Monday, 24 February 2014

Before I post the news from Monday, a report from the Wednesday gang... yes, a small gang consisting of John C and John O reported for duty and quietly laid 300 bricks on Wednesday! This was a very pleasant surprise for the remaining CRC2 gang, who arrived this morning with the wall a bit further built than they thought.

John C on the penultimate layer before corbelling. John S is backing up, John O is - stunned!
John S is now a regular on the Monday gang, and this has made a big impact, allowing John C and Bob to concentrate on laying blues. Today we laid bricks on the 50m, 60m and 70m sections, and a new 80m section was pegged out, ready to start next time. 110m is half way.....

The Gloucester lads on the attack.
A very welcome return today was the lads from the Gloucester College. We gave them their own section, and they laid 200 reds! In the picture above we can see them passing extra reds over to Keith, who is stacking them on the boards ready for immediate use.

So tired....
Having passed over half a ton of reds, an extended rest period was required for these frail young bodies, while their tutor carried on hard at work.

You want sand, you get sand.
With all the extra hands on site, we quickly ran out of sand, with just about one wheelbarrow load remaining when the cavalry came to bring us some more. A lorry load is five tons, and we must have gotten through five or six loads like this since we started this job last August, all wheeled down to the site 200m away in wheelbarrows. Amazing what we have achieved, bit by bit.

Just like doing dishes, really. Keith has got his Marigolds on.
One thing we hadn't realised last summer when we started bringing the bricks down from the top of the cutting was that once stacked, the lower two or three rows of stacked bricks, and all those at the rear of each pile, quickly got dirty from splashes at the front, and collapsing cutting sides at the rear. Now that we want to use them, we find that they are covered in clay and many need individual washing before they can be used. After working bent over double by the trackside, we eventually used the trolley for a sort of rolling kitchen sink that we could move around. This worked rather better, but there are a lot more to go. In the meantime, we will not be bringing any more bricks down from the top until much nearer the time that we need them.

When I nod my head, you hit it with a hammer...
Given the sudden rapid rate of progress, it was decided to peg out a new section The picture above shows John C and Bob marking out then end of the 80m section. The slabs on the embankment behind them represent the half way mark, so just a little bit more to go.

Fully rested and strengthened with lunch, the Gloucester lads attacked the wall again. Here we can see them laying those 200 reds, backing up the 300 blues laid on Wednesday. This is what they are here for, to gain experience on the job, and with us they have the opportunity to do so. We are helping each other.

All in all, we laid 650 bricks today, a very satisfying result. At the end of the day, the site looked like this:

The beginning of the wall is slowly receding into the distance....

As we approach the half way mark, the consensus is that we will then back fill the wall that we will have completed, before moving on to the second half towards the signal box. We need to get in drainage and pea gravel around it, before using a small dumper to fill the void behind the wall.
CRC2a and CRC2b, if you like.

Friday, 21 February 2014

More finds from your scribe at Broadway. This bottle is one I haven't even heard of, let alone seen one:
GWR Codd bottle
The inscription says:  

Refreshment Dept.

The neck is missing, and this once held a marble which was Mr. Codd's patent way of keeping the contents sealed. Unfortunately, the marble was popular with children, so once empty, the bottles were often broken to recover the marble. Again, by Googling I didn't find out much about GWR's refreshment department, and certainly not in Swindon. I imagined that it would be based at Paddington, as indicated on the ceramics. What I do know about refreshments at Swindon I put in one of my articles in the 'Cornishman' - trains were required to stop there in the early years to allow passengers the chance to frequent the franchise holder's establishment, and that there was a twin hotel / refreshment room strung across the platforms, and one wing of the two burned down. Any additional info on the Refreshment Dept. at Swindon and this bottle would be gratefully received.

A selection of GWR cup remains
Since taking this picture, I have come to realise that there are at least three different styles of cup in the box ! What I think is the oldest is the one with the band of leaves in the top LH corner, as this band matches the plates with the older GWR crest on it. I have since found about another 20 pieces in this style, but hardly any of them fit together. Just how many cups did those stewards throw out of the window???

