The Industrial Heritage Group
Wednesday 27th November 2019. Coffin Works & Pen Museum, Birmingham
20 members ventured into Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter by car, train, tram and finally by Shanks's pony on a cold damp day to arrive eventually at the Coffin Works museum.
Built in 1894 by the brass-founders Alfred and Edwin Newman as a factory to make coffin furniture ie the handles and other fittings on coffins which were stamped from brass and later aluminium. They soon realized that the way to make money was to cater to the rich who tended to leave their coffins on display in a mausoleum and therefore spent a lot more on bling than when the coffins were buried. This proved to be a successful move and the business flourished, eventually expanding to be a one-stop shop for undertakers as Newman Brothers now made shrouds and coffins and sold embalming fluid and all the other paraphernalia required. Our two guides showed us around the various parts of the works and told us the stories not just of the factory but also of the many individuals who worked there, often having careers of many decades. The business eventually came into the hands of a very shrewd woman, Joyce Green, who started as office secretary and at some point acquired shares in the company. When the last of the family died she became sole owner for the last ten years. When the business closed in 1998 she saved the building and all its contents to open it as a museum and after many financial troubles it opened to visitors in 2014.
After lunch at the nearby historic Shakespeare Inn we walked up the road to the Pen Museum where again we were split into groups to be shown around the various sections of the ex-pen factory. We soon discovered that a pen is/was what we would call the pen nib i.e. the steel tip. Birmingham was the centre of the pen trade and at one time 75% of all the world's pens were made in Birmingham. It was said that one person (usually women) could produce 18,000 pens a day, hand-stamping each one from a steel blank. 700 people worked in one factory of the many in the area. The manufacturing processes and the conditions that people worked in made for a fascinating story. Also interesting was how mass-production brought the price of a pen down such that a gross could be brought for the price of 1 hand-made pen so that schools could afford to teach pupils to write, vastly expanding literacy and hence further education to the masses.
Two very different factories but both from the late 1800's give a great insight into that era.
Wednesday 23rd October 2019. Soho House, Handsworth, Birmingham
We again had 24 members turn up, just as last month, this time to visit the house of one of the world's first industrialists, Matthew Bolton. Split into two groups we were guided round the building whilst our guides explained the history of the house, the Boultons and also the Lunar Society which Matthew Bolton co-founded.
Bolton's father had a small business in Birmingham making shoe buckles, metal buttons, snuff boxes and other small objects which were called 'toys'. Matthew took over the running of the business in 1749 at the age of 21. He married a wealthy woman, Mary Robinson but she died 10 years later. Boulton then married her sister which was illegal in church law but not in common law. After his father also died he used his inheritance and his wives' monies to greatly expand the business. He moved to the Soho area and bought 13 acres of land, eventually expanding it to over 100 acres, to build his Manufactory and Soho House. The manufactory continued to make 'toys' but also candlesticks, church flagons, vases and over similar items which were stamped out of thin plate and joined together. He used sterling silver for the wealthy, but also Sheffield plate and silver-plated copper which were much cheaper. One problem for Boulton was the lack of an assay office nearby. Silver pieces had to be sent to Chester to be hallmarked with the risk of them being damaged in transit. He petitioned Parliament for the establishment of an office in Birmingham and eventually was successful.
As the business increased, the factory was running out of hydropower to work the presses and so he contacted James Watt about developing a steam engine for the site. This was not to power the presses but to move water back up to the millpond so that there was enough water for the watermills.
When Watt patented an improved design in 1769, Boulton realised that this could be a profitable enterprise and so entered into partnership with Watt to design and make steam engines firstly as pumping engines for mines but later they developed a rotary output to directly drive machinery. Between 1775 and 1800 they produced 450 rotary engines enabling large-scale industry to develop throughout Britain.
By 1786 two-thirds of the coins in circulation in Britain were fake. Boulton petitioned Parliament again this time to stamp coins which couldn't be counterfeited and eventually got a contract in 1797. His steam-powered Mint could produce coins at the rate of 10 a second.
The Lunar Society started in 1755 when Boulton met Erasmus Darwin and they and others gathered for informal dinner parties to discuss new scientific subjects such as electricity, meteorology and geology. The group expanded to include Josiah Wedgwood, Watt, Joseph Priestly and many others, and Benjamin Franklin was a visitor, although it was said that there were never more than 14 at a time as that was the largest number to fit around Boulton's dining table.
Despite the serious discussions, much wine was drunk at these meetings sometimes, allegedly, as much as 6 bottles each! The name came about as they met during the full moon as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer. Presumably they relied on someone else to drive their carriages!
The stories of Boulton, Watt and others was made even more fascinating for being told in the original surroundings. Most of the furnishings in the house are original to the house, some are genuine period pieces and a very few are reproductions including the wallpaper made to the original patterns.
Afterwards we retired to a Victorian hostellery were we were served excellent food and local beer.
Thank you Henry, and particularly Julia, for a very well organised trip.
Wednesday 25th September 2019. Walsall Leather Museum
A surprisingly large group of 24 members were sufficiently interested in the history of leather manufacture to turn up at our usual meeting point to car-share to Walsall. Unfortunately on arrival the adjacent car park was completely, full leaving everyone to find parking spots in the surrounding streets but we (almost) all arrived in time for coffee before our two guides showed us around the museum.
We split into two groups and swapped guides at halftime. One group was first shown the history of Walsall and why it became the centre of the leather and particularly the saddlery trade in the UK. We also learned how leather is formed from the hides of various animals, some more suitable and some more rare than others. The rare hides (snakes, crocodile, ostrich etc.) are not necessarily the best just the most expensive. The distinctive pattern of those animals hides are often mechanically embossed onto cow hide as a cheaper substitute.
The second group first learned how the leather was worked, often by women, and cut, stitched and formed into saddles, bridles, belts and latterly, after the decline of the horse as a means of transport, into gloves, handbags and wallets etc.
Walsall still has a small number (34) of companies making premium leather goods for sale in London, New York and Japan. The Queen's handbags are made there.
The whole history, like that of so many other declining or extinct manufacturing jobs, is fascinating, and it is good to see museums reminding us of what were once major industries.
After looking round the museum shop selling handbags and wallets etc. we finished off by having lunch. Some opted for the nearby pub by the canal while others ventured further to a traditional Black Country pub dating back to 1627. I think it qualifies as Industrial Heritage by all by itself!
Another great day out.
Thursday 5th September 2019. Mountsorrel & Rothley Community Heritage Centre and Great Central Railway, Loughborough
Thirteen members of the group visited the site of the former Nunckley Hill granite quarry and to GCR, Loughborough, this Thursday.
The former Nunckley Hill quarry is now the site of the Mountsorrel & Rothley Community Heritage Centre. The site now houses a busy café (where the ritual initial cup of coffee was taken) and we were introduced to our guides. The group then toured the site, seeing one of two nature trails; exhibition halls; as well as open-air exhibits of the way the mineral extraction industry was run. Adjacent to the site was the recently restored branch line leading from near Mountsorrel, past Nunckley Hill, to Swithland on the Great Central Railway.
All the assets were assembled or created by local volunteers, including transporting and building the café and exhibition halls, assembled stone by stone from two disused farm buildings in the locality. Maps were distributed showing how the adjacent quarry had developed between the 1880s and early 1900s.
The U3a group agreed that the standards of exhibit presentation were very high, and set an example to other similar enterprises.
After stopping for lunch at the Quorndon Fox, the group reassembled at the newly created Gallery at the Great Central Railway's Loughborough Station, to meet Mike Gough MD/CEO of GCR. He told those present about some of the many development projects currently under way at the Railway. Members were given a booklet detailing associated projects in hand.
Participants then moved down to the GCR loco shed to see the many locos currently available for service, as well as four locos currently under restoration. They were given explanations of how a steam loco's valve gear works, and boiler injectors which maintain the water level in service. Finally the group toured the GCR Loughborough signal box, and were given an outline briefing of how the railway Block System of signalling works, and its safety aspects.
Thanks were given to the Mountsorrel and GCR guides who gave us an excellent presentation of the two operations.
Wednesday 31st July 2019. MQP Cliffe Hill Quarry, Markfield
Remarkably 22 members decided that they wanted to look into a very big hole in the ground and so turned up at Midland Quarry Products' (MQP) Cliffe Hill Quarry near Markfield on a somewhat damp morning. MQP don't often give tours of their sites so we were lucky that Mike Hardy, who had organised the visit, used to work on the site and so provided us with the introduction.
After signing in and having our photos taken (security and safety are taken very seriously on site) we were given a very interesting briefing on the history, geology and workings of the quarry by one of our guides, Steve. We were then kitted out in full safety gear of boots, dayglo jackets and trousers, hard hats and safety glasses. As MQP didn't have boots in all the right sizes they bought in new gear for everybody after we provided the shoe sizes. They also hired in 4 brand new Land Rovers to take everyone around the site which is split over two quarries the Old and the New Cliffe Hill.
After being split int two groups we headed off around the roads surrounding the site were it was pointed out to us how hidden the workings are from the road. Our first stop was overlooking the Old quarry which is still being worked. It covers 120 acres and is about 90 m deep. The huge dumper trucks look tiny when they are at the bottom. The site manager was on hand to answer all our questions. The logistics are amazing. From getting fuel down to the vehicles, to setting and detonating the explosives, to getting the rock back out of the quarry, the numbers are staggering. They export 4.5 million tons of granite per year; that's about 12,500 tons a day! There is a constant stream of trucks and trains leaving the site.
From there the Land Rovers took us down into the quarry and through the 700m long tunnel back into the New quarry where the rock is crushed into chippings and some is coated with bitumen to make asphalt. Again the scale of everything is amazing. Next we visited the control room where they control the loading of the trucks and trains. Then it was back to the offices to say our thank-yous to everyone who had made it such a special day, and to remove all our safety gear.
