Saturday, 23 June 2018

Trinity Buoy Wharf

London E14 0JW
Thursday June 21 2018

Rather like last week’s suggestion, we had been tipped off about  the gallery down at Leamouth by Victoria who reads our blog. We had arranged to meet at Canning Town Station, which the website indicated was the nearest transport link. Once we found each other – no mean feat at Canning Town – we exited in what we hoped was the right direction (Google maps indicated that there might be a problem: “Use caution–walking directions may not always reflect real-world conditions”) looking for a footbridge.

We then found ourselves in Canning Town Bus station and on the third version of asking ‘How do we get to the island?’ were bailed out by a really helpful and knowledgeable cleaner. Not only did he unlock the Canning Town Bus station loos for us  but showed us very clearly how to get onto the island. The loos have been renovated totally which might be why they keep them locked, but then the information point is not staffed either.

Back to the Canning Town Jubilee Exit and sure enough there is a long flight of stairs and a lift up to where a new metal footbridge joins the ‘island’ formed by a huge curve of the River Lea as it empties into the Thames. Google Earth still showed a building site but I would say the work is 60% completed.  Whether the completed works include social housing is not clear. The developers Ballymore  had provided a boardwalk round the edge of the island but in fact the central access route was already open and landscaped with waving grasses and birch trees. Some of the homes are occupied but as yet few shops – we passed a very modern commercial gallery clearly providing art work for the new blank walls of people’s flats. As yet no sign of any major roads…

Where the City Island development ends you pass under the Lower Lea Crossing and then onto the tip of the peninsula (for that is what the ‘island’ really is). Here are the buildings which were once part of a bustling maritime past – many large warehouses and shipyards with adjacent services mostly now re-purposed for uses such as a brewery or storage for the ENO. Several of the eponymous buoys remain steadfast amongst the older buildings and right down by the riverside tied up was an excellent lightship next to London’s only lighthouse – quite a small one as it happens.  The plan, which we only found as we were leaving, indicates that you can visit the lighthouse at the weekend.

What was open was a small hut, described as London’s smallest museum, namely a re-creation of Michael Faraday’s working office. Now we had been underwhelmed by the Museum in his name at the Royal Institution, which we had visited over a year ago.  What was the great man doing down here you might ask? Well, as we understand it, given his well-known work with electricity and magnetos, those early things which kept light  and eventually machinery going,  the Trinity House invited him to come down here to do research on their behalf. Cue an explanation of the role of Trinity House: first given a charter by Henry VIII, they were and are responsible for  the lighthouses, buoys and  other aids for ‘the better navigation of the coasts of England’.  We were impressed that there was an Electricians’ Workshop here from as early as 1835 . Faraday himself was employed to do research for them from 1831-65. Whether his post here was full time or not is unclear but we enjoyed his little office cum research station complete with a sea pebbled floor and fishing floats. The desk has some experiments and notebooks set out and looks both atmospheric and interesting so imagine our  dismay when we noted that some previous visitors had abandoned a pizza box and two McDonalds cups on ‘his desk’. We did not consider these suitable historical artefacts, and some ‘vapers’ from a nearby office removed them for us.

The area had also been used for building ships, the last ones in 1900, and the Blackwall Railway came here from Fenchurch Street. With the expansion of heavy industry, and thus employment in the area, eventually the working population had both a little time and money for leisure and trips to the seaside, by ship. We wondered if there might be plans to have small boats encircle the peninsula.   

Where there are hoardings these are generously adorned with Information and education boards and one of the older buildings has been taken over as a private school, named for Michael Faraday as it happens.  Others are working artists’ studios – we poked our noses into one and were welcomed by the artist but we did not like to interrupt creativity… The site is also dotted with other art works. The metal steps up to one building had been designed to reflect the area’s history. Another appealing artwork was the outline of the River  - always a joy – done in the names of boats the artist had collected..

The current main road is called Orchard Place , which felt a little anomalous in such a built up area but Jo spotted a board which I had obviously missed which explained that due to the rich nature of the muddy deposits there had indeed  been orchards here!

