Building Bridges……

It is fun trying to second guess editors when they come on the phone with their latest’s picture request.  “ I need some bridges….but they are special ones ”…..   O.K. well lets see if we can help, what bridges in specific are you after? 

Usually you get a feel for the theme they are following and yes, after the first two I thought I knew…..

Telfords Suspension Bridge at Conwy. North Wales

WALES And the next is The Chain Bridge at Melrose, Scotland


Well it was easy to see a possible theme connecting the two bridges.  Conwy was built by the Victorian engineer Thomas Telford and was constructed to provide a roadway crossing over the River Conwy.  Not sure that conservationist would have approved of such a scheme to-day as its construction demanded alterations to the historic Conway Castle.  Its Chain link suspension one of Telfords trademark styles.

The Chain Bridge over the River Tweed at Melrose is also a suspension bridge, engineers of lesser name but equal skill were engaged.  This bridge provided a vital link to the town but not as a road bridge.  Restrictions as to load and what could be carried over the bridge were stipulated.

Conwy Suspension Bridge was completed and opened in 1826.  Melrose Chain Bridge was constructed in the early 1820’s but the ‘official’ opening was surprisingly also 1826.

So far you could see that the Editor was following what seemed a logical connection. But then the third request was a little different.

The Sail Bridge, Swansea SA1, South Wales


A much more modern bridge, Sail Bridge crosses the River Tawe at Swansea.  Opened in 2003, it is intended to link the much refurbished Swansea Harbour area with its designer shops and flats on one side to SA1, an area of old industrial Swansea now subject to major commercial, retail and residential redevelopment.

But again you an see a possible suspension link and maybe a link from the 1800’s to the 2000’s….but then came the forth request

The Auld Brig o’Doon, Alloway, Scotland


Now this is very much different from the previous three.  First of all it is a Medieval stone bridge,  secondly it is not dissimilar to many other Scottish bridges and finally its claim to fame is purely mythical.  But  it is a big claim to fame in Scottish Literature.  Auld Brig o’ (old bridge over the) Doon became famous for its mention in Robert Burns’s story and verse Tom o’Shanter. It was over this bridge across the River Doon that Tom o’Shanter supposedly made his escape on horseback whilst being chased by Nannie Witch.

But the bridge is also said to have been the inspiration for Lerner and Loewe’s equally mythical musical BRIGADOON.

I will just have to wait and see what the editor had in mind, if indeed there is a link…but it does make fun guessing




The summer Olympics 2012 start to-night in London in what is billed to be a ‘spectacular’ opening ceremony. We are told it will be watched all over the World.  One name you may well hear is that of “Wenlock”….he is in fact one of the 2 Games Mascots for 2012.  So why Wenlock? So just in case they don’t mention why and with so much else going on let me explain. The date is 1850 and Dr. William Penny Brookes had the inspiration to establish Wenlock Olympic Games for the betterment of the health and well being of the people of Much Wenlock. This was the rebirth of the Olympic movement. 

Much Wenlock is a small town in Shropshire, middle England.  Small it may be but it also has much history…far more than I can relay here. But as a taster….


Wenlock Priory

Originally an Anglo Saxon Monastery (Circa 680) and later rebuilt as Priory in the 1100’s, it modestly hides away to one side of the town yet it is far from modest in size, an indication as to its importance over the centuries.



The Priory ensured that Much Wenlock became an important centre and Market Town of some wealth as can be judged by the number of Elizabethan timber buildings of some substance.  The Guild Hall and Butter Market is just one such building that still dominates the towns High Street….


Guild Hall and Butter Market.

One of the other imposing buildings has to be Holy Trinity Church most of the current structure dates to circa 1150 but possibly its location is o the site of an even earlier church.



The Church and Nave




So if you are watching the  Opening Ceremony of London 2012 Olympic Games, with over 80,000 people in the Stadium watching and surround by the metropolis that is London….and when you here them mention Wenlock, remember where he came from…..


Much Wenlock, Shropshire 





27th JULY 2012

A Very Powerful Lady…….

Travel along the M1 Motorway through Derbyshire and to the east you will spot the ruins of a very large Elizabethan House. In fact there are two house each bearing the same name Hardwick Hall.  Elizabeth Hardwick was born in 1527 in the family Manor Farm House and if that sounds like a grand beginning, it proved to be anything but. Her farther died, leaving only a very modest inheritance, before she was one year old and the family faced tough times.  The site of the old Manor Farm was to be redeveloped and the first Hardwick Hall (now known as Hardwick Old Hall) was built, a Hall that Elizabeth was to purchase many years later.


Hardwick Old Hall.

Elizabeth Shrewsbury, as she was then known, died in 1609 only a few yards from where she was born 80 very eventful years earlier, in her new very grand home Hardwick Hall.

Hardwick-00326   Hardwick Hall


The design of the ‘new’ Hall was to break new ground in Elizabethan architecture.  Dramatic it certainly is with its sculptured roof line proudly portraying her initials ES carved in stone.  The house is often called the house of windows, making full use of that new invention glass, which Elizabeth had made on one of her other Derbyshire  estates at Wingfield. The stone was quarried on the Hardwick estate where even to-day there is a commercial Stone Centre.  Apart from the roof  balustrades the stone masons added many details to the frontage


Nor were they alone in adding detail, some wag or other added their own ‘graffiti’ to one of the columns at the entrance.


Incidentally the Old Hall was not abandoned when Elizabeth moved into her new home but was used as Guest accommodation and for some servants.  Much to the credit of architect and builders Hardwick Hall still stands solid, a major Derbyshire Estate.


Elizabeth’s humble beginnings must have given her the impetus to become one of the most powerful and ultimately wealthy women in England.  Some say she married well…four times in fact but that would be to do her a big injustice.  Time and time again she used her natural business skills to develop each husbands estate.  One other big building achievement was Chatsworth House, the home of the Cavendish Family, but of course that has been much rebuilt and bears little if any resemblance to Bess’s Chatsworth. Elizabethan times were tough and there was a need to have a political head if one wanted to keep your own on its shoulders.  Thankfully she did enjoy the friendship and confidence of Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Hardwick Hall is part of a large farming estate but also boasts several gardens attached to the house. Orchard, Herb Garden, Formal Yew topiary gardens and of course lavish herbaceous walled gardens.  All can be explored on a day visit.  But here is a taster for you….







Hardwick Hall is in the care of the National Trust so you are assured of a cake and coffee to refresh you…plus of course the obligatory Gift Shop and Plant Sales to tempt youHardwick-00371

Not Quite the Last Word for Bess of Hardwick. 

Bess would appear not to leave anything to chance and left detailed arrangements for her Funeral.  It was to take place some miles away in Derby .  Her cortege wended its way across the county allowing locals to pay their respects. Nor was there any rush as prominent guests had to travel great distances to be present.  There was also the not so small matter of manufacturing enough Black cloth to drape All Saints Church not to mention clothing the mourners.  So eventually Bess of Hardwick was laid to rest and a very ornate tomb was erected in the main body of the Church.


The Inscription on the tomb was  added some time later….the eagle eyed will spot that her date of death is wrong, one year earlier.  I bet Bess would have turned in her grave. Incidentally All Saints Church is now Derby Cathedral.

25th JULY