Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh Yes we did.... Go to the Panto!

Yes, last weekend the wife and I took our little boy and his cousin to their first panto, Aladdin at the Central Theatre in Chatham.

It was the first panto I had been to since I was a kid and I must say it hasn't lost it's magic!

The cast, which included Shaun Williamson (a.k.a. ex Eastender Barry), George Takei (Mr Sulu from Star Trek) and Phil Gallagher (a.k.a. Mr Maker) put on a very enthusiastic performance.

All the tried and tested ingredients for a traditional British pantomime were there....

The over the top Dame, the corny jokes for the kids, a little bit of inuendo for the grown ups, a few gags with a local slant (mostly at the expense of Gillingham FC), topical jokes about the X-Factor and lots of slapstick and most importantly, plenty of audience participation.

For those readers outside the UK, you are probably wondering what the hell I am going on about!

Here in Great Britain, pantomime (often referred to as panto) is a form of entertainment, traditionally performed during the Christmas season.

Pantos are performed in most cities and towns throughout the UK at this time of year.

British pantomime can trace it's origins back to the middle ages and has constantly evolved, incorporating the traditions of the Italian "Commedia dell’ Arte, the Italian night scenes and British Music hall.

For more in depth information on the origins of panto, please see here.

Aladdin was first performed in the UK in 1788.

If you are interested in seeing a pantomime in Kent, there is still time.

Here is a list of some of the venues and performances....

Aladdin The Central Theatre, 170 High Street, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4AS
11th Dec 2009 to 3rd Jan 2010. Website

Sleeping Beauty Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, Kent, BR1 1HA
4th Dec 2009 to 17th Jan 2010. Website

Cinderella The Orchard, Home Gardens, Dartford, Kent DA1 1ED
5th Dec 2009 to 10th Jan 2010. Website

Dick Whittington Stag Theatre, London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 1ZZ
12th Dec 2009 to 2nd Jan 2010. Website

Peter Pan Assembly Hall Theatre, Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 2LU
12th Dec 2009 to 3rd Jan 2010. Website

Cinderella The Britannia Theatre, Dickens World, Leviathan Way, Chatham Maritime, Kent, ME4 4LL
12th Dec 2009 to 3rd Jan 2010. Website

Meet and greet Cinderella Bewl Water Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, TN3 8JH
27th Dec 2009 to 4th Jan 2010. Website

Aladdin The Tower Theatre, North Road, Folkestone, Kent CT20 3DH
1st Jan 2010 to 10th Jan 2010. Website

Aladdin Kings Hall, East Cliff Parade, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5HU
7th Jan 2010 to 10th Jan 2010. Website

Little Red Riding Hood Dover Town Hall, Biggin Street, Dover, Kent
12th Jan 2010 to 16th Jan 2010. Tel: 01304 240477

Jack and the Beanstalk Whitstable Playhouse, 104 High Street, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3NY 19th Jan 2010 to 30th Jan 2010. Website

Robin Hood and his Merry Men Stag Community Arts Centre, London Road, Sevenoaks, TN13 1ZZ
28th Jan 2010 to 31st Jan 2010. Website

Please feel free to leave a comment. They are always welcome.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell (1650-1707)

During a recent visit to the historic town of Rochester, we came across a plaque on the side of a building in the High Street dated 1706 and dedicated to an exotically named gentleman called Sir Cloudesley Shovell.....

Here he is in all his glory.

I have to confess I had never actually heard of him before and being curious, decided to do some research on his life and career.

It turns out that Cloudesley Shovell was an English naval hero, some would say on a parr with Nelson, a politician and a philanthropist who had a very colourful career but met an untimely end.

Cloudesley Shovell was born in Cockthorpe, Norfolk in 1650. His unusual Christian name was the Surname of his maternal grandmother.

Through family connections he joined the Navy as a cabin boy in 1664 and his career progressed steadily over the years. Early in his career he went on voyages to the West Indies and South America and on 22nd January 1672 he became Midshipman on the Royal Prince and saw action at the Battle of Sole Bay on 28th May.

A combined British and French fleet were surprised and attacked at Sole Bay (near Southwold on the Suffolk coast) by the Dutch lead by Admiral Michiel de Ruyter.

