One of my regrets is the fact that there were no digital cameras when I was doing my first ‘real’ job. Because my education bridged what I might describe as ‘old and new’ electronics, I was always ending up inside dying Scottish factories, patching up their ancient electronics if possible, or replacing them with something newer in order to gain a few more years production at minimum cost – nobody could afford new plant (except whisky, which seemed immune for a time.)
Nowadays, it would be easy to pocket a small camera and record the places where I worked, but when I was wandering around those factories that did not realise just how little borrowed time they were on, taking pics with film gear would not really have been practical, and I’d probably have thrown out on my ear.
Today, I think the factories I have in mind are all gone, literally razed to the ground in most cases, so no chance of even going back for exterior pics.
One such place is/was John Brown Engineering in Clydebank, birthplace of ships such as the QE2 (I used to walk through the sheds there, where the patterns were stored in case a part had to be re-manufactured), and latterly a manufacturer of odd things such as floating power plants driven by jet engines. Apparently these were popular in the Middle East, and floated on rivers.
I really wish I had pics of these now, because places like Brown’s and the Rothesay Docks on the Clyde have been cleared of almost all evidence of their past.
One exception is the last Titan crane standing in Clydebank.
It has survived the now obligatory clearing and tidying that means we have little industrial heritage, since anything that might upset a sensitive eye, or a tourist, gets obliterated nowadays.
I have to confess to never having noticed the Titan crane when I was in the yard, but it was probably at the end I didn’t get to.
The Titan was built in 1907, by Sir William Arrol & Co, and cost £24,600.
Used in the construction of many of the largest ships ever built on the Clyde, such as the Cunard liners, it was also used for many of the Navy’s battleships, and survived the Clydebank Blitz undamaged, as the enemy’s raids missed it completely.
In 2007, the listed structure was refurbished as part of a £3 million tourism project, and became a museum dedicated to the history of shipbuilding in Clydebank. Fortunately for visitors, the works included the installation of a lift, since the Titan’s platform is some 150 feet (46 m) above ground. So visitors can see some spectacular views as well.
International Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark
The crane has now been recognised as an International Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark, an award given by the American Society of Civil Engineers Board of Direction and endorsed by the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Last year (2012), it received the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Engineering Heritage award.
It becomes the fifth “engineering landmark” in Scotland along with the Forth Rail Bridge, Forth and Clyde Canal, Caledonian Canal, and Craigellachie Bridge in Aberlour.
On July 25, 2013, the Sewing Machine Collection & Singer Archive cared for by West Dunbartonshire Council became Scotland’s 39th Recognised Collection of National Significance.
I only discovered the Recognised Collections at the start of this year, and the list was indeed only 38 then, when I wrote up a short summary: Scotland’s Recognised Collections
I found this helped, as these collections can become a little complicated – some collections are spread over a number of museums in different locations, while some museums hold a number of collections.
To achieve this status, a museum must show that its collection is of national importance, and with some 800+ examples of sewing machines in it collection, that was probably not too hard. Operating until its closure in 1980, the Singer factory became a significant factor in the economy of Clydebank, and once employed 16,000 workers. The collection has it roots in the closure of the Singer factory, when a request was made by former employees for old machines, in order to create a museum. From there, the collection grew, assisted by appeals and support from people who donated old machines to the collection.
The American corporation built its flagship European headquarters in Clydebank in 1885, after outgrowing its Glasgow premises. At its height it employed 15,000 staff on a 50-acre site, making more machines than its rivals put together.
Ray Macfarlane, Chair of Museums Galleries Scotland’s Recognition Committee, said: “The quality and importance of this collection is unequivocal and it is not only of national but of international significance. This is reflected in the collection being the largest in Europe of its kind and second only to the Smithsonian Institution globally.”
It has been described as the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in Europe, and has machines from 130 different manufacturers from Europe, America, and Asia, and documents the development of sewing machine technology over nearly 100 years.
You can get an idea of the scale of the Singer factory from this aerial view of the Singer Sewing Machine Factory, Kilbowie Street, Clydebank. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing west. | Britain from Above
After its closure in 1980, it was eventually demolished during the 1990s, and the site became a business park.
The most memorable feature of the factory was it clock tower, for which the company created the largest clock face in the world – the Singer’s Clock, a 26-foot wide timepiece mounted on top of a 226-foot tower, decorated with Roman numeral hours measuring 2 feet high and having hands around 6-feet long. It took four men a quarter of an hour to wind the giant clock mechanism twice a week.
