musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Basingstoke

Looking back on 2015

2015 was a very unsettled year, I moved house 4 times, lived in 3 cities and found full time work once again. It was also a year of heritage rail, graveyards, bridges and new discoveries. These are some of the highlights.

January.
Two highlights stick out in January. The first was my visit to West Norwood Cemetery in London.

And of course my visit to Brooklands Museum in Weybridge with its collection of heritage aircraft, cars and buses.

February.

The highlight of that month was the snow that fell on two separate days and I was finally able to photograph a cemetery in the snow

March.
In March I moved up to Staffordshire and a whole new world opened up as a result. There were a lot of highlights in that month, and the one that stuck out the most was the visit we made to the aircraft collection at RAF Cosford.

 

I was also fortunate enough to see Lichfield Cathedral as well as travel on a heritage train run by Chasewater Railway.

April.

Early that month we visited the National Tramway Museum at Crich which was really amazing.

I was also able to walk around the National Memorial Arboretum which was quite an experience.

May.

My birthday month, I visited Ryecroft Cemetery in Walsall in that month and ended up making two visits to find the many war graves in it.  It was a very interesting place.

June

In June I moved down to Tewkesbury to start a new job. I was also able to take in the very beautiful Tewkesbury Abbey

July.
I spent a considerable amount of time messing around in Cheltenham, especially in Prestbury Cemetery which was a really beautiful place.

August.

During that month I was able to travel with the Gloucester Wawickshire Railway (GWR)

This was the first of two trips that I did with the railway.
Of course one other highlight from that month was the visit that we made to the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

September.
In September I visited yet another famous bridge, this time it was the Mythe Bridge in Tewkesbury

October.

I returned to Bristol in October and it was the Heritage Day Weekend, and naturally there were ships. 

November

Every November I remember those who paid the price in wars, and last November was no different.

December

In December I moved house again so did not have too much time to do very much, however I did do a retrospective look at Drydocks

And that was my year. And a very interesting one it was too, although at times I did find it very stressful. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Unfortunately I did not watch the statistics too well this year, but at the time of doing this post  (01/02/2016) things looked like this:

Thank you to all of those who contributed to the 110 374 pageviews. Lets try for 200 000 by this time next year!

© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 02/05/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 15:24

Train Trouble

This has been a week of train trouble for me. And it all started on Monday.
 
I had an interview at Meltsham which is on the way to Gatwick Airport. The trip would mean that I had to change trains at Clapham Junction and board a Southern Trains local to East Croydon, and then catch another local to Meltsham. The train times I had selected had enough time built into them for me to find out where to go, and to get there without a last minute dash. Theoretically.
 
Clapham Junction was the easy part, however, I did not have my camera with me, so some images were taken in January.

Clapham Junction passageway

I managed to grab an earlier local for East Croydon and was soon on my way. Unfortunately Southern Trains is having a lot of bad press lately regarding delayed trains.

A typical Southern Trains local

A typical Southern Trains local

 

I had not travelled with them much before so I could not really comment on their punctuality. However, once we reached East Croydon chaos reigned. There was a signalling fault somewhere on the system and trains were delayed, cancelled, missing and all permutations in between. To exacerbate matters renovations were being done at the station so information signs were not legible or hard to see. I was directed to platform 5 and when I got there was told that the train would arrive on platform 6! That was difficult because platform 6 was occupied by a train going to Gatwick. The poor platform attendant was having a hard time doing his job and trying to assist with enquiries. It also did not help listening to announcements as they were either too soft, or happened as the train was leaving. By some miracle I caught a train, and it turned out to be the right one, although it was running 45 minutes late and some stops were cancelled. I just hoped that things would be less chaotic on my way home.
 
Later that day, on arrival at Mertsham to catch my train back to East Croydon, I found that it too had been delayed. 
Merstham Station

Merstham Station

In fact 3 trains went past while I was waiting, although had I dashed into the loo you could have bet that the train would have arrived at the most inopportune time.
 
 
The trip back to East Croydon was punctuated by long pauses and the ever diminishing time left to catch my connection. By the time we arrived it was time that my connection would have arrived too, although that was unlikely as we were occupying the space it was supposed to be occupying. The ever unhelpful information boards were not being informative at all, and the poor platform attendant was being harassed by all and sundry. 

 

In the image on the left you can see two trains, in fact there were actually 4, two already occupying the platform on both sides.  I could not make any sense out of this, but by chance heard an announcement that the train to Clapham Junction would now be arriving on Platform 1 and not the one where I was or where it was supposed to be. Thanks for the advance notice! I arrived at Platform 1 as said train left. In fact the “Welcome to East Croydon” sign on the information board  did not help me, or any of the other people who came running down hoping to catch the train we had all missed.  I decided to hang around there because it did seem as if this was where trains to Clapham would leave from, and 10 minutes later one arrived (probably 45 minutes late). Clapham Junction was like paradise after that mess, and it is unlikely I will go through East Croydon ever again, which is maybe a good thing.
  
After the chaos of Monday, I was very tempted to stay in bed on Tuesday, but I still had some graves to find in Reading so I headed there instead. There is a First Great Western local that goes between Basingstoke and Reading, and I had had a bad experience with it early in February when the train had failed and we were stranded for almost 90 minutes at Mortimer. Surely something like that can’t happen again? or could it?
The trains currently being used on that line was 150001 and 150002, a pair of 1984 BREL built prototype 3-car Class 150/0 units. 150002 proved to be the worse of the two for reliability. Both sets were  in service with London Midland until 2011. 150001 entered service with First Great Western in January 2012, with 150002 to follow after refurbishment and relivery. 
 
 I had travelled with 150001 and 150002 the previous week when I had been to Bramley, and thought that they were very noisy and uncomfortable compared to the usual 165 or 166 class I had used before. Their interiors were an odd purple colour and reminded me of a kitchen.
 
