Sunday, 28 November 2010

Chilling out... a winter warmer

That one is from a book of vintage patterns on Amazon; for free pet warmer jacket patterns:

Temperatures are plummeting and there's a foot of snow outside. We could be in for another long, hard winter.

How did we manage in the past, without, for most people, central heating?  I recall it well. We were bloody cold at times and we had frost patterns inside the windows, since you ask. We wore warm clothes (oh the joys of a Liberty bodice...) and huddled round the fire. We ate warming soups and stews with seasonal veg and bulked them out with barley, followed by jam roly poly or spotted dick  with custard.


I'm not suggesting a total return to days of austerity, unless we must,  but if we want to be 'eco-aware', save on energy costs and keep warm then we could look at the past to help inform the present.

We could eat more local and seasonal produce. Yesterday I made the veg crumble from here:

eaten with home grown baked spud and buttery cabbage. It was delicious.

For those of us with older properties*, we can cut out draughts and take simple steps to conserve heat without spending a great deal of cash and ripping out historic windows (not really very 'green' in a wider view) and their beautiful wobbly old glass, which gives so much life to properties which modern flat glass cannot.

I have written in past blogs about this, here's one with further useful links to research and advice

Edinburgh World Heritage (which is doing outstanding work in research and dissemination of information re upgrading period buildings to make them eco-friendly and energy efficient without spoiling their historic interest and fabric) recently took thermal images of windows with curtains and shutters closed and found that highly effective:

Here's the BBC report, with video:

At least one company which purveys replacement windows has been trying to suggest that fitting its products is far more eco-friendly and saving of energy than the straightforward advice of EWH; please remember that double glazing salespeople are there to make money not save your bank balance and the planet, don't really see much beyond the next few years, certainly aren't interested in the long-term future of their products, and that in listed buildings, ripping out historic windows without consent is unlawful (and hopefully also such consent would not be granted).

Here's English Heritage on why you should save your historic windows (although warning: Simon Thurley talking alert in the video, it is worth watching!):

Windows are a precious part of our built heritage that makes the places we work and live special. Most people find them attractive.

But keeping them is not just a matter of taste. It also makes economic and ecological sense. Original timber windows were made of very high quality wood seldom found nowadays. It is a waste to replace them unnecessarily. Plastic windows consume a lot of energy in their production and most are only expected to last for around 20 years. When broken, most go to land-fills.

Besides, sash windows are a unique feature of your property. It gives it character and special appeal. 82% of estate agents we surveyed this year felt that original features such as sash windows tend to add financial value to properties and 78% believed they helped a property to sell more quickly.

The common objection to original sash windows is that they are not energy efficient and there are very limited ways of upgrading them. Now, for the first time an important piece of research has been commissioned by English Heritage at Glasgow Caledonian University that is going to show people just how easy and effective it is to bring a sash window up to modern standards. Download the research report to find out more.

DIY draughtproofing is available from numerous  places (do a google!)

Small selection

(Guide also available to buy via that site, as well as components)

and here's an online  DIY guide

Even the Guardian has a simple repair guide

One specialist firm which can do the draughtproofing job for you and repair even the most knackered windows (those who moan about draughty, rattly sash windows really should do something about that, it's not how they are meant to be) is currently featuring on TV:

It made environmental, aesthetic and financial sense to use Ventrolla to restore all 147 sash windows we had at Rise Hall that were on the brink of collapse.

They then fitted them with their two patented systems - first Ventrolla Perimeter Sealing System which draught proofs the windows, preventing heat from escaping and therefore making them energy efficient.

Secondly with their Sash Removal System (SRS), which allows the window to be easily removed from inside so future repainting and repairs will now be quick, easy and most importantly cheaper, as no scaffolding will be needed.

Ventrolla were not only a pleasure to deal with and by transforming the windows they have also transformed the façade of Rise Hall.

