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.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Chiswick House & Gardens

Burlington Lane, Chiswick
London W4 2 RD
Thursday April 26 2018

Both of us had visited this property before in weather fine enough to be able to picnic but that was not to be the case today. It was a pleasant walk from Chiswick Station and when we had wavered on the platform as to which exit to take a woman had helpfully indicated the main exit – adding we were not to miss the Conservatory.

Passing some well-heeled SW London properties and also some delightful WW1 Almshouses (restored), we arrived at the Burlington Gate, which gives you a clue as to whom the property originally belonged. Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington , who inherited  at a the age of 10 years, lived when in London  at Burlington House which is now the Royal Academy of Art.  Like many of his age he embarked on the Grand Tour which in his case seemed mainly to be a ‘gap year’ spent shopping: he returned with no fewer than 878 trunks of purchases, and then needed somewhere to put them. On his second tour he did focus more on the sights and sites and fell in love with the classical Palladian villas he visited round Vicenza, Italy. He also wanted ‘somewhere in the country, near the Thames’ to entertain friends and continue supporting the Arts, by now home- grown ones, hence Chiswick. By the time the house was rebuilt to this design (the previous wooden structure having burnt) he had acquired a wife, and eventually there were three girls.  Chiswick was used for fun and pleasure and summer entertaining. Since it is seemingly without a kitchen, presumably the food was brought in ‘Deliveroo’ style?? Other artistic folk were nearby – such luminaries as Pope and  John Gay, author of the Beggars’ Opera.

During our visit marquees were being erected in the garden, presumably for some corporate or private function, and we thought it must have been little different in Burlington’s day. His stroke of genius was to get , William Kent, whom the Earl met in Italy, to design the house, the garden and some of the contents.  Kent had started  as a painter but then became the architect and interior designer who came to define early Georgian England , a style that many still feel is the most quintessentially English – it isn’t of course but it has lasted well and with its classical symmetry is very soothing. So in Chiswick he gave Burlington, and ultimately the Nation a classical gem.

The actual house entrance was not very well marked and we must have walked round what felt like 1½ times before finding the right door as of course one is not permitted to enter via the grand staircase.
The downstairs of the villa housed both a salon and the Duke’s library, though none of that remains, and some of his larger ‘souvenirs’. On the whole he did better with the statuary than the paintings, we thought, and quite enjoyed the randomness of a Sphinx here and a Napoleon there, but with little light and no furniture the general impression is of a rather grandiose cellar; cold in both the physical and the emotional sense. 
Lack of signs, again, meant we did a few circuits looking for the stairs – one of the drawbacks of symmetrical buildings, we discovered, was that all four corners look alike internally and the stone (presumably servants’) stairs are well tucked away.

However, the climb is rewarded with a some very ornate rooms, and at this level with generous windows overlooking the landscaped gardens complete with modern marquees. Five /six rooms surround the central domed salon, which as can be seen from the exterior views has a grand and glorious domed roof/ceiling decorated with both paintings and plasterwork. The gallery especially, where the colour palette is restricted to white and gold really shows up the workmanship of the apse niches and ceiling. The introductory film had alerted us to the two side/console tables, which had been restored and photos of which I seem to have found from a previous visit. (Photography is not now allowed on this level.)

 The surrounding rooms are respectively the Red, Green and Blue Velvet rooms – the latter has a  pile/flock wallpaper  in a deep intense blue.

In the Domed Saloon (if careless with my double vowels I could call it the doomed salon) we dutifully namechecked the various paintings and confirmed that most were indeed ‘after Van Dyck’ or ‘after Reni’ with some bona fide Knellers.  We felt perhaps the Italians saw all these money rich/time poor Brits coming and sold on some hack works... On the other hand much of the original contents of this house were relocated to Chatsworth.

Through marriage this property became part of the Devonshire Estates and while successive Dukes did live here it was never a main residence. In some ways this was probably a good thing as the main interior rooms were spared too many ‘makeovers’ and were left as we find them today. The 5th Duke added a side building and made several changes in the garden going for a more informal look – winding paths rather than too many straight vistas. His is the pretty bridge.  His wife, Georgiana, portrayed in the film 'The Duchess' did some of her partying here. English Heritage had added some placards to celebrate the ‘Women of Chiswick’ which of course included Georgiana, Anne Venables, a Chiswick housekeeper and Eleanor Coade, who devised a secret formula stone suitable for statuary and building. While she was not local to Chiswick there are several samples of Coade Stone work within the garden, so perhaps a suitable place to remember her.

Various less illustrious, though no less moneyed, tenants followed and by the twentieth century the house was in some disrepair and shortly before the Second World War it and the park were passed over to what is now English Heritage and Hounslow Local Authority. Much restorative work was needed with many of the later additions removed and the garden restored to a more Burlington /William Kent era lay out.  The park is a joy with mature trees, water (originally the Bollo brook) and points of interest – bridge/ columns, lions etc – dotted throughout. It is also very well used by the whole range of park people: runners, dog walkers, families.

We had left the Conservatory to last, excited by the thought of a collection of historic camellias only to find there was a private function with no admission for Jo Public . At this point  April did its thing and dumped a very cold shower on us when we were furthest from shelter  so we cut our losses and headed briskly back to the station and the restorative warmth of a SW train (I never thought I would say that)  and central London after a somewhat muted morning out.  