 
Once I had completed my graves in Reading I headed back to the station, and as I arrived I kept an eye open for any new trains in the station. When we had arrived that morning I had caught a brief glimpse of something other than the usual FGW intercity HST, and I was hoping to see another. I was lucky because there was one at the platform and I quickly grabbed some pics. 
 
It turns out that this was a British Rail Class 180, and reading between the lines these were troublesome beasties.  This particular one was 180 102, and it pulled out just as I headed back up the escalators. 
  
When I got to my platform I saw my train was in so I could get on board and head off home. How wrong I was! A train had broken down at Bramley and we were not going to Basingstoke unless we went via Guildford and Woking. The train just after 14H00 was cancelled, as was the one at 14H30 and the next one may have been leaving at 15H00, although that was unlikely.  150001 joined its sister and neither was going anywhere. 
  
I knew that there was a Cross Country train that used to leave Reading for Basingstoke and then onwards to Weymouth, and it left at 14H45ish, so I decided that it was a preferable option to going to Guildford so headed down the platform to see if there was anything else interesting in the station.  I soon discovered another train that I had not seen before, and it was wearing a Southwest Trains livery.
 
It turns out that these are Class 458’s, and they too were not very successful. I must admit they were not good lookers either, and during my wait I saw 8026 and 8016 in the station. 
 
Heading back to my platform I was unable to get an answer as to whether I would be able to catch the Cross Country train as the platform it normally used was currently occupied by 150002. In fact the customer service person did not know either and she dashed off to find out, just as the Cross Country pulled into Platform 8. 
  
I had never caught one of the Cross Country trains before, although had seen them quite a lot in Southampton. They tended to come and go and generally lead separate lives from the other Southwest Trains all around them. It could be that I now had an opportunity to catch one, assuming I could get to Platform 8 before it left.     
 
We all dashed across to the platform and hurriedly boarded the train, although whether it was going anywhere was another story altogether. Just then another Class 180 pulled in and I was tempted to bail out and go photograph it, but they announced that we were holding for awhile and would leave as soon as the line was clear. Bailing now would mean I would have to hang around till 15H30 for one of the 150’s to leave.  Then we started to move, and I was finally on my way home, and with Cross Country too. They aren’t too bad interior wise, and they definitely were quick, but I was really just glad to finally be on my way home. Two days of train troubles in a row was asking too much.
 
Hopefully I was done with train troubles, or had I?
 
This morning I had to go to Southampton to see the maiden arrival of the Britannia. Would my train timings be correct?  Lo and behold when I got to Basingstoke Station I discovered that the trains coming from London via Clapham Junction were delayed. The Salisbury train was running 19 minutes late, and my Southampton train was running equally late. However there was a Cross Country leaving at 10H10, and it came via Reading and not Clapham Junction so theoretically it would not be delayed so I crossed to platform 1 to catch it (followed by half the people from the platform I had just left).
  
I arrived at Southampton in time, and by co-incidence I caught another Cross Country back home. It was kind of odd because in the two years I had been in the UK I had never been on one of these before, and suddenly in a week I had traveled on three!  Maybe it is my reward for all the other train trouble I had been having this past week? 
 
So that was my week of train trouble. The moral of the story? the rail system in the UK is not perfect, it is subject to delays, and things do go wrong (and there are leaves on the line, the wrong snow and even trampolines to muck it up further). The delay at Clapham Junction was as a result of a woman threatening to jump onto the tracks, thousands of people ended up being delayed as a result. The difference is in how passengers are notified of a problem. The East Croydon mess could have been handled so much better, and I think the Reading delays could have also been dealt with a bit better, but it is really a lot to do with customer service and service levels as a rule. Lets put it like this, in South Africa they would have set fire to the train. 
 
© DRW. 2015-2018. Created 06/03/2015, images migrated 27/04/2016  
 
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:24

Messing around in Bramley looking for graves

With my time running short in Basingstoke I was hoping to grab as many of the outstanding CWGC graves in some of the churchyards between Basingstoke and Reading. The problem is that they are not easy walks, being out in the countryside and far from the stations. I had intended to grab two separate churches on this day, with a possible third depending on time and energy.
I started my excursion from Bramley Station, which is the first station on the local line between Basingstoke and Reading.  The train that arrived was not the usual one that I had been catching lately, instead it was a different DMU, and I must admit it was also a noisy bugger.

 
 My walk would take me to the village of Sherfield-Upon-Loddon, which was about 3,5 km away and then down the A33 to the church of St Leonards which was a further 1.6 km away, ironically in the direction of Basingstoke. My initial planning had erred somewhat as I had placed the church in the village whereas it was really quite far from the village.  

Navigating through the country lanes is always risky and at one point there were roadworks that really messed me around. There is a lot of water in this area too, and I kept on coming across streams and bridges, as well as the village pond. Eventually though I came to the village and had to backtrack a portion to find the church.

 
The one good thing about my detour was the discovery of the village War Memorial, and that in itself made the detour worthwhile. I don’t mind detours if I can discover something on  them, and this memorial was a unexpected bonus.
  
Eventually I reach the A33, which was really like a mad racetrack in parts. And I walked and walked and walked until I started to question where I was going. My mapping app was not helping too much because it kept on trying to take me to the United States! But, I saw a sign ahead, and my destination was listed on it. Finally!
  
The church is called St Leonards and it has four CWGC graves in it’s churchyard. 
 
Like so many of these old churches it is difficult to really date the building, although according to their website the church was extensively restored in the 19th century. Unfortunately as I arrived so did somebody with the keys, but by the time I had found my graves they had left so I was unable to access the building. It is quite a pretty building, with a nicely proportioned spire and quite a large churchyard that has some new burials in it as well as a lot of older ones.  I also discovered that I was going to have a mud problem on this trip. I had noticed large pools of water on my walk to here, and parts of the churchyard were also wet.  
 
There was also a new addition to the church which blended in quite well, although I was not too keen on the front doors of the church, and the sign that informed that all valuables were removed from the church overnight. It is sad that things have come to this. 
 
