Lowtails – The Forgotten Cargo Bikes?

It was perhaps inevitable that someone would ask me about lowtail cargobikes. I have, after all, blogged about longtails and, more recently, Long Johns. When it comes to lowtails, there are few to be seen and barely any bike makers producing them. Indeed, it is possible that I have seen more home bodged examples than factory made versions.

The flock of lowtails in the picture above are ‘8 Freights’ designed by Mike Burrows. I came across them (and an interloping Bicicapace Compact) a couple of years ago parked outside Bikefix in London.

Mike Burrows 8 Freight

Mike Burrows came to public prominence as the designer of bikes used by Chris Boardman. These included those used in winning the Individual Pursuit gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics (pictured below), and to break the World Hour Record.  

Within the recumbent bike, human powered vehicle and velomobile world; as the designer of the Ratcatcher and Speedy/Windcheetah he needed no introduction. I enjoyed this profile of him published a few months ago, and it has some good pictures of his personal 8 Freight – complete with wicker front basket.

The story goes that, during a visit to Vietnam, Burrows saw a long bicycle that had been used by the Vietcong to move supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Once back home in Norfolk he took the concept and set about creating a versatile utility bike – and the 8 Freight was born.

The 8 Freights below have clearly had a hard days work and are part of the fleet belonging to Pedal & Post Oxford. They kindly supplied pictures and the first thing I noticed was that each of these bikes has a cup holder. I bet the riders appreciate that on a cold morning – sometimes it’s the little things that say the most about a company!

To keep the overall weight of the bike down, the frame is made from aluminium. Being a Burrows bike, naturally the 8 Freight comes with mono blades rather than forks, resulting in an offset rear wheel. I’m not convinced of the benefits of these on a utility vehicle, although it does enable you to mend a puncture without removing the wheel. I suppose this could be of benefit when carrying a load but, given that other cargobikes have not adopted them, its value must be questioned. The only time I’ve ever seen a commercial cargobike with a puncture, the rider fixed it using a gas cannister that filled the tyre with a sealant and then inflated it sufficiently enough to return to base.

Initially these bikes were manufactured in Norfolk with most processes being carried out within a few yards of Burrows’ workshop. I recently telephoned someone who I knew had owned a few of these bikes.  He told me that variable quality in the aluminium tubing meant that most of the Norfolk built examples he’d ever seen, had required frame repairs. To be fair though – some must be nearly 20 years old now.  The later Taiwan built examples seemed to have overcome that flaw through the use of tubing of more consistent quality. In this video Mike Burrows talks about the 8Freight including that issue.

In 2019 I came across someone who commuted about 15 miles into London and used an 8 Freight to carry his tools and materials. He felt that the frame could be a little stiffer, as part of his commute was on tracks and towpath causing the frame to flex. Being seated in front of the load gave him more control over the steering and balance than his previous cargobike had. Also, more confidence when riding out of gateways and side-roads in busy traffic.  Apparently, if there was no load being carried, the rear was light and could lose traction on muddy or loose surfaces. He told me that he was either going to change to front forks so he could fit a hub motor, or change the bike completely for one with e-assist.

Coincidently, a few days later I was able to take the picture above of someone else using an 8 Freight for a similar purpose. The traffic lights changed just before I was able to reach it, so sadly I was unable to speak with the rider.

I’m not sure if the 8 Freight is currently available – the 8freight.com website is down and there does not appear to have been any social media posts for a while. The recent tweet below from Pedal & Post Oxford show that their8 Freights are about and being worked hard.

The following books give a great insight into the mind of the man who built the bikes that…


 Very definitely available is the Maderna Truck, and I’m grateful to Maderna Cycle Systems (MCS) for supplying photographs.

The smallest of design details can bring a bike to one’s attention. With the Truck, for me it was the supports on either side of the head tube. These allow tubing, lengths of timber or fishing poles, up to 3 metres in length, to be safely carried. So simple and so useful; one of my run-about bikes may have to visit the local blacksmith for a modification to the headtube!

It is little touches like this that reflect MCS background in the design and prototyping of concept and custom vehicles. Its potential use as a commercial delivery vehicle, or as a tool carrier for a tradesperson, clearly played an important part in the design process.  That said, if you want a custom promotional load box for it – MCS would be the obvious partner to help develop it.

The Truck has a substantial platform area so large load boxes can be fitted. With the deck behind the rider, taller loads can be carried without restricting vision.

Rear suspension comes from a swing arm which protects the load against vibrations, rather than relying exclusively on tyre ‘give’.

I’m still surprised at how often chain length is raised. It seems that whenever there is a bike with a drive train that differs from that found on the diamond frame safety bike, there is a person to question it. The recumbents in the picture higher up in the blog, all had chains as long as those that will be found on a lowtail bike. Unfortunately, the fairings hide the chains but the ICE Full Fat trike below gives an idea of the kind of chain length involved.

Chains are an incredibly efficient way of transferring power and, on bicycles, there are many other areas where greater performance gains can be made. A Full Fat like this one was ridden across the Antarctic ice shelf to the South Pole. So, chains, with routine maintenance, are not an issue.

I’ve not seen a Maderna Truck ‘in the flesh’. For anyone looking for a lowtail cargo bike however, it may be the best, and possibly only, option available. If you know of another manufacturer please let me have the details.

To Be, or Not To Be (a Lowtail) – Convercycle

The Convercycle is a standard bike that folds out into a lowtail. In town mode it is quite compact, and can even be stood on its end to reduce storage needs. In just a few seconds the back wheel can be flipped out and it becomes a lowtail with a load capacity of up to 60kg.  The first minute of this video illustrates the process.

As I live in a first-floor property, I can see that for urban living, where space to store a bike is limited and facilities to secure cargobikes even rarer, a bicycle of this type may be attractive. Indeed, for running around town I could be tempted.

Given the design of this bike and limited load space and capacity, it is likely to have a restricted commercial role. However, as a bike to ride to work, travel between meetings, and then do some shopping on the way home; I really see a place for it.

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Long Johns – Modern Interpretations of a Classic Design

The largest cities in the UK have seen a massive increase in the use of cargo bikes in the last few years. From my observations, the cargo bikes that appear to be the most popular for commercial use, are those based on the ‘Long John’ design.

This is a stretched or long bike that incorporates a load carrying platform between the rider and the front wheel. If you want to find out more about the different types of cargo bike, my blog about ‘London’s Cavalcade of Cargo Cycles’ has a graphic that illustrates them.

Some of these are purely pedal powered. The growth in the use of cargo bikes within the logistics mix, for local and last mile delivery solutions has, however, coincided with the availability of efficient electric-assist equipment. The increase in dedicated cycling infrastructure and local distribution hubs, has increased the speed and ease of making deliveries in this way.

This last point was given as one of the reasons for London based civil engineering contractor F M Conway recently acquiring three cargo bikes.

The Traditional Long John

The original Long John bicycle was designed by the Danish mechanic Morten Rasmussen Mortensen in 1929. This was recognised in 2015 through the release, by Post Danmark, of a Jakob Monefeldt designed commemorative stamp. It was one of four stamps produced as a tribute to Danish inventions that had; “…changed the everyday lives of people around the world.”

Long Johns quickly became popular because they could carry a significant load, typically in excess of a 100kg. They had the agility to cope with narrow streets and passage ways, and the wheels and tyres to cope with the uneven road surfaces of the time. Beneath the load platform there was a substantial stand to support the bike whilst it was being loaded or deliveries made.

The Long John was designed to be easily maintained and repaired. Contemporary photos suggest that these bikes were usually painted black, with legends on the side of the load platforms showing the maximum recommended weight and height of the load. Most look as if they took a bit of a battering in use.

One of the main producers of traditional Long Johns was SCO (Smith & Co Odense), who have manufactured bikes since 1905. They introduced their first Long John model in 1943 (I am aware that there is a survivor stamped for 1942). In the 1960′s SCO took over another Danish Long John maker called Urania and used that as branding for some of their own Long Johns.

Today the SCO website offer an interpretation of the traditional style Long John as shown in the picture above. Other Danish manufacturers such as Acrobat also maintain that tradition.

The history given above differs from that in Wikipedia. It is, however, based on research conducted by Post Danmark and the official history of Smith & Co Odense.

The Work Horses.


The success of the classic Danish Long John is reflected in the fact that the design was unchanged for more than 80 years. Then Larry vs Harry came along. Lars Malmborg (Larry) and Hans Bullitt Fogh (Harry) decided to, “…build the perfect cargo bike.” According to their website, at that time Harry was using a 60-year-old Danish Long John cargo bike as his business run-about. It was proving to be faster and more versatile than the state-of-the-art cargo tricycles being worked on by Larry.

The result of their collaboration was a strong, fast and reliable evolution of the classic Long John – the Bullitt. To produce and market it they formed the company ‘Larry vs Harry’. I took the picture above at London Green Cycles as I liked the way the shadow revealed how the Bullitt frame is constructed. As can be seen below; when not fitted with a body, it can have a flat load platform. This one was tucked away in corner of the yard at London Recumbents and, in the past, had been used for delivering bread.