Apart from the creatives in their studio spaces and many contractors we seemed to be the only visitors. Our original aim had been to visit ‘The Gallery’ which we failed to find down among the cobbles and bollards but serendipitously we really enjoyed exploring an area so keen to show its heritage.

As it happened we realised the gallery was in fact the modern commercial one we had passed on our way down, but a glance through its glass plate windows was enough to speed us on our return walk .
The cafes looked appetising and people were enjoying the sunshine (and food) and we could see that given time this forgotten bit of riverside London could become what Camden Lock and Stables had once been before being taken over by the assorted youth of Europe after cheap thrills. But with luck they may be able to retain the essence and spirit of the original area.

Friday, 15 June 2018

South London Botanical Institute

323 Northwood Road
London SE24 9AQ

Thursday 14 June 2018

We need to thank Victoria for this suggestion, which had escaped our list making, possibly because it is indeed 'a hidden gem'.

Really easy to get to (though possibly it will become even easier when Thameslink sorts out its new, improved timetables) the Institute nestles behind a fine tamarisk tree a few steps from Tulse Hill station.

It is open to the public on Thursday mornings, as a reassuring sign on the front door confirms, and we were welcomed by a member of staff.

After we had visited the 'facilities'. in themselves a botanical show case, we were shown some of the delights of this Victorian house. Built in 1863, it became  the Institute in 1910, thanks to the energy and inspiration of Allan Octavian Hume.  Hume had been in the Indian Civil Service, and had become interested in botany in India. (We shall not dwell on his other hobby, which was collecting birds' eggs and skins.) It was he who worked on the Great Hedge of India, about which you can read a somewhat angled account here

We were shown the library; the impressive collection is open for reference on Thursday afternoons. In the hall is a massive clock, of Indian design and manufacture.

The Lecture Room has some beautiful bespoke wallpaper, designed by a local artist to embody various botanical specimens. The walls are lined with pictures of the various curators and librarians, until recently mostly male and bearded.  Hume himself is above the mantelpiece.

 Next we went into the herbarium, where the huge collection of pressed specimens is stored, in metal (= bug proof) cabinets.

We were shown the kind of collecting cases that the plant hunters used to bring examples back for study and preservation.

Then it was time to go into the garden, and wander through the various labelled and explained beds.  There is a pond,  and beds of medicinal, poisonous and woodland plants as well as examples from around the world


On the wall of the house is a mosaic, designed and placed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Institute.

There are plants for sale, though we did not buy any, this time....

And in the little conservatory which leads from the Education Room (yes, they welcome school and student visits), we found various succulents and cacti, as well as some carnivorous plants.
 We were very glad we had visited, and warmly recommend it.  Details are here, in case our readers want to try it.

Monday, 14 May 2018


Due to various holiday commitments there will be a pause in blog entries until we return variously from France/Spain/ the Avon Ring.

Unlike the buses where we had routes we had ridden earlier  this is not the case - also we are running low on museums open on days we can both manage!

Kirkaldy Testing Museum

99 Southwark Street
London SE1
Sunday May 6 2018

Jo had visited once before so this time Linda visited with Roger – as we live in Southwark we thought this would be a straightforward journey and visit totally possible to complete before lunch…well yes and no.  The bus up was a ‘church bus’ with the women and children of SE London all in their floral Sunday best.
The Museum is run by volunteers and as such is only open on the first Sunday of each month with occasional evening sessions. As this is Year National Engineering Year  it seemed appropriate to visit this quite unique establishment, which is housed in its purpose built setting now a Grade 2* listed building.. Because there are stone stairs and slightly uneven floors the tours are all guided and you would not want to move around unaccompanied.

The tour starts in the basement where there is an 8 minute introductory video explaining a little about David Kirkaldy, who founded the company and why he did so. As you might guess from his name David was a Scot and started his working life as a draftsman in the then very lively shipbuilding yards of the Clyde. An exciting time it was with the UK at the height of the Industrial Revolution and with new materials and methods being introduced all the time. All the trades were involved with carpenters, blacksmiths and stonemasons contributing to the country’s booming landscapes.

