Sunday, 25 September 2016

The MCC Museum

Lord’s Cricket Ground
St. John’s Wood Road
London NW8 8 QN

Thursday September 22 2016

We recently calculated that while we had tackled most of the military museums we had not been near any of the 5 sporting ones so today, rather to my dread and fear of boredom, we headed to our booked tour of the the MCC Museum  and grounds. This is an expensive venture – £20 or £15 concession – and what the website does not explain is that on a match day you do not gain access to the pavilion, changing rooms or ‘hallowed turf’ but you do get to sit in the stands and watch whatever match is on, which actually is quite a bargain given the average price of tickets.

I followed (and mainly overtook) the ranks of blazered gents heading out of St John’s Wood Underground as the Grace Gate is about as far away from both tube stations as you could get – Jo had wisely come by bus. Most of our group were overseas tourists, mainly Australians and Indians and very keen and knowledgeable fans. I’m not sure the tours get many unaccompanied women and they seem to form a small part of the crowd likewise – given that cricket happens during the day and all day that rather limits its supporters to being either the idle rich, the retired or both. The weekend crowds may be different but I had certainly never seen quite so many garish ties and blazers in one place.

Interestingly the story told us by the guide does not quite match the one related here. True, in the early days the blazer was the composite of the Oxford and Cambridge colours – so dark and light blue –however when the money ran out, as it did when the club moved for the second time, a Mr Nicholson whose fortune came from gin agreed to bail out the club to buy them some new land and ‘in thanks’ they revised their colours to go with the gin bottle label --- early sponsorship in other words. This site is the third home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (when I was little and still lived in a  Middlesex, which was not yet part of Greater London, I assumed the M stood for that county but no...) previous sites having proved too clay ridden or having to make way for the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union canal.  The various stands (which are of course all seats) are named after various famous cricketers, of whom I had heard of some.

Back to WG Grace (who was one of the famous medical students trained at Bart’s – see blog entry. Having heard about his frequent cheating – it’s probably just as well he played more cricket than practising medicine – WG claimed the public came to see him, not any random bowler who might get him ‘out’ so he would blatantly ignore the umpires who soon learnt to bend to the old man’s will... His bulk and presence would have been quite intimidating and even today the bearded busts and statues are immediately recognisable.

In the Museum itself, which is laid out over two floors with a commemorative window showing the refurbishment dating to the Nineties, there is a range of floor to ceiling glass cabinets. To be honest we did not look at them in detail (we were free to return at the end of the tour but had other things to do) but can be summarised thus – as bats and balls, caps and facts. So for instance there is a section devoted to famous/record-breaking wicket keepers including their padding, similarly for bowlers of different ilks. Cricket is a sport obsessed with records and dates so alongside each battered ball or signed bat is the relevant record – in both senses of the word. One of the most interesting manifestations of this attention to statistics is the classic score book – meticulous pen strokes on very narrow lines recording each ball and its outcome…

Our main talk took place in front of the display containing ‘The Ashes’ – it was good to hear the full story though if you know it skip this bit! The first ever Test Match took place in 1877 and seven years later the Australians came over for a test on the last day of which the English team collapsed and sustained their first ever defeat on English soil. Thereafter the Times newspaper wrote a half serious ‘obituary’ for the death of English cricket. By September of that year the English team set sail for Australia, where a revenge match was due to take place early in the New Year but of course the sea voyage would have taken most of the three months!!! The team arrived for Christmas and were invited to stay with the chair/head of the Melbourne Cricket Club, at his palatial pad. As a joke the wife of the chair emptied a perfume jar she had (that’s why the urn is so small) and filled it with the ashes of a set of bails and presented it to the English captain, who took it in good spirit and thence back to the UK. In 1927 the widow offered it to the MCC , where it has remained ever since save for two short trips away, one in the care of the Duke of Edinburgh.  I had always thought that like most trophies the ‘thing’ stayed with the winner until the next match – not so. As the winners don’t get anything except the glory and honour there is now a Waterford Crystal vase which does go with the winners and why it is currently here at the MCC.  The current tally is 32 wins each for England and Australia.

