Friday, 28 February 2014

Heaton Mersey memories, changes at Abney, and a 'new' cottage in Style village

Last Wednesday, 26th February 2014, Malc and I took the little bikes on a local foray. We rode up to Parrs Wood for a close look at the new Manchester Metro tram terminus there (East Didsbury) which we'd glimpsed from Ivan's car on the way home from Gorton Monastery last Friday.

Please click on any picture for a larger image (note: some pictures will not enlarge as the originals are small format).

East Didsbury Metrolink tram station. Hidden by the trees in the distance is the bridge where Parrs Wood Lane crossed the railway. On the other side of this bridge, on the site of Heaton Mersey Station, a housing estate has been built on the former track bed so East Didsbury is the end of the line now.

The Midland Railway main line from Manchester to Derby and on to London ran out of Manchester Central station. At Throstle's Nest Junction it left the CLC lines to route across the South Manchester area via Chorton, Didsbury, Heaton Mersey, Cheadle Heath and then on to the lovely scenery of the Peak District through Chapel-En-Le-Frith, Peak Forest, Miller's Dale, Monsall Dale, and Matlock, the route of the futuristic Midland Pullman, the luxury blue diesel Pullman train that ran in the 1960s.

Midland Pullman near Chapel-En-Le-Frith in the Peak District

The initial part of that route is now part of the Manchester Metrolink tram system, using the track bed of the former railway (which closed in the 1960s) and terminating at East Didsbury.

East Didsbury Metro station is located on the triangle of land between Kingsway and Parrs Wood Lane. The site is between the former railway stations of Didsbury and Heaton Mersey. The track bed beyond the Parrs Wood Lane over bridge is built on, so the railway beyond East Didsbury is lost. This is because the Manchester / Stockport boundary is here; Manchester planners were far-seeing enough to preserve the railway track bed. Stockport planners allowed it to be built on, a pretty visionless act considering the tiny amount of land the track bed yields to the developer.

Jubilee class 45629 'Straits Settlements' approaching the site of East Didsbury Metro station back when there was a real railway running though here. Sandhurst Road bridge is in the background (picture by Tom Lewis courtesy Manchester Loco Society).

 The railways of the area as they used to be. The site of East Didsbury Metro station is between Didsbury and Heaton Mersey stations on this map

Railways around Heaton Mersey today

Heaton Mersey station just before the line closed; it's now the site of houses and industrial units. Parrs Wood Lane bridge can be seen in the background. The odd looking footbridge carried a public right of way from Station Road (off the picture to the right) down to the River Mersey.

Heaton Mersey Station, showing Station Road before it was extended to the right when the industrial estate was built on the former track bed. The village boasted two bleach works; note the upper one to the top right of the map.

After Malcolm and I had had a good look around East Didsbury Metro Station, we rode across to the Heaton Mersey Industrial Estate to have a look at my former workplace, Battersea House. On the way we passed the site of Heaton Mersey Station (now built on) and the remains of the Vale Road rail over bridge. This bridge can be seen on the left side of the 1950s picture of the Bleach Works (below).Vale Road ran directly down from Heaton Mersey village to the works. Later, when the industrial estate was built, Station Road, which was parallel to Vale Road and ran directly down from the village to the station, was extended to the east to serve the industrial units. It joined Vale Road as the major road (so Vale Road effectively ran into it from the left) before turning right as Vale Road, under the bridge. Battersea House, as part of the industrial estate, was built on the corner of that road and the new Battersea Road, between the rail bridge (by then demolished) and the Bleach Works. The eastern brick abutment of this bridge still exists on Vale Road. From this it can be seen that this bridge was actually two parallel bridges, the northern one carrying the two tracks of the link from Heaton Mersey to the CLC Skelton Junction to Stockport Tiviot Dale line, and the southern one the two tracks of the Midland main line from Heaton Mersey to Cheadle Heath.

A 1950s aerial view of the Mersey Valley at Heaton Mersey showing the lower Bleach Works in rural surroundings. The weir in the river, and also the mill tail race, can be clearly seen showing that water power was once important here, but the magnificent chimney shows that steam was in use as well, probably at a later date. Note the rail bridge to the left of the picture, over Vale Road. The industrial estate now occupies the site of the works and the land to the left of it this side of Vale Road, up to and including the former railway line. Heaton Mersey Station was just off the picture, to the left, and Heaton Mersey Locomotive Depot just off the picture to the right.

