Marine Court, St. Leonards-on-Sea

Marine Court, St. Leonards-on-Sea
... along the prom ...

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Things Men Do With Ladders - 18

This particular variety of ladder misuse, involving swimming pool and rocking horse, could not possibly be anticipated... although the consequence can.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Tall Tale of the Worcester Sauce Factory - Lost Buildings 2

Old factory viewed from roof of new shopping
building, Worcester 1991
In 1991 I photographed a red brick, industrial building in the centre of Worcester. It was an obsolete and unwanted Victorian factory which, although it added character and historical context to the area, was about to be demolished to make way for the new Crowngate Shopping Centre.  Victorian industrial buildings would not become really fashionable for renovation or conversion into desirable ‘loft’ homes for a few more years.

Practical obsolescence, changing fashion and new commercial necessity have always been the enemies of previously built structures, often leading to their destruction. This will inevitably continue to be true, like the case of this Worcester factory. The alternative would be to mothball old buildings once they become obsolete, just in case, and only build on unoccupied land.

The obvious impracticality of this approach makes it inevitable that particularly in Britain, with our shortage of building land, we will demolish structures which some people actually like, in order to create new ones. In fact within weeks of their demolition most buildings aren't missed by anyone. A few obsolete buildings can be rescued by enthusiastic individuals with access to money or by TV shows like the BBC’s ‘Restoring England’s Heritage,’ but many more are lost and most of those are almost immediately forgotten.  Some don't matter, others may have fascinating stories attached.

Timber trusses stacked for re-use elsewhere.
In Worcester the shopping centre was already under construction and I was there to document progress in the creation of that new retail hub for the citizens of Worcester, but as I stood the new centre's roof, I took a photograph of the doomed factory. I then went down to ground level and was able to get inside. I managed to take a few shots of the building as the salvage firm moved in. The place was not just bulldozed, bits and pieces were saved for re-use including many of the beautiful red bricks, the chimney pots, lintels, stonework and timber trusses.     
Rear entrance originally for horse and cart
At the time, the story told was that this factory was the original building where in the 1830’s two chemists, Messrs John Wheeler Lea and William Perrin, accidentally created their world famous Worcestershire Sauce. It was concocted as an interpretation of a recipe imported from India by Lord Marcus Sandys, who had been serving as an officer in the East India Company - or according to another version of the tale he was Governor of Bengal. He commissioned Lea and Perrins to re-create his favourite Bengal fish sauce. However there seems to be little or no evidence that any Lord Marcus Sandys ever set foot in India.
Yet a third version of the tale credits Lady Sandys with asking the chemists to make a curry sauce from a recipe provided by her friend Mrs Grey, whose uncle was Chief Justice of India. The plot thickens and so did the recipe. Apparently the first batch tasted terrible, Lea and Perrins commented that it was 'unpalatable, red hot fire water.' They had made several barrels of this foul brew, which were hidden in the cellar and forgotten. Several years later the barrels were re-discovered during a stock take and the contents had fermented to become the famous, flavoursome sauce. It was first marketed in 1837 and gained rapid popularity as a table condiment including on passenger ships via which it spread to the USA.
Lea & Perrins factory on Midland Road
Later research tells me that Worcester Sauce was created not in a factory but in a chemist's shop on Worcester's Broad Street.  The sauce has been manufactured since the 1890's in a building on Midland Road, Worcester, which is about a mile from the town centre and more convenient for distribution as it's near the railway. So some time between the Broad Street Pharmacy and the Midland Road Factory, could there have been another production site? After all, it seems a tall order to produce a popular bottled sauce in sufficient quantities to supply an international market in a small shop on a city street.
The mythology/history around the origins of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce make for a great story, but if the sauce was really made in the shop for much of the nineteenth century, then what was that old factory building which I was able to photograph just before it vanished? I found no other clues and if that red brick building, with its distinctive chimney and gables wasn’t the sauce factory, it is well and truly lost and forgotten. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sustainable Solutions for Old Windows

Plastic windows are often put into older buildings, to ‘upgrade’ old single glazed wooden windows. They can provide improvement in insulation via double-glazing and improved draft-proofing and so are often viewed as the sustainable solution. This is belied by their limited longevity, the PVC-U they are manufactured from gives them an expected maintenance free life of not much more than 30 years, at the end of which it is more likely that they are discarded and replaced than maintained.  There is a huge carbon footprint created in their manufacture and replacement and waste plastic is an increasing environmental problem.  
Old sash Windows don't have to be as beautiful
and rare as those on this Queen Anne townhouse
to be well worth preserving and restoring.

