Keswick Museums

The Tuesday morning of our holiday we went out on the lake. The offspring and Moss in a canoe, while I followed up on my Anglesey adventure by hiring a kayak – a “sit on” one this time as no “sit in” types were available. Photographs were difficult as we didn’t want to get our phones and cameras wet, but Mitch did manage to get a snap of Moss.

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After an enjoyable hour paddling on the water, we went back to the apartment to dry off, change and have a bite to eat. After that I went with J into Keswick for the afternoon. After looking around the shops for a while we headed over to the Keswick museum. It’s quite small, occupying only three rooms (not counting the reception / gift shop, but worth a visit. There’s a permanent collection – local fossils, geological samples, natural history, social and industrial history exhibits and objects reflecting life in Keswick and the Lake District. Old fashioned, but in a good way!

UntitledMy favourite exhibit was the large lithophone (a xylophone made of slate) which visitors could have a go at playing.

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There were also two temporary exhibitions – one devoted to female mountaineering in the Lake District and the other to the famous mountaineer, Chris Bonnington, who lives locally.

The other museum in Keswick is devoted to a product that used to be a mainstay of the local economy – the pencil.  We visited on the Wednesday, which had the worst weather of the holiday – it rained most of the day.

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Graphite was discovered down Borrowdale, near Seathwaite, way back in the 1500’s and a cottage industry of pencil making began in the area and this then evolved over time to with the UK’s first pencil factory being founded in Keswick in 1832. The Cumberland Pencil Factory was set up in 1916 and would have been a major employer in the town until it was relocated to more modern premises near Workington in 2008. The pencil museum is located on the site of the former factory, having moved there when the original site in the centre of the town was damaged during the devastating floods in December 2015. It reopened only last year at the new location.

It may seem a little odd having a museum dedicated to such an ordinary object, but we found it interesting and spent over an hour looking round. The entry “ticket” is an actual Cumberland pencil.

Exhibits cover the history of the industry and the manufacturing process, starting with the mining of the graphite itself. There’s also displays of the different products produced by the company over the years, as well as various objects related to the manufacture, promotion and use of pencils, including one of the largest colour pencils in the world measuring almost 8 metres

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and miniature pencil sculptures.

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During WW2 the factory were commissioned by British Intelligence to create a special pencil with a hidden compass and maps. It was given to bomber pilots and sent to prisoners of war, the idea being that they could use them if shot down or trying to escape.

There were tables set out with the range of products manufactures by the company which visitors could use and try out. They specialise these days in high end products for artists with graphite products making up only a small proportion of their range. There was, of course, a shop where the products were on sale!

Definitely worth a visit for an hour or so on a rainy day in Keswick.

James Cook – the Voyages at the British Library

Last Tuesday I had to travel down for a meeting in the afternoon. As I was travelling on an “off peak ticket” the first train I could catch for the return journey only leaves at 7:30, so J decided to travel down with me and make a day of it.

After my meeting we met up at the National Portrait Gallery where we had a look around the BP Portrait Award exhibition before heading over to the British Library to visit the current exhibition about the voyages of James Cook.
We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s descended from one of his siblings and last year we’d visited the Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby as well as his parent’s home which has been transplanted in Fitzroy Garden’s in Melbourne.

It was an excellent exhibition and we ended up spending longer there than we’d anticipated. It covered in some detail all three of Cook’s voyages with exhibits including maps, charts, journals, books, drawings, paintings, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and sailors on board the ships (including Cook himself) and a series of short videos giving different perspectives on the voyages.

After a brief introduction to Cook and the background, there was a separate section of the exhibition devoted to each of the three voyages.

Highlights for me were the charts drawn in Cook’s own hand

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and his handwritten journals

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and pictures by the expedition artists and other crew members, including the earliest European depiction of a kangaroo.

