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.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Free Citizens of Dublin

I recently came across an article dealing with the, "Free Citizens of Dublin." This was the term which was applied to those individuals who held the municipal franchise of Dublin between the years 1192 and 1918. As well as the right to vote in elections to the Dublin City Assembly the Free Citizens had access to certain rights and privileges which were created in 1192 by a charter issued by the Plantagenet John, (son of Henry II), Lord of Ireland. Admission to the franchise was regulated and conferred by the Dublin City Assembly.

There were apparently six categories of admission and in general applicants had to have been born within the City limits although the Assembly had a discretion to admit, "foreigners." Strictly speaking the native Irish were ineligible for the municipal franchise but the names of several of the early admitees would indicate that this was a rule that was not adhered to very strictly. The Reformation as such did not affect the situation but post the defeat of James II in 1690 individuals who espoused the Roman Catholic faith were excluded from the municipal franchise until Parliament interceded in 1792/93.

The six modes of admission to the franchise were as follows :-

a. Service. - Once an apprentice had completed service to a Master in one of Dublin's Trade Guilds he was permitted to apply to the Assembly for the municipal franchise. Once this had been granted he was entitled to apply for full membership of his guild.

b. Birth - The eldest son of a Fred Citizen could apply for the franchise by birth. This usually occurred after the death of the father and the privilege could be passed on to succeeding generations. The daughters of wealthy freemen could also apply for the municipal franchise by birth and some powerful Free Citizens were able to gain admission for their entire families under this category of admission.

c. Marriage - it was also possible to gain admission to the municipal franchise by marrying the daughter of a free citizen or a woman who held the franchise in her own right.

d. Fine - This category of admission enabled gentlemen and also craftsmen whose work was not represented by any of the Trade Guilds to be admitted to the franchise upon payment of a substantial sum of money. They did have to have been born in Dubllin.

e. Special Grace - This was the means of admitting the nobility and dignitaries. It was also used to admit wealthy "foreigners," ie non- Dubliners. The latter individuals might have had to pay a fine.

f. Acts of Parliament - An Act of 1662 provides an early example of this. Many French Hugenots applied for the municipal franchise under benefit of this and later Acts.

Source: Famillia, Ulster Genealogical Review Vol 2 No 2 1986


Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Teacher Dies.

When I was driving into work on Monday of this week I learnt of the death of one of my teachers from the 1970's - Gordon Fulton. If my memory serves he replaced Mr Shepherd who exited teaching after the murder of his friend Senator John Barnhill on 12th December 1971. Gordon taught English and supervised Foyle College Players of which I was a member during my scholastic years. I was surprised to see that he was only eight years my senior. Maybe it was the presence of his beard that suggested a more advanced age. I think it was in 1975 that he persuaded me to fill a temporary vacancy in a production of the 1971 Players.

In the 1980's Gordon decided that he should disclaim the joys of teaching and become a professional actor. A brave decision but his natural ability proved it to be the correct one.. I was aware of his appearances in, "Game of Thrones," 'Taggart," and " Give my head peace." The last time I saw Gordon was at Glenveagh Castle when I was in the company of my paternal uncle and his wife. My uncle had been a departmental colleague of Gordon.



Nut Harvest

It is now three years since I planted four cob trees in the area which I insist on calling the orchard. Clearly this is the wrong nomenclature so far as these trees are concerned but as the remainder of the trees are all fruit trees it seems more sensible to talk about an orchard rather than a combined nuttery and orchard. This is the first year that there have been any nuts to pick. All four trees had a small crop, some very evidently smaller than the others. I was pleasantly surprised with the taste of the nuts and I am hopeful that next year will provide a much enhanced crop.


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Courgette Chutney 2016

September's vegetable glut has necessitated the unearthing of the large chutney making saucepan from the cellar. It hasn't been a great year for vegetables but the courgettes haven't objected to the lack of sunshine and the very temperate temperatures. I have been picking ten or twelve courgettes every week for the past couple of months. With the best will in the world this is a number that I can't consume as courgetti, stuffed or fried.

Today saw the third batch of 2016 courgette chutney being manufactured. The template receipe for today's culinary experiment came from the National Trust's, " Jams, Preserves & Chutneys." This tome was originally published with an asking price of £18.99 but it had been discounted to £6.00 by the time I purchased it from the shop at the Argory this summer. The original receipe had the grated rind of two oranges as an ingredient. With no oranges in the house I substituted lemons for oranges, (I have never found a gin that needs an orange!). With a large supply of apples available from the roadside tree I decided to add in a pound of diced apple. The quantity of courgette was also increased slightly. Accordingly the following were the ultimate contents of the saucepan. I should point out that the courgette was salted overnight and rinsed under cold water before being tipped into the saucepan.

