Monday, 25 March 2013


A big thank you everyone who braved the freezing cold weather to attend Diccon Dadey's metal art work event yesterday at the Hungerford Farmers Market outside Hungerford Arcade.  

Here are some photos of the sculptures Diccon brought along.  They truly are wonderful!

Sunday, 24 March 2013


We had another wonderful weekend at Hungerford Arcade!  As I have said many times before, we have so many very interesting customers visiting the Arcade that I can't resist talking to them and taking their pictures.  With their kind permission, of course!   Not all are two legged humans, some, who are just as important, have four legs!

Let me introduce you to Rosie!  Rosie is a fabulous, black Newfoundland with a very shy owner!  Dear Rosie caused heck of a stir when she arrived at the Arcade, larger than life and looking gorgeous.  People couldn't believe their eyes and all the ooooooohs and ahaaaaaaaaas rang out in a blocked corridor as people jostled to  make a fuss of her.  Arcade owner, Adrian Gilmour made a bee-line for her and no-one else got a look-in after that.  It was 'love at first sight!'  When you see the photographs, you will understand why.  Rosie was quite unfazed by it all and just revelled in the attention!  Gorgeous!!!

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Hungerford Arcade customers are just brimming with talent.  Here we have Stuart Miller-Osborne.  Stuart has written a stunning article on what it is like being an avid book collector - and Stuart certainly is!  
I hope you enjoy Stuart's story as much as we did!

Attics and Basements 
 (Confessions of a Book Collector) 

Whether one is in Hungerford or Hull, Southampton or Scunthorpe or Bath or Basingstoke, one thing that is likely to be found is a shop selling books. This shop may be a charity shop selling a variety of paperbacks and the odd older book or an antiquarian bookshop selling very specialised books or it might be an antique shop/arcade, which has a section devoted to books.  

Here in the Berkshire and Wiltshire borderlands, we have quite a few which for a book collectors such as myself act as a magnet. I can never go to the likes of Marlborough without spending a little time looking through the dusty bookshelves of various outlets in the town. To live in Hungerford and work in Henley on Thames is also a bonus as both towns have a number of businesses that include the selling of books. I have to confess I am an addict. 

But what of this condition, which many such as myself suffer from. In its simple form it is no matter where you are a longing to go into a shop that you spot selling second hand books. You know that you are not going to find a James Joyce signed first edition, but to pass a shop selling second hand books and not go is the quickest way to achieve a feeling of cold turkey as you journey away from the shop. 

This addiction is not helped by what I term the lucky find. Recently, whilst in a suburb of London I spied a second hand bookshop as I was being driven home. I persuaded the driver to stop (and agreed to pay the parking charge) and whilst he grabbed a coffee, I looked around the shop. Within seconds I had found a signed Henry Williamson in the Two for Two Pounds section of the shop (although I wondered at the shop owners sense of humour) as well as a rather nice nineteenth century book of hymns. As we drove away towards the motorway, I held my objects of desire thinking that if I had not stopped and bribed Keith with a cup of coffee and a parking receipt then I would have missed these wonderful books. Although rewarding I knew that I had not helped myself, I had succumbed to another fix. 

Over the years of book collecting I have limited myself to antiquarian books, first editions and any signed books, my study will not take any more. However I have lapses and quite frequently buy books outside of my self set criteria. A1950 book of French Grammar was a good example, which I purchased as the bookshop in Paris where it originated from was not far from the bars and cafes that Jean Paul Satre and Albert Camus used to frequent.

Although I am generalising, we currently have a number of very good programmes on television which are antique based and although I have mentioned this before it is a very infrequent occurrence when a book makes it to one of the shows. I can remember a set of Jane Austin firsts and a signed copy of an Edward Fitzgerald but not many others spring to mind. In a way this is the drug of my addiction. You are aware that the rarest books may at your fingertips just awaiting your discovery.

