Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Lakeshore Renaissance

I once assumed that, to experience a tiny, timeless paradise, where friendly, unhurried locals speak an incomprehensible language, an Englishman must necessarily travel across water. Not necessarily true; as I was happy to discover, a couple of days ago.

Llanuwchlynn – I dare you to attempt to pronounce it – is a small, quaint Welsh village (pop. 837). Had it not been for the construction of the Great Western Railway in the 1860s, it might have been condemned to eternal obscurity. A century later, though, the railway line was axed, thanks to the government’s infamous Beeching Report, but the local population refused to accept what many British people believed – rightly, in my view – was a monumentally short-sighted decision.

The village lies at the southern tip of the roughly rectangular Bala Lake, which is 3.7 miles (6.0 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide. It is an area of breath-taking natural beauty; and, naturally, the local population refused to accept the destructive diktat from central government, which decreed that their railway be taken from them.

In 1972, the tireless efforts of a local railway engineer called George Barnes came to fruition. The Bala Lake Railway opened, by means of a new, narrow-gauge track, a mile-and-a-half along the eastern lakeshore from Llanuwchlynn. By 1976, the line had been extended as far as the outskirts of the town of Bala (pop. 1,974), and a tourism renaissance was underway.

We set out from Llanuwchlynn at midday. The railway runs close to the water’s edge, in places no more than a few metres (Figure 109.1). Hauled by the refurbished 1903-built Maid Marian steam engine, the train’s carriages have open sides. It would be possible to hear the lapping water, were it not for the sound of the engine wheels and puffing steam. Partway along the line lies the semi-isolated hamlet of Llangower. Today, it is a haven for camping and water sports enthusiasts. Multicoloured kayaks, canoes and single-hander sailboats move smoothly on the lake surface. Across the water, on the western shore, there is what looks like a Scout Camp, with clusters of different-sized tents and two off-road vehicles with trailers parked in tree shade next to a pebbly shore.

Figure 109.1: View of Bala Lake from the train

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

The journey to Bala takes twenty-five minutes. From the station, it is a fifteen-minute walk into the town centre, which consists of a spinal main road packed with thriving cafés and small shops (Figure 109.2). All the pavement terraces are busy. Most of the townsfolk converse in Welsh. At one end of town lies the northern extremity of the lake. At the other, a grey-stone, four-arch road bridge spans the emerging river. The clear water is shallow around the bridge’s triangular cutwaters. Wading to the opposite bank would be a simple enough venture.

Figure 109.2: A statue of Thomas Edward Ellis (1859-99), a prominent Welsh nationalist politician, and son of Bala, takes pride of place on the town’s main thoroughfare.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

The last train of the day leaves for Llanuwchlynn at 4:30 p.m. En route, the Llangower campers and daytrippers show no signs of packing up. A few wet-suited youngsters are attempting to flip a capsized kayak (Figure 109.3). Dinghies sail nonchalantly into the watery distance (Figure 109.4).

Figure 109.3: The view from Llangower

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

 Figure 109.4: Late afternoon on the lake

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Back at base, the woman from the station shop wishes us well as we alight and depart (Figure 109.5). I say thank you in Welsh – diolch yn fawr – and she smiles and nods her head in return.

Figure 109.5: The Bala Lake Railway Trust has recently submitted ambitious, and fully-costed, plans to extend the line into the centre of town.

Copyright © 2017 Bala Lake Railway

I would not say that time stands still in Llanuwchlynn, but there is, thankfully, no rush.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Time Travel To Trent Bridge


‘Cricket … was more than play; it was a worship in the summer sun.’

Those are the words of Edmund Blunden (1886-1974) (Figure 108.1), one of England’s greatest war poets, an Oxford professor, six times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His book Cricket Country (Figure 108.2), written long after his playing days had ended, is a testament to his yearning to turn back time, to cricket matches gone but never forgotten, memories of which fade against one’s will, and blissful summer days which can never be recast. I wish I could have met the celebrated professor, preferably beside a cricket field and sharing a decent bottle of wine. His cricket recollections, coloured with humour and honest optimism, would have captivated me for sure.

Figure 108.1: Christ’s Hospital School XI. Edmund Blunden is seated on the left, in front of the umpire.