Later in 1672 Cloudesley was promoted to Master's Mate aboard the Fairfax, then later the Harwich and finally the Henrietta. On 21st August 1673, he again saw action, this time at the Battle of Texel. A combined Anglo French fleet attempting to land troops in the Netherlands was repelled by a smaller Dutch force, again lead by Admiral de Ruyter.

On 25th September 1673 Cloudesley was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant aboard the Henrietta and sailed to North Africa. In 1675 he transferred to the Harwich and took part in a year long action against the Barbary pirate stronghold at Tripoli.

On 14th January 1676, Cloudesley lead a surprise attack on the pirates sinking a number of their ships. By way of reward he received the sum of £ 80 from his commanding officer Admiral Narborough.

A second action was undertaken against the pirate fleet two moths later and this time Cloudesley was awarded a gold medal, said to be worth £ 100, from King Charles II himself. This was the beginning of his rise to prominence.

On 16th April 1677 Cloudesley was once again promoted to First Lieutenant aboard the Plymouth and just six months later he received his first command as Captain of the Sapphire, a 32 gun ship.

He spent the next nine years in command of various ships in the Mediterranean carrying out operations against the Barbary pirates.

In May 1689 he was in action at the Battle of Bantry Bay (in Ireland) as Captain of the Edgar. A French fleet was landing troops and supplies in support of the Catholic James II who was fighting the protestant forces of King William III (of Orange) who had taken the crown of England in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution.

The Edgar was in the thick of the action and after the battle Cloudesley was knighted by King William.

In 1690 Sir Cloudesley was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue and in 1691 he married Lady Elizabeth Narborough, the widow of his former commanding officer.

In 1692 he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red and took part in the Battle of Cape Barfleur in May. An Anglo Dutch fleet successfully attacked the French. During this action, Sir Cloudesley was injured in the thigh and suffered from blood poisoning but was fortunately able to recuperate back in England.

In 1693/4 Sir Cloudesley was involved in further actions against the French in the English Channel. In 1694 he set up residence with his wife at May Place, Crayford, Kent and in 1695 was elected MP for the town of Rochester. He remained as MP until his death in 1707.

In 1696 he was promoted to Admiral of the Blue and in 1702 Admiral of the White by Queen Anne who had succeeded King William III. Sir Cloudesley was to become a particular favourite of the Queen.

Following his part in the capture of Gibraltar (from the Spanish) in 1704, he was appointed Rear Admiral of England. On the 13th January 1705 he became Admiral of the Fleet and on the 1st May the same year he was given joint command (with the Earl of Peterborough) of an expeditionary force to the Mediterranean. During this command he successfully laid siege to the Spanish port of Barcelona.

In November 1706, Sir Cloudesley's career reached it's peak when he was appointed sole Commander-in-Chief whilst at Lisbon. In April 1707, he was back in action at Toulon in Southern France and succeeded in scuttling the French fleet, and almost capturing the city itself.

We now come to the final chapter in Sir Cloudesley's story....

Around the 10th October 1707, Sir Cloudesely and his fleet of twenty one ships set sail from Gibraltar and made for England, but sadly never reached their destination....

During the homeward voyage, the weather had been very bad with poor visibilty.

On the 21st of October the Admiral made an (astronomical) observation, probably the first he had been able to take for many days. On the following day, he brought to and layby at about 12 o'clock and summoned all the sailing-masters of the various ships on board his ship the Association.

There followed a consultation regarding the fleet's actual position. All were of the opinion that they were in the latitude of Ushant near the coast of France, except the master of the Lenox, who judged they were nearer the Isles of Scilly.

Sir Cloudesley unfortunately followed the view of the majority, which, not long after proved to be a fateful decision. The Admiral gave the signal for the fleet to sail at about six o'clock that evening.

The Association, lead the van, closely followed by the St. George, Eagle, Romney and the other ships, steering toward the north east in the full (misguided) belief that they had the English Channel open before them.

During the night, the wind had increased to a gale with squalls and rain and at around eight o'clock the Association (96 guns), together with the Romney (50 guns) and the Eagle (70 guns), were all swept onto the Bishop and Clerk rocks off the Isles of Scilly and foundered.

Another ship, the St George, had a lucky escape. She hit the same reef as the Association but was miraculously lifted off by a large wave and deposited into deeper water.