Kirkaldy could already see that what was required was some independent testing  of the materials and methods being used and he moved to London and set himself up as ‘an independent tester’. His strapline and selling point was ‘FACTS NOT OPINIONS’ which are embedded in the building inside and out.  At the time he came to London Southwark was home to a range of industries – leather for one – then the river and docks nearby and several railways converging.  After a few years at the Grove Kirkaldy moved his testing apparatus into this building  in 1874, which was in effect purpose built around his  largest  testing  machine.   This can be seen quite clearly from the basement workrooms where you see the wheel shaped components jutting down from the ceiling.
The practical demonstrations started with the Chapry (French) and IZOD testing machines – these were set up to test IMPACT and are in effect large mechanised hammers coming down on the  material to be tested which is held in a clamp. The amount of impact can be increased and there is a calibrated scale to indicate what this means.

(At this point I should say that I did about one year of very basic  physics  60 years ago, so to say I am ignorant is an understatement; the two questions I asked were met with  patient tolerance) . Kirkaldy never recommended anything to anybody – all he did was to send them a signed certificate to indicate at which point the material no longer held. It was then up to the builder/developer/engineer etc  to make up their own minds. When he started this testing there were no British Standards which were not introduced until 1901  and have been going strong ever since.     

The second machine we were shown tested the strength of concrete under pressure (COMPRESSION) and had been doing so for some time. As our guide pointed out one of the characteristics of concrete is that it does not fully set for a couple of weeks.  With tower blocks of course you cannot wait two weeks between each floor so presumably nowadays there are different ways of measuring the strength of load bearing surfaces… The machines here are powered by hydraulic pressure.  Apparently there used to be a specialist London firm that just supplied water under pressure suitable for hydraulic applications (lifts in hotels for example)  but here it was further beefed up by ever smaller pipes (this had to be explained to me) . Standing around were labelled bits of concrete that had been tested for the Ministries of Works and Defence and coincidentally for the Lee Green Shopping Centre, now a rather desolate  shadow of its 1971 self… .

From compression we moved into TENSILE testing , most particularly that of chains… what had originally been the caretaker’s flat was annexed into a longer room so that, again under  hydraulic pressure, lengths of chain could be pulled  /stretched to their breaking point . This was heavy work as the WHOLE chain is moved along. ( I had thought maybe they do ‘sample testing’)  but on the contrary each link must be put under pressure as any ‘weak link’ could cause the chain to break and chains hold up bridges and loads and secure ships everywhere. This machine is known as the DENTON Chain machine. Our guide pointed out that Kirkaldy never advertised – firms approached him. An early customer was the German firm KRUPPS, which certainly would have given the firm prestige.  

The building and its contents stayed in the Kirkaldy family for three generations before closing in the Sixties. Back up the stairs you are able to see David’s original office,  much as it was, dust included, and this is where the Museum displays his prize-winning drawing of a paddle steamer – the prize was given by the Royal Academy and remains the only occasion when they awarded such to a technical  piece 

Tucked away on the open plan ground floor was a further small machine designed to test  the hardness of materials ; two versions were available one with an industrial diamond  which is brought down under pressure onto the material , the other a round steel ball. Both make dents at certain points from which, via a series of tables and calculations you can work out at what pressure the material might start to distort.
This lead us to the BIG MACHINE which was able to measure the strength and the compression tension and torsion as applied to larger pieces such as girders – both front and back doors can be opened in order for large and long  posts or pillars to be held secure in the jaws and subject  to  series of stress tests. Apparently some of the bits were so long they hung out into Southwark Street and an employee had to sit there, day and night sometimes, in order to ensure the passing traffic did not trip over them…This machine still works and the volunteers run it at 2PM on their Open Days. It does take up most of this floor and was built in Leeds by Greenwood & Batley nearly 100 years ago.

Tucked away in another corner was a small, more modern machine that had been used to test the cords on parachutes and today was able to demonstrate how far that awful flat plastic tape  that you fight to get off parcels would last under tension – the tension on this occasion produced by a young girl turning a handle until the tape broke into multiple fibres (the museum jokingly describes itself as the only museum that likes to break things). We had been given safety goggles which made me reflect quite how much we owed Kirkaldy and his successors as they pioneered what we know as ensuring safe structures. We assume (Grenfell Tower apart) that we can trust that the materials chosen and incorporated are strong enough for the purposes they are used and have been tested as such.


