Archive for April, 2011

The subject of the woodhouse, Hopwas everyones favourite abandoned house in the woods has flickered back into life on the internet after photos were published on the Hopwas Appreciation society Facebook page of the empty space where the Woodhouse once stood. I don´t want to sound like a broken record though and wallow in despair at what could have been.  Instead I´d like to take the opportunity to quickly review  my desperate last-ditch attempt to save the Woodhouse last August(view previous posts)and see what lessons can be learned from it, what I did right, what I did wrong and hopefully make  a small contribution to  other people bent on saving a piece of integrity in the landscape from the jaws of uniformity  and soulless sanitisation.

Believe in what you´re doing

Starting off with an obvious one, but fundamental as it´s hard work, trying to save stuff, especially starting off by yourself!

Take action quickly

As soon as I got the news about the imminent demolition from Midlands Heritage Forum, my first thought was “sneaky bastards trying to demolish this amazing place behind everyone’s back, I´ll show them,” they demolished it anyway, I made them sweat though. Use that anger as an energy, but be clear-headed about your strategy, I didn´t do the last bit.

Have clear argument

Before shouting your mouth off, have an argument, why shouldn´t they destroy the place, what are the alternatives, . That was pretty easy with the woodhouse  (remember to back argument up when you can with  examples, expert advice)

Get expert support

This was the bit I did best, sending out emails to experts found through authors, university departments I managed to start a conversation with Dianne  Barre, expert on historical  garden landscapes  in Staffordshire, who gave me invaluable info, and was equally angry about the situation. This has the benefit of validating your campaign, and the experts using their contacts.  Also got support from the Georgian society, who even went down to see the place, and the advice from SAVE Britain´s heritage . Expert advice should help in the next bit,  spot listing with English Heritage.

Apply for spot listing with English Heritage

After contacting various people in the council, this was the only course of official action I could really take to try to protect the buildings. The application was done online, the people at English Heritage were helpful, they take cases seriously. By indicating that it was going to be imminently destroyed the application process went quickly and the decision took a couple of weeks after inspections at site and written reports were made. Deep down though I felt I was too comfortable about the whole process, trusted in it too much, in the end the decision was taken by too few people…. really you should..

Make noise to get support

This should be a key part to get more people involved, put the pressure on the decision makers, and share the campaign, you can´t do it all by yourself, the idea is to get the juggernaut rolling, then  share the pain and hopefully joy at the end! Of course nowadays with so many online facilities and so much info, so much to care about, this is the age of campaigning for a good cause! This is the bit where I failed I think, of course I didn’t have much time, it was all last-minute, but admittedly I wasn´t savvy enough in creating that noise, this is what I should have done:

Local media campaign

Otherwise it´s hard that people are going to know about it,  this includes physical local newspapers down to their online versions and the profusion of very active blogs, sites,community pages. My efforts consisted of a letter to the Tamworth Herald and a piece put together by the guys at Lichfield Blog.  A good start but should have been more sustained. Should have talked  to editors, try to include article, could have even gone regional, spice things up a bit with ghost stories, etc. Again though can´t do it all by yourself so important to get people involved by:

social media

Start Facebook group get friends signed up to it,  use twitter(got to get round to this) uses comments on blogs, forums etc. Apart from a call out on the Hopwas Appreciation Society facebook page and Midlands Heritage forum I failed miserably in this part, never again!

Use what you´ve got already, copy, repeat, modify.(above a picture used before of abe and ernst campaigning)

Get in touch with famous people

Don´t laugh, this is the  celebrity age, it could be good for their PR and apparently Sir Bob Geldoff visited the woodhouse! really. Obviously the idea would be somebody with a link with the area and who gives a shit about the subject!

On the ground activity

Don´t get entranced by the media buzz, a lot of social media makes you imagine small nations are behind you, but the online noise has to be accompanied by action on the ground, in the local area, phoning and meeting local movers, connecting with local associations/ initiatives which could share the same objectives. This is really important and something I didn´t do much of apart from trying to contact the enigmatic Friends of Hopwas association! This time though  I´ve got an excuse, I live hundreds of miles away!


I don´t know if any of the above would have saved the woodhouse but taking the above approach would have done it´s bit to increase  awareness among people of whats around them, what people are losing, get people involved and go a small way to creating a sense of place in the area. Social media is creating  a real chance here for another more informed democratic approach to our surroundings  and making  collective connected decisions about it ,     now  for me that would be progress.

