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.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

People's History Museum

Friday 6th September 2019

I had few firm plans for what to see while I was in Manchester but this was one of them. In a former Edwardian pumping station next to the River Irwell, the People's History Museum "is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future".

 The two main exhibitions are found in Main Galleries One and Two on the first and second floors respectively.

Main Gallery One covers the period from the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 until the end of the Second World War in 1945.

I'd already visited the excellent Peterloo 200th anniversary exhibition on the ground floor, so gallery one took the story on from there, covering the industrial revolution, reformers, workers' organizations, political parties, and the fight for universal suffrage. The display pictured above is the first thing you see on entry to the gallery, it says "Abuse of Power Two hundred years ago Britain's political system was corrupt and controlled by a few rich men. Without the right to vote, ordinary people had no power to change their lives." Reading that it's hard not to think that, apart from more people having a vote, the situation in 2019 isn't very different. 😞

The personal stories of ordinary people living through extraordinary times are the most interesting part of the way the exhibition presents the history of social change, along with many many physical and multimedia exhibits. There is a lot of information here although the way the space is laid out sometimes makes it hard to follow as you walk around.

Moving up to the second floor and to Main Gallery Two where postwar politics is the main theme, from the hopefulness of the new Labour government of 1945, through the difficulties of the 1950s and the swinging back and forth between Labour and Tory governments, both promising to deliver the best for ordinary people but by differing means, into the 1970s when ambitious union leaders led their members down a path that eventually led to Thatcherism, erosion of the hard-won rights of workers, and ultimately the rise of the right wing in this country to an extent I never thought I'd see. This gallery covers the period of my working life and evoked memories of standing on picket lines trying to stop the Tories from selling the people that which the people already owned and then the disappointment of Blair's New Labour, the part of her legacy of which Thatcher was most proud. The exhibition also covers the issues of the day such as the anti-war and nuclear disarmament movements, environmental, race relations and immigration, and LGBT+ issues.

It's not all doom and gloom. There's also the matter of how workers gained more time off and what they did with it (football, music, etc.) and a section on the Co-Operative movements, which began in Greater Manchester.

And then there's the banners section. A high ceiling allowing the display of many union and other workers society banners, both home and professionally made, which were carried when the people took to the streets to protest, to demand change, and to try to improve the lives of their fellow ordinary people.

I recommend that you visit this museum if you're in Manchester. It may not answer the questions of how and why we've ended up again with a rich, corrupt, lying, self-serving, un-elected shower of shit running our country but it will give you a better understanding of the journey that got us here.

It may also make you angry. If so that's a good thing, use that anger, protest, fight for what's right. Maybe it's not too late.

Opening times
  • Open: every day 10.00am – 5.00pm
  • Radical Lates: second Thurs each month until 8.00pm
  • Closed: 24, 25, 26 Dec, 1 Jan
Entry is free although they suggest a £5 donation which if you can afford it is a bargain so put your hand in your pocket.

Right, normal service involving mostly transport-nerdery will resume shortly, until then:


Sunday, 15 September 2019

"Mancunium" "Cottonopolis", Manchester.

5th September 2019

According to Wikipedia, "Manchester is the third-most visited city in the UK, after London and Edinburgh. It is notable for its architecture, culture, musical exports, media links, scientific and engineering output, social impact, sports clubs and transport connections. Manchester Liverpool Road railway station was the world's first inter-city passenger railway station; scientists first split the atom, developed the stored-program computer and produced graphene in the city." Sounded like a good place for a long weekend away then. I've done the first and second.

After a long journey on a Cross Country Trains Voyager (which was only 36 minutes late into Manchester Piccadilly) and a slightly confused walk from the station (exits on different levels, should have come out the lower one on Fairfield St., I later worked out) I found the Pendulum Hotel and booked in. This is part of the University & Conference Centre, close to the city centre and stations, was cheaper than a Premier Inn, and much nicer. The view from my room was pretty much what you'd expect in a city centre hotel (see above). The staff (and the breakfast) made up for the lack of view. Oh, and the giant pendulum swinging back and forth in the middle.

