Sunday, 17 November 2019

Things I didn't blog about recently.

Five things I forgot to write about since my last post:

Saturday October 26th

Walked from Gloucester Road tube down to the Thames and along the south bank to Waterloo. It was wet, very wet. Got the tube to St.Paul's to see "Where Light Falls".

"Experience St Paul’s in a different light across three evenings this October. In partnership with Historic England cutting-edge projections inspired by original poetry illuminate this iconic landmark in honour of the men and women who risked their lives to save the Cathedral during the Second World War"

It was quite good actually.

Sunday October 27th

Went for a walk locally as it was a nice day and it's been a while since I explored around here.

The pedestrian level crossing near Ambarrow Court was closed so had to make a detour which was disappointing.

Despite living around here since 1990 this was the first time I'd ever been to Horseshoe Lake.

Saturday November 2nd

Regent street closed to vehicles in order to hold a car show. Lots of interesting vehicles from the earliest - the show is on the day prior to the London to Brighton Veteran Car run - to the latest electric vehicles.

Also popped into the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden to see the new Hidden London exhibition. They've done a really good job of evoking a sense of the actual subterranean visits, of which I've done several.

Monday November 4th

Beside the seaside, beside the sea.
An afternoon at Bognor Regis walking along the prom. Quietly bracing and the rain held off for most of the time. There's something about seaside towns out of season that I like. Fewer people about. Better photo opportunities. On the minus side no whelks though as the stalls were shut.

I see the shiny new seafront toilets were so badly constructed by the contractors that they need to be knocked down only months after they were finished. Such is the way in 21st century Britain.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Engines and ironwork, Crossness.

20th October 2019

I took a drive around the M25 to Bexley on Sunday, not the nicest road trip but rail replacement buses made going by train a bit impractical on this occasion, to visit the Victorian sewage pumping station at Crossness on the banks of the River Thames.

 The Crossness Pumping Station is a former sewage pumping station designed by the Metropolitan Board of Works's chief engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver at the eastern end of the Southern Outfall Sewer.

It was built between 1859 and 1865 by William Webster, as part of Bazalgette's redevelopment of the London sewerage system, it features spectacular ornamental cast ironwork, and still contains four large beam engines. one of these has been restored to working condition. On Sunday this engine, named Prince Consort, was in steam. Interestingly the reason the four engines are still there is because the cost of dismantling them when they were no longer required in the 1950s was considered too high. Which was lucky for us six decades later.

 If you want to know the history of the works I suggest having a read of the Wikipedia Article which gives far more detail than I have space for here, however since 1987 the Crossness Engines Trust, a registered charity, has been overseeing the restoration of the site. They have a huge job on their hands frankly.

What was the boiler house now contains a museum with displays of information about the subject of London's sewage problems and solutions. Also quite a lot of "toilet exhibits". And a cafe and gift shop obviously, which always helps when trying to restore what is really a huge money pit!

Surrounded by toilets it took me a minute to spot the signs for the actual conveniences, which are tucked away behind the cafe and rather disappointingly modern 🙂

Off the boiler house is the engine hall. This is a mandatory hard-hat area and volunteers are on hand to issue suitably sized titfers to visitors. (It was nice to see that they were cleaning and sanitizing them when they were handed back before reissue too.)
The engine hall is where the real action takes place. Nikolaus Pevsner described Crossness Pumping Station as "a masterpiece of engineering – a Victorian cathedral of ironwork".

He wasn't wrong. As well as getting Prince Consort running a lot of work has gone into restoring the decorative ironwork. The Victorians didn't do plain and functional engineering. A nice humourous touch is that the capitals of the iron columns are decorated with fruit and leaves - figs and senna plants 😀

Even had the space not been busy with hard-hatted visitors and volunteers the scale of the steam engines (strictly speaking, steam pumps) means that it's impossible to adequately photograph them. From basement to upper deck they're three-storey behemoths of 19th century engineering. And yet when Prince Consort is running it's actually quieter than the crowd watching it.

Outside the main building there are machine workshops and in the former Valve House a collection of smaller engines and pumps, some of which were also running albeit on compressed air as the works now only has a small boiler producing enough steam to run Prince Consort.

Once you've visited that you can take a scenic (depending on your definition of scenic) walk along the Thames Path. I wandered down as far as the pier that was used to bring in coal for the boilers and later to take away sludge for disposal at sea before that was outlawed in 1998. Oh and there's also the RANG Railway.

