Map of the month – Botchergate, Trollope and the Bellman

First Postbox - CarlisleBotchergate, Carlisle (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1865)

vertical-pillarbox

Thirteen years after Sir Rowland Hill, Secretary of the Post Office, introduced the Penny Post that the first mainland Pillar Box was erected in Botchergate, Carlisle in 1853.

The advent of the British wayside letter box can be traced to Sir Rowland Hill and his Surveyor for the Western District, and noted novelist, Anthony Trollope (known for The Warden, Barchester Towers and the Palliser novels).

Before 1853 it was customary to take outgoing mail to the nearest letter receiving house or post office, where the Royal Mail coach would stop to pick up and set down mail and passengers. People would take their letters in person, or in some areas they could await the appearance of the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public while ringing a bell to attract attention.

In 1852 Anthony Trollope was sent by Rowland Hill to the Channel Islands to ascertain what could be done about the problem of collecting the mail on the islands. To post a letter in Jersey or Guernsey, the post had to be taken down to the quayside and handed to the Master of the Royal Mail steamer in person. This was a somewhat inconvenient practice, subject as it was to the uncertainties of weather and tides.

Trollope’s recommendation back to Hill was to employ a device he had probably seen in Paris: a “letter-receiving pillar”. The first pillar boxes was brought into public use on Jersey in late November 1852 and they were an instant success.

By the next year the idea had spread to mainland Britain, with England’s first pillar box erected at the corner of Botchergate and South Street in Carlisle. In basic form all boxes were vertical cast iron ‘pillars’ with a small vertical slit to receive letters, but by 1857, after experimenting with various designs, horizontal, rather than vertical, slots were taken as a standard. The Committee responsible for the standardisation designed a very ornate box festooned with Grecian style-decoration but, in a major oversight, devoid of any posting aperture, which meant the slots were chiselled out of the cast iron by local craftsmen, usually destroying the look of the box.

Prior to 1859 colours varied until a bronze green colour was chosen as the new standard, which was to last until 1874. Initially it was thought that the green colour would be unobtrusive. Too unobtrusive, as it turned out — people kept either walking into them or past them. Red became the standard colour in 1874, although ten more years elapsed before every box in the UK had been repainted.

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A Race Track, an Airfield and Maggots

Silverstone (MAP: OS Old Series 1:50,000 – published in 1835)
Silverstone
Silverstone is a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire. The village is listed in the Domesday Book.

Silverstone is also the current home of the British Grand Prix, which it first hosted in 1948. The circuit itself straddles the Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire border, with the current main circuit entry on the Buckinghamshire side and built on the remains of a WWII RAF base.

Even being at the forefront of technical innovation Silverstone has its roots firmly in the landscape’s past. All the corners of the racing circuit have names, many relating to the local area, as shown on the map.

• The first corner on the circuit is Abbey. Named after Luffield Abbey, which occupied the centre of the site from the twelfth century until its Dissolution in 1551 when the land was passed to Sir Francis Throckmorton.
• The second, Farm Curve, simply takes it’s name from a nearby farm.
• The third and fourth corners have literal names in Village, named after Silverstone Village and The Loop, the only corner to be named after it’s shape.
• Then there is Aintree, named after the Aintree course, where the Grand Prix alternated with Silverstone in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s.
• Followed by the Wellington Straight, only named in 2010, which takes it’s name from the Wellington Bombers which flew from RAF Silverstone during WWII.
• Next comes Brooklands, named in honour of the Brooklands Motor Circuit, known as the home of British motor racing.
• Luffield, like the first corner is named after the medieval Abbey.
• Woodecote, like Brooklands, was named in honour of an existing circuit, namely the RAC owned Woodcote Park in Surrey.
• Copse corner is named after the nearby Chapel Copse and Cheese Copse that border the track.
• The oddly named Maggotts actually takes its name from the adjacent Maggots Moor (written with only the one ‘t’ on the map).
• Becketts and Chapel Curve both take their names from the medieval chapel of St Thomas à Beckett which stood near the track features.
• Like the Wellington Straight, Hangar Straight takes it’s name from the time of the RAF base. Two of the largest hangars stood in this area.
• The next corner Stowe takes it’s name from the local area of Stowe, to the south of the track, famous for Stowe School.
• Vale. Although the track is predominantly flat, this is the only undulating area on the track and the probable source of the name. Another theory is that is named after the district of Aylesbury Vale, in which it sits.
• The final corner Club is, like Woodecote, named after the famous RAC club in Pall Mall London.