Larry vs Harry maintain a range of interestingly named liveries, some of which have been developed in conjunction with other designers. The two pictures at the start of this blog are of Bullitts, and reveal a couple of the body options. Like most cargo bikes, there are a range of bodies available for the carriage of goods and people – particularly children.

One Bullitt that is regularly seen on the streets of Copenhagen belongs to Nordisk Cryobank (European Sperm Bank). and is used to make deliveries to the city’s fertility clinics.

Logistics and making deliveries are not the only function for Long Johns. Cyclehoop use a Bullitt as a tool-carrier and transport for staff who service and maintain Bikehangars that they have installed.  As they put it, in a tweet, “Be the change you want to see.”

Besides the Bullitt, the majority of the Long Johns I see around town are based on the Hercules Cargo 500/1000 or the Urban Arrow bikes.


In my Blog, ‘Cycles that Change Cities’, I refer to Ferdinand Porshe designing and producing electric cars in the 19th Century. He was not the only one though: – in 1898 Carl Marschütz launched the Hercules Electric Chaise.

He formed the company “Velozipedfabrik Carl Marschütz & Co.” in 1886, but the next year renamed it “Nuremberg Velozipedfabrik Hercules”. By 1894 it was producing almost 5000 bicycles a year.

In the mid-1980s the company started producing the first commercial e-assist bike – the Electra. With a rack mounted battery, it has a surprisingly contemporary look to its layout.

In 1995 Hercules was acquired by the Accell Group who sold it to ZEG in 2014. ZEG is a co-operative of a 1000 cycle shops.

Like several other brands, the Hercules can be fitted with two batteries for longer work cycles between charges. Actually, you can swap the batteries in less than a minute so, with a supply of recharged batteries and riders, these bikes can be kept going for extended periods.

The numbers of these I see about may be due to their use by e-cargobikes. As well as their own courier company, e-cargobikes can also provide a liveried bike-based delivery service to other businesses. For companies looking to achieve one of the recognised sustainability standards, a wander around e-cargobikes website could be of interest.

The demise of the traditional delivery bike service is often put down to one person with a van being able to achieve the equivalent work of several using bikes. The modern cargo bike can reverse that especially when operating costs are fully taken into account.

Watching the courier on the Hercules below, sail past a long line of stationary taxis and vans, it was clear to see why this type of operation can be so productive. I was bemused to see the same type of kerb-scrapes on platform corners of this bike, as are seen in early photographs of the original Danish Long Johns.

Urban Arrow

The first Urban Arrow was launched in 2010 in Holland with the claim to have reinvented the cargo bike. They set out to achieve the urban utility vehicle of the future combining the capacity of a van with the agility of an e-bike.

Furthermore, they claim to be, “…defining a brand-new transport category: Smart Urban Mobility.”  This is an antidote to traffic congestion and the, “…need to reduce air pollution – quickly. By combining the carrying capacity of your car and the agility of an e-bike, we’re creating the ultimate vehicle to take all that’s dear to you from A to B – and beyond. Clean, safe, stylish, fast.”

This ambition is well illustrated by the Pedal Me bikes which I seem to see every time I go into London. Not only are they to be seen moving commercial goods, building supplies and industrial freezers; but also, people and their entire household contents including wardrobes and the settee

The design of the bikes incorporates seats that can carry one or two adults, which allows them to be used to provide a taxi service as well as carry goods. Some of the tweets I have seen recently are from ‘vulnerable people’ who have chosen to do this, rather than use a cab or public transport, to minimise their potential exposure to the Covid virus.

They are also suited to use by Storm Troopers; something I mention merely as an excuse to include the picture below.

Urban Arrow also produced cargo bikes designed for the family market, to move children and shopping.

The Urban Arrow below photographed in the back yard of London Green Cycles shows, other than the motor, remarkable similarity in terms of general arrangement, to the original Long John of Morten Rasmussen Mortensen.

Urban Arrow also make a Short John, sometimes known as a cycle truck. Its inclusion here is for no better reason than it bemuses me.

Increasing Capacity

With trailers added, the versatility and capacity of these bikes are greatly extended. The picture below shows a 200kg load of flowers that would fill a Transit, being moved by cargo bike and trailer.

I’m grateful for permission to use this picture. If you look at the original tweet, the comments below it give further information

The development of trailers that incorporate their own e-assist batteries and motors have increased the load moving capability of cargo bike-based solutions even further. There are even examples of cargo bikes towing multiple trailers and forming the cycling equivalent of a road-train. If you click on the picture below, it will take you to twitter and a video of such a cycletrain in action.

The cycle-train is operated by ‘Sikle – The Composters of Strasbourg’. Sikle provide an organic waste collection service to businesses in Strasbourg, That waste is then composted for use in the city – this is summed up perfectly by their straplines: ‘Urban composting for a fertile city’, and, ‘Yesterday the garbage, tomorrow the greenery’.

The picture below from Hereford Pedicabs and Cargo is included mainly because it appeals to me, although it does show how ingenuity and innovation is being brought to bicycle-based logistics.

Alongside the pedicab business and their delivery and collection operation, Pedicargo also provide a trade waste solution. Like Sikle the collections are by bicycle and trailer. They collect paper, cardboard and plastic waste; which they then sort and recycle.

The bikes above cover most of the long johns I see in commercial use. Others include the Douze from France, Riese & Müller from Germany, and Centaur from Holland.


I see a few of these on the streets but its inclusion here may have more to do with the power of association of ideas. It comes from a part of France that I associate with wine and mustard. It’s worth noting that the Sikle roadtrain in the video above is being hauled by a Douze Long John.

Riese & Müller

Recently I discovered that a neighbour had upgraded the family transport to a rather funky looking blue-liveried Riese & Müller. I asked why? The answer was build quality, low maintenance requirement and low overall lifetime costs.


The Centaur has become part of the Babboe range and is being rebranded as the Babboe Pro. At Christmas 2019, this one was being used to provide free local delivery of shopping purchased on the local high street. All you had to do was drop the shopping off in the bike shop and agree a delivery time.

Don’t Forget the Brits

I’ve included examples of the Crawford, manufactured in Edinburgh, and Ridgeback Long Johns as they are British brands.


The Crawford is a brand from the frame-builders C3Cycles. If you want a Long John with customised frame fittings; they may be worth calling.


I know little of this bike, but suspect that it owes something to Ridgeback’s association with the Danish company Promovec.

Bakfietsen – Dutch Box Bikes


As well as being a brand of bike, “bakfiets” has become a generic term, to represent this style of Long John and, sometimes, all Long Johns. This reflects that in the Dutch language ‘bakfiets’ means ‘box bike’, and the claim of its designer that it was the “…first two wheeled family cargo bike.”

Said designer, Maartin van Andel, built the first Bakfiet specifically for children in 1999. It had a wooden cargo/passenger box mounted on a rigid monotube and was used for taking his children to school.

If you click on the image below, it should play a 6 minute video in which Maartin tells the story of why and how he developed the Bakfiets.

Backfiets also produce a Long John for commercial use


The Babboe below is used by a street entertainer to transport his props. Most of those I see are being used for school runs or shopping, and appear to be typical Dutch box bikes.


Workcycles are another Dutch maker. I mention them merely to include a picture of one their Long Johns transformed into the bike world equivalent of the stretched limo. Sadly, Workcycles have stated they prefer that I do not use that picture. Whilst I do not think they own the rights, as there could be safety issues should a non-engineer try making such a conversion, I have complied with that request.

Royal Dutch Gazelle are yet another maker from Holland. I photographed the bike below in the workshop of Blue Door Bikes (whilst in previous ownership). I thought it was worth including as, with the load carrier closed up, the steering mechanism can be clearly seen.

The bike in the background is an old Waller Kingsland hill climb bike. There’s no frame number on it, but likely to be circa 1948.

I should perhaps mention that it currently hangs from the picture rail above my mantlepiece. The beautifully patinated original paint makes great decorative art. It also keeps the frame clean and dry, and acts as a reminder that I need to restore and conserve it.


The owner of this Dolly told me that the ruggedness and practicality of the fun-coloured moulded plastic box had influenced the purchasing decision.

Normal Everyday Bikes

Two of the routes I cycle to access the chalk country of the Icknield Way / Ridgeway, are along the Grand Union Canal and the River Lea Navigation. I am always struck not by the number of bikes on the barges and narrow boats; but the proportion of those bikes that are cargo bikes.

Even more telling is that these are not considered novel or special bikes – they are just practical, ordinary everyday rides.

Where Next for the Long John

It seems to me that the Long John has, in its latest incarnations, probably evolved, as far as is likely for urban inner-city logistics use. That is, however, a relatively limited use of a versatile vehicle.

Anywhere.berlin rose to the challenge in 2015/16 by developing a ‘supersized’ electric cargo bicycle that goes across most terrain carrying 160kgs or more.

To achieve this they use fat tires and ‘all wheel drive’ with a front hub motor in adition to the one providing drive to the back wheel.

Once the control system to manage dual motors had been fettled, and a steering system to give the necessary agility resolved, they had their ‘go anywhere’ Long John.

