Friday, 28 April 2017

The Edible Thistle


It is over fifty years since I first saw globe artichokes being cultivated. They appeared to be very exotic to a young school boy, tall and strange. It was in the kitchen garden of Aberfoyle, (formerly know as Richmond), that I espied this member of the thistle family. It would be four or five years after that when I had my first opportunity to taste this vegetable which is just at home in the herbaceous border as the vegetable patch.

Two years ago I determined to grow on my own specimens. Although five of the seeds germinated and the resultant plants were planted out in the raised border surrounding the yard four of them succumbed to the local slug and snail population. The sole survivor should provide me with at least three or four flower heads for cropping this year. Not a big cropper.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Tales from the Discorectangle


Training did not stop for Easter. In so far as it it is enjoyable to push your body towards the extremes of its ability I enjoyed Tuesday's session. The usual ten minute warm up run was followed by dynamic stretching and running up eighteen flights of steps. That completed the main course of the session ensued, 5 X 300m with three minutes recovery between and thereafter 6 X 120m with a walk back recovery.

The 300m efforts were to be run at 800m pace or better. For me that is now a rather depressing 51 seconds. Thirty years ago that would have been 44 seconds. Tempus Fugit but not me! It's strange how decades of training enables one's body clock to select the right pace. My first effort resulted in a 51.3 timing. Thereafter the times became progressively quicker ending up with a 47 second result. The 120m efforts were really strides helping to get rid of the lactic acid that had built up as a consequence of the 300m runs.

Although he didn't succumb to the joys of the 300m efforts we were joined at the track by Malcolm East one the UK's best ever marathon runners. A near contemporary of my self he has a 1981 pb for the distance of 2 hrs 11mins 36 secs. That is serious running.

Friday, 7 April 2017

A Threatened Species


Whenever I spot a branch of the Ulster Bank or indeed any bank my thoughts are drawn to Alan Brownjohn's poem, " We are going to see the rabbit." For those of you are unfamiliar with this particular poem I should explain that it is about the last rabbit in England.

We might be a few years away from the total decimation of branch networks but the small town or village branch or sub office is now a rarity. Nine branches of the Bank in Northern Ireland are to close their doors for the last time in October of this year. In the Republic of Ireland the Bank is closing twenty two branches. I know we are told that most people now bank online but many don't, particularly the elderly. For a small business that could previously lodge its takings in a bank that was a few hundred yards away a twenty five mile round trip to the nearest remaining branch does not just incur an additional cost but also adds a greater security risk. Maybe government should impose a community obligation upon Banks to force them to keep branches open even if they are not particularly profitable.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Pheasant Hanging.


When returning from a Christmas morning perambulation last December I espied the colouration of a cock pheasant in the undergrowth no more than ten feet from the side of the road. Stepping back to try to get a better look and expecting the bird to dive deeper into the undergrowth I realised that this particular pheasant was not going to be spooked by my presence. It and one of its fellows were hanging from a low branch with a collar of orange twine joining them in their morbidity. I expect that some hunting and shooting chappie had bagged them and left them to hang for a few days before preparing them for the oven. Three days on the brace of pheasants were still swinging from their vegetative gallows. It was tempting to remove the ,"kill," from what is after all my property. Purely in the interests of tidiness as you will understand.


