Monday, 23 September 2013

Did the Mafia ever use Concrete Shoes?

Or concrete wellies, boots or overcoats for that matter? It is an image we're all familiar with from TV, films and books, but is there any truth in it?

The Last Shoes You’ll Ever Need

In episode 295 of The Simpsons, Fat Tony, the resident Mafia boss, is seen pouring cement into a bucket around the feet of a nervous looking man while a pair of goons observe.

Above Fat Tony’s head, a sign informs us that he is selling cement shoes, touted to be ‘the last shoes you’ll ever need’.

Season two, episode 17 of Star Trek: The Original Series, has an irate (when wasn’t he irate?) Scotty threatening a 1930s mobster with a pair of ‘concrete galoshes’.

Meanwhile, the 2006 short film featuring Dylan Moran, Tell it to the Fishes, involves a pair of gangsters, whose feet are encased in concrete, arguing on the beach at low tide.

Sleeping With the Fishes

If there’s a link between these depictions of the infamous ‘concrete wellies’, it’s the use of the image for entertainment purposes.

Nobody in The Sopranos was thrown off a bridge with their feet encased in concrete.

Likewise, The Godfather might have featured the line ‘sleeping with the fishes’ but Don Corleone never poured cement around his enemies’ feet, waiting a day for the mix to cure before taking a leisurely drive to the nearest pier and dumping them over the edge.

Mafia godfathers are business men (albeit with guns).  He’d never have allowed that sort of slack in the system!

Cement Overcoat

The entire premise of concrete shoes, or cement overcoats, arose after a couple of sensationalist stories printed in America in 1935.

There was talk of hits involving encasement in cement or, as in the Simpsons parody, someone standing in a tub of cement while it hardened so that they could be thrown into the sea.

No evidence of these murders was ever found, but that didn’t stop the idea spreading into popular culture, and in particular to the minds of writers of crime spoofs and parodies.

A Glimmer of Truth

Historically, there has long been a tradition of weighting down bodies, alive or dead, to ensure death or disposal.

In the age of sail, cannonballs were tied to the feet of deceased crew to ensure their bodies sank to the sea bed.

During the Reformation, Anabaptists were sewn into sacks with bricks and thrown into rivers or lakes.

Over the years, many bodies have been discovered weighted down in some way, with heavy chains or concrete blocks attached to them, including some Mafia hits, but never where the victim's body was in any way encased in the concrete itself.

Unless, of course, they do it so efficiently that the evidence has never surfaced (no pun intended!).

Nuisance Footprints

So, concrete wellies remain the stuff of fiction, for the most part.  But shoes and wet concrete are two things better kept apart as separating footwear and concrete can require specialist tools:

As you'd expect Northern Cobblestone are careful to ensure that driveways are protected whilst they set, giving you access to your property, but ensuring that the only imprints left are ones from our extensive range of styles and colours!

Concrete Driveways, Blackpool

The seaside resort of Blackpool in Lancashire is famous for many things, including Blackpool Tower, the Illuminations, Pleasure Beach and three piers overlooking it's expansive sandy beaches.

Perhaps lesser known, is that it is also right next door to Northern Cobblestone, specialists in pattern imprinted concrete based in neighbouring Poulton-le-Fylde.

Driveway Installers, Blackpool

With over 30 years paving experience, Northern Cobblestone have installed hundreds of miles of driveways, paths, patios and more in Blackpool and the wider North West.

Take a look below at a few recent examples:

If you live in the Blackpool area and would like an attractive low maintenance replacement for your tired old driveway, why not contact Northern Cobblestone for a quote?

More Photos

Take a look at the Driveways Blackpool page on our website for more examples of our stamped concrete installations.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Origins of the Word Concrete

When we say the word concrete today, the first image that jumps to mind is probably that of the well-known rather solid construction material, but has that always been the case?

Well, that has been the most common English use of the word since the renaissance of concrete in the building industry in the late 19th century.

Prior to that however, the earliest English uses of the word concrete were far more likely to relate to the fields of alchemy, philosophy or chemistry.

You Say Concrete, I Say Concrētus

Like many words, concrete has its origins in Latin, the language of English academics since the French language infiltrated Anglo Saxon following the Norman invasion of 1066.

When it first turned up in written text, in 1471, it defined something which had grown together. In 1536, H Latimer described, in a written sermon, "A thing concrete, heaped up and made of all kinds of mischief."

This was a direct translation of the Latin con (together) and crēscere (grow) or rather the past participle concrētus (grown together).

Con appears frequently elsewhere in English with the same meaning of coming together. Think congregation, concoction, concur and conflict. Plus, it is the Italian word for "with". 

Concrete Facts

A hundred years on in the 17th century, academics started referring to things which were concrete to separate them from more abstract ideas.

