Month: June 2017

Tewkesbury Mini-steam Weekend 2017

It was that time of the year when Tewkesbury holds a number of events in and around the town. The first event that I attended this year was the mini-steam weekend that was held on the 24th and 25th of June. I attended the event last year too as well as in 2015. I had an information leaflet somewhere but seem to have mislaid it again so will really cheat a bit if I need info. The event is held by the Model Steam Road Vehicle Society. in the grounds of the Tewkesbury Rugby Club.

The engines on display are not the large full sized beasties, but smaller versions that mimic their bigger brethren; and like the full sized vehicles are feats of engineering way beyond my skill level. Realistically most of the machines this year were the same as I saw last year, in fact that was the problem with the event this year, I had seen it before but I do look for the odds and ends that make it different. 

This was the first engine that I saw while I was walking to the event, I have seen this guy quite often with his engine “Jack”, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy himself. The Abbey can be seen in the background of the image. 

The event has the usual mix of traders, enthusiasts, vintage cars and interested parties, and quite a few of the engines were raising steam when I got there.

Oh, and having their brightwork polished. Make no mistake, these machines require lots of time, patience and probably a healthy bank balance too. 

This wonderful showmens engine is typical of that particular type of vehicle with loads of shiney brass fiddly bits.

I am always fascinated by the electrical plant on these machines. It has a certain “Frankensteinish” look about it.

Here are a few of the steamers just waking from their slumbers while their owners had that first cuppa.

There was one exhibit that I ended up rooted to the spot at. It featured a single sided ploughing engine (my terminology may be out of wack though), and I spent quite a lot of time listening to the owner enthusing about his pet project. And, she was a beauty. 

I am no boffin on these things, but this system uses a single ploughing engine, an anchor, with an associated trolley and a double ended tool carrier. Wait, let me see whether I can find a link to explain it all. http://www.steamploughclub.org.uk/index.htm has a nice description on how steam ploughing actually works. In the image above the engine is closest to the camera. The dolly in the middle looks like this. Since the war ended GI Joe has gone into the ploughing industry.

The other end (called a travelling anchor) looks like this….

And it has the large disk-like wheels to prevent it being pulled sideways by the engine with ballast on the opposite side to the engine to prevent it from tipping from the load. A large twin forked anchor is set into the ground ahead of it and it is winched forward to the anchor as the rows are ploughed.  

These models are really magnificent and the owner is rightly proud of them too. I can see why. 

A full sized ploughing engine? they look like this… 

Continuing on my meander I also spotted this quirky steam powered ape. 

Who says steam is not versatile?

While I was walking around a number of engines were making their way to the arena where they circled around in a slightly haphazard way.

You can even use steam to walk the family dog and tow the family around.

There was a small display of vintage cars, and there were some I had not seen before.

And then there was this Kombi in the distance, she should have been in that line-up too.

By now I was considering my homeward trek and stopped at some of the traders tents to look around. The one tent had all of these wonderful old vintage and not so vintage tools in it, and what a strange eclectic collection it was. 

And while I was loitering there I heard a strange noise behind me… 

And then it was time to go. However I shall enthral you with my random pics.

   
   

And that was my day. Hope you enjoyed it too.

One final pic… because this is one of the things that Tewkesbury is known for:

DRW © 2017-2018. Created 24/06/2017


The girl from the past

Some time ago a strange story popped up in my radar, one that drew me because of the strangeness of it, and the other because it was such a poignant story that really had a satisfying ending.

On 9 May 2016, a contractor uncovered an old metallic coffin with windows set into it while working at the home of a family in San Francisco who were having their house renovated.  The old coffin was still sealed and contained the remains of a young girl who was seemingly perfectly preserved. 

The vast grindstone of bureaucracy pondered on the issue and declared vast amounts of money would be required to rebury her. At that point in time nobody could even put a name to her, or understand why she was there in the first place. As things go the story did not end there. In fact it dropped off the screens for a period, but all of us who had read it originally were asking the same questions: what happened since then? And, what did she look like? It was obvious that she dated from the Victorian era because the history of the town pretty much nailed down when there was a cemetery in the area, although it was cleared in the 1890’s; the remains exhumed and re-interred in a city called Colma. Colma is considered the city of the dead as it has 2 square miles of cemeteries. The clearance happened at least 10-15 years after Miranda was buried and our little time traveller had been left behind, undisturbed until she was rediscovered over a century after being laid to rest.

At this point I can only point the reader to one source that can tell the story better than I can, and it really makes for fascinating reading for those who have an interest in history, forensics and a good old fashioned sad story.  The primary source that I use is http://www.gardenofinnocence.org/miranda-eve-childs-casket-found-under-home.

