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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Zeppelin Raids – The birth of the Blitz.

St. Peter’s Plain, Great Yarmouth (MAP: OS Town Plans 1:500 – published in 1885)
Zeppelins over Great Yarmouth

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Zeppelin air raids on the UK.

On the 19th January 1915 two Zeppelin naval airships, 190 metres long, were heading for Humberside but were blown further down the east coast by strong gusts. They were forced to switch their attacks to the coastal towns of Norfolk. Zeppelins L3 and L4 crossed the coast of East Anglia, north of Great Yarmouth. Zeppelin L4 flew on towards Kings Lynn while Zeppelin L3, piloted by Kaptain Lt. Hans Fritz, turned back towards Great Yarmouth.

The first bomb dropped by L3 was an incendiary which landed in a waterlogged field in Little Ormesby, the second fell on a lawn in Albermarle Road near Wellesley. The first explosive to be dropped struck the pavement in Crown Road, but failed to explode, but the fourth and most destructive of the bombs to land on Great Yarmouth fell in St Peter’s Plain and burst with devasstating effect instantly killing Martha Taylor and shoemaker Sam Smith, while two more people were injured. By the end of the night two more people had been killed in Kings Lynn.

By the end of the First World War Zeppelin’s and other airships made about 51 bombing raids on England, killing 557 and injured another 1,358 people. More than 5,000 bombs were dropped on towns across Britain, causing £1.5 million in damage. 84 airships in all took part, of which 30 were lost, either shot down or lost in accidents. At the start of the war there were few weapons capable of combatting the Zeppelin threat. Conventional bullets would pass harmlessly through the aluminium frame and gas-bags. Not until the invention of incendiary bullets was there an effective way of bringing the Zeppelins down.

This first raid marked a change in the face of conflict, with the bombings serving as a forewarning of what was to come during the Blitz in the Second World War.

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Map of the month – The Moon, Eclipse and Sun Rising

Moon, Shetland Isles Mainland – Map: Revised New Series 1:30,000 1911
Moon, Shetland Isles

The proportion of the sun covered by the moon in the Shetland Isles was expected to be 97% in today’s eclipse – not far off a total eclipse and was measured as the darkest place in the UK. The perfect place to have watched would have been Moon on the west coast of Shetland Mainland.

Records of solar eclipses have been kept since ancient times. Eclipse dates can be used for dating of historical records. A Syrian clay tablet records a solar eclipse which occurred on March 5, 1223 B.C. while a stone in Ireland is thought by some to record an eclipse in 3340 B.C. Chinese historical records of solar eclipses date back over 4,000 years and have been used to measure changes in the Earth’s rate of spin.

Places in the UK that reflect the main elements needed for an eclipse include the previously mentioned Moon in the Shetland Isles, Sun Rising in Warwickshire and Eclipse Street in Cardiff.

The UK will not experience a solar eclipse on this scale again until 2026 and there may be a lucky few, who are already born, who will live to see the next total eclipse in the UK in the year 2090.

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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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Map of the month – Old Sarum. 3 houses, 7 voters and 2 MPs

Old Sarum  –  Map: County Series 1:2500 1881
Old Sarum & Rotten Boroughs

Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, was  a parliamentary constituency in England from 1295 to 1832. The constituency was on the site of what had been the original settlement of Salisbury, known as Old Sarum.

It was a so-called ‘rotten borough’ (or ‘pocket borough’) with an extremely small electorate that was consequently vastly over-represented and could be used by a patron to gain undue influence. Rotten boroughs were one of the curiosities of the British electoral system, where fathers passed on constituencies (and the power as an MP that went with this) to their sons as if they were personal property. In many such boroughs the very few electors could not vote for whom they truly wanted due to the lack of a secret ballot or simply due to the lack of a candidate desirable to their political philosophy. The term rotten borough came into use in the 18th century. The word “rotten” had the connotation of corruption as well as that of long-term decline.

Rotten boroughs had very few voters. For example, Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, only had three houses and a population of seven people. It was a possession of the Pitt family from the mid-17th century to 1802, and one of its Members of Parliament was Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder. In 1802 the Pitt family sold it for £60,000, even though the land and manorial rights were worth £700 a year at most.

Examples of rotten boroughs in 1831 include the following:

Borough Patron MPs Returned Houses in Borough Voters in 1831
Old Sarum, Wiltshire Earl of Caledon 2 3 7
Gatton, Surrey Sir Mark Wood 2 23 7
Bramber, West Sussex Duke of Rutland 2 35 20
Newton, Isle of Wight Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington 2 14 23
Dunwich, Suffolk Lord Huntingfield 2 44 32

With just a few individuals with the vote and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy their way to victory.

The constituency of Old Sarum was abolished under the Reform Act 1832

Indications of prehistoric settlement at Old Sarum have been discovered from as early as 3000 bc. An was erected around 400 bc, The site continued to be occupied during the Roman period. The Saxons took the British fort in the 6th century and later used it as a stronghold against marauding Vikings. Later the Normans constructed a motte and bailey castle, a stone curtain wall, and a great cathedral. A royal palace was built within the castle for King Henry I and was subsequently used by Plantagenet monarchs. This heyday of the settlement lasted for around 300 years. By the early 13th century the population had moved to New Sarum at the foot of the hill, now known as the cathedral city of Salisbury and the long neglected castle was finally abandoned by Edward II in 1322.

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