Graham Swift and Sarah Beeny

My own home's historic sash windows are currently 'draughtproofed' by pushing loo roll in the gaps. Works fine. 

For those interested, there's also the possibility of secondary glazing, which can be very simple or more sophisticated:

although for historic windows consent will be required for anything which alters the existing windows. Also of course costs can add up, and payback time should be factored in.

Edinburgh World Heritage has also produced two online guides to basic energy saving measures which are worth reading

Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings

Relatively simple measures can make historic buildings as energy efficient as most modern constructions,  for example draft proofing windows or reinstating wooden shutters. This project aims to reduce carbon emissions over the 16 month period and continue to generate savings on an ongoing basis, with a significant reduction in the overall carbon footprint of the city.

Those links also give links to advice on how to make simple draught excluders.

(comments worth reading)

Well, when it's freezing outside a few homecrafts will help make the long dark nights indoors pass by rapidly. What else would you be doing?

For those with a wider interest in both homecrafts and vintage fashion, as well as keeping warm and how it used to be, the V & A has a smashing free online selection of 1940s knitting patterns.

From fetchingly attractive warm hats to wool undies via stockings and bedsocks with pompoms ('make a very acceptable present')  all your Christmas gifts dilemmas solved?

'The balaclava helmet', from Essentials for the Forces, 1940s. Jaeger Handknit. With ear flaps to enable good hearing during telephone operations (or for use with a mobile phone).


*Of course this blog is the most basic of guides. For further reading on how to deal appropriately with period buildings here's an excellent start:

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ode to ... Hebden Bridge? Academy of Urbanism Awards 2011  Copyright Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under  Creative Commons Licence.

Rochdale Canal Hebden Bridge: Seen here in the centre of Hebden Bridge the Rochdale Canal winds through the town on its 32 mile journey from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge.

Built by immigrant navvies between 1799 and 1804, the canal needed ninety-two locks to lift it 600ft above sea level
Decades of dereliction and neglect ended in 2003 when the Rochdale re-opened - fully restored and reconnected to the national network at Sowerby Bridge where the deepest canal basin in the country marks its merging with with Calder and Hebble Navigation.Link

Many abandoned canal buildings around Hebden Bridge have been converted into luxury waterside apartments, small businesses and workshops, and the whole atmosphere of the canal bank has been enhanced by refurbished parks, marinas and gardens.

Hebden Bridge has featured here before in this very blog, proposals for a controversial development not wanted by local folk

and turned down following a public inquiry, link in this post

Anyhow, brief blog today to say that the Academy of Urbanism (see previous blogpost on trams, featuring AoU luminary and Twitterer @williemiller of Willie Miller Urban Design )

has announced the winners of its annual awards scheme, and along with that is a new poem by  resident poet Ian McMillan. So, never one to let a chance for a poetry link to pass this blog by, here is more about Hebden Bridge from the Academy of Urbanism (and again text by Willie Miller). Best read from the link as many good photographs illustrate the text

Hebden Bridge has a population of around 4,500 and is the smallest of the candidates in this category. Situated within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, it forms part of the Upper Calder Valley and lies eight miles west of Halifax and 14 miles north east of Rochdale,at the confluence of the River Calder and the River Hebden (Hebden Water). A 2004 profile of the Calder Valley ward, covering Hebden Bridge, Old Town, and part of Todmorden, estimated the wider population at 11,549.

The original settlement was the hilltop village of Heptonstall. Hebden Bridge started as a settlement where the Halifax to Burnley hilltop packhorse route dropped down into the valley. The route crossed the River Hebden at the spot where the old bridge (from where Hebden Bridge gets its name) stands

The steep wet hills and access to major wool markets meant that Hebden Bridge was ideal for water powered weaving mills and the town developed during the 19th and 20th centuries; at one time Hebden was so well-known for its clothing manufacture that it was known as 'Trouser Town'. Drainage of the marshland which covered much of the Upper Calder Valley prior to the Industrial Revolution enabled construction of the road which runs through the valley. Prior to this, travel was only possible via the ancient packhorse route which ran along the hilltop, dropping into the valleys wherever necessary, as was the case with Hebden Bridge. The wool trade also brought the Rochdale and the Manchester and Leeds Railway running from Leeds to Manchester and Burnley.

