Monday, 29 July 2013

5 fun facts about trains and railways, from an archaeologist's perspective

Hello, sorry I've been away for a while, and has such have not been able to post anything!

In response to the tragic railway events in Switzerland, Paris and Galicia, Spain, I thought I would talk about trains in a positive light, since it is makes up both a lot of industrial archaeology in Britain and modern global heritage in general! They created entire towns and modelled entire physical and cultural landscapes, even today (no pun intended). Obviously I recommend a visit to the National Railway Museum at York, and also at Shildon at So, here are my facts:

1. There are hundreds of "heritage" lines around the world today; in Britain alone there are over 70 heritage lines (! Most reuse old railway lines, like the Great Central railway, near Loughborough in Leicestershire, while others, like Beamish in county Durham, have sourced their buildings, railways and rolling stock (i.e. trains and carriages etc.) from elsewhere. Strictly speaking, the majority of heritage lines use trains that would have originally have not run on their previous owner's lines, so they respect the national heritage of railways, not just their local line (often trains were built to service just one company).

co steave taylor (1)
The Great Central Railway today (Steve Taylor)

2. The idea of a railway tunnel running under the sea has been around since the 19th century*, but the first (and thus far, only) one is the Eurotunnel. Nonetheless, that didn't stop people trying to cross by train; journeys were made between London and Paris from 1936, which involved a night train service from London, then the train going onto a special ferry, then arriving in the morning in Paris(NRM 1999)! A huge geological survey was completed after world war 2 to see how viable a service was, and construction was due to start in the 1970's, but as you may know, it wasn't fully built until the 1990's! A previou attempt was made in the 1880's from Britain, only to be stopped by the British government for fear of a military invasion utilising the tunnel ( This was a fear that continued right up until the 1950's ( )!

The first channel tunnel, from the 1880's (

3. Back in the day, train companies would not just build rolling stock, and associated buildings, but also hotels and other buildings which could be used to tempt the passenger onto their line (NRM 1999); for example, the Royal Hotel in York, built by the North Eastern Railway company in the 1870's ( In addition to this, whole towns were basically created out of the railways! Crewe Alexandria, for example, was a small village of 200 residents before the railways came in. At the height of the railway boom, it's population reached 18,000 residents, supporting a major railway workshop and even one of the churches there was built by the London Midland and Scotland Railway (NRM 1999)! Today, the Forth Bridge in Fife, Scotland, could become one of the first railway "monuments" to be given world heritage status (

The Forth Bridge (

4. With urban landscape permanently altered by the railways, it is not surprising to learn that the rural landscape also bears remnants of the Victorian age, particularly in Britain. Due to the Beeching report of 1963, a great number of lines and stations were closed for economic reasons, leading to a nu,ber of dismantled lines. Dismantled lines, like the Great Central line, which ran from London to Yorkshire and Liverpool to Grimsby, had a number of tunnels, viaducts and cuttings, (basically artificial and very large v-shaped ditches in the ground, often half a mile long at least, created so that the railways would be as smooth as possible), often left preserved after the railway's dismantlement, particularly when the Great Central ran into Northamptonshire and Warwickshire- there was a viaduct at Brackley, and remnants of another survive at Willougby, while a tunnel remains at Catesby, and a well preserved cutting can be seen on the Central Way footpath at Rugby (Hawkins 1991). County Durham, the birthplace of the railway, has a large number of dismantled railways (see one of my other articles for more information:

The viaduct at Willougby, Warwickshire; very elaborate given the size of the river Leam at this point (the viaduct was about 100m long, the river was about 2 metres wide at best)! (

5. Did you know that Manchester United football club, can trace its foundation to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (NRM)? This is because Manchester United was originally known as Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway), having been founded by the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, for their carriages and Wagon department. Meanwhile, the LYR set up a football team for their locomotive department as well, the Newton Heath Locomotive (aka the Newton Heath Loco).

