Friday 31 July 2020

I Need Some Cooling Off - The Kit-Cat Band, Directed By Al Starita

Well I had planned to give you a long and [hopefully] interesting post about one of my favourite subjects but - whew! - it's almost too hot to think here today (33°C/ 91°F currently) and by Jove do I feel like the title of this song.  So instead I'll leave you with Al Starita's Kit-Kat Band from 1927 and the hope that you're all keeping as cool and safe as possible.  In the meantime, follow their example and maybe have an ice cream (but not at the beach)!

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Airship's 'glorious' history project goes online

Airship's 'glorious' history project goes online

We haven't had a decent airship-inspired story on Eclectic Ephemera for a while - not since I restarted the blog at any rate - so this article from one of the historic homes of lighter-than-air flight is a welcome one in all respects.

The history of airships has been rather unfairly overshadowed - even after 83 years - by the image of the Hindenburg falling in flames over Lakehurst, New Jersey, while British interest in lighter-than-air travel had - until recently - ended when the R.101 crashed into a hill near Beauvais in France during bad weather on the night of the 5th October 1930, killing 48 of the 55 people on board (including the Minister for Aviation and staunch airship supporter Lord Thomson of Cardington).  Since then the airship has existed mainly as the non-rigid "blimp" variety best known as the type used by Goodyear and still built today by the Zeppelin company in what was once Germany's airship centre - Friedrichshafen.

Cardington Sheds, Bedfordshire.

Bedford Creative Arts receives over £100k funding for Cardington 'Airship Dreams' project

Now, judging by this latest news, the story of airships in Britain looks to have been given a much-needed boost thanks to an exhibition due to be set up in the former home town of the R.101 and its ilk - Bedford, where the giant sheds at nearby Cardington Airfield that once housed these incredible liners of the skies still stand (thanks to their Grade II listed status) and continue to be used in the development of modern airships like the remarkable-looking Airlander 10.  Arranged by local arts charity Bedford Creative Arts and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and the Bedford-based Harpur Trust, the excellent-sounding Airship Dreams project has as its aim the celebration of all things airship and that extraordinary craft's enduring link to the town of Bedford.

R.101 departing Bedford on its ill-fated maiden flight to India, October 1930. 

I'm particularly pleased with the positive nature of this exhibition, not only in not allowing coronavirus to get in the way of putting it on (as with many a physical exhibition turned digital in some ways Covid has done it a favour by forcing it online where it will hopefully find a wider audience and provide interesting and interactive displays) but also for the approach it is taking in focussing on the innovation and forward thinking of the time, the hopes and dreams that this fantastic technology must have engendered and the pride the people of Bedford would have felt having the development of it right on their doorstep.  As with all local history projects the desire to get the modern people of Bedford involved through family recollections or retained memorabilia is a splendid way to engage the townsfolk, generate a new sense of civic pride and an appreciation of heritage while adding a personal level to the exhibits.  I'm utterly impressed with the attitudes of the curators and exhibitors, in fact, as well as the thoroughly commendable aims of the project in general and am delighted to see once again that local schools are to benefit from related workshops.  I can do no better than repeat the quote from the Airship Dreams website, which really struck a chord with me:

 “Only when men sense the waning of a civilization, do they suddenly become interested in its history and, probing, become aware of the force and uniqueness of the ideas it has fostered.  Hegel said that the owl of Wisdom appears only at twilight.” Dr Julie Bacon

Photos remember 90 years since R100’s maiden overseas voyage

With the coming of this exhibition - in part marking the 90th anniversary of the R.100 and R.101's maiden flights - and the continued development of the airship concept for the 21st century, not to mention the possibility of a R.101-based film in the works, the history of this marvellous method of travel will hopefully be enlarged far beyond the current narrow and half-forgotten remembrances, reaching new audiences and inspiring the next generation of engineers who may well end up working on future lighter-than-air machines, the renaissance of which continues apace.  I for one will be keeping a close eye on Airship Dreams and look forward to immersing myself in their no doubt fascinating exhibits.

Friday 24 July 2020

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old

source - ITV Anglia

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old

A touching news item from East Anglia, this, featuring as it does a sterling effort on the part of Ipswich librarians to track down and record to CD a 1920s novel for a local centenarian who remembered her father reading it to her as a child.  I'm sure we have all at one time or another used our local library to try to obtain a rare or out-of-print book but the thoughtfulness of the staff at Ipswich library is above and beyond anything one would normally expect and I can well understand the pride felt by the library's senior management.