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Victorian railway ruin

Close to the wreck of Ashlands farm in a landscape of wrecks is another wreck, stuck for close to centuries on a curve  of the river Anker, an overgrown mound with a blue brick ruin of one half of a Victorian railway bridge beneath it´s  overgrowth. It´s the most prominent remain of a stretch of railway which crossed over the river Anker and through the Warwickshire Moor connecting the  Birmingham and Derby railway to the London and North Western railway.

There´s scarcely any info out there on the internet, I thought I might have a bit of luck with the ever faithful ebooks, but no luck, not even from  the book  Midlands counties railway travel book printed in 1840. Descriptions full of praise though for other railway architecture such as the still existing 18 arch viaduct in Tamworth with some great illustrations  to boot.

Getting up close

Taking a leaf out of the Preumbalations of Barkfoot´s blog´s explorations. I´ll try to get across the idea of discovering the place photo by photo back in Summer 2010. I think it´s an interesting way to involve the reader in the act  of discovery and the excitement that it entails. It´s just that I need better photos!

Even up close it´s hard to get a sense of what the place was, until you see a glimpse of an arch through the undergrowth,let the adventure begin.

Climbing up the slippery clay bank using any branches to hold onto you´ll come up to flat ridge with an overgrown path along it, it´s more overgrown than I remember as a kid and less well trodden, are kids messing around in the countryside less than they used to?  At least in the central clearing on the ridge there´s signs of recent activity of lighting fires, and ritual drinking activities.    This central clearing owes it´s lack of vegetation to the fact that you´re standing on an impressive arch. Looking over the edge you can make out the brick  buttresses flanking the bridge. The next photo was taken from the vantage point indicated by  orange footprints indicate(my feet really are that big)

Below is the blurry picture taken from the aforementioned vantage point. It´s an impressive blue brick arch rising roughly to about 8 metres(a very rough estimate tinged with the  exageration of memory!) Didn´t manage to get to the base of the arch when taking photo but remember it as an atmospheric place, looks more overgrown than ever down there. The abundant vegetation makes it look like  a  sort of Victorian take on a mayan ruin!

Continuing with my blurry photo series. This is a photo from the river facing front of the bridge.  Consisting of a sheer indented brick cliff face marking a dangerous end to the path along the ridge.

It´s history through maps

I´m going to attempt to tell the little I found out about the place through maps, I´ll hopefully be adding anything I find out later so keep a watch out on this space.


The only reference I found out about the now demolished connection line is the construction date of june 1847  gleaned from the Warwickshire Railways site, a really well put together and endearing site. That date places it in that first wave of railway building.

The above 1884 ordnance map(click to enlarge), taken from  Old maps.co.uk shows the connection. The section which actually spans the river corresponds to the width of the railway line, making me imagine it was an iron viaduct, maybe something like this:(insert picture when have better connection)

Revealingly there´s no railway track along the route unlike the adjacent Birmingham Derby line. Had the railway already packed it in after less than 40 years of service? More to the point what´s the story behind the relatively short lived railway line? Anyone out there there in the ether  got any clues to it´s story…

In the above 1902 Ordnance map taken from  Old-Maps.co.uk the words dismantled run alongside the connection. From now on it´s sit back time, watch the plantlife grow, wars come and go, or speed up in Time Machine style to the year 1962.

The next info I´ve got is from the Tamworth castle dateline page which states that the bridge was blown up by the territorial army in 1962, I´m assuming this was the only bridge blown up in this stretch of the river. It´s destruction is consecrated in the above 1977 ordnance map taken from  old maps.co.uk

Above is a satellite image from flash earth showing what´s left to see now. I´ve marked on the image a few points where possible evidence of the railway line might lie  some of it checked other conjectured or dimly remembered from years back.

1. Flash earth shows up field markings quite clearly. The lighter shaded earth in the field corresponds well to the outline of the demolished connection, what´s going on there?  Next to the current railway is a bulge in the sidings the only reminder of the embankment connecting to the Birmingham Derby railway

2. The surviving section of the bridge, main subject of the post.

3. corresponds to any remains left in the river or on it´s banks. I remember seeing rows of bricks on both banks, no photos, sorry.  Anything lie on the river bed below where the bridge spanned. What happened to that iron viaduct, was it blown up, sold for scrap metal, or lies rusting on river Anker´s bed?

4. The stretch along the Warwickshire moor side has now been replaced wood and scrubland, nature reclaiming the land with renewed energy, a carbon copy in foliage of the old railway route. Are there any remains among the undergrowth?

