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Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Stroll Round Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden takes its name from the saffron industry which grew up here around the late 14th century.

Saffron was an incredibly important product - it was used as a dye and as a spice.

The trade died out during the eighteenth century, but an enterprising farmer has recently begun growing saffron crocus again in the area.
Church St
The town is still home to many charming medieval buildings, some of which, e.g. the Cross Keys Hotel, have their original shop windows. Many of these buildings are adorned with pargeting, a type of moulded decorative plasterwork. If your surname is Pargeter, then maybe one of your ancestors was involved in this craft.               

In some ways the town reminded me of Chester, as there were a few Georgian buildings mixed in with the medieval ones (although of course Chester's shops are two-tiered - the famous Rows).
Saffron Walden is also home to a museum, built in the mid-1830s. It's said to be one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the UK, although sadly we did not have time to pay it a visit.

Saffron Walden museum.
Walsingham House.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Love and Marriage

Elinor makes Edward Ferrars the happiest of men.
If you are a modest young lady hoping that your own Mr Darcy or Mr Knightley will turn up one day, gallop over to my Jane Austen blog for advice on that all-important marriage proposal!

Friday, 6 February 2015

A Wonder of the Waterways

Top of Foxton Locks.

Last year I enjoyed a wonderful visit to Foxton Canal Locks and the site of its former boat lift. The staircase of locks at Foxton (on the Grand Union Canal, near Market Harborough) were a bottleneck for commerce as they were only constructed wide enough to permit one narrow boat to enter at a time. 
The bottom of the former inclined plane.
To speed things up, an inclined plane or boat lift was constructed. This major engineering feat, designed by Gordon Cale Thomas, opened on 10 July 1900. Two giant tanks of water, which counterbalanced each other, carried either one wide boat or two narrow boats per tank. A steam engine provided extra 'oomph' to power the lift. 

Sadly the boat lift became uneconomic to use, and it closed just over a decade after its grand opening. (The Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire had a much longer working life, and is now back in working order again).
The Foxton Inclined Plane Trust cares for the site’s preservation, and hopes to create a digital model of the boat lift. 

Top of inclined plane, looking down.
Unfortunately it seems most unlikely that this wonder of the waterways will be restored to its former glory owing to the prohibitive cost. 
Former boiler house, now a museum.

But the site is extremely interesting to explore.The museum (in the old boiler house for the steam engine) gives a wonderful insight into the days of working boats, and if you have canal ancestors you will really enjoy a visit.


The hull of this old boat (left) illustrates the level at which boats entered the lift.
Former lock-keeper's cottage, now a cafe.

When a canal was frozen over, an ice boat like the Gordon Thomas (left) was rocked from side to side by boatmen to break the ice so that traffic could resume.
All photos copyright Sue Wilkes.