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old member during lockdown

source - Amazon
Once again there are multiple facets to this story that all make for happy reading - the kindness and sense of community that came out in the early days of lockdown which this typifies (and which I'm sure we all hoped would continue once the crisis abated); the thought and effort put in by the librarians to actually go and buy the book with their own money, then to take the time to read it aloud and record it on to discs; the care and concern they obviously feel towards this valued member of the community and the recognition of the importance of this book to her and the memories it engenders; the obvious joy of reading that was imbued in to this 102-year-old lady at a young age by her father, which has not waned in nearly a century; the importance to the human spirit of books and of reading in general.  Not to mention that a previously-forgotten novel from the 1920s is now potentially back on the shelves of Ipswich library, at least, hopefully for a new and appreciative audience to discover and enjoy.  Then there is the wider aspect of this story - Suffolk Libraries' advice and support network for older and more vulnerable residents, which is also to be applauded as a perfect example of the value of libraries to the local community.

It's also lovely to note that as well as recording the audiobook the library staff also purchased the DVD of the 1950 film adaptation for Mrs Bugg to watch.

On a more personal note this article reminded me of my own lockdown project that I have been working on, as well as putting me in mind of one or two lesser experiences with my own library service.

To start with the lockdown project - seven years ago now(!) I made tell of picking up a book at a local vintage fair, which I regarded (and still do) as a splendid period find.  It was The Test Match Surprise (subtitled A Romance of the Cricket Field), ostensibly written by the famous early 20th century cricketer Jack Hobbs (in actuality ghost-written by an unknown author, although Hobbs may have had a hand in the more cricket-oriented chapters).  Anyway, I have enjoyed reading it many a time since then and one day during lockdown having re-read it again it occurred to me what a charming story it was (albeit of its time like Portrait of Clare) and that in many respects it was not unlike a Wildean plot.  With this in mind the thought came to me that it could possibly be converted into a four-act play so I began transcribing it on to my computer.  Well I've completed that task but since then I have received various other suggestions as to adaptations - radio play, four-person comedy version in the mould of The 39 Steps and, as the Suffolk librarians have done, a simple audiobook.  Faced with this variety of sources I'm sorry to say things have stalled a little but I still hope to have this own out-of-print book of mine - published in 1926, only one year before Portrait of Clare - adapted into one of the above formats, if only for my personal enjoyment, perhaps before the year is out.

The two instances of my local library service helping me track down copies of rare books are not in the same league as Mrs Bugg's but nevertheless still form happy memories.

Ever since I first saw the B.B.C. adaptation in 1995 I was on the lookout for a copy of 1930s racing driver Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin's autobiography Full Throttle.  Then in the early 2000s I read an article about Birkin in the Autocar magazine and spurred on by this I eventually managed to get a copy through Essex Libraries' inter-loan scheme (it originally coming from Maidstone, Kent).  Back then I was working at London's South Bank and I spent many a happy hour reading this copy by the riverside by Blackfriars.  Afterwards I desperately wanted a copy for myself, but it had been out of print since the early '60s and I couldn’t find another one anywhere.  More out of hope than anything else I dropped a brief e-mail to the chaps at Autocar asking them from where they got their copy on which they based their article, expecting at best a list of bookshops to try my luck at.  Imagine my surprise and delight when the following week the journalist in question used part of his column to plead for a copy for me!  Even more wonderfully, a splendid old boy who lived literally just around the corner from me had 1935 edition in remarkably good condition, plus W.O. Bentley's autobiography, both of which he said he would let me have for free.  I popped round there and spent the best part of half an hour, spellbound, chatting to him, as it turned out that he used to be a marshal at lots of the major European motor races and had seen many of the greats - Fangio, Moss, Surtees - actually racing!

