House of Grace

Elizabethan house  Winslow

The Monday Photo

This Elizabethan house is in Horn Street, right in the middle of Winslow. It’s just a few yards from the Market Square.

It’s one of the oldest buildings in the town, and has the typical Tudor jettied first floor, so that if you walk along the pavement the upstairs is above your head.

The house isn’t as small as it first seems; it was enlarged in the 18th Century, and you can see part of the extension on the right of the photo. The 16th Century part of the house was originally thatched; you can tell by the steepness of the roof.

This timbered framed building belonged to the local Grace family for about a century, and the last one of the family here was Arthur Grace.

He used to paint the outside of this house and the other buildings he owned in this block, with ornate designs and bright colours. I remember seeing him doing a repaint in the 1970s.

This block of houses stands on what used to be part of the Market Square, and in the 18th Century was known as The Buttermarket.

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Shoes and Spitfires

Lodge Plugs factory

The Monday Photo

This fine building is now divided into flats, but it was built as a shoe factory over 120 years ago. In the 1940s it played an important part in the war effort, but not by making shoes!

Hinde & Mann’s two storey shoe factory on Wellingborough Road in Olney opened in 1894, and the firm did so well that later they extended the building upwards or outwards three times.

By about 1909 their high quality boots and shoes could be bought in every large town or city in the UK, and as far away as New Zealand. They also made boots for the army in the first World War.

When the recession hit in the 1920s and 30s, the company struggled when cheaper and lower quality shoes came on to the market, and the factory closed in 1932. But the firm carried on in other buildings in the town until the 1970s.

In 1940 Lodge Plugs, who made spark plugs for all sorts of military engines in their Rugby factory, were looking for somewhere they could use as a shadow factory.

This factory had to be away from the big towns and cities to avoid the bombing, and together with their main site at Rugby, it would allow Lodge to increase their output; sorely needed because of the war. Olney was ideal, and the Government requisitioned the disused shoe factory for the production of essential war material in August 1940.

Lodge were already making plugs for the RAF, but they had technical problems to overcome; aero-engine development advances quickly under wartime conditions, and the existing types of spark plugs were failing, lasting no more than a few hours.

So Lodge developed spark plug electrodes made of platinum instead of nickel, and by 1942, even in the highly tuned Merlin engines in Spitfires and Hurricanes they would last more than 300 hours.

When America entered the war, their Liberators and Flying Fortress bombers suffered from the same problems with spark plugs the RAF had seen. Lodge designed a special plug for the American engines, and it became the rule to fit this design of plugs to American bombers as soon as they reached Britain.

Three quarters of Lodge’s output went to the RAF and the American Army Air Force, and after the war the company bought the factory and made spark plugs there up to the 1950s. Around 1970 Pergamon Press used the building to store and distribute their educational books and magazines, and in the late 1990s the building was sold to private developers.

Lodge Plugs eventually became Lodge Ignition, and is now called Vibro-Meter UK; they make ignition systems for industry. I suspect that the Lodge Plugs signs didn't go up until after the war to keep the factory a secret; perhaps somebody can tell me if I’m right.

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How Do Arches Work?

Norman arches  StewkleyThe two nearest arches support the weight of the tower. There's another arch over the window, and above it you can just see the ribs of the roof, which is in the form of two intersecting barrel vaults. A barrel vault is a long arch, like the tunnel at Gayhurst in last week's Monday photo. This is the Norman church at Stewkley.

The Monday Photo

I see a lot of arches travelling round for the North Bucks Wanderer. The last five posts have all had something to do with arches, even if you couldn’t see them in the photos.

So how do they work, and why don’t they fall down, even if they are hundreds of years old? It’s all due to the way stone, or brick, is strong.

Stone and brick are enormously strong in compression; when they are being squeezed. Arches take advantage of this, by directing the load or weight of whatever is above the arch sideways.

This is how it works. The bricks or stones around the arch are wedged shaped. The weight above them makes each wedge shape (they are called Voussoirs) try to drive itself deeper between its neighbours.

They all squeeze each other and the weight is directed around the arch and into the abutments on each side.

