Friday, 15 June 2018

A Royal Flavour


Now that the humble elderflower has been used to flavour the wedding cake for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle I wonder whether royal watchers will be jumping into hedgerows and denuding the local elder trees of their lacecap flourescences? So far the examples in my own garden have avoided such predations but I will put my hands up and admit that I will be getting the trusty secateurs out shortly so that I can produce this year's supply of elderflower cordial. I can't say that I am a terrific fan of cordials and juices but it is surprising what you can add to ones glass to give the contents a gentle kick.

The manufacture of elderflower cordial is thankfully a fairly easy process. Let's face it if it wasn't I wouldn't be doing it. One dissolves five pounds of granulated sugar in about two and a half pints of water which is then brought to the boil before taking your saucepan off the heat. Thereafter it is a matter of adding about twenty washed flower heads along with 3 ounces of citric acid and two unwaxed and paired lemons which have been sliced into G & T roundels. After allowing twenty four hours for infusion one is ready to strain the liquid into sterilised bottles. Your cordial is then ready to use.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Hidden Eggs


There has been a certain paucity of eggs from the hen coop over the past week. I had been putting this down to the age of my hens. They are now almost three years old.
However egg numbers had not actually decreased. One of my avian friends had decided to lay her eggs in the open air yards distant from the coop. I came upon her surreptitious clutch quite by chance deep in a herbaceous border. I removed five of the six eggs in the hope that the errant hen would continue to lay her eggs in what is no longer her secret lair. This she has done for the last two days. It would seem that she has not appreciated that she has been rumbled. Hens aren't good at counting.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A School, A Hymm, A Soldier.


On the 10th day of October 1874 one John James Hamilton Humphreys of Lincolns Inn, London leased a rood of his land on the lee of a green hill in the townland of Barnes, Parish of Upper Badoney and Barony of Upper Strabane to the Right Reverend Francis Kelly the then Roman Catholic Bishop of Londonderry and the Reverend Patrick Magee Parish Priest of the Parish of Upper Badoney. The term of the lease was nine hundred and ninety nine years and the assurance declares that the demise was upon trust that a school for the instruction of the youth of the district should be established and maintained. The demise goes on to say that if such a school should cease to operate for twelve calendar months then the lessees were required to surrender their leasehold estate and give up possession of the premises to the Lessor his heirs and assigns.

Who was this Mr Humphreys? Unsurprisingly with an address of Lincoln's Inn he was a barrister. Born in 1817 he was the eldest son of Major John Humphreys of Milltown House, Strabane, (until recently the home of Strabane Grammar School). He graduated from Exeter College, Oxford in 1839 and was called to the Bar on 18th November 1842. His father, Major Humphreys of the Royal Marines fought under Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. The latter's military career was subsequently cut short by injuries received in the West Indies. Following a period as a staff officer in Dublin he became the Agent of the Earl of Wicklow and subsequently accepted a similar position with the Hamiltons of Baronscourt.

The Major's third child was a girl Cecil Frances who was born in 1818. She is better known by her married name of Alexander having married the Reverend William Alexander in October 1850. Dieing on 12th October 1895 she was buried in Londonderry City Cemetery. By that time her husband was the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. In 1896 he was elevated to the Archbishopric of Armagh a position he held until 1911.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Lanowlee - An Indian House

Lanowlee or Lanowlee Hall as it was called for a time was a large Victorian villa situated on Londonderry's Limavady Road. The 1911 census discloses that it was a twelve room property with nine outhouses including a coach house. For many years it was a ruinous shell. It has now been demolished. I don't know quite when this occurred but gone it has. Sad in some ways. Another foot note in local history.

The name of the property came from an area in India and was bestowed upon the dwelling by the person I believe to have been its first owner, Brigade-Surgeon Hamilton Mitchell. This gentleman was born on 22nd January 1832 and obtained his LRCS from Edinburgh in 1853. The following year he entered the Army Medical Department as an assistant surgeon. Within two months he was ordered to the Crimea where he served from 8th November 1854 until 18th February 1855 and was present at the fall of Sebastapol. He was awarded the Crimea Medal with clasp and the Turkish Medal.