The dominant grave site was of the Piggot Stainsby Conant Family
 
My CWGC graves were all grouped together which made my life so much easier, and there were no private memorials that I could see in the churchyard.
 

One last look around and I was on my way again. It had been a satisfactory visit, and the goal was achieved. In fact the day was still young and I was ready for number 2 on my list!

Hartley Westpall St Mary was next on my list, it had one solitary CWGC grave in its churchyard.  Distancewise I had to return to Sherfield upon Loddon via the A33, carry on for a distance and then at the  Hartley Westpall sign turn turn right and continue until I found the turning to the church. It was roughly 2,5 km from the Sherfield roundabout. I had considered that I would probably be able to make one more visit after this one depending on how I felt, it really depended a lot on what I found at the end of this stretch. 
  
It was a bit of a dicey walk though because there was quite a lot of traffic, and oddly enough it was always groups of vehicles that came hurtling up behind me. The signs on the road are a bit misleading though because that really is the boundary of the village, and not the village itself. In fact I was not too sure how big this village actually was because there was so little in front of me I even had to check the satellite image to see if there were any likely targets. 
 
Eventually I reached the church, and it was a quite a small one, constructed of flint and wood, it was almost unassuming. 
  
And my war grave was easily spotted amongst the snowdrops. 
  
The church is called St Mary The Virgin and it was being cleaned so I went inside, and the woodwork nearly knocked me over.  The exterior walls may be newish (although that could mean anything), but the heavy wooden beams that hold the roof up could be original and could date from 1330. 
  
Make no mistake about it, those roof beams are of the same standard as I saw on board HMS Victory.  It is a solid structure, rough in its finishing, but amazing to see. You do not get woodwork like this very often.
 
hartley_westpall21The church also has a really nice collection of stained glass windows as well as an outstanding wall memorial which would not seem out of place in a cathedral. Unfortunately the legibility of it is poor, but the artwork is museum quality.
 
There were also a number of wall memorials to past rectors as well as soldiers, and I was very happy to see an original article about the funeral of the soldier who’s grave I had just photographed. It was really a unique memorial and the inclusion of his “Dead Man’s Penny” was an even more poignant touch. 
 
I like finding small memorials like that because they do bring a personal touch to many of the graves that I photograph. Often there is no real history to a grave, it is a name and a number with no real story behind it.  Private Thomas Elliott was an individual, he served his country and he is buried in this really quiet part of Hampshire, and he is remembered in this small ancient church with the wonderful roof.
  
I have to admit I enjoyed this church a lot, it was a really surprising building.  Doing more reading about it, I discovered that there are registers dating from 1558, and considering that in 1558 South Africa had not even been discovered. 
 
It was time to leave this wonderful old place, with its beautiful woodwork and friendly atmosphere.  I had a decision to make soon and had about a 1.5 km to make it in. I had decided to walk back to A33 and either go left for home, or right for Stratfield Saye St Marys. It was still quite early and while I was a bit pooped I felt like it may be worth my while to try for this church which was about 4,5 km from the turning off to Hartley Westpall. The problem was that I was unlikely to make a standalone trip out here again, and I was technically “in the area” so I decided to head in that direction. 
  
At some point I encountered that map above, and I wish I had encountered it much earlier, and had been able to take it with me to where I was going. It really laid out the area much more logically than the small screen image I was using on my phone, and if ever I do return to this area I am going to print this map out. 
  
My biggest problem came when I reached The Wellington Arms. At this intersection the A33 goes off to the right, while another road heads off to the left. Inbetween the two was a path that I was hoping to take to reach my destination. 
 
Unfortunately the path was gated off and was marked “Private Park” which meant I had to make quite a detour to get to the church which was technically on the path that I could not access. It was either go on or go home, and I had come this far already so the road to the left I did take.
It was a long road. It did not have a pavement, but it was not too busy so I did not have to hop into a handy bush each time a car came. 
 
I crossed the River Loddon again, I was getting there. I reached the end of the road and was faced with more road. Where was the church? I changed to satellite view and headed towards what I thought was a cluster of buildings, but before that I saw a sign which said “to the Church”, but I could not see the church, instead I was facing a set of gates which were closed. A small sign read “No entry, access to the church only”. Aha! I was getting somewhere. 
 
Inside was all quiet, there was a largeish house on the right of the road that I was following, but still no church. I kept walking and then saw the lychgate. I had arrived!
  
The church is called Stratfieldsaye St Mary and it has one CWGC grave in its churchyard. 
 
It was not a good looking church, if anything it looked like a modern version of a temple. However, according to what I read it is quite old “1758 possibly designed by John Pitt (Calvin p 639), restoration 1965. Replacing a medieval church in a new site, the building has a Greek Cross plan, with an octagonal tower above the crossing. There is a copper dome (with a finial) and copper roofing of low pitch to the arms” (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-139116-church-of-st-mary-the-virgin-stratfield-)
 
The church has a very large churchyard, although there were not too many graves that caught my eye. I was more interested in why was this church in this park in the first place. 
 
The churchyard was still in use too, so there must be a congregation here, it is just a pity the building was not open because there were a lot of interesting memorials inside of it.
  
But, it was realistically time to to head off home. I had a very long walk ahead of me and frankly was not looking too forward to it. I had two choices. I could hoof it to Bramley which was 4.3 km away as the crow flies, or I could cut across to Mortimer Station which was 3,5 kms distant. In both cases the crow could cheat and take a short cut, I had no such choice. I checked my phone and Bramley was as much as 2 hours walk away whereas Mortimer was 53 minutes. I decided on the latter and set off on my epic trek across the countryside. It went quite well initially,  I passed Strafield Saye House in the distance and it may be worth looking into how it ties into the church and park I had just come from.
  
But then things began to go pear shaped as the lady in the GPS directed me to turn left onto a footpath that was only 50 metres long and which ended in a muddy field. I eventually took her advise and headed across the field, aiming for a gate in the distance (Why didn’t I take pics of this?), then I waded through a path of mud until I hit a road and that road said “Mortimer Station.—>” and 29 minutes later I was at Mortimer Station. I had stood here for ages after my visit to Strafield St Mary not too long ago, although I was not as tired on that day as I was now. Surprisingly I only waited 6 minutes for a train.
 
