History hidden 100ft below

What to do on your photo day off when its raining? head underground where the rain can't stop you! Little bit of history on this one - the only evidence that this cavern exists is an 18" hole in the middle of some dense woodland near Skelmersdale. It's one of the only (unofficially) accessible mines in the Lancashire region, and was part of a large scale sandstone quarry that ran mining operations here throughout the 1800's. The army last used it during the second world war as an ammo storage facility, and were responsible for installing the infamous 'jenga' towers to prevent the ceiling from caving in. 80 years later and they still serve their purpose, but nature evidently won't be held back forever, with multiple rockslides appearing every year. The houses that have since been built on the land above have no way of knowing how long the land will continue to be steady for.. The silence here is probably the most daunting yet mesmerising thing apart from the sheer scale and total darkness. The only sound is the occasional drop of water that falls from the rocks into the crystal clear pool that's formed on the west side of the cavern. If you ever need to get away from the world, this is the place to be.

Man & Machine

Inside the ISOL-SRS Magnet (In non-laymans terms: Isotope mass Separator On Line – Beam Storage Ring Spectrometer) which started life as a reclaimed superconducting magnet from an old MRI scanner at Brisbane hospital in the UK. Image shows the final stages of preparation before installation at the radioactive beam accelerator at CERN in Switzerland. Its purpose is to study short-lived radioactive nuclei in order to help scientists to understand how the elements from iron to uranium were created through precision studies of the reactions and properties of unstable nuclei across the vast range of masses and isotopes, which remains to be one of the most intriguing scientific questions of the 21st century. More groundbreaking work on behalf of The University of Liverpool and STFC Daresbury Laboratory.

Point of Ayr

Northern Monument #11: The Point of Ayr Lighthouse, also known as the Talacre Lighthouse, is a grade II listed building situated on the north coast of Wales. Built in 1777 by the recorder and aldermen of Chester to warn ships entering from the Irish Sea heading between the Dee and the Mersey Estuary on the far left side of the Wirral. The lighthouse once displayed two lights - the main beam, at 63 feet, shone seaward towards Llandudno. A secondary beam shone up the River Dee, towards the hamlet of Dawpool, in Cheshire, on the English side of the estuary. Whilst in service, the lighthouse was painted with red and white stripes, and had a red lantern housing, which in recent years has been repainted to match its former identity. The lighthouse eventually fell into disuse and was decommissioned in 1884, having been replaced by a lightship that anchored further out at sea. It has since passed through several phases of private ownership, and slowly deteriorated ever since. In March 2007, the lighthouse was heavily damaged by storms which resulted in the metal steps leading to the building becoming dislocated and a hole appearing in the base. Local myth has surrounded the lighthouse for centuries; often reported is the sighting of a person dressed in old fashioned worth clothes standing on the balcony of the lighthouse itself, with reports of footprints in the sand leading to the building. Psychics visiting the site on separate occasions reported making contact with a spirit called Raymond who was once a lighthouse keeper here before he died of a fever in mysterious circumstances.

A Dying Pastime

British garden centres are surely safe from abandonment. With our weather and flourishing green landscape, there's always demand for horticultural goods and garden gnomes! right? wrong. Along with the rising number of people choosing to live in inner city apartments and suburban terraces, even the top tier of properties built across the country now have half as much surrounding land as they did fifty years ago. New homeowners and young professionals simply no longer aspire to building their own piece of eden.

Ship Shaped

At the peak of its maritime history (when more boats were coming in and out of this city than anywhere else in the world) Liverpool witnessed a unique trend of iconic 'ship-shaped' pubs, built in the shape of the bow of a cruise liner as a unique way to utilise the corners of the city streets leading to the river Mersey where men would return home from the docks or from a spell of work out at sea. Almost all of them were self sufficient, and Ale was brewed from start to finish in the cellars below, with ingredients delivered directly by cart to hatches on the street above. Ship bells would ring at last orders, and the chimneys would be painted to replicate the red funnels similar to the world-class Cunard liners that the city had become renowned for across the world. Only one of these pubs, (The Baltic Fleet) still functions in this way and can be found just beyond the Albert dock on the waterfront. The rest have almost all been demolished after the decline of the docks in the late victorian era. Some, such as the Masonic Arms on Lodge Lane, still await their uncertain fate whilst serving as yet another reminder of the city's eternal link to the sea.


Spotting the irony in a slogan that represents the exact reason this factory was forced to shut down - the cheap, rushed, low quality manufacture of its foreign imported rivals. Despite having the highest standard of quality manufacture in the world across dozens of industries that were pioneered here across the centuries, the UK's once world-leading manufacturing sector has shrunk by two-thirds in the past 30 years. It was done in the name of economic modernisation, in favour of a quick turnover rather than product longevity and skilled trade. From what we can see on the ground, all that's left behind are crumbling relics and the profits of overseas corporations. Queen Victoria would not have been amused..!