For a flavour of visiting Crossness watch:

And there are more photos too:


Saturday, 28 September 2019

Foragers of the Foreshore

 Foragers of the Foreshore

Wed 25 - Sun 29 Sep, 11am - 6pm 

Bargehouse, Barge House Street, SE1 9PH (behind the Oxo Tower)

Free Entry

Friday 27th September 2019

From the website: "Foragers of the Foreshore is the most expansive exhibition on Mudlarking that has ever taken place; it unearths the history of London through items recovered from the Thames. Discover the weird and wonderful world of mudlarking, from its origins in the Victorian era, to its popularity today. Meet the mudlarkers who have dedicated themselves to finding London’s lost treasures, and marvel at the fascinating collections that have shaped their lives."

Bargehouse is easy to find, just walk along the South Bank until you get to the Oxo Tower and it's the (deliberately I suspect) scruffy looking building just behind the river front building with all the fancy galleries in. It's a multi-storey space which inside feels a bit like a building site has been taken over as a temporary art gallery, which it is in a sense as it is used as an event space rather than a permanent home for a collection. 

Mudlarking in it's modern sense, as opposed to in the 19th century when it was an occupation of the most poverty stricken, involves searching the Thames foreshore for historical artefacts or anything else of interest that the receding tide exposes. People have been dropping or chucking things in the river for centuries making this one of the largest archaeological sites there is. So everything from pottery and glass, through metal buttons, coins, and wartime ordnance, to modern plastic objects and messages in bottles comes out of the thick anaerobic Thames mud. Also clay tobacco pipes. Lots of them!

Before you go rushing off with a bucket and spade though note that there are strict rules about where you can search and you need a permit from the Port of London Authority Also the Thames has a huge tidal range. This will kill you if you don't take tide times into account.

This exhibition isn't just about the objects that come out of the river though, it's also about the mudlarkers themselves, how they got into mudlarking, and what they do with what they find. In many cases they create art.

One of those artists is Nicola White  who had recreated her workshop at Bargehouse as "Mudlark In Residence".  A space crammed with all sorts of finds (that's a selection of her clay pipes above) both ancient and modern and examples of her artworks. Dominating the space was a huge sinister-looking bird made from discarded plastic items retrieved from the river.

I've followed Nicola's muddy adventures for a long time on her YouTube Channel so this was a chance to be a massive fan boy and chat to her in person. 

Elsewhere in the building there were many more displays of artefacts, art pieces and audio and video installations and Hannah Smiles portraits of mudlarkers. There were experts on hand to give advice and to help identify your own found objects and though it wasn't in use while I was there a "virtual mudlarking experience".

I recommend getting down to Bargehouse before Foragers of the Foreshore ends on Sunday if you can. I found when I emerged (from the building not the mud) that over two hours had passed, usually I get itchy feet in art galleries before then. I also came out wishing I lived a bit nearer the tidal Thames as well.

While you're there find the display case in this picture and see if you think that's what I think it is, which amused me rather more than it really should 😄

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Power Points

Saturday 21st September 2019

Between two houses in a suburban street in Woking, Surrey behind a metal gate is a low Art Deco building. Normally off-limits to the public except for two weekends in September (so you've missed it this year) this is the British Railways Electrical Control Room.

The Woking Electrical Control Room was built in 1936 as a control centre for the electrification of the Southern Railways lines, the room was taken out of operational use in 1997, although parts of the building remain occupied.

The building has many art deco features both outside and inside, and retains many original fittings including three copper and iron uplighters, track diagrams with working lights and switches, and the original control desk.

The building is Grade II listed so has escaped the usual fate of redundant railway buildings.

Inside you first see the backs of the track diagram panels, complete with exposed electrical  wiring and Do Not Touch signs, in the outer corridor. Passing through a double door you enter the control room proper which is is much the same state as it was when retired in 1997.

It's an impressive space. The high domed ceiling means that a person speaking normally at one end of the room can be clearly heard at the other (making it quite noisy with a group of visitors split into two tour groups).

The tours are conducted by retired BR power engineers so they know about the building, its
history, and how it all works. They explained clearly how power for the trains and signalling was distributed, how it could be switched on or off, and how the control system could be used to locate faults. Obviously they also have a stock of interesting and amusing anecdotes from their time working on the network.