Battersea House on the industrial estate, formerly the premises of software house Systems Programming Ltd (SPL). I joined SPL from Digital Equipment (DEC) in 1982 (having joined DEC from Burroughs) in a change of career from hardware support to project management, and it was a great place to work. Back then the bleach works was still in place, as was the further of the two railway bridges (below). In the late 1980s SPL moved from here to Haw Bank House, Cheadle.

Rail bridges over the Mersey at Heaton Mersey. The further one is the CLC line from Skelton Junction to Stockport Tiviot Dale, the nearer the Midland main line between Heaton Mersey station and Cheadle Heath station. The bleach works chimney can be seen in the background.

Haw Bank House on Cheadle High Street, opposite the George & Dragon. SPL (later Systems Designers Ltd when they took over SPL) was based here in the late 1980s after moving from Heaton Mersey, before moving again to nearby Abney Court and Abney Hall. There used to be a branch of Wienholts (click here for more info), the Adlerley Edge baker, just across the road next to the George & Dragon; very handy at lunchtime!

We then rode on to the site of Cheadle CLC Railway Station, now 'The Station Tavern', before entering Abney Park to have a look at The Court and The Hall. 

Former Cheadle CLC station, now 'The Station Tavern' on a freight-only singled rail line. Cheadle's other station, which closed in the early 1900s because of competition from the tram service, was in the village behind Haw Bank House, on the former London and North Western railway line. That line is also singled  today, but carries passenger as well as freight traffic. 

Abney Hall, Cheadle, where I had an office for many years. SPL had been taken over by Systems Designers, then SD took over Scicon (the IT arm of BP) to become SD Scicon. SD Scicon was taken over by giant US IT Services company EDS (Electronic Data Systems) so I finished my career an EDS employee. Since I retired in 2008, EDS has become part of Hewlett Packard. 

Rear view of Abney Hall. The Hall was formerly the home of Sir James Watts, Manchester textile magnate. In 1959 it became Cheadle Town Hall before later being converted for office use.

Abney Hall interior, designed by A.W.N. Pugin who also had a hand in the design of Gorton Monastery, which we visited a week ago.

Abney Hall is presently unoccupied since EDS moved out of both Abney Hall and Abney Court on being taken over by Hewlett Packard just after I retired in 2008. My employer before SPL was DEC, and they were also taken over by HP having first succumbed to Compaq (who'd have thought it!). In the strange unpredictable way of the IT world, the Cheadle-based EDS staff were relocated by HP to an ex-DEC building at Birchwood, near Warrington. If I had still been an EDS employee at that time I'd have ended up based in a building I left 26 years before!

But the big surprise was Abney Court.... it was gone! This imposing, modern building has been demolished by owners Bruntwood Estates, and a new building is under construction on the site within the former walled garden of Abney Hall. The new Abney Court is to be a care home! 

In the walled garden of Abney Hall SD Scicon commissioned this building to be constructed, Abney Court. I remember a muddy site visit here during the build in the late 1980s, and later I had an office in Abney Court in the early 1990s before moving across the drive to Abney Hall. I was amazed to discover that this young, high quality building has been demolished!

Rear view of the Abney Court I remember, showing the wall of the former walled garden within which 'The Court' was built. 

Artists impression of the new Abney Court, a care home. It doesn't seem to sit so well within the former walled garden as did the Abney Court I saw being built in the late 1980s. Note the wall and its ventilation tower at the south western corner, built to provide heat from the Hall to the hollow garden walls. There is a tunnel under the drive between this tower and Abney Hall cellar to allow warm air from a long-gone furnace in the Hall to reach the tower. The site today is blighted by the non-stop roar of traffic on the adjacent M60 motorway. Perhaps that won't be much of a problem for those future Abney Court care home residents who are hard of hearing!

Friday 28th February 2014

Last year Channel Four screened a period drama called 'The Mill', based on real life events and people at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, where I am a National Trust volunteer. A new series of the drama is currently being filmed at the Mill, and part of the plot takes place in adjacent Styal Village, built by Samuel Gregg to house his mill workers. The film company have built a replica cottage in the village, and very real it looks - except from the back. I went there this morning and took these pictures.