For me it is not the monetary value (it never has been) but the ownership and preservation that appeals. In these days of stress and frustration what is a better antidote that to spend an hour or so looking through a second hand bookshop be in part of an arcade or a premises in its own right. A year or so ago I found a signed copy a Vita Sackville West tucked away in a bookshop. I purchased it for less than a fiver and felt a natural high as I walked towards my hotel in the city. The weather had been foul that day with persistent showers (it must have been summer) but this did not matter my addiction had been satisfied for another day

Some book collectors will pay a small fortune for a desired book but this is not for me. I often see objects of desire (signed DH Lawrence firsts etc) costing hundreds if not thousands of pounds which if a perfect world would be fun to own, but never in my wildest dreams would I pay the asking price because in my view (which may be peculiar) this corrupts the whole idea of my book collecting. The fun (addiction) is to discover the book you have been looking for (a signed Alfred Williams anyone !) tucked away in an obscure bookshop and purchasing it with your spare change. 

Anybody with my nature of addiction will in a very short time soon learn the value of books. Whilst there are many many bargains to be found if you look hard enough you can also pay quite high prices for quite ordinary books. I have noted in some charity shops that if a book is over a hundred years old they quite often price the item at between five and ten pounds, whereas more valuable modern first editions only cost a couple of pounds. Recently I pointed this out to a charity shop worker noting that the Longfellow (a common edition) which had been priced at £9.99 could be picked up for less that £5.00 elsewhere and if you were lucky enough to live in Hungerford for less than a pound. I also brought to the counter a signed Martin Amis first for which they were asking the sum of £2.99 noting that they could get much more for this book. The chap behind the counter whilst thanking me stated that the books were priced by an expert and they did not have much say in it. This peculiarity in pricing was not confined to this charity shop as I have found this inconsistency elsewhere. 

The issue of pricing is not confined to charity shops. I have quite frequently visited specialised second hand book shops and have noted extremes in pricing where certain books which are not all that rare (say a John Fowles, Daniel Martin) have been priced at £45.00 for a first whereas you can usually get a good first edition for less than a fiver elsewhere. A good example was an H E Bates first edition which I purchased in a charming café come bookshop in Devizes for four pounds. When in Henley the following day I saw the self same copy in priced at £65.00. I do not blame the booksellers for this as everyone has to earn a living and if there is a market then go ahead but in these cases an addiction is a bonus as you very quickly become aware of the actual value of books. 

For all collectors (addicts) there is a High Church where you must go as often as you can. Mine is the Charing Cross Road in London which I visit whenever I am in town. I have known it for over forty years and even if I rushing from A to B, I still make time to spend some time browsing and buying. I was actually in London yesterday  and after seeing my daughter and granddaughter onto a train to their home in the Garden of England, I actually found that I had time to kill (a rare commodity). I walked across the Thames towards the South Bank (which I recommend) and progressed in the general direction of Holborn (after crossing the river again). There was a high autumn light and as I walked in the general direction of the Charing Cross Road I began to think how in some ways London was beginning to resemble Paris. There was a thriving café society and for the first time in years the city looked to have been cleaned up. That said, Paris does not have the dreaded Boris Bikes as well as the Rickshaws that further endanger you as you take your life in your hands crossing the road. 

In time I was near my church but before this I had coffee at 84 Charing Cross Road   which was the site of the Marks & Co Bookshop made famous by the book of the same name by Helene Hanff. There is plaque outside of the premises noting this connection but I doubted that many of my fellow diners realised where they actually were. I felt that I could see the ghost of Frank Doel and as I looked towards the Palace Theatre across the road, which was playing Singing in the Rain, I wondered if Frank and his family had seen the original movie made in the 1950s.

The area around number eighty four has changed a lot since the 1950s, but is essentially the same. The sleaze of the 1970s has for the most part disappeared and the Charing Cross Road has in my view returned to the road (apart from the many modern chains) that Frank would have recognised. Sadly there are fewer independent bookshops (or so it seems) but for an addict like me there are more than enough. What I value the most is that if you look in the windows you could see a signed Anias Nin ( I did not ask the price) or some other very expensive book and in a way could be put off by the prices but appearances deceive. The actual shop level floors for the most part carry rather expensive editions. But persevere  for most of these shops have a basement which is usually only accessible by a set of lethal narrow stairs. For addicts this is an added treat (as long as you survive the stairs) 