And I was home just after 3.15.  
 
Did I mention I was bushed? It had been quite a long journey, all for 6 graves. There are still more graves in that area, but I probably will not get to photograph them, which is a pity because I put a lot of mileage into getting these graves photographed. I had seen three very different churches, and seen one remnant of workmanship that left me amazed. The countryside is very pretty, although it can be wild in parts. Weather had been favourable, and for once I had not run out of battery life on my phone. There are a few lessons here that I need to learn. Preparation, navigation, information and of course proper maps and  more information. Having completed this I could probably redo it in half the time, and walking much less. But that is the old hindsight thing. 
 
Basingstoke is pretty much wound up when it comes to CWGC graves now, although I still have 2 weeks before I leave here, so just maybe I shall try for those last few graves, although I really want to return to Reading Cemetery. 
 
Who knows, maybe next month you may see one more post about this area.
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 27/02/2015, images migrated 27/04/206
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:28

Heading to Reading

This fine morning I grabbed my gear and headed out to Reading. My recent trips to that city en-route to elsewhere made me curious about what I could see, and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.  On my list of possible targets was Reading Abbey, the old cemetery, St Giles and St Marys Churches, any war memorials, and of course anything else that caught my eye (or lens).
 
The cemetery has 205 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war and 41 of the 1939-1945 war. in it, so I could have quite a lot of ground to cover. Weatherwise it was sunny when I left Basingstoke, but it got cloudy once I was in Reading, so much so that at one point I thought I was going to be caught in a rain shower.  
My first goal was St Laurence Churchyard, the church is situated next to the Town Hall, and is not too far from the station. I had a rough plan of my route so knew more or less what I was going, and of course I had my phone with in case I got lost. 
The Town Hall

The Town Hall

I have to admit St Laurence was a great exploration. It has a fantastic churchyard with a lot of very interesting graves. Unfortunately though, they were building a road in the middle of the street so some of my access was cut off from the park next door.
 
The park interested me because it bounded on the ruins of Reading Abbey,  and I was hoping that I could pass through the ruins and go around the prison to get to the route I needed to follow to find the cemetery. 
After a slight detour, and an attempt to buy some food at a local supermarket I found myself faced with the Cenotaph (which stands at the entrance to Forbury Park), which was great news because I had not really done much research as to where the main war memorial was in the city.
  
 
The park, Forbury Gardens,  is a pretty one, with a bandstand and lots of trimmed grass and pathways. It is also home to a very special memorial:
 
“This monument records the names and commemorates the valour and devotion of XI (11) officers and CCCXVIII (318) non-commissioned officers and men of the LXVI (66th) Berkshire Regiment who gave their lives for their country at Girishk Maiwand and Kandahar and during the Afghan Campaign MDCCCLXXIX (1879) – MDCCCLXXX (1880).”

“History does not afford any grander or finer instance of gallantry and devotion to Queen and country than that displayed by the LXVI Regiment at the   Battle of Maiwand on the XXVII (27th) July MDCCCLXXX (1880).” (Despatch of General Primrose.) 

Known as the Maiwand Lion, it is a very big memorial, and definitely the largest lion I have ever seen. Unfortunately the sun was behind it so pics just did not work out the way they could have. In fact the sun was to prove problematic for most of the morning as it kept on dancing between the clouds. I returned to Reading on 3 March and was able to obtain a better image of the lion as seen below.

Seeing the Abbey seemed to be problematic as the site was closed on safety grounds, and given that the building dates from around AD1121, I can see that there may be a problem, however, it is very frustrating to be so close to history like that and not being able to access it.

The one part of the Abbey complex that still survives is the Abbey Gate, and it is a very nice structure, but again it faced in an awkward direction.
It was looking to be somewhat of a frustrating morning. I decided to head for the cemetery, passing the very pretty St James Church which is between the park and the prison.

 

The church opened in 1840 and it now serves as a Catholic Church for the multicultural community in Reading. Surprisingly a small corner of the graveyard still exists, although it has been “rationalised” and there is no real way for knowing how big it was before. Unfortunately HMP Reading was not accessible, and the high walls meant the only pic I would get would be of high walls.

The route I was now walking took me along the very busy Kings Road which merged into an intersection with London Road  where the cemetery was located. 

The cemetery was first opened in 1834 and there are 18327 grave spaces covering 4,7 Hectares.  There were originally two chapels but both have been demolished, and at first glance the cemetery seemed like a bit of a hodge-podge mess. However, as I penetrated deeper into it the layout began to make a bit more sense.

Like many of these older cemeteries it does support a wide range of fauna and flora, and I believe there is even a species of deer that lives in it, and I actually saw one on my next visit, but was unable to get a pic. I also saw raptors flying overhead, so there must be food for them in the cemetery.  To maintain the status quo of conservation, the grass is cut 6 times a year. The gatehouse/office is a very pretty building, although it must have been somewhat of a squeeze when it came to navigating through here with a horse drawn hearse.

 

And while my pics show sunlight, that only happened after I had completed photographing most of the graves I was after! The cemetery is actually quite a nice one, with lots of pre 1900 headstones in it. Parts are as wild as some of the wilder ones that I have seen, but generally it was a pleasant place to gravehunt in. I managed to get most of the graves I was after except for 43. I also found some private memorials that I have submitted, and these are equally important as they often contain the only physical grave that there is if a body was not recovered from the battlefield. (I have since been able to add an additional 24 graves from the list to my tally, as well as 8 more private memorials.)

Then it was time to head off to my next destination which was back in the direction I had come from but via London Road.

