Guarding Home

Sat at the base of Castle hill in Huddersfield is an early 1940s Heavy Anti-Aircraft installation. Rumoured to have also contained a supposed POW camp, the emplacement would have housed two guns, probably 3.7` and would have been used to target high altitude bombers in WW2 heading to and from the cities of Leeds and Manchester. A few of these sites had a life after the war but this one has become part of the surrounding rural landscape. The two gun positions are directly in front of a formidable concrete bunker and have sloping concrete trenches that lead down to the ammo store. The ammo store is semi-sunken to protect it from blast damage, but has since meant that it has permanently flooded. Seventy years ago Hitler’s bombers were wreaking havoc on Britain’s cities with the Blitz. Huddersfield had several Home Guard units – and it was certainly no laughing matter for the men stuck out all night and in terrible weather manning gun batteries and guarding areas around Huddersfield. 

One Huddersfield woman believes the man in charge of the gun battery at Castle Hill had lost his wife and family killed in an air raid on the south coast and used to fire the gun every time a bomber went over. It caused shrapnel to all fall over the area. The woman whose family owned a fish and chip shop in the Newsome area during the war said: “One night we were ready to open our fish and chip shop. There was always a queue right to the corner, but the gun opened up and my dad said the customers would all go but when we opened the door not a soul had moved. “They were still in the queue, the shrapnel was falling and the only concession was the man from the end house had gone in and fetched his umbrella. Mr Wimpenny, they called him.” 

 Huddersfield Home Guard also had its own signals section. A command post was manned by the Royal Observer Corps at Castle Hill and after a German bomber was shot down maps found in the wreckage indicated that Castle Hill was used as a main navigation point for German bombers attacking northern England. Just about every village in Huddersfield was protected by its own home guard. Units from Huddersfield Sector of the Home Guard’s 25th and 26th West Riding Battalions were based all over the town including Hall Bower Chapel in Newsome and St Mary’s Sunday School in Outlane where patrols covered the bleak moors towards Manchester.  

Diary Entry

As this now crumbling yet brilliantly unique manor house spent some of its later years as a youth hostel, I thought I'd dig out a diary entry from one of its customers, dated 3rd February 1936. 'Found hostel, alone again. A most peculiar place this time. A great draughty barrack of a house, built in the sham-castle style – somebody’s Folly – about 1860. All but three or four of the rooms quite empty. Miles of echoing stone passages, no lighting except candles and only smoky little oil-stoves to cook on. Got out of bed so cold that I could not do up any buttons and had to go down and thaw my hands before I could dress. Left about 10.30 am. A marvelous morning. Earth frozen hard as iron, not a breath of wind and the sun shining brightly. Not a soul stirring. The lake had frozen over during the night. Wild ducks walking about disconsolately on the ice. The sun coming up and the light slanting along the ice the most wonderful red-gold colour I have ever seen.'

Tea Break

Inside the main room of the huge soda ash works in Winnington that produced this fine white powder for over 140 years. I originally thought this was some sort of control room, but I was wrong! As the entire factory was inevitably covered in its own product, leaving very few areas untouched for workers to use for their lunch breaks, a nearby solution was needed. Alas, the lunch-hut solved this issue, giving these grafters a place to grab a cuppa away from any chance of contamination. (Not to mention how easily soda ash could be mistaken for sugar..)

For Sale

One of the most unique places in the world.. the Snowdonia car mine.

Sold today to a happy customer!

These 14x11" mounted prints are now available for £40

The Car Caves

Some time during the 1970's hundreds of cars were somehow dumped into a slate mine in Snowdonia, for reasons yet unknown to all of those who have ventured here. At the time in which these cars were left behind, they were far from old enough to be scrapped. These are cars that are now considered serious classics; Ford Anglia's, Mini coopers, Cortina's, Escorts, Vauxhall Crestas, Victors and numerous others that were once iconic motors on the roads above. These caves were first found by enthusiast abseilers who were unaware of what they would find beneath - with the entrance to the redundant mine, having been unused for more than half a century, sitting at the opposite side of the underground cavern. The only source of light is a small gap above the cars that has grown smaller and smaller as rock slides and a build up of earth around the original opening have changed the landscape around the mine in the decades since these cars were left here. A 100ft descent welcomed us after wading through knee-high water in the flooded opening, but what met us at the bottom was nothing short of breath-taking. Another jewel in the heart of Wales uncovered, and one that will surely stay with us for a very long time.

