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Turnpikes around Welford

Thursday, 21 October 2021 at 22:09

Hands on the bars on Dr John Dunn. New YouTube video, Turnpikes around Welford.

The roads under our wheels offer the real motoring history, and it is free to explore. Here I do some exploring in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire on my Royal Enfield Classic 500.

“…It’s a joy to be out motorcycling.”

“…and there’s South Kilworth up ahead, where the town grew up around the crossroads of this road and the North Kilworth to Rugby Turnpike…”

“…and there, up ahead, that white building, is the White Hart, an old coaching inn for travellers along the turnpike”

Click to view the video here.

© John Dunn.

Open topped

Wednesday, 20 October 2021 at 13:44

Fast and furious on Dr John Dunn. Open topped

The key sensory experiences of driving an open topped car are wind-noise and an exaggerated sensation of speed. Having owned a Mazda MX5 (the best ever “British” sports car) for four years, I was intrigued by the following passage from Osbert Sitwell’s autobiography, Great Morning:

They would sit together, the two of them, the man at the wheel, the girl beside him, their hair blown back from their temples, their features sculptured by the wind, their bodies and limbs shaped and carved by it continually under their clothes, so that they enjoyed a new physical sensation, comparable to swimming; except that here the element was speed, not water.

Speed becomes the element through which one moves; and it is not an easy movement. Driving that little sports car through the medium of speed can be exhausting.

© John Dunn.

Holyhead roads, Hockliffe

Monday, 18 October 2021 at 22:14

Postcard history on Dr John Dunn. Holyhead roads, Hockliffe

The early Holyhead road broke from Watling Street (later the A5) at Hockliffe, just north of Dunstable. From here it ran through Woburn, Newport Pagnell, Northampton, Welford, Lutterworth, Hinckley, Tamworth, Lichfield, Chester and Bangor Ferry. In the 1920s designation of road numbers, this route was largely covered by the A50.

Even after Thomas Telford’s road improvements, resulting in a newer, quicker London-Holyhead mail coach route, via Stoney Stratford, Coventry and Birmingham, the old route continued to be used by the mails between London and Chester, and the Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead, until the coming of the steam trains.

However, important though they were in the coaching era, these roads fell into decline with the rise of the steam railway network; they entered what I have termed the transition period, leading to their revival again with the arrival of personal means of transport, firstly the bicycle, followed by motorised vehicles.

This postcard represents the early stages of the revival, i.e. a coaching inn turned ‘CYCLISTS HOUSE’ in Hockliffe, the great junction of the old and new Holyhead roads.

© John Dunn.

'Unholy ridicule'

Sunday, 17 October 2021 at 22:48

Poet by John on Dr John Dunn. Roy Campbell by Augustus John

'Unholy ridicule'

I include below the next part of Roy Campbell’s Flowering Rifle, following on from the parts already presented and discussed in Thought Pieces.

I warned John Bull to fatten up his son
And Jackie Veal-Calf to be underdone
When with their stainless cutlery and steel
Like waiters they would serve their own cold veal,
Yes, even blobbed with mustard-coloured hair,
Which I’d forgot to order—all was there
A prophet’s feast of laughter to prepare!
And vain were all their boycotts to deflect
My prophesies that hiss their hair erect,
Who guaranteed their Popular Behinds
To show a pair of cheeks to all the winds,
And could as easily, in my Delphic rapture,
Have prophesied their slaughter as their capture,
But here the very Quater-masters vex
For Turkey-food to redden up their necks
Till, all unhurt, we ship them to their shops
With grapenuts still distended in their crops
If we can find any—treating them kindly
To send them home from where they rushed so blindly
To fling their scraping curtseys to the Wops,
After they’d sacked the Churches, looted farms,
And raised us angry cattlemen in arms—
Leftness of Hand (the shame of work and war)
Disgracing England on a foreign shore,
Whose honour here I battle to restore
From such unholy ridicule to save her.

Consideration and discussion of this next section will follow shortly.

© John Dunn.

Charles Dickens on Turnpikes

Saturday, 16 October 2021 at 22:14

Novel writer of note on Dr John Dunn. Charles Dickens on Turnpikes

Again I deal with the time of transition on the British road system; this was the period between the dying of the turnpikes because of the transfer of business to the rapidly expanding steam railways, and the revitalisation of the roads, first by the cyclists on their high wheelers and early safety bicycles, followed by the motorists on two, three or four wheels.

Dickens caught the mood of the times in the early days of the transition, the time of decline. In the Uncommercial Traveller, published in 1860-1, at the height of railway mania, he has a character speak of the declining turnpikes thus:

I came to the Turnpike, and I found it, in its silent way, eloquent respecting the change that had fallen on the road. The Turnpike-house was all overgrown with ivy; and the Turnpike- keeper, unable to get a living out of the tolls, plied the trade of a cobbler. Not only that, but his wife sold ginger-beer, and, in the very window of espial through which the Toll-takers of old times used with awe to behold the grand London coaches coming on at a gallop, exhibited for sale little barber's-poles of sweetstuff in a sticky lantern.

The tide would turn of course. In the 1860s the roads were already succumbing to the wheels of the first viable pedal bicycles, motorised vehicles would not be far behind.

© John Dunn.

Roads: the transition

Friday, 15 October 2021 at 22:44

The novelist on Dr John Dunn. George Eliot

Roads: the transition

The following extract from George Eliot's Felix Holt The Radical, provides a snapshot of the state of Britain’s turnpike road network during the mid-Victorian transition era.

This transition era, between the arrival of steam trains and the coming of the bicycle and motoring, was one of decline on the roads. Deprived of the long-distance traffic, passenger, goods and mail, their purpose was gone.

Peter Thorold writes in The Motoring Age that ‘they resembled the Roman roads after the dissolution of the Empire.”

Here is the piece by George Eliot:

Five-and-thirty years ago the glory had not yet departed from the old coach roads: the great roadside inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling glances of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose hostlers; the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedge-cutter or the rick-thatcher might still know the exact hour by the unfailing yet otherwise meteoric apparition of the pea-green Tally-ho or the yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony-chaises, quartering nervously to make way for the rolling, swinging swiftness, had not ceased to remark that times were finely changed since they used to see the pack-horses and hear the tinkling of their bells on this very highway.

This extract was published in 1866. The 1860s were also the years in which pedalled bicycle power really became viable with the first boneshakers. The high wheelers followed in the 1870s and the safety bicycle in the 1880s. In the 1890s motoring commenced and, from this point, the old roads trully began to revive.

© John Dunn.

Early motoring

Friday, 15 October 2021 at 10:33

AA Road Book on Dr John Dunn. Early motoring

Early motoring route planning was linked inexorably to the old turnpike system. The motorist using my AA Road Book first edition from the early 1920s would probably be within living memory of the old turnpike system, with its asssociated road mapping, which existed from the early 17th century, until destroyed by the coming of the steam railways. The revival came first with the arrival of the touring cyclist, followed only a little later by the users of powered vehicles.

Using the route planning from the aforementioned Route Book, my motorcycling excursion tomorrow will take me from Warwick to Market Harborough.

The AA recommended:

Blue Boar Corner
South Kilworth
North Kilworth
Husbands Bosworth
Market Harborough.

Route described as “somewhat winding with attractive woodland”, then, typical Northants country (on border of Leicestershire).

The recommend route back south is:

Market Harborough
East Farndon
Cold Ashby
West Haddon
(edge of) Welton

Stoney Stratford… and so south.

Posted by John Dunn.

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