I'm sure you'll appreciate the amount of work that's gone into creating the Bristol Rural Tower Locator since its conception in June 2003. This page outlines the various stages of development it went through to get to this point, along with the release date of each version, so if you're interested, please read on...
Version 1.0 – The basic concept
My original plan was to write each individual route (in both directions, between each of 22 towers) as a separate HTML document. However, that would have meant writing 462 different routes – something of a challenge, if not an insurmountable task. Simply adding one tower to those 22 would have meant another 44 routes, so a different approach was in order. Needless to say Version 1.0 barely got off the ground.
Version 2.0 – A fine plateau (July 2003)
I quickly realised that many of those 462 routes had too much in common to keep them separate, so I set about rationalising them. Using what programming experience I had I decided to use the PHP: Hypertext Pre-processor scripting language to generate the routes for me, based on the source and destination towers.
To begin with I specified the various routes immediately to and from each tower, then I linked them all up with "hubs". These hubs work in a very similar way to the towers themselves in that they accept routes in and emit routes out, except they do both at the same time, effectively creating "through routes". With only 22 towers and 17 hubs the task of creation and maintenance was now considerably reduced.
Version 3.0 – Further developments (5th July 2004)
You might be wondering what I could possibly have done to improve such a simple yet useful tool – it did a fine job of generating routes between towers, and any future expansion (i.e. adding more towers) should be a very simple task. However, it now offers more than just routes. Version 3.0 gives users the additional option of accessing detailed information on the bells in each tower, ringing times, parking facilities, and the tower's Grid Reference linked to a major mapping website. And just to make things easier for those trying to find a particular tower, I've also included a photograph.
Version 3.1 – Updating the code (2nd September 2004)
This update (more of an upgrade, really) simply replaces each tower's number with up to six letters of its name to keep all the towers automatically in alphabetical order. I've also taken this opportunity to amend a few of the routes (where either the road system has changed or I've found a better route), correct some of the bell information – many thanks to Andrew Bull of Dursley in Gloucestershire for his invaluable assistance with this – and add a link to the Felstead Database to the Tower Information page for each tower where at least one peal has been rung. Finally, all the distance information (including the two Distance Charts) has been removed in preparation for the next update...
Version 3.2 – Future-proofing the routes (13th September 2004)
For those who don't know what "future-proofing" means, basically I'm once again making my job easier! Amending some of the routes for Version 3.1 meant I'd have to re-measure them, a task which takes time and precision, and doing this for (potentially) 231 routes isn't the most interesting activity in the world. So I now have the route generation code also calculating the distance covered, eliminating a long list of distances, but at the same time unfortunately losing the source data for the Distance Charts. However, each route's distance has once again been provided, albeit below the route instead of above as in Version 3.0.
You might also have spotted the new addition to the website menu. The Towers Summary page provides a basic summary of each tower's data, complete with links to the Tower Information pages and the online maps. Well, that list of towers from the Distance Charts was just too valuable to lose!
Version 3.3 – The final curtain... but not the end (14th April 2006)
Upsetting as I'm sure it is for you all, the time has come to retire the wonder that is the Bristol Rural Tower Locator. In a little under three years it's progressed from an implausibly complicated concept to a veritable mine of information on the towers of the Bristol Rural Branch, and I was even planning a major expansion project into the neighbouring Wotton-under-Edge Branch, until I came across a small flaw in my design.
It turns out that – contrary to earlier claims – adding more towers would not be a simple task. In fact, it would mean a large-scale rewrite of all 41 route generating files, and that's before creating any of the new files necessary for the additional towers and routes. I may have chickened out early on, but I feel that my time can be much better spent continuing my research into the towers themselves and the bells they contain.
So it is with glad heart and high hopes that I introduce the Local Tower Information section, which replaces and extends the old Tower Information pages. These have been removed from the Bristol Rural Tower Locator, and each tower's name in the routes now links to the new section. Additionally, the Towers Summary page has been simplified and now only provides an improved list of "towers by practice day". What's left of the Bristol Rural Tower Locator will remain here in its present state for posterity, but any further updates are expected only to fix bugs in the code or to reflect major changes in the road network.
Version 3.31 – Further tweaks to the code (3rd March 2009)
I guess I just can't leave this thing alone! Following a major update to the code base of the Lyndenlea websites, I decided to rationalise the code behind the Bristol Rural Tower Locator too. The 36 KB file that once provided the source data for the old Tower Information pages has now been made redundant, which should result in quicker operation overall, and the Towers Summary page (which quite frankly has been purposeless since Version 3.2) has finally been removed. I've also made a couple of trivial changes here and there, but nothing really worth mentioning.
Version 3.32 – Updating the code again (15th August 2023)
Another major revision of the Lyndenlea website's codebase, along with an upgrade to the version of PHP I'm using, highlighted some frankly sloppy coding practices on my part that needed bringing up to scratch. I've also taken this opportunity to extend each tower's identifier from six characters to the full length of its name (omitting spaces) to aid readability of the URI, and to bring them into harmony with the Local Tower Information section.
While there have been some changes to the road network near Frenchay (and possibly in other places I'm not aware of), since I have now retired from church bell ringing I have not updated any routes to account for this. I'm happy to keep this tool working as-is, but it will now remain purely a museum piece.