Monday, 13 February 2017

Andrew Alexander Watt - A Distiller's Will



Andrew Alexander Watt of Thornhill Londonderry is probably best remembered as the man who in 1921 closed the Abbey Street distillery that bore his family name. The workers had closed the gates in protest at the level of their wages. AA as he was referred to was driven to the distillery in his Rolls Royce and demanded of the men whether they were going to open the gates. They declined to do so and he informed them that the gates would accordingly remain closed for ever. Over three hundred men lost their jobs.
Very shortly after the closure of the distillery AA moved to England and set up residence at Easton Hall, Easton near Grantham in the County of Lincoln. The property was rented from the Cholmeleys a family decimated as a consequence of their service during the Great War. 
AA was to make his last will on the 18th May 1927 and he died at his residence on 11th October 1928. Probate of his will was extracted on the 8th day of November 1928. This Grant was subsequently produced in the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh and resealed in Northern Ireland. The gross value of the deceased's estate within Great Britain amounted to £904,614.3.0 and estate duty of £263,821.15.6 was paid. His estate within Northern Ireland amounted to £21,159.2.1 and estate duty of £3,294.1.3 was paid.
He appointed his sons Samuel Alexander Watt and Andrew Hubert Watt along with his friends Robert Pulsford Hart and Alexander Moore as the executors and general trustees of his will. The said two Watt brothers along with Robert Pulsford Hart and the deceased's son in law Henry Julius Joseph Stern were appointed as the Special Trustees of what was described as the Gerald Watt Fund. The executors and general trustees were each bequeathed the sum of three hundred pounds conditional upon them proving the will or acting in the trusts thereof. His guns were bequeathed to his eldest son Samuel Alexander Watt. He left his fishing rods and tackle to his son Gerald Alllingham Watt if at the time the executors were in a position to deliver same to him he was in receipt of the annuity referred to in clause 18 of the will or in the opinion of the Special Trustees fit to receive same. The balance of his personal effects were left to his Trustees upon trust to allow each of his children to select such items as they should desire. They did however have to bring into hotchpot the value of such items as against any other interest they should take under the will.
The sum of £500 was left to his sister Hester Babington and £1,000 was left to his late wife's maid Mrs Mary Gibson of Kilchoan Lodge, Kilmartin, Argyleshire. A similar sum was bequeathed to his valet Thomas Murdy. He left £100 to his private secretary and £50 to his groom, (Charles Hewardine) and his chauffeur, (Blackwell). Two hundred pounds was left to his son-in-law Henry Julius Joseph Stern provided that he acted as special trustee. The deceased's friend Robert Swan Corbett of Oakhurst Woodhay, Newbury received £300 and the aforementioned Alexander Moore was left £300 in addition to the legacy bequeathed to him as Executor and Trustee.
AA left his silver and silver plate to his eldest living son but if his sons Samuel Alexander Watt and Andrew Hubert Watt should both be alive then subject to the latter having the right to select items up to the value of £150.
The deceased's real estate was left to his trustees upon trust for his child if only one or all of his children who should be alive at the date of his death but not in equal shares. Sons were to take double the share of a daughter. A proviso to this clause states that if any of his sons should die in his lifetime leaving issue living at his death then such issue should take the share which their deceased father would have taken and if more than one then in equal shares. If however the deceased child should be a daughter then the share of AA's estate which the daughter would have taken if she had survived her father was to be retained by her trustees upon the trusts set forth in Form 7 of the Statutory Will Forms 1925 subject however to certain modifications.
If AA had not sold his property at Thornhill then he gave his eldest son, Samuel Alexander Watt the option of purchasing same together with the properties known as Silverdale, Sheepwalk Farm and Sir George's Quay for the sum of ten thousand pounds. The latter two properties were held from the  Hill family of St Columb's House. If Samuel did not avail of this option then AA's second son was granted the option in his stead.
The deceased's will goes on to say that he had transferred certain shares in The United Distilleries Limited to his eldest son and that he had settled certain stocks and shares upon the marriages of his daughters Constance and Eva Violet and his sons Andrew Hubert Watt and Gerald Allingham Watt and by a settlement dated 30th September 1910 had settled further stocks funds and investments upon each of his children save for Gerald. He stipulates that as a consequence of these gifts and settlements that the following sums should be brought into hotchpot in respect of the division of his residrary estate. As to Samuel Alexander Watt or his issue £69,496; as to Andrew Hubert Watt £64,585; as to Constance £31,000 and as to Eva Violet £31,000. So far as Gerald was concerned the provisions are somewhat more complicated but effectively the relevant sum was to be £62,700 or £2,000 more if the house known as Drumberry at Shantallow was not sold by AA in his lifetime. That was where Gerald and his wife Gladys Kathleen Watt were living in 1927.
On the 16th October 1914 Gerald was gazetted as a temporary Second Lieutenant in the infantry. In a supplement to the gazette which was published some two weeks later his commission and that of twelve other individuals were cancelled. Was this related in some way to the reasons behind his father's establishment of the Gerald Watt trust?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

