Category Archives: History

Travels in Spain, Andalućia in Postcards

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Travels in Spain, The Levante in Postcards

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Travels In Spain, Northern Spain in Postcards

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Fishing For a Post Idea

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Insley’s Lane, Shackerstone, Leicestershire

Following my visit to Hull Museum and the recreation of the Wheelwrights workshop there I was reminded of my post about my great-great grandfather.

He was Thomas Insley (on the left) a splendid Victorian gentleman,  whose son Joseph married my great grandmother (Florence) Lilian Hill in or about 1908.  I remember her well.  The Insley family lived in Shackerstone in South West Leicestershire.

Today Shackerstone is a pretty unspoiled rural village and in the mid-nineteenth century the village was a successful self-supporting Victorian community that had four farms, two pubs, two shops, a builder, a carpenter, brick works, a post office, a coal merchant, a dressmaker, a shoemaker and a blacksmith.

Nearby Shackerstone Mill was situated by the River Sence and was operated by my other great-great grandfather the Petcher family who owned Bridge Farm where there was a bake house and a bakery.

It also was the home for a successful coach building business that was first established in the 1770s.  It was run by the Insley family, which provided employment for a coachbuilder, a wheelwright and up to thirty other employees. The coach works were situated in Insley’s Lane in the centre of the village and convenient for the railway station from where it supplied wagons and later on wheelbarrows throughout the country.

The invention of the wheel was arguably the most important ever and the skill of a wheelwright in building a wheel was considerable and this made the Insley’s very important and influential people in the village.

The hub, or nave, of a wheel was made from seasoned wych elm that would not split even with mortises cut in it for spokes.  It was barrel-shaped to accommodate two iron stock hoops that were shrunk to fit direct from the red-hot forge.  The hub was then set in a cradle and the spoke mortises marked, drilled and cut.  The mortises had to allow for a tapered fit and also for the angle of dishing of each spoke.  The hub was augered to receive a cast-iron ‘box’ or ‘metal’, which was driven in and was the bearing for the axle.  Finally, the top of the hub was cut away so that a cotter pin could be later inserted to retain the wheel onto an axle.

The spokes were usually made from oak, which had been seasoned for a minimum of four years.  They had square ‘feet’ that fitted into the hub and circular ‘tongues’ that fitted into the felloes.  Two spokes would fit into each felloe, which was made of ash or hickory.  The felloes would have preferably been grown curved so that when the wood was sawn using a template, less grain of the wood was cut resulting in a stronger component.  Felloes were joined together with an oak dowel.

Carriage Wheel wheelwright

The complete wheel was held together with a tyre made from iron.  The tyre would start life as an iron bar, perhaps four inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick for a working cart-wheel.  It would be shaped using a tyre-bending machine, which is a set of rollers operated by a handle that bent the bar into a perfect circle and after welding the two ends of the bar to form a ring the tyre was heated in a circular fire.  Meanwhile, the wheel was mounted on a tyring platform – usually a large stone or metal plate – using a clamp to hold the hub of the wheel.

When the tyre was ready it was carried from the fire with tongs, and placed over the rim of the wheel.  After hammering into position, water was poured onto the hot metal to cool it before the wood of the wheel became burnt.  As the metal contracted it crushed the joints of the wheel tight and so completed the job.

Two genuine Insley farm carts…

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the traditional craft of the wheelwright faced increasing competition from the manufacturing industries and factory produced cast iron wheels and they had to diversify and find new business.  One way was to expand into the coach building business and by the 1901 census both Thomas and my great-grandfather Joseph were recorded as ‘coach builders’.

From documentary evidence and first hand accounts we can be sure that the Insley coach-builders manufactured a full range of carts and wagons for local farms and businesses including the nearby water mills.  Their catalogue included the ‘gig’ which was a light two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse or a pony and a ‘dray’, a versatile four-wheeled flat-bed cart usually pulled by two horses but they were also well-known for a specialist cart of East Anglian or Lincolnshire design called the ‘hermaphrodite’

This was a unique type of two-wheeled cart that could be converted to a four-wheel wagon when extra capacity was required in the fields at harvest time.  Although they were all rather similar and were based on the same overall design, each had their own distinct differences in regards to their place of manufacture and according to records the Insley design was quite unlike anything else made locally at the time.

For smaller farms that could not afford a barn full of expensive specialist vehicles the selling feature of the cart was that it was a multi-purpose vehicle that could be used throughout the year.  For most of the time the top frames, raves and fore-carriage could be removed and the rear part was used as a conventional tip cart, whilst at harvest time an ingenious conversion provided a wagon with the large carrying platform and the additional length and the temporary advantage of four wheels converted it into a high-capacity hay wagon.