In an almost carbon copy of the above, the autobiography of forgotten army officer and eccentric Lt.-Col. A.D. Wintle MC was also adapted as part of the same three-part B.B.C. series (titled Heroes & Villains) and it was through this that I first became aware of this unique individual and the story of his remarkable life.  Following this I was able to locate a copy of The Last Englishman in Southend Library's "stack" (i.e. store unit) and for several years would request it every time I felt in need of reading it until one day, a few years ago, I was distraught to discover that it was no longer available!  Clearly it had been disposed of (or possibly, due to its rarity value, misappropriated), much to my chagrin.  Since then I was constantly on the lookout for a copy - mainly on eBay, where the prices more or less confirmed my suspicions that the library copy had either been sold or snaffled by someone who realised its value.  Then just a few months ago one came up on the aforementioned auction site and my bid - far less than I'd seen any other copy go for - was the winner!  So once again after several years of searching I was finally able to add another long sought-after book to my collection and in both cases it has been thanks in various degrees to my local library service (although nowhere near the same league as Ipswich's).

At the risk of repeating myself, then, these experiences and the wonderful story that forms the crux of this post just goes to show the overwhelming importance of libraries to society in general.  I take my hat off to the staff of Ipswich library and hope that Mrs Bugg enjoys listening again and reminiscing to Portrait of Clare.

***What has been your experience of your local library service?  Is there a book you would like to see turned into an audiobook or similar?  Let me know in the comments below!***

Wednesday 22 July 2020

French man develops 120-year-old photos he finds in time capsule

French man develops 120-year-old photos he finds in time capsule

An article that combines two of this blog's bread-and-butter stories now - the discovery of a century-old time capsule and the use of a period method to reconstruct an aspect of the past.

In this instance the hidden box was found in the family home of French photographer and video-maker Mathieu Stern and which somewhat serendipitiously contained several glass negative photographic plates.  Inspired by these previously-unseen slides M. Stern has made full use of his photographic know-how to recreate the images therein using a traditional 19th century process called Cyanotype, to produce a couple of charming pictures that offer a literal snapshot into a little piece of 1900s life.

source - Mathieu Stern

The life was that of a little girl (age unknown) who, judging by what is shown in the accompanying video, clearly took the concept of a time capsule to heart by including all sorts of ephemera from the turn of the last century such as paper cutouts, a coin/medal, pillbox, nib pen and sea shell - not forgetting the aforementioned glass plates.  The contents of the charming little box - which is equally as beautiful - offer a fascinating glimpse into the existence of a young child at the beginning of the 20th century.  Clearly all these things were of great importance to this young girl that she kept them so safe and in such good condition; just as obvious is the emotional attachment of the photographs' subject matter - her pet cats and dog.

source - Mathieu Stern
As M. Stern and others commentators have stated, these images are a wonderful reminder that pets - and especially cats - have been an integral part of [young] people's lives for centuries and the concept of capturing their likenesses for posterity is nothing new - only the medium and devices used have changed in the last 120 years.  One has to wonder if historians in 2140 will be able to look back at images taken on iPhones and the like with quite the same degree of appreciation as us looking at this girl's efforts (or will things get increasingly worse in the next 120 years...?).

In any event M. Stern is to be applauded for preserving these delightful photos and their lovely subjects for posterity while using a photographic technique appropriate to the time and one that would not have been unknown to the original photographer when she took these remarkably contemporary pictures of her beloved companions.  One hope that he will cherish not only the pictures but also the other contents and that this particular time capsule will not be forgotten for another century.

Monday 20 July 2020

Uncovered mosaic to be part of Coventry city centre revamp

source - BBC News

Uncovered mosaic to be part of Coventry city centre revamp

Back to Coventry again now for more good news on the heritage front with the remarkable discovery, during regeneration of the city centre, of a two century-old mosaic that was once part of a long-demolished public house The White Lion Inn.

The White Lion Inn, Smithford Street – from murderous deeds to philanthropic endeavour

source - Coventry Telegraph

Having survived being buried under a shopping precinct for over 65 years, not to mention making it through World War Two and the Coventry Blitz with only minor damage, the future of this rare piece of local history seems to be assured with the council rightly seeking to preserve it by incorporating it into the design of the new shopping centre.

The attitude of the councillors involved is a welcome one and I am pleased to see that they recognise the importance of this small piece of prewar history and the necessity of preserving it for generations to come.  It is perhaps because Coventry suffered so badly during the war that this attitude is so prevalent, as Councillor O'Boyle's comment shows.  With so much of the city's buildings destroyed on the night of the 14th-15th November 1940 (and much of the city rebuilt postwar) anything that has survived through to today is of special importance and I can well imagine that finds like this will be taken to the hearts of Coventrians who will no doubt be engaged by this rare glimpse into their city's past.

