31 August 2016

Ekco - Round Five

Ekco released its first round radio, the AD65, in 1934. Four further circular designs followed, both the AD36 and the AD76 in 1935, the AD75 in 1940, and the A22 (pictured) in 1945. This was the last word in development of Wells Coates' original design, with the tuning dial turning a complete circuit, making the A22 the most elegant of the round Ekcos. It was the only one that included the shortwave band. The cursor is in the form of a light box that circles the dial, illuminating it from behind.

Two standard versions were available: walnut-toned Bakelite with a Florentine bronze ring, which cost £17.17s.3d; and more expensive black Bakelite with a chromed ring, as in this example. There are also known to be three genuine special order A22s, made of urea formaldehyde, two in red, and one (made for the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition) in marbled green. All other coloured A22s are fakes or copies.

16 August 2016

Llandrindod Garages I - Automobile Palace

Commenced in 1906 and completed in 1911, what was originally known as The Palace of Sport, trading as Tom Norton Ltd from 1908, was founded by Tom Norton. Norton started in 1906 one of the earliest public bus services in Wales, between Llandrindod Wells and Newtown, held the first Wales-wide Ford agency, and was also a major agent for Austin and Ferguson.

The architect was Richard Wellings Thomas, and the building a very early example of steel construction. It was enlarged in 1919 to about three times its original size, providing nine bays along its curved frontage. Although built to the same Art Deco design, with faience facing throughout, the extension was constructed using reinforced concrete.

22 lions sejant-rampant, each with a shield, guard the building, which faces onto three streets. The elevation to Princes Avenue includes a pedimented entrance to No. 2 Garage. The ground floor fascia boasts faience tiles with raised lettering, including the word Aircraft. Circa 1913 Norton had invited pioneer aviator Gustav Hamel to give flying demonstrations from the nearby old race-course, in an effort to introduce aviation to mid-Wales.

The facility was renamed The Automobile Palace in 1925. It operated as a garage into the 1980s, and was Grade II* listed in 1985. Regrettably, much of the building is unoccupied, but it is home to the National Cycle Museum, a collection of over 250 bicycles that brilliantly charts their history. Apt given that Norton's first business was selling and repairing bicycles.

Llandrindod Garages II - Pritchard's

Also known as Central Garage, Pritchard's Garage was at one time a Rootes dealership, as evidenced by the aged signs for Commer, Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam. 11 lions sejant-rampant upon the parapet hold shields that give a completion date of 1929 for this fine concrete building, now largely unoccupied. The lions and the curved façade echo those of the nearby Automobile Palace.

27 June 2016

UK Weapons of Mass Destruction

One of the normally inaccessible features of the Rhydymwyn Valley Works, developed by ICI in 1939 to manufacture and store mustard gas, is the tunnel system. Three tunnels (central one in bottom photo) were driven about 600 feet into the side of the valley, through limestone, and connected by four cross-tunnels, the stores (below). The system was designed to enable the storage of 3,120 tons of mustard gas, both Runcol and Pyro.

The site's production facilities were closed at the end of the war, when most of the UK's chemical weapons stocks were simply dumped at sea. But the country's then 'strategic reserve' of mustard gas remained stored in the Rhydymwyn tunnel facility until its destruction in 1958-60.

The store was ventilated by means of two huge extractor fans, at the top of the chimneys at the ends of each of the north and south tunnels. Air was drawn into the tunnels, deflected into a void above a mild steel ceiling throughout the storage areas, down through vents in this, and drawn out through grille-covered floor ducts, and up the chimneys. The steel ceiling was carried on concrete corbels.

19 June 2016

Borderlands Rare Vintage Tin

The Clwyd Veteran and Vintage Machinery Show, held annually, throws up some real rarities amongst its shows of cars, commercial vehicles, bicycles and motorbikes, steam and stationary engines, tractors and horticultural machinery. The Lotus Europa (above) was a mid-engined GT, built in Hethel, Norfolk, between 1966 and 1975.

Karrier, part of Clayton and Co. of Huddersfield, started making small commercial vehicles in about 1907, and later moved into manufacturing buses and trolley-buses. It was bought by Commer, part of the Rootes Group, in 1934, itself acquired by Chrysler in 1967, who dropped the brand. This Karrier Bantam was a coal lorry.

NSU, an abbreviation of the company's home town of Neckarsulm, was founded in 1873. It was acquired by Volkswagen in 1969, and merged with Auto Union, who owned the Audi brand - the company name changed to Audi in 1985. The last NSU-badged car was the Ro80, with a twin-rotor Wankel engine and a semi-automatic vacuum transmission, built from 1967 to 1977.