The Pride Of Dunkirk

My great grandfather, Harold Cotterill photographed in the crews quarters of the A-class Royal Navy destroyer Hms Codrington in 1939 (Image 1: holding pack of cards) before embarking on a series of missions that were crucial to the events that occurred during the evacuation of France and the deliverance of the British Expeditionary force. Before the idea of operation dynamo was even conceived, Codrington transported king george VI to France and back in December to meet with the French Admiralty (image 2). One month later she embarked Winston Churchill on a visit to France at a time when Paris was still safely in allied hands. In February, she was nominated as the flotilla leader of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. This responsibility meant that on the 5th February, she was called upon to carry the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and several high-ranking military leaders to Boulogne for a war council meeting in the capital to discuss the potential threat of defeat at the hands of the Germans. As the Dutch surrender came into effect in May, Codrington began patrolling off the Dutch and Belgian coasts where she embarked members of the Dutch Royal Family at IJmuiden and carried them to safety in the UK where they remained hidden from the grasp of the Nazis for the remainder of the war. With Churchill now taking over the premiership back home, and the call to evacuate the entire British army now in full effect, the ship and her crew worked relentlessly over the grueling five days of operation dynamo, docking at the heavily bombarded Mole on the devastated French beach day after day, ending with her fifth and final trip across the channel on 2nd June having saved 3749 lives in the process (image 3). After gaining a heroic reputation at Dunkirk, whilst managing to return home as one of the only destroyers to successfully avoid Germans attacks, Codrington covered the subsequent evacuations of French Ports into Dover over the next month until the port came under attack on 27fh July, sinking the destroyer at the harbor. Miraculously, due to it being a non-direct hit there was no loss of life and the entire ship either managed to bail into the water or drop life boats into the shallows of the harbor, a result hailed as a triumph of spirit by the navy, including my Great Grandfather who recollected wading in the thick oil that flooded the waters as the ship began to sink. To protect public morale, Churchill ordered the loss of the navy's pride destroyer to be kept under wraps until five years later, when victory in Europe was just months away. Whilst the evacuation of Dunkirk was undeniably a crippling military defeat, without the deliverance of the British army back to home shores, the liberation of Europe that followed simply would not have been possible. To know that my Great Grandfather not only brought to safety some of the most important and influential figures of the free world before helping to save so many lives made watching Christopher Nolan's new movie all the more amazing, and proud to realise and witness such an important part of my family history. Harold Cotterill, a mere engine stoker, and his 184 shipmates on board, each and every one a hero.

Then & Now

1860-2017. Bank Hall, a Jacobean mansion in Bretherton, Lancashire built on the site of an older house in 1608 by the Banastres who were lords of the manor. Just 62 years later the family name came to end when Christopher Banastre left the estate to his two daughters upon his death in 1670. From then on the hall was extended during the 18th and 19th centuries by several families who came to live here, until the contents were auctioned in 1861 and the hall used as a holiday home and later leased to tenants. During the Second World War the Royal Engineers used it as a control centre, after which the estate was returned to the Lilfords whose offices moved to the east wing of the house until 1972 when the house was vacated. Bank Hall has slowly fallen into decline ever since, having been victim of just about every form of damage under the sun. In 2003 it was the first building to be featured in the BBC's Restoration television series, and it has relied heavily on volunteer efforts to keep it standing. The admirable action group 'Urban Splash' have plans to restore the house as apartments retaining the gardens, entrance hall and clock tower for public access, but the sheer complexity of the project has kept its progress extremely slow. However, it's fantastic to know that after sitting dormant for so long, Bank Hall will not only be restored to its former glory, but that it will in parts be open for everyone to enjoy and appreciate once the work is complete.

Bidston Tower Mill

Northern Monument #10: Sitting on one of the highest points on the Wirral peninsula, this brick built tower mill replaced a wooden 'peg' mill destroyed by fire in 1793, and was used to grind corn into flour for 75 years up until 1875. Although access was difficult for a horse and cart laden with sacks of grain or flour the top of the hill was the ideal place to catch the wind, as the Wirral is surrounded by water, it has served as a vital windtrap for centuries and was once decorated with dozens of windmills, all taking full advantage of the winds for agricultural use . In fact, it is believed that there has been a windmill on this site since 1596. With the introduction of steam powered mills, windmills felt into disuse and during the 1890's after being put out of action, instead of being demolished like almost all of the others in the region, Bidston Hill was restored and has stood as a monument ever since.

To Infinity

Gazing out into the Irish Sea and beyond - the difference in light pollution between open water and the distant glow of the rural west coast of Wales. In the distance, Llanbedr Airbase, the RAF station once left abandoned, is now preparing for development into Europe's first ever spaceport. Suddenly the stars don't seem so far away!

Churchill's Secrets

This was one of the designated houses Winston Churchill used to stay overnight under lock-and-key when visiting the North West of England during the war. The owner kept his personal photographs a secret until he finally sold the property to the city's university in the late 90's. After serving as student accommodation for a short while the building has remained disused whilst it waits for renovation and a new purpose. Despite enough time having passed, it's history has still remained largely unknown and I wasn't aware myself until one of the contractors on site gave me a brief walk-through of its past. I now know of atleast three of these unassuming secret wartime locations - possible future project in the works!