First evening explore on foot around the city centre. They're right, there's a lot of architecture, from ornate red Victorian to shiny steel and glass 21st century. Plenty of history evident on the streets.

Having watched many of Martin Zero's Youtube videos exploring Manchester (it was one of the things that influenced my decision to go there) I found I kept recognizing random bits of the city, particularly around the River Medlock 😃

I also took a ride on a Metrolink Tram out to Media City where amongst the shiny new studio buildings and trendy bars and restaurants they have something that claims to be the Blue Peter Garden.

How can this be true? The real Blue Peter garden for those of us of a certain age will always be the one in London, famously not vandalized by Les Ferdinand and Dennis Wise 😈

Back in the city centre I was finding Manchester an easy place to get lost in. It took a couple of days to get my bearings. But  I found another place I recognized from a Martin Zero video, The Lass O' Gowrie pub in Charles Street.

A splendid looking Victorian glazed tile pub with a good selection of decent ales (and cheap for a city centre as well) and only a short walk from the hotel. I had found my temporary "local" for the duration of my stay.

Also this.

I've seen some interesting and unusual statues in cities but...

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Along the riverbank - Brentford

1st September 2019

After visiting Gunnersbury Park I walked down to Kew Bridge and bought a picnic lunch, sat and ate it by the river at Strand-on-the-Green, which would be a much nicer spot if the litter bins were ever emptied and the piles of broken glass bottles removed. I suspect this isn't a place you'd want to hang around at night.

As it was still a fine afternoon I decided to walk along the north bank of the Thames, following the Thames Path towards Brentford to see how far I'd get.

This section of the Thames Path mostly follows the riverbank, between the many and varied moored houseboats and new blocks of riverside apartments. 

Some of the houseboats are quite ramshackle though no doubt these permanent moorings are not inexpensive. Some, particularly those nearer Kew Bridge, have high fences on the landward side with gates and letterboxes, so the path runs through an alleyway.

Further along the moorings are more open and there are a variety of types of boat - mostly converted from commercial cargo barges. There are other tyoes of craft moored here too.

At Waterman's Park, a narrow strip of green space between the river and the A315 is the sad sight of the wreck of the 1910 Harbour tug Deepwater.

Until 2016 this was lived in as a houseboat until it and two other boats were taken into the possession of the local authority as having been abandoned by their owner. Shortly afterwards the Deepwater was damaged, allegedly by council workers, and began to sink. In spite of efforts by other local boat owners to refloat her she is now a sunken wreck. The council and local boat owners were involved in a  long dispute over plans to evict the existing boats and build a multi-million pound marina, so you can draw your own conclusions as to why Deepwater was allowed to sink.

Since then the council have got their way and the few boats and wrecks remaining are fenced off from the land, the former riverside community has been evicted, and the gentrification of this stretch of Thames riverside is set to go ahead.

No doubt the council's plans will cost a multiple of their projected costs and take many years of disruption before they are finally completed, after which another part of London's riverside will have been reduced to bland, sanitised conformity.

Further along the path diverts away from the river to the High Street and then back again to the river opposite John's Boat Works on Lot's Ait where there are many barges moored and being worked on.

This part of the walk at least has a bit more character and becomes a bit more "industrial". Then as we come to the mouth of the River Brent, from which Brentford takes its name, there are a number of moorings at Point Wharf Lane alongside blocks of new apartments.

At Brentford Dock the path again turns away from the river in front of MSO Marine's large boatyard and heads back to Brentford High Street.

Time was getting on so I turned left and walked up the High Street to find a bus (alas not the Routemaster that was running as part of Brentford Festival) to get me back to Osterley where I'd left the car.
Brentford High Street was until the building of the Great West Road in the 1920s the main road to the west from London and still contains a number of historic buildings, including quite a few former coaching inns.

Crossing over the River Brent again via the bridge in the High Street I was reminded that on a childhood walk with my Grandad he'd pointed out the area on the left bank looking downstream where he aid my Gran had been born, though even then the area had been redeveloped so the house no longer existed and since then it has been much altered again. 

