Category Archives: Literature

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, Beverley and Hornsea

Hornsea Beach Yorkshire

February school half-term and I had a visit from the grandchildren to plan for which can be a stressful experience as generally when they visit they spend a week dismantling and redecorating the house and trashing the garden .

As always I made some preparations but this is rather like building the Maginot Line, a good idea, very expensive but ultimately useless!

Since 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so when they visit it is my job to arrange entertainment.  This can be a challenge because to be honest and I don’t think I am being unfair here there just isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby.

I like the town but it has to be said that it is an odd place.  It is a community in decline.  On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river.  It is a dead end.  It is a place that you only go to by choice.  No one visits Grimsby by accident.  You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia.  It can never be an unexpected discovery.  You don’t go to Grimsby unless you are going to Grimsby!

This half-term I decided to find a reasonably priced hotel and let them trash someone else’s place instead.  Unfortunately for the Premier Inn Company I chose their hotel in Beverley in Yorkshire just a few miles north of Hull, the UK Capital of Culture for 2017.

hull

We arrived late on Monday afternoon and proceeded immediately to take the place apart – I was sure that the police would arrive at any minute in a blitz of flashing blue lights and screeching sirens  to take us away. Within minutes it looked like Belgium after the German army had driven through in 1940 on the way to France.  But all was not lost and eventually they calmed down and we went for evening meal in the dining room which we managed to leave an hour or so later without completely destroying the place.

North Sea Hornsea

Next day it was a lovely late Winter morning and after breakfast I made a decision that it was worth making a short journey to the coast to the North Sea town of Hornsea.  It took us about thirty minutes to drive there.

On arrival I was immediately impressed.  I live near the resort town of Cleethorpes but although it is a popular holiday resort it has to be said that it is just a muddy estuary where the sea is barely visible for long periods of the day but this was real North Sea coast with a raging sea, barnacled groynes, pounding surf, churning water and a pebble beach clattering away as it was constantly rearranged by the tidal surge.

Hornsea Beach Yorkshire

I liked it but the children liked it even more and once down on the beach they made a run for the sea.  I called after them to stop but it was hopeless, shouting into a wind that just carried my instructions away back towards the promenade and they charged like the Light Brigade towards the water.

Inevitably they fell in.  William first and then Patsy, Molly managed to stay vertical but still got soaked by the waves.  I had no change of clothing of course (a lesson learned there) so after I had dragged them from the sea we had to walk a while and let the stiff wind blow the moisture from their clothes.  Marks out of 10 for Granddad – ZERO.

Hornsea Yorkshire Winter Beach

I liked Hornsea, a seaside town off the main visitor route, rather inaccessible and certainly not on any main tourist trail.  I would absolutely go back there again, maybe even for a weekend break (no children).

Wet through we returned to Beverley to the Premier Inn where we changed and showered and then simply enjoyed the room.  None of the children were enthusiastic about visiting the town centre and I wasn’t going to argue with them on that point because being around shops can be another challenge so we wasted the afternoon away as we prepared for a second night in the dining room and a plan to spoil everyone else’s evening!

Yorkshire Hornsea

Travels in Spain, Murcia

Costa Calida Postcard

““Do you like that?” I’ll say in surprise since it doesn’t seem like her type of thing, and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad.  That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?”  but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say…  it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.”  Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’

It was our final day at my sister’s place on the east coast of Spain and it looked very much as though the sun was going to make a reappearance so after breakfast we drove south into the Province of Murcia, the Costa Calida and the resort town of Lo Pagán.

On the way we drove past salt water lagoons, separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land and now a site of carefully managed and intensive salt extraction.  It turns out that this is the biggest and most important site for sea salt production in all of Europe.  I didn’t know that!  The flamingos did and there were flocks of hem paddling about in the shallow water and expertly fishing for salt water shrimps!

Spain lo Pagan Flamingo

It reminded me of what else Spain is famous for (other than flamenco, bullfighting and El Cid).

First of all olives because Spain is the world’s leading producer of olives and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees (more than three hundred million) and nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter and the world’s leading producer of table olives, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.

Next – Serrano Ham because go to Extemadura in the west and you will drive through fields of grazing Black Iberian Pigs gorging themselves on acorns in preparation for being turned into the Spanish gastro specialty, Jamón ibérico. Iberian ham products are processed throughout Extremadura, making this region the country’s leading producer and in a sparsely populated region about a million hectares of open range are used by over one thousand-five hundred livestock breeders.

One of the fascinating things about the world’s great food it seems is the way they are a product of geography and Spain is a classic example, salt from the Mediterranean, Olives from the sun baked plains of Andalucia,  Jamón ibérico from Extremadura and Rioja wine from the vinyards of the north.

Lo Pagan Murcia Spain

I didn’t know what to expect of Lo Lo Pagán, would it be stylish like Alicante or utilitarian like Torrevieja?  As it turned out it was somewhere between the two, leaning towards Alicante I would say.  We stopped for a beer as the sun burned through the thinning cloud and then walked along a causeway which extended a mile or so into the lagoon.  It was a lovely walk in the weak sunshine with statuesque flamingos on one side and see-sawing fishing boats on the other.  At the end of the causeway there was a pumping windmill, idle today, but nothing else except an opportunity to look out to sea before turning around and walking all the way back.

