Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Rendles of Bedminster

Until a couple of weeks ago, Stockwood Pete had never heard of Thomas Rendle VC, whose bravery a hundred years ago was being honoured at a ceremony in St John's churchyard, Bedminster.

But I had heard of his younger cousin Ellen who lived just two doors further down Victoria Place.   I actually met her once – and later married her grandaughter.   So reading the family name in the 'Post' reports gave us both special reason to find out more.

While Thomas and Ellen were Bristol-born, his father, her mother, and their five siblings had all been born in mid-Devon, and brought to Bedminster by their mother when she was prematurely widowed.  Other Rendles had already made the move, part of the mass escape from the market failures and grinding rural poverty of Victorian England that forced so many to migrate into the growing industrial cities.

Thomas's career, through reform school at Kingswood (where he learned his musicianship) to the army, through South Africa where he met his wife, and on into the horror of the First World War will be well documented elsewhere (though I'll add some links at the foot of this piece).   Here I'll stick to a couple of side-stories that have been turned up in the course of the research, and offer an insight into Bristol around the end of the Victorian era.

Wiliam Rendle

William Rendle would, had he survived childhood, have been Thomas's uncle.  Instead he was, literally, cut down at the age of ten.

His widowed mother had remarried in Bedminster when William was just seven.  Her new husband was Richard Davis, blind from birth, who eked out a living on the streets playing a harmonium – a sort of reed organ.   William was in the habit of being Richard's eyes, helping him – and the harmonium – around the city.

In the darkness of an early evening in January 1882, the two of them were making their way down Captain Carey's Lane, off Old Market Street.   You won't find it now, as it's become part of the Temple Way underpass, but it shows up very clearly on the excellent “Know Your Place” website.  Captain Carey's Lane was narrow, but it was much used by the carters who shifted goods to and from the railway goods yard on Midland Road.

That evening, as the harmonium was being trundled down the lane, William leading and Richard behind, two horse-drawn carts were making their way in the opposite direction. There should have been room enough to pass – but the impatient driver of the second cart attempted to overtake.

It was never clear whether he had control of his horses, or heard William's warning shouts, or even saw the child.   The cart hit the harmonium, crushing William against the wall. 

The boy was carried into a neighbouring warehouse and from there to the Infirmary, but he died within minutes of arriving.   The distraught driver of the cart briefly disappeared from the scene.

At the inquest, the evidence emerged that many of the rules of cartage were rarely observed, and that the driver had been all too aware of what he'd done, though he claimed to know nothing about it till later.

A verdict of accidental death was returned.  Several of the jury remarked that at present the street was very dangerous as a thoroughfare.    Just another death in Victorian Bristol.
….....................................


Education, Education, Migration

Life was indeed hard for the children of the poor.   Thomas Edward Rendle VC, living in Bedminster with three younger sisters and two brothers, had lost his mother in 1898 when he was just 14.

Not long afterwards he was ordered to be detained at the Kingswood Reformatory.  Over a century later, S.Glos council is, for some reason, reluctant to release the school records for inspection at the Bristol Record Office, so it's not clear why he was sent there.   One thing's for sure; the motherless family was pretty chaotic and its members would have to live on their wits.


His younger sister Lottie was likewise sent to a reformatory school, in distant Exeter.  Later she returned to Bristol and married an Exeter man at St Mary Redcliffe in 1908, going on to live back in Exeter and later to emigrate to Canada.

A younger sister, Elizabeth, was brought before the courts in 1899.  The record shows that her offence was to be 'found wandering', and the court, in its wisdom, ordered that she be detained for four years at the Carlton House Industrial School for Girls, on St Michaels Hill.


Another sister, Maud, was sent to live with her married aunt's family in Coventry, but in 1904 was sent (along with the two younger brothers) to Canada by the Bristol Emigration Society to a very uncertain future.


All six children, then, were  'rescued' by the social reforms that were all too slowly supplanting the workhouse.   The powers of those rescuers, who seemed to have little or no accountability, over the children now seem unbelievable;  but they continued for a long time afterwards; even now charities like Fairbridge and Barnados are having to live with the shame of exporting children to the colonies as indentured labour, while knowingly hiding from them the fact they still had parents in Britain.  

I wonder if that's what happened to the younger Rendles.

Credits:
Bristol Record Office for the news reports of William Rendle's death, and the Carlton House school registers – and help in using the archive.
Bristol Libraries for free access to Ancestry records.   FindmyPast (subscription) for censuses, news searches, and online reprints
General Booth of the Salvation Army for the pictures above – they're details from the frontispiece of his 'Darkest England and the Way Out', published in 1890.
No thanks to South Glos council, who've still not even acknowledged a request for access to the Kingswood Reformatory archive.  Why?

