Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Donnington Castle

20th October 2018

Donnington Castle (the one with three Ns not the one with two) lies a short distance to the North of Newbury, Berkshire. This ruined medieval castle of which only the gatehouse still stands is in the care of English Heritage. A bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in October provided an excellent opportunity for my visit to explore and take some photos.

Entry is free as is the small car park at the end of a private lane just below the castle mound. It seems to be a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, or just enjoying the sunshine and the car park was about half full. Walk up the gravelled path to the castle between the Civil War earthworks to get close to the castle itself. There's no access inside but you can get all around the outside.

Donnington Castle was founded by Sir Richard Abberbury the Elder in 1386 and was bought by Thomas Chaucer then taken under royal control during the Tudor period. The castle was held by the royalist Sir John Boys during the First English Civil War and withstood an 18-month siege After the garrison eventually surrendered, Parliament voted to demolish the castle in 1646.

I bet the view from up there is good.

The castle gates, alas closed to the plebs.

Inner gates.

Unless you're taking a picnic, which I wasn't, you won't spend a huge amount of time at Donnington Castle but it does make a good starting point for a country ramble. There are good views from the castle and its surroundings.

Worth a trip for a quick explore.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Aldwych Station

13th October 2018

Hidden London Tour of Aldwych Tube Station

Aldwych station is at the end of a short branch line from Holborn on the Piccadilly Line. There has been no service on this branch since 30th September 1994 but it would be inaccurate to describe it as a disused station. It is still connected to the network and used for training emergency workers and as a film and TV location. The sign outside refers to it as a "non-operational station" which seems like a better description.

Public access is only usually available on one of the Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum.

The station opened in 1907 as Strand Station and was renamed in 1915 to Aldwych. At the same time nearby Charing Cross Strand station became just Strand.

The station was never heavily used and money was therefore always in short supply. In fact many parts of the station were never completed as the expenditure could not be justified. At the time of its closure in 1994 the branch was only being used by about 450 passengers a day.

It has however proved useful for other functions. In both world wars it was used as an air raid shelter and for storage of valuable national artworks. It was also useful for building mock-ups of proposed station designs, for staff training, and as a filming location - V for Vendetta, 28 Days Later, Sherlock, and Superman 4 amongst others.

For the tour we met up in outside the Surrey Street entrance and once the formalities were completed and we had our fetching pink wristbands (not hi-vis jerkins on this tour) we entered via the Strand entrance into the ticket hall.

The hall has original tiling though a more plain "economy" version of that found in other contemporary Leslie Green stations - economy being a recurring theme at Aldwych as it was realised from the outset that it would not be a busy station.

Down the spiral staircase 160 steps from ground to platform level (the equivalent of a 15 storey building) as the lifts are no longer working, again the original tiling still exists.

The eastern platform which wasn't normally used for trains has some of the original 1907 track, a lot of film set props, some station mock-up designs, and some interesting old posters.

Including this ironically topical one:

Bollocks to Brexit

Good to see someone has been upgrading the cabling to meet 2015 fire regs:

On the western platform there is a train used for training and filming purposes (and on the tour for an audio presentation about the station as an air raid shelter in WW2). 

Dark in here, isn't it?

Tube aficionados will note that this 1972 stock train would never actually been used on the Aldwych branch and in fact this one hails from the Northern Line according to the line diagrams inside the cars.

The tunnel entrance to the rest of the Underground network. Note the partial decoration, another economy measure as the original trains were only two cars long only half the platform length was fully finished, later trains being three cars some extra basic decoration was added.

This way to Holborn...

The lift cars. Three double-car shafts were built but only one was actually equipped with two cars. Also the entrance passages to the cars were never finished and passengers entered and exited via the exit passages - another money-saving measure.

The lift controls. In 1922 the ticket office was shut and ticket booths built into the lift cars so the lift operator could issue and collect tickets as well, reducing the number of station staff required.

End of the tour. This old sign shows that Aldwych was considered an interchange with Temple station a short walk away on the District Line though not shown as such on tube maps. Temple is about the nearest station to use if you're going on an Aldwych tour being at the other end of Surrey St.

The Surrey Street station building. The odd spacing of the "PICCADILLY RLY' lettering is because it originally said Piccadilly Tube but the Underground Electric Railways Ltd. who opened the line (as the Great Northern, Brompton and Piccadilly Railway) didn't like the use of the term tube so it was changed.

As always this Hidden London tour was well run, informative, and enjoyable. You need to get in quick as spaces are limited and tickets not cheap but you get to see parts of London that most people never see and it's worth doing. If you are an LTM Friend you get advance notice of tour dates and early access to the booking system.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Berkhamsted Castle

7th October 2018

Berkhamsted Castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Now a ruin in the care of English Heritage. Entry is free of charge.

The castle was built to obtain control of a key route between London and the Midlands during the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. 
Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror's half brother, was probably responsible for managing its construction, after which he became the castle's owner.  Subsequent kings granted the castle to their chancellors including later one Thomas Becket, now more usually associated with Canterbury.

The castle was substantially expanded in the mid-12th century, probably by Becket, who later came to a sticky end having misunderstood the relationship between the crown and the church.

The castle is conveniently located next to the railway station if you wanted to visit using public transport. Had the railway taken it's original planned route it would in fact have run straight through the castle site but the Act of Parliament of 1833 sanctioning the building of the London to Birmingham Railway specifically protected the castle making it the first building in the to receive statutory protection from development in this way.

Anyway, it's a nice place to wander about in the autumn sunshine with a camera and despite its urban location fairly peaceful, passing trains and noisy kids notwithstanding.