In Production… Chalybeate

In the next Bald Explorer programme, hopefully aired on the Community Channel in 2014, I am in search of the spring water of a Spa town in Kent. I am referring to Chalybeate of Tunbridge Wells – that’s pronounced ‘kal-eeb-ee-ot’ by the way, meaning iron water. I want to tell how the original orange coloured waters were discovered, by whom and how a fashionable resort arose from nothing at the beginning of the 17th century. Jason Reeve, my son Billy and myself have been stalking around the Kentish weald with camera and tripod, boom pole and microphone getting the facts (as far as they are known) onto digital media. I will be editing the footage and shaping it up into a TV programme fairly soon. There is still much, however, to do.

toad2Today, for example, I was over at an actor friend of mine’s abode shooting a short sequence depicting the eminent physician and Spa enthusiast, Augustus Granville, who wrote an entertaining book The Spas of England, published in 1841.  He wasn’t terribly impressed with the spring water or the resort when he visited at the beginning of the Victorian period, although to be fair to the town of Tunbridge Wells, it was a few years after its most fashionable period, the 18th Century. He bemoaned that few used the cold bath and that there was little mineral quality to the famous water. Nick Scahill, who collects all things Victorian, agreed very kindly to play the part of Granville.

The wells, named after the local medieval town of Tunbridge (now spelt Tonbridge and four miles to the north) are located in an area known as the Pantiles. It has nothing to do with the architectural titles you find on roof tops. These were small square clay fired titles baked in special pans and laid on a walkway in front of the spring head. Unfortunately, they have now gone, but the name lingers on, much to the confusion of visitors and no doubt some residents of the town.


I am hoping to film in the privately owned Pantiles area very soon and obtain an interview a Dipper (a lady in traditional dress who dishes out the water for tourists to taste) and record a conversation with the curator of the Tunbridge Wells museum about the fine Tunbridge Ware that became all the rage in 1700s.

Don’t forget, you can help make the Bald Explorer programmes happen by making a small donation via the special button on the right hand side of the website. The shows are completely self-funded for transmission on the Community Channel which is a not-for-profit TV station. If you do make a contribution, I will make sure you get to see a copy of the finished episode before it is broadcast. Thank you very much.



The Welshpool Lock Open Day

As part of the research for the latest Bald Explorer episode I went to see how a lock was drained and new gates were inserted and other parts repaired. This is part of the winter stoppage programme. Each year, during the cold season when most traffic has died down, parts of the canals are closed off so that restoration and maintenance can be carried out. This is important work and is carried out by experienced workmen from the Canal and River Trust.

I popped along to the Welshpool Lock open day. I wanted to grab some shots for the next video production and learn a little about the Welsh side of the Canal and River Trust and the work they do. I cobbled a little video from some of the rushes to put up on the site so others might also find out a bit about the on going work.

Welshpool is in Powys, Wales and the navigation is the Montgomery Canal. It was great to see so many people interested in the drained lock and having the chance to descend down into the bottom. I was quite surprised to see the incredibly well persevered state of the brickwork. It is over 200 years old and still going strong.

The new Bald Explorer programme about the canals system in England and Wales will be on the Community Channel in January 2013.

Find out more about the Canal and Rivers Trust here: Website

Canal Filming has Begun!

Out filming cutaways for the canal programme.
I always say a script is just a guide, nothing is set in stone. I do believe that it is essential to have a written document, even for a documentary, so that you know what the story is and how it in an ideal world would play out. But things change and as a film maker you do need to be adaptable, especially if you are working on a slim budget.

The first day of shooting a new project is definitely a day to celebrate. It means you have truly started and if you stick to your guns, it should mean you will one day finish and have something to show for all the hard work put in. So this week the camera began to roll. (Digital cameras do not physically ‘roll’ any more, they store their images to a media stick. It is called the tapeless system and makes life so much easier. We don’t use celluloid either, but that doesn’t stop us calling our productions a ‘film’).

My script calls for a number of interviews with various people connected to the canal world and I started with the chairman of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust, Bernie Jones. He very kindly has been helping to organise numerous people, locations and sets ups for the documentary, but most importantly, he is a key speaker in the film with his connection and enthusiasm for the abandoned waterway that is the main focus of my video.

Wappenshall Junction, an important stage along the abandoned canal.

I met Bernie at his house in Withington in Shropshire and followed him by car to a place called Wappenshall Junction. This site now consists of a couple of derelict buildings, a traditional hump back bridge and partly filled in canal bed. It was, as the archive photograph demonstrates, a busy wharf along the original route from the country town of Shropshire to Newport and Norbury where the navigation once joined the rest of the UK’s canal network.

I filmed a few cutaways of the red brick Georgian Buildings that once house the paymasters office, the loading and storage area and stables for the ‘fly’ service. The windows had been smashed by the local scallywags, the doors old and decade and some of the floorboards on the inside dangerously rotted and quite risky to walk on.

After this, I positioned Bernie in front of the iconic canal bridge, set up the camera and miked him for sound. The camera was then set to record. I wanted to know, what were the plans for Wappenshall and what was its significance in the heady days of the canal.

Bernie, along with the other dedicated members of the trust had it all worked out. They had a step by step plan to raise the funding required, detailed plans to restore the waterway and open it up to the public and the boating community. Of course, this is no where near as easy or as simple as I make it sound and I do hope to high light the some of the issues within the film. Alas, I haven’t the space to go into it here, but it is an exciting project.

As Bernie said, a part from the rather hideous and not altogether coherent new town of Telford and a statue of its namesake plonked almost anonymously somewhere within it, there is no where in the locality that people can go to pay homage to the great man of architecture, design and civil engineering. Thomas Telford did so much for Shropshire in late 18th Century. His handy work is all over the county and surrounding area, including the great aqueduct at Llangollen in Wales and the major improvement and surveying of what we refer to as the A5, but in its day was simply known as the London to Holyhead road, the great coaching route famed for its connection to Ireland. Telford also designed one of the buildings at Wappingshall Junction, had a hand in the the oldest surviving iron aqueduct in the world, which just so happens to be along the route of the Shrewsbury Canal and insured the navigation was completed when it linked up to Newport and Norbury Junction. The S&N Canal Trust wants to make Wappenshall Junction a visitors centre, with interpretation boards and a place to find out more about the great man.

The story of the canal is without doubt a fascinating one and I hope I can do it justice as I continue with the filming of the documentary for the next episode of the Bald Explorer.

Podcast: The Petworth Museum

Gordon Stevenson chats to Richard Vobes about the museum.

Mr. Pegram and I visit the Petworth Cottage Museum. Here is what they say about the place: It’s not really a museum. It’s a house that has been restored, redecorated, furnished and equipped as if it were 1910. But it’s not just anybody’s house. Mrs. Mary Cummings was the tenant of 346 High Street from 1901 to 1930. The reconstruction takes account of the living memories of Mary’s time here, her Irish Catholic background and her work as a seamstress at home and at Petworth House. We have always aimed to make the place feel as if Mrs. Cummings has just stepped out. The range is lit, the table is laid for tea, the kettle is boiling.

We thought it was delightful. A real step back in time. Certainly worth a visit if you are ever in the area. The atmosphere, smells and detail is second to none and will make you appreciate all the mod-cons that we take for granted everyday!

Why not check the podcast and have a listen to the visit:

Download as Podcast.