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 week – Hebburn Colliery & the Davy Lamp.

Original Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1:50,000 – 1867

Hebburn CollieryOn the 9th January 1816 Sir Humphry Davy first demonstrated the Davy Lamp.

Sir Humphry Davy (17 December 1778 – 29 May 1829), a chemist and inventor born in Penzance in Cornwall, tested his Davy safety lamp for miners at Hebburn Colliery. Three years later Davy was awarded a baronetcy, at the time the highest honour ever conferred on a man of science in Britain. In 1820 he became President of the Royal Society.

Davy’s lamp was made public at a Royal Society meeting in Newcastle, three years after the Felling mine disaster in 1812. Davy had discovered that a flame enclosed inside a fine mesh cannot ignite firedamp (a name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane). The screen acts as a flame arrestor; air (and any firedamp present) can pass through the mesh freely enough to support combustion, but the holes are too fine to allow a flame to propagate through them and ignite any firedamp outside the mesh. If flammable gas mixtures were present, the flame of the Davy lamp burned higher with a blue tinge. Lamps were equipped with a metal gauge to measure the height of the flame. Miners could also place the safety lamp close to the ground to detect gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are denser than air and so could collect in depressions in the mine (black damp or chokedamp); if the mine air was oxygen-poor the lamp flame would go out.

Unfortunately the introduction of the Davy lamp led to an increase in mine accidents. Although the principle was perfectly sound the lamp encouraged the Mine owners to work mines and parts of mines that had previously been closed for safety reasons. A contributing factor to this rise in accidents was the unreliability of the lamps themselves. The bare gauze was easily damaged, and once just a single wire broke or rusted away, the lamp became a hazard in itself.

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The Cutty Sark, a witch and a horses tail

Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1866
Cuttysark
The tail of the Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship. Launched at Dumbarton on November 23 1869 for the Jock Willis shipping line, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.

The opening of the Suez Canal (also in November 1869) meant that steam ships now had a much shorter route to China, so Cutty Sark spent only a few years on the tea trade before turning to the trade in wool from Australia, where she held the record time to Britain for ten years. In 1954 she had ceased to be useful, even as a cadet ship, and was transferred to permanent dry dock at Greenwich, London where she is on public display.

The name Cutty Sark comes from  Robert Burns poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’.
Cutty-sark (hyphenated) was a nickname given to the character of the witch Nannie Dee, after the garment she wore – Cutty (short) and Sark (Nightshirt). The figurehead of the tea clipper Cutty Sark is named after the character and yes, for all of you who are wondering, the Tam o’ Shanter hat is also named after the poem.

The story goes that the hero Tam, while riding home from the pub on his horse, happens upon strange goings-on in a church yard. Among the dancing figures is a particularly beautiful young witch named Nannie Dee. She is described as wearing a harn (linen) sark (nightshirt) which fitted her as a child but is now rather too short for her. Tam is so enthralled by the erotic spectacle that he cannot contain himself and, not knowing her name, yells out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”. The witches on hearing his cry turn and pursue him and Tam flees, heading for the River Doon as, according to folklore, witches cannot cross running water. He makes it across the bridge to safety, but not before Nannie has torn the tail from his horse. To this day Nannie, the figurehead of the Cutty Sark, can be seen with a horses tail hanging from her hand.

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Map of the week – The hottest town and the biggest bang!

Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series 1:50,000 – 1805
Faversham, Kent

Faversham in Kent. The hottest town on record and the biggest bang in history.

As summer looks to have finally arrived we decided to look at Faversham, which holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK. A temperature of 38.5C (101.3F) was recorded at the Brogdale Horticultural Trust, on the southern edge of the town, on the 10th August 2003.

Faversham (shown on this map of 1805 as Feversham) is a market town and civil parish in the Swale district of Kent. Faversham is one of the few UK places with a hybrid Latin/Anglo-Saxon name: Favers (Latin faber = blacksmith) + ham (Anglo-Saxon ham = homestead).

The building of Watling Street, soon after the Romans arrived in 43AD, led to the growth of small settlements along-side the road with the first in this area being built at Ospringe. Not long after, the small town of Durolevum (meaning stronghold by the clear stream) was established nearby and grew to become modern day Faversham. In 811AD the name of ‘Fefresham’ was first recorded in a Royal Charter calling it “the king’s town”. Faversham is the only town in the UK to use the Royal arms of England as its own heraldic emblem.
The town also became known as the birthplace of the explosives industry in England. 

The first gunpowder plants were established in the 16th century, The early factories were small, but by the early 18th century these had formed into a single plant, later to be known as the Home Works. A second factory was started by Huguenot settlers towards the end of the 17th century, and became known as the Oare Works. The third and last gunpowder factory to open was the Marsh Works, built by the British government 1 km northwest of the town and opened in 1787.

When the First World War started in 1914, the two original factories were requisitioned by the Admiralty. Production facilities were expanded and many new staff recruited from Faversham and elsewhere in east Kent.

At 2.20pm on Sunday 2 April 1916, a huge explosion ripped through the Marsh Works gunpowder mill, when 200 tons of TNT ignited. The blast killed 105 people and was recorded as “the worst ever in the history of the UK explosives industry”. The munitions factory was in a remote spot in the middle of the open marshes, next to the Thames coastline and was heard across the Thames estuary as far away as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Southend-on-Sea, where domestic windows were blown out and two large plate-glass shop windows shattered.

All three gunpowder factories closed in 1934. ICI, the then owners, sensed that war might break out with Germany, and realised that Faversham would then become vulnerable to air attacks or possibly invasion. Production was transferred to Ayrshire, Scotland.

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The Battle of the Medway & Dutch courage

Chatham - The Battle of Medway
Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series – 1805

Battle of the Medway

Contrary to popular belief British shores have been invaded may times. The most damaging to our prestige and morale, since the Battle of Hastings, was a Dutch attack on The Medway in 1667, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Charles II’s Navy was in a reduced state due to recent expenditure restrictions. With London largely destroyed by fire the previous year (having already been ravaged by plague), Charles had his fleet laid up in Chatham. The Dutch decided this was the moment to attack, and it proved one of the boldest naval raids in history.

The Battle of the Medway, as it was to become known, began on June 10, as the Dutch, with a fleet of about thirty ships, attacked the Island of Sheppey. Under the command of Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter the Dutch bombarded and then captured the town of Sheerness.

By the 12th June 1667 they had sailed up the River Medway towards Chatham. The Dutch fired upon the few poorly-armed and poorly-manned ships they encountered, broke through the six-inch thick iron chain stretched across the Medway to the East of Gillingham Fort (the English fleets the primary defence against invaders) and upon reaching Chatham the dockyard was set ablaze and Upnor Castle bombarded. Fireships caused havoc with the moored English warships, burning three of the four largest “big ships” of the navy and ten lesser naval vessels, as well as capturing HMS Unity and HMS Royal Charles, flagship of the English fleet, which they towed away as war trophies.

On the 14th June, fearing a growing English resistance, the Dutch decided to forego a further penetration and withdraw. After attacking several other ports on the English east coast, a failed attempt to enter the Thames beyond Gravesend and a Dutch marine force landed near Woodbridge north of Harwich, which was repelled, the Dutch fleet withdrew.

The raid led to a quick end to the war and a favourable peace for the Dutch was signed on 21 July 1667.

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