Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A churchless graveyard?

Lost in the ancient Norfolk landscape, is something of a modern looking graveyard that services a church which lies on the opposite side of the Wensum Valley in Norfolk.

The graveyard of that St. Mary's church in Great Ryburgh is a very small walled affair that can no longer be used, yet it's serviceable graveyard lies in a remote part of the Norfolk countryside - how can that be?

This was a question that my camera and I had to find the answer to when I first happened across this isolated, but beautiful spot. And a short explore of the ancient terrain soon revealed the truth - a ruined church, possibly 12th or 13th century, lying like a silent sentinel amongst a crop of trees and headstones.

One wonders if it provides shelter and sanctuary for the souls of the departed.

Remnants of a secret past......

I have a real passion for anything derelict, but when it involves such names as the B.B.C., my interest grows expotentially.
And so it was that when I learned of the former B.B.C. receiving station based just outside a small Surrey village called Tatsfield, I had to go.
I did some digging so that I had something of an outline of what it was the station did, and the following is a precis of some amazing information on the most excellent Derelict Miscellany website.
The B.B.C.'s Tatsfield broadcast monitoring station was built in 1929 to monitor domestic radio broadcasts and gather various tech information about those broadcasts, the idea being to ensure that they were made on the right frequency and to the best possible standards. Because of it's location on the North Downs and it's proximity to London, the station started monitoring news bulletins from several European countries as well as Tokyo and New York by the end of the 1930's. Tatsfield also played a major role during World War II, gathering news and information. It's duties were split into two parts: “M” unit for normal monitoring and “Y” unit for enemy propaganda. All the data that was monitored from foreign services was fed into Britain's propaganda channels, including the so-called “black” stations run by the Political Warfare Executive. Because of it's technical capabilities, Tatsfield had the responsibility of locating foreign propaganda transmitters and to report on any jamming of BBC and British Government propaganda stations overseas. Some of Tatsfield's masts were destroyed during the war, however, there were no casualties.
After the war, Tatsfield had it's budget cut, but the onset of the Cold War ensured it's continued service. During the 1950's, the newly constructed experimental aerials started receiving satellite signals - of note is that Tatsfield was the first place in the U.K. to detect signals from the Russian Sputnik satellite on 4 October, 1957. The staff enjoyed good facilities including a large main receiving building, a small office block, thermally-controlled underground bunkers that housed frequency standards apparatus and radio direction finding equipment, tennis courts, a cafeteria, a social club and a small waste water treatment plant. It is thought that Tatsfield was finally closed in 1974 - its work was merged with that of B.B.C. Monitoring's receiving station at Crowsley Park in South Oxfordshire. The masts were removed and the site divided between a local farmer, British Telecom and SEGAS. A BT repeater station was built on the site of the main block while all of the buildings to the rear of the site were presumably demolished when a new gas compound was built down the hill to the west. The remnants of Tatsfield are still spread out over a fair-sized area, much of which has seriously decayed owing to abandonment and vandalism.
I was in a good place to time my exploration of the B.B.C. receiving station: mid-week, on an early morning in the Spring. I prepared by collating as much geographical data as I could. Fortunately, there is a plethora of information on the Internet, not least maps of the site, which I downloaded and printed off. Looking at these in the days ahead of the mission, really fed both my enthusiasm and my imagination.
The journey from the fine city of Norwich to the village of Tatsfield in Surrey, via the A11, M11 and M25 roads took no time at all. It was a perfect morning with good sunshine, an agreeable temperature and relatively clear roads.
I pulled off of the M25 motorway and headed through the glorious Surrey countryside, traversing the North Downs on this beautiful Spring morning which made the journey so much more enjoyable. I was filled with anticipation, fuelled by maps and photos. The country roads got smaller and very soon I found myself on the approach road to the B.B.C. receiving station.
I parked my little car on a wide grassy bank and after a quick bite to eat and a slug of Asda's finest cherryade, I gathered my gear together and set forth into the site.
I was greeted by a concrete trackway that looked to lead to some mobile phone masts behind the receiving station area. I walked a little way along the track and found an entrance to the receiving station site, lost in undergrowth. Being Spring meant that the forbidding vegetation that takes over the countryside was only just beginning to appear, so it wasn't much of a battle to get through it. My first view of this derelict beauty was breathtaking and I spent a few moments taking in the surroundings, familiarising myself with the layout from the maps that I had printed off and old photos I had found on the Derelict Miscellany website.
I wandered from building to building, taking in the various remnants of a once thriving location, it's vested interest being the communications of far-off places. Water tanks, abandoned tape machines and fire-damaged Bakelite telephones captured the gaze of my camera and the tendrils of my imagination before I started to explore the remaining buildings.
The first building I entered was the Office Building. Sadly, this had been destroyed by fire, but I was still able to wander through the four rooms. Nature was slowly but surely reclaiming the Office Building, and in doing so, was creating the most beautiful scenes. Here and there were charred and/or rusted remains of telephones, mains boards, circuit boards and electrical fittings. As I walked from the Office Building to the Bunker, I spotted an old Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder decaying in the undergrowth.
And then I entered the Bunker. Access was a little tricky because metal pipes, old cabling and penetrating roots lined the short stairway down, but this was nothing new to this explorer. I entered into what was once the Checking and Monitoring Room where I found cabinets full of circuitry and old measuring instruments, still with their graph paper within.
This room led through to the Laboratory where a workbench still lay covered in electrical bits and pieces, decades of abandonment leaving a layer of dust and grit.
I then reached the Frequency Standards Room where I found an old table littered with artifacts and on the floor were burned technical documents. Beyond this room was the emergency exit.
After I exited the Bunker, I sat on it's roof to take a much needed drink as the day had become quite warm. I looked around and thought of the Cold War secrets that would have passed through these old and crumbling remains, I wondered of the importance they had made to the war effort in the 1940's and of the moment the first signal was recieved from the Russian Sputnik satellite in the 1950's. I imagined the personnel wandering around the rooms and across the courtyards, going about their daily duties.
The B.B.C. receiving station remains as one of my most favourite explores, whilst little really remains, what is still in existence paints for me a magical picture of technology and information/data processing of long gone era.

