25 December 2015

Berwick Tunnel

970 yards long, the Berwick Tunnel is the only tunnel on the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal, opened January 1797. The overlying burden is shallow, and had the canal been built a little nearer the Severn a cutting would have sufficed, but Humphry Repton's landscaping at nearby Longner Hall prevented this.

The engineer of the Shrewsbury Canal, Josiah Clowes, designed the tunnel to have an internal width of ten feet. At the suggestion of the iron founder William Reynolds a wooden towpath was cantilevered three feet off one wall. Berwick Tunnel was the first of any real length to have a towpath, but this was removed in 1819, after which boats had to be legged through.

The tub boats used on the canal were six feet four inches wide. There was thus not room enough to pass within the tunnel, which is curved such that there is no line of sight through its length. In 1838 a rule was adopted to the effect that laden trains of boats had priority over unladen. Where two laden boats met in the tunnel, that which had first reached the centre point had priority, which required the other to be legged back out.

The tunnel is brick-lined, with ashlar-faced portals. Beside that at the north-west end (top) are the remains of a lengthman's hut (second photo). Both the north-west and south-east (third photo) portals are bricked-up and gated. The canal closed in 1939. The seven ventilation shafts were plugged after 12-year-old Betty Smith was murdered and disposed of down one of them in 1953 - Desmond Hooper was hanged at HMP Shrewsbury.

10 December 2015

Trinidad & Tobago NAPA Napping

Port of Spain's National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) is a teaching and performance facility in the form of a cluster of domes that top out at 100 feet. Superficially similar to the biodomes of Cornwall's Eden Project, the building dominates the capital's Queen's Park Savannah.

Designed to resemble Trinidad and Tobago's national flower, the chaconia, NAPA was constructed by Shanghai Construction and opened in 2010. Serious design and welding flaws that rendered it structurally unsound led to the building's closure on safety grounds in April 2014. It remains closed.

12 November 2015

BTH Type E Loudspeaker

British Thomson-Houston Co. Ltd (BTH) was a diversified engineering company headquartered in Rugby, Warwickshire, that had been founded in 1894 as the British subsidiary of the USA's General Electric. In 1928 it was merged with Metropolitan-Vickers to form Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), which itself later merged with GEC.

The BTH Type E moving-iron cone loudspeaker was introduced in August 1925 with a chromium-plated body. This Form E of the type appeared in 1928, the body of brown Bakelite. 15 inches high and 13 inches wide, the loudspeaker originally cost £3.0s.0d.

01 November 2015

Warrington - Transporter Bridge

Of the 16 transporter bridges built to completion worldwide the UK boasted four: Newport (operational), Middlesbrough (operational), Widnes-Runcorn (demolished 1961), and Warrington. Warrington (also known as Bank Quay) Transporter Bridge was commenced in 1913 and opened in 1916. It linked two parts of the Joseph Crosfield and Sons Ltd chemical and soap works, either side of the Mersey.

Designed by William Henry Hunter and built by Sir William Arrol & Co., the bridge has an overall length of 339 feet, a span of 187 feet, is 30 feet wide, and has a height above the high water level of 75 feet. The cantilevered truss structure is founded in massive concrete caissons, faced in engineering brick. These, and the heavy double cantilevers to each of the four towers, shout the industrial use.

The bridge is alternatively known as Crosfield's No.2, as there was another 'bridge' on the site, slightly further north. Built in 1905, Crosfield's No.1 is oft-cited as a transporter bridge, yet there is no evidence that it ever carried a gondola, which disqualifies it from the club. It was, in effect, a gantry crane. The trolley of No.1 was removed by the time of WWII, and the structure was demolished in the 1970s.

Warrington (Bank Quay, Crosfield's No.2) Transporter Bridge was, and is, unique in the world, in that it was designed to carry railway wagons, of up to 18 tons. (Duluth Transporter Bridge, in Minnesota, USA, did though carry trams.) The rails continued right up to the edge of the aprons either end of the bridge (above) and onto the gondola, and can still be seen in the adjoining east bank chemical works yard. The bridge was converted for use by road vehicles in 1940, and strengthened in 1950 (or 1953, depending on source) to carry loads up to 30 tons.