This weekend sees Silverstone hosing the British Grand Prix with nearly 300,000 people expected to attend. A far cry from the quiet landscape shown on the above 1835 map.

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Map of the month – Tunnels and a World Changer.

Welbeck Abbey  (MAP: OS County Series 1:2500 – published in 1886)
Welbeck Abbey

Welbeck Abbey in North Nottinghamshire was the site of a monastery which, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, became the country house residence of the Dukes of Portland.

William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1800-79), the 5th Duke of Portland, built a 10km-long network of underground corridors on his Welbeck Abbey estate in part of Sherwood Forest.

Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck instructed his builders to construct pathways under the 69sq km of landscaped grounds. Tunnel No. 1 was about 500m long, wide enough for two carriages and had gas lamps installed overhead and led to a 2km pathway connecting the lodge and the south lodge, where the duke’s carriage was kept. The 910m-long Plant Corridor ran between the main house and riding house and was wide enough for several people to walk side by side. Running parallel to the Plant Corridor was a longer, narrower, rougher-hewn tunnel, which the duke had built for the servants, to ensure they never met.

There are many smaller tunnels including a grotto corridor and corridors with narrow-gauge rails on which warm food could be brought on trolleys to the main house. The Horse Corridor leads to an underground ballroom, the largest private room in England at the time – 50m long and 20m high. All these projects were funded by the duke’s properties in London around Portland Square and other properties in the West End.

Many rumours surround the eccentric 5th Duke. He is said to have spent most of his life in a small five-room suite within Welbeck and that he required that a fresh roasted chicken was available at any time, day or night. On the few occasions he left his house to walk in the extensive park, it was only at night and accompanied by a servant, who carried a lantern 30m in front of him and he was observed to only leave the house concealed under an umbrella, two large overcoats, a two foot high top hat, and a double ruff – even in fine weather.

In 1913, Archduke Franz Ferdinand accepted an invitation from the 6th Duke of Portland to stay at Welbeck Abbey and arrived with his wife, Sophie, by train at Worksop on the 22nd November. This was almost a year before his assassination, which triggered off the First World War.

The Archduke narrowly avoided being killed in a hunting accident during his stay. The Duke of Portland was out shooting pheasants with Franz Ferdinand when: “One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself. I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.”

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Water Babies and an exclamation!

Westward Ho!, Devon (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:10,000 – published in 1903)
Westward Ho!
Westward Ho! is a seaside village near Bideford in Devon, England and faces westward into Bideford Bay.

The village name comes from the title of Charles Kingsley’s novel Westward Ho! (1855), which was set in nearby Bideford. The book was a bestseller, and entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to develop tourism in the area. The first hotel built was named the Westward Ho! Hotel, and the adjacent villas were also named after the book. As further development took place, the expanding area incorporated the name of Westward Ho!

During WWII Bailey Bridges were tested at Westward Ho! as part of the Mulberry Harbour project, as well as the The Great Panjandrum. The Panjandrum is probably best know for being depicted in the Dad’s Army episode, “Round and Round Went the Great Big Wheel”, about a large, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden wheel. Unfortunately the real wheel had as many problems as the tv version and the idea never saw service.

Westward Ho! is also home to the Royal North Devon Golf Club, the oldest golf course in England and Wales.

The exclamation mark is obviously an intentional part of the village’s name. It is the only such place name in the British Isles, but although it may be unique in the UK Westward Ho! is out-exclaimed by Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec, which has the distinction of having two exclamation marks in its name.

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Ballot Box, Balls and a Roman

Ballot Street, Smethwick (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1887)
Ballot - Town Plan Maps

The map above is an example of one of Cassini’s newly available Town Plans. A great number of English towns, those with a population of over 4,000, were surveyed on the large scale of 1:500. Other early plans were published at scales of 1:528 and 1:1056, but from 1855 onwards the scale of 1:500 was settled on and most were surveyed only once. The maps, published between 1855 and 1920’s, show an immense amount of detail, down to every lamp-post and every pillar-box, even paths, trees and sheds in peoples gardens.

As we have chosen Ballot Street, here’s a bit of history you may, or may not, know. A ballot is a device used to cast votes in an election. It was originally a small ball used to record decisions made by voters. The word ballot comes from Italian ballotta, meaning a “small ball used in voting”. The first use of paper ballots to conduct an election appears to have been in Rome in 139 BC.