The track diagram and some other control equipment is powered up for demonstration purposes too which is much better than just a static display. Flashing lights and things that go round are always good 😃

Also on the control desk were some old log books including that covering the great storm of 1987  when trees blown onto the line and onto the line side power equipment kept the control room operators and engineers very busy indeed.

Once the tour was done there was no hurry to move visitors out, it wasn't very busy and I understand visitor numbers per day over the two weekends were in dozens rather than hundreds. 

That meant there was plenty of time to talk with the volunteer guides and I had a long and wide-ranging discussion covering the similarities and differences between the world of railway electrical supply and that of public telecommunications, amongst other things. 
I really enjoyed this visit and if you can get to Woking next year when it's open again it's definitely worth it whether you're interested in architecture, railways, or engineering. Or even if you're just curious - it doesn't cost anything to go in and you don't need to book ahead.

Woking BR Electrical Control Room

In an Air Raid, Don't Stand and Stare at the Sky

Sunday 8th September 2019

Take cover at once!

In Stockport near Manchester you could take cover in the public Air Raid Shelter carved out of the sandstone cliffs.

Now the Luftwaffe aren't (at least for now) making nightly visits to Greater Manchester but you can still take cover in the Stockport Air Raid Shelters because the council have opened them up as a museum. Also £5 per adult and accompanied U16s go free is more than reasonable.

In the reception area you get a short talk from a guide and then issued with a little audio guide. I must say this is one of the best, clearest, and easiest of these that I've come across at any visitor attraction. Eltham Palace take note. When you see a "target" on the wall present the device to it and off it goes with a brief talk related to that location.
First off though there's a short sound and light show in a darkened room about the building (or rather digging) of the shelter, followed by a brief air raid simulation.

Then you're off on your self-guided tour aided by the audio device.

I'm not sure that the group I was with were paying much attention mind you as they soon disappeared ahead leaving me in peace to explore.

The shelter has displays in  various rooms, medical post, canteen, office, and of course the communal khazis.

The shelter is much bigger than the area that's currently open and lit for the public to visit.

The unlit, fenced off bits, I believe are sometimes accessible on special tours.

This picture was  taken using the "night sight" mode on my Pixel 3a smartphone through the fencing and shows more than I could actually see as it was as my Mum would have said "as black as your Grandfather's" in there.

There are lots of information display panels to read if you want to, some of which you'll have to wipe the condensation off first, it's a good job they're made of something waterproof. Imagine how damp it would be down here with several thousand people sheltering from the bombing above. Here's some more pictures:


After the shelter I had a look around Stockport town centre. There was a big street market going on which was mostly selling street food of the sugary and/or fatty variety and having failed to find a fruit 'n' veg stall I resorted to lunch from Sainsbury's and a coffee from a cafe in a mostly shut down shopping mall.

Stockport town centre is otherwise nice with plenty of old buildings and on multiple levels. Most of the populace however, even those without their faces buried in smartphones, seem incapable of looking where they're going making it something of a cross between an obstacle course and the dodgems. There's an impressive market hall, holding some sort of craft fair but since charging to enter what is essentially a shop is taking the piss I didn't.

Back to the station and one of the frequent fast trains (it's on the main line} back to Manchester for one last night and a pint in a very empty Lass O' Gowrie.


Saturday 7th September 2019

Blackpool is to Manchester as Brighton is to London.

Never having sampled the delights of Blackpool and being just a train ride away in Manchester it seemed rude not to grab an Off-Peak Return and have a day out at the seaside, especially as the weather forecast was for day-long sunshine.

Up, breakfasted, and at Manchester Piccadilly for 0930 to catch one of Northern's finest Class 319s, Which was not as busy as I'd expected for a Saturday though by no means empty. It was about an hour and a quarter's journey via Preston to Blackpool North station, which is about a 10 minute walk from the North Pier. Which is as good a place as any to start the experience that is Blackpool seafront.

One pier out of three done. 

I walked south along the prom. There's no getting away from that tower is there? Though I baulked at the £25 they wanted in order to stand at the only point in town where you can't see it.

Or from the great expanse of sandy beach, something that Brighton cannot boast, being like so many south east England beaches, all shingle).

They still have donkeys on the beach too, I'm surprised that the animal rights campaigners haven't had them done away with by now.

Pier two, Central Pier, dominated by its ferris wheel and funfair.