It wouldn't be a Industrial Heritage trip without a pub lunch so we headed over to the Fieldhead Hotel for a very good lunch, excellently and efficiently served.
Saturday 29th June 2019. Cragside House, Morpeth.
4 carloads of members made the long trip up the A1M to Newcastle on Saturday morning. Several seemed to choose the same motorway services for a break, at the same time, despite the fact that we weren't travelling in convoy. Many had also stopped on the way up to examine the Angel of the North close up. It is much, much bigger than you'd expect when you get close up.
Once checked-in at the Premier Inn on the Tyne quayside in the heart of Newcastle, we set out to explore the town. The Baltic Flour Mill on the Gateshead side is now an art gallery but also has a great view up and down river from the 5th floor and also one can watch the 700 breeding pairs of Terns sitting on the narrowest of ledges hatching their young. The smell was exceptional!
For Saturday night, I'd booked us into a pub right next to the swivelling Millennium Bridge in the heart of the night life. Despite the resident DJ and half a dozen hen night parties trying to drown out any conversation, we had a great evening watching the world go by and seeing the bridge swivel whilst it changed colour due to the floodlights on it. And the food was pretty good.
Bright and early (well not too early!) we set off to Cragside House, a 45 min drive further north. We were just in time to miss a 5k footrace around the grounds but at least the coffee shop was open!
We all split up to wander around the house, and what a house! As you approach it, it hangs on the side of the hill like a Victorian Rivendell. The entrance through a gated archway to a courtyard could be medieval. The house itself is apparently mostly "Tudor Revival" but building work continued in stages for almost 20 years so that it is a mixture of styles.
Downstairs the house is quite homely, if somewhat larger than your average house, but the rooms are not overlarge and the kitchen is next to the dining room, quite novel for big houses at the time. The kitchens have an early electric dishwasher and a hydro electric rotisserie amongst many other gadgets. However leading off the lounge and down in the basement is a full Turkish bath with sweat rooms, massage rooms, plunge pool and showers. Ever the inventive engineer, the heat from the baths was used to help heat the rest of the house. A hydraulically-operated lift goes to all floors, mostly to help the staff move coal to all the rooms for fires. The bedrooms on the next floor are also relatively modest although there are lots of them and some are en-suite and with dressing rooms attached.
On the next level it suddenly becomes a lot more grand. The gallery, once Armstrong's museum, houses portraits, sculptures and paintings by many famous artists. This leads around the corner to a very imposing drawing room with the most enormous marble inglenook fireplace. It is so large that that end of the room is actually supported by the cliff outside to take the weight! The room contains a faction of Armstrong's artworks since many were moved to Bamburgh Castle when the last owners moved out. It does however still have a Turner tucked away in a corner as it is probably not grand enough!
The gardens and surroundings are huge - there is a 6 mile drive around the estate to get out! Electrical power for the house comes from a turbine powered by water from one of the lakes. There are ornamental gardens and vast numbers of rhododendrons and trees but the house is the main attraction.
From there some of us then visited Warkworth village and its ruined Norman castle, still very imposing, and some even managed to briefly get to the seaside at Amble but it was a bit too rough for paddling!
After a very nice Italian meal in the evening, followed by a trip to the pub, we rose refreshed and ready to tackle the Discovery Museum in the city about the life and times of Tyneside. A very interesting display of everyday object through the decades bought back many memories. Other displays of ship models, aircraft engines, cars and electronics showed the diversity of things made on Tyneside. The main exhibit is Turbinia once the fastest ship in the world at 40mph in 1894 and powered by Parsons' steam turbines made in you-know-where.
An uneventful journey back saw us all back in Ashby by late afternoon after a very successful weekend away.
Wednesday 15th May 2019. Strutt's North Mill, Belper
This proved to be a popular trip and a good turn-out headed off in several cars to Belper on a bright sunny morning. On arrival the Mill laid on the very important coffee and biscuits whilst we watched a short film about the history of Strutt's Mill . We were then introduced to our guide for the day. We were first shown some of the various machines in use before the industrialisation of the cotton spinning process when it was still a cottage industry followed by some of the earlier machines developed by Jedediah Strutt including one which enabled ribbed knitting on an ordinary hand-operated frame. This made him relatively wealthy.
We have all heard of Arkwright and his cotton mill at Cromford which was the world's first water-powered cotton spinning mill. Arkwright was not a wealthy man, and his 'manufactory' was partly funded by Strutt and built in 1771 . Strutt then built his own mill in Belper 1776 to become the second such in the world. The original timber-framed North Mill was built in 1786 but burnt down in 1803 and was replaced by a new one designed by his son William. This was one of the first fireproof structures in the world using cast iron columns and brick floors. This is the building still standing today. Several other mills followed on the site until by the 1850s Belper had a population of 10,000 people.
Our tour continued into the basement to see the building's amazing construction and the site of the waterwheel (unfortunately now removed) which was 18 feet in diameter and 23 feet long. It was eventually one of 11 waterwheels on site and not even the largest!
We now assembled outside for a tour of Strutt's Belper, the streets of cottages which he built to attract workers to the area. We first walked around the attractive River Gardens which were provided for the workforce on their day off.
The mill mostly employed girls so he had to attract families with lots of them but also needed to find work for the men. Belper was traditionally a nail-making town therefore many men joined that trade but also framework knitting was common. (The mill incidentally didn't knit or weave cotton, it only produced spun yarn).
The cottages were better than average to attract incomers and are still standing today, occupying several, still-cobbled, streets. Strutt also built a school and a Unitarian chapel for the workforce. When the North Midland Railway came through Belper it would have cut the village in two, but Strutt insisted that the railway was built in an expensive cutting with 11 bridges over it so that the roads remain level and the trains out of site. It is regarded as one of George Stevenson's great achievements.
The whole area is fascinating and wandering the streets is like stepping back in time. Belper along with the whole of Derwent Valley is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
We retired to a nearby hostellery for an excellent and welcome lunch, very efficiently served by the landlord and his staff before travelling home.
Wednesday 24th April 2019. Taylors Bell Foundry, Loughborough
Loughborough's Bell Foundry is truly part of our Industrial Heritage. The company was founded in the middle of the 14thC when Johannes de Stafford was active only 10 miles from the present site. From 1784 the business was operated by the Taylor family and in 1839 moved to its present location. It is now the last remaining bell foundry in the country and the largest in the world.
As they weren't casting on the day of our visit, we 24 were shown a short film showing how the bell moulds are created and how the bell-metal is poured into the moulds. Bell metal is similar to bronze but with a higher tin content 22% rather than 12%, the composition of which was discovered in China 3000 years ago. Above all other materials, it gives a nice sound and also doesn't corrode.
We were then let into the bell museum back room and allowed to strike the many various old bells, of various tones and some of various metals, all to our hearts' content. It is surprising how little force is needed to make a loud noise!
From there we entered the factory proper to see bells both old and new being prepared for installation. Taylors do not just cast the bells. They make the headstocks from which the bells hang, the frames in which they sit and the steelwork or woodwork which fits into the bell towers. They also make the wooden bell wheels to which the rope attaches and which is used to make the bell swing. Everything is made pretty much by hand or by ancient machinery.
We then saw the only bit which is modern, that being the bell tuning. As cast, the bells are not necessarily in tune either to themselves (bells make several notes when struck) or to other bells in a set. Taylors themselves developed the Five Tone Principle in 1896 by which all five principle harmonics are fine-tuned to give a purity of tone. The tones are nowadays measured by computer but it is still down to one man to machine small amounts of metal off the bell by hand at the right places to get the bell in tune. Take off too much and the bell will sound flat and would be scrap!
Taylors claim to have cast more large bells than any other foundry in the world and have made more than 200 bells larger than 2 tons since 1862. The largest is Great Paul for St Pauls Cathedral in London weighing in at almost 17 tons and cast in 1881. However the largest functioning bell in the world was cast on New Years Eve 2000 in China and weighs a staggering 116 tonnes.
We then looked at the foundry shop itself, where the bell moulds are buried in the ground before casting. This is to get them low enough to be able to pour into safely but mostly so that they cool down slowly without cracking.
After a return to the museum shop for some of us to buy trinkets and mementos, we retired to the Three Nuns pub for lunch and to discuss all that we had seen and heard. Another great day out.
Next month's outing will be a week earlier than usual, on May 15th, with a visit to Stott's North Mill at Belper, one of the very first factories in the world followed by a guided tour around the old town to show its connections to the mill.
Wednesday 27th March 2019. Amazon Fulfilment Centre, Rugeley
We had intended to visit Amazon at the end of last year, but understandably they don't really want visitors at their busiest time of the year and so we were put off until March. The building, opposite the power station at Rugeley is huge from the outside although impressively disguised by being painted in horizontal stripes of progressively lighter shades of blue. On arrival we were greeted at the door by our guide Gavin and his assistants who gathered us in a reception room to give us the obligatory safety briefing and to equip us with our "gilets jaune" (dayglo yellow vests) and headphones so that we could hear Gavin above the noise of the machinery. It was noticeable right from the start that they take security and safety seriously. All staff have to pass through security scanners on entry and departure and nothing unwanted is allowed in or out.
Once on the warehouse floor, we were led straight up to the 4th floor of the huge storage area. Gavin explained that every new item stocked by Amazon is first weighed and measured so that the computer system knows how big and heavy it is. Items are then scanned and randomly placed on the shelves (the location is also scanned!) so that popular items are scattered throughout the shelves. This stops bottlenecks forming with all the pickers wanting to go to the same place to pick up the latest computer game, book or DVD.
