Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shirley windmill

I was quite surprised to learn last year that there are windmills in London. There is one in the southwest at Wimbledon, one at Brixton in south London, at Upminster in east London and one at Shirley. They are reminders that London once was an area for agriculture and food production. So it is not just Amsterdam that has windmills!

I have plans to visit all these windmills although the Upminster one is currently closed for renovation. The first windmill I visited was at Shirley. Shirley is a town near Croydon, it used to be in Surrey but now comes under Greater London.

The friends of Shirley windmill hold open days a few times a year and I finally managed to go to one.

The approach is now through a modern housing area

It is the only surviving windmill in the Croydon area but is not the original. The original mill was built in 1808 and was a timber post mill but was destroyed by fire in 1854. A new tower mill was built and was used until 1890 when it was declared nonviable and was abandoned. It may well have been the last large windmill ever built in Surrey.
Models of a post mill and a tower mill -

Over the years the mill deteriorated, having been struck by lightning in 1899 and again in 1906. The first attempt at restoration was in 1927. In the 1950s the mill was threatened with demolition when the John Ruskin School was built, but it was protected. In 1996 the London Borough of Croydon (who now own the mill) received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£218,000) and this money helped to restore the mill to near-working order. The mill was then opened to the public.

The sails today are shorter than they would have been on the working mill and also they haven't been filled in, when the mill was working they would have looked like those on the model above, which can be opened or closed according to the wind.

The cap or top of the mill looks like a boat -

Shirley mill is five storeys tall. The tour starts at the top floor, where there are nice views towards Crystal Palace and central London -

The top floor is the dust floor, named from the dust in the air. This is the engine house of the mill as this is where the wind provides the power to drive the machinery. The shaft that is turned by the sails moves the gears. See more here.

Below is the bin floor, where the sacks of grain were stored. Then the stone floor, where the millstones are located which were used to grind the grain. These have been restored. They are made from fresh water quartz. Nowadays millstones are generally made from steel, due to the fact that bits of stone get into the flour. The stone masons tools can be seen, the stones had to be constantly balanced.

Then the  meal floor. The ground grain is sent down and is put into sacks and then loaded onto wagons. There are a few exhibits at the ground level and throughout the mill are meccano models which adds a nice touch. There is also a small information centre in a separate building.

See more on Shirley windmill on the official site.

I'm now curious to see the other windmills in London.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Somerset House in London

I have been past Somerset House in London hundreds of times and yet I know very little about the place. In fact all I know is that it used to house the records of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the general public could go there to access the records. The General Register Office where those records were kept moved out of Somerset House in 1970, having been there since 1836. The only other thing I knew is that in winter there is a public ice skating area in the fountain court; I went along one year, not to skate but just to watch.

Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court -

Very recently I learnt that Somerset House used to be a palace for 3 queens. I also found out there are free tours available. I went along for a tour, only to find there was no guide that day, but I was given a self guided leaflet.

See the official site for the complete history and old photos and pictures. Here is a short history -
1547 Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, started building a palace for himself on the banks of the Thames. He was executed at the Tower of London 5 years later and ownership of the almost completed palace passed to the Crown. The palace was actually closer to the Thames than the present building.

Princess Elizabeth moved to Somerset House in 1553 and lived there until she was crowned Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.

3 queens then lived in the palace -

1. Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England (James VI of Scotland). During her time the house was renamed Denmark House in her honour. The Treaty of London which ended the 19-year Anglo-Spanish War, was negotiated and signed at Denmark House in 1604. The famous architect Inigo Jones redesigned parts of the building for Anne, until she died in 1619. Inigo Jones died in the house in 1652.

2. The next queen to live there was Henrietta Maria of France, wife of King Charles I. In the 1640s the house was taken over as the headquarters for the Parliamentary Army during the the English Civil War. The war ended in 1649 and Charles I was executed. Charles II was crowned king and his mother, Henrietta Maria returned to Denmark House in 1660. In 1665 when the Plague raced through London, Henrietta Maria moved back to France where she died in 1669. A year after the plague, in 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City of London, but stopped just short of Denmark House.

3. The last royal to live in the house was Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. She stayed there until 1693 and during that time, Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for more construction and renovation work.

