Friday 31 January 2014

Rare footage of 1901 tram ride down Belfast's Royal Avenue recovered

Rare footage of 1901 tram ride down Belfast's Royal Avenue recovered

It's always a source of amazement and delight to me that it is still possible for cine-footage from over a century ago to be rediscovered in viewable condition after lying dormant for so many years, but that is just what has happened recently in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as this article explains.

Who knows how much longer this fascinating footage would have lain undiscovered had it not been for one person browsing through the archives?  As it is a remarkable period in Belfast's history is now able to be viewed by a whole new generation, 113 years after it was filmed.

Belfast tram trip back in time: Recovered footage from early 1900s depicts city streets bustling

What absolutely captivating scenes they are too!  Part of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection, which many of you may remember from the B.B.C. series of a few years ago and which is now safely in the hands of the British Film Institute, the footage was originally part of the film company's advertising stock.  I wonder if they could ever have imagined it surviving for so long, to become a source of great interest for historians and enthusiasts such as ourselves?  What were the people shown therein thinking and what were they doing that day, one wonders?

It's simply marvellous to see a busy Belfast town centre in May of 1901.  The horse-drawn trams, the ladies in their full-length skirts and boaters, the men hurrying to and fro and the shop fronts filled with people.  Yet in many ways little has changed - drive down any high street on a Saturday and you will still see the shops, the throngs and the traffic, with just a difference in technology and the overall appearance of the people.  No doubt our own records of life in 2014 will be of equal interest to historians one hundred years hence.  This then is the joy and wonder of social history, and I'm off now to immerse myself in this engrossing footage all over again.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird heard in public after 50 years

Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird heard in public after 50 years

You may remember back in October of 2012 I wrote rather an essay-length blog post about the various Land Speed Record cars and their drivers who dominated the record-breaking scene in the 1920s and '30s.  Sir Malcolm Campbell, one of my personal heroes, featured prominently along with his series of Blue Bird speed cars.

I only briefly mentioned Campbell's first Blue Bird in that post, but now I am delighted to see that it has had its engine run up for the first time in 50 years during an event at its Beaulieu home.  Prior to this Blue Bird I had not run since July 1962 when it was driven by the then Lord Montagu at a Brooklands racing festival.  A disaster during an engine test in the early 1990s nearly put paid to it ever being a moving display again but thanks to the many years' hard work by engineers and enthusiasts at the National Motor Museum the roar of the 350hp Sunbeam Manitou-Arab aero-engine was heard again yesterday.

Blue Bird record car to fire up

The history of the car up until this point is well-covered in the accompanying articles so I won't bore you by repeating the details here.  Suffice to say it is splendid, as always, to see an important part of British motoring history - from one of my favourite periods - given a new lease of life after sitting dormant for so long.  Blue Bird's story is a thrilling one and I hope this latest news means we will get to see it more often and moving under its own power at events up and down the country.  I note that it is already scheduled to appear at a fascinating-sounding exhibit due to open at Beaulieu on the 20th March, with further work on the gearbox and other ancillaries also planned for this year to bring it back to 1924 record-breaking specification (remarkable when you consider that the original plans were lost during the Second World War).  All of which this wonderful machine fully deserves.

As this particular Blue Bird was also later driven by dance band leader, motor enthusiast and sometime racing driver Billy Cotton that's all the excuse I need to end this post with a song by that same man.  Toodle-pip for now!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

'Flyboys' soar with vintage P-40 Warhawk


'Flyboys' soar with vintage P-40 Warhawk 

From the isles of Kent to the hills and plains of San Diego, California now, where a fighter 'plane from a different war has also recently undergone restoration.  In this case it is a 1943 Curtiss P-40E Warhawk that has been rebuilt practically from scratch by the skilled workers and enthusiasts at the San Diego-based restoration company Flyboys Aeroworks.

There's more than just one facet to this story, however.  Not only has an important piece of historical machinery (and a dashed good fighter aircraft to boot) been restored to prime condition, an airframe previously given up to the icy conditions of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands has managed to be salvaged and used as a starting point to bring this particular example back to life.