5. The railway went over a stream near here, I dimly remember a brick bridge, the info my mind stores makes me wonder sometimes!

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Historic Books online

This post is the first in  taking on the challenge I put out on a previous post, about putting resources out there and info in aiding the exploration of a given landscape and material for different ways of interacting with that landscape.

In this post it´s historic books found online and free. This post will be under construction all this week finding the time to add the online book links on the Tamworth Timehikes area to the list, correcting typos, etc.

How historic books help us look at landscapes differently

They Provide an invaluable peek at the area in the past, a snapshot, overview with all sorts of information to compare and contrast. They also show how the writers viewed the place and it´s people, how they interacted with it. We can even relearn ways of enjoying the landscape.  It´s a chance to go for a walk with the writer around the place, hear what they have to say and show you, a conversation on your surroundings bridging centuries!

Where and How

It´s amazing what´s out there, it´s not always easy to find, but like all discoveries it´s a rewarding experience when you find it and yes being free definitely adds something. Inevitably googlebooks is the big one. All sorts of 19th and 20th century travel writing, geology etc books are out there. It´s a great resource and means that the book is transported and transformed from some dusty book archived in a basement in an American East coast University onto the bright screens of the some sleek 21st century device. I´ve never worked out how google book searches, and most of the finds have been through randomly entering a couple of key words like cellar and Polesworth and with a bit of luck finding a hidden gem. Like most worthy ventures it takes time, the right feeling and perseverance. Another digitalized book goliath is www.archive.org. A great resource with nice looking viewing methods, found most of the real historic books on this page right back to the 16th and 17th centuries. I find it easier to search on this site too. Theres a lot more digitalized book archives out there like Project Guthenburg but haven´t had much luck in finding books on the Tamworth area. The real hard and rare  finds are the ones found through maybe a community webpage, blogs, forums, randomly finding it through links, these  are the eldorado of the online books and extremely rare, but doesn´t mean you shouldn´t try.

The Tamworth Timehikes historic online book list (so far)

The Tamworth area although forgotten in a lot of areas is actually particularly rich in online books given it´s historic location on the borders of the counties of Warwickshire and Staffordshire meaning it often appears in accounts of both counties. Of course my blinkered explorations means I can´t compare it with other areas of England. Click on the book images below to go to the original source. The list is ordered chronologically indicating the page reference to the Tamworth  area when possible.

The first account chronologically of Tamworth is The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543, Edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, 1907. The account on Tamworth starts on pages 103 and lasts a couple of pages.

The antiquities of Warwickshire illustrated, William Dugdale.1656.

Account of Tamworth and Warwickshire side of the Tamworth timehikes area, including Polesworth, the accounts with pictures start on pages 805, Tamworth gets the treatment from page 817 onwards.

Britannia, by William Camden, 1674?, short excerpt on Tamworth is in the Staffordshire chapter, which you have to click on.

A survey of Staffordshire, with a description of that county, Sampson Erdeswick, 1820. Extract on Tamworth starts on page 322 (392 on the archive page) originally written in 1723

A topographical history of Staffordshire, William Pitt, 1817, pages on Tamworth start on page 139

School day memories of adventures including time in the Tamworth area from prolific writer and spiritualist William Howitt. A real gem of a find, adventures in Tamworth start on p259

The Boy´s Country- Book, William Howitt, 1839

The oft cited and extremely useful The history of the town and castle of Tamworth:in the county of Stafford and Warwick, Charles Ferrer Palmer, 1845.

The Wanderings of a pen and pencil, F.P Palmer, Alfred Henry Forrester, 1846.

Another luxury find is this charming travel book.   Accounts of Tamworth and especially Warwickshire side including Pooley, Polesworth all nicely illustrated start on pages 71.

The hunting counties of England, their facilities, character, and requirement, Brooksby, 1882. not much on the area, (South Staffordshire description starts on p224) adding this hunting book for varietyies sake

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Which witch´s woods

Hopwas Woods always draws me back, it’s the wild mysterious part of the Tamworth area. As Henry David Thoreau said in Walden ” Our village life would stagnate were it not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”

People in industrial estates produce objects whereas people in Hopwas produces myths and news stories. Hopwas legend estate! A couple of months back Hopwas was back in the local Tamworth Herald news. The front page  stories ran for a couple of weeks on evidence unearthed for occult activities found in the form of engraved copper tablets and Egyptian style statues.