When you arrive in the basements you are faced by room after room of books on every subject. The shops are like Dr Who’s Tardis. In parts of them you cannot swing a cat and always are only a heavy passing lorry away from being engulfed in a literary avalanche, but this is the charm of these locations. One could quite easily spend many hours in them. It was in the final shop that I visited that I really came to terms with my addiction. I had previously purchased a fine 1818 book of literary criticism and was probably about half an hour into a bargain basement (all books £1.00) and having survived the ladder with wheels (the busybodies at the Health and Safety Executive would need to take very long holiday after using this dated equipment) to find my wife a very high copy of Schillers Werke I retired to a deep recess of the poetry and plays section it was there I found a signed copy of a book of poetry from a  poet I greatly admire, Walter De La Mare.

 I climbed up to pay desk on the shop level to pay for my goods when I spotted a Mary Webb volume of poetry. As I handed a twenty pond note across to pay for my three pound selection of books the bookseller noted that he had had a run on twenty pound notes that afternoon and did I have anything smaller. In change I had only two pounds and I offered to put the Mary Webb back and return after I had found the exact money elsewhere. The bookseller noted that I must have been the first person for over a decade to take an interest in Mary Webb’s poetry and accepted the two coins for the three books adding that is was nice to find a another admirer. 

As I walked towards the maelstrom called Piccadilly Circus tube station I at last felt I had discovered the reason for my addiction. It was the eccentricity of the pursuit. The highs when an object of desire is finally located and the sheer disbelief when you find for instance that somebody had listed amongst the crew of a Spanish ship the names of the captains pet rabbits. Many years ago somebody somewhere for whatever reason had taken pains to preserve this information and a couple of centuries later here I was reading that one of the captains rabbits was called Hector. 

My addiction is not over, I may have identified it after all these years but tomorrow,as with The Flying Dutchman, I will be haunting bookshops seeking out the unusual and my objects of desire. It will never cease.

Stuart Miller-Osborne  


Wednesday, 20 March 2013


A very interesting young man, Peter Martin, came into Hungerford Arcade last week to buy a special present for his beautiful girlfriend, Xin, back in Beijing, China. 

Peter, did indeed, buy a wonderful present for Xin (see photographs  below) and I am sure you will agree with me, that she will love it! 

As you can see from the photographs, Peter had a lovely chat with one of the owners of Hungerford Arcade, Adrian Gilmour and during the course of the conversation, Peter told Adrian about Xin and said that he is a consultant living and working in China.

Thank you Peter for sharing a part of your life with us and we send our very best wishes to you and Xin.

Left is Peter Martin - Right is Adrian Gilmour
Hot work present buying: Peter had to take off his coat & Adrian his jumper!
Antique Solid Silver Toast Rack

Sunday, 17 March 2013



Metal Arts Sculptor, Diccon Dadey will be at Hungerford Arcade on Sunday 24th March demonstrating his forge and bringing along some of his fantastic works of art! You will be amazed! ALSO, Hiungerford Farmers Market will be outside with, "The Owl Man" and his fantasic live Owls - gorgeous! This event is in support of our sponsored charity Walking With the Wounded.  Any donation would be greatly appeciated!

This will be a great family day out so come along and have a good time!


9.30 A.M

Adam Thompson, Unit 50, Hungerford Arcade is holding a Comic Valuation Day. Adam specialises in American comics so bring them along and see what they are worth! Valuations are free but a £1 donation to our sponsored charity, Walking With the Wounded would be greatly appreciated! 


Friday, 15 March 2013


We have many interesting customers visiting Hungerford Arcade, and I am very happy to say, Jerry Harwood is one of them!

 Jerry has written a wonderful article on the humble Bellows together with photographs, and interestingly, he has penned a wonderful section on repairing them. I will never look at bellows in the same light again!  Please enjoy reading it - it is quite fascinating!

The Humble bellows

Over the years, I suppose I must have rebuilt, repaired, and otherwise recycled well over 200 pairs of bellows, from early Victorian to later 19th & 20th century versions, some well past their individual sell by dates, to virtually mint versions which really only need minor refurbishment and a coat of beeswax polish.

