Standing tall since the middle ages

The 1,000-year-old 'Allerton Oak' in Liverpool is one of the oldest in the country and unsurprisingly has a rich history to tell. Its spreading branches once formed a medieval courtroom long before Britain became the civilisation we know today. A long tradition has seen its leaves and acorns sent as a symbol of love for soldiers fighting at the frontlines of war. It now relies on metal supports to help keep its ancient branches upright, due to having lost much of its trunk at some point during the 19th century when it is said that a shock-wave from an exploding gunpowder ship on the River Mersey caused the tree to split straight down the middle. Despite having been given only a few years left to live around a decade ago, it still shows no signs of letting go and will probably see past us all.

Then & Now

1999 - 2017 St Gabriel's Convent / Knolle Park House, Woolton. Built as a private manor House in 1840 it eventually became home to an order of nuns as part of a catholic institute. Its last year's were scarred by allegations of abuse, and it was consequently forced to close around the time of the above photo due to it going public. After my visit I tried to contact the London House of the 'poor servants of the mother of God' where the order of nuns are based, but wasn't given any access to archive imagery or further insights to its past, so I chose not to put together an article on this one - not least because the photos themselves no longer do the building justice. (They've clearly chosen to forget this place, which has lead to several arson attacks and the entire interior to become trashed beyond recognition)

Nothern Monument 22

Whitby lighthouse (also known as Ellesmere Port lighthouse) at Whitby Locks in Cheshire on the southern side of the River Mersey. The main function of the light was to guide boats into the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal's dock complex from the river. The canal was designed and built by Thomas Telford the renowned canal and civil engineer in 1796, and the light was visible by boats up to 19 miles away as they came up the Mersey with the tide into the docks. It operated successfully until the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, reached Ellesmere Port in the same year which cut off the river from the port, meaning the lighthouse was made redundant overnight. The lighthouse and the Harbour Master's office is now a listed building and is fitted with artificial lighting as a testament to its past service.

Gaumont Theatre

This pre-war cinema in Liverpool was built at the start of a new era for the film industry. Seating a massive 1500 guests at a time it was the first in the country to use a revolutionary new 'modern' system that automatically changed film reels and controlled lighting systems between showings. Despite its cutting edge design, the industry moved on and multiplex cinemas with more than one screen left places like this with no choice but to close by the time the 60's came along. It has now been derelict for just over two decades after having hosted bingo events in its final years.

Then & Now

1796-2019. Moreton Corbet house. A 12th century medieval castle-turned stately home that was extensively damaged during the civil war in the 1600s as a result of Sir Vincent Corbet fighting for the king, in turn bringing the battle to his own estate. This watercolour was drawn in the last years before the manor was abandoned as a family home, and it soon became roofless and deteriorated into ruin. Although still owned by the Corbet family, it is now managed by English Heritage as a historical monument.

Northern Monument #21

Eglwys bach y mor ( Welsh for "the little church in the sea"). This 12th century monument holds a brilliant story of survival through the ages. A Jacobean map dated 1636 shows the church standing on the mainland of Anglesey, but with approaching roads battered by the coastal weather, it seems to be after that date that sea erosion of the boulder clay cliffs turned Cribinau into an island. By the 19th century, erosion was causing graves in the churchyard to fall into the sea, so a seawall was built around the island to protect the remaining graves and the church itself. Although now isolated it is still accessible at low tides when wanderers can find a donation box which helps the chapel to continue its fight against the sea and open for the occasional ceremony throughout the year.

Northern Monument #20

The 12th century Haughmond Abbey sits on the outskirts of Shropshire and been in a ruinous state since the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century. The chapter house is the only section that survived with its late medieval ceiling intact, so is likely to have been the only part of the Abbey that had remained in domestic use over the last 400 years. Amazingly after the English civil war the site was primarily used for farmland for more than two centuries until its excavation in 1907 which eventually led to it falling under the permanent care of English Heritage.

P.A.X

Latin for 'kiss of peace' can be found above the names on each of these forgotten crosses marking the graves of dozens of benedictine sisters who occupied the adjacent hall as a secluded place of worship for more than 60 years. This would once have been a burial ground, but the hall is now a private residence and these surrounding woodlands are forgotten, and the life these nuns chose meant that they now have no family to visit them. There are probably hundreds of similar places around Britain just like this where resting places go unnoticed until people like us stray from the beaten path.

