Make these travel guides a series
Fantastic, keep it up. Give it a couple of years and you can collect these articles into a nice quirky book and profit.
At various times in the history of the UK, there’s been a massive stink at Westminster, accompanied by demands that “something must be done”. We’ll be stumbling through the demands for PR after this year’s election for a while yet, but spare a thought for the politicians of 1858 who had to endure The Great Stink. With a river …
When you look at the quality of the workmanship on something like this and then you compare it to, say, a new train station, you wonder what's happened to the world. It's as though every architect born after 1945 decided 'Gosh, what the world really wants is square grey boxes with square glass, just like they had in Soviet Russia'.
Actually, the Moscow Metro was heavily influenced in its engineering by the London Underground and the stations don't all fit a stereotypical view of Soviet Brutalism and there was mutual influence on the London system. Brutalism was originally a western European architectural style (the term originating with Le Corbusier's obsession with unadorned concrete) that became popular in eastern Europe too - but western architects were copying other western architects (as well as being under pressure to produce large quantities of cheap housing at a time when traditional building materials were in short supply).
Please Flatpackhamster, you have to remember that workers where paid hardly nothing in those days and Britain was living on looted welth. There is another thing I find rather amusing with articles like these.
Soon as guy of inportance is English that will be mentioned but for some odd reason, take Brunel, for instance, not a word about the fact he was French, went to the USA and then came to England.
Joseph Bazalgette was the grandson of a French Protestant immigrant.
No reason to commit suicide, but when we look at all those fantastic things like pyramids and huge chatedrals lets not forget that most of it was built by "slave" labor.
"lets not forget that most of it was built by "slave" labor."
Don't type shit. Living standards were certainly abominable for the majority BY PRESENT DAY STANDARDS in Victorian times, but what was the alternative? This wasn't for one moment slave labour, it was paid employment, with little alternative but the rather unattractive option of the workhouse.
But now, in the UK, we pay around 2m people to sit on their fat, idle arses being "unemployed", whilst we're (apparently) short of critical infrastructure like a high speed railway from London to the North, further airport expansion around The Smoke, the lack of capacity on our road network is visible on a daily basis to anybody with eyes, and people across the nation weep and gnash their teeth at the lack of fast broadband.
A situation played out a hundred times over in the economically dysfunctional states of Europe.
Agree, Ledswinger, across the pond here in Amurka people are agitating for $15 minimum wage, which on one hand sounds excessive for high-school-dropout work but OTOH with all our factory and other low-skilled work (that at one point paid well enough to support a family, albeit not in grand style) going overseas there's not much left work-wise if one is not skilled/ talented (or dumb lucky) enough to build a successful company, develop a popular software program, or become a high-paid celebutard. A lot of folks might not mind getting low (but survivable) wage work repairing infrastructure (or other needed tasks) if they are developing skills in the process that they can take elsewhere. Unfortunately, there seems to be political gridlock over government funding for work programs -- the same people who complain about potholes don't seem to want to pay people to fix them, and while everyone wrings their hands when bridges fail no one wants to hire the latest vocational school graduating class to do the maintenance work under close supervision -- so we will keep bumbling forward wondering why burger-flippers should get more than $8/hour and watching our systems fall apart. :^\
And why would a minimal wage be a bad thing? Reply to include empirical evidence, not handwaving please. I was surprised (only kidding) to find that it's more complex than basic economic models suggest, and essentially the evidence is that it has no significant effect on the economy overall. Clearly it is very helpful to those receiving the minimal wage.
"This wasn't for one moment slave labour, it was paid employment, with little alternative but the rather unattractive option of the workhouse."
Read Robert Tressell's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists for an insight into aspects of the building trade in the late 19th cent. And just a good novel with clear strong writing. You had to watch out in case "the thing" happened in those days.
"Soon as guy of inportance is English that will be mentioned but for some odd reason, take Brunel, for instance, not a word about the fact he was French, went to the USA and then came to England."
I like the way you write his English mother out of his history, or the fact that he was born in this country and spent his early life there before completing his education in France from 14 on. By any normal test of nationality he was English. (And we are a country built on the integration of immigrants anyway.)
I'm also unsure that at the period in question Britain was living on "looted wealth". The height of the Empire was some way in the future. The Great Exhibition was set up to display British manufactures and exports.
I'm also unsure that at the period in question Britain was living on "looted wealth". The height of the Empire was some way in the future. The Great Exhibition was set up to display British manufactures and exports.
