Saturday, May 29, 2010

The lost Spencer Landscape.

The lost Spencer painting.
The year was 1934 and summertime I remember when Uncle Stanley as I knew him arrived on the bridge at Widbrook and set up his easel to paint one of his landscape pot boilers. From my cottage garden I could see him at work and being my nosey self, I went up to watch him at work. Of course he knew who I was as he had seen me many times when he use to visit my Aunt Amy Field for a Sunday afternoon tea.
I remember he explained from his preliminary sketch how he worked from the distance and gradually moved into the foreground with his painting. It is strange how I remember this, and even applied it to my water colour art.
The composition of the photo above is my recollection of the finished painting, though there were leaves on his willow trees, plus a few bulrushes in the foreground, though the stream was always fairly clear as it was well maintained by the Thames Conservancy. They cleaned the weeds out manually every two years, and then they would bring in a drag line bucket every four years to remove any excess silt build up.
It was natural playground with a home built raft and my friends from the farm use to play our version of "Swallows and Amazons."
The guilt frame is my addition to this lost work. It is strange how Dudley Tooth lost track of this landscape. My only hope is that someone sees this Blog and can inform the Spencer Gallery in Cookham of its whereabouts.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coal Gas Transport of the 1940's.

Coal Gas Transport 1940's.
Necessity being the mother of invention during the war, public transport had to keep going even though petroleum products such as diesel and petrol were in short supply. Many bus companies such as the Thames Valley Traction Company turned to converting their buses to run on coal gas. Some companies converted their Single Decker buses to use a system as shown in the picture above. It resembled that of having a barrage balloon tied on the roof.

On the other hand the more affluent members of society converted their cars to using coal gas, as I have demonstrated to what looks like having three or four ¾ sized bed spring mattresses on the roof of your car. This particular system did not last long as people found that they ran out of gas when they least expected it. Then it was a pain to get it refilled at the closest gas works.

The Thames Valley Traction Company how ever went for the trailer gas generator which was towed behind the bus, where a small fire heated the coal to generate the gas. It was obvious every so often the conductor on the bus would get off and stoke the fire. This system use used for the majority of the war, until such time that diesel fuel became easier to obtain. Of course the last bus home to Cookham Village left the Rialto cinema at 8:30 pm and would go through to High Wycombe.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Village Lighting by Gas & Oil.

Village Lighting by Gas & Oil.
Yes, seventy years ago this was a common sight in Cookham, as by the 1930's only certain parts of the village had been hooked up to the electric grid, and the outlying properties were still very much reliant on gas and oil for Cooking and lighting. There was a business located in Cordwallis Road in Maidenhead that use to come around on a weekly basis with what was what I would call a Mobile Hardware Store. He had two large saddle tanks under the floor in which he carried bulk Parafin, better known as Kerosene to my North American readers. He also carried Gas and Oil Lamp mantles, spares, such as wicks for various makes of lamps and heaters like the Valor Oil Stove.
There was also a good selection of household cleaning materials for floors and furniture plus all your washday needs in soaps and items like Robin Starch and Reckitts Blue.

The oil and gas mantles were quite stiff with a wax coating which had to be burnt off once installed then they would become very fragile as they would break very easily if touched.

The Aladdin table lamp was the most common of the oil lamps in use, as a matter of fact they were in use in the workers houses around the farm until the middle of the war when the farm became electrified.

Quite a few homes in the village used the Valor Oil Stove the heat their homes, especially in their upstairs bedrooms. All of this was in use seventy years ago.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cookham by Coal Gas Light.

Cookham by Coal Gas Light.
There are very few of my generation left living in the village that would remember the village lighting being mainly gas. Electricity in those early years was a luxury that only the more affluent villagers could afford. In the early 1930's I can remember the only village street light was gas and was located at the top of the High Street where the Tarrystone was once placed. Holy Trinity School was all gas lighting. I grew up with gas light and gas cooking with the old 1/- gas meter in the cupboard. Yes even in those days it was pay as you go.
Now where did all this gas come from? In the photo above is the Taplow Gas Works site where all our local gas originated, built in Victorian times it served both Cookham, Maidenhead, Taplow and Burnham to my recollection. The Gas Office was in Maidenhead opposite the Bear Hotel next to Norman Greville the photographer.
Every three months or so Len Fenner from Black Butts who use to work for the Gas Company would come along and empty the gas meter coin box, read the meter and count the shillings, he would calculate gas used and replace money for gas that had not been used. Also based on the consumption my mother would also collect a rebate from the amount used. During the winter months water use to get into the gas lines and the result would be that our gaslight would flicker. My father would inform the office in Maidenhead and Len Fenner would bring a stirrup pump and remove the water from the line up by the road close to the bridge over the Widbrook stream

Very often when I use to accompany my father to the shop at 95 High Street in Maidenhead on a Saturday morning around first light one could see the glow of the retorts being opened at the end of a gas making cycle. Quite often my father would ask me to go to the Taplow Gasworks and by a couple of gallons of creosote, with which he use to paint all his wood outbuildings and chicken houses. We bought it for 6d a gallon.
I am not sure the routing of the gas lines from Taplow to the two Gasometers or referred to by some as gasholders. I have no idea when they were erected, but my guess would be in the late 1800's. The design was universal right throughout the country. I remember seeing quite a number of these as you passed by in the train to Paddington at Southall.

