One of the best books I read in 2016 was Emma Smith’s Maidens’ Trip, a story about life on the wartime canals. In 1943 Emma Smith joined the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company under their wartime scheme of employing women to replace the boaters.
The Canal system had been in some decline since the rise of the railways in the 1880s, but wartime efforts to save money on fuel and get maximum efficiency out of the countries infrastructure facilitated a temporary change.
The Re-issued cover of the book.
Smith set out with two friends on a big adventure: three eighteen-year-olds, freed from a middle-class background, precipitated into the boating fraternity. They learn how to handle a pair of seventy-two foot-long canal boats, how to carry a cargo of steel north from London to Birmingham and coal from Coventry; how to splice ropes, bail out bilge water, keep the engine ticking over and steer through tunnels. They live off kedgeree and fried bread and jam, adopt a kitten, lose their bicycles, laugh and quarrel and get progressively dirtier and tougher as the weeks go by. I was rather annoyed to have missed the BBC Radio4 adaptation of it but hope to see it on BBC Radio4Extra in the coming year.
While reading the Smith book, for reference I had the ‘The Canals of England’ by Eric de Maré with his beautiful photos of 1950s Britain. Below are a selection of the pictures.
By the end of the nineteen-sixties a lot of the canals where in poor condition and it was only until the mid nineteen-nineties that they were cleared out and seen as tourist attractions.
Eric de Maré – The Canals of England, The Architectural Press, 1950 Emma Smith – Maidens’ Trip, Putnam & Company, 1948
While looking into the previous post and Shell’s advertising I found a lot of the Shell ‘Landmark’ posters – many of the locations in that poster set no longer exist, having been demolished. Hadlow Castle was one of the properties lost, but the tower still stands! It is incredibly similar in appearance to Fonthill Abbey.
Denton Welch – Hadlow Castle, 1937
Hadlow Castle was built on the site of Hadlow Court Lodge, a country house. The Castle was built over a number of years from the late 1780s, commissioned by Walter May in an ornate Gothic style, it became known as May’s Folly. The architect was J. Dugdale.
His son, Walter Barton May inherited the estate in 1823. It was he, who added a 170 feet (52 m) octagonal tower in 1838, the architect was George Ledwell Taylor. The tower was based in part on James Wyatt’s at Fonthill Abbey.
A 40 feet (12 m) octagonal lantern was added two years later in 1840 and another smaller tower was added in 1852. This was dismantled in 1905. Walter Barton May died in 1858 and the estate was sold.
An Edwardian postcard of Hadlow Castle
The property passed from many owners in the early twentieth century. During the Second World War it was used as a watchtower by the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps. The unoccupied castle changed hands several times after the war too, until it was demolished in 1951, except for the servants’ quarters, several stables and the Coach House, which was saved due to campaigning from the society portrait painter and local resident, Bernard Hailstone. The Tower was Listed as a historic structure on 17 April 1951.
Now the entrance gateway and lodges of the Castle still stand – a heavy Gothic presence on the street – as does the Stable Court with two turreted pavilions, which are all in private ownership, and new homes have been built in the grounds.
In the Great Storm of 1987 the tower was damaged and three of the decorative pinnacles fell. The remaining stonework was removed until restoration could take place, in 1995 this still hadn’t happened and the council removed the lantern element of the tower and put it in storage with the other pieces. The tower was bought in 2011 by the Vivat Trust who between 2012 and 2013 restored the tower.
In 1953, the artist Barbara Jones wrote this about the tower:
In 1850 May built himself a vast gothic revival mansion outside Tonbridge, ten years later he added the tower, of brick covered with roman cement. The rest of the house was recently pulled down, but the tower remains, soaring above the monkey puzzles of the garden, taller than any neighbouring church. It is octagonal and divided into tiers by strong horizontal mouldings, the whole gothic in the extreme, and crowned by a tall and slender turret.
There are various reasons given for why it was built. The perennial story of folly builders that they want to see some distant object – is probably the origin of the story that he wished to see the sea, and forgot the downs.
The others are more picturesque; that his wife deserted him to live with a farmer, and that he built the tower so that whenever she was in Kent she should be reminded of him;
or that he wished to thwart a prophecy that the house would go out of his family on his death if he was not buried above ground, and that his coffin was to be deposited on top of the tower.
He is in fact still above ground, but in a mausoleum. Whatever reason may have caused him to build his tower, it is one of the largest and most sumptuous follies in the country. †
Eric de Mare – An interior shot of Hadlow Castle before it was demolished.
Eric de Mare – One of the fireplaces from Hadlow Castle before it was demolished.
† Barbara Jones – Follies and Grottoes 1st Edition. Constable, 1953