Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Honeywood Museum

Carshalton, SM5 3NX

Thursday 16 November 2017

After major South Kensington Museums two weeks running, it was a pleasure to visit Sutton's Heritage Centre in its attractive listed building and its even more attractive setting.

Carshalton is very easy to get to, whether from St Pancras or one of the stops en route, and in fact Linda and I met when she boarded 'my' train at Tulse Hill.  

Then it's a short walk to the lovely ponds, and past the handsome War memorial to reach the House. The number of seagulls, as well as other water birds on the ponds was remarkable: we reminded each other that we had seen the scary Hitchcock film many years ago, and so viewed large numbers of birds somewhat askance. 

We admired the enormous London plane tree, whose girth suggests that it is at least two hundred years old.

Once inside the building, there were many pleasant surprises awaiting us. One room's wall was covered with a splendid poem in rhyming couplets about the pleasures of Carshalton.  
The poet was a patient at the hospital for incurables of whom nothing more than that is known, but his poem is entertaining and informative. There are descriptions of the many pubs, and of the water of the Wandle that pours and splutters everywhere, making the village a place of gutters. He was clearly writing at the time that Dickens was serialising Little Dorrit from a house nearby. He says that he doesn't 'care much for it' because there are too many characters!

He also mentions 'a station for peelers', reminding us that the Police force was about 20 years old at the time of his writing.  

The same room contained the Beadle's Hat and a ceramic bowl displaying a village cricket match.

The works of two local artists adorn some of the walls:  William Tatton White and Winifred Madder both wanted to remind people of the country feel of the place as the railways, tram and commuter dwellings encroached.

We entered a large reception room, overlooking the modest garden.  Here we found the dressing-up clothes which we have come to expect wherever we go, but also cases of the most wonderful wooden models of the delivery vehicles of the past:  the ancestors of Deliveroo, Uber-eat and Ocado. They included a removals van, with the crates and trunks half stacked and the coal, milk, greengrocer and bread vans. There were public service vehicles as well.  

And then in one corner was a tea set, complete with cake stand, also of wood: we were charmed!  We think the models were made by a Mr Clark of Sutton, but if he has a website, I can't find it.  They are lovely, and worth visiting the museum for on their own.

The walls were covered with photos of the streets as they were, and of the industries which lined the banks of the Wandle, including the snuff mill and the iron and paper works.

Many large houses were built in this rural spot, mostly by nouveau riche London merchants: the museum is in one of them, and St Philomena's school occupies another, but several were demolished to make space for more modest housing.

The history of the house was outlined for visitors as well. It changed hands often, until the 1990s when Sutton Council took it over and began the process of converting it.  One of the families, the Kirks, had enlarged the house considerably in the 1880s.

This meant that we went down a few steps and then back up again, passing an area of possibly original wall from the 17th century, as well as rather a handsome clock, before reaching the area which had the bathroom and pretty lavatory, as well as a bedroom.  Here we saw some more charming toys, including a handsome miniature kitchen range and small washing equipment for some dolls' house servants to use.
The only area which we found a little strange was a shelf with a few fossils, and Brownie box camera and a small statuette of Parvati.  We thought this might be the Community's 'bring your own treasures' area, but it did not detain us long.
Next we came to the room where the World Wars and their impact on the area were explained.  A range of objects and leaflets were arranged on a Morrison Shelter.  As well as information about the bombing raids which came too close for comfort, there was an account of having pancakes in early 1940 and. there being no lemons, using concentrated lemonade on them. Yuk...  
Honeywood House was the headquarters of the air raid precautions service for the area, as well as being the recreation centre for the wardens

Finally we learned about the impact of the railways;  Carshalton was late in  getting a station because local landowners were reluctant, but in due course the station, which Linda and I had used, was established, and commuters came to be the bulk of the residents.
We particularly enjoyed seeing those baords which used to be inserted and removed on the platforms before electronic displays became the norm

This is a charming museum, in a very pleasant setting, where information about the history of the area and life in the past is interestingly and attractively displayed:  and, as I said, so easy to get to!

You can check it out here.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Natural History Museum (2)

Cromwell Road
London SW7 5BD

Thursday November 9 2017

It’s nearly two years since we last visited the Natural History Museum and in many ways we were looking for some consolation, amongst what should be the jewels in our crown of National Museums, after our less than educational visit to the next door establishment of the Science Museum and, we were not disappointed.

We are both old enough to remember when the Museum of Geology was a separate institution, with a separate entrance, but since he end of the 1980s it has been part of the Natural History Museum, now incorporated into what is known as the Red Zone. Unlike the grandeur of the Victorian halls of the Dinosaur/Whale bits of the institution, Geology is still housed in its no less spacious 1930s galleries and that is where we started our visit today.