Copyright © 1914 The Edmund Blunden Library Estate

Figure 108.2: Edmund Blunden’s Cricket Country (1944) is, in my view, one of the most evocative and beautifully-written books describing any subject. ‘They vanish, these immortal players, and we suddenly realize with astonishment that years have passed since we heard passing mention of them. At one point, they seem as much a part of the permanent scheme of things as the sun which glows upon their faces and attitudes and the grass which makes the background for their portrait, and then, bless us, it is time for even them to go.’

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Today, I shall do what Blunden longed to do: travel back in time to revisit a childhood memory.

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Trent Bridge is one of the world’s loveliest cricket grounds. Home to Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, it has staged international ‘Test’ matches since 1899 (Figure 108.3). In that time, the ground’s appearance has changed profoundly, but its replacement architecture has, unlike at many other venues, never disrespected the original aesthetic. Evolution has, sensibly, triumphed over revolution. This makes my attempt at time travel just about possible.

Figure 108.3: Trent Bridge in 1890

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Forty years ago, almost to the day, England played Australia in the Third ‘Ashes’ Test of the summer. It is one of the most famous contests ever to grace Trent Bridge. I followed every ball bowled, mostly via the BBC, on television and on radio’s iconic Test Match Special programme, as an eleven-year-old with Blunden-esque devotion.

A pivotal incident, which took place on the second day, remains a talking point among cricket-lovers old enough to remember it – and, also, those too young, but who have studied the video footage online.

As I sit with my two sons in the newest section of the ground, the farthest corner looks more or less as it did when I was a boy (Figure 108.4).

Figure 108.4: The ground, as it would have appeared in 1977.

Copyright © 1998 John Sutton

Visualizing that immortal tableau, I can imagine the rest.

It is 1977 – Friday, 29th July. Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson runs to the wicket at the Radcliffe Road End, to my left. He bowls, from wide of the crease, a 90-mph delivery angling in at the body of England’s opening batsman, Geoff Boycott. Boycott plays the ball solidly, in orthodox fashion, back along the pitch and sets off for a run. Thomson is alert. He leaps across the pitch and attempts to field the ball with his right hand. His momentum is too great. He fumbles the ball and stops in his tracks. Thomson then turns 180 degrees and this time successfully picks it up. Boycott, however, keeps running. Derek Randall, the non-striking batsman, dare not leave his ground, as it would be easy for Thomson, with ball in hand, to run him out. As Boycott completes the run, Thomson, with a clever flick of his right hand, tosses the ball in the direction of wicket-keeper Rod Marsh. Randall, stranded, is left with no choice but to race the ball over 22 yards. Thomson’s throw is sharp and accurate. Marsh collects and demolishes the wicket (Figure 108.5). Randall, well short, knows he is run out – beaten by a combination of Boycott’s hasty judgement and Thomson’s quick thinking. It all happens in less than ten seconds. I glance at the old scoreboard: England are in trouble at 52 for 3. I have just relived history, in real time, forty years on.

Figure 108.5: One of the most infamous run outs in cricket history

Copyright © 1977 Getty Images

I explain the controversial event to my boys. They pose the usual questions. Why did Boycott even set off? Did he call for a run? Was there a fieldsman at mid-on? Why did Randall hesitate? Whose fault was it? Did England’s innings recover?

Having run out Randall – a Nottinghamshire player and local hero – Boycott made amends by scoring a watchful century and England a creditable 364. By the following Monday, England’s victory was complete, the winning runs scored by none other than Boycott and Randall in their second innings. Boycott had batted on all five days of the match, only the second player ever to have done so. The match also witnessed the Test debut of a raw 21-year-old, and fellow Wirralian, Ian Botham.

Trent Bridge has been renovated extensively since the glory days of Boycott, Randall and Botham. A £7.2-million cricket centre and new stand, situated at the Radcliffe Road End, was opened, by another Notts alumnus, the legendary West Indian, Sir Garfield Sobers, in the summer of 1998 (Figure 108.6). Four years later, a new £1.9-million Fox Road Stand was opened, by Ian Botham, and won the prestigious Civic Trust Award for its innovative design. The new Bridgford Road Stand, where we currently await this evening’s Twenty20 match between Notts and Worcestershire, opened in 2008.

Figure 108.6: The Trent Bridge Cricket Centre can be seen on this aerial photograph on the top right side of the ground.

Copyright © 2017 Experience Nottinghamshire

*     *     *     *     *

Beneath a clear blue, late afternoon sky, wisps of cirrus cloud are now drifting eastward from over my left shoulder, across the wide expanse of green, high above the new scoreboard, beyond Fox Road and along the meandering course of the River Trent.

