Sunday, 30 June 2013

Mallard anniversary: Steam locomotive Bittern marks record run

Mallard anniversary: Steam locomotive Bittern marks record run

This coming Wednesday, the 3rd of July, sees the 75th anniversary of a landmark event in steam locomotion - the world record-breaking 126mph run of the streamlined A4 Pacific steam locomotive Mallard.  On that date in 1938 this beautiful engine left London Kings Cross for Grantham in Lincolnshire, without fanfare, ostensibly for a braking test run.  However during the return journey, on a section of track just south of Grantham, Mallard topped out at a remarkable 126 miles per hour (203kph).  No other steam-powered locomotive has exceeded that speed since and so to this very day Mallard still holds the World Speed Record for steam.  Alas, although it has since been restored and has pride of place at the National Railway Museum in York, it can no longer move under its own power.



However, to commemorate this long-standing achievement, one of Mallard's sister engines - Bittern - was yesterday permitted to exceed the usual 75mph limit for steam trains on a British main line while undertaking a special London-York jaunt, "The Ebor Streak".  Its highest speed was recorded at 92.8mph (149kph), allowing the passengers (and the rest of us, thanks to footage of the event) the chance to experience high speed steam travel - even if it was still 30mph slower than that day three-quarters of a century ago.  Gad, wouldn't I like to have been on that train all the same!



Mallard steam locomotive to return to Grantham

This special run is just one of a series of events planned to commemorate Mallard's record, with further derestricted journeys by Bittern on the 19th ("The Tyne-Tees Streak) and 27th ("The Capital Streak") of July.  The highlight of the celebrations (if 90 mile-an-hour steam trains aren't highlight enough for you!) will be the gathering at the NRM in York of the six surviving A4 Pacific engines (from the original 35) - Mallard, Bittern, Sir Nigel Gresley, Union of South Africa, Dominion of Canada and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first time all of them will have been seen together!  (Four of them can be seen here in this film from 2008).  Dominion of Canada and Dwight D. Eisenhower have even been specially shipped over from the Canadian Railway Museum in Montreal and the National Railroad Museum in Wisconsin, respectively, to be restored and take part in it all!

Much work has been done to make the marking of this anniversary a rightly special one and the list of events looks truly spectacular.  I'll look forward to seeing more footage of the high speed runs and the six A4s over the next month or so and will maybe feature them on here again (if I can overcome the disappointment of not being there in person!).  All in all, some stunning celebrations for a truly stunning piece of British engineering.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Artist converts century-old gas station into home

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Artist converts century-old gas station into home

Well, last week flew by before I knew what had happened (appointments and whatnot I'd rather not have had to attend will do that) and now this week's nearly half gone, all with nary a peep from me!  Sorry about that!  Maybe I could do with a break staying in the subject of this post...

Starting life in 1918 as a city centre petrol station this building in New Orleans serviced cars for 50-odd years before going through a variety of uses such as furniture shop and jewellers before eventually falling into disrepair.  It was put up for sale in 2003, which was when this local artist chappy stepped in.  Over the next ten years, through flood, sweat and tears(!) he has comprehensively renovated it into the remarkable home you see in these pictures & articles.

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Artist Robert Guthrie transforms a regular Mid-City gas station into a premium residence

Featuring some wonderful period æsthetics and motoring-related ephemera, brilliantly complemented with some modern touches such as open-plan layouts and 21st-century appliances, this old petrol station has gained a whole new lease of life as a private residence and one that has been incredibly well-converted to make the most of its history.  Not to mention saved from the wrecker's ball, a fate that befell so many other stations of the era it seems.  Now its future in its original New Orleans neighbourhood is assured.

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This has obviously been very much a labour of love for Mr Guthrie, who it seems intends - quite rightly - to enjoy his new home to the full.  It doesn't end there though, for it appears that he also rents it out as a guest house for tourists.  What a splendid wheeze!  Quite a unique place to stay during your visit to New Orleans, eh?  I shall have to remember it if I ever find myself in the Crescent City.  In the meantime I'm just delighted to see another piece of American motoring-cum-architectural history saved in such a unique manner. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Town's air raid disaster fund found after more than 70 years



Clacton air disaster fund found after more than 70 years

An interesting local story here as one of my county's well-known seaside resorts receives an unexpected windfall after the chance discovery of a long-forgotten disaster fund left over from the Second World War.