4 lbs diced courgette

1.5 tablespoons of table salt

1 lb of chopped tomatoes

0.5 lb of chopped onions

1 lb of sultanas

1 lb diced Apple

grated rind of two lemons

2 lb granulated sugar

Half pint red wine vinegar

Half pint malt vinegar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Pop goes the Sweetcorn.


There aren't many plants in the vegetable garden that you can grow from seed and which will give you a seven feet tall specimen within six months. This is particularly true of the Northern Ireland garden. Our wet and very temperate climate does not assist the gardener.

I think that is why I like growing sweetcorn. You definitely get a lot of bang for your buck. The variety which I have grown over the past few years is Mini Pop. As the name suggests the cobs that this variety produces are quite small. The sort that you might use in stir fries and the like. The plants definitely give a bit of structure and height to the vegetable plot. I grew twenty plants this year. This should give me some one hundred mini cobs. I probably won't be able to chomp my way through all of these fresh from the plants. The balance will be thrust into the freezer and extracted as and when required during the winter months.






Thursday, 1 September 2016

White Tiger Seen On Village Street


Well yes I suppose that is slightly misleading. The animal in question was in the window of a shop not actually prowling up and down the thoroughfare in search of tiffin and I do have to admit that it was very definitely dead. Still it's not everyday that you come across a white tiger in Northern Ireland even if it has been the subject of Victorian taxidermy and the victim of the big game hunter. I was able to discern three tightly grouped bullet holes on its left flank.

Seeing the tiger brought back memories of my paternal grandfather's house. It was rather dark even on the brightest of days and it's halls and staircases were bedecked with animal antlers and horns. Was it just coincidence that the initials of his forenames spelt, "Raj."? Strange that.

Anyhows this is one tiger whose eyes no longer burn bright in poetic symmetry.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Back in Laying Mode.


The broody hen has finally desisted from her hormonal enduced behaviour. The clucking has stopped as has the fluffing of feathers and the requirement to sit on the eggs laid by her seven coop mates. I don't know what finally prompted her stepping back from her unrequited maternal duties but she has finally recognised that it was all a waste of effort. Her comb had turned from deep red to a pale pink but it has darkened appreciably over the past week. Today was marked by her laying her first egg in over four weeks. We are now back in full egg production albeit that I know it won't be too long before my minature flock decides that it is tine to go into moult and take on the dishabille, look.



Friday, 19 August 2016

Progressive Building Society - Reducing Savings Rates to increase profits?

The Progressive Building Society, Northern Ireland's last remaining local building society, has announced that it will be reducing its savings rates with effect from 1st September. It cites the recent reduction in the Bank of England's base rate from 0.50% to 0.25% as the catalyst for this move. I suppose a reduction was inevitable but a reduction in excess of 0.25% smacks of unfairness to those members who are savers. It appears that the directors of the Progressive Building Society may have decided to increase the Society's margins. I see that their 7 day notice postal account has suffered a reduction of 0.35%. A similar reduction will apply to many ISA account owners.

The Government seems to believe that a reduction in base rate will cause people to spend money rather than save it and that as a consequence the economy will be given a fillip. I wonder if they remember that they are also exhorting people to save more for their retirement! I can't imagine that I am the only person who has spotted this contradiction.

What happens to, "the Progressive," if savers remove their money enmasse? It won't happen of course. Apathy rules more's the pity but it would be nice to see a bit of saver power.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Almost Free Food.

There is a sense of satisfaction, perhaps even smugness in growing your own fruit and vegetables. There are no air miles, the produce is fresh and if you forget about the expense of time you are ending up with very cheap food.

Even better is food that literally pops up of its own accord and all you have to do is kneel down and pick it. I am fortunate that my garden throws up a wide variety of edible fungi every year. Most I consume fresh but when an over abundance occurs I then resort to drying them in the lower reaches of the trusty aga.

Mushrooms haven't been the only free food from the garden this August. I have four or five wild cherry trees growing along one of the marches and I was able to pick just over four pounds of fruit from their lower branches. Unfortunately cherries do force you to work a bit. It takes a long time to pick four pounds of the small wild fruit and then there is the effort of pitting.



Sunday, 31 July 2016

Sawfly Spotted.

I espied quite a colourful insect in the greenhouse today or at least it was so when in flight. When static and with its wings folded the red flashes on its abdomen weren't visible and it was a fairly boring brown. What was very evident in its resting state was the long needle like projection from its abdomen. It looked as if it could inflict a rather severe sting. However it transpires what I was looking at was the ovipositor of a female horntail or giant wood wasp. These sawflies do not bite or sting and can be spotted from May until August. They deposit their eggs, (two or three), in the trunks of trees. Depending on conditions they complete their life cycle in one or two years. Hopefully this specimen does not decide to lay its eggs in the wooden structure of the greenhouse.


