Northern Monument #33

Castell Dinas Brân, a truly ancient corner of Britain. Roughly translated as the "crow's fortress" or "fortress of Brân", it has occupied this steep hill in the Vale of Llangollen since at least the Iron Age and possibly as far back as the 9th century. The early fortifications have largely been obliterated by a medieval castle built in the mid-thirteenth century by Gruffudd Maelor, who inherited the land and built the castle most likely in the place of a Royal Palace or Hall that preceded it.

Gruffudd Maelor died not long after the construction in 1269 and the castle passed to his son of the same name. He supported the Welsh cause during the First War of Welsh Independence. Dinas Bran's power did not go unnoticed by English forces. In 1277, during Edward I's venture into Wales, the Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, besieged the castle. The Welsh lord of Dinas Bran was forced to submit to the invading army, which promptly set the site afire, completely destroying it.

Though De Lacy exclaimed to the King that here was no greater castle in England nor Wales, Edward was not impressed and it was never restored. The hill was fortified on occasion by both kingdoms during small scale conflicts, but all accounts from the centuries that followed tell tales of travelers noting its ruinous state upon the hill serving merely as a viewpoint across the valley, with one of Henry VIII's chroniclers claiming that the only living being willing to inhabit the castle ruins was the eagle who returned each year to breed. The king would come to pass Acts of Union in 1707 extending English laws and norms into Wales. This was the first major political union in what would become the United Kingdom, and signalled the end of the need for defensive castles and fortifications across the Isles.

The poet William Wordsworth would eventually visit Dinas Brân, perfectly putting it into words;

"Relics of kings, wreck of forgotten wars, To the winds abandoned and the prying stars."

Dutton Sluice

Demonstrating the best of British: Dutton Sluice, built as part of the Weaver Navigation Improvement of 1874. Red and cream sandstone from the Cheshire quarries of Runcorn. Cast iron sluice-gates from foundry's in Paisley Scotland, blown glass lanterns from St helens, and segmental iron arches and walkways from iron works in Ellesmere Port. A culmination of efforts to control the flow of a once-natural waterway, with the goal being to allow seaworthy ships to transport valuable salt minerals from Northwich in Cheshire to Liverpool in Lancashire. Those men involved won't have known it at time, but they were operating at the peak of British industrialisation. An era that would continue beyond the Victorians only to eventually be irreversibly stopped in its tracks by the Great War.

Castell Beaumaris

Inside one of the north turrets of Beaumaris castle, an unfinished 'concentric' symmetrical fort that dates way back to 1295 when its construction began as part of Edward I's campaign to conquer north Wales. He was hell-bent on conquering - so much so that he got distracted and started to invade Scotland and never managed to finish building it. Despite never fulfilling its original design, it's location overlooking the eastern entrance of the Menai Strait meant that it continued to hold significant strategic purpose, and it passed through the hands of the English and the Welsh many times over the centuries until peace finally came and it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986.

Greenfield Mill

Melin Maes Glas (Greenfield Mill) established in 1776, known locally as the battery works. It was the business of Thomas Williams of Anglesey, dubbed as the 'copper king' who sent copper ore from his mines on the island to Ravenhead in St helens to be smelted, and in ingot form to Greenfield to be worked into goods under the heavy tilting battery hammers. The wheel pits are still visible where the waterwheels turned to move the hammers and left marks on the brickwork. He patented a process to produce copper bolts for ships hulls, and built a rolling mill for the production of copper rollers for printing onto cloth and to produce thin sheets of copper. At its peak this became a huge operation, extending into a brass foundry and battery mill, until by the early 1800's supplies of cheap ore from Anglesey were becoming depleted and the ships and barges using the River Dee to traverse the north coast of Wales found it increasingly hard to supply Greenfield Wharf due to changes in the shipping channel. It eventually closed in 1847 and found several industrial uses as small scale metalworks for the next century before becoming a coal yard and eventually falling into the hands of the local council in the 1970's who have since preserved it as a site of valuable local heritage.

