Anyway, time to write up the few museums that exist only as notes and pictures, and head off and visit some new ones. I'll probably take it a little easier, since beasting myself around half a dozen museums every weekend wasn't sustainable. All I need to do is 'loosen' my definition of 'a year' a little, and all will be well ;-)
(Certainly not as long as a year on Jupiter, but quite probably more like a year on Mars.)
So, Kew Bridge Steam Museum. Steam engines of every size, a steam train, everything running and hissing and pumping - I loved it. If I'd come here when I was a ten year old boy, there's a very good chance I'd be wearing an anorak and devoted to steam engines every moment of my spare time (as opposed to wearing an anorak and walking the dog in the rain.)
Driving in and out of London to the office most days, and always passing along the elevated section of the M4, I had idly wondered what the tall, old, campanile-style tower at the Eastern end of the elevated section was. Turns out, I need wonder no more - it's part of the Museum. In fact, the museum is located at one of the original pumping stations for London's water network, and the tower was a part of that.
|The Tower, and the Cornish Engine House (I think)|
Both are fascinating, the latter with a lot of moving pistons and steam. The whole place smells vaguely of woodsmoke and meths, with a faint tropical steaminess - like a fairground in August, but without the cheap greasy foodstuffs. It probably helped that I visited on the day of their 'Stirling Engine Rally', meaning a large number of highly enthusiastic men sat behind trestle tables covering in rapidly spinning, steaming, bouncing miniature engines. Everything from solar powered engines, to fluidyne pumps, to displacement hot air engines and more. This is probably what contributed the meths smell...
|Stirling Engines of various kinds|
Back to London's water network, I made a note of the following, which clearly struck me as interesting at the time:
- Roman London - water pipes were made of clay
- Medieval London - lead pipes
- Tudor London - A combination of stone, lead and wood
- Georgian London - wood, mostly elm
- Victorian London - cast iron
I'm not sure why wood was though to be a good material to make pipes from, I wouldn't have thought it would last that well - although having visited one of the world's oldest oil refineries last year (1890s), they had also discovered wooden pipes had been in use there (found when excavating ground for a new project.)
|London's Ring Water Main|
The London water system also explains the large plastic/glass water tower in the middle of Holland Park roundabout, which I walk past most days. To my shame, I vaguely thought it was some kind of art installation....
Before I move on to the big engines, a couple of fairly random words I absorbed, because they sounded amusing...
- Schmutzdecke - in water filtration systems, this is the layer of algae and other bio- stuff on top of the layers of sand and charcoal.
- Gonkfermor - a medieval street cleaner.
|I think this is a Hawthorn Davey Triple Expansion engine, but my notes are unclear|
|Running Water Wheel|
I'd say there are a couple of dozen steam engines all told - and they are all in running order, although to conserve fuel the museum fires the bigger ones up on a rota, so you need to check their website for dates and times. I particularly wanted to see the giant Cornish engines running- and was there on the right day, but the wrong time.
The Cornish largely invented the steam driven pumping engine for the mining industry - notably Thomas Newcomen (although wikipedia tells me he was from Devon, hmmm) and James Watt. According to the museum, the expertise in building these engines was concentrated in Cornwall, so when new ones needed to be built throughout the UK (and presumably through the Empire) teams of Cornishmen came to do it, as they did with the enormous three-storey high Cornish engines at Kew Bridge. Being somewhat Cornish myself, I quite like to think of skilled bands of Cornish engineers, technicians, surveyors and builders bringing steam power and the industrial revolution to the world.
The Cornish engines at Kew Bridge are housed in their own three storey house. My notes aren't clear, but I believe the biggest could pump something like 800 litres of water in every stroke. The beams for the two engines were 90 and 100 inches long, respectively. My pictures probably don't do their immensity justice, but here they are anyway:
|The Beam at the top|
|Innards of the machine|
I also noted that they are always on the lookout for volunteers to help maintain and run the engines. I barely have time to write a blog, but what a great way to spend some hours in the week...
And...you can rent the whole place out for events (e.g. corporate, social etc) - now that would make a team event more interesting than the 100s of PowerPoint slides it invariably actually is.
Cost: £9.50 for adults, less for concessions. And free re-entry for 12 months. I also bought a mug, which I won't let anyone else drink from.
Food and Drink: Quite a good cafe, although don't expect it to be art-museum trendy, it isn't.
Travel: It's here.