It was decided that the home owner that had this abandoned coffin in her home would have the gift of naming the child.  She in turn asked her 4 and 6 year old daughters what they would like to name a little girl and they said her name will be Miranda. It is under that name “Miranda Eve” that she would be buried although it was hoped that a positive identification would be possible. 

An organisation, known as Garden of Innocence had decided to take on her reburial. The organisation provides dignified burials for abandoned and unidentified children, and this girl was definitely one of those.  A suitable casket was hand made with as much care as if she was the daughter of everybody involved in the project. Miranda was destined to undergo a second funeral, this time by the hand of strangers, but with the well wishes of large portions of the internet to accompany her in her new grave. 

On the 4th of June 2016 she was laid to rest once again, inside her original coffin that was placed in a wooden casket. She was seen off by over 100 strangers who had been touched by this girl from the past. Strands of her hair has been taken so that it could be analysed to shed light on a possible cause of death. DNA was also extracted and it would be used to compare with any possible family members that would be traced assuming that a tentative identification could be made. Garden of Innocence provided the headstone and memorial service for “Miranda Eve” as she was still unidentified. One side of her headstone was left blank in case they could eventually identify her

The house where she was found had been built in 1936 on what was the “Odd Fellows” Cemetery in the family plot in the Yerba Buena section, and that had “been cleared” in the 1890’s when the city of San Francisco decided that the dead were taking up too much space, and voted to have all burials stopped in the City and close the cemeteries. Approximately 300 000 bodies had to be exhumed and moved but the question does arise: how many other sets of remains are still buried underneath the neighbourhood? And how did she slip between the cracks and remain undiscovered when the house was being built? 

After long days and months of detective work, she was finally identified as being Edith Howard Cook; the second born child and first born daughter of Horatio Nelson Cook and Edith Scooffy Cook,  Born on the 28th of November 1873 she was just over 2 years and 10 months old when she died on the 13th of October 1876. Her identification was made possible by using old maps of the original cemetery and overlaying it with maps of the area, then finding a plot that was in the space where the house where she was found is. That would have yielded up a grave number and using records would yield a name. In total 3 children had been identified as “possibles”, and by taking DNA samples of possible relatives a positive match was made. Miranda now had a name. 

What did she die of? Thanks to the hair samples and records we know that she died of “Marasmus“, in short it is caused by a severe deficiency of nearly all nutrients, especially protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. Her family were relatively well off, so her nutrition would have been adequate, but we can only speculate as to what triggered this condition in the first place. It is possible that she was suffering from something else that caused her eating to tail off. We will never know because she did not end up on the autopsy table. What we do know is that she was buried with love, dressed in a long white christening dress embellished with elaborate lace work and wearing ankle high shoes and tiny purple “false indigo” flowers were woven into her hair and on a long necklace, similar to a rosary.

An image of her was taken and subsequently created as a “Fairy Tale Portrait”, by graphic artist Jennifer Onstrott Warner of Fairy Tale Portraits in Newport Beach and it turned out beautiful. To the best of my knowledge no untouched images of her were released, maybe that’s a good thing? Although I am still very curious about this little sleeping beauty.  

While reading this story I naturally turned to Google and the image search, and while I saw many iterations of that image I also saw many images of vapid celebrities and selfie’s posted to social media by the self absorbed and what a contrast it was.

And what a story this turned out to be.  In our modern mad world we were touched by a girl from 1876 who was forgotten and who lay undisturbed for over 145 years. Her own parents and siblings are long gone too, possibly even exhumed from the same cemetery? The question of what was the underlying cause of the Marasmus will never be answered, although in the 1870’s children led very precarious lives, and a simple childhood disease could be a killer. Modern medicine was still a long way into the future, although in our modern world there is a condition similar to Marasmus called Kwashiorkor, and it is still found in many third world countries. 

Miranda Eve rests in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, her new headstone was unveiled on 10 June 2017 and it bears her name and date of birth and death, and a simple epitaph:

“I once was lost

but now I am found”. 

Rest in Peace Edith. 

Acknowledgements:

Garden of Innocence for what they did.  Image of headstone from their facebook page

Jennifer Onstrott Warner of Fairy Tale Portraits for the wonderful image that she created.

The many people who helped identify Edith and who “brought her home”

And the others who made her their own. Many pages made for fascinating reading especially the SF Weekly.

© DRW 2017-2018. Created between 10-16 June 2017. 