Agreed. What's more, the empire was originally a trading operation, and that remained at the core of its function. That's not to claim that it was benign, nor to deny that it was at times exploitative. But there was little looting compared to other empires, such as the Spanish empire of the 16th century, the French empire of the early 19th century and the German empire of the mid 20th century.
I think you will find that MOST of England has been the 'most invaded country' over the years... the Vikings (norway and scands..) actually settled here, that is why most northerners are so big and healthy... the Belgian area also ( do note europe was a totally different place then...) and if we were not invaded by the Romans, we would not have great buildings, and lots of varied types of food!!
he may be quoting "slave" as there is growing evidence about the pyramids being built not by huge slave workforces, but by a proper workforce.
Just a few resources:
I believe the Russian word for Tube Station is Vauxhall.
Railway station in general, not just tube station.
Allegedly one of those occassions when a visitor who had never seen a railway station pointed at a building and asked what it was (meaning "what is the purpose of that building") and got the reply "Vauxhall", from a local who assumed the visitor was asking "which station is that".
@ Lost all faith...Please don't, but you are the first to "swallow hook, line, and sinker" regarding that one sentence. Stuff was built for the love of God and the Farao. Still I have a slight feeling it might have been more about the fear of God, the priests and the Farao.
In the Nordic countries the kings decided the peasants had to build roads for free for the love of the king.
So one can assume they went to work happily singing, praising God and the king. One of those roads went from Stockholm to Saint Petersburg in Russia. It's called the Kings road for some odd reason, However those ungrateful bastards where able to write and it turned out it was all a great pain in the arse, surprise, surprise.
Then there are those who look at all those splendid building, steam engines and such and "sort of" claim we can't build stuff like that any more. In reality there is nothing in the past we could not build to day.
Every Mall every Mac Donald could be built like Taj Mahal, every train station like the Buckingham Palace. We could build much bigger pyramids and steam engines a longer wall than the wall of China, (insert country to surround here).
But we don't and that is because nobody is prepared to pay for that amount of labour.
It's very nice that things from the past are restored and kept for us to enjoy.
Every time there is a vid about London it starts with the glass dick in the sky. What would Joseph Bazalgette or Isambard Brunel think about that building, we don't know but would it not be possible that they might have gone something like - "that's fantastic, I want to build something even bigger".
But the thing is. they wouldn't be able to build it then. The type of steel and glass did not exist in those days, just to mention two problems.
We use modern materials and methods, concrete, steel and glass. Some of it looks like shit but take the Sidney Opera it's built with modern materials and looks OK to me.
As for the "looting" hook, I actually thought it was one of the many Norse words like Law the jury system and things like that but it seems to be much older. Very very old.
Before cotinuing, I belive my kids don't have to answear for my sins, poor kids, I think they belive it too, if you get my drift.
One story that comes to my mind is about a Brittish woman who went to Africa to study Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. To her mild horror those lovely chimps looted foreign families and ate their babies. I used to tell hardcore vegetarians that perhaps our history tells us we might actually need some meat once in a while. But I gave up, there was all that cabbage thrown at me. Looting is old indeed.
As for the comment "I'm also unsure that at the period in question Britain was living on "looted wealth". The height of the Empire was some way in the future."
Sure, I am no expert on that and I don't have a clue about how much foreign aid was sent to India after they had their referendum and decided to join the Empire.
Ah shut up Lars, and no more fishing for some time.
"It's as though every architect born after 1945 decided 'Gosh, what the world really wants is square grey boxes with square glass, just like they had in Soviet Russia'."
It has been suggested that this tendency reflects the education and experience that structural engineers have. They work with a limited range of materials and regulations prevent exploration of older structures.
I rather like *some* recent work: e.g. the way the old and new structures in Manchester Piccadilly have been integrated, the renovated tea hall at Leeds Art Gallery, the Liverpool Picton Library extension that puts a roof over a gap between the two buildings so you can sit *outside* the Picton dome.
But, in general, I take your point.
I like driving along the Embankment, it reminds me that London's landmarks are heavily influenced by all the shit that gets created there.
