Then & Now 1900-2019

Soldier’s Point House. Built for Charles Rigby in 1849, government contractor for the infamous Holyhead breakwater’s construction. He was an Anglesey magistrate and commanded the 2nd Anglesey Artillery Volunteers. In 1918 the house’s next owner Lieut AF Pearson was charged with hoarding food including rice, jam and sugar. The charges were dropped after he explained that wounded soldiers were treated to tea at the house every Sunday. Despite only being built in a castellated style, due to its seafront position part of the building was reinforced during the 2nd World War to form a defensive 'pillbox', with narrow openings for gunfire. Its most recent use was as a hotel, but sadly after closure the building was damaged by fire in 2012 and the future of the remains hang in question despite being listed.

Northern Monument #30

Shepherds Monument, Staffordshire. Built in 1748, it is not the oldest but is perhaps the most mysterious in the series to date. Below a mirror image of Nicolas Poussin's painting of the Shepherds of Arcadi, the letters O U O S V A V V, between the letters D M are carved on the 18th-century monument. It has never been satisfactorily explained, and remains to be one of the world's top uncracked cyphertexts. Reference was made to the monument in the pseudohistorical book 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail', which inspired Dan Brown's infamous Da Vinci Code. In 2004 a project was founded where a group of former members of the top secret wartime Bletchley Park code breakers attempted to decode the connection between the monument and the holy grail. Despite the fact that organisers had their own favoured theories, no conclusive answer ever emerged, and the cyphertext remains a total mystery.

Darwin's Boulders

Charles Darwin visited Cwm Idwal in 1831, and observed that the large scattered boulders at Llyn Idwal lake contained marine seashells. He realised that the rocks must have formed within an ancient ocean, and therefore had been later uplifted to the surface by forces within the Earth’s crust. He later found that the landscape of Cwm Idwal was shaped by glaciers, at a time when Wales was far colder than it is today, more than 10,000 years ago.

Wheels of heritage

There are few places in England where you'll find a better example of our early industrial connection with the land around us than the millstones of the peak district. Seen hidden amongst the grass and bracken for miles around, they typically date from the 18th and 19th Century and were once widely used for grinding grains into flour, designed for use in the water, wind and steam mills of the north at places like Hawarden corn mill. Carved from millstone grit rock by quarrymen directly beneath the cliffs such as these here at stanage edge, on average they span around 2 metres, and can weigh nearly 4 tonnes, which makes the task of getting them down from such a remote location onto transport and across the country even more astounding. When traditional milling in Britain began to die down following the industrial revolution, many of the millstones in production were dumped as they were on the vast open landscape, beneath cliffs or along tracks as if dropped en route to their destination. With no reason to carry on through lack of demand, many have been left for more than a century as a constant reminder of the intimate connection we once had with the landscape here. They'll likely remain that way for centuries to come.

Then & Now 1900-2020.

Tuebrook house. Built in 1615, it is the oldest dated house in Liverpool. The home originally served as a farmhouse owned by John Mercer, a yeoman farmer. The house later became the home of Mr. Fletcher, a wheelwright during the Victorian period. Its last owners had plans to open the property up to the public but sadly these plans never succeeded. Today, the house is council owned so it is hoped the plans may eventually come to fruition. Some parts of the building have retained the original wattle and daub construction, which can be seen through glass panels, and the original priest hide remains in the chimney breast between two of the bedrooms.

Northern Monument #29

South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey island recently marked its 21st decade of operation, having warned passing ships of the rocks below since its completion in 1809. The main light is visible to passing vessels on the Irish sea for 24 miles, and was designed to allow safe passage for ships on the treacherous Dublin–Holyhead–Liverpool sea route, acting as the first beacon along the northern coast of Wales for east-bound ships to England. It was designed by Daniel Alexander, surveyor to Trinity House aka the mothership of Britain's lighthouses in London, which now controls South Stack remotely via the wonders of modern technology from 278 miles away.

All fur coat and no knickers

The entrance lobby to the managerial offices of a derelict insurance building in Greater Manchester. This street-level section was built to a grand spec in the late 1880's, with ornate Victorian tiling and glass installations no doubt designed to give the impression of a professional company. Clients would enter the lobby and be greeted by this ornate fireplace before entering the branch managers office decorated in a similar design, but what people would rarely see behind the scenes was the rest of the building where the real work took place. An asbestos-lined maze of nothing special at all.