A programme cover for the match between the two sides, both of whom have their origins in the railways! (Historyme)

So as you can see, even train companies that have gone out of business are still having a global impact today!  I've not even scraped the surface of railways and heritage...can you tell I'm a bit of railway enthusiast? More archaeology blogs in the next few days!

Also check out this blog!


Hawkins, M., 1991, The Great Central: Then and Now, David and Charles, Newton Abbot

National Railway Museum (NRM), 1999, The Story of the Train, York

UNESCO, last updated 27/01/2012, Forth Bridge, last visited 29/07/2013

Wikipedia, last updated 2/07/2013, List of British Heritage and Private Railways, last accessed 29/07/2013


Image 1: Taylor, S., last updated 18/06/2013, GCR Photography Competition,. last visited 29/07/2013

Image 2: Kent History, last updated 2002?, Channel Tunnel 1881, last access 29/07/2013

Image 3:Excelsior, last updated 2010, How to Build an Athlete:Learning From Construction, last visited 29/07/2013

Image 4: Leicester County Council, last updated unknown, Willoughby Viaduct, last visited 29/07/2013

Image 5: Historyme, last updated 22/08/2011, Newton Heath Loco V Manchester United Programme Cover from 1950, last visited 29/07/2013

Friday, 12 July 2013

5 fun facts about (mostly north-west) Northamptonshire

Time for 5 fascinating (and fun!) facts about Northamptonshire, since it's my home county. All from an archaeological perspective, of course:

The county of Northamptonshire. The M1 runs through the centre, the M40 on the south west extremity. (Wikipedia)


The district of Daventry, with names of various villages (Northamptonshire County Council)

1. Known as the land of "spires and squires", for its association with the landed gentry, who still own plenty of land in the county (the Spencers, of Princess Diana fame, for example, own a rather large country house near Northampton), and for the numerous village churches with spires. A side effect is pretty, picuresque open spaces across vast swathes of the county; some of the first landscape painters in England used this unenclosed countryside of 18th century Northamptonshire as their backdrop; the term "landscape" incidentally comes from the Dutch "landschap" (Waites 2011). Incidentally, north-west Northanmptonshire has some of the best preserved traces of deserted medieval villages, and visible remains of ridge and furrow (the parallel "ridges" you see in some fields) in the whole country.

2. Northamptonshire sits right in the centre of Victorian and modern communication networks to and from London and the North! Two major canals (the Grand Union and the Oxford) have run through Braunston in north west Northamptonshire since the 18th century, which were superseded by several railways in the 19th century, which ran west-east originally, but then the Great Central Railway was built right at the end of th 19th century as a fast route from London to Sheffield (Hawkins 1991). These all intersect between Braunston, up to Crick to the north east, some 8 miles away, including the Kilsby railway tunnel, which is still in use. Only the West Coast Mainline is in service today; a reminder of the "railway mania" that once existed. Today, you also have the M1, the A45, A14 and the A5 all running through this small area too!

3. Along the A5 is a number of peculiar place names that can either be dated to the Roman period (e.g. Towcester), the Saxon period and the Viking period (usually names with "-by" on the end, meaning "hill"). The A5, originally a Roman road that connected London to North Wales/ the Irish Sea, was used as a border between King Alfred and the Vikings, seperating Danelaw from Wessex.

4. During the 17th century north-west Northamptonshire (and Warwickshire) became the focus of national attention. First, a man known as Guy Fawkes conspired with Robert Catesby and others at Robert's house in Ashby St. Ledgers on the Gunpowder plot in 1605. When the plot failed, most of them fled to Dunchurch, and then onwards towards Coombe Abbey, near Coventry. Then, the English Civil War is reputed to have started in Kilsby! Although the King's flag was raised at Nottingham in 1642 to signify the start of the war, apparently the first shots were fired opposite the modern site of the village school in Kilsby (Hatton 2013). Surprisingly, a large number of villages in this area still contain houses and landscapes from the 17th century whoch rarely recieve recognition to their significance.