The "Swimming Bath"

The “Swimming Bath”

 
I had arbitrarily selected suitable places as I saw them mentioned as being worthy of seeing, and naturally everything along the way was a bonus. My first target was St Giles-in-Reading Church, and the second was St Mary-the-Virgin.
St Giles-in-Reading

St Giles-in-Reading

St Mary-the-Virgin

St Mary-the-Virgin

Both were really beautiful buildings with wonderful graveyards that I explored. However, on my way to these buildings I also spotted this beaut which is used by the Polish community.

 
Overall though the area I was walking through had really reverted from a residential area to more of a business area, the grand old houses now occupied by dentists and accountants. The shortage of student accommodation also meant that many properties had been subdivided and now had a new lease on life. 

The Hospital building was magnificent, more reminiscent of a town hall than a hospital.  Like many other buildings from that age it was now probably overwhelmed by the role it had, and it must have been very interesting to see on the inside (although preferably not as a patient).

My meanderings would eventually lead me to the Kennet and Avon Canal which I had first encountered when I visited Bath in 2014, I will admit that the inner workings of the canal did interest me, but I was really lacking the expertise to comment on where I was in the system at the point where I now stood.

Theoretically though, had I followed this portion of the Kennet River I would have come out at the River Thames, and had I followed the Thames would have ended up in London.

The area I was now moving into was where St Mary-the-Virgin was situated, and it was really the last area I wanted to explore before heading home. The church itself was very nice, with a graveyard that seems to be ignored by the public at large who use the path as a thoroughfare, and it is nice to see how these small green spaces have become a part of the community.

The area though is quite busy, with lots of buses and taxis hithering and thithering their collective ways. I paused for lunch and a potty break before taking some last pics and heading for the station (assuming I could find it).

The monument was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50th year on the throne, and there is a nice statue of her close to the Town Hall.

 

This area of Reading was really nice, the buildings are oldies with a new face, and generally it has much more of a personal feel than the mall close by. Unfortunately for them most malls lack character, and I like character in an area instead of glitz and glamour. Unfortunately though it also means that many older areas become seedy as the inevitable cellphone cover, overpriced fake trainers and junk jewelry businesses move in. But, sometimes I am wrong.

Realistically though, you need to view a lot of these areas as they may have been 100 years ago to fully appreciate a city like Reading, although it would have been tainted by the smog and smoke of industrial progress and transportation. Times have changed, and we are now in a different world and in a different era, but it is nice to see these old survivors of progress still standing next to the chrome and glass of “progress”.

The station awaited, and by 14H40 I was on my way home. 

It had been an interesting morning, I have a better feel for Reading now, and while it is unlikely that I will pass this way again it was nice to be able to look around here. Many years ago when I wanted to move to the UK this town had been the centre where many in IT headed when they arrived here, I don’t know if that is still true, but given its location it is a handy midway point between East and West, and of course access to London. Personally I don’t think I could live here, but I would not mind exploring more of the river system, but somehow that is unlikely to happen.

© DRW 2015-2018. Created  24/02/2015, images migrated 26/04/2016 

Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:29

Newnham and Rotherwick churchyards

Following on with my quest to complete as many of the CWGC graves in churchyards close by, I decided to head to Hook, and from there to visit the churchyards of Newnham St Nicholas as well as Rotherwick Parish Church.
Hook is the next stop from Basingstoke on the line to London Waterloo and I was there by 10H30. I had some sort of plan in mind, and it really depended on my energy levels. The first part of my plan included photographing the Hook War Memorial.
  
And from there starting the long walk to my destination which was roughly 2,3 km away. I am not too keen on walking these country lanes because they are narrow and often have blind bends. There is no real pavement either so it can be risky, but the job has to be done.
 
Eventually I came to the junction that I needed and turned left to the church. It was a very pretty spot, and with Spring not too far away and a luke warm sun it really made for a nice day.  There are 4 CWGC graves in Newnham St Nicholas churchyard, of which two are private memorials. 
 
The lychgate is magnificent (as these lychgates tend to be), and is dated 1910. The church itself is very much older.
 
Like so many of the churches I have come across in my meanderings it is really difficult to date its origin because of all the changes that were made during the history of the church, at any rate it seems to show up in history round about 1130. The chancel arch has been dated to about 1135, with major restoration being completed in 1848. A more complete history of the church may be found at its website.
 
And like so many of these small parish churches it is not easy to get an image of the complete building, but there is at least one spot where you can make a good attempt.
 
My first grave was an easy one, it was amongst the first graves in the churchyard by the gate. And the churchyard was quite a nice one too, well shaded, lots of very old graves, and the occasional gem that makes you gasp. There were a number of cast iron markers in the one area, and I had seen quite a few of these in Southampton, but not too many in Basingstoke, I had also not seen this style of cast iron marker before either. They were really nice, but sadly a definite target for scrap metal thieves.
 
In the one corner I found two of the other graves I was looking for, as well as a really pretty collection of moss encrusted graves. These seemed to be of previous ministers of the church, and possibly a few important locals. 
I still had one more private memorial to find and there was no description of what it looked like. I explored further, working my way around the church.

 

My soldier was a World War 2 casualty and the area was now looking much more promising, although the graves immediately next to the church all dated to the 1800’s.

 

I started at the top and started checking each grave, hoping that I was not looking at a toppled headstone or an illegible inscription. Then I hit paydirt and I was able to tick him off the list too. The rent was paid, now I could explore. I headed back to the rear of the church where the entrance was (the entrance does not face the lychgate), and found that the church was open. Inside I met the vicar, and he told me a bit about the church and the various war memorials in the church (of which there were 4). It is not a very ornate building though, it’s much smaller than it looks from the outside, but has a humble feel about it, and a friendly atmosphere. 

Interestingly enough the oldest identifiable grave in the churchyard is that of Mary, daughter of Peter Justice, who died 14 August 1728, aged four months.

 

The vicar also showed me a safer route to Rotherwick which clinched my decision to head there next. All in all though this was a pleasant visit, and getting into the church was a bonus, because some of these churches have wonderful wall monuments in them, as well as war memorials to the local parishioners which seldom see the light.

