Joe Weslowski


That sinking feeling

My friend Joe specialises in restoration works on old buildings. At present he is working on an old farm house located a few miles away from Goring, in South Oxfordshire. One fine day a couple of weeks ago I hopped on the bike and rode out to the site to see how things were coming along.


One look at the top-centre of the picture is all it takes to recognise that the building has suffered problems of differential settlement. The whole centre section of the house, which was an extension to the original building, has sunk to an extent equivalent to at least a couple of courses of brickwork.

When looking at how the brickwork has distorted to accommodate the settlement it impossible not to appreciate the forgiving nature of bricks bonded by lime-mortar, hardly a brick was broken by the settlement.

Joe's job was (and is) to bring forth order from this chaos. For example, a raised string course of bricks runs between the upper window and the lower window. The string course and surrounding brickwork had been severely distorted by the settlement (a similar string course runs above the top of the upper window and provides an indication of the degree of settlement). It will be seen that Joe has removed the warped brickwork over the lower window and replaced it, together with a new section of string course. The old string course and the new one have been neatly joined together by a brick on-end. As one who has never been able to think in three dimensions I thought this was clever.

The new bricks used in the restoration works were made by the firm of H.G. Matthews of Bellingdon, Bucks, who, I ought to mention, were kind enough to have me as a guest at their open day at the works last year.

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For the record, Joe Weslowski lives in Reading. His telephone numbers are 0118 959 5340 (home) and 07756 978586 (mobile). His email address is and his web site address is:

Work by Ford Maddox Brown

I've always liked this picture, in part because my background is in the gravel business. The subject is, of course, the rules that govern the operation of the class system.


It doesn't seem to be widely recognised that the labourer in the centre foreground is engaged in sieving gravel. You will see that he is using a shovel to hurl gravel at an inclined sieve (a "screen") propped up by a length of timber. The refined material, sand, is passing through the screen and may be seen falling into a heap behind it. The oversized material that fails to pass the wires of the screen piles-up in front of it and has to be removed periodically. In the gravel business even today, the coarse material that fails to pass a screen is called "rejects".

Sieves operate simple go, no-go rules and I think that this picture draws a parallel between the way that the gravel is being sorted into classes by sieving and the way that society is sorted into classes by the remorseless application of a similar set of go, no-go, rules.

There is a lot going on in this picture, but notice where the attention of the clerical gent on the right is focused.

This is a link to an old photograph showing an inclined screen in a gravel pit. The fine material piles up behind the screen, which must be moved backwards periodically. The coarse material in the foreground is "rejects".

Another brick in the wall

The picture below shows a child labourer at work, evidently helping to set a kiln ready for firing at a brickworks somewhere on the Indian sub-continent. The pair of hands on the right is throwing an already-fired brick to the child in the centre who will, in turn, throw it to the person on the left, who will place it in position on top of the unfired bricks. This type of kiln is called a Bull's trench kiln, named after its inventor, Bull, an Englishman. 

child labourer

Something over a year ago we visited the part of northern India called by some the Golden Triangle. Being driven across the plains of this huge region it is impossible not to be struck by the hundreds of Bull's trench kilns to be seen at work. The primary fuel for the kilns is timber, but judging from the dense, evil-looking black smoke seen emerging from the chimney stacks this appears often to be augmented by other materials, probably wastes and possibly including oil, old rubber tyres and plastics.

Building stone is scarce on the Indo-Gangetic Plain but the alluvial soils of the plain provide an ideal raw material for making bricks. There hundreds of thousands of brick kilns at work today in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, many of them located on the Gangetic Plain.

The fired bricks shown in the photograph are typical of those that we saw being delivered from any number of brickworks in India. They are hand-made and variable in size, shape and in texture, but are also remarkably uniform in colour. The bricks appear to fired at a fairly low temperature, seem to be rather friable to the touch and (I would guess) be highly absorptive. I am sure that they are excellent for use on the Gangetic Plain, but there might be some question as to their ability to withstand cycles of wetting, freezing and thawing in harsher climates.           

In India brick making is still a local activity that meets a local demand, much as it was in England until the 1940s or 50s in fact, in the days before the cheap transport of building materials in bulk by road allowed for the concentration of brick making into fewer, but much larger centres of production.

I don't know is exactly where I stand on the question of child labour in general. However, I do know exactly where I stand on the question of young children, like our friend in the picture, being forced to work under conditions and on terms that amount to slavery, or something very close to slavery.     

John Doyle Lee

This monument is to be found on the Navajo Bridge, which spans the Colorado River in Arizona. Looking at the monument, the name of the person so nobly commemorated, John Doyle Lee, rang a bell. But why? I took the picture and we moved on.

Lee's Ferry

Taken as face value, the inscription on the monument suggests that Mr Lee was a paragon of all the virtues. This, however, was not entirely the case. In 1857 John D. Lee led the mass-murder at Mountain Meadows of about 120 emigrants who were travelling, as part of the Fancher-Baker party, across Utah en route from Arkansas to California.