Hebden Bridge was the second town that the assessment team visited and it too set a high standard. As in Stroud, the relationship between the landscape and the town is remarkably integrated and first impressions on arriving at the railway station demonstrate the often dramatic nature of the bond between town structure and landscape. Walking from the station to the town centre along main roads was a less pleasant experience - the A646 is a busy route through the town and footpaths are quite narrow. However, once in the centre of the town, the pedestrian scale, high quality finishes of the public realm, and the standard of care were excellent. Even in the centre, the impact of the surrounding landscape is strong - and there is no unsympathetic development to undermine the natural setting of the town.

The standards of maintenance of streets, footpaths and buildings was very high as was the quality and extent of landscaping, especially the floral displays and hanging baskets.

Heritage plays a major role in Hebden Bridge and there is a marked interest and pride in the historical development of the town that informs how the town reacts to 21st century aspirations and pressures. This also plays out in the range of heritage trails as well as attitudes to newbuilding. Forexample,the town is intent on building an extension to the town hall that will provide community rooms and business together with new public space along the riverside. This has been developed over a considerable period of time with community involvement (through the Friends of the Town Hall) and has resulted in a proposal for a new building which is contemporary yet contextual, that everyone seems happy with.

Alternative energy is also a major interest in Hebden Bridge focused on an Alternative T echnology Centre beside the canal. The Centre organises various initiatives including Big Green Week and a Power From The Landscape project, which seeks to support communities in the development of micro hydro-electric schemes using the same sources of water power that originally powered the town industries in the 19th century.

Linear greenspace plays an important part in the town through footpaths and cycleways along the canal, through the town centre along the Hebden Water and along the River Calder. These paths are well signposted and trail leaflets are available to guide the visitor through the town.

Like Stroud, Hebden Bridge seems to be the very embodiment of the current government's aspirations to the Big Society and like Stroud, Hebden Bridge was doing the Big Society many years before the term's current usage. The town's community organisations have recognised the assets of place - physical, social and economic - and have worked hard to make the most of these with the local authorities and Yorkshire Forward. Again like Stroud, it seemed to the assessment team that this was a town in which it was possible for individuals in the community to originate ideas and proposals for projects that would benefit the town and find a way to implement them. There seemed to be a genuine pride of place and a shared interest in getting things done.

There are many notable achievements in Hebden Bridge but one of the most obvious in terms of the built environment is howrelatively intact it seems. Certainly buildings have come and gone over the years but there is a sense that what is there has an integrity, completeness and appropriateness - and it is also well looked after.

At the same time, there are some issues which present the town with some difficulties. The lack of developable land due to the local topography, which in some ways can be seen as a blessing,could inhibit the future growth of the town. Even land for allotments is almost impossible to find short of terracing the slopes of the surrounding hillsides. The impact of traffic along the A646 makes for an uncomfortable pedestrian experience and it would be constructive to look at ways of ameliorating that.

The transferable lessons of excellence that can be learned by others from Hebden Bridge are:

A. the sense of ownership of the town, civic pride and community management and the willingness of local authorities to adapt to and support a wide range of small scale community projects, in this case focusing around heritage and alternative technology but also covering a wide range of local interests

B.the principle of working with smallscale ideas and the fine grain of local areas - not only in the sense of physical fabric but also the grain of the community

C. potentially, how the knowledge and experience gained in this work is passed on to others over a wider area - and how new generations can acquire this knowledge and ability so that it does not disappear when particular individuals move on.

and here is that poem. If anyone is concerned about copyright then I have no doubt the poet or the Academy will be in touch, but it seems to me a celebration in poetry such as this of a place requires the widest of audiences.


Town with a tissue that's quite unique;
Town where history's strata show
Alternative visions cheek to cheek
Different plants allowed to grow.
In a world where towns are pallid clones
Hebden Bridge stands out a mile,
As the sun lights up West Yorkshire stones
And the sky is as bright as a smile;
You walk through the street and the voices rise
Like steam from a coffee emporium
And very quickly you realise
The whole town's an auditorium!
Hebden Bridge is theatre, so let's all clap
The wizard's cloak behind the new flat cap!

                                             Ian McMillan

I have a number of photographs of Hebden Bridge (several great caffs with cakes...) but they are, alas, still in need of loading from my camera, so instead here is a link to Geograph, where numerous pictures of this extremely attractive town can be found:

The Academy of Urbanism

The Awards Scheme shortlist


The European City of the Year


Glasgow  - winner


The Great Town Award

Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire - winner

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Westport, Ireland

The Great Neighbourhood Award

Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Northern Quarter, Manchester - winner
Pollokshields, Glasgow

The Great Street Award

Exmouth Market, London - winner

St. Patrick Street, Cork

Union Street, Aberdeen

The Great Place Award

Princesshay, Exeter

St. Andrew's Square, Edinburgh

Tobermory Harbour, Mull - winner

Good to know it's not all the  gloom I frequently  write about, congratulations to all shortlisted and winners, and let's hope that the positive lessons to be learned from  places highlighted by these awards can be disseminated widely.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

On and off the rails

Edinburgh trams: Princes Street (click to enlarge)

I did think, in the time honoured tradition of groanmaking headings for this blog, of calling this one Transports of Delight, but on more mature reflection I resisted.

Long time readers of this blog will appreciate I have written a few posts mentioning the Edinburgh trams fiasco.

Here's a sample:

Others can be found by judicious use of the search facility.

I have not updated that as the situation becomes ever more complex, labyrinthine, Byzantine, or just plain fucked up, whatever your culchurul linguistic preference.  Keeping updated means reading the Scotsman online and the Edinburgh Evening News,  and  in particular in the comments of one SarahB, who has a grip on it all. Alas, those with a grip appear to not be employed in any capacity involved with  delivery of the trams, which I think it fair to say will not be On Time and On Budget.

Wiki on  Edinburgh trams:

and Edinburgh Corporation Tramways, closed down in 1956:

For those with an anorak interest, and especially of holes in the ground, pictures here of the tramworks in Edinburgh:

and for those transport historians amongst us;

Edinburgh trams: Calton Hill (click to enlarge)

My own view of trams is that they can be no doubt excellent and as a rail enthusiast they should be supported as an alternative to traffic congested city streets.

My one gripe is the overground wire prob in Edinburgh, especially in Princes Street (where surely the pickup could be underground,  avoiding the bristling poles spoiling views) and the wires which will be attached to historic buildings, which I fear will be damaging.

So let's not go there. Let's instead celebrate places where trams are a success.

Let's read the two terrific pieces by @williemiller of  Willie Miller Urban Design, Scotland's foremost urban design practice,  in the Guardian about trams in Bordeaux and Helsinki, and let's appreciate this country has so much to learn about urban planning.

Here I  give myself a wee pat on the back as the initial instigator of the articles (is there a new career to be had in matchmaking?)  but that's all the fame I can claim and it is with huge thanks to Willie that I am given the OK to repeat them both here . If Those In Charge of Edinburgh had any sense they would be beating that cliched path to WMUD's door and seeking more of his information but they haven't so they probably won't.

No 1: Bordeaux

Spotlight on trams: Bordeaux

In the first of an occasional series looking at the experience of trams in other world cities, guest blogger Willie Miller finds that Bordeaux's trams haven't just moved people around, the 'mobile social structures' have changed the very development of the place

The dramatic sight of the tram at night in Bordeaux. Photograph: Willie Miller/

Bordeaux is a vibrant city of 250,000 people serving a metropolitan catchment area with a population of 1.1 million and is one of the largest urban areas in France.