Then & Now

1872 – 2017. The Sankey Canal, built onto the Mersey flats by Henry Berry who was Liverpool's Second Dock Engineer. The canal was built to bring coal down to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool from towns further inland along the Mersey, without having to work around the strict tides of the river. Young boys were paid by the coal companies to guide horses as they pulled the boats along the water and were led via the towpath on the bank of the canal, often up to 30 miles at a time. This was a tradition carried forward from as early as the mid 1700’s. At this time when the canal was first completed it spread back along the line to St Helens, Warrington and Widnes, which were relatively small villages until this period. Many historians credit the Sankey canal with the growth of the entire region by putting these towns onto the industrial map and linking them to the ports and factories at either end of the line. ​Whilst the canal was built originally primarily to take coal down to the Mersey and Liverpool, once the mines in St Helens started to close down the final traffic on the Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction – bringing raw sugar from Liverpool to Earlestown in the late 19th century. The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to full closure of the canal in 1963, allowing nature to reclaim it as its own. The immediate commercial success of the Sankey Canal instigated the so-called ‘canal-building mania’ across the country during the industrial revolution and it became a direct influence to the construction of the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals that are still in use today.

Layers of Years

The smell of stale air, decades worth of dust seeping through the fabric of the seats, sweat-lined windows and the creaking sound of an over-worn gearstick. This coach obviously saw one too many school trips before reaching it's end..

Last Men Standing

The forest of Dean coalfield, whilst being one of the smaller mining areas of Britain when the industry was still widespread, is now one of the only places in the country where freeminers still continue to travel beneath the surface in these disused tunnels. Mining here almost entirely closed in the 1960's, and by the time the government closed the pits in the UK permanently in the late 80's, a landscape sculpted by the industry here became completely silent. Half the men who lived in the forest of dean had to find new career paths. A few years ago, we had the chance to meet a retired miner who still spent the majority of his time either in or around the pits, and knew the complex tunnels better than anyone else. Only a handful of mines in the Dean are even still accessible, and once these sentimental men are gone, it's unlikely anyone will ever set foot here again.

The Mersey Sisters

The Twin Bridges that span the river Mersey estuary between the towns of Widnes and Runcorn in Cheshire, UK. On the left, the Runcorn Bridge, otherwise known as the Silver Jubilee Bridge has stood alone as the only means of crossing the water by foot or car since 1961. Later this year the bridge will close for maintenance and the new Mersey Gateway bridge, seen on the right,  will open as a means of relieving the severe congestion issues as more than 80 thousand cars currently cross the river at this location each day.

anglesey barracks

History hidden within the mountains - Lying in the shadow of the gigantic disused Dinorwic slate Quarry which was mined for slate as far back as the late 18th century. Over 3000 men worked in the industry this side of the valley at its peak. Aside from local workers, those from further afield in Anglesey required to lodge or barrack at the quarry, spending the entire working week up in the hills before returning home to family for the weekend. The barracks were built using the slate from the quarry itself, and consist of two identical blocks of 11 units facing each other across an unmade street. Each unit had a living room with a fireplace and a bedroom with space for four men. Amenities were few - no electricity, soft mattresses, toilets or running water, just basic furniture and little else. Windows were provided only onto the street. This way of life survived until 1948 when an unannounced visit by the local Public Health Inspector saw the barracks condemned as unfit for human habitation. The industry here quite literally fueled the entire region, and hailed as the second largest opencast producer in Wales with an annual production of over 100,000 tonnes of what was highly regarded as the world's finest slate. The Great depression kick-started the end of the slate industry in Wales as new mining technology and foreign import took over, leaving the quarry and the buildings used by the miners to sit eerily dormant within the mountains now for almost fifty years.

A metaphor for a broken faith

The smashed church window, a metaphor for a broken faith - There are now more disused or converted churches in the UK than active ones. Whilst the population grows, the number of Christian born children drops by 10,000 every week. If that rate of decline continues, the congregational practise of Christianity will come to an end in 2067. That is the year in which the Christians who have inherited the faith of their British ancestors will become statistically invisible. Parish churches everywhere will have been adapted for secular use, demolished or abandoned. By 2020, worship of other major religions will overtake Christianity for the first time in well over a millennia. In other words, we can all look forward to many more decades of appreciating some of this country's finest architecture after the inhabitants of these buildings are inevitably forced to leave them behind.


St Helens Sacred Heart Presbytery, the heart of the parish formed out of what was a town centre school problem in 1850, where the development of industry in the town had led to a population explosion and a growing population meant an increase in child numbers. The presbytery, aka clergy house, was the home of the catholic priests of the diocese that preached in the sacred heart church next door that was sadly demolished in 2004. Despite plans to knock both buildings down, the project was mysteriously never completed and the presbytery left to endure a further 12 years of dereliction before being torn down earlier this year. The site will now undoubtedly remain a disused pile of rubble for many more years to come, as any signs of true architecture are slowly but surely wiped from the region.