Saturday, 29 August 2015

Traffic light archaeology.

Signal lights to control the motor traffic at road junctions were introduced into Britain from the USA in the 1920s. They were originally called 'robots' and indeed, I believe that in South Africa the current Afrikaans word for traffic light still is 'robot'. Correct me if I am wrong.

Illustration in school text book, 1951.
The sequence of: Red, red and amber, green, amber, red was controlled on a strictly timed basis – there existed no facility to detect vehicles waiting. The lights changed according to a pre-set sequence regardless of volume and direction of traffic. This led to a great deal of frustration whilst drivers sat at a red light, viewing an empty crossroads and this, no doubt encouraged drivers to 'jump the lights'.

After the second world war, this problem of empty crossroads and waiting traffic was addressed by the installation of vehicle detection systems at all of the 5,500 traffic lights in Great Britain.  At the approach to each set of lights a pneumatic pad was set into the carriageway. The weight of a vehicle crossing it closed an electric switch and thus influenced the sequence of lights. At the green light, if no vehicle crossed the pad for the space of twelve seconds, the lights changed to red. By the late 1960s, poor maintenance of the two systems used (GEC and Plessey) meant that 50% of the traffic lights in London had reverted automatically to the default of the pre-set timed sequence. A new solution was needed and thus the induction loop system that we use today was brought in.

The grey lines on the carriageway are the wires of the induction loop system which detects the presence of vehicles waiting at the traffic lights.

Visiting Folkestone today, I noticed in the pavement next to the induction loops, a metal utilities access cover.

This was all that was left of the electro-pneumatic switchgear which formerly had controlled the detector pad for the traffic lights.

However, on the other side of the junction, the disused pneumatic pad could still be seen in the carriageway.

A bit of traffic light archaeology: the pneumatic detector pad introduced in 1947. It consists of two strips, isolated one from the other so that it can decide the direction of travel of the vehicle.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Thames Sailing Barge Match 2015

Sailing Barge Lady Daphne
in full racing trim.
Yesterday I took part in the Thames Sailing Barge Match courtesy of Elisabeth and Michael Mainelli, owners of sb Lady Daphne. If you are looking for a bit of tradition then this is the place. Forget the America's Cup. Although the AC is supposedly the oldest sailing contest in the world, having started in 1851, the Thames Sailing Barge Match which started in 1863 is exactly that – a match for this one type of vessel – not for the high tech, low-flying aircraft that have been developed over the years to contest the America's Cup.

Course of the Thames Sailing Barge Match 2015.
The match starts at Gravesend and proceeds down the River Thames towards the estuary, turning around a buoy some distance off Southend on Sea.

The sailing barges at Gravesend
on Friday night.
Now, what was I doing on a sailing ship? I don't know my scuppers from my kippers but I knew that I had only been invited on board to act a ballast. I would not have to do anything would I? They have a crew for that, don't they?

So I duly turned up at Gravesend on Friday night and met the crew and other guests at a very convivial dinner provided by Elisabeth.

I wasn't too sure about clambering up the side of the barge in the dark, having been ferried there in a sort of plastic bath tub, but I gritted my teeth and thought brave thoughts.
Steam Tug Portwey at Gravesend
on Friday night.

I was interested to see the ST Portwey moored just upstream from our buoy. This tug is a very rare creature: a twin screw, coal-fired steam tug built in 1927 to supply coal to coastal steamers.

The Portwey was going to accompany the sailing barges on the morrow.

To learn more about this fascinating remnant of our maritime history, click here.

Skipper James.
So, the following morning I was on board, ready for the off. Breakfast was a Mainelliburger which is fried egg and bacon sandwiched between two toasted crumpets. Having consumed that, I wandered up on deck, intent upon securing for myself a sunny and sheltered spot from which to enjoy this leisure cruise. I was rudely disillusioned when the mate (nautical term) addressed me and another matutinal perambulator with the instruction to, 'Raise the topsail.' For the minute I had thought he meant us. He had. 'Just pull on that,' he said.

View from Lady Daphne as
we lead the field.
So, having no option and not wishing to offend, we set to and hauled this big bit of brown canvas up this sort of pole which stuck up in the middle of the boat. 'Now the mainsail,' he said. This was an even bigger bit of brown canvas. I think it was then that I began to have misgivings about the nature of this pleasure cruise.

Neck and neck around the buoy and we are all
trying madly to get more sail up.

Within a very short time I had come to the realisation that I had been press-ganged into crewing a racing barge. The rest of the day passed in glorious frenzy of ignorance as I rushed about, tripping over things and generally getting in the way of everybody important while trying to carry out the skipper's suggestions (I can hardly call such kindly beseechings, 'commands') to 'loosen off that wang' or 'drop the port board'. 

I could not get out of my mind that we were actually doing this in the middle of a busy river. Indeed, we were occasionally reminded that we were not alone when something like a warehouse would steam happily through the middle of us.

After turning, we catch the wind and start to fly.
Once we had rounded the turning point, we suddenly found the wind and it seemed that everybody was running about like mad, pulling on ropes and winding handles. 

