29 September 2010

What, When & Ware VII

In Scotts Road the houses, explains Janet Watson, jump from number 28 to number 34. When this modern development was laid out in the mid-1960s two houses were to be built on the land occupied by Scotts Grotto, the porch and the 'council chamber' roof of which were demolished before work was stopped.

Hidden behind inconspicuous wooden gates, the grotto is the largest in the UK, extending 67 feet into chalk hillside. There are six chambers, each lined with shells, flints, fossils and coloured glass, connected by passageways and air vents. The grotto, Grade I listed, was excavated over a period of 30 years in the eighteenth century for John Scott, the poet that in 1768 inherited Amwell House (YMGW passim). The council chamber is the most highly decorated section.

In the nineteenth century the grotto graced the grounds of a large house built on part of what had been Amwell House's pleasure gardens, and belonging to Mr Hanbury of Allen and Hanbury fame (YMGW passim). Basic repairs were executed in 1974. Between 1990 and 1991 the Ware Society oversaw a complete restoration, including replacement of the porch, re-roofing of the council chamber, and repair of the Grade II* listed octagonal summerhouse that sits atop the hill.

25 September 2010

"Gas, Boy!"

The Gasboy brand was adopted in 1928 when William M. Wilson's Sons, Inc., of Lansdale, PA, made their first pump. William had founded Wilson's right back in 1819. For over an hundred years the company specialised in painting, glazing and wholesale distribution. It became a distributor of steel drums in the early 1900s, and in the early 1920s moved into 'gas' dispensing equipment. This 1970s commercial pump, a Model 57L, with keyholes for up to 20 users, looks good for its new glass sight and aluminium fascia, the latter fabricated by Andy Smith. Just needs an hose.

19 September 2010

Airstream, Curtis Wright or Silver Streak?

Trying to determine the manufacturer and year of an early American aluminium trailer can be confusing. Airstreams of the late 1930s, Curtis Wrights of the 1940s, and early Silver Streaks all look very similar; and many secondary sources on the web are, at best, muddled, so any corrections are welcome.

Wally Byam started working life in advertising, and later either worked for or became a magazine publisher during the Great Depression. In seeking to get to the bottom of reader complaints about inaccuracies in plans for a caravan published in an early DIY magazine, Byam started building them himself, in plywood. From 1930 this became Byam's full-time occupation, and he founded Airstream - web sources give the date as anywhere between 1931 and 1934.

In about 1935 Byam went to work for William Hawley Bowlus. Bowlus was an aircraft pioneer, had been Superintendent of Construction on Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. He'd taken to designing all-aluminium bullet-shaped caravans - the Chief and the smaller Papoose. When Bowlus went bust in 1936, Byam bought some of the equipment and took on some of the Bowlus workers. He started selling, under his Airstream brand, a near copy of the Bowlus Chief, the key difference being that the Airstream had the door in the side instead of at the front. Byam's caravan was called the Clipper.

Meanwhile, a chap named Curtis Wright, one S, made clever use of his name to build caravans at the facilities of aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright, two Ss and two surnames hyphenated together. One-S Curtis Wright hired Byam and in 1946 they started producing, at Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport, a trailer based on Byam's pre-war Airstream Clipper. The relationship lasted only a few months. In 1947 Byam refounded Airstream, first making again the Clipper, and, from 1948, offering a range of sizes. Wright founded Curtis Wright Travel Trailers, but in 1949 sold out to three investors who changed the name to the Silver Streak Trailer Company. The Silver Streak Clipper was built in South El Monte, California.

Today's acquisition is ostensibly a 1947 Curtis Wright. However, it bears a badge that says it's a Silver Streak from El Monte, so must be of 1949 or later. Against that, though, it has two rectangular windows at the rear, instead of the one wide window, or two 'Argonaut' windows, that feature in every image of Silver Streak Clippers seen so far. A bit of a mystery at this stage.

14 September 2010

Skegness - Singularly Scrofulous

From 'O'-level geography one will recall that longshore drift accounts for the gradual reduction in sediment particle size as one moves south along the Lincolnshire coastline, with mud defining The Wash. At Skeggy though there are sand dunes. And that's it.

The pier, built 1881, was at that time the fourth longest in England, but was very much shortened in 1978 as a result of storm damage. It now barely extends beyond the line of high tide. Crude and ugly, Skegness doesn't even have the faded charm of Morecambe, Blackpool, or Barmouth - it's just plain depressing. Avoid.

06 September 2010

Llanyblodwel - Church Among the Flowers

Although the south doorway is Norman and the arcade and screen mediaeval, St Michael the Archangel in Llanyblodwel is essentially the Victorian creation of Rev. John Parker, vicar from 1845 to 1860. Parker designed the porches and dormer, ceilings, reredos, and the decorative scheme, which features scriptural quotations, later white-washed but restored in 1960.

Yet Parker's greatest achievement is the tower and spire. Both are octagonal, as the site could not accommodate a buttressed square tower. The spire, built 1855, has a convex cross-section, which provides increased strength. At 47 feet high, the centre point of the spire's external curve is 10½ inches outside the slanting line between base and apex.

The churchyard is home to two stone coffins, possibly Norman but certainly mediaeval, and a number of fine Victorian monuments. Some of the plots are delineated with chains of unusual design.