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Tag Archives: Bristol

  • Bristol Lodekkas by Stephen Dowle

    By the mid-1970s the FLF Lodekka was well into the second half of its lifespan, but it was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. Alder Valley's Gardner-engined No. 676 (GRX I44D) leaves Reading for Newbury on WEdnesday 18 th February 1976. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    The design problems of double-deck buses were basically two: to keep the height as low as practicable and to maximise seating capacity within the available dimensions. In the early days of the motor bus a full-width cab was placed behind the engine and the passenger-carrying bodywork was simply grafted onto the chassis behind them. This primitive configuration, known as 'normal control', squandered much passenger-carrying, revenue-generating space: in the years before the Second World War it gradually disappeared, to be replaced by a new spatial arrangement known as 'forward control'. In this, a half-width cab was placed alongside the engine, allowing the upper deck to be extended forward over the top of it.

    This optimised the use of space, but the difficulty of headroom remained. Damage to bodywork caused by overhanging branches was the least serious aspect of the problem: almost every bus operator had to contend with low railway bridges, which made it impossible to operate double-deckers on certain routes. This meant using single-deckers at more frequent intervals, with all the associated extra costs. To reduce height a very unsatisfactory alternative layout was developed: the gangway of the upper deck was placed to the offside and recessed into the ceiling of the lower deck. Not only did this imperil the heads of those passengers who were incautious in rising from the seats beneath, but the four-abreast seating of the upper deck was inconvenient for conductor and passengers alike. This, the hated "lowbridge" layout, made such buses, sometimes known as "skittle-alleys", about a foot lower than the standard height.

    The NBC's standard 'leaf green', even when fresh, was not the most beguiling of liveries and always looked dowdy by the time a trip to the paint shop was due. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    It was to address the "lowbridge" problem that the Bristol Lodekka was developed. Bristol Tramways constructed two prototypes, which took to the roads in 1949, one in the company's own operating fleet and the other with the West Yorkshire Road Car Co. The new vehicles great innovation was a re-designed transmission in which the propeller shaft was offset to one side and drove a drop-centre, double reduction rear axle. The lower deck gangway no longer needed to clear the shaft and could pass through the dropped middle section of the axle. The step from the entrance platform to the floor of the lower deck was eliminated (in the early days many passengers came a cropper when attempting to mount this vanished step) and the entire vehicle could be correspondingly lowered. It became possible to provide conventional upper deck seating within "lowbridge" dimensions. The lowbridge bus became obsolete overnight.

    The prototypes (which I know only from photographs) must have been the ugliest buses ever constructed. They had massively wide radiators, a bizarre front bumper, ill-considered window-spacing and their reduced height did not conduce to shapely proportions. The first production vehicles, dubbed the LD-type, appeared in 1953. The body builders, Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, had espoused the 'new look' front (a lamentable fad in post-war bus design) in which the engine, radiator and nearside wing were enclosed within a rounded structure called a cowl. The squat, bulbous lineaments of the bus gave it a faintly toad-like appearance, but in the late 1950s new regulations permitted the construction of 30ft double-deckers, and a facelift of 1962 resulted in an improved frontal treatment. These changes considerably improved the vehicles looks. By the time production ceased in 1968 extended bodywork, which mostly went to Scotland, had made the Lodekka a handsome and imposing bus, able to accommodate 78 passengers. It was also made available with semi-automatic transmission and a larger engine, the 10.45-litre Gardner LX.

    The upper deck interior of an Alder Valley FLF with coach seating. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    My book, Bristol Lodekkas, is a selection from photographs I took during many enjoyable journeys around the country between 1975 and 1980. The Lodekka was clearly nearing the end of its tenure, but as the period opened was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. In Scotland, where well-tried types had tended to be ordered for as long as they were available, the earlier versions were still numerous. I give an account of the motives that led me to take the photographs, and of my long association with the Lodekka as both passenger and professional busman.

    The Lodekka represented the final form of the half-cab, front-engined, double-deck bus that was a familiar feature of the streets for fifty years and an 'iconic' British vehicle recognised the world over. Alas, it required a crew of two and the economics of the modern industry made it obsolete. Bus operators, or their accountants, now demanded vehicles suitable for driver-only operation. The need to place the passenger entrance alongside the cab entailed the rear transverse-engine layout that remains with us to the present day. Mechanically, this configuration is far from satisfactory and I imagine many of today's bus company Chief Engineers must repine for the simple, rugged workhorses (such as the Bristol Lodekka) available to their counterparts forty years ago.

    Stephen Dowle's new book Bristol Lodekkas is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol From The Post and Press by Maurice Fells

    It’s surprising what fascinating stories can be found in old newspapers. When I say ‘old’ I’m talking about papers which were published 50, 80, 100 years or more ago.

    I’ve been delving through those published in my native Bristol for my latest local history book. It’s amazing that in 1908 the people of Bristol weren’t short for choice when it came to buying a paper. Three were published in the morning and another three in the afternoon. Today the city has just two papers, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Post, formerly Bristol Evening Post. Both roll off the presses overnight and are available in time to be read with the bacon and eggs at the breakfast table.

