Monday 31 October 2011

Happy All Hallows Eve

With thanks to The Spectator

Plus three of my favourite classic horror films - Nosferatu, Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy:

Have a spooktacularly vintage night, everyone!

1894 Roper Motorbike Aims at World Auction Record

1894 Roper Motorbike Aims at World Auction Record

I wrote almost two years ago about the auction of a rare example of what is generally considered to be the world's first motorcycle - the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller.  Now one of the few remaining examples of its main competitor at the time is about to be auctioned off; a similar machine which used a different propulsion system that would eventually bow to the superior internal combustion engine - the Roper Steam-Propelled Bicycle.

If contemporary accounts are anything to go by it would seem that the Roper was more than a match for any petrol-powered motorised bicycle of the time.  Forty miles an hour in 1894 was not to be sniffed at, and it must have been quite a thrill puffing along at such a speed atop such a contraption.  Too much of a thrill for its elderly inventor, it would seem, considering what eventually happened to him(!).  One wonders if the technology could ever have been refined enough to make it practicable.  As it turned out, though, in the end internal combustion won the day and steam power ceased to be used in such small configurations.

So rare is this early pseudo-motorbike that the auction house involved can't seem to agree on a reserve price, referencing a contemporaneous steam-powered car that recently sold for $4.2million (£2.6m) and the current holder of the record for the world's most expensive motorcycle - a 1915 petrol-powered Cyclone that went for $502,000 (£313k) three years ago.  It may well be, therefore, that we are about to witness the world's first $1,000,000+ motorcycle (if it can be argued that a steam-powered bicycle comes under the definition of a motorcycle).  Either way, an interesting piece of motoring history is about to change hands.

Friday 28 October 2011

Ceredigion Museum gives away vintage clothes collection

Image courtesy of the B.B.C.
Ceredigion Museum gives away vintage clothes collection

Taxi to Ceredigion please!  Quick as you can, driver!

Honestly, I've been dreaming about something like this for years.  Years, I tell you!  Many's the time I've thought of Granada TV auctioning off the wardrobe from Jeeves & Wooster or Poirot, and the wondrous clothes of Bertie Wooster and Captain Hastings that could be mine.  And now that something very much like that is actually happening, it's on the other bloomin' side of the country!  Tchah!

Image courtesy of the Ceridigion Museum
In reality the headline is slightly misleading - it really needs "to the National Trust and other groups" tacking on the end of it.  I don't really think that you or I could just roll up to the Ceredigion Museum and go, "I'll have that... and that... oh, and that as well...", more's the pity(!).  Still, it might help soothe the bitter sting of disappointment to know that at least the massive collection of 17,000 garments will continue to be appreciated - and what's more, used - by the likes of the National Trust, local community groups and schools.  That at least ensures that they can go on being appreciated by people and, importantly, children throughout the area.  Plus it looks like fashion designers are taking a welcome active interest in the styles of the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods for inspiration in their creations of today, which must be a good thing if it means we'll see some of our favourite fashions on the high street at some point in the future.

Monday 24 October 2011

Warner Bros & Downey Jr team for 'Perry Mason'

Warner Bros.& Downey Jr team for 'Perry Mason'

Fellow fans of Erle Stanley Gardner's eponymous attorney will be interested to read this "exclusive" from entertainment magazine Variety, I should think.  If you're anything like me you'll have fond memories of the 1950s series and later 1980s & 1990s TV movies starring the great Raymond Burr, and one has to wonder if even Robert Downey Jr - who admittedly seems to be at the height of his powers - can follow him.  But if anyone can manage it, perhaps it is Downey Jr.  Everything he's in seems to be box office gold at the moment, from the Iron Man series to the new Sherlock Holmes (sequel's coming in December - I can't wait!) and having watched the opening credits of the Fifties serial a few times, particularly that knowing smile of Burr's, I can see Downey Jr there as well.

Only time will tell if Mr Downey Jr can bring success to a new (series of?) Perry Mason film(s), but the fact that it will apparently be set in the 1930s, as Gardner's original books were, should give it a certain individual cachet - certainly among the likes of us, at least!  A real, gritty Thirties feel combined with Gardner's excellent plots, modern production values and Downey Jr's acting skills could make this a roaring success.

So what do you think?  Is Robert Downey Jr the right choice to play Perry Mason?  If not, who would you like to see in the role?  What about the supporting cast - Mason's secretary Della Street, private eye Paul Drake, and district attorney Hamilton Burger - any ideas for actors/actresses?