The team at Flyboys Aeroworks are not your usual retired volunteers, either.  Many of them are apprentice engineering students from the nearby San Diego Mirimar College, putting their knowledge and skills to good use on this project and others like it.  All seem to have an interest in this era, however, and it is splendid to see this manifested in their work. 

Although this particular P-40 is destined for static display at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans the skills needed to restore it are essential for the maintenance and future reconstruction of airworthy examples.  It's also great to read that original 1940s blueprints and equipment were used in the restoration of this P-40.


Flyboys Aeroworks to Unveil Newly Restored P-40 Curtiss Warhawk Commissioned by The National WWII Museum in New Orleans

I'm preaching to the converted here but I can't say enough how important it is, for the continued remembrance of our favourite eras, that new and young generations learn the skills needed to keep all aspects of the past alive (and that includes the very skills themselves).  It is people like those at Flyboys, or - as also recently reported - at the Severn Valley Railway's forthcoming Heritage Skills Training Academy, who help to maintain these ageing machines and ensure that they can continue performing at the events we all enjoy (rather than just becoming museum relics, or words and pictures on a page).  I'm sure you'll all agree with me when I say we owe them (and those training them) a debt of gratitude and I hope we shall see many more similar setups in the future (and here's wishing Flyboys the best of luck with their next project). 

I would go so far as to say it is almost a duty for those of us with an interest in fast-receding eras to involve ourselves as best we can in helping to ensure those times aren't forgotten, and where possible pass on our enthusiasm to those young minds interested in and receptive to finding out more about the past.  I'm not usually one for New Year resolutions (and with the first month gone already, I'm a little late!) but these two articles have inspired me to try to get to more museums and events this year - maybe even volunteer where I can - and hopefully do a bit more to keep the spirit of bygone ages alive.

Saturday 25 January 2014

First World War fighter plane restored at air museum

First World War fighter plane restored at air museum

Here now is one of the first of many posts that are destined to appear on this blog in the next 12-48 months as the commemorations for the centenary of the First World War start to get underway.  In this instance the story is of a long-forgotten World War One aircraft prototype and one museum's attempt to construct a working replica in time for this year's events.

The Eastchurch Kitten - or to give it its full designation, the Port Victoria P.V.8 Eastchurch Kitten - was borne out of an Admiralty specification created in 1916 for a small, light single-seat fighter designed to fly at high altitude and intercept the Zeppelin airships that were then terrorising the south-east of England.  Two front-runners soon emerged from Royal Naval Air Service stations based in Kent.  One was the brainchild of designer W. H. Sayers, based at the Port Victoria Marine Experimental Aircraft Depot on the Isle of Grain.  The other was the Kitten, designed by the pen of G. H. Millar, located further along the north Kent coast at the RNAS Experimental Flight in Eastchurch. When the commanding officer of the Experimental Flight then took over at the Port Victoria station it was decided that the competing aeroplanes should both be further refined together at Port Victoria, therefore the Eastchurch design was called the P.V.8 Eastchurch Kitten while the other was renamed the P.V.7 Grain Kitten.  Both were of a similar layout to meet the Admiralty requirement for a compact, lightweight interceptor that could be launched from the cramped confines of a Navy destroyer's fo'c'sle.

© IWM (Q 67564) 1917 Port Victoria P.V.8 Eastchurch Kitten

Volunteers restore 100-year-old First World War prototype fighter plane at Yorkshire Air Museum 

The P.V.7 was in fact the first to fly, on the 22nd June 1917, but it was found to be tough to handle and tail-heavy in flight.  The P.V.8 finally took to the air on the 7th September 1917 and although like the Grain Kitten it was hampered with the temperamental 35hp ABC Gnat engine it soon became apparent that - despite being larger and heavier than the P.V.7 - the Eastchurch machine was the more advanced. In the end, however, the Admiralty chose not to pursue the P.V.8 design.  By the time both aircraft were at the test-flight stage the sturdier and better-performing Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Camel had been adapted for higher-altitude work, aircraft carriers were developing apace and the threat of Zeppelin raids had receded.  Neither the P.V.7 or P.V.8 ever flew again; the original Eastchurch Kitten airframe was due to be sent to America for further evaluation but what became of it from that point remains a mystery.