After that little reminder of family ties to this area I crossed the road and caught a bus to Boston Manor Station and then a tube to Osterley.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Gunnersbury Park

1st September 2019

Gunnersbury Park lies in the London Borough of Hounslow, only about 5 miles from where I was born but I'd never been there (at least not as far as I remember) so it was a good place for a random Sunday afternoon excursion.

The house and grounds were purchased for the nation from the Rothschild family, it was opened to the public by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health and later appeaser of right-wing dictators, on 21 May 1926. The park is currently jointly managed by Hounslow and Ealing borough councils.

I'd parked at Osterley and got the tube to Acton Town, having intended to go into town afterwards but in the event didn't do so. From Acton Town it's only a 10 minute walk to the museum and cafe at the mansion in Gunnersbury Park.

The museum is located in the larger of the two mansions, which were built at the beginning of the 19th century, replacing the original 1663 Paladian mansion, Gunnersbury House. The large mansion becoming Gunnersbury Park and the small mansion Gunnersbury House.
In 1835, the merchant and financier Nathan Mayer Rothschild purchased the Large Mansion and park shortly before he died. The Small Mansion and its grounds were acquired in 1889 by the Rothschilds, reuniting the original estate. The Rothschilds extended Gunnersbury further, acquiring most of the Old Brentford Common Field to the west, as well as land to the north.

Downstairs the drawing room, long gallery, and dining room have been restored to how they were when the Rothschilds lived, schemed, and entertained in them whilst finacing the British gonvernment's wars and the expansion of the British Empire, and investing in  various industries across the globe. 

The historic kitchen was closed while I was there although the Butler's Pantry was open for a comparison of conditions 'above' and 'below' stairs. 

Other publicly accessible rooms in the house are used as galleries to showcase an extensive and varied collection of objects connected to the local area and which I found very interesting, also being connected to the local area. (Despite having moved away when I was 8 if asked where I'm from I still say "Heston originally".)

I particularly liked the second floor Industry Gallery with it's collection of goods and artefacts from the many companies that established factories in the 1920s and 1930s along the "Golden Mile" of the Great West Road to the north of Brentford.

There are also galleries devoted to People and Place, Home, Toys and Games, and Entertainment. All linked to the local area - the Leisure Gallery includes a video installation covering the contribution of Ealing Studios and other nearby locations to Film and TV and includes some films I never knew had been partially made "round here".

In the middle of the house is the double-height Skylight Gallery which contains part of the Lucozade sign that I remember used to be on the side of the factory and visible from the M4 motorway. The sign was an example of “kinetic sculpture” in advertising, it lit up to make the Lucozade appear to pour from the bottle to the glass. It was installed in 1954, on the side of what was then known as the “Lucozade Annex” which was knocked down in 2004. The sign originally said "Lucozade aids recovery" but this was changed in the 1980s to "Lucozade replaces lost energy" as the powers that be decided it might be offensive to sufferers from HIV.

Back outside I decided to head south across the 200 acre park but that plan was thwarted as much of the centre is cordoned off by barriers where a huge new outdoor sports facility is being built. So instead I had to make my way around the edge of the park, passing the small mansion (also behind barriers) and Priness Amelia's Bath House. Princess Amelia was the favourite daughter of George II. Plans for her to marry Frederic (who later became Frederic the Great of Prussia) had come to nothing, and when her father died, Amelia lost her apartments at St James's Palace. She took a house in Hanover Square and used Gunnersbury House (the original one not the present one) and estate as a country summer retreat. It was she who landscaped the park in the 18th-century landscape style and made Gunnersbury famous with her parties and political intrigues.

I walked down to the southern tip of the park past the Potomac Lake (private fishing and almost unseen behind its spiked railings and surrounding trees) and exited into Lionel Road North, passed under the M4 on its concrete flyover and continued down to the River Thames at Kew Bridge where I got refreshments and then followed the north bank along the Thames Path to Brentford. But that's (possibly) a subject for a separate blog entry.

Until then here's a Flickr Album of photographs from Gunnersbury Park.

Gunnersbury Park