Then & Now

1906-2021 Runcorn Carnegie Library.

The library at Egerton Street was constructed in 1906 with money donated by the Scottish-American businessman and public benefactor, Andrew Carnegie. Runcorn's first free library was opened in 1882. It is believed that it was originally located in Waterloo House. Following the donation from Carnegie in 1906 the present purpose-built library was built on a plot adjacent to Waterloo House to the rear and the original external wall of the house subsequently became an internal wall. The Carnegie Library was designed by James Wilding, surveyor and water engineer to the Runcorn Urban District Council. It remained Runcorn's central library until 9 November 1981 when a new library was opened at Runcorn Shopping City and the Carnegie Library became a branch library, closing for good in2012 when Runcorn Library was moved to the former market hall on Granville Street. The only use the library has seen in the past decade has been as temporary housing for residents in between homes, forming dormitory-type accommodation in what was once the reading booths, which has been largely kept from the public eye. The current state of the building inside following this period of use is unknown. The library is a listed monument, and although protected by this status, as of 2019 the Carnegie Library is under threat of partial demolition due to the heavy decline of the adjacent Waterloo House, although it is worth noting that the structure visible in this image is not at risk of being lost.

The Scottish Christmas Crane Truck

A 1967 Lambert Engineering Hibernian Hydrocon Crane Truck. Originally in yellow, the layers of paint tell just a few of the stories that this one must have gained through the years. Once a staple name across the British locomotive industry, the Glasweigan company was defunct by 1987 and only rusting remains such as this one can now be found littered across the country. Hydrocons were a great success for the post war rebuilding of Britain, and were extremely popular on building sites for the erection of steel work. Many of the growing crane hire companies had fleets of Hydrocons, replacing manual ex military lattice jib cranes from Coles Cranes and others.

The company was originally an engineering firm owned by Jack Lambert who sold it to George Jesner who designed the Hydrocon brand of crane, starting with a staff of one in 1949. The name was an amalgam of HYDRaulic CONstruction with an 'O' added in the middle. They remained undoubtedly Scottish in design, with the circular raised panels on the cab boasting a full colour transfer logo of a Highlander, complete with kilt and claymore, and the cab interiors trimmed in a red tartan. It was the first crane to be operated by just hydraulic drive rather than the mechanical clutch and break system previously used, and became the first user of fibreglass in the UK for cabs and the first crane to carry its own jib sections. Another innovative Hydrocon feature was that the operators cabin could tilt back to allow the operator sight of the end of the jib.

Although giving off slight 'texas chainsaw massacre' vibes at the roadside, what with it's rusty axe and suspicious containers of god knows what in the cabin, this is one of the last few left in Britain, used by a farmer to erect his locally infamous 'christmas star'. The crane not only allows the star to appear to float in the night sky during winter, but it also makes it high enough for him to extend the power cable above the trees to his farm! It's probably the most use this one will ever see, but if you ever fancy seeing one in action, apparently they're still common sight in Malta, probably left over and repurposed from ex-military use when the British forces left in the late 1970's.

Then & Now

1950-2021 Fron Lift Bridge, Froncysyllte Llangollen. This one hurt my head as I couldn't for the life of me work out the perspective of the original image, as the counter-weight lift seemed an entirely different shape, until I realised it had been rebuilt in steel around 1990, having previously been timber since the early 1800's, when it was the terminus of the Lllangollen Branch of the Shropshire Canal whilst the ten year construction of the adjacent Pontcysyllte aqueduct took place. The lift allowed small traffic access to dwellings and industrial facilities on the opposite bank. It still provides the same function to this day, some 200 years later - one person must jump off the boat in order to wind the mechanism up and down letting another steer the boat through the open gate before chasing it down and jumping back onboard to continue the journey either to or from Llangollen.