Friday, 29 July 2016

To the Point and Back.


Last Monday was a muggy day. Not that bright but warm and humid. Too hot for my usual running haunts. T'was a day for the coast so that I could benefit from the on shore breeze. After having consumed my lunch I jumped into the horseless carriage and headed to Benone. I parked at the tourist complex and then headed for the beach. It was busy but only for a few hundred yards on either side of the roadway which runs onto it. After picking my way through the lazy throng and the attendant ice cream vans I headed towards Magilligan Point. Only a few dog walkers who had been dragged from their cars by their canine friends disturbed the peacefulness of the day. Out on the Lough I could see the small ferry heading towards Greencastle. The rush of the waves silenced its engine. Arriving at the Point I had to decide whether to retrace my steps or take to the roads. I choose the latter and longer option. Maybe not such a good idea. By the time I was unlocking my car my garmin informed me that I had ran almost twelve and a half miles at a tad under seven minutes thirty seconds per mile. In pre Brexit measurement that is about four minutes forty seconds per kilometre.



Friday, 15 July 2016

Swallows and Amazonian Weather.

A typical summer's day for Northern Ireland - rain. I woke up to rain and it continued until lunchtime. The rain gods then decided to stop the precipitation for a time. The temperature rose to 25 degrees centrigade , (whatever that means), and the day turned hot and humid. Not pleasant. Then the rain returned. The swallows gave up on the outdoor life and proceeded to roost in the stables. A sensible decision methinks. The rain increased in its intensity and I stayed in its lee. It won't be long before the swallows realise that a return to Africa would be a very sensible idea.


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Redcurrant Delight.

This time last year the produce from the redcurrant bushes was feeding the local blackbirds and thrushes. Once there was even a blush of red on the fruit they were spotted and devoured by my feathered friends. There was no sharing of nature's spoil. They saw red. They saw an easy meal. They stripped the bushes of their berries much more efficiently than any mechanical harvester. Now it is my turn to have the upper hand. The fruitcage is in place and the avaricious birds are kept at bay. I pulled about a pint of red currants this morning so probably something in excess of a pound. It does seem rather strange talking about pints of fruit. I expect that a few small pots of redcurrant jelly now require production.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Brigadier Edgar James Bernard Buchanan DSO.

Born on 6th May 1892 Brigadier Buchanan was the eldest son of Robert Eccles Buchanan and his wife Ethel Maud, (nee Williams). At that stage the family lived at Harding Street, Londonderry. They subsequently moved to Templemore Park. The young Buchanan entered Foyle's preparatory school in 1899 where he was joined by his younger brother Richard Brendan Buchanan.

He completed his education at Portora Royal School before joining the Royal Engineers. As a career soldier he served in India, Mesopotamia, Singapore, Malta, North Africa and Italy. He was wounded on two occasions during the Great War and was awarded the DSO. After the Second World War he was Director of Fortifications at the War Office. His promotion to the rank of Brigadier appears in the Gazette of 14th November 1947. Brigadier Buchanan died at Halesmere Surrey on 13th September 1979. His brother , a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, also served during the Great War but fell at Galipoli on 20th June 1915.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Spud Wednesday

I planted my early potatoes on 16th March. Today, one hundred and seven days later I dug up a couple of tops. The traditional day for this ritual in Northern Ireland is 12th July so unfortunately I have broken with tradition. Ye gads I wonder what retribution awaits? Anyhows the potatoes were just about ready for consumption and they have been. The first potatoes of the year from the garden are always a bit special, floury and with thin smooth skins. Hopefully I won't have to buy any more potatoes until 2017.


Saturday, 2 July 2016

Unrequited Hen Motherhood

On Thursday I left home at about 8.15am after having let the hens out of their coop and collected the three eggs that had been laid before coop opening time. When I returned home that evening only seven hens were pecking around in the run. Number eight was missing. It wasn't long before I discovered her in the egg laying compartment of the coop with feathers fluffed up and clucking contentedly as she sat on five eggs that had been provided by her coop mates. She had gone broody and was not a happy bird when I prised her from her fruitless task and removed the eggs. As yet I have been unsuccessful in breaking her hormonal behaviour. If I do nothing she should revert to normal in about three weeks time. That is the timescale for hatching a fertilised hen's egg. Apparently cold baths can knock the broodiness on its head so I might try sticking the hen's nether regions in one of the trugs that collect the rainwater from the greenhouse.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Around the Athletics Track.