What started out as a very needed, home built fire starter, consisting of at best two pieces of wood, roughly shaped in the form of a rounded oblong with a rectangular handle at one end, and a shaped , rounded funnel at the other, joined by a brass tube, some plain, some ornate, the two pieces attached to each other by a pair of shaped leather sheets, making the whole contraption an article for basically puffing wind into the heart of a recalcitrant fire, in order for it to ignite, and saving the peasant family from freezing, to the later highly decorated,  but still functional device so beloved by the Victorian & Edwardian family, as an adjunct to their fireplaces.

Many of these functional implements were an art form in themselves; Some were created from two pieces of beautifully grained oak, approximately ½ to 1” in thickness; one piece had a circular hole cut into it to allow air to be drawn in, via a very crude valve, formed by a piece of leather which fitted over the hole, and weighted by a piece of wood glued or tacked to the leather.
Next was a pair of “springs” formed from two pieces of willow, approximately 18” in length, and 1/8th in diameter. These were carefully shaped into an open bell shape, and the ends tacked or secured by leather strips adjacent to the end where the funnel was situated.
By superimposing one willow wand above the other, a form of spring was created, so that by carefully shaping and tucking of the leather pieces which when carefully secured to each piece of shaped wood, created a variable bag, which when pumped created a fairly forceful blast of air from the end. Some of the early bellows made do with a piece of rolled, hammered tin with a nozzle, which was inserted into the end of the two pieces of oak, so that the nozzle could be inserted into the embers without burning. 

The true artistry came about when brass was moulded and shaped to create an artistic, bright nozzle, which still functional, could be polished and shaped to the owners desires- this was further implement by clever carving of the top, or “show” piece of wood, often finely engraved with scroll work, faces, flowers and animals;
Some of the Victorian pieces were also very finely painted, depicting scenes of flowers, horses, anything which could be adapted to the basic shape of the bellows.

Add to this the methods of securing the leather “bags” on top and bottom of the twin pieces of wood, and you have a finely decorated functional yet decorative implement, with brass or metal studs, or pins as required.


Firstly, the actual repair isn’t at all difficult; bellows are one of the most simple mechanical instruments you can think of.
But, what is difficult is finding the bits to repair your bellows to their original art form.
Many pairs I have resurrected have had metal springs inserted rather than willow, purely because people can’t be bothered to find and prepare the correct willow twigs. And yes it can be a pain to go down to a river, and spend an hour or more hunting for some correctly sized willow twigs; then to strip them carefully, cut to the right length, then soak them in a bucket of water for 8 hours before carefully bending them to the right shape, and binding the ends, and leaving them to dry, to attain the final shape of the spring.
Once these stages have attained, you then fit them to the lower piece of wood, over the air valve.

Having done this, you make sure that the exit for the air way is clear, and not clogged with carbon and debris from the years of being thrust into the burning embers. This usually entails a bit of careful glueing and nailing; the reason is twofold; the top operating piece of wood rests on a lip created for this purpose on the bottom piece, which also acts as the airway and mount for the brass or metal nozzle. This has to be fairly robust as it takes a lot of mechanical force during its lifetime, and would soon fail if it were not substantial.

The second difficult area, although not insurmountable, is obtaining the right type of leather for the bellows. The days of getting large pieces of scrap leather from chair manufacturers, car dealers, and upholsterers has long gone. Now I find my materials in charity shops ! Leather jackets, especially those from Italy are the best, but you really have to hunt for the best quality; goatskin is certainly the strongest, and most easily workable, and does not tear.

I have left the most difficult bit to the last; yes the pins; oh those damn, unobtainable pins !  If you are very, very careful, you might, just might salvage those exquisite conical brass pins from your old bellows, but don’t count on it- almost invariably they will be corroded, bent, and very misshapen by the time you have weaselled them out from years of being in heated, very hard oak.

Bearing in mind that there are probably 150 or more of these pins in any pair of bellows, and you can see the problem. The more ornate, the bigger the problem; you can, and I have, spent hours and hours trying to source upholstery pins in all the usual places. There are very few manufacturers who take the trouble to make these pins now; most just get a brass disc, and punch a steel pin through the top, with a dab of braze. Hit it once and it pushes straight through- totally and utterly useless.

Once you have a source of supply of all the little pieces, you can start your rebuild !  In actual fact, if I have everything I need, I can do the job in a day- from totally worn out, to a fully functioning smart pair of bellows, fit for display or work.