Initially started after a German Heinkel He111 bomber crashed in the town on the 30th April 1940 - destroying sixty-seven houses, injuring 160 people and resulting in the first two civilian deaths on mainland Britain of the war (as described in this fascinating newsreel I found, above) - the account went on to receive further contributions not only from local residents & businesses but also holidaymakers, passers-through and even famous bandleaders of the time Joe Loss and Billy Cotton (both of whom were known to donate money to worthy causes).  It was consequently dipped into for the next few years but in 1950 the remaining £243 13s 6d was put into a Post Office Savings Account and then, it seems, promptly forgotten about.

Had it not been for an office clear-out at the town hall the money may have gone unnoticed indefinitely, but now the original ledger and other related documents have been discovered and show that - after 73 years - the account is in credit to the tune of £1,700!

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While that may not sound like much of a return on seven decades of interest (even taking into account inflation, decimalisation and other factors, the 1940 fund's original sum of £1,244 12s 0d would be equivalent to about £55,000 in today's money!) it's still seventeen hundred pounds more than Clacton thought it had and I'm delighted to see that the council intend to put it towards a permanent memorial to the original disaster, one that will complement the already-existing inscribed bench.

It seems suitably fitting and splendidly serendipitous that a fund set up in the wake of a wartime tragedy to help the people of Clacton during the dark days of the conflict is able to be used today to commemorate the local victims and ensure that the original incident is never forgotten.  I shall look forward to seeing Clacton's new memorial, to be erected thanks to these long-lost monies.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Knit for Britain from Above

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Knit for Britain from Above 

Returning to another series of articles that previously appeared on Eclectic Ephemera you may recall the posts from 2011 and 2012 about the creation of the wonderful online history resource Britain From Above, which aims to catalogue and digitise over 90,000 aerial photographs of Britain taken between 1919 and 1953.  By the sounds of things the project is going well and all 95,000 images should be available at the end of the 4-year project, in 2014.  It really is a fascinating site and I urge you all to check it out if you haven't already.

Now I see that the Britain From Above people have this week started a jolly little wheeze that should appeal to the [many] knitters who I know make up my readership.  I have to say I didn't realise that it was World-Wide Knit In Public Week (I have to admit I sometimes think these things are thought up on the spur of the moment by people with a vested interest and too much time on their hands - I mean, National Sausage Week, really?!) but hurrah nonetheless.  Although I'm sure those of you who do knit do so in public any day of the year here's an opportunity to have a bit of fun and get a bit involved in the Britain From Above project.

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The team behind the site invite you to knit an aeroplane (they even helpfully provide a pattern if you don't have one of your own) and then, finding an historic aerial photo of an area near you, take a snap of your knitted aircraft in the same spot and post it on the website.  It sounds like a splendid way to get out and about and, as the site says, "showcase your knitting skills and find out more about the history of the place you live in".  Not to mention raising the profile of the Britain From Above project a notch or two in a wonderfully clever way.

So how about it, then?  Any knitting-wizards out there fancy knocking up a little flying machine and maybe taking a pic or two?  If anyone does have a go, do let me know on here!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel



WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel

I expect many of my readers who are based in the U.K. will have been following this story as I have (and I'm sure overseas readers will be interested to hear about this project too), but only now do I feel justified in posting about it since it has (finally!) ended in practically complete success.

I can hardly believe that it has been nearly 3 years since I featured on this blog the news that the only known intact example of a Second World War German Dornier 17 bomber had been discovered resting in shallow water off the Kent coast.  In that time numerous dives had been made to study the wreck and devise a way to raise it from the Goodwin Sands - a plan that was put into action (as originally envisaged) last month.

Dornier 17: Salvaging a rare WWII plane from the seabed

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Alas the English Channel was not keen to relinquish its grasp of this aeroplane and it has taken until now - over a month from the anticipated salvage date - for it to finally see daylight for the first time in 70 years.  It has been a remarkable feat of engineering - not to mention patience! - to bring this aircraft out of the sea in as near as dammit one piece and one that very nearly looked like not coming off at all.  Thankfully all the time and money invested in this endeavour looks to have been worth it as the world's only extant Do17 airframe begins its new journey to the RAF Museum at Cosford, where it will undergo extensive restoration over the next two years and then eventually form a suitable counterpoint in the Battle of Britain exhibit at the Hendon museum.  Quite what form this will take I'm not sure, as I had thought the original plan was to keep it pretty much as it was found and the museum website talks about "conserving" it, but maybe they feel a full restoration is possible and desirable.  No doubt we shall see come 2015!  I shall look forward to continuing to follow Dornier 17 5K+AR's story over the next two years and hope to see it, in whatever form, at the RAF Museum in the future.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Wreckage of Amelia Earhart plane may be found

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Pacific sonar 'streak' may be wreck of Amelia Earhart's plane

Many online news sources both here and in America were abuzz a little over a week ago with the latest possibility in the ongoing search for wreckage or other evidence of pioneer aviatrix Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra, which vanished seemingly without a trace during her (and navigator Fred Noonan's) attempted around-the-world flight on the 2nd July 1937.