The Firebrand had also gone onto the rocks and foundered, but her Captain and seventeen men managed to get ashore by boat. Another five of her crew got ashore on pieces of wreckage.

Of the 1315 men aboard the Association, Romney and Eagle, there was only one survivor, the Quartermaster of the Romney (described as "a North country-man, a butcher by trade, a lusty fat man but much batter'd with ye rocks").

Sir Cloudesley Shovell, his two step sons (the sons of his wife's late husband Admiral Narborough) and Captain Edmund Loades (his wife's nephew) were among those that perished.

Picture from Wiki

The body of Sir Cloudesley Shovell was washed ashore at Porth Hellick Cove on St Mary's in the Scillies.

At that time, The Scillies had a wild and lawless reputation and it is believed that poor Sir Cloudesley was still alive when he came ashore semi-conscious, but was murdered by a local woman who had noticed his rings.

They included a large emerald and diamond encrusted ring that had been give to him by a close friend, James Lord Dursley (who later became the Earl of Berkeley).

According to a letter written in 1709 by Edmund Herbert (a young man sent to the Scillies by the family to help locate "property" belonging to the Admiral), Sir Cloudesley's body was first found by two women "stript of his shirt" and " his ring was also lost off his hand, which however left ye impression on his finger".

Sir Cloudesley's poor grief stricken wife Elizabeth, who had not only lost her husband and nephew but also her two sons in the tragedy, had offered a large reward for the recovery of any family property.

The body was identified by the Purser of the Arundel who knew Sir Cloudesley well. It was identified by "a black mole under his left ear, also by the first joint of one of his forefingers being broken inwards. He had likewise a shot in his right arm, another in his left thigh".

Sir Cloudesley was initially buried in the sand at Porth Hellick Cove (see picture above) but his body was later brought back to Plymouth aboard the Salisbury, where it was embalmed. It was later carried in state to London. During the journey from the West Country large crowds turned out to pay their respects to the Admiral.

On 22nd December 1707 he was given a state funeral befitting of an English naval hero at Westminster Abbey.

At the instigation of Queen Anne a twenty foot high memorial tablet was commissioned with the following inscription...

"Sr CLOUDESLY SHOVELL Knt Rear Admirall of Great Britain and Admirall and Commander in Chief of the Fleet: the just rewards of his long and faithfull services. He was deservedly beloved of his Country and esteem'd, tho' dreaded, by the enemy who had often experienced his conduct and courage. Being shipwreckt on the rocks of Scylly in his voyage from Thoulon the 22d of October 1707, at night, in the 57th year of his age his fate was lamented by all but especially the sea faring part of the Nation to whom he was a generous patron and a worthy example. His body was flung on the shoar and buried with others in the sands; but being soon taken up was plac'd under this monument which his Royall Mistress has caus'd to be erected to commemorate his steady loyalty and extraordinary vertues".

The missing emerald ring was rumoured to have been recovered some thirty years later, when the woman who is assumed to have murdered Sir Cloudesley made a death bed confession to her clergyman who returned it to James Lord Dursley (the Earl of Berkeley).

Following the wreck of the Association and the other ships, the Admiralty instigated the search for a way of accurately calculating longitude.

This problem was eventually solved some years later by John Harrison who invented the marine chronometer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day trip to Rochester

The historic city of Rochester is one of my favourite places to visit in Kent.

The town's skyline is dominated by the Norman Castle built by Gundulf Bishop of Rochester in around 1087.

Gundulf was a Norman monk who came to England in 1070 shortly after the Battle of Hastings and subsequent conquest by William the Conqueror. Gundulf was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1077 and died in 1108.

His statue is carved into the nearby Cathedral together with Bishop John I who held the position from 1125 until his death in 1137.

The first Cathedral in Rochester was founded by the Saxons in around 600 AD.

We would have liked to have had a look inside the Cathedral but there was a wedding taking place that day and we thought it best not to gate crash.

There are several things I like about Rochester..... for one it has a variety of small family owned shops and a distinct abscence of the major chains that you can find in any High Street anywhere in the country. This gives it a refrsehing individuality and character which you don't often find nowadays.

Junior was certainly impressed with the Christmas window displays!

