Archive for the ‘Abe and Ernst adventures’ Category

Something I came up with messing around on photoshop inspired on this gem of a news story from last weeks Tamworth Herald:

Resurrected: Tales of ‘McMummies’ entombed beneath burger restaurant

Here’s a competition idea. Any Mcmummy puns out there to replace the (sands will rise….)tag lines in the above reworked Mummy poster ? The winner gets the their new tag line immortalised on the above poster and sent to them via email. This is unless Ronald and co decide to unleash their wrath on me forcing me to remove the above poster. Don’t think so as they are now the good guys, collect eggs from local farmers, locally sourced, organic, 100% British beef…………

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In a bit of shameless plugging I’m taking some time out from the obsession with Tamworth’s past to bring to your attention some wonderful jewellery designs composed  from horsehair craftware among other materials  from my wife.  I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re really charming and that I’m not biased at all, they are genuinely beautiful ‘jewels’ . Her blog is called funinthesol go direct to it by clicking on one her creations below ( a brooch).

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Ridge and furrow that grand remnant of medieval farming appear like ripples in the fields surrounding our villages and town. Tamworth is no exception and in this post I’ll be looking at ridge and furrow I’ve noticed to the north of Tamworth.

A quick explanation of ridge and furrow: Ridge and furrow is the result of ploughing by teams of oxen with non-reversible ploughs. In the middle ages families owned strips of land dotted throughout large common fields, so the ploughing location didn’t change much over the years . So over the years the ploughing motion built up earth in the centre of their strip and left a dip between each ridge. This technique offered the advantage of better drained soils. For more information on them take a look here and here.

These techniques pretty much ended when enclosure and modern farming techniques came along, this  changed everything in the countryside and through it’s knock on effects, displaced peasants, richer single landowners changed pretty much everything else in the world through it’s speeding up of the industrial revolution.  This meant though that evidence of ridge and furrow patterns have only survived where modern ploughing hasn’t continued. So that’s fields that have been kept for pasture as grasslands and areas like country estate gardens.

The results are ondulating green fields. The effect is mesmerising and the appearance of the ridges and furrows changes with the light throughout the day. Apparenty the best time of day is sunrise, haven’t managed to take photos at this time yet another one for the list. In one way they can be seen as monuments to the toil and lifestyle of those medieval peasants. Just as grand in their way as castles and cathedrals and satisfying that basic need, to eat! Unlike great stone age earthworks they were built over slowly and gradually over hundreds of years. Something pretty special about all that daily struggle for survival preserved as gently ripples in a field.

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to see a field system and even landscapes which in some ways bear resemblance with medieval central England. My father comes from the frontier lands between Portugal and Spain in northern Spain in a region called Galicia. It’s far away from the typical Spain image as possible, it’s a land of green rolling hills, chestnut forests and bagpipes. Until  recently(a couple of decades)  it had a vibrant peasant culture in the countryside. Villages separated by hundreds of metres dot the hills, they were largely self sufficient and surrounding the villages are fields strips reminiscent of the old ridge and furrow system which operated around Tamworth. People  still have  in their possession small strips of land sometimes tiny in size. Each of your plots are sprinkled throughout the area. One by the stream, one on a hillside, a chestnut grove here and another on the other side of the village, this was I believe it was similar to pre enclosure England.

I’m not saying that recent peasant Galicia is the same as life in the countryside around Tamworth 500 years ago. Each region is different, it’s own history and culture, don’t want to go down that road of  “like England but 30 years ago” way of thinking. Were in 2011 together! It does help though in seeing what a peasant countryside looks like and how it works,one without affluent landowners and commuter villages. Maybe a better way of thinking about it would be idea of how rural England would have been today if enclosure and industrial revolution hadn’t have happened or had happened differently.

Below I’ve marked on a google map image evidence for ridge and furrow together with documentary and archaeological evidence for medieval villages. It’s not complete and is just to give an idea of  the amount of villages in the landscape surrounding Tamworth. It was in effect a world of villages, After all towns were not much more than large villages themselves. Forgot to mention that ridge and furrow is a good pointer that there was a village thereabouts.  Some of those villages continued such as Wigginton while others such as Syerscote became single farms and country estates. What happened to the dissappeared villages? Well enclosure and concentrating the land and profits  into single farms must have a been big reason. Also similar to this was landowners  using the land for the more profitable sheep grazing and chucking the peasants off the land. This appears to have started back in the 16th century. Also there’s the simple fact that with mechanization farming just doesn’t need that many people working on the fields. The result is a far more lonely but could be argued more profitable landscape.