When an order is received, a picker is despatched to collect the item, put it in a plastic tray and place it on the huge conveyor system. If someone has ordered multiple items these are diverted to a holding station until all the items are together. They then go to the packing area where the computer tells the packer what size box is needed and provides a barcode label describing the destination address, the couriers name and the delivery date. The filled box is then scanned again and checked that it is the correct weight (i.e. the right objects are inside) and adds a printed human-readable address label. It then goes to the dispatch area where trucks take everything to the couriers' distribution depots. Barcodes are used everywhere to keep track of where everything is at any time. As we walked around it was noticeable how few people were on site. Although apparently they employ some thousands of staff, the operation runs 24/7 so only a fraction of the staff are present at any one time. And the building is HUGE. It might look big from outside, but inside you can't see from one end to the other!. There are 18 Fulfilment Centres in the UK alone, and this isn't their biggest Centre by far.
Amazon now offer an express same-day delivery option in certain areas. Rugeley used to hold the record for the fastest delivery, from a customer placing the order to delivery at their house in just 13 minutes!!
A truly interesting morning's introduction to the world of Amazon. And we got a free gift.
Saturday 23rd February 2019. Claymills Pumping Station
There were 22 members and 2 guests for our visit to the Claymills Victorian Pumping Station on its first 'steaming' day of the year.
After tea or coffee at the Stoker's Rest cafe, we were split into 2 groups for our guided tour. Our group was led by Steve, the other group by Mike, both very experienced and knowledgeable, they knew every nut and bolt on the site, Steve having been a volunteer for 25 years! They gave lots of technical detail on sizes, weights and powers and this can also be found on their excellent web-site (http://claymills.org.uk/index.html).
The first stop was the Dynamo House, with ancient looking 'blade' type breakers for switching on the DC circuits, far too dangerous for modern use. Onto the workshop, built in 1900 and restored from a ruinous state. All the machines were steam-driven via belts and pulleys, another health and safety nightmare, but an efficient use of the available steam and safe if you keep your hands away from moving parts. It also had a false floor covering a pit to allow work on traction engines. Up next was the forge, complete with a working blacksmith hammering away to make 4 large nails. ..no mass production here. Once outside, we stood in awe of the 35m chimney, belching smoke from the boilers, and were told the top 10m had to be replaced after the debris had been cleared by hand through a tiny soot door at the base. Also, outside was a sewer-cleaning steam engine being run for the very first time since restoration. One of the enthusiastic machine operators reminded the group that 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of James Watt, and the 250th anniversary of his invention of the separate condenser...as if we could forget!
It was then time for the star attraction, the newly restored steam driven beam engine, Engine B. After 6 years of toil, the restoration engineer has now promised to get the last and very rusty Engine A, back to working order. Unfortunately, problems with the boiler prevented this engine running while we were there, but its gleaming polished brass and wood fittings left us is in no doubt it was a working masterpiece. So it was onto the boiler house were we saw coal from Russia or Columbia shovelled by hand into the mechanical stokers feeding the boiler, the bright red glow through the fire door lighting up the gloom. They also burn scrap wood to warm up the boilers to keep the temperature and the costs down but it all means more manual slog. With 5 boilers and with Engine A restored our guide said it would be the first site to have the capability to run all 4 engines at the same time. It also boasts having 32 working original ancillary steam driven engines, thanks to careful storage and cataloguing by the station's last Chief Engineer.
The finale was seeing Engine D in full operation and later, Engine C being started, a complex synchronised action requiring manual movement of the steam valves. The beams are unusual for their riveted box construction and the Watt speed governors are works of engineering art. Lastly, we went into the only bathroom on site, a tiny windowless room below ground level. The decor here, unaffected by daylight, was key to the redecoration of the engine halls back to their original colour scheme. Use of the bath was a special treat but to get hot water required careful control of steam flow directly into the bath water!
There are about 250 volunteers and about 5000 visitors per year. The visit gave an insight into the workings of these magnificent engines, the lives of those who worked there and the dedication of the volunteers who have restored and managed the site.
Wednesday 23rd January 2019. Coventry Transport Museum
13 members ventured down to Coventry, one going there direct whilst the remaining dozen shared 3 cars from Ashby. Despite some finger trouble with the sat-nav in one car, everyone arrived at the park & ride eventually and most of us managed to get on a bus going in the right direction! But we all got there in the end.
The museum is free (as was the car park & the bus for those of a certain age) and well worth the money! It specialises in the vehicle makers who made Coventry famous as the heart of Britain's car industry. It all started with bicycles. Over a 100 yr period there have been 450 cycle makers in Coventry. They came in all shapes and sizes from boneshakers and velocipedes to penny farthings to 4-wheelers. One enormous 'bike' had 7 pairs of wheels and seated 14 soldiers as a means to move troops around quickly!
Someone inevitably had the bright idea of putting an early petrol engine in one and the motorcycle was born. From there it was but a short step to add more wheels and some weather protection and the car was with us. Because of this centre of excellence, Coventry remained the heart of the British car industry until the 70's. Here we saw all the cars that we or our parents owned or at least wished we'd owned. Triumphs, Rovers, Hillmans and Jags.
The final gallery is dedicated to 2 machines - Thrust2 and ThrustSSC, both Land Speed record holders. The latter, 54 ft long, weighing 10.5 tons and powered by 2 Rolls-Royce engines out of a Phantom jet fighter, still holds the record at an incredible 763mph - faster than the speed of sound.
A lovely museum packed with interesting exhibits. And did I say it's free.
Wednesday 28th November 2018. Museum of Timekeeping
The trip to the British Horological Institute's Museum of Timekeeping at Upton Hall near Southwell proved to be one of our most popular venues with 27 members coming along. We were met by one of our guides for the day, Dawn Barnes, who ushered us into the ballroom of the Hall where we were introduced to Viscount Alan Midleton, President of the BHI and former watch expert on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, who gave us a talk on the history of British watch & clock making and of the BHI.
The first mechanical clocks were made in the 13th century by or for the church. They were not very accurate but they told people when to attend church services.
It was as early as the 17th century when clocks were accurate enough for people to realise that the world and the universe were not as regular as we thought. The sun did not go round the Earth exactly 24 hrs every day. It varied. Therefore Mean Time was proposed. This is the average length of day measured over many years. A solar day can vary by as much as 15 minutes throughout the year. Clocks, not the sun, now determined the passage of time.
Incidentally a clock is technically a timepiece which sounds the time. (The word clock derives from the medieval Latin 'clocca' meaning bell.)
The BHI was formed in 1858 to promote British horology The British were world leaders in clock and watch manufacture until WWI when the makers all went over to war work. In the meantime, the USA forged ahead with cheap mass-produced watches. During WWII the Swiss did likewise, leaving us with no market for our watches. The industry has been a specialised trade ever since making mostly high-end handmade watches.
Dawn then told us about the development of the GPO's speaking clock. For a small fee one could phone a number and hear the exact time and therefore set your watch or clock. The first speaking clock went into service in the UK in 1936 and four different machines and 5 different voices have been used up until the present day. The museum has the first 3 machines on display and were heard both the 1st and 2nd machines play. The 2nd has the familiar voice of Pat Simmons whose voice was used from 1963 to 1985.
Alan then showed us the watch actually used by Capt Scott on his ill fated expedition to the South Pole. It was a cheap alarm pocket watch as seen in a photograph of Scott in Antarctica. Although not suitable for accurate timekeeping, its alarm was used to wake the team every two hours so that they would move about, eat something warm and not get frostbite
Dawn told us the story of John Harrison 1693-1776 the inventor of the first truly accurate marine chronometer which could be taken aboard ships to enable them to calculate their longitudinal position. His final clock H4 was accurate to just 5 secs after 81 days at sea on arrival in Jamaica.
We then had time to wander round the museum to marvel at the hundreds of timepieces (which Alan personally winds every week on Tuesday at 11am) and wonder at the ingenuity of the clockmakers.
Afterwards we lunched at the Saracen's Head in Southwell which was where King Charles I spent his last night of freedom before being handed over to the Parliamentarians and his subsequent beheading.
Yet again an excellent visit and even those not particularly interested in clocks said how much they enjoyed the day.
Wednesday 17th October 2018. Triumph Motorcycles
Our much delayed trip to Triumph Motorcycles Factory Tour took place on the 17th. We had planned to go last year but the Visitor centre was not completed in time. So 13 members arrived at the Triumph factory gates on their huge site in Hinckley. The whole operation looking much larger than expected.
Triumph bicycles started in Coventry in the 1880's but inevitably turned to motorcycles in 1902. Having survived several previous bankruptcies and mergers it was rescued from bankruptcy yet again in 1983 by John Bloor of Bloor Homes fame, who invested £80m into the company, before he eventually broke even in 2000. He is still the sole owner but his son Nick is now CEO. The company owns 3 factories in Thailand making components and in India and Brazil assembling bikes for the local market. They currently make 50,000 bikes a year.
After the obligatory cup of coffee, we were introduced to our guide for the morning, Roy. In a slick operation we were divested of all cameras, smartphones and coats and kitted out with high-viz jackets and radio earpieces so that we could hear Roy over the noise of the factory. (Actually most of the noise seemed to come not from the machines but from a piercing siren which notified that the production line had stopped. This continued almost the whole time we were there as it also coincided with the workers lunchtime!
The tour started with the huge warehouse where all the incoming components and outgoing bikes are stored. Computerised forklift trucks put all the parts away in the right place and then take then out again when production needs them. From there we went into the factory proper and Roy explained how the various parts particularly the engine crankshafts and camshafts are machined to extremely tight tolerances. We then saw the engine-building line and the bike assembly. Different bikes come down the line and all the right parts miraculously arrive just in time to be fitted. Everything is very much state of the art. Such was Roy's enthusiasm that our 90 min tour was nearer 2 hours as everything was explained in detail yet there was still more to see.