Their website makes interesting reading, especially the section on their initiative in South Africa. Rather like the philosophy of Worldbike or Portal Bike Nepal, identified in my blog Long Tails – How Idealism and a Desire for Social Justice gave birth to New Type of Bicycle, the opportunities offered goes far beyond the raw value of the basic bicycle. I’ve exchanged emails with anywhere.berlin and hope to have an update and pictures soon.

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Cobham Mill – The Last Fully Working Water Mill in Surrey.

Slow Cycling

When I ride out towards the Surrey Hills, I do so knowing that I will probably have one of the slowest average speeds of all the cyclists on the road that day.  Indeed, the only performance data I have showing on my Garmin is heart-rate; and that’s only so I don’t go too far above the max recommended by my doctor.

Stopping at coffee shacks, I sometimes even admire the chatter of the carbonfibre-riding whippets, as they compare average wattage, peak output or how far into the red they went on the third climb of Box Hill. Slow riding brings pleasures, and dangers, of its own. One of these is pausing as the fancy takes one, to investigate some new discovery.

One Sunday in Spring 2019 I headed out into Surrey where, having ridden up Box Hill, at some point I became distracted by the River Mole. I decided to follow it, as far as possible, downstream.  At the back of my mind was the knowledge that it drains into the Thames close to Hampton Court Station. My Freedom Pass would gain me a train ride home from there.

Cobham Mill

Mid-afternoon I reached Cobham, where I discovered a mill building wearing a banner that informed me it was open.  The existence of a water mill on the Mole was no surprise. In his ‘Topographical History of Surrey’ (Volume 1) of 1841, Edward Wedlake Brayley tells us:

“The etymology of that name may be referred to the British word Melin, or Y-Melyn, the mill ; and thus indicate the Mill river;— an opinion which receives corroboration from the Domesday record, wherin nearly twenty places are mentioned as possessing mills, which, from their respective localities, must have been situated, either on this stream, or its immediate auxiliary branches.”

The above sentence of almost 60 words, reminds me of composition class at school. When the allotted time had expired, the teacher would issue an instruction to finish the sentence one was writing, but do no more.  Creative use of conjunctions and subclauses would result in some mighty concluding sentences.

The section in the book about the River Mole, is accompanied by this woodcut illustration of “Wooden Bridge crossing the Mole, in Fridley Meadows”,  

Even before reaching the mill building, I was already planning to stop as my attention had been taken by the millpond and leat, and structure of the weir and sluices. I remember as a pre school-age child, watching and being fascinated by water being released from Radipole Lake, through sluices, into Weymouth harbour. It’s a fascination that I’ve retained since although, for reasons explained in this blog, I also tend to evaluate the potential for that water to generate electricity.

Once inside the grounds of Cobham Mill, the water-flow over the weir could be seen more clearly. My mind was already straying into the realms of Archimedes screws. If I recall correctly, there are a couple of water driven generators further upstream.

Admittance to the mill was free, but there were some doughty looking ladies offering refreshments. In reality I needed little encouragement to purchase coffee and a homemade scone already sporting jam and clotted cream. The latter had been applied in that order – your call on whether that is the right or wrong way. Enjoying these gave a chance to stand and watch the water flow by. After several hours sat on a bicycle, this was most welcome.

The mill is managed by the  Cobham Mill Preservation Trust with the assistance of a team of volunteers and fundraisers known as The Cobham Millers. At the time I’m writing this the mill is closed due to Covid 19 restrictions. Future opening dates  are published on the Cobham Mill website as they are arranged.

The first thing that struck me about Cobham Mill was how small it was, especially given the head of water available. I would hesitate to apply the words ‘cute’ or ‘dinky’, to a working water mill, but if the ascribation fits…

A clue to the reason for this can be found by looking back up the tail-way of the mill. This reveals that there was once a pit for a another, wider, water wheel. Several postcards from the first half of the 20th Century show that it powered a second larger mill. Unfortunately, I cannot obtain any copyright free images of those cards. The sepia illustration below appears to have been taken from an old Hildesheimer post card and shows the mill as it would have been circa 1900.

There is a full history of the mill on the Cobham Mill website. That narrative shows that the larger mill, “…was badly damaged during the Second World War when a Canadian tank ran into it.  In 1953 this part of the mill complex was demolished completely so that Mill Road could be widened.”

For those who like proper descriptions of buildings, Historic England has categorised the remaining mill as a ‘Grade II Listed Building’ describing it thus:

Early C19, altered in 1953. Red brick with plain tiled, half-hipped roof. Single storey with attic in gable end to left over basement. 2 casement windows to front, single storey weatherboard entrance passage projecting from left end to street. Board and plank door in end. Further board door to left hand return front. Central spindle of Mill Wheel protruding from basement to front right.

The present building was constructed between 1820-2 as an addition to the existing mill building.  That had been built in 1799 after the one that preceded it was washed away by floods.

John (Jean) Rocque’s 1762 map of Surrey shows a mill at this location, whilst the Cobham Mill website states that the first known written reference to a mill on the site is from 1534. At that time it, and the accompanying manor, belonged to the  Abbey of Chertsey. The illustration below shows it fell foul of Henry VIII, and is from an etching in the second volume of the ‘Topographical History of Surrey’ cited above.

A Working Mill

The whole purpose of a water mill is to capture energy from the water flow to power equipment used in a commercial process. In the case of Cobham Mill this was the grinding of grain to produce flour. The undershot wheel, including its 32 oak or elm paddles, is approximately 15 foot in diameter.

Inside was a wonderful collection of cast iron or wooden components that collectively form the mechanism that drives the single pair of millstones. The belt in the picture below is for the sack hoist that lifted grain to the attic, from where it was emptied into the feed hopper.  Whilst I was there, the sluice was opened and the mill machinery went in to motion.

For me, the clunking of the machinery and vibration in the floor evoked a sense of both comfort and nostalgia. It took me back nearly 50 years to when I would take grain to a watermill to be rolled ready for use as animal feed.  The video lower down this blog has that sound on it.

I was unable to get a clear picture of the inside of the mill as there were a number of other visitors whilst I was there. The one above fills the void and, some of the parts of the mill machinery in it can be identified from the diagram on the mill website.

Clicking on the picture below should play a short video (30 seconds) that I’ve made-up and will enable you the hear the sound of the mill for yourself.

Having done its job, the water leaves the mill via the tail-way and re-enters the River Mole at the point shown below.

As a postscript; I will just record that when I reached Hampton Court Station, trains were suspended due to weekend engineering work.


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Upminster Barn and Museum of Nastalgia

It is not easy to describe Upminster Barn and Museum of Nastalgia. Those descriptions I had read were sufficient to make me want to visit. If you read my last blog, you will understand that this may well have been on the barn’s own merit. It was however, a desire to discover what exactly was in it that enticed me out of bed early one Saturday morning in 2019.

Once on my bike it was a downhill freewheel to reach the Waterlink Way (National Cycle Route 21). This provided a mostly off-road route alongside the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne to Greenwich. The building below is the lift shaft for the foot tunnel which I used to cross under the River Thames.

On the North side, rather than loop around on National Route 1, I took the direct route to join National Route 13. It was then head down and go East, getting more and more annoyed at some of the infrastructure layout where cycle lanes crossed side roads. Getting lost where building developers had, with permission, closed a cycle path and failed to sign the diversions, was even more frustrating.

Fortunately for my blood pressure, it didn’t take too long to reach Rainham where I turned left on to National Route 136. I had a Garmin on the bike, a smart phone in my pocket, and a battery bank in the pannier should either need recharging. If like me, you also prefer to have an analogue map tucked away somewhere; then the relevant sections of these routes are on both Sustrans maps: 9 Essex and Thames Estuary and 53 London Cycle Map.

Almost immediately, the Ingreborne Valley Way (Route 136) becomes a quiet route through parkland beside the Ingrebourne River. There was even farm land to view. I failed to stop and take pictures as I intended to return and visit some of the local nature reserves.

This brought me to Upminster Town Centre. At the exit of Upminster Park there were public toilets which, with the immediate surrounds, were delightfully never quite symmetrical. As I was about to visit a barn, I was pleased to avail myself of them.

At this point National Route 136 joins a main road through Upminster. I followed this for about a kilometre which brought me to the entrance to the barn site. Once past the station the road was not that busy and was lined by mature trees. 

The Barn is a timber-framed, aisled barn, and was constructed about 1450. Built on an estate belonging to the Abbey of Waltham, it was adjacent to a hunting lodge used by the abbots. After the dissolution, that survived as a private house, but is now used by Upminster Golf Club.

Although now called the Tithe Barn, like Croxley Great Barn in my last blog, it was never used for tithes. Historic England have listed the barn as a Scheduled Monument describing it as a grange barn. Upminster had a real tithe barn but this wasn’t it.

The listing provides a potted history of early monasticism in the UK as well as a detailed description of the barn.  The following is extracted from that listing.

This weather-boarded aisled barn is about 44m long and 11m wide and has nine bays. There is a gabled entrance in the centre of the north side. The thatched and half-hipped roof is of crown post construction with reversed assembly in the aisles. There is a three rail arrangement of aisle walls with ventilation at the top. …By 1813, three of the bays of the barn had been floored in oak. …It was re-thatched in 1965… Dendrochronological analysis of some of the timbers indicates a likely date range of AD 1423-1440 for the felling of the assemblage.

