The Funeral Party

Posted on 28th January 2011

There is something fascinating about graveyards. Rather than being creepy or eerie, I find them quite peaceful. It can be interesting reading the headstones to see how long ago people were buried and some of the dedications.

Recently Dan and I visited the Warstone Lane Cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter, and previously we've visited John Bonham's grave near Droitwich and Ian Curtis' remembrance stone in Macclesfield Cemetery. I've always wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery in London and Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris too. I'll confess that its partly to see where famous names are buried, but I'm also intrigued to see some of the not so famous gravestones, tombs and memorials too.

While attending a funeral several years ago in Cheltenham, I happened to be looking at the headstones as we walked along the path to the crematorium. One stopped me in my tracks as I wasn't quite sure whether I was seeing the resting place of the person I thought it was. The headstone was for Brian Jones and the dates on the headstone did seem to match.

For those who are music fans of the 60s, you will probably remember that Brian Jones was once the guitarist in The Rolling Stones, who died in 1969. My later investigations revealed that the grave was indeed the final resting place for the Stones guitarist.

It's surprising what little parts of history you can discover wandering through a graveyard.

File Under: life / people / sightseeing

A Letter to Elise

Posted on 28th September 2010

The Jewellery Quarter has always held a lot of history within its streets and buildings, but having worked around the area for a few years, I completely missed some of that history. Although I knew of Warstone Lane Cemetery, The Agent Centre, The Chamerlain Clock and of the older buildings, I'd never really looked up their history. Last week I discovered that Birmingham had catacombs, and they had been right under my nose in Warstone Cemetery all this time. As such, I thought it might be interesting to take some time to look up some more history of the area.

After only a few minutes, I decided that Dan and I should take a photo tour of The Jewellery Quarter, and pick out some highlights. Our first stop was at Northwood Street, which was once home to tw2, the web design company I started working at in 1999. We then went around the corner into Regent Place, along to the building now occupied by D&F. From 1777-1790 there stood a large house where James Watt once lived. Not only did he live here, but in partnership with Matthew Boulton, he also worked here too, and produce many of his most famous inventions here. Around the corner is the school that is now part of Birmingham University, but still today concentrates on teaching pupils the art of sliversmith and jewellery making.

Although many of the factories have been replaced over the years, many still hold the history of the trades of a bygone era. One such trade was the making of pen nibs for fountain pens. Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was once the highest producer of pen nibs in the world, and its decline only came more recently, due to the mass production of László Bíró's invention by Bic. However, The Pen Room in the Argent Centre still exists to preserve the history. As you enter, you walk into a room instantly full of history. Around the walls on the left are various packages and pens, with the centre given way to cases of exhibits. On the right are some of the old machines used to make the pen nibs. On a quiet day the staff are more than happy to give you a demostration, although they can only perform 5 steps of the process, as the other 12 require machines too large to fit in the room, as well as time to perform them. Dan got to punch out the metal and stamp it to begin the process, and got to keep the results. He was quite impressed to realise that all those years ago, children the same age as himself were producing all these nibs. Of the stamping process 28,000 per worker were cut from the sheet metal.

Next we were shown some of the braille machines that were also produced in Birmingham, with Dan getting to spell his name in braille on the ticker type machines. After the demonstrations, we were lead into the second room, full of typewriters, pen nibs and other exhibits, with the opportunity to try some of the typewriters, as well as try writing with some of the pens. A member of staff took out an old German typewriter that was very unique as the characters were all on a single barrel, and the letters chosen via a metal pointer attached to the barrel, and pointing at the letters on a curved pad. A very unusual typewriter, and I should have taken a photo, as I can't find anything like it online. Looking at some of the other exhibits, it is surprising to discover just how much an impact the pen industry had on Birmingham (as well as the world), with many pioneers having been since commorated with street names, mounments and buildings. Josiah Mason, John Baskerville and Joseph Gillott to name a few.

Across from The Pen Room was Joseph Gillott's Victoria Works, and is one of a few factories that can still be seen, the Argent Centre itself (previously the Albert Works) being one too. Incidentally the Argent Centre at one point was also a Turkish Baths. Another bit of history I discovered, is that the stories of 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow' were actually written in a house, whose grounds covered the corner of Legge Lane and Frederick Street. The house survived even after the Argent Centre was built in front of it, to occupy the corner itself. Further up Frederick Street is the factory of Thomas Fattorini Ltd, who moved to Birmingham from Italy, via Skipton, and was renowned for making medals and badges. I used to walk past these buildings every day when I worked at The Big Peg, and although I often took the time to take in the grand designs of the buildings, I really wished I'd taken more interest at the time. I'd have probably spent most lunchtimes walking around with a camera :)