Listed historic buildings cannot be sympathetically re-fitted with modern plastic windows and the appearance of many otherwise handsome, unlisted buildings has been spoilt by the addition of carelessly chosen replacement windows. The making, rebuilding and repairing of sliding sash windows is now a reviving market which deserves encouragement

Wooden window frames and sashes of whatever age can be easily repaired if they have not been allowed to rot, though sliding sash windows in particular are often seen by the inexperienced as more trouble than they are worth to restore.  However weights, sash cords and other traditional sliding sash accessories are readily available from specialist suppliers and slender, pre-manufactured double glazing units can be used to replace original Victorian glass, which was often especially thick in larger windows. An expertly restored wooden sliding sash should be no harder to open and close than a UPVC replacement and will let in more light than a thicker framed plastic window, as is noted in the Building Regulations.
Marine Court, St Leonards, a 1930’s work of art made more
ordinary by the later, indiscriminate insertion of randomly
chosen windows and the infilling of balconies in the
apartments to the left. The sustainable solution here
is not obvious
UPVC can now be recycled and one major manufacturer of window profiles and other parts recycles up to 90% of old UPVC windows, including the glass, on their site in Derbyshire, though even this process has a carbon footprint in the energy used. The RecoVinyl Scheme is a European wide initiative to collect and recycle used  PVC building products to support the Vinyl 2010 Voluntary Commitment. The British Plastics Federation claims that, since inception of the scheme, the UK has led the way in the volume of PVC collected and recycled in Europe. The question is, how many discarded UPVC window actually do get recycled? Figures are lacking and it may be that too many still go to landfill and incinerators.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Pier of the Year

Hastings re-vamped pier has won a prestigious award, Pier of the Year :-

In the competition judged by the National Piers Society, Hastings have beaten off beat off Worthing pier which came second for the third year running.  Llandudno pier tookthird place.

Hastings 145-year-old structure was hit by a devastating fire in 2010 but it reopened last year following a £14.2m restoration project.

Gavin Henderson, National Piers Society president, called the pier "a phoenix" and Maria Ludkin, the chair of Hastings Pier Trustees, said: "We are absolutely delighted that our wonderful community-owned pier has won this prestigious award."

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Things Men Do with Ladders; Number 17

If the example of this genre that I posted on 11 January is impressive and quite ingenious, this one is quite mad. Ok, it seems to be working, except that he's almost standing on tiptoe because he's still not high enough up to reach whatever the hell it is that he's trying to do. And what happened the minute after the photographer left?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Full Gasometer

Here's the complete text of my article on Gasometers

Gasometer; The Rise and Fall of an Industrial Icon.

Is there a gasometer near you? If there is, take a few photographs for posterity because this iconic part of our industrial heritage won't be around for much longer. They were ubiquitous up until the 1960’s; nearly every UK town had its own gasworks, providing reassuring views of the accompanying gasometer as it rose and fell almost mysteriously in the middle distance. We were all very used to them, so their slow demise has hardly registered. Most stopped rising and falling from the introduction of North Sea Gas onward and today, gas arrives from elsewhere, coming ashore from the North Sea or across from Europe to arrive at one of seven UK processing terminals such as the one at Bacton in Norfolk. A few gasometers still rise and fall, but now they are simply used for temporarily balancing the system, not for providing the local gas supply.

This rather elegant lattice structure is part of Huddersfield's column-guided gasometer (or gas-holder), a familiar sight near the town centre just off the Leeds Road. Any fan who has ever ever attended a match starring either the Huddersfield Giants or Huddersfield Town F.C. and tried to locate the John Smith (formerly the Galpharm) Stadium will have either used the gasometer as a landmark to find their way, or parked in its shadow.

Strictly speaking this is the structure which supports the telescopic gas holder as it rises and falls according to how much gas is inside, sealed in by the water reservoir underneath. This column- guided, telescoping gasometer design was invented in 1824 to conveniently contain ‘town gas’ which was produced using coal. However well before this, a coal ‘gasification’ process was creating gas in useful quantities, which was kept in rigid containers and used for lighting in factories and workshops. These coal gases were far from pure, consisting of numerous substances including methane, carbon monoxide and sulphur, they went through purification processes to be reliably and safely useful.