5. Some famous brands made in the county include Weetabix, Doc Martens, Carlsberg (brewed in Northampton, based in Denmark), a number of Formula one teams (including Mercedes F1) and Cosworth, who have supplied Formula One engines since 1963.

Ok, so the last fact wasn't really archaeological, but it was still fun!


Hatton, G., 9/7/2013, personal communication concerning the medieval history of the village of Kilsby

Hawkins, M., 1991, The Great Central: Then and Now, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon

Waites, I., 2011, 'Extensive Fields of Our Forefathers': Some Prospect Drawings of Common Fields in Northamptonshire by Peter Tillemans, 1719-1721, Midland History, vol.36, no.1, pp.42-68

Wikipedia, last updated 05/07/2013,, last visited 12/07/2013


Map 1:

Map 2:

Monday, 8 July 2013

Worst nightclub in the UK?

One of my last conversations in University concerned the worst nightclub in the UK, and then it was suggested that I should do a post about it!

Now, some of you will think that this is a foregone conclusion- it's Klute in Durham, which was voted runner up in an FHM poll, then the winner burned down, thus handing over the crown! ( It was so bad, it was good! It was constantly dark, very sticky floors and tables everywhere, and tvs showing old rugby world cup matches, in addition to the relentless chesy 60's and 70's music. However, since 2011, it has been refurbished, looking somewhat more respectable, although it still plays the terrible cheesy music. Until FHM run another poll, the crown seems somewhat undeserved in this day and age. It also turned out that a similar nightclub exists somewhere down south, which may be even worse than Klute! A similar nightclub also exists somewhere else, which had a LIVE wasp's nest somewhere in the walls! Again I don't know it's name. 

I am aware of my biases; I'm not the biggest drinker in the world, me and my mates are usually pretty hammered by the time we get to a club, I go along just to dance and drink some more, and I usually don't get let into my local nightclub before 11 because the bouncer doesn't like the look of me! So, after conducting some preliminary and by no means exhaustive research on a lazy sunday afternoon, I think I have found a few contenders to the crown:

5. WonderWorld, Milton Keynes: Should this be here? It looks quite spacious, lots of rooms, one big room, sounds like your standard affair in a club, really. But wait, it had one of the worst launch parties known to mankind; never has Mark Wright appeared so terrifying ( The review itself is very harsh, taking into account more the c-rate celebrities who were there rather than the atmosphere or the prices of the drink themselves etc. Perhaps it was the location that made the club bomb (ibid). Then again, who goes out in Milton Keynes? The club website is here for more info:, the drinks look very pricey, and not really worth your night out.

4. Amika, Mayfair, London: Wow. Just wow. This sounds like a terrifying place if you are not white and female! A selection of reviews goes like this (somehow some are good): "We were a group of 11 girls that had a table booked they checked our ID in the q n then again at the door only to then be told by the blonde bimbo apparrantly in charge of the guestlist that 'there was nothing she could do for us' after she had eyed up our group and seen that none of us were whiteand "Dispicable treatment of A humanbeing" ( This seems to be such a contentious topic that I could find nothing of the prices or even what the layout of the place is like. This one makes this list purely because the owners of this club appear to be horribly, explicitly, rascist and sexist; something that I have never seen or heard of in a nightclub. Maybe I just lead a sheltered life, or my ears have too much tinitus to listen. I really hope it is the former. Even on their website, they appear to have a strict policy on groups etc., which I think potentially ruins the night for many people; also it has a guestlist that doesn't guarantee entrance ( I would be disgusted if I was turned away from any venue that I had a reservation for... maybe except this one. On the plus side it has a "distinct music policy", whatever that actually means.

