Monday, 29 April 2019

Victorian Steam Pump (A Big Machine for Shifting Sh*t)

22nd April 2019 - Easter Monday

In a corner of a park in South Tottenham, next to the River Lea, is a survivor from the era of grand nineteenth century engineering. The Markfield Beam Engine is a rotary beam engine believed to be the last engine produced by Wood Bros. of Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire. From 12th July 1888.  It saw continuous duty until around 1905, when it was relegated to standby duty for storm water pumping.

Rated at one-hundred horsepower the engine drives two pumps, of the plunger type each capable of moving two million gallons-per-day.

That's an awful lot of sewerage, to put it politely.

The engine house and engine is all that remains of the former sewerage treatment works built by the pioneering Tottenham Local Health Board in 1852 and expanded in 1888 after the original had fallen into disrepair - resulting in Tottenham once again discharging its waste into the River Lea, to the detriment of Londoners downstream.
An increasing population required increased pumping capacity. ‘New Extension Works’ were opened in 1905 including three new additional sets of steam-driven pumps in another new engine house. The 1888 engine then became a standby pump for storm water.

The engine is impressive in size - the beam 21 feet long and 17 feet above the floor, the flywheel 27 feet in diameter and weighing 17 tons.
It's big scale engineering and being Victorian it's big on decoration too. Doric columns and Acanthus leaves abound.

The rest of the works were demolished after it became redundant in 1964, the works at Edmonton having supplanted it, leaving only the 1888 engine in its house.

It was then bricked up until the 1980s when a trust took it on but didn't have the resources to restore it. 

In 2007 Haringey Council regenerated Markfield Park and restored the Grade 2 listed Engine Hall. The Trust restored the beam engine to full working order in 2008 and the Markfield Beam Engine and Museum opened.

Since the original boiler house and coal fired boiler is gone steam is now supplied by a gas-fired boiler in a new boiler house to the rear of the building.

Entry is free but they really welcome donations - every time they steam the engine cost £500. On this sunny Bank Holiday Monday (which are of course rarer than working steam pumps) it was very popular and the engine was run three times for around 40 minutes each time.

There's a very handy cafe next to the engine house too which was doing good trade with many families partaking of chips, tea, and ice cream. They do a nice cappuccino.

Photos cannot do the engine justice so here's the video I shot on the day.

More information and history on the Markfield Beam Engine & Museum web site.

After visiting the museum I took a pleasant walk south along the adjacent River Lea towpath, busy with afternoon strolling Hasidim, many sporting large shtreimels which looked like an unsuitable choice for the warm weather.

At the Lea Bridge Road I hopped onto the threatened 48 bus to London Bridge for a bit of a rest and a chance to recharge my phone which having been used to record the above footage was getting a bit low on juice. Having crossed the Thames I had an early evening pint in the Mudlark in Southwark before heading for the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines and home.

More photos as usual in this Flickr Album

Saturday, 20 April 2019

From Cruise Missiles to Cows

19th April 2019

There was a time when Greenham Common, near Newbury in Berkshire was frequently in the news. Formerly the site of RAF Greenham Common, a WW2 airfield used by the RAF and USAF but more famously the USAF Cold War base that housed the 501st Tactical Missile Wing and their nuclear warhead carrying Cruise Missiles. As a result of which it also became home from 1981 to 2000 to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.

The Yanks went home in 1992 and in 1993 the MOD declared the base surplus to requirements and put it up for sale. The built up area in the south of the site mostly became a business park (New Greenham Park), the rest was returned to the public, the long runway dug up and removed, and is now open space for recreation.

So I went for a walk in the Good Friday afternoon sunshine to see what was there. And to take some photos - an activity which once upon a time would have got you shot by a trigger-happy US Military Policeman.

The only building of any note remaining on the north side of the base is the Control Tower, now a heritage and community hub. There is a reasonably sized, donation funded, and easy to find car park here so that's where I started.

Walking west along the gravel path from the tower I spotted another small relic of the US occupation, an American style Fire Hydrant.

When the base was in the hands of the USAF much of the street furniture, direction signs, road markings, etc. was brought over from home. Although they didn't go as far as driving on the wrong side of the road.