The first reaction from the scientific, rational community  is usually one of dismissing it out of hand, sometimes angrily,calling them  wild stories, children’s pranks to sell newspapers. Another reaction is to ridicule and belittle the stories and people with the resulting bitchiness on both sides.  Take a look at the heated exchange on the Tamworth Herald article comments page for example. I think though it´s more interesting than that.

Hopwas Hayes as one of the most ancient woodlands in the area together with being on a prominent hill is a prime area for goings on. It´s literally an island of wildness surrounded by thousands if not hundreds of thousands people  in largely urban space and productive agricultural land. Woodlands did once play an important economic role in the landscape, they provided fuel, building material, charcoal, hunting areas. Now it´s  an anomaly, what the hell is it? where does it fit in the modern world, even the army don´t use it anymore?? A place for walking the dog or is more than that
? It´s a non productive space, there´s no museums, woodland trust initiatives, it´s truly a wild place. Maybe even an affront, insult or even frightening unproductive space to some people, but to others could be  the ideal place to  act out  different non-conventional part of their lives from new age beliefs to tree hugging!

Myth becomes reality becomes Myth

My effort to describe the full circle story of the occult and Hopwas below:

prominent point, ancient  woods, thought of as source of energy = pagan practitioners attracted and start performing  in woods =  witches are caught by local police =  local media frenzy = gets lodged in local conciousness= mysterious wood becomes more mysterious = attracts, pagan practitioners, kids messing about, stories, ravers, writers = some people as result may  avoid scary wood = current day news story, occult objects are found, firm solid ´archaeological type´evidence is found, Staffordshire hoard style.

The process has produced the situation today, a  highly charged place full of rumours, attracting and likely to attract certain people from far and wide.

This is all good

This is not a bad thing though this means the wood has become a fascinating place full of meaning  for an increasing number of people. Stories of the occult are extremely attractive they help sell a lot of books, films and as the Tamworth Herald has found out, newspapers. They also help though enquiring minds, people want to find out more. People want to know more about this mysterious place, they´ll add stories to the place.  Also there will be people who want to debunk these mysteries by trying to proving them wrong and providing the evidence for the  history of Hopwas, thus getting to know the history of Hopwas better. People like me will try to use the interest in the strange happenings in Hopwas as a launchpad for my discoveries and encourage exploration of the area. Others like the West Midlands Ghost club have their own research agenda and will keep adding mystery to the place. Witches and non-witches alike will keep dancing.

This is all good, this means Hopwas woods becomes alive with enquiry, exploration for all sorts of people with different approaches and views.  This is not something to be scared of there´s enough for everyone,  what we should be scared of is the places being ignored. By being ignored it could be condemned, the Woodhouse was a victim of being ignored and looked what happened to it.By being ignored, by not being talked about, and leaving it in the hands of a few, the council, English Heritage, Tarmac, whoever, a lot has been lost over the years and a singular view of history encouraged; all country houses, castles and churches!

Adding more to the witches brew

i) Egyptian occult objects in the Hopwas area, whatever,  Tamworth´s used to them. 19th and early 20th century philanthropist Tamworth resident Reverend William Macgregor(nice link and research here) was also a highly respected Egyptologist, he also had one of the most important collections of Egyptian collections in the United Kingdom. He had the collection quartered in his residence at Bolehall Manor, Tamworth with solid rumours that there are Egyptian mummies buried beneath the Palace cinema, now Mcdonalds(this together with Rev William Macgregor warrants a post or blog of it´s own) !  Tutmania right there in  Tamworth! Here´s a video of some strange Egyptian goings on from the great Sun Ra in a place in a forest space somewhere

ii. Mysterious ephermeral cottage in Hopwas woods.

This bit of historic map detective work on my part could add to that whole Blair witch theme going on in the woods, I´m justing putting out the material evidence, do with it what you will. Use it in novels, campfire stories,……

1924 Ordnance survey map showing the cottage and grounds next to the canal

Between around 1920 and 1940, the Woodman´s cottage appears on ordnance maps. It´s close to the canal and bridge  and adjacent to a well trodden raised path parallel to the canal. After WWII it disappears, from maps and from any record, woooooooooooooooooo. (cue me wandering off in white blanket)

The cottage appears to have some type of enclosed land, haven´t inspected it in person, but on this Lidar image of Hopwas you can clearly make out the cleft out piece of land on the hillside where the cottage probably once  stood, is there any more evidence on the ground? what´s the story behind this place?

Lidar image of Hopwas and canal, with cleft out piece of between path and canal

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