 Rotherwick Parish Church

  
My next destination was roughly 2,8 km away and a short detour would take me through Tylney Park Golf Club and past Tylney Hall Hotel. The hotel is quite an interesting one, and I was hoping to get a chance to have a good look at it. Unfortunately as I arrived at the hotel my phone range and I had to speak to a personnel agent so ended up taking pics on the fly, and missing out on a lot of what there was to explore.
 
What is interesting is that in 1919 both the Hall and much of the original estate was acquired by Major Cayzer, later created Lord Rotherwick, owner of Clan Line Steamers Ltd, and the Hall became the headquarters for the shipping line. 
 
A previous owner had been Sir Lionel Philips, but whether this is the famous Baronet from Johannesburg history I cannot say. 
 
Irrespective though, from what I saw it was magnificent, I just wish I had been able to see more of it. Unfortunately though, my distraction did take me away from the buildings and I was not in the mood to turn back. Besides, I still had some graves to find. And that was still a long walk away.
    
Finally I arrived at Rotherwick, and the church was easy to find. It is not a big church, but again it is an old one, or  should I rather say, there has been a church at this spot for a long time.  More information about the church may be found at it’s website
 
I had two CWGC graves to find, and I started my round of the church.
  
There was not a lot of space in front of the church, the major part of the churchyard was behind the church and that was where my two graves were. 
  
The churchyard was evidently still being used, and it was quite a large space, slightly separated from the original churchyard.  Sadly though, at some point a lot of the old headstones had been uplifted and used as a wall at the bottom of the church. It was nicely done though, not a haphazard leaning of headstones as I had seen in so many other places.
 
Getting a pic of the church was difficult because of the sun, and because there was no real spot far away enough to fit it all in. I would have to go outside the churchyard to do that.
 
 
 
And then it was time to head off back to the station. I had two possible routes I could take. The first was to retrace my steps, and the other was to carry on with the road where the church was until I found Hook Road and turn into that one. It would take me to the one side of Hook and close to the Hook Village Garden and Cemetery.  It was also the difference between a 5 km and a 3.7 km walk. I chose the the latter. (Did I mention I discovered the ruler function on Google Earth? )

 

The walk was uninteresting, dodging from side to side of the road to avoid blind bends and impassable pavements. I was starting to tire too, and the sun was starting to hide behind clouds that were forming. I was ready to give up for the day. I had one more church to see, and it proved to be one of those modern featureless churches, with the cemetery next to it.

 
The cemetery was a modern one, but there was nothing really to see, so I took a quick walk around and then headed off to the station.

 

It had been a productive morning. Two more sets of graves had been added to the record, and 220 images had been taken. I had seen some really nice headstones, as well as a really pretty church. I enjoy these rural settings because every now and then I see something that literally takes my breath away. Maybe it is the countryside, or the history all around me, or just maybe I feel an affinity with here, it is the type of place I have had in my mind since I was a child, and the sort of places I read about in books, and what I was seeing did not disappoint.

© DRW 2015-2018. Created 18/02/2015, images migrated 26/04/2016

Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:31

Stratfield Mortimer: churchyard of St Mary the Virgin

In my quest to photograph war graves I tend to watch out for churches, and I spotted this church as I went through Mortimer Station on my way to Swindon in January. It was quite a large spire, easily seen and really worth a day trip because it was reasonably easy to get there by train, and with a spot of decent  weather this morning I grabbed my goodies and headed out, catching the local between Basingstoke and Reading.
  
The trip didn’t even take 15 minutes, and by my reckoning if I could grab my pics I could dash back to the station in time for the 11H48 train. After all, there were only 5 CWGC grave to find, how difficult is that?
 
The church is a quick walk away and I was feeling very confident by the the time I got there. 
 
It almost feels as if the church is too big for the rural setting that I was in, although the village of Mortimer is quite a large one if you see it from the aspect of Google Earth. 
The church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1869 on an old site. It is a large building designed in the early 14th-century style, and consists of a chancel, north chapel, and south organ chamber, over which is a tower. The walls are of squared rubble with external dressings and an internal facing of ashlar and the roofs are tiled. The tower is of three stages and has an octagonal stone spire.The church has a large churchyard with an additional area to the west where modern burials take place. 
  
 
I did a quick look around before starting my search, there was one standard CWGC headstone, but to my dismay the other 4 were all private memorials which made things a bit more complicated. The problem with PM’s are that often their inscriptions are no longer legible or they are obscured by vegetation. To make my life more complicated I was suffering from battery problems with my phone and was not able to connect to CWGC to see what other information there was apart from the names. 
The North side of the church

The North side of the church

Generally the information contained at the CWGC will include a grave number or rough location of the grave (West of church etc.), and if you can access the headstone reports there are often descriptions of the headstone (Large cross with kerb). It is also possible to narrow down a possible area using dates, but that can be hit or miss unless the cemetery is laid out in an orderly fashion. Sometimes you find a poppy cross or a poppy wreath to make your life easier, and sometimes there are badges, regiments or corps mentioned on the tombstones. 
  
I was able to find 3 more graves using names only, although the one was more of a fluke than anything else. I was however missing one grave, and it was listed as being “north of the church” (the area to the left of the church in the image above). This area did not have too many graves, but they were not too legible, and some were totally engulfed by vegetation.  This was not looking good at all.   
 
By now my train had come and gone, and the next one was due at 11H48, which left me time to find what I was after. I was carrying a spare battery for my phone so was able to do a quick change and access the headstone report which narrowed my field down to a “large cross with kerb”. There were not too many of them in this area so it was a case of checking each one.  
 
The second one I found was a possibility but the inscription was totally overgrown, I would have to come back to it after I had checked the remaining crosses with kerbs.  And then I hit paydirt, a large cross which had been toppled was a likely candidate and I was able to read the name after brushing away the leaves. I had found my missing soldier! 
 
The rent was paid, I could take a few more pics then head off to the station. 
 
