Monday, 30 January 2012

The Permian Jungles

There was a major upheaval in prehistoric life around 270 million years ago
At the start of what scientists call the Permian Period, there was a rapid change in prehistoric life. A new type of animal evolved that rapidly became the most important form of life on Earth. These were the reptiles. They quickly took over many ways of life from the amphibians.

Early reptiles were well adapted to life on land
The first reptiles looked like amphibians, but they were different in several important ways. One of these was that their eggs were covered with a waterproof shell. Unlike amphibians, reptiles did not need to lay their eggs in water. They could therefore live far from streams and lakes.

Things to do
Edible Reptiles

You will need:
100gms dried milk
100gms smooth peanut butter
50gms honey
food colouring

Mix the dried milk, peanut butter and honey together in a bowl.
Mould the “dough” into reptile shapes.
Decorate the dough reptiles with currants for eyes and colour with food colouring
With adult permission, scoff the reptiles for supper. Yummy!

From 100 Facts on Prehistoric Life by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Outbreak of the US-Mexican War of 1847

The war of 1847-8 was the first time since the War of 1812 that the US armed forces had to face an enemy universally equipped with firearms and trained in European style warfare. The Mexican army was, however, poorly regarded and most Americans expected an easy victory.

The war had its origins in the 1836 conflict that brought independence to Texas and was famous for the siege of the Alamo. The Mexican government had never accepted Texan claims to the land between the Rio Grande and Rio Nueces. In 1845 Texas became a state of the USA, so the USA inherited the border dispute.

President Polk moved 3,500 regular soldiers under Zachery Taylor up to the Rio Nueces. He also sent John Slidell to Mexico City with an offer to pay $25 million dollars for the disputed land in Texas, plus the Mexican provinces of Alta California and Santa Fe. The Mexicans turned down Slidell’s offer in brusque terms, so the envoy returned to Washington in disgust.

In Texas, Taylor had built a small fort in the disputed territory. On 25 April 1846 the Mexicans ambushed a patrol of US cavalry in the disputed lands, killing 11 men and capturing the rest. Polk told Congress that the Mexicans had “shed American blood on American soil” and on 13 May war was declared.

Meanwhile, General Mariano Arista led 3,400 Mexicans to attack Taylor’s fort, prompting him to march his main force over the Nueces to relieve the surrounded men. The resulting Battle of Palo Alto was dominated by artillery. Taylor used a battery of horse artillery – light guns pulled by fast horses – to hammer the Mexican army, which then fell back into broken country where the horse artillery could not operate. The Mexicans opened fire with their own heavier guns, halting the American advance. Next day Arista retreated over the Rio Grande.

Meanwhile, in Alto California, local US settlers had taken matters into their own hands, declaring the province to be independent of Mexico. A force of 60 US soldiers under Captain John Fremont was diverted from Oregon to California to support the American settlers against the local Mexicans. The Americans won the climactic Battle of La Mesa on 9 January, after which the Mexicans retreated from California.

from THE ATLAS OF THE WORLD AT WAR  by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 23 January 2012

A nice Teashop in Herne Hill

Teashop:            The Woodrose Tea Rooms, Mount Ephraim, Staple  St, Hernhill, Kent  ME13 9TX
  Tel: 01227 751168

Distance:            3 miles

Map:                OS Explorer 149

Parking:            The teashop has a car park

Public Transport        Boughton Street is on Stagecoach bus route 3A from Canterbury. The teashop is about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop.

Conditions:            This walk is short but strenuous as it goes up and down steep hills that offer fine views.

1) Leave the teashop and return to Staplestreet Road. Turn right and head northwest. When you reach the Three Horseshoes pub turn right along Church Hill. As you enter the village of Hernhill you will find a church on your right.

The little village of Hernhill had one of the earlier churches in Kent, it was certainly here by about 750. That early structure was of wood and in 1120 was replaced by a stone and timber structure that was dedicated to St Stephen, as the first church may have been. In 1450 the church was demolished and replaced with the stone and flint building that is to be seen today. Unusually the dedication was changed to St Michael, though no reason for this is known.

The church is a fine example of Kent Perpendicular Gothic style and has a square tower with a ring of eight bells. The main door and door to the bell tower are 15th century, and the rood screen is 16th century. Much of the furniture dates from a restoration of the church in the 19th century, and a Lady Chapel was added in 1928 - though in a very sympathetic style that does not jar with the rest of the church.

2) Pass the church on your right then turn right down Crockham Lane. Ignore the first on the right and instead take the first on the left, a lane which cuts back uphill.

3) After about 300 yards the lane bends to the left. At this point take a footpath off to the right that climbs uphill toward woodland. In the woods, the path bends sharp left, then hooks right to complete a half circle and emerge on to a track. In the woods to the right stands a semi-derelict tower.

This is the Holly Hill Tower. It was built by the local landowner in the 1930s, apparently so that he could enjoy the views north toward the Thames Estuary and its ships. It has been abandoned since his death and is now rather run down. It is not open to the public, but is an interesting example of a very late example of a folly.

4) From the tower follow the track south until it emerges on to a lane. Turn right along this lane, Dawes Road, to a skewed crossroads junction. Go straight on along Dawes Road to a T-junction.