Type 2
This looks like the second style, without a crest. It has a more modern font to it, unembellished. The caption reads:

      Return to
Paddington Station

The third style I suspect is the most recent, and looks like this:
Type 3
This one does away with the crest, and has the more simplified roundel with the word 'HOTELS' underneath. But still return to Paddington, if you would be so kind. So far, I have found two cups like this one.

I am still digging, in between jobs at Broadway. I am determined to find enough pieces to stick something together that is recognisable. Although, I have to admit that the complete GWR dinner service suggested by a colleague at Broadway may require more patience still.

Finds at Cheltenham? Why yes ! On Monday I found the metal top to a champagne cork, and an aluminium tube that once held a Cuban cigar near the former waiting room. Different type of customer here, see :-)

Monday, 17 February 2014

Eight people on site today, and again good progress made. The weather was grey with a bit of drizzle, but it didn't hinder us in any way. 4 people were on brick laying, with Bob on the front on the blues, and a team of three backing up in reds.

Keith said he felt like a lab assistant with DNA samples.
After all the rain we have had, the first thing to do is remove the water from inside the cavities of the modern bricks. Despite covering with copious yards of Polythene, rainwater nevertheless manages to find its way into the holes. After trying with various towels and only modest success, we finally hit on this idea with a pipette. Press the bulb, stick the nozzle in the hole, and the water is sucked out in a flash! Brilliant.

The first job today was to finish backing up the 40m stretch, which had the last row of corbelling added last week. This was handled by John and Keith. When this stretch was complete, we moved up the scaffolding boards to the 70m section, and tidied up behind so that no more useable bricks remained on the 40m section, and we can sign this bit off.

Moving on to the 70m section then, John and Pete laid a double row of reds on top of the blockwork. A little drizzle then appeared, but this did not faze Bob, as John O had a solution for that!

A parasol ! Yes! With a teak pole and a brass winding handle, nothing but quality for us. Moving this along bit by bit enabled Bob to lay an impressive two rows of blues in the dry, one of headers and one of facing bricks, along the 50m and 60m sections. They are now of equal height, and one row below the start of corbelling.

Meanwhile, Paul and Brian had the trolley out and cleared up the site of the former waiting room, shifting all the rubble of bricks and broken slabs and depositing this behind the completed 10m stretch.

The former waiting room area now looks a lot neater, and the remaining broken bricks still visible in the picture have since also been removed.

The scene near the end of the day. We hope this gives our readers an idea of where we are. The barrow in the foreground stands about one third of the way along the total platform, which will be 220m long, the same length as before.

To summarise, we completed the 40m section today, laid two rows of blues on the 50m stretch, two rows of blues on the 60m stretch, and a double row of reds on the 70m stretch. About 540 bricks in all. After all this and before we can go home, all the blues have to be pointed, a slow process often done on hands and knees. This is going to be a quality wall!
Rubble arriving at speed in the direction of the cameraman...
Next, back to Broadway on Wednesday. Let's hope the weather plays ball.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

I've been digging by the Broadway goods shed, and and in one particular area a quantity of mainly GWR chinaware is turning up in a layer of ash about 6ins below the surface. It is all smashed to pieces, but the more I dig up, the more I am hoping that my growing jigsaw puzzle in the shed will finally see something click into place. So far I can see remainder of different sized plates - marked Great Western Railway Hotels - cups, saucers and part of a bowl. Here are some plates of different diameters:
 Each one has the same GWR coat of arms on it, which I believe was used up to 1933, when it was replaced by the roundel. Sometimes the manufacturer's stamp is visible on the bottom - Booths, or often Minton.
Close up of the coat of arms on a plate.
This is rather exciting for me, as I have never held anything GWR in my hands before - not even 2807! It feels like history. I have looked on Ebay, but there does not appear to be too much GWR china around, so it might be quite scarce. I now have about 20 plate fragments, but frustratingly, so far only two have matched. I think this means more digging is required!