That was the end of the royals. From the 1700s Somerset House was used as offices, apartments, stables etc. In 1779 The Royal Academy of Arts moved into the North Wing, followed by the Society of Antiquaries a year later. The south, east and west wings were then added. The Navy Board and Stamp Office moved in. The latter taxed newspapers and printed documents. The new Somerset House was complete by 1801.

The Royal Academy and Royal Society both moved out later, also the Admiralty, and the Inland Revenue moved in.

In recent decades The Courtauld Institute of Art moved in, and by 2000 the river terrace was open, and the first ice rink was made. The place has been used for London fashion week and other art groups. The Inland Revenue, now known as HMRC moved out in 2011.

Today Somerset House is used as an arts centre.

Looking from the North Wing towards the South and the West (right) wing. The King George III statue is hidden behind the lamp post, and Father Thames sits below the king.

The West Wing -

Looking towards the North Wing and The Strand entrance -

Entrance to the South Wing and Seamen's Hall -

The Seamen's Hall was the entry to the Navy Office. The Nelson Stairs led up to the Navy area and were frequently used by the Nelson brothers. The stairs were restored after bomb damage in 1940 -

Looking at the entrance to the South Wing from the Victoria Embankment terrace -

Maybe next time I go to Somerset House will be in the winter to watch the ice skating again.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Gulls moving to the city

For years now, it has been common to see gulls in London and in many other towns and cities in England. Commonly, but wrongly known as seagulls, these birds should, as the name suggests, live by the sea. So I was interested to read a recent article on BBC website, 'have seagulls abandoned the sea'.

There are gulls all over London, especially in the centre. One vivid memory is arriving at Heathrow airport early morning in 2009, taking the underground to Leicester Square and as I came out of the station at 7 am I could hear and see lots of gulls flying around. There seem to be more in the city than in the suburbs.

The most common gull is the herring gull. It has a snowy white head and body with grey wings and a yellowish beak. I don't seem to have any photos of gulls in London. Herring gull at Canterbury :

There are still gulls at Brighton. On the pier, they hang out by the fish and chips cafes and other eating places

In the town, they cool off in the fountain

A gull in Portugal,

In Canada

And in Alesund, Norway

Read more on BBC Magazine 2012 "Who What Why: Why are there so many seagulls in cities?" and ITV News 2016 "Seagulls causing north London residents' lives hell".

Some towns are now using birds of prey to try and tackle the seagull problem, especially where seagulls "attack" humans for food, e.g. people who come out of chip shops and the gulls attack. See Yorkshire Post 'Birds of prey to tackle Yorkshire coast's problem gulls'. Plymouth and Bath also use birds of prey. In Bath, people want the gulls culls as the gulls carry harmful bacteria.

Looks like gulls are taking over!!!


Shortly after posting this blog, I went to the Tower of London. The Tower is quite well known for the ravens that live there, there is a rumour that if they ever leave, the Tower and the country will 'fall'. Consequently the ravens are well looked after. So I was amused to see a solitary gull eating some meat that was put out for the ravens. As there was only one, I wonder if they normally get chased away.

2nd UPDATE -

BBC Blog Springwatch 26 July 2017 has an interesting article, There's no such thing as a "sea gull". It says that Britain has six of the world's 50 species of gull :
herring gulls
lesser black-backed gulls
great black-backed gulls
black-headed gulls
common gulls

And it is the herring gull that is most common and are now drawn to our towns and cities due to an abundance of nesting sites and food and relative lack of predators.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Paddington Bear - RIP Michael Bond

I've been a fan of Paddington Bear most of my life. Paddington Bear was created by Michael Bond in 1956, so I was sad to hear that Michael Bond died on 27 June 2017.

Paddington, who comes from "deepest darkest Peru" was found on Paddington Station and was taken home by the Brown family. Over the years Paddington had many adventures and escapades. I read many of his books over the years. There has also been a TV series and a film.

Paddington is well known for his love of marmalade sandwiches. As part of a tribute to Michael Bond, people left jars of marmalade and flowers at the Paddington Bear statue on Platform 1 of the station.

Mum bought me a large size Paddington Bear, not when I was a child, but when I was 28. He is about 47 cm high.