Northern Monument #28

Hadrian's Arch, constructed in 1765 as a copy of the arch in Athens to commemorate Admiral Anson, who is noted for his circumnavigation of the globe and his role in overseeing the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War. For 255 years it has stood on the hill overlooking the entrance to Shugborough Hall, the home of the Anson family, Earls of Lichfield in Staffordshire. Upon returning from long stints at sea as a Royal Naval Officer, George Anson would obsessively decorate the hall and grounds with collected artefacts and commission replicas of the wonders he had found across the world. Above the arch is an additional structure with busts of the Admiral and his wife flanking a central naval trophy by famous London sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In the spandrels of the arch are naval medallions displayed as a symbol of Anson's voyages.

Then & Now

1834-2020 Windleshaw Abbey, St Helens. Possibly one of my favourite comparisons so far, because despite being an engraving from before the era of photography, the viewpoint remains almost entirely unaltered after nearly two centuries. Also known as the 'Chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury', it was founded as a chantry by Sir Thomas Gerard in 1415.

The Swiss Bridge

Built in 1847 as a footbridge over part of the east lake at Birkenhead Park, which was designed as an idealised version of the English country, as many local residents had left the countryside in order to find work in Birkenhead, Liverpool and the Wirral. Upon opening it was the first public park in the world, and became a major influence on the layout of other parks in Britain as well as being the design basis for Central Park in New York. The second photograph shows the bridge in its derelict state in 2005 before achieving its most recent restoration.

Deceptive Ruins

The jungle-like ruins of a deceptive cottage & mill tower near the far north coast of Wales that's a totally different building from two angles. It was part of an estate built in the early 1800's, and in those days having free flowing water come through your land wasn't an opportunity to let pass by (no pun intended..) If you look closely you can see a handful of culverts where the water from the brook was directed through several routes to serve the mill and to provide fresh water. For just over a century the large estate served the adjacent hall, the road to which leads across the top two storeys of the building. This small section was used as a cottage, so on first impressions it's quite a small building until you realise there's two storey's hidden beneath the road. These lower storey's functioned as a saw mill, and if you think that's strange, the building is actually listed on a late 19th century map as a 'Kennel' so in its post-mill years it would've been overrun presumably with hunting dogs.. talk about multipurpose! Amazingly it appears that the tower had found use as a dwelling even in its final years with a bathroom and semi-modern touches added to the cottage interior, presumably after the hall's estate shrank and the out-buildings found new owners. I imagine the novelty wore off quite quickly though as there was no signs of electricity to the building!

Fountains Abbey

Built in North Yorkshire in the early 12th century, Fountains Abbey very quickly grew into one of the largest and wealthiest abbeys in England as a 'mother house' for further monasteries in the north and into Scotland. As unlikely as it may sound, a large part of that wealth was based on sheep; surrounded by vast grazing fields and mills, Fountains was known for its wool, and trading in that wool brought enormous wealth to the abbey over the entire medieval period. A large amount of that wealth was put into enlarging the abbey buildings and enriching the architecture.

The fruits of that wealth can be seen today in the rich decoration of the abbey ruins, particularly the vaulting of the undercroft which in its prime would've showcased Fountains as the most important Cistercian house in England. It has survived remarkably well following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century which, like all abbeys in England, saw the upper levels mostly brought into ruin by the Kings order. I have also documented the many out-buildings linked to the operation of the Abbey and will share their history soon.

VE Day

Then & Now. A little added touch to a couple of my old photos to illustrate the memory of 8th May 1945 on its 75th anniversary. Happy VE day to every free person in Europe!

Northern Monument 27

The memorial tower aka 'Crich Stand'. Completed in 1923, at first glance it resembles a lighthouse looking out to sea, which is most likely deliberate, as the large plaques on either side dedicate the tower to the memory of the soldiers from the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiments who have died in action since World War I. The stand is held very dear by local communities, which was evident on my visit when I caught a glimpse of the monthly ex-servicemen's lunch held here throughout the year. In its early years it looked over the workers of the regions renowned quarrys, mills and factories that employed many who had returned from war. Despite most now having closed, it can still be seen from almost any point in the surrounding area and people have been coming here for decades to pay their respects - the iron railings at the base of the tower were even spared the fate of most decorative castings during WWII which were usually melted down for the war effort.

Norton Sandstone Quarry

Norton sandstone quarry - perhaps the oldest quarry in Runcorn. Quarried stone was used here in much of the construction of parts of Norton Priory in the 1300's. It's last use was probably in the 1800's when it would've contributed to some extent in the building of Norton water tower, but even by then it was listed on maps as the 'old quarry' and would have been left to the elements in the decades before the priory's estate began to diminish. It lies to the base of a small hill at the south east of Norton priory estate known as Windmill hill, so was often referred to locally by the same name.

