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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

A guest post by LH Member David Whittaker

Iron Men How one London Factory Powered The Industrial Revolution And Shaped The Modern World, by David Waller.

ironmenWhen considering the Industrial Revolution some of us, although well aware of earlier developments in that we all know about Coalbrookdale but may not know about the rest of the pre-Victorian era. Many tend to think that the most important phase of the Industrial Revolution took place in the Victorian era and associate it with “Railway mania”. They may also assume that most of this activity took place near the coal fields in northern towns. But what came before this? It was a world almost contemporaneous with well-known changing social commentaries of Jane Austin. So, it’s easy to forget that the beginnings of mass production started in the late Georgian era. Furthermore, ask most people, even those who have an interest in Britain’s industrial history, to name a famous engineering innovator. Only a few would name Maudslay. So, who were Henry Maudslay and his men? As Waller says “Amid the truly voluminous literature on the Industrial Revolution with much on the social impact of mechanisation, but surprisingly little about the machines themselves and the men who built them.”  In “Iron Men” Waller endeavours to fill this gap. Much of this activity, perhaps surprisingly, took place in London.

The book starts with an account of an early example of the mass production maritime pulley block-making mill at The Royal Dockyards Portsmouth. In 1800 The Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars required more than a hundred thousand blocks per year. This drove the move to machine manufacture. These block mills were the result on the labour and vision of three men, General Sir Samuel Bentham (Jeremy’s younger brother), Marc Isambard Brunel and thirdly, the young Henry Maudslay. Maudslay moved on to London to work for Bramah’s locks in Denmark Street, then to set up his own machine shop at 64 Wells Street London, developing new and more accurate “boring machines” all the time. These were not only capable of manufacturing rapidly and consistently to fine limits but were also a thing of aesthetic beauty in their own right. In 1810 Maudslay made the move to Lambeth to build his “Most Complete Factory” The greater space allowed far larger projects to be undertaken. Here were manufactured a wide range of mechanical machines and parts including “Time Balls” as synchronising indicators for ships. The one on Greenwich Observatory is one of these.

Through the following thematic chapters, the author moves on to those associated with Maudslay. Here he covers him working with the Brunels and the Thames Tunnel, noting that Brunel’s tunnelling shield was constructed at the Lambeth factory. Then, on to Manchester and Richard Roberts, via Babbage, the great polymath, designer of cowcatchers and his attempts to build his “Difference Engine”. On to railway locomotive design improvements to Nasmyth’s steam hammer and further transportation developments. Then the standardised Whitworth screws nut and bolts. Ending with locks, labour disputes and fire arms. A fast-paced romp, each fact-filled chapter sprinkled with engineering nuggets. Interestingly, these men were mostly of humble practical backgrounds, often educated via apprenticeship and the rise of the technical schools. They had “bashed metal” and possessed an ability to visualise the various interactions of complex mechanical devices.

Waller also interestingly, in several places, likens this period to the computer technological developments of Silicon Valley.

After all this you are probably wondering what happened to Maudslay’s wonderful factory? Founded in 1810, before the battle of Waterloo the site is now that of Lambeth South tube station. Waller writes  “There is nothing left to remind us of Maudslay’s presence, expect a memorial tablet erected  high on the wall inside the ticket office of the tube station, which you would hardly notice if you did not come looking for it:

“On this site between 1810 and 1900 stood the works of Maudslay, Sons & Field famous for marine and general engineering and as the training place of many engineers of renown”.

“This ought to be hallowed ground for all engineers and aficionados of the Industrial Revolution, as it was for knowledgeable contemporaries.” I agree…

In conclusion, this book is very much for the general reader as well as the industrial history enthusiast. It should fill in many gaps in knowledge how everything is put together

Also it should please those like me who delight in all the “connections”. That web of people, places, things and timelines that somehow fall together to make it happen.

Lastly, one minor gripe which seemed rather ironic considering the subject matter of quality and standardisation. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s contents and it has certainly inspired me to investigate the life and technical innovations of Maudslay and his associates, it was slightly spoilt by the rather small type size and inconsistent quality of the print where it appears that the ink has not fully adhereed properly to the page.