Our guide went on to tell us about the origins of world cup cricket, which has been a growing competition and has accounted in part for the developments of the whole Lord’s complex. Once out of the museum we were taken on a half circle under the stands, each with a different name, and where you find the facilities – toilets and bars mainly.   Once the MCC had taken Mr Nicholson’s gin money they have continued to have sponsors and these are also in evidence as you go round the ground. We quite liked the fact that Hardy’s wines, an old established Australian firm, sponsor English cricket…

Our guide led us out onto what is known as the Nursery Ground – acquired after 1900 from a plant nursery – and where the teams warm up/practice prior to the real matches. From there you get an excellent view of the pod which arrived in 1999 – the MCC realised with a pending World Cup there would be more media interest than they could  comfortably accommodate and held an architectural competition to design a new centre for journalists and broadcasters. The winner, chosen by the committee and not the members who hated it, was a Czech architect who had probably never seen a cricket match and never visited Lord’s but came up with a design that fitted the brief and was a lot more exciting than his competitors – it also won the   the Stirling Prize  for 1999 up against the Reichstag in Berlin!

Close by is a very unassuming building which used to house the ICC which for reasons you can probably guess has moved to Dubai.
Other tours would have got you into the Pavilion – seating for members only – and the changing areas. The ground currently seats 29.000 with building in progress to increase this to 32.000 in anticipation of the crowds for the next World Cup. The average age for membership if the MCC is 72 (so bang on for Jo & me) – previously you could put down some-one’s name at birth, now they need to be 18 and as there is a 29 year waiting list it takes a while…

The grass, we were told, had to be re-laid post Olympics (they held the archery contests here to provide a scenic background on TV) and the slope, apparently famous, was kept…
It lies on a bed of about a metre of gravel so drains better than your average London on clay grass.

At this point in the season – and it has been quite hot – the wicket looked pretty worn.
So there we were in good seats, under cover, able to watch the last 20 minutes or so of play leading up to lunch at what was probably the halfway point in the key match between Middlesex County (no win for 23 years) and Yorkshire (wins pretty often). Yorkshire were batting and doing quite well so we saw some-one getting out – clean bowled – and a catch and quite a  few runs including a boundary (automatically 4)  so actually quite a bit of action for cricket which can appear static and dare  I say boring in contrast to football – what’s more it takes days to resolve anything. [Pleased to report that Middlesex won the match the following day.]

To say I had been dreading this visit would be an exaggeration but I had difficulty in getting enthusiastic about it ( I shall feel the same about the Twickenham experience when the time comes) and actually found it was an interesting tour on a subject I know little about, and am pleased to have completed.  

Friday, 16 September 2016


1 Garrick Road NW9 6AA

Wednesday 14 September 2016

It's just possible that purists may suggest that this should not count as a museum. So, without referring to the Rules Committee, I'll begin by saying that it's open to the public (by booked guided tour only) and is completely fascinating.  Oh, and it makes the great museums of Albertopolis look quite new, since it has recently celebrated its 175 anniversary.

We were there thanks to the excellent outings programme of the Friends of the British Library, not to mention the ease of travel  via Thameslink to Hendon.  No photography inside, so we have just a couple of photos of the unprepossessing exterior of this house of wonders.

A little history to start with: Morris Angel came from Germany in 1813.  Am I the only person who wonders how that was possible, in war-torn Europe, with the British naval blockade effectively strangling Bonaparte's Empire?  But anyway, he arrived and found a job as a cemetery keeper, guarding against the 'resurrection men' who supplied the medical schools with illegal dissection material. He began to purchase the clothing and furnishings of the dead from the bereaved families. Scrooge, as I'm sure you recall, in his visit from the Ghost of Christmas yet to come, watches ghoulish figures arguing over his possessions.  Soon actors and  actresses, who were expected to supply their own costumes, came to him, and from 1840, the business has run without a break.