It ceased operations in 1964, and now stands in a very dilapidated state, the gondola stranded on the inaccessible west bank. Despite being Grade II*-listed, scheduled as an ancient monument, and included on the Heritage at Risk Register, the bridge has been left to rot, a victim of its Warrington Borough Council ownership.

Warrington - K4 Rarity

Designed by the GPO's Engineering Department on the basis of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's K2, the K4 kiosk incorporated a post box and a pair of stamp vending machines. Nicknamed the Vermillion Giant, it was one-and-half times the size of the already monumental K2. The kiosk featured the same fluted architrave mouldings as Scott's K2, but the addition of the postal elements necessitated the stretching of the domed roof and extra trim moulding on the longer sides to break up the otherwise flat cast iron surfaces.

Three of the pediments were pierced with the same Tudor crown used on the K2, providing ventilation. The rear pediment bore a lamp, missing on this example in Warrington. The entablatures carried illuminated signs, Post Office on the long sides, Telephone above the door, and Stamps above the post box and stamp machines.

Introduced in 1930, production ceased in 1935, and only 50 were produced and sited. The stamp machines let in water and were noisy, making telephone calls difficult. Moreover, post boxes tend to be placed by the roadside for ease of access, whilst telephone boxes tend to be tucked up against buildings to limit noise, and the K4 thus proved difficult to site successfully.

Just ten K4s remain, only three on the public streets of Britain: Frodsham, Warrington, and Whitley Bay. Three more grace railway stations: Bolton Street Station in Bury, at the East Somerset Railway in Cranmore, and at the Severn Valley Railway in Bewdley. A further three are housed in museums: the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre, the Avoncroft Museum in Bromsgrove, and the British Postal Museum and Archives in London. A tenth can be found on the Sand le Mere campsite in Tunstall.

01 October 2015

Adelaide - The Cheese Grater

Known locally as the Cheese Grater, the Spaceship, the Pine Cone, and the Prickly Pear, the distinctive feature of the new headquarters of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) is undoubtedly its 6,290 triangular windows.

These are hooded in metal against the sun, the depth of the hood varying as one rises up the curve of the building, in accord with the angle of attack of the sun. In conjunction with solid metal panels, the windows give a mesh effect to the fa├žade.

The building, opened in November 2013, appears to float above its North Terrace site, with the structural frame shaped like a tree, expanding from just six beams at ground level to 36 at the top of the structure.

Indeed, it is possible to walk underneath the body of the structure. A large winding staircase connects the building's five floors, the space otherwise kept as open as possible by the Adelaide architects Woods Bagot.

30 September 2015

Adelaide - Mortlock Library

Forming part of the State Library of South Australia, the Mortlock Library, know known as the Mortlock Wing, was opened in 1884 as a library, museum and art gallery. In French Renaissance style, with the mansard roof that epitomises the style, it took five years to build, after a number of earlier false starts. The lower gallery is carried upon masonry columns, the upper upon cantilevered ironwork. Separate buildings were later constructed for the museum and art gallery.

27 September 2015

Adelaide - Botanic Garden Old

Gracing the 125 acre Adelaide Botanic Garden, the Palm House is of German origin. It was imported from Bremen in 1875 and opened in 1877. Fully restored in 1995, the glasshouse houses the garden's collection of arid plants from Madagascar.

Adelaide - Botanic Garden New

Adelaide's Bicentennial Conservatory was built in the city's botanic garden in celebration of the 1988 bicentenary of Australia. It was designed by Guy Maron, of South Australia.

The build commenced in 1987 and was completed in 1989. 328 feet long, 154 feet wide, and 88 feet high, it is the largest single-span conservatory in the whole of the southern hemisphere. A steel superstructure supports over 26,000 square feet of toughened glass.

Within are lowland non-tropical rainforest plants from northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands, which can be viewed from both an at-grade path and a raised walkway that winds through the canopy.