The Notts faithful, male and female, young and old, soak up both the sunshine and the English summer game in its latest embodiment. An elderly gentleman, wearing sensible navy-blue trousers and a crazy, bright-yellow hat, walks past, carrying a pint of beer in each hand. My elder son remarks about field-placings, batsmen’s strokes and bowlers’ run-ups and actions. His younger brother bashes me over the head with an inflatable bat every time the ball reaches the boundary. He hits me harder still whenever a wicket falls. I watch the play and, at the end of each over, scan the panorama from left to right and back again, seeing action from cherished matches played long ago. The unique charm of Trent Bridge remains sublimely intact.

Worcestershire score an impressive 208 for 8 (Figure 108.7). The sun descends behind the Radcliffe Road Stand. Six magnificent new floodlights compensate for the dimming of the evening light. Notts make a valiant attempt to chase victory, England international Alex Hales striking a rapid 63, but they fall, thirteen runs short, at 9:16 p.m.

Figure 108.7: In addition to the new Fox Road Stand (pictured right), a hi-tech scoreboard has replaced the famous old one (pictured in Figure 108.4), in front of the same T-shaped office block.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

The three of us leave the ground, cross the bridge and walk back, under the bright city lights, to our hotel in Nottingham’s historic Lace Market.

As Blunden himself once reflected: ‘The game which made me write at all, is not terminated at the boundary, but is reflected beyond, is echoed and varied out there among the gardens and the barns, the dells and the thickets, and belongs to some wider field.’

It really does – in both space and time.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Paradise Preserved ... I Hope

Back in the 1960s, two of my grandfather’s sisters emigrated from Britain to Ibiza. Neither ever married, yet I know that both could have taken their pick of a number of educated, well-to-do gentlemen. The younger sister even had a perfume made, in Paris, just for her, by an especially romantic (and enormously wealthy) Frenchman, whose marriage proposal she ultimately turned down. They were classy ladies, to say the least, and lived in Ibiza until they died, in 1977 and 1980 respectively. My only memento is a well-preserved picture postcard, which they sent to me from San Antonio in 1970. It bears a photograph of a vintage motor car, the type in which they were probably accustomed to being chauffeured around the island.

If either could visit Ibiza today, and witness what has become of its ‘nightlife’ (Figure 107.1), I am sure they would be privately disgusted. It has morphed into un lío of drunks, druggies and dickheads, revelling in limitless sea, sun and STDs. Decent, hard-working Ibizans have, for years now, been confronted with a ghastly choice: if they want revenue, in the form of tourists’ cash, then they have little choice but to tolerate the squalor created seemingly by animals released from cages.

Figure 107.1: Ibiza, off its face and in everyone else’s

Copyright © 2014

Brits, especially, have a lousy reputation in Southern Europe. Loud, aggressive, ape-like creatures, who cannot cope with even a moderate amount of alcohol, stain the landscape from noon till the small hours – and those are just the ‘ladies’. In the morning, the Ibizans shake their heads, peg their noses and clean up the detritus, in preparation for a repeat performance of pathetic, shameless exhibitionism hours later.

I ought to add: youngsters have a right to enjoy themselves, go crazy even. The libertarian’s code, however, suggests that when the peace, rights and well-being of others are infringed, the partying should stop. I have some incredible memories of near-nihilistic nights in Bangkok and Tokyo in the early 1990s, but never were they either inconsiderate or antisocial. To every right, there must be an equal and opposite responsibility.

Approximately 1,300 miles (2,100 km) northeast of Ibiza lies the ‘Ibiza’ that my great aunts would have known and adored. It is the Croatian island of Hvar. This island paradise lies a few miles off the Adriatic coast and is accessible by ferry. (I took the one from Split to Stari Grad; the trip lasts a couple of hours.)

The port town of Hvar is situated on the south coast, near to the island’s western extremity. Its architecture, plants, colours and stunning harbour set it apart from anywhere I have ever visited (Figure 107.2). It is practically perfect; nothing is contrived, meretricious, spoiled or soiled.

Figure 107.2: Paradise (to be) lost? Not if Mayor Rikardo Novak has his way.