Hence we have concrete numbers and concrete nouns.  In this instance, the word concrete refers to something real, something that can be observed, so a concrete number would be three stones or seven trowels rather than the abstract numbers 3 or 7, which aren’t counting anything you can see.

A concrete term also refers to something observable, so a fool is a concrete term but foolishness is not because you can’t see foolishness.

A Word of Substance

You might be forgiven for thinking that this latter use of concrete, as something that’s real and observable, is related to the rock hard material we use for our driveways.

After all, it’s heavy and there’s no denying its existence, as anyone who has dropped a bag of it on their toes will confirm.

But of course, concrete is an aggregate of various materials bonded together and therefore the literal Latin translation grown together applies.

In fact, the Romans used concrētus extensively as a building material (see Long Lasting Concrete). The name and the building material were simply lost to us and then re-discovered.

Regula Imprimitur Concretis

If the convoluted history of the English language is too confusing, the same can’t be said for Northern Cobblestone’s regula imprimitur concretis (or pattern imprinted concrete).

A simple coming together of style and technique, gracing properties across Lancashire and the North West!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Beware: Wet Concrete!

No, not freshly laid concrete, but rather a heralding of the coming Autumn and its associated weather front.

Yes folks, the weather in Lancashire and the rest of the UK has certainly changed from the lovely heatwave we were all enjoying.

Wet Look Concrete Driveway Photos

Given the awful weather, we thought why not upload a few that show how lovely pattern imprinted concrete can look when it's wet.

Take a look at these examples:

See, a pattern imprinted concrete driveway, path or patio from Northern Cobblestone will compliment your property, even after a rain storm!

Not Too Late!

If you like what you see and live in Blackpool, Preston, Lancaster or surrounding areas, there's still time to get yourself a lovely new driveway before the end of the year.

That way, it will be ready and waiting for next year's hoped for heatwave!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Driveway Installers, Preston

Operating in Preston, Lancashire and the wider North West area, Northern Cobblestone are driveway installers specialising in pattern imprinted concrete.

We believe in a quality finished product designed to suit your individual tastes and give your property a wow factor that will be the envy of your neighbours.

In addition to driveways, paths, patios, steps and other paving features, we also offer comprehensive drainage and hard landscaping services, meaning you'll only deal with one person from start to finish. No need to juggle several different contractors at once.

Please take a look at the installation below for a customer in the Chorley area, just south of Preston:

If you like what you see, please visit the Driveways Preston page on our main website for more information and to request a quote.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Meaning of Cracking the Flags

The sun is "cracking the flags" in the UK at the moment or more colloquially as we might say here in the North of England "it's crackin' t' flags out there". *

More commonly used in the North, the British phrase "cracking the flags" is used to refer to hot weather. The flags in questions are not the flapping variety, but rather flagstones i.e. paving slabs or stones.

The implication is that the heat from the sun is hot enough to crack stone. Indeed, in some locations, "cracking the stones" is also heard.

Searching on-line, some sites imply that the phrase is also used to refer to really heavy rainfall, although that isn't something we've ever come across.


As an everday phrase, it's origins are not clear and obvious appearances in popular culture are few, although you would be likely to hear it from a BBC North West Tonight weather presenter.

It does appear in a different context in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as "if you be remembered, cracking the stones of the foresaid prunes", but we're fairly sure the two are totally unrelated.

A quick trawl of the internet though and we turned up the following song by a London based singer / songwriter named James Henry:

Although the song might lead you to conclude that the phrase is also common in the South of England, note that his Facebook page says he originates from Liverpool.

Flagstones vs Pattern Imprinted Concrete

As driveway installers with over 30 years experience, we can tell you that the weather in Britain is very unlikely to be hot enough to crack flagstones.

Indian stone, block paving, bricks and other driveway and path materials are susceptible to our cold weather extremes though and cracking from ice is commonplace following a harsh winter.

For this reason, we recommend and install pattern imprinted concrete, as it is fibre enmeshed and up to 25% harder than standard concrete.

When laid properly with the required expansion joints, it will last for many years and you can be assured that it won't be cracking from the sun, rain or frost.

* Note, for those not from the North of England, that the t' is more implied, than pronounced.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

An Imposing Preston Driveway

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence
Following on from our previous Lancashire Driveway post, here's another imposing entrance, this time between Preston and Blackburn.

Like Stoneyhurst College, the length of Hoghton Tower's driveway is an impressive half a mile, although records indicate it used to be longer!

The Red Carpet Treatment

Having such a long driveway isn't always a good thing though. In 1617 king James I visited Hoghton Tower, at that time under the care of Baronet Richard Hoghton.

Although already burdened with financial difficulties, Richard was eager to impress the King and keep favour at court, so during the celebration the entire length of this vast driveway was carpeted in a luxurious red velvet.