More on Thomas Rendle VC:  try
Great War VCs – a comprehensive description and CV, plus the pictures to go with it
Excerpt from Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – including more about Thomas's siblings.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Hydrogenesis – or hydrostasis? Remember, this is Bristol

Stasis, n. a state of inactivity in which no progress is made. 
Hydrostasis:  dead in the water


Let's start by looking beyond the harbour walls at the big wide world. (Feel free to skip this bit if you're already convinced of the need for hydrogen fuel)

The IPCC has just published yet another, ever more certain warning of man-made climate change bringing “severe, pervasive, and irreversible damage” to our world unless we stop emitting carbon. 

But how to get by without it? Britain's winds have managed to keep the lights on recently, with turbines even outperforming the baseload 5GW provided by the eight working reactors (of fifteen total) of the national stockpile of 
nuclear power stations. 

The CPRE in the southwest was dismissive. “It doesn’t matter how many wind turbines are built, if you don’t have wind you don’t have power” 

Which is true, of course. Fair enough, the more turbines there are, the more likely it is that some will be producing energy, but you wouldn't want to rely totally on their output at any given time. And so far as I know, no-one pretends that you could.  

That variability of supply is not just a problem wind energy. While consumer demand varies, it's hard to find any (non-carbon) fuel that can respond to that changing demand. Gas and (up to a point) coal and biomass power stations are quite demand-responsive; wind is anything but. Same goes for wave energy and the other generating sources that are equally ineffective at tracking the changing demand.

At the other end of the scale, nuclear energy provides fairly predictable outputs that bear little relationship to what consumers actually need at the time they need it. Solar has the advantages - and disadvantages - of both these extremes, while tidal needs big-scale civil engineering to even approach demand responsiveness. 

The big problem isn't finding renewable energy sources – it's finding ways to store the energy produced for where and when it's needed. That's where hydrogen comes in.

Back in Bristol a couple of weeks ago, while yet another trainload of Hinckley Point's radioactive waste was trundling through the city towards an uncertain future in Cumbria, a bunch of councillors at City Hall were discussing our innovative, but stalled, project involving hydrogen fuel. 

I think hydrogen is brilliant. As an energy store, it's just like coal, gas, and oil, available when needed. But unlike them it's emission-free, it's freely available anywhere there's water (no geopolitical energy security worries there, then).  Put it in a fuel cell, and all you get out is energy and water, with a conversion efficiency way above orthodox engines, and no climate change, no radioactive waste, no killer local air pollution. And you can make it at the times when power plants of every kind aren't having to meet immediate consumer demand. 

Hydrogenesis

We've had just such a hydrogen system here in Bristol over the last couple of years. Hydrogenesis, the specially designed and built harbour ferry, wasn't a totally new technology, but it did require the enthusiasm and cooperation of the council, local designers and businesses, and at least one major corporation, each putting up some of the cash. That was the difficult bit – and it happened. It worked. Apparently there's even an official report to say so (though it's defeated my efforts to find it) 

But now Hydrogenesis is moored up without any role, without any known future, in the harbour. It's life support machine, the hydrogen fuelling station has been removed at the end of its hire term. 

The councillors, in the shape of the 'Place' Scrutiny Commission, couldn't find much cause for optimism.  Bristol might have introduced the the UK's first fuel-cell powered ferry, there might be every reason to think the initial investment had succeeded in showing it worked, but the human part of the whole project cannot get its act together. 

There's serious ill-will between rival ferry companies, certain councillors, and the mayor – so much that co-operation seems impossible. And without that co-operation, the whole project, the whole investment by all the parties, becomes a failure, a waste of money, a waste of a huge opportunity to kick start decarbonisation of local transport. 

What it needs is a commitment to a permanent hydrogen source; the £10k-a-month temporary unit served its purpose but clearly isn't a long term solution. 

Over in Swindon, Honda have just commissioned a commercial scale filling station where solar energy is used to separate the H2 from the O, and deliver it to vehicles. So it's perfectly possible. 

In Bristol, a harbourside production unit (why not at the Feeder Road basin,. in the TQ Enterprise Zone?) could provide not just for working craft like Hydrogenesis but for road vehicles too. Powered, perhaps, by renewable electricity from the Avonmouth wind turbines, from the tidal flows of the Avon, or the solar panels that will doubtless cover the new Arena. 

There's national funding on offer too, if the bid's right. Last month £11 million was allocated toward setting up as many as 15 hydrogen refuelling stations and for public sector fuel-cell powered vehicles. 

The brief report before 'Place' scrutiny did mention looking for funding – but it looked half-hearted and unconvincing. With the different parties only too ready to slag each other off (and there was some of that at the scrutiny meeting), it leaves the feeling that this terrific opportunity (the sort of thing that's essential if we're to respond to the threat of climate change) will be lost because the egos involved couldn't bring themselves to co-operate. 

