Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I've travelled through Banbury a lot (usually on the way to and from London) but today i stopped off to visit the town and especially the canal. The Oxford Canal runs through the town and i was surprised at how many narrowboats there were there. It totally surprised me, some of the bridges were pretty neat too. You can see my canal pictures here.

I also visited the town, which is nice. Oxfordshire is in my blood. My relatives can be traced back to that county to the 1670s apparently. The railway station is especially fun with some interesting traffic including an inspection saloon being propelled by a class 37! You can see my Banbury (non-canal) photos here.

I also made the following Vine video of the London-Stratford train arriving.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review : Transatlantic Airships - An Illustrated History

Airships are one of my obsessions and books on them i hungrily consume. Transatlantic Airships is not a general history of airships though does cover a great deal of their heyday and more recent developments. It concentrates on airships that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, seen as the great barrier in early aviation. Transatlantic passenger flights were seen in the 1920s as the great commercial opportunity for airships like the famous zeppelin, able to take passengers in comfort long distances. This was something the fixed wing aircraft of the time was far beyond being able to match.

In his well written and brilliantly illustrated book John Christopher describes the early history of the airship, both rigid and non-rigid and the advances in technology sparked by the First World War with the German zeppelins gaining longer and longer legs. The first airship to cross the Atlantic non-stop though was British, R34 which crossed from East to West in July 1919. Although the fixed wing aircraft beat it across with Alcock and Brown crossing in the other direction in their former Vimy bomber just 2 weeks beforehand, R34 did make the first return crossing by an aircraft. R34's epic journey is covered in great detail as are a number of other crossings, the book throughout is well illustrated with excellent photographs and period graphics and maps.

Despite the British lead (whose interest in airships was finally destroyed in the R101 crash) it was the German zeppelins who made passenger flights across the Atlantic their own with airships of increasing size and complexity culminating in the Hindenberg. The airship was holding its own in its special niche in the 1930s despite increasing competition by aeroplanes. The level of comfort that could be offered unmatched until the wide-bodied jet airliners of the 1970s (albeit for the rich only). Of course the airship was a lot slower but when you are rich maybe the time to travel  does not matter too much as a smoking room and a grand piano, as the Hindenberg had, does. The Hindenberg disaster killed off the commercial airship business though by then it was largely restricted to the zeppelin Atlantic trade.

If the Hindenberg had not blown up on that dreadful day in May 1937 its interesting to consider for how much longer the zeppelins would have crossed the Atlantic. It is likely they could have continued for a few more years though the disaster and the Second World War killed off the dream. That is not the end of the story the book recounts however as the wartime exploits of the US Navy's blimp squadrons (or blimprons) which on occasion crossed the Atlantic to get to their assignments in Europe are also included. The book ends with a look at recent airship developments including the Zeppelin NT though airships crossing the Atlantic carrying passengers in decadent comfort is probably a dream that will never live again.

Dreams are something the book covers well. Many futuristic (and outlandish) designs for airships were made in both sides of the war, even nuclear powered airships being considered at one stage but all of these dreams came to nothing. But it is good to dream after all, even if the dream is ultimately doomed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A fresher look

You may have noticed i have updated the look of the blog a bit, the most noticeable change being the font used in the title graphic. For sometime i have used "Melbourne" as my "corporate font" which i use on all graphics but now i have decided to change to this typewriter font. And no ordinary typewriter font, it actually is the same typeface (apparently) as my Brother Deluxe 1350 typewriter!

I haven't actually checked the accuracy of the font with the output of the typewriter though but it looks close enough. One reason for the change was that i felt a typewriter font was more apt for a blog that talks about history and archives a lot (though considering the archives i have to struggle with some kind of barely legible handwriting font might be more apt!)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Along the Upper Avon

The good weather continues so lets continue the photography and waterway walking! Today i returned to my familiar haunt Stratford-upon-Avon.