One of the few Clarkson comments I completely agree with was that for part of the Victorian era engineers were the rock stars. Prince Albert encouraged this. I've just visited Cragside, where Armstrong put his hydraulic ingenuity to everything from the water supply to labour saving devices; we seem to be getting back a bit to that era with electronics, but there is just no way a phone is as impressive to look at as a huge pumping station. What wrecked British engineering? One suggestion (which can be seen in the results of the Royal Commission into the public schools) was that the public schools didn't want the expense of science teaching (with the honourable exception of UCS) and so propagated the myth that Latin was the most important subject and prepared one for a life of imperial administration. Oxford and Cambridge were interested only in pure science, to the extent that "applied maths" meant applied to physics, not engineering. Because engineering schools were for the lower classes, there was an inevitable status problem. The result was a gradual British decline with relation to the US and Germany. Perhaps if Prince Albert had lived, instead of being killed by cholera, we would be more like modern Germany - and sided with Germany in WW1, with a very different outcome.
"Perhaps if Prince Albert had lived, instead of being killed by cholera, we would be more like modern Germany - and sided with Germany in WW1, with a very different outcome."
If England had been allied with Germany, the entire European political situation would have been radically different, and there might never have been a WW1.
For one thing, France would have felt a lot more threatened, resulting in who-knows-what changes to that polity. Plenty of other knock-on effects would have existed as well. A British-German axis would have scared the snot out of just about everyone else in Europe, leading to a totally different arrangement of alliances, and a totally different war, if it did happen.
Probably there would have been a European Union a lot sooner and with an Anglo-Germanic Europe we most likely would have taken the Left Pondians back under our wing, Africa would have been divided up between Germany and England and a lot more people in the world would be speaking German. Not too sure how well it may have turned out for the average man in the street though with the world being run by Prussians and the British Nobility.
"Under our wing?" By 1914, the U.S. was already getting bigger and more powerful than most of Europe, and don't forget that 'pond' thing in the way.
Besides, except for the pre-revolution North Americian colonies and early Spanish metal-extraction operations, all colonial ventures turned out to be net finiancial losses to the countries that tried it. It had something to do with having to station expensive, taxpayer funded garrisons in those colonies so a few could get rich off the forced labor and resources of the colony.
It was particularly bad in Africa, what with terrible white-man-killing diseases, huge overland distances with no infrastructure, unhappy locals, and just a lot of general corruption. See Heart of Darkness for the most depressing view of the African colony situation at that time.
"Not too sure how well it may have turned out for the average man in the street though with the world being run by Prussians and the British Nobility."
Outside Prussia, Germany was generally much more socially advanced than the UK during the 19th century. (The Brothers Grimm weren't just collectors of fairy tales, for instance; they were highly regarded liberals whose views were influential in politics. And Bismarck introduced the old age pension.) The average man in the street in Germany was, outside East Prussia, probably a lot better off than his British counterpart.
"For one thing, France would have felt a lot more threatened,"
France lost the war of 1870. They then proceeded to arm Russia and Serbia as proxies, threatening the Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany and leading to WW1.
With strong Anglo-German links they might well have held back, but also Bismarck might have been more circumspect. Alternative history is unknowable, but it is hard to believe Albert's survival would have made things worse. In many ways it was a tragedy for Britain because he was one of very few politicians with any real vision for what the future could be.
There is no technology know to man that can flush away the disgusting stench of corruption, greed and incompetence that lingers around FIFA. Hopefully the Yanks will soon have an orbital ion cannon.
The Swiss have soiled their reputation both by providing Septic Splatter, and by hosting FIFA, so if the outcome is that all of Switzerland is sterilised from orbit, with the loss of all the cows, nuns, escaping nazis, and clockmakers, then I think that's a fair price.
Toblerone's fairly shit as well, so I won't miss that either.
I haven't been there for a while, but the Steam Museum in Kew Bridge also houses some fantastic technology and what's more, some of it is actually still in use as a backup resource for something, I think it's pumping river water. Being a backup resource means the museum gets paid to keep things up and running.
When it's under steam it's interesting to see these great hunks of steel smoothly move at quite a pace without anything more than a slight hiss and some clicking valves - it is beautifully engineered. If you like engineering you ought to go there, AFAIK it's open and under steam on Sundays.
It's now the London Museum of Water and Steam: http://www.waterandsteam.org.uk/
Nothing is actually in use but all the engines are run regularly at weekends - generally not all on the same day except for special occasions. There's also a permanent exhibition, various themed events, a narrow gauge railway and lots more. Check the website for details.