The other thing that comes up is found by our ditch digging gang at Broadway. They are clearing the ditch that runs along the former allotments below the goods shed. Their finds are mostly bottles, and I think they must have been thrown there by the users of the allotments - mineral water is a common theme.

This one appeared quite recently. It has its original stopper, and contains a syrupy liquid which I have not yet dared to investigate more closely...

The bottle is intact and cast into it are the words:
I have Googled this company, but found nothing. Does anybody have any information on it?
Also, if anyone knows of a website that shows more examples of GWR china, I would be interested to know.

These bottles give you a window into the past, and reflect the culture of this area - Cheltenham, Evesham, Stratford on Avon, Moreton in Marsh, and here Henley in Arden. From various pointers I have found, the general period is I would say the 1930s.

More finds next time !

Monday, 10 February 2014

Back to a normal Monday, and Peter Q and John S came back for a second helping! Thursday didn't put them off, on the contrary. As a result, we had a really good brick laying gang and were able to work on 4 sections at once:
A dry day at last! John gets to the end of the 40m section.
 John C put the final row of corbelling onto the 40 meter section. This now just needs a last row of backing up, and it is complete.
Things are getting a bit crowded round here now, so the final yards of muck carrying are done by the bucket load. Peter gets his from Keith.
 At the rear of the 40m section, Peter Q backed up the previous row, while John S worked on the 50m section backing up.
A view of the site at lunchtime today, with the 70m section in the foreground.
 Bob was ion his hands and knees again, laying two rows of blues on to the 70m section, where we laid the blocks on Thursday. The spaces between the blocks were also infilled with more mortar.
It's a bright sunny day today ! Activity round the mixer at the other end.
 Those on the mixer could tell it was a good day, as they were kept busy with a constant stream of barrows heading south. Someone using it up there alright....
The next load of blocks arrives, for the 80m section
 At mid morning, Richard from Fairview arrived with more supplies - 72 blocks, and 20 bags of cement. we were down to our last bag at 9am, worries....
Come on Jo, stop taking pictures and help!
 Having removed a large number of pallets of reds from the middle of the new brick pile on the embankment, we were asked to sort out the broken reds and get them as infill behind section 1 of the new wall. Brian, Keith, Paul and Jo start throwing  the bits down to the track.
Paul ponders a naughty thought - wonder if I could reach him from up here?

In summary, a great turnout today with no fewer than eleven volunteers, a record. 
Five bricklayers were supported by six, to achieve the following:
Section 4: the final course of corbelling laid plus two red backing courses.
Section 5:  two red backing courses laid.
Section : one red backing course laid.
Section :7 two blue brick courses laid.
Approximate number of bricks laid - 900! That's what you get with two extra brick layers.
Yours truly left at 1.30 to help give a lecture at Leckhampton to a church community that had donated funds to the railway, and wanted to know more. Of the audience of 20, one was interested in volunteering, and another in the share issue. Result !

Thursday, 6 February 2014

John S ponders his next move - reds behind me, and mortar to my right - what to do next?
The first Wednesday in the month is usually an extra day at CRC, with additional volunteers coming over from Broadway. However, the forecast for yesterday was so poor that we decided to reschedule for today, Thursday. The weather was better, but not much. There were a total of 7 volunteers, with your scribe unfortunately absent due to his car being in for repairs.

