Sunday, 30 August 2015

Postman's Park (24): Ernest Benning


On 25 August 1883, Ernest Benning and three companions went by boat (a small skiff) to Kew. They made their way back that evening. At 9pm, they had reached Pimlico when they suddenly realised that their boat was dangerously close to the steamer Wedding Ring.

Unfortunately, it seems that their reaction was the immediate cause of the disaster which followed. By panicking and standing up, they caused the boat to capsize. It then collided with the oncoming steamer, throwing the occupants into the Thames. One William Large, on the river with his wife and child, rowed to the scene and pulled two of the four people into his boat. A fisherman rescued a third, but Benning could not be found. The memorial plaque records that he had been supporting one of the others, a woman, with an oar but sank before he could be rescued himself.

Benning's body was found under Waterloo pier. The jury found that his was an accidental death, and expressed their admiration of the witnesses who had saved the others' lives.

ERNEST BENNING, COMPOSITOR, AGED 22, UPSET FROM A BOAT ONE DARK NIGHT OFF PIMLICO PIER GRASPED AN OAR WITH ONE HAND SUPPORTING A WOMAN WITH THE OTHER , BUT SANK AS SHE WAS RESCUED, AUG 25 1883.



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Happy anniversary, London Historians!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed a few times that I've visited places thanks to London Historians. This friendly, diverse society for everyone interested in the capital's history is celebrating its fifth birthday today. There's even a very good offer for new members until midnight tonight (Wednesday). 

I'd recommend membership very highly - and to encourage you, here are some of the posts inspired by my own activities as a member:


 

An exploration of Hogarth's Chiswick - and Hogarth at the Cartoon Museum


A walk through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel on its centenary.  


City livery halls including the Vintners' Hall; Drapers' Hall; and Stationers' Hall.




A night-time visit to the Tower of London.


And a trip out of London, to Compton - home of the studio and gallery of GF Watts (founder of the Postman's Park memorial) and the amazing cemetery chapel by his wife Mary Seton Fraser Tytler.



Sunday, 23 August 2015

Postman's Park (23): Richard Farris


Both the report in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper and the memorial tile in Postman's Park treat this story as straightforward. Richard Farris dived into the Surrey Canal to save Eliza Arlott, who jumped in when distressed by something her sweetheart had said. However, one wonders why he 'accosted' the witness but did not try to prevent her jumping or seek help from passers-by.
It appeared from the evidence of a young man, named Thomas Charles Hodgson, of 29, Stanton-street, Commercial-road, that on Monday night last, as he was about to cross Globe-bridge, which spans the Surrey canal between Peckham and Camberwell, he was accosted by Farris, with whom he was acquainted. Farris pointed to a girl who was leaning on the parapet of the bridge, with her face buried in her hands, and said to the witness that if she (meaning the girl) went into the water, he would go in after her. The witness (Hodgson) noticed the girl, but saying nothing, passed over the bridge, and entered the Surrey View public-house. Five minutes afterwards he heard an alarm of somebody being in the water, and rushed to procure the drags. The young woman had been greatly distressed about something her sweetheart had said to her. The jury returned a verdict, “That Farris had been accidentally drowned whilst humanely endeavouring to save the life of Eliza Arlott, who had committed suicide while in a state of temporary insanity.”
The undercurrents to this story remain mysterious, but the event itself is marked in the Watts Memorial:

RICHARD FARRIS, LABOURER, WAS DROWNED IN ATTEMPTING TO SAVE A POOR GIRL WHO HAD THROWN HERSELF INTO THE CANAL AT GLOBE BRIDGE, PECKHAM, MAY 20 1878.



Friday, 21 August 2015

The empty lake


 A pretty pastoral scene in Brittany ... except there's something not right about those trees.


A jetty leads nowhere.


Landing stages stretch out into the void. 


This is the Lac de Guerledan, a 300-hectare freshwater lake formed by the building of a hydroelectric barrage in the 1920s. At the time, the scattered rural population had little access to - or apparent interest in - electricity. However, if the towns were to be supplied then a Breton source of power was needed - and the dam was proposed. Ground was broken in 1923, and the construction site formally opened in 1924, although work would not be completed until 1930. 


While much maintenance can be carried out on a regular basis, some tasks require the emptying of the lake. It used to be a ten-yearly event, but improvements in technology mean that it's thirty years since the last emptying; and it will be at least as long until the next one. This, then, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stroll along the lake bed. 


Drowned homes and orchards have reappeared for the summer. 



The locks, now dry, are a reminder that before the lake was formed, the Nantes-Brest Canal ran through.  (For this stretch, it followed the course of the river Blavet.)


The cause of this transformation, the barrage is undergoing a complete technical examination to ensure its long-term safety. Works can be carried out more easily, and otherwise-inaccessible areas inspected. 


The lake will refill naturally from the end of the summer. In the meantime, however, it offers one of Brittany's strangest landscapes. 
 


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Postman's Park (22): Joseph Andrew Ford


We have already seen that the escape ladders operated by the London Fire Brigade were not infallible: George Lee had died in 1876 when his broke. The main danger was the fire itself, which could spread to the escape and those on it. The issue of how best to make these machines fire-resistant was therefore a crucial one, and had been considered in some detail at the inquest of another fireman, Joseph Andrew Ford, five years earlier.

As his memorial explains,

JOSPEPH ANDREW FORD, AGED 30, METROPOLITAN FIRE BRIGADE, SAVED SIX PERSONS FROM FIRE IN GRAY'S INN ROAD BUT IN HIS LAST HEROIC ACT HE WAS SCORCHED TO DEATH, OCT 7 1871.

The inquest evidence established that he fell to his death from the top of the fire ladder after the canvas chute and its wire netting support burned through. The coroner and jury gave most of their attention to the question of whether his death had been a preventable tragedy.

The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire thought that it was. They had always used copper gauze rather than wire mesh: it was more expensive, but they felt that it was also more fire-resistant. A fire-escape manufacturer, Mr Clarke (who had recently lost his contract with the Fire Brigade) suggested that his secret formula for rendering canvas anti-inflammable might have helped too.

Various witnesses from the fire brigade - including its head, Captain Shaw - gave evidence that in fact, the fire escapes were as good as they could be and the higher cost of copper gauze had not been a factor. Rather, the fire officers themselves had decided that they preferred the netting: it was stronger, less likely to crack and get damaged when the escape was moved, and made the escape easier to transport in the wind. As for rendering the canvas uninflammable, alum had been tried but it washed out in the rain.

The jury's verdict was accidental death. However, they were clearly unconvinced by Captain Shaw and his colleagues since they added the rider that
We are of the opinion that the fire escape, by falling from which the deceased met with his death, was not constructed in the most efficient manner, and are of the opinion that had the shoot [sic] of the escape been covered with copper gauze instead of wire netting, and the canvas rendered uninflammable, the death of the deceased would have been avoided.



Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Heavenly stairs


Perhaps the most extraordinary stairs I've walked up are those leading to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral. First, they are very old, built in the years 1265 to 1280, and show the wear of centuries of footsteps. Second, they do not fork apart to two doorways, but rather flow together through the space. For the Chapter House, take the right-hand flight; straight ahead is the route to Vicars' Close.



Finally, their destination is pretty breathtaking. Completed in 1306, the Chapter House is an octagonal room lined with seats, each watched over by carved faces.



They would be attention-grabbing in any other context, but here the vaulted ceiling is truly the star. 


 







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