Copyright © 2017 Visit Hvar

Hvar’s newly-elected mayor, Rikardo Novak (Figure 107.3) is determined to keep it that way. Anyone caught boozing in the street will be hammered for €700 (£620). Draconian? Perhaps, but Mr Novak, to his immense credit, believes in deterrence. Male tourists will still be permitted to dress like overgrown toddlers, but, if one dares to go topless, he will be fined a cool €500 (£440). The financial punishment meted out to a topless woman I can only guess.

Figure 107.3: ‘They are vomiting in town, urinating on every corner, walking without T-shirts … crawling around, unconscious. Young tourists are welcome, but they will have to learn how to behave here.’

Copyright © 2017 Vijesti

When I learned that tourism on the island was booming, I was almost disconsolate. The last thing it needs is a continuous invasion by herds of apes.

All power to Mr Novak. I hope he will stick to his guns – and fire them if necessary.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Qing Dynasty Art


The Qing, or Pure, dynasty was established by the semi-nomadic Manchus (Figure 106.1). Its emperors embraced a variety of forms of Chinese art culture, both established and new. Kangxi (r. 1662-1722) and Qianlong (r. 1736-95), in particular, were enthusiastic patrons of art, while ruling over a populace of high literacy and innovation. There were three main types of artists during the Qing: traditionalists, who were influenced by landscape painters of the Ming; individualists, whose works were highly personal and frequently expressed strong political beliefs; and courtiers, officials and professionals, who were employed at the Manchu court and heavily influenced by Western-style realism (Hearn, 2003a).

Figure 106.1: The Qing dynasty lasted from 1644 until 1912 CE. Its predecessor was the Ming (1368-1644), and its successor the Republic of China (1912-49). During this era, China had powerful emperors who reigned for an average of twenty-seven years. Although much of this time was prosperous, there were several natural disasters, invasions and a final rebellion, bringing about its demise (The Qing Dynasty, 2014).

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Traditionalist art flourished under the early Qing emperors. The works and ideas of prominent Ming artists such as Dong Qichang (1555-1636) were used to inspire new generations of mainly landscape artists. A constant theme was the comparison of art and nature. According to Dong: ‘If one considers the wonders of nature, then painting cannot rival landscape. But if one considers the wonders of brushwork, then landscape cannot equal painting (Hearn, 2003b).’

Dong and his contemporaries influenced future generations. Artists including Wang Shimin (1592-1680) established the so-called Orthodox School, where the earlier landscape styles of the Song (960-1279) were blended with the distinctive calligraphic brushwork of the Yuan (1271-1368) (Hearn, 2003b). Wang was one of the Six Masters of the early Qing era, all of whom specialized in shan shui (mountain-water) paintings (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017). Such works are not characterized simply by the artists’ visualizations of mountains and water (Yee & Hsuing, 1964; Maeda, 1970), but instead of their thoughts of nature (Sirén, 1956).

Wang Shimin was one the so-called ‘Four Wangs’. The other three, namely Wang Jian (1598-1677), Wang Hui (1632-1717) and Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715), along with Wu Li (1632-1718) and Yun Shouping (1633-90), were the Six Masters of early Qing dynasty art. Wang Jian’s White Clouds over Xiao and Xiang (1668) (Figure 106.2), for example, follows the similar painting method of Dong Qichang’s shan shui style (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

Figure 106.2: White Clouds over Xiao and Xiang (1668) presently resides in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

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The Shiqu baoji was a series of collections of many thousands of traditional paintings and calligraphs (Liang, 2012). Many of these landscape images emphasized the Confucian culture of cultivation and, consequently, were popular until the nineteenth century (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

A new movement for Chinese art began during the mid-Qing era. Artists who practised this were known as Individualists. One of their most striking features was a freer style of brushwork (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

Individualist painters depended on artistic self-cultivation. Having escaped the aftermath of the chaotic Manchu conquest, they did not have easy access to old masters’ works, so their styles were necessarily personal, often inspired by nature (Hearn, 2003c). Their animosity toward the new rulers was also evident in their works, which often contained discreet messages of political criticism of the Manchus, or, alternatively, covert loyalty to the deposed Ming dynasty (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004).

One of the most prominent individualists was Bada Shanren (1626-1705), also known as Zhu Da. Having retreated to the mountains and spent thirty years as a Buddhist monk, he returned to painting in 1680. His style was wild and eccentric (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004), using ink only sparingly in his calligraphic brushwork (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

Zhu Da’s work consisted mostly of the plants and animals of his local environment. These included birds, insects, fish, crustaceans, as well as a variety of colourful flowers (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004). His careful study of wildlife, and rocks, was highly original at the time (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017). It has been understood that this deep and personal passion for depicting delicate lifeforms reflected Zhu Da’s belief that life under the Qing dynasty was very fragile (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004).