    I was searching through the papers to find the events and the people that over the last century or so had helped to make Bristol the great city that it is today. However, my book, Bristol from the Post and Press also contains some rather quirky stories like the one about the 17-year old lad who jumped from a plane flying across the city, just for a dare. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale to the local papers and was completely uninjured.

    The Grand Hotel has entertained many politicians, pop stars and captains of industry. (Courtesy of Andrew Gustar under Creative Commons 2.0, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there was the occasion that the Rolling Stones were turned away from the restaurant at the Grand Hotel where the group was staying for a night. The hotel’s head waiter Mr. Dick Court told the Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger that his sweat shirt and jeans were not in keeping with the hotel’s dress code for its restaurant. Mr. Court told him that he could borrow some suitable clothing - a jacket and tie - but the singer was having none of that. With the rest of his group he made off to a restaurant elsewhere in the city. It was a story that the made the front page of the Evening Post.

    My book starts though with a report from the Western Daily Press in 1899 of an investiture held in the centre of the city. Usually these important events are held by the monarch of the day in a royal place. But Queen Victoria decided to make her way to Bristol to confer a knighthood on the Mayor of the city, Cllr Herbert Ashman.

    The Western Daily Press, then a broadsheet, reports the visit in much detail giving its account a whole page. Readers were told everything from descriptions of the dresses of the civic dignitaries on parade to details about the music being played by a military band whilst the crowds waited for the royal procession to arrive.

    The first edition of the Bristol Evening Post. (Photo credit: Trevor Naylor, Bristol From The Post and Press, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the story takes a strange twist when we read that Cllr Ashman was not knighted inside one of Bristol’s grand buildings but on the pavement in the centre of the city – admittedly it was covered by a red carpet. Queen Victoria didn’t even leave her open-top carriage for the ceremony. She borrowed a sword, leant out of the horse-drawn vehicle and commanded the civic leader, who was kneeling, to “arise Sir Herbert Ashman”. After the brief ceremony the Queen made off for her next engagement.

    Unfortunately the paper didn’t explain why the investiture was held in Bristol, or in the open air, or why Her Majesty never left her carriage. The latter may be explained that through her advancing years she was frail.

    A few months before the ceremony Queen Victoria had announced that in future Bristol’s Mayor would be called the Lord Mayor. Cllr. Ashman was the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Bristol.

    Another story that I found fascinating involved Queen Elizabeth II who visited a pub completely unannounced to shelter from the snow.

    Apparently, she was delivering Christmas presents to members of her family in Gloucestershire when her car got caught up in a blizzard. She sought refuge in the Cross Hands Hotel at Old Sodbury on the edge of Bristol. Her Majesty was secretly taken into the landlord’s private quarters where she had a meal and met his children. It meant that none of the customers in the bar were aware of how close they were to the monarch.

     

    Maurice Fells new book Bristol From The Post and Press is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Pubs by James MacVeigh

    ‘There is nothing which has been contrived by Man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’  Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    Bristol Pubs 1 Like King Street where it stands, the Llandoger Trow pub is distinctive and quirky, both architecturally and in the richness of its history. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Why would anyone decide to write a book about pubs? Although they are so mundane and ordinary that often we don’t notice them, except perhaps to name them as landmarks when we are giving directions to a stranger, I personally agree with the opinion of the formidable intellect quoted above, compiler of the first English dictionary. Or to put it another way:A public house is more than a building with people inside it, that description could include a factory or office block, railway station, church or prison. When beer, cider and spirits are added to the mix, the public house takes on a human dynamic that is different from all of the above, and can turn into a place almost of magic.’ Okay, that is an unashamed quote from Bristol Pubs, and you may consider it over-the-top. Is it, though?  Human beings are continually redesigning the towns and cities in which they have chosen to dwell, nowadays with smaller buildings generally pulled down in favour of larger ones, in an ebb and flow of urban demolition and renewal that takes away everything in its path. Or rather, almost everything. Have you ever noticed which type of buildings that are generally left behind by this inexorable march of progress? Churches, certainly, for one, are often repositories of the past, and crammed with articles of historic interest, and, besides, they have a spiritual aspect to them that may say, Hands off! – Even in this materialistic age. What other buildings, though, are almost invariably left intact, as though they too are sacred places of worship? You already know the answer to that one. Pubs! True, a modern boozer may be flattened in the name of progress, but you will often see an ancient hostelry, dwarfed by sky scraping office blocks, yet still as busy and popular as it was in centuries past. Let the entrepreneurs, architects, and builders lay claim to anything with some antiquity to it, and it usually creates uproar in the local community. This is something we must be thankful for, otherwise we in Bristol would be without the rambling, higgledy-piggledy Llandoger Trow in King Street and its near neighbours, the Old Duke, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, and the King William Ale House.