Our guide was called Mark, and he combined humour with information in an amazing way.  We found it hard to believe, at the end, that we had been standing, walking, looking and listening for two whole hours.  He warned us that what goes on here must be kept confidential till the film, TV show or play has been staged, but with 175 years to call on, we did not feel frustrated by not knowing the very latest things. For example, Angels provided the costumes for the opening and closing displays of a major London event in 2012, which was codenamed 'Chariots'.... with no-one allowed to talk about it till twelve months after the closing ceremony.

Mark explained that costume designers are free lancers, and come to Angels for whatever their vision dictates. They may want hand crafted period costumes, or they may want something much cheaper:  Angels dressed all the Indian peasants who flooded Attenborough's screen for Gandhi's funeral, for example. We saw the three making rooms, where skilled workers were tailoring clothes, relying on the actors' measurements in the highly secret measurements book. Mostly the costumes are hired out, but for a very long run, they may be sold. There is a large alterations department:  clothing is turned up rather than being cut for shorter actors, to make it re-usable.  

All the way round, Mark fed us stories and examples:  Marilyn Monroe was here for 'The Prince and the Showgirl'; Charles Dickens hired costumes for his dramatic performances. Perhaps the most extraordinary story was that Crippen's wife's clothes had been sold to Angels, and Scotland Yard had demanded them as evidence when the murderer came to trial;  Angels has the letter that Mr Angel wrote demanding them back after the trial, since they were his lawfully acquired property. More recently, 'Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie' has been dressed by Angels.

We paused by a glass case containing 'pure filth' and 'a tablespoonful of blood' (actually high in sugar)' and other essentials if actors are to do their jobs convincingly without germs and unsuitable facial expressions.

And then we went into the warehouse, with its 8.5 miles of racks, all crowded with clothes, and with side rooms for badges, medals, jewellery, hats and so on. 'More Cardinals than there are Cardinals,' said Mark, as we walked past rack upon rack on monks, popes, presbyterian ministers, tibetan lamas and so on; huge armies of - well - armies, and navies and airforces.  Mark pointed out that though, for most of us, a badge is a badge and a stripe a stripe, there will always be someone watching from that Regiment, or that Order, who knows what's right and what isn't.

We passed racks of Santas, including Ted Heath's Blue costume (he refused to wear Socialist red, even to hand out presents) Mark told us he himself had been Elf 197 in Santa Claus The Movie, though I have not been able to spot him in the throng in this clip.

Angels owns feathers which are now irreplaceable, since it is illegal to take osprey and egret feathers. The fur room was also interesting, cold to keep out the moths;  we had a little lesson on how to deal with the pesky creatures.

We passed the locked door of the 'embargo room' where items are kept till they are sent out and used.  While we saw a current 'Poldark' costume, Mark was not willing to say whether Angels would be dressing the second series.  But we guessed...

Some of the warehouse is devoted to fancy dress, an increasingly important part of the business, with Book Week and Halloween engaging school pupils and their parents more and more.  But the largest space is occupied by items which may well be important in 30 years time:  current clothing.

A display board listed the 36 Oscars (so far) that have been won for costumes, the earliest being the 1948 'Hamlet', but also Gigi, Cleopatra, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic..... Television is also important, from 'Heartbeat' to 'Games of Thrones', not to mention 'Downton Abbey'.

Finally we say the armoury, and had a chance to see how impossibly heavy real mail and plate armour are, and what substitutes are used to enable actors to do their stuff without collapsing.

All in all, this is a wonderful place, for anyone who has ever watched TV, a film, or a show.  We will all be looking closely at the detail from now on.  And thanks, Mark!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Mansion House

London EC4N 8BH

Tuesday September 6 2016

The Mansion House can only be visited in a guided group once a week on a Tuesday afternoon so we duly assembled at the side entrance in Wallbrook, where we were security checked and had our money taken. The tour takes about an hour, costs £7 (£5 concessions) and there are also tours specifically to look at the paintings.