About those hydrants. When you see one get hit by a car on TV or Hollywood movies they usually fall over and produce a nice plume of water. Years ago when attending a callout one night to the old American School to the north of the airbase I witnessed someone reverse quite hard into one of these hydrants. It didn't fall over. There was no plume of water. I did make a right bloody mess of the back of matey's Ford Cortina though! 😀

Crossing the airfield where once was Europe's longest runway there is now open scrub, lots of Gorse - bright yellow in the bright sunshine - and several shallow ponds, dug to provide wildlife habitats and drinking water for the cattle that now graze the common.

Apart from the odd small chunk of concrete left behind after the clear-up there's no sign of the runway.

We are assured by the authorities that there's also no radioactive contamination from the 1958 unfortunate incident which resulted in the cremation of a B47 bomber, its pilot, and the nuclear bomb it was carrying. Something that was kept under wraps until the mid 1980s.

To the south west of the airfield is the other significant relic of the US occupation. Behind a strong metal fence are a number of large, low structures that might seem familiar to fans of the Star Wars films.

This is the Ground Launched Cruise Missile Alert & Maintenance Area (GAMA)..

Six blast proof, nuke proof shelters that protected the mobile transport and launch vehicles and their crews who within minutes of the attack warning would have driven out over the local roads to secret pre-arranged launch sites ready to strike back and help send us all to hell. 

Shortly after the USAF left I had to visit Greenham Common on official business in the middle of the night. (Nothing that exciting, just a fault on a line feeding the Police radio transmitter that was on the other side of the airfield.) It was pitch black and I followed the security guard out to a darkened building. While he hunted for a light switch he remarked that only a couple of months previously we'd have needed a high security clearance to get anywhere near this place and here we were just blundering about in the dark.

I tried to work out where it was I'd been that night but to be honest it was a long time ago and it was that dark I don't know if it was at the GAMA or maybe the COMCEN over near the inverted cone shaped water tower. 

It's as well that there were no cows back then or we'd probably have blundered into them in the dark.

I never visited the airbase when it was occupied by the USAF but talking to colleagues who did the hazard back then wasn't cows but trigger-happy "Snowdrops" (US Military Police) who weren't averse to taking pot shots at vehicles that strayed into the wrong area and asking questions later. It probably didn't help that certain people delighted in "winding up the Yanks"  on occasion.

Walking back across the airfield I came across this odd metal structure. Very solid steel and set in the ground. I had no idea what it was but later found out it's the base of a weather recording station. Another small Cold War relic.

That information came from this very interesting web site, a Virtual Tour of Greenham Common which is well worth a look if you want to know more about the site.

I continued back across the airfield to the Control Tower past the much bigger ponds that have been dug out near the north perimeter fence along Bury's Bank Road, which were providing sport and cooling for several excited dogs, and a pleasant place to sit for their owners.

A map of the former RAF Greenham Common airbase (OpenStreetMap
So concluded my second visit to Greenham Common, about 25 years apart in time and experience.
It was a nice wander in the sunshine even if I wasn't being paid to be there this time and stirred up a couple of memories at the same time.

More photographs (and more cows) in this Flickr Album as usual.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Estuary Escapade

5th April 2019

Thursday evening watching John Rogers on Youtube walking down the estuary coast through Leigh-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea and thinking I have 4 days off work, what should I do? 

30 minutes later I've booked a night in the Premier Inn in Southend and a return railway ticket to Southend East. I've only been to Southend once, years ago for work and didn't see the seafront because I was booked into a hotel at the airport, a few miles inland. So I'd never been to the world's longest pleasure pier with its railway. Time to put that right.

The Journey

To get to Southend I chose to leave London from Fenchurch Street, arguably the capital's prettiest terminus. Another first for me.

Settled on board a late morning C2C train - no trouble getting a seat - and connected to the excellent free on-board Wi-Fi without having to part with excessive amounts of personal data. Other TOCs please take note.

For the first part the journey runs out through East London, then into the undulating and mostly flat Essex countryside. Between Leigh-on-Sea and Chalkwell the line runs right alongside the water, as close as does the GWR at Dawlish, and affords interesting views across the estuary. Arrived on time at Southend East station and walked down to the coast about three quarters of a mile through Southend's suburbs.

The Pier

First distant sight of the pier. Walked along the seafront to the pier and bought a return ticket for the pier train. 