Now with the structures removed the village is left with two sour ground areas, which I am sure will contain quite a large trace of coal gas elements. A Hawker Hart biplane almost hit one as it crash landed in the Alfred Major field. The story of which I have told already.

Here today is the gateway that is all that is left of the entrance into the old site off Whyte Ladyes Lane. For how many years this brown area will remain dormant is pure speculation and cost to render the site safe to build on. Something like the cost involved to clear up the asbestos problem at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital at Cliveden.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Wartime Telephone Network.

US Army Telephone Network.

In the summer of 1942 the whole of the district was invaded by an American Field Communications Engineering group. There must have been at least two to three hundred of them with each a job to do. The poles ran from somewhere in London I believe. They came into my notice when they arrived on Widbrook Common and cut across to Strand Water, down the slip out to the Moor, skirting around the bottom of Rowborough, over the railway line along and along the top of Winter Hill, down through Quarry Woods and on to Bisham. I know that it went down in the West Country.
This remained up until after D-Day when once again they turned up and removed all the poles and wire. The wire by the way was 14swg hard drawn copper.
There was another shorter phone line installed using a covered twisted pair cable used to communicate between Battlemead in Maidenhead Court and St. Georges and the Odney Club, which housed by the way both British and American Troops at different times during the war.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cookham Home Guard Pillbox.

Cookham Home Guard Pillbox.
The Pillbox or sometimes referred to as a Machine gun Nest was built in a position where the gunners had a commanding view of the roadway or countryside in front of them this is why the brick wall that surrounds the moor side was such a natural spot to put one. The photo above is that same wall recently taken by the Google Street View camera car.

The picture above is to give you an idea of what the Pillbox looked like as it was set into that wall. If my memory is correct it was fitted into the wall at a slight oblique bend, this was to give the gunners a little extra scope of view. Not at right angles as the one in the photograph above. These slots are most likely have been filled in, but traces of where they were most likely still exist. I would be very interested if someone actually finds the spot where they were. Please pass the information on to either Pam Knight or Liz Kwantes so it can be logged.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The 3.7 Anti Aircraft Gun in Cookham.

Anti Aircraft Roving Battery.
On several occasions during the early years of the war and the London blitz a roving anti aircraft battery would turn up late in the afternoon and set up their guns in Maidenhead field. This field was an ideal site as it stands several feet higher than the marshy ground of Widbrook. Also it was mainly used as a grass field at that point in time. Of course a nosey ten year old would go over when he spotted that they had arrived from his home.

A 3.7" Anti Aircraft Gun.

One thing that intrigued me was their gun layering bearing, which was given the very odd name of "Porcupine Bearing." It was not till very much later that I found out that each time that they set up a different compass heading was used for the Gun Layers and the Range Finders to use. This was confuse any enemy agent that may be watching. During their several visits during that period of the war, they never fired a shot from Maidenhead field. Though on several occasions you could hear the gun fire from another site they used at Dropmore Park. Then by first light they had moved out. Sometimes they were back in a few days, then it would be weeks.

The ATS Range Finders.
These young ladies were a very important part of the Anti Aircaft Battery as their finding the range, height and direction were all important. Very similar in training as those members of the WAAF that manned the Plotting Rooms and Radar Stations on the coast.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Village Whist Drives.

Wartime Village Whist Drives.

Yes that is the answer to my quiz. Those three locations that mentioned were where weekly Whist Drives were held. My Mother was an avid player, plus she liked to get out at night to have a chat with other ladies in the village. I use to go along as well as quite a few nights my father was on duty Fire Watch at the shop at 95 High Street in Maidenhead. We use to walk to each and everyone of them. Yes all the way from Widbrook to the top of Kennel Lane. It use to take us about an hour in each direction. Of course Moor Hall and The Workingman's Club were close by comparison. I had learnt to play whist at home as my Grandmother and aunts and uncles were all great Solo Whist players.
Progressive Whist Drive is somewhat different, as the Trump Card or No Trump card was drawn by the Master of Ceremonies and was posted for all to see. Those with seven or more tricks moved on. Those playing gentlemen in a clockwise direction and the ladies in an anti-clockwise direction. The loosing Lady sat still and the loosing Gent moved around the table so as to play against his partner in the previous game. The games were made up of 24 hands and then for prize awards there was for high halves as well as top scores both Ladies and Gents. Then there was the Booby Prize for the lowest score, again both Ladies and Gents.
Being very national and war effort minded the prizes were either in National Savings Certificates worth 15/- (shillings) or in 6d (penny) saving stamps. These whist drives were always well attended and grew to quite a size especially during Wings for Victory,
War Weapons, and Warship Week, which were national savings drive campaigns.
During this period is when the village really came together, where directors of large companies or banks for instance could be found growing vegetables at the weekends in the village allotments. The wives were also found getting into their kitchens and finding how to make the rations go around and passing on cooking tips.
You may wonder where I found the only Whist Drive photo above, actually it was taken in India during the 1914-18 war. Sorry there were none to be found for 1939-45.