It's right by the Thames at Kew Bridge (for obvious reasons), close to Kew Bridge overground, 15 minutes from Gunnersbury underground and on several bus routes from West London.
Some time around 1980 I was working for a guy who installed heavy 3 phase switchboards and transformers. One of our jobs was to install a new transformer weighing about four tons into the power room in a Thames Flood Relief pumping station at Charlton, the entrance was down through a pair of double doors in the ground, as you went down the staircase a Victorian world opened up. The space was massive, the stairs went down to a cast iron grating floor which formed a mezzanine that surrounded the three huge three cylinder gas engines, they were originally run on Town Gas and then converted in the '70s to run on Natural Gas.They were the kind of thing you would expect to see in the bowels of a battleship.
Each engine had a railed platform at the top where an engineer could replenish the oil cups that kept the giant rockers lubricated, the whole place had the same kind of incredibly ornate ironwork the Victorians were famous for, fluted Corinthian columns with Icanthus and grape capitals and not one piece of purely functional cast iron anywhere. We couldn't afford the decoration and quality of work nowadays.
One of the engines was out of commission and having parts made for it, two of them if I remember correctly date back to pre 1st World War and one dated back to the late '20s.
To start them which was done on a regular basis (weekly or monthly?) required running a large road type compressor for 40 minutes to charge a tank that was then used to turn over the the engine, once running it was surprisingly quiet but a sight to see with the huge rockers moving so slowly compared to a car engine, I can't remember the rev range at all.
Something more that was impressive about them was the pump that the engines ran was a Tesla pump about 12 ft in diameter each having I think two discs running off the shaft and spaced quite close together, the pumping effect achieved by using the surface tension of the water to move it.
Amazing that this system could pump 70 gallons a second! or 252000 gallons/hr, to put that in the correct perspective the three together could empty and Olympic pool in about 53 minutes.
I am fairly sure the facts are correct which just goes to show how impressive the place was that I can still remember the facts with my terrible memory after 35 years. The engineer that told me the details was like a proud father talking about his kids.
"They were the kind of thing you would expect to see in the bowels of a battleship."
That was a most interesting post but I suggest you wouldn't find a gas engine (of that type) in a battleship. Coal was replaced with oil in the big ships quite early on. However, liquid gas carriers can run off their own freight, and they are seriously big gas engines. Big marine engines may turn over around 75rpm (and may manouevre as low as 15); this means that the piston rubbing speed is roughly the same as in a car engine; wear and friction set the limits.
Not as pretty as Victorian engines, but also they don't expose the operators to carcinogenic oil fumes.
don't forget the 1000hp Triple Expansion engines that are sited at Kempton Park (just off the Northern end of the M£ and before you get to Twickers.)
Marvelous bits of engineering like the others mentioned in this article.
Oh hols in the USofA at the moment and had an interesting discussion with a guy from Oregon (we were in Nebraska) last week about turbines and how ther were a british invention and also hydraulic rams and how they could be used. He'd never heard of them but a quick search revealed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_ram
He went away a happy bunny with a new project for the winter. He emailed me yesterday saying that he'd found some plans online and was ordering the material next week.
Score one for old blighty.
Thanks for the nifty article. I think it worth pointing out that while indeed the sewers were designed with excess capacity, they wouldn't work long if not for the gangs of civil engineers armed with shovels and gas masks.
These workers are always up a certain creek and often up to their knees in it. Spare them a thought the next time you feel moved to use the metaphor for some mildly tedious desk-job problem.
"the gangs of civil engineers"
I know what you mean, but you don't find many MICEs down a sewer and shovelling. As a friend in the business remarks, you don't find many other professions where someone with a PhD and professional qualifications finds himself (or herself nowadays) addressing a group of Bulgarian navvies in broken English. It amuses me that I have one child whose professional uniform sometimes includes a hard hat and another who sometimes uses a wig, and the level of education involved is identical.
reminds me of going to visit Croften beam engines when I were a nipper.
it looks much more together now than when I were a lad. the canal was no where near completion, so could monkey about up and down the sides and in the locks.
then a picnic up on the hill overlooking it all with the railway in the background providing the occasional intercity125 for a good contrast twix'd old ant' new.
always on really sunny hot days I remember for some reason.
we had to move an end of a cast iron mains pipe from near the disused covered reservoir. It was only two and a half foot long, about 18" diameter but f***, it weighed an absolute ton. And a line of pipes like that stretched down to the town two miles away, and down into Harrow in the other direction, about four miles away... how in God's name did they build this shit?