The city and its region are of course well known for wine making but this is also a city that makes things: optical and laser research and production, aeronautical and defence industries as well as pharmaceuticals, food and electronics.

It is also a significant administrative centre and a city attractive to tourists on the basis of the wine industry, the adjacent seaside resort of Arcachon and the city centre which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The built-up area has grown swiftly in the past decade and urban sprawl was considered to be a significant problem. In common with many other European cities, as Bordeaux expanded its periphery, industries around the core of the city declined most significantly along the banks of the Garonne.

The first Bordeaux tramway dated back to 1880. In 1946 the public transportation system had 38 tram lines with a total length of 124 miles carrying 160,000 passengers per day.

This system was abandoned in 1958 as a result of anti-tram arguments including the notion that trams hindered the flow of cars through the city.

Political change

In 1995 the city elected Alain Juppé as its new mayor. He recognised the need for action to counter the strangulation of the city by transport problems and, together with a number of other initiatives, the city adopted the tramway plan in 1997 with the support of Central Government in 2000 as a Public Interest Project. This is a very European example of a politician supporting a major project rather than disowning it. The tramway network currently consists of three lines built at a cost of EURO 800M

The first new line was opened in December 2003 and further extensions have increased the route length to just over 27 miles with more routes planned. The system is notable for using a ground-level power supply system in the city centre to placate the views of conservationists who considered that overhead wires would threaten the integrity of the World Heritage Site. The system is operated at the moment under a five year contract by Keolis, the largest private sector transport group in France.

The overall transport system (bus-tram-rail) sees some 300,000 passenger journeys daily of which 165,000 are on trams. On average, 45% of journeys on the combined bus and tram network of the TBC are by tram. In 2008 the trams carried 54.7 million passengers. The Bordeaux tramway is one of 16 towns or cities in France running a tram system integrated with bus and rail.

Wide impact on structure

Bordeaux tram stop Photograph: Willie Miller/

The impact of the tram on the city should not be seen just in terms of moving people around. It has had a much wider impact on the structure of the city and the way in which new development is allowed to take place. On the periphery of the city, the three tram routes define growth corridors along which development can take place. The new routes have defined new parts of the city where people live and work.

Tram stops become the focal points of new squares, the centres of new mixed use areas where employment and living space are co-located or the best way of getting to some of the city's remarkable new spaces such as Michel Corajoud's breathtaking Mirior d'eau opposite the Place de la Bourse on the banks of the Garonne. The tram has also allowed many traditional city squares to become areas of calm like the spaces around the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux or around Richard Roger's Palais de Justice. Many of these spaces sit atop underground car parks so while the car can still penetrate the inner historic core, there is precious little evidence of its presence.

In Bordeaux the tram infrastructure enables easier orientation within the city. The tracks, overhead cables and stops are now permanent features of the city's streets - predictable and stable unlike bus routes. So the tram informs and helps people to formulate a clearer image of the structure of their city. It is a feature of their communal public space.

Tram stops in the city are typically focal points in the urban fabric where local shops, bars and cafes cluster or where students meet on the way to university. This perhaps sounds like UK Regeneration speak – and it probably is – but the defining of city spaces by public transport is a part of European urbanism that predates Lord Rogers and his Urban Renaissance by a century or more'

Mobile social spaces

Bordeaux's trams are also mobile social spaces in a way that buses can never be – the arrangement of seats and standing space seems to encourage conversation. The tram is smooth running so that café au lait need not be spilled and the discussion started at the tram stop can continue without interruption.

Bordeaux Photograph: Willie Miller/

Trams in Bordeaux have also created more walkable streets. There is little if any evidence of a city centre traffic problem whereas before their reintroduction, there was traffic chaos. Generally, trams attract heavier usage than buses so their introduction and development has created a virtuous circle of improved diesel-free environments for pedestrians, more walking and increased use of public transport.

