Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Bridgwater, River Parrett pill boxes

Bridgwater
River Parrett pill boxes
The Taunton Stop Line
Somerset

A short walk from the Premier Inn to the North of Bridgwater, on the East banks of the River Parrett, there are a number of WWII pill boxes. Pictured here is just one of three within a one hundred yard stretch of the river, all positioned to give defenders clear line of site North up the river. These concrete structures were built as part of the Taunton Stop Line, a system of defences built to "stop an enemy's advance from the west and in particular a rapid advance supported by armoured fighting vehicles (up to the size of a German medium tank) which may have broken through the forward defences". The Taunton Stop Line was one of around fifty defensive features built around the British Isles during WWII in anticipation of a German invasion. 


The Taunton Stop Line stretched from North to South for around fifty miles, incorporating Somerset, Dorset and Devon, and ran from Axminster to Chard, taking in the River Axe, the Great Western Railway all the way to Illminster, the Chard Canal and railway to Taunton, the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal to Bridgwater and the River Parrett all the way to Highbridge. The defences incorporated natural geological features; rivers, ravines and valleys for example, and man made structures; canals, railway embankments and concrete gun emplacements and pill boxes, tank traps (cubes and pyramids) and the incorporation of charge chambers built into bridges, where explosive charges could be set for demolition should German forces invade.


The line of defences were manned by two divisions from GHQ Home Forces Reserve, with the Home Guard taking over responsibilities from late 1940. 

The pill boxes of the Bridgwater Canal are excellently documents on the Friends of Bridgwater Canal website.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bridgwater, Bridgwater Castle

Bridgwater Castle
Bridgwater
Somerset

Sadly only scant pieces of masonry remain to illustrate this castle. The main visible piece of material,can be seen on West Quay (the West banks of the River Parrett) As shown below, this seems to be a section of curtain wall, standing some twenty feet tall or so, and approximately fifty feet long.

Above. The portion of 'curtain wall' visible from West Quay.

There is some doubt that this is actually part of the curtain wall, and rather the remains of a walled garden contained within the castle grounds (contemporaneous or not with the castle) The curtain wall would most certainly have been in this general area, as the river at some point, came right up to the castle's walls....hence the Water Gate...the remains of which can be found in the grounds of nearby properties. The Water Gate would have provided direct access to the Castle from the River.

Above. Close up of the 'curtain wall?' 

Above. The corner of Castle Street\junction with West Quay

The castle was most likely built in 1202 by William de Briwere, a wealthy businessman and Judge who rose to prominence during the reigns of King Richard I, King John and King Henry III. Most of William's wealth was generated by his vast estates which he acquired from his role as Sheriff of Devon and from his role as Justiciar to King Richard I, a role that required him to administer the Kingdom whilst the King was away on the Third Crusade. During King John's reign, William was granted the titles of Sheriff of Berkshire, Sheriff of Cornwall, Sheriff of Devon (again), Sheriff of Hampshire, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset, Sheriff of Sussex and Sheriff of Wiltshire. He was not a particularly 'liked' Sheriff in several of his domains, and at one point, fees were paid to the King for his removal, by the people of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. His character and ruthless pursuit of land and tax probably lay the foundations for the creation of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the tales of Robin Hood.

Above. A view up Castle Street.

Historical descriptions of the castle tell us that it was well equipped; with two bailey areas....an inner and an outer (possibly built after the castle was raised and the requirement for functional buildings outgrew the inner bailey area) a large keep located in what is now Kings Square, a chapel dedicated to St Mark, Mortemere's Hall, living quarters, stables, kitchens, a bell tower and a dovecote. The castle is said to have been built on the river's edge in order to control the shallowest crossing.....with the Water Gate opening out onto the river itself. 

Above. Print of the ruins of the mansion built on the site of the castle (mid 18th century)

William died in 1226, and his son, to whom the castle passed, died a few years later in 1232. The castle and estates then passed to the Crown, with it being reduced to a store and prison. Between 1242 and 1246 repairs were made to the keep and some of the towers. The castle then passed to Maud de Braose, Baroness Mortimer, wife of Roger Mortimer, first Baron Mortimer, in 1248. It was inevitable then, that the castle became embroiled in the second Barons War (1264 to 1267) Roger Mortimer was a staunch supporter of Henry III, and held the area for King and Crown.

Above. Portion of the castle information board, showing the layout of Bridgwater Castle.

The castle passed into the hands of the Crown again after 1321, until 1326, when it was used as a base by Edward II in the Despenser war, fought between Edward II and the Marcher Lords. The castle was later returned to the Mortimer family, but was neglected for a number of years, with portions of the moat filled in, and materials robbed from some of the buildings. Only St Mark's chapel was maintained and repaired.

Above. A portion of the information board.

In the 1380s and the 1390s, towers, gatehouse and keep were repaired and re-fortified. By 1450, private houses had been built within the walls, echoing the urbanisation of York's city walls later in their life....restored but adopted into every day non-military life. In the 1540s, a house had even been built on the site of the now derelict and much decayed keep.

Once again, the castle fell into the hands of the Crown, with Charles I granting ownership to George Whitmore (Lord Mayor of London in 1631) in 1626. Whitmore sold the castle and grounds to Henry Harvey, who built his house within the remaining walls....demolishing more masonry to make way for his comfortable abode. The house was then leased to Colonel Edmund Wyndham in 1643. By this time, the English Civil War had broken out, and the town and castle were seen to possess some military value....both town and castle were garrisoned by Edmund Wyndham for the Royalist cause. Inevitably the town and castle were laid siege to by Cromwell's forces....legend has it that Edmund's wife, Lady Crystabella Wyndham fired a musket at Cromwell from the walls....narrowly missing him and killing his aide-de-camp. After a destructive siege of town and castle, Wyndham surrendered, and Cromwell's troops moved in. Wyndham however, was able to organise Charles II's exile to France soon after. 