I for one am also delighted that this charming-looking mosaic is to be made part of a modern redevelopment in such a sympathetic way, as well as noting that a later 1960s-era statue is also to be restored to the Upper Precinct once the regeneration is complete.  What with this and Coventry Rebuilt virtual history app previously mentioned on this blog it would seem that the history of Coventry is in safe hands and destined to show future generations in both Coventry and around the world the past times of this noted city.

Friday 17 July 2020

It's not a dream, it's Captain Hastings!

Yes, he's back again!!

Now that I've returned to blogging on a regular basis I feel ready to resurrect one of my favourite series of recurrent posts - the fashions and foibles of Captain Arthur Hastings, as played by Hugh Fraser in the excellent TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot.  Judging by this blog's stats page and the number of comments I've received over the years posts featuring the good Captain are well-liked by you the reader too so, by overwhelmingly popular demand, we return now to the adventures of Captain Hastings!

I covered Hastings's all too-brief appearance in The Big Four when it first aired in 2013 and although I have received requests to do Curtain next I have only just come to terms with what happened in that episode and the fact that it was the series finale(!).  More to the point I don't actually have it to hand to screencap at the moment, my Poirot DVD box set being an older edition only going up to series 10 (which is fine by me since Captain Hastings - plus Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp - don't appear after series 8 and the episodes from that point onward veer too much towards the darker end of the spectrum for my taste).  I will keep a lookout for Curtain - it is bound to be repeated on ITV3 at some point - with a view to featuring it on here later.  In the meantime we return to the early days and the next chronological episode to feature our favourite chap, which, it having been so long since I've done one of these, is the series 1 episode (so still lots more to come, hurrah!) The Dream.  Anyway, enough waffling from me - we want Hastings!

In this long shot we can just make out his splendid-looking half-belted sports
jacket and, what is that Miss Lemon's wearing?  Could it be...?
Yes, it's that ruddy bow cardigan again that started it all.  Never mind that, though,
we're here for Captain Hastings and he doesn't disappoint.  One of his best outfits
so far, in fact - a wonderful combination.  Shirt, tie, cardigan, jacket - it all works.

There's so much going on actually that one caption isn't enough to do it justice, so I'll add my thoughts to this outfit here.   I love the blue, red and cream check of the cardigan (which gets further outings in future episodes, so watch this space!), set off against the splendid colours of the striped tie and finished off by the understated grey sports jacket.  Then there's the shirt with its small, understated spearpoint collar and - a nice touch - working single cuffs with cufflinks.  In short, the archetypal 1930s look and one every right-thinking chap should - and could - aim for.  On the subject of cuffs I've encountered conflicting opinions over the years, the general consensus in my experience being that double (or French) cuffs are more formal and therefore more representative of the period, while single cuffs are more informal (except when worn starched with formal evening wear) and the preserve of country attire.  But then I see things like this - Hastings rocking the single cuffs with links - and I begin to see things in a different light.  What we're looking at here is a typical Thirties informal look, so single cuffs are perfectly acceptable especially when set off with a pair of cufflinks.  The trouble is single cuff shirts with the facility for links (as opposed to just button fastenings) can be hard to come by these days.  The only one in my wardrobe is a rather summery Bengal striped number from Peter Christian; other modern makers such as Savile Row Co. also offer the facility for cufflinks with single cuffs, otherwise you're looking at the more "period" suppliers like Darcy Clothing or Revival Vintage.  That's enough about shirt cuffs though - back to the action!

A nice close-up of the jacket, collar and tie combo.

We open the scene with Hastings helping Miss Lemon with the morning mail.  Our man is amused and intrigued by an offer of 'Home Phit' ("That's funny - 'Phit' spelt with a 'ph'".) leather shoes; sadly we never find out if he avails himself of a pair.  Miss Lemon is unamused by the antics of her typewriter - left in the flat by a previous tenant, much to the delight of the thrifty Poirot - which keeps jamming (and am I the only one who constantly mishears her annoyed and terse exclamation of "Bother!" as something rather stronger?!).

Something for the typewriter fans as well - can you identify the recalcitrant model
from this picture (all will be revealed at the end of this post)?  (Note we also get to
see Poirot's full address and telephone number courtesy of this shot.)