It seems that wherever you visit a restored or still operation steam driven facility there is always just such care for the aesthetics of the whole thing. Its not always the overly ornate painted victorian cast iron, but even the very basic interior of for instance the Dutch pumping stations like Cruquius or the "Ir. D.F. Wouda gemaal". Still care is taken for looks. Proportions and lines are just right. Things are kept looking nice and as if they belong, instead of tacked on "for looks".
Then on top of that you get the symphony of mechanics that is a running steam engine where almost every important bit of it's construction is visible. Hundreds or even thousands of horsepower with barely a whisper of sound. It just leaves an impression you won't soon forget
BTW, if you ever get to the point where you start doing a Geeks Guide to Europe, I'd highly recommend visiting the Wouda gemaal (http://www.woudagemaal.nl/7434/information-in-english) and the Cruquius (http://www.museumdecruquius.nl/?lang=en)
Especially the Wouda! Even better if you manage to visit on one of the days it's still running (get there early and bring a thermos of hot tea. You WILL be waiting in line on days it's running. Your visit will be short as you only get a few minutes inside because of the amount of visitors, but it is SO worth it) Nothing beats standing in the machine hall of a fully operation steam pumping station spewing out 3000 to 4000 m^3 of water every minute. (Short impression randomly plucked from youtube: https://youtu.be/aL13IXlGYaQ)
Well, if you are going to be visiting anyway, plenty of other museums to visit too :-P.
For a more high tech/modern outing I also recommend the Maesland surge flood barrier (near Rotterdam, so if you take the ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland it'll not be far out of the route.) They have guided tours on saturday and sunday in the high season. The sheer scale of the construction is almost mindboggling. Photo's really don't do it justice. http://www.keringhuis.nl/index.php?id=37. The rest of the Delta works are interesting in their own right but not as visitworthy.
There are several more (steam-driven) pumping stations dotted around the country. Two of the more notable ones:
The oldest in the country is Gemaal Halfweg (http://stoomgemaalhalfweg.nl/en/index.html)
There is a steam museum in Medemblik built in/around an old pumping station (Bit crowded, with lots of machines crammed together. They don't seem to have an english language website: http://stoommachinemuseum.nl/het-museum/), This is also near the museum tram/railway Hoorn-Medemblik (http://www.museumstoomtram.nl/en)
In keeping with the steam theme, there is the Veluwsche Stoomtrein Maatschappij near Apeldoorn (again, no english website http://www.stoomtrein.org/index.html). This is only a short stretch of track, so mostly interesting if you are into steampower. They run german Baureihe locomotives.
The rest of what I can think of is the more standard tourist stuff you'd also find in the normal brochures (like the harbour museum in Rotterdam). The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam recently got an upgrade, I've been told its also well worth a visit.
Another thing just jumped into my mind. The radio telescope at Dwingeloo. A 25 meter radio telescope that is now retired, a national monument, restored and used by amateur HAMs and astronomers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwingeloo_Radio_Observatory) For a visit, try contacting CAMRAS, the organisation in charge of its upkeep/schedule: http://www.camras.nl/index.php?lang=en (not the best website but I'm sure you'll find the info you need. If not, give me a shoutout and I'll try to dredge up the info needed.)
(I realise by now all my suggestions are all over the country. Luckily most of the Netherlands can be reached within a few hours drive from any other part of the country)
An addendum to my statement that the rest of the Deltaworks are not as visit worthy, I've never been there but the information center at Neeltje Jans might be interesting (http://www.neeltjejans.nl/en/delta-works/). I can say that the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier is one heck of a feat of civil engineering. It's just a bit of a drive through some the flattest and emptiest bits of the country. (Zeeland is a nice place if you like to visit the beach though)
I'm constantly in awe of Victorian engineering. They never let the cost or magnitude of a project get in the way of an ambitious idea. Today most of their achievements wouldn't get off the ground for elven safety reasons and we'd be left with the Virgin Royal Albert Hall, the Carling V&A Museum, Virgin Alexandra Palace and SportsDirect Tower Bridge.
I suspect that changes in architecture tracked changes in art.
Over the centuries it's gone from expression of the divine, to expression of beauty, to expression of emotion, to self-expression, to conceptural-self-referential-meta-crap.
So that leaves both present-day art and architecture in the realm of "whatever we can get away with".
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