Iron Men: How one London Factory Powered The Industrial Revolution And Shaped The Modern World, 244pp, by David Waller is published by Anthem Press in hardback and Kindle. ISBN 978-1-78308-544-6

 

 

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A guest post by LH Member, Laurence Scales.

Herbert William Garratt (08 Jun 1864–25 Sep 1913)

In 1902 engineer Herbert Garratt patented ‘an improved egg-opener’ for dealing with boiled eggs. In the words of the patent ‘A spring strip or band is bent to form a circular portion a and handles b, and provided with teeth c on the circular portion, preferably by stamping, and is used for breaking-off or opening eggs.’ Unfortunately for Garratt the egg opener never achieved the indispensability of the tin opener, and he did not make his fortune. But greatness still lay ahead.

When my mother, a lover of nature and a painter, reminisced about her childhood in the Transvaal and her journey to school, the words ‘Bayer Garratt’ sounded as incongruous as if I had turned a page of Pride and Prejudice and suddenly found Elizabeth Bennet kicking the tyres of a Harley Davidson. The name of Herbert Garratt, tends to resonate with those of southern African heritage in a way that not even Sir Nigel Gresley could manage with those born near King’s Cross.

Garratt was born in Loddiges Road, Hackney and apprenticed at Bow Locomotive Works on the North London Railway. He then embarked on a career in and beyond the far outposts of the British Empire.

From 1889 to 1906 he worked on railways in Argentina, Cuba, Nigeria and Peru, all the while mulling over the problem of pulling heavy loads along steep and winding mountainous routes. The obvious solution to the problem was to couple several small locomotives together. But this was expensive in manpower and equipment. The alternative was to have one big fat locomotive. But then the boiler and firebox could not sit between the driving wheels or fit through the tunnels.

In 1907 Garratt patented his solution to the big fat problem, a very long articulated steam locomotive. In his design, rather than having the boiler directly above the wheels, a short fat boiler was slung like a hammock between two widely separated bogies (sets of axels). These bogies also carried the pistons, water and fuel. He was supported by Beyer, Peacock & Co. in Manchester. Garratt locomotives did not just sell around the British Empire. There were already rival designs notably those of Robert Fairlie (who lived in Clapham) and Anatole Mallet (Swiss) but the Garratts had advantages: energy efficiency, gentleness on the track and higher top speed.

The Garratts were a strange sight. In a sense they were like man-made elephants – enormous and with strange appendages. Perhaps they commanded in Africa the same awe and affection as the elephants with which they co-existed.

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

The first Garratt locomotive, known as K1, was more of a mouse built in 1910 for the narrow gauge of Tasmania. Sadly, Garratt died at his Ellerker Gardens home in Richmond in 1913 before he had lived to see his locomotive design succeed. Eventually 1,600 Garratt locomotives ran on 86 railways in 48 countries, greatly assisting their trade and development.

Although a rarity in Britain some Garratts, including the first, from Tasmania, can be seen working today on the steep narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway where the same requirement for power with economy drove the choice of motive power when the defunct line reopened in 2011.


 

Further images of Garratt Locomotives
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_Government_Railways_K_class#/media/File:K1_works_photograph.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:K1_Garratt_at_Caernarfon.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garratt#/media/File:Class_GMAM_4122_July_2004_%287863980914%29.jpg

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DSC01912_250Last week I went to the Royal College of Physicians to take a look at their new display celebrating the Tudor polymath John Dee. I don’t know why but I rather foolishly had no big expectations of the Royal College itself. But what an amazing place! My apathy may have been caused by the fact that their home is in a building designed by London’s number one brutalist concrete maestro, Sir Denys Lasdun. Grade I listed and opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1964, it’s actually a rather handsome structure and once inside you realise it does a great job. One would expect this incongruous mid-20C building to stick out like a sore thumb amid the classical, cream Nash-ian terrace of Regent’s Park, but no: the RCP’s headquarters is indeed a gracious neighbour.

Royal College of Physicians

Provided you sign in and don one of those human cattle badges on a lanyard (yellow), you’re free to explore virtually the whole building unhindered. Most wallspace is covered with portraits of the greats of medicine of the past, by some of the leading portrait painters of their times. Reynolds, Lely, Lawrence, Hoppner, Zoffany. Here and there are portrait busts: I spotted at least one by Roubiliac.