Doubtless to the confusion of several overseas visitors the guide explained that this is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, in fact the 688th of that title, as opposed to the Mayor of London who governs from City Hall across the water and lives – probably – still in Tooting. The other difference of course is that London’s mayor is paid out of the rates of the 32 (oops) boroughs whereas the Lord Mayor is self-funded and receives no salary from the Corporation of London aka the City, so must therefore be a man of considerable means as he entertains and travels his way through his one year tenure – a tenure which is about to end with the election of his successor soon to take place.
The Lord Mayor’s show in November marks the handover and swearing in of the next mayor, who has the equivalent status of an Earl and within the ‘Square Mile’ has no-one above him, save the Monarch when she visits, and whom he offers allegiance and protection...

The various traditions, and there are many, are explained as you make the tour.
The Lord Mayor, who is always drawn from one of the Livery companies, used to live in his respective guild hall, however many of these burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 (350 years ago this last weekend – they had hot dry weather too) so trying to plan for the future, the City, already a rich corporation, decided to buy up Stocks Market and build a mansion to compete with those already going up round the country. They chose George Dance the Elder who had a complex commission to fill: it required him to combine an official residence with guest rooms, huge entertaining space for banquets and balls, stables, staff accommodation, offices for the corporation administration, and a small courtroom plus jail space as the mayor was the local magistrate. Dance in turn was influenced by Inigo Jones who had been influenced by the Italian Palladio who of course harked back to Vitruvius all ten volumes presumably. Dance’s original building was stiff with columns but also had an internal courtyard (very Roman but not much fun in drafty old London) and a double height hall leading the then population of London to dub it the Noah’s Ark – as that is what it looked like perched on top from the outside. As this was neither practical nor very stable Dance’s son, George the Younger, carried out the alterations to what you more or less see today. The cells, which once held the Suffragette protester Emmeline Pankhurst, now hold the treasures which include the mayoral chains and the mace and staff, which accompany the Lord Mayor on public engagements. The visit does not include the cellar level rooms (though you can smell the damp) nor of course the private residence quarters at the top.

The current Lord Mayor is Geoffrey Evans, who belongs to the Guild of Shipwrights and is a major shipping broker. The prerequisite for being elected (apart from a substantial private income) is that he be a Freeman of the City, an Alderman and member of a Guild. The City is responsible for 9.000 residents, 320,000 daily workers, 5 London Bridges, the Old Bailey, the Port of London and other more distant outposts (including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest), a few schools, nearly 700 years’ worth of investments, let alone the current commerce.   

The tour starts in the Walbrook Hall, originally the stables and open to the elements, but now an imposing entrance hall with what I thought might be a sedan chair but we were informed was for the porter, who would have been obliged to sit outside and is designed to offer shelter and warmth via the ‘hot brick’ tray below the seat!

Each room and the stairs have a wealth of wonderful pictures mostly from the Golden Age of Dutch Painting donated in 1987 by Harold Samuel
These include a Frans Hals – the first picture to be bought by telephone auction – and more de Cuyps and Avercamps than you can shake a stick at. It was very tempting to linger but we were under a strict curfew, to be out by 3PM.

The plasterwork details on the walls and up the stairs are magnificent and all in very good condition and fresh looking.   For an English building the impression is remarkably baroque. The combination of light, columns, gilding, ornate plasterwork (symbolizing the City and the Thames) makes for quite an eyeful.  

The upstairs is designed to make an impression and take your breath away which is exactly what it does. Although now only half the height of the original this is an extremely imposing and ornate room flanked by columns and with the most enormous central chandelier. As referred to above this was the space which in the original design was twice the height with the central section open!
Adjacent is the Long Parlour with inset mirrors to match the windows on the opposite wall. The paintings in here are quite small and intimate, in the Dutch domestic style somewhat at odds with the setting.

From there the tour leads into the State Drawing Room, which was newly refurbished 1991-1993 and still looks fresh – the talking point of the room then as now is the Nile Suite – a set of two sofas ( one went missing?) and several chairs now covered in crimson silk damask – they were crafted to commemorate the Battle of the Nile (if you know nothing about this Battle, which tends to be overshadowd by Trafalgar, this video clip is very clear) with the rope motif (I  thought it was a Nile snake) and lions’ heads on the arms. The furniture is pushed back against the walls to allow visitors (then and now) to admire the carpets…apparently the Mayor hosts a children’s party here come Christmas.