The next letter is from a Hugo Cornworthy, private secretary to noted industrialist and pie-maker Benedict Farley, requesting that Poirot comes to his offices so that he may consult him.  The Farley's Food factory is of course in reality the Hoover Building, which has featured on this blog before (and also in the previous episode as the "Parade" film studio - the production company must have done some back-to-back filming there, I think!  As an aside, someone once told me that all the exterior shots of Florin Court (aka Whitehaven Mansions) were done over the course of one long weekend and then simply interspersed throughout every episode, but I cannot vouch for the veracity of that.).

Even in the dark our man's style stands out like a beacon of rightness.  Hat,
belted coat with effortlessly turned-up collar and scarf - oh yes, he's back all right.
No-one pulls off the turned-up collar look better than our Captain Hastings.
The muted earth tones of the scarf set off nicely against the coat, hat and gloves.

Hastings (and Poroit, to be fair) is disappointed to be told that the invitation does not extend to him, so it's back to the car to wait for Poirot to come out.  Poor old Hastings!

Back at the flat the next morning and Miss Lemon takes Poirot to task over the troublesome typewriter, backed up by the good Captain.

A better look at that wonderful knitted waistcoat and, just for the girls, Miss
Lemon's delightful emerald green dress with contrasting asymmetric collar/cuffs
(fellow blogger Porcelina has previously looked at the other fashions in this episode). 

Needless to say it isn't long before there's a corpse to deal with but in the following days Poirot is unable to get a grip on the case, much to his frustration.  Hastings helps out by doing the crossword.

Just as Miss Lemon's bow cardigan is a wardrobe staple in early episodes, so too
is Hastings' grey Prince of Wales check suit it seems. 

When Poirot starts to lament that his little grey cells are dying due to too much "fast living" Hastings is there to (sceptically) comfort him.

Thanks to a second tisane and Miss Lemon nearly breaking her neck looking out the window to check the time Poirot has an epiphany and he and Hastings dash off to Farley's Foods to unmask the murderer.

I do love how a simple change of tie can completely reinvigorate the ubiquitous
PoW three-piece.

Poirot's theory requires Hastings' assistance in quite an exciting manner - our hero is about to swing into action!

While Poirot gathers everyone together for the classic dénouement, Hastings waits for his moment:

The green tie sets off nicely against the grey of his suit.
"The name's Hastings.  Arthur Hastings."  Seriously, why hasn't somebody in the
Poirot fanfic community done this?!  I  may have to do something about it myself...
Single cuffs with links again and a smashing rectangular Thirties wristwatch as our
hero takes aim.

Hastings really does have a lot to do in this episode.  Having so ably helped Poirot to prove his theory, the killer is unmasked and makes a bolt for it (WARNING: if you haven't seen this episode - then what's wrong with you?! - here be spoilers) but once again everyone's favourite chap is on the case.

Alas after what must have been a bruising struggle down a marble staircase, the villain escapes our man's clutches and dashes out into the factory grounds.  Kudos at this point must go to the character of  Herbert, the fiancée of Farley's daughter (Joely Richardson), who turns up on motorcycle and sidecar - suitably dressed in full flying leathers, goggles and scarf - intending to elope but who instead is just in time to chase the murderer down in dramatic fashion.  Captain Hastings would be impressed!

With the case solved it's back to business as usual at Poirot's flat.  Miss Lemon is still battling with the typer when Poirot arrives bearing a suspiciously typewriter-shaped box.

I do love Poirot's expressions in this episode.  One can never get enough of Hastings'
suit, either.  I'm beginning to understand the obsession with that bow cardigan now.
I promised you a closer look at the troublesome typewriter.  Yes, it's an Underwood,
and given its back story, the period setting and four-bar keyboard I'm going with it
being a Number 5.  Would you agree?