5) Turn right into Staplestreet Road and return to the tea rooms.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Driving to the Wye Crown, Kent

The Stour is the second largest river in Kent, draining most of the east of the county. In fact this is not one river, but three rivers that join to flow into the sea together near Sandwich. This drive follows the longest of the three rivers, the Great Stour. The Little Stour is about 9 miles long and the East Stour 10 miles long.

Ths drive starts just outside Lenham, named for the River Len which also rises nearby but which flows west to be a tributary of the Medway. Find the White Horse by leaving the A20 at Lenham and heading south out of the village on the lane to Leadingcross Green and Boughton Malherbe. The pub stands on the Sandway crossroads just after the lane crosses a railway and before it crosses the M20.

Leaving the pub drive north to the A20, then turn right toward Ashford. Just after the junction with the A252 the village of Charing will be to your left. Enter the village to find the church. This charming place appears to be more of a small town than a village. The ruins of what was once a palace owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury lie just outside and are worth a visit.

Return to the A20 and continue into Ashford. This was a relatively unimportant village until the railway was built through here in the 19th century. It was chosen to be a major repair and maintenance centre for the railways, and the little village grew rapidly to become a town. The East Stour flows into the Great Stour just south of Ashford. At Ashford turn northeast along the A28 toward Canterbury.

About three miles outside Ashford turn right along a lane leading to Wye. This village has houses that date mostly to the Georgian period. For some reason the local builders chose to include grotesque heads and figures on many of the houses. It is a pleasant enough place, and the church is worth a look, but the real attraction lies along the lane east of the village to Hastingleigh. The hill above the lane is dominated by a huge white crown about 180 feet tall. The hill figure was formed by hacking through the green turf to reveal the white chalk underneath.

From TEASHOP DRIVES IN KENT by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Things to do in Petworth, Sussex

In Petworth it is worth stopping to look at the medieval Market Place and the maze of narrow streets that open off it. Several of the houses that line the streets are of medieval date, others being of Tudor or 17th century construction. The parish church was rebuilt in 1827, but many of the older tombs and monuments were preserved, which is just as well as some of them are truly spectacular. The tombs are mostly of owners of the nearby Petworth House which has been in the same family since the 1090s.

Petworth House is open for the summer season and stands in an estate of around 2,000 acres that is surrounded by a great wall about 13 miles long, one of the largest estate walls in the country. The West Front is 320 feet long and dates to the rebuilding carried out by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, in 1688 after he acquired the Petworth estates by marriage. Only the chapel remains of the older medieval mansion. The house is famous for its interiors which include a Carved Room by the master wood carver Grinling Gibbons and a Grand Staircase with frescoed walls. James Turner, the landscape artist, stayed here and left a few works behind as did Joshua Reynolds. There are also works by Holbein, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough. Petworth House makes for a lengthy visit, so if you intend to have a look round it might be best to allow a whole day for this drive.


Friday, 6 January 2012

The Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway crosses the Blewbury Downs

A ticket to Compton
The Didcot Newbury and Southampton Railway line emerged from the cutting after almost two miles to proceed on to the open downs at Churn Station. Beyond Churn, the line began a gentle descent over the Blewbury Downs at gradients varying between 1:264 and 1:1375. After two miles the line reached the station of Compton.

This station was conveniently located between the church and the pub that served the village. It was also the largest access point to the DNS between Didcot and Newbury. There was not only a loop, but also sidings and an engine shed. This was the main station for what was to become an important business on this northern section of the line: horseboxes. The downs made ideal country for the keeping and training of race horses. Indeed, the area around Churn is still criss-crossed by extensive gallops and practice race courses. Racehorses were brought down to Compton to be loaded into horseboxes for transportation to racecourses around the country.

At Compton the line picked up the headwaters of the River Pang, and followed the banks of the babbling chalk stream down along a gradient of some 1:178 to the village of Hampstead Norreys where another station was constructed. There the line left the stream to begin a 2 mile climb at 1:106 to cross the top of the Newbury Downs just north of the village of Hermitage. The line levelled out to 1:330 for a short distance here where a station was built. The presence of the Brains Brickworks at Hermitage provided so much goods traffic that special sidings were built from the station to the works.

From Hermitage, the line then began a 4 mile descent, mostly at 1:106 but in places 1:244 to reach the valley of the Kennet. The line joined the GWR mainline just east of Newbury.

from  LOST RAILWAYS OF BERKSHIRE by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Earls of Lovelace

The First Baron
The Earls of Lovelace
Based at the lovely Ockham Hall, the King family worked their way up from being 17th century grocers to being Barons of Ockham by the 1830s. In 1838 William King was raised from the rank of Baron to be the Earl of Lovelace. He had married Augusta Byron, daughter of the poet Byron, and between them they made a number of scientific discoveries. The Lovelace family lived at Horsley Towers, built in the mid 19th century by Sir Charles Barry who also built the Houses of Parliament. The construction features a German style tower and cloisters. The family also built many other buildings around the villages of East and West Horsley.  The title is now held by the 5th Earl of Lovelace, a noted naturalist. The family helped to endow Surbiton Grammar School, later to become Esher Grammar School and now Esher College.

from THE LITTLE BOOK OF SURREY by Rupert Matthews