‘Zeppelin zapper’ returns to life

Obviously some plans of the P.V.8's design survived, though, as an attempt to create a replica of the aircraft was made as far back as the 1980s.  Now thanks to the sterling efforts of the volunteers at the Yorkshire Air Museum a remarkably accurate copy of the Eastchurch Kitten is finally nearing completion, with appearances (albeit sadly static) scheduled at both the museum's own displays and also in Leeds town centre later this year.

I'm happy to see so much going on at the museum's preservation hangar and it's splendid to see a project such as this come to successful fruition, with volunteers and aviation design students keeping alive the skills needed to help ensure that an interesting part of First World War aviation history is not forgotten, hopefully inspiring and engaging all those who come to see it at York in the next four years and beyond.

Monday 20 January 2014

Benny Goodman 1938 concert revived

Benny Goodman 1938 concert revived

I stumbled across this item at the weekend and it instantly put me in a Big Band mood, as well as delighting me with the news that one of the seminal live concerts of the 1930s (and in the history of jazz in general) is going to be reproduced at Cadogan Hall in London this year.  I was less pleased to note that it's being put on in less than a week's time - the 26th January (although to be fair that does mark as near as dammit the 76th anniversary of the original performance).  Thanks for that advanced bit of reporting, Daily Telegraph(!).

However, this looks to be not the only Big Band concert playing at Cadogan Hall in 2014; thanks to this article I've discovered there's also a 100 Years of Big Band Jazz concert on 15 June as well as another Carnegie Hall revival on the 14th November, this time celebrating the 1939 performances of Benny Goodman's and Glenn Miller's Orchestras (plus selections from Louis Armstrong's and Count Basie's appearances).

Well done to Pete Long and his colleagues for helping to keep these wonderful bands' songs alive.  It's splendid to see this music of the 1930s & '40s still performed for audiences of today with such enthusiasm - and this is only at one venue!  Who knows what other events are on elsewhere in the country?  (Seriously, do tell if you know of any!).

source - BBC Four

Could 2014 in fact be a renaissance year for early 20th century jazz, I wonder?  Viewers in the U.K. have already been treated to the excellent B.B.C. Four programme Len Goodman's Dance Band Days, broadcast over Christmas (and already expertly covered by Mim over at Crinoline Robot; eagle-eyed readers will also have spotted Matt from Southern Retro in the above clip), and I note that off the back of it Mr Goodman will be appearing with Michael Law's Piccadilly Dance Orchestra at Littlecote House, Buckinghamshire, on the 25th July. 

Clare Teal's Sunday night Radio 2 show has also evolved nicely even if she still doesn't play the early British dance bands that her predecessor Malcolm Laycock did and there are more and more DAB and Internet radio stations appearing that are devoted to early dance and big bands (such as Angel Radio and Radio Dismuke - again, if you know of any others do give them a mention).

All these events and broadcasts popping up gives me great hope for a jumping and jiving year ahead.  Now I'm off to listen to more Benny Goodman.  Let's Dance!

Sunday 19 January 2014

One Lovely way to start the year

At the very end of last year (it still feels a little odd describing 2013 as "last year" but I'm sure that will soon fade), amid all the Christmas and New Year messages, I was delighted to receive the always-pleasant surprise of a One Lovely Blog Award from One More Stitch.

I can't say enough times how happy and genuinely thrilled I am that so many people actually read, enjoy and comment on this unassuming little blog.  When I started writing Eclectic Ephemera back in 2009, simply as a way to the fill the void left by my then-redundant job, I could scarcely have believed it would one day be entering its fifth year as a fully-fledged vintage blog - with a sponsored post under its belt and surrounded by so many like-minded online friends.  My very first post was entitled "Giant oaks from little acorns grow", which I'll admit was written with more than a little self-deprecating humour (fans of Laurel & Hardy may also have got the reference!) - as were my comments about it being "the best thing since sliced bread" or "dying a death within the month".  While sliced bread's place in history is still safe, things here are very much alive and the metaphorical oak tree is definitely well-established.  2014 could hardly have got off to a more promising start blog-wise and I hope this year will see Eclectic Ephemera evolve and grow even more.