You'll have to watch the episode to see if Miss Lemon does finally get a new typewriter out of Poirot(!).  This has turned into quite a monster post - whew!  Well done if you've made it this far but, well, you did ask for it (and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy composing them).  For now we'll finish with a few more gratuitous shots of Captain Hastings and his superlative three-piece suit as we bid farewell to him, Poirot and Miss Lemon until the next time, when we'll return to find them in - Peril at End House.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Northumberland village heritage group seeks to restore old signposts

Northumberland village heritage group seeks to restore old signposts

A further example now of civic pride and an appreciation of history helping to rescue and preserve local landmarks in this lovely story from the Northumberland village of Glanton.  In this case the structures in question are the traditional finger post signs that were among the standard road sign designs in the United Kingdom during the first half of the twentieth century, prior to the comprehensive reform of Britain's traffic signage as part of the Worboys Committee of 1963 that resulted in the styles we know today. 

source - Wikimedia Commons
Fortunately, and in spite of the wide-ranging changes instigated by Worboys, many original finger posts survive - mainly in rural locations where their welcome presence adds to the area's bucolic charm - but some of them have seen better days and are at risk of disappearing altogether as they continue to decay and get swallowed up by nature.  Not so in north Northumberland though, I am pleased to note, thanks to the efforts of the Glanton Heritage Group

In the ten years since it was formed this small local group have adopted and restored their village's red telephone box - something also close to this blogger's heart - as well as publishing a local history book.  Lately their attention has turned to the renovation of the area's finger posts and, after a few early hiccoughs and false starts, they have successfully restored two examples to their former glory and are now looking to replace two more.

source - Northumberland Gazette

Their efforts are to be applauded as the results look absolutely fantastic and seem certain to ensure these beautiful signposts' continued existence for years to come.  As with many a heritage group I find myself in accord with their commendable views on the subject and the fact that they have involved local ironmongers, plus through their actions encouraged other nearby communities to look into restoring their own finger posts, is just the icing on the cake.

I am reminded of a similar article I covered way back in 2012, when Norfolk County Council successfully applied for the Grade II listing of a rare 1904-vintage road sign in the village of Overstrand.  At the time I expressed the hope that more prewar signposts would be preserved in a similar manner (hopefully in the eight years since there have been other incidences that have gone unreported) and despite the passage of time it is wonderful to see that there are still groups out there willing and able to save these delightful reminders of an earlier age for both visitors and future generations of the community alike.

Monday 13 July 2020

'Stunning' Doncaster Victorian landmark building saved from demolition

source - The Demolition Register

'Stunning' Doncaster Victorian landmark building saved from demolition

One of the few periodicals that I regularly subscribe to is the satirical/ current affairs news magazine Private Eye, which takes a critical look at fortnightly events in both British and international politics and society in general.  Since my college days I have long found it equal parts amusing, insightful, revelatory and provoking as well as being a good counterbalance to the reporting of the mainstream media (all of whom come in for their fair share of stick in its pages).  My grandfather was often fond of saying that anything you read in the papers is, essentially, one person's interpretation of events and that is a view that has never left me.  I always try to make a point of reading the news from various sources and am frequently struck by how the same story can be reported so differently depending on whether it is by, say, the conservative right-wing Daily Telegraph or the more left-wing, Labour-oriented Guardian.  Indeed it seems to me that in the last few decades the news has become increasingly politicised, although maybe it has always been the case and it is just something I've noticed as I've got older.

Anyway, although it doesn't always do my blood pressure much good, among many of the interesting columns to be found within the Eye is a regular half-page spread called Nooks & Corners, which focuses on all too common abuses of building and planning regulations and various travesties related to historic buildings throughout the British Isles.  It was through this, about six weeks ago, that I was first made aware of the plight of the remarkable building mentioned in the Doncaster Free Press article.

At the time it's fate seemed all but sealed, with approval in principle for demolition and the ubiquitous modern development of flats due to go up in its place.  The shortsighted views of the developer and Doncaster council - that the building was not of "sufficient interest" and would therefore be left to fall into a state of even further disrepair (a rather dubious statement open to interpretation in my book) - were not shared by campaigners including the Doncaster Civic Trust and The Victorian Society, the latter of whom have been successful in applying to Historic England (formerly English Heritage) for Grade II listed status.  Although its future is still far from assured this does at least mean it is no longer at risk of being torn down, which is wonderful news and gives hope that for other buildings facing the same misfortune. Here's hoping that it will also encourage the developer to consider his options in the renovation of this striking and important local landmark.