The whole secret is system; although bellows may vary in design, they all function the same basic way, even down to the commercial type. Al you have to do is to take one step at a time- clean and prepare the wood, repair any cracks etc, repair  the nozzle, glue the
Nozzle mount, refit the nozzle; then clamp the lower piece of wood FIRST. Measure the amount of leather required for the actual bellows; it will usually be no more than a strip 6-7 inches wide, but at least 18” long. Tack one end to a point adjacent to the bellows nozzle, and gently run the leather around the circumference to the other side. Then gently glue around the circumference without stretching the leather- this is most important. Once it is dry, tack the leather in three or at the most 4 places around the circumference. Now you have the lower half in place, and you are ready to insert the top piece of wood- the operating half !

This is just the same as before; the only difference is making sure that the leather is fed in between the springs on each side- an  inch or so is enough, just so that the spring functions as it should.
This sounds more complicated than it is, so don’t despair !
Once you have the leather in place and glued, now you are at the final stage; mount the lower part of the bellows in the vice, and gently put in your pins; the best way is to space them about ¼ “ apart, all round the lower circumference. The do the same to the other half, until you have your bellows complete. Test for functionality, and then trim any leather spare, until it is flush with the woodwork. If you feel you can put in some decorative pins without splitting the top surface, you can; but be careful !
Polish the whole, and admire !

The attached photo of a pair of bellows in a rough state, shows how the leather is badly worn adjacent to the springs, and the engraving on the top bellows plate- carved oak.

Jerry Harwood.


Thursday, 7 March 2013


Tune in, if you can! 


You may remember that Tony Bartlett was the photographer who took the wonderful photos of Bargain Hunt when they were filming here at Hungerford Arcade.

I hope you all enjoy this wonderful article on Railways and follow the links for some amazing photographs.

Railways – History, Memorabilia and Nostalgia

Railway’s place in the development of transport

Railways have been part of the transport scene in the UK for two centuries, and indeed their origins go back much further than this - to early attempts to improve the efficiency of mining operations with the use of wheeled wagons running over specially prepared grooved plateways.
It took two developments to turn these early efforts into something more like the railway system we recognise today:
  1. the recognition of the low rolling resistance of a metal-faced flanged wheel on a raised continuous metal rail, and the ability to produce these iron components economically in sufficient quantities to the required strength and durability
  2. the development by Richard Trevithick, an inventor from the Cornish mining tradition, of a steam engine small and efficient enough to be mounted on to a vehicle and used as a source of ‘locomotion’.
It has been well-documented how the conditions for such progress to be achieved existed uniquely in the UK during the period of the ‘industrial revolution’ and it can be argued that the development of an efficient and effective railway network turned this country into the industrial powerhouse it became during the Victorian era.
The pre-eminent position of railways continued into the 20th century until it was increasingly threatened by the greater flexibility of road transport, both at the personal level and for business purposes. However a ‘pendulum swing’ is taking us in the 21st century to a view that railways represent a more sustainable solution to many of the UK’s transport needs, and investment decisions are correspondingly starting to reflect this view.