20 August 2015

Ekco - Round Two

Introduced in the same year, 1935, as the AC76, the cabinet of Ekco's AD36 was inspired by Wells Coates' earlier work on the first round radio, the Ekco AD65. The radio could be had in either walnut-toned Bakelite (£8.8s.0d), or black Bakelite with chromed grille bars and knob centres (£8.18s.6d).

The black and chrome version of the AD36, pictured, did not suit the decor of many houses of the day, and is accordingly much rarer. A plastic miniature copy, with functioning FM reception, is made in the People's Republic of China.

10 August 2015

Middlesbrough's Tranny

16 transporter bridges were built to completion worldwide. Of those, four were in the UK: Newport, Middlesbrough, and two over the Mersey (one at Widnes, and one at Warrington). Three of the UK transporter bridges remain, at Warrington, Middlesbrough and Newport, of which the last two are still operational.

Connecting Middlesbrough, south of the River Tees, to Port Clarence, to the north, the Tees Transporter Bridge boasts an overall length of 851 feet and a span (between the tower centres) of 571 feet. 77 feet longer than its Newport cousin, although with a 74 feet shorter span, the bridge is the longest remaining transporter in the world. (The longest ever built was that between Widnes and Runcorn: it had a main span of 1,000 feet, was 1,150 feet long overall, and was demolished in 1961.)

Commonly called the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, and known locally as The Tranny, the bridge was designed by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Co. Ltd, of Middlesbrough. It was built between 1909 and 1911 by Sir William Arrol & Co., of Glasgow, famous for construction of the Forth Bridge.

The bridge is of cantilever form. Each half of the truss has an anchor span of 140 feet and a cantilever span of 285.5 feet. The structure employs 2,600 tons of steel, plus another 600 tons in the caissons. This compares with 1,326 tons for the more elegant Newport bridge, which relies on its suspension cables for much of the necessary tensioning.

Still operating six days a week, the bridge was Grade II* listed in 1985, with the winch house, piers, railings and gates separately listed Grade II. The gondola was replaced in 2011. Suspended from the truss, which is 140 feet above the water, this can carry nine cars and 200 people, and crosses the river in just 90 seconds.

28 July 2015

Those Blue Remembered Hills

To be found in Craven Arms, South Shropshire, The Land of Lost Content showcases, over three packed storeys, the popular culture collection of Stella and David Mitchell.

To attempt a description of the collection's tens of thousands of items is impossible. It is an admixture of everything from the past, from Victoriana to everyday things only just starting to disappear; the sort of items that prompt people to say, "My grandma had one of those" or "I had that."

Unlike in a museum, the collection is presented in tableaux, rather than exhibited in cases. The 32 themed displays are works of art in themselves, and many items can be handled. The building is owned by the designer Wayne Hemingway, and leased back to Stella and David for life.

18 June 2015

Scarlett Chain Home, Isle of Man

The first network of early warning radar stations built around the coast of Britain before and during WWII was code-named Chain Home (CH). Two stations were built on the Isle of Man, at Bride in the north and Scarlett in the south, near Castletown, and were online by September 1940.

Operated by the RAF, as all CH stations were, the IoM facilities were designated as Advance Chain Home stations, brought online with temporary short timber masts supporting the transmitter arrays, in advance of the availability of 325-foot guyed steel masts. CH Bride closed in 1942, as it duplicated an area already covered by stations in Scotland and Ireland. CH Scarlett closed the same year, as it was too close to Ronaldsway airport and the fleet air arm training unit, HMS Urley, based there. 

Scarlett was replaced by a new CH station at Dalby, on the western side of the island, which operated for the remainder of the war. Scarlett CH had two Type B operations blocks, without protected roofs, each with two sets of equipment; and two Type C blocks, covered with earth, each with one set of equipment. All four blocks remain, in farm use.

17 June 2015

In the Glasshouse

The World of Glass Museum in St Helens, which incorporates the Pilkington Glass Museum, is home to the remains of the oldest surviving gas-fired continuous-tank glass furnace in Europe. The furnace is contained within the Grade II*-listed No.9 Tank House, itself part of Pilkington's Jubilee Glassworks, built next to the Sankey Canal.

