The start of an era

DH.4A

“This machine is fitted with a special covered in saloon comfortably furnished, with sliding windows, and is used as a passenger machine by the Communication Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. It has also been in constant use between London and Paris for conveying Cabinet Ministers, &c., to and from the Peace Conference. This machine designed and built by The Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd., [Air-Co] Hendon, London, N.W. 9.”
Postcard caption, 1919.

Described as a passenger carrying biplane for one pilot and two passengers – or 360 lbs of freight in a 47 cubic foot space, the 4A had been adapted from a WWI light bomber. The rear gunner’s position had been removed and a small cabin fitted, giving the plane a humped back look. When the conference concluded in mid-1919, some of these aircraft were sold to private companies and, on 25th August, one of them had the honour of opening “the world’s first daily aeroplane service for passengers and goods between London and Paris”.

Claustrophobia Airways.
The “comfortably furnished saloon” image was encouraged by the manufacturers and operators to give the impression of a luxury air taxi where an executive and his secretary could continue to work during their 2½ hour flight. The reality, of course, was a little different. You will have noticed a ladder on the side of the plane – but no door. That was on the top of the cabin. Air correspondent Harry Harper gives an eye witness account.

“I remember, quite clearly, seeing a couple of passengers, resigned but still somewhat apprehensive, being packed into one of these small aeroplanes like sardines in a tin. There seemed barely room for them to sit in the tiny cabin facing each other. And then when they had been tucked into their places, and seemed incapable of doing more than moving their heads slightly, a sort of metal lid was shut down with a clang and fastened into position above their heads. And so they flew to Paris. Not more than a few feet in front of them was the big engine, and the noise it made was so terrific, combined with the shriek of the propeller, that even if you put your head close to a fellow passenger’s ear, and shouted with all your might, it was doubtful whether he would hear you, and the best thing to do was to scribble a message on a piece of paper and pass it across the table.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The hatch was “unscrewed” by ground crew at their destination. I wonder if they knew the petrol tank was conveniently located between the cabin and the pilot? Or if they thought about what might happen to them in a crash landing?

The 4A deserves its place in aviation history but its career as a passenger carrier was mercifully short. Comparitively bigger aircraft, adapted from bigger bombers, replaced it. The aircraft in the picture, F5764, was sold to Handley Page Ltd in April 1921 and scrapped the following year.

 

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A Royal Church

Image from a late 1940s postcard by Valentines.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church – Built 1721-26, is perhaps the finest work of James Gibbs. Familiar to all “Listeners” on account of its Broadcast Services.
Postcard by Valentine & Sons, Ltd.

We come now to a place known through the broadcasting world, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Proudly it stands by [Trafalgar] Square, broadcasting to the millions its message and the music of its bells, alive with every kind of good activity, its crypt open every night to scores of London’s homeless.

It is one of our finest churches, the masterpiece of Wren’s friend and disciple James Gibbs, whose bust (by Rysbrack) is inside. There had been a church here for centuries, and the fields were still green in [Oliver] Cromwell’s day, but St. Martin’s as we see it comes from 1726. Its architecture should be admired from across the square, where the splendid proportions of the classical design are best seen. The impressive portico is one of the best in London, and above it the royal arms remind us that this is the parish church of Buckingham Palace, so that the name of a royal baby born at the palace is entered in the register here.

[The interior is] full of interest, though unhappily so dark that it must always be lit by day. The roof is unusual for curving down in the shape of an ellipse, an arrangement James Gibbs thought “much better for the voice.” It is panelled in blue and gold, and adorned by fretwork. Royal boxes, like open windows, look down on the sanctuary, and between them is an east window of the Ascension with expressive faces.

Plain in architecture but warm in welcome, the crypt is like a second church below the first. It is one of London’s Ever Open Doors, and is used for worship when the crowd is too great for the church itself. In the crypt is a rare little Children’s Chapel, domed and coloured like the vault of heaven, and among the interesting things kept here is a fine model of the church by its architect, waiting to light up for a penny, an old chest, a kneeling Tudor figure, a row of ten kneeling children, a whipping-post of 1752 from Trafalgar Square, and a tablet to a lady of 1687 whose early death led her friends to write of her:
A friendly neighbour and a virtuous wife,
Doubtless she’s blessed with Everlasting Life.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

In 2006, work began on a two-year £36 million “renewal programme” for St. Martin’s. The crypt is now a cafe and concert area.

Fortress Dover

Dover has ever, from Roman times, been a place of arms, and was, an old chronicler tells us the “lock and key of the whole kingdom.” That being so, it has always behoved us to make it one of the most strongly fortified places on our coasts. On either side of the deep and narrow valley in which the town lies, the great chalk downs and cliffs rise steeply and massively, and all are in military occupation. The morning drum-beat reverberates from the Western Heights to welcome the rising sun, and the Last Post from the Castle sounds the requiem of the departed day; and in between them the tootling and the fifing, the words of command, the gun-firing, and all the military alarms and excursions of a garrison-town help to convince even the most timid that we are being taken care of.

Dover Castle, Kent, England. Photo by W. H. Stamford of Dover.

Image from a vintage postcard. Original photo by W. H. Stamford.

Dover Castle, that “great fortress, reverend and worshipful,” sits regally on the lofty cliffs ….. It occupies a site of thirty-five acres within its ceinture of curtain-walls, studded at intervals with twenty-six defensible towers, of every size and shape. The chief entrance to the Castle precincts is by the great “Constable’s Tower,” also variously styled Fiennes, or Newgate Tower, to distinguish it from the Old Tower, formerly the principal entrance. Besides this imposing array there were, and there remain still, profoundly deep ditches outside the walls. In midst of all these outworks, rising bold and massive as the great keep of the Tower of London itself, is the Palace Tower, or Keep.

Off Dover

Painting “Off Dover” by W. Cannon in 1904. From a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons posted 17 August 1905.

The most ancient and venerable object here – supposed to have been built A.D. 49 – is the Roman pharos, or light-house, one of two that once guided the ships of the Roman emperors into the haven that was situated where the Market-place of Dover now stands. The other, of which only the platform and one fragment of stone have been found was situated on the western heights.

Many generations have tinkered and repaired the Roman pharos, whose original tufa blocks and courses of red tiles still defy the elements and the ravages of mischievous hands, while the casing of flint and pebbles set in concrete, added some two centuries ago, long since began to decay. The Roman windows were altered by Gundulf [William the Conqueror’s architect], and the upper story would seem to be the work of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the Constable of Dover Castle in the reign of Henry the Fifth, for his sculptured shield of arms appears on it.
Extracts from ‘The Kentish Coast’, Charles G. Harper, Chapman & Hall Ltd. 1914.

The Tarawera eruption

(Hint: this post will make more sense if you’ve read the previous two).

The ridge known as Mount Tarawera in New Zealand’s North Island, that lies alongside a lake of the same name, is actually made up of three ancient volcanoes fused together. They were considered long dormant in the 19th century and certainly didn’t feature as a threat in local Maori tradition. But Tarawera was surrounded by an extensive and active geothermal field that drew tourists from all over the world.

Charles-Blomfield-Mount-Tarawera-in-eruption-June-10-1886

Painting by Charles Blomfield.

On the night of 10th June 1886 all three vents burst into life, ripping the top off the ridge and creating a deep rift that ran for its entire length. It continued down the southern end of the mountain and through Lake Rotomahana, site of the world famous Pink and White Terraces, which were never seen again. The shape of the landscape had been changed forever. Dust from the eruption spread right across the Bay of Plenty as far as East Cape but most of the hot ash and boulders were dumped in the immediate area.

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The shaded area shows the extent of ash deposits. The parallel lines indicate the geothermal corridor from Mount Ruapehu to White Island.

Small family settlements around the edge of Lake Tarawera were wiped out and Wairoa village was buried under three feet of mud and ash. Over 150 people died, although that can only be an estimate. The magnitude of the disaster can be understood best through photographs taken over the days that followed.

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Wairoa village, once a tourist base for trips to the Terraces. The humps in the ground forming a line at left are buried Maori huts (whare). The remains of buildings can be seen in the middle distance.

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McRae’s Rotomahana hotel at left (see last Tuesday’s post) and the Terrace hotel, right.

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The old mill in a desert of ash.

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The remains of a church.

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Moura, a small Maori settlement, used to stand here beside Lake Tarawera. Searchers found only waist deep mud.

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Part of the rift that split open Mount Tarawera.

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These huge craters were blasted out of Tarawera’s southern end. Lake Rotomahana and steam from new vents lie beyond. The landscape is covered in ash as far as the eye can see.

The land took decades to recover but curious tourists returned to the area within weeks of the eruption. The buried village is still a popular attraction.

A Bath for the Gods

Continuing from Tuesday’s post, following J. A. Froude’s account of his adventures in the geothermal region of New Zealand’s North Island in 1885.

Leaving the White Terrace behind, the guides Kate and Mari led the group on a track past boiling pools where the “heat, noise and smell were alike intolerable”, and steaming cones of mud. “Suspicious bubbles of steam spurted out under our feet as we trod, and we were warned to be careful where we went.”

After lunch beside Lake Rotomahana, Mari ferried them accross the “weird and evil looking” hot lake in a leaky dugout canoe.

The Pink Terrace, the object of our voyage, opened out before us on the opposite shore. It was formed on the same lines as the other, save that it was narrower, and was flushed with pale-rose colour. Oxide of iron is said to be the cause….

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A painting of the Pink Terrace and Lake Rotomahana by Charles Blomfield. The White Terrace can be seen in the background on the other side of the lake. The height and shape of Mount Tarawera has been exaggerated and distorted. (Compare with the photograph at the bottom of the post).

The party landed at the terrace-foot “with no more misfortune than a light splashing”. Some intrepid tourists of the time felt their trip wouldn’t be complete without bathing in the terrace pools and Froude was keen to take the plunge.

To my great relief I found that a native youth was waiting with the towels, and that we were to be spared the ladies’ assistance. The youth took charge of us and led us up the shining stairs. The crystals were even more beautiful than those which we had seen, falling like clusters of rosy icicles, or hanging in festoons like creepers trailing from a rail. At the foot of each cascade the water lay in pools of ultra marine, their exquisite colour being due in part, I suppose, to the light of the sky refracted upwards from the bottom. In the deepest of these we were to bathe. The temperature was 94°F or 95°F. The water lay inviting in its crystal basin.

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Falling like clusters of rosy icicles.

The water was deep enough to swim in comfortably, though not over our heads. We lay on our backs and floated for ten minutes in exquisite enjoyment, and the alkali, or the flint, or the perfect purity of the element, seemed to saturate our systems. I for one, when I was dressed again, could have fancied myself back in the old days when I did not know that I had a body, and could run up hill as lightly as down.

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The bath over, we pursued our way. The marvel of the Terrace was still before us, reserved to the last. The crater at the White Terrace had been boiling; the steam rushing out from it had filled the air with cloud; and the scorching heat had kept us at a distance. Here the temperature was twenty degrees lower; there was still vapour hovering over the surface, but it was lighter and more transparent, and a soft breeze now and then blew it completely aside. We could stand on the brim and gaze as through an opening in the earth into an azure infinity beyond.

The hue of the water was something which I had never seen, and shall never again see on this side of eternity. ….. Here was a bath, if mortal flesh could have borne to dive into it! It was a bath for the gods and not for man.
Extracted from ‘Oceana’, J. A. Froude, Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. Methuen Haynes, 1985.

Froude was right – he would never see the sight again. One year after his visit, this landscape changed forever. More about that tomorrow.

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The White Terrace

Way back in October my post titled The Unquiet Earth featured the words of J. A. Froude who was exploring New Zealand’s geothermal region around Ohinemutu and Rotorua in 1885. The poor man has been left in limbo too long and historic events of this week prompt me to take up his story where he left off.

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Ohinemutu was so novel a scene that I could have stayed there indefinitely, and have found something every day new and entertaining to look at …. but our immediate business was to visit the famous [Pink and White] Terraces, the eighth wonder of the world.

The Terraces themselves were twenty-four miles off. We were to drive first through the mountains to a native village which had once been a famous missionary station, called Wairoa. There we were to sleep at an establishment affiliated to the Lake Hotel, and the next day a native boat would take us across Tarawera Lake, a piece of water as large as Rotorua, at the extremity of which the miracle of nature was to be found.

Lake Tarawera from Wairoa by Burton Bros studio of Dunedin. Te Papa collection

Lake Tarawera from Wairoa with the long ridge of Mount Tarawera in the background.

Twenty four miles in a horse-drawn vehicle took up most of the day but, eventually – There stood Wairoa and its inhabitants. It was late afternoon. The people were all out loafing and lying about.

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“McRae’s Hotel”, or more correctly the Rotomahana Hotel, at Wairoa. Joseph McRae is standing at right with hand on hip.

In the morning we had to start early, for we had a long day’s work cut out for us. We were on foot at seven.

A one hour journey across Lake Tarawera in an open rowing boat followed. Then, led by their guide Kate and her apprentice Mari, a half mile walk on a bush track brought them to – the White Terrace in all its strangeness; a crystal staircase, glittering and stainless as if it were ice, spreading out like an open fan from a point above us on the hillside, and projecting at the bottom into a lake, where it was perhaps two hundred yards wide. The summit was concealed behind the volumes of steam rising out of the boiling fountain, from which the siliceous stream proceeded.T_white2

The stairs were about twenty in number, the height of each being six or seven feet. The floors dividing them were horizontal, as if laid out with a spirit level. They were of uneven breadth; twenty, thirty, fifty feet, or even more; each step down being always perpendicular, and all forming arcs or a circle of which the crater was the centre.

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We walked, or rather waded, upwards to the boiling pool …. It was about sixty feet across, and was of unknown depth. The heat was too intense to allow us to approach the edge, and we could see little, from the dense clouds of steam which lay upon it. We were more fortunate afterwards at the crater of the second terrace.

A fixed number of minutes is allotted for each of the ‘sights’. ….. We were dragged off the White Terrace in spite of ourselves, but soon forgot it in the many and various wonders which were waiting for us.

to be continued on Thursday…..

Show me the money

Vintage postcard image of interior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1909.

Dear Athel, This is to wish you a Merry Xmas and all the rest of it. I am afraid it will be very late, but I have had an exam on which has taken all my time. I went over the Mint in the summer, they have three melting houses of which this card shows one. Please give my love to Aunt Amy.
Alan. [ Card posted Dec. 18, 1909 to Perth, Western Australia.]

Vintage postcard image of exterior Royal Mint, London. Posted 1906.

The Royal Mint on Little Tower Hill [London] is a massive building from designs by Johnson and Smirke, erected in 1811 on the site of an old Cistercian Abbey. Here gold, silver and bronze are melted, standardised and manufactured into the current coin of the realm, the process being a most interesting one.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The annual output is enormous; in 1906 the issue of imperial pieces was over 100,500,000, and at the same time 12¼ millions of foreign coins were struck.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The pure metal is melted down and mixed with the necessary alloys on the premises, the room in which this operation is performed being most jealously placarded to prevent inspecting visitors either touching the hot metal or purloining any of the precious contents.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The metal is first cast into long bars, these are then passed through powerful rotary presses, emerging after each operation a trifle thinner and a little wider, and so on until the standard thickness for “blanks” – as an unstamped coin is called – is attained.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

These are fed through a machine which stamps out the disc of the desired size, the “waste” being then sent back to the melting room.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

The “blanks” from the cutting machines are fed into a trough, and from thence are automatically passed into a position where they are pressed on both sides simultaneously by steel dies, and then thrown out – a complete coin.

From the Royal Mint series of 6 postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. c.1907.

An ingenious piece of mechanism is the counting machine which effects, at a marvellous speed by an automatic process, the accurate counting of the manufactured coins, thus saving much valuable time.

The coloured images make up a set of postcards issued by Raphael Tuck & Sons circa 1907.

The Royal Mint moved out of London to South Wales in the early 1970s, ending 1100 years of its history in the Tower Hill area. You can still visit the “new” premises and enjoy “the Royal Mint Experience” – just like any other factory tour – but don’t expect free samples of the product as you leave.

Johnson and Smirke’s 1811 Grade II listed building and 5 acres of land within its surrounding wall was sold last month to the People’s Republic of China. It will be transformed over the next two years to become the new Chinese Embassy.