George, do something.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Food Colouring – without the E numbers


 Lunch.   
The blue was produced from tubers bought at January's 'Potato Day' at the Southville Centre
 (the 2015 repeat is on 11th January). 
 It's a heritage variety called 'salad blue' and I'm told it also produces excellent blue chips. 
One to invest in again?
 
Just harvested, this is 'Inca Rainbow' which came from another of this year's seed swaps
 
[Added 21/10/14]
 
Appetising, eh?
 
 
 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

An undeserved rescue for HorseWorld ?

It looks like HorseWorld's bodged up attempt to sell off its visitor centre site in Whitchurch for development may not be totally dead – in spite of being turned down by BaNES councillors last November.

HorseWorld's MD and the charity's trustees used the whole costly fiasco as an excuse to close the popular visitor centre in February. It now lies idle, the income it generated is lost, and the charity admits to being in all sorts of financial difficulty.

The perpetrators may yet be rescued from the hole they dug themselves into. On 10th July BaNES will likely adopt a new 'Core Strategy' that takes the Visitor Centre land out of Green Belt and turns it into a development plot, providing up to 200 houses. See p.12 of this for a location map. The land was offered, under pressure to up the housebuilding land allocations, as a sacrifice to Mr Pickles, and has been gratefully accepted by his Inspector.

What next? It looks like going through.... so expect HorseWorld to make the most of the instant leap in land value by selling the land to one of the big developers. Perhaps to someone like Barratts, who are already turning the other side of the narrow rat-run Sleep Lane into an extension of clone village Britain

What HorseWorld would do with the windfall is anybody's guess. Would they revisit their expensively prepared scheme for a new Visitor Centre / Arena, with its dodgy business plan and its reliance on added road traffic? Would they give their MD a performance-linked pay rise? Would they go back to basics and do what the charity is supposed to do?

Only one thing's for sure. 200 new houses here will not provide affordable homes for those who really need them. 


Friday, 20 June 2014

Little local difficulties

For most of us, this was the first sighting of The Man from Stoke Bishop in Hengrove. At centre stage, too, as it turned out to be his turn to chair the Neighbourhood Partnership meeting on Wednesday.

It didn't start well. After inviting the other councillors to introduce themselves to those residents who'd bothered to turn up in the lecture hall of the Oasis Academy, Mike Frost took his own turn.... “I'm Councillor Mike Frost, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove....” To add a bit of emphasis, he then asked those present to raise their hands if they'd voted for him – and looked a bit crestfallen at the minimalist response. Evidently UKIP voters are rare among those who actually take part in local democracy.

It could only get better after that embarrassing intro, and it did, mostly because Cllr Frost generally deferred to the more experienced officers who really run the show in these parts.


There were a couple more fireworks in the box, though.


The threat of a new bus stop


Not just any old bus stop. This one, proposed for Fortfield Road, will not merely inconvenience those living nearby. Peeping toms (well, you know what bus passengers are like) will threaten privacy, walls will collapse under their weight, vandalism and rowdyism will be rife, road accidents will rocket, and civilisation as we know it will come to an abrupt end. ( Somehow Stockwood Pete hadn't realised this when he blogged about it over a year ago.)

Most of the residents present had come simply to alert us to this threat, so that we could act now to make sure it doesn't happen. And the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove made no secret whose side he was on. He brought the topic straight to the top of the agenda from its lowly spot in 'Any Other Business'

The objectors were quickly reassured that the whole issue will be revisited, this time with extensive consultation through a couple of widely advertised drop-in sessions. That wasn't enough for the objectors, though. After they'd offered some pretty broad ranging contributions from the floor, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove closed the discussion and moved to the next agenda item. Cue a mass exodus by most of the objectors, loudly complaining they'd not been listened to. The newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove looked perplexed. You could tell he's not been around for long.


The threat of a public forum


It was Stockwood Pete who lit the blue touch paper on the second firework. And did he really, as Stockwood Cllr Jay Jethwa claimed, twist her words? Or was he untwisting them when he said that at the last NP she'd rejected suggestions (broadly supported by the Hengrove councillors and most others present) to open up a new dialogue between councillors and residents. Whichever was true, neither was mentioned in the draft Minutes, so they could not be a true record.

Stockwood has long stood out as a ward where the councillors take pains avoid any kind of public forum where they can be held to account. And this new threat to their cosy position was a suggestion, put to the last NP meeting, that “we have a spot in the ward forum meetings...... in which councillors can report back on their activities and deal with any related questions from the floor?”

Whatever the truth of how she responded at the last meeting, this time Cllr Jethwa was unequivocal. She has NOT turned down the suggestion, and she told us so.

