Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Exeter Catacombs

In the early 1800s, the city of Exeter in the South west of England saw a significant rise in population, and as a result, the city’s cemeteries began to rapidly fill up. Although there was concern about this, it wasn’t until the cholera epidemic in 1832 that something had to be done in order to halt the public protests that were taking place. People were naturally concerned for their safety and absolutely terrified of infection.

When over four hundred people died from the epidemic in under a three month period, two temporary cemeteries were built outside of the Roman city walls, however this did little to assuage the problem. It was decided that a new cemetery was desperately needed, and with an estimated cost of £2,300, building commenced in 1835. Things didn't go quite to plan though, and due to a whole host of problems including failing foundations, the price rose significantly to £6,000.

The cemetery and catacombs were designed by Thomas Whitaker and built by Henry Hooper – the first cemetery buildings in the UK to be built in an Egyptian style.  Dividing the cemetery and the catacombs was a wall – a visual representation of the divide between the rich and the poor of the city.

It was expected that the affluent people in society would choose to be interned within one of the 2800 coffins that were housed within the walls of the catacombs; however this didn’t quite work out either.  The fee of 20 guineas for internment proved to be far higher than people were willing to pay, and as such, they chose to be buried elsewhere.  The price was dropped by more than half, but it still wasn’t enough.  In a twelve month period, only a handful of people had been interned and the entire project had been a complete disaster; in fact in the 1940s, when the last person was buried in the cemetery, there had still only been sixteen people interned in the catacombs.

In 1887, when there was a fire in the Theatre Royal, the catacombs were used as a temporary morgue to house the unidentified bodies. Later, during World War 2, the dank passageways were used as bomb shelters, and only a few years ago, the local newspaper for Exeter – The Express & Echo - reported that the Council had suggested the catacombs could possibly be used to temporarily store victims of the swine flu epidemic, should the need arise.

Although the cemetery is now a park and the catacombs are closed, people continue to be fascinated with the history and the stories surrounding them. There are regular guided tours of the old, crumbling building and its surroundings, and weaved between the facts are the tales we all love to hear about –  the ghosts that haunt the corridors and the treasure buried deep beneath the walls.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Newport Town Bridge

Newport Bridge (Commonly called Town Bridge) connects High Street and Clarence Place across the River Usk in Newport, Wales and it next to the Castle.

The first stone bridge on the site was a bridge of five arches, erected in the year 1800 by David Edwards (son of William Edwards). It was widened and improved in 1866.
The original foundation stone bearing the inscription “This bridge was erected at the expense of the County by David Edwards and his two sons William and Thomas. Completed AD MDCCC.” is now set into the stonework of Caerleon Bridge.

By 1920 even the widened bridge had become inadequate, so work began to replace it entirely with a new structure. To best achieve this a temporary wooden bridge was erected alongside it and all power and gas lines were re-routed onto it. Even the town’s tram lines and their accompanying overhead power system were moved over.

The old bridge was then demolished and the new one erected. On 22 June 1927 the new bridge was complete and opened to traffic by the Transport Minister Wilfrid Ashley. The new bridge has stone cherubs that were modelled after Newport’s coat of arms and mounted on the bridge. In 1994 John Squire, guitarist of The Stone Roses designed the cover of their hit single Love Spreads based on a photograph of a stone cherub on Newport Bridge.

The cherub design was found on many pieces of Second Coming merchandise, the album from which Love Spreads is taken. On the 5th March 1913 the famous escape artist Harry Houdini jumped off Newport bridge with his hands manacled & feet shackled. He was arrested the following week by the police for obstructing a public highway and for holding a public entertainment on the bridge.

Maindee Cinema, Newport, Wales, UK (Now Godfrey Morgan)

The Maindee Cinema in Newport, South Walesopened in 1939 with “The Vagabond King” starring Ronald Coleman. Situated on a busy road, the cinema seated around 1200. Western Electric was the sound system installed.