How arches work2

As long as the abutments (see the diagram) are strong enough to resist the weight, the arch doesn’t have to be a complete semi-circle, and some arches are very shallow indeed. This is very handy for things like railway bridges; a train won’t get over a hump backed bridge.

The red arrows show the direction of the forces involved. And yes, they do show the abutments pushing back at the arch. They have to, weird as it may sound, or they would be crushed. With arches like the ones in the photo, there are more voussoirs and they just direct the forces (the thrust lines) vertically down.

The Voussoir at the crown of the arch is sometimes bigger than the rest and called the keystone. That’s just for decoration; it’s no more important than any of the others.

Arches are very stable. Even if the foundations shift, it is likely the arch will stay up. With a simple wall, if the thrust lines stray outside the wall, it will hinge or crack around that spot and fall down. The wedge shape of the voussoirs in an arch means they will just settle into a different position.

You need at least four hinge points before an arch will fall down. You can see cracks above the big arches in the photo. Arches are great for spanning large gaps. That’s unlike stone slabs, which will just crack and fall if the gap is too big.

The first known arches were in Egypt and Mesopotamia, 5,600 years ago and were made of brick. Stone ones came later.

If you want to see a wide selection of arches here on the North Bucks Wanderer, look for churches or bridges in the categories in the sidebar.

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The Monday Photo

Norman arch

Booking the Chapel

This is the oldest building in Buckingham, but it’s not as old as you might guess, looking at the doorway. This is the Chantry Chapel, on Market Hill.

It really is a genuine Norman doorway and not some later imitation, but the building dates from a rebuilding in 1471. The original building was built as St John’s Hospital for the Poor and Infirm in the late twelfth century, and I suspect that the doorway dates from then.

It’s a pretty typical example of Norman masonry; the semicircular arch has several concentric rows of decoration, and the outermost rows are supported by a small column on each side.

The hood mould, the outermost row that directs rainwater around the door, is carved in a sort of double nailhead pattern. Each nail head is pyramid shaped and you might have seen actual nail heads like this in ancient doors. 

The next row is perhaps the most well known and common pattern, the chevron or zigzag. If you recognise nothing else from Norman times, you’ll have seen this pattern before.

The next row is plain, and the arch is all the better for it. The innermost row is carved with shallow pointed-arched arcading. On the inside face of this last row, you might be able to see a groove running all the way round the arch. Any rain that got as far as the last row and tried to slip in would be defeated by this groove.

This doorway may well be in its original position, and the chapel, sometimes known at the Old Latin School, was just rebuilt around it.

So why is this the oldest building in the town? There’s a couple of reasons. Churches are often the oldest local building in a town or village but Buckingham’s old church collapsed, not for the first time, in 1776. This time it was not rebuilt. A ‘new’ church was erected in a different spot.

And in the early 18th Century Buckingham had a disastrous fire which destroyed  much of the town centre, and many older buildings were destroyed.

But the Chantry Chapel has had its problems too. Three times over the centuries it has needed major work, and today is looked after by the National Trust. No longer a chapel, it’s just about my favourite sort of shop; a second hand book shop.

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The Mill on the Hill

Post mill  BrillThe mill faces into the prevailing West wind.

There used to be two windmills at Brill. The second mill, actually the first to be built, took a lightning strike in 1905 and had to be demolished the following year. The two mills made a nice pair, both being post mills.

Post mills have a massive centre-post around which the entire mill rotates to face the wind. At Brill, the centre-post was about two and a half feet square at the base, and rounded above, tapering to 17” diameter at the top. The post has to be strong enough to hold the weight of the mill, together with the great pressure of storm winds, high up on the hill.

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The Monday Photo

Behind the Green Man

This pub is on the Market Square, Aylesbury. It’s not particularly old or noteworthy, but for many years if you wanted entertainment, through the arch on the side of the pub to the building that stood behind it was the place to go.

At different times over the years there you could see performers like Genesis, The Who, Roxy Music, David Bowie, or Ronnie Barker, or even watched a film.

The Green Man  Aylesbury

There’s been plenty of live music. Ronnie Barker might not have sung on stage there, but like David Bowie, there’s a statue of him in the town.

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