musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Reading

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

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

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
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