Another thing that is good about Rochester is the large number of traditional pubs and restaurants making it a great location for a pleasant evening out. Due to it's close proximity to the Naval Dockyards in Chatham and location on the River Medway, the town was always a favourite haunt of sailors......

In December 1762 one ship's officer wrote the following in a letter to his family....
On Monday last a Sailor went into the late Mr. Pickerring's Brewhouse at Rochester, and took it into his Head that he would swim in a Tun of Strong Beer, and being in Liquor, whether his Foot slipped as he was looking in, or that he did it wilfully, is uncertain, but he pitched in Head foremost; and although he was taken out immediately, he died in a few Minutes afterwards.

There are a wide variety of historic buildings in the High Street dating back to the 1500's...

The tall building on the left is the town's visitor vcentre and tourist information. The building below, complete with ship weather cock, is the Guildhall and was built in 1687. It now houses the town museum.

The town clock on the Old Corn Exchange.

The lion and unicorn emblem of King George III and Queen Charlotte adorn the Royal and Victoria Bull Hotel which is over four hundred years old.

The Hotel was originally a coaching inn called the Bull but got the grander name following an overnight stay by the then Princess, later Queen Victoria in 1836.

A regular visitor to the Hotel was Charles Dickens who lived nearby at Gads Hill.

In my next post I will tell the story of the preposterously named former MP for Rochester, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his colourful career and later tragic demise....

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

W T Henleys / AEI Cable Works Northfleet

In October it was announced that one of the last manufacturing companies based by the River Thames in Northfleet, Henleys/AEI, would be moving it's remaining operations to a new site in Sandwich after more than 100 years in the town.

Cable making finished in Northfleet a couple of years ago but one division of the company continued to make specialist compounds (used to cover cables). Some of the last submarine cables manufactured at the plant were used on the Kentish Flats wind farm project in the Thames Estuary off the North Kent Coast.

A public footpath starting in Crete Hall Road runs alongside the River Thames in front of the now closed and semi derelict cable works. A few weekends ago I thought I'd take some pictures for prosterity and before it is turned into another faceless housing estate (more of that later.....)

William Thomas Henley was born in Midhurst, Sussex in 1814 and started his working life as a porter and docker working in London. Through force of character, hard work and by educating himself in the sciences, Henley was later able to found his own business.

He took an active interest in new technologies of the era which included telegraphic cable. He developed the first machine to cover wire cables. His machine is displayed at the Science Museum in London.

Business grew rapidly and in 1859 he set up his cable works at North Woolwich. Henley was an early pioneer of submarine cable manufacture and was involved in many prestigious projects including the first cable across the North Atlantic. The company operated their own cable laying ships. Not bad for a man who started as a docker.

In 1906 a bigger site was needed and the cable works next to the Thames in Northfleet was established. In 1959, W T Henley & Co was taken over by the AEI conglomerate. AEI was in turn taken over by industrial giant GEC in 1967. Finally in 1997 the cable operations were divested to T T Electronics.

W T Henley's fine looking disused office building on Crete Hall Road is unfortunately already attracting attention from vandals. I don't know if this building is listed but in my opinion it should be. I would guess it dates back to the 1930's but if any readers have any further details please let me know.

Henley's main entrance and ship emblem in between each set of windows.

View along Crete Hall Road showing factory buildings which I believe were built around 1939.

View from the riverside footpath of some factory units in poor condition. These buildings look older, maybe from 1906?

This office overlooking the river is in a terrible state.

I believe the cable may have been run out from this tower to the works own jetty where it was loaded onto specialist cable ships.

Some of the cable ships were attended by local shipping company Wavecrest Ltd.

When ships were loading at the jetty the cable used to run in one continuous length from the factory and was wound onto special drums on board the ships. Loading continued 24/7 until finished.

The depth of water at the jetty was too shallow to accomodate some of the modern cable ships. Barges used to be brought alongside the jetty and the cable ships would then more up to them in deeper water.

Getting on and off the ships was an interesting exercise involving scaling a number of ladders from the main jetty up and over the barges and then finally onto the ship. A bit of a marathon especially when carrying ship's papers, sea charts, ship's spares and trying not to drop them in the river!