This time i wanted to head up the Avon as far as i could go. I went past the navigation limit of larger craft though a field of cows provided the limit for my navigation. One day the plan is for the Avon to be navigable all the way up to Warwick though at the moment you can only get as far as Alveston Weir in a smaller craft (not far beyond where i could reach). Here are my photos.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Social history of 1970s fireplaces and other adverts

Social history, especially of the late 20th century, is one of the main aspects of the great subject of history that fascinates me the most (the other is the Roman republic, so i have quite a wide area of interest). Adverts are often overlooked as a source material but they can provide an insight into the mundane and the intimate that more "worthy" academic-friendly texts and sources miss.

Take this example of an advert for gas fires from the August 22 1977 Evening Mail (scanned from a reproduction). You can get a lot of information on life in ordinary British homes in the late 1970s. The 1970s aesthetic design of course (though there is nothing wrong with these, the gas fire in my living room right now is listed in this advert!)

The brand names are different, could you imagine someone trying to sell home items branded Radiation these days post-Chernobyl and Fukushima? The prices also show the effect of inflation. £2.25 might get you a thin magazine these days but back in 1977 it was a monthly payment for one of these fires. The total price of £80 and higher might not seem so much these days but back in the late 1970s it was a large amount of money for an average family. In fact the Measuring Worth website estimates that £80 in 1977 is the equivalent of £406 today.

Our second example goes back a bit further, it is an advert printed in the back of the splendid 1923 publication "Rural Romance, Quaint tales of old Warwickshire" by T.B.D. Horniblow. The book was a guide book of Warwickshire villages and no doubt the owners of the Clarendon Hotel in Leamington Spa hoped future visitors to the county would stay at their establishment. Unlike the 1970s advert the 1920s advert is simple and text only (though another advert in the same book does have illustrations). The first thing i noticed was the telephone number. Only 3 digits are given so presumably callers would have to go via an operator. The advert also informs us that the hotel has electric lights! Nowadays a hotel advert would not report on something so basic as we take the presence of electricity and lighting as a given, back in 1923 however electric lighting was still new and not universal.

Another thing i noticed was that the advert tells us the hotel has its own motor garage with engineer. Back in the 1920s motor vehicles were a lot less reliable than they are now and road surfaces were not as good. It is likely that many visitors who had come a long way might require their vehicle to have some attention.

We have only skimmed the surface here but these 2 examples of adverts shows the wealth of information that such sources can provide. You could argue (and it is probably true) that none of the information is Earth shattering or vital but they all add to the richness of the picture we build up when examining a period or aspect of the past.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Walking Birches Green

It was a nice day so why not go for a walk. I had a walk around Birches Green and took the opportunity to get the photos i needed to illustrate the Wikipedia article i've been working on recently. What i had forgotten was that The Lad in the Lane pub is in the area and that is probably Birmingham's oldest house (dating from 1400). The pub actually predates Birches Green by about 200 years as i found the name dates from the 17th century.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Brindley Place & the Oozells Loop

It was a nice day on Saturday so why not visit the canal? I visited the heart of Britain's canal network, which is Birmingham of course and as i live in the same size its quite easy...

I have walked the Birmingham Main Line around Brindley Place a few times before but this time i also walked the publicly accessible part of the Oozells Loop for the first time. It is a great place to visit especially on a bright Sunny day, you can see 3 different canals within the space of about 100m. Plus some of the great new buildings in that part of the city including the infamous Cube (which i like). Here you can see my photographs.

Completing the Hawk

This morning i applied decals to my Hawk kit and later on applied the varnish. Another project completed! I'm not sure what i will built next, maybe another ship.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Curtiss Hawk

Project 043, a Curtiss Hawk, is proceeding well and is almost complete after just a few days. Just shows how much faster it can be when you can paint in the morning as well as the night! I should be able to finish this by the weekend.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rebooting Birches Green's Wikipedia page

Raised in Erdington, for the past 12 years i have lived in the part which has the suspiciously artificial sounding name of Birches Green. It does seem like a made-up name invented by developers to make a former grim industrial estate more appealing to home buyers though in fact the name has existed for some time. The Birches Green school were our rivals at Spring Lane back in the late 70s, so the name was at least that old!