But the most engaging parts are on the ground floor: a large collection comprising several hundred apothecary jars; a museum room with a wonderful, intriguing and sometimes eye-watering collection of historical medical instruments and devices, the pride of which must be the rare example of a 17C Prujean chest, named after Dr Thomas Prujean who devised it; and the Censors’ Room, dressed in the original 16C Spanish oak, transferred from the college’s three previous homes. This is where you would have your final examination to become a Member of the College, that is to say a legally practising doctor of medicine. You’d face the torture of a proper grilling by the leading medical men of their age. Prompted by English physicians of the time, Henry VIII founded the college in 1518 to reflect that which pertained on the continent. Prestige.

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

What follows about Dee notwithstanding, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Royal College of Physicians any time.

John_Dee_250John Dee (1527 – 1608/9), like his exact contemporary Sir Walter Ralegh, was an Elizabethan renaissance man par excellence. The two men had much in common, not least sharing a catastrophic drop from favour when James I became king, despite in both of their cases being friends of – and championed by – young Henry, Prince of Wales. And while Sir Walter may have been a more belligerent man of action, Dee was no mean traveller himself and shared with Ralegh a great the vision of an English Empire.

Dee was a mathematician, an astronomer, a map-maker, an apothecary, a courtier, an achemist. While not a qualified physician, he was sufficiently trusted on medical matters for Queen Elizabeth to send him to Europe to seek a cure for one of her ailments. He believed, as many did then, that we could communicate with angels and indeed less benevolent creatures from beyond the veil. Assisted by his associate, the “scryer” Edward Kelley, he would communicate with spirits. Not surprising, then, that in 1555, Queen Mary had him locked up in the Tower as an alleged sorcerer. Fortunately – and unlike many others – he was able to charm and actually befriend his interrogator, Archbishop Bonner, establish his good Catholic credentials and be given the official stamp of approval.

Like most men of affairs during his era, John Dee was a great bibliophile. His library comprised over 4,000 books and manuscripts, vast by the standards of the day. It was housed at his home, a large house in Mortlake where he also kept his laboratory and entertained guests, including the queen herself. Heartbreakingly for Dee, most of his books were stolen or sold off by an unscrupulous relative – one Nicholas Fromond – while Dee was away on one of his travels. Down the years, over a hundred of these have come into the possession of the RCP, making it the biggest single collection of Dee’s books in the world. A selection of them forms the basis of a new display which opened last week. They are a joy to examine.

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Clearly these tomes were not just for display, but for careful reading. For they are heavily annotated by Dee, as was the habit of those times. Underlinings all over the place, and marginalia comprising commentary and the little diagrams of the pointing hand here and there, a common Tudor era device (Henry VIII used it a lot, along with an eye). But there are also other types of diagrams – horoscopes, faces, shapes – particularly where topics like geometry are concerned. Best of all, though, is Dee’s drawing of a ship in full sail in the bottom corner of a page in Cicero’s Opera, published in 1539.

What interested me about this show was thinking about the golden generation of the late 16C – Shakespeare, Dee, Ralegh and their like – and comparing it with another golden generation but very different group a hundred years later – Wren, Hooke, Boyle, Evelyn, Pepys etc. In the interim, Francis Bacon had taught brainy men to think differently and the tumult of civil war and plague had entirely transformed the country, London in particular.

Hence, this exhibition is a must-visit for everyone interested in early modern history: absorbing and thought-provoking.

Scholar, Courtier Magician: the lost library of John Dee runs until 29 July 2016 at the Royal College of Physicians. Entrance is free.

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Victorian genre painting depicting John Dee at his house in Mortlake entertaining the queen and her entourage.

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Sometime before the birth of powered flight – even before the Wright brothers themselves were born – there was the Royal Aeronautical Society. Founded on the 12 January 1866 in London, today is its 150th anniversary. Many happy returns.

The British Aeronautical Society HQ at 4 Hamilton Place, London W1.

The British Aeronautical Society HQ at 4 Hamilton Place, London W1.

The oldest of its kind in the world, the Society was founded as the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, holding its first public meeting on 27 June 1866. It became the RAeS in 1918 and moved into its current HQ – an elegant five storey building near Park Lane – in 1938.