After some lunch in the visitors' café, we had a look round the museum which includes some famous bikes such as Richard Gere's from 'Officer and a Gentleman' and Steve McQueen's iconic fence-leaping bike from 'The Great Escape'. Triumph bikes seem to have been the first choice for the movie makers at one time, having also starred in 'The Wild One' with Marlon Brando amongst others, but recently Japanese bikes seem to prevail.
An excellent tour and so very different to the equally excellent tour of Norton bikes last year where almost everything was done by hand.
Wednesday 26th September 2018. Cadbury World and Bournville model village
Despite some fluctuation in numbers in the days immediately before, 20 members eventually set off in 5 cars for the delights of the M42 in the morning rush hour in an attempt to reach Cadbury World by 10am. As it happened the traffic was somewhat lighter than expected and we all arrived in a bunch at 9.30 to find that it didn't actually open until 10. Not even for coffee or chocolate.
Once the doors were opened and with the merry band suitably refreshed, we ventured into Cadbury World along with 3 school-loads of young children! After wandering through the Aztec jungle and viewing the story of chocolate production and the Cadbury family's marketing of same, we were allowed to regress to our childhood and to taste, eat and play with chocolate to our hearts' content. We finished off with a so called 4D ride - a 3D cinema ride complete with added chair movements - as we fell into vats of chocolate, ascended to the sky and fell back onto a roller-coaster with the inevitable broken section! We all returned safely, but I suspect the some of the young stomachs of our school companions, now full of chocolate, were a bit queasy.
As an antidote to all that excitement, we next walked the short distance to Selly Manor in Bournville village where our guide Gillian gave us an introduction to the village's history before leading us on a walk around the village green and gave us a fascinating insight into the history and present state of Bournville and the Bournville Village Trust (BVT) which oversees the whole area. Amazingly Bournville consists of over 8000 homes and 25,000 residents. That is twice the size of Ashby according to the 2011 census! Approx. half the homes are owner-occupied and the remainder rented, but the two are thoroughly intermixed so that you cannot tell owned from rented properties. All are controlled by BVT so that owners cannot change the character of the houses. The model village was set up by George Cadbury at his own expense in 1893 to "alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions" There are also schools, shops, a library and several places of worship. (Although the Cadbury's were/are Quakers, they allow all religions and sects to built a place of worship there, if there is a need).
Interestingly you never had to work at Cadbury's to live in Bournville, nor do workers have to live there. The village Trust was separated from Cadbury's the factory in 1900 and BVT still have several of the family on the committee, whilst the Cadbury business is now owned by Mondelez International, formerly Kraft Foods.
After looking at all this chocolate, and resisting eating too much of it, we were now hungry and so set off to the delightful Barnt Green Inn for a late lunch. The food and service was excellent although a misunderstanding over our previously paid deposit cheque, amongst other things, caused the payment by each individual to be reduced to a long drawn out farce and, as we were now late leaving, we had to endure the rush hour all the way back to Ashby.
Nonetheless it was agreed that we all had a great day out and, as is the intention of the U3A, we all learned something new. We must say thank you to Gillian for our excellent guided tour and we are now pictured on their website as an encouragement to other adult groups to visit Bournville.
Friday 17th August 2018. Swindon and Didcot railway weekend
The second Industrial Heritage two day trip was to Swindon and Didcot, with a mainly railway theme. Fourteen participants were able to go.
For a Friday morning, the traffic was very co-operative on the M42 past Birmingham so we arrived at the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway in good time to adjourn to the Cafe. The Museum is in part of the old Swindon locomotive works and its buildings date from 1840 and 1865 - they continued in use until 1986. Eventually we all gathered and proceeded round the exhibits which give a very good impression of what life in various parts of the works was like, although without the former noise and grime. The second section is arranged to illustrate various facets of the Great Western Railway. As a museum, it is very well thought out and informative.
We had intended that afternoon to go to the Crofton Pumping Engines on the Kennet and Avon Canal but, unfortunately, shortly before our trip, we discovered that they would be closed for building work. Some (dare I mention the ladies?) decided to go to the nearby Designer Shopping Outlet whilst those of us of a less frivolous disposition went to the Railway Village. When the railway arrived in 1840, Swindon was only a hamlet some way to the south. Having decided to establish it's locomotive works there, the Great Western had to arrange accommodation for the workforce. Brunel designed a complete Railway Village, all of which still survives largely unaltered. In due course, a church, school, hospital and educational Mechanics Institute followed, all largely financed by the Railway. As the Village included pubs, and after a long and arduous survey, it seemed only right and fitting to adjourn to the Glue Pot for a pint in a building designed by the great engineer.
We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express at Swindon, which provided excellent value for money with comfortable rooms and a good buffet breakfast. Dinner was at Sally Pussey's, a pub and restaurant at nearby Wootton Basset which provided an extensive menu in satisfyingly large portions.
Saturday morning saw us at Didcot, home of the Great Western Society. Here, a former locomotive shed dating from 1932, houses over 40 locomotives, 40 carriages and numerous wagons. Although the historic buildings remain in their original condition, extensive locomotive and carriage workshops have been constructed. A replacement turntable has been installed as have two traditional signal boxes with signalling. There is also a museum and a newly opened signalling centre which houses the 1930s Bristol East signalling panel (when colour light signalling and electrical control over a wider area were relatively new) and the 1960s Swindon panel. At the far end of the site is the Transfer Shed, which stood in the junction at Didcot from around 1860 to trans-ship goods from broad to narrow gauge wagons. It houses replica broad gauge track, two locomotives and two carriages. Looking at these, it is easy to believe the fabled coroner's verdict (no one has ever traced the original) 'Died from cold and exposure whilst travelling in a Great Western Railway second class carriage'! Two demonstration lines were in operation offering train rides; one with a tank locomotive which would have worked local services in places like Birmingham and London and the other with the steam railmotor, a self-propelled coach, forerunner of our current multiple units.
From Didcot, we proceeded to Pendon, a museum in the nearby village of Long Wittenham. In 1925, an Australian named Roye England arrived in Wiltshire and fell in love with the Vale of White Horse. Even then, change was beginning to erode the traditional landscape and Roye determined to capture it in model form. It has since grown into a truly wonderful landscape exhibition. The models are 4mm to the foot scale (the same as Hornby trains). The scale is huge - trains disappear into the distance and as, they pass, you can appreciate the detail. For example, the dining car has all the tables correctly laid for a meal. If a cottage is thatched, it is really thatched using hair; if tiled, the tiles are applied individually. The smallest model is a cabbage white butterfly - even if you do need a microscope to see it properly!
The traffic also co-operated for our return journey, arriving back in Ashby around 6pm.
Wednesday 25th July 2018. Tattershall Castle and RAF Coningsby
A group of 13 travelled to south Lincolnshire for a double treat that combined a medieval castle and RAF heritage. Arriving at Tattershall early there was time for a drink with cake in the nearby Holy Trinity Collegiate Church, complete with bats flying around inside the church, before visiting Tattershall Castle. Built on a palatial scale, this fine example of medieval brickwork dates from the 15th century but looks much more recent. Climbing 149 steps brings you to the battlements, although this 'castle' was really a rich Baron's magnificent country house and had no military purpose. From the battlements, the identification plaques helped to identify Lincoln Cathedral (18 miles) and Boston Stump (11 miles) when not distracted by the WW11 Hurricane and Typhoons taking off from RAF Coningsby. Exploration of the remainder of the castle was limited by the appointment time at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight but there were excellent information boards in all rooms that conveyed the lifestyle of a wealthy 15 century Baron. After a quick picnic lunch in the sunshine in view of the castle it was a short drive to RAF Coningsby. Our guide at the BBMF described details of the size, performance and history of each aircraft and vividly brought the aircrafts 'alive' with hair-raising tales from their days in action. Most memorable was that of 'Margaret' who was sitting on the tail of a Mk 5 Spitfire as it taxied for take off, normal practice on bumpy grass runways to stop it bouncing up-and over, only to miss her cue to leap off as the plane gathered speed! Clinging to the tail plane, she survived a short flight around the sky above the airstrip . Similar tales illuminated the talks on four other Spitfires, a Dakota, a Hurricane and finally...the star of the Flight, the Avro Lancaster, one of only two air-worthy ones in the World, from the 7400 built. Struggling sometimes to talk above the roar of Typhoons taking off, our guide also showed us the heavyweight bombs only the Lancaster was capable of delivering; the Tallboy and the Grand Slam bombs. Overall, a fascinating insight into the the development of these iconic aircraft and the dangers the crew faced when flying them.
Wednesday 27th June 2018. National Computing Museum Bletchley Park
Six brave souls travelled in two cars to the National Museum of Computing, which is inside Bletchley Park but separate from the main Bletchley Park code-breaking museum. There should have been ten of us but four had dropped out and so missed a very interesting tour.
The museum is usually closed on Wednesdays but is open for pre-arranged tours. Our tour was supposed to start at 10am and last about 2 hours. In practice it started a bit late and finished at 1pm. Our guide covered the start of computing from the mechanical Bombe machine used to break the Enigma code via Colossus which broke the Lorenz code, the Harwell machine later called Witch and the Edsac computer. These were all valve based digital computers with very limited power and memory measured in a few thousand bytes rather than the current millions and billions of bytes. We then moved onto transistor based computers. We were shown magnetic core memory and early disks. The latter were about 1 metre in diameter and storing 200 megabytes where current disk drives hold terabytes of data and are about 5 cm diameter.
We finished at the internet display area. The only part there wasn't time to cover was the history of software section which was a bit of a disappointment to the ex-programmers in our group.
Our guide was excellent and was ready to answer all our questions. We had not realised we had overrun our alloted time by almost an hour.
At 1pm we went for lunch in a 40s-themed local hostelry, the Eight Belles. Afterwards, three of us decided to travel home but the others returned to the Park to visit the Amatuer Radio Museum within Bletchley Park but were unable to get in without paying the full £17.50 Bletchley entrance fee.