Our visit finished at this point and in a spirit of nostalgia we decided to take a bus 381 back to Peckham for onward transport  The driver explained as we boarded (the only passengers) that he would not be going to London Bridges as there was a detour. We spent the next 45 minutes or so trundling round SE1 and some of SE 16 and went up and down Tower Bridge Road in both directions – I was very puzzled at this point and  asked him: he said Tooley Street was closed because of the ongoing building around London Bridge and there were road works also off Southwark Street. We briefly got back on route only to be diverted again after Canada Water, where a few more passengers got on. At one point he seemed to think he was a Number 1 bus. I queried our travelling and checked we were still heading for Peckham at which point he said ‘My controller expects me to be there in 20 minutes and it will take me 10 to get round this corner’ (somewhere in Rotherhithe). I went to sit down and not long afterwards he stopped the bus at Sherwood Gardens, got off and disappeared. Passengers closer to the driving seat had heard him say ‘well in that case  I am abandoning the  bus’.   We all waited about 5 minutes and then got off (he had left both doors open) and went our various ways. Quite what happened to bus and driver we don’t know but in all our 546 journeys that we took during the Project nothing like this had ever happened…

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Boston Manor House


Monday 7 May 2018

Boston Manor is one of those stations that you go through on your way to Heathrow, or possibly Osterley.  But this Bank Holiday Monday, Linda and I got out, and we were glad we had.  

We walked the few hundred metres to Boston Manor Park, and wandered around admiring the wood sculpture, and the pond and the wonderful, huge cedar trees

We then made our way down towards the River Brent, which involved following the tunnel made by the M4, which was built though the park in the days before we realised that road building is rarely a solution to traffic issues. The grim ambience was only enlivened by some fairly unskilled graffiti.

As we walked back, we were amazed by the large number of sun bathers on this beautiful day, some of them wearing very little.

And then it was 12 noon, and time to visit Boston Manor itself.  It is free to enter, since it is in the care of Hounslow Borough Council; and while there are not many rooms to see, they are very impressive.  Built in 1623 for Lady Mary Reade, it was bought by a wealthy merchant in the 1670s, and renovated by the Clitherow family.

The dining room is handsome, and William IV and his wife once dined here, as guests of Colonel Clitherow, over 150 years after the first Clitherow purchased the house . On the table is information about the family, and the epergne presented to the Colonel on the occasion of his retiring from various public offices.

We liked the way some of the panelling had been removed so that we could see the structure behind it, and we also admired  the paintwork on the ceiling.  The carving above the fireplace was also interesting.

The stairs are rather fine, with painted armorial motifs on the stairposts.  There is a banister up one side, and on the other, a clever trompe l'oeil of banisters, painted onto the wall.  Something to try on our own narrow stairs, we thought

Upstairs, you come to a magnificent state drawing room.  From the windows, you get a fine view of the park, so it was great to have a notice with an extract from the expenses book of James Clitherow III in the 1780s, recording that in 1754 he had planted the seeds which became his cedar trees.
But rather than looking out, we needed to look up, at the remarkable plaster work of the ceiling, which has medallions of the four elements and of the senses among its decorative twirls.

Above the mantelpiece  is Abraham, about to slaughter Isaac, with an angel grasping his blade to prevent him.

The other room upstairs is designated the state bedroom, though is not furnished as such.  But it has 'Hope' on its ceiling and is handsomely proportioned.  I told the informative and friendly volunteer we spoke to that it felt like a house one could live in.  She responded with some unsavoury information about sewage disposal and the River Brent flowing nearby......
Back on the ground floor, we popped into what had been the library, and thought that the standing desk was rather an attractive piece of furniture.
As we left the park, we wondered whether there had been a stable block, and if so, what it had now become;  but there was no indication that it was open to the public
All in all, we thought it a place well worth visiting, and we look forward to hearing whether the funding comes through for further renovation.  You can read more about it all here.