Today was the day of the Northern Ireland Masters Athletics Association's track and field championships. With the huge increase in the number of people taking up running in recent years one might have thought that there would have been a similar increase of numbers at this Meet. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to have been too many runners who have made the move from the ubiquitous 5k to the track.

I suspect that they don't want to be assessed under the running microscope that is the track. You are very visible throughout the course of your race. The inadequacies and deficiencies of your running technique and physique are diagnosed and dissected by the cognicenti and any bye passer with his dog. I imagine that this might be particularly off putting to the more mature female runner. Anyhows the number of competitors was not particularly large most especially in the older age groups.

I was very much in two minds whether I would make the trip to the Mary Peters Track but I ultimately, (this morning at 11am), decided to go and partake of the joys of an 800m and 1500m and join seven others of my Club. I can't claim to be particularly race fit but my fitness levels were more than adequate for the task. Championship races tend to be more a matter of tactics than speed. It is very seldom that you achieve a season's best at a Championship race.




Sunday, 19 June 2016

Egg Plants and Chillis.

A bit late in the year but I have finally planted the aubergines in their final positions in the greenhouse. As in previous years I plumped on a variety which promises large numbers of small fruit. Todays's efforts also resulted in the planting of fifteen peppers of which nine were sweet peppers with the balance being of the chilli variety. All of these have been planted in pots sunk in the greenhouse border. I have several chilli peppers remaining and I expect that these will end up in pots on the greenhouse staging.


Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Door to Tomorrow


So called experts say that people become happier and more content as they progress into their fifties and sixties. I used to think that that was probably the case or at least I hoped that it would be. I needed it to be. It seemed just that there should be some slack water in life's last quartile. Some payback for putting the hopes and aspirations of the moment on the back burner. Some dividend for decades of long hours working at something you ultimately learnt to resent and even hate.

True the angsts of youth disappear or more accurately they are smothered by the weight of the subsequent decades of perturbation and inner questioning and that is a burden that doesn't disappear. It gets worse and with that knowledge each day heralds further dread, further fear, greater unhappiness. The head band of worry tightens, clouding ones brain and pressing into your forehead and cheekbones. It hurts. It pricks at the lacrimal glands. Oh that the door into tomorrow presaged an entry into light not greater darkness. A vane hope. Exercise used to help and I suppose it still does but one stitch doesn't close a five inch gash. Life is definitely a marathon, painful and tiring. I lean towards Macbeth's analysis.


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tomato Growth.


It is now five weeks since I planted the tomato plants in their rings in the greenhouse. At that stage they were probably about eight inches high. Since then they have put on more than two feet of growth. I am always surprised at how quickly tomatoes grow. I shouldn't be. It's not that they are catching me unawares. After all I have been growing them for almost fifty years. But there is something so luxuriant and vigorous in their growth that never ceases to amaze me.

The plants have all thrown their third trusses and the lower trusses have begun to set their fruit. I will now have to start feeding them. Every three or four days I have been removing the side shoots so as to ensure that all the plants' energy goes into strong vertical growth and the setting of more fruit. Although I have what would be described as a large domestic greenhouse it doesn't have the height to allow me to get more than six trusses per plant even from the row next the central path. At the present rate of growth I would expect to be nipping out the leaders by the middle of July by which time the first fruit should be just about ready to pull. Tomato sandwiches beckon.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Fruit Cage Constructed.

The blackbirds and thrushes of the neighbourhood are not enamoured of me. I have now done what I had been threatening to do for three or four years. I have erected a fruit cage with the aim of retaining all my soft fruit for myself rather than providing my feathered friends with a self service restaurant.

To be truly accurate I assisted in the construction. A friend who is a builder/carpenter together with his son provided most of the brains and brawn in the operation. I did as I was directed. In any event the cage is now in situ. It took almost seven hours from start to finish, somewhat longer than all of us had anticipated. It is I suppose quite large measuring six metres by five metres and now houses my raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries, red currants and blackcurrants.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Londonderry's Stamp and Railway Man.

It is strange how certain people are brought back into your consciousness. It was a comment on a social media site that caused me to crystallise my memories of Thomas Maguire. Tommy dealt in stamps, coins, railway memorabilia and second hand books. In the mid 1960's he had a shop on the riverside of Londonderry's Duke Street. This was before the redevelopment of the area. My father was fostering my interest in stamp collecting and ushered me into Tommy's emporium on a regular basis.