Amelia Earhart's remarkable achievements and the rightful fame they earned her have meant that her name continues to resonate throughout history and her mysterious disappearance somewhere between Australia and the Hawaiian islands 76 years ago has ensured that she - and her ultimate fate - is still discussed to this day.

What happened to Earhart, Noonan and their aircraft on that day in 1937 has been the subject of innumerable theories - conspiratorial or otherwise - over the years.  The prevailing theory is that they missed their refuelling stop of Howland Island - a mere speck in the Pacific Ocean less than one square mile in size, ran out of fuel and crashed either into the sea or on one of the eight atolls and coral reefs that make up the nearby Phoenix Islands group.

Unexplained shadow 600ft under Pacific could be Amelia Earhart’s missing plane

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If they ditched in the open sea it is very likely that anything in the way of mechanical or human remains will ever be found, particularly as in some areas - even close to the islands - the water reaches a depth of 23,000ft.  However since around 2007 one group of aviation researchers, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, have been actively investigating the theory that Earhart and Noonan made it to (or close to) Nikumaroro (also known as Gardner Island) where they may even have survived for several weeks before perishing.

In those six years TIGHAR have made several fascinating but ultimately inconclusive discoveries on or around Nikumararo, including tools and metalwork that may have come from the Electra, clothing and products associated with Amelia Earhart (for example a 1930s shoe similar to ones seen in photos of her and period face cream for pale, freckled complexions) and possible human bones.

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Now sonar scans of the waters surrounding the island have thrown up an unidentified mass a few hundred feet down, which does not appear to conform to any known wreck or coral formation.  Could this be part of the Lockheed Electra, which Earhart managed to land on or near the reef?  That is the question that this latest discovery poses and which TIGHAR hopes to answer in the coming weeks.  I for one will be very keen to hear what they find.  In the meantime, as this investigation and the interest surrounding it proves, the story of Amelia Earhart and her untimely disappearance continues to intrigue and beguile nearly eight decades on.

Friday, 7 June 2013

What ho! Jeeves and Wooster head for West End

source, via The Chap

What ho! Jeeves and Wooster head for West End

Hot on the heels of news that Sebastian Faulks is to write the first "new" Jeeves novel since the death of the incomparable P. G. Wodehouse in 1975 comes the even more welcome announcement of a new play based on one of Wodehouse's best books, The Code of the Woosters and which is to star British TV comedy/drama stalwarts Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfayden.  Beginning on 10th October, Perfect Nonsense will have a week-long run at the Richmond Theatre, then Theatre Royal Brighton before transferring to the West End at London's Duke of York Theatre.

Fully endorsed by the Wodehouse estate and, by the sounds of things, staying very true to the books this has all the potential of being an absolutely topping production from an experienced pair of writers and theatrical comedy director.  Add in two high-quality actors and a live theatre setting and it could just be the best adaptation since the 1990s Granada TV series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

Indeed - and at the risk of making everyone feel old - as Stephen Mangan points out in the article it has now been 20 years since the Jeeves & Wooster series (!) and perhaps now the time is right for a new acting duo to don the mantles of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster and his gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves.  Could Mangan & Macfayden be the fellows to do it?

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I will certainly be keeping an interested eye out for reviews come October, maybe even with a view to popping up to the West End to see it for myself.  I can honestly say I have no expectations - Fry and Laurie's portrayals are practically generation-defining and may never be surpassed (truly, as many have said, they were born to play those roles) so in a way it relieves this production of any pressure to measure up, for my point of view at least.  In addition and despite my positive descriptions of the two stars of this new play, the popular works of Mangan and Macfayden have largely passed me by.  In the case of the former I've never seen Green Wing, Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years or Dirk Gently (arguably his most well-known roles in the U.K.) and only really know him from guest appearances on panel shows such as Have I Got News For You and Would I Lie To You?, where I admit he did impress.  I also had no interest in Macfayden's turn in Spooks and just plain missed Little Dorrit and Ripper Street (the latter somewhat to my annoyance, admittedly), so I have few preconceptions regarding them as Bertie and Jeeves.  I'd like to think they'll do a good job - they certainly look the part in the press photos I've seen.