Then & Now

1896-2018 Barmouth Viaduct, looking onwards towards Cader Idris. Constructed for the Welsh coast railway some 30 years before the photo was taken, the underwater ironwork became severely corroded not long after, and was extensively reinforced in 1902 whilst adding a swing bridge for passing vessels at the increasingly busy waterfront which explains its altered appearance between images. A flood culvert has replaced the railway arches in the foreground during its conversion from timber railway line to a modern, gravelled track that slightly alters the vantage point for photos but allows the bridge to remain operational to this day as part of the Cambrian coast rail link, allowing passengers to continue northwards towards Pwllheli.

Fruit Exchange

The Fruit Merchants Panel - one of the only sections here at Liverpool's hidden historic auction rooms to have power, this switch panel would illuminate the name of the merchant whose goods were on display for auction at any given time.

In the late 19th & early 20th century exotic fruit from across the Atlantic was reaching British shores, and Liverpool was the port by which it reached our tables. The likes of bananas & pineapples were a sign of wealth and culture, an exclusively elite delicacy that merchants would flock here in their hundreds in order to bid against each other for when the ships unloaded their stock. After all, having it in their stalls and markets to send across the country was worth paying for. The names on this panel were therefore amongst some of the richest in the city, and I'll be delving into their individual history in my article when I eventually get around to it. Until then, the lads at Urbandoned who I explored this brilliant place with have recently uploaded their video so head here to view it.

Striking Gold

No matter where in the country I might end up on my travels, one thing can be sure - you're never too far from one of these. In total 1,563 Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts (ROC posts for short) were commissioned, manufactured and submerged 14ft below ground in strategic points all across the British Isles during the cold war era between the early 50's to the early 90's. In the event of a nuclear attack, they would collectively monitor the country safely hidden from the surface.

When stumbling upon one one of these unassuming sites, the same layout comprises of a protruding access shaft, and two air vents covered by downward-sloping louvres above ground which lead to sliding metal shutters below ground to control air flow during contamination by radioactive fallout. They would usually contain bunk-beds and a desk to host up to four personnel at a time, and had basic electrical supply but no plumbing systems. Luckily they were of course never forced into full service, and today most posts lie derelict and abandoned.

As the landscapes have changed around them in the years following the cold war, many that I have found now sit within the boundaries of golf courses, farmers fields, nature reserves and water-fronts. Approximately half of those built have been demolished, either on stand-down by the ROC or by private owners in subsequent years. Most landowners tightly seal them to avoid vandalism, but sometimes you strike gold and find one that's open for you to have a climb inside to see what's left behind. Unfortunately a trend has emerged over the years whereby youths set fire to them causing total destruction below ground, so some can just be a charred carcass inside.

Whilst it'd require a lot of effort to remove them entirely, some no longer exist at all on ground level and you can often find yourself wondering if you're in the correct spot to begin with. It can be a risk setting out to visit them for this very reason, as there's usually around a 75% chance that it's either been locked up or demolished. So far I've visited around half a dozen that are still intact and worth photographing. The sheer over-engineered construction of these bunkers means that, provided nobody has sought their destruction, they remain in fantastic condition having braved the elements remarkably well. The steel doors have a spring-latch system that more often than not opens as smoothly as the day they were installed, and I've yet to come across one with ladders that I wouldn't trust to use. Even in the worst of conditions they were clearly made to last. I imagine that this will be one of the most long-term documentary projects for me, as i doubt anyone has ever travelled to every single one that's survived the test of time.

This blog post is a preview of a handful of the treasures I've seen so far whilst visiting these hidden time capsules. Eventually I'll get around to posting an in-depth look at some of the best posts I've seen. You can also find information on how to visit preserved examples across the UK here.

The Danny

I had the pleasure of being given a tour around the Daniel Adamson over the weekend by the gents volunteering on the project. The last surviving steam-powered tug to be built on the Mersey, believed to be the oldest, operational Mersey-built ship anywhere in the world. Currently moored at sutton weaver during off peak season.

Shown below, the first photograph is mine, taken inside the newly restored cabin, the black & white photo shows it during its prime in the mid 1900's - note how accurately it has been restored, even down to the same patterned fabric on the carpets and chairs. Final photograph shows how bad a state it was in before the heritage lottery fund kickstarted the project in 2015.

Finally, below the deck the controls, engine and mechanics have all being painstakingly restored to original working order. Only a fraction of what's here has been modernised, meaning that she runs essentially in the exact same was as she did when she first left the shipyard in 1903.