1. Ridge and furrow and some interesting earthworks including hollow ways(click on google freezeframe  image below) on the northern edge of modern Wigginton village, supports the idea that the village has been displaced to the south(from Staffordshire HER).

Just to  the east of Wigginton village are extensive ridge and furrow patterns. You can even make out the individual field boundaries(pastscape).

A photo of the ridge and furrow taken on a walk through these fields along a public footpath. Contender for the best preserved ridge and furrow I’ve seen around Tamworth.

2. Ridge and Furrow around modern day Syerscote farm. According to Pastscape scape entry you can also make out house platforms, together with the fields is evidence for a dissappeared medieval settlement, consisted of 5 houses and was deserted between 1334 -1524(Staffordshire HER).

3. In the land surrounding Amington hall, this field report states that an aerial photograph turned up evidence for a medieval village, together with the telltale sign of a medieval fishpond. According to HER Staffordshire could be site of village known in Domesday book as ‘Ermendone’. Nowadays there’s a later Victorian fishpond just to the right. Can’t make out any ridge and furrow from the ground but the landscape is pretty special around here, with it’s stately ancient oaks, Old 16th/18th century Amington hall and the bends of the river Anker.

4. Statfold. Walking on further up from Syerscote, are the impressive ridge and furrow systems surrounding modern day Statfold farm. There is documentary evidence here for a medieval village and there were still houses and community around the house until living memory. (from a conversation with the owner of the house, more on that in next photo)

Just tried to save the rest of post and lost it, bahh. Understandably think I’ll leave it for later!

All Saints Church



5. Wigginton park



7. Comberford


deserted medieval settlement(HER)



Fill in links and sources later, goes off muttering under breath and banging the keyboard..

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Tamworth Talks, a fairly new site crammed full of news, history and photos on the Tamworth area has news about the imminent demolishing of a possible piece of aviation history in Tamworth in the form of a pre R.A.F aircraft hangar! Thought I’d bring this to the attention of readers of this blog.How much is original and what state it’s in is an open question but nobody can argue that’s it not worth finding out. For more information take a look here at the original post on Tamworth talks. In the comments section there is a reference to an active thread on the Aircraft hangar news.

I’m often banged on about this in the blog, too much heritage has been demolished through going unnoticed. The blogosphere gives a real opportunity to stop this happening, nice one Tamworth Talks for spotting this one. It’s out in the open now and hopefully it’s going to grow and grow.

I’ll try to find time and take a couple of pictures and include in the post.

As Andrew  says in the post ” Please put your thinking caps on and see if you can think of anyone who might save it.”

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For anyone who’s  wondering what’s happened to the blog, well Abe and Ernst below pretty much explain my obsession with the ‘Pastorm online event’ at the moment, a few more tweaks and then just wait for that lightening strike  to come to life.

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Antiques are everywhere in England, the place is going to sink if there’s any more antiques! Maybe though that’s just the perception you get after seeing the tv schedule inundated with antique auction programmes presented by dandy like characters. Anyway as this is Tamworth Timehikes, I started thinking about if there were any antiques manufactured in Tamworth?

I knew about Glascote based Canns and Gibbing the famous terracotta makers largely responsible for introducing terracotta into architecture in England and covering such famous landmarks as the natural History museum and Albert Hall London. Their story is well researched and presented on Alan and Angella´s page. What I didn´t know about though was George Skey´s Wilnecote ceramic works.

George Skey started in 1860 his enterprise and ended up making pretty much anything from clay from the site, from gas ovens to ginger beer bottles. It rapidly expanded and became one of the most  important pottery works in  the country. Anyway don´t let me tell you, take a look below at the extract from The ceramic art of Great Britain, 1878 by LLewellynn Jewit  on Wilnecote works. All the details and praise are there and saves me the trouble of typing it.

It starts off with “The Wilnecote Works, near Tamworth which rank among the……. (continued below, click to view larger or in the original link on http://www.archive.org)


A quick search for George Skey on google images and it brings up what looks like a hastily made online museum on some of the fine  products made. Click on the image to go direct to the search.

Most of what´s found on the internet apart from a few terracotta pieces in posh places like Christies are pottery flagons, beer bottles, jugs, packaging basically. A good example is this flagon below taken from ebay(click on image to go to the site) I like the flagon (not making a bid, maybe I should go for a cut for doing promotion!) and other vintage packing, storage found like medicine bottles, beer bottles, etc, etc

It turns out though I´m not the only person who likes them, theres people out there who are crazy for them and digging them up. Called dump diggers, the ideas to look for old Victorian refuse dumps and dig up vintage bottles, from poison to medicine, some of them still unopened! I can understand the attraction. It’s that same thrill of the chase, a main reason for people s reasons for doing activities like archaeology, metal detecting, mushroom collecting, the list goes on.