Then & Now

Then & Now 2016-2020. Cheshire county constabulary, Oakmere. Built in 1892. Originally containing a courthouse, police station and rows of cells. Closed down in 1987, it had been derelict longer than I had been alive. For three years it sat in the middle of a new build housing site crumbling away as a reminder of the more isolated community that once existed here. To my surprise when passing i had to do a double take before realising it had been extensively refurbished into five dwellings. Turns out, it was part of the deal of the sale of the land. I do love it when developers are forced to use their skills for restoration. There won't be anything left of it inside, but this is a better fate for the building than most.

Recycling Heritage

Built in 1834 using local stone under a pitched slate roof, this church in Greater Manchester once served a bustling industrial town at a time when christian congregation was still at the forefront of English communities. The architect was Lewis Vulliamy, of the famous clock-making family, who used a simple Gothic ‘preaching box’ design with an eight bay nave and three sided gallery. Fast forward nearly two centuries, however and the architecture may have survived but the social landscape has vastly changed. Congregations across towns like this barely fill seats on what used to be fully attended services. The result is that despite its listed status and architectural merit, growing maintenance costs of more than a quarter of a million pounds has inevitably led to the Church of England putting it up for sale, along with several dozen former places of worship across the country in order to fight back against the accruement of debt as it looks to survive into the modern era. 

Unfortunately it is unlikely that much of its brilliant interior craftsmanship will survive, as in december 2020 proposals were submitted to be appropriated for residential use alongside hundreds of churches across Britain that are now finding new life as homes, apartments, offices, bars and shops. Despite the fact that the governments Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme provides a VAT exemption for the church to maintain its 12,500 listed buildings, its focus has now turned to protecting its wealth instead, with riches wearing thin as outgoings now reach 90% of its $1 billion annual endowments. As it draws closer to becoming nothing more than a registered business, in the not so distant future, all that will be left of a once-dominant faith will be perhaps its most valuable contribution of all - its architectural heritage. With a need to be recycled in order to survive, witnessing these buildings in their original state intended for worship may become an extreme rarity in our lifetime.

Northern Monument #32

Leasowe Lighthouse on the Wirral Peninsula near Mockbeggar Wharf, built in 1763 to guide shipping safely to the Port of Liverpool through the treacherous route into the River Mersey known as 'rock channel'. Originally coal-fired before being changed to oil burning, with eight Argand lamps and reflectors, it is the oldest brick built lighthouse in the UK. Eventually the line of approach taken by ships had altered due to shifting sandbanks so the lighthouse became obsolete and was closed in 1908, with BIdston lighthouse further inland carrying on duties for a further 5 years. The lighthouse was also a home, and the last keeper was a Mrs. Williams, the only known female lighthouse keeper of the period. After its closure she kept the lighthouse open as a tearoom during the summer months until she died in 1935 and the building was closed. It has been disused ever since, and now remains as a monument on the northernmost edge of the peninsula, having had a brief period of restoration to prevent it from crumbling due to the harsh weather of the Irish sea.

The loop reborn

The two crossings at Sutton weaver, between them marks the very south eastern edge of Halton borough. Since 1732 this stretch of the river weaver has been man-made, and was constructed as part of the weaver navigation to quickly allow passing trade from the east to reach Weston docks in Runcorn, where it could enter the mersey en route to Liverpool, or continue to Weston canal, and eventually to the Bridgewater canal en route to Manchester. This continuous loop sadly ended when the top locks in dukesfield were abandoned in 1966. Despite the Weston canal no longer existing, the ship canal still provides the route, and should the unlock runcorn project come to fruition, this loop would be revived once again.

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The Cut

During the post-medieval period numerous industries grew around the port of Frodsham including a salt works which was established in the late seventeenth century. However, a bill was passed in 1721, known as the Weaver Navigation Act, to enable the river to be navigable further inland toward the town. This was due to pressure from traders and manufacturers as the movement of goods from Frodsham port by packhorse inland was proving to be costly. By 1732 the Weaver was made fully navigable, but it was not until 1780 that Frodsham Lock and Cut were constructed as improvements to the navigation. The Wharf and its facilities encouraged more industry after the construction of the Weaver Navigation in the early eighteenth century.