For more information on the Danny and her journey from beginning to end, visit https://www.thedanny.co.uk/unique-story

Northern Momument #19

Northern Monument #19. The Coronation Tower of Edward VII. A former lookout tower on Wales' most northerly point, making it the northern-most structure in the entire country. Built by a local sea captain to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, it is said that the captain used the tower during his retirement to watch the ships go by, earning it the local title of ‘the summer-house’. It’s easy to see why this particular point was chosen; as it shares the same vantage point as the iron-age hillfort on Dinas Gynfor that came before it. From here you have stunning uninterrupted views of the Skerries, Middle Mouse, East Mouse, Point Lynas and on a clear day across to the Isle of Man, 70km to the north. It has stood the test of time having braved 117 years of coastal winds, and whilst it may be a testament to one man’s crafting skills, its foundations now lie mostly in ruin, with the interior of the structure comprising mostly of rubble and cracked masonry. Sadly this may be the least likely structure in the project so far to remain standing beyond another generation.

Then & Now

1959 - 2019. The long-abandoned Barrow for Tarvin train station that once linked passengers on the Manchester Central & Chester Northgate line until it closed in 1953 due to being quote: 'unremunerative'. The above image is the only archive photograph that matches this angle and was taken six years after its closure. (Original viewpoint is now obscured by trees). In the late 60's the west-bound line was removed and the track became a single bi-directional line on which infrequent trains still operate between Chester & Manchester today.

Ancient Panorama

It's easy to forget some of the wonderful places you've visited until you start to sieve through your archive and uncover the photos waiting to be found. The sun was blinding on this day in Mallorca but that allowed me to shoot some landscapes hand-held which is almost unthinkable in the UK. Taken from inside Capdepera fortress, a 1700 year old castle constructed by the Romans and eventually rebuilt in the fourteenth century on the remains of a Muslim village. Fast forward to the present day and the view from up here is still almost entirely unchanged.

Then & Now

1974-2018. Plas Mawr, formerly known as Cwrt y Ceidrim, is a substantial 16th century storeyed house that sits beneath the rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. After falling into severe ruin over the last 100 years, in 2002 it was recorded as being derelict but awaiting restoration, which was delayed indefinitely due to planning disputes. Fast forward to the present day and seemingly out of nowhere this wonderful property was revealed from the scaffolding after being carefully restored from dereliction over the last decade. It sold on the market in the second half of last year. How anyone could put so much time and effort into restoring such a place and not then live in it is beyond me!

Time Capsule

I've visited some real time capsules in my time, but this one ticks almost every box imaginable. Fabric was produced at this mill as far as back as the late 17th century, and was once the driving force behind the local community producing the highest quality tweed. Its protection from the outside world is thanks in part to the flowing water that prevents it from being easily accessed - only by using fallen trees as a walkway can you get to see the treasures up-close.

History Preserved

In July last year I took the journey 12ft underneath the city to visit one of the most unique and under-appreciated wartime air raid shelters in the UK. This was no ordinary bomb shelter - reinforced with thick concrete and spanning about ten times longer than the average design, this was perhaps one of the safest places in the whole city. More than a dozen entrances lined up adjacent to a large building where thousands of people were working towards the war effort. In the event of a bombing raid they would rush underground and see it through, often for hours at a time. Amongst them we now know was a talented individual who decided to pass time by drawing those around him using only a stick of black charcoal. All entrances were heavily sealed following the war, and the artwork forgotten for seven decades before one of the entrances was uncovered. This was both a blessing and a curse - whilst I felt extremely privileged to have seen inside this place, I was far too aware of how delicate this artwork was. It would simply wipe off on your hand if you tried, and all it would take is one bad-egg of a person to destroy them forever. I didn't post anything about my explore or share it online whilst I knew it was still accessible as I didn't want to draw any attention, but I've now seen that the single entrance has been sealed and hopefully in the future somehow it can be preserved for future generations to see and appreciate.

Dotted Relics

This village chapel like hundreds scattered across rural Wales now lies crumbling at the road side having not held a congregation for many decades. For centuries these little buildings were one of few places for secluded families to get together, and they would often host the only local phone and post boxes for several miles. It wasn't until religious culture started to diminish across the country in the early 20th century that there was no longer many congregations to serve, and as Wales became a more widely connected population the smaller chapels were the first to be abandoned as the community attended larger churches in the closest towns. I love finding new ones whenever I visit - no one chapel is ever the same as the last but they're almost always in surprisingly good condition given how long they've been left without any kind of maintenance.

Northern Monument #18

Northern Monument #18 – Basingwerk Abbey. Founded in 1132 by Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester, who had recently brought Benedictine monks from Savigny Abbey in southern Normandy. The abbey became part of the Cistercian Order in 1147 as a daughter house of Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire. Monks remained here for more than four centuries and passed through various patronage at Basingwerk until 1536, when abbey life came to an end with the dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. It’s sole purpose as a protected ruin is now to mark the starting point of the North Wales Pilgrims Way.