Many individualist styles evolved from specific locations. Anhui, Nanjing and Yangzhou were especially influential (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004). The Anhui Province was noted for its high-quality paper and ink. The Yellow Mountains (Mount Huang), with their wild cliffs and widespread pines, provided individualists with a welcome haven from Manchu domination and were prominent in works by the Anhui school. Hong Ren (1610-63) was one such artist (Hearn, 2003c).

Nanjing, having been a secondary capital during the Ming era, became a sanctuary for individualists and Ming dynasty loyalists. This was one of the first Chinese cities to become influenced by Western art. For instance, the use of shading and perspective became apparent in paintings of local landscapes. Arguably the most original of the so-called Eight Masters of Nanjing was Gong Xian (1618–89), who used ink dots of varying density to create effects of light and shade. This was probably a consequence of increasing Western influence (Hearn, 2003c).

In Yangzhou, wealthy collectors financed several individualist artists. Perhaps the most eminent was Shitao (1642-1707), whose self-expression, particularly in calligraphy, inspired a later group of artists known as the Yangzhou Eccentrics.

The third group of Qing scholars were courtiers and professional artists who were employed by the Manchu imperial court (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017). This group was responsible for documentary, commemorative and large-scale decorative art, partly to promote the regime of the reigning emperor. These artists were highly proficient in terms of technique and were heavily influenced by the Song dynasty (Columbia University, 2005).

Court art flourished under Emperor Kangxi. Kangxi was a calligraphy expert who revered the calligraphic works and styles of Dong Qichang (Princeton University Art Museum, 2004). He was also very shrewd, employing the leading traditionalist Wang Hui to oversee the painting of the famous Southern Inspection Tour scrolls (Figure 106.3) (Columbia University, 2005). Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

Figure 106.3: In 1689, the highly-detailed, ink-and-wash work, Emperor Kangxi Inspecting the Dams of the Yellow River was painted by Wang Hui and others, and remains one of the most important depictions of an iconic Qing state event (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

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Emperor Qianlong, Kangxi’s grandson, was also a distinguished calligrapher and obtained a vast collection of such works. His status as both a student and collector helped him to establish further his legitimacy as a ruler (Princeton, 2004). During Emperor Qianlong’s reign, the Qing dynasty reached its peak in terms of peace and prosperity throughout China. Trade and farming flourished, enriching the nation and allowing the best artists to be recruited to the court. Consequently, both the quality and quantity of court art increased (Hearn, 2003d).

Despite the existence of the three main types of artistic style during the Qing, it would be historically inaccurate to claim that each was completely distinct. For example, many amateur individualists became employed by the court and worked alongside professionals (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017). The court also employed distinguished foreign artists. Among these were Jesuit missionaries from Italy. One of the most influential figures was Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), who taught and worked alongside Chinese court artists to produce works combining novel European styles with traditional Chinese brushwork (Hearn, 2003d). Such new techniques included chiaroscuro, meaning the treatment of light and shade, which was developed during the Italian Renaissance (Earls, 1987), and linear perspective (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017).

From the beginning of the Qing to its end, several styles of art evolved, blending both with each other and outside influences. In turn, Chinese art was increasingly exported to Europe and beyond (Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, 2017). 

Copyright © 2017 Phoebe Spradbery


Columbia University. (2005). The Grandeur of Art During the Qing. Retrieved from

Earls, I. (1987). Renaissance Art: A Topical Dictionary. London, United Kingdom: Greenwood Press.

Encyclopedia of East Asian Art. (2017). Qing Dynasty Art: Characteristics of Manchu Arts and Culture in China. Retrieved from

Hearn, M.K. (2003a). The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Retrieved from

Hearn, M.K. (2003b). The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): The Traditionalists. Retrieved from

Hearn, M.K. (2003c). The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): The Loyalists and Individualists. Retrieved from

Hearn, M.K. (2003d). The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): The Courtiers, Officials and Professional Artists. Retrieved from

Lessing Images (2017). Emperor Kangxi (K'ang Hsi) inspecting the dams of the Yellow River. From the scroll of Emperor Kangxi's tour of inspection in the South. China; Qing dynasty, 1689. Wang Hui (1632-1717), Yang Jin (ca.1644-1726) and Gu Fang (active ca. 1700). Painted on silk, height: 68.5 cm. Inv. MA2460. Retrieved from

Liang, S.Z. (2012). Shiqu Baoji. Nanchang, China: Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House.