For a few examples of dump diggers there´s  diggers diary in the Uk and the bottle digging forum in the UK, but what I really love is the dump diggers diary from Canada. I love the effort and unashamedness about what they do, check out the bottle diggers convention(not sure about name) on one of their posts. Theres nothing furtive about it, they´re dump diggers and you know what its cool!

George Skey´s Wilnecote Works

The manufacturing place itself would have been the mecca for bottle collectors  and dump diggers around the world. Wilnecote works was a huge place and functioned from 1860 till 1936 when it was taken over by Doulton. The buildings were finally demolished in 1981. That´s the excavators going in below(click on image to go to home of photo, Staffordshire Past track)

Demolition of Doulton's

I  couldn´t write about Wilnecote works without an honourable mention of the people who actually worked there. Below a great photo of  some of George Skeys workers 1909-1915, taken from Staffordshire Past track. Wilnecote works employed up to 600 people in its heyday. That´s  huge by todays standards but remembering that the pre-war population of Tamworth was around 7,000 people that´s  a hefty chunk of the town´s population.

George Skeys, workers, Skeys Works yard, Wilnecote

Below another evocative photo from Staffspt titled Mr Kinson and his horse ´tut´ in George Skeys workyard, 1936 . He worked for George Skey as a general carter depositing the broken pots in the spoil heap behind.

Mr Kinson with his horse and cart, Skeys, Wilnecote

Aerial views of the works

Below again from Staffs past tracks, the 1899- 1903 ordnance map showing the extent of Wilnecote works served with its own tramway. The place was surrounded and built on coal mines.


The same area back in 2007. The area is partially covered by Tame Valley Industrial estate. The rest of the area is wasteland. This was a bottle diggers paradise I imagine. In the centre are some dilapidated industrial buildings were any of them old wilnecote works buildings?

Too late, this post 2007 birds eye image from http://www.multimap.com shows the industrial buildings gone and another housing estate going up. To those bottle diggers from Canada and Australia who´ve just turned up a George Skey ceramic bottle this is what the place that made them looks like now. Maybe its just me but could  have been a good idea to make a reference and tribute to what was there before, give it some sense of place and history. I feel the area really needs this, to be anchored to the area not just another estate floating in a sea of housing estates.






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The blogs been quiet for a while. The reason, well apart from the big long drawn out  move from España to England and all the changes and tumult that brings with it, I´m really excited and been tinkering away with a new way of doing this whole landscape history and exploration thing online.  What does this mean?


With that grandiose title I know I’m setting the bar high but well you’ve got to reach for the stars! In the meanwhile I’m continuing to tinker away on how its going to work. It should be launched in the next few days when all will become clear. It’s a continuation of Tamworth timehikes blog, it’s the same area, with the same emphasis on the area’s history, but  it’s aiming to be collaborative, getting people  involved,more energy into it and hopefully much more.  Whatever happens its going to be exciting. It’s a first for me and will be one big learning experience.

What will happen to Tamworth timehikes?

The blog will stay open, and the blog and new online event  will feed into each other, the info, ideas and kind generous support will I hope help the new project and Tamworth timehikes will continue to ramble on in fits and starts.

Just to prove I´m serious below is the name and logo below:

Licencia de Creative Commons

more updates and explaining mixed in with long overdue posts over next few days…….

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Continuing with exploring the souvenirs side to Tamworth Timehikes. This is the latest addition to Tamworth timehikes story.The blog started with those key ingredients listed in the about page with a desire to demonstrate that even a forgotten corner can turn up all sorts of history and be as interesting in it´s own way as any place.

Went on to create some facial haired eye impaired characters called abe and ernst to accompany the explorations as I´m not actually in Tamworth!! and veered off again to create  souvenirs from the narrative of Tamworth Time hikes.

Above are Abe and Ernst at the Tamworth Timehikes stall, things aren´t going too well, so Abe or is it Ernst, (can never make up my mind who is which)have decided to put themselves up for sale.

T-shirts are an ever popular souvenir item so I´ve decided to do some T-shirt mock ups. Actually one as the other one is taken from the Tribute to the  Lichfield Transmitter entry.

Ok here goes, cue drum roll music….deder!!!