Hard to believe, but even grander than the Saloon and passage room is the Egyptian Hall – rather misnamed in our view. What it apparently refers to is the type of grand hall built by the Romans (after Vitruvius we imagine) in colonized Egypt to impress the likes of Cleopatra. This one was destined for banquets and balls with its high coffered ceiling, colonnaded alcoves and minstrels’ gallery. The white plasterwork is very fresh, still set off by gilded capitals. The stained glass windows each end are designed to remind visitors of the long history of mayors and their occasional  wider role  in English history. One has the mayor with King John and Magna Carta, William Walworth (Mayor) slaying Wat Tyler (incidentally at the Bart’s Museum they claimed the wounded Tyler had been brought into them )  another with Queen Elizabeth I whose prowess at sea ensured ever more funds into the City’s coffers.

The tour ends with another staircase, less stately, leading down to where we started and the cloakrooms. The opulence of this building and the emphasis on investment and wealth and commerce leave you in no doubt of the incredible riches of the City of London, reflected as it is in every aspect of this building’s genesis, function and appearance.  If you can stomach the opulence this short tour is well worth it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum

West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE

Thursday September 1 2016

I had wanted to visit Bart's Museum while on Jury Service at the Old Bailey but as time-keeping was key I left it to another day – and with Jo blackberry picking and not keen on medical museums this was the opportunity to pop in.

The setting is lovely: a tranquil square complete with benches, some greenery, shelter and in fact not crowded even on a sunny day. Those enjoying the sunshine clearly included patients and doctors in dialogue with a few city types on a lunch break – the same was true of the Museum, staffed by volunteers, though most whistled through rather more quickly than I did.

The visit starts with a short film explaining the origins of what is the UK’s oldest still functioning hospital. Rahere, a courtier monk in Henry I’s entourage, undertakes a pilgrimage to Rome (travel time =1 month) following the deaths of Queen Matilda and the royal children. In Rome he succumbs to malaria but following a miraculous recovery and a vision of St Bartholomew he vows to build a hospital for the sick poor in London. With the support of the King and the Bishop of London some ‘marshy’ land is identified outside the city walls (I have crossed Newgate to get here from the Old Bailey) known then as ?Smoothfield. It is a new mixed (but presumably separately accommodated) monastic order, with a hospital staffed by a master, eight brethren and four sisters.

From this short illustrated film you progress to a series of display cases explaining the artefacts – for these early days there are documents setting out the foundation and the land deeds. Little is known of the early patients – medicine had not moved on much since Roman/Arabic practitioners and by and large the sick who had self-limiting illnesses when ‘cured’ were often deemed as ‘miracles’. By 1420 the hospital had separated from the Priory; it continued to take all comers including women and children born out of wedlock.

Then along came Henry VIII and with all monasteries dissolved Bart’s was not spared and the Priory went in 1539. In 1546 the hospital was given to the City of London and funded by a complex system which sounds a bit like the Private/Public Partnership Initiative…. This included lodging, food and clothing for 100 folk and the establishment of 1 physician, 1 surgeon and 12 women. Several more cases are devoted to the ‘paperwork’ which put the hospital foundation on a firmer footing still – these include an inventory, valuation  and  plan with the large chest to hold the records proving that it is impossible to run something as complex as a hospital without some concomitant administration and record keeping.. 

From this point the museum breaks from a  more chronological display to cases devoted to the different ‘specialisms’ that have worked within and evolved alongside this foundation. Being much older than other medical museums we have visited the displays contain a wider range of records and artefacts.

We start with the apothecary – apparently the word comes from the Greek for ‘storehouse’ or helper which is as good a description as any. There are plentiful pots of balm and poison to look at – apparently the first Pharmacopeia to be named as such did not appear until 1618, though of course there had been listings of ingredients for millennia.