Before the re-thatching, it had at some time been fitted with a corrugated iron roof. It was again re-thatched after arsonists set light to the thatch in 1973. The Hornchurch & District Historical Society then took it over to use as an agricultural and folk museum, which opened in 1976.  It has become “The Upminster Tithe Barn Museum of Nostalgia”.

Approaching the barn, which is only open a few days each year, I fell into conversation with one of the volunteers. Sadly, I found that they were now very few in number and concerned about how much longer they could continue. At the turn of the century I was the Press Officer for a small museum and part of the management team. One thing we recognized was that volunteering had become a very different proposition to what it had been in the decades following World War II. Perhaps wrongly, I gained the impression that here, this wasn’t really understood.  I just hope the barn and museum re-open after lockdown.

Outside the barn was a delivery bike in Co-Operative Society Ltd livery. Quite a contrast to the latest Co-op cargo e-bikes.

A few other display items had also been brought outside for cleaning.

Going inside the barn I was confronted by the most incredible array of exhibits appearing to cover every aspect of society. Although at first it appeared to be chaos but later, as I moved around the barn, some sense order began to appear.

Before that though, I took the time to appreciate the structure itself.

This was not easy as whatever direction I looked there was something to distract me.  I quickly decided that I would need to return with a camera to photograph the contents properly. I took a few pictures on my phone but never did return. Shortly after my visit a cycling accident made it difficult to walk. Six months later just as I was reaching fullish mobility, lockdown v1.0 happened.

Some of the bays within the barn had, at one time or the other, obviously been dedicated to specific interest areas. Now some were bursting with multiple layers of display and exhibits.

There was a display of cobbling paraphernalia. One of my great grandfathers had been a boot maker, and growing up some of his old equipment had been knocking around my grandparents house. Some of the equipment appeared very similar to that. Some was not so different from that still used by my local shoe repairer.

As can be seen in the next three pictures, home entertainment systems were represented. I looked at these and then at the smart phone in my hand. The delivery system may be different, but it provides recorded music, radio and pictures for my entertainment. The old adage of ‘content is king’, clearly still applies.

For me, one of the highlights was the farm machinery distributed around the barn. The Fordson filled me with nostalgia; as did the old horse-drawn cart, reaper binder, seed or fertilizer distributor, and hay tedder. Having seen similar tractor and implements in action (or used them!), I felt old.

As a young teenager I spent a couple of summers stood in front of a winnower ensuring the screens were clear, and changing and weighing hessian sacks filled with the cleaned grain. Seeing an example of the very same model on display I understood why it was now called a museum of nostalgia. 

There were some old bikes lying around. How they were equiped was of more interest than the basic bikes.

I really do hope the museum will be open in the New Year so that I can return and take more photos that fully reflect the artifacts held in its collection. After all, where else will you find a telex machine these days?

Leaving the Museum of Nostalgia, I headed a little further north on National Route 136 before taking to quiet meandering country lanes that led me in the general direction of Shenfield. I paused when I passed the barn above to admire the way the different materials used in its construction had blended together.

On the edge of Shenfield I stopped at the Church of St Mary the Virgin and discovered that it has its own butterfly meadow.

The clouds were beginning to build at this point so, when I saw Shenfield station, I decided to take the train into London. My Freedom pass meant that the journey was free. By the time I left Liverpool Street Station the sun was once again shining. Even pre Covid, the cycle lanes meant that passing across Central London and heading South was relatively quick and easy.

And finally

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Croxley Great Barn – A Wonder in Wood

In the 1970s I visited a lot of farms in the South West of England. This was both through working for an agricultural contractor and, later, for a government organisation. A bonus of these jobs was the range of old farm buildings that I was able to work in or explore. 

These included examples that had been built as ‘model farms’ in a previous century, and some great timber framed barns.  Sadly, some of the former were falling into disrepair as the courtyard format and limited size of the internal space was incompatible with the contemporary farming methods.  

Close to where I grew up was the great barn of Abbotsbury Abbey. The etching above is from a Cassells publication dated 1892, which I am fortunate to have on my bookshelves. Nearly 700 years old, Abbotsbury Abbey barn is reputed to have once been the largest in England. Being a listed building in the care of English Heritage, it has escaped the fate of so many others I visited. They have become domestic dwellings with much of their structure and charm lost and hidden in shrouds of contemporary chic.

In recent years I have spent time walking and cycling in the Chilterns – no doubt seeking the familiarity of chalk downland.  This has included taking the London Underground train to Chesham to walk the length of the River Chess.

I have also gone by train to Watford and then cycled along the Ebury Way to Rickmansworth before going further afield, or dropping onto the Grand Union canal at Lot Mead lock. Usually this was so that I could obtain some very fairly priced (cheap) coffee and cake from the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust at the Batchworth Lock Canal Centre.

Both of these examples provided glimpses of a wonderful looking barn at Croxley. A little research quickly revealed that this was Croxley Great Barn and, better still, it was open to visitors once a month. Eventually, one Saturday last summer, I was able to visit before walking the Grand Union Canal back to Uxbridge and a train home.

I took the train to Rickmansworth. After leaving the station, I passed under the overbridge on Station Road and turned left onto a footpath. This ran alongside the railway line to High Street, which I crossed over on to Caravan Lane which, in turn, gave access to a continuance of the footpath. It was now tree lined, with the playing fields of St Joan of Arc School on the side opposite the railway.

After crossing the River Chess, I came to what was the original entrance way to the barn and was immediately distracted by the adjacent byres especially the rooves.

This gave me access to the North End of the barn. When I tried to open a door, a voice from inside shouted through to tell me that I was on someone else’s property. I was given instruction to return along the footpath to a hole in the fence, and then walk across the playing field to the barn. I may have missed instructions in the carpark of St Joan of Arc School on how to approach the barn.

I entered the barn on the East side close to the North End. Oh, wow.  It was stunning to see so much of the original fantastic structure still in place. I’m putting external and matching internal views of the barn adjacent to each other to assist in interpreting them.  

Historic England has categorised the barn as a Grade II* Listed Building describing it thus:

Tithe barn. Probably built 1396-1401 for Abbey of St. Albans during abbacy of John Moote, restored 1975. Timber frame. Flint, clunch and brick base walls. Weatherboarded. Tiled roof. 5 bays with nave and aisles, 2 bay entrance porch. 101ft by 38½ft. Central gabled entrance porch to E with double doors. C17 brick buttresses to base which has a low door to E. Doors to N and to W with two 16 pane fixed windows. Half hipped roof with gablets. Interior: hoggin floor, lime washed, 5ft high flint walls with clunch quoins and coping separate each bay in aisles.

An additional contribution from Historic England Research informs us that: “The dendrochronological study of this barn revealed that fast-grown young oaks were used in its construction. Five timbers dated, with one retaining complete sapwood. This timber was felled in the winter of AD 1397/8 and the others have estimated felling dates which include this date. It seems most likely therefore that the barn was constructed during the short abbacy of John Moote (AD 1396-1401)…”

On the day I visited, a representative of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was present to share the story of the barn.  The first thing he explained was that it was one of the surviving barns which originally belonged to St. Alban’s Abbey. As monastic institutions could not raise tithes, it is not actually a tithe barn.  As an occasional vintner, my ears pricked up when he mentioned that the farm of which the barn was part, was responsible to the abbey’s cellarer. It provided the abbey with cereals for both cooking and brewing.

By now a couple of other people had arrived at the barn and we were told that the Abbot, John Moote, had provided 100 marks to build a large barn and other buildings at Croxley. In today’s money that’s about £70! With the dissolution of the monasteries following Henry VIII’s hissy fit with the Pope, the Manor of Croxley became crown property. The King’s military endeavours meant that he needed money so, in 1557, it was sold to a Dr Caius. He gave it as part of the endowment to Gonville College, Cambridge, that saw his name added to its.  From then, until 1972, the barn was owned by the College. It and some of the land was granted to Hertfordshire County Council to become part of the St Joan of Arc School. The barn was in a pretty dire state. The Council had it restored to good condition before passing it to the school.

Thinking back to my days of driving tractors and trailers, I noticed that there was only one entrance way for a horse and cart. Normally there were entrance/exits on opposite sides so that horses and carts could roll in and roll out rather like a RORO ferry. We were told that, when built, the barn was the largest in Hertfordshire, with internal bays so large that a cart could be turned around inside it. Heavy horses are probably more agile than tractors.

If you would like to find more about Croxley Great Barn, the Croxley Green History Project website has a wealth of information, This includes plenty of historic photographs, some taken more than a century ago.

Currently, open days at the barn are suspended due to the Covid 19 related restrictions. Normally details can be found on the Three Rivers Museum website.

The adjacent Croxley Hall Farm is private property but can be seen from the track the runs from the Barn to Lot Mead lock on the Grand Union Canal. The farmstead has a 16th century, rebuilt in 19th century, farmhouse which, for aficionados of these things, retains some early red brick. Also, there is a 19th century weatherboarded timber frame staddle barn, on cast-iron staddles; a granary of similar construction; and a 17th century weatherboarded timber frame barn on a brick base. A brief view of these structures can be seen near the start of the video below, which is of the opening of the barn to the public.