I found Birches Green's Wikipedia article by chance, as usual found by looking for something else (something i do to a fine art). The article was a stub with very little information so i decided to use my historical research skills to fill the article out!

It was an enjoyable experience and by checking out a number of online historical resources, some newspaper archives, my collection of old Erdington maps and (of course) a VCH i was able to find out that the name Birches Green dates from the 17th century. Contrary to how i imagined the area was not named after a tree but instead it is thought the area was named after the Birch family who lived here in the early 1600s. Much of the information available on the area relates to Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre which was a controversial "jail" for children. Still it beats having a gas works there.

I hope my expanded article proves more useful to people. There is room for improvement such as adding an image, though probably not a great deal extra information to add. I did find a story in the Daily Mirror archive of a dog barking in Birches Green in the 1930s causing a kerfuffle...

Raised bed

The 2012 vegetable growing season was a disaster. Very little grew and nothing that was grown was consumed (by humans anyway). The weather plus indifference put paid to my dreams of the "good life" in earlier seasons. This year i have decided to reboot my vegetable plot with a proper raised bed, the frame of which i built this morning. It is a simple frame made from timber. Now i need to clear the space inside, put down compost and extra soil to raise the level and sow some seed. Simple?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

HMS Suffolk

HMS Suffolk, model making Project 042, has now been completed and takes it's pride of place ...er... in front of the TV. It was enjoyable building a ship, i have 2 more ship kits in my pending list in fact, but my next project will be a plane again.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First World War infographics

You can't move on the internet these days without someone trying to convey information using an infographic (and most of them are pretty awful to be honest). However newspapers have been using graphics to try and illustrate concepts to readers for a long time and in this fascinating gallery the Guardian newspaper republishes some of the infographics from the First World War (though in those days they were mostly known as maps and diagrams).

I particularly like the aviation graphics such as the one trying to show the Gotha bomber's gun turret.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Coming together

Project 042, HMS Suffolk, is really starting to come together. Hopefully the painting will be complete by the weekend and the ship can take pride of place in front of my TV (where my OO gauge train from last year currently sits, it will be moved elsewhere).

Monday, April 8, 2013

London Canal Museum

As well as walking the Regent's Canal i visited the London Canal Museum which is based near King's Cross in the Battlebridge Basin off the canal. The museum covers the history and operation of the canals in London and beyond, particularly interesting was an archive film show that was running showing a canal boat traversing the Regent's Canal in the early 20th century. This included the stretch i had walked and it was interesting to see just how much had changed and at the same time was still familiar. You can see my photos taken at the museum here.

Regent's Canal

Its been ages since i had a decent walk along the canal, especially covering new ground. On Saturday i did just that on my London visit. I walked along the Regent's Canal in the King's Cross / St Pancras area from the Islington Tunnel to just past St Pancras Basin. You can see my photos here. It is a very interesting part of London to explore, and like much of the canal network in the capital there are many of boats to see.

It is probably one of the few (only?) places in the country you can take a photograph of a Eurostar and a narrowboat in the same frame.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Going underground

Back from a weekend in London, i thought it was about time i did another Vine video...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stratford and along the Avon

In one of those odd little bits of symmetry i like to fill my life with i spent my first proper day (as in not a weekend or bank holiday) unemployed (or between jobs shall we say) in Stratford-upon-Avon.

It was to Stratford i went just before i found out my services were no longer needed at the uni. So the Bard's town bookends 2 months of uncertainty and secrecy.  Stratford is my go-to-town when i need a diversion and while it is still cold there are signs of Spring with boats a-plenty on the Avon. You can see my photos here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Building then painting

Project 042, a model of HMS Suffolk, is going well. Construction was completed earlier today and now some basic painting has begun. I suspect painting may take quite a bit longer than building, especially when i paint the main hull. Its looking good though, apart from the masts which are a bit wonky and looks like the ship has been in a battle with the Bismarck!