So maybe.... just maybe.... our next ward forum might see our Stockwood councillors tell us for the first time what they get up to at City Hall. They might even let us ask them about it. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ballot Paper shockers – UKIPWars in Bris, while Stockwood's guaranteed two non-resident councillors

Instead of standing in the council election for Stockwood (of which more below) I'm the Green Party candidate in Brislington East this time round. It looks like being a colourful election, because there's another of those bizarre UKIP 'misunderstandings'.

One Phil Collins has been busy putting his 'independent' leaflet out, complete with the union flag, explaining that he's a UKIP member and intends to form a UKIP branch in the ward. But he's not just up against the usual electoral suspects, including me and the sitting councillor Mike Wollacott. There's also an 'official' UKIP candidate, John Langley, competing with him for whatever anti-European, anti immigrant votes the ward can muster.

The clash might be partly explained by this news item from last year. Collins used to be UKIP's branch chairman, but like so many of their spokesmen he was embarrassingly candid with his anti-immigrant opinions, so they dropped him. Or did they? A footnote to the Post story, added in an unusually sober style by regular 'Post' commenter/ranter UKIPBristol, said the ban had been withdrawn by the local UKIP branch.

You have to wonder whether they've managed to sort it out over the last year. Looks like they've not.

In Stockwood, May's ballot paper is looking remarkably different, with new faces – including Issica Baron for the Greens – filling the list. Except, that is, for long-time Tory councillor David Morris, who – much to many people's suprise – has decided to run for another term in spite of poor health. If David should be re-elected, we'll continue, as we have done for ten years and more, to have a couple of councillors who (presumably) quietly get on with whatever ward casework is required, but otherwise don't keep us informed, refuse to expose themselves to public debate, and who unfailingly vote with the Tory group on the council. You get what you vote for.  Or what you fail to vote against

One reason I've abandoned another stab at the Stockwood seat is that history shows I may well fail yet again. In itself that would be bearable - but by standing down I won't have to worry that the elected local councillors won't in future find cause to hamper and delay my every attempt to get improvements in the ward, in case I should turn it to electoral advantage. Such is the tribalism of party politics.

I hope that if elected in Bris E , I wouldn't fall into the same trap. But it's a big factor in taking my name off the Stockwood ballot paper. And I'm confident I could represent Brislington East every bit as well as Stockwood.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

May 22nd – sovereignty, democracy, or corporate dictatorship. You choose.

Way back, when the internet was young, the 34 countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) was secretively planning a bid to shift the balance of power away from states (which, at least in theory, act in the interests of their people) toward corporations (acting solely in the interests of their owners) . It was called the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI). Nominally in the cause of promoting economic growth, it set out to 'protect' foreign direct investment from interference from elected governments.

The internet killed the MAI. A copy of the draft text was leaked and people realised what it could mean. Although the mainstream media largely ignored it, the word spread around the world (I remember setting up pages on the North-East Green Party website describing what local impacts it could have). Eventually the resistance grew so strong that the French government listened to what the people were saying. France withdrew from the OECD negotiations, and no longer having a consensus there the whole project was dropped.

Until now, that is.

They're at it again – and this time it's the USA and Europe making the running. MAI v.2 comes packaged within the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).


Most of the mainstream commentary on the TTIP has been on breaking down tariff barriers to open up markets and encourage economic growth. It's fairly uncritical, disregarding even the loss of discretion for individual states to regulate on, for instance, safety, gm foods and organisms, financial services regulation, or environmental improvements. Such things are dismissed in the treaty as impediments to the 'supreme, inalienable fundamental freedom' to pursue economic competition. Outside the specialist press and the internet, there's been very little discussion about the provisions that encourage FDI (foreign direct investment) by giving investors more confidence in being able to produce what they like where they like and how they like without any risk that the public authorities might get in the way.

Thus, for instance, EDF could make a legal claim against the British government if its profits from Hinkley B were threatened by new safety or environmental regulation. Most of the train operating companies, major bus companies, and airlines could do the same thing. Tobacco companies could challenge legislation requiring plain packaging on cigarettes (in fact Philip Morris are already doing exactly that in a bizarre legal challenge designed to bypass Australian national law using the 1993 Hong Kong/Australia Investment Treaty)

Crucially, such cases would be not be decided in a domestic court under British law, or even a European Court under European law; they would be heard by an international court set up solely for this purpose, passing judgment solely on the basis of compliance (or not) with the terms of the TTIP. The public good has damn all to do with it.

 

The European Parliament's consent will be required before TTIP is ratified. They want to do that within a couple of years, so it'll be down to the MEPs we elect on May 22nd.

I really don't know (though I could make an informed guess) how Tory, Labour, or LibDem MEPs would vote. 
I do know* how the Greens would vote. 
And I should know how UKIP ought to vote (if they turn up), given the importance they attach to national sovereignty.  But I suspect they'd not object to this handover of power from elected governments, whether local, national, or European,  to international corporatism.

* best summed up in this report from the two UK Green MEPs  we already have