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When the Air in My Lungs Stopped Killing Me

During the National Lockdown earlier this year, it was commonplace to hear people commenting on how fresh the air was, or how much bird song they were noticing. I used the daily permitted outdoor exercise periods to explore remnants of the old Great North Wood, or areas where some kind of regeneration had taken place. On the 18th of May this took in Camberwell Mountain – or Dawsons Hill to give it the correct name. 

The view of central London was incredible. I had never had such a clear view of it. The photo below was taken on a very mediocre smart phone. Because of the clean air, the clarity of the image was such that I was able enlarge one small part of it to provide the image above.

Camberwell Mountain

The quality of the air, the light and the blueness of sky was consistent for the duration of the lockdown. The picture below of the oaks in Grangewood Park was taken one early morning towards the end of March.  Motorised traffic was negligible and already that transformation in air quality was there to be seen.

Taken from different angles, the images below of Beaulieu Heights are from each end of the lockdown. Similar pictures could have been taken most days in between.

Dulwich Park in South London usually has a good display of rhododendrons and azalias in April or May. This year they were early and there was a fantastic display by the third week of April.  The whites and warm colours had great depth and vividness to them. I assume that this was due to far more ultraviolet light reaching them. 

It was not only road traffic that declined in lockdown. Air traffic virtually disappeared and, on many days, I didn’t even see or hear a plane.   

The novelty of this is because up until then, most days one could look up at the sky and either see vapour trails or, within a few minutes, an aircraft. The picture above of a smoggy Canary Wharf and City of London was taken last year. It was taken from Royal Albert Dock which is fringed on the North side with student halls of residence – stunning if you ignore the airport on the South side!

The West of London is affected by the approaches and outbound routes of Heathrow. When I took this picture of the River Thames at Kew, the planes were passing every 90 seconds.

At least the Royal Family have to put up with it too. This picture was taken from Kensington Palace.

Air traffic remains severely curtailed and therefore the pollution from that source is reduced from the pre-covid norm. Nonetheless, by mid-August, road traffic had increased and once again a layer of polluted air could be seen over Central London.

Why Truck Design is Key to Safer City Streets

Steam Lorry

It is simple things in life that give me pleasure. An example, is when I attend an event and spend time exploring something other than my reason for being there.

Alexandra Palace

Last year I attended the ‘Freight in the City Expo’ at Alexandra Palace. The main reason for attending was a presentation on how the City of London were proposing to implement last mile logistics solutions. These had the objective of reducing delivery vehicle mileage and air pollution whilst improving the environment for all users including residents and pedestrians. This was, of course, pre Covid.


I also wanted to look at a couple of new cargo bike and light delivery vehicle designs, and alternative fuel/energy sources for goods vehicles.

DPD Delivery Vehicle

What distracted me though, was the effect that Transport for London’s (TfL) ‘Direct Vision Standard’ was having on those parts of the transport industry which were represented at the expo.

Display Lorry

I started driving agricultural tractors at the age of 13 and quickly learnt that a tractor and trailer effectively has six corners, and at least one of these will be out of vision when reversing. The length of a modern articulated lorry exaggerates this even more.

It may be the vagaries of memory, but I seem to recall a time when many lorries had not only a driver but also a driver’s mate. The latter not only helped with loading or unloading, but acted as a banksman (is there a gender neutral alternative other than the less accurate ‘marshal’). In this role they would assist the driver when manoeuvring the vehicle to avoid it coming into conflict with other road users. Bulk loads and palletisation meant that the role of driver’s mate was no longer considered necessary. An efficiency saving for sure; but the loss of an extra pair of eyes to assist the driver.

Old Cabs

Rightly or wrongly, I have gained the impression that for many years truck design was more concerned with functionality There was little interest in the welfare of the driver or safety of other road users. The cabs on the vehicles above have limited viability and numerous blind spots.

The picture below shows two tractor units a few generations and a world apart in terms of technology. The new one has bigger and better wing mirrors yet many of those blind spots remain.

Cabs Contrast

The drivers of these HGVs are higher-up than those in smaller vehicles. They are unable to see cyclists on their near-side, shorter pedestrian immediately in front of them, or what is immediately behind.

Vision Zero

When the Mayor of London (Sadiq Khan) took office in 2016 he set the target of aiming to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries caused by road collisions from London by 2041. The ‘Vision Zeroinitiative is the means for delivering this and has developed the Direct Vision Standard (DVS).  An ‘HGV Safety Permit’ showing compliance with the DVS will be require for a lorry of more than 12 tonnes gross vehicle weight to operate in Greater London.


To give a perspective to this, the data that influenced Mayor Khan’s decision included the following. In the five years to 2016, 23% of all cyclist deaths in the UK resulted from collisions involving lorries, but only 5% of traffic in Britain is comprised of lorries. 5.7% of all cyclists died when colliding with an HGV. By contrast only 0.3% of all cyclists died when colliding with a car. Studies of other vulnerable road users painted a similar picture.

Of course, the driver of a vehicle is totally responsible for it. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have all the available tools to enable them to operate it as safely as possible. This starts at the design stage of the vehicle.

Principal Requirement – Direct Vision

Vintage Lorries Westow Hill

The DVS is based on how much a driver can see directly through their cab windows. This is then rated from zero (lowest) to five (highest). To gain the necessary safety permit to operate in London, any vehicle rated zero will need improved overall safety derived by fitting additional measures. In most cases this will including a camera monitoring system, an audible left-turn vehicle manoeuvring warning, and cyclist/pedestrian proximity sensors before October 2020. Following the Covid outbreak, enforcement of these measures has been put back to the spring of 2021.

By 2024, the minimum star rating will be raised to three stars. Many vehicle operators have responded by bringing their vehicles to at least the three star standard and ensuring any new vehicles meet the five star standard. London’s DVS will be first initiative of its kind in the world to categorise lorries according to the how much a driver can see directly through their cab windows and by using mirrors, and how big residual blind spots are.

Bus cab vision improvements

One of the biggest design changes that can be seen on new vehicles is the low cab – change that took place in bus design many years ago.

This local dustcart (refuse collection vehicle) that has a lower cab with bus-style full height glass doors, illustrates the point. The vehicle in the background has side guards to prevent under runs and to prevent another road user falling beneath its wheels. These ‘low entry’ cabs are also appearing on tipper trucks and articulated lorries.

Lorry Cab Good Vision

The ubiquitous UPS delivery vehicles have had nearside doors like this for many years. New businesses have grown to meet the needs of the DVS including the retro fitting of additional windows in the doors of older trucks. 

Door windows

Indirect Vision

Vehicles that fail the minimum one-star direct vision rating must have front and side blind spots completely eliminated or minimised as far as practical. The requirements specify that this should be by use of the following:

Class V and VI mirrors or cameras that eliminate blind spots around the vehicle cab area.

Lorry Cab Mirrors 2

A fully operational camera monitoring system including side cameras and an in-cab monitor that increase driver visibility

Side cameras

Near-side proximity sensors with a driver alert warns drivers of any vulnerable road users on their near-side

screen display


A rear mounted camera gives the driver a full view across the area adjacent to the back of their vehicle when reversing.

Reversing Camera

Minimising Physical Impact of a Hazard

The Vision Zero regulations extend beyond just the direct and indirect vision standard. Vehicles that do not meet the one-star direct vision standard will have to be fitted with physical barriers to deflect vulnerable road users away from them.

Lorry sidebars

It is worth noting, that in the picture above the straps fastening the curtain side have been properly secured so that they do not flap and becoming a hazard. The side bars shown will help prevent a person falling under the wheels, but there is still some risk of becoming entangled in them.

The solution recommended in Vision Zero is to panel the sidebars in to become side guards, like the lorry in the background of the picture of the dustcart earlier in this blog. Sideguards reduce the chance of injury to cyclists and pedestrians.

Side protection tipper lorry

The tipper truck above has not only had side panels added, but also a less angular design of upright at the front to reduce the damage it may cause if impacting a body. The picture below shows how good design can remove a potential hazard. In this case, a change of design has moved the protruding hinge of the load sheeting system to above the head height of a pedestrian or cyclist.

lorry load cover mounts

Warning of intended manoeuvre

As well as visual indication (reversing lights and turn indicators), vehicles will have to be fitted with a working reverse alarm to alert vulnerable road users of a reversing manoeuvre. To be fair, these are already commonplace.

Also required will be a left-turn audible alarm that warns when a driver operates the vehicle’s left turn indicator. These are the disjointed voices that announce, “Caution, this vehicle is turning left”. Recently I noticed that a lorry, waiting at traffic lights on the nearby one-way system, was announcing that it was “… turning right.”

Suicidal motorcyclist

This is another lorry waiting to turn right at the same lights. I have a quick flinch every time I see another road user squeezing through these spaces. The new standard requires improved signage on vehicles but could be bettered to respond to this type of turn right scenario.