Northern Monument #14

Ewloe Castle, built around 1257, is a relic of a brief triumph that the Welsh had over the English Crown in the mid 13th century. Until then, this part of north east Wales had been the starting point for repeated Norman invasions of Gwynedd for more than 150 years. The castle was built from local stone. Its design – such as the Welsh Keep – suggests it was conceived and built entirely by a Welsh workforce. Two decades after its construction, in July 1277 Edward I began the first Welsh War by marching his forces out of Chester and up the west coast of the Dee Estuary. Ewloe Castle is not mentioned in chronicles of the 1277 invasion suggesting the Welsh had abandoned the castle before the attack; retreating to stronger defensive positions. As Edward I's castles at Flint and Rhuddlan could be provisioned by sea, Ewloe was never used by the English military. By the late medieval period some 2 centuries later, the site was in ruins. Much of the castle's dressed stone work from its curtain walls and keep were carted away for reuse in later buildings. Despite having avoided its use as a defensive position, in essence, Ewloe castle still stands as a monument that represents a time before Wales was fully integrated into the empire, and the woodlands could still hide enemies at any given point in time. Something that's really quite hard to imagine in this day and age!

Blue Lagoon

Once a busy slate quarry up in the hills of Snowdonia. As more than a century has passed since its closure, decades of rainfall has caused a man-made lake to form that perfectly reflects the blue sky on a sunny day. Featured in the BBC's program 'Secret Britain' in 2016, it's now not quite as secret as it once was, and almost impossible to get a photo with nobody in the frame during peak seasons - but luckily I was patient enough and rewarded soon after with what was probably the warmest wild swim I've ever had in the UK. What I didn't realise, however was that nobody has ever been able to record the depth of the lake - according to a local, scientists have all broken their equipment trying to descend deep enough to get a reading. Given my fear of extremely deep water, I was pretty glad I only found that information out after I got out of the lake..

Burnley Empire

Designed & built during the late victorian era, this grand theatre was once held in high regard as a proud feature of this northern English town. Like many of its kind however, the timing of its construction fell at an unforseen point before two world wars, and the subsequent change of culture that led to the birth of modern cinema. Decades of catching up forced the venue to be reconstructed many times in an effort to broaden its intended design. Despite these attempts, it could no longer hold its own against newer multiplex cinemas, and as a last grasp at salvation its owners turned it into a bingo hall in the 1970's. If we've come to learn anything from our travels its that once you turn your cinema into a bingo hall, it's already the beginning of the end.. the building has now been disused since the mid 90's and this beautiful craftsmanship is now well and truly beyond any hope of repair.

Then & Now

1901-2018. `Gwalia` otherwise known as Sandfield Tower was built in 1851 for the wealthy American merchant Joseph Edwards who was making his fortune in part thanks to Liverpools booming docking industry. One of several 19th century villas in the Victorian residential estate to meet the same fate, it fell victim to the demise of the city when the docks fell quiet. The building has remained vacant, slowly rotting away since the 1980s with enforcement action against the building’s owners by the council dating back to 2004 still bearing no indication of its future, despite the city's new-found regeneration. Old photographs of the building are extremely rare, and its neglected gardens have slowly become surrounded by newer buildings over the last century, meaning it is unfortunately no longer possible to match the camera angle of the original photo without standing in someone else's back garden!

Nature Takes Over

Then & Now 1889-2018. Baron Hill - one of the most magical places I have ever visited. Acres of untouched nature now hides the clues to the hidden past of this 17th century manor that has been left behind for almost a hundred years. What once stood here was a pristine ornate garden; the shining glory of Anglesey Island.

75 Years In Memoriam

Today marks the anniversary of the notorious RAF dambusters raid on Germany in 1943, and the death of one of our local hero's (and close friend of my Grandfather's) John Wilkinson, the wireless operator in Vernon Byers’s aircraft the AJ-K Avro Lancaster. This was the third aircraft to take off on the night of 16 May, and the first to be lost. Off course, it crossed the Dutch coast at Texel Island, a well known flak position, and was shot down before reaching its target. The aircraft pictured that I photographed in 2009 are now some of the only examples left in the world that resemble those used by these men during the liberation of Europe, and what became known as the pioneering feat of Operation Chastise, a courageous effort by many that stunted the industrial growth of Nazi Germany and paved the way for eventual victory. I vividly remember his photo sitting ontop of my grandparents TV throughout my childhood, and in his home town just down the road from me they recently held a commemorative afternoon in honor of his memory.

