30 August 2013

Psychedelic Warlords

40 years ago, 'cosmic rock' group Hawkwind released their live album Space Ritual. A double LP, requiring three changes of side, the album was an hour-and-a-half long.

The Psychedelic Warlords, named for the 1974 Hawkwind track The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke), are in 2013 playing the whole album, live, at a number of smaller venues across the land. At the Llanfyllin Workhouse they were booked to appear the same weekend as the entirely separate, but appropriately hippy, Audio Farm festival.

The group is fronted by saxophonist Nik Turner, of the original 1969 Hawkwind line-up, and includes bass player Alan Davey, who played with Hawkwind in the 1980s.

Back in 1973 Stacia (Blake) featured with Hawkwind as an interpretive dancer. The Psychedelic Warlords features in like vein the belly and burlesque dancer Demolitia. Recommended.

26 August 2013

Brymbo Iron & Steel Works

The Brymbo Estate was bought in 1792 by John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson, the ironmaster of Bersham, as it boasted supplies of both iron ore and coal. Wilkinson built his ironworks at Brymbo in 1796, and likely, as part of that, a blast furnace known as Old No.1.

Wilkinson added a second furnace in 1804, but when he died four years later the ironworks was mired in legal disputes. The order book dried up following the end of the wars with Napoleon, and the estate was sold in 1829, the works lying idle for over a decade.

It passed in 1841 to the Brymbo Iron Company, and  the famous Scots engineer Henry Robertson was engaged to help make it viable.  Robertson, backed by investors, built a new foundry and machine shops, improved the blast furnaces, and sank a new colliery.

Robertson had determined that key was improved transport. In 1845 the Brymbo Mineral and Railway Company opened a branch line that connected the works to the mainline network. However 1854 saw further disputes, with the directors of the company each seeking to gain outright control.

Robertson won out and in 1884 formed the Brymbo Steel Company. The first steel was made at the site a year later. Production doubled between 1898 and the start of WWI, but post-war the works was closed by first the miners' strike of 1921 and then the General Strike of 1926.

The Great Depression ultimately killed off this incarnation of Brymbo - the works closed once again in 1931. A new company was formed in 1933 and Brymbo once more recommenced production. It produced special steels for aero engines, using electric arc furnaces.

The works saw further modernisation under the aegis of Guest, Keen & Nettlefold (better known as GKN) - a new electric melting shop in 1959 and a new cogging (drawing) mill in 1961. Brymbo became part of the nationalised and monolithic British Steel Corporation in 1967, and remained a specialist steel maker.

A new bar and billet mill was built in 1976. This was perfectly timed to coincide with a further recession. The new owners, United Engineering Steels, invested in continuous casting at its Rotherham plant, which finally killed Brymbo for good.

The last furnace was tapped on 27 September 1990. The bar and billet mill was shipped to China. The whole of the twentieth-century plant has gone, but what remains is the older works, as substantially developed by Robertson, alongside Wilkinson's blast furnace (photo four).

There are also a number of items from the age of steel, including giant ladles, some of which are mounted on railway wagons. The site is dominated by the stacks of two cupola furnaces - the business end of one is shown in photo nine.

In April 2013 weight of snow collapsed the roof of the pattern shop (photo two) and a large part of that of the foundry. The way into the site remains guarded by a real Tonka toy, a truck by Euclid of Ohio (now part of Hitachi).

17 August 2013

From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks Do Glow

Take one chimney spinner cowl, one 11" x 11" x 15" block of solid oak, three halogen lamps, lamp fittings and vintage cable. Apply plane, sander, very long auger, stain, and furniture wax. Result: one floor (or, provided it's capable of supporting 71 pounds, table) lamp.

14 August 2013

Timber Movers & Shakers

Based at what was once RAF Rednal is North Shropshire Timber, the yard of which is stacked with sawn timber and virtually whole oak trees, and home to a variety of workhorses. Atop a container is a long wheelbase Land Rover, in need of some recommissioning.

In common use though is an AEC Matador artillery tractor. The Associated Equipment Company's Matador, with an ash-framed cab, was built from 1932 as a two-wheel drive civilian truck, and gained four wheel drive during WWII - known as the Mat.

AEC produced a six wheel drive version that was also known as the Matador, but officially designated the Marshall. This was developed into the Militant (above), available in both 6x4 and 6x6 variants, a vehicle still in use by the military in the 1990s.

A set of wheels has a suggestion of traction engine about it. Only slightly more complete is a Douglas truck, possibly one of their AEC Matador-based load-movers. Douglas, now part of Dennis, still makes specialised tugs, very many of which are seen at airports and docks.

11 August 2013

Farmer Phil's - Tanks on the Lawn

Held each year since 1998 at Ratlinghope (pronounced "Ratchup"), 15 miles south of Shrewsbury, is Farmer Phil's Festival. The festival attracts about 3,000 people, some of whom arrive in style. Above is a 1964 Bedford CA Dormobile Romany.

Up a notch scale-wise is a 1953 ex-MOD Austin K9 tipper, towing a vintage caravan. Farmer Phil Harding wins out though, with a 55 ton Chieftain main battle tank.

Altogether more ethereal is the display of inflatable kites. The larger of these - the newt is a good 25 feet long - are hoisted into the air with the assistance of a lifter kite.

On a windy day the kites demand tethering using rope rated to 1,000 pounds - the sort of thing used to land giant tuna or marlin.

08 August 2013

Ekco - Rounds Three & Four

Taking full advantage of the plastic properties of Bakelite, Ekco introduced in 1934 the first round radio, the AD65. The cabinet of this was largely designed (two years earlier) by the ex-patriate Canadian architect Wells Coates, famous for his Isokon building, Hampstead - the Lawn Road Flats in which lived Agatha Christie. Coates was interested in circular motifs, at the time to the fore in the drum-shaped London Underground stations of Charles Holden, best seen in Arnos Grove and Southgate, on the Piccadilly Line.

Over the next eleven years, Ekco brought out another four round designs. The AC76 (left) was released in 1935, and sold for eleven guineas. A black and chromium version was £12.1s.6d. An AC/DC version was available as the AD76, and a wooden stand, rather like a stool, could be bought for £1.5s.0d.

The AD75 (right) was released in January 1940, its rather plainer design and smaller diameter, 14 instead of 15½ inches, a reflection perhaps of wartime economies. It sold for seven guineas. The set was re-released in October 1946, now four guineas more, and can be distinguished from the 1940 version pictured by an on/off switch to the side of the cabinet.

Note: Ekco's ADs ran on both alternating and direct current, whilst their ACs ran on alternating current only.