Thursday 24th May 2018. Bristol docks, Temple Meads Station and Clifton Suspension Bridge
This month we joined the History Group for the coach trip to Bristol.
A full turnout of more than 50 members assembled at the Royal Hotel car park at 7.50 am on a chilly morning (after all the previous hot weather) for the coach ride to Bristol to see some of Isambard Brunel's finest works. Despite the rush hour traffic around Birmingham and a comfort stop on the way, we were no more than a few minutes late getting to Clifton Suspension Bridge. The threatened torrential rain held off to allow us to walk over the bridge and up to the view point overlooking it. However the overcast skies did not give us as good a view as it could, but the bridge spanning the gorge is still spectacular.
A short drive took us on to the SS Great Britain where we were booked in for a guided tour. Some took the opportunity (rarely missed) to grab a coffee or bite to eat. As we were such a large group we went round in two parties. Our guide told us of the construction, history and eventual preservation of the ship and was excellent at describing the conditions aboard for both the 1st and 3rd class passengers on Great Britain's many Atlantic crossings. It was also used for many years to carry immigrants to Australia, as a troop transport in the Crimea War and as a bulk coal carrier.
Some stayed to investigate the newly-opened Brunel museum whilst others took the bus or ferry-boat into Bristol city centre whilst yet others visited Brunel's original Great Western Railway terminus building at Temple Meads which is no longer used by Network Rail. Unfortunately for the last group, access to the main train shed was not possible as it was being used for university exams. However whilst Colin was giving us a guided tour of the outside, we were offered the chance to see into the cellars under the station which used to house the ash pits and are now used as a music, arts and theatre venue.
A guided tour of the engine shed and GWR offices concentrated mostly on the start-up companies working there now, and less on the building itself, but we did get to sit in Brunel's board room and visit the rarely seen attic space.
We all met up at back at the Great Britain for an uneventful coach trip back which returned us to Ashby by 8.45pm.
Wednesday 25th April 2018. Blists Hill, Ironbridge Museums, Staffs
A group of 16 set off in cars from Featherbed Lane for the Blists Hill site of the Ironbridge Museum near Telford. Despite leaving 08.30 in the rush hour we all made good time and arrived just before the 10.00 opening time. Many of us had visited some of the museums last year, but not Blists Hill or Coalport Pottery, and our annual passport had but 2 days validity left to run. So those of us with passports got in for free.
After the customary cup of coffee, we entered the Museum though an interactive light show of various aspects of the 1900's, the time in history that the museum is based on.
Out into the sunshine and we split up and wandered our own ways around the streets from the bank, to the butchers, the bakers and the candle-stick maker. On to the fish and chip shop, pub, sweet shop and the foundry which was pouring some new castings with molten iron from the blast furnace. We chatted to the local bobby with his dog, to the haberdasher and the woman walking a Shire horse. Some later had a ride on a cart behind two Shires. There are many more shops, homes and premises and I suspect few of us saw everything.
After very large lunches at the Brewery Inn in Coalport just over a mile from Blists Hill we drove back just 0.5 mile to the Coalport China site. We arrived just in time for the 14.30 tour. After looking at various examples made at the works till early 1900's, we were taken to see the processes involved in producing the china and finally to look inside a kiln at the firing process. We all left at the 16.00 closing time and after a further cup of coffee, we set off for the journey home.
Wednesday 28th March 2018. Lion Salt Works
A large group of 19 set off in cars for Northwich and despite heavy rain and even heavier traffic, mostly due to road works everywhere, most of us arrived within a few minutes of each other, except for one car-load who were caught behind a road accident.
Our first stop was at the Weaver Hall museum who provided welcoming teas and coffee before showing a brief film of the Hall's previous life as a workhouse. We were then free to wander the museum to look at the industrial story of that part of Cheshire from the bronze age to the present day. One interesting artefact was a stone hammer head from the bronze age which was exactly the same shape and size as a modern steel one that we would use today on a sledgehammer!
After a very good lunch at the nearby Salt Barge, we literally crossed the road to the Lion Salt Works where our guide gave us an excellent tour of the works explaining the history of salt production from Roman times until the closure of the works in 1986. The Lion Works extracted brine (salt dissolved in water) by pumping it out of a seam of salt some 20m thick, 30m below the surface. The brine was then boiled in large shallow pans to evaporate the water while men scraped the salt out of the pans by hand before packing it into boxes to be left to dry out completely.
He also showed us how salt extraction has caused major subsidence in the area at various times leading to flooding and the collapse of many buildings, roads and even the canal which has had its sides built up many times to keep it level.
A fascinating story of one of life's most important minerals.
Wednesday 28th February 2018. British Motor Museum, Gaydon
The Industrial Heritage group visited Gaydon museum today. Despite worries about the forecast snow, and various last minute cancellations by members due to illnesses, visiting tradesmen or other pressing needs, 11 of us eventually arrived at Gaydon.
The museum stands on the grounds of the Jaguar and Aston Martin test facility, but unfortunately the test track is hidden from sight so one cannot see any future models testing. We last visited Gaydon in Nov 2014 and quite a bit had changed thankfully. There are over 300 cars set out on display representing some of the best or most unusual vehicles produced by the British motor industry from the earliest times to the present day. Most of the cars are from the old British Leyland collection as unfortunately Ford, Vauxhall and the former Rootes group have declined to show any of their cars there. The few Fords and Vauxhalls that they do have been bought privately or are loaned by private collectors.
There is also a fairly new (not there last time) storage facility at the back called the Collections Centre where a further 250 cars not normally on display are stored along with the Jaguar Heritage Trust collection of prototype and rare Jaguars from their earliest days as Swallow Cars through to the present day. We all took the free guided tours of both the museum and Collection Centre to learn more about some of the most historic cars, and then wandered freely to try to look at everything else. One could spend days here and not study everything.
By 3pm the snow was falling heavily and so we decided to head home. The first few miles were quite treacherous but had mostly cleared by Warwick and the rest of the journey was not so bad. A great time was had by all.
Wednesday 24th January 2018. Pickford House and Derby Museum & Art Gallery
18 members arrived at Pickford House to park and walk to the Art Gallery. After the obligatory coffee, we ventured upstairs to the Joseph Wright of Derby Gallery to view his many pictures of the start of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment and also his portraits of his many friends and acquaintances involved in both. For those that don't know of his work, his paintings often appear to be illuminated by a single light source in the middle of the picture, whether it be a candle or a furnace and his handling of light (and dark) is quite remarkable. The rest of the museum has many fascinating displays related to the area from the Jurassic, through early human habitation up to the Jacobite Revolution and Bonnie Prince Charlie's invasion of England which reached as far as Derby before he turned back. We happened to be there the day before Burn's Night. From the museum we went to the pub booked for lunch who denied any knowledge of our booking! And they'd run out of beer!! Fortunately after a brisk walk back into the City centre, Wetherspoons was able to provide fine food and drinks in short order without any fuss. And it was next door to the birthplace of Joseph Wright! How auspicious. At Pickford House we were greeted by Paul, our costumed guide for the afternoon who took us "beyond the velvet rope" i.e. right into the various rooms of the house normally roped off to the public. The house was built and originally owned by the nowadays little remembered architect Joseph Pickford. His work was at one time confused with that of Robert Adam, and he was responsible for designing and constructing every building of Josiah Wedgwood's empire from factories, showrooms, workers' house and the family home Etruria House. Pickford House is excellently restored and Paul explained everything about how the house was used from the opulent front rooms to the downstairs rooms of the servants and how it evolved after his death under other owners. A very entertaining day out.
Wednesday 22nd November 2017. Leeds Royal Armouries
A dozen members braved the trials of the M1 to visit Leeds on a cold and blustery day. Fortunately, or possibly well-planned, our November visit was to an indoor site. And a free one at that.
The museum was formed when many of the exhibits from the Tower of London where moved to Leeds as the London site was too small to show them all. There are displays of arms and armour from around the world and from ancient times to the present. The latest included a display of the mobile defences used to create Fort Bastion in Afghanistan. (The HESCO bastion was originally developed by Jimi Heselden, a Leeds entrepreneur and ex-coal miner, who founded HESCO Bastion Ltd)
The museum stretches over 5 floors and is a warren of rooms showing tableaux ranging from famous battles such as Agincourt and Waterloo in miniature to full size displays of horses and even elephants in full battle armour.
Some of us had a go on the crossbow range with the chance to be William Tell for a few minutes, although his son would have been a lot more worried if we had been firing at an apple on his head!
There is apparently a full size tiltyard where they hold jousting contests annually. Unfortunately not on the day we were there.
The highlight of the museum though were undoubtedly the Gallery Talks. I was expecting a somewhat dry explanation of various battles, but we were treated to one of the staff in full Royalist Officer costume recount 'his' story of a fight against a fully armoured opponent during the Civil War (apparently that was the last time a soldier took to the battlefield in full armour) complete with much declamation and sword-waving. The same member of staff (in 19thC costume) later explained the ins and outs of the Battle of Waterloo and allowed us to handle the swords, muskets and rifles. Finally he told a moving tale of an English archer fighting the Scots at Flodden Field in Northumberland in 1513
His knowledge of all things military, and particularly of horses, was amazing and he answered all the awkward questions thrown at him. Well worth the trip to Leeds alone.
The lowlight of the trip was undoubtedly the café which served some of the worst food we've ever come across on our travels. However it didn't outweigh the excellent museum and its staff.
Wednesday 18th October 2017. Great Central Railway
Twelve of us gathered at Quorn for an outing to the Great Central Railway on Wednesday 18th October. This was a week earlier than our normal group outing, but the railway only operates mid-week during half-term at this time of year. We were able to admire some components for a new steam locomotive being constructed, although it does not yet look much like a complete one - other work is being undertaken elsewhere. Also in the yard was a visiting locomotive which was about to be taken to another railway. Two low-loaders were parked ready and, by lunchtime, it was loaded and on its way.