Trains run from the shore end on the hour and half past the hour so I had a 20 minute wait. I thought I was getting the whole train to myself for a while ( I was visiting outside the busy season) but soon a gaggle of young Mums with pushchairs and pre-school age offspring joined the queue (at the front naturally).

There was only one of the two trains in use today but there was plenty of room - I made sure to be in a different carriage from the Mums & pushchairs. Although once electrified, train service is currently provided by two diesel trains, running on 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track. Each train consists of a diesel-hydraulic locomotive at the southern end, five trailer coaches and, at the northern end, a driver control unit with passenger space. One train is named Sir John Betjeman, "the Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier" , and the other Sir William Heygate.  I assume the latter refers to the local Baronets rather than Billy Butlin but I could be wrong.

A mile and a quarter of in places spectacularly bumpy train ride later the train arrives at the far end of the pier.

On the way it passes quite a bit of repair or building activity on the pier, getting ready for the summer season.

It was a fine if breezy day with the Kent shore on the other side of the estuary visible if a bit hazy and its a good spot to watch passing ships.

At the far end of the pier is the RNLI lifeboat station, museum, and shop on the bit that kinks to the east.

Between that and the railway station is a very modern building containing a cafe, with outside seating.

Tea and cake were consumed. The outside seating area is fairly sheltered and was pleasantly warm in the sunshine.

Unusually it was not necessary to defend one's cake from marauding seagulls. I don't recall seeing a single gull anywhere on the pier, and very few in Southend itself. Very strange. There were pigeons on the pier though they are much less trouble than gulls.

There was also a flock of birds sitting on a slipway on the east side near the cafe, all facing east. It would have been easy to walk past and not notice them, as I did the first time.

Apparently they're Ruddy Turnstones and have been something of an obstacle when it comes to carrying out any building or repair work on the pier.

They don't try to steal cake though.

Most of the other pier end attractions, mainly housed in wooden huts, were closed on this early season Friday so after taking lots of photos it was time for the return train trip and then go and check into the hotel.

The Seafront

Cannot be at the seaside on a Friday evening and not get fish and chips, can you? A little online research suggested that rather than the seafront fish and chip shops better was to be had by walking back up towards Southend East station and locating Brothers Fish Bar in Woodgrange Drive. The research was correct and the results excellent.

I took them back down to the front and enjoyed them there.

The tide had gone out and with it the earlier clear skies, the setting sun heavily veiled by clouds.

I walked eastwards along the seafront to Thorpe Bay past many small craft lying stranded on the mud by the receding tide, then up the long gentle slope through the straight streets of neat bungalows and past the shops and restaurants in The Broadway to Thorpe Bay station.

Where I was feeling lazy enough to get a train the two stops back to Southend Central in search of the bright lights.

I had thought there was more of Southend seafront than there actually is - it's no Great Yarmouth to be sure - but there were bright lights, a few bright young things, some rather odd "local characters" and The Borough Hotel which appeared to be the most pub-like bar on the seafront and the one most obviously serving real ale.

Pint of Fullers ESB, reasonably priced and perfectly acceptable. At least it wasn't the ubiquitous Doom Bar.

I had another and then a wander back up to the hotel, watched the latest from All The Stations Ireland on Youtube (Premier Inn free Wifi ✅) and slept like a log. It had been a long day.


The next morning I took a train to Shoeburyness. There's quite a lot of historic defences on the coast there though as it turned out mostly not accessible to the public as they're on MOD land.

The biggest and most obvious though is the northern end of the Anti-submarine Boom that went from here to Sheerness on the Kent coast.

Originally built to protect the Thames and London from Nazi U-boats the current structure dates from the Cold War.

There's really not a lot else at Shoeburyness. As the catering van on the beach was not yet open (at 1030) I grabbed a sandwich in the local shop and headed back to the station.

More Trains

The train back to Liverpool Street (Fenchurch Street not being served at weekends) had about half a dozen passengers on it leaving Shoeburyness but was standing-room only by the time it arrived in London.

For once the trains all ran OK and Paddington to reading was on a good old HST rather than the new IET, that won't be the case for long.

I even managed to get within 100 yards of home before the rain started!

So that was an enjoyable if brief excursion to Essex and I can now say I've visited Southend properly rather than just the motel at the airport which honestly really resembled that in Crossroads 😀

As ever there are more photos from this trip in this Flickr Album