So to this latest One Lovely Blog award, which I see has changed its appearance yet again.  The "rules" have stayed the same, though, but just in case anyone's still unfamiliar with them I have to thank the blogger who passed it on to me, reveal seven little-known facts about yours truly and pass on the award to seven blogs that I follow.

Many thanks indeed, then, to One More Stitch for passing on this award to me and for her kind words in re: my blog.  If you want to read about knitting pre-1900 and particularly in the 18th century I suggest you toddle on over to her blog.

Now, seven things about me.  Considering I was running low on "interesting" facts by the second one of these awards I'm really struggling now to think of seven more!  Like OMS I may come up short this time and I can guarantee we'll now be several feet below the bottom of the barrel.
Or a [Steampunk] submarine
  • I am not a particularly strong swimmer and have never been able to swim underwater.  Couldn't tell you why; there wasn't any off-putting moment in my youth or a struggle to learn, I've just never been able to get my head around the concept.  No, it's not for me!  We spent millions of years as a species evolving to get out of the water so if we were meant to still swim about under it we'd have been given the means to do so.  Instead we've had to create our own devices and they're the only way you'd ever get me below the waves.
  • I have always held an abiding dislike of wasps and balloons (this will count as two facts!).  I'm better now with both than I was as a child (the former in particular bordered on full-blown spheksophobia - there you are, I've just given you all a new word) but I will still move away from wasps or just flail about a bit, and balloons continue to leave me on edge (especially if they're in the hands - or mouth - of a baby!).  I'm no fun at parties or picnics, I can tell you!
  • I'm not particularly fond of loud noises in general, as it happens (hence my anti-balloon stance). 
    Not in my house
    Crockery banging together, doors slamming, shouting - that sort of thing really tries my nerves.  Not that I'm a nervous person by nature, but I value my peace and quiet and don't take kindly to noisy interruptions.  I do my best to be as quiet and soft as possible in my day-to-day routine and it annoys me when others maybe aren't quite so considerate.  Sometimes I just like to sit quietly and listen to the silence around me (even more of a treat if I'm out and about and find there's a sudden quiet moment).  Doubtless this is a trait inherited from my parents - mother's side all have pin-sharp hearing while father's lot were peaceful - you never heard him even raise his voice and I'm the same, if I shout it sounds unnatural to me and makes me feel quite rotten.
  • Thanks to a recently-renewed investigation into my family history I have been able to confirm an old family legend that held an ancestor of mine from Limerick, Ireland, plied the streets of the London as a blind whistler.  Lo and behold in the 1901 and 1911 census he is listed as clear as day - "street musician and whistler (blind)"!  The story further has it that he was "known to Queen Victoria"!  That's still unconfirmed, but as the first part is true, who knows...?
  • © IWM (A 9987)
    Granddad's primary ship HMS Agamemnon,
    pictured at the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
  • My late grandfather served in the Royal Navy during WW2 as a leading telegraphist - meaning he sent and received [coded] messages in Morse Code, a language that never left him.  He was for the majority of the war on minelayers in the Nothern Barrage, around the North Atlantic, the North and Norwegian Seas.  His stories, some of which I have written down, would doubtless make for interesting reading and I hope one day to have the opportunity to look up his war record.
  • Gathering dust...
  • I think I may have mentioned this before (!) but my favourite board game is most definitely Monopoly.  Unfortunately outside of computer versions I haven't played it for years now because none of my friends and family like playing it.  "Boring and long-winded" they call it - the blimmin' cheek!  Will I ever find anyone willing to give me a game I wonder?