The Tamworth Timehikes t-shirts.

click to enlarge

As I mentioned before the T-shirt on the left was featured before. I love the graph putting the transmitter shoulder to shoulder with Paris, New York!! It´s got the added advantage that the Lichfield transmitter tower can be seen for miles around so it could be a souvenir t-shirt for Lichfield, Walsall, the list goes on…

The one on the right is a profile of Tamworth´s  skyline in a pulse graph style. This one is yearning for a title, something like Wake up Tamworth! but can´t decide. Any title contributions will be greatly appreciated and all profits will be shared; )

Licencia de Creative Commons

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While browsing the 1815 map of the Tamworth Timehikes area, I came across the name Dosthill Spa, between the then village of Dosthill and Two Gates on a bend of the river Tame and next to Dosthill house.

1815 ordnance map with orange arrow pointing out Dosthill Spa

Many of the ´discoveries´ in the blog were made by such browsing and cross referencing. It´s amazing how new information keeps coming out of these historic maps , the ease and the increasing  abundance of them online. This has resulted in an increasing backlog of places to write about. Originally I was going to try to weave routes around these places, as implied by the title ´timehikes´ but I haven´t figured out a way to put a route description with detailed descriptions of the places in one post, and then there´s my short attention span problem to contend with. Meanwhile I´ve connected a couple of routes on the googlemaps page, largely following public footpaths.

Dosthill Spa could be the perfect place for a well-earned rest for the Tamworth two, Abe and Ernst, away from guard dogs, shots, barwork, garden trespassing and more.

If the towel looks familiar it´s because it was stolen from Tamworth Holiday Inn.

Abe and Ernst are not the first to enjoy the waters of Dosthill spa. Back in 1816 there was a mention in  The life of William Hutton  F.A.S.S, 1816 accessible on google books of an excursion to the place with the words “With our friends, we made a party of pleasure to Dosthill Spa; held various conversations ; played at various games ; boated on the river.”

What is this place though and what makes it so special? There´s a clue in the Wells of Old Warwickshire by P.M and E.M Patchell written in the early 20th century in which it mentions a pair of springs one chalybeate and one strong brine, the old salt bath being between the footpath and river.


Wikipedia has a nice  entryon Chalybeate. Apparently chalybeate(salts) were all the rage in times gone by with the accommodated classes and Tamworth timehikes had it´s very own example.

picture of chalybeate springs in Tunbridge Wells in the 17th century taken from the aforementioned wikipedia entry.

The wikipedia entry goes onto explain the reasons for it´s popularity with this great quote about the health benefits  of Chalybeate baths taken from Dudley North´s physician in the 17th century which I repeat below

the colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly, loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain.

Dosthill missed out a tourism slogan here,  ” come to Dosthill Spa and dry your over-moist brain!!!

No use for a slogan though if the spa  doesn´t currently exist? The place leads to all sorts of questions. What form did the spa have? what happened to it?

The above 1775 Yates map(from Staffordshire Pasttracks) on the left signals that the spa or ´bath´ as mentioned in the map goes back to at least the date of the map, how much further back? Was it associated with the building of the neighbouring 18th century Dosthill house. We do know that Dosthill house with it´s neighbouring curative waters was used a Spa hotel in the 19th century. In the 1899 ordnance map on the right it gets a mention as Chalybeate spa, but no idea if it was still a ´Spa hotel´

In the book Wells and springs of Warwickshire, Richardson, L, written in  1928  we can assume  that the spa or ´salt baths´were no longer in use. Here´s the quote from the book  below.

The old salt-bath is still in existence [between the footpath and River Tame west of Dosthill House], though much dilapidated, as is also a small reservoir into which ferruginous water oozes.

The spa placename appear on maps until shortly after WWII and then disappears, Whats the fate of the ´old salt bath´ Are there still physical remains of the baths next to the footpath? Maybe Dosthill Park Wildlife Group campaigning and working for bordering Dosthill park could shed light on  its fate?

I don´t know about you but I´m all for bringing the spa back, there´s a lot of over-moist brains, clammy humoured  people out there who could do with it!

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Since writing this series on underground spaces(see  underground categories) in the Tamworth area, I´m seeing and imagining  tunnels, subterranean spaces everywhere!