The tower was demolished in the 1960s, shortly after the clock had stopped ticking, but in 2013, a smaller installation inspired by the original was installed in Clydebank’s Dalmuir Park.
The following news reports show the two version:
A reminder that the War Museum at Edinburgh Castle is hosting a special exhibition about the Arctic Convoys – admission is included with admission to the castle.
The date seems to have changed slightly compared to the advance news of the exhibition, when the opening date was given as May 24, 2013, and the date given now is today, May 29.
The museum’s web page does not indicate when the exhibition ends, but it was previously given as March 2014, so you don’t have to rush.
Then prime minister Winston Churchill admitted the mission to keep the supply lines of munitions, tanks, lorries, fuel and food open was “the worst journey in the world”, and they were dubbed the “suicide missions” by many of those who served on them, as the convoys had to run the gauntlet of submarine, air, and battleship attacks in harsh sub-zero conditions through the Arctic Ocean.
Open daily 9:45–17:45
Material has been gathered from numerous sources, including private collections, loans from the Imperial War Museum, and museums in Russia. The exhibition will also include recordings of personal testimonies from surviving veterans of the convoys. It is often forgotten that many of those who took part in the convoys were not actually in the Royal Navy, but were simply merchant seamen or fisherman who had been called up for duty.
Those involved with efforts to establish a permanent museum to the Arctic Convoys, to be located at Loch Ewe, where many of the convoys formed and departed from, have also helped with contributions to the Edinburgh exhibition.
Jacky Brookes, manager of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project in Loch Ewe, said: “We’re delighted the exhibition is happening and hope it will help raise the profile of getting a permanent museum”
We have had occasion to mention the museum project at Loch Ewe before:
HMS Scylla, a Dido-class cruiser of the Royal Navy, served with the Home Fleet on Arctic convoy duties, and is seen below while anchored on the Clyde:
Click on the image below to see a British Pathé short, shot in Scandinavian waters, and showing various shots of ships in a large convoy en route to Russia where:
Aboard the cruiser ‘Scylla’ Lieutenant-Commander McKean in a fur hat keeps a running commentary on the battle for the benefit of the ship’s company.
A column of black smoke rises into the sky after one of the ships is hit. The Scylla draws alongside the minesweeper ‘Harrier’. The two ships are lashed together while travelling at speed as the Scylla and takes on survivors of a torpedoed freighter.
The escort Commander, Rear Admiral Burnett, is put in breeches buoy and slung across to a destroyer so the Scylla can go ahead with survivors. C/U of Burnett on a ship, smiling and looking through binoculars.
It’s been a little while since I spotted the last news about developments at Barnton Quarry, and I held off mentioning the story in case there might be more given away in the media, but after a couple of items, there doesn’t seem to have been anything to add.
The bunker at Barnton was acquired by the owner of Scotland’s Secret Bunker way back in 2005, but due to the condition of the interior, and the money needed to clean it out and restore it, little happened until 2009, when a survey was carried out.
This was a sad story, as the bunker had been broken into on a number of occasions, used and abused by ravers, and then be devastated by fires, first in August 1991, and then again in May 1993. It’s pathetic to think that those who did the damage were so easily amused, and had nothing better to do to fulfil their sad lives than spray ‘tags’ on any available surface. Same behaviour as dogs peeing on lampposts and walls to mark their territory.
The most dangerous aspect of this had been the amount of asbestos liberated into the air, meaning that access became so hazardous even the vandal had decided to give the place a wide berth.
Fast forward to the start of 2013, and in February The Scotsman carried a lengthy article on the bunker at Barnton: Queen’s Edinburgh nuclear bunker to open as museum – Latest news – Scotsman.com, describing its past, and revealing the plans to open the site as a museum, similar to Scotland’s Secret Bunker at Troywood near Anstruther on the Fife coast.
Missing from this account was any indication of when the new attraction might open its doors.
This arrived in April, when STV carried a much shorter story about the bunker: Edinburgh underground bunker to be opened up to visitors | News | Edinburgh | STV, but added the important detail of a 3-year plan for completion of the new project, meaning that we could see this attraction open in 2016.
Probably the most intriguing point about this is the point made by the chap behind the project, as it is one of the closest facilities of the type to any sort of population centre, making it a little easier to get to, and enjoy a visit.