                           2015 2016 2017
Goldfinch                 0        0           6
House Sparrow.      13.      3.           2
Blackbird                 2 2            2
Starling                    0 3            0
Blue tit                     3 6            2
Chaffinch                 3 1            3
Great Tit                  2 2            2
Robin                       1 2            3
Coal Tit                    1 2            0
Long tailed Tit.        7 0            5
Wren                        1 0            0
Collared Dove          0.        0.           1
Magpie                     0 0            1

This is the third year I have participated the RSPB Bug Garden Birdwatch. No exotics to add a touch of excitement to the one hour vigil but overall numbers were slightly up on last year. The goldfinches rarely left the feeding station. They certainly appear to enjoy the Niger seeds. I have quite a few teasels planted around the garden and I suspect that it is these plants that are attracting in the goldfinches. A small flock of long tailed tits made a brief visit but the food on offer must not have appealed to them and they disappeared to other haunts. I have always thought of house sparrows and starlings as very common garden birds but their numbers do give a lie to that.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

St Columb's Park - Notes on an Urban Park.

St. Columb's Park is situate off the Limavady Road in Londonderry and is named after the mansion house which still remains at its centre. Whilst the house and demesne ultimately became known as St. Columb's it was originally called Chatham. The first owners were a family by the name of Rea. On 30th April 1831 Elizabeth Sophia Rea the eldest daughter of John Rea espoused George Hill of Brook Hall and her marriage settlement would ultimately result in the demesne being settled upon the first son of the said George Hill, (afterwards Sir George Hill), by the said Elizabeth Sophia Rea with the usual remainders over. For more than one hundred years the lands would remain in the ownership of the Hill family. Sir George Hill 3rd Bt died in 1845. His widow was not to die until 23rd January 1900. The baronetcy now rests with the 10th Baronet.
By the 1930's the Mansion House was lying vacant and was in a state of some decrepitude The timber panelling in the front reception room had rotted and the wallpaper in this and other rooms was hanging loose on the walls. A large basin had been placed on the landing to collect water falling from the ceiling. The lime plaster had fallen off the walls at the rear of the house and the gardens and orchard were overgrown. Rather surprisingly despite being a substantial property it did not have electric light. The sewage outfall was to an open cesspool in an adjoining field. Internally the accommodation comprised a porch, hall, four reception rooms, a library, kitchen, scullery, larder, servant's room, cloak room, wc and small store on the ground floor. On the first floor there were seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, one bathroom and one wc. The house also had a cellar.
On the 26th October 1937 a deputation of citizens from the Waterside ward of the City came before the Corporation expressing the need for a park for that ward. A resolution was passed referring the matter to the Parks Committee for consideration and report. The then City Surveyor made a preliminary report recommending St Columb's as a suitable site for the proposed park. Negotiations with the agents for the Hill family proved unsuccessful and on 20th January 1938 a resolution was passed by the Corporation to the affect that steps should be taken to apply to the Ministry of Home Affairs for an order vesting the lands in the Corporation. The vesting order became operative on the 28th March 1939. In addition to, "St Columb's," it also caused a small area of land at the top of Browning Drive and which was owned by the Watt family to come into the ownership of the Corporation. 
Shortly before the date of the vesting order and with war looming the War Department approached the Corporation with a view to acquiring some seven acres three roods and eighteen perches of the demesne for the construction of a hospital. It was agreed that the Corporation would be paid for these lands at the rate that the Corporation would be acquiring the lands pursuant to the vesting order. The required lands were ultimately conveyed to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the War Department on 19th August 1940. This site would pass to the Northern Ireland Tuberculosis Authority in 1952. A portion of the hospital lands came back into the Corporation's ownership in 1967. The balance was also eventually reacquired by the City Council. Unity was once more achieved.