Overview historical development

The early driver for railway development may well have been the need to transport raw materials between mines and the industrial customers of their products, but the use of boats around the coast and latterly on canals had demonstrated the economy and flexibility to be gained from ‘shipping’ bulk quantities over greater distances than were possible across country, by such roads as then existed. So it was not long before the visionaries foresaw the possibility of a network of railways linking the producers of raw materials with their customers wherever they may be conveniently located, and ultimately with the consumers of the processed goods.
A more dangerous, even subversive, notion which some had was that under the right conditions it would be possible to transport people on this network of rails! It was one thing for railways to change the basis of our industrial capability, but passenger transport was a step too far for some, with the potential social consequences of the free movement of people throughout the country. Such opinions informed some of the early decisions on railway construction, but as the momentum and appetite for new schemes built up all but the most determined resistance was swept aside.
As soon as the railway was released from the immediate confines of the mine, quarry or other facility which it served, it became an entity in its own right with the resulting birth of the railway company. Early examples were still locally promoted and based – the Stockton & Darlington and the Liverpool & Manchester (the first passenger carrying railway for public use) being well-known cases. But it was clear that this approach would not provide a truly national network. In the spirit of the age, it was business leaders who banded together to promote ‘trunk’ schemes e.g. the London & Birmingham Railway, and the Great Western Railway (GWR). Government involvement was limited to oversight, by the need for an Act of Parliament to be passed before any railway could be built.
Throughout the Victorian era the railway network grew incrementally as a combined result of local, regional and national initiatives. New railway companies were formed, with many willing investors hoping to find rich dividends, all of this in the highly competitive environment of private enterprise. The resulting railway network ‘grew like Topsy’, reaching its largest route mileage in the early years of the 20th century.
Small companies serving local communities were generally not commercially viable and tended to be swallowed up by the larger companies they connected with, which themselves had an interest in the traffic and business derived from these smaller concerns. Consolidation within the ranks of these private companies was finally brought to an end by an Act of Parliament of 1921 by which most of the remaining railway companies were formed into four regional groups, which continued to operate as four separate private companies, still able to compete with each other due to overlaps in the by now sprawling railway network.
The ‘big four’ system of railway companies continued to operate successfully for over 20 years but was finally brought to an end after the railway system itself had been worn out, over-used and under-invested of necessity during the Second World war. Nationalisation by the Labour government in 1948 heralded the retrenchment of British Railways (BR) into a business which reflected the realities of a world which was very different from the one in which the railway system was built up and flourished.
In particular, two aspects of the business were subject to close scrutiny and rationalisation:
  1. the route network itself which was evaluated by accounting methods to determine which lines no longer were economically viable to operate. The Beeching report consigned many routes and services to railway history, resulting in many closures which in the light of later developments have been much regretted, and in notable cases have been reversed, either in the public interest or as a result of railway enthusiast action.
  2. the decision to look for alternative sources of motive power and to discontinue the use of steam haulage. The railway industry itself had been very active in considering ways to exploit technology as scientific advances were made – the internal combustion engine was developed to the level where it could power a railway locomotive early in the 20th century, and electric propulsion from an external source had similarly been proved to be viable. Unfortunately our pioneering spirit of the 19th century had been ceded to the new industrial powers, and when BR did eventually resolve to modernise its motive power, the process was rushed, wasteful, and irrational. Nevertheless, the last steam-hauled train ran on British Railways in August 1968 – signalling the start of a period of dependence on diesel fuel while major electrification projects sought to deliver the full potential of a modern rail system.
It should be noted that during the period of railway success in the UK during the 19th century, the Government took a ‘light touch’ to regulation, trusting private enterprise to deliver the rail system which would bring economic prosperity to the country. Through the 20th century increasing Government involvement has coincided with the decline of what was once a treasured national asset. So the upheaval of nationalisation in 1948 was duly followed by privatisation in the early 1990s - to a formula unique to this country.
Historically speaking our railway companies have been ‘vertically-integrated’ i.e. they own, operate and are responsible for all aspects of the railway lines on which they offer a service. This responsibility covers all infrastructure – land, track, earthworks, bridges, buildings, track, signalling – rolling stock, maintenance, staff , schedules, commercial matters, etc. It is a subject of debate as to whether the current complex ‘horizontally-oriented’ model with separate companies each with their own individual specialties e.g. passenger franchises, freight operators, railway infrastructure, rolling stock, maintenance, new construction, etc. is the optimum for the business overall.