Assuming they manage to get it looking as good as Troywood, and they will have to collect a load of equipment to get it refurbished and looking remotely original, then it will be a great day out.
A visit to the bunker at Anstruther can easily eat up a day, especially if the whole bunker is explored in detail, and all the films on offer in the small theatre are viewed.
You can read, and see, more of the bunker (and others) in Nick Catford’s book Subterranean Britain: Cold War Bunkers which was also featured by The Scotsman a couple of years ago: Barnton bunker a hot spot in the Cold War – News – Scotsman.com
The arrival (or perhaps I should say anticipated arrival, given that we have just been told we are currently enjoying the coldest March for 50 years) of spring has seen life come to the Welcome to the Scottish Maritime Museum, and news of developments behind the move of the remains of City of Adelaide to her new home in Australia.
Australia… sounds like a good idea, as ‘sunny’ Scotland is currently set to keep its current wintry spell extension operating well into April. I’m almost beginning to believe I was sniffing too much cleaning solvent in an unventilated room recently, and that the long walks I was enjoying a few weeks ago were just a figment of my imagination. The idea of going for a nice walk armed with a camera is almost becoming a long-lost memory.
Back in Irvine:
“With the successful transfer to South of Australia of the rudder of the clipper ship City of Adelaide work has now begin on the preparation of the vessel for her journey to Port Adelaide. The technical issues associated with the treatment of the historic timbers of the vessel to meet Australian import regulations were overcome and tested with the move of the rudder. One of the engineers from Australia, leading the project, arrived in Scotland on the 10th of March and a number of specialist contractors have now been engaged. The first phase of this stage of the work will be the dismantling of the Australian built transportation cradle and its repositioning under and around the ship. Work will also commence inside the hull to provide the stability to the ship’s frame for the move.”
This announcement would appear to lay to rest claims by various naysayers that the move had been cancelled, has been stopped by a legal challenge, that the money had run out, that the timber treatment failed to meet Australian import regulations, that the Australians had run away and deserted (after their web site went down), that they had run out of money, and even one suggestion that the hull had already broken and could not be transported to the cradle.
Hunting around the web can find some fun claims that were thrown around while the project was on hold over the doldrums of the winter season.
The question now is whether or not the actual move ultimately produces better tales than the fertile imaginations that were free to roam over the period of calm, or if it all goes off without a hitch.
Sadly, computers, microprocessors, the Internet, and the web have conspired (unintentionally) to destroy many wonderful devices that were developed in the past.
From my own industry, I can say that I seldom walk into a factory, or look inside an aircraft cockpit that has much in the way of electrical or mechanical instrumentation or indicators. It’s not all gone by any means, but the glass cockpit and computer display (or LCD) is now more likely to be seen than any sort of device with a pointer. The old hardware is just too expensive to manufacture for general use, given the training and skills needed by the technicians behind it. Although the electronic version may be more expensive, it is generally more robust and easier to install and maintain, especially of many devices are needed. Instead of every indicator needing a dedicated readout, each can be digitised and displayed virtually on a common screen, and have the added advantage of being easy to organise as distributed systems, since the data can be transmitted via the Internet.
Another victim of this trend has been the planetarium, where complex (and expensive) optical systems were carefully created in order to project the various planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and any other type of heavenly body, onto the inside of a dome, and we could enjoy looking at a little piece of the observable universe from the comfort of a strangely angled seat.
However, they’re no longer needed, and while the PC once meant purchasing a program to show the night sky and identify many of the items on view, even this expense is largely avoided now, and one can view representations of the night sky online, speed it up or slow it down, or look at its appearance at any date past or future. And a click on any spot of light visible will bring up more details of the star, galaxy, or whatever, provided it is in the database.
I was not even aware they were still even being made until I wrote this item, but they are.
I was lucky enough to visit a few: Glasgow Science Centre has a small one, which I saw during a review visit a few weeks before the centre opened; Jodrell Bank (radio telescope) also had one when I visited some years ago, although the show it put on was very simple, and really only suitable for children I had a look at Jodrell Bank (The University of Manchester), but there is no mention of the planetarium, just an option to download a free version online; the best one (I saw) was at the London Planetarium, where they operated the system for sensible shows during the day, but then threw a switch for the evening shows, when the planetarium projector was tied into a laser entertainment sound and light show accompanied by a rock music background. It was great, and I visited a number of times when in London for business, then I had a break of a few years, and was amazed to find it had all gone, and there were no more evening shows when I returned. As of 2010, it no longer exists, other than the dome off Marylebone, and that now houses other attractions.