We then entered the central part of the Jewellery Quarter, by the Chamberlain Clock and Aquinas House. From here we walked across the road to the Warstone Lane Cemetery Lodge, and to The War Stone. The former is not something I'd really paid attention to before, and the latter I never knew was there. From here we walked into the cemetery. In the central part of the cemetery are the catacombs. Above them originally stood St Michael's Church, which has long since gone. From images and drawings the cemetery was meant to be viewed from the Icknield Street entrance, with the catacombs appearing to be leading into the church. However, the abundance of trees these days hides a large part of this viw now. The catacombs were once used from protection in WWII, but have now all been boarded up, although some had already been closed with upright headstones. A link to our visit to The Pen Room is John Baskerville who is buried here. Although I didn't find his gravestone, there is a sort of memorial to him.

As we were planning to spend all day wandering around, we walked back and drove around some of the other places, such as Icknield Street School. Next time we'll take some time to visit the Key Hill Cemetery, which is just the otherside of the train station, and holds many famous Birmingham history makers, including Alfred Bird the inventory of egg-free custard, of which the Custard Factory is named (and perhaps another tour some day). Another place we'll visit is the Jewellery Museum at the top end of Vyse Street, as well as taking in more of the buildings in and around St Paul's Square, including The Assay Office, the biggest in the world.

One of Dan's fascinations of the day was the BT Tower. So as we headed back home, I stopped at the base so he could take a picture. Opposite we discovered the building that is St John's Ambulance Headquarters, which I've probably walked past several hundred times and never really noticed. Just goes to show what you can be missing when just walking through the streets of the town where you live.

It was a great dayout, and a good reminder that discovering history is only a short step away from your own doorstep. And it doesn't need to cost a fortune either.

If you're interested in the area, and perhaps doing a similar walking tour, I thoroughly recommend reading The Walk by Bob Miles, as well as the additional material Bob has assembled over the years. I wished I'd read more of it before setting out on our trip, and I'll definitely be using it for the bits we missed when we visit the area next time.

File Under: birmingham / museum / photography / sightseeing / structures / walks

Living In The Past

Posted on 2nd September 2010

For a day out during the summer holidays, Nicole and I looked at places to visit that where children friendly, as well as interesting. I was surprised to discover that The Lunt Roman Fort was somewhere we had passed so often, but had never noticed. Although you can see the A45 from the fort, it isn't as easy to see the fort from the road, due to the trees all around now. All those years ago the fort would have had a very good vantage point across the landscape.

The fort itself is in the village of Baginton, which is south of Coventry City Centre and about a mile north of Coventry Airport (hence why its former name is Baginton Airport). However, the fort's biggest failing is advertising itself via road signs. There were very few, and had I not already seen the map of how to get there online, I could quite easily made a wrong turn. I wonder how many more visitors they might get if only they could direct people, as road signs would also help promote the fort to those who drive along the A45 or A46 fairly often. In all the times I've passed by in the last 20 or so years, I only found out about the place because of the internet! Getting there aside, the place is well worth a visit.

The original fort, being primarily wood based, has long since gone, and the buildings there today have been reconstructed based on the original drawings and layout from the roman times. There are stone and earthworks on the ground, so you can still see where many of the buildings would have been, but The Main Gate, Granary Building and Gyrus have all been careful reconstructed, and give a great impression of what the whole layout of buildings might have looked like. The Granary Building is the central museum full of artifacts, replica outfits and games, together with a 3D model of what the whole fort would have looked like. For the kids they have a little booklet to use to search for things around the site. It's well worth using as your guide, as it gave us a reason to have a closer look at the site.

The Main Gate to the south is the main entrance to the site, and on the approach you can see the ditches either side of you that were dug around the fort. The gate itself has a lookout tower, which unfortunately isn't accessible to the public, but it would provide a commanding view of the area. I wouldn't be surprised to be able to see some of the landmarks of Coventry and even Warwick on a clear day. You can climb up to the initial battlements level, and that still provides a great view, although apart from the airport nothing noteworthy is visible from this height, due to the nearby trees.

Next we headed over to the Gyrus. It's essentially a training area, both for horses and men. The ground is extremely sandy, to avoid injuries from falls. There were stables here, which are now only visible by their foundations. There would have been several hundred men posted here too, centurions and officers. The difference between the two clearly marked by the types of foundations of the buildings they would have lived in. The officers quarters looking rather more grand is space, while the centurions would have lived in long buildings that are probably the same as barracks we know of today.

