Then & Now

1894-2020. Woolton Convalescent Home, aka Liverpool Convalescent Institution. Built from the surplus of the city's fund for the relief of the cotton famine in 1862, and designed by Thomas Worthington. Its purpose was to house inmates recovering after treatment across Liverpool's many hospitals. In 1882, it carried about 120 beds with both women’s and men’s wards. It has strong sentimental ties to William Gladstone, Liverpool's proud statesman and prime minister in the late 1890's. The central section of apartments have wide staircases that give access to the "Gladstone Hall," which is of the same area as the dining-hall below, and was built with funds raised in Liverpool as a memorial to the ex- Premier. In later years it naturally became a care home, and surprise surprise was shut down a few years ago after being rated inadequate. Grade II listed, it stood derelict until recently, but under new ownership is now being renovated into a private and no doubt pricey retirement complex. It may not be the most glamorous of futures but it's a future nonetheless!

A new lease of life

Standing in isolation at the end of its raised grassy causeway, St Peulans church on Anglesey is said to have been founded by St Peulan himself in the 6th century. The current church dates from the 12th century and retains a rectangular Norman stone font of great significance. St Peulan’s was vested into the care of The friends of friendless churches in 2004, after it had been declared redundant. Saving it from a period of inevitable ruin, it now joins many lucky churches across Britain that are now in the hands of a charity that preserves their priceless heritage as we head further into an era that no longer requires places of worship in these isolated places. If you ever need to restore a little faith in humanity, divert your journey if you might be nearby one of these little places. ( and don't forget to pop something into the donations box! )

Northern Monument 31

Henry VIII, the original medieval Donald Trump, ordered the destruction of Britain's Catholic abbeys in the 1500's so he could womanise as he pleased. His demolition crews weren't always thorough, and rarely paid much attention to the hidden relics that surrounded the main buildings. In the woods above the ruins of Haughmond Abbey, a well house was built over the spring that supplied the Abbey's water. The sources of the abbey's water supply were on the hill to the east, and one was protected by this well house which still stands, and a complex system of channels and ponds brought water down the hillside and controlled its flow through the abbey buildings. The fact that it's survived so well just goes to show that Britain would still be boasting it's brilliant Abbeys to this day if it wasn't for that fat head-chopping lunatic.

St Catherine's Fort, South Wales

A remnant of ''The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom', established in 1859 in response to a perceived threat of invasion from France's Napoleon. Whom it was believed posed a danger of an amphibious landing in Pembrokeshire as part of a wider threat to the security of Britain. A chain of coastal artillery forts was designed, but ultimately only this fort at Tenby was constructed. The government compulsory purchased St Catherine's Island for construction, and undertook the mammoth task of lifting solid granite blocks onto the island to build the fortress. It was, however destined for alteration. The gun shields were finally installed in 1886, and in that year, a report to the Defence Committee described the 9 inch guns as "useless". It never saw military action, and by 1907 it had already been decommissioned and converted into a lavish private residence. Since then it has been re-garrisoned twice and used as an anti aircraft battery in both world wars, turned back into a private home, and converted into a fully fledged zoo, which left the fort derelict after its closure in the late 70's, prompting a lengthy wait until it was restored and opened to the public around five years ago. A colourful history to say the least.. 

Runcorn Outdoor Swimming Pool

Just kidding. No diving advised. It's actually brine, imported from Lostock in Northwich via pipelines established in the 1880s and stored in the Weston Brine Reservoirs on the site of the old quarries, to be channelled down to Weston point where it's used in the production of caustic soda and chlorine. The site resembles much of weston point in that it's functional but almost entirely void of aesthetic maintenance. A trademark of most relics that exist from the ICI era.

Then & Now 1910-2020

Errwood Hall, Goyt Valley. The original photograph was taken in the years during Mary Grimshawe-Gosselin's ownership of Errwood. When she died on 23rd February 1930, she was the last surviving descendant of the Grimshawe family. Plans for Stockport Corporation to compulsory purchase the estate to build the twin reservoirs were already well advanced, and the sale went through within a matter of weeks of Mary’s death. All items inside the italianate mansion were auctioned off, and the land beneath the hall flooded to generate water supply for nearby industrial towns. The crumbled remains of Errwood hall still stand above the valley today.

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.

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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!

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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.