Somehow (despite the Glasgow Science Centre‘s various financial and survival crises), the Glasgow Planetarium still survives, and this makes it easy for it to win accolades and praise:
Our projector is a Carl Zeiss Starmaster ZMP-TD, one of the best star projectors in the world. It uses advanced fibre optic technology developed by the German company to show stunning views of the stars and planets as they would look from any place on Earth – but without light pollution. Not only that, but take a pair of binoculars and it is possible to study in more detail the features of the Andromeda nebula, the Magellanic Clouds or the Orion nebula.
The magnificent images are only possible through the use of fibre optic technology. The star ball is made up of 12 powerful wide-angle projectors, each covered by its own star mask with up to 1000 ‘star’ perforations. By directing light efficiently through fibre optic strands to the star masks, it is possible to achieve a far more varied and realistic night sky, from the dazzling Sirius to the awe-inspiring Betelgeuse.
Our planetarium is widely regarded as the best in the UK and one of the finest in Europe. The Starmaster ZMP-TD starball is the reason behind this. Its outstanding detail and amazingly realistic projections make for one truly outstanding experience.
Br Guy Consolmagno, Astronomer for the Vatican visited our planetarium and delivered talks to a packed theatre:
“The Glasgow Science Centre planetarium is one of the most perfect matches of projector and dome size I have ever come across, anywhere in the world. It is everything a planetarium ought to be: an exciting and realistic view of the heavens the way they ought to look. It provides crystal-sharp star images of a quality that is rare on such a large dome, one big enough to give a real feel for how the sky looks. It provides a view that sadly is all too rare in our light-polluted world.”
Enjoy one man’s efforts to maintain the last survivors of The Planetarium Years:
There are many beautiful things to see on the drive into Big Bear Lake, CA but one of the more interesting and unknown is the Planetarium Projector Museum. In an unassuming building a stone’s throw from the lake, owner Owen Phairis has managed to compile the largest collection of planetarium projectors in the world. Phairis, who also does an electrical stage show as Nikola Tesla called “Man Of Lighting”, has a very unique obsession with the retired machines. These fantastic optical relics have been rescued from defunct planetariums and schools, now taking residence under a re-purposed military parachute in Phairis’ space. We spoke to Phairis about the projectors and were even lucky enough to get a private viewing of the stars.
See more of our videos at coolhunting.com/video
We noted that the Fraserburgh Lighthouse Museum has suffered thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to a number of its large gallery windows a few weeks ago, as some brave vandals used the cover of darkness on January 28 to hide their attack on a number of the feature windows.
It looks as if the same fearless night warriors have been in action again, as it has now been reported that the windows of the engine room on the site were damaged during the night of Tuesday, 19 February 2013.
Inspector Alan Brown of Grampian Police, said: “I am disappointed that certain individuals have taken it upon themselves to damage what is an important part of our community which draws visitors from across the wider area. The large windows are a special attraction, allowing views across the coastal scenery and I would ask anyone who would have any information, however apparently irrelevant, to contact us and assist us in identifying those responsible.
“In the meantime, I’d like to reassure the local community that everything possible is being done by ourselves to identify those responsible.”
Anyone with any information can contact police on 0845 600 5 700 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Fife Council has allocated £6.8 million to a project set to deliver a new museum and art gallery to the town of Dunfermline. Work is set to start in 2014, with completion due in 2016.
The project has been supported by donations from The Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, and a grant of £2.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The new facility will be located between two of the town’s existing Victorian buildings, the B-listed Dunfermline Carnegie Library, and a B-listed building which was formerly a bank.
Part of the project will see archaeological digs carried out in the area being used as car parks behind the two buildings.
The new museum will feature the social and industrial history of the area, and host temporary exhibitions. The new space will allow artefacts which have been stored unseen for many years to be brought out and exhibited for visitors to enjoy in the new setting.