There was a very definite musty smell in the premises. I remember his father crouched in a corner of the shop. He had worked on the railways hence Tommy's interest in all things connected with the iron road. With the redevelopment of the Duke Street area Tommy was forced to move his business. I am not quite sure whether he initially moved to Pump Street before his move to Carlisle Road or whether Pump Street was his pre Duke Street locus. His father I think passed away before the move to Carlisle Road. I can only remember his mother being there. They lived, "above the shop." Initially Tommy rented these premises from I think Cmdr. Bertie Anderson and his family before purchasing them in the late 1980's. He never spent very much money on the building. On the coldest of January days you would find Tommy in his shop with cap on sconce and overcoat firmly in place and with four or five coals glowing in an open fire. A low wattage bulb dangled forelornly from the ceiling. He didn't spend much money on his dentition either. He never appeared to be unhappy but he lived a very spartan life devoid of warmth and comfort. It must be five years since he died. His Carlisle Road premises remain locked up and deteriorating.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Wet Bedraggled and Bewildered

I don't like thunderstorms. Neither do the chickens. When the rain started this evening I retreated from the vegetable patch to the greenhouse but when the rattles of thunder began to reverberate around the sky I dashed back to the house. The chickens initially bounded to the shelter under their coop. This kept the worst of the rain off them but when the hammerings of Thor began they decided to jump into the coop itself. One of their number stood sentinel just inside the entrance to the coop keeping a beady weather eye on the wet Stygian gloom. I suspect that egg production may suffer a decrease tomorrow with two or three of the chickens not providing me with their daily calcium coated protein package but rather producing eggs minus their shells. It doesn't take too much to disrupt the equilibrium of the domestic hen.


Monday, 16 May 2016

Prickly Plant Flowers

I have always found cacti to be rather fascinating plants. Maybe it's because they clearly aren't from our climes and represent a bit of a challenge to grow well and to prevent them succumbing to our winters.

Three people fostered my interest in these non native flora. The first was a foreman gardener by the name of Bill Porter. As a young boy between the ages of five and eleven I used to spend my holidays and free time following him around as he worked, asking questions, watching what he was doing and occasionally plucking up the courage to ask if I could have a go at the task in hand. He was always patient and always willing to answer my questions. The second was an elderly friend of my father called Ludwig Schenkell. Ludwig had managed to escape Austria shortly before the Anschluss. He was passionate and very knowledgeable about cacti and had three heated greenhouses devoted to them. I understand that when he died in the early 1980's that he left his collection to Belfast's Botanic Garden. The third person in the triumvirate was an elderly first cousin once removed who lived just outside Dublin and whom I visited on a regular basis during my university days. She donated her books on cacti growing to me along with her collection of mammillaria.


Sunday, 15 May 2016

Lifford Early Summer Track Session.


A better track session yesterday. The weather helped and I was probably rather more rested going into this weekend's training than I have been for a good few weeks. We started off by running six laps of the track, (2400m) at a tad over six minute mile pace. That completed we spent fifteen minutes performing various dynamic stretches followed by several strides of increasing length. Then came the main course of the day's training. For myself and my training partner that was made up of 4 X 500m at 1500m pace with 90 seconds recovery between efforts. I would not be using the right terminology if I said that the runs were easy but they were comfortable. The first three were completed in ninety four seconds and the last in eighty nine seconds. Before the warm down we ran what for me was a brisk 200m in 29 s. It is hard to accept the brakes of age.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tomato Planting Time Again.

Monday was hot. Too hot to do anything in the greenhouse until the sun had sank in the sky and the glare of light on glass had dissipated. However with the comfortable warmth of eventide I was able to plant out my tomato plants in their rings. It is just about eight weeks since I sowed the seed. I grew on two varieties this year Shirley (an F1 hybrid), and Ailsa Craig. The seed packet for the former only provided ten seeds whilst I ended up with about sixty seedlings from the packet of Ailsa Craig seeds. I think that it almost deserves the designation of heritage variety. It is now some fifty years since I first grew this particular tomato. I do have to concede that I did have to avail of some adult assistance for the first couple of years.



Saturday, 7 May 2016

Londonderry Poor Law Guardians

I recently came upon a copy of an assurance dated 7th August 1874 whereby the Commissioners of Church Temporalities in Ireland pursuant to the powers vested in them by the Irish Church Act of 1869 caused several burial grounds within the Poor Law Union of Londonderry to be vested in the Guardians of the said Union.

The term, "Union," appears to have come into usuage subsequent to the passing of Thomas Gilbert's Act in 1782 which permitted adjacent parishes in England and Wales to combine into, "unions," to provide workhouses for the old, the sick and the infirm. On 31st July 1837 , "An Act for the More Effective Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland ," authorised the formation of Unions within Ireland based on Electoral divisions which in their turn were made up of townlands. By the end of 1841 there were 130 Unions a figure which would increase between 1848 and 1850 by a further thirty three. This second tranche of Unions was created by the subdivision of existing Unions, primarily in the west of Ireland.

