Thursday, 29 October 2015

Fulham Palace

Fulham Palace

Bishop’s Avenue
Fulham SW6 6EA

Thursday 28 October 2015

Linda and I approached the Bishop's Palace in Fulham via the Bishop's Park from Putney Bridge Station.  We knew we were in West London because of the relentless roar of aeroplanes overhead, but the Park was pleasant, and soon we came to the handsome wall which surrounds the Palace grounds.

The Palace is leased by the Church Commissioners to the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (more about this later) and they are gradually restoring the vegetable garden which used to help feed the Bishops of London.  They have a bit of  a way to go yet, and of course their brassicas had been ravaged by pigeons. On the other hand, the glasshouses are already producing tomatoes, cucumbers and the odd pepper, and we much admired the show of dahlias outside the glasshouses.  The knot garden is also being restored, and we very much liked the dark red sedums and grasses planted there.

But it was time to visit the Palace and so we headed towards it, realising that t was half term when we saw lots of families in the grassy surrounds of the building.

We were, however, still outside when we 'met' our first Bishop, carved at the top of the Bishop's Tree. This was Bishop Creighton, in charge in the latter part of the 19th century, and a keen gardener.

The way into the Palace is through the handsome courtyard, with fountain, and there we paused to answer some questions from a young volunteer, garnering information to help seal a Lottery bid for more improvements.

Eventually we were in the Palace, and started in the Great Hall, actually quite modest, and panelled in dark wood.  This week it is the scene of the dressing up opportunities so essential for historic buildings these days. It also had a fine gallery, and an attractively carved wooden fireplace surround. The light was not ideal for pictures, so there are some more here.

Here we learned that the Palace had been the home of the Bishops of London since the dawn of time (well, 704 AD, just as King Ethelred was abdicating) until 1973, when they moved to Dean's Court, convenient for St Paul's Cathedral.  But that time, Fulham Palace was not only decrepit (bomb damage and old age) but also unsuitable for the modern church. Much of it had been leased out to various individuals and organisations.  So the Church Commissioners allowed the Borough to take it over, and they are making a sound job of turning it into a community space.

In Bishop Sherlock's Room, added, apparently, in 1753, we saw a modest exhibition about what had happened to the Palace since 1973.  There was lots of information about the Volunteers, who are clearly crucial to the place, the renovation and planning that is going on, and the various activities which have taken place over the past 40 years.

As we moved on, we came to some very entertaining pictures of Bishops of London by a modern artist whose name we could not find.  There was Ridley, with the flames behind him.  Also Bishop Laud, the High Churchman who encouraged Charles I to go in for more 'bells and smells' that the ordinary people of the seventeenth century thought appropriate.

Then we went on to the main museum which is about the history of the diocese as well as the Palace.  This was of course a family home, once the reformation had allowed Bishops to marry;  bishops wives, of course, became homeless when their husbands died, though it seems that grace-and-favour homes at Hampton Court might be made available.  The Museum told us about food supplies, and entertaining, and also about the huge range of the duties of the Bishops of London, since they were responsible for parishes outside the UK.

For those of us who had come from the other end of London and were wondering what the bishops were doing all the way over here, the museum provided clear explanation. With the ford over the river here, this was a key commercial and strategic point, and of course access to London by River was always available.  So from pre-Roman times there had been people here, as archeologists have demonstrated.

A brief film made the useful point that, while this is not the 'finest' Tudor, or 18th century house, its various incarnations demonstrate continuous occupation.  We saw photographs of the Palace's use as a hospital in 1918 and 1919, and read about the fire watchers who saved St Paul's from destruction during the Blitz in 1940-41.

Finally, after a quick visit to the shop, housed in the library, we made our way to the Chapel, rather a depressing 19th century building;  the paintings on the brick walls were hard to see, though they look quite interesting on the website!

We enjoyed our visit, but would be lying if we said it was wonderful or amazing.  If the lottery application is successful, and we hope it is, it might well be worth visiting in future years to see the progress they are making.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Museum of London Docklands

No.1 Warehouse, West India Dock Rd,
London E14 4AL
Thursday October  22 2015

This museum is an offshoot of the Museum of London,  using the very generous space of the West India dock warehouse for its substantial display which effectively covers the history of London as a port.