3. Klute, Durham: As the only club on this list I have actually visited, I will give it an honest description, and I think 3rd is a fair cop for Durham's legendary night scene for the last 20 years or soDespite the recent refit, it still has some frankly awful features- still sticky everywhere, the toilets are all broken, and it is so small that you couldn't fit 50 people into the club without suffering asphyxiation! The lights used to be just dark enough so that you couldn't see your hand from your face, now it's so bright you can see the DJ from one end of the nightclub to the other! Talking of which, they now mix up the music for each day of the week, whereas before it was all cheese, making it funny when you were drunk because it was repetitive. I'm not entirely sure if this is a step in the right direction, or maybe its because I don't like change. The drinks are generally reasonably cheap, if you like quaddy voddies. Everything else is a bit steep. Don't take it from my personal experience, though:, if you want to have a look at their website (I have never been to the private suite here, this is not an accurate representation of Klute!!!), and it is also up for sale...

2. Jester's, Southampton: voted 3rd in another "Worst nightclub" poll, and then both of it's rivals in the poll burned down! Apparently looks and smells like marmite ( It is also rumoured that getting thrown out of Jester's is comparable in achievement to the Great Escape from Nazi Germany for British WW2 prisoners of war. It should be added that "acceptable" practices include getting naked, pissing in sinks and smashing glasses (ibid), so what you have to do to get thrown out is something of a mystery to me. Having said that, 50p pints on a monday night is a very inviting offer... I've heard that it can be very expensive the rest of the week, in contrast to Klute. Having said all this, at least the owner is unashamed at what she has done with the place:

A quick mention goes to Bagleys, London, unfortunately it has shut down now! A quick look over some forums about the worst nightclub in London regularly featured Bagleys. A quick look at some recent photos done by Flickr user Doilum show why it was regularly described as a "dive" (see A dive doesn't appear to do justice to what looks like a soviet era bunker that got nuked halfway through construction. Unfortunately these photos don't do justice to what it looked like before it shut down, so it doesn't count!

Formerly Bagley's (Doilum, 2010,

So first place really goes to:

1. An un-named nightclub, London: To see the full description of this "eighth circle of Hell", go to (from 2012). It sounds like a celbrity hell; z-listers who are there just to try to make a name for themselves, sofas with various bodily fluids on them, the inescapable odour of fake tan, escorts possibly paid by the nightclub to lure people into buying drinks for them so the club makes money. This sounds like the launch party for WonderWorld, only every night. Alas, the name of this place is unknown to all but those who have visited it. However, the author states that this nightclub is seen in every weekly magazine and tabloid newspaper. No mention of drinks again, doubtless quite expensive. Doubtless sounds quite popular too. If you're friends with Max Clifford, or someone with 15 minutes of fame who was never told when their 15 minutes was up.

So, there we are! If you catch me in one of these, I'm doing it for the "experience" that it is frankly so bad, that it has to be good. Ultimately, your experiences in the "worst" and "best" nightclubs will vary, and these are simply the ones that came up first in a google search (and my own knowledge). Doubtless you will have your own personal list, you can mention the worst (or best!) in the comments below. And of course, don't forget that your best nights out are experienced with your friends!!

My next post will go back to my main interest of archaeology...

P.S. check out this blog too!


Amika Mayfair,, last accessed July 2013

BBC, 2005, Clubs and Pubs: Durham Nightlife, last updated 2008, last accessed 07/07/2013

Clive Martin and Jake Lewis, last updated May 2013, A Big Nigth Out... At the Worst Club Night Ever?,, last accessed 08/07/2013

Doilum, last updated 30th April 2010, Bagley's,,

Ella Rose Dove and Alex Bees, last updated 15th June 2012, Behind the Scenes at the Palace of Dreams: An Interview with Mrs Jesters,, last accessed 08/07/2013.

Klute, date unknown, Klute,, last accessed 08/07/2013

Minnie Athena, last updated 2nd May 2012, London's Worst Nightclub,, last accessed 08/07/2013

My Southampton, 2009, Jester's Night Club, last updated 2009

View London, last updated 07/07/2013, Amika London,, last accessed 08/07/2013

WonderWorld, last updated 2013, WonderWorld,, last accessed 08/07/2013