Our appeal for help with backing up was answered by John S and Peter Q. We thank Mrs. Q for releasing her husband on two days in succession, Wednesday at Broadway and Thursday at CRC2 ! In this way we had four brick layers working today, which was really conducive to fast progress. Supporting them were Brian, Keith and John O, who were kept on their toes with a stream of demands for more mortar. Slowly, the distance to barrow it is diminishing...
Keith is ready with a big shovel full of extra mortar for Peter. Wooly hats all round, the weather ain't no picnic round here.
On section 4, Peter and John S laid a row of backing reds, which enabled John C to add the second row of corbelling. The blues for this, solid unlike the ones with the holes acting as temporary counterweights on the first row laid on Monday, are surprisingly heavy. Keith has made a series of big stacks trackside, ready for John to help himself. More mortar, anyone? Want some muck on your spot?
Peter Q got a soaking for his troubles at Broadway on Wednesday. Today, it's the turn for back ache....
On Monday we laid out the concrete blocks for the next section, and today Peter Q laid a total of 97 of them end-on on a bed of mortar all the way along the new 10m stretch. Next, a row of blue headers...
Here, Peter has finished the row of blocks. Now it's time to consume vast quantities of mortar by filling in between the blocks, and putting on a finishing layer of mortar on top. Glad to be able to stand up for a mo, Peter manages a wide grin for the cameraman. John O and Keith work the barrow shuttle - a full one has just come in, while the empty is about to return northwards to the box.

So, a day of solid results. We could have done even more, but at lunchtime the rain came and we had to cover up the work. Back on Monday !

Monday, 3 February 2014

Seven volunteers on site today, with a very windy start. Two people had the doors of the cars ripped out of their hands when they got out! Wow. That sure set the scene, and it stayed windy all day.

Three of the seven were brick layers, so we had three areas that were addressed - corbelling on the 40m section (first course), two rows on the 50m section with backing up, and one row, backed up, on the new 70m section. All in all, 725 bricks were laid. This was immediately inspected by our eminent Chairman, who came for a much appreciated chat.

With all this brick laying going on, our relentless brickies were soon short and a cry went up for 'more reds'. This request was taken on by the other four volunteers, who got the ladder chute out and attacked the last three stacks remaining in the middle part of the top. We are well over half way now moving the stacks down to track level, perhaps 70%.

Are you ready down there? Well, they're coming down anyway... Brian and Derrick try to catch a set of three bricks plummeting down the chute, adeptly thrown by Keith.

This is pretty backbreaking work especially for the two at the top of the embankment, as they have to bend over repeatedly and pick bricks off an ever diminishing stack. By changing places from time to time the pain was transferred to other parts of the body, and we managed to clear three stacks, or 1500 reds. These were brought to the workface and stacked on the duckboards ready for use.

Now, where exactly do you want these, John?
John has just finished a layer of corbelling, and each brick is counterbalanced by another balanced on its end, until the mortar has set. It is not possible to do more than one row in a day, until the row underneath is properly set.
New volunteer Derrick is allowed to do the pushing.

After unloading and stacking the bricks comes the fun bit. One of us gets a free ride to the other end of the site ! This is not for enjoyment (honest!), but someone has to sit on the trolley and hold the brake off. There's no other way, really...

In the foreground is Bob, on his hands and knees. This is how you lay the first rows of bricks, until the wall is high enough for you to stoop down. Not ideal either actually. Next to Bob is the line, fixed in advance, from which the heights of the individual rows are determined. This ensures that the wall is at a constant slope, and neither too high nor too low. Tricky, when the concrete base goes up in steps.

The current extent of the wall, at 70m.

Towards the end of the day, the new 70m section had two full rows on it, and was being prepared for the laying of the concrete blocks. A sample block has already been placed. Now for the 89 others.

The site at the end of the day
The final effort of the 'shifting gang' was to get a supplementary 60 blocks on the trolley, and lay these out with the 30 already stacked on site along the 70m section, ready for laying on a bed of mortar.

Finally, a plea from John and Bob. Is there anyone who can help us with block laying, and backing up? We are trying to divide our labours so that John and Bob can lay blues as often as possible, so it would really help if we had a couple of guys following them with backing up in reds. As the reds are out of sight, accuracy is not a problem.
It is likely that the next working day at CRC2 will be Thursday (deferred from Wednesday, when the forecast is not favourable), so anyone who can help lay reds, please get in touch with John or Bob.