HM Prison Gloucester

It was time to go to jail; although in this case I am innocent I tell you! I was framed! call my lawyer! 

HM Prison Gloucester had recently unlocked it’s doors to the public and was accepting visitors to the disused facility. It was then added to my bucket list and it was one of the reasons I was in Gloucester yesterday.

The prison lies on the east bank of the Severn and was built on the site of a 12th century castle. The keep was demolished in 1787 and a prison was built in it’s place in 1879 while a debtors prison was added in 1826. A new wing was added in 1884 and the governors house was built 1850’s, although it is outside the walls.  

Once past the front door of the prison there was a labyrinth of passages to navigate, fortunately one of them led to the toilet! The first area I explored was where “closed visits” were conducted. There were 3 cubicles where the prisoner was able to talk to his visitor without having physical access to them. 

This is a holding cell, and it would be where arriving prisoners could be kept while they were booked in or until such time as they were allocated a cell, or if there was a shortage of space. It is a temporary solution though, and ideally overcrowding in this space would be avoided as much as possible. 

Once I had cleared the admin block I entered into what was known as a “sterile area” which was really a fenced in area behind the block with gates leading to an exercise yard.

Make no mistake, you will not be able to scale that fence easily because it may look flimsy but it is not. I expect the sterile area is used to cordon off the gate house from the rest of the the prison. There is a vehicle entrance in this sterile area and I suspect it was from here that prisoners were removed from vehicles for processing. 

For some reason prisoners always walked in an anti-clockwise direction in the exercise yards. There were three yards in total and this one leads into B wing. However I did not go into B wing immediately but went to the debtors prison instead. This was originally built to house people who could not pay their bills although this area has changed a lot since the Georgian era when it was built. In fact there was not all that much to see.

Entrance to the Debtors Prison

It was now in use as the healthcare centre, so was in a reasonable condition and the only real way you would know it was part of a prison would be the many lockable doors and barred windows.

Opposite the old debtors prison was the A&B wing which is probably the most spectacular part of the prison. Photography in there was difficult because of the varying light conditions and small cells, but I have to admit some of the images I took were stunning. Let us go inside before the screws find us….

To the left is the “A” Wing, and to the right is “B” wing. 

“A” Wing.

“A” Wing is probably where the general population were housed. The cells that I went into had a double bunk and a washbasin and toilet in them. These facilities were only installed into the cells in 1995/96. Prior to this prisoners would have to “slop out” at the start of the day. 

The cells are small, even with such a narrow bed frame in it. The toilet is out of frame but is on the other side of the washbasin in the left hand photograph. Imagine being locked in here for a long time, staring at the same walls day after day.

The wing has 3 levels to it and there is access to “C” block via an overhead walkway on the 2nd floor of this wing. The 3rd level was roped off so I could not investigate it.

There is one curiosity that is not immediately obvious and I did not take too much notice of it at the time. Outside each cell is a coiled serpent and they represent evil. Above them are lion claws which represent justice bearing down on evil. It seems to be just the sort of symbolism that the Victorians would have used. 

Returning to the central entrance I went into “B” Wing/Segregation. Two levels of this wing housed remand prisoners, and one housed “VP” prisoners and the segregation unit. 

Unfortunately I could not go into the chapel as the access to it was closed off. Instead I crossed over into “C” Wing and explored there for awhile. It was built in the 1970’s, and in the 1990’s was a “young offenders” unit until it was closed in 2013. It does not have the heaviness that I felt in the other block, although I am sure it must have been a rough place when occupied.

Having had a look at the interiors it was time to look at the exteriors. The only view you have of the outside is the sky; a very high wall surrounds the prison and there was no getting over it too easily. 

It kind of reminded me of the garden walls in South Africa. 

The execution shed is long gone, but it was built at the end of “A” Wing, the Governor able to watch it from the luxury of his home. The last hanging in this prison took place in 1939. It is thought that there are over 100 prisoners buried in unmarked graves under the prison.  

And then it was time to leave. I have to admit the prison is an interesting place to visit, and they offer guided tours too. Personally I prefer doing my own thing and having a post mortem afterwards.  Make no mistake, this place is not a holiday camp, it is a grim cold building that must have been noisy, crowded and violent. It is the nature of the inmates that they tend to be amongst the worst of the human race. 

I have visited two other prisons: the first is the “Women’s Jail” as well as the old “Number 4” Jail in Johannesburg, but it appears as if I never did blogposts for them (since retrospectively rectified). 

Random Images. 

DRW © 2017-2020. Created 04/07/2017. Repaired missing attachment marker. 28/12/2017