The replica cottage looks just just like the surrounding genuine ones in Styal Village

A notice on the barriers around the set give some information about the cottage

A side view, showing genuine village cottages in the background

The rear view gives the game away - the 'cottage' is merely a prop built out of wood by the film company


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Churnet Valley Railway 2014 Winter Steam Gala

Malc and I fired up the little bikes today (Malc on his Townmate, me on my C90) and headed off to Cheddleton for the first of two days of the Churnet Valley Railway's Winter Steam Gala. We'd timed our arrival to watch the S160 heading for Froghall, the unique Great Western Railmotor (which Pete and I met at Llangollen last year; see here on the blog.) and the star of the show, West Country Bullied Pacific 'Wadebridge' setting off for the climb to Ipstones. The plan then was to ride to Apesford crossing to witness 'Wadebridge' tackling the 1 in 40 gradient up to Ipstones on the Cauldon Lowe branch.

However, when we arrived at Cheddleton we discovered all had not gone well. Problems at Consall signal box had delayed the start of the day, and then Wadebridge failed on the Cauldon Lowe branch with a problem with its fire bars (caused by a slip, we were told). So the timetable was over an hour behind schedule, and 'Sophie', a class 33 diesel locomotive was deputising for 'Wadebridge', which was in the shed yard being 'fettled'.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Normally a Foxfield Railway resident, this Beyer Peacock saddle tank locomotive no.1827 has been recently restored at Cheddleton and was giving driver experience rides up and down the yard for £5 a time 

This little engine was built at Beyer Peacock's in Gorton in 1879, close by Gorton Monastery which we visited yesterday 

West Country Pacific 'Wadebridge' takes water from a hose in the yard, having had its fire bars put right and the fire re-laid 

The frames and tender of 5197 in the yard, one of the CVR's  two S160 locomotives. I drove this engine on a 'Driver Experience' for my 60th birthday, which led my involvement as a volunteer on the railway and my becoming a signalman at Consall.

 Polish TKH Tank Engine 2944 nears completion of its restoration in the shed at Cheddleton

S160 5197's boiler in the shed 

The GWR Railmotor arrives from Froghall 

Not easy, this job! Firing the Railmotor

'Wadebridge', cylinder drain cocks open, moves out of the yard 

'Wadebridge' runs into the bay platform, ready to re-take her place on the train when it arrives from Ipstones hauled by class 33 diesel 'Sophie'  

The other CVR S160, 6046, headed for the climb up to Ipstones on the Cauldon Lowe Branch 

'Wadebridge' back in charge of her train, ready to leave for Froghall

We'd hoped to see 'Wadebridge' tackling the 1 in 40 climb to Ipstones at Apesford crossing, but we didn't have the time to stay now the timetable was so far behind schedule. We fired up the little bikes and headed up to Apesford anyway as that would enable us to pick up an interesting route home through the Peak District.

We joined the Leek road at Apesford, but soon turned off onto Porters lane and Douse lane steeply up to the ridge road to Morridge. This ancient way offers magnificent views west, east, and north over Staffordshire and Cheshire and in today's clear air they were superb. Dropping off the ridge we crossed the A53 and rode along the north east flank of The Roaches to the Dane at Gradbach. The climb up the side of the Dane Valley at Burntcliff Top, with views across to the forested hill of Lud's Church on the far side led us to the A54 at Allgreave, then on to Bosley crossroads to pick up this morning's route outbound. At a petrol stop at Chelford I phoned Ivan (who had 'enjoyed' a day of DIY) to join us for a pint at the Bird in hand at Knolls Green, where we relaxed and let a crackling wood fire warm our chilled bones as we recalled the many highlights of our day over a glass of Sam Smith's best bitter.

Right. Home now, and prepare for my stint as signalman tomorrow at Consall for the second day of the CVR Winter Steam Gala.

Sunday 23rd February

Today I was rostered signalman in Consall box - the first session in the box for me this year. I'm pleased to say all was well with the box, unlike yesterday when a fault meant Consall box couldn't be brought into use, so the train service was delayed until the fault was fixed.

No such problems this morning - on inserting the keys on the staffs into the instruments, the King Lever could be moved back and the box brought into use. The combined staff was brought from Cheddleton by the S160 no. 6146 coupled to the N7 Tank no. 69621 (these two are working together as the S160's air pump is away being repaired so the N7 was providing air for the loco brakes), and the GWR Railmotor.