The house style is very reminiscent of that of the Barbican site with a mixture of displayed historical objects/reproduced documents, some short audio-visual presentations and reconstructed room, or in this case street, displays so you wander over wooden and cobbled floors as appropriate. The Museum occupies four floors with the main displays on 3 & 2, admin and generous meeting venues on 1 and commercial and play opportunities on the Ground Floor. I will leave Jo to explain the many pleasures of the Mudlarks scheme to which she has often brought her grandchildren. This may be the most suitable destination for children as I bumped into several somewhat scared toddlers who described parts of the exhibitions as ‘dark and spooky’.
Great cities need rivers or bays (be they commercial or not), and London of course has both the river and a long history of thriving commerce and trade which passed through the variously situated London ports. With international trade comes settlers from overseas and the start of a diverse city population.

The entrance lobby by the lifts shows how the building used to be with a model of a rowing skiff – how imports/exports were taken up and down the river, as this building was used for both loading and unloading.  Being part of the Roman Empire until the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410 this part of the River Thames was where the Romans chose to build their port. The Saxons favoured further upstream – Aldwych/Strand way and not till 900 or so did trading return to this area. The Danes/Vikings were active sailors and traders but found it difficult to get their large ships under the one bridge built to cross the Thames.  By the time the Normans had been in London a 100 years or so they decided to import some smart Caen stone for a first stone bridge.  For me one of the star exhibits of the Docklands museum is a large scale reproduction of London Bridge, with the individual buildings identified one side for the 14th century the other for a later period. It is atmospherically lit and conjures up the range of purposes the buildings on the bridge were used for. From the very beginning ships have always been charged to dock and unload and there have been  ‘inspectors’ of  said loads, otherwise known as customs officers – the Museum reminds us that Geoffrey Chaucer’s job was exactly that and  it must have been easy for him to conjure up the range of his ‘pilgrims’ from the types he met in his working life…  With the imports came the rats and with the rats the ‘Black Death’, which had already taken many lives in Europe, spread in London too.

The Trade Expansion gallery includes models of ships, which have a tendency to make me glaze over whereas small coins and finds of the era are more evocative...  Interestingly as early as 1393 the Lord
Mayor of London was given responsibility  for the Thames and managing the potential clashes between the need for food, conservation and trade.

Following the steady growth in enterprise and trading thanks to the opening up of new trade routes, the 16th and 17th centuries saw the growth of the major Merchant companies, including of course the East India Company, and the concomitant growth of the Insurance companies, such as Lloyds, famously founded in a Coffee house and reproduced here, both in models and re-enacted videos…   In many ways they had the monopoly on trade for nigh on 200 years and at some point their  ships became too large to dock so far in – hence the building of warehouses at this point of the river and the need for watermen to bring down the stock from where the ships actually berthed.

This building was used for trade with what used to be called the West Indies , that is the Caribbean, for which the main commodities were sugar and ‘slaves’. This section of the museum has been built up and the experiences of the enslaved peoples carefully explained and well documented in pictures, in testament from the period and most impressively in a ‘Sound & Light’ installation which runs every 20 minutes or so. The displays painstakingly follow the lives and experiences of the captured communities of West Africa and their journey to work on sugar plantations of the Caribbean … The numbers but of course not the names are there for all to see, and this was the main destination for several school parties. Marking the beginnings of the human rights movements there were some moving statements from the various debates around the Abolition of Slavery.
As trade increased there needed to be improvement in the port facilities – inevitably this lead to massive scale demolition of the houses and shops of those who worked along the river and for the port – the displacement of the poor and working classes to make way for commerce and larger more impressive buildings is of course a never ending story in London, and repeats itself through the centuries as with today’s shortage of affordable housing (by which I mean social housing not fancy rental).

By the time we reach the industrialisation of England building of all sorts is happening – above ground the bridges spanning the Thames proliferate (sending the bigger ships, now iron clad and steam and coal driven, eventually out to Tilbury) and underground Brunel’s tunnel at Rotherhithe (been there blogged that) and Bazelgette’s sewerage system to replace the open sewers and put an end to the ‘big stink’ and cholera outbreaks.   London called itself the warehouse of the world and most of the industry was located river or port side – the Third Floor recreates ‘Sailor Town’ with lodgings, chandlery, shopfronts for ‘letter writers’ and of course the taverns.
At this point you see how the warehouse might have been with weighing scales, piled up tools, cooperage (barrel making), wheelbarrows and porterage trolleys scattered near the huge doors , which presumably look out over the water of the dock. The tobacco trade was huge and wines and spirits one of the oldest businesses, doubtless all still in the hands of the same few families?!

