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February 2021

Sweets and Beans

Good spirits in  bad spirits out

In Japan, Spring starts at the beginning of February, and the day before the season starts all across the country there are bean throwing ceremonies where they throw roasted soy beans. There’s usually one in Milton Keynes too, at the Japanese Buddhist temple in Willen. Of course there wasn’t one this year and these photos are from 2015.

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What Do You Call a Dinosaur?

The Bill Billings triceratops

The Monday Photo

The triceratops lived between 66 and 68 million years ago, ate shrubs and weighed up to seven tons, more than an African bull elephant.

This statue of a triceratops is 43 years old and is made of concrete. It’s in Milton Keynes and was built without permission; its creator, local artist Bill Billings, lived inside it for three weeks to prevent Milton Keynes Development Corporation demolishing it.

I’ve seen a photo of it under construction at Peartree Bridge in 1978. The photo’s not very sharp, but there’s a steel frame (part of it looks like scaffolding tube) that seems to be covered in chicken wire. This all supports the concrete outer surface; this dinosaur is hollow inside.

The photo shows trees between the concrete triceratops and the road , but they haven’t been planted long and are maybe only six feet high. Back then, the dinosaur could look at the traffic over the top of them. There’s also a post and rail fence just in front of the statue; there’s no sign of that now.

There’s a mystery, though. The photo caption says the triceratops was being rebuilt, so had MKDC already knocked one statue down, and the one we see today is not the original? If you know, please leave a comment, then perhaps I can amend this post and tell the whole story.

In 1980 the dinosaur was given a name after a competition in the local schools; Desdemona. She is life sized; it looks like Bill Billings, who passed away on Boxing day 2007, had done his homework.

The blue colour scheme is just the latest I’ve seen over the years. I have photos of it all in gold, in green, and in a spiderman design.

I meant to go and check in case it’s been painted since I took this photo late last year, but didn’t. Perhaps I’ll take a trip out on the bicycle today and see; it’s only about ten minutes away.

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Bridge of Iron

Walker and Co. cast iron bridge

The Monday Photo

Only three of the bridges that Walker and Co. of Rotherham made are left in the world, and Tickford Bridge in Newport Pagnell is one of them.

Built in 1810,  it's also the oldest cast iron bridge in the world that carries modern traffic.

The other two existing bridges made by the company are older. The earliest one was built in 1801 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and was the first cast iron bridge to be built in the Caribbean.

The other cast iron bridge was erected in 1802 on the estate of Stratfield Saye House in Hampshire, not far from Reading.

Walker and Co. also made cannon for the navy. It’s thought that around a quarter of all the cannon in Nelson’s fleet at the battle of Trafalgar were made by the company, and 79 out of the 105 cannon on the Victory bore the Rotherham firm’s WCo mark; they were an expert casting firm.

The Newport Pagnell bridge was cast in sections. It was taken by sea to London, then by boat along the Grand Junction canal, which had only opened five years earlier. It wasn’t too far by road from the canal to the site of the new bridge.

The old bridge over the Ouzel there had to be replaced as it had become “ancient and decayed”.

The new bridge had been designed with six arched trusses set side by side, linked together by plates. Each one is made of eleven separate vouissors (which work like the wedge shaped stones that form a masonry arch) joined together with mortise and tenon joints, held tight by wrought iron wedges.

The arches are under compression; they have to be as cast iron, like stone, is strong in compression but weak under tension. The railings and central lamp standards are also cast iron, and the bridge abutments are of local sandstone.

The bridge needed little work or alterations for ninety years, then in 1900 wrought iron plates were added to the two centre bays when one of the deck plates fractured.

In 1972 the stone abutments received extensive repairs. Four years later a reinforced concrete deck on plastic foam had to be laid over the bridge to evenly spread the load of modern traffic, but in 1999 the bridge had to be strengthened again with carbon fibre. This all works, as you can see by the bus.

In the mid 1990s bollards were installed on the bridge, creating a width restriction to stop lorries and other large vehicles. It wasn’t popular; the gap was too narrow and quite a few cars lost mirrors on the bollards.

I wonder now if the restrictions were there to protect the bridge until it could be strengthened again. If you know anything about all this, please comment below.

Tickford bridge is a very fine example of early civil engineering in cast iron, which is why it is Grade 1 listed.

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Late to the Party

Clown costume

 

The Barrel Bikers, a local motorcycle club, usually have a Christmas party every year. It’s always held after Christmas, on a Saturday near the beginning of February. This doesn’t stop them giving out raffle prizes wrapped in Christmas paper!

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Getting Out of the Gutter

Milestone  Swanbourne

The Monday Photo

Here’s a milestone, on the A413 just over a mile from Winslow. From here it’s 49 miles to London, and nine miles to Aylesbury.

In the distance, you can see a white van signalling to turn right off the main road to go down the side road to Granborough, but until 1824 the first stretch of the Granborough road was part of the main road South; the next mile or so of what we call the A413 didn’t exist.

If you followed the white van you would find yourself going downhill and past two houses together in one building on the left. A little further on the modern road goes sharp right. But this was once a T junction, and the old turnpike went straight on, through Holcombe Gutter.

This name’s a clue to why the road was altered. Travellers found that the turnpike through the gutter became extremely muddy and difficult to traverse during the winter, so the route had to be moved to drier ground. The new stretch of road ran along the ridge above the gutter.

The two houses we’ve just passed were once a pub, described as the Small Beer Hall. By the time the new stretch of road was built it was known as The Neptune. It might have had other names.

With the new section of road finished the pub lost most of its passing trade, and a new pub, also called The Neptune, would be built opposite the modern turn to Swanbourne, but not until 1833. It’s now a farm house.

From the sharp right hand bend on the road to Granborough a farm track follows the old turnpike straight on and up out of the gutter. Not far along, it was joined from the left by Ave Lane, a green lane from Swanbourne that might have been a drover’s road.

From there, still going quite straight, it’s possible to follow the turnpike up the hill though it’s covered in trees. Where it once curved left across a field to join the modern main road there is little sign of it, but it comes out next to where the new Neptune pub was later built, opposite the modern Swanbourne turn.

From there, you could have either carried straight on to Swanbourne, or turned right to go to Whitchurch or Aylesbury along the turnpike.

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