The already badly damaged castle was further slighted by the Parliamentarian victors, though historical eye-witnesses of the time testified that much of the fabric of the castle had already been destroyed. Whatever was left, and whatever was further destroyed, is pretty much what we see today....scant remains that have been incorporated into buildings, both above and below ground. The history of the castle remains rooted in the past.....though Bridgwater continued to thrive and expand. The town is well worth exploring, along with the river side walks, which still bear the scars of World War II, with pill boxes scattered along it's banks.



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Kendal, The Rainbow Tavern\Horse and Rainbow

The Rainbow Tavern\Horse and Rainbow
Highgate
Kendal Cumbria

Situated almost opposite the top of Lowther Street, the Rainbow is one of a number of public houses that stretch from here to the bottom of Windermere Road. It is another fine example of one of the older public houses that has stood the test of time, with some records mentioning an inn here as far back as 1638.

Above. The Rainbow Tavern as it was in 2006. 

Indeed....1638 is when the inn is first mentioned, along with its Catholic landlord, Oliver Platt. Oliver is mentioned in Cornelius Nicholson's 'The Annals of Kendal' a fine book that details the historical streets and buildings of Kendal. Cornelius tells us that Oliver was the landlord a tthis time, and that there was a fine oak table and some oak panneling bearing the inscription 'OP AP 1638' which were discovered when the building was being rennovated.

Above. The old\un-imaginative tavern sign (2006)

In 1716, the building was owned by Robert Stephenson, and with other neighbouring properties formed a charitable trust. The profits from this trust were distributed annually to local poor families with a small amount being given to the local Catholic priest of Kendal. 

Above. The Horse and Rainbow, 2018

Again it is Cornelius Nicholson that confirms this arrangement, stating that the Stephenson Trust was set up for the poor and destitue of the town. Stephenson died in 1723. He left a number of properties in his will, one of which was Dodding Green, which, it was stipulated, was to be used for the housing of Catholic priests from the district. Most of his properties and estate, were left to the Catholic church.

In 1795, the inn was the meeting place of the New Union Society.

In 1881, the inn seems to have changed its name to simply 'Mrs Lawson's'. It wasn't until a James Harker took over as landlord, that the inn gained its first sign. James is listed as the tennant and landlord between 1829 and 1856. Whilst he was the landlord, the premises were used by Lodge Number 151 of the Freemasons as a meeting place. It's no surprise then, that James Harker was a leading Freemason in the area.

During 1875 and 1875, John Robinson, warden of the Unitarian Chapel on Branthwaite Brow, was the licensee. Records of this time, state that the Rainbow offered stabling for a staggering sixty hourses! 

Other notable landlords, are William Robinson, who was licensee until 1896. John Graham, who took over on the 1st of December 1906, with Messrs. Truman Hanbury and Buxton of Company of London, who took over in 1945, placing Charles Harriman as the landlord.

These days, the Rainbow, or Horse and Rainbow as it is now known, has been refurbished and is open for business.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Shoreham Redbout, Shoreham

Shoreham Redoubt
Shoreham
West Sussex

Not the greatest photos I've ever taken of a an important site, but considering I was on the top floor of a double decker bus, I think they're OK, and I'm happy that I managed to capture the redoubt in the distance. The 19th century shore fort is situated on Shoreham beach, a sliver of land that stands between the mainland and Shoreham harbour. 

Above. Aerial shot of Shoreham Redbout (Bing maps)

It stands at the far East end of Shoreham beach, and was built to protect the entrance to the West and East sides of the harbour. Plans for a fort here, were put forward in 1850, at a time when a French invasion was thought very likely. The fort was completed at a cost of around eleven thousand pounds, and was ready for its garrison by 1857. It is also known as Shoreham fort, and Kingston Redbout. 

 Above. The fort and the searchlight tower from the A259.

This area of the Sussex coast, had traditionally been undefended.....there was never a pressing need to fortify the harbour, such was the poor silted state of the waters here, and, with other areas along the South Coast considered easier for invading armies to disembark from their ships, no fortifications were built or defences provided. 

Above. The fort from the A259. 

Above. The fort and the searchlight tower, again from the A259.

However, as Napoleonic France extended its influence across Europe, there was a fear that newly built iron, steam powered battle ships would be able to easily defeat the Royal Navy. Forts were raised at Bognor, Selsey and Littlehampton,, and lastly at Shoreham, to provide an element of protection against any French aggression. 

The fort is constructed in a lunette (half moon) shape, with a gun platform that sits some fifteen feet about sea level. The gun platform and ramparts were defended by a ditch with a carnot wall; a wall that was built in the bottom of the ditch, with loop holes for defenders to stop attacking forces from traversing the external defences. The fort was also equipped with three caponiers; buildings that provided cover for riflemen to fire at attackers along the carnot wall, within the safety of these brick buildings. Barracks were built to the rear of the fort, and provided housing for thirty eight men.

By 1873, the fort was deemed to be out of date, and plans were put forward for a replacement to be built on the site.....the plans however came to nothing, and in 1886, the fort was provided with two 80 pounder and three 64 pounder guns. 

The fort found a new, cultural lease of life in the early 1900s, when it was used as an open air film studio, with four films made there in 1914.

As WWII loomed, the fort was armed with two six inch guns which were housed on the nearby beach, and searchlights. The barracks were demolished after the war, with a coastguard tower replacing it. 

Check out the Shoreham Fort website for loads of information, including a great floor plan of the site.