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  • Altrincham in 50 Buildings by Steven Dickens

    Old Market Place 1904. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham was an easy choice as a ‘50 Buildings’ subject because it is home to many historic locations. These include Dunham Massey Hall and park, established by Hamon (Hamo) de Masci after the Norman invasion. In 1290 the town was granted a Charter as a free Borough and a weekly market was established on what is now called Old Market Place, by Baron Hamon de Masci V. There is now a market hall on Market Street, which has become a new and busy focal point for this bustling market town. Many listed buildings are also included in this volume, predominantly those of Georgian origin around Market Street, which are particularly evocative of their era. Dunham Hall and some structures within the park also feature. The property, now owned and operated by the National Trust, is home to many family treasures of the Earls of Stamford, who were the original occupants of the hall in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras and until the last and Tenth Earl of Stamford died in 1976. The park was established in Norman times as a deer park and for hunting purposes and there are still deer roaming free in its environs to this day.

    The Market Place c. 1905. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Another historic district of Altrincham is Old Market Place, where I have grouped some of its buildings together in order to easier identify its varied history. It has been a vital hub to the town’s administration and function since Altrincham’s foundation as a Borough. The ‘Court Leet’ elected Mayors, kept the peace and regulated markets and fairs until it was abolished in 1886. Old Market Place was also the site of a local court, prison lock-ups, and stocks, all used to keep order. In 1849 a new town hall was constructed next to the Unicorn Hotel (Old Market Tavern). It was an important focal point until new council offices were constructed on Market Street, c. 1900.

    St. Margaret's Church, Dunham Road, showing its spire in 1916. (Altrincham in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Altrincham has a very distinctive look around Old Market Place, with George Truefitt’s Cheshire ‘black and white’ still emphasising Altrincham’s rural past. The influence of the Earls of Stamford survives throughout the town, both in the buildings they constructed and in the road names they left behind. The town has also been significantly influenced by transport developments, particularly by the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, its infrastructure and the development of industry along its banks. The railway saw similar developments, with the construction of Stamford New Road, now one of the many Conservation Areas around the town. The book also includes other significant landmarks, such as St. Margaret’s parish church and war memorial, the stadium of Altrincham football club and the Garrick theatre, all important elements of the town’s social infrastructure.

    Steven Dickens' new book Altrincham in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Caernarfon Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Caernarfon Castle and Slate Quay, c.1880. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The Royal town of Caernarfon overlooks the Menai Straits and the isle of Anglesey. It is a port and holiday resort and is also noted for the substantial monument of Caernarfon Castle, whose construction was undertaken by King Edward I, as part of the English conquest of Gwynedd. It was one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English in Wales. In 1284 the English-style county of Caernarfonshire was established by the Statute of Rhuddlan and in the same year Caernarfon was made a Borough, a county and a market town, and the seat of English government in North Wales. Today Caernarfon is a major tourist centre with its town walls, market and castle, first class attractions.  Travelling to the town has changed greatly since the construction of the A55 ‘Expressway,’ including several tunnels through the sheer rock of the North Wales coastline. In the 1970s when I first began to holiday in this area with my parents and visit my relatives, the journey beyond Llandudno was along a tortuous and winding coast road with 30mph speed limits and a single lane carriageway in many places. Whilst speed limits still apply, the journey takes less time and is of great benefit to those travelling to Holyhead for the Irish ferry.

    Floating Restaurant, Eagle Tower and Pont Yr Aber, Caernarfon, c. 1950. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The town itself has also changed greatly, with many old buildings now beneath the route of the A55. However, the castle remains much as it appeared in my childhood, with the car park along the old Slate Quay still as packed as it always has been! Some childhood memories are now gone – there is no longer a ‘floating restaurant’ along the Slate Quay – once a popular destination for many tourists, and the roundabouts in the market square are gone, to be replaced by an open ‘multi-functional’ space for traffic, pedestrians and the market. The market, however, still remains a popular feature and is a big-draw in the summer months’ tourist season, especially in the fine weather we have experienced recently! However, there have been reports of localised forest fires in inland areas close to Caernarfon (and notably near Bethesda), reminding us of the potential perils associated with the heat and sun.

    Castle Square from Eagle Tower, c. 1910. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling Caernarfon Through Time has brought back many childhood memories of my visits to the area and the times we visited relatives here, or spent our leisure time on holiday along the coast. Some forty years later it is still a popular destination for my children – especially the castle. I hope that the book will evoke some similar memories for the reader, as well as provide an informative and historic record of the way the district has changed over the last century.

    Steven Dickens' book Caernarfon Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Oldham Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Oldham Town Hall, Yorkshire Street, c. 1910. (Oldham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although I live in Flixton, which is on the opposite side of Manchester to the town of Oldham, it is impossible to remain outside for long in the hot evenings of June and July, without Oldham immediately being brought to mind. For many evenings – if the wind was in the right direction – we could smell the acrid smoke produced by the raging peat fires on Saddleworth Moor. Looking towards Manchester it was impossible not to notice what looked like an orange/greyish mist in the direction of the Pennines. Which was the smoke produced by the moorland fires that took over three weeks to be completely put out. I know from personal experience that the terrain in this area is wild and – particularly in winter – desolate. In the 1980s I was employed at the archaeological site of Castleshaw Roman fort (and ‘fortlet’), close to Saddleworth Moor, by the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit. Snow-fall can make the area impassable at times. However, in clear weather and in the summer months there are some spectacular views looking towards Oldham and Manchester.