It is reported that the extravagance of the royal visit nearly bankrupted the family, and indeed within a short space of time Richard Hoghton was jailed at Fleet Prison in relation to his debts.

The family prevailed however and went on to entertain many famous guests including The Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Mary and George V, William III, James I, Shakespeare, Dickens and Turner.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete Carpet

To get a feel for just how long half a mile is, take a look at this YouTube clip from the annual Hoghton Tower Bike Sprint, in which competitors race up the hill against the clock.

Now imagine that covered in red velvet. It'd probably have been cheaper to get red pattern imprinted concrete installed and certainly much longer lasting and easier to clean!

Perhaps if Wills and Kate visit, we'll call them with a price.

More Preston Driveways

If you live in the area and would like your more modest driveway, garden path or patio finished with stamped concrete, why not take a look at the Northern Cobblestone website for examples of our driveways in Preston and the surrounding area.

Mews cobblestone is more popular, but if you want us to try red velvet, just let us know!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Origins of Lead Up The Garden Path

The phrase 'to lead up the garden path' has many variations in use across the English-speaking world. You may be led down the path in Australia, up it in Europe, or lose the word path altogether in the USA.

The Meaning

Of course the phrase means to deceive or mislead, and is thought to originate in pre-twentieth century England, when most village homes had a garden or vegetable plot, complete with trails or pathways.

Possible Origins

But why do garden paths have this unfortunate association with deception?

One possible origin is the old practice of villages marrying off their most unattractive women by tricking a groom into marrying a veiled bride, only seeing his new wife after the marriage has been completed. Weddings were often held in gardens, so the groom would literally be led up the garden path. Although the veil is still commonly used now all over the world, it does not always completely hide the bride's face from view.

Alternative theories suggest that the phrase refers to someone being so distracted by the beauty of the garden that they may be easily fooled.

The first known published occurrence of 'lead you up the garden' is in Ethel Mannin's 'Sounding Brass' (1926) where it refers to women leading men 'up the garden' for the purposes of seduction.

Other Uses

Psycholinguists have adopted the term 'garden path sentence' for a sentence that fools the reader by being grammatically correct whilst beginning in such a way that their most likely first interpretation of it will be wrong. For example: "He told the boy the dog bit Bob would look."

The effect is to cause confusion but is mostly confined to written text, as speech patterns and the emphasis of words tend to prevent misunderstanding in verbal communication.

Well, there you go. Now where does the phrase 'lead you a merry dance' come from?

The Ultimate Spring Clean

Yes folks, it looks like it may finally have happened. The great British weather is showing signs of improvement and a long overdue spring may be upon us.

In Lancashire as with many other parts of the country, the bitterly cold and long winter has left us trapped indoors, watching snow cover our gardens and driveways, all the time itching to get out and do all the things we promised we'd do in the New Year!

Better Late Than Never

Cleaning out garages, weeding, planting, painting fences and hanging out washing for the first time are normally more associated with March than May, but at long last homeowners up and down the country are getting to grips with those essential outdoor maintenance tasks.

As people strive to get their garden ready for the hoped for summer, sales of patio furniture, new hoses and lawn feed will rise, along with creosote, fence panels and more.

Paving / Driveway Damage

The cold winter has had a pretty devastating effect on our gardens and yards though. Freezing temperatures over long periods have wreaked havoc on plants, garden buildings and the ground beneath our feet.

Tarmac and flagged paths, patios and driveways are usually susceptible to cracking and sinking as the ground beneath them repeatedly freezes and thaws, but this winter has been worse than many.

Time For Change

If this has been the fate of your paving, perhaps it is time to consider pattern imprinted concrete? Imprinted concrete is fibre enmeshed to give it greater strength, making it up to 25% harder than even standard concrete.

Not only will it improve your property aesthetically, but will last for years to come and provide a safe outdoor surface for the whole family to enjoy.

So if you're tired of looking at a worn out driveway or want somewhere nice for your summer BBQs, give your garden the ultimate spring clean and call Northern Cobblestone about a pattern imprinted concrete patio, driveway and / or path.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pattern Imprinted Concrete, Preston

Based on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire, Northern Cobblestone have many satisfied customers in the nearby town of Preston and throughout the wider North West area.

Preston Driveways, Patios and More...

Take a look below at a few examples of our pattern imprinted concrete installation within the Preston area:

Concrete patio area with a satin finish installed to a garden in Chorley, near Preston

Pattern imprinted concrete driveway in silver grey finish for a property in Penwortham, Preston

Ashlar slate style driveway with mews cobble edging for a bungalow in Leyland, near Preston


If you live in or near the area, consider Northern Cobblestone for stamped concrete patios, paths, forecourts, steps and driveways in Preston and all surrounding areas, including Bamber Bridge, Chorley, Fulwood, Higher Walton, Hutton, Ingol, Lea, Leyland, Longridge, Longton, Lostock Hall, Penwortham, Ribbleton, Walton-le-Dale and more.