All that remains is for me to say "break a leg chaps" and "tinkerty tonk!" in anticipation of a jolly good show!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Phone pioneer speaks for first time in 128 years


Phone pioneer speaks for first time in 128 years

It is a source of constant amazement to me how technological advancements at the turn of the last century have allowed sounds and images that would previously have been lost or unseen to be recorded and documented for future generations - us - to uncover and experience.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in this recent story from the Smithsonian Institute (via the B.B.C.), featuring the inventor of one piece of modern electrical equipment being recorded for posterity by another piece of modern electrical equipment(!).

We Had No Idea What Alexander Graham Bell Sounded Like. Until Now.

In this 1885 recording we can [just about] hear the voice of Alexander Graham Bell, de facto inventor of the telephone, as picked up on a wax cylinder made at his Washington laboratory.  Only now able to be played back using incredible, modern computerised techniques (I find the incongruity of a late 19th/early 20th century turntable mounted on a high-tech 21st century computer system most amusing) this short excerpt of speech is the first time Bell's voice has been heard and identified.  One can just imagine it uttering the immortal words “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” and it is, as the accompanying article states, a landmark discovery in the history of not only Bell but of the era too.

The Smithsonian is without doubt one of the foremost museums in the world and this story is a remarkable testament to their collections, their preservation & restoration abilities and their obvious love and enthusiasm for all aspects of history.  Thanks to them (and also researchers at the US Library of Congress and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) this fantastic recording can be heard for the first time in nearly 130 years and, more importantly, saved for future generations to appreciate.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Replica Victorian carriage makes debut on Snowdon Mountain Railway


Replica Victorian carriage makes debut on Snowdon Mountain Railway

From New York subways to Welsh mountain railways now, in what is fast becoming a rail-themed weekend here at Eclectic Ephemera.

While Lily the Heritage Carriage may look several decades older than the New York Transit Authority's 1930s stock, its main body is in fact brand new - only recently completed by a group of highly-skilled workers who have pulled out all the stops to ensure a truly accurate replica of a carriage that would have travelled along the picturesque Snowdon Mountain Railway back in the 1890s.  That it is mounted on an original 1920s chassis is, as the accompanying report says, a splendid amalgamation of old and new.

Looking every inch the true Victorian carriage, with details to die for all beautifully crafted by expert engineers, Lily is now ready to take passengers on the equally beautiful journey to the top of Wales' highest mountain.  It certainly looks absolutely glorious and one can just imagine the same trip being undertaken 120 years ago, although the idea of there originally being no windows is less appealing! 

Congratulations to Snowdon Mountain Railway and their associates in getting this wonderful carriage designed, built and running on the line.  The beauty of the Welsh mountains, which I can certainly attest to having been there myself, has only been enhanced with the introduction of this 19th century replica and I hope one day to return to Snowdonia and experience a trip up the mountain in it myself.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

1930s subway train makes rare uptown trip in NYC

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1930s subway train makes rare uptown trip in NYC

Following on from the New York Transit Authority's tie-up with HBO in 2011, when an original 1920s subway car was taken out of mothballs to mark the beginning of Boardwalk Empire's second season, a vintage New York underground train has once again made an appearance on one of the city's lines.

This time the eight carriages were of a slightly later 1930s vintage, but are no less æsthetically pleasing to look at!  What is more, it sounds as though their return to the tracks was something of a surprise treat - particularly for the commuters - as the New York TA took the opportunity to celebrate the reopening of a section of line previously damaged by Hurricane Sandy last year.  Quite a way to mark the occasion, I think you'll agree.  Well done to the Transit Authority for coming up with such a wizard idea, for anyone who just happened to be on that line at the time to enjoy.  Wouldn't it be something if London Underground ran some of its old '30s stock around the City once in a while, just for the fun of it?  (I know the London Transport Museum runs the occasional excursion on various suburban lines' extremities, of course - in fact there's one coming up next month - but it would be splendid to see some 1930s Art Deco on, say, the Circle or Metropolitan lines.) 

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Still it sounds like those New Yorkers lucky enough to experience public transport 1930s-style enjoyed the opportunity, even if some of them seemed a little nonplussed(!).  It's sometimes easy to forget that where we would experience a thrill at seeing an 80-year old train pulling into our local station, there are people out there for whom the whole thing would just be very odd.  I know - what's wrong with 'em, eh?  It's nice to see that it brought back happy memories for some folk as well, though - all the more reason to do it again!

Let's hope that it doesn't take another natural disaster (or period TV show) to encourage the New York Transit Authority to wheel out some of their classic carriages again.  In the meantime it's great to see these old cars given their head on a newly-restored line.

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