    The Ornamental Lake, Alexandra Park, Oldham 1907. (Oldham Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Oldham Through Time shows how the former mill town has changed over the last one hundred years. Its Victorian Metropolitan origins are still self-evident, even in the twenty first century. The green expanse of Alexandra Park is a classic example of its time, constructed as it was by the unemployed mill workers of Oldham, during the economic downturn and cotton famine caused by the American Civil War. In clear weather there are some spectacular views from the park of the Pennines and the surrounding environs. In more recent times, and since the arrival of the Metrolink tram system, Oldham has undergone an economic revival and the historic Tommyfield Market remains a vibrant hub, with the possibility of further development of the town centre.  Oldham’s civic buildings have been rejuvenated and invigorated by their adaptation for alternative uses – the former town hall, now a cinema complex, being a prime example of this. The town of Oldham, despite being on the edge of the vast Metropolitan sprawl of Manchester, has managed to retain its own character and has resisted being incorporated without trace by its larger neighbour. I have attempted in Oldham Through Time to exemplify elements of the town’s uniqueness and hope that the reader will appreciate the result.

    Steven Dickens' new book Oldham Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Manchester Ship Canal Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Docks Trafford Wharf Nos 6, 7 and 8 Docks, Salford & Trafford Wharf, c. 1910. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Surviving near bankruptcy and opening in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was founded by Daniel Adamson, who first presented the idea to the Manchester business community in 1882.It was an amazing feat of Victorian engineering. A colossal structure, with huge lock gates and the unique Barton Aqueduct, it was the ‘international super-highway’ of its day. Shipping regularly crossed the Atlantic to Canada and the United States of America, and there were also regular services to Argentina and the Mediterranean in the early days. Vessels brought back to the Port of Manchester cotton, livestock, building materials and foodstuffs for sale on the domestic market. The canal was unlike those built previously, in that it had to be large enough to accommodate the biggest of ocean-going vessels at the time and lead to the foundation of Manchester Liners. These vessels were purpose-built to the exact dimensions of the canal and were sturdy enough to negotiate the worst Atlantic crossings. Manchester Liners headquarters were near the old Number Eight and Nine Docks, at the Port of Manchester, with their vessels a common sight on the canal, until it closed to traffic around 1980. Closure came about due to a combination of the growth in container traffic, for which the canal had not been designed, and long-term economic decline. In the 1960s containerisation on a large scale meant that vessels could no longer negotiate the Ship Canal’s limited lock space and traffic rapidly declined as the 1970s progressed. However, today the canal continues as a working waterway on a limited scale, servicing the industrial complex of Trafford Park and all points along its course, until it reaches the Mersey Estuary at Eastham and the Irish Sea beyond. There has also been talk in recent years of the development of ‘Port Salford’ and the expansion of commercial shipping activity as a result of this. Whether this development takes place remains to be seen.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Barton Oil Terminal Aqueduct c 1930 Barton Oil Terminal and Swing Aqueduct, c. 1940. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The canal is about thirty six miles in length and begins at the Port of Manchester, now the retail, leisure and media complex at Salford Quays. Logistically, negotiating the whole length of the Ship Canal presents many more challenges today than it did when it was still a working-waterway some forty to fifty years ago – unless you are aboard a vessel that is! The canal has some magnificent examples of swing-bridges along its course, but getting close enough to them in order to observe their structure, or attaining the right angle for a photograph, is another matter altogether! Fencing has been ‘strategically’ placed along the canal’s length, particularly true of Barton Aqueduct, where I had to climb onto the structure in order to get the image I wanted. Sometimes I feel that the photographer would benefit from gymnastic training at times like these. Of course the canal is not maintained to the extent that it was when a fully working entity, so access is a little more difficult and care has to be taken.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - Irlam Locks Railway Bridge CWS Factory Irlam Irlam Locks, Carrington Power Station, Irlam High Level Railway Viaduct and Former CWS Wharf and Factory Site, Irlam, c. 1894. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Living close to the Manchester Ship Canal, as I do, also has its benefits. Gone is the thick layer of oil that enveloped the surface of the canal some forty years ago. The canal, along with the rest of the Mersey Valley, has undergone an environmental transformation. At Irlam Locks, where there was once a soap-works, there are now swans and herons. All very different from the way I remember it in the 60s and 70s.

    The Barton Oil Terminal and dock, where my father worked, was a hive of activity in this era, benefitting from the oil-boom years of the 1960s. Oil tankers were constantly loading and unloading at the terminal and negotiating the tricky corner and narrowing of the canal, where Barton swing-bridge and aqueduct crossed. It was a 24/7 occupation, although there were many lighter moments, particularly on one New Year’s Eve in the 1970s, when a Polish tanker was being unloaded at the terminal. The captain had laid on a huge spread for the crew and those who were off-loading the tanker, including my dad, could not understand why the captain had brought his bike with him. Everyone was invited aboard to enjoy the festivities while unloading continued and all was going well, until my dad noticed that both the captain and his bike had disappeared. On enquiry it was explained to him that the captain had used his transport in order to cycle into the local town, where he was meeting a young lady. The crew appeared oblivious to their captain’s disappearance and to the fact that his bike had gone AWOL. One can only assume that it was a regular occurrence in every port of call.

    Manchester Ship Canal Through Time - SS Manchester Progress and Tug c 1938 Built 1938 by Blythswood Single screw turbine engine Coal fuel 13 Knots SS Manchester Progress and Tug, c. 1938. (c. Manchester Ship Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the canal is now much less busy there is still some regular traffic, invoking childhood memories of waiting at Barton swing-bridge for huge ocean going vessels to silently glide past, whilst being carefully manoeuvred by their tugs. For me, compiling Manchester Ship Canal Through Time has brought back many memories like these, and I hope reading the book will produce many memories for you.

    9781445639727

    Steven Dickens' new book Manchester Ship Canal Through Time is available for purchase now.

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