Friday, February 21, 2014

Conflict, quarries and coal

Meg and I walked up onto the ridge of Hartshill on this bright morning.SAM_8352
Below on the plain stretching off to the north-east one of the defining events of the Roman Occupation took place, according to local belief.

The Romans had arrived in force in AD 43, although Julius Caesar had been here nearly 100 years before, during campaigns in Gaul. Rather than conquest by the sword (although they didn’t mess about when they had to…) the policy was that of treaty with the local kings and tribal leaders. If they didn’t give trouble they were left alone, so long as certain conditions were met.

One such was King Presutagus of the Iceni, who ruled in what is now Norfolk. His agreement with the Governor was that on his death half his kingdom would revert to Rome. When the old guy finally shuffled off his mortal coil in around AD59, he left his wife Boudica and daughters, in principal, with still a sizeable territory. But the wily Romans decided they could do better, and ignored the agreement, annexing the whole kingdom. The wife was flogged, the daughters raped as a final humiliation.

Following this outrage Boudica raised a sizeable force of Briton tribes, chiefly her own Iceni with support from the Trinovantes. With the Roman Governor, Suetonius, off quelling the Welsh in Anglesey, she marched her army on Colchester, destroying the town and killing all who remained. She then turned her attention on Londinium, a wholly Roman commercial settlement at that time on the banks of the Thames. This was also sacked and burned and the 9th Spanish Legion almost destroyed when they tried to stop Boudica’s forces, now numbering anything from 100,000 to 230,000 strong according to various sources.
Suetonius considered meeting her before she got to the town, but decided he didn’t have the strength to prevail, so sacrificed the settlement. Instead he headed into Mercia, now the West Midlands, gathering troops as he went. Boudica meanwhile vented her anger on St. Albans before heading north to meet the Roman forces.

Statue of Boudica and her daughters by Thomas Thorneycroft, next to Westminster Bridge
Boudica and daughters
Although heavily outnumbered, Suetonius chose terrain which suited Roman military tactics. The undisciplined horde of poorly-armed Britons threw themselves against the Roman formations but couldn’t break them. Instead they were steadily and systematically wiped out as the Legionaries advanced. The battle turned into a rout.
Contemporary sources (Roman, of course) claim 80,000 Britons killed, for the loss of only 400 Roman soldiers.

Boudica escaped the slaughter, but sickened and died soon after, probably from self-inflicted poisoning.

The Battle of Watling Street put an end to major revolt against the invaders, and a sometimes uneasy “Pax Romana” prevailed across Britannia for the next 360-odd years until the occupation forces and officials were withdrawn and the country left to it’s own devices.

There are several other contenders for the actual site of the battle, as the chroniclers of the time didn’t make it’s location clear. The only common feature is that it occurred near Watling Street, the Roman Road stretching from Dover to Wroxeter in Shropshire, then south into Herefordshire through the Welsh Marches. Here the road, now the modern A5, runs just a mile from the ridge.

Yesterday was a mixture of sunshine and blustery showers. Not too bad, but I’m glad we stayed put.

Hartshill Yard from across the canalPanorama

I’d walked past Bridge Cottage a couple of times, wondering about the reason for the rounded corner.

Bridge Cottage
It dawned on me this morning. The bridge crossing the canal on the right would have been carrying the lane up to Hartshill village until the construction of the new road and bridge 100 yards away. Access to the maintenance yard would have had to have been alongside the cottage, hence the rounded corner to make it easier to turn in. The cottage is on the extreme left of the panorama above, the new bridge on the right. It must make for interesting decorating….

We were away at about 11:00, by the time Mags had finished messaging her friends on Facebook. She’s really getting to grips with the iPad now.

Our mooring for yesterday, “Mount Jud” rising behind the trees.SAM_8357

Although it looks fairly bucolic along the canal, the wooded banks hide a busy industrial past.


Old quarries abound in this area, extracting the granite which is excellent for road building. Abandoned wharves hint at what lies behind the trees…

A wooded corner hides the extensive Judkins Quarry, up till recently still producing high grade stone. It’s now being used as a waste tip.SAM_8363
Mount Judd, visible from near our last mooring, is a huge heap of quarry waste.

The canal passes through Nuneaton, know throughout the boating community for the amount of rubbish encountered in the canal. But today I take my hat off to the town, apart from a small raft of plastic bottles on the outskirts, there were none of the usual discarded items of furniture, TVs and computer monitors.
Actually, thinking about the last two, I bet there aren’t many CRT TVs and monitors left to throw out. LED/LCD ones probably sink…

Boot Wharf is a long established boatyard in the middle of the town, now home to Starline Boats.SAM_8370
It’s pleasant to see a boatyard fuel wharf you can actually get onto in the winter!

Signs of the expired coal industry now start to appear as the canal leaves Nuneaton.

The Griff Arm serviced the Griff Colliery, running nearly a mile to a loading basin.SAM_8373
The Warwickshire Coalfield is oval in shape, north to south from Tamworth to below Coventry, west to east from almost Solihull to Nuneaton. The Coventry Canal was built to carry the production of nearly twenty collieries working the measures.
Daw Mill, to the west of Nuneaton, was the highest producing pit in the country in 2008, knocking out 3¼ million tons of coal that year. A destructive fire in 2013 forced the closure of the mine, 650 people losing their jobs. It was the last surviving coal mine in the West Midlands.
More info here

The Ashby Canal branches off to the left, east, at Marston Junction, just on the outskirts of Bedworth.

Marston Junction.SAM_8379
It got a little fraught here for a moment. The boat on the right, just coming out of the bridge, wanted to go under the junction bridge and onto the Ashby. But as we passed the bridge I spotted a boat heading off the Ashby into the narrows which once held a stop-lock. So I advised the oncoming boat to hold off till the junction was clear. Unfortunately another boat was following the one on the right, and he had to stop short of the bridge to let us through and to wait for the boat in front to get out of the way. You had to be there….
Not seen so many boats moving at one time for ages!

You don’t see much of Bedworth from the canal, a high bank on the right hides the view.

It’s good to see that some things don’t change much, Charity Dock is still more of a junkyard than a boatyard.

Charity Dock
I bet there’s some treasures lurking amongst that lot. Industrial archaeologists will be queuing up when it’s finally closed and cleared.

The Navigation, a large pub alongside Bulkington Bridge, was boarded up when we last came this way. It’s got a new lease of life now as a des-res.

Was The Navigation, now someone’s attractive home

There’s another colliery arm on the right this one going to the Newdigate Pit

Newdigate Colliery Arm

This arm was only short, connecting to a rail spur which ran from the colliery about 1½ miles away.

One of these days we’ll moor near here and I’ll walk the footpath which follows the arm and railway.

From here it’s about a mile to Hawkesbury Junction, where we stopped. I was glad to; the day started sunny but breezy, later the sun had disappeared behind grey clouds and the wind picked up bringing a touch of rain, making it feel quite cold. I think it’s the coldest I’ve been this winter so far!

We’ll stay here for the weekend now.

Locks 0, miles 8½

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