The site was originally discovered in the 1930s when several pieces of Roman pottery were found. Then in the 1960s further excavations uncovered all the foundations to the various buildings. The buildings were reconstructed in the 1970s, when the site was finally opened tothe public.

Although it is a small site to visit, we spent roughly 90 minutes wandering around, there is a lot to discover and understand about the site. The kids loved dressing up in the replica outfits, as did Nicole, and they also enjoyed playing the ancient games. Dan completed the competition in the booklet and won himself an ancient coin. We had a great time exploring the fort, and would definitely recommend a visit. If you wanted to spend a full day out, then there is also the Midland Air Museum about half a mile down the road. We were hungry and heading for pizza, so we didn't get the chance. Combe Abbey Country Park is also very close by too, so taking an hour or so out to visit The Lunt Roman Fort too, is well worth it.

For the full set of photos, click here.

File Under: castles / photography / sightseeing


Posted on 30th August 2010

At the end of July, Dan and I went up to Macclesfield in Cheshire to see the Unknown Pleasures exhibition. Although the exhibition was billed as the life/work of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, it mostly centres on exhibits that focus on Joy Division. The exhibition itself was in two parts, firstly archive material surrounding Joy Division, then across the hallway, a collection of artwork inspired by Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The archives are fantastic, and include many items fans would have loved to have sat and read through for hours. The one aspect that was a little disappointing was the lack of photographs, particularly gig photos. The ones on show mostly focused on the two gigs. While they were great to see, it would have been wonderful to have had more on display. Though it did make me wonder whether there were any other photographs. In all the years since, I haven't seen that many more.

Ian died on 18th May 1980, and this exhibition, together with the other events that have taken place, such as the workshops, are all to commemorate 30 years since his death. It seems staggering to think it was 30 years ago, and to realise how much it affected me at the age of 14. Joy Division were always local heroes for me, as I was born 8 miles away from Macclesfield in Congleton, and later moved to nearby Holmes Chapel. Growing up in the aftermath of Punk, the new wave sounds that were centred around Manchester was a source of great inspiration for young teenagers. The fact that Joy Division (or at least 2 of them) were local, only added to their appeal.

As I was with Dan, I couldn't attend the Film Festival that was planned in the afternoon & evening, but it would have been interesting to hear from some of the people behind the band, including Stephen Morris. It's one thing to see the films and get a feeling of the events, but hearing the real experiences of the people involved is quite another. Sadly two additional people who helped to carve the history of the band, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, are also no longer with us. I've met both, as well the members of New Order, over the years, and was glad that I was old enough to appreciate those times in the late 70s/early 80s.

After the exhibition Dan & I took in some of the sights of Macclesfield, particularly those relating to Ian and Joy Division. The Exhibition was selling a special map to help guide people to some of the landmarks, which helped to provide a bit more background information, particularly for the rehearsal rooms and gigs they hung out at. The Heritage Centre, also known part of the Silk Museum, is primarily a centre for the town to reflect on it's history of being part of the Silk industry. The Heritage Centre itself used to be an old mill. You can still see evidence of this around the town, and one of the days I may get back again, and photograph some of those sights. However, for this trip we used the map to pinpoint the musical history.

Our first stop was along from The Heritage Centre, towards the town centre, to Duke Street. Krumbles Night Club was the venue of the first Joy Division gig. It has since changed hands several times, and changed names, and I did wonder whether anyone these days still puts on gigs there, as from the outside it just looks like a regular disco. We walked through the arcade of Dukes Court onto the main street. Although there are other haunts the band once took in nearby, we choose to head off to our next destination.

Next we headed to 77 Barton Street. If you've seen the film Control, the exterior shots of the house, are the actual house, as is the Labor Exchange where Ian used to work. It wasn't until I watched Control again recently, that I noticed that they had tried to convey just how close his house was to where he worked. Barely a few minutes door to door walking. That's one of the nice things about being able to come here and see for yourself, you get to see the reality of it, the history of the town. You also get to see the views of The Pennines to the east and north.

I met a guy who had brought his daughter along, as I had done with Dan. It turned out like me he hadn't got to see the band live, though he was 18 when Ian died, I was just 14. We both commented that being 30 years ago, why there wasn't a plaque or something, but I suspect the current owners would rather not have one. I guess they can tolerate fans taking pictures every once in a while, but didn't want to draw too much attention to the house.

We then headed around the corner to the Labour Exhange. Although the building looks to be unchanged, it's no longer a Labour Exchange, and now appears to be a centre to help local businesses. Again if you've seen the film Control, the exterior of the building is used, with the more modern signs replaced with old ones.