Maeda, R.J. (1970). Two Twelfth Century Texts on Chinese Painting. Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America: University of Michigan, Center for Chinese Studies.

Princeton University Art Museum. (2004). Qing dynasty: 1644-1912. Retrieved from

Sirén, O. (1956). Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles. New York, United States of America: Ronald Press.

The Qing Dynasty. (2014). The Qing Dynasty. Retrieved from

Yee, C., & Hsiung, S.I. (1964). The Chinese eye: An interpretation of Chinese painting. Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America: Indiana University Press.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Archimedes Back To Life

Outside the rural English village of Anderton, two navigable waterways pass within touching distance of each other. At least, they would, were it not for a fifteen-metre altitude difference. The higher of the two is the Trent and Mersey Canal, which opened in 1777, and enabled goods to be transported, via a basic chute system, down to the lower-lying River Weaver, and vice versa. The principal commodity for export was salt, which had been extracted from beneath the Cheshire Plain for centuries; whereas imports included copper and tobacco.

In 1793, the waterways’ respective owners concluded that the transfer mechanism was grossly inefficient. Consequently, Chief Engineer Edward Leader Williams (1828-1910) began to design a boat lift, using twin caissons (water baths), suspended by chains, to transport cargo boats. As one caisson descended, the other would, in perfect counterbalance, move upward. As with any application of hydrodynamics, Williams’s design had the name Archimedes engraved throughout. Imagine a salt-laden boat, weighing sixty tons, down on the riverbank. Now consider the two vast metal caissons, each holding an identical mass of water. As the boat enters the lower caisson, it necessarily displaces its own weight – whatever that might be – and always retains counterbalance with the higher caisson, whose water load never, therefore, requires adjustment. In a word: ingenious.

Williams employed hydraulic engineer Edwin Clark (1814-1894) to design the structure. It was initially powered by a steam engine, 10 horsepower (7.5 kW) being sufficient to raise a caisson in just three minutes. Construction was approved in 1872, and the first cargo transported three years later.

Thereafter, design faults soon became apparent. Cast iron structures were susceptible to bulk fracture; displaced salt caused rapid corrosion; and freezing temperatures would bring work to a standstill. In 1904, another hydraulic engineer, Colonel John Arthur Saner (1864-1952) redesigned the lift, replacing steam with a modern electric motor, which trebled the available power.

The lift operated successfully until the 1960s, when canal commerce was superseded by the superior logistics of road and rail. In 1983, the lift was finally closed, owing ultimately to severe structural corrosion and general neglect.

But for the tireless campaigning of local trusts and heritage associations, the lift would probably have been demolished, and its glorious history forgotten in time. Funds were raised, remedial work began in 2000, and the lift reopened, against substantial odds, in 2002 (Figures 105.1, 105.2 & 105.3). Anderton’s showpiece remains the only working boat lift in England – and the oldest.

Figure 105.1: Today, the lift is fully functional and computer-controlled.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Figure 105.2: The entire site has been rejuvenated, with tasteful landscaping, outdoor picnic areas and viewing platforms on both levels.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Figure 105.3: The twin caissons, photographed from the canal basin

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

I took my youngsters for a visit last weekend. There is a spacious twin-level visitor centre, both indoor and out, with a range of interactive exhibits and a smart café. Best of all, there are commentary-assisted narrowboat rides (Figures 105.4 & 105.5) along the river to the nearby town of Northwich, ending with a smooth ascent inside a water-filled caisson (Figure 105.6) to the restored aqueduct above (Figure 105.7).

Figure 105.4: Who needs a Mississippi paddle steamer?

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Figure 105.5: Introducing Mel, the impressively knowledgeable tour guide. Here, she is explaining the lift’s history, despite appearing to be singing karaoke.
‘Don’t rock the boat, baby … don’t tip the boat over …’

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery


Figure 105.6: The boat entering one of the caissons at the lower (river) level …

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery


Figure 105.7: … and emerging at the higher (canal) level

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

As the boat sailed leisurely into town, I looked upward, through the glass roof, and noticed a lone buzzard, riding the thermals, its wings outstretched and motionless in the afternoon April air. It was simply utilizing the natural dynamics of the physical world. The Anderton Boat Lift does likewise, and all because a group of brilliant British brains, led by Williams, Clark and Saner (Figure 105.8), stood on the shoulders of a Greek giant – and got their sums right.