The Maindee remained showing films for 23 years until closing in September 1961 with the Bob Hope movie “Paleface”.

The Maindee was turned over to a bingo operation and finally closed in 1994. Ironically bingo lasted longer then it was a cinema.

The cinema remained closed for a number of years before being bought by the JD Wetherspoons pub group and is now one of the three Wetherspoons pubs in the city, but the only one in a former cinema.

On The Buses (TV Series)

On the Buses is a British situation comedy created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, broadcast in the UK from 1969 to 1973. The writers had enjoyed successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife for the BBC. The BBC rejected On the Buses and the duo turned to the ITV company London Weekend Television. The show was accepted and despite a poor critical reception became a hit with viewers.


Stan Butler (Reg Varney) works as a bus driver for the Luxton & District Traction Company. He lives with his bingo-loving, widowed and overbearing mother (Cicely Courtneidge, later Doris Hare), his frumpy sister, Olive (Anna Karen), and his lazy brother-in-law, Arthur (Michael Robbins). The bane of Stan’s life is Inspector Cyril “Blakey” Blake (Stephen Lewis), who is often checking up on him and his conductor and friend, the cheerful, bucktoothed Jack Harper (Bob Grant). Blakey threatens them with the sack for lateness and untidiness; he sports a toothbrush moustache and general appearance in the image of Adolf Hitler. His catchphrases are “I ‘ate you Butler!” and “That’s made my day, that ‘as. In later years Arthur and then Stan left the series, Olive worked for the bus company and Blakey moved in to board at Mum’s house.


Seventy-four half-hour episodes were made. Also popular were the spin-off films by Hammer Film Productions On the Buses, 1971; Mutiny on the Buses, 1972; and Holiday on the Buses, 1973, set on a Pontin’s holiday camp). On the Buses became Britain’s top box-office film at the time, surpassing the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The films were somewhat non-canonical to the series – in the films, Arthur and Olive manage to have two children (she’s pregnant with their second child at the end of Mutiny On The Buses) and Stan is working for “The Town & District Bus Company” instead of “The Luxton & District Bus Company. The buses in the films are red (not counting the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses). Towards the end of the series, Arthur has left Olive – they have no children, they get divorced and Stan takes a job in the Midlands.

The buses are green (though, in the black and white episodes, it’s hard to tell). In addition, two five-minute Christmas specials were made by LWT. One has been wiped but the other — featuring a goose that the cast are chasing for Christmas dinner — exists at Fremantle Media. A spin-off series, Don’t Drink the Water, ran for 13 episodes from 1974 to 1975. This featured Blake retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs). The format of On the Buses was sold to American television, where it was remade by NBC as Lotsa Luck, starring Dom DeLuise, running for 24 episodes in 1973–74. The American version was unsuccessful and has never been screened in Britain.

The series was recorded at London Weekend Television’s studios at Wembley. In late 1972 the show relocated to the company’s new South Bank of the River Thames; here the outside doors to the main and secondary studios were too small to accommodate the double-decker buses used in the series. Therefore single-decker buses were used and a plywood mock-up of a second deck was lowered from a lighting rig. Filmed external shots were part of the series. LWT arranged with Eastern National bus company to use their buses at the Wood Green bus garage in north London. For the series, they were under the ownership of ‘Luxton and District’. ‘Luxton’ is supposed to be in Essex, and actual Essex towns such as Southend, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the termini for the buses was ‘Cemetery Gates’ and for this, LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, Middlesex, near Reg Varney’s home. The fourth season was affected by the ITV Colour Strike, with seven of 13 episodes being made in black and white.

On the Buses was the subject of a board game by Denys Fisher games. After a tour of Australia in 1988 in an On the Buses stage play, a revival of the television series, Back on the Buses was mooted in 1990, featuring Varney, Lewis, Robbins, Hare, Karen and Grant. Despite publicity, including an appearance by the cast on the BBC TV chat show Wogan, the idea never came to fruition though and the series was never made. Although scripts were never written, the proposed series was to feature Stan and Jack running their own bus company and coming into conflict with Blakey, who was running a rival firm.