A view between two factory buildings. Please note the steel rails set in the ground which run in direction of the loading jetty. I believe Henleys may have had locomotives or trams operating at the factory but have not been able to find any information about this so far. If anyone knows what the rails were used for, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Henleys had their own research laboratory. During the second world war, Henleys were involved in several important military projects. They manufactured degaussing equipment for ships to counteract the threat of German magnetic mines and submarine indicator loops. They made components for PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean) that was used to pump fuel from England to France after the D-Day landings in 1944.

Demolition of the Henleys/AEI site was due to commence on 9th November. A 2.5 kilometre stretch of the Thames riverfront at Northfleet has been aquired by SEEDA for redevelopment which will include up to 25000 news homes, a school and other amenities.

I do wonder where all these new inhabitants will end up working when the local manufacturing industry has all but disappeared.....

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy the following......

Milton Church Gravesend Porcupines & Masons

The Saxon Shore Way

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milton Church, Gravesend - Porcupines and Masons!

I have been living in Gravesend for just over ten years now and a few weeks ago I was walking into town with the family when we noticed that they were holding a coffee morning for the local Ellenor Lions Hospice at the St Peter & St Paul Church (also known as Milton Church) and decided to call in.

We must have walked past the church at least a hundred times before and without giving it a second thought.

The decorated side gate in East Milton Road erected in 1950 depicts the striking, if somewhat surreal, Coat of Arms of Gravesend under the Charter of 1568 depicting a porcupine steering a boat with five hooded rowers (or possibly monks).

By way of explanation, the porcupine is thought to be a mark of respect to Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst Place near Tonbridge.
The Sidneys were granted Penshurst Place by King Henry VIII's son Edward VI - they had been respected Royal courtiers for many years.
Sir Henry used the porcupine in his coat of arms. It would appear, however, that he in turn took the use of the porcupine in his coat of arms from King Louis XII of France.
The porcupine was deemed to be a symbol of invincibility.

I was a bit puzzled to see a porcupine featuring on the coat of arms as I thought they only came from North America and therefore wouldn't have been known to Europeans in the 1400's

I decided to do some digging and after lots of trawling through the internet I came up with the answer to the mystery!
It would appear that porcupines do indeed live in the wild in Italy as well as North Africa.

The French fought several battles in Northern Italy during the reign of King Louis XII and it is therefore concievable that they would have come across porcupines on their travels.
In fact the word porcupine does derive from the French "porc d'epine" meaning thorny or spined pig.

By the way, did you know a group of porcupines is called a prickle? (groan)

The boat and rowers symbolise Gravesend's important position on the River Thames. Oarsmen from Gravesend had the rights to ferry passengers to and from London and across the River to Essex.

If you follow the path leading from the side gate to the church you will come across an interesting grave stone...

At first glance you may imply from the skull and crossed bones that it is in some way connected with piracy.

It is in fact a masonic gravestone. Apart from the skull and crossed bones it shows other masonic symbols including the letter G (top centre), the chequered floor, the sun, a square and compass.

The letter G represents God, the Supreme Being and Architect of the Universe and also stands for geometry.

Unfortunately the inscription on the gravestone is very worn - not really surprising when it dates back to about 1760.

There has been a church on the site at Milton since Saxon times although the present day church "only" dates back to the 14th century.

More posts you may enjoy....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway Gala Pictures

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (RHDR) held a steam and diesel gala over the weekend of 3rd/4th October 2009.

Here are some pictures to give you a flavour of the event!

The Winston Churchill on the turntable at Hythe was completed by the Yorkshire Engine Co, Sheffield in 1931. She is based on a Canadian Pacific design and was originally named Doctor Syn but renamed Winston Churchill in 1948.

The Green Goddess flashing past us on her way to Hythe was one of the engines ordered by Count Louis Zborowski for the railway in 1924 before his untimely death at the Italian Grand Prix. She was completed by Davey, Paxman & Co in Colchester in 1925 and is based on an A1 Class locomotive - a more famous and full sized example being the Flying Scotsman.

The Hurricane in imaculate condition at Dungeness Station.

The Hurricane was delivered to the RHDR by Davey, Paxman & Co in 1927. In 1957 she hauled a Royal train when the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne made a visit to the railway.