The Physician was no more advanced than the apothecary, dependent as they were  on Greek and Arabic teachings . Bart’s star physician was of course William Harvey who had been to Padua to study and came up with his theory of the circulation of blood. 

You can put money on the fact that every town and community will have a William Harvey clinic or hospital ward somewhere... and quite right too. The display case contains implements for bleeding and cupping, a false leg and an early syringe. However a recent visit to the ‘Mary Rose’ indicated that the ship’s doctor there travelled with syringes, pre-dating these here.

The statistics relating to the early Bart’s surgeons are interesting – three were employed on rotation to deal with accidents more than anything else.   As few as 60 operations per year are recorded with the removal of kidney stones a frequent and presumably largely successful operation seen as the main ‘planned interventions’.

There is a case display of the fabric of the hospital – candlesticks for surgeons to see by, badges for staff, lists for running the hospital and a bill for the removal of ‘night soil’ – something we learnt about last week at the Water & Steam Museum. In fact just the kind of things the current NHS are asked to make ‘savings’ on…

Of course nursing through the ages has its own proud display from the ‘helpers’ who carried out menial and laundry related tasks to the later post-Nightingale more professional nurses. Bart’s matron Manson was key in campaigning for registration which became statutory in 1919.
 – I say proud as the exam requirements for nurses were apparently harder than the national ones leading to the claim that Bart’s nurses were ‘second to none’

Nearly 200 years on from Henry’s ‘gift’ to the City it was time for a rebuild and the hospital employed  James Gibbs, a most prolific Scots architect, who came up with the large quadrangle of four wings: three for patients one for administration – that is the North Wing where the Museum is now. It was an inspired design that pleases to this day, though someone in 1937 decided the South Wing needed replacing.  

Bart’s has a long history in training doctors with John Abernethy in the early 19th century taking the initiative – in 1900 it became part of the University of London and in 1995 joined with the Royal London (also Westfield and Queen Mary’s) which is the position today.

The museum traces the rise of specialists and it is indeed to the key fields of cardiology and cancer research and treatment that Bart’s owes its survival and current position amongst the London hospitals.
Somehow, without destroying the Gibbs era heart of the hospital planners have managed to insert state of the art units on the Bart’s site. Incidentally there are still the two churches bearing the apostle’s name and the whole hospital constitutes a parish.   

There are photos of students at work and play – largely rugby and cricket for the latter, which might explain why, when the head of the Medical School, the eminent James Paget, admitted Elizabeth Blackwell as the first woman student in 1850 the males protested so much women did not gain re-entry until 1947.   There is an excellent and spirited account of Elizabeth Blackwell’s views on male doctors and female patients if you listen via the ‘telephone displays’. Having worked in a borough with an ‘Elizabeth Blackwell House’ I had no idea that though born in the UK she was in fact brought up and trained initially as a doctor in the US.

There is a plaque to Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson who met here – the latter being a Bart’s trained doctor and apparently the latest TV series was filmed here with the staged  ‘suicide leaps’ from the rooftops of Bart’s.

From the other door of the museum you can just peep at Hogarth’s wall mural which goes up the stairs to the Grand Hall – not accessible unless by accompanied tour Friday PM.

However this, the museum for the UK's oldest still open hospital,  is worth visiting in its own right and warrants more attention than a distraction for patients and their visitors.   

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The London Museum of Water & Steam

Green Dragon Lane
Brentford TW8 0EN
Thursday August 25 2016

This appears in our list as the Kew Bridge Steam Museum but we learnt from all the literature and signage that it now trades as the London Museum of Water & Steam. However the Kew Bridge bit gives a hint as to how to approach this West London outpost – trains on the somewhat infrequent Hounslow Loop pass through Kew Bridge, which is indeed very close to the Museum, easily spotted due to its impressive brick chimney. There is no shortage of space throughout the Museum as of course it used to house the most enormous steam pumps, and while there are still plenty of large scale machines there is room to circulate.

