Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Snow on the Road

A North American winter is not to be taken lightly – weather bombs and snowmageddon are routine events. Especially in the North East and Midwest where massive snowfalls are reported every year with breathless excitement. Digging the driveway out of waist high snow was a common task, often shared with the family as shown here. These ads from 1930 to 1965 show Madison Avenue promoting the virtues of winter-proofed cars to an audience that needed no reminder of the perils of driving in snow and ice. Sporty associations were most favoured with the majority of cars pictured against a backdrop of winter sports – a ski resort is just about the last place where the affluent will be reminded of the existence of the lower orders. The merits of such refinements as triple-turbine transmission, a Super Jetfire Engine, a Vibra-Tuned Ride and swivel hipped handling are extolled in the text. For the reader with a strong stomach the final ad (Goodbye Mr Winter) is an egregious example of the art of the copywriter at its most long winded.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Snow Scenes in Postcards

For the last ten days or so, the nation’s weather forecasters have been addressing us in their self important faux-demotic on the subject of snow. In ever more apocalyptic terms we have been warned to expect unprecedented extremes of freezing temperatures and snowfall. If it was their intention to induce fear and dread, their success is demonstrated by reports of panic-buying of basic foods and supplies. TV newsgatherers have been out and about in the snow covered uplands in anticipation of blood curdling tales of human suffering – you can sense their disappointment when their interviewees respond with stoic acceptance of the tribulations of winter. In the meantime, the red tops have reworked the weather event as The Beast from the East in a phrase that neatly evokes the national paranoia over immigration that has poisoned political discourse in recent years. As a reminder that winter hardship was, and remains so for many, a routine event, we offer a selection of vintage postcards from winters past. To see some illustrations of snow scenes posted in 2010, please follow this link.

Monday, 26 February 2018

London Stations in Postcards – Victoria

When this postcard was published, Victoria Station comprised two separate termini operated by different companies. The modest, low-rise building pictured here was built by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in 1860. To the left, out of the picture, was the station for the London, Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR). Looming over the station is the Grosvenor Hotel (1861) – a view that would be lost a few years later when a six-storey red brick and Portland stone building was planted on top. Designed by Charles Morgan, Chief Engineer to the LB&SCR, in typically bombastic Edwardian Baroque styling, it was completed in 1908. It survives to the present under the protection of a Grade II listing from Historic England.

The second postcard shows the singular glory of Victoria Station – the slender, lofty and elegant wrought iron train shed built in 1862. It flooded the platforms with much needed daylight at a time when locomotive smoke and steam would have filled the atmosphere. The extra height allowed for dispersion of some of the worst effects. Sir John Fowler, former chief engineer of the Metropolitan Railway was responsible for the design. Fowler was a remarkable and prolific engineer who would go on to design the Forth Railway Bridge (together with Benjamin Baker). The train is a Brighton express from 1908 behind an H1 Atlantic locomotive, one of 5 constructed in 1905-6.

In the third postcard we see the departure of the Brighton Pullman, storming under the signal gantry outside Victoria Station. This time the locomotive is an LB&SCR H2 Atlantic built in 1911 that later carried the name, North Foreland. The train most famously associated with Victoria Station was the London to Paris service, marketed as the Golden Arrow and the subject of the final card as seen in the era of British Railways.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Irish Extremities

Above is a photo from 2010 of the Seaview Tavern at Malin Head in County Donegal. It is described as the most northerly Bar, Restaurant and Guesthouse complex in Ireland. Below is a photo from 2017 showing O'Sullivans at Crookhaven, County Cork - serving the most southerly pint in Ireland. The third photo is Creedons at Top of Coom on the border of Cork and Kerry. This claims to be Ireland's Highest Pub at 1,046 feet above sea level – there are other claimants to this distinction but none of them are over 1,000 feet. The spartan appearance follows a fire in 2012 – as a result the entire pub had to be rebuilt. All that remains is to locate Ireland’s Lowest Pub.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Disasters Narrowly Avoided

Another series of trade cards issued by Palmin, manufacturers of coconut oil products – this time from the 1920s on the subject of children and road safety. An interesting group of scenarios featuring careless children and reckless road users - also a demonstration of corporate social responsibility on the part of business. Anything more than a marginal impact on human behaviour would appear unlikely but nobody could disagree with objective of improving public safety. Vulnerable youngsters in parlous situations are frequently depicted on these cards and reflect parental anxieties common to all cultures. Although the illustrator has thrown the unfortunate victims in all directions, care has been taken to avoid upsetting the audience with excessively graphic content. Follow this link for more hazards to children.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Borsig Locomotive Works, Berlin-Tegel

Franz Hessel, author of Walking in Berlin (1929), indulged his fascination with the way that urban sprawl leeches out into the surrounding countryside by walking from Spandau to Tegel around the northwest perimeter of the city. Arriving in the suburb of Tegel he noted the presence of the Borsig locomotive works without pausing for closer examination. It may not have been for want of trying as Hessel was adept at talking his way into industrial facilities such as AEG in Moabit and wrote with relish and enthusiasm about what he observed. The Borsig Works in Tegel opened in 1898 (follow this link to view an 1898 catalogue of Borsig products) but the era of supremacy established in 1872 when it was the second largest loco builder in the world, was already behind it. By 1929 the mock-medieval ensemble of buildings at Tegel had been turning out steam locomotives for over 30 years but the company was struggling and close to insolvency. In 1935 the locomotive business was absorbed by AEG who began to move production to their own factory.

Borsig continued to produce industrial compressors and boilers until final closure in 1958. Much of the abandoned factory complex has survived into the present – albeit as part of a large commercial development that includes office space, a hotel and a major shopping centre. A quasi-fortified gateway marks the entrance to the factory – carved figures of armed guards look down on intruders from niches in the round towers. Many brand-new locomotives in black gloss finish were posed in front of the gateway for publicity photos. By adopting historical architectural styles the Borsigs seemed to be saying that despite the contemporary nature of their business they remained attached to time-honoured craft traditions and technologies.

The workshops, stores and assembly halls were designed with ornamental façades in a brick-built Gothic style, much favoured for contemporary civic buildings such as the Rathaus Schmargendorf. In 1922 the company built a 12 storey office block, often described as Berlin's first skyscraper. It was a steel frame construction designed by architect Eugen Schmohl (1880-1926) in an Expressionist style that retained the fortified aspect found elsewhere on the site. Elsewhere, the large machine hall was rebuilt as an indoor shopping centre in 1999. It’s an uninspired conversion that seems to have dissipated the sense of scale that would have distinguished the original interior. The external fabric has mostly been retained but the industrial character has largely been lost by replacing the original iron and steelwork with modern high performance metal trusses, slender and bland in appearance. It would require an enormous effort on the part of the imagination to summon up the epic drama of the industrial process with its percussive symphony of the riveter, the cacophonous hammer blows, the hissing hydraulic presses and the roaring forges. Mountains of castings, springs and roller-bearings littered the shop floor while overhead roof-mounted cranes transported immense locomotives from one assembly line to another. All this in a space now inhabited by listless shoppers browsing chain-store mediocrities.

The image above of locomotive construction is a detail from a painting by Paul Meyerheim (1842–1915) on display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum. It is one of a series of 7 paintings commissioned to celebrate the achievements of the Borsig engineering business. The locomotive is an example of Borsig construction from 1925 now a museum exhibit at Bochum-Dahlhausen.