I’ve accumulated an awful lot of photographs now from the Library of Congress, and while I’ve posted quite a lot over the past 18 months or so on here, I felt it time to do something a little different.
To that end, and because wordpress blogs are free, I’ve set up another blog to run in parallel to this that is dedicated to the planes, boats and trains that I’m interested in. In fact that’s what it’s called – planesboatstrains.wordpress.com.
This will simply be one photograph at a time, with bare minimum information – title, date taken, photographer and link to the image on the Library of Congress website. I will post them more frequently than the posts on here as less time is spent in their creation!
They have all seen some limited editing on Lightroom from me – primarily cropping, straightening and sharpening and maybe some global tonal adjustments such as contrast. This is because although the scans are of a very high quality, they are just raw scans from the negative and as such tend to be rather flat looking. The colour ones aren’t too bad but but as they are slide film, some of the ones taken in low light suffer from blocked up shadows so have required some more work to extract detail. The nature of slide film also means that some scans had some unusual colour casts and so I’ve had a crack at adjusting these to what I think is something like.
The oldest negatives are glass plates and are over a hundred years old, so some of these have required use of the healing brush in Photoshop to tidy up scratches, dust, cracks and damage. Unfortunately it’s not possible to load the full resolution images onto the blog so it’s not possible to see the jaw dropping resolution of the biggest files but nonetheless you can appreciate the quality of the images even at web size.
Following the wander round Rhydymwyn, I was asked if I wanted to see some abandoned trains nearby. Now that’s the kind of offer that I can’t refuse, so we drove back towards Mold, parked the cars and made our way across some fields. Hidden away from view in some trees is this small collection of narrow gauge diesel engines and a standard gauge diesel shunter, sat on a length of abandoned railway track.
I don’t know the history of this collection but a bit of googling has showed that they belonged to a gentleman called Ian Jolly. There’s a little information here. The standard gauge Simplex appears to have been based locally at the nearby Synthite works in Mold, which was rail connected until 1983. The others I have no idea about – any information would be welcome!
Rhydymwyn was used to house gaseous diffusion machines with the objective of separating the uranium isotope U-235 from U-238 as this was thought to be the quickest way of producing enough material for an atom bomb. The site was chosen for a number of reasons – there were empty buildings of the right size, it was accessible (the site was on a railway line and not too far from civilisation), it had a local workforce, wasn’t too far from the chemical industries of the Mersey / Wirral area and the site was already a guarded, secure site.
Light and shadow
While the British scientists were making good progress, there was a recognition that Britain simply didn’t have the resources to step up from experimentation to weaponisation. In August 1943, the Quebec Agreement was signed and British nuclear scientists were transferred to America to join the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and ended the war. The American effort was on an incomprehensible scale – the enormous K-25 building was built at Oak Ridge in Tennessee for gaseous diffusion, but covered 2 million square feet and cost $512 million dollars (equivalent to $6.7 billion in 2014 money!!!!)
This pencil graffiti has lasted surprisingly well considering it is supposedly 70 years old……
Being a regular visitor to both derelict and active industrial sites, I’ve walked across all kinds of surfaces, but never a rubberised one. The site roads on the southern section were coated with a rubber like asphalt designed to stop sparks in the event of something metallic being dropped. Some of this covering is still present and can been close up on the railway platform
I’m presuming this meant that the route avoided any production or storage areas where you would need protective clothing.
The landscape of Britain continues to be littered with the remains of past conflicts. From the Napoleonic era forts of the channel, through to the likes of Chatham dockyard and old ordnance factories, pill boxes and ammunition dumps – you don’t have to look that hard to find something.
I’d previously visited the remains of ROF Marchwiel near Wrexham, but an opportunity arose to visit the former Valley Works nearby. This site is a rather different proposition in many ways. The most notable was its usage. While primarily built to produce mustard gas (a horrific weapon that thankfully neither side used in World War 2), the site was subsequently used for a number of other purposes. The most interesting of these was the vaguely named Tube Alloys project. This deliberately innocuous project name was Britain’s nascent atom bomb project. The scientists involved were later transferred to America to join the Manhattan Project and contributed to the development of the atomic bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and ended the war. I will cover some of this in a future blog post, but a well researched write up of the Valley Works involvement in this critical era of history can be found here.
Possibly due to its location (in a low valley), the site remained undetected by the Luftwaffe throughout the war. It was effectively split into two sections, the south being the production facility, and the north being the…..
The war ended, and despite many other atrocities, mustard gas was never used. However, Britain still had huge stocks of it scattered around the country at forward filling depots.
Following the end of the war, the manufacturing equipment was decommissioned and the nations stocks of mustard gas were either destroyed or stored in the tunnels at Valley until the late 50’s when the remaining stocks were destroyed. The site remained in government use thereafter as a food storage buffer depot facility for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), although other (conspiracy??) theories exist about its usage during the 70’s and 80’s.
In 1994, the site was closed as the network of food storage depots was closed, and in 2003 a large number of the remaining buildings were demolished due to their poor condition. The site is now a managed nature reserve, although it is the only one I’ve ever been to that is fenced off and manned by security!
Sometimes, you just see a photograph materialise in front of your eye – the light meets the composition and you are in just the right place at the right time. You stop and just bring your camera to your eye and thankfully you have just the right lens on your camera (I tend to use prime lenses so I’ve either got the right lens on or not!), you snap away and then something happens – someone walks into shot, the light changes and the photograph goes away.
I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times this has happened to me – this was from Saturday at Leigh Spinners. It’s not the finished article yet as these are more or less straight out of the camera, but more to come soon!
It’s a bit short notice as I’ve been a bit busy of late, but my next talk is on Tuesday 6th October at Burnley Camera Club. The venue is Sion Baptist Church, Church Street, Burnley, BB11 2DW, and it starts at 7.15 (doors open at 7).