Bike ban sign

Signs on lorries suggesting cyclists should not pass on the left, despite this being where most cycle lanes are, will be replaced. Instead, there will be signage to warn road users of the hazards around the vehicle.

Vehicle signage 2

Vehicle signage 1

Is This Really Something New?

Many lorry operators already use the ‘Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme’ (FORS) to demonstrate that they follow best practice in terms of safety, efficiency, and environmental protection. The scheme has three standards; Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The DVS largely mirrors the safety requirements of the FORS silver level. As a result, those operators who meet the silver or gold standard will have little, if any, extra work to do in order to comply with the DVS.


Implementation has been timed to coincide with changes to the Low Emission Zone which will require that lorries meet Euro VI emissions standards or pay a daily charge to drive within the Greater London area. Operators changing their vehicles to comply with the latter requirements, could select replacements that also meet the DVS.

Dennis DVS Vehicle

Will it Make a Difference.

All I can base my judgement on is my experience of cycling in Central London over the last 20 years.

I should perhaps say that I have never subscribed to any view other than the vast majority of truck drivers are thoroughly decent people trying to do an honest job of work to the best of their abilities. Likewise, other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are not immune from lapses of concentration or from making errors of judgement.

Whilst only one of the above groups may be equipped with 44 tonnes of loaded vehicle, that does not necessarily put them in the wrong when conflict occurs. That is why I personally oppose moves to introduce a presumption of blame on to the driver of a motor vehicle when it is in collision with a vulnerable road user. My experience from conducting accident investigations is that an open mind has to be kept if the true underlying causes of an accident is to be established.

There is a need though for all road users to perceive that they are treated fairly. One of the biggest obstacles to this are the way lazy journalists and sloppy editors report events.  The role of drivers is usually minimised whilst other road users have things personalised to them. One of my favourite headlines was, “Lorry Runs Amok – Two Dogs Hurt.” Assuming that the lorry had no feelings, emotions or control over what happened to it; then this should have been reported as ‘Driver Loses Control of Lorry’. Later it was established that failure of a third-party brake component not manufactured to the original specification caused the driver to lose control.

I’ve seen first hand not only the affects that the trauma of a road accident has on those directly involved, but also those who attend to aid the victims. I fully support the DVS as I believe that it gives drivers the tools they need to manoeuvre safely, and results in a massive reduction in blind spots. The professional driver can use their skills and abilities to operate the vehicle safely and in a way that does not endanger vulnerable road users.

Commer Trucks

In recent years my perception is that truck drivers appear to be more aware of vulnerable road users. The FORS scheme has meant that many vehicles have become better equipped and drivers given the tools to be more aware of risk around their vehicle.

The Metropolitan Police ran a ‘Changing Places’ campaign encouraging drivers and cyclists to exchange places as part of a drive to improve road safety; and more recently have been running ‘Operation Close Pass’.

Aldgate Square

The increased provision in recent years of both segregated and unsegregated cycle routes has encouraged more people to cycle. This has increased cycling visibility, so drivers are likely to be more aware of the need to cater for other road users.

Thames Furniture Lorry

A Manifesto for Chalk Streams.

Stream in Summer


Over the years I have been involved in some single cause environmental campaigns, and observed others. Success, where it has come, has mostly been won when there has been one combined consistent and coherent voice. Most have also had a clearly stated set of goals around which support could coalesce and a campaign strategy be built.

Currently there are one or two prominent individuals and many interest groups acting as advocates for chalk streams. There is even a conference with the water companies and regulator proposed for the autumn. However, if they are to survive, I believe the chalk streams of England now need such a unified voice, and a clear manifesto that sets minimum acceptable standards for chalk stream health.

The following is offered as a discussion document and suggestions in the hope that someone will come forward to take it further. Perhaps one of the existing groups can set up a Zoom conference and invite all the others to appoint a representative to join in. 



The chalk streams of England are one of the rarest habitats in the world, arguably more threatened than the rainforests. There are only about 200 in the whole world with the vast majority being in the South and East of England. The few that aren’t, are in Northern France. In recent years the very existence of these streams in England has been threatened, with most suffering some kind of environmental damage; and in some cases, extinction level harm.

Water in chalks streams is some of the freshest and cleanest to be found due to the filtering effect provided by the chalk. This has resulted in it being exploited by the water companies to the point where streams have dried up completely. 

The privately-owned water companies make profit from supplying water.  There has been a drought in the South East of England for the last three years, however, they have refused to impose measures like introducing a hosepipe ban.  Politically this could be disastrous for them. It would highlight their failures to develop and maintain a sustainable and resilient water supply; and failures on the part of government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat to effectively regulate the industry.

Water companies also routinely release untreated sewage into rivers causing pollution and further environmental degradation.

Some pension funds have shareholdings in the water companies and effectively elect directors. They therefore bear some of the responsibilities for these actions.  Despite apparently being contrary to their sustainable development and ethical commitments, some of these funds appear to support the water companies on the basis of maximum dividend at any price.

There are questions relating to whether the current government is about to lower environmental standards, and regulation of bodies like water companies and investment funds.

There is some media coverage of the current chalk stream crisis. Nationally this often involves a prominent individual and, locally, interest groups and associations. There is regular social media activity; often using the hashtag #chalkstreamsincrisis. Last year there was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons and, in June this year, the Public Accounts Committee questioned Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency over their management of the water companies and water supply.

Companies and regulators are used to handling data and measuring performance against defined standards. Having a manifesto that gives standards means that they can be held to account properly and not against their own cosily derived criteria. The manifesto standards would mean that in any discussion the water companies will know what is expected of them, making it more difficult to offer some sop rather than taking proper action. Politicians and those creating environmental policies will also know what is expected and, with sufficient public support, demanded of them. When campaigners are asked what they want, the answer will be there in detail.

Despite legislation and twenty years of talking, the chalk streams of England are once again beginning to dry. NOW, more than ever before, a manifesto for their future is required.

The Campaign for Chalk Streams

I propose that an organisation with this name is established as both a charity and a limited company. Initially membership would be open to all organisations with an interest in preserving and restoring chalk streams. This will hopefully provide a degree of base funding. Individual supporter membership could follow, but structured so as not to harm existing groups.

This would require groups that perhaps do not at first appear to be natural allies to come together.  For example, the angling community and the aquatic re-wilders may not agree on how a stream is managed – but their arguments are pointless if in the meantime the chalk streams have disappeared. Another example would be the farmer interested in maintaining local levels of ground water and the ecologist advocating wide river bank margins to reduce agricultural run-off. These arguments are surely a luxury for another day.

I have established this kind of umbrella organisation before and it offers a number of advantages. It can do the hard campaigning that local groups may not feel able to do. It can confront water companies or government, initiate legal action or challenge the media; whilst the local groups can maintain their existing relationships with these organisations. Once a campaign to secure a minimum standard of future for the chalk streams has been successful, the organisation can be dissolved leaving the local groups with their relationships intact to continue with their monitoring and care of the chalk streams.

The organisation should:

Ideally have a full-time director and support staff.  There should be a ‘high profile’ Chair-person or President to help maintain the profile of the organisation and cause.

Campaign for a minimum level of Environmental Protection for all chalk streams and Enhanced Protection for key rivers.

Campaign for effective regulation by a strong regulator that can impose penalties that make compliance more advantageous than facing the punishment – i.e. it no longer being cheaper and easier to pay fines rather than comply with legal obligations.

Campaign for dividends paid by water companies to be capped to a diminishing percentage of the previous year’s dividend, following each pollution, or excessive reduction of water flow, incident.

Campaign for an effective regeneration, by the relevant water company, of sections of chalk stream that in the last ten years have dried out at any point due to over abstraction of water. To include creating a profile of all species associated with that particular section of chalk stream: based on historical records, surveys of contiguous ecosystems and any relocated specimens; and the creation of a genetic library for each so that any restocking comes from an appropriate population. To include plant, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and bacteria; not just fish.

Create a minimum standard for the health of each chalk stream:
Create a minimum standard for river flow.
Create a minimum standard for river water quality.

Create a biodiversity standard – all species not just key indicator species.
These demands and standards should clearly be expressed in a ‘Manifesto for Chalk Streams’.

Maintain press and media awareness of, and interest in, these issues.

Become the one-stop-shop of choice for those requiring quality information relating to the welfare of chalk streams.

Inform and affect policy through lobbying politicians, local and national government.

Promote public awareness of the importance of chalk streams as internationally rare and threatened ecosystems.

Promote public involvement in the management and maintenance of chalk streams through involvement in existing local support groups and participation in consultation processes.

Promote citizen science and encourage school science departments and universities to set up monitoring programmes as part of their field studies.

Promote, and fund, academic research.

Raise awareness of the threat to chalk streams within the wider environmental movement both nationally and internationally.

Promote agricultural practices that protect streams from animal waste or chemical run-off.

Promote measures to prevent road and urban run-off into chalk streams including infrastructure re-engineering where required.

Promote individual responsibility for personal water consumption.

A Manifesto for Chalk Streams.