Our next location was intended to be the rehearsal rooms the band once used. Unfortunately the location provided on the map is a bit confusing. As such, I think the new school buildings we found next to The Weston pub are more likely to have been the site of the Hall, replacing it in more recent years. We then went to look for the next rehearsal rooms on the map, The Talbot pub. Initially I was looking for a pub, and although we found a couple, they didn't quite fit the location marked in the guide. Pulling over, I read a little more closely and discovered the roundabout we'd kept passing was the original site of the pub. It had been knocked down to make way for one the new roads around the town.

Eventually we headed for the Macclesfield Crematorium. The crematorium itself also has very personal memories for me, as well as being the place where Ian was cremated. My sister Jacqui, as well as Floss, who would have been my Great Aunt had my Nan's brother not died in the war, were both cremated here too. The cemetary and the Garden of Rememberance are both very peaceful places, and even though we saw several fans coming to visit the curbstone, it always felt respectful. It didn't feel sombre either. Those I spoke to had more to say about Ian's life than his death, which is how it should be. I was quite surprised to see most of the fans were actually quite young, most being in their 20s, and two needed their mum and dad to drop them off. It does seem that Joy Division have indeed reached a new audience, one that wasn't even born when Ian died.

On our final journey round the town we took in King's School, where both Ian and Stephen attended, together with The Travellers Rest. The Travellers Rest was another pub that was frequented by music fans and featured gigs. Warsaw asked if they could play here once, but were told they should get a record deal first.

It was a good day out, and nice opportunity to celebrate a life that has touched so many people. Joy Division are one of my most listened to bands over the years, and despite such a small catalogue compared to others, they managed to produce a wealth of great songs. For Ian, Closer was a disaster, and from experience I've seen other bands feel extremely disappointed with the results of a recording immediately after the sessions have finished. However, it's only later that the realisation that you've produced something special becomes apparent.

I've been back to Cheshire regularly since I left, but don't often make it as far as Macclesfield. I'm glad I took Dan with me this time, as aside from giving him a sense of my history, he hopefully has some memories that will bring Joy Division to an even younger audience.

"To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you"

File Under: art / museum / music / sightseeing

In The Court Of The Crimson King

Posted on 31st October 2008

This week is half term, so the plan was to visit a few places locally. On Monday DanDan and I had been left to our own devices, so we headed off to see more castles. This time we ventured into Wales, or at least just across the border. Unfortunately it seems I wasn't checking the settings correctly on the camera, and some of the photos came out a little too over exposed. I was quite impressed with Raglan Castle, aside from being a very reasonable entrance fee, the castle although not huge, is full of hidey holes and cellars to explore. The keep, like many we've visited recently, still has most of it's stairs up to the tower intact, and you are allowed up to look at the view.

Following the visit to Raglan Castle our plan was to visit Symonds Yat Rock then onto Goodrich Castle. Unfortunately we were too late getting to Goodrich Castle so we'll have to leave that for another time. Just a short way back over the border back into England, near Ross-on-Wye, is Symonds Yat. Now there are two Symonds Yat villages, which confused DanDan and I while we tried to find Symonds Yat Rock. We first visited Symonds Yat West, which resides in Herefordshire on the eastern bank of the River Wye. Then upon realising our mistake, we turned around and headed for Symonds Yat East in Gloucestershire, finally finding Symonds Yat Rock. The view across each side of the peak is impressive, though the eastern side is mostly of interest for ornithologists, due to the Peregrine Falcons that have returned to the area. It's a shame you can't quite see the original hill fort any more, although driving out of the car park you do follow between two of the mounds and trenches.

On Tuesday morning we had glorious sunshine, so the plan to go to Dudley Castle & Zoo seemed quite a good idea at the time. By the time we got there it was a little overcast and a bit drizzly, but we figured it would blow over. Having paid quite a substantial amount of money for want amounts to an out-of-season visit, the rain started to get a little heavier. As it was lunchtime we headed for food first, but afterwards it was still raining. We attempted to do some indoor activities, as much as we could, but the rain wasn't giving up. After a few hours of perseverance we admitted defeat and decided to walk back down to exit and the car. At this point the rain turned into snow! Had we known how the weather was going to turn, I doubt we'd have gone for a day out. The castle and the zoo themselves do look like they would be a good day out during better weather, but many of the animals were inside and trying to take photos in the rain is not the brightest of ideas when you have a decent camera. I was considering not include photos here, due to the drops of rain and snow on the lens, but then it was all part of a memorable day out :)

Enjoy the photos.

File Under: castles / photography / sightseeing

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