal favourites and I first became aware of his work in 2002 when I saw some of his large pieces in a sculpture exhibition.

You probably can't read the words on the lit side of the wall, but it says: "Through this space a shaft of sunlight falls at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."  And when it does shine through, it falls onto a bronze wreath.

Although the memorial dominates the site, set as it is on top of a large mound, there are other monuments representing various armed forces and voluntary services, like this one commemorating the RNLI.

If you are ever within a sensible distance and you haven't already been, I recommend a visit.

This has been a Five on Friday post.

January 20, 2017


When was the last time you looked at a brick wall?  I mean really looked at it. I know what you're thinking: "Why would I?"  Well, there's a lot more to brickwork than you'd realise. Anyone who has heard the story of the Three Little Pigs knows that bricks create a safe and stable structure in which to live or store goods. But over the millennia of their history they have often been much more than that.

Back in Tudor times bricks were the preserve of the rich. The amount of work involved, in preparing the clay, shaping individual bricks, and firing them, made them an expensive material. Noblemen across England showed off their status by investing in vast brick mansions, often with contrasting-coloured patterns  built in.
This is the gateway at Hodsock Priory near Blyth in Nottinghamshire.  It dates from the early 16th century and gives a hint of how magnificent the actual house must have been. In spite of the name, Hodsock was never a Priory. The current house is a Victorian replacement, unfortunately.

Bricks have various specialist terms connected to them. For example, the long sides are called stretchers.  The short sides are headers. The right-angled edges are called arisses. The dent where the mortar goes is called a frog. The brick height is called the gauge. Tudor bricks are typically much shallower gauge than modern ones.

Bricklaying patterns - or bonds - have changed over the years. For example, modern brickwork tends to be what's known as stretcher bond, where all the long edges face the front.
This mostly came about because of the advent of double skin houses with a cavity between the two walls. The idea was that an air gap would help insulate the house, because air is a poor conductor of heat. But the popularity of cavity wall insulation a few years ago has shown that wasn't true.

Earlier construction used different patterns. This, for example,
is a classic Victorian era bridge over the canal system in Birmingham. (The gate is to allow fire fighters to put hoses into the canal to use them as a water source.) You will notice that the bricks are in alternate courses of headers and stretchers. This is known as English bond. The wall is, of course, two bricks wide because the headers are twice the length of the stretchers.  Other bonds include Flemish, which consists of rows of alternate headers and stretchers, with the headers centred on the mid-point of the stretchers,

Here's another pattern - called herringbone. As you can see it's the infill in a half-timbered house. This was a Tudor way of having bricks more cheaply than using them for the whole wall.  The infill is called nogging.  Aren't brick words wonderful?

And finally we come to what is possibly the most interesting thing about bricks altogether. Some of them have names!
This collection can be found at Derby Silk Mill Museum and shows just a few of the makers who could be found in the area. As you can see, the names are mostly in the frog, or are on the surface that will be cemented against the next course.  Not every brick has a name, and a very few have it on a surface that will be visible. And that's where the fun comes in. Sometimes you can find a name on a wall that tells you where the bricks came from. Like this:

(Bonus photo.)

Today's post has been created for Five on Friday.

January 13, 2017


Today is Friday the Thirteenth. Perhaps that isn't very important to you, but an awful lot of people are scared by the date. Some even go so far as to stay home to avoid potential disaster. But why?  Many people think that the superstition is based on beliefs linked to the Last Supper. Indirectly, it is, because it does incorporate the old (17th century) idea that having 13 people sat at a dining table is bad luck.  It also takes in the medieval belief that Fridays are unlucky in general. However, the first recorded mention of Friday 13th being specifically bad news is from 1913.1

Now, suppose your shoelace comes undone. Make sure you walk nine paces before you put it right, or you'll be tying bad luck to yourself all day. Don't blame me if you trip up before the nine paces are over. Broken bootlaces as an omen of ill luck date back to the 17th century, particularly if it happens just as you're about to set off on a journey. 2

A couple of weeks from now, 25 January to be exact, is St Paul's Day and you should watch the weather carefully because it forebodes what will happen in the future. Hope that it dawns fair, for that means this year will have a good harvest. However, rain or snow signifies scarcity or famine; clouds and mist will bring pestilence; and winds will blow in war. 3

Most people know better than to open an umbrella indoors, but did you also know that it's considered bad luck to drop a brolly?  And under no circumstances should you pick it up yourself, although sources vary on what will happen if you do.1

Finally, you all know that a horseshoe is lucky, right?  Well, maybe. It depends which way up you put it.  In some parts of the country it should have the points upwards, to stop the luck running out, but i other areas you'll be blamed for offering the devil a seat if you nail it up that way. Always nail it, by the way, which ever way you decide to go, because the nails increase the luck! Family folklore.

1. Roud, Steve (2003) The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland. Penguin, London. 

2 Simpson, Jacqueline and Roud, Steve (2000) A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press.

3. Various authors (1973) Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. Reader's Digest, London.

This post has been written for Five on Friday

January 06, 2017

Happy New Year Friday Fivers!  And just for you, here are five 'new' things for your perusal.

In Newcastle upon Tyne you will find Parsons Polygon.  Designed by David Hamilton it's actually a ventilation shaft for Newcastle's Metro system. It commemorates Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931) who designed Turbinia, a steam powered ship.  The shapes in the terracotta tiles are taken from his engineering drawings.

Here's a very old photo of New Brighton. (That's on the Wirral side of the Mersey, in case you don't know.) I estimate it's about 1933, which would make my mum (yes, that's my mum on the left) about 10.  Doesn't my grandad look smart in his bowler?

Here's a rather arty shot of the Newport (Gwent) transporter bridge. Opened 1906. Newport transporter bridge crosses the River Usk at a point where an arched bridge would have been too steep and a lifting bridge would have hindered shipping. A gondola is suspended from the deck and is hauled across the river by cable. The towers are 242 feet high and the crossing is 593 feet.

In the Cotswold village of Bourton on the Water you'll find a pub called the Old New Inn (to differentiate it from the New New Inn!)  and behind it you'll find a model village. And in the model village you'll find a model of the Old New Inn. (You'll also find a model of the model village, which has its own model village!)

Grand Central Station is possibly New York's most famous transport hub. It began life as Grand Central Depot and served trains from the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad and the New York and New Haven Railroad. It first opened in 1871.  Between 1899 and 1900 the main building was overhauled and the edifice was renamed. Here's the iconic clock from the central hall.

For more Friday  fives visit Amy's blog, Love Made My Home.