A Sound Service

A couple of familiar faces


Index card found in a university library book last checked out in August of 1973.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Norfolk Underworld

It is with no small amount of shame that I realise how long it's been since I last posted here on this glorious site. For that I must apologise.
So, I have to happily tell you that much has happened in the intervening time including many more places that have been explored - the real-life ghosts of a yesteryear era re-discovered and documented.
This first of my new set of postings sees a further journey into the underground world of Norwich, the fine city in which I live. One of my earlier postings related a visit to a chalk mine that was used as a World War II air raid shelter. I knew that there were more of these chalks mines in and around Norwich and so I set about locating as many as I could, with a view to exploring their darkened tunnels.
This mine is located on the South side of the city, close to a residential area, but well hidden within a beautiful woodland area. It took me several visits to locate the mine's entrance, and when I finally discovered the access I craved, I wasted no time in preparing this explore of a part of Norwich's lost and largely forgotten past. I prepared carefully for this journey into the underworld - safety is paramount and an explore of this nature cannot be undertaken lightly. Powerful torches, walkie-talkies, guide lines and safety clothing were purchased and prepped. Those that needed to know where I was going were informed and a willing and enthusiastic companion was found as it would have been completely foolish to do this alone.
And so the day came that my friend and I had spent good time preparing for. Our cameras were primed and we set off into the darkness and the unknown.
The chalk mines of Norwich have been disused since the end of World War II, but for some of them, their histories go right back to the twelfth century. Records indicate that this particular mine was the very last to be discontinued. Norwich was mined for chalk and flints from the Middle Ages until the beginning of World War 2. The chalk taken from these mines was used for liming in agriculture and in building mortar - a couple of lime kilns still exist close to mine locations (there'll be a posting about one of them in the near future). The flints found in the mines were used to build the city walls and some of Norwich's finest buildings, of which the Guildhall is a truly excellent example. The chalk was initially excavated from an open pit, but then tunnels were started from the side of the resulting pit that followed the richest seams of flints. The oldest mines were dug closest to the centre of Norwich, and as the city grew, the mines were dug further out. Sadly, there are no proper detailed maps of all the various mines within the city boundary beause many them were in private ownership and largely dug between the 12th and 18th century when record keeping wasn't deemed necessary or important. However, Norwich City Council documented locations where collapses occurred which were thought to be due to mine workings.
The entrance to our mine was hidden deep in undergrowth, and it looked to have been sealed using bolted metal plates, probably by the council. Our access was made through a small opening caused by person or persons unknown, trying to remove (with limited success it would seem) the metal plate - it was a tight squeeze through and I am not of a lender nature, if you get my meaning. Once through the tiny gap, we found ourselves in what, at first viewing, looked like an old corrugated Anderson shelter, but when we lit our torches, the sight beyond proved breath-taking.
The first 100 feet or so was quite low and we needed to stoop as we carefully made our through the darkness and over the uneven chalky terrain. All too soon, the roof of the entrance tunnel rose so that we were able to stand full height, with no fear of hitting our heads. We set up several very bright LED light pods to establish our "base camp". The weather outside the mione was damp and cold, despite a sunny sky, but in here, it was very warm. My companion began to draw out our progress thus far, his intention to create a kind of map of the mine, as best he could. We left coats and heavier non-essential stuff at the base-camp and headed off ino the over-whelming darkness ahead of us.
The chalk mine was a veritable maze of tunnels and we were pleased that we had thought to take a large ball of string with us so that we did not get lost. A number of tunnels were dead ends, some because of collapse, some that were not mined further. We found passageways that had steep inclines of several feet, and there were vertical shafts that, at the deepest, were of a roughly 10 metre drop. At the bottom of these drops were more tunnels that went back further, which of course we explored.
We found a wall, some 1/3 of a mile in, that had surveyers initials and dates going back to the 1920's - this made me feel like a true explorer.
We noticed painted blue arrows and circles with crosses in them - we soon worked out that these arrows indicated a route that led to the exit and the circled crosses denoted the tunnel ahead was a dead end.
The strata was fascinating as many of the tunnels were two-tone white and yellow. There were little dug out "shelves" in the walls where candles or gas lamps had been put. Here and there were old tools or buckets.
We made our way back to the base-camp and enjoyed a drink (water of course) before packing our trash and heading out.
My friend Chris and I returned to the mine a few times so that he was able to complete his mapping of the mine and he also created a short video, which I have added below.
The Harford Hills Chalk Mine was truly a journey through time and space. We walked corridors of chalk and flint that had been dug by the hands of a men long since gone, breathed in ancient air and witnessed subterranean scenes of a yesteryear world. What once was lost, we had now found.
I took a recent trip to the mine and found that it has now been tightly sealed. A good thing in some respects as vandals had found their way in, but sad that future generations may possibly not see evidence of their city's past.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Composing With Tape Recorders

Can't believe no one's put this little fellah on here but I couldn't find it...
Found via the great but now defunct dollar dazzler This is the kind of booknthat the guy I talk about here insisted we read and, as such, is essential for my musical understanding.