The tank house, known locally as the Hotties, boasts a truncated conical flue that once rose above the Siemens regenerative furnace below, installed by Pilkington's in 1889 and in use until 1920. The materials to make glass were fed on a continuous basis into a brick-lined tank and melted together, to provide an endless stream of molten glass. A throat part-way along the tank filtered out impurities. The molten glass was blown into cylinders eight feet long, which were cut open, flattened and polished to produce window glass.

Heat derived from burning coal-gas, used to melt together the raw materials, was recirculated beneath the tank, through a series of flues filled with a latticework of refractory bricks, to keep the molten glass workable. These flues, and the swing chambers in which the cylinders were formed under the influence of gravity, could be accessed by brick-arched service tunnels.

31 May 2015

Wells Coated Ekco

Four of Ekco's five round radios (not the AD75) were available for special order in a variety of colours, the cabinet formed of urea formaldehyde instead of the usual Bakelite. There are understood to be extant just three genuine colour A22s - two red ones, and a marbled green one, this last made especially for the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition. There are known to survive two genuine green AD65s - one was sold in 1993 by Academy Auctioneers of Ealing for £17,500 - and possibly a genuine ivory one. Beyond that, all sightings of colour Ekcos are either speculative, or of copies/fakes.

Gerry Wells, who died in December 2014, famous in vintage radio circles, made wooden reproductions of Ekco AD65s. The presenter of a TV programme on which Wells appeared said that Bakelite had been used by Ekco as it was impossible to make the round shape of the cabinets in wood. Gerry proved the theory wrong by forming the front panel from turned and routed MDF and the cylindrical body from steamed plywood.

The Wells copies are proper valve sets, made in batches of 15. The first six sets, made in 1993, were exact copies of the original, including the chassis. Some later sets were jointly made by Gerry, Eileen Laffey and Tina Sandell, of the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum, Dulwich. Some were fitted with a solid state FM front end by Benito di Gravio, also of the museum. A final batch, of 17 sets, with the correct chassis but an added FM head, was made in 2006 by Wells, Ian Johnson, and di Gravio.

The cabinets were spray-painted in a variety of colours, most commonly marbled green, red and ivory - the colours of the rare genuine survivors. Others were sprayed brown, black, light green, yellow, white, and blue. (A blue one was given to John Paul Getty II, a patron of the museum.) The very first set was marbled green. Eileen's own one-off set was Marks & Spencer green, and Tina's one-off set was a slightly metallic dark blue. The final batch included one each in silver, chrome, camouflage, two-toned metallic, and pink. The very last set was ivory.

The set pictured was Tina's own. The chassis was built, under the tuition of Gerry, by Sandell, who started as a Saturday girl at the museum in 1993. It has a FM front end, and was completed by Benito (by whom it is signed) in July 1996. Tina, from whom the set was acquired, confirmed that Wells had intended to make more AD65 copies than the 152 that are thought to have been made. Someone, though, took from the museum the form used to guide routing of the front panels.

The cabinet of the AD65 was largely designed by the architect Wells Coates. The original sets have printed on the back that they were made at the Ekco works, Southend-on-Sea. In a play on names, and referring to the spray-painting process, a Gerry Wells reproduction AD65 sports a label stating that the set is a RAD65, a "Wells Coated Radio", made in Dulwich.

25 May 2015

Zwolle - Foundation Museum

The building that now houses the fine art collection of the Museum de Fundatie - the Museum Foundation - has had a number of lives. It started as a courthouse, built between 1838 and 1841 by Eduard Louis de Coninck, of The Hague.

The neoclassical building was renovated in 1977 to provide offices for the Netherlands' National Planning Department. The architect who oversaw this work, Arne Mastenbroek, returned in 1994 to convert the building into a museum. Architect Gunnar Daan had his turn in 2004/05, when the museum was adapted for the display of fine art.

The rugby ball-shaped roof extension was added in 2012/13 under the auspices of the architectural practice Bierman Henket. The two storey ovoid is covered with 55,000 blue and white three-dimensional tiles that mirror the sky above.