The Poor Law Union of Londonderry extended into Donegal hence the inclusion of Fahan and Grange Burial Grounds in the schedule to the 1874 deed. It was 217sq miles in extent. Twenty seven of the Guardians were elected from the constituent townlands. There were a further nine ex officio guardians. Weekly meetings, (on a Saturday), took place at the Union Workhouse. The tenure of the elected Guardians ran on an annual basis from 25th March. The franchise for the election of Poor Law Guardians was limited to ratepayers and was weighted, (1-6) dependant upon the valuation of the individual's property. There is a certain attraction and logic to the notion of weighted voting.




Monday, 2 May 2016

Bubble Wrapped Tomatoes

Last year I lost several seedling tomatoes thanks to late frosts. This year I have been covering the developing plants with sheets of bubble wrap at night. To date this has provided the necessary degree of protection. If the weather forecasts can be believed I am hoping that tonight will be the last time that I will have to create my bubble wrap tent in the greenhouse for this year.

Another fortnight and the tomatoes should be ready to plant out in their rings in the greenhouse border. Although the plants are no more than six inches tall I am already recognising that distinctive tomato plant aroma whenever I slide back the door and enter the shelter and warmth of the greenhouse. Summer may be still in anticipation but the tomatoes are its harbingers.


Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Painter's Lot was not a happy one.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell - Oxford University Press


I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. It is probably seven years since I purchased a copy so as to facilitate my intention but it is only in the past fortnight that I have opened it's pages. It was bought at what was one of Northern Ireland's independent booksellers. That bookshop is no more. Robert Tressell, (the pen name of Robert Noonan, christened Robert Croaker), would most definitely have had something to say about that.

Noonan was born in Dublin in 1870 to a Mary Noonan who had her infant son christened with his father's surname. His father was a retired senior police officer and magistrate. Noonan died of TB in 1911 with his book unpublished.

Noonan was a socialist and trade unionist. He was much influenced by the writings of William Morris. That said this novel does not represent the writings of a rabid individual. It is clever, it is amusing and it is thought provoking. There are several early references to the, "living wage." The book follows the lives and tribulations of a group of painters and decorators employed by the money grasping firm of Rushton & Co. This was a world which Noonan inhabited and there are most certainly elements of autobiography in the character of Frank Owen. The dread of the workhouse was clearly ever present in the mind of the Edwardian working man whose health was the only thing keeping him and his family from the clutches of the precursor of the welfare state.


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Orchard Days


My orchard is nearly complete. Finally! Only one space remains. At the moment this lacuna is more accurately described as a potential space as a pile of pea gravel occupies the area. By next spring the gravel will be used up and I will have to decide upon an arboreal companion for the present residents. This late winter/early spring I have planted a mulberry; two damsons, (merryweather) as well as four apple trees, (two bramleys and two eaters). When complete the orchard/nuttery will have a total of twenty eight trees. I suspect that it will be a few years yet before I need to start thinking of ways to use up surpluses! It will be good to be able to knock another couple of items off the supermarket shopping list.


Friday, 22 April 2016

Truscott Lodge - A Cemetery Location.

Three miles outside Londonderry's city boundaries on the north side of Letterkenny Road is what is commonly but incorrectly referred to as Killea Mortuary Chapel. The ruinous and ivy clad building which is situate at the front right hand side of Killea Cemetery was the residence for the cemetery caretaker and it's correct name is Truscott Lodge. I suspect that the presence of a bell cote over the main entrance gave the impression of a church.

It is said to have been constructed in or about the year 1864 to the design of Richard Williamson who was the County Surveyor for County Londonderry between 1860 and 1874. During this period he also acted as surveyor to the Irish Society. Francis Wyatt Truscott was appointed as Deputy Governor of the Irish Society on 8th February 1867 for the ensuing year. That would suggest a date of construction slightly later than that which is generally accepted. The southern aspect of the building has two carved roundels with the wording, " Rose/Governor/ Trustcott/Dep/Governor.

It is unfortunate that the roof of the lodge was permitted to fall in on itself and the building to become uninhabitable. I can remember it being occupied right through the 1960's. Apparently it was someone by the name of King who was the last resident.

This churchyard was originally the site of one of five chapels of ease to the Parish Church of Templemore, (St. Columb's Cathedral). It was destroyed at the time of the Siege but never rebuilt. The walls of the church are recorded as having survived until the nineteenth century.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Alfie Moore - Laughing at the Policeman

It has been a few years since I have had to delve into my wardrobe in search of the old DJ. However an invitation to a dinner on Friday week past required me to press it into service again. Unfortunately I didn't know anyone at the repaste. It was one of those situations where one makes small talk to individuals who you will never see again.