We enjoyed the entrance foyer to this part where star exhibits were placed in the wall alongside a series of ‘phrases and sayings’ using stones and minerals as metaphors or comparisons… so ‘good as gold’ ‘hard as nails’ ‘tough as steel’ ‘feet of clay’.
You then enter a broad corridor with exhibits on both sides.

The different rock formations are clearly explained with different examples of each – sedimentary (settled deposits a bit like solid mud) and igneous (formed by volcanic or explosive core forces) and metamorphic – roughly speaking a combination of the other types put under pressure so they sort of fold. Apologies for the totally non-scientific and probably incorrect summary but there is text which both explains it (rock formation) simply and goes into more detail. 

From there it goes onto explain crystals and how they form within the rocks and here the displays are wonderful. There is one showing that when you break/drop certain minerals or stones they will shatter into the same shape bits, as opposed to smashing a tea cup, which shatters randomly. 

We have to give credit to the original collectors who in the spirit of the Victorian plant hunters and animal collectors went round collecting rocks, noting from where they came and in some cases naming them. Not surprisingly these early collectors were largely men with enough of a private income to pursue their interests but several gave their annotated collections to the Museum which is now the richer for their work.

To say we drooled might be an overstatement but there are ranks of display cases full of the most beautiful gem stones showing how they would have appeared as the crystals in the stones and rocks and how they then looked once polished and mounted. The finished gems are shown on hat pins so one is not distracted by the settings (you can tell I am a jeweller’s   daughter) and can wonder at the skill of the miners – never an easy job and exploited everywhere – to see what can be made from a stone…

The range of gems and colours is a true delight. Some resemble fronded coral others slices of bacon – the range is enormous. 

On from there we were told about the usefulness of many of the elements presented in their unrefined forms. This ranged from many decorative marbles used for statuary or impressive table tops, clay which forms the basis of much pottery. Slate is a native stone used usefully for tiling (there were some question and answer boards inviting you to choose different materials for different functions) and of course while marble makes excellent   floors it would be hopelessly heavy for tiles and roofs where slate fits the bill. There was a section showing how very small amounts (‘'rare earth elements'  are used for technology components though in fact they are not as rare as all that. There is quite a lot of space allocated to asbestos which technically is a fibrous silicate, and looks both pretty and very tactile – soft light and downy. Unfortunately though it has wonderful properties of insulation and fire proofing it is also very dangerous and over the years many have died at every stage of its  manufacture, installation and destruction. 

There is of course a large section on the most common and practical use of the earth’s resources – namely as building materials.  In the UK we have long had access to a source for brick making and the Romans kindly left us with a recipe for cement to stick them together. And once you have cement you can go on to make concrete, which just about accounts for the rest of our urban structures….

We enjoyed this section of the natural History Museum very much as it reminded us clearly of the riches below the earth’s surface and how useful and attractive they have been to us, though there was little to say that at times man’s greed has led to exploitation of both labour and land…

Once in the Red Zone we descended in order to ascend the very dramatic escalator which takes you into the bright red glowing ‘core ‘of the earth. (Our photos do not do justice to this somewhat kitsch approach) and once through the outer layers of earth we came to the galleries which explain about the three interlinked but nevertheless separate elements  (in a non-Chemical  sense) which constitute the unstable nature of the earth – that is the Tectonic plates, earthquakes and volcanoes. All these three phenomena are very clearly explained with large print graphics and many photos from what can only be called ‘disasters’ of the last 100 years. Of course it’s all the subterranean activity has been going on for much longer and it was interesting to learn how explosions were linked to displeasing the gods. There was even a Japanese early warning system whereby brass balls fell into frogs’ open mouths thus indicating the likely direction for the impending earthquake! Here films come into their own and there is of course an earthquake simulator, which is pretty sobering though many children were approaching it rather as a fairground attraction…

This section is well visited and again there was the opportunity to handle some rock samples from volcanic episodes.

The Red Zone section felt very much as though they had conserved the best of the past with the plentiful rock collections but had updated much of it to make it relevant to modern day use and function.  

Apologies - photos not good due to poor light levels and what looks like earth tremors affecting focus.... 

Friday, 3 November 2017

Science Museum. Part 3

Thursday 2 November 2017

We had last visited this enormous Museum almost a year ago, to enjoy the impressive Mathematics Gallery.  This time, we thought we would have the general look that we had failed to achieve in January.  Having been so impressed last time, I should say at the start that we were underwhelmed on this trip. In our methodical way, we thought we would start at the top and work down.  The lifts signposted to 'Flight' were out of order, so we walked up to the third floor, and then made our way through the paying attraction which seemed to be fairground rides simulating the experience of the Red Arrows.