The church is a pretty one, as oft these country churches are, and it really has an imposing spire. It is probably much bigger than some of the churches in Basingstoke, and I would have loved to see inside of it. Along the south wall there is an area that has been paved with headstones, and I really preferred that to them being used as paths or propped up along the walls.
 
 
And a last mystery was the group of headstones all on their own in one corner of the churchyard, were these non-conformists? or a family plot? I will probably never know.
  
Then I was out the door and heading to the station.  It had been quite a hunt, but I had achieved what I wanted. 
 
On my way back I grabbed a long distance shot, it was a really pretty area and I had 6 other parish churches more or less in this area that I had to get pics from. I was not sure if/when that would happen though, but I just hope that they are not as elusive as these graves were. 
 
I got to the station in time, and shortly afterwards they announced that the train had been cancelled due to a “train fault”. I could not believe it. The next train (which was actually the same train) was only due at 12H48. The same train runs on this short line that goes from Basingstoke, Bramley, Mortimer, Reading West and Reading. And if it is broken nobody goes anywhere. 
 
The station is a pretty building, but sadly the toilets were locked. And, there was nothing to see apart from the lines and the station building. I had 70 minutes to use up and I was cold and hungry. 
  
The big conundrum was that if they did not fix the train, I could be stranded here for even longer than an hour, at which point I would probably have really done my nut.  I was contemplating heading to a nearby restaurant which was advertising Sunday lunch, but I was too scared to use the money I had with me in case I needed to get a taxi home. Finally, after what seemed like hours the train came around the bend before I went around the bend and I was on my way home. 
 
The moral of the story is that it is not always possible to find all the graves you are after, and occasionally you need additional information to back up your search. Not all wartime casualties are buried with a CWGC headstone on their graves, some were buried by their families, and often that family is no longer able to care for the grave which makes it all the more important that we photograph them before it is too late.
 
Oh, and don’t think that your train will always be on time.
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 26/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:35

Cemetery in the Snow

Following on my post from Saturday when we had our first snow, I shelved the pics amongst all of my others, not thinking that 3 days down the line I would have to dust off the camera again, because overnight we had an inch of snow.
  
I had a doctors appointment for 09H45, but by 08H30 I was on my way to Holy Ghost Cemetery in Basingstoke (my handy cemetery up the road). I was hoping to get better pics than the ones from Saturday, and I am confident in saying that I did. 
 
There was a lot more snow this time around and coverage was much better on the grass and headstones, in fact I was really happy with what I was seeing here.
 
Even my favourite statue was looking better with her covering of white fluff.
 
And even the grave of Captain John Aidan Liddell VC.was looking beautiful. 
 
The chapel ruins were looking spectacular too, but they look great even when it is not snowing.
 
And the path that runs past the Quaker graves and Tank Blocks was looking beautiful, it is usually a mess with greenery, but the snow smooths that out and makes everything look so much nicer.
 
There is a small garden just outside the cemetery which is probably meant as a place of reflection, although judging by the beer tins that usually sit everywhere but in the bin, it is used for drinking purposes. Today it was uniformly white, and not a beer tin in sight.
 
I was hoping that the sun would make a consistent appearance, because it kept on emerging and then hiding behind the clouds. The sun would have really made the ice sparkle and make these images so much better.  On my camera I have an effect called “Miniaturisation” which can give some very interesting effects when applied to some scenes. Cemeteries tend to work quite well with this effect, and I tried quite a few shots with it. 
I was starting to run out of time and slowly made my way out of the cemetery, shooting pics as I did. There were a lot of really great angles to be seen.
 
 
Random pics. (open in a new window)

 

So much beauty and sadness in such a small place.

 © DRW 2015-2018. Created 03/02/2015, images migrated 25/04/2016

Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:41

Snow way! its white outside

I worked late on Friday evening, and on my walk home (at 00H10) I thought to myself that it wasn’t too cold and the sky was very clear with a bright moon. I even took some quick pics over the wall at the cemetery as an experiment (which did not work too good btw).
 
On Saturday morning, when I woke up I looked sleepily out of the window and it had snowed! It was white outside and definitely camera time. 

Granted there was not a lot of snow, but it was a nice smooth surface and after I had dressed I haphazardly headed out there. I really wanted to do a “cemetery in the snow” shoot if I was able, but I first needed a good recce on what the conditions were like outside.

My intention was to go check out the local football field and see what that was like, but it turned out to be a damp squib as there was not too much coverage there.

It was time to go home and grab my shopping bag and go to the shops, as I had to go past the cemetery to get there (conveniently). And of course, any useful images would help too. My flatmate said that when they had gone to the loo at 3am it had been snowing, so the fall was about 5 hours old.

And the local playpark was under snow too, although it did look like people had beaten me to it, as there were tracks leading to and from the park.

And then I was at Holy Ghost Cemetery. There hadn’t really been enough snow to give me the effect I wanted, but it was an interesting glimpse. Maybe another time? It is February now so anything can still happen between now and Spring. I remember seeing flurries in March 2013…..

Ok, now if somebody would just turn off the wind today.

© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 25/04/2016

Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:41

Christmas Gravehunting

Yes it is true, I will even go gravehunting on Christmas.
 
Early on Christmas day I packed my goodies and headed off to Monk Sherborne, to photograph two more CWGC graves at the All Saints Church.  It was not too far away, in fact I was not too far from Sherborne St John which I had visited on the 13th of December. 
  
My route had taken me on a bit of a detour as I was not able to use the shorter route I had researched before, but it is pretty country around here, so the view was of rolling English countryside and pretty houses. 
 
The Church is an old one, dating somewhere between the 10th and 14th century, and is built of flint with a clay tile roof. The churchyard is not a very big one and does not have as many graves as I would have expected. However, these things are deceptive because while there may be no headstones does not mean that there are no graves, or how many are on top of each other. 
  
My CWGC graves were easy to find, and once I had photographed them I wandered around the grounds. 
  
The one grave is particularly sad, as the soldier died on 26 November 1918, 15 days after the Armistice. It may be that he was a Spanish Flu victim, or died of wounds. However, the thought of going through that terrible war only to die shortly after it ends is especially sad.
 