The Docklands at War is what you might expect – the port was a major target for the Luftwaffe and while trade had been re-located to the Clyde for the duration the docks still suffered badly, as did the nearby residential areas, which for many years had received little attention with commerce taking priority. With fewer ships docked for commerce once the plans were in place the dockyard was used for building sections of the Mulberry harbours (portable ports so to speak) used with great success in the D-Day landings.

After the bustle and success of the previous centuries, the post-war decades were bleak. Labour relations between management and dockers deteriorated and a third of all warehousing had been damaged. The 1953 floods which led to loss of life downriver in Essex prompted those with foresight to build the Thames Barrier(1974 completed 1982),  which while  saving London from flooding realistically  put paid to any heavy river traffic, as real port business moved to Tillbury and even Harwich. Things seemed so deserted that the media equivalent of squatters moved in – namely the various pirate radio ships. The Museum very aptly names these three decades post war as the ‘phoney development’ with slow progress on re-development –however come the LDDC (London Docklands Development Corporation)  and a very different new area emerges.  You may not be in agreement with the area becoming another financial district but it has  given renewed purpose to one of London’s oldest parts. With the regeneration came the transport and the now very familiar Docklands Light Railway, which to all intents and purposes runs ( and looks?)  like a Lego train – driverless.  It had been my intention to visit the Crossrail bit of Canary Wharf station which will come 2017 bring even more people to this part of London but so absorbing had been my visit that there was no time left . The lesson here is do not underestimate the time needed to absorb yourself in the story of London’s river and port and people  (to a lesser extent).

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Science Museum, Visit 1

Friday 16 October 2015

The Science Museum.
Exhibition Rd
South Kensington SW7 2DD

Visiting this enormous museum is not to be undertaken lightly, and Linda and I resolved that this would be our first of several visits. It is a long time since we were here, and we were amazed at the amount of space available to this collection.  Perhaps I should say 'collection of collections' since that is what it is.

The entry hall is embellished with bicycles, perhaps to celebrate the fact that Exhibition Road outside is nominally a shared space for all of us who pay for the roads, and not just motorised vehicles. Studying the menu, we agreed to look first at the Julia Margaret Cameron photographs on the second floor, at least partly because it was unlikely to have attracted any of the many school parties which were arriving.  The other reason is the Freshwater Bay link, though Linda has not yet visited Dimbola Lodge.

We noted that there is to be a Clockmakers' Museum here soon, though whether this is the one we visited in the City of London, or a separate venture, only time will tell.

Visitor photography is not allowed in the Gallery, but Cameron's photographs are wonderful and you might feel inclined to go and have a look.  They are some of the 94 pictures she put into an album in 1864, and presented to Sir John Herschel, son of the (more famous) Samuel.  The exhibition includes her handwritten table of contents of tha album, and a couple of very faded pictures which, it is surmised, he displayed in light too bright for the fragile prints of the collodion process.

We did feel that an explanation of how photographs were taken in those days would have been helpful, and there was a brief summary about two thirds of the way round the exhibition. Here, however, is a YouTube film of an American man actually doing it, though I should warn you that he has chosen rather a heavy Blues track for his background music. He talks about the need for running water, which JMC did not have in her converted conservatory, but she did have servants, and Mary Ann Hillier, when not posing as The Madonna, or Juliet, was kept busy with buckets.

There are three main groups of photographs:  first, there are the celebrities of the day, with an emphasis on literary and artistic subjects:  Tennyson, Trollope, Holman Hunt were all her subjects, as was the now almost forgotten author Henry Taylor and artist G F Watts.  Also, of course, Herschel, with a rather Einsteinian hairstyle said to be JMC's attempt to portray the halo of genius.  'My portraits', she said, 'startle the eye with wonder and delight'. Secondly, there are posed pictures which tell, or reference, a story: several Holy Families (she was a devout Christian) but also Shakespearean scenes, and invented subjects, like 'The Flower Girl' and 'The Neapolitan'; for these, she roped in the locals to pose for her. Reviewers of her work at the time commented that her pictures often lacked crisp focus.  Her riposte was 'What is focus?  And who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?'  She saw her work as art rather than simple depiction. Of her four sons, three had problems with their eyes, and there was speculation in the signage about whether she too had some kind of visual impairment.  But some of her portraits are completely crisp, so it seemed to us that focus was indeed a matter of her artistic choice.