The Society’s aims are to promote and support the advancement of aerospace through its 67 international branches. Society gold medal winners – rarely bestowed – include the Wright brothers, Frank Whittle, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, Sir Frederick Handley Page and most recently the aerospace entrepreneur Elon Musk.

We wish the Society all the best for the next 150 years.

Royal Aeronautical Society on Wikipedia.
Royal Aeronautical Society history page.
Royal Aeronautical Society 150 commemoration.

Royal Aeronautical Society on Twitter: @AeroSociety

 

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How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

sir john lubbock bt.So wrote Punch magazine in 1882 about the man who more than anyone gave us that strangely and quintessentially British-named institution: the bank holiday. Londoner Sir John Lubbock Bt. (1834 – 1913) was the archetypal Victorian man of affairs. A successful banker, an MP, a philanthropist, a keen amateur scientist. Lubbock was the primary sponsor of the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which introduced four bank holidays under Law: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. These have been added to or changed under subsequent Acts, the most recent being 1971. Because some of the Bank Holidays can fall on the weekend, the dates have to be fixed each year by Royal proclamation.

Christmas Day and Good Friday were already holidays under the Common Law and therefore are not official Bank Holidays.

But why bank holidays? Until 1871 – led by the Bank of England – most banks gave their staff the day off on selected saints’ days. Sir John Lubbock felt it would be rather nice if this boon in some small measure was spread to the wider national workforce. No person is obliged to pay any debt or transact any business on days such designated.

Three cheers for Sir John!

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A guest post by London Historians Member, Laurence Scales

It is said that J.M.W. Turner’s painting was influenced by the work of meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864) who, by classifying the clouds into species such as cirrus (fibrous) and cumulus (heaped), drew public attention to their forms.

The formative experience in Howard’s life was perhaps the Laki haze of 1783, result of a substantially greater Icelandic eruption than Eyjafjallajökull which recently grounded Europe’s aircraft. It blanketed much of the northern hemisphere and perturbed the weather for many months, bringing famine and remarkable electrical storms. Being a Quaker was for him no escape route from the dire schooling of the time which consisted mainly of Latin and flogging. He became a pharmacist. At least the Latin would come in useful for naming clouds.

Perhaps to make up for an appalling education, he became a member of a philosophical society, the Askesian, which met in the City at Plough Court. It was here that he read his influential paper ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ in 1802. Modification meant identifying different modes or states. (He had no delusion of changing the weather.) He was not the first to attempt a classification, but his was the system that stuck. He included in his observations the atmospheric conditions when each type was likely to appear, and how they were likely to transform.

He maintained his interest in meteorology and for years he kept readings of pressure, temperature, rainfall, evaporation and wind direction.  At the end of the Frost Fair of 1814 on the Thames he noted rather delightfully that:

‘We are happy to see the lately perturbed bosom of Father Thames resume its former serenity. The busy oar is now plied with its wonted alacrity, and the sons of Commerce are pursuing their avocations with re doubled energy.’

He died at Bruce Grove, Tottenham, in a house which now stands with a blue plaque, but derelict.

Unlike the great art galleries and sculptural collections it can sometimes seem that the Science Museum is lacking in humanity. But to me the objects in its collection are heavily invested with humanity. One such is Luke Howard’s own recording barometer which can be seen there beside the George III collection.

The text of ‘On the Modifications of Clouds’ is here.

By Laurence Scales, www.laurenceswalks.co.uk @LWalksLondon

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Guest Post. On the 10th anniversary of Concorde’s final commercial flight, David Long muses on the magic of our magnificent, lost Speedbird.

Concorde“I’ve flown Concorde.” Actually I’ve flown in a Spitfire – a rare two-seater, which is much more unusual – but somehow people relate more to the Concorde experience and even now, 10 years after this shimmering white exemplar of Anglo-French cooperation was canned, those few brief words will still bring a conversation to a sudden green-eyed halt.

For years, right until the very end, its unmistakable profile coming into Heathrow still made people look up – not just tourists, but Londoners too who must have seen it nearly every day – and as a child I remember the conductor at an outdoor concert at Kenwood or maybe Crystal Palace stopping the performance mid-symphony and gesturing for the orchestra to stand and applaud as the magnificent creation passed over.