On our trip back from Dungeness to Hythe we had to wait at Romney Sands halt for No 2 Northern Chief to pass through.

She was another engine originally ordered by the late Count Zborowski and was built by Davey, Paxman & Co in 1925.

On the 5th August 1926 she hauled the first official train on the railway during a visit by the Duke of York.

Finally a photo of a double header train thundering through New Romney station made up of lead locomotive No 7 Typhoon and the Southern Maid.

The Typhoon was built in 1927 and the Southern Maid in 1926. Both engines were build by Davey, Paxman & Co in Colchester.

If you found this post interesting, you may like....

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway Steam and Diesel Gala

Southern Maid arriving at Dymchurch

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is holding another of it's popular Steam & Diesel Galas this weekend 3rd/4th October.

Eight vintage steam locomotives such as the Southern Maid pictured above and two more modern diesel engines will be plying the 13.5 mile route along the Kent coast from Hythe to Dungeness and back.

The RHDR was founded by two flamboyant characters - Captain J E P Howey and Count Louis Zborowski, both millionaires and former racing drivers.

Sadly Count Zborowski was killed in an accident at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1924 and never saw the opening of the railway in 1927.

I will be writing a more detailed post about the Count and his connections to Kent in the near future so please watch this space (or should that be blog?)

The railway is 15 inch gauge and all the locomotives are one third size replicas of the original mainline engines on which they are modelled.

When it opened in 1927 the railway ran from Hythe to New Romney but in 1928 it was extended through to Dungeness. It was dubbed "The Smallest Public Railway in the World".

The railway served not only the tourist trade but was also used by the locals going to the shops, for parcel and mail deliveries and to move freight such as fresh fish caught by the boats off Dungeness up to Hythe. To this day, local children still travel to school on the railway.

During World War Two, due to it's proximity to the coast and construction sites for the PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean) project **, the railway was taken over by the armed forces. The army even had one of the engines converted into a miniature armoured train!

In 1947, to officialy reopen the section of line from New Romney to Dungeness after the war, the RHDR received two famous visitors from across the pond. None other than the much loved veteran slap stick comedians Laurel and Hardy.

Whilst researching the history of the railway I found a very interesting web site which tells the story of Laurel and Hardy's visit to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in more detail and also contains pitcures and a Movietone news reel.

Please click here to visit the site

During the 1950's the RHDR benefited from the increase in tourist traffic to holiday camps along the route of the railway. However, following the death of the co-founder Captain Howey in 1963 and several changes of ownership the railway began to decline.

In 1973 the railway was taken over by another consortium lead by Sir William MacAlpine. Since then there has been investment and the railway is now again in good shape.

Here are some more pictures that I took during a recent visit.

The Southern Maid leaving New Romney after taking on water for the run down to Dungeness.

New Romney is the location of the RHDR's engine shed. There is also a large model railway and a light airy cafe on the station with a good selection of hot and cold meals at reasonable prices.

The Southern Maid was built for the RHDR in 1926 by Davey, Paxman & Co and weighs in at over 8 tons and is 27'7" long (in old money).

It is amazing to think that an engine over eighty years old is still in regular daily use.

The Samson (right) pictured arriving at Dymchurch station
was built by Davey, Paxman and Co for the RHDR in 1927.

If you are looking for somewhere to go this weekend, I would highly recommend a visit to the RHDR.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may like the following from my archives -

Bredgar & Wormshill Light Railway

Wrotham Classic Rally

** - PLUTO - was a temporary pipeline laid under the English Channel in 1944 through which fuel could be safely pumped to the Allied invasion forces who landed in France on D-day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Manston Airport and the Hurricane and Spitfire Memorial

A few weeks ago we were heading for a family day on the beach at Broadstairs....

The old control tower

On the way I decided to make a small diversion to see what was happening at Manston Airport (or Kent International Airport as it is now known).

I had not been there for many years, and as junior (being a typical little boy), is mad on planes and all things mechanical no further excuses were needed!

Manston has a very long history and can trace it's roots back to 1915/16. During World War Two it played a part in many famous operations including the Battle of Britain, the Channel Dash Operation and testing of the bouncing bombs used in the Dambuster Raid.

During the 1950's, Manston was used by the Americans as both a strategic bomber and fighter base before being returned to the RAF in 1960.