The red “Town & District” buses were Bristol KSWs with Eastern Coachworks bodies. These were ex Eastern National. Stan and Jack’s “regular” bus appeared to be VNO 857. The Green “Luxton & District” buses were Bristol Lodekkas with bodywork by Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft. In reality these were Eastern National buses, although as mentioned earlier, some of those in the interior depot shots were in fact “dummy” buses. The open top bus in ‘‘Holiday on the Buses was 229 XFM, a Bristol LD new to Crosville Motor Services. The bus at the safari park in ‘Mutiny on the Buses’ was NRN 607, a Leyland Atlantean Metro Cammell, new to Ribble Motor Services.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales, UK

Tintern Abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, on May 9, 1131. Situated on the River Wye in Monmouthshire, it was only the second Cistercian foundation in Britain, and the first in Wales.

It is one of the most spectacular ruins in the country and inspired the William Wordsworth poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Tears, Idle Tears”, more than one painting by J. M. W. Turner and a band to name themselves “Tintern Abbey”. The village of Tintern adjoins the abbey ruins.


Walter de Clare, of the powerful family of Clare, was related by marriage to William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who had introduced the first colony of Cistercians to Waverley, Surrey in 1128. The monks for Tintern came from a daughter house of Cîteaux, L’‘Aumône, in the diocese of Blois in France. In time, Tintern established two daughter houses, Kingswood in Gloucestershire (1139) and Tintern Parva, west of Wexford in south east Ireland (1203). The Cistercian monks (or White Monks) who lived at Tintern followed the Rule of St. Benedict. The Carta Caritatis (Charter of Love) laid out their basic principles, namely:

  • Obedience
  • Poverty
  • Chastity
  • Silence
  • Prayer
  • Work

With this austere way of life, the Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The lands of the Abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, on which local people worked and provided services such as smithies to the Abbey. Many endowments of land on both sides of the Wye were made to the Abbey.

Development of the buildings

The present-day remains of Tintern are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1136 and 1536. Very little remains of the first buildings; a few sections of walling are incorporated into later buildings and the two recessed cupboards for books on the east of the cloisters are from this period. The church of that time was smaller than the present building and was slightly to the north.

During the 13th century, the Abbey was virtually rebuilt; first the cloisters and the domestic ranges, then finally the great church between 1269 and 1301. The first mass in the rebuilt presbytery was recorded to have taken place in 1288, and the building was consecrated in 1301, although building work continued for several decades. Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, the then lord of Chepstow, was a generous benefactor; his monumental undertaking was the rebuilding of the church. The Abbey put his coat of arms in the glass of its east window in gratitude to him.

It is this great church that we see today. It has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave; two chapels in each transept and a square ended aisled chancel. The Gothic church represents the architectural developments of its day in the contemporary Decorated style. The buildings are constructed in Old Red Sandstone, of colours varying from purple to buff and grey. The main church building is 72 metres long. In 1326 King Edward II visited Tintern and spent two nights there.

The Black Death swept the country in 1349 and it became impossible to attract new recruits for the lay brotherhood. Changes to the way the granges were tenanted out rather than worked by lay brothers show the difficulty Tintern was experiencing with labour shortages. In the early 1400s Tintern was experiencing financial difficulties, due in part to the effects of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndŵr against the English kings, and Abbey properties were destroyed by the Welsh rebels. The closest battle to the Abbey was at Craig y Dorth near Monmouth, between Trellech and Mitchel Troy.

The ruins

In the next two centuries little or no interest was shown in the history of the site. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the ruins were inhabited by workers in the local wire works. However, in the mid eighteenth century it became fashionable to visit ‘‘wilder’‘ parts of the country. The Wye Valley in particular was well known for its romantic and picturesque qualities and the ivy clad Abbey was frequented by ‘‘romantic’‘ tourists. After the publication of the book Observations on the River Wye by the Reverend William Gilpin in 1782, tourists visited the site in droves.