Since then I acquired 2 more. The small one is my travelling companion and since I had him, he has been everywhere with me on all holidays and trips away, even on weekends away. As you can see he is well worn, especially his hat -

Monday, June 26, 2017

Crossness Pumping Station

In May 2017 I went to a talk on the Crossness Pumping Station and found it very interesting. So when they had a steaming open day on 25 June I went to see the place for myself. It is located near Abbey Wood, on the south bank of the River Thames east of London.

The Crossness Pumping Station is nicknamed the Cathedral on the Marsh. It was built to improve Victorian London's sewerage system and was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. It was officially opened by the Prince of Wales in April 1865.

At that time London was suffering from outbreaks of cholera, as the water supply as well as the River Thames were heavily polluted with sewage. It is said that up to 20,000 people died annually in London from cholera. So the Metropolitan Board of Works were asked to do something. Joseph Bazalgette was the engineer of the MBW was put in charge to finding a solution to these problems. He had 85 miles of new sewers built and those connected with the many smaller sewers that ran into the Thames. This took the effluent to the east area of London where it was discharged into the Thames and flowed out to sea. This required a number of pumping stations.

There were 3 pumping stations, One at Abbey Mills, north of the river, but only the shell remains. South of the river there was a pumping station at Deptford, which has essentially disappeared and the one at Crossness which is now being slowly restored.

Today the pumping station is surrounded by a large sewage plant operated by Thames Water.

At Crossness, 4 rotative beam engines were built by James Watt & Company, and were used to pump London's sewage into a reservoir before being discharged into the Thames on the ebbing tides. The 4 engines were housed in the The Beam Engine House, which is now a Grade 1 Listed Industrial Building. The Crossness Engines Trust is a charity that was set up to preserve the buildings and restore these pumping engines. The workers are all volunteers. This is from the CET www :

"The Beam Engine House was constructed in the Romanesque style and features some of the most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork to be found today. It also contains the four original pumping engines (although the cylinders were upgraded in 1901), which are possibly the largest remaining rotative beam engines in the world, with 52 ton flywheels and 47 ton beams. Although modern diesel engines were subsequently introduced, the old beam engines remained in service until work on a new sewerage treatment plant commenced in 1956. Following abandonment in the mid 1950's, the engine house and engines were systematically vandalised and left to decay, which greatly impeded the Trust's restoration/conservation programme."

"The complex was designed in the Romanesque (Norman) style, in gault brick, with considerable ornamentation with red brick arches and dog-tooth string courses. The three entrance doorways were decorated with Norman dog-toothed red brick arches, whilst the main entrance, facing the river (now hidden by an extension) was further decorated with the coats-of-arms of the MBW and adjacent counties. There was originally a magnificent chimney, 207 feet high, which has since been demolished."

Side view of the engine house

 The 3 entrance doorways -

The interior of the engine house is incredibly ornate, with amazing wrought and cast iron work. There is one engine in each corner and in the centre is an octagonal structure of iron columns, highly ornamented, with supporting iron arched screens and the open octagonal well on the main beam floor.

There were polished tubular brass hand rails. The ironwork was painted in natural colours following those of the leaves, branches and fruit represented.

Looking up at the openwork upper iron floors painted in french grey and vermilion, with the shafts of the main columns in indian red.

The 4 beam engines are named "Victoria", "Prince Consort", "Albert Edward" (the Prince of Wales) and "Alexandra" (the Princess of Wales). You can read more about them in detail on the CET engines page.

In 2003 the restoration of "Prince Consort" was completed and is steaming on 6 open days a year.

Looking up at the beam and the openwork upper deck -

The 4 engines -

Victoria is now being restored. The other 2 will be left as they are.

On the upper floor, with "Prince Consort" at the back left -

and one of the unrestored beams -

Looking at the whole length of the building, "Prince Consort" is at the back left -
 Note the MWB logo -

The spiral staircase goes down to the lower floor & the base of the engines -

The entrance building now  houses an exhibition called The Great Stink, covering the first urban sewage systems right through to systems of the future. There is also a lot of info on cholera. Some old toilets -

Current view from the river

1865 view with the chimney -

Crossness Pumping Station is an amazing piece of Victorian heritage.