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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Friday, 8 April 2016

The world's smallest police station

It’s asking for trouble, isn’t it, using superlatives?  Some smart-alec is bound to pop up and contradict your claim.  But it’s an eye-catching headline and we really shouldn’t allow truth to get in the way of a good story.

Smallest police station, Trafalgar Square, London

So, next time you happen to be walking across Trafalgar Square with a companion that you’d like to impress, stroll nonchalantly across to the south-east corner (that’s the bit closest to the Strand) and spy a small, round, stone, structure with an ornate lamp on top and a pair of black half-glazed doors.  Then ask your playmate, with a meaningful twinkle, “Now, what do you suppose that is?”  Once you’ve shaken your head in merriment at all the absurd suggestions made by your fellow traveller – toilet, Downing Street’s secret back door, tobacco kiosk, Nelson’s pantry, headquarters of Universal Export, etc – you can say, “Why, bless you, that’s none other than the smallest police station in Britain” (slight pause) “ – if not in the whole, wide, world.”   And before your associate has the chance to contest your assertion, you can further astound them – and the by now gathering crowd - with some additional knowledge, tempered with a touch of appealing humility, “Of course, there is a police kiosk in Carrabelle, Florida, in the USA, which is probably smaller; but nowhere near as nice.  And I’m just repeating something I saw on A Bit About Britain, so I could be wrong.  Anyway, isn’t it jolly spiffing?”

Your comrade will be so overwhelmed that they may even treat you to a glass of something in ‘the Clarence’ across the road on Whitehall.

Trafalgar Square has long been a focal point for public gatherings and, it must be said, a smidgen of rowdiness – with the occasional riot thrown in for good measure. This small police station was in fact a kind of observation post, created in the late 1920s by hollowing out the plinth that housed a gas lamp, dating from 1826.  Slits were cut in the side to provide 360 degree vision and a direct telephone line connected it to Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.  Apparently, it is large enough to hold one policeman or two prisoners (London’s criminals are quite small).  Once electricity was installed, the light flashed blue when the receiver was lifted (or when the telephone rang – it depends which account you believe) in order to alert other Constables to the possibility that something was amiss.  Whistles blew, truncheons were waived and men came running to assist, practising saying, “You’re nicked, mate,” as they went.

Smallest police station, Trafalgar Square, London

Legend has it that the lamp originated from Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory; alas, this is unlikely.  Alas, also, the tiny police station in Trafalgar Square is no longer in use.  I am not sure when it was decommissioned.  It is mentioned in a London guide published in 1979 (a photo shows it with dirty, cream, doors), and it seems to have been working then.  No doubt it gave way to cheaper CCTV.  Or maybe policemen are bigger now. More likely they couldn’t connect a PC to it…  The Met is helping us with enquiries on this and you will be the first to know what they say – though, obviously, they are quite busy catching bad people, so don’t hold your breath.

These days, the world’s smallest police station is apparently used as a broom cupboard by Westminster City Council. Seems like it’s made a clean break with its past.

Nelson, Trafalgar Square

Friday, 1 April 2016

Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire.

This attraction carries a SEVERE CHILD WARNING: if you are not the keeper of young children, or feel distressed or intimidated by the presence of hoards of loud, scurrying, sometimes barging, and seemingly unsupervised small humans, DO NOT visit Brimham Rocks during the school holidays. 

Brimham Rocks is an area of often curiously eroded rock formations in Nidderdale, near Pateley Bridge and about 10 miles from Harrogate, in Yorkshire.  Once owned by the monks of Fountains Abbey, the Rocks have been a tourist attraction for at least 200 hundred years.  Nowadays, they are a magnet for families, their dogs and walkers (sometimes with more dogs).  There is plenty of opportunity for adventure including, of course, clambering on, and falling off, the rocks.

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire.

About 320 million years ago, half of Yorkshire was the delta of a huge river that flowed south from Norway and Scotland, depositing layers of granite sand which went on to form a hard sandstone, Millstone Grit.  Erosion, mostly during the last Ice age between 80-10,000 years ago, has worn away the softer rock, leaving harder rock exposed.

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire

Some of the rocks have been given names – not personal names like Adolf or Goneril, but names which suggest the shape of the rock when viewed from a certain angle, such as ‘the Eagle’, ‘the Anvil’ and ‘the Fractious Child’ (I might have made the last one up).

Birch trees, controlling.

The habitat around the rocks includes heathland, bog and woodland.  So there is a variety of plants, including various mosses and marsh plants, heather, bilberry, oak, rowan and some particularly fierce birch trees, which have to be controlled by rangers.  The rangers’ remit unfortunately does not extend to some of the children.  Amazingly, Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak butterflies apparently manage to survive in this harsh environment.

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire.

Since 1970, Brimham Rocks has been owned by the National Trust, who in addition to caring for the place provide a shop (which sells locally made bilberry jam), toilets, information and basic refreshments.  On a good day, it would be a nice spot for a picnic.  It is certainly an intriguing place to see, with some wonderful views, though the last time we visited it was like a home game at Old Trafford and we couldn’t wait to get into the nearest city centre for some peace and quiet.  We really shouldn’t have visited during the school holidays… The NT car park (free to members) was full and an enterprising farmer was offering spaces in a field for the princely sum of £4.00 for each vehicle.  We worked out that revenue that day would be at least £1,000 – not a bad little earner.

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire.

Brimham Rocks have appeared in various kids’ programmes, apparently, but the height of their fame, until being featured by A Bit About Britain, was an appearance in the video for the Bee Gees’ You Win Again in 1987.  I’m sure you can find it if you want to.

Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire.