Posts Tagged ‘London’

This article was written in January this year as an overview of Beyond the Point’s coverage of the First World War for the Imperial War Museum’s Centenary Partnership which we are proud to be a part of. In light of remembrance 2015, its now here on Beyond the Point.

I shall begin by introducing our organisation. BeyondthePoint.co.uk is Essex-based and was established by myself (Liam Heatherson) and my friend Joe Mander, in 2011 when we were fourteen years old. Like this site, we created it using WordPress (originally as a blog). We were awarded Best National Community Archive, Website, and Heritage Group of 2012. We use our site to share and document our fascination with local history, offering an innovative approach to the subject by focusing on what is usually glossed over by historians; primarily what remains of our heritage today. The ‘hands-on’ nature of exploring local heritage in our opinion is a good way to fascinate a younger audience. Also, we use professional-quality video equipment to produce documentaries on the places we visit found on the site.

We were encouraged to join the Centenary Partnership by the Bay Museum who is also a partner, whom we know very well. Like ourselves, they believe seeing and investigating remains of the Great War is the most effective way to really capture people, like history did to myself many years ago.

Beyond the Point has been running a series of articles on relating to the First World War, and we have many planned for the future. We began our investigation by having a look at the remembrance of the sacrifice paid. Joe and I took a trip to London and visited the poppies at the Tower of London, and also the Tower Hill Memorial for those who lost their lives in both world wars in the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. You can read about our visit and our partnership with the IWM here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1if Next we paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum London itself as it was only fitting. We visited the First World War exhibition there. Read more here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1mb

Having paid respects to the more obvious commemoration of the Great War, we then set out to provide our own contributions. As we usually explore and document historic remains, we took a trip to Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve which held the ruins of the Ministry of Defence site that was there as far back as the 1700s up until recent. It served most notably as a firing range during the First World War. Joe and I took two friends with us and they were definitely fascinated like ourselves. We tracked down the ruins of an anti-submarine blockhouse, which shot down a zeppelin in March 1916, explored the impressive remains of the 1915 firing range, and ventured inside a gloomy anti-aircraft ammunition magasine; one of the original eight. We provided a downloadable trail guide on our website to enable viewers to discover the remains for themselves. You can read the whole detailed investigation, see all our photographs, and get the trail guide here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1s6

This is only the one of our investigations into remains of the First World War on the home front and we plan several more for the future. BTP created a 5-minute short documentary on Southend in The First World War based on the book ‘Southend at War’ by Dee Gordon. It visits sites that were bombed, or used in the war effort. Read the article here: http://wp.me/p1HP6Z-1md

We will be visiting the site of a First World War Kynoch munitions factory that is currently thought to be gone without trace by historians, to conduct an archaeological search, after we found signs of ruins corresponding to the original plans via Google Earth. We visited a similar site, now a nature reserve, in Pitsea, several years ago (Wat Tyler Country Park) which made much of the .303 ammunition for the standard-issue Short Magasine Lee-Enfield rifles used by troops in the Great War. This is somewhat antiquated content on our site which is not representative of the quality of our articles at present, although you can read about this here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-Xl We also visited a munitions factory from the same era in 2013 at Cliffe, whose ruins span miles of Thames-side marshland in Kent to this day: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-1af Finally, again in 2013, we visited Stow Maries Aerodrome which was abandoned up until recent years in which a restoration project has taken place. They fly contemporary aircraft from the site, and hold a collection of restored and left-natural buildings from the time of the First World War. Read here: http://wp.me/P1HP6Z-Sx

Thanks very much for reading and thanks very much to the Imperial War Museum for the First World War Centenary Project which we are grateful to be part of.

Advertisements

Purfleet Heritage & Military Centre is a museum set up inside Magasine No.5 from the Royal Magasine of Gunpowder. This MOD magazine (which means an explosives and ammunition  store) was contracted in 1759, consisting of five buildings, plus a proof house for testing the explosive. Four of the magasines, which would have held up to 10,400 barrels of gunpowder, were left in a derelict overgrown state until they were demolished when Thurrock Council bought the site off of the MOD. The magasines were part of a larger Ministry of Defence site covering what is now Rainham Marshes Reserve. See our visit here: http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/historic-locations/east-tilbury-and-west/rainham-marshes-firing-range-ww1/

We decided to take the train down one Monday to see the museum. The 300 year-old timbers that line the floor and rafters still remain, and were imported from America because they were the only timbers long enough to be carved into the required shape. The museum does a commendable job of retaining the original look and feel of the building, such as the original painted numbers on the timber, whilst accounting for the modern-day appeal of the exhibits. There is still a huge attic spanning the length of the building used for storage filled with tons of original sand to contain an accidental explosion.

Alan Gosling decided to save the building, and I was fortunate enough to speak to him on our visit. He explained how the museum has to work the displays around the preservation of  the listed building. It became a museum in 1992, housing an impressive collection of artifacts and displays relating to both the magazine itself and local history, as well as British military history from the 19th Century, such as the Zulu War, through to the two world wars and beyond. The scale of the interior is huge and it is entirely full with displays and artifacts; there is plenty to see! The welcoming atmosphere of the building was finished off with some appropriate wartime music and enthusiasts dressed in British infantry uniform from the Second World War who were stopping by.

Visit the centre’s website and check their opening times at http://www.purfleet-heritage.com/

The Rainham/Purfleet area has been in use by man since the days of the so –called ‘Cavemen’. You can see some of the petrified tree trunks still remaining today from a 6,000 year-old Neolithic forest, opposite the very northern end of Wennington Marsh, in the Thames foreshore. However, much of Rainham came to use in the last few centuries by the Ministry of Defence on Aveley Marsh; this is what we investigated with guests Luke Baker and Michael Clark, paying a visit to the now RSPB-owned nature reserve.

The article following has been designed in manner which both documents our visit, informs readers on the location, and offers advice enabling you to make a visit yourself as part of our ‘iBTP’ scheme. If you do wish to visit, follow the numbers on the satellite map below which correspond to the places mentioned in the following article. We recommend you download and print our ‘printer-friendly’ trail-guide version of the article found below the map. Please note trail shown on map is not to be followed religiously. May contain errors or be subject to change over time. Please note the historic structures shown in the article are not accessible and are on potentially dangerous land. However, they can be clearly viewed at leisure from the footpaths.

Purfleet Train Station (not to be confused with Rainham Station further down the river) is part of the C2C train line. It will take you towards London or Southend-on-Sea. Trains only run roughly once an hour so make sure you plan a train. Alternatively you can drive and park in the Rainham Nature Reserve car-park next to the visitor’s centre. The reserve has been designed with nature in mind, although with respect to the sites heritage, so the marshes are well worth a visit if bird-watching or any other kind of wildlife enthusiasm is of interest to you.

ibtpRainhamMap

Download Printer-Friendly Trail Guide Here

  1. Purfleet Heritage & Military Centre is a museum set up inside 1759 Magasine No.5 from the Royal Magasine of Gunpowder Check opening times here: http://www.purfleet-heritage.com/pages/contact.html We took some video footage and photographs during our visit, and were fortunate enough to speak to founder Alan Gosling. We will release a short video and more in-depth article on the building in the near future which will be linked here.
  2. Rainham Marshes Visitors Centre was built around 2006 after the MOD land was bought and cleared by the RSPB in 2000. It has a café and toilet facilities, and houses views of the marshes as well as its own impressive architecture. We visited and the food/facilities were respectable and ideally located.
  3. The Anti-Submarine Blockhouse can be found at the end of one of the longest sections of the walk (around 10 minutes) which takes you to the western side of the central reserve. However, you can appreciate views of the Thames from here, also ideal for bird watching. This is a pillbox-type outpost made of brick and concrete, although much larger than conventional pillboxes, and is the first sign of the areas use during the First World War. It is said that in March 1916, decoy beacons were lit on Wennington Marsh, and the structure shot down a German zeppelin via the machine gun that would’ve been mounted on its roof. It remains in fair condition, but is water-logged and inaccessible.
  4. The Firing Ranges span across the green line marked on the map, and divide the two marshes. The war department created this rifle range in 1906, and the structures you see today were built in 1915. The firing range sheds (‘mantlets’) remain, which were where the target-mechanism operators would stand, as does one of the three ‘butts’ (the area in which the targets are set up).  The target area (butt/backwall), made up of a brick ‘Aztec-looking’ plinth with wooden numbers on, is visible from path. Its size means it can be seen across most of the reserve. It is on private land and inaccessible to the public. The surface of the remaining butt is littered with quite sizable bullet-holes in the brickwork, probably inflicted by the standard issue service rifle of the time – the Lee-Enfield and its .303 calibre bullets. The firing sheds (mantlets) were on private land and are inaccessible. They were made of metal and still held original wooden seats and other decor, as well as a corrugated iron shed. The mantlet roof was covered with earth from the bank to protect the target-mechanism operators from fire coming at the back-wall overhead. They span the entire western side of the central reserve in two sections. The green line on our map above marks their location. They were highly impressive.

  5. The Cordite Store was a large magazine building that once stood on the square area extant today. You can see the blast mound around the outside of this which would’ve contained an accidental explosion. We can imagine this must have been an immense building when it stood, more like some form of hangar or hall than a store-room.
  6. Only one of the eight Anti-Aircraft Ammunition Magasines remains today; ruined and overgrown just north of the visitors centre. The rest were demolished shortly after the RSPB gained the land in 2000. It lies off of the main footpath and is not accessible to the public. It was surprisingly large and had a small walkway between the blastwall and the exterior of the main structure. Window-frames inside were still present although no other features survived. You can see all eight magasines in the 1940 image at the bottom of the post.
The marsh in 1940

The marsh in 1940

That concludes the trail. If you decided to follow it you can now return to the Visitors Centre or go straight back to the C2C train station. Beyond the Point certainly enjoyed our visit and found it highly fascinating. First-time heritage-explorer Michael Clark said the trip was “thrilling; history meets adventure, and it really captivated me”, in the same way that BTP Joe and Liam were by their numerous adventures into remaining glimpses of the past.

To commence Beyond the Point’s coverage of the First World War Centenary, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, we thought we would visit the museum itself. The museum itself spans Duxford, North London, Cardiff, the HMS Belfast, and the Churchill War Museums, which I must say is a clever way of housing locations themselves as museum artifacts on a large scale. Not only is the museum a vital contributor to historic research, but its roots relate to the First World War. It was founded in 1917 in response to the First World War, as an attempt to record the sacrifice and war effort. It was opened in 1920 within Crystal Palace, moving to the Imperial Institute in South Kensington in 1924. This was a close shave considering the palace burnt to the ground in 1936. The IWM again moved in 1936 to the early 19th Century building of Bethlem Royal Hospital, where it remains today. This displacement saw the hospital demolished except for its central section; the rest becoming the surrounding park.

We took a short walk to the premises from our visit to Big Ben which you can read about here. After admiring some of the more recent architecture,a nd also posing for some grungy tunnel shots in our suits, we entered the museum. The most impressive thing they had here initially was the sheer scale and number of the artifacts suspended in the central lobby. From Spitfires, to V1 & V2 bombs (which landed on Britain in the late Second World War), all the way down to Russian T34 tanks, we felt a sense of awe both at these huge weapons themselves, and at how they had been displayed; some suspended from the ceiling by wire alone. We also payed homage to their poppy display.

There was a large exhibition holding artifacts and information about the First World War. I was pretty good but absolutely packed so it was difficult to have a thorough look. There was everything from very ghastly gas masks and camouflage suits; which captured the peril of the front, down to the hand-painted trench signposts which stood bizarrely in the 21st century environment; looking as if they belonged in hell. We also saw nuclear missiles suspended from the ceiling, an ROC post ground-zero indicator, and a bio-hazard observation shelter; like a modern-day nuclear ROC post. It was certainly time well spent.

We recorded a video of our trip that day to Big Ben, the poppies at the Tower of London, and of the IWM. Much of it focuses on Big Ben although it still compliments this article on the IWM.

Beyond the Landmark – V.I.P. Big Ben Tour

Posted: November 16, 2014 by BTP Joe in Event Review
Tags: , , ,

DSC_0062_tonemapped

Big Ben (formally known at the Elizabeth Tower) is one of the worlds most iconic buildings, rating it as the 13th most iconic landmark in the world. Despite being one of the world’s most famous sights, overseas visitors aren’t allowed up due to security reasons as only UK residents can visit by booking the tour via your MP, months in advance. Liam and I headed into London for our tour of the tower and stopped off at the Tower of London first to see the poppies there. Wow. This was an amazing sight to see and is worth a visit. There are 888,246 poppies, one to remember each soldier who has lost their life in World War 1.
Moving on, we went to Portcullis House where we had to meet for our tour. We were joined by about 10 others and headed towards the tower via a tunnel under the road at about 2pm. The tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower. In 2012 it was renamed as Elizabeth Tower, from ‘Clock Tower’ to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee however it’s known by everyone as Big Ben, which is in fact a reference to the biggest bell at the top of the tower.

On October 16th 1834, the old Houses of Parliament were largely destroyed by a massive accidental fire. A new Parliament building was needed and was built in a neo-gothic style. Charles Barry  was the chief architect of the Palace, however he turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower, which resembles earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall. The design for the tower was Pugin’s last design before his death, and Pugin himself apparently wrote, at the time of Barry’s last visit to him to collect the drawings: “I never worked so hard in my life for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful.” The tower is 315 feet (96.0 m) high and we climbed up the 334 steps to the top of the building stopping at 3 stops along the way.

Some unlucky people had this job! The clockface is cleaned every 5-7 years and costs "less than you might think"

Some unlucky people had this job! The clockface is cleaned every 5-7 years and costs “less than you might think”

The clock’s is famous for its reliability, always being within a second of the time, although when the tower was first commissioned, this was a problem. Clockmakers were very reluctant to agree to making the clock that precise, saying that they could get it to within a minute to the time although not a second, due to the hands being exposed to wind, rain, ice and snow however it was eventually settled with a new design being made which would ensure that it was within a second of the time. The designers were Edmund Beckett Denison, a company which still exist today. Construction was entrusted to clockmaker Edward John Dent however his stepson completed the work after his death in 1853. The pendulum is installed within an enclosed windproof box beneath the clockroom. It is 4 metres long, weighs 300 kg (600 pounds) and beats every 2 seconds. On top of the pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins; these are to adjust the time of the clock. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day.

The main bell is known as the Great Bell or Big Ben and is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. It’s not known who exactly is ‘Ben’ although it’s most likely an MP or Boxer at the time however nothing officially says this. The original bell was a 16 tonne hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees and was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested as a hammer was made too big and hence a replacement had to be made. This original bell was knocked down and melted into metal for the new bell.

The bell was recast on 10 April 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13½ tonne bell. This was pulled 200 ft (61.0 m) up to the Clock Tower’s belfry by several strong men lasting 18 hours. The bell is 2.29 m tall and 2.74 m in diameter. This new bell first chimed in July 1859 although in September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service due to a hammer being used that was more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was reinstalled. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack which can be seen today.

Moving to the present, the clock has become a symbol of the UK, particularly in TV shows or Films, with Big Ben being another name for London in addition to a red bus or black taxi passing the tower. The sound of the clock chiming has also been used this way. Big Ben is a focus of New Year celebrations with the BBC filming from London live at new year to show the spectacular firework display and in 2012, the clock tower itself was lit with fireworks that exploded at every toll of Big Ben. Similarly, on Remembrance Day, the chimes of Big Ben are broadcast to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and the start of two minutes’ silence and if you live within a 5 mile radius of Elizabeth Tower – you’ll hear it! On 27 July 2012, Big Ben chimed 30 times, to mark the start of the Olympic games. And a final fact for you – the gold decorations at the top of the clock are real. It is genuine 23 carat gold as as fake gold would wear off more easily, so this is actually a cheaper alternative.

 

Jewel Tower is an overlooked treasure English Heritage holds directly opposite from The Houses of Parliament. It was built from 1365-66 to house the personal treasures of King Edward III – like a giant safe. Then in the early 17th Century the House of Lords used it as a records office, holding valuable documents. It survived a large fire in 1834 which destroyed much of the ‘Old Palace’ (the original Houses of Parliament dating back to the medieval era. From 1869 to 1936 the tower was used by the ‘Board’s Standards Department’ for the standardisation of measurement. Currency, weight, and lengths, were all standardised here – the definition of ‘one inch’, all the way to ‘how heavy should an ounce be?’, was all decided in this historic building.

This photograph, courtesy of English Heritage, shows the tower cramped among many more modern buildings in September 1950. The tower was exposed when these buildings were demolished shortly after.

This photograph, courtesy of English Heritage, shows the tower cramped among many more modern buildings in September 1950. The tower was exposed when these buildings were demolished shortly after.

   The structure is of quite an impressive size considering its publicity for tourists, and is of a rough ‘L’ shape, constructed with Kentish Ragstone, and designed by Henry Yevele. It features a large defensive moat around it still visible today (an artificial body of water surrounding it to prevent enemies entering) which was also used for transportation of the King’s goods. The tower was built in the corner of the Royal Gardens, and its ‘L’ shape is said to be due to King Edward ordering that it didn’t take up any of his garden space.

 

   On the bottom floor it features a fascinating set of ceiling bosses in the Royal Presentation Room, where the King would have been presented with valuable gifts, and meet individuals. Bosses are the meeting points between the ceiling ribs made of a kind of clay which does not fully dry hard – they are still flexible to this day. This acts as a shock-proof way of fixing the ceiling to allow it to move as the foundations move over time. This rare set holds some intricate carvings, making them an incredibly important archaeological artefact.

   Today the tower stands as an excellent English Heritage museum. We explored all the levels, learning about the building and its use whilst taking photographs for this article, and video footage for the video seen at the beginning. We would like to thank the man from English Heritage running the museum at the time, who was based at the downstairs desk. We were very grateful for his information on the ceiling bosses and use of the bottom floor. To add to this, not only did he allow us to film in the building, but he even closed the museum for ten minutes for us to gain some video footage – many thanks sir!

DSC_0060