They are still trying to catch us up.
None of the dainty operations on this barge, such as raising acres of wet canvas up a pole or lifting a plank the size of a garage door up out of the water, are polluted by the inconvenience of motive power assistance. It is all human power. In my case, rather weedy human power.

And you know, some of the blighters we managed to overtake, would not give up, they kept chasing us. It was almost as if they thought they were in a race or something.

I looked around the hull of Lady Daphne for those holes through which they stick the muzzles of the canons but could not find any. Bit of an oversight that, on the part of the shipbuilder. They could have come in useful.

If you can keep your head while all
around you are losing theirs...

But I had to admire the sang froid of Elisabeth. With mayhem around her, crew running down the deck and climbing up poles, she managed to get in a bit of serious reading. 

But that is what I thought I had signed up for. Where did I go wrong?

Elisabeth and Michael, I had a brilliant time. Thank you so much. Skipper James, I apologise for being a bit of a nuisance and under your feet. And you didn't even use any 'nautical' language on me. What self control!

To know more about Sailing Barge Lady Daphne, click here.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 6

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

Mrs Michelle Remai and her two children, Helen (8yrs.) and Alexander (10yrs.)
They are Hungarian and she is the wife of a customs inspector.

In March 1938, Hitler brought his armies on the German/Czech frontier to a war footing in preparation for an invasion. It is now September 1938 and Mrs Remai and her children are going to Czechoslovakia for a three week visit. Hitler has just made an aggressive speech in Nuremberg against the Czech president Benes and in response Benes has declared martial law.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Chenies School and the 336

Whilst we are on the subject of old buses... the London Transport routes which served the village of Chenies, where I lived as a child, were the 335 and the 336. Recently I purchased a section of the destination blind of one of the 336 buses which had been based at Amersham Garage and had it framed. 
How silly can you get?

Section of the destination blind from the 336 bus.
Read on. 
Having passed my 11 plus examination I then left Chenies County Primary School and started at Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham. I could now no longer walk to school so I commuted daily on the 336 bus. The buses on this route had been designed especially for London Transport to be able to negotiate low bridges, of which there was one at Amersham. For this reason their fleet designation was: 'RLH' – the 'LH' standing for 'low height'. 
I have now purchased the very bus that I travelled to school on.

Actually, it is a model but what a model!  Look at the detail on it. The fleet number RLH 42 which you can clearly see on the side of the bonnet shows that it is one of the three buses which regularly served this route and upon which I have travelled many miles. I know it is not the REAL bus, but it is to me. When I think of the hours I spent waiting for it to arrive in Sycamore Road to take me home after school.... 
I could show you the actual bus stop. Yes! The very one. No, I have not purchased it, but if you watch the 1962 comedy film, The Fast Lady, which starred James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips, Stanley Baxter and in her debut role, Julie Christie, you will see some super location shots, one of which is in Sycamore Road, Amersham.

The bus stop (arrowed) in Sycamore Road, Amersham, where I used to await the 336
to take me home after school.
The film was made by Beaconsfield Studios and in one of the shots the car races past my girlfriend's house. But that is another story.

If you want to know more about Chenies School, click on their website here

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Old Buses in Herne Bay

"You wait ages for a bus and then two come along at the same time."
How many times have you heard that complaint? I went to the bus rally at Herne Bay where they all arrived at the same time.

A line-up of vintage double deckers at Herne Bay.
Having lived as a child in a country area of London Transport, I had only known green buses made by AEC but here before me were Leyland, Dennis, Guy and a nice pair of Bristols.

The Indian Warrior mascot of Guy Motors Ltd.
Guy Motors were an interesting manufacturer. They were set up at the outbreak of World War 1 and quickly prospered from the demand for military vehicles. They adopted the Indian Warrior mascot several years later, emblazoned with the motto which you can just read on this illustration, "Feathers in our cap".
The mystery to me is why, in 1961, Jaguar Cars bought the company. What would a famous manufacturer of sports and fast saloon cars want with a builder of buses and trucks?

A single deck Dennis in the red and cream livery
of the local bus company, East Kent.
Perhaps it was the attraction that they were one of the few motor manufacturers in Britain who at that time were making money. The irony of life is that after Jaguar Cars had merged with the British Motor Corporation, Guy Motors was closed down despite being the only part of the corporation that was operating at a profit. With economic logic like that is it any wonder that the British motor industry collapsed?

Self portrait in the rear bumper of an East Kent excursion coach.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No. 5

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection. 
Peruse and wonder.

Monsieur Arsène Ronflant, a French diplomat.

It is 14th December 1939 and France is in the middle of the 'Phoney War' with Germany where nothing much seems to be happening but much is expected.

When it comes, M Ronfland will be in Mexico. He has just been sent to Vera Cruz to take up his post there as French Consul General.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fun in Faversham Creek.

I cycled to Faversham with my friend Peter.
Faversham is a town on the north Kent coast. It was historically known for its gunpowder mills. Our cycle route alongside the creek ran past the remains of a former explosives store. The dispersed storage huts had been served by a network of narrow gauge railway lines but they have now been pulled up, leaving the huts behind.