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One thing that particularly came across to me from this exhibition was the role of Polynesians from Tahiti who guided the British expedition to islands they were already aware of and also helped as translators as well as, to some extent, smoothing the way, when encountering indigenous Polynesian peoples on the newly “discovered” (by Europeans) lands. In particular, Tupaia, who joined first voyage, travelling on to New Zealand and Australia.

There were a number of drawings by Tupaia in the exhibition.

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The official objective of the 1st expedition (1768–1771) was to observe the Transit of Venus to aid the calculation of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, but the Admiralty provided Cook with secret orders to search for land and commercial opportunities in the Pacific. So Cook and his crew are best remembered for being the first Europeans to discover and chart the Eastern shores of Australia, properly explore and chart the shores of New Zealand and to “discover” a number of Pacific islands. Of course, all these lands had been discovered many years before by the people who were living there when the Europeans arrived.

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The objective of the 2nd expedition (1772–1775) was to search for the Great Southern Continent, believed by some in Europe to encircle the South Pole. They travelled further south than had been done before, were the first ships to cross the Antarctic Circle and the Resolution set a record for the Farthest South that would stand for 49 years. They didn’t find land (not travelling far enough south to reach Antarctica)and Cook ruled out the existence of a continent ‘unless near the pole and out of reach of navigation’. The expedition also revisited Tahiti and New Zealand and “discovered” several new Pacific islands as well as South Georgia which he claimed for Britain. The latter was occupied by Argentina during the Falklands War.

The secret aim of the 3rd voyage (1776–1780) was search for a Northwest Passage linking the Pacific and the Atlantic. Again, they sailed into the South Pacific where they visited Tonga, Tahiti, Tasmania and New Zealand and the Hawaiian islands before sailing north to Canada and then Alaska. They crossed the Bering Sea over to Asia and crossed the Arctic circle, but further progress was blocked by ice so they failed in their quest to find a North West passage. Sailing south they called in at the Hawaiian islands. It was here, on 14 February 1779 that Cook was killed on the beach along with 4 marines and 16 Hawaiians, following a dispute over a stolen boat. The expedition carried on without him travelling to Kamchatka in western Russia and China before returning to Britain.

These were epic journeys demonstrating tremendous navigational skills, seamanship and chart making abilities. But there was a legacy. The discoveries and charts enabled the subsequent occupation, colonisation and subjugation of the indigenous peoples of these lands. So it was good to see that the British Library provided some different perspectives other than simply praising Cook in a series of short videos.

Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool

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More than 8,000 life-sized Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed in burial pits at the tomb complex of Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, since 1974 near Xi’ in North West China. They’re one of the “wonders of the world” and a small selection of them are currently visiting Liverpool as part as an exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool.

We went to see the exhibition last Friday evening. It’s proving to be very popular (not surprising really) and tickets have to be booked a few weeks in advance.

My colleague at work was a little scathing as only a relatively small number of the warriors are on display. He felt that the spectacle was in seeing the massed ranks.

Visitors are allocated a time slot but we still had to queue up to wait to get in. First of all you’re shepherded in to watch an introductory film. Personally I didn’t find it very enlightening and don’t think it set the scene particularly well. However it didn’t last too long and we were soon entering the exhibition proper to be greeted by a horse and its groom.

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We were able to get quite close to the life size figures – within a metre. Photographs were allowed (no flash), and although the exhibition was busy, we were able to get a good look.

Then into the main part of the exhibition where we learned about how China was unified under the First Emperor and about life in China during his reign. There was a good selection of artefacts on display

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supported by information panels

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Then the main display of warriors – seven of them in a row

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Again, we were able to get very close to the figures and inspect their features, clothing, armour etc.

The life-sized figures vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. They all have different features although experts have identified 10 basic face shapes.

Although today they appear as terracotta grey, they were original painted in bright colours, like this reproduction on display in the foyer of the Museum,

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which has faded and flaked off. However, by getting close it was possible to see traces of the paint. Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows, but very few remain as they’ve either been robbed or disintegrated over time.

Here’s a closer look at some of the figures.