S160 and N7 working together

Once the staff was split and the box opened, the S160 / N7 combination continued to Froghall to start services from there, and the Railmotor returned to Cheddleton to commence the service from that station. West Country Pacific 34007 'Wadebridge' had earlier set off from Cheddleton to Ipstones as the first service up the Cauldon Lowe line.

The Railmotor at Consall this morning, ready to depart to Cheddleton, taken from the signal box steps

Later, the Railmotor returned on its way to Froghall. Consall signal box on the right.

'Wadebridge' at Consall on a train for Froghall 

The Railmotor departs for Froghall 

'Wadebridge' with its odd 3-cylinder irregular beat, photographed from the signal box steps, storms up to Consall under London Bridge. After taking this picture I descended the steps to the platform to catch the Froghall Staff held out of the cab by the loco crew as they entered the station. 

I had a great day in the box today; interesting trains, no technical problems, and everything ran well, albeit about 20 minutes down on time by the end of the day, mostly caused by watering time for locos at Froghall, especially the S160 / N7 combination with both engines requiring water, only one water crane available, and the limited capacity of the supply tank.

The last movement of the day as far as Consall signalling was concerned was Wadebridge coming up from Froghall, while the Beyer Peacock no.1827 arrived at my home signal from Cheddleton bringing the staff back from there, and the driver rang in from the signal telephone. I advised him that when I pulled the signal off he was to advance with caution as Wadebridge and train were in the platform and he was to position onto the front of that loco. When I walked down to the platform end to collect the Cheddleton staff from the little tank engine, Wadebridge's crew were gathering wood and old pallets from the line side. They had run out of coal! They only had to get back to Cheddleton and had the mighty saddle tank engine to pull them, but nonetheless the entire wood supply for the Consall waiting room fire went into the West Country's firebox! Les, Margaret, and Howard (the Consall station staff) were not amused!

The Beyer Peacock pilots Wadebridge over the Caldon Canal at Consall this afternoon 

Wadebridge heading up the valley

 The Railmotor between Consall and Cheddleton

A couple of videos:

The S160 and N7 arrive at Cheddleton on Saturday

'Wadebridge' departs Consall for Froghall


Friday, 21 February 2014

Gorton Monastery

Malc, Ivan, Pete, and me went to see this architectural gem in east Manchester today. The Monastery was  built between 1863 and 1872 by Franciscan monks who had come to Manchester in 1861 to serve the local Catholic community. It was designed by Edward Pugin, whose father helped design the houses of Parliament. Pugin also played a significant part in the design of Abney Hall, Cheadle, where I had an office for many years.

Gorton Monastery from the south east

When the Monastery was built Gorton was a mainly rural society, but as industry grew in the area (such as Beyer Peacock locomotive engineers, and 'Gorton Tank' locomotive works of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway) the monastery became the hub of religious, social and cultural activity. The Franciscans ran three schools, a theatre group, brass band, choir, youth club, successful football teams and numerous other activities for the community.

The Nave and altar

As the heavy industries of the area ran down in the latter half of the 20th century and the population declined, the Monastery was vacated by the Franciscans in 1989 and sold to a development company who had plans to convert it into flats. This company took deposits on some flats, stripped the Monastery of its statues and other works of art which were sold off, then failed, leaving the building prey to significant vandalism and theft. Thankfully the nave roof had been restored not long before the Monastery closed, so remained intact and helped protect the fabric of the building from the worst ravages of the weather during the years it was left derelict. 

The exterior and interior before restoration

A charitable trust was established in 1996, which still owns the building. Following a 12 year fundraising campaign it gathered a total of £6.5m towards restoration of the building. This included major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund, North West Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund. This money enabled the building to be saved, and restoration was begun just in time; it was by then in poor condition, with rotted and collapsed upper floors and  friary roof, and was extensively vandalised. One more winter would almost certainly have finished it off, leaving demolition as the only viable option.

 Weathered decoration from when the building was derelict

It's an imposing building on the east Manchester skyline

The Monastery is open to the public most Sundays. Today it is de-consecrated and used extensively as an events venue. The Gorton Monastery website can be found here.