In May 1855 he was gazetted Assistant Surgeon to the 96th Regiment of Foot in which he served for over twenty one years. On 9th March 1867 he was promoted to the rank of Staff Surgeon. This was followed by promotion to Surgeon Major on 21st July 1874. From 1865 until 1875 his regiment was stationed in India.

In 1876 he moved to the Staff at Colchester Barracks. His career subsequently took him to Malta in 1877 but in July 1878 he was forced to return to England on sick leave. On 6th March 1880 continued heart problems resulted in him retiring from the Service on half pay with the rank of Brigade- Surgeon. He and his wife then returned to his native Co Londonderry where he took up residence at Lanowlee. His wife, Hannah, daughter of his regiment's Colonel died on 22nd February 1894. On the 26th August of the same year Hamilton Mitchell passed away.


Sources: The London Gazette, "Medical Officers of the Malta Garrison," and Medical News 22nd September 1894.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Egging It


It is now twenty seven months since I took delivery of eight hybrid point of lay hens. They cost me six pounds a bird. Not a large investment in livestock. A month later they went into egg production. Since then I have had a continuous supply of eggs albeit that this current winter has seen a very definite decline in numbers. 

Their first moult didn't seem to impact on their productivity but this year the decline has been pretty much as per the manuals. Perhaps it's the colder and wetter weather conditions.

The fact that I have lost twenty five percent of my flock has of course also had an impact on the number of eggs available for my breakfast table. When I say lost I don't mean that I have mislaid them a la Lady Bracknell. No unfortunately I have to report that two of the trusty layers have entered avian nirvana. One of the dearly departed just keeled over for no apparent reason. The other however may have suffered the administrations of a reddish brown mammal or perhaps a peregrine falcon. In any event the last I saw of her was a clump of downy feathers.


Yesterday I collected three eggs from the coop including number four thousand eight hundred so the average per hen has now surpassed six hundred. Excluding the capital cost of the coop I calculate that the eggs have cost just under seven pence each to produce.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Londonderry's Electric Lighting Station.


It becomes a mite disconcerting when one's recollections take on an historical twist. Only those of us who were born prior to the Munich air disaster are likely to have much recollection of the Corporation's Power Station on the Strand Road, certainly as a functioning entity. It ran on solid fuel, coke, if my memory serves. I seem to remember that a reserve store of coke was kept at the Brandywell in the area which was used as a recycling centre until recently.

I have read that Londonderry Corporation's electricity station was operating from 1892 but the first tranche of ground at Strand Road was acquired from the Irish Society by way of an assurance dated 20th July 1893 and indeed these lands were subject to two leases which had been created by the Irish Society. The first of these was in favour of a Henry Barre Beresford and was for sixty six years from 29th September 1836. The second lease was in favour of one William Charles Babington and was for a term of ninety nine years expiring in 1916. I suspect that the Corporation had acquired the benefit of these leases by the date of the July 1893 Fee Farm Grant. This view would be sported by the fact that the Corporation Covenanted with the Irish Society to, " erect and complete within one year to the satisfaction of the Irish Society an Electric Light Station to serve the present and prospective requirements for lighting the City by electricity."

On 24th February 1904 the Corporation acquired further lands from the Irish Society so as to extend the Electric Lighting Station. Subsequent to this further smaller portions of land were conveyed to the Corporation by the Irish Society on 19th December 1916 and 20th September 1933.

The map endorsed on the Fee Farm Grant of 1893 shows the existence of Fox's Lane running from Strand Road to the Quay. This thoroughfare seems to have been incorporated into the site of the Electricity Station.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Tyrconnell Whiskey Relaunch.


Twelve years ago I was given a present of a bottle of whiskey. I accept any bottle of the amber nectar with a degree of alacrity. This was not however just any whiskey. The wooden presentation case was a bit of a giveaway as was the signed certificate. I had been given a numbered bottle of the relaunched Tyrconnell brand. It had been distilled by John Teeling's Cooley Distillery. 

Tyrconnell Whiskey was of course originally distilled by Watt's Distillery in Londonderry and was named after the then owner's horse which won a race called the National Produce Stakes in 1876 at odds of one hundred to one. I suppose that many whiskey conniseurs and collectors would have retained a bottle such as this in their collection. I have to admit that I didn't. I consumed it over Christmas 2005 and very nice it was too.