Ephemera and artefacts

It was clear to many from the outset that railways were going to have a significant impact on the life and times of the people living during the railway age. As such the railway scene was regarded as an aspect of life which was worth observing and recording, in whatever means were available at the time. Much was written about the railways in official documents and by authors of fiction, and railway scenes were captured by artists, perhaps most famously by JMW Turner in his ‘Rain, Steam, Speed’, showing a GWR broad-gauge express crossing the Brunel bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead. When photography became a practical prospect, railways were one of the first subjects to be captured, and later on the Lumiere brothers’ first movie film was of a train arriving at their local station on the Côte D’Azure.
However the history of our railways can equally be seen through the many artefacts which are produced through the very existence and operation of the railway companies themselves. These range from the smallest items of ephemera like tickets, timetables, share certificates and other publications, through day-to-day items like cutlery, crockery, badges, insignia – to more substantial pieces of railway equipment like furniture, goods items, signalling equipment, locomotives, carriages and wagons, - and finally to fixed items of infrastructure – the civil engineers’ province of bridges, tunnels, track beds and alignments, station buildings, goods sheds, etc.
With the passage of time and the continual process of technological development, let alone the constant ‘churn’ in the operation of the railway business, a large proportion of these artefacts will have been lost forever. Redundant infrastructure tends to leave evidence of its history for many years after it goes out of use – e.g. a walk along the towpath from Crofton to Wolfhall gives an introduction to the competition between the GWR and the Midland&SW Junction Railway. Otherwise, the activities of enthusiasts and collectors have managed to save many examples of the less permanent artefacts for the benefit of future generations.

Museum displays and trading

Publicly-owned collections of railway artefacts can be viewed at many museums throughout the country, notably at the National Railway Museum at York and its various outstations. Here you can see many items brought together to demonstrate the historical development of railways. For many though it is not enough to be able to see and study these items as displayed – their interest and enthusiasm spills over into the collecting habit.
Many different types of railway items have become popular as targets for private individuals as they build up collections of memorabilia of railway subjects of special interest to them. Such material, just like any other form of antique, is traded by specialist dealers who are knowledgeable about railway history and appreciate the rarity of and demand for particular items.
To take an example, one of the most obvious items of interest in the railway scene is the locomotive. Over the nearly 200 years of railways many types of locomotive have come and gone as new designs incorporate technological advances to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs. Traditionally life-expired and redundant locomotives were ‘scrapped’ by specialist recyclers for the value of their mostly metallic content, without thought for conservation e.g. there is no extant example of an original GWR broad gauge locomotive. Even so it was not unusual for small detachable items to be saved – particularly the makers plate and the locomotive number plate(s). Many of these have survived to be traded avidly and expensively by modern enthusiasts, and you could expect to pay a 5-figure sum for an original name plate of a popular class of locomotive.

Large scale exhibits and museum railways

The size and residual value of the larger pieces of railway equipment makes them impracticable for most private individuals to collect, but at various times enthusiast groups have come together to preserve large scale items like locomotives, carriages, signal boxes, etc. However railway preservation really came more to the public attention when it became feasible to preserve entire railway lines.
The history of the railway preservation movement arising from the wholesale line closures in the 1950s and 1960s is a separate topic in its own right – suffice it to say that there are now numerous railway lines throughout the country which have been brought back into use in the form that they were many years before they closed, with steam and ‘heritage’ diesel haulage, slam-door carriages of the steam era, traditional station buildings, footbridges, signal boxes and semaphore signalling, operated under special rules for preserved railways by largely volunteer staff.
Such railways can be viewed as working museums, providing a real-life environment for the preservation of railway artefacts of all types and sizes, whilst at the same time giving a realistic depiction of railway working in past times - for the education of the young and as a nostalgic reminder for the older generations.

Working steam on modern railways

When steam haulage was finally abandoned in 1968, British Railways was very keen to prevent any private individuals or organisations tarnishing their ‘modernised’ image by operating steam trains on their network. This ban was opposed by many who saw steam haulage as an important part of our railway heritage and others who identified commercial opportunities for ongoing steam operation.
This prohibition was never likely to hold fast for very long given the pressure exerted from many directions. In the early 1970s Bulmers, the cider makers, were given permission to operate a steam-hauled exhibition train, and this was followed by a number of ‘return to steam’ passenger specials on branch lines away from the glare of publicity on the mainline routes.
Eventually the right to operate any train on the national network, subject to technical approval and payment of track access charges, was built into the privatisation of railways in the 1990s. The current situation is that there are many steam-hauled excursion and tour trains operating on the main lines of the national network. Locomotives used are mostly the largest express engines, expensively maintained to the highest standards for mainline running, and driven professionally by a new generation of drivers trained in the skills required to operate these idiosyncratic machines.