Generally speaking most of us very quickly get used to anything new, but Concorde was always different. For nearly 30 years it really was one of the sights of London, and it belonged to London in a way that no other aircraft could possibly have done. (On the contrary: who in West London doesn’t literally hate the Boeings and Airbuses crashing into their consciousness at 6am every morning?)

Even people with no interest in aircraft loved Concorde, and in the face of the dreadful disaster in Paris, the far-reaching effects of 9/11, and a growing environmental awareness, most wanted it to continue flying even though for the overwhelming majority the chance of ever climbing aboard was never more than zero.

Concorde

Admittedly our passion for it sometimes blinds us to the fact that when it all started Concorde wasn’t alone in racing for the stars. The Soviets actually entered service a few months earlier with the similar-looking (and slightly faster) Tupolev Tu-144. But rushed into production for propaganda purposes the shine very quickly came off ‘Concordski’ when one crashed at an airshow (also in Paris as it happens). The Americans took a run at it too, with the much larger Boeing SST – intended to upstage Concorde, it was designed to fly at three times the speed of sound instead of just the two – but the Senate refused to back Nixon as the price spiralled out of control and eventually the one completed fuselage was auctioned off for a mere $31,000

That left only Concorde. Not that it ever made much sense either, financially, although mentioning this now seems vulgar and in decidedly poor taste. Some things, we like to think, are simply above price although there’s no escaping the reality that the original budget of £150 million reached something like two billion of public money before the ‘planes were sold to what is now BA for a mere £1 apiece.

But then there are so many ways in which Concorde made little sense. That graceful, slim shape, for example, meant it was far more cramped than even the cheapest charter. (And this despite the fact that, in flight, it stretched by nearly 10 inches as its surface temperature rises to 100°C+) It was also a good deal noisier than conventional aircraft. Inside, I mean. From outside it was in a whole new league altogether with a signature sonic boom that would have shattered windows more than 60 miles away had it ever broken the sound barrier over land.

And as for the fuel consumption of its four gigantic Rolls-Royce Olympus 593 engines, famously the most powerful jet engines in commercial service? Well, let’s just say that given that they were already slurping 5,638 gallons an hour in the early 1970s – when OPEC started holding the world to ransom with increased prices for crude oil – the ability to fly at twice the speed of sound wasn’t the only miraculous thing about Concorde’s continued existence.

But balancing all of this, and flying at an apparently effortless 1,340mph, few then or now could deny that Concorde was beautiful. Really, really breathtakingly beautiful. It was also, inarguably, such a technological tour de force – the result of more than five million test-flight miles, much of it at Mach speeds – that it quickly came to symbolise European technical achievement and pride in a way which today – post-Dome, post-Eurotunnel, and in the midst of Crossrail – is impossible to imagine. The authorities weren’t blind to its symbolic value either, and when the US finally cleared Concorde to land in America two were sent over, carefully timed to land simultaneously and to taxi up to the terminal in a perfectly orchestrated delta-winged ballet of elegant, nose-drooping, synchronous showing-off.

Concorde

From then on passengers on both sides of the Atlantic welcomed the chance to slice hours off their journeys: London to New York took less than three and a half hours, roughly half the normal time and surprisingly only 20 minutes more than if Boeing’s rival SST had made it to Mach 3. But, while not quite just a rich man’s toy, the example of Concorde certainly demonstrated that supersonic travel was never going to be for the masses – or at least not any time soon.

By the mid-1980s the hundred passengers on each flight had to cough up £2,200 apiece for a cheap-day return to New York and eventually you could more or less treble this for a fare which made First Class look a snip. The flights were therefore mostly full of corporate grandes fromages, show-biz types and the odd professional sportsmen. (Some of the former did it on a regular basis, like the oil exec. who according to BA was clocking up an average of three supersonic flights a week until the bitter end.)

To such people the time saved was clearly worth the money: the five-hour time difference between the UK and US meant in effect they arrived before they had taken off. But to those down on the ground it is, even now, much harder to say quite what Concorde represented or why 10 years on its loss is still keenly felt. But perhaps some things are never meant fully to be understood, and the truth might just be that Concorde really was that special.

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London HIstorians member David Long is a journalist and author of many books, mostly relating to London and its history. His latest – Bizarre London – has just been published.

On this blog, see also.

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