Sunday 23 October 2011

How Victorian engineers almost built an underwater tunnel between Scotland and Ireland

How Victorian engineers almost built an underwater tunnel between Scotland and Ireland

This story has been reported by various news sites, including the B.B.C., but by far the best and most comprehensive description is from science [fiction] blog io9.

As anyone who has crossed the Irish Sea will tell you, a train journey (or, these days, an aeroplane flight) is infinitely more preferable to a ferry crossing and this was obviously very much the case even a hundred years ago.  It should come as no surprise therefore that the industrially-minded Victorians seriously considered a series of railway tunnels beneath the Irish Sea; the idea of a Channel Tunnel had been mooted almost a century earlier so the intent was clearly there.  Regrettably in both cases the huge engineering challenge would prove too great for Victorian science to overcome.  Nevertheless that such a plan was drawn up is a remarkable testament to the technological ambition and farsightedness of 19th Century engineers.

The suggestion of tunnels between mainland Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man still occasionally appears even today.  But it was the Victorians who first thought of the idea even though they, and subsequent supporters of the scheme, were always stymied by the matter of cost, politics and now a difference in the railway gauge.  It's not to say that the project is unfeasible, however, and I'm sure the vision will still be revisited in the future and - who knows? - maybe even undertaken.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Saturday Evening Fervour

I say! Get down and boogie, what?! Now where are my Oxford bags...?

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone.

Thursday 20 October 2011

1930 Model A Ford Wraps a Year on the Road

Image courtesy of Autoblog/Zach Bowman
1930 Model A Ford Wraps a Year on the Road

Speaking of keeping vintage machinery running, here's a chap who took that to heart and then some!  A true enthusiast, Mr Jonathan Klinger has been running his Model A Ford for a whole year; proof, if proof were needed, that these cars can and should be used on a regular basis.  And aside from a few mechanical hiccoughs that were perhaps to be expected in an 81-year-old car it has performed well in all weathers, taking whatever was thrown at it in its stride - be that a 270-mile journey to Detroit or driving to a friend's in a snowstorm.

Mr Klinger has also discovered the joys of a more relaxed, simple motoring attitude, avoiding major roads and visiting small independent roadside eateries instead of garish chains - much like the first owner of the car would have done.

All-in-all a jolly good episode of the kind of thing I favour.  Well done to Mr Klinger, and I hope he continues to enjoy motoring in his durable Model A.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Steam locomotive Oliver Cromwell makes landmark journey

Steam locomotive Oliver Cromwell makes landmark journey

We've had the King George II returning to Didcot and Tornado besting Shap Fell and Beattock Bank on its way from Crewe to Glasgow, now the Oliver Cromwell has made its début on the Swanage line in Dorset (in Dorset?  I'd recommend it to anyone!  Boom-boom! >groans<).  The march of steam continues!

The National Rail Museum is doing sterling work in ensuring its exhibits continue to run on the railway lines of today and can be enjoyed by a new generation; like all historic machines it is far better to have them still running than sitting behind glass in a museum building - they need to be out there doing what they were designed to do.  It's great to see more and more steam trains still breaking records, still achieving firsts while running new excursions all over the country, and bodes well for all these fantastic locomotives.

Monday 17 October 2011

Revamp for 'oldest' Tube carriage

Revamp for 'oldest' Tube carriage

When I blogged recently about the Boardwalk Empire subway I mentioned that the London Underground/ London Transport Museum didn't have any rolling stock older than the late 1930s.  Well, that won't be the case for much longer!

Metropolitan Railway Carriage Number 353 will become by far the oldest fully-working carriage in the London Transport Museum's collection thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund donation.  Of 1892 vintage it will be a whopping one hundred and ten years old next year and should be renovated by 2013 in time to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground system - the world's first below-ground transit network.

Not only will we get a beautifully restored 19th-Century Underground carriage (which will be touring the London and South-Eastern regions upon completion - ooh, must keep an eye out for it!) but the work required to get it back to its former glory will also give up to 160 people the chance to gain a qualification related to restoration work and carpentry, so there's an extra bonus involved to boot.

You can read more about this piece of history on the London Transport Museum's website here, where you can see it in its current condition.  All the more reason to look forward to what's in store come 2013.

Victorian kitchen found untouched at Cefn Park, Wrexham

Victorian kitchen found untouched at Cefn Park, Wrexham

This has been sitting in my draft folder for weeks (and yet I haven't seen it anywhere else, but all the better for me!) so it's rather old news - although you could say that everything I blog about is "old" news(!).

