30 January 2014

Jellied Eels

Pie 'n' mash shops were once common across East and South London, but are now few and far between: tastes and quality expectations have moved on. Few would frequent Cockneys, in Frith Road, Croydon, for the standard of the fayre. The menu consists of 'beef' pie, stewed or jellied eels, mashed potato, liquor (once made using the water in which had been cooked the eels, but now parsley sauce), and tea.

Yet the plain decor of clean white wall tiles, half a dozen booths of wooden benches and marble-topped tables, and black-framed monochrome photographs of pearly kings and queens, is very inviting. Vinegar, the traditional condiment for pie 'n' mash, is supplied in the form of large reused Jack Daniel's bottles.

28 January 2014

Shrewsbury Battlefield, 1403

On 21 July 1403, the armies of King Henry IV and Henry Percy engaged each other about three miles north of the centre of Shrewsbury. The Battle of Shrewsbury was an exceedingly bloody one, the first occasion on which English longbow archers had fought each other, and resulted in an estimated 5,000 deaths.

The Percy family had backed Henry in his war with Richard II and had helped him to the throne in 1399. Henry, however, reneged on his promise of reward lands, and failed to provide funds to help the Percys protect the north of the kingdom. The Earl of Northumberland, with others, set out a list of grievances and demands, and his son, Henry Percy, known as Hotspur, headed south. In Cheshire he recruited experienced archers, but his army likely consisted of no more than 14,000. Hotspur's expected reinforcements, under Owain Glynd┼Ár, never arrived.

Henry IV was already on his way north, ironically to assist the Percys against the Scots. The king was apprised at Burton-on-Trent of the revolt of the Percys, and headed west to address the new threat, with a force estimated at anything up to 60,000. Battle was joined about a mile south of where now stands Battlefield Church.

The Cheshire bowmen inflicted much damage, and Henry's right wing broke down. Hotspur led a charge directly upon the king in an effort to capitalise upon a temporary advantage against superior force. The battle ended when it became known that he had been killed in the attempt: "...time, that takes survey of all the world, / Must have a stop" (Henry IV, Part 1, Act V, Sc. 4).

A chantry chapel, reputed to lie above a mass grave associated with the battle, was completed in 1409. A year later this became a college of chaplains. There are remains of the fishponds that sustained the chaplains. The chapel was integrated into a larger church, completed about 1460, which itself became a parish church in 1548. Heavily restored in 1860-62, the church was declared redundant in 1982.

03 January 2014

Gerry Wells - Valveman

The British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum, Dulwich, is housed in the home in which its creator, Gerry Wells, was born in 1929. Gerry has spent his life in the world of radio and television, building them from scratch (including his WADAR brand), repairing them, stealing them, and collecting them.

His interest in everything electrical started at age four, and truly amounts to the Obsession that is the title of his fascinating autobiography. The museum commenced in 1974, when it was focused on wireless - it has subsequently expanded into 405-line television.

Many of the vintage TVs on show are in full working order, fed via standards converters. These include that used by the BBC to convert from 625 to a transmittable 405 lines, when they were running dual standards - being the size of a double wardrobe, this is appropriately housed in Gerry's bedroom.

This and the kitchen are the only rooms of a normal domestic character. The rest of the house is full to the gunwales with vintage wireless and TV sets. There's a room of 1920s equipment (top), one largely of Ekcos (second photo), another of early transistor portables (third photo), and yet another partly fitted out as a period wireless repair shop (above).

It doesn't end there though. At the end of the garden is a series of interlinked sheds, one with a clerestory roof, all built by Gerry. These are also full of sets, grouped by manufacturer, and of display cabinets of various components; and house Gerry's workshop. In all, a staggering 1,300 sets are on display.