Here´s a short incomplete  list of some of the places I´ve seen, read or heard about subterranean spaces the last mont; Exploration Forums like Dark places and organisations Subterranea Britannica.Queries about rumours of underground tunnels in nearby Lichfield. Blogs entries like this entry  from the  Cheltonia blog which includes  underground cellars, also the oft cited bldgs blog and it´s  fascination with some fascinating subterranean worlds. Then just when I want to get away from it all I start seeing it in films I´ve recently seen , Hellboy 2, Fantastic Mr Fox on and others I can´t remember right now.  Even when I go on to a visit of the San Miguel de los Reyes  Monastery here in Valencia where on betting that tunnels will be mentioned,  the guide overheard me and sure enough went onto to tell the story of escape tunnels excavated beneath the monastery into the fields when the monastery was used as a prison in and after the Spanish Civil war and until the 60´s.

The San Miguel monastery above where the Great escape style tunnel breakout took place. The escapees actually got away with it and were never caught! The guide mentions that he knew one of the prison guards who was there when the escape happened. The tunnel story should be an integral part of the tour because as everybody knows people love tunnel  stories.

The reasons for popularity of underground spaces are many. They appeal to our sense of adventure and  mystery, they captivate and repel us with  fear, filth, darkness. They are metaphors for other worlds, alternative worlds and in past cultures provided the gateway to the other world(s),

Whatever the reasons I´ve got to stop and move on with this  subterranean fixation, so this is the last post(for now) on underground spaces in the Tamworth Timehikes area.

It´s the new year(Happy New Year!), days are getting longer, the sun is shining(at least in Valencia) so it´s time for Abe and Ernst to step out from the shadows of  the underworld, and  onto exploring the surface world, but just before couldn´t resist  one last dip  into  the depths of the underworld of Tamworth Timehikes.

Secret tunnel in the village of Hints.

In proof that secret tunnels can even be used as a selling point, Paul Carr estate agents advertise the 1,500,000 pound  Vicarage in the village of Hints with the possibility of your very own  secret tunnel included between the vicarage known as Chadwick house and the church of St Bartholomews.

The vicarage and rebuilding of the present church of St Bartholomews  was built and paid for by the cotton entrepeneur James Chadwick. Did this building work  include a secret tunnel? Is this one of those follies that the landed gentry loved so much in pre-television days?

hypothetical route of the secret tunnel taking the shortest route between the two places.

If it was a rich man´s whim then the 50 metre stretch of tunnel would be an expensive and labour heavy whim. Sure enough I´ve enquired about the secret tunnel story and it´s source with the estates agents with no response. Rising to the challenge I´ve sent out emails to Hints forum, church of St Bartholomew and have been met with a wall of silence. This could be due to it a) being some masonic millennium old secret,b)no interest in pesky emails about tunnels(can´t be true) c)went to wrong person, or d) simply haven´t got round to answering the query. Take your pick.

Could be part of the thought that Hints is apart from being a beautifully located place is to my eyes a zealously guarded  private place. It´s long drives with houses out of view, narrow high hedged roads, lack of a public space(no pub) all indicate it, to me anyway. It´s private architecture  is so well conceived that the village seems to be almost invisible! The annual Hints Open garden festival only accentuates the privacy of the place the rest of the year. Hints is by no means unique in these characteristics, it´s in fact the norm for the affluent rural english countryside.

Old Tamworth town hall dungeon

The above picture is taken from the superb  English Buildings blog, which pays homage to the architecture of old town hall. The 1701 building with later additions is indeed a very special building but here as is becoming tradition straight onto it´s underground credentials.

The ever reliable and highly detailed  1875 The History Town and Castle by Charles Ferrers describes the underground dungeon beneath the town hall built in 1812. He describes the dungeon as small, but dry and clean and goes onto say that prisoners are usually removed to the jails in the county-towns with very little delay.

I have a very murky memory of someone talking about an entrance to an underground space at the town hall. This may have fed in part to the story of Tamworth´s ley tunnel from the castle to church. Secret tunnel stories do  seem to usually have something tangible in their origins. Most towns have these stories and could be folk  ways of explaining long forgotten subterranean spaces like long ale cellars, medieval conduits,  and in some cases real genuine tunnels!

The mining areas and coal fields of Kettlebrook,Glasgote, amington, Polesworth.

I´m showing the above 1899 ordnance map taken from Staffordshire past  track(click here for the site)to show that this area was riddled with mining activity.The disused collieries and associated shafts are everywhere and it must be a swiss cheese of mines beneath the area! Most if not all are infilled , shafts tapped but is there an abandoned underworld of old machinery, shafts and tunnels beneath the extensive housing estates that will outlive what´s above?

Underground railways from the 1950´s at the now defunct Birch Coppice colliery taken from windows on Warwickshire shows an underground world created and worked in by the miners.

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