The House Of Moreton

The heritage of many British villages often comes to be defined through the centuries by the house of one particular family. None more so than at Moreton Corbet in Shropshire, England. Here at St Bartholomew Chapel, the nave and chancel originated in the late Norman period, and there is infact a list of rectors of this church unbroken since the year 1300, proving that christians have been worshipping here for more than 700 years. To think I have visited churches to have lasted just a fraction of that time that are now merely crumbled and overgrown ruins makes the achievement of keeping this place so ornate even more impressive. Much of its preservation has been down to its continued links to the Corbet family of the surrounding estate, with chest tombs of members of the family still dominating much of the interior. Over more than six centuries their power and wealth was inflicted upon the chapel in the form of extravagantly personal interior donations and upgrades. A shining golden canopy above the central stained glass window of St Bartholomew himself boasts a canopy of heraldic shields, and in the 1700's a squire's pew" was added - this three-sided room off the south aisle had a fireplace to keep the grandees warm, with cushions and curtains which they could pull across so that they wouldn't have to gaze upon/smell the commoners of the village - typical of behaviour within the classes of rural religious communities for many centuries. Extravagance such as this has resulted in an interior that would rival that of any surviving example around the world, no doubt earning its prestigious Grade I listing as a scheduled monument, becoming something of a museum for a family who still own the castle that defines the landscape of this village despite standing in ruin since since the 18th century. This small but brilliantly preserved corner of the country is a true example of the very best of English Heritage's work and why it's so important to support their efforts through the generations.

Crescent Row

At this rate, this could become the first of many 'local' then & now's as we all continue to adhere to lockdown rules. Luckily for me, I live in an area absolutely steeped in history and I'll be the first to admit to having overlooked much of it in recent years. Crescent Row, Runcorn Old Town. Original photo presumed around 1890. This is the only one to survive of three rows of dwellings built by the 1st Duke of Bridgewater for workers on his groundbreaking canal at a time when it passed by here under the Waterloo & railway bridges towards top locks eventually reaching the river Mersey. It seems as though the row once housed several families all linked to the keeping of the infamous ten lock flight, but now exists as just two homes. The owner of the furthest from the camera tells me how he is the third generation to live there, and how much change it has witnessed in the town centre through the years.

Dinorwic Upper Levels

The cutting shed at Dinorwic slate quarry in North West Wales. Probably the best surviving example of its time, the equipment has been left to the forces of nature on the higher levels of the quarry for half a century since this mammoth site closed. Slabs the size of men would be transported here by the quarry's own railway to be split into thin segments by hand before being trimmed by rows of circular saws. Put into batches, it would be sent down to the lower levels and transported across the country ready for use, at a time when it was still recognised as the most durable roofing material in the world before cheaper alternatives entered the market. Work here only ever stopped for lack of daylight, and the men were paid very little despite the dangers of their work. It truly is one of the most fascinating places to walk through

Then & Now

1877-2018. Plas Gwynfryn, North Wales. Once a grand country home, the building was also a wartime hospital, an orphanage and a hotel throughout its history. Sitting within extensive parkland, it has now been derelict since 1982 but efforts to restore the building have stopped and started ever since. Concerned that the full set of 40 original drawings (see 2nd & 3rd photos) which date from 1875 when the house was rebuilt, could've been split up and lost unless they were purchased, led to a promising outlook in 2018 when a local property developer we met on site made it their goal to retrieve the drawings and take on the mammoth task of restoration. However, with the last owner believed to be abroad unable to be traced, and the drawings seemingly impossible to retrieve in their entirety, the task of gaining planning permission became nigh on impossible. The project was no longer feasible and the property was back on the market as of last year. Bad luck just seems to surround this mysterious place.. during the early 1980s, while under its last hopeful redevelopment, the house mysteriously caught fire and was gutted. Superstitious people might say that it simply doesn't want to be saved, but while there's walls, there's hope.

Isolation

As the country grinds to a halt, sadly this hobby has to take a step back for now, but every cloud has a silver lining - maybe now I'll finally be able to work through my archive which is now more than two years behind. For so long now, my spare time has been spent documenting these wonderful forgotten places around the UK. So much so that I've travelled far more often than I've sat down to edit. There are so many locations with history and stories that I have never shown and photographs even I have forgotten about just waiting to be uncovered. Isolation provides the perfect opportunity to finally show them to you - perhaps now at a time when all of Britain is unseen, this website might find a new purpose in reminding us what lies silent in our absence. Stay safe. Stay home, and watch this space.

Image: Barmouth Beach, Gwynedd