PS The photo shows some ‘home-grown’ camellias…

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

8 Ranger's Rd, London E4 7QH

Thursday 19 April 2018

Beautiful warm and sunny weather accompanied our train ride from Liverpool Street to Chingford for this interesting excursion.  Linda and were accompanied by Roger, the former 63 regular, who was somewhat bemused by our nostalgia for the Chingford bus station, neatly positioned next to the Overground.  But we did not need a bus, as it is a ten minute stroll into the outskirts of Epping Forest and to the Hunting Lodge.

 You know you are almost there when you pass the extremely pseudo-Tudor Premier Inn. The Lodge itself is whitewashed all over, as was apparently the norm at the time of its building.  

As Linda commented later, like the New River (neither new nor a river...) it is neither a Lodge, nor built for Queen Elizabeth, but the Victorians liked to associate anything then could with a previous great female ruler.
Before we went inside, we headed to the green space at the rear of the Lodge to admire the truly spectacular views over this edge of the Forest (perhaps I should explain, as we were told later, that the capitalisation is required because this was a Royal Forest, and as such subject to the Forestry Laws, which King John was forced to sort out alongside other issues in 1215.)

What you see indoors is made up of two parts.  First, we went into The View, as the Visitor Centre is aptly named.  We found this very interesting, which will indicate to those of you who remember that I can be resistant to being educated, the high quality of the displays.  There are two parts:  'who needs the Forest' was all about the different species which inhabit the Forest, and the different uses to which it is and has been put.  Information about the English Long Horn Cattle which now graze the glades, also told us about the Common Rights of ancient times and the attempts by rich landowners to fence parts of the Forest (about which more later). The advice to modern visitors was to enjoy the cattle, 'just try to avoid stepping in their flower dispersal systems', thus neatly making the point that cowpats are ecologically crucial.

The Forest has also been a place for leisure activities for centuries, though the coming of the railways meant a huge increase, as the East End poured its population into the countryside at weekends.  One of the entrepreneurs who set up Riggs Shelter, with refreshments for visitors, was told to supply toilets lest visitors made the Forest 'one perfect closet for their convenience'.

The veteran trees are also remarkable, some of the beeches being as much as 500 years old.  The Forest is very densely planted, with up to 800 trees per acre (compared to 70 in Richmond Park) and this is possible because of centuries of pollarding, or lopping as the Commoners' rights called it.  The poor wanted the branches for firewood; and once the 'bolling' that remains is too high for deer and cattle to munch, the tree can thrive and be lopped frequently.  When lopping was ended in 1878, the compensation built a community hall in Loughton, called Lopping Hall.
Ancient trees led seamlessly into an account of invertebrates, and therefore small bug munching mammals, and therefore owls and other birds.

The other part of the exhibition was about 'who saved the Forest' and here we got a wonderful combination of the great-and-good and the ordinary people. Octavia Hill wanted fresh air as well as good housing 'the poor should never be denied beauty' she said;  William Morris played in the Forest as a lad:  there was a charming cartoon of him saying 'I just can't stop drawing leaves'.  G B Shaw was also in favour of preserving the Forest as an openly accessible space, as was Thomas Nelson, the Solicitor who took up the case of the Commoners against the 16 Landlords (boooo!) who had fenced parts of the Forest. As we know, the right of pasturage and therefore of the openness of the Forest won the day.  And the wealthy City of London stepped in and purchased much disputed land for the public good.  Queen Victoria visited in the 1880s. to be greeted by civic displays and an arch.

But the less wealthy and influential also played their part.  There were serious demonstrations against the enclosures in the 1850s and 60s;  and in the 1970s when a motorway called the M16 was planned as a sort of pre-M25 ringroad, there were again major protests.

There was much more to enjoy, as well as a display of work by local artists, but it was time to move into the Hunting Lodge.

The very friendly staff gave us a brief introduction:  the building dates from 1543 which (as Nigel Molesworth would say, and as I have quoted before, 'any fule kno') was Henry VIII.  At that time it was called the Great Standing, and was a three storey timber frame, to enable the corpulent monarch to kill 'his' deer without getting onto a horse:  game would be driven into the courtyard, and the King and his courtiers would shoot from the upstairs.

The ground floor was set up as the kitchen.  We always enjoy fake food, particularly the venison pastries as described in a quote from Samuel Pepys. And we were impressed by the huge hams, presumably removed from the fire place which the cauldron of pottage was set set to simmer.

But most splendid of all were the decorations of the pies and pasties (pastry being as important as bread in those pre-potato days). There were apparently books of designs, as well I am looking for something more than diamonds next time Roger and Linda make a pie.

The room had some information about who used to poach the Royal deer, their names and histories being known from court records.

The stairs up to the first floor are wide and shallow, suitable the courtiers in posh frocks.  The story that Elizabeth I rode her horse up them after the defeat of the Armada sadly only dates from 1833, and so has to be taken with pinches of salt.

The upstairs room is for education, with the obligatory dressing up clothes, including ruffs and some attractive mens hats.

This would have been the level from which the shooting happened, so the floor upstairs (past a stuffed fallow deer) must have ben just to enjoy the view, or maybe a spot of dalliance (there was Tudor type music playing up here), and it was right to be reminded that the place existed because the Forest was a royal playground, long before it became a public pleasure.

 Did I mention that it is free to enter?  Lots of details here.  Even on a less beautiful day, this is well worth a visit.

Well, then it was time to move on, Roger and Linda to walk through the Forest to Loughton (using the Freedom Pass Walks book) and me to return to the station and so home.