A competition was held to select the design of the new Dunfermline Museum and Art Gallery, and this was won by Richard Murphy Architects, who provide the following summary on their web site:
The revised design maintains a top-lit street as its organising device and has a secondary entrance at the southern end for direct access to the graveyard and St Margaret’s Street. There are three main new spaces. At the lower level is a major new facility for the research and study of local history and its archive and also new library facilities for children. The café has been relocated to a first floor position with terraces looking out onto the Abbey and graveyard and above this on the same level will be the museum and the exhibition galleries. The circulation system is an ‘architectural promenade’ culminating in these facilities but also continuing back into the main building and allowing access to two main existing spaces in the library, the Murrison Burns Room which becomes a meeting / function space and the adjacent reference library which will become an activity and lecture space.
The following rendering is by Richard Murphy Architects, and shows the new facility as seen from the adjacent garden area. This combines the use of stone and steel, said to reflect the industrial history of the area, the main theme of the museum’s displays:
With too many stories appearing in this blog and telling of museum which are either closing, or threatened with closure, it’s nice to see the occasional tale of additional funding, or protection of funding for an existing museum.
In this case, it’s the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Fife, based in Anstruther, and tells the history of the Scotland fishing industry with a collection of more than 66,000 items. The museum will receive £75,000 in the period 2013/14, part of a £49.7 million allocation to Scottish museums and galleries.
Simon Hayhow, director of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, said:
The Scottish Fisheries Museum is grateful to the Scottish government and the culture secretary for continued support for our work in increasing visitors and improving access to our collections.
This funding is vital to us, and allows us to unlock other sources of grants for exciting and innovative projects, such as ‘Home from the Sea’ and ‘Science and Sea Monsters’ and work on developing the museum’s range of public services for the future.
The museum hosts the historic floating vessel ‘Reaper‘ (built in 1902), which was repaired last year, and has plans to take the craft to the south Forth ports in May. Last year, it completed an upgrade to its tearoom, and opened a community curated exhibition, ‘Iconic Artists in Iconic Places’. More new exhibitions are planned for 2013, including “Science and Sea Monsters”, due to open on 16 February, 2013.
The museum also plans to find a site where it can locate a new Large Objects Store.
See also: Scottish Fisheries Museum
Although the norm these days seems to be the spotting of yet another museum or collection closing, I’m pleased to say I spotted a news item which announced the opening of a permanent museum in Grangemouth, dedicated to the liner Titanic.
Having been in existence since 2002 as a travelling museum, Titanic Honour and Glory has now opened the doors of it new and permanent home in Grangemouth to the public, in an event which took place on Saturday, 16 February, 2013.
You can view a video report on the opening by clicking here.
The Titanic Honour and Glory Museum is owned and operated by Titanic Honour and Glory exhibitions, and was opened by Christine Bole, whose uncle, William Young Moyes, was a member of the crew which was lost on the liner’s maiden voyage.
The small taster image is a US PD image, described as being of the RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10, April, 1912. At 11.40 pm on 14, April, 1912, the ocean liner struck an iceberg. Two hours and 40 minutes later she sank deep into the freezing Atlantic waters. Less than a third of the people on board survived.
The museum’s web site provides further details:
Moyes, an engineer from Stirling, was just 23 when he died. One of the objects in the museum is a teddy bear which he took with him on Titanic’s sea trials before giving it to his sister shortly before he left on Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton.
Christine Bole said: “She treasured it all her life. She used to sleep with it every night under her pillow.
“He was a very, very nice person. He was a very, very quiet person. I wouldn’t say William was academic, he was more sporty, but my mum was very fond of him. She always spoke of him.”
Titanic Honour and Glory exhibitions and events manager Sean Szmalc said the Titanic story continues to grip the public imagination more than 100 years after the White Star liner collided with an iceberg and sank, but the Scottish connection has been overlooked.
He told STV News: “Since I was five years old I’ve been absolutely captivated by the Titanic story. Think of the selfless acts of the engineers, all the crew, the passengers that lost their lives as well. James Cameron made a film: this was real life. People’s lives changed forever.
“People talk about Southampton, Liverpool, Belfast, but Scotland’s got a lot of Titanic connections and it’s something we should really be proud about and remember.”
Museum opening times, admission charges, and location
Please check these details if planning to visit some time after this report was written in 2013!
The Titanic Honour and Glory Museum is open Thursday – Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.
Admission charges (2013):
Children: £1 (under 5 free)
Family: £5 (2 adults and 2 children)
The museum is located at:
Titanic Honour and Glory Museum,
1 – 3 York Arcade,
Sean:- 07833 630 287
Margot:- 07810 475 215