Due to the length of it's runway, Manston was used as an emergency landing strip for aircraft in difficulty. A metre thick blanket of foam could be laid over the runway to enable aircraft to crash land with a reduced risk of fire.

The RAF base closed in the late 1990's but they still maintain a specialist fire training school where they practice their techniques on scrap aircraft.

Boeing 747 TF-AMC pictured above currently minus engines will no doubt end her days on the fire dump. That will wipe the smile off her face!

She entered service in 1979 with French airline UTA. In 1992 she was operated by Air France, then Air Atlanta Icelandic in 2004, Saudi Arabian Airlines in 2006 and back to Air Atlanta Icelandic earlier this year.

The airport is now used mainly for cargo flights, holiday charters and aircraft maintainence.

For more detailed information on the history of the airport please follow this link.

Just around the corner from the terminal building is a very busy and popular cafe with views over the airfield.

Adjacent to the cafe is the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial dedicated to the memory of Allied air crews who served during the Second World War. Admission to the memorial is free of charge but donations are welcomed as it run by volunteers.

On display are many exhibits relating to wartime activities at the base but pride of place goes to a preserved Hurricane and Spitfire that, although not stationed at Manston, saw active service during the war.

Hurricane IIc LF751 was built at the Hawker aircraft factory at Langley in early 1944 and issued to No. 22 Maintenance Unit (MU) at Silloth.

In April 1944, LF751 joined No. 1681 Bomber Defence Training Flight. Later in the year she moved to No. 27 Operational Training Unit based at Waterbeach and remained there for the rest of her operational life.

In July 1945 LF751 was relegated to instructional purposes. Parts were removed from the aircraft for use on another Hurricane LF363 which later formed part of the famous Battle of Britain Memorial Museum Flight.

LF751 spent nearly 30 years as the gate-guardian at RAF Bentley Priory.

In 1985, it was decided that LF751 should be sent for restoration and she was delivered to the , Medway Aircraft Preservation Society (MAPS) based at Rochester Airport.

In 1988, after an expenditure of £ 18000 and 22000 man hours, LF751 was delivered to Manston but finished as BN230 of the 'Fighting Cocks' - No. 43 Squadron. BN230 was flown by Squadron Leader D.A.R.G. 'Danny' Le Roy Du Vivier DFC, the first Belgian to command a RAF Squadron.

Spitfire Mk XVI TB752 was built at Castle Bromwich in the early 1944 and entered service with No. 66 Squadron at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in March 1945.

She was armed with 2 x 20mm cannons and 4 x 0.5 machine guns plus a 500 lb bomb and 2 x 250 lb bombs. She was put into action carrying out ground attack missions against road and rail targets in Northern Holland and Germany.

On the 25th March 1945, TB752 was badly damaged after the port undercarriage leg failed to lower for landing, the main damage being to the wing and propeller blades.

Close up of the 403 Squadron Wolf insignia

She was removed to No. 409 Repair and Salvage Unit and re-issued to No. 403 "Wolf" Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force in April 1945, operating from Diepholz in Germany and bearing the Squadron code KH-Z (as she is now displayed).

On the 21st April, the Squadron 'C.O.', Squadron Leader 'Hank' Zary DFC RCAF destroyed a Me109. Four days later Flying Officer David Leslie destroyed an unidentified German aircraft (probably a Fw189).

On the 1st May Flying Officer ‘Bob’ Young destroyed a Fw190 and two days later Flying Officer ‘Fred’ Town shot down a Heinkel 111 which was to be TB752’s final "kill".

TB752 was moved to Manston in 1955 and stood for many years as station gate-guardian.

In 1978 the Medway Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society took her to Rochester Airport for restoration which was completed just over a year later after 15,000 man hours of TLC.

Whilst we were admiring the Spitfire from outside the rope cordon, one of the volunteers on duty asked if my little boy would like to have look inside the aircraft.... (he does have his uses sometimes!).

Of course, we did not need to be asked twice! The volunteer went off and reappeared shortly with a set of steps and we were able to have a look inside the cockpit.

It looks very spartan compared to today's fighter aircraft. The volunteer told us that the Hurricane and Spitfire are each insured for £ 2 million. Quite mind blowing when you consider in 1940 it cost just under £ 10000 to build a Spitfire.