Central Pier contrasts from the more genteel North Pier, the emphasis being on family fun. And it would appear drinking given the big "Family Bar" sign painted on the roof of the building on the pier's seaward end. I'll give that a miss.

Onward south past and being passed by Blackpool's famous trams and the pleasure beach to pier three.

South pier is the newest and shortest of the three, originally called Victoria Pier.

It's now largely a funfair and another family bar.
Outside were parked horse-drawn carriages designed solely to extract the contents of the wallets of fathers with small daughters.

It's also on a part of the sea front devoid of any public toilets as attested to by the graffiti on the council information signs and I was desperate for a piss so headed back towards the pleasure beach where there are conveniences hidden away at the back and unsignposted. Head for the car park behind the round building which contains Costa.
I walked back up the beach to Central Pier, then had a mooch around the town and bought sticks of Blackpool Rock because you have to really don't you?

I couldn't come to Blackpool without going on a tram either so took a ride all the way south to Starr Gate, next to the tram depot and at the quieter end of the seafront - if you discount a few fast military jets operating out of the nearby airport. The beach here is dotted with warning signs about the danger of being cut off by the incoming tide but I still saw a dog walker and two anglers leaving it a bit late and being surrounded by the slow advance of the water.

Blackpool was everything that I expected it to be and having returned to the north end of the prom I bought a fish supper and headed back to the station to get the train back to Manchester. A train that was rather noisy with parents who'd been knocking back the lager and the gin all afternoon and their small charges who by this time were over-tired and fractious. The joys of public transport.

Here's a Flickr Album from the day which contains rather a lot of photographs of that tower.


Tram, train, rain, tram.

Friday 6th September 2019

Manchester's Metrolink Tram system extends far beyond the city to the surrounding suburbs and nearby towns.

Such as Bury, 8 miles north-west of Manchester on the River Irwell and famous for black pudding and as the birthplace of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police and the Conservative Party. One of which facts probably makes him a hate figure, you can decide for yourself which.

The Metrolink trams are not low-floor vehicles, surprisingly since they run through the streets, and so require stops that are more like railway stations with quite high platforms. unlike the trams in Croydon where the platform is little more than a raised height kerb.

Handily for the visitor the system allows contactless payment with daily caps, almost like London's Oyster except that you need to touch in and touch out again at the end of your journey. Failure to touch out will result in a £4.60 incomplete journey charge. Failure to touch in will get you a stonking £30 "standard contactless fare". Since I can't see any journey that would cost that much why don't they just be honest and call it a penalty charge? Either way, don't forget to touch in and out. So I touched in using G-pay at St. Peter's Square and hopped on a "green line" service to Bury. The trams run for part of the way over what was the East Lancashire Railway line and there are some far reaching views of Lancashire along the way. The line terminates in the town centre at Bury Interchange. 

The original East Lancashire Railway however terminated at Bury Bolton Street station, about 5 minutes walk from Bury Interchange and the current East Lancashire Railway is still there.

The street level building dates from 1952, the previous one having burnt down after the war. The rest of the station and platforms are below in a deep cutting.

There was about an hour to wait before the next departure to Rawtenstall so I walked across Bolton Street and down the slope to the Bury Transport Museum which is connected with the heritage railway and housed in a former Castlecroft Goods Warehouse. Entry is free although as with any free museum they are donation-hungry. Chuck a few quid in if you can.

It's not a huge museum but they have managed to pack quite a lot in there. They have a wide selection of vehicles including buses, lorries, tractors, vans, cars, and even a steam roller.

There's plenty of hands-on stuff for children to play with too, though as it was Friday there weren't any, at least while I was there. I expect it's different at the weekend.

It certainly kept me interested until it was time to wander back to the railway station, purchase a return ticket to Rawtenstall (£12.50) from the traditional ticket office window and go down to the platform and await the 1455 departure.
It was a pleasant trip despite the weather coming over all "northern" and I made this video which covers the trip there and back.

Having returned to Bury it was Friday evening commuter time. It was also time for something to eat. Bury isn't short of fast food outlets which provided amply for that requirement.

I singularly failed to get any black pudding but I had nowhere to keep it until I went home anyway.

So I touched in at Bury Interchange and rode a somewhat busier tram back to Manchester city centre and walked back to my hotel.

Considering I'd forgotten that the steam railway was there until I actually got to Bury I consider that was a good afternoon all round.