We adjourned to the platform, negotiated at the booking office for tickets and awaited the 1015 train from Loughborough. This was hauled by a small steam tank locomotive, which took us across the Swithland Reservoir viaduct to Leicester. Although there is not much to see here at present, ambitious plans are afoot to construct a large museum in conjunction with the National Railway Museum at York. This will enable much better viewing of a number of preserved locomotives, many of which will have some connection with the Great Central Railway.
Returning on the train to Loughborough, the station there is original and has been beautifully restored. We walked down to the yard to view the locomotives there. These included one, which formerly worked on the line, which had only finished restoration a fortnight previously, some 50 years after it had been withdrawn from normal service. Meanwhile, our engine had indulged in a drink from the original water tank to prepare for its next task.
We re-boarded our train for another trip to Leicester but this time four alighted at Quorn for lunch at the café there, whilst the remaining eight indulged in an all-day breakfast, cooked on the train and served to us. It turned out to be excellent value and, as can be seen from the photograph, was enjoyed by all. On the return journey, we alighted at Quorn to meet up with the other four and to collect our cars for the journey home.
Wednesday 27th September 2017. Duxford
On Wednesday 19 members climbed aboard a coach for the 100 mile trip to Duxford. Unfortunately we were barely halfway to Coalville when the traffic came to a dead stop. A diversion through Ravenstone and Ellistown (allowing 2 members to pass their own houses which they had left an hour earlier) and further hold-ups on the A14 got us to Duxford barely 30 mins late. After booking in and a cup of coffee, we were free to wander about the vast site. 3 hangers plus several other buildings are packed with planes, tanks, vehicles and much other memorabilia. On show amongst many, many other aircraft are Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster; a Vulcan, a Sunderland flying boat, TSR2, Harrier and Concorde. And that was just part of one hanger! It is quite amazing to walk underneath and then through Concorde or to look into the Vulcan's bomb bay. The American hanger, I think, impressed most people the most. Surrounded by Blackbird (the world's fastest plane), an F15 Eagle, a "Gary Powers" U2 spy plane, and many others stood the absolutely enormous B52 Stratofortress. Its 185 foot wingspan completely filled the hall with its eight turbofan engines hanging below. The B52 first entered service in 1952 and is still in service today, but such is the cost of developing such large, long range aircraft that it is going to remain in service until 2050 by which time it will be 98 years old! As ever, there wasn't enough time to see everything properly, or take in all the information, but it was an excellent trip enjoyed by all.
Saturday 23rd September 2017. Barrow Hill Roundhouse
11 members travelled to Barrow Hill and were most pleased to see both Flying Scotsman and Tornado in steam and hauling carriages along a short stretch of line. Trips on either train were included in the ticket entrance price and proved popular all day long. In the morning, Scotsman was on duty whilst Tornado stood, in steam, in a siding. In the afternoon they swapped over giving us all a glimpse of some shunting and shuffling. Whilst Flying Scotsman was built in 1923 and retired from regular service in 1963, Tornado is almost brand-new. Built with money raised by subscription, construction started in 1994 and was completed in 2008. It meets modern safety standards and reached 100 mph this year, the first steam engine to do so in the UK since 1968. The roundhouse itself (which is actually square!) was built in 1870 and in active use until 1991 after which it fell into disrepair but it was restored and re-opened to the public as a museum in 1998. Last year it underwent a significant rebuild and re opened to the public this month.
Wednesday 23rd August 2017. Forge Mill Needle Museum
15 members of the Industrial Heritage Group attended Forge Mill Needle Museum near Redditch. We were welcomed with coffee and excellent cakes before being introduced to our guide for the morning. The Redditch area was famous for its manufacture of needles of all shapes and sizes from the middle ages through to the 20th Century. By the 17th and early 18th Centuries, needle making had developed into a cottage industry with many people working in their own homes to carry out some part of the needle making process. Unbelievably there are over 30 different processes required to make a needle and each person or family specialised in one of those processes. As well as making the needles, Forge Mill had a scouring shed in which the black and somewhat dirty needles were transformed into the bright and shiny objects we all know as sewing needles. After our guided tour there was time to visit the rest of the museum with its display of all types of needles and equipment used for their manufacture. The Redditch area also produced high quality needles for use in surgery, gramophones and sail making. There was also a lucrative business in fish hooks and other angling tackle. The longest needle on display was 6ft long. What do you think that was used for? Everyone then adjourned to the nearby Beefeater for lunch and afterwards some took the opportunity to visit the adjacent ruined Bordesley Abbey and the small museum next to the needle museum.
Wednesday 26th July 2017. National Mining Museum, Wakefield
16 intrepid members ventured up to Caphouse Colliery near Wakefield to descend 140 metres (460 ft) underground for a fascinating conducted tour of a real coal mine. After handing over all flammables and anything containing a battery (even quartz watches), being kitted out with a hard-hat, battery and miners lamp and getting a thorough safety briefing we packed into the lift cage for the descent below. Our ex-miner guide said that the deepest pit he worked in had a 3000 ft descent!! We started looking at how coal was extracted by hand, pick and shovel in the late 18th Century. We were shown how the Safety lamp worked along with canaries to safely detect methane gas without igniting it. Women and children worked down there until an 1842 act of parliament banned them from working underground. Ponies then became more common but this spawned a whole new breed of jobs from stablemen and farriers to men to lead the ponies. The ponies stayed below all their lives except for two weeks a year when the mines closed for annual holidays. In 1913 there were 70,000 ponies underground. The last pit pony was still working in Wales in 1999. Mechanisation such as rope-hauled trucks and conveyors gradually phased them out once it became cheaper to do so. We moved on to the more mechanised modern areas where the machines became steadily larger and the workforce was reduced. When the mines were nationalised working practises became better but once reprivatized cost-cutting returned and standards of safety worsened. After 90 mins we returned to the surface glad that it was only a visit and not a full time job. Our guide had explained everything enthusiastically and in great detail albeit with a strong local accent, but it is difficult to remember it all. After an excellent lunch in their café, we explored the various museum buildings around the site before driving home in heavy rain.
Wednesday 28th June 2017. The Royal Historic Dockyard, Chatham
After much planning and online booking of hotel rooms, evening meals and annual tickets (so as to get 2 days entry without paying twice), 12 members climbed aboard 3 cars for the 155 mile drive to Chatham. Despite the predicted rain and the usual crawl down the M1, 2 cars got there in a little over 3 hrs whilst the others stopped for refreshments. Our tickets were waiting for us and so we plunged straight into a couple of guided tours. The first was aboard HMS Ocelot, a 1960s spy submarine. 21 people + guide squeezed into the sub and through its narrow hatchways. Some found it a bit claustrophobic at first but were reassured that in service it held 69 men! A voyage could last 3 months and they only had one change of clothes each. Its missions were so secret that many details have yet to be released! Our next trip was to the Ropery, a Victorian building a quarter of a mile long, once the longest brick building in Europe. Rope has been made on site here for 400 years and still is. There is a strong demand for hemp rope for old ships. 2 young American boys were 'roped-in' to help our guide demonstrated the rope-making machine, before we were free to wander the full length of the Ropery. 2 more ships, 3 museums, a couple of large sheds full of Lifeboats and other interesting objects were just some of the places we visited over the 2 days spent there. And we still didn't see it all. An evening meal at a nearby pub was very pleasant, both for the company and the food, and the on-site Travelodge was excellent at £43/room. The weather was kind to us and the whole experience was only slightly marred by the chaos of a car fire at the entrance to the Dartford tunnel which caused an hour's delay on the journey home. We shall have to try another 'away-day' another time.
Saturday 10th June 2017. Scunthorpe Steelwork preservation railway
Eleven members set out in three cars for an additional Industrial Heritage outing to Scunthorpe steelworks. After meeting for coffee at Morrisons, we adjourned across the road for lunch at the Ashby Lodge (there's a co-incidence). The steelworks began in the middle of the 19th Century following discovery of iron ore in the vacinity and improved rail communication. During the 20th Century, the various works amalgamated to form three larger concerns which were nationalised in 1967. Eventually sold to Tata, it was resold and now trades as British Steel. The site is enormous, about 6 square miles with over 100 miles of railway. In 1990, to celebrate some corporate centenary, the idea of taking visitors around the site by steam hauled train was adopted and this has continued as a tourist attraction since. The platform for boarding was only a short distance from our lunch stop. It is all delightfully informal. Our locomotive was an 0-6-0ST named Cranford and had been built by Avonside in Bristol in 1924. Because the steelworks operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, there is no advance itinerary - where our train could go was dictated by operational requirements on the day. We were able to do a circuit of the perimeter seeing the terminal where the imported ore, which now feed the furnaces, arrives, past the building where the steel is processed into items such as railway rails, special section profiles and wire rod, which is almost a mile long and past some of the remains of the earlier derelict works. Venturing in toward the centre, we saw the four blast furnaces and coke works. Other traffic included torpedo wagons - nothing to do with submarines - but huge ceramic lined tanks to transport molten steel, so heavy as to require a locomotive at each end and trains of steel billets still so hot that the heat could be seen rising from them and felt from within our train. The trains are operated by a Preservation Society and we had a pause at their premises for refreshments and a look round the engine shed. It was then only a short journey back to our starting point for the return to Ashby.
