A Yank's View of England Part 4

Thursday - May 4th

This was a really nice day out in the traditional English countryside.
Helen had three small towns on the trip plan,
Uppingham, Oakham, and Stamford. One thing I don't think I've mentioned yet. Recall that I said we were tooling around in a Volvo station wagon? Conjures up images of soccer moms taking the kids to the mall right? Well THIS Volvo is a turbo, 150 mph top end (I don't think we were ever running over 110 mph) and Helen can DRIVE! Nice relaxed driving position, arms straight out, no hesitation passing or evading other cars on twisting country lanes. Very easy to ride with. Helen does NOT "drive like a woman"! 8-))

Uppingham - This was my first opportunity to see an
Ironmonger's Shop (hardware store for the Yank readers). This one (D. Norton & Son) was really old and had neat "advertising" in stained glass above the shop windows. "Gas Fitter & Bell Hanger" "Hot & Cold Water Engineer" and "Bicycle Agent Repairs Done". I was surprised by the number of speciality shops, like one selling poultry, one selling beef and lamb,* etc. I also saw the smallest doorway on the trip. Top of the door only came to my chin and I'm just six feet tall!

Oakham - The highlight here was
Oakham Castle (really a fortified manor house) that dates from the 1100's. Over 200 horseshoes hang on the walls of the castle. These represent the unique custom that every peer of the realm, on his first visit to Oakham, must forfeit a horseshoe to the lord of the manor. The custom has been followed for over 500 years. How the Hell do things like this get STARTED anyway??? Most of the horseshoes are very elaborate, ornamental things, the largest perhaps four feet across.

Strange car park customs. Go to a
central machine, pop in money for the length of time you want to park, punch in your licence plate number, and get a "parking ticket" to display on the dash of your car. Neat idea.

Stamford - This was on the trip plan for two reasons near and dear to my heart. Engines and food! 8-)) The
Blackstone Oil Engine (lovely sideshaft, S-spoke flywheels, truly a thing of beauty) in the Stamford museum and lunch at The George. The George was most likely in business in 947 AD and has continued in business at that location on The Great North Road ever since. The vast, deep history of the place just seeps into you as you sit there with a drink. Everyone from royality and nobility to highwaymen like Tom King and Dick Turpin trod the boards at The George. Lives have been changed forever during discussions over a pint and a meal at The George.

The George is also memorable for the erotic etchings on the walls in the gents loo (and no these weren't the typical ones done with car keys in the paint on the wall). Helen commented that the ladies loo had rather boring pictures of flowers and such. 8-))

Walking back to the car I watched a pair of ducks "flying united" on the river. Interesting in that the male held the female's neck in his beak and held her head under water! Kinky. VERY kinky! 8-)) Helen observed (deadpan) that she does not want to be reincarted as a duck! 8-))

A visit to a chocolate shop rounded out the visit to Stamford. Presents for folks back in the States. 8-))

On the way back home we stopped in Sainsbury's (a large proper grocery store) to stock up on food and beer. I think at this point Helen is getting nervous! Interesting differences in wot foods are called. Things we'd call crackers and cookies they call biscuits. Many different veggies. Sterile milk on the regular grocery shelves. And bringing back HORRIBLE memories of being diciplined as a kid...
Powdered mustard! (Upon hearing this story, Helen buys two tins with an evil grin! Figgers she can keep me in line that way.)

Dinner was traditional take-out fish and chips!! YUMMY! And Jim's Dad Ron, provided a jar of his famous pickled onions! DELISH! Finished the day with a bit of British telly. I was surprised to find "Blue Velvet" among the listings.

Some additional info can be found on this part of England at the following web sites...


Friday - May 5th (Cinco de Mayo!!)

This was another "educational" family outing that got the boys out of school and the first full day that Jim has taken off work! We all went to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley (West Midlands). The museum occupies a 26 acre site and consists of 42 separate exhibits comprising the living
open air museum. All of the buildings were disassembled in various parts of the Black Country and later reassembled on this site brick by brick. Very impressive restorations. The Black Country got it's name from the ever present smoke from the thousands of ironworking foundries and forges and the nature of the countryside which had been spoiled by the working of shallow and relatively thick (30 ft.) coal seams.

One favourite exhibit was the Racehorse Colliery (dating to 1910). The
wooden pit frame stands over the 90 foot deep mine shaft and a single cylinder outside drum steam powered winding engine lifts the cage up and down the shaft carrying miners, coal, or anything else. Lovely engine. There's also a tour of a drift mine in the thick coal seam circa 1850. That was a really GRIM way to earn a living.

Also neat were the
cast iron houses built in the 1920's due to a shortage of traditional building materials.

The site also houses a
replica of the first steam engine built by Thomas Newcomen in 1712 for pumping water from coal mines on Lord Dudley's estate. The steam in the cylinder (6' long x 20" bore) is condensed by injecting cold water and the vacuume beneath the piston pulls the inner end of the beam down and causes the pump to move.

We almost missed Sidebotham's Trap Works but thanks to Christian's sharp eyes we popped in. Here the stamping, punching, and pressing machines are driven by
overhead lineshafts powered by a 1906 single cylinder Tangye engine. Very nice! Neat stencils for addresssing the crates hung on the walls. They shipped traps all over the world.

The Black Country was world renowned for its
production of iron and steel goods. Included in the "ironworks" are a nail shop, a chain shop, a blacksmith's shop (only one working the day were there - Jim's son Tom was nearly taken into an apprenticeship to work the podge <fat> off him), a rolling mill, and an anchor forge.

Dudley Canal and Boatdock rounded out the exhibits that I liked. We got to talking to a barge painter and Jim described his experience with Bolinder engines on the barges. The bloke took us out onto two of the barges so we could get a good peek at a couple of Bolinders. Man to this Yank, those vertical two-strokes sure do look a helluva lot alike!

Dinner was sandwiches out of the boot.

The Black Country Museum has a great web site at

next outings are the Stoke Goldington Engine Rally and a visit to Roland's Yard.

* Interesting picture of this
shop taken on a later visit!!!

Arnie's UK Tour

Rushden Cavalcade Twycross Zoo Peter Forbes'
Country Towns Stoke Goldington Roland Craven
Stoke Bruerne Southern England Local Attractions
Canals & Wales Last Few Days  

This page was a joint production by Arnie and Dolly - words and photos by Arnie, webbing by Dolly


E-Mail: Arnie

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