One of the first things we noticed was a plaque thanking the EU for their financial support to setting up some galleries and we would also guess that Thames Water played a contributing role.
The first large wall has a more or less chronological display of domestic appliances which use water – these of course include basins and sinks, bath tubs and boilers and toilets and tubs for washing and washing up, interspersed with old fashioned adverts and films of how to use said appliances. Dominating amongst the public service notices were frequent requests not to ‘waste water’ including some catchy rhymes and slogans…  Given that the average Londoner gets through over 150 litres of water per day it is no mean feat for the companies which provide us with this precious commodity to achieve this in an area (SE England) where there are known water shortages (maps give examples of this both for the UK and the whole world) . So how do they manage this? – by re-cycling of course.

Also looked at historically is the management and distribution of water and its various components:
Pipes various through the ages from terracotta (good to a point), stone (nah), lead (seemed a good idea at the time), copper (costly), to iron. There are a range of pumps scaled down so you can test the various types and see which are most efficient… and which require the most effort.

(Once the oomph or heft was applied technologically or industrially you are looking at the huge machines upstairs).
You also need a system to get water from where it collects (downhill/rivers) to where it is needed and the answer to this is not only pipes and pumps but the LONDON RING MAIN, which as you can see from both maps and models does indeed encircle London – presumably areas beyond are dependent on other managed sources of water supply.
We live very close to the Honor Oak Reservoir, which occupies a raised and very protected site.

Back to water distribution through the ages and this section is well illustrated by a combination of appropriately costumed historical figures on video giving their accounts of various water/sewage problems and the solutions alongside various dolls’ houses complete with the historical water distribution and disposal methods of the day. The talking heads include 
 The talking heads include James Simpson, who introduced water filtration, and the more famous Dr. John Snow – the ‘water detective’ 
whom we have also featured in our blog on the Anaesthesia Heritage Centrethough he is better remembered as the man who established the wisdom of not crapping where you intend to drink – and that applies to animals too. This section of the museum has great fun with sewage – and many details of how widespread it is (faecal matter found on 75% of mobile phones)and how it is dealt with safely through an instructive series of films, models and even cartoons – an excellent example of multimedia education. Soberingly, 2 millilitres of (rain)  flood water can trigger a sewage discharge into the Thames… hence the need for the London Tideway/ sewer works. This visit may not be for the squeamish – there are more pictures than you might choose of sewage disposal systems past and present and models of the ‘muck’ that the public dispose of incorrectly. 

Having exhausted the very absorbing ‘Waterworks Gallery’ and taken a spare water saving shower head and shower timer (courtesy of Thames Water) we stepped up to the main body of the very fine building to look at what was undoubtedly the core collection of steam pumps run mainly by coal. Although we like ‘industrial heritage ‘ the detail of different models of pumps did not detain us for long though there are doubtless visitors who like to ‘commune with the metal’ as Jo put it, especially on steaming days, which are most weekends and thoughtfully half-terms too.

We enjoyed the building itself – the brick tower holds a flue to expel the excess steam and there was another flue demolished when it became unstable.  The history of the site is probably typical of similar pumping stations – there had been a proliferation of private water companies as the population and its expectations grew – competitors promised reliability of supply and good quality water but competition led to the inevitable cost cutting and drop in standards that follows this kind of ‘privatization’ (think railway companies then and now). Kew was one of the better operations – working conditions were good with apprenticeships and affordable rented housing (some of these can be spotted from the windows). It was a large site with its own coal yard and a small railway to transport the coal to the eight engines run by 14 boilers. It was bombed in 1915   but apparently escaped further hits during World War II. Steam pumping ended in 1944, replaced by diesel until 1975. There is a garden which is raised and offers a good overview of the site. Apart from the pumps original to Kew, different models  have been donated as other pumping stations closed.

Shortly after this visit the water supply for the area where one of us lives suffered a collapse due to a broken pipe and it is only then that you realise how water dependent we have all become – indeed on average we use 163 litres per person per day. Without the infrastructure  of pipes, pumps, filters and sewers that keep London going, and which are so well explained in this museum, our lives would be a deal less comfortable, clean or safe.