Friday 12th May 2017. Visit to Norton Motorcycles, Donington
20 people gathered at the Norton Motorcycle factory at Donington Hall for a guided tour of the works. Whilst waiting in the car park to start the tour, the boss Stuart Garner arrived in his Aston Martin DBS, registration no. NOR70N. That's style. The tour was not your usual brief wiz round the factory floor. Our guide, Clem, took us from the showroom into the main assembly room (a large open-plan, carpeted! area) to show us the oldest surviving Norton from 1903 and their collection of race bikes (although the current race bikes were away being prepared for the Isle of Man TT the following week). We saw the current USA-designed engines being assembled and had a discussion on how an imperial inch designed engine fitted into a metric bike. From there we walked over to the fabrication and welding shop where we were told about the materials used, the welding processes and how a fuel tank takes 2.5 days to be hand built and polished from 13 aluminium pieces. And that's before painting. A replacement, should you be unlucky enough to drop your bike, costs £2400! The frames are from steel tube, the rear suspension from aluminium, machined from a solid billet if you pay a lot extra, much of the bodywork is carbon-fibre. Back in the assembly room we watched 6 bikes being assembled in their separate bays by men and women mechanics with no help from machines. One person builds one bike at a time. Typical prices are around £28,000 We then saw the only 2 examples of the new 200bhp V4 Norton bike. This staggeringly beautiful, staggeringly fast, state of the art, carbon fibre bike with a chrome-effect paint finish will sell for a mere £45,000! Clem gave us an excellent, in-depth, tour of the works and everyone was fascinated by amount of care, dedication and attention to detail that went into the making of these bikes.
Wednesday 26th April 2017. Visit to Ironbridge Gorge
A large group of members made a visit to some of the museums of the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. We met up first at the newly re-opened Museum of Iron at Coalbrookdale for a fascinating look at why the geology of the area was so suitable for Iron making and how Abraham Darby first introduced coke-fired furnaces which allowed the world's first production of quality cast iron. From there we went down to Ironbridge to the Museum of the Gorge which explained the history of the whole area and of the many industries which grew up around the coal, coke and iron supply. Also of grim interest was the indicator on the wall of the museum showing the height of the many floods in the valley, some as late as 1968, which were up to 6ft up the wall and 20ft above the normal river level! The whole town must have been devastated each time. The last floods were in 2014, although temporary flood defences are now put in place to protect the houses. After lunch we walked up to see the Bridge itself, a beautiful elegant structure which, although well-known, is even more striking up close. To complete the trip we motored down to the Jackfield Tile museum, which after initially seeming to be quite small, opened up, room by room, to display ceramic wall and floor tiles in Arts & Crafts and pre-Raphaelite styles, then representations of an Edwardian pub and a butcher's shop, bathrooms, 1940s housing, many hand-painted murals and even a section of early London Underground station. You soon realise that tiles are used everywhere and often taken for granted. Tiles are still made by hand on site although the factory is not open to the public. Many members said that they had thoroughly enjoyed the trip and had learnt a great deal too. Because we bought individual Annual Passports for just £1 more than the cost of a group ticket, many of us will be going back to see more sites and we shall probably organise a trip to Blists Hill Victorian Town in the next 12 months, which Passport holders will be able to visit essentially for free.
Wednesday 22nd March 2017. National Media Museum, Bradford
33 people met at the Royal Hotel at 8:15 for the trip to Bradford. We met in the dry on a cold morning and during the 2 hour journey it rained sometimes heavily. The museum was expecting us but some of my emails had gone astray as they were only expecting 20 and had not noted the request for a tour. However, they rustled up two very knowledgeable young ladies and we began our 'behind the scenes' tour for which we were split into two groups. The first stop for our group was the archive of Daily Herald photos for the period 1911 - 1965 which they acquired after the newspaper was purchased by Rupert Murdoch and became the Sun. The collection includes boxes of photos of many famous people but any photos of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (and they must surely have had some) disappeared during the transfer. From there we visited the Small Objects Store. This was mainly cameras but did include some early home computer related objects which they were collecting for a short time but stopped before they were overwhelmed. Needless to say the next room we visited was the Large Object Store housing TV cameras, vintage TV sets and some very interesting items like the chair used for the taking of early prison 'mug-shots'. Finally we were shown some of their early photos including Daguerreotype, Collodion Positive, also known as an Ambrotype (early 1850s - 1880s). As some of these are sensitive to light our guide dimmed the lights. For this reason we were not allowed to see the oldest known negative as it is just too sensitive. After the tour, which took about an hour, some of us enjoyed lunch in the museum cafe while others ventured out to a nearby hostelry. For the rest of our visit we were free to look around the museum with various displays spread over six floors including film and television archives, a gaming area, animation and a gallery called the Magic Factory. Floors 2 and 1 were special displays; one was about pinhole cameras and the other showed photos featured in a recent television program called "Britain in Focus: A Photographic History" which was aired on BBC4. Just time for a refreshing drink before the coach departed at 3.30pm arriving back at 5:30pm.
Saturday 25th February 2017. National Space Centre, Leicester
21 members made their way to Leicester to mingle with seemingly hundreds of school children also intent on pressing every button in the museum. We had deliberately waited until after half-term to visit, but didn't reckon on the organised school trips. Despite the crowds and noise, we all enjoyed ourselves. The science and engineering is all fascinating, but the most astounding features were about the astronauts themselves. How they coped in such cramped and tiny quarters whilst dealing with the rigours of space travel is beyond heroic.
Wednesday 25th January 2017. The City of Caves and Galleries of Justice, Nottingham
This proved to be our most popular visit yet with 30 people booked on the trip (the maximum either venue could take) plus 8 people on the waiting list in case of cancellations. After the usual gathering in Ashby to car-share, we travelled to Clifton South to get the tram to the Lace Market. The subterranean Caves are strangely accessed from the first floor of Broadmarsh Shopping Centre! These caves have been occupied since the 12thC although there is evidence that similar caves have been used for many hundreds of years before. The bedrock under Nottingham is sandstone and so easily excavated with simple tools and so the town developed downward rather than outward. There are believed to be over 500 caves under Nottingham, many of them interlinked. They were used for storage, stabling and various industries were practiced including tanning. The pits in which the hides were soaked for months covered in urine and other noxious substances can still be clearly seen. The smell must have been horrendous. People even lived down there until it was banned in 1845. One hundred years later they were still in use as air raid shelters during WWII. From the caves we walked up to the old court house where our costumed guide conducted us around. The sheriffs of Nottingham were based here dating back to 1125 and a court has been on this site since at least 1375. We started in the Victorian Court Room where some of us were persuaded to re-enact a trial of some poor soul accused of inciting a riot. He was found guilty and would have hanged had the condemned cells not been full, so he was transported to the Antipodes. If he had been hanged, it may well have been on the front steps of the Court for the public to watch. From the Courtroom we were sent down, literally, into the gaol. On the first level is the Victorian County Gaol, unpleasant enough, but lower down are the medieval cells, the solitary confinement cells and below that an oubliette where people were left to rot. Also to see are the main exercise yard complete with gallows, the women's prison and then an exhibition about the convict ships bound for Australia. A further exhibition is of the recent HMP prison cells, in use until 1985. We were told that it takes about 90mins to complete the tour, but 2-3 hours would be more suitable. After the horrors of medieval life we retired to the pub immediately opposite to recover and to eat an excellent meal.
Wednesday 23rd November 2016. The Donington Collection
The Donington Collection is well known for its Grand Prix cars, but much less so for its impressive collection of WW2 vehicles. 14 members assembled at the museum cafe at 10 am on a cold dreary day, glad to be inside for a while. The museum starts with the WW2 vehicles which are all in remarkable condition, most of them restored by the museum staff. Many of the cars, trucks and tanks are German, and impressively large particularly the full-track and half-track troop carriers one of which looked like a tracked charabanc, except for the gun racks! There are also dozens of motorbikes German, British and American; many very rare. A member of staff told us that of 12 known Harley Davidson copies of BMW bikes, the museum has 7 examples. However they don't have a single BSA M20 - the most common British Army bike of the war. The Grand Prix cars in the next halls are the largest collection on view to the public anywhere in the world. Dozens of McLarens, Williams, Force Indias and others. The earlier examples look terribly fragile compared with the modern ones and you soon realise why so many drivers died in the 60s 70s and even the 80s. The final hall full of stunning 50s Vanwalls, Ferraris, Maseratis and a replica Mercedes is the highlight of the collection. A couple or 3 hours is not enough time to do the place justice. I for one shall be going back again soon to browse at my leisure.
Wednesday 26th October 2016. Black Country Living Museum
Despite having to negociate the M6 and M5 in the rush-hour, all 18 managed to get to the museum before it opened, allowing time for a quick coffee. Our costumed guide, having introduced himself, led us briefly around the exhibition area and showed us a 5 min film about the Black Country before walking us down to the drift mine where we were kitted out with hard hats, plus torches for some of us, before our second guide led us into the mine. The hard hats were immediately useful as the walkway was only 5ft high in parts, although in one area the coal seam was 30ft thick and had all been excavated so it was like standing in a cavern. Apparently only the very best miners were used to bring the roof down so that no-one was hurt as it collapsed. When the torches were turned off, the darkness was total. You wouldn't want to be down there with out a light. In fact most of us agreed you wouldn't want to be down there at all for very long! Certainly not to work down there. But many did, and life expectancy of a miner in the 1880's was about 35 years! On emerging into the light, we all went our separate ways to enjoy the rest of the site. With houses and shops to visit complete with costumed charaters ready to explain what went on in the various premises, buses, trolleybuses and canal barges to ride on, a small transport museum to visit, and a pub, cafes and 2 fish and chip shops to sustain us, there was plenty to do. The only set-back was that as it was half-term it was quite crowded and the queue for fish and chips was reportedly over half an hour long. I hope they lived up to their award-winning reputation. Many of us settled for a pie and a pint in the pub. The different car-loads left in their own time but I think most were away by about 3pm to avoid the rush hour, but the traffic was again light and the journey back took less than an hour. A very good day out, and yet again we were lucky with the weather considering it was the end of October.