source - The Guardian

This story has reminded me of several similar incidents from down the years - a couple quite close to home - beginning with the tragedy that was the Firestone Tyre Factory in Brentford, in the west London Borough of Hounslow.  Designed and built in 1928 by the noted architectural company Wallis Gilbert and Partners, who were responsible for many beautiful Art Deco inspired buildings including the nearby Hoover Factory (still standing albeit now as a Tesco supermarket and recognisable in a couple of early episodes of Poirot) it stood for over half a century as the Firestone Tyre Company's UK head office.  All that changed in November 1979 when Firestone announced it would be closing the factory and selling the building, which was subsequently bought by a British conglomerate, Trafalgar House Plc.  Mindful of its historical importance to an area rich in Art Deco industrial design, in August 1980 the then-planning minister Michael Heseltine moved to have the building listed but was obliged to inform Trafalgar House in advance of the impending decision.  What happened next was the worst sort of underhand cultural vandalism.  With the listing due to come into effect at the end of August, Trafalgar House simply got the bulldozers in over the Bank Holiday weekend and before anyone could do anything about it had demolished this stunning building, leaving only the entrance gates as any sign of its existence.  Outrage quite rightly followed, with the then-fledgling Thirties Society (now The Twentieth Century Society) up in arms at what had happened.  Heseltine wasn't best pleased either and in conjunction with the Civil Service introduced legislation which made sure that such a disgraceful occurrence could never happen again; the Hoover Factory was quickly listed as a result.

source - Yesterday's Racers

Fifteen years later and a similar and equally lamentable occurrence took place - albeit on a much smaller structural scale - in my old home town of Canvey Island.  Overlooking Canvey Lake for the best part of one hundred years was the quaint architectural oddity known to all and sundry as the Oysterfleet Lighthouse.  While its resemblance to such a building was obvious, it was in fact a little one-up one-down cottage built in the traditional 17th-century Dutch style common to the area (Canvey having been reclaimed from the Thames Estuary by the Dutch in the 1600s) by a Captain Gregson in the late 1880s.  He lived in the house on the left of the picture, below, and supposedly designed the Lighthouse for his mother-in-law to live in!

The Oysterfleet Lighthouse
source - The Original Canvey History Website

This charming local landmark stood unmolested for the best part of a century and was just on the verge of having a preservation order applied to it when - well, you can guess what happened next.  The land it was on had been purchased by a developer with his own ideas for the site and in the night leading up to the day the listing was due to come into force the bulldozers moved in and by the morning all that was left was a pile of rubble.  The shock and sadness felt by everyone in the community is still fresh in my mind over two decades on.  A large pub-hotel complex now stands on the site, with its "Lighthouse" restaurant the only nod to the little piece of local history that was sacrificed for its existence.

Elizabeth Cottage, Billericay, prior to its restoration
source - geograph (Robert Eva)

To end on a happier note a similar incident to that in Doncaster took place in Billericay, a town near me, involving a charming early 20th-century cottage that stands in a conservation area along the main high street.  Elizabeth Cottage has a fascinating history, but the story of its last 20 years has been rather tortured.  More or less left to decay over that time by its elusive foreign owners, it made local news (and appeared in the Eye) in 2017 when it emerged that mysterious builders had begun demolishing the roof - this three years after the owners' original planning permission for shops and flats had expired.  The local heritage society swung into action and to their credit Basildon Council acted swiftly to serve an injunction on the absent owners but were eventually forced to take over ownership and protect the structure from any further damage.  Subsequently the property was sold at auction to a local developer who I am pleased to say is obviously more sympathetic to the cottage and its importance to the local conservation area, having renovated it into several apartments while keeping the traditional frontage.

While there will always be wily owners and investors keen only to make quick money without giving thought to the historical or architectural importance of a building, it is thanks to groups like The Victorian Society and The Twentieth Century Society - as well as local community history groups - keeping the pressure up on councils and planning inspectorates that we are seeing more and more historically beautiful designs preserved and restored, to be given new life for future generations.  Although there is still some way to go in protecting significant traditional buildings from the ravages of decay or the attentions of unscrupulous developers, I do believe that we are as a society becoming more appreciative and protective of our communities' early buildings and I very much hope this means we will see more good news stories like this one from Doncaster in the future.