This multi-purpose design explains the name hermaphrodite which is a term that derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes, i.e. it was interchangeable.  Locally the wagon was referred to as a wagonette, the morphy or the moffrey.

The drawing is of an Insley wagonette that was probably built in the 1920s for the farmer H S Foreman of Stapleton, Leicestershire, about ten miles from Shackerstone.  The maker’s name, Insley, can be clearly seen on the front of the wagon on the front board of the tub. It was in regular use until about 1965 and was eventually transferred to a rural museum in Herefordshire for safe keeping.  The drawing is by the grandson of the owner M A Foreman, himself a Leicestershire farmer.

Coach building was another trade that required enormous skill and to complete a single order could take as long as six months.  They were very successful at this as well but what they probably didn’t need was the motor car, Henry Ford and the assembly line and the business ceased trading in 1935.

 

Yorkshire, The Forbidden Corner

Staying in a cottage neat Leyburn in Yorkshire the children were drawn to a brochure for a nearby attraction called ‘The Forbidden Corner’  just a few miles away near the town of Middleham so we set off one morning to visit.  I should have read the brochure with more care because it does point out that it is only possible to visit after pre-booking so after being turned away I made reservations for the next day and had to break the disappointing news to the children.

This is a good idea as it turns out as it allows the site to regulate the number of visitors to prevent it becoming too overcrowded at peak times.

They soon got over it and we made alternative arrangements for the day and then returned at our appointed day and time for the promise of a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies, paths and passages that lead nowhere with extraordinary statues at every turn.

There is something quintessentially English about Follies, buildings or places without any real purpose except to satisfy a mad ambition and this is one of the best.

It seemed rather expensive to me when I paid the family entrance fee, left the gift shop and followed the path to the entrance and I was wondering how better I could have spent the £40 but within minutes I was certain that we had made the right decision because it turned out that this is a  beautiful, four-acre Victorian garden in the Yorkshire Dales that is full of secrets, oddities and tricks.

It starts as a gentle saunter through a series of gardens with a squirting statue here, a baffling gate there but quickly turns into an enchanting, bewildering underground-overground labyrinth of passages, pathways, spiral staircases, stepping stones, revolving floors, pop-up fountains and wooden doors to somewhere – or nowhere.

It is pure genius and so good that it has recently voted best European folly of the 20th century by The Folly Fellowship and also voted the best children’s attraction in Yorkshire.

Interestingly the Forbidden Corner was not actually designed to be a Family Attraction in the first place. It was simply a private Victorian garden in a quiet spot in the North Yorkshire Dales, owned by a man called Colin Armstrong. He had the idea to turn part of it into a sort of folly for his family and friends. Just as a bit of fun – as English eccentrics with time on their hands tend to do. It is such a crazy place that when he opened it in 1994 he neglected to apply for planning permission and had to wait for six years for retrospective approval.

Places like this are wonderful, you arrive with low expectations and end up being blown away with excitement.  On arrival I didn’t see how we could possibly spend a couple of hours there but we ended up going round twice and spending four.  It is a giant maze with a labyrinth of paths and tunnels and with no map or formal route to follow then you have to have your wits about you to be careful not to miss something, I know that we did.

We would have stayed even longer because it had a nice restaurant and menu but there is so many hidden jets of water and surprise fountains that the children were soaked through by the time we finished and with no change of clothing we had to abandon dining plans and return to the cottage so here is a big tip – make sure the children have something to change into when you have finished the visit.

If you are close by, even if you are not, a visit to the Forbidden Corner gets my absolute recommendation for a great day out for all the family!

National Potato Chips Day (USA)

Boulogne-Sur Mer Moules et Frites

“Everything (in the UK) comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them.  Cookies are biscuits and potato chips are crisps” – Scott Walters

March 14th in the USA is Potato Chips Day which I confess makes me smirk because in the USA they don’t even know what a potato chip is so I am going to take a look at how people prefer to eat their chips and watch out because I am going to award points for style.

I posted previously on eating fried potatoes in a Friterie in Northern France so it is only really polite to start with our nearest continental neighbours.

Friteries are a feature of this part of northern Europe and are a simple place, usually outside on wooden benches, to buy and eat French fries accompanied by a selection of traditional sauces and accompaniments.  The thin strips of potato are fried twice, first to drive out the moisture and second to achieve the essential golden crispness of the French Fry.

You might expect the French, along with close neighbours the Belgians and the Dutch to know a thing or two about chips and they do make a good job of cooking them it has to be grudgingly said but as soon as they are served up they demonstrate a dreadful lack of culinary style and taste.

French Fries with Mayonnaise

They immediately apply a dollop of horribly sloppy mayonnaise!