Thankfully the nosh was above average for these events and there was only one formal speech to be endured and it lasted ten minutes at most. The after dinner speaker was the comic Alfie Moore. Unlike most of the individuals at my table I had heard of him and had listened to one of his radio 4 shows. For the majority of mankind who have not come across Alfie Moore I should explain that he was a serving police officer for eighteen years and his act is loosely based on his work experiences. He is apparently on a sabbatical from his police career. I suppose that those who pigeonhole comedians by reference to their comedic style would say that his humour was of the observational variety. He managed to attract a certain amount of laughter. Personally I prefer a raconteur as as an amusing diversion after the coffee and mints have been devoured. Maybe that's another age marker.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Gin in a Jar

I am pleased to report that the Students Union Bar at Warwick University has no fewer than six gins to offer their patrons. Circumstance caused me to enter its hallowed portals on Thursday evening. That I should be presented with such a degree of choice surprised me greatly. Clearly my assumptions concerning the drinking habits of the kingdom's studious and not so studious youth may have been slightly off piste.

I selected Hendrix for my post prandial snifter and bearing in mind the rather miserly size of an English measure I requested a double. My drink was presented in a very strange vessel, modelled on a jam jar and with a beer glass handle. Certainly not what I expected but there was nothing wrong with the gin.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Spring Has Sprung.


Easter may have been early this year but I don't think that Spring has been. It is only in the last couple of weeks that the daffodils and other spring flowers around the garden have been providing what might pass for a floral display. The winter months have been very mild albeit extremely wet. That leads me to the conclusion that length of daylight must be the most important determinative in the flowering of bulbs.

Most of my daffodils, even the minatures in the rockery, are traditional yellow ones. Mr Wordsworth would approve. Come Autumn time I think that I will invest in some white flowered varieties so as to provide some colour contrasts in the early months of 2017.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Club to Hotel.

"Tradesmen's entrance London Street." I wonder how many people recognise this instruction? This was the notice at the portal of the Northern Counties Club in Londonderry. Like many members clubs the Northern Counties is no more. Regrettable but perhaps inevitable. It has now been transformed into a small hotel under the style of, "Bishop's Gate Hotel." The objects of the Club were stated to be, "social, cultural and recreational, with the provision of residential and catering facilities for members."

Ordinary Club Members, all of whom were male, were defined as Country Members if they did not have their principal residence, office or place of business within ten miles of the Club. The advantage of being a Country Member was that you paid a reduced entrance fee and annual subscription. Females were not permitted to be Ordinary Members but instead could apply to become Lady Associate Members. They did not have a share in the property of the Club. The Club also had junior members. These individuals were aged between eighteen and twenty five years of age and they paid one half of the subscription appropriate to the membership they would have been required to apply for after their twenty fifth birthday. Junior Members had no voting rights and of course had no entitlement to a share in the property of the Club. Neither were they permitted to take any part in the management of the Club as indeed was the case with Lady Associate Members. Rule eleven permitted the election of Life Members and Honorary Members from amongst the Ordinary Club Membership.

The Club Rules also contained provision for temporary members in particular persons visiting Londonderry who were members of either Tyrone County Club or the University Club of Dublin. My recollection is that the University Club amalgamated with the St. Stephen's Green Club circa 1980. Reciprocal rights pertained, certainly with St. Stephen's Green.



Friday, 25 March 2016

The Good Old Days

Nostalgia may be the perogative of the elderly. If it is then time is telling me something. That is somewhat disconcerting if not actually frightening. I have to concede however that I indulged in a touch of nostalgia tonight. BBC 4 were showing an eposode of, "The Good Old Days," a programme which itself was a nostalgic trip back to the heyday of the variety show. The audience were dressed up in Victorian and Edwardian garb. For thirty years from 1953 this programme was essential Sunday night viewing. Mein host was the indomitable Leonard Sachs. His verbose and flamboyant introductions of the acts are seared on my memory. Even as a young child this was one of the television programmes that I was allowed to stay up late to watch. I am glad that I have those memories. At the end of every episode the audience gave a hearty rendition of, " Down at the Old Bull and Bush." Strictly themselves! Happy memories. Memories of a more orderly world, a slower world a world that has disappeared. Nostalgia.


Friday, 18 March 2016

Caged Fruit

Up until now I have foregone the benefit of a fruit cage for my soft fruit. There didn't seem to be a great need for one. It is only in the last couple of years that the blackbirds have garnered more fruit than me. I have two short rows of raspberries as well as three gooseberry bushes, three large blackcurrant bushes, a red currant and a blueberry.