Friday, 15 February 2013

World's Longest Driveway?

A search in Google for the world's longest driveway turns up the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road in the United Arab Emirates.

Stretching for 7.3 miles and climbing nearly 4,000 feet it is no doubt a long mountain road, but is it a driveway?

Possibly Not!

The road itself ends in a car park and passes a luxury hotel (the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain Hotel), a radar station and the Palace of Jebel Hefeet (belonging to the country's rulers) along the way.

Can a 3 lane road that doesn't lead to a single property be classed as a driveway? It has several shorter roads (or driveways) leading off it to the above properties, but it ends in a car park.

The road is tarmac, rather than a dirt track, so perhaps when it was first constructed, the palace (nearest the summit) was the only building and therefore the epitaph of driveway was more deserving?

The Greatest Drive

Regardless of its driveway status, the road is also regarded as one of the world's greatest drives.

Featuring 21 corners, three lanes (two climbing and one descending) and an immaculate surface, it has featured in a number of films and is frequently used by car manufacturers and owners to demonstrate and test their vehicles.

It is also used by cyclists as a gruelling challenge whilst training and is home to an annual road cycling competition.

Want to see what we're talking about? The following YouTube clip shows the British TV Show Fifth Gear putting a car through its paces on the road.

If you fancy having a go yourself, it is just a 2 hour drive from Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The Real World's Longest Driveway?

So, if the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road isn't the world's longest driveway, what is?

Well, the Guiness World Records website doesn't seem to have the answer, but our guess would be that some farm dirt road in Canada, America, Australia, Brazil or perhaps Africa would win the title.

Any thoughts? And do they want us to pattern imprinted concrete it?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Pattern Imprinted Concrete Driveways, Poulton-le-Fylde

Based near to the picturesque market town of Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, Northern Cobblestone install stamped concrete driveways, patios and more throughout Blackpool, Lancashire and the North West.

Poulton-le-Fylde Driveways

The following are a small selection of our pattern imprinted concrete installations within our home town of Poulton-le-Fylde. Please visit our website for more.

 Basalt grey ashlar slate stone style driveway with darker grey cobble edging

 Burnt orange mews cobblestone style driveway in matt finish

 Ashar slate style driveway in country sandstone effect for a customer in Poulton-le-Fylde

 Call for a Quote

If you live in the area or perhaps nearby in Great Eccleston, Knott End, Normoss, Pilling, Preesall, Singleton, Skippool or Staining and you're looking for a local installer of pattern imprinted concrete driveways in Poulton-le-Fylde, why not give Northern Cobblestone a call.

Long Lasting Concrete

If you've ever used a pneumatic drill to break some up, you'll know concrete is a hard wearing and long lasting material.

But how long lasting is it? Well, every installation and circumstance is different, but how about 2000 years give or take a few?

Pantheon, Rome

Built nearly two millennia ago, the Pantheon in Rome is a testament to Roman ingenuity and the versatility and durability of concrete.

The concrete dome roof weighs 4,535 metric tons and varies in thickness from 6.4 metres at the base to 1.2 metres around the oculus, a circular opening in the centre that provides natural light for the vast interior.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

As the classic line from Monty Python's Life of Brian goes, sadly we can't claim the Romans invented concrete, but theirs' was perhaps the first civilisation to make widespread innovative use of it.

Freed from the limitations imposed by stone and brick material, they experimented with increasingly complex structural designs including arches, domes and vaults.

Pattern Imprinted Concrete

It would be interesting to see what one of their architects would make of modern portland cement based concrete and other innovations that have taken place in recent years.

Pattern imprinted concrete is one such innovation, providing long lasting and hard wearing driveways, paths and patios with all the appearance of cobbles, granite, slate, flagstones, tiles or even wood.

We're not sure whether we carry any Roman genes, but here at Northern Cobblestone, we're proud to carry on their art, installing pattern imprinted concrete to the homes and businesses of Blackpool, Lancashire and the wider North West.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Driveway!

Best wishes to all our customers past and present for the coming year.

We hope 2013 is a joyful and prosperous one - with maybe a little less rain than last year!

New Year's Resolutions

As we all know, a new year brings a renewed vigour and a determination to get things done.

We can't help you with the smoking, healthy eating or exercise, but if a tired old driveway, path or patio is on your "to do" list, why not give Northern Cobblestone a call?

We install high quality pattern imprinted concrete driveways, paths, patios and more in Blackpool, the Fylde Coast, Lancashire and throughout the North West.

So why not kick off the New Year in style, be the envy of your neighbours and ensure that at least one of your resolutions is kept?