Wednesday 28th September 2016. Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum
15 members managed to avoid the worst of the road works on the M1 and got to Stoke Bruerne on time. The local guide gave us a very interesting introductory talk about the Boatmen and their families, from whom she is descended. She has researched most of the boat families and has 200 A4 files about them. Their life was not as hard as some imagine as pay was quite good and they often foraged for food so living costs were low. The museum is small but packed with information about the canals, their construction, the boats and the boat people. From there we took a 30 min boat trip up to and just into the tunnel. It takes an hour to go right through and an hour to come back, so we had to reverse out after a short way. Lunch was taken at the pretty thatched Boat Inn right on the canalside and afterwards we spent time watching various boats negotiate the locks. A bright sunny and warm day helped make it a lovely day out.
Wednesday 24th August 2016. Birmingham, Science Museum at Millenium Point and Staffordshire Hoard at the Museum and Art Gallery
The Industrial Heritage group enjoyed a visit to Birmingham in August, to view memories of the Midlands industrial past, and then from a thousand years earlier the Staffordshire Hoard of coins, jewellery and religious artefacts. A busy day started with a train journey to New Street, where we managed to navigate our way out of the impressively modernised but complicated station, avoiding shops, past the Bull Ring, Moor St. Station to Millenium Point which is where the Science Museum is now located. Our leader then managed to agree a very inexpensive group entry fee, the savings from which were then spent on coffee, maybe cake, to recover from our travels. A couple of hours or so were then spent viewing and sharing memories of the past from the local area, such as aircraft, steam engines, cars and manufacturing machinery as well as learning how they worked from the excellent information available. The museum also has many interactive and informative exhibits for the younger generation, and certainly perhaps worth a revisit with grandchildren! Lunch then beckoned, and this required a longish, uphillish stroll back into the City Centre, navigating many traffic lights and road junctions. Eventually we found the Old Joint Stock Pub, converted from an old but impressive bank building, with much of the way it was still intact, just the bars replacing the tills! An enjoyable meal was then followed, slightly reluctantly, with a shorter walk to the Museum and Art Gallery. The principal attraction for us was the Staffordshire Hoard, a huge collection of artefacts from Anglo Saxon times recently discovered in a field near Lichfield. It has recently been housed in a new gallery which makes it easy to see and read about the many hundreds of pieces on show. Some of the workmanship on display was breathtaking and again worth another visit, particularly as the Gallery has many magnificent pictures on display, and all just on our doorstep! We then found our thankfully short way back to the station, and 13 tired folk alighted our train which sped us home without delay. A memorable day!
Wednesday 27th July 2016. National Brewery Museum, Burton upon Trent
A surprisingly popular trip with 19 members wishing to discover the history of brewing in Burton, or perhaps looking for a free beer tasting! The site was once part of the Bass Brewery but is now independant, however most of the exhibits come for Bass and it's subsidiaries. Our guide Terry showed us first though the manufacturing process of beer as it was done originally by the Benedictine monks of Burton Abbey, then by the local women (brewsters), and then by William Bass and lastly in the present day. Much has changed but the basic principals remain, albeit heavily mechanised now. The water however still comes from deep below the Trent Valley. River water is not used in any part of the process thankfully! Malting of the barley, ie germinating it by keeping it warm and moist, used to require men to constantly shovel the grain, which was spread out on the malting shed floor 6-8 inches deep, 24 hours a day. The maltsters were a very hardy breed of men, mostly farm labourers from Norfolk, working through farmings quiet period in the winter months. We saw the Robey steam engine (unfortunately not in steam) which used to power all the machinery on site, the eclectic collection of road vehicles including a bottle-shaped 1920's Daimler and, after showing us the various fire engines, Terry explained how Bass used to have it's own fire-service. His father was a fireman and they lived in a cottage on site. In fact everything used in the brewery seemed to be made, controlled, repaired and maintained on-site by the brewery's own workforce. Even the overalls, leather aprons and wooden clogs were made on site. William Bass's funeral bier (no pun) was made there. After a tour of the pub signs, beer glasses and ceramic jugs we visited a re-creation of an Edwardian pub complete with many strange original pub games. from there we had a quick look at the Worthington micro-brewery now back in production after a minor dispute with 'next-door' (ie Coors) over the production of White Shield. The huge model layout of Burton in 1921, complete with many little trains chugging around, showed just how much the town depended on beer. Burton was once known as the town inside a brewery! Back outside we just had time for a look at the last remaining steam engine which worked on site until the 1960's and the Director's coach both recently restored. Finally we had a chance to be pulled around the site in a wagon pulled by Jed, a 16 hand Shire horse who is stabled on site with an equally large Clydesdale and both are used to pull drays, carts and even wedding carriages on special occasions. With our thirsts suitably worked up, we retired to the Brewery Tap for some beer tasting (brewed on site at the Worthington micro-brewery) and some good pub food. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and said how we could have spent much longer there. Maybe a second visit is needed!
Wednesday 22nd June 2016. Daniels Mill and Severn Valley Railway
On Wednesday, 15 U3A members made the journey to Bridgnorth to visit Daniel's Mill and the Severn Valley Railway. Daniel's Mill is the largest water powered corn mill still working in England and the present owner has lived on the premises since 1952. He took us on a guided tour of the mill and then set the wheel in motion. We were able to see the corn being fed into the top hopper, the mill wheels turning and the finished flour emerging into a sack on the lower floor. We were also given an explanation of the gearing system and a demonstration of the wheels turning at different speeds. We had lunch at the mill and were able to sample scones and cakes made with the mill's own flour. We then drove the short distance to Bridgnorth station and boarded the train to Highley for a tour of the museum and engine shed. We saw, and travelled on, both diesel- and steam-hauled trains on the line before returning to Ashby.
Wednesday 25th May 2016. Bletchley Park
38 people went to Bletchley. The weather was mostly dry but cool. The site has expanded since the last time we visited a few years ago. On our arrival we were met by a rep who took us to the Conference Centre where most of our group opted for the human 50-minute tour in which the guide talked about the history of the site and how the code breaking was carried out in the various huts. Some also took advantage of the free multimedia device as well. Our guide was very informative and gave us the historical background we needed to go off and find out more about this fascinating place, which was the central site for Britain's code breakers during WW ll. Otherwise we were free to tour the buildings to see the exhibits or watch demonstrations, one being an explanation of how the Bombe machine worked. A walk up to the National Museum of Computing building at the top of the site proved fruitless as it is only open on 3 days a week and that day wasn't one of them! The NMoC is a separate organisation and it seems strange that there isn't more co-operation between the two bodies. However our ticket allows one to return free-of-charge anytime in the next 12 months, so perhaps we will organise an extra trip to see the NMoC. Restoration of the site continues including the building of brick blast walls around the huts as would have been there during the war. It was pointed out that the walls were very close to the huts and almost up to roof height. This made it very difficult to open windows for fresh air in hot weather and made the huts very dark in the winter months. A very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable visit with so much to see.
Wednesday 27th April 2016. Midland Air Museum, Coventry
We had 14 intrepid would be aviators on the trip to the Midland Air Museum adjacent to Coventry airport. Split into two groups we had a two hour guided tour of the static aircraft on display. The highlight being an inspection of the cockpit of an Avro Vulcan where we were regaled with tales of the Falklands conflict and how the Vulcans were deployed during the cold war. All it took was the press of one button to fire up all four engines and the plane could be in the air within four minutes of a squadron scramble! We got into the flight deck of an Argosy and saw all kinds of fighters from the UK, USA and USSR. After a lunch in the museum cafeteria those with any energy left spent some time looking round the very comprehensive museum with artefacts showing the development of Whittle's jet engine and the history of aircraft development going back to WW2. All in all an enjoyable trip.
Wednesday 24th February 2016. Bombardier Train Works, Derby
As last November's visit to Bombardier was enjoyed by all those who went and because it was fully booked last time, we organised a second visit as soon as possible. This too was fully booked with 15 members. With 1 person having to withdraw at the last minute, I joined them for the second time. Kathryn was our excellent guide again but this time she showed us the Gatwick Express trains being built rather than the London Transport Metropolitan trains of last time, production of which has almost been completed. On a quick visit to the Design Office, omitted last time, we learned how they try to give the customer exactly what they want whilst using as many standard parts as possible, and just how different the trains can be. In the assembly shed we saw how an upturned roof panel is fitted out with everything that goes in the ceiling, before it is righted and positioned in a jig above the floor panel. Sides are riveted in place and doors and windows added before it is tested for watertightness. The interior is then installed at the same time as the final underfloor gear, and then the whole car is lowered onto its bogies (wheels to you and me). When a full train of cars are assembled, they are tested to check that they all talk to each other and then the train goes to the test track. The train has to operate without any single failure for many thousands of miles before being released to the customer. You may have seen the trains being pulled along the Ivanhoe Line through Ashby on their way to London.
Wednesday 27th January 2016. National Gas Museum, Leicester
18 members gathered for a guided tour around the small, but perfectly formed, gas museum. Our guide Janet confessed that she hadn't lead a tour since October and claimed to be a little rusty, but seemed to us to give a very good talk about the history of gas manufacture and of the various exhibits. Gas was originally used mainly for street lighting, but quickly came into the home and factories as a source of light and heating. Gas cookers soon followed. Interestingly early ovens had no floor or shelves, instead meat was hung from hooks inside just as it would be over an open fire. The meat fat and juices would have fallen on the kitchen floor! Other appliances that were gas powered included water heaters (geysers), irons, curling tongs and even a hair dryer. None of these appliances were flued; the flue gases were just released into the room! As electricity became a competitive energy source even a gas radio was developed but never entered production. As an ex-gas design engineer, it was embarrassing to see projects I had worked on displayed in a museum, but even more so to see my mother's current cooker on display! The museum was free to enter, but because we were given a guided tour and provided with tea and coffee, we felt a donation of £5 each was well deserved. Afterwards we retired to the excellent Victorian-styled Black Horse pub in Aylestone for lunch.