If you find yourself in Thanet, I would highly recommend a visit to the memorial.

You may also enjoy reading...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Walk around Grenham Bay

Grenham Bay, Birchington on Sea
After spending an enjoyable time at the Whitstable Harbour Day, as it was a beautiful day, with hardly a cloud in the sky, we decided to take a drive further along the North Kent coast towards Margate.

We had no fixed plans as to where exactly we were going and eventually ended up in Birchington on Sea about four miles outside Margate.

Birchington on Sea is said to be the largest village in Kent with a population of about 9800. The village lies on top of chalk cliffs looking out over the sea and boasts four sandy beaches - Minnis Bay, Grenham Bay, Beresford Gap and Epple Bay.

We parked the car at the top of the cliffs, loaded up the bucket and spade and followed a footpath down to Grenham Bay.

At the base of the cliffs there is a wide concrete pathway which was constructed in the 1950's as a sea defence to prevent further erosion of the cliffs. If you follow the pathway to the left it leads into Minnis Bay, a very popular family beach.

However, not really knowing where we were going, we decided to go in the opposite direction and followed the pathway along the coastline.

Despite the glorious weather that afternoon we hardly encountered a sole and it was a very pleasant walk. Looking out to sea we could see the Kentish Flats wind farm off Herne Bay and the ships anchored in Margate roads waiting to take a pilot for the River Thames or Medway.

A bit closer to shore we encountered a turnstone making the most of the weather.

The pathway follows the curve of Grenham Bay into another small bay called Beresford Gap. As the name suggests, there is a gap in the cliffs here and another path (quite steep) leads back up to Birchington on Sea.

We continued following the pathway past Beresford Gap into the next and final bay of our walk, Epple Bay. The most remarkable thing we noted about this bay was the vast quantity of seaweed in the water.

By this time, the tide had started to go out further and junior had finished his afternoon nap so we headed back to Grenham Bay for a spot of beachcombing!

Contrary to popular belief you don't have to spend a fortune keeping kids entertained. He would have been quite content to carry on looking through the rock pools for hours.

Whilst looking through the internet for background information for this post, I came across a good web site by the Birchington Heritage Trust which has old pictures of the bays taken as far back as the late 1890's.

Please have a look at the links below if you are interested to see how they used to look.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, why not subscribe or leave a comment?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Whitstable Harbour Day 2009

The historic fishing town of Whitstable on the North Kent coast is well worth a visit at any time of year but particularly when it holds it's annual Harbour Day.

Whitstable's harbour dates back to 1832 when it was opened by the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company.

Having attended and enjoyed the Harbour Day very much last year, we decided to go again this year when it took place on 22nd August.

Perhaps due to the current economic downturn, the level of attendence seemed to be lower than last year, despite the fact that the event is free.

The weather was glorious and the organisers had again put on another good show.

Various trade and charity stands were set up around the harbour, the lifeboat station was opened to the public and visitors were able to tour the Isle of Man registered coastal ship Union Pluto to get an idea of what on-board life is like for her multi-national crew.

In the course of my day job I have been on-board many similar vessels (at all times of the day and night!) but it was nice to have the opportunity to show my wife and son around.

The Union Pluto had discharged a cargo of stone chippings which are used in the manufacture of tarmacadam.

Here are a few more pictures taken on-board the ship.

The ship's bridge was a bit cosy to say the least!

The funnel. UT stands for the owners of the ship - Union Transport.

The ship has it's own excavator on deck to allow it to "self discharge"

View from tbe bridge looking over the ship's stern towards the harbour entrance.

Apart from the Union Pluto there were two historic vessels visiting the harbour.

The tug Kent which has been carefully restored by volunteers from the South Eastern Tug Society was built in Lowestoft in 1948 and spent most of her long working life on the River Medway with J P Knight & Sons.

The paddle steamer Kingswear Castle was built in Dartmouth, Devon in 1924 and worked on the River Dart for many years before arriving in the River Medway for preservation. She now provides excursions mainly around the Rivers Medway and Thames.

Apart from the ships, other entertainments included the Whitsable giant, miniature steam train rides aboard the "Springbok"and a display of vintage diving equipment.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please feel free to leave a comment or why not subscribe?