The General

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An Officer

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A Light Infantryman

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A Heavy Infantryman

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A Charioteer

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A Standing archer

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A Kneeling archer

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This wasn’t the end of the exhibition. Some high ranking notables and later Emperors also had their own armies created – although these were smaller than life size and not as realistic.

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and there was a beautiful golden horse found in the tomb of Emperor Wu, the 5th ruler of the Han Dynasty

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Well, despite my colleague’s warning, we were not at all disappointed – quite the reverse. We learned quite a lot about the history of China and the early Emperors, and it was fantastic to be able to get close up to the figures. They were breathtaking.

The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.

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Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase

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The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room

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A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!

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The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence

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The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era

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and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.

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as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.

 

A visit to the ancestral home

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The oldest building in Australia stands in the middle of Fitzroy Gardens in central Melbourne, only a short walk from our Appart-Hotel. It wasn’t actually built in Australia but in Great Ayton and was the home of the parents and other family members of James Cook the renowned 18th century explorer and navigator who is something of an icon in Australia. The cottage was brought to Melbourne in 1934. Each brick was individually numbered, packed into barrels and then shipped to Australia where the cottage was re-erected. Cuttings from ivy that adorned the house were also taken and planted – I doubt they’d get away with that today given the strenuous measures taken when entering Australia to prevent foreign specimens being imported..

We have a particular interest in Cook as he’s in my wife’s family tree – she’s descended from one of his siblings (as are my children, of course!). So we could argue that it’s her ancestral home! So a visit while we were staying in Melbourne was a must. Unfortunately the family connection didn’t result in the entrance fee being waived!

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The cottage has been furnished to be representative of the how it would have looked in the 18th Century

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In the extension there’s an interesting exhibition about Cook and his voyages.

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The house is surrounded by a reconstructed English style cottage garden

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where there’s a statue of the man himself. He probably never actually lived in the house as his parents moved there after he’d left home for Whitby.

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Although the house is quite small it was worth the visit and the entry fee (many tourists were standing outside the garden taking photographs without paying to go inside (to be honest, so did I last time I was here!). It was interesting to see the reconstructed interior of an 18th Century artisan’s cottage where my wife’s ancestors lived. The exhibition was interesting too and the guides, wearing period costume, were very helpful and keen to tell us about Cook and the cottage.

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Performance Art at the NGI

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Just after I’d arrived at the National Gallery of Ireland on Sunday and was starting to explore (I had a couple of hours before my time slot for the main exhibition), when I wandered into the Shaw room, a rather grand large room close to the Merion Square entrance, it was clear something was going on. I could see a group of people with musical instruments who were clearly setting up to perform and several people setting up easels.

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It didn’t take me long to suss out what was going on. Like most Galleries holding major exhibitions, the National Gallery of Ireland has held a number of events to accompany the Vermeer and Masters of Genre Painting Exhibition, and this was one of them.

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Many of the paintings in the exhibition feature musicians and musical instruments from the Dutch “Golden Age”– virginals, lutes, harpsichords, violas and the like as well as singers. So the Gallery had organised a collaborative event – Performance Art – with the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Musicians from the RIAM performed music from the Dutch Golden Age on instruments of the time, while members of the RHA had set up their easels so they record the scene live – sketching and drawing.

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A good crowd gathered to watch the musicians and the artists at work. It was an enjoyable event and I stayed for a good hour, only leaving because it was getting close to my time slot to see the exhibition.

The musicians were Catriona O’Mahony playing baroque violin, Miriam Kaczor who played the recorder and baroque flute,

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David Adams on harpsichord, Andrew Robinson, who played the viol and lute,

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who also told us a little about the instruments and the type of music that was played during the Golden Age

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and soprano Clodagh Kinsella.

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The artists were Una Sealy, Blaise Smith, Cian Mcloughlin, Sean Molloy and Comnghall Casey. They didn’t seem to be at all put off by everyone watching them at work and taking photographs.

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The Mersey Tunnel

Many, many years ago, when I was at University in Liverpool, I always used to wonder what this building, located at George’s Dock, just behind the Mersey Docks and Harbour building, one of the “Three Graces” at the Pierhead, was.

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A large Art Deco style structure faced with Portland limestone and decorated with Egyptian motifs that were popular in the 1930’s, not long after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. I eventually discovered that it was a huge chimney surrounded by offices built as part of the ventilation system for the Queensway Tunnel (also known as the Birkenhead Tunnel). It’s certainly one of the fanciest chimneys I’ve ever seen!

It was designed by Liverpool architect Herbert James Rowse (1887-1963) and the carved Egyptian style decorations on the portals are by sculptor Edmund Charles Thompson (1898-1961).

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The tunnel was opened in July 1934, and at the time, at 3.24 kilometres (2.01 mi) long.  it was the longest road tunnel in the world, a title it held for 14 years until the opening of the Vielha Tunnel in Spain in 1948. It remained the longest underwater tunnel though, until 1955. The entrance is right in the centre of Liverpool and being built in the 1930’s it only has a single carriageway of four lanes, two in each direction.

Mersey Travel, who own the tunnel, organise regular tours of the tunnel showcasing its history and allowing the public to gain access to the old control room, ventilation equipment and the tunnel itself. They also can arrange special tours for schools, companies and other organisations and last week I took part in a visit organised for delegates attending a conference at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel on the Liverpool waterfront. Given the theme of the conference – about the control of exposure to hazardous substances – the tour was customised to highlight how the air quality is controlled.

After donning our hi-viz vests and safety helmets, our guides, Alison and Billy, gave us a potted history of the tunnel and described how it was constructed. Billy was a real “Scouser” – born and bred in Anfield (although a true Evertonian!) with lots of stories and plenty of jokes and wisecracks. A true entertainer!

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The tunnel cost £8million to build  and employed 1700 men in difficult working conditions under the river bed. 1,200,000 tons of rock and gravel had to be excavated by two teams working from either side of the river. Pilot tunnels were excavated, one starting in Liverpool and the other in Birkenhead, eventually to meet in the centre – less than an inch out of alignment! – on 3 April 1928. The pilot tunnels were then enlarged to create the full sized tunnel.  There’s more information about its construction on the Merseyside Maritime Museum Website and a more detailed description here.

First stop was the old control room, which was in use until relatively recently. This required climbing several flights of steps (you need to be fit for this visit!!)

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Ventilation of the tunnel to remove contaminants from vehicle exhausts, is provided by massive fans located at 6 ventilation stations, including the one at George’s Dock. Fresh air, brought in from above street level, is blown through the ducts beneath the roadway. The air enters the upper half of the tunnel through outlets18 inches apart at roadway level. The air flow is balanced by varying the size of the outlets to ensure an even distribution of air throughout the tunnel. Contaminated air is extracted through vents in the roof of the tunnel to the exhaust chambers at each of the six ventilating stations.

It’s incredible to think that the original fans, built and installed in the 1930’s, are still in use. They are enormous, with the largest capable of moving 641,000 cubic feet per minute (315 cubic metres per second).

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I was rather pleased to hear that one of the two fan suppliers was Walker Brothers of Wigan who specialised in equipment for mines. In the 1930’s there was little knowledge or experience of how to control air quality in road tunnels so, perhaps not surprisingly, they fell back on the technology used to ventilate coal mines.

Fan in the Queensway Tunnel on Merseyside

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This diagram illustrates the operaton of the ventilation system (showing the Birkenhead side). It appeared in the second edition of a short lived British magazine “Wonders of World Engineering”,  published in March 1937.

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I found the image here.

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We were then taken all the way back down and below ground level to look inside the tunnel itself. It’s very narrow and the cars speeded past only centimetres from where we stood on the observation platform. No photographs were allowed to minimise the distraction of drivers of the vehicles passing through the tunnel – we didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.

Then it was back up the stairs to the ground floor where we handed in our safety gear at the end of what was a very informative and entertaining visit.