Now mayonnaise is fine on lettuce leaves or as an ingredient in a McDonalds burger, it gives them a bit of taste after all, but it really shouldn’t be smeared all over a helping of lovingly prepared  potato chips and I am reminded here about a scene from the film Pulp Fiction and a conversation between Jules and Vincent…

… “Do you know what they put on their French Fries in Holland instead of Ketchup?”  – “What? “ – “Mayonnaise” – “No Way.” – “Yes, I’ve seen them do it man they f*****g drown them in that s**t.”

Marks out of 10 for the French and the Belgians and the Dutch – 6 and that includes a bonus point because (as you can see in the first picture) at least they call them chips!

However, if you think that is bad then let’s cross the River Rhine into Germany where they serve up a variation called pommes rot-weis (potatoes red and white) named rather unimaginatively it is said after the colour scheme on level-crossing barriers and this toxic combination is achieved by smothering the poor chips in not just the evil mayonnaise but a good slug of tomato ketchup for good measure which has the effect of turning the classic dish into a sort of Salvador Dali gastro-interpretation.

I don’t know about the colour of level crossing barriers more like the rags and blood of a barbers pole if you ask me.

Marks out of 10 for the Germans – 4.

pommesrotweissgal

As I mentioned in my previous post Spain makes a creditable claim to be origin of chips so let’s head south now across the Pyrenees into Iberia.

Spain has patatas aioli which is a mayonnaise with garlic and having already dismissed mayonnaise as inappropriate then the addition of the foul tasting noxious onion bulb is not going to improve it one taste bud notch in my opinion; and then there is patatas bravas with a spicy sauce whose ingredients vary from region to region.

Generally I am a big fan of Spanish Tapas but my recommendation would have to be to avoid the patatas bravas at all costs.

patatas-bravas

I have two issues with them. First of all they don’t even look like chips and instead of being long and slender they are served in solid lumps of fried potato and secondly the bravas sauce is often so fierce that it completely spoils the dish all together and you can add to that the fact that it frequently (depending on region) includes a whole host of odd ingredients such as chorizo, baked chicken or fried fish, none of which in my opinion should be anywhere near a sauce for simple chips –  if you want to muck about with vegetables then stick to pumpkins.

Marks out of 10 for the Spanish – 3.

Hastily retreating to the United Kingdom I am first going to head north to Scotland despite the fact that Scots deep fry chocolate so cannot really be taken seriously in a cooking sense.  In Glasgow and Edinburgh they have a fondness for gravy with chips and I find that odd because in my culinary opinion gravy should only really be served up with the weekly Sunday roast.

smiffy-s

Having said that it is really rather tasty so marks out of 10 for the Scots – 7.

Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby.  They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.

grimsby-fish-and-chips

Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar.  No mayonnaise, no gravy, no tomato sauce and definitely no curry!

chips

Marks out of 10 for the English – 10 – of course.

So what about the USA you might ask.  Well to be honest I have dismissed the New World completely.  Is that fair?  Challenge me if you dare!

Whilst I am prepared to concede that they know how to prepare French Fries in McDonalds and other similar places the bottom line is simply this – they don’t even know what chips are, they think they come in a foil packet.   Americans please take note – these are not potato chips they are potato crisps!

Potato Chips (Crisps)

My research informs me that in Australia they cannot make their minds up whether they are potato crisps or potato chips.  Let me help my antipodean pals on this point – these are potato crisps!

Anyway marks out of 10 for the USA – 0.  This might seem a little harsh but the rules are that you have got to compare apples with apples!

So let’s finally go north to Canada

“in Eastern Canada there is poutine with curds of cheese and gravy. None for me thanks but there people are gaga for the stuff”…

My blogging pal Sue from “Travel Tales of Life”

Graphic content warning – do not proceed beyond this point if you have a weak stomach or are of a nervous disposition…

…because this is Poutine from Canada…

Poutine

When I first heard of this I was convinced that it was some sort of wind-up, but apparently not, you can even get it in McDonalds, but thankfully only in Canada…

McDonalds Poutine

Try eating that in your car without making a mess of your shirt and trousers while you are driving.

Marks out of 10 for Canada – minus 10

Anyway, enough of all this, let me tell you my favourite.  In this picture taken in France my mum has gone for the tomato ketchup option and is wagging her fry around to prove it.  Alan has kept things simple and luckily is not wagging his fry at anyone, my brother Richard, who has a bit of a reputation for wagging his fry, has gone for the classic salt and vinegar combo and although I am not in the picture (obviously I was taking it) you can clearly see my preferred accompaniment is a bottle of cold beer – just don’t mistake it for the vinegar and pour it over the chips!

So, over to you, How Do You Eat Yours, what is your favourite accompaniment?

Wissant Friterie France

More About Chips, Crisps or Fries (and Bananas)