The site was best approached from the river until 1822, when a new turnpike road, now the A466, was opened through the valley, cutting through the abbey precinct. An engraving of Tintern Abbey was among the decorations of Fanny Price’s sitting room in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. In the nineteenth century ruined abbeys became the focus for scholars, and architectural and archaeological investigations were carried out.

In 1901 the Abbey was bought by the crown from the Duke of Beaufort for £15,000. It was recognised as a monument of national importance and repair and maintenance works began to be carried out. In 1914 the Office of Works were passed responsibility for Tintern, and major structural repairs and partial reconstructions were undertaken — the ivy considered so romantic by the early tourists was removed. In 1984 CADW took over responsibility for the site.

Doris Hare (Actor)

Doris Hare MBE (1 March 1905 – 30 May 2000) was a Welsh actress, best known for her appearances in the popular sitcom On the Buses alongside Reg Varney and Stephen Lewis.

Born in Bargoed, Mid Glamorgan, Doris Hare’s parents had a portable theatre in South Wales and it seemed inevitable that she would become a part of it, making her debut at the age of three in Current Cash and appearing in juvenile troupes all over Britain as a child, before going solo as ‘‘Little Doris Hare’‘.

Appearing in music-hall, variety, cabaret revues and pantomimes, Hare also acted in plays by George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Alan Bennett, Pinero and Harold Pinter. In 1930, the actress toured in The Show’s the Thing, taking the part made famous by Gracie Fields. Hare was also on radio during the early days of the BBC at Savoy Hill and was hostess of Shipmates Ashore, the BBC’‘s programme for the Merchant Navy, earning her an MBE in 1941. In October, 1932, she made her (apparently) only recording session in London; “Three White Feathers” b/w “The Old Man of the Mountain” issued on Zonophone (6265). In the 1960s she spent a year with the National Theatre, three years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed with the Chichester Festival Theatre company for several seasons. Doris Hare made her screen debut in the classic Night Mail film of 1936. She became best known as a comedy actress, and appeared in films like The History of Mr Polly (1949) and popular TV programmes such as Dixon of Dock Green and The Saint. Hare came to national attention in the small-screen role as Stan Butler’s widowed mother, Mrs Mabel Butler, in On the Buses, taking over the part from Cicely Courtneidge in the second series of the raucous ITV comedy, which had started in 1969.

The series ran until 1973 and spawned three spin-off films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973) in which Hare recreated her small-screen role. The cast also performed a stage version of the popular series in Vancouver, Canada, in 1988. After the show ended, Doris Hare spent a year in the West End farce No Sex Please, We’re British. Having turned down the role of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street, Doris did play Alice Pickens in the series during 1969. She was due to marry Albert Tatlock, but the wedding never took place. In 1969 she appeared in the paranormal detective series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in the 13th episode “But What a Sweet Little Room” as the scary scientologist Madame Hanska. She also appeared in the Confessions series of films with Robin Askwith and Anthony Booth during the 1970s. One of her last film roles was as a nun in Nuns on the Run with comedy actor Robbie Coltrane in 1990. A couple of years later she made her final stage appearance in the West End farce It Runs in the Family. Doris Hare won a Variety Club of Great Britain Special Award for her contributions to show business in 1982.

Bob Grant (Actor)

Robert St Clair Grant (14 April 1932 – 8 November 2003), usually known as Bob Grant, was an English actor, best known for playing Jack Harper in On The Buses. He was born in Hammersmith, West London, the son of Albert George Grant and Florence Grant.

Grant trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, working in his spare time as a frozen food salesman and also (interestingly, in view of his later career) as a bus conductor. After doing National Service in the Royal Artillery, he made his stage debut in 1952 as Sydney in Worm's Eye View at the Court Royal, Horsham.