Hungerford context

The railway to Hungerford was built in a number of stages, initially as a branch line from Reading as part of a scheme for a Berks & Hants Railway. The Hants part was never built but the line is still known as the Berks& Hants route even though the closest it gets to Hants is 2.4 km at Thatcham.
150 years ago last year, the line was extended west to near Devizes, and at the end of the 19th century it was incorporated into the new GWR direct line to the South West via Taunton. Until then, true to its soubriquet the ‘Great Way Round’, the route was via the GWR main line to Bristol.
The B&H line continues to be important in modern times, with HST expresses to Devon and Cornwall, and heavy eastbound flows of aggregates from the Mendip quarries in Somerset. The B&H was taken into the GWR early in its life and remained GWR through to nationalisation – the GWR itself surviving the 1923 grouping substantially unchanged. The passenger service is currently provided by First Great Western (no relation).
There are a number of railways in the immediate vicinity which were closed after nationalisation. The Lambourn Valley branch from Newbury is nearest at hand – Newbury also had a north-south option with the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. Marlborough had both a GWR branch line from Savernake and was also on the parallel and competing through route from Cheltenham to Andover but both of these have gone, as has the original branch line to Devizes. In all these cases there are still earthworks which act as a reminder of the railways, but almost certainly there are no remaining artefacts which can be salvaged legitimately for further use from the mostly private land over which they now cross.
More tangible reminders of steam days on these routes can be gained from the Didcot Railway Centre, which also has a small operating line on ‘steaming days’, and the Steam museum located in the old railway works at Swindon, at one time the main factory for locomotive and rolling stock construction for the GWR and one of the largest engineering works in the world.
Further reminders of steam days are afforded by a number of preserved railways in the area, and on special days we are fortunate enough to be able to view some of the steam trains still operating on the national network. More information on these subjects, and picture galleries of the trains involved, can be found in my articles for the Hungerford Chain Mail - available on the Internet at from Issue 117 onwards.

Monday, 4 March 2013


Diccon Dadey is a self-taught artist working with sheet steel to produce sculptures, ornaments and functional items for interior and garden display.  His work sometimes incorporates recycled materials such as wood, glass and metal itself. Diccon's  range of sculptures is diverse from animals to abstract ornaments but usually replicates real life from birds to fish, sheep, horses etc. Much of his work is commissioned.  Diccon says there is very little that can't be made with metal and a bit of imagination.

Below is a picture of the stunning Three Flying Swans sculpture that Diccon has just designed and made as a commission for a new housing development just outside Oxford – Cholsey.

Also below is a picture of an Owl which Diccon has borrowed from a stallholder at Hungerford Arcade so that  he can do a sculpture from it.

Diccon's hot forge day at Hungerford Arcade is on the 24th March. The people love watching him make things and he even lets them have a go at making something!  It is amazing to watch.  Just like in the old days of the "smithy"!.


Friday, 1 March 2013


A very rare and unusual event took place at Hungerford Arcade courtesy of  Barclays Bank!  The Bank have a scheme called 'Back to Business' which involves their bank's business managers arranging to go to a business for a day or half a day, rolling up their sleeves and getting involved at 'grass roots' level in the day-to-day running of that business.  This gives them an insight into how a business is run, what problems they face, how they are resolved and also what makes a business successful. It is hoped that this hands-on approach to business banking will give the bank a better understanding of businesses and how best to meet their needs!

We were very pleased to welcome Barclays Bank Business Manager,  Phil Hobbs, into the fold as a member of staff and threw him in at the deep end, behind the counter!  After a short briefing, he settled in immediately, was very relaxed and jovial and got on well with everyone.  He built up a wonderful rapport with the customers in no time which they thoroughly enjoyed.  Phil chatted with them about the items they were purchasing and some, being real characters, were quite bemused at being served by Phil, a bank manager!  

Unfortunately, the one thing Phil wasn't asked to do and that was to be the "tea boy"!  So, his tea making skills have to be..... "no comment"!

Phil took it all in his stride.  He understood and managed the computerised till system which would normally need extensive staff training and did exceptionally well. His 'people' skills are first rate! 

Phil was totally unflappable and the customers loved him.  It was a pleasure working with Phil and he has an open invitation to return whenever Barclays can spare him!
Left: me (Rita), Phil & Liz Browne
Left: me (Rita), Phil & Liz Browne