Lee belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the LDS); he was a Mormon.  The saints were feared and persecuted by non-Mormons, gentiles, in part because of their practice of polygamy. In 1846 they were driven from their homes in Illinois and under he leadership of Brigham Young set out in search of a land which they could call their own. After a journey of a thousand miles they arrived at the Great Salt Lake in Utah Territory, where they founded Salt Lake City in 1847. In the years that followed they spread out to settle,  farm and control large areas of what are now Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California.

It had always been the intention of the Mormons to govern their new territory in accordance with their own ecclesiastical laws and it was inevitable that this would result in friction with the government of the United States. Poisonous rhetoric was used on both sides of the argument and a detachment of the U.S. army was sent to Utah to ensure that the civil law of the Republic was observed. This was seen by the saints as a threat to their land and to their right to practice their religion and way of life in the way that they wished; they believed that they were facing annihilation. Thus, when it arrived in southern Utah, the Fancher party found itself in the middle of a very volatile and dangerous situation.

The massacre at Mountain Meadows came close to triggering a full-scale Mormon war, which was in the event averted by the outbreak of the Civil War. Following a trial held twenty years after the killings, Lee was executed by shooting at Mountain Meadows. The raw facts of the massacre and Lee's part in it have never been seriously disputed and all of the jurymen at his trial were Mormons.

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon

The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.

In fact, the battle of Marathon resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the Persian army, but events get rationalised and history gets rewritten.


This picture was taken a couple of years ago during a visit to the site of the Battle of the Wilderness at Virginia. As can been seen, the monument commemorates what was, if taken at face value, a great victory for the Confederacy.

The monument was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and unveiled in 1927. It is interesting to speculate that the unveiling would almost certainly have been attended by a number of elderly survivors of the battle.

The battle was the first fought between a Confederate army commanded by General Robert E. Lee and a Union army commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant. It was fought with great courage on both sides to a bloody impasse, at which point Grant withdrew his troops from the action and started to advance in a southerly direction, deeper into Confederate territory.

The battle at the Wilderness was not a victory for the Confederacy, it cost them dear in men and in materiel, both of which were in much shorter supply in the Confederacy than in the Union. Grant fought the war in the way that Lee's tactics obliged him to, it was a war of attrition to be won by the side that could keep it up for longest and once the Union had found, in Grant, a general who was prepared to fight its outcome could never be in doubt.

After the Wilderness and Grant's continued advance, Lee knew that the war was lost. The battle was followed by a succession of similar Confederate 'victories' that led, almost a year later, to Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox.       

The Two-dollar Bill

The banknote in the picture was given to us by a kindly, elderly gentleman (which is to say that he might have been just a few years older than me) in Prescott, Arizona. He was English by birth and was working as a volunteer at the local museum.


I didn't know that such a thing as the two-dollar bill existed and it was explained to me that this was something I had in common with many Americans. It is rumoured, for example, that every year somewhere in the U.S.A. the police all called out to arrest people trying to spend them at places like Walmart [1].

Most of the world's currencies have coins and notes in denominations that follow a 1:2:5:10 system. Here in England we have a pound coin, a two-pound coin, a five-pound note, a ten-pound note, a twenty-pound note and a fifty-pound note. In Europe notes don't stop at fifty and carry on up to five-hundred euros [2].

Every now and then the Federal Reserve decides to have another try at getting two-dollar bills into circulation, but it never works. For some reason the great American public just don't like them.

The portrait on the note is that of President Thomas Jefferson. Oddly enough, his vice-president was Aaron Burr who, in 1804, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, a one-time Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton's portrait appears on the U.S. ten-dollar bill.

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1: At one time Walmart were proposing to build a store on part of the Wilderness battlefield. Fortunately, following the uproar that greeted the proposal this is now not going to happen. But honestly, to even think of doing such a thing.

2: The EU is sunk in corruption. What possible legitimate reasons can there be for the existance of the five-hundred euro note? None at all, the note exists solely to facilitate crime, corruption, dirty-dealings and tax-evasion.

Broadly speaking

About a week ago I took a walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Reading to Newbury. Not long before this I'd spoken to a friend who'd told me that he'd seen pieces of crash-barrier, said to have been made with sections of old GWR broad-gauge rails, protecting a cottage close by the canal at Aldermaston Wharf. These, however, had disappeared at some time in the last few months.


So, when I set out on my walk I had it in mind to keep an eye open for anything along the canal that might be made with reused broad-gauge railway track.

A mile or so upstream from The Oracle in Reading, where the canal passes behind houses in Elgar Road, there is on the towpath a bridge over a stream that joins the canal at that point. The picture shows part of the bridge; could these units be resused broad-gauge railway lines? The short answer is that I don't know, but it looks to be a possibility. This web site has pictures of broad-gauge rails in situ and of similar rails that have been reused for fencing and other purposes. The rails shown in the pictures at this site appear to bear a close resemblance to the sections used in the canal towpath bridge at Reading.

Between Reading and Newbury there are several other places along the canal where ironwork like this makes an appearance, most notably at Garston turf-sided lock near Theale.

Nick Hopton