Unfortunately the church does not have a lytchgate, but there is a beautiful wooden entranceway to the church which I suspect is very old. Its a really beautifully made wooden structure, but there was no indication as to its age. 
 
Behind the church and on one side are some fenced graves, and I believe there is a very nice wooden effigy of a knight inside the church. Unfortunately though, I could not get into the church to verify if this is true. 
 
This side of the church is easier to photograph because the sun was behind me.
 
I had completed my circuit of the grounds and theoretically was ready to head off home. 
 
There were a few graves I wanted to capture first and quickly did those before I started on my long walk home and my Christmas lunch.
 
  
On my way to the church I had passed the village War Memorial, and wanted to get some pics of it, although the sun was behind the memorial, making it very difficult to photograph the inscription. 
 
I took the right hand road to get back to where I wanted to be, and that was a nice walk, punctuated only by the occasional car and grouse catching fright at my passing.
 
I was finished with the Sherborne St John and the Monk Sherborne graves; 4 more have been photographed, and who knows where my next meandering would take me. In the meantime though I headed back to Sherborne St John to see about getting into the church, which means please follow the link to see my comments at the end of the Sherborne St John blogpost.
 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 21/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 08:34

A visit to Sherborne St John

While the weather is reasonable I started to tackle the graves that I could assist the British War Graves Project with. One of the places on this list is Sherborne St John, a small (and really old) village roughly 1,8 miles from where I live. Its not an impossible walk, but a blocked road meant I had to make a considerable detour from my planned route.  The walk was a bit dangerous, taking me through country lanes that have no pavements or places to dive into when about to be run over by a maniac on a cellphone driving a German sedan.
 
The area became rural very quickly, and very pretty too. It always amazes me how different the UK is from back in SA. I kind of like the all pervading green; in South Africa the grass would have been dry and dead and dismal. In the UK it is green and lush and kinda muddy underfoot. My target was St Andrews Churchyard, with two CWGC graves in it, one of which was a Canadian nurse. Fortunately navigation within Sherborne St John was straight forward and before I knew it I was at the church.
  
I am really becoming a fan of these lytchgates, some are really beautiful, and this one was no exception. This particular one had a brass plaque on it,which made me think about how much has passed through that small wooden construction, and how many only made the passage in one direction?  
 
The churchyard was startlingly beautiful, it was just one of those places that took my breath away. I am always amazed to see some of those old graveyards and churches, the sense of history you get once you stand amongst the headstones is just so amazing. It is just so difficult to imagine the lives of those who are buried here so many years after the fact. Of course it is not only the lives of the people, but the country that they lived in which has changed,  they could never have imagined the era we are in now, but it is equally difficult to transpose yourself backwards through time to walk these pathways and see these headstones when they were newly laid.
sherborne_st_john 028
 
 
The church itself does not seem too old, although it is always very difficult to date these buildings. However, it appears as if a  church seems to have been built here about the year 1150, the chancel being rebuilt in the middle of the 14th century. The tower was added in the 14th century, but was almost wholly rebuilt in 1837. The north aisle is an addition of 1854; the chancel roof was restored in 1866, and in 1884 a thorough restoration was undertaken.(http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hants/vol4/pp158-171)

My first CWGC grave was easy to find, the distinctive headstone against a hedge did not really need much looking for. However, the second would be more difficult as it was a private memorial, which meant I could be looking for anything. Fortunately I found my nurse, and was able to photograph her grave so very far from her home. I am especially fond of finding graves like this because the families may never have seen these graves, and its only since photography has become cheap and easy that we are able to finally take the photographs, but unfortunately too many years too late.

My original Google Earth view had indicated that there was an additional cemetery/churchyard not 100 metres from the church, and it was probably an overflow from the original graveyard. I headed towards this next.

My supposition was correct, and the graves here are relatively modern, although some of the headstones really look as if they are much older. The row of Yews encompasses a war memorial which I photographed too. These memorials often contain names that do not always exist on Rolls of Honour and its always a good idea to have the names off them.
That was it. Time to head back home. My route would take me past the local duck pond to quack at the local ducks. They probably thought I was quackers.
And back through the churchyard for more pics before finding my way to the bottom of the churchyard where I had spotted a small solitary headstone 

My initial thought was that it was the headstone of a child, or possibly a dissenter, however I did find other graves there, and it was very possible that it was the footstone of a grave, the headstone having been toppled. That’s part of the frustration about gravehunting; there are just no hard and fast answers to any questions that you may have.  This wooden fence was interesting though because there were graves on either side of it, which led me to think that it may have been a paupers or dissenters area. The answer is probably buried in history, and I would not have an answer on this day. Time was marching and I still had to get home before the light started to fade. I was very tempted to root around in the area a bit more, but I decided to leave it for another day. I have another graveyard to explore in a village close by, and just maybe I will be able to include a return visit to this one too. I know I would love to get into the church. 

And that was it. I was on my way home. It was a fantastic graveyard, with some really beautiful headstones and the inevitable mystery. And of course there were family plots, and soldiers and lichen, and that made it my sort of place.

Update: 25 December 2014.
Following on from my trip to Monk Sherborne on Christmas, I wanted to update this post slightly. The church is not too far from there, and I came home via Sherborne St John as I wanted to see if it was possible to see the inside of the church. A service was in progress when I arrived, but ended shortly thereafter. I was able to get into the church, and it was really very pretty, but could not take any pics because another service was due to start almost immediately.  There are two separate war memorials in the church and I may see about heading out there again one day to get pics of them. The one odd thing I saw was 4 scooters “parked” close to the gate, and parishioners walking back from the service. It brought back many memories from when we used to attend church back when I was young, although the clothing was much more sombre and less colourful amongst the people. I am not quite finished here yet, there may be another update one of these days.

 
DRW ©  2014-2019. Images recreated 21/04/2014
Updated: 01/07/2019 — 13:23
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