The weather was good and I was almost tempted to suggest a swim in the sea but I could tell that no one else would be terribly enthusiastic about that so I said nothing and we returned to the car and drove to a shopping centre at La Zenia.

I am not a big fan of shopping as you know and fortunately neither is Mick so we left Kim and Lindsay to browse the shops and we went for a beer and a bocadillo!

In the late afternoon it started to rain, just a little drizzle, but we didn’t mind it was our last afternoon and evening and next morning we would be returning to English drizzle anyway.

It had been a good few days in Spain especially because I was able to confront some of my prejudices about the Levante region of Spain.  I have to say that it is unlikely ever to become my favourite but I was able to scrape away at the surface of ex-pat life and appreciate some of the heritage and history of the region and I look forward to going back again!

Lo Pagan Spain

Travels in Spain, Doors of Guardamar

Guardamar Fisherman's House Door 1Green Door Guardamar SpainDoor Guardamar Spain Alicante

Travels in Spain, The Levante and Torrevieja

Torrevieja pier statue

 “I think you are missing the fact that ex-pats in little England actually do enjoy their view and their way of life in Spain. What’s wrong with sunshine and cheap booze and cheap fags?” – fellow blogger, roughseasinthemed  (Be sure to visit, you might like it)

I last visited the Levante east coast of Spain on a golfing holiday in May 2008.  We didn’t play golf every day and we alternated playing days with sightseeing along the coast.  One day we went to the seaside resort of Torrevieja and as we drove away I said that I would never go back.

I had to keep this ‘not on my bucket list’ thought to myself this morning when my sister Lindsay revealed that this was the plan for today.

In 2008 I still considered Spain to be massive holiday resort for the benefit of visitors from the north, it was only a year later when I began my travels into the interior and came to realise just how wrong I was.

Since then I have been fortunate to be able to visit almost all of Iberia, Spain and Portugal (except for Gibraltar, La Rioja and Navarre) and I am much better informed now and much less critical of the coastal Costas.

Torrevieja Street Art Spain

I didn’t like Torrevieja that day in 2008 because I wore blinkers and couldn’t see beyond the crowded beach and the long concrete strip overlooked by 1970’s high-rise hotels with towels hanging from the balconies like carnival bunting and littered with bars with cheap plastic orange furniture and tacky pictures of the food on the menu displayed on pavement boards.

Torrejievja Spain

To be honest, on that day I set out not wanting to like it and I successfully fulfilled my own petty ambition.  So here was an opportunity to set the record straight.

One thing that I did like that previous visit however were the impressive sandcastle artists who had constructed the most amazing displays of castles, dragons, ogres and naked ladies and were diligently carrying out constant running repairs to prevent the things drying out and collapsing back into the sea.

I was glad to see that they were still there…

Torrevieja Beach Sculpturesbeach-nude

It was rather cold this morning, there was no sun so there was no question or debate about taking the swimming costumes and towels and I think everyone was relieved about that and appropriately dressed we drove the short distance to the coast where we parked the car and set off for a walk along the seafront promenade.

It was much as I remembered it, still concrete, still lined with high-rise.  It isn’t an attractive place, it isn’t Alicante with its attractive patterned paving and palm fringed boulevards.  It is much more utilitarian and functional.  Sprawling and horizontal it invites a direct comparison with vertical Benidorm, fifty miles or so to the north.  Benidorm is better (in my opinion).

In 2008 I wanted to snigger about Torrevieja but today I wanted to find the good in it.  We strolled along the promenade, popped inside some tacky seafront shops because I wanted some postcards and then selected a café for a drink.  There were no orange plastic chairs and no pavement picture boards and there was an impressive lunchtime tapas menu.  We had a drink and as we left promised to come back later to eat – I wonder how many times the staff hear that?

TorreviejaTorrevieja 2008

So we continued the walk along the seafront and then Mick made the fatal mistake of taking us back through a shopping street and we were detained several times as Kim and Lindsay were distracted by shoes and sparkly things!  How many pairs of shoes does one person need I always wonder?

We went back to the bar for lunch and where it had been quiet and abandoned earlier it was busy and vibrant now and we set about choosing our tapas.  In this part of Spain a surprisingly high percentage of the population speak Valencian, a form of Catalan, and here the tapas were the northern Spain alternative – Pinchos.  

A Pincho is a Tapas where the topping and a slice of bread is held together with a small wooden skewer (a Pincho).   It is a good trick, you just keep choosing small dishes and lose all wallet control and when you have finished the waiter counts the sticks and makes a charge for each one at the same time as you pick yourself up from the floor and dust yourself down after the shock of the bill.

It is a system that relies completely upon a lot of trust!  I can tell you that they were all delicious choices and I could easily have blown our entire daily food budget in that place if Kim hadn’t insisted on a bit of gastronomic restraint.

After lunch we made our way back to the car park and left Torrevieja.  In 2008 I said that I would never go back but in 2016 I have moderated that and said that I wouldn’t rush back.  That is a compliment!

As we left I snapped this picture of the clouds over the sea.  Is it just me or can anyone else see an Angel smiling at my unexpected conversion?

Torrevieja Spain