Former explosives storage site, Faversham.

Alongside the creek, which is the tidal River Swale in Faversham, are situated numerous marine enterprises; boatyards and the like.

This is the Thames Sailing Barge Norma being fitted with a spar or sprit or whatever they call those bits of beam that attach to the mast.

This vessel could do with a lick of paint.

And this one has an unusual contemporary figurehead.

You Hyeon in Blean Woods.

On our return from a ride to Faversham, cycling off-road near Canterbury, Peter and I came across this gentleman in the middle of Blean Woods. He was sitting, Buddha-like, before his upturned bicycle. I never pass a stationary cyclist without asking if they need anything. My enquiry in this case elicited the response that Mr.You Hyeon, from South Korea, needed a bicycle pump. So we stopped.

Mr You Hyeon from South Korea in Blean Woods.
Now, Blean Woods is not thronging with population. I asked You Hyeon if he was just sitting there waiting for somebody with a pump to come past and he said that he was. What a wondrous faith he must have in destiny. In fact, he needed more than a pump. We mended a puncture for him and replaced the inner tube.

You Hyeon and Peter refitting the tyre.

What was he doing in the middle of Blean Woods? He showed me his mobile phone upon which he had installed a map of England. He was cycling to London. And this was the route he had chosen. We did suggest that his style of bicycle would be more suited to tarmac roads and we directed him towards the road to London.

Ah the wonders of modern technology!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No.4

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection. 
Peruse and wonder.

Ragnhild Lund-Larsson.

A nineteen year old Norwegian girl from Arendal.

She came to England via Newcastle in September 1925 to learn English and visit friends.

She stayed in Birmingham and London and departed for Norway on the s.s. Frisk II in the May of 1927.

Keep out the French. Keep out the Germans.

The Royal Military Canal in Kent, built 1805-9.
The French megalomaniac emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte was threatening to invade England at the beginning of the nineteenth century and so the government of Pitt sanctioned the building of a canal which would run along the foot of the North Downs from Seabrook near Hythe to Rye, a distance of twenty eight miles. This would provide a defensive line, cutting off Romney Marsh from the rest of Kent and trapping the invaders in the marshlands. The earth excavated was thrown up onto the northern bank so as to make a rampart from behind which the defending soldiers could fire and the canal was staggered so that canon could be placed to enfilade the water. The French never came.

The Royal Military Canal today.
By 1940, the German megalomaniac Adolf Hitler was threatening to invade so the canal was once again identified as a defensive option and fortified with pillboxes. The above photograph shows one of these edifices, ably defended by Romney Marsh sheep.   The ramparts of the northern bank can just be distinguished on the left of the image although two centuries of farming practice have probably reduced their height and the pillbox is situated on the spot where, in the nineteenth century, a canon would have been sited to provide enfilading fire down the canal.

Unfortunately the cycle track alongside the canal only runs for a couple of miles.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Famous author in Appledore

Yesterday I went for a cycle ride with my mates across Romney Marsh to the village of Appledore in Kent. Not the Appledore in Devon. A lovely sunny day, quiet, winding lanes with the ever present distant roaring of the farm machinery bringing in the cereal harvests. We ate a splendid lunch at the Black Lion on the main street (there is only one street) in Appledore. A good selection of fish dishes – around the table were being consumed in various guises, haddock, cod and mussels.

Next to the pub was the church which advertised local produce for sale in the porch. One of our group wandered in for a perusal.

He came out laughing.

On top of the secondhand book stall sat a well-read copy of that romantic novel, Every Picture, by the famous author and cyclist, Martin Lloyd.

If that were not ignominy enough, another member of the group went in and bought the book. 

I would have sold him a copy at full price had he asked!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No.3

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection. Peruse and wonder. 

Horace Charles Meadwell.

A coal miner from Derbyshire.

It is 1920, the Great War is over, British coal exports have plummeted and domestic demand is stagnant. The prospects of continued employment in the industry are thin.

Horace Meadwell is going to Canada.

He is nineteen years old.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Don't Poison Yourself.

It has been my failing for many years that when I come across a book of somewhat esoteric interest I am tempted to pick it up and read it. Thus it came about that recently I read Science and the Police Officer, it being a collection of short lectures given to the Irish Garda in the 1920s by a scientific officer. 

The techniques and opinions were dated, as one would expect, dealing with, for example, criminal anthropology – a concept long discarded for its irrelevance.

But it was the chapter on toxicology which really ignited my interest. The scientist explained that poisons used by murderers were basically either acid or alkaline and if you could get the antidote to the victim quickly enough then you stood a better chance of saving them. And the antidote to an acid poison has to be alkaline and vice versa.

The two poison types can be distinguished by their taste. An acid tends to produce a stinging sensation on the tongue whereas an alkaline poison feels soapy. That is all very well, but if the victim is unable to tell you what sensation they have you are still in ignorance of the class of poison.

Not any longer. 

The author's suggestion is that you should look around for the bottle from which the poison emanated and then taste some of it yourself.

Please don't try this at home.