  1. The water flow in any chalk stream should not drop below the 25-year average for the period 1976 – 2000, for that day of the year. Where it drops below 75% of that average for more than five days, water abstraction from the source aquifer shall immediately be reduced by not less than 20% of the previous seven-day average. For each subsequent consecutive five-day period of reduced water flow, the abstraction shall be reduced by a further 20% until such time as the water flow is restored. If the period of reduced flow lasts for ten days, drought measures shall immediately be implemented. 
  2. If on 30 April each year the level of groundwater in any aquifer feeding a chalk stream is less than 80% of 25-year average for the period 1976 – 2000, the permitted abstraction from that aquifer shall be reduced by not less than 20% of the date average for the previous five years. If it is less than 60%, the permitted abstraction shall be reduced by not less than 50% of the date average for the previous five years, and drought measures shall immediately be implemented. If on any other date in the year, the level of groundwater in the aquifer falls below 50% of the 1976 – 2000 average for that day of the year, the permitted abstraction shall be reduced by not less than 50% of the date average for the previous five years, and drought measures shall immediately be implemented. 
  3. Where water flow in a stream reduces to a point where the full biodiversity can no longer be maintained, or it ceases to flow completely, all water abstraction shall cease until the water flow returns to 50% of the norm, at which point the two clauses above will again apply. Following such an event the water company shall be responsible for restoring, from genetically matched populations, all species to population levels shown in the biodiversity standard. 
  4. Where a chalk stream has no designated environmental protection, in all planning and other matters it will considered to have the same status as a SSSI. 
  5. There shall be a presumption that there will be no development within five metres of the bank of a chalk stream. Where there is a development on land running to the bank of a chalk stream, there shall be a two-metre-wide margin from the edge of the bank left for natural wild growth. 
  6. Where there is provision for rain or other waste-water run-off in to a chalk stream, the property owner or relevant highway authority, shall reduce this by 50% by 2025, and completely by 2030. Blue-green measures to attenuate flow and adequately filter the water shall be an acceptable alternative. 
  7. All sewage, industrial waste, and waste-water processing plants shall have the capacity to handle up to, and including, one in 50 years level incidences. All treated water discharged from these plants into a chalk stream should be chemically balanced, to match that from the source aquifer of the stream, and be free of micro-plastics. 
  8. In the event of a pollution incident; failure to stop it, take measures to mitigate the effects (e.g. oxygenation), and advise all interested authorities; at the earliest opportunity, shall be considered aggravating factors resulting in more severe punishment. If there are more than five incidents by the same polluter in the same stream, in any 12-month period, the directors (including non-executive) or owners of that business may be held personally liable and fined or imprisoned. 
  9. During a pollution incident; the polluter shall start clean-up operations at the earliest opportunity, including whilst the event is still happening.  The response should incorporate teams hand picking items such as wipes. 
  10. Where reasonably practicable, any man-made obstacles such as dams, weirs or flood control measures shall be removed from chalk streams to promote fish migration and greater biodiversity in the upper reaches. Where this is not possible, fish ladders, eel passes and other bypasses shall be installed for the same purpose. 
  11. No new fish farms, or expansion of existing ones, will be permitted in chalk streams. No fish that are genetically different to the local population shall be farmed in any chalk stream. Statutory provision shall be made requiring the owners of any such fish farm to arrange for routine monthly health and disease screening of the fish stocks, with mandatory reporting of results. 
  12. The owners of any fish farm shall routinely monitor dissolved oxygen levels, urea levels and river bed contamination for one mile downstream from the farm. They shall be required to clean the river bed of excess amounts of waste food or fish waste product; and should urea levels exceed a predetermined level, immediately reduce stock levels. 
  13. It is acknowledged that chalk streams are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. There are about 200 true chalk streams to be found anywhere in the world and most of them are in England.  They support their own niche ecosystem and deserve the highest levels of environmental protection.

In Conclusion

Sir Charles Walker MP, speaking last year in the House of Commons, stated:

“I find it extraordinary, given our own poor environmental record, that colleagues in this House lecture Indonesia and Brazil so freely on their responsibility to the rain forests. Of course, those two countries have a huge responsibility to the rain forests, but if we cannot save the chalk streams that are literally in our own backyard, what are we doing lecturing other countries on their environmental responsibilities? Saving the world does not start with the rest of the world. Saving the world starts right here, right now, doing our bit locally with our chalk streams—think locally, act globally.” Hansard Vol.663 col 1168 22 July 2019.

Forty years ago, I would have relished the challenge of such a campaign. Today is no longer my time; but I’m sure that amongst the various groups set up to protect particular chalk streams, there are the women and men whose time is today and tomorrow.  I invite them to step forward, gird their loins and not ask or discuss, but demand that the chalk streams of England are saved, and saved now – not for us but for the world and the future.

Should you wish to discuss this further with me, volunteer to co-ordinate responses or host a video meeting, my email is peter@byfootandbike.com These links are to some blogs about chalk streams that I have posted: 


2 Pastoral

The Great North Wood – One wood but many parts.


The lockdown for Corona Virus has not been as restrictive in the UK as in some other countries.  Until today, the ‘rules’ have allowed individual to venture out once a day, for a period of no more than about an hour, for exercise. I have chosen to use this as an opportunity to explore the remnants of the old Great North Wood near where I live in Norwood; the name itself being a contraction of North Wood.

The map below, produced by John Rocque in the early 1740s, show the wooded area remaining at that time – the red dot indicates where I am currently living.

John Rocque map of Great North Wood

The name ‘North Wood’, was given to differentiate it from the huge ‘South Wood’ that covered much of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.  The term ‘weald’, used to describe much of the geography of those counties, comes from the Old English word for forest.

I remember being told as a child, that an oak tree takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live and 300 years to die. Indeed, there are some oaks more than 1000 years old. I like to think that in my journeying I will pass by at least one tree that was alive when Rocque made his map. 200 metres from where I live is the oak below and I gain great pleasure watching it day-by-day through the seasons.

Westow Street Oak

At the time of Rocque, areas of the Great North Wood had been managed by coppicing for several centuries; both to provide raw materials and to supply charcoal kilns. The picture below, of charcoal burning is from John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions ’, of 1664.  Not only is this one of the finest treatises on forestry ever written, it was prescient in its warnings regarding the threat of deforestation. Living in Deptford, he would have been very familiar with the Great North Wood.

Charcoal Burning John Evelyn’s Sylva 1664

In reality the widespread deforestation of Britain had already taken place.  10,000 years ago, following a bit of a chilly spell, the country was densely wooded. Sometimes this is referred to as the ‘wildwood’ or ‘wyldewood’  to differentiate it from more recent ‘managed’ woodlands.  The wildwood, in terms of the bigger picture over time, did not last for long. 

By the end of the Bronze Age 3000 years ago, settlements had proliferated and become quite extensive with, almost urban, groupings of round houses like the one below which is located at Flag Fen Archaeological Park. The foundations of modern agriculture were in place with cleared pasture and systems of cultivated land. Copper was being mined in industrial amounts; and the free movements of people and goods throughout much of Europe was well established.  Where felled trees have survived, such as those at Seahenge; the number of different axe heads used, show that these people were well practiced, and proficient, at felling trees.

Bronze Age Roundhouse

When the Romans arrived in Britain in 43AD, the demand for wood increased dramatically to support the needs of a growing infrastructure and industry. It was also the main fuel.  As with other parts of the empire, forests and woodlands were being decimated.

When the Romans left Britain in about 400 AD, the Great North Wood may have already contracted to a size closer that mapped by John Rocque. Unfortunately, due to Corona virus shutdowns I cannot obtain permission to include a modern reworking of a map from that period showing this.


The Anglo Saxons are known to have cleared large portions of forest. The survival of the Great North Wood may be down to the geology of the Norwood Ridge on which much of it is located. This is formed of London Clay which, although ideal for deep rooted trees, made it a poor prospect for either cultivation or settlement.

From the Domesday Book (1086) we learn that much of the land on which the wood is located had come into the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Some hunting rights may have remained with local lords; whilst local people retained some right to graze and manage the woodland. It also shows that by then wood-pasture and woodland covered only about 15% of England. By the time of the Black Death in 1349, half of that remaining woodland had also been felled.

Black Death

The Port of Weymouth, in my home county of Dorsetshire, celebrates the part it played in the arrival of plague, by displaying the above plaque on the quayside. The Black Death and resulting reduction in the population brought respite to the woodlands, for perhaps a century, before growing demands of industry once again created a need for fuel.

Gypsy Hill Plague Pits

This small parcel of land in Gypsy Hill which would once have one been in the Great North Wood, has avoided development due to being the site of plague pits where victims of the black death were buried.

Launch of HMS St Albans

During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; colder winters, and an increase in ship building which required good quality oak, increased the pressure on woodlands. New agricultural techniques, developed in the Eighteenth Century, meant that land that once had only been suitable for woodland, could now be farmed.

As more land was enclosed and woodland became less economically important, parcels of land were sold off for housing.

London and Croydon Railway

The coming of the railways meant that coal could easily be brought into the area, possibly saving what was left of the old Great North Wood. The railway cutting in the illustration above, like much of the line of the original London to Croydon Railway, is wooded and plays an important part in linking remnants of the wood. There are even some mini nature reserves in places along the route.