    Bristol Pubs 2 What is unique about the Angel is that the cellar beneath it was used as a holding prison for offenders, a fact now commemorated by a brass plaque over the entrance from the courtyard. (Bristol Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    Sadly, there are always exceptions to rules, and acts of civic vandalism still take place in our city. The birthplace of the Bristol boy poet, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1780), on the other side of Redcliffe Way, has recently been renovated after decades of neglect, and is once again in use as a themed café, Chattertons.  All well and good; as the co-author of a musical about him I would be the last person to argue with such a laudable event. In recent publicity material the City Council described Chatterton’s house as ‘the only surviving mid-18th Century house in the area.’ Not so. The Bell Inn public house, tucked out of sight and out of mind behind the magnificent St. Mary Redcliffe church was built only one year after the poet’s birthplace, in 1750. Its bow windows are the earliest example of this feature in Bristol, and its bar still retains its original stone flags, yet the historic building has not only been allowed to fall into disrepair approaching dereliction, efforts have even been made to accelerate the process of destruction, by leaving the windows wide open so that the wind and rain can enter to finally finish it off. This cannot be mere neglect. As one who is more sceptical than most when it comes to accepting conspiracy theories, I am nevertheless convinced that the City Council has some fiendish plan, perhaps in partnership with private enterprise, in which this lovely old inn is finally demolished to make way for an architectural monstrosity.

    9781445661681

    James MacVeigh's new book Bristol Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel by Viv Head

    I was not a young man when I came to sailing with a first cruise on a yacht from Southampton to Weymouth aboard a 38 foot Sigma. A fine boat sailed in company with an experienced crew. At the end of four days I recall saying – Well I enjoyed that but I don't think it's going to change my life. Rarely have I made a more ridiculous statement.

    I have owned a yacht of some sort for twenty years now and for most of that time I have been a member of the OGA, the Association for Gaff Rig Sailing. The gaff rig has a four-sided mainsail and was used for centuries by working boats. It is the way sailing used to be and, increasingly, the way it is becoming once again.

    Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel 2 Nutmeg in the Bristol Channel, passing Flat Holm showing the lighthouse under repair and the WW2 gun emplacement

    I grew up in Cardiff and am back living there now with the remarkable Cardiff Bay and the challenging Bristol Channel right here on my doorstep. Sailing the gaff-rigged 19 foot Shrimper Nutmeg, nothing pleases more than the satisfaction of being on a beam reach with a sailor’s wind, sails tight and a hand on the tiller, the boat lifting and dipping to the rhythm of the sea. In the Bristol Channel you do have to keep a weather eye on the horizon and the tides which are notoriously strong.

    From any point of the compass, the Bristol Channel has played its part in maritime heritage right around the world. It has a fascinating history and researching it for Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel was a satisfying journey in itself. In Denmark I visited the Viking Museum at Roskilde, running my fingers along timbers from Viking ships more than a thousand years old, knowing that one of them was built in Dublin in the year 1042 and had every chance of having ventured up the Bristol Channel. Not just that, but having the opportunity to put to sea in a replica of a Viking ship, pulling on the oars in tune with fellow crew mates and raising the single flax sail knowing that the Viking ships of old had voyaged from these waters.

    The other place that caused me to pause and reflect on events of long ago was the graveyard of ships at Purton. With the banks of the Sharpness to Gloucester canal in serious danger of being breached by the searing tides of the Severn estuary, local men came up with a scheme to save the day. In 1909 they began running derelicts aground on the river bank so that they would catch the silt that is a feature of the rushing tides and cause it to build up. Over half a century more than 80 ships were deliberately abandoned here – schooners, trows, barges and lighters were all pressed into final service. And it worked, the bank has grown and the canal is safe now without the need for any major embankment construction. Most of these old working boats are buried deep in the silt and long out of sight but the old sailors certainly knew what they were doing. You may feel safe standing on the bank today amongst the scattering of maritime skeletons, yet a few feet away, the swirls and rush of the muddy brown water of a filling tide has a threatening menace about it.

    Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel 1 Replica Viking ship under oars at Roskilde, Denmark

    There are many mysteries that lie beneath the waves that have long been forgotten and cannot now be re-discovered. Brave deeds, returning heroes, ships lost and sailors drowned. So it’s all the more reason to celebrate what we do know about this fascinating coastline over 300 miles long. In Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel I set to capture some the stories of the famous ships, working ships and lost ships that have sailed these waters. The Bristol Channel has an incredibly rich maritime history, not just locally – many of its ships have made an impact on the affairs of the world. Some were built along its shores – the legendary Bristol Channel pilot cutters have a global reputation. Eighteen original vessels still exist and modern ones are still being built. John Cabot set out from Bristol in the Matthew and discovered America. The Newport Ship, built circa 1450 is the most complete fifteenth century vessel anywhere in the world. Four famous Antarctic exploration ships loaded Welsh coal before heading south. Scott’s Terra Nova is well known while the Antarctic pioneer Scotia was later wrecked and burnt out on Sully Island.

    More recently, around-the-world racing yachts and many more modest working boats and pleasure yachts were built, raced, traded or simply spent their lives earning their keep in a notorious stretch of water. In Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel I set out to bring the story of this heritage, courage and endeavour into one readable volume with many fascinating photos and stories of more than sixty vessels.

    9781445664002

    Viv Head's new book Sailing Ships of the Bristol Channel is available for purchase now.

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