The seven bloggers I have chosen to pass this award on to all have equally splendid, well-deserving sites, such that I'm surprised I haven't already nominated them before.  They are:

Ruby Armoire
A Vintage Nerd
Vintage Follies
Mid Century Girl
Little Miss Bamboo
stories read aloud
We'll Meet Again

As always I know these things aren't everyone's cup of tea and anyone is perfectly entitled to do anything or nothing with this award - whatever they see fit.

Thanks once again to One More Stitch for nominating me, thanks to everyone for making it to the end of this post and congrats to the latest seven winners of the One Lovely Blog Award!

    Saturday 11 January 2014

    My Great War reads for the 100th anniversary

    When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my latest book find just before Christmas, I mentioned that it was about something very pertinent to this year's centenary of the First World War (news and events relating to which have already begun to appear, so expect this blog to become heavy with them in the coming months!) - namely the collected early war letters of RNAS pilot Lieutenant Harold Rosher.  I added that it would become a welcome addition to my war library and stated my intention to read all the books in my collection that relate to World War One by the end of 2014.

    Well, the other day, with the germ of an idea for a post in my mind, I got out all said books (including In The Royal Naval Air Service, 3rd row far right) and laid them out to take a picture of them for this blog.  I think I may have to revise my target!  The end of 2018 seems more realistic now I've reacquainted myself with the number books I have on the subject!

    As you can see most of them focus on the aeronautical aspect of the Great War; no surprise really as that has always been my abiding area of interest.  In fact all but three are purely about aerial warfare.  True World War I Stories (2nd row from top, 3rd from left) is just that and was picked up from a library sale a few years ago for 50p.  Before Endeavours Fade by Rose E. B. Coombs (top, 3rd from left) was given to me by my stepfather several years back and is actually something of a guide book to the battlefields, detailing towns, landmarks and other locations that saw action as well as the innumerable memorials throughout Belgium and France.  Although now nearly 40 years old this book will doubtless be interesting and a still-useful guide if I should choose to visit the areas covered.

    Once I realised just how many books I had, I got that nagging feeling that there were probably one or two more lying around somewhere that I'd forgotten about and such proved to be the case! 

    Goodbye to All That is an autobiographical account of the the First World War (and the author's early pre-war life) by Robert Graves, the poet, scholar and author who served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was good friends with Siegfried Sassoon.  I picked up this copy for a few pence in Homebase (yes, the DIY people - my local store has a small second-hand book concession by the tills!) a year or so ago and it has been sitting patiently in my "to read" pile.

    The rest all focus on the RFC and/or the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (except In the Company of Eagles, a novel by Ernest K. Gann about a duel between French and German pilots) with no less than four devoted solely to Manfred von Richthofen.  These include his own [translated] memoirs and a fascinating in-depth record of his 80 career victories.

    German War Birds is a splendid book from the 1930s, written by the mysteriously pseudonymous "Vigilant" (generally agreed to be one Claud W. Sykes and probably a serving RAF officer hence the name), details of some of the lesser-known German pilots of the Great War and is written in wonderfully charming Thirties style.  I picked it up in 2003 from the wonderful book stalls that can still be found underneath Waterloo Bridge.

    Many of the other books are written by well-regarded aviation/military historians such as Peter Hart, Alan Clark and Norman Franks.  Then there are the famous wartime memoirs of Cecil Lewis (Sagittarius Rising) and Victor Yeates (Winged Victory), not to mention James McCudden's Flying Fury.  Finally there is, of course, Biggles - who nearly 20 years ago introduced me to the fascinating world of dogfights, biplanes and heroic flying that I would later go on to read so much more about.  The First World War stories fully deserve their place here, being inspired by true events and stories that the author W. E. Johns (himself a bomber pilot in the war) saw or heard.

    Finally, as a bit of light relief, Practical Flying is a good read - it being a facsimile of the standard training manual given to pilots joining the RFC.  I doubt there'll ever be any call for me to fly a Sopwith Camel, but you never know!  I actually got it (and a real hip flask!) with the old PC simulator, Flying Corps, way back in the late '90s and am pleased to report that the old game still runs so I can at least take my bus up for a spin virtually if not in reality(!).  Incidentally I'm amazed to see how far computers and graphics have progressed - the modern equivalent of Flying Corps, Rise Of Flight, looks incredibly realistic and expansive.