Dulwich Rail Cutting

Today there are more than 30 areas of woodland or associated green space, left within the boundary of the medieval wood.  Many of these are now secure and some are managed by the London Wildlife Trust. Much of this is due to the work of the ‘Friends of the Great North Wood’, a group formed in 1992. My favourite tree in the remains of the Great North Wood is one of the humblest. I wrote about it here.

In 2017 the London Wildlife Trust launched the Great North Wood project with the aim of reviving and re imagining the Great North Wood. The Heritage Lottery Fund stumped up nearly £700,000 towards the cost of this.

View from Tower St Peters Brockley

Much of the wood cover in the area is provided by mature broad-leave trees in gardens, other privately owned spaces and roadside planting.

Tarleton Gardens Banner

Sadly, all across the old Great North Wood, trees are being lost to development, or local authority administrative convenience.

Save Me Tree

I don’t know whether there is any truth in the reports that 5G phone signals are corrupted by wet leaves on trees.  Following upgrades to the mast below, you can see where in the last few days several mature broadleaf trees have been felled and replaced by some that are little more than sapling.

5g Mast

There are small areas of ground dotted about that have never been enclosed or had ownership registered.  If an individual fences such land and maintains control of it for 12 years, they can register ownership with the Land Registry.  I guess I should check whether there is an owner registered for the patch of land below and, if not, pull the fence down or take control of it by planting and maintaining a couple of fruit trees. It could then be incorporated into the management of nearby Stambourne Wood.  

Enclosed Land

If one of the organisations involved in the future of the Great North Wood had the time, I suspect a number of these pockets of land could be located and secured, especially as the Land Registry has a target for comprehensive land registration by 2030.

Building Plot

One of the busier roads on the Norwood Ridge is fairly well lined by mature trees, although many are in private gardens. On one side of the road behind the trees there are a line of scrubby patches of ground that is effectively protecting the tree roots and providing a wildlife corridor.  This is slowly being taken for building. The plot above is for sale with planning permission for 8 houses.

The five pictures above have been taken in the last four days. Groups like the London Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Great North Wood are doing a great job in saving parts of the Great North Wood; most notably Hillcrest Wood which, as recently as two years ago, was due to be ravaged to provide space for housing development.

However, it is the constant loss of fragments like those above that, collectively, may compromise what little of the wood is left.  The decision to fell the tree in the picture below, and photographed today, can hardly be argued with . It was one of what originally was a row of more than 30 trees. As age has taken its toll, gaps in that line have started appearing.  What is not happening, is any replanting for the benefit of future generations. Losing trees from an estate may be seen  by some as good economic sense and a way of reducing costs.

Tree Bole

During the current Corona Virus lockdown, I have used my exercise allowance to visit several remnants of the wood although one or two that are run as nature reserves are currently closed.  Most of the parks in the area have always had some mature trees in them to reflect their woodland heritage. Over the last 25 years many have been quite heavily planted with trees and former green deserts are beginning to thrive as semi woodlands.  

Elder Hole Coppice

I have been interested to observe in recent summers that, on the hottest days, space in the shade of a tree has become more desirable than that in full sun. I have used these parks as connecting routes between the woodlands to minimise the amount of pavement walking. 

I was going to reproduce a map here showing the location of these green spaces, but again could not obtain permission to do so.   Therefore, I’m putting up one picture for each of the wooded areas I’ve walked in during the lockdown. Clicking on the images will link you to further relevant information.

Belair Park

Belair Park Oak

Beaulieu Heights

Beulah Heights

Biggin Wood

Biggin Wood

Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park Woodland

Dulwich Park

Dulwich Park

Dulwich Wood

Dulwich Wood

Gipsy Hill Plague Pits – aka Long Meadow

Gipsy Hill Plague Pits

Grangewood Park

Grangewood Park

Hillcrest Wood

Hillcrest Wood

Horniman Museum Gardens

Horniman Museum Gardens

Norwood Grove

Norwood Grove

Norwood Park

Norwood Park

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill

South Norwood Grounds

South Norwood Grounds

Spa Wood

Spa Wood

Stambourne Wood

Stambourne Wood

Streatham Common

Streatham Common

Sydenham Hill Wood

Sydenham Hill Wood

Sydenham Wells Park

Sydenham Wells Park Pond

Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

Westow Park

Westow Park

The Corona Virus lockdown has encouraged me to explore more of what is on my doorstep. As of today the restrictions on time spent outdoors has been relaxed, so I should be able to wander a little further to the more outlying part of the Great North Wood.


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Tail Piece

A Tale of Two (or is it Three) Cities.

City of London Skyline

In the past I have written about London, usually meaning the metropolis of Greater London. Occasionally however, I am referring to the ‘City of London’ or ‘Square Mile’ as it is sometimes known. I thought it may be useful to do a quick explanation of the difference between the two, before I publish a blog about the approaches each is taking to reducing the effects of freight transport on the environment. Clicking on the images will link you to further relevant information.


I should take a moment to explain the hiatus there has been in my blogging.  In most part, this was due to a sudden major decline in my eyesight about two years ago and finding it virtually impossible to read a book or to use a computer screen.  It probably also contributed to a rather painful bicycle accident which I have written about. Thanks to the fantastic team at the Moorfields eye clinic, after several visits I may not have 20/20 vision, but what I do have is not far short of that, although there are some on-going problems to be addressed when life returns to normal. It’s like being able to see properly for the first time again, an experience I had as a young child receiving my first prescription glasses. A family member reminded me of how euphoric I had been at that time.

Nasa Satelite Image of London UK

Greater London, or London, is the larger area and for those who like statistics, comprises 607 square miles made up of 32 Boroughs and the ‘City of London’.  It has approximately 8 ½ million people living within its boundaries.  London-wide administrative matters are dealt with by the Greater London Assembly currently under the stewardship of Mayor Sadiq Khan. Both are based in City Hall which is the building, shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet, in the picture below.

City Hall and Shard London UK

Also known as the ‘Square Mile’, the ‘City of London’ is based on the area settled by the Romans a couple of millennia ago on the northern bank of the River Thames. 

Roman Londinium

Being Romans, the settlement included an amphitheatre in which gladiators would strut their stuff for the entertainment of the masses. 

Roman Amphitheatre London

The remains of the amphitheatre were discovered beneath the yard of Guildhall during the course of an archaeological dig in 1988.

Guildhall London

These are now incorporated into the Guildhall Art Gallery and, in normal times, are open to the public (admission free!!!).

Cheesegrater and Walkie Talkie

The City of London is the main financial district and includes many landmark buildings such a as Tower 42, the ‘Cheese-grater’, and ‘Walkie-talkie’; as well as older ones such as the Bank of England and Royal Exchange below.

Bank of England

A further satellite financial district has developed at Canary Wharf, below, which transformed from redundant docks to a mass of high-rise towers.

Canary Wharf and RN College

The City of London has its own Lord Mayor, now known as ‘Lord Mayor of the City of London’ to avoid confusion with the ‘Mayor of London’. The Lord Mayor is head of the City of London and heads up the City of London Corporation which governs it. Elected annually, the current lord mayor isWilliam Russell.   A click on the image below will bring up a short video of his Lord Mayor’s Parade.  

Lord Mayor videolink

He is assisted by Sheriff’s who are also responsible for the running of the Old Bailey which holds trials of national significance.  The City of  London also has its own police force. Being an ancient post, appearances by the Lord Mayor are often accompanied by pomp, pageantry and regalia.

Pikemen and Musketeers

The City of London is the oldest continual municipal democracy in the world.  It was recorded in 1032 and possibly predates that. Located close to the Bank of England, the Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor. This 1837 engraving of it is by John Woods and based on a picture byHablot Knight Browne which itself drew on a study by the architect and draughtsman Robert Garland.

Mansion House london

The Lord Mayor of the City of London acts as a worldwide ambassador for financial district and the Financial Services industry.  Whilst this is not part of government, the importance of the role is recognised twice a year when, at prestigious dinners, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at one, and the Foreign Secretary at the other, make keynote speeches that usually contain policy announcements and are studied and followed world-wide. 

City of London Dragon

Dotted around the perimeter of the City of London are boundary markers, such as this one on the embankment; whilst bollard around the city also carry its red and white heraldic colours.

The House of Fools

London also has another city; the City of Westminster.  The City of Westminster is now just one of the London boroughs, but retains the titular name. It has no more status or responsibility than the other boroughs.  Within its boundaries, the City of Westminster has the Palace of Westminster home to the Houses of Parliament – the mother of parliaments; not to mention Buckingham Palace and Saint James Palace, home to the court of Saint James. 

Buckingham Palace

Westminster Abbey is where not only royal weddings and funerals take place, but artists poets and Kings are buried. It is of course, the final resting places of the Unknown Warrior. 

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior WestminsterAbbey

 A little way from the Abbey is the catholic Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster Cathedral at night

In the future I hope to do a number of blogs regarding environmental and transport issues within London, and contrast the approaches of the metropolis and the City of London. Along the way I’ll probably refer to ’Westminster’ as well, but usually as shorthand for the government, parliament and administration of the UK.  I hope that you will find this blog useful and it will help avoid confusion in the future.

London UK Skyline at Dusk