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.