The third group, not from the Herschel Album, were taken in Ceylon. Julia was a child of the Raj, born in Kolkata (as we should now say;  being somewhat pro-Tamil, I am sticking with Ceylon for the other place in this story)  Her husband's wealth came from coffee plantations in Ceylon;  when coffee-blight reduced their income, they moved to Ceylon. Here Julia made various pictures of 'natives' whether in the bazaars or working in the fields. We wondered what they must have made of this Memsahib with her chemicals and boxes of kit.

The Herschel Album was rescued from export in the 1970s, and is normally housed in the National Media Museum in Bradford.  So you can either head south the the Isle of Wight, or north to Yorkshire to see more of the work of this remarkable woman.

We did not feel inclined to explore the whole of the rest of the Museum, but we stayed on the same floor and had a look at the 'Journeys Through Medicine' display of some of Henry Wellcome's collection.

We had seen an early iron lung when visiting Nuffield Place, but had forgotten just how hair-raising they were.  This one dates from 1953, when cases of Poliomyelitis were frequent and devastating.  The programme of eradication which began in 1956 means that the last case in Britain was 1984: and In the whole of Africa there has been no case since August 2014, so things look promising there.  Seeing the kit which we remember from our smallpox vaccinations reminded us that it is possible for the world to eradicate  vile diseases.
We also saw gadgets to make injection insulin more straightforward, and a prosthesis made for a young child affected by thalidomide.  Even less pleasant were the machines for early electro convulsive therapy

The rest of this display was about historic and prehistoric medical treatments, amulets, trepanning drills and phrenology kits.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was that Henry Wellcome sent his agents around the world, hunting and buying stuff for him.  One of his collectors was Winifred Blackman, but he did not trust women, so her budget for an entire expedition to Egypt was about what one of his other collectors spent per day.  A bit silly, we thought, since finding things like Parturition Chairs was obviously going to be more straightforward for a woman.

Well, that's all we could manage in one morning, so we shall be back, not least because our original intention had been to look at the industrial machines of the 18th century, before we were sidetracked into photography.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland
21 Portland Place

Thursday October 8th 2015

Followers of the blog may have noticed that we tried to visit this august  body (fine building – colonnaded porch, exemplary ornamental flowers) some weeks ago but a flood in the basement had closed them down. In spite of heavy rain again this week the heritage centre, located in the building’s basement was open and a young woman escorted us downstairs. We assume the rest of the building is occupied with issues of professional development, research and membership; also there are rooms for meetings.

The area is shared with a library and is small, partly a reflection of the fact that anaesthesia, as we know it, has a very short history compared to most other branches of medicine which have been going since Greek times. The library and exhibits give credit to the collectors Thomas King and J. Alfred with the Foundation starting in 1932. Rather puzzlingly there is a (silent) film of a man floating face down in the sea, tethered we presumed, to some oxygen but without a commentary it was a bit difficult to establish where this figured in the evolution of safe anaesthesia.
There were plenty of examples of both surgery and even more wincingly dentistry taking place WITHOUT either anaesthesia or pain relief – the main methods of operating being to hold the patient down or give him a  hefty tot of alcohol. The Enlightenment saw scientists pursuing a more methodical and rigorous approach to experimentation rather than relying on magic or belief systems…  The pictures reproduced made us devoutly grateful that pain relief was so much better nowadays. The experimenters looked at what was already there and evaluated the effectiveness, and after effects of the various methods, usually trialing on themselves.

 I guess pain relief was the start of total anaesthesia and the early practitioners used herbs ( mandrake roots as featured in some detective fiction; it is also known, more poetically as Mandragora as in ‘Charmian, give me to drink mandragora’ says Cleopatra unhappy without her Anthony).
Further east acupuncture has long been used for pain relief.

In the Thirties ‘bright young things’ (‘twas ever thus) were using nitrous oxide as part of their ‘ether frolics’ and gradually dentists began to use variants to help with their work. Anaesthesia in dentistry is of course more complex as you need to keep the mouth open in order to complete the work. After 2001 dentists were no longer permitted to be their own anaesthetists and most out- patient pain relief is via local injections.   Where possible this is also the current practice for minor surgery.

There are ample examples of the apparatus used to deliver pain relief/total anaesthesia both in the vitrines and the drawers below and these include a range of face masks, needles etc. Apparently two metal syringes were discovered on the  'Mary Rose'.

Chloroform was another early agent of pain relief and interestingly it was Dr.John Snow, who not only deduced the source of the cholera outbreak in London but also developed pain relief for women in childbirth – including Queen Victoria. A man of many talents. 

From 1912 the use of anaesthesia became part of the curriculum of medical education n and in 1935 the Diploma in Anaesthetics was introduced. Nowadays anaesthetists can lead Intensive care units and have  a much higher profiles.