Friday 10 July 2020

Lego Ideas announces typewriter set

source - LEGO IDEAS

LEGO Ideas announces LEGO Typewriter set

One imagines that typewriter aficionados like myself were - and probably still are - fans of Lego as well (indeed aren't most of us?), since it no doubt appeals to the mechanically-minded and the imaginative in much the same way as typewriters do.  Certainly I remember fondly the massive box of assorted Lego bricks I had growing up, the myriad different designs I built up out of them and especially the Lego Pirates sets that I spent many a happy hour building and playing with.  While all of that is now long gone I still find myself marvelling and coveting many of the more mature "Creations" series that Lego occasionally put out between the more traditionally child-friendly sets.  Their Sopwith Camel, for instance, now sadly discontinued and very hard to come by (and subsequently very expensive) is one I'd especially like to own!

source -

Now comes the excellent news that one of the forthcoming sets to be produced in the Lego range - having garnered over 10,000 votes in Lego's fan-based Ideas community - is a typewriter and on initial viewing I can safely say that it joins the Camel on my bricklist (see what I did there...?).  Certainly its creator Steve Guinness, who I am pleased to see hails from the UK, is to be applauded for building such an accurate-looking machine out of largely standard Lego bricks.  Alas he does not mention in the accompanying interview which model of typewriter inspired his design so I will leave it to my fellow typosphereans to hazard a guess!  Regardless of what exact model it is meant to represent I have to say it is a splendid facsimile in spite of the limitations imposed and the attention to detail is mightily impressive.  One could almost be forgiven for thinking it a working example.

source - LEGO IDEAS

Mr Guinness's wider enthusiasm for his medium is obvious and his desire to use Lego creatively as a means of educating and inspiring youngsters through workshops in association with local schools and museums is entirely laudable.  I find myself in complete agreement with him when he speaks of his wonderful set "bringing nostalgia to adult fans[...], and wonder and curiosity to younger fans who might not have ever seen a real typewriter!".  He definitely sounds like a kindred spirit judging by that comment and if his Lego typewriter can engender the feelings he describes in the younger generation - particularly to the point of getting them interested in real typers - then so much the better.  In the meantime I shall keep a look out for this set in the shops (where hopefully it will not be as wallet-crippling as the Camel) with a view obtaining an example for myself!

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Captain Tom Moore: Veteran's motorbike found by Bradford museum

source - Telegraph & Argus

Captain Tom Moore: Veteran's motorbike found by Bradford museum

By far and away on of the best things to come out of the coronavirus crisis and the story that just keeps on giving is that of the emergence of centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore, whose incredible fund-raising 100 laps of his garden resulted in a staggering total donation of £33m for the NHS.  For this heroically altruistic effort he was rightly honoured with a knighthood, the Yorkshire Regiment Medal (as well as the rank of Honorary Colonel of Army Foundation College), the Freedom of Keighley (his home town) and of London, Honorary [Life] Membership of the England Cricket team and the M.C.C., a birthday flypast by the BBMF's Spitfire & Hurricane - not to mention having several trains, buses, boats and even animals named after him.  On top of all that he also became the oldest person to have a UK Number One single with a cover version of You'll Never Walk Alone sung with Michael Ball.  The man once even appeared on Blankety Blank, for heaven's sake!

This is before one even takes into account his military service during World War Two in the Burma Campaign, one of the harshest theatres of the war, where he served in Royal Armoured Corps and survived getting Dengue fever.  Truly his has been a remarkably well-lived life and never was the phrase "cometh the hour, cometh the man" more apposite - clearly even approaching 100 years old he still had his mark to make.

source - KentOnline

Motorbike once ridden competitively by Captain Tom discovered in Bradford museum collection 

One of the many photographs brought out to show his varied life (soon to be in print as an autobiography) shows him - properly suited and moustached, of course - astride a vintage 1920s motorcycle which he used to indulge in one of his favourite hobbies when a young man in the 1950s, that of competitive club racing.  Judging by the trophies he's holding he was rather good at it too!

Captain Tom's motorbike in pride of place at museum

Now comes the marvellous news that this same motorbike has been discovered sitting in a Bradford museum, having been loaned to its collection by the son of a former owner.  The history of the motorcycle and in particular its manufacturer - the locally-based Scott Motorcycle Company - is as equally fascinating as to how to came to pass through Captain Tom's ownership, on to another enthusiast and thus to his son before eventually coming back to prominence in this wonderfully serendipitous manner.  One can well understand the obvious pride displayed by the Bradford Industrial Museum in now being able to update its history to include ownership by a local and national hero and I'm sure it will now take pride of place in its collection, as part of the endlessly rewarding story of one man's remarkable life.


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