The industrial revolution has left many engineering marvels that are still with us and some still working. Anyone who has travelled on the canals will have come across the likes of the Anderton Lift or the remains of the Foxton Inclined Plane, a method of boat lift that did away with slow and cumbersome locks - the story is seen here:
The Foxton Inclined plane was a prototype for many similar examples, many of which are still in operation elsewhere in Europe, and modern versions of boatlifts using the same ballast principle are also working on the big canals in Belgium, for example.
On a more basic level I was taken by my uncle when visiting with my cousin to see the strange Trinity three-way bridge at Crowland in the Fens. Now stuck on a traffic island, it originally spanned the river Welland and a tributary that was later re-routed, leaving this very curious structure from the 1300s just, well, sitting there. It was an ingenious way of spanning the rivers and saved building three separate bridges and provided much joy to me as a child rushing up and down the different exits and entrances.
|Trinity Bridge, Crowland, Lincolnshire|
I have written before about some of these oddities but always as individual items.
Another is the almshouses in Clapton, east London that had the smallest (claimed) consecrated chapel in the country. Sadly the almshouses have now been sold off and turned into small houses, including the chapel. I lived nearby and this was always a place to stop and wonder at. No one I know ever got in to see the chapel which was a shame, but it was there. My great grandfather lived in the house the other side of the road behind the chapel, so I saw a lot of the place.
During the mid seventies/early eighties we lived in Essex not far from Billericay. It was brought to my attention that there was a rather special hospital out near the village of East Hanningfield: it was a leper hospital. Hard to believe that something like that would exist in the UK but there it was, a few miles up the road. The hospital itself was just a series of low buildings, many of the prefabricated variety. The hospital still functioned up to ‘86 and although there was nothing remarkable about the place it did have its sad side: there existed on the other side of the road its own graveyard. Its history was quite interesting.The second part of this account is the best description I have found of the place.
Severalls Hospital had a reputation for being haunted. As a mental institution it was a rather foreboding place on the outskirts of Colchester. Despite being a mental hospital it did have some general wards and other facilities, and for better or worse I was sent there by my GP for a review of something I have now forgotten. I had no idea what the primary purpose of the place was but later when it closed all was revealed. Later after many years of dereliction, part was demolished and housing built on the site but certainly until recently - and maybe still - it was a decaying memorial to another age, and became the haunted relic of old. Many photographers have found a way in and many photographs have been taken of the eerie place, as examples show here.
The last place of interest in one that I came across on the south coast near Brighton just a couple of years back. Pure chance meant that someone had told me of a well that was very deep in the area, there is little to see other than capped top but the history is very interesting. The Woodingdean Well is the deepest hand dug well in the world, a quite astonishing achievement: the six-foot-wide well finished up deeper than the height of the Empire state building. It is difficult to believe that humans could dig something like that, and all initially to save money and employ people at the local workhouse: no benefits without work, it was that simple. So old young men and women, all with candles for light, embarked on this amazing project. It didn’t have the desired effect of saving money but they carried on regardless.
|Woodingdean Well, Brighton and Hove, East Sussex|
|Depth and geological layers, Woodingdean Well|
But there was a difference: in the middle of his forehead on a suction cup he had a kitchen tap - I do not make it up - and as he appeared every morning on the platform he would shout the words “Everyone is on the tap!” a reference in cockney to the phrase "tapped up" i.e. wanting something, usually for nothing. I have never found out what he was about but there he was, as regular as clockwork, getting on the tube with his tap on his forehead. He must have been going somewhere, perhaps to work, who knows? He may have been a plumber. The mystery was never solved.
Ras Prince Monolulu was an institution from the thirties on, a racing tipster who would not only frequent the tracks with his cry “I Got an 'Orse!” but also attended Petticoat Lane market on Sunday mornings in full regalia and shouting his lines as in this video:
and here with Groucho Marx on "You Bet Your Life" (from 15:56 on):
They don’t make em like that anymore…………...