The coin shown above is Roman from around 63 B.C. Issued by Cassius Longinus, who became a proconsul in 48 B.C. and a Tribune of the Plebs in 44 B.C. The reverse of the coin shows a voter about to deposit a voting tablet marked V (meaning yes – ‘as you ask’) into a voting urn.

The first British secret ballot using ballot papers and a ballot box was held in Pontefract on 15 August 1872, under the terms of the recently enacted Ballot Act 1872. In a ministerial by-election following his appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Hugh Childers was re-elected as MP for Pontefract. The original ballot box, sealed in wax with a liquorice stamp, can still be seen in Pontefract Museum.

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Bazalgette and the Woolwich Ferry

Woolwch Ferry

Woolwich and the Free Ferry –  Map: County Series 1:2500 1894

The Woolwich Ferry (sometimes also called the Woolwich Free Ferry) is a free vehicle ferry service across the River Thames in East London. There has been a connection between what is now Woolwich and North Woolwich across the Thames since the Norman Conquest. The area was mentioned in the Domesday Book as 63 acres belonging to Hamon, the steward. There is also evidence of a ferry service in the area since the early 14th century. In the first half of the nineteenth century a commercial ferry operated in Woolwich between 1811 and 1844, but the company failed and the service ended.

In 1880 local pressure began for a renewal of such a service provided by the town authorities, but costs were prohibitive, and eventually the Metropolitan Board of Works was brought in to manage the embryonic project.

Following the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which had taken over toll bridges in west London and opened them to free public use, it was suggested that the Board should fund a free crossing of the Thames in east London. The service was instigated in September 1887 by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, famous for the significant impact he had both on London’s appearance and, through his design of an efficient sewage system, on the health of its inhabitants.

The service was officially opened on 23 March 1889, with the paddle steamer Gordon. Two days before the first service, the Metropolitan Board of Works was replaced by the London County Council (LCC), and the opening ceremony was conducted by Lord Rosebery instead of the expected Bazalgette.

The ferry typically attracts about two million passengers a year, although many cross-river foot passengers now take the foot tunnel beneath the river, alongside the ferry route. Further competition arrived in 2009 with the extension to Woolwich of the Docklands Light Railway, which crosses under the river to the east of the ferry route.

Sadly for history it seems inevitable that a bridge upstream of the ferry will be built, making crossing faster for the cars and lorries that use the service, with doubtless the demise of the ferry following the opening of that bridge.

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Lewes and the UK’s deadliest avalanche!

Lewes

Cliffe Hill Lewes  –  Map: County Series 1:2500 1875

Lewes is the county town of the administrative county of East Sussex. With a population of just over 16,000 the town sits in a gap in the rolling South Downs, cut through by the River Ouse.

William Morris is quoted as having said “You can see Lewes lying like a box of toys under a great amphitheatre of chalk hills … on the whole it is set down better than any town I have seen in England.”

All the more surprising then that on 27 December 1836 it was the location for UK’s worst avalanche disaster.

South East of Lewes looms Cliffe Hill, rising to 164 metres above sea level. The hill has a steep sloping western edge which dominates the eastern view from the town. In 1836, a row of seven flimsily constructed workers’ cottages called Boulder Row (or Boulters Row) stood immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill.

The winter of 1836–1837 was exceptionally severe across the whole of Great Britain, with heavy snow, gale force winds and freezing temperatures. Very heavy snowfall began over the South Downs, on 24 December 1836, and continued unabated over the Christmas period. Strong winds at the same time created blizzard conditions, with reports of snowdrifts over ten feet high in some areas of Lewes. The accumulation of snow at the top of Cliffe Hill, driven by a particularly severe gale on Christmas night, had formed a large overhanging edge of snow on the hill’s almost sheer western edge. The inhabitants of  the cottages below were warned that they could be at risk and were advised to leave their homes, but for reasons known only to themselves they chose to ignore the warning.

At 10.15 on the morning of Tuesday 27 December the ridge collapsed, producing an enormous avalanche directly onto Boulder Row. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser, reporting an eyewitnesses account, stated: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.” A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling seven survivors from the wreckage, but eight other individuals were found dead.

A public house called the Snowdrop Inn (named in commemoration of the incident) was built on the site once occupied by Boulder Row, and still trades under the same name to this day.

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