    Just as soon as I've finished reading my current tome, Waiting For Hitler, which is an equally enthralling series of accounts from the first year of the Second World War when the invasion of Britain looked likely, I shall begin working my way through these Great War books.  Don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for a while!  But no, in all seriousness, I really looking forward to doing this; in the centenary year of the start of the Great War it just seems the "right" way to go about commemorating the occasion.  I may even post a review or two up along the way.  Then there's my film collection too, I haven't even touched on that yet.  If that's not enough the Daily Telegraph is also marking the anniversary by making available online copies of every one of its newspapers from 1914 to 1918, each day for the next four years!

    What have you got planned for the 100th anniversary and are there any more(!) books you would recommend I seek out?

    Saturday 4 January 2014

    Chaps, choo-choos and Charlestons

    With the Twelfth Day of Christmas nearly upon us and the New Year now 4 days old this will be my last Christmas post as I take the opportunity to showcase some of my more vintage-y presents.  I expect you want to see what I got, so here we go:

    Christmases have been fairly lean for us the last few years and tend to be celebrated quietly but so long as the family is together at some point that's all that truly matters.  My sisters have both come up trumps again this year, though, with a calendar from each of them - one scenic, one Steampunk!  I shall have to alternate between them, I think(!).

    Another sororal present, the silent 1928 film The Wrecker has featured on this blog before and now (finally) makes it into my DVD collection.  I've watched it already and it's a cracking bit of 1920s fun & action.  The villain can be spotted from a mile off, the plot is both quaint yet serious, there are many long smouldering looks to camera and just in case there was any doubt about the hero's bona fides he turns out to be an ex-Lancashire cricket captain and therefore beyond reproach.  Plus, of course, plenty of trains (including that crash!) and buses too.  The feature, as previously mentioned, has been lovingly restored and given a new accompaniment by noted silent film music writer/composer Neil Brand.  He's even done the same for the abridged 14-minute home movie version (above) and there are plenty of other extras on the DVD to do with the film as well as other staged locomotive crashes and the old railway line on which parts of The Wrecker were filmed.

    Am I A Chap? was given to my by nan and a jolly interesting and amusing little tome it is, just as I had hoped.  A welcome addition to my bookshelf, where it will join other books from the same stable - The Chap Manifesto and The Best of The Chap.

    I've occasionally considered submitting myself to the critical eye of The Chap magazine's editor Mr Gustav Temple in the Am I Chap? feature but always fear what would surely be his withering opprobrium at my effort.  It's the tweed within rather than without that really counts as the Chaps also say and I am in agreement with that.  Still, maybe one day...

    There were also other gifts not featured in the lead photograph for certain reasons.  Some are still en route from the supplier.  Others have no physical form.  I refer to the noted South American river and online retailer, who offer a splendid service whereby you can download music direct to your iPod.  As much as I enjoy having a CD in my hand (and a couple of new acquisitions included both) there's definitely something to be said for the space-saving qualities of direct mp3 downloads.  They also tend to be cheaper and in the case of music from the 1920s and '30s Amazon are to be commended for offering it in that format and thereby giving a new lease of life to these old songs.

    I was thus able to obtain four new albums this way - Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer's latest, Can't Stop, Shan't Stop; Caro Emerald's new The Shocking Miss Emerald and two splendid compilations - Hits of 1930 and Vintage Charleston.  There's nothing like starting the New Year with some new music and these tunes will certainly keep me entertained for a long while.

    I'm sure you all received some perfectly wonderful gifts too and I look forward to hearing about them as well.  In the meantime I'm off to do a bit of Charlestoning.  Toodle-pip!

    Wednesday 1 January 2014

    Good fortune for 2014


    Wishing you all the very best for a happy and healthy 2014.  

    Thank you for reading and for your continuing kind comments and support.
    I'm looking forward to following all blogs old and new into the New Year and beyond.


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