Since we were also passing the entry to Wonderlab, there were many excited children. Arriving in the galleries devoted to the history of Flight, we enjoyed pictures of Daedalus and Icarus, angels and some Leonardo drawings.  It was interesting to note how long the wish to imitate birds lasted, with several (failed) ornithopters with their flapping wings on display. Marey's detailed sequence photos of birds flying reminded us that this dream lasted into modern times. The captioning was often interesting, but hard to read.  We were not clear why the lighting had to be so dim. Perhaps the museum is so concerned with attracting youth, who do not read captions, to bother about accessibility for the more mature visitor.

the 18th century saw a new and successful development, with the Montgolfiers' highly successful and fashionable hot air balloons. We admired the souvenir ceramics, snuff boxes and other souvenirs, but would have liked a bit more about - well - the science of balloon flight.

Looking for inspiration from other flying objects, and from other technological developments, Hiram Maxim developed a steam flying machine which, unsurprisingly, did not work.  We wondered who he was:  is he the Maxim gun man?  But we could find no information about his life. 

Then there were gliders, Cody's 1902 Man Lifting War Kite (!) pedalled machines and eventually the Wright brothers, Bleriot, and so on.

A number of cases contained model aeroplanes, from the earliest types to Concorde. More interesting than these was the amazingly florid Schneider Trophy.

Models of airships were also displayed including a photo of the inside of the Hindenburg, with its aluminium grand piano

A considerable space was taken up with examples of and information about war planes, but the captions were small and dense.  The same applies to the information about navigation and radio communications for pilots

The area about passenger flight entertained Linda who remembers clearly flying Caledonia, with the brightly tartan-clad cabin crew.

Above our heads were more aeroplanes, which seemed robust enough to withstand a little more light than was supplied.  We ignored the large area occupied by unadorned aero-engines, and moved on. After our enjoyment of the Maths Gallery last time, we both felt we should have liked more about how planes are designed, what makes them stay in the air and so on.

One floor down is what is grandly called 'The Information Age'. There seemed to be some sort of art work at the start, but since the interactive wasn't working, we remained baffled.  A list of types of meat from pork loin to chorizo? Why? Later we met some charming young men in t-shirts that said 'gallery technical support' but they said this wasn't their area.  Why museums waste money on computer driven stuff and then fail to maintain it is a complete puzzle.  

Having walked round the raised walkway, passing the Eurostar satellite, we headed down into the display area, which was again rather dark.  Clearly we needed the app to make sense of it all. We failed to manage a chronological tour, but we saw some information about Tim Berners-Lee and the Web (though the interactive was not working) and a number of old computers.  Aah, the nostalgia of seeing a BBC-B!

Because Joe Lyons, of the Lyons Corner Houses, used very early computer technology for stock control, there was a case of Lyons comestible tins. On the other hand, a case containing a child's plate and a standard 1950s mixing bowl had no explanation at all. There were numbers by the objects but no key.  I waylaid a staff member as he emerged from some offices to ask what the mixing bowl was for, and he told me there should be a key and he would report the fact that there wasn't.  So it was not only the interactives which were not working....

There was a section about radio, and the Rugby radio station, illustrated by the induction coils which were copper in a wooden frame, which came to the museum in 2003. But what an induction coil is, why copper, what 'very low frequency'  means - all this was left unexplained.

The same applies to a display of thermionic valves, though thank to Tim Berners-Lee we were able to find out what they are when we got home.  And when we came to Marconi, the metal coils and glass thingies were displayed but not explained.  .

Once we got to radios and TVs we were happier in a little nostalgic haze. (we are the generation who first saw TV on 2 June 1953) but would have appreciated a bit of explanation about the science behind these things.

Next we went down to the basement to enjoy the science of the Home. This are was big on objects though short on scientific explanation. But there!  What's not to like about old clock alarms, hair-dryers, gramophones, TVs and so on.

Highlights were the early sewing machines, and some amazing vacuum cleaners, including one that was pedal operated and one that required a second person walking behind working the bellows.  But we noted that the display had not been updated recently: the only Dyson was a very old and heavy one


We saw kettles of all kinds, our favourite being one with a little spirit lamp; washing machines from tub-and-dolly, through washboard to twin tub and beyond; cookers from range to microwave; refrigerators you could customise with a fabric door; strange home medical devices like a belly warmer.


We did learn how a CD player works, with lasers rather than a needle, but otherwise explanations were few and far between. It's a splendid collection of objects, but we thought lacked what should surely be the Science Museum's usp:  explaining how things work.