Frodsham Cut was built in the late eighteenth century as an improvement to the existing natural rivers route saving time by 'cutting' through the marsh hence the name, and creating a docking point of sorts closer to Frodsham. The lock was necessary as the river was tidal prior to the building of the Manchester ship canal where it now begins at Weston Point rather than at the Mersey, but by the early nineteenth century the cut itself had been by-passed by the Weaver Canal to the north, which was much wider and could facilitate larger vessels. The lock slowly fell out of use as the occasional local traffic also began to prioritise the newer and quicker navigation route to the north. The sluice gate was therefore added in 1908 shortly after the above photo, presumed to be around 1900. Its purpose was to maintain the level of the cut and in turn the canal in the absence of regular use of the lock, and it still remains in unattended use silently allowing water to pass through. Since the lock closed, the entire southern route of the weaver that runs closer to Frodsham has been unnavigable, with the large sluice gates joining the northern route at Sutton having no locks for passing vessels meaning the western side of the cut remains a dead-end. The lock keepers cottages seen in the 1900 image were therefore demolished in due course. The lock may be heavily derelict, but it remains as one of the oldest canal locks in Britain, and together with the weir gained listed status in 1980 to protect their history from removal.

Then & Now

1950-2019. The Littlewoods printing room, Liverpool. Shown in the years immediately following WW2 when its huge halls were used to accommodate the production of aircraft during the war, when giant presses were brought in to print millions of pools coupons across the UK. Here in the printing room, pools coupons and literature were printed 'in house' by littlewoods and sent out by post. Up to 16 million per week were returned to check for the winners, until it was overtaken in popularity by the National Lottery and closed in 2003. A couple of years ago a fire ravaged through much of the building, but plans are still in place to restore this colossal building into a media centre to serve the fast-growing film industry in the city.

Cheshire Mill

An 18th century Cheshire corn mill, disused but one of only a few that survive here from an era when there was more than 150 dotted around the county's landscape. Its many rivers, brookes and canals having provided pre-industrial power for what was predominantly an agricultural region for many centuries, making them even more common than petrol stations today. Whilst the natural flow of water was once to our benefit, as we speak this winter the waterways, many of which have now been altered to accommodate the expansion of new towns, have been flooding across the north after having to deal with several months rain in the space of 2 days.

Then & Now

1905-2020. Solomons temple, standing on the site where Buxton's extensive lime quarrying first began in the 1600's. Kilns were once spread here all over Grin Low Hill, leaving spoil heaps of waste material that permanently shaped the land. The tower is sentimentally named locally after Solomon Mycock, who in the early 19th century built the original tower. By the late 1800's the hill had been exhausted of materials and the quarry abandoned for decades. Only a few stones remained of the tower, so the community came together to have it completely reconstructed, finishing in 1896. Over time it became a popular beauty spot, with views from the top to Mam Tor, Rushup Edge, Corbar Hill, Corbar Cross and in the opposite direction to Axe Edge. What I love so much about this view is how little has changed in 115 years - you could almost pretend no time had passed at all. The white plaque reading CPRC inside the tower was installed to indicate the presence of The campaign to protect rural england, established in 1926.

Scout Tunnel

Scout tunnel's south portal. Built in the late 1700's for the Huddersfield narrow canal, which fully opened in 1811, enabling coal to be brought in to fuel the mills which were now steam-powered. The 615 foot Scout Tunnel had to be cut through sturdy gritstone and shales, meaning the majority of the tunnel is bare rock but for two openings. Nowadays the tow-path gains far more use than the canal, and as the name would suggest, doesn't give much room for social distancing once you reach half way and bump into a stranger in the dark.The name Scout comes from the old norse ‘skœti’ meaning overhanging rock, and the narrow gorge which the tunnel was carved through met these scout rocks looming over the River Tame below.

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..