The brave steps that Bordeaux took at the end of the 20th century to reconfigure its transport system have effectively restructured the city and provided a new network of communal public spaces and a pedestrian priority city centre of which it can be justifiably proud. It is an excellent example which many UK cities should follow.

Willie Miller as an urbanist and owner of WMUD, one of Scotland's leading urban design practices - the research was carried out during the 2009 Assessment visit for the Academy of Urbanism.

No 2: Helsinki

Spotlight on trams: Helsinki

In the latest of an occasional series looking at trams across the world's cities, guest blogger Willie Miller discovers Finland's capital mirrors Edinburgh in many ways, yet trams are just a fraction of its transport aspirations.

Helsinki's modern tram operating in snow. Pic: Creative Commons

Imagine a country with around the same population as Scotland that builds Metro lines and high speed rail links, that has the ambition to build a 50 mile undersea tunnel link to another country and is built around an extensive welfare state.

Imagine the same country regularly topping international comparisons of national performance in health, education and quality of life, as well as being the seventh most competitive country in the world.

Imagine its capital city, with a similar population to Edinburgh, with an extensive district heating system, the foresight to introduce a vacuum powered district waste disposal scheme that eliminates bin collections and which is extending its tram based public transport system with six major new lines over the next few years.

Helsinki is a city of 480,000 people with a surrounding metropolitan area of around 1.3 million people. It is very similar in size to Edinburgh (478,000) and it also the capital of its country with a population slightly less than that of Scotland at 5.3 million.

It is a remarkable and beautiful city with big plans for the future which include a fast rail link to St Petersburg, promoting and developing its airport as a European hub to China and investigating a 50 mile tunnel link to Tallinn in Estonia. This is a city in which seventy percent of the land area and almost all development land is owned by the City Council. This is a city with big plans and the ability to implement them.

The city also has ambitious plans for its own expansion, particularly on to waterfront areas previously occupied by docklands and inner harbours which have moved out to a new complex at Vuosaaric on the eastern edge of the conurbation. It is expected that an additional 100,000 people will be accommodated in these new developments. A key factor in planning these new development areas is integrated public transport by Metro in part but mainly by tram.

Helsinki's tram network is one of the oldest electrified tram networks in the world. It forms part of the city public transport system organised by Helsinki Regional Transport Authority and operated by Helsinki City Transport. The trams are the main means of transport within the city centre and 56.6 million trips were made back in 2004, which is more than those made with the Helsinki Metro.

The Finnish capital has 12 tram lines and six more on the way. Pic: Creative Commons

The first tram network was established in 1890 and electrification took place in 1900. In common with many other European cities, the tram system was under threat from buses in the mid 20th century and the city decided to close the system in the early 1960s. However this decision was reversed during the early 1970s and by 1976 the network was being expanded again. Today the tram is a key part of the city's infrastructure.

The city has a current total of twelve lines with a further six lines planned over the next few years. As well as owning almost 70% of the land area of the city, the Helsinki authorities also own the public transport system and critically, the energy company that supplies power for the tram network. This degree of ownership of the core elements of the system means that it is relatively easy to extend the network and guarantee connections to new housing areas without having to haggle with different land owners, developers, public utility owners and contractors.

Another aspect of infrastructure provision in Helsinki is the way in which it seems to happen efficiently and painlessly. Not for them the contractual disputes, delays in implementation or flaws in construction which are leapt upon by a triumphant public and trumpeted in the media elsewhere.

Perhaps it is in the dour uncomplaining Finnish character to just let other people get on with things in the knowledge that they will eventually be successful. Or perhaps they are just used to doing infrastructure provision really well.

Willie Miller as an urbanist and owner of WMUD, one of Scotland's leading urban design practices - the research was carried out during the 2010 Assessment visit for the Academy of Urbanism.