Figure 105.8: This striking outdoor mural, courtesy of artist Diana Bernice Tackley, depicts Sir Edward Leader Williams (left), Edwin Clark (centre) and Colonel J A Saner (right).

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Friday, March 31, 2017

Save Empress Place


On the evening of Wednesday, 30th May, 1984, I can remember what I was doing. Liverpool were playing Roma in the European Cup Final; and, being a football nut, I was parked in front of the television. At the same time, at Hampton Court Palace (12 miles west of London), HRH The Prince of Wales was giving a speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

It is typical of the British Royal Family to steer clear of voicing strident views on contentious issues, but, that evening, HRH decided to chuck traditions out through the palace windows. He let rip thus:

‘Instead of designing an extension to the elegant facade of the National Gallery which complements it and continues the concept of columns and domes, it looks as if we may be presented with a kind of municipal fire station, complete with the sort of tower that contains the siren. I would understand better this type of high-tech approach if you demolished the whole of Trafalgar Square and started again with a single architect responsible for the entire layout, but what is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend (my italics).’

The royal boot had landed – squarely up the rear end of an entire profession. Controversial was not the word, and much heated debate followed. Perhaps the most crucial consequence, however, was that HRH had, with just two brilliantly-chosen words, placed British architecture under the spotlight. Mention the phrase ‘monstrous carbuncle’ anywhere in the UK, and I think the vast majority of people my own age would be able to recall that event more than three decades ago.

I, personally, have never doubted that the Prince was wholly in the right. Some buildings in my native land are ugly beyond description. So much so, that there exists a ‘Carbuncle Cup’, which is awarded for the ugliest new building of the year. There is, justifiably, red-hot competition.

A disproportionate number of champion carbuncles adorn the capital. Many more are at the planning stages. If you take a trip along the London Underground’s District Line to West Brompton (Figure 104.1), alight at the station, climb the steps onto Lillie Road, turn left and walk for about a hundred yards, there is a grand old pub on the right, named, strangely enough, the Prince of Wales.

Figure 104.1: London SW6

Copyright © 2017 Google Maps

This pub is on the corner of an elegant Victorian terrace, aptly named Empress Place (Figure 104.2). These two rows of neat cottages (Figure 104.3), all with gardens, are highly coveted by London’s house-hunters. I have always believed that London’s characteristic architecture makes it the world’s most stunning capital city, and Empress Place makes a small contribution to its uniqueness and lasting splendour.

Figure 104.2: The Place, viewed from Lillie Road

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Figure 104.3: Empress Place’s stucco and polychromatic brickwork

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You can probably guess where this is leading. Yes, Empress Place has been earmarked for imminent demolition. Property developers Capco have submitted grandiose plans to replace these attractive 19th-century cottages with a vast collection of what I can only term characterless monoliths which could be found anywhere in the world. There is nothing ‘London’ about what they are proposing.

At this point, I ought to declare that my objection to the plans is quite personal. The houses of Empress Place were designed by my great-great-great-grandfather, the esteemed London architect, John Young (1797-1877) (Figure 104.4). His influence on London’s architecture was substantial, having designed the Colosseum in Regent’s Park (1827), The Royal Marsden Hospital (1851) and numerous residential and commercial buildings.

Figure 104.4: An ancestral portrait

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He is especially renowned for his imaginative use of polychromatic brickwork. This is featured, not only throughout Empress Place, but also in many of his other creations. A striking example can be found at 23, Eastcheap (Figure 104.5), in the City of London, near to where generations of my ancestors were born and raised.

Figure 104.5: A London coffee shop. Note the intricate polychromatic brickwork of the upper floors, designed by John Young.

 Copyright © 2011 Stephen Richards

I am pleased to learn that there is a campaign to save not only Empress Place, but also the rest of (what now remains of) the Earl’s Court area. I support it wholeheartedly and would be greatly saddened if, in the near future, such an attractive old landmark were replaced by something that would ultimately subtract from London’s unsurpassed architectural heritage.

What else could I do? Perhaps I could write a letter to HRH. The Prince’s views would not be casually ignored.


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There is also a long-running campaign to save the home of John Young.

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Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery