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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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.

Breakfast is served

What did you have for breakfast on this eleventh day of May? Cereal, tea and toast? Coffee to go? Nothing at all?

P & O crest on a Tourist Class menu, 1933.

On the morning of 11th May 1933, as the s.s. ‘Mongolia’ steamed up the English Channel on the last leg of a voyage from Australia, tourist class passengers would have found this menu card on their breakfast tables.

Tourist class breakfast menu from s.s. Mongolia, 1933.If you’ve ever been to sea as a fare-paying passenger, you’ll know that shipboard meals are different. They’re made for people with time to actually sit down to eat, relax and be waited on; who don’t have to rush out to work or wash the dishes. Not normal. The variety and volume of food available is not what you’d expect at home, either. If we ate like that every day the obesity epidemic would be ten times worse than it is.

But this list, modest by modern cruise ship standards, shows us how tastes have changed in eighty-five years. Would any of these be your first choice at breakfast, especially if the dining room was moving around a bit? Kippered herrings – popular in Victorian and Edwardian days and allegedly making a comeback, but not on my plate at 8 a.m. Grilled calf’s liver – not at any time. Creamed potatoes – for breakfast?

Tea, toast and marmalade would be a safe bet in most sea conditions, or try the Golden Syrup. A blast from the past and still available. Liquid sugar – it even makes porridge edible. Spread it on two slices of toast, feed them to a lethargic child and he’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day.

P & O passenger cargo ship. Image from a company postcard.

A notice on the back of the menu says “The Galley and Pantries will be open for Inspection by Passengers at 11.00 a.m. to-day. All those wishing to visit same please assemble in Forward Dining Saloon at that hour.”

Also – “Passengers are kindly requested to have as much baggage as possible packed by 5.00 p.m. to-day, in order that it may be stowed on deck, and thereby facilitate disembarkation.” The ‘Mongolia’ was due to arrive at Dover at 10.30 p.m. – hardly a convenient time – although this was “only approximate ….. subject to weather conditions, also strength & direction of tidal streams.”

‘Mongolia’ had a comparitively long career. Entering P & O service as a new passenger/cargo ship in 1922, she was transferred to the subsidiary New Zealand Shipping Company in 1938 and became the s.s. ‘Rimutaka’. Then she was the ‘Europa’ of Incres Shipping (Italy) in 1950, followed by ‘Nassau’ (’51 – ’61) and ‘Acapulco’ (’61 – ’63) before being broken up in January 1965.

The Future of Aviation

British journalist Harry Harper (1880-1960) claimed to be the “World’s First Air Correspondent.” He was in France to see Blériot take off for that historic crossing of the English Channel and lived long enough to write about the Viking rocket and satellites. His enthusiasm made him an evangelist for the aviation industry at times. Almost ninety years ago, he wrote this about his vision of the future.

Flying will grow cheaper and cheaper. Already we have our air excursions to Paris and to the sea-coast, and to big race-meetings and football matches. And what I see dawning, now, is an even more wonderful era than that.

HP42I can see the day coming when, thanks to this magic carpet of the airway, we shall live a wider, fuller life than we do to-day. ….. Picture to yourself the day when great oceans as well as continents are spanned regularly and safely by huge air machines. And then imagine the wonderful scope which you will have when the time comes for you to take a well-earned holiday. With business pressure what it is to-day, none of us can spend much time on our vacations. But all of us like to go to new places and see new scenes. And here it is that the all-embracing airway will unfold such fresh vistas before us.

ScyllaNo longer shall we be pinned, say, to a trip down to the seaside, or a rush across to the Continent. Embarking in some great air express, and paying a fare well within our means, we shall sweep high above land and sea, flying thousands of miles where formerly we only travelled hundreds, and being able to reach distant beauty spots which, were it not for the speed of the air machine, it would be impossible for us to visit in the time at our disposal.

HP.42colour

But the world at large needs to be reminded again and again that there is this new facility of aerial transport. …. We want to tell the public, and particularly the business world, to fly when they are in a hurry, to send their letters by air when the time factor is important, and to transmit by airway any parcels or merchandise which are required urgently by those to whom they are despatched. And we want to tell them this, time after time, until an air habit has been acquired, and the use of the airway has become a matter of ordinary routine.

Our aerial future, in fact, lies before us as a future of immense and widespread progress. …. We must now go forward without hesitation into our great universal era of the air.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The Hotel Cecil

I thought I would share this old postcard of London’s Embankment featuring the Hotel Cecil because, as you may be aware, the Royal Air Force had its first headquarters there when it was formed, by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, on 1st April 1918.

Image from a 1920s postcard of the Embankment with Hotel Cecil and the Savoy.

The Hotel Cecil (left) in the 1920s. The Savoy is next door.

Why did the Air Force set up shop in a hotel? Because the building had been requisitioned by the government who needed office space for all the extra administrators required to organise a world war.

The Hotel Cecil was one of those late-Victorian buildings associated with the Liberator Building Society scandal and the fraudster Jabez Balfour, but that subject is literally a book in itself. If you want to know more, I suggest you follow the link and read a review.

Searching for the hotel’s subsequent history can lead to confusion. Various sources will tell you it was built between the Embankment and The Strand in 1886 – or (majority opinion) from 1890-1896. It was one of the biggest and most luxurious hotels in the world at the time with 600, “more than 800”, or 1000 rooms. The Liberator Society built it as a hotel – or as offices, and another company finished it as a hotel when Liberator collapsed. Facts and “alternative facts”. You choose.

The Shell-Mex oil consortium bought the building in 1930, demolished the river frontage and replaced it with Shell-Mex House, a structure from the monolithic school of Art Deco architecture. The Strand entrance was retained even though it was completely at odds with the new block.

Embankment_Shell

The Embankment in the 1930s.

In 1937, Arthur Mee wrote, “This remarkable block of offices has a noble entrance from the Strand, and its courtyard is one of the sights of London by night. It has ten floors with a total floor space of 380,000 square feet, and any one of its 16 lifts runs up to the roof, from which are splendid views of South London to the Kent and Surrey hills, North London to Harrow and Hampshire, and the panorama of the East”.

Modern specifications say Mee was two floors short (at least). These were added after WWII when height restrictions were relaxed. Mee’s “noble entrance from the Strand” is “not of special interest” to Historic England today but Shell-Mex House gets a Grade II listing. And just to add more confusion, the entire complex is now commonly known as 80 The Strand.

Embankment_SM

Marconi’s “gadget”

In today’s interconnected world where communication can be constant and relentless, when it seems we can be in touch with anyone, anywhere at any time, it’s difficult to think ourselves into an era when we couldn’t (or didn’t want to).

MarconiThe Italian experimenter Marconi was not the “inventor” of radio, as is sometimes believed, and such a claim was never made by Marconi himself. The pioneering research into the phenomena of electro-magnetic pulsations or “waves” was done by scientists of many nations, including German, Italian, French, British, and American physicists; but Marconi had quite properly patented transmitting and receiving apparatus of his own design in 1896, and formed a company to sell the apparatus and the idea, at first specially for the transmission of messages over water – that is, principally for use in ships – in which, in the nature of things, wire-telegraphy was impossible.

It was for this reason that the name “wireless” came into use, as a dramatic description of a new kind of electric telegraph which could send signals by Morse code between ships out of sight of one another at sea, or between ships and the shore, far beyond visual or normally audible range.

Part of a chart illustrating the Morse Code alphabet.

For centuries seamen had been accustomed to being isolated from the rest of the world when they were at sea, with no method of communicating with other vessels or with the shore except by flag signals or semaphore or signal lamps within a visual range of, say, five miles at most, or by siren blasts, megaphones, and leather-throated singing out within directly audible range.

Signaling with flags.

But, in its early stages, wireless seemed of little use in the mercantile marine, in the everyday working of ships at sea. It was envisaged as an emergency method of sending or receiving signals of distress, which happily are very rare. In other words, it was only “a gadget”.

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Caronia.The Caronia [in 1907] carried one wireless operator, who was a former Post Office landline telegraphist. He pottered about in the daytime and slept soundly throughout the night, and nobody paid much attention either to him or to his “fantastic instruments”. The name “wireless telegraphy” – also known as “marconigram signalling” – indicated to our minds something newfangled and unreliable, and not of much practical use.
‘Tramps and Ladies, My Early Years in Steamers’, Sir James Bisset with P.R. Stephensen, Angus & Robertson, 1959.

Illustrations:
Marconi – cigarette card, Famous Men series by Carreras, 1927.
Graphics from ‘Brown’s Signalling’, 1954.
Caronia – cigarette card, Merchant Ships of the World, W.D. & H.O. Wills, c. 1923.

Then and Now – Greytown

MA_I061925_TePapa_Greytown-Wairarapa

Main street, Greytown, New Zealand, c.1875. The Greytown Hotel at left.

M_Greytown hotel

State Highway 2, Greytown, New Zealand, 2017. The Greytown Hotel at left.

The Greytown Hotel is believed to have been established in 1860, no great age by European standards, but it is rare, if not unique for a New Zealand pub to be still doing business from it’s original premises after 157 years. These old wooden buildings had a tendency to burn down.

Despite alterations and additions, the front of the hotel today is still an obvious match for the one in Bragge’s photo at top.

The Greytown Hotel, North Island, New Zealand, was established in 1860.

The present owner is from Dublin, which explains the flag.

James Bragge (1833-1908) – who has been featured here before and will be again -was a photographer based in Wellington. He was well known for his views of the city and landscapes of the surrounding regions of Wairarapa and Manawatu. His work is easily recognised not only for its quality but for the inclusion of his horse-drawn mobile darkroom in many of the pictures. Foreground interest and advertising at the same time.

MA_I061925_TePapa_Greytown-Wairarapa_wagon

Greytown, by the way, was named for Governor George Grey and not because the town was grey, dull and boring!