Still, it's nothing compared with how long this 19th Century kitchen has lain unused in the old Wrexham house featured in this news story.  The thrill of finding all those culinary items that hadn't seen the light of day for at least 70 years must have been immense, not to mention the general surprise that the owners would have felt having grown up there without ever realising this amazing room even existed.

It's a fantastic window into the world "below stairs" one hundred years ago and it almost seems a shame that the renovation is going ahead, rather than the room being left as a kind of time capsule, although I'm sure that the work will be sympathetic to the original kitchen.  I'm not sure I'd fancy cooking 19th Century-style anyway, if I'm honest!

Nevertheless, it's another wonderful story about an interesting historical discovery which proves, if nothing else, that there are these untouched gems still out there to be uncovered.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

A bus-y Sunday

Sunday saw me heading off bright and early to my old home town of Canvey Island for the annual open day at the local transport museum.  The rainy, overcast greyness of my 10'o'clock start had me fearing the worst, but in the end I needn't have worried.  The weather gods were smiling on Canvey as usual and although it remained quite blustery the sun soon came out and all was warm and bright.
Nice weather for wind-surfing!
The very first thing that caught my eye as I approached the main entrance, besides the wonderful Art Deco design of the building itself, was what was quite easily the oldest exhibit ever to have graced us with its presence - a 1912 Hallford omnibus!
It wasn't running, of course, but otherwise it was open for everyone to look around and by jingo, it was fascinating!  Not to mention something of an eye-opener; like all good historic artefacts it gave a real taste of the past - in this case what it must have been like to be a bus passenger in the 1912.  And from what I experienced, that Edwardian bus passenger would have to have been a) a lot shorter than me and b) very steady on their feet(!).  The stairs - open, of course - up to the top deck - ditto - were small enough to put a child's slide to shame.  The sides barely came up to my waist and it was a devil of a job getting back downstairs again.  My admiration for the commuters of 100 years ago has increased immeasurably!
Lots of adverts to distract your attention as you fall off the back
Solid wheels would have made for an interesting ride, if it had been running!
I want some Mazawattee Tea!
Wandering around the museum it struck me that even bus rallies can be victims of the depression - the stalls, featuring models, books and transport paraphernalia for sale, as well as some tasty-looking cakes and a raffle or two, seemed to lack a little something from last year although the numbers coming through the gate still looked healthy.  The buses that were running were a trifle too modern for my taste, although as the day wore on more properly vintage buses did start taking passengers.
These two turned up... just as I was leaving!

The displays were as good as ever.  There were many familiar faces from the previous year, but also plenty of wonderful vehicles not seen before:

1967 Ford Transit flatbed

Rover 100 & Morris Minor

1938-49 Ford Prefect

1964 Mercedes W110 190c

1946-49 Triumph Roadster

1953-56 MG ZA Magnette
1956-58 MG ZB Magnette

A lovely pair of Rileys (an RME on the right)

A 1938-41 Wolseley 14/60

A beautiful 1925 Alvis 12/50

1953-56 Austin A40 Sports

1947-53 Jowett Javelin

Another Riley

A couple of Austin Sevens
1956-67 Morris J2

A row of Austin Sevens

An absolutely spiffing MG

A splendid 1927-36 Austin 16

By far and away the star of the show for me, however, was this little 1934 Singer Eleven tucked away in one corner of the display area.  Not only was it in immaculate condition both inside and out, with a lovely two-tone brown paint job and matching brown leather seats, but the owners had even gone to the trouble of adding some delightful period touches which just set the whole thing off perfectly.  I wanted to take it home, most definitely!

"Have A Care There".  Brilliant!  And a free handkerchief!

I can just see the advert now: "Singer drivers smoke Capstans"!

Then it was off on one of the buses to the second showground, where more vintage vehicles awaited.  This was the main bus display area, being much bigger than the museum grounds.  As you can see, I continued snapping away like a good 'un!

A 1964 Austin... Seven (the Mini name didn't come into common use 'til later).

1935-37 Morris Eight.  This one's called "Brenda"(!).

We do have 'em, even if they are only buses(!).

1940-53 Morris Z-series

1935-37 Morris Eight pick-up

There were lots of vintage adverts to be seen this year, which was very pleasing to see:

So there you have it for another year - I hope you enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.  The slight disappointment of this year in comparison to the last is certainly not enough to dissuade me from returning again (I am a museum member, after all!) and I'm already looking forward to 2012.  I can hardly wait another twelve months, but the museum does have other events on in between times, so I shall have to see about getting along to one or two of them.  All aboard for the next time, ding-ding!


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