I have determined that I will have the benefit of all of the ripening fruit this year. It seems therefore that I must invest in protective measures. I will need a 6m X 5m cage. One of my friends recommended that I should contact a firm by the name of , "Knowle Nets." They provide standard shaped cages with dimensions available in half metre variables. They can also manufacture customised cages. All of the cages are two metres high. Depending upon whether one elects for aluminium or steel fittings and the quality of the netting prices would range from £336 to £518 so not an inconsiderable price. I will have to check on the carriage costs.


Monday, 14 March 2016

The Millennium Egg

Friday saw me collecting my one thousandth egg from the coop. I can't pretend that it looked a great deal different from its nine hundred and ninety nine predecessors. The same elliptical shape, the same brownish eggshell and no doubt when I crack it open I will be met with the same orangey coloured yolk. Still I suppose consistency is what one wants in the matter of egg production. That said it would perhaps be nice, whenever the present octet of chickens have entered their celestial coop to replace them with a small selection of breeds which would give me a variety of egg colouration.

Depending on breed the shells of chicken eggs may be blue or even olive green as well as the more normal white or brown. The principal component of eggshell is calcium carbonate which is naturally white. If there is nothing else going on in the chicken's nether regions you end up with a white shelled egg. With some breeds and indeed most commercial hybrids the hen releases a brown pigment just before the egg laying. The origins of the blue egg seem to emanate from a South American chicken which became infected by a virus which prompted a genetic mutation resulting in an accumulation of a blue pigment. I have read that the crossing of a brown laying breed of chicken with a blue egg laying breed will provide one with progeny which will provide green coloured eggs. I wonder if Chas Darwin realised that when he was writing, "The Origin of the Species."?


Friday, 11 March 2016

A Very British Gin.


I fancied a tipple of gin yesterday as a prepandial. Unfortunately there was a dearth of juniper juice in the butler's pantry. That being the case I was obliged to source my evening snorter at a local off licence.

The usual brands hogged the shelves but my attention was drawn to a rather unusually shaped dark bottle with the name, "Bulldog," highlighted in white letters. The labelling promised me, "an exotic blend of twelve natural botanicals from 8 different countries along with the highest quality British wheat and water." It claimed a creamy and flavoursome taste balanced with natural poppy and dragon. I decided to invest in a bottle of this aspirational nectar. Unfortunately I have to report that I found it rather bland and soapy. Perhaps my jaded taste buds just react better to less subtle flavours.


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Notes on Wm. McCorkell & Co. Ltd. - Part 2

Initially Wm McCorkell & Co Ltd held their Strand Road/Queen's Quay property as assignees of a lease which was to expire in February 1916. By the beginning of the twentieth century it was clear that larger cargoes of grain were needed in order to maintain the profitability of the Company. The Directors were prepared to invest in the machinery and facilities necessary for discharging large steamer cargoes of grain but the shortness of the residual term of their lease made it an uneconomical proposition unless they could acquire the freehold or negotiate a new and suitably lengthy lease. Accordingly on 25th November 1902 the Company wrote to the agent of the freeholder, The Honourable the Irish Society, requesting the grant of a lease in perpetuity, ( Fee Farm Grant). The response of 24th January 1903 was in the negative. The Court of the Society was not prepared to comply with the request. However there must have been further approaches and ultimately on 1st July 1916 the desired Fee Farm Grant was provided. This deed reserved an annual ground rent of £170


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Notes on Wm. McCorkell & Co. Ltd. - Part 1.


Like myself many people with a knowledge of Londonderry will remember the quayside mill and silos of Wm. McCorkell & Co Ltd. I always thought that there was a certain art deco look about the five storey concrete structure.

The company was incorporated on 26th July 1897. The initial directors were James Gallagher of 31 Waring Street, Belfast and William Bennet of 17 Greenbank Drive, Sefton Park, Liverpool. Prior to incorporation the manager of the business was a Mr David Thompson and shortly after the formation of the company this gentleman joined the Board and became Managing Director. For many years he lived in Sorrento on the Culmore Road before moving to Castlerock where his residence went by the name of Knockraven. The first of the McCorkell family to join the Board was Dudley Evelyn Bruce McCorkell who was knighted in 1933.

It appears that the initial issued share capital of the Company comprised 2000 shares of £10 each but by the time the balance sheet for the year ended 30th September 1917 had been prepared this had increased to 4000 shares of £10 and by the following year this had further increased to 6000 shares of £10 each, all fully paid.

Rather interestingly the assets of the Company in 1897 included a figure of £35 representing the value of the business's pigs. I suspect that they were kept so that any sweepings of grain did not go to waste. Immediately prior to incorporation the firm's assets included a quantity of claret in Bond. Clearly a very civilised business.