Then & Now

1905 - 2018. Storthes Hall asylum, Kirkburton. Originally an 18th century Manor, the Hall was acquired by the West Riding society in 1904 as Yorkshires 'last asylum' due to overcrowding across the region in other institutes. The land surrounding the building was vastly extended, housing up to 3000 patients in its prime, and served for more than 8 decades until it closed in 1991 along with all other asylums in the country. The 20+ surrounding buildings were demolished due to asbestos contamination leaving the listed manor on its own again for almost 30 years, and after endless planning requests it is now under preparation for development as part of one of Europe's largest retirement villages. If all goes to plan, this building will find new life once again

Northern Monument #13

Ashurst Beacon, perhaps the most famous landmark of Skelmersdale at the top of Ashurst Hill, stands at 173m above sea level. One of a chain of Lancashire beacons which stretched from Liverpool to Lancaster Castle, it was built in the 16th Century by Sir William Ashurst as an early warning system against invaders during the glorious revolution. Today its chamber is locked shut but the monument still commands a magnificent view point over many counties and on a clear day visitors can see the mountains of Snowdonia, the Cheshire Plain, Blackpool Tower, the Lake District Mountains and the panorama of Liverpool and the River Mersey.

Then & Now

1903-2017. Bidston Observatory, built in 1866 when Liverpool observatory was forced to relocate due to the industrial expansion of the city. It became of huge important during the second World War when it predicted the tidal patterns for D-day, and the telescopes housed in the observatory were previously used to watch planetary bodies in order to calculate the exact time needed for nautical navigation, and was transferred to ships in the docks by the firing of the one o’clock gun. After almost 14 decades of pioneering astronomy the observatory was left unused and served as a derelict monument ontop of the hill for more than ten years. Luckily the building was saved and is currently under ownership with aims of becoming a fully functional dwelling.

1997-2016 : The Knightmare roller-coaster, Camelot Theme Park UK. One of the only rides not to be salvaged following the parks closure in 2012.

Portal

Steel Wool Experiemts - Attempting to bring life back to an abandoned victorian waterworks in an otherwise sleepy Leicestershire last year.

The ironic beetle graveyard

This anti-aircraft emplacement was built near the coast of North Wales during WW2 to target the luftwaffe after they flew over Liverpool during the blitz. In the years that followed the war, the concrete foundations became littered, somewhat ironically, with the iconic vehicle of Nazi Germany itself. VW beetles were restored and maintained on this site as part of a workshop until around a dozen were left to the elements when it closed some time ago.

The Seaborne Promise

The swallow tattoo. A symbol that originates from sailors in the Royal Navy and maritime industry who reflected their hope and promise of coming home safely. Over time, it became a tradition for men to show off their sailing experience, and duties performed for their country. My grandad had these on both hands from a young age, and so when I bumped into this well inked gent in a pub in Lancashire I felt the instant need to ask his story. He added that "legend also states that if a serviceman does not survive his travels, the birds alight upon his soul and carry him from the murky waters into heaven." Granted he had downed quite a few ales by this point, but the symbol still remains.

When you're 30 years late for your train.

Eden's Front Door

The entrance to a derelict manor in rural Cheshire that hasn't been used for over a decade since the owner passed away and left the estate to his daughter, who has yet to come up with any plans for what was once her childhood home.

Then & Now

1885-2017. Malsis Hall, built in 1866 as a family Manor, was converted into a prep school in 1920 where it served for almost a century. In 2014 its doors closed and the estate has now changed hands with Seddon construction due to ruin yet another proud peice of our heritage with over 100 lego houses by 2020. Plans have been announced that involve preserving the main hall as a residential care home, but seeing as the profit margin for such a plan is so small, we have to prepare for the worst yet again. Fingers and toes crossed whilst this one plays out .

1816-2017. The Wellington Rooms. Once the centre of the Liverpool social scene during the nineteenth century, it was built to host the Wellington club, a high society for assemblies, dance balls and parties for the city's upper-middle class. As the culture in the city changed, eventually the building fell into disrepair and it closed permanently in 1997. More recently known as 'The Irish centre' following its use as a hub for Irish social events in the 60s and 70s onwards, it has become a sentimental figure in the 'stop the rot' campaign, a movement that aims to save buildings such as this around the city from falling into complete disrepair before it's too late. For more info visit: https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/all-about/stop-the-rot

 1818-2018. (How a ruinous building looks after exactly 200 years of weather). Rocksavage Mansion, built in 1568, was one of the great Elizabethan 'prodigy' houses in England, and one of the biggest in the entire county. As it passed through generations of the Savage family, by the early 1700s it was abandoned and within decades became a crumbling ruin. The legacy of its name now remains merely in the naming of rocksavage power station, just half a mile along the river weaver. The entire plot is now used by grazing horses and no longer remains registered as an estate.