His first London appearance was in The Good Soldier Schweik at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1956, and he spent several years at the Theatre Royal Stratford East before getting the lead role in the musical Blitz! at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End for two years. In 1964 he appeared at the Piccadilly Theatre in Instant Marriage, a musical farce, for which he wrote book and lyrics, with music by Laurie Holloway.

He had by now started to make film appearances, including Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), the screen version of a play he had earlier acted in at Stratford, and the Beatles film Help! (1965). He returned to the Theatre Royal, Stratford, in 1967, and starred in the satirical play Mrs Wilson’s Diary as George Brown, the Foreign Secretary in Harold Wilson’s Labour government – this play later transferred to the West End. When the real-life Brown resigned in 1968, Grant was so concerned that his unflattering portrayal of him as a drunk may have contributed to his resignation that he offered to stand down from the part.

On the Buses

Grant is perhaps best remembered as the randy bus conductor Jack Harper in the television comedy On the Buses, which ran for 74 episodes between 1969 and 1973. Although the critics thought it was a vulgar brand of comedy, it was an instant success with the viewers, and led to three feature films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973), the first of which was more successful in the UK than the Bond film of that year.

The series was the peak of his career; when Grant married for the third time in 1971 there were huge crowds outside the register office and the couple had to abandon their hired Rolls-Royce and walk to the reception. A double-decker bus had been provided for the guests, but they had to walk as well.


When On the Buses finished, Grant toured Australia in the farce No Sex Please, We're British, and continued to appear in musicals and pantomimes. By the 1980s work was drying up,and he suffered from severe depression. In 1987 he disappeared from his home in Leicestershire for five days; it later emerged that he had gone to Dublin intending to kill himself. He only returned after a public appeal from his wife. In 1995 he attempted suicide again, and was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after being found slumped over the wheel of a car filled with exhaust fumes. Grant then moved with his wife to Twyning, a village near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. In 2003 he was found dead, at the age of 71, after a similar incident.

Since his death, an appeal has been launched to track down his old colleagues from when Bob served with the Royal Artillery in his early life, with the intended aim of finding out more about his service as Bob never spoke of his time in the National Service in public.

Michael Robbins (Actor)

Michael Anthony Robbins (14 November 1930 – 11 December 1992) was a British actor known for his television work. Formerly a bank clerk, he became an actor after appearing in amateur dramatic performances in Hitchin in Hertfordshire, where he lived at the time. He was born in London, England, UK.

Robbins made his television debut as the cockney soldier in Roll-on Bloomin' Death. Primarily a comedy actor, he is best remembered for the role of Arthur Rudge, the persistently sarcastic husband of Olive (Anna Karen), in the popular sitcom On the Buses (1969-73). Robbins and Karen provided the secondary comic storyline to Reg Varney's comedy capers at the bus depot. Robbins also appeared in the series film spin-offs, On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses, and Holiday on the Buses. His other comedy credits include non-recurring roles in Man About the House (The Movie), One Foot in the Grave, The New Statesman, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, In Sickness And In Health and You Rang, M'Lord? He appeared as a rather humorously-portrayed police sergeant in the TV adaptation of Brendon Chase.

As well as these comic roles, he assumed various straight roles in some of the major British television shows of the 1960s and 1970s: including Minder, The Sweeney. Z Cars, Return of the Saint, Murder Most English, The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green and the Doctor Who story The Visitation.

Robbins's film credits included The Whisperers, Up The Junction, The Looking Glass War, Zeppelin and Blake Edwards'' film Victor/Victoria and Just Ask For Diamond.

Robbins was an indefatigable worker for charity. He was active in the Grand Order of Water Rats (being elected ''Rat of the Year'' in 1978) and the Catholic Stage Guild; and received a Papal Award for his services in 1987. In one of his last television appearances, in A little Bit of Heaven Robbins recalled his childhood visits to Norfolk and spoke of his faith and love of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

In the mid-1970s he also directed a film: How Are You?.

He was married to the actress Hal Dyer. He died from cancer in Caterham, Surrey, aged 62.