Clan was formed in Washington, Co. Durham, in 1971, by a team of ex-Lotus engineers; and closed in 1973. It re-emerged as Clan Cars in the early 1980s, based in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. In 1985 it released the Clan Clover, with an Alfa Romeo powertrain. The company failed anew in 1987, having built only 26 Clovers.

31 May 2016

Blackpool Tower - Highs and Lows

Blackpool Tower is Lancashire's answer to, and was inspired by, the Eiffel Tower. It was designed by Lancashire architects James Maxwell and Charles Tuke. Heenan and Froude of Worcester, structural engineers, both supplied and built the tower proper. Architects draw, engineers build.

Unlike its Parisian cousin, Blackpool Tower is not free-standing. Its base is surrounded by a monumental building that occupies 54,400 square feet, constructed from more than five million Accrington bricks. The tower proper is formed of 2,493 tons of steel and 93 tons of cast iron, hydraulically riveted together.

The foundation stone was laid in September 1891, and the tower opened in May 1894. 518 feet tall, the tower was inadequately painted during its early years. As a consequence between 1921 and 1924 all the steel-work had to be replaced.

The tower closed during WWII, and the crow's-nest was removed in 1940 to allow for the installation of a radar array, the station known as RAF Tower. Normal service resumed in 1946. The two hydraulic lifts were replaced in 1956-57 by electrically-driven ones. They were replaced again in 1991, and carry one up 315 feet.

A walk-on glass floor to the sea-facing side of the enclosed observation deck, over 380 feet up, was installed in 1998. Two open decks above this are accessible by means of stairways. Not accessible to the public are the 563 steps from the top of the brick building to the tower top, used by the maintenance teams, which coat the tower in nine tons of paint each time it's repainted.

Sadly, it is impossible to simply ascend the tower to appreciate the engineering. The only way up is to purchase an extortionately-priced 'experience', involving endless schmaltz and a pointless '4D' cinema show. These can both be bypassed if one insists, but the queues, disorganisation, bored staff pushing gift shop tat, and rip-off entry fee cannot. The tower is Grade I listed, and deserves much better.

15 May 2016

Rochefort Transporter Bridge

Frenchman Ferdinand Arnodin, with Spaniard Alberto de Palacio, was the patentee holder for the first transporter bridge design brought to realisation, just outside of Bilbao, Spain. Five transporter bridges were built in France, more than in any other country: at Brest (relocated from Bizerta, Tunisia), Marseille, Nantes, Rochefort, and Rouen; with a sixth commenced at Bordeaux but never completed. All were designed by Arnodin. Only the Rochefort bridge remains to France.

Crossing the Charente River, construction of the 700 ton all-steel Rochefort Transporter Bridge commenced in March 1898 and was completed in July 1900. The towers, marked with Arnodin's name on each of the 16 shoes, stand 217 feet high, and the bridge has an overall length of 574 feet, with a main span of 459 feet. The boom is 26 feet wide and 164 feet above water level. The suspension cables terminate in massive anchorages (below).

The gondola, 46 feet long and 38 feet wide, was originally moved under steam power, with electric motors taking over in 1927. It could carry 14 tons - either nine horse-drawn carriages plus 50 pedestrians, or 200 pedestrians alone. The crossing took four minutes. The boom was rebuilt in 1933-34, when the gondola was uprated to carry 26 tons. The latter was dynamited in 1944.

The bridge was abandoned in February 1967 upon opening of a nearby vertical lift bridge, itself demolished in 1991 after opening of the Martrou viaduct road bridge (in background of first photo). Funds were put aside in 1975 for the bridge's demolition, but it was declared an historic monument in April 1976, and refurbished between 1990 and 1994.

The bridge is normally open in the summer months for use by pedestrians and cyclists. At the time of writing it has been closed for a predicted three year period, to replace the boom with one constructed more closely in accord with Arnodin's original design, at an estimated cost of £15.2 million. There is a good museum on the Échillais (Martrou) side of the river.

10 April 2016

April Fools' Car Show 2016

The fourth  April Fools' Car Show, held at Canal Central, Maesbury Marsh, Shropshire, was the largest yet. It attracted over 80 cars, two dozen motorbikes, a clutch of tractors, a Stanley steam car, stationary engines, and three traction engines. Unusual items included a lovely 1972 Citroën Ami 8 Break.

The show winner was John Watson's immaculate 1910 Buick, complete with Selden patent licence plate. (Selden had never built a single example, but in 1895 was granted a US Patent for the automobile, much to the ire of Henry Ford.)  Runner-up was Syd Brode's gorgeous 1950 3.5 litre Jaguar Mk V.