The exhibition ends with a display featuring the work of anaesthetists working on the front during World War 1. Apparently ’shock’ was as much a threat to life as the actual injuries and though recognised  it took some time for those treating the injured to understand, and out into practice replacing fluids  (via saline or blood) as the best relief for ‘shock’.

This is a display clearly designed to appeal and inform the practitioners. We would have welcomed some more basic explanations –

What exactly is the difference between ether, which has been around since 1275, and chloroform (1830s) and whatever is used nowadays. There is no mention of the effects on the brain – I contend that having anaesthetic is NOT like being asleep – it is complete nothingness presumably like being dead – where of course they ‘bring you back’..  Nor are the after effects of anaesthesia referred to in any detail. The other omission is the role played by anaesthetists working in palliative care and hospices where their skills are used to manage a more pain free exit from life.   

The best thing is the association's coat of arms upheld by two peacefully 'sleeping' patients...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Thames Barrier Information Centre

Thursday 1 October 2015

The Thames Barrier Information Centre
SE18 5NJ

This was not an easy place for me to get to, and the bizarre recommendations of TfL's inadequate Journey Planner did not help.  Why would I go via Caledonian Road, Kings' Cross and London Bridge, to North Greenwich and a bus, when Camden Road to Stratford, and Stratford to North Greenwich got me to the same bus (the 472, by the way) in 40 minutes instead of 90 minutes?  But I digress.

After all the gardens and royals of last week, and being on  my own, I decided the time had come for some heavy metal,  and you don't get much heavier than the Barrier

The car parks were empty, and the signage on some of the components long gone, but the Barrier itself was spectacular, and I walked for a little way along the Thames Path, admiring the views of the Barrier and also of the surrounding area. The Tate and Lyle factory is just here, resisting the assaults of the anti-sugar faction, and there was an attractive map to show you all the delights of the area.  Linda and I had of course been round here on various buses, as well as going to Woolwich to visit Firepower.

There is also a profile of the River along one of the walls here, showing the fall from Thames Head to the estuary: the river begins 105 metres above sea level.

Having got a real impression of just how big the whole thing is, I headed inside to the small Information Centre, which is under the cafe. The lady who took my (very modest) entrance fee mentioned that there was a school party in the place, but we ex-teachers don't mind other people's students, and these were perfectly civilised.

Around the walls is information about the whole length of the river, and an elegiac film of wild life, rippling water, fish and leisure activities.  The Environmental Agency is very keen for us to know that the river is actually very clean, though murky from the sediment stirred up by the currents, though I should not care to drink it myself. There is also information about tides and North Sea surges, as well as what happens to the rain which falls in Oxford and Reading. Then there is some history, about previous floods, notable the 1953 disaster. And Bazalgette and his embankments, which of course constrained the river upstream. A summary of climate change science and resulting water levels and flood risks fills another wall

We also learned about Charles Draper, the engineer whose clever idea the system was, though I could not discover whether this piece of paper really was his sketch of the idea, or an artist's version.

But the centrepiece of the exhibition is a working model. Two sheets of foil covered card rise as the tide comes in and the river is swollen with upstream rain; the hydraulic pistons pull and push the wheels into their upright position and lo, London is saved.  No-one said much about what happens to Thamesmead and Gravesend as a result, however.


The last ingredient in this very informative Information Centre is a film where one of the top men, in his hard hat and high visibility jacket shows us round the operations room and then down the tunnels which connect the 9 piers, and up onto  one of them to see the gates at close quarters.  He is accompanied by a cartoon character who provided diagrammatic explanations of the difficult bits. The stainless steel, though eye-stretchingly expensive at the time of construction, wears well, and continues to be beautiful.  What I did not know is that the inside of each of these compartments is lined with wood, in a positively cathedral-like vault.  We were told that each of the wheels weighs 3,300 tons, and that the cranes are needed to lift them for maintenance. There are emergency generators and back up systems of all kinds. I suppose the strangest thing is that they run water pipes to all 9 piers in case of fire, although you might think there would be enough water all round.  My only criticism is that when some science is mentioned, cathodic protection for example, the 'Scientist' is of course depicted as a male with a beard in a white coat.  It really is about time for the Environment Agency to review its stereotyping department.

All in all, this is a London sight well worth a visit.  My only regret is that I didn't time my trip to coincide with one of the monthly test closures. You can find the dates for these on the website, which also has diagrams and many details.