Finch Foundry, Devon

Main entrance to Finch Foundry

Main entrance to Finch Foundry, by Graham Tait. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

In the small hamlet of Sticklepath, on the northern edge of Dartmoor, the National Trust in combination with the Finch Foundry Trust have restored a nineteenth century working edge tool manufactory – not strictly speaking a foundry despite its name.  It was started by William Finch in 1814. The name Finch is one of four surnames, which Samuel Smiles states were traditionally associated with iron working. Three overshot water wheels provide the power for a tilt hammer, a drop hammer and a shear hammer.  In 1958 a water turbine was installed and a Hydram provides a better head of water but the business closed in 1960. Since everything is kept in working order, it is possible to see the equipment being used by a blacksmith.

Smiths have shaped wrought iron with hand held hammers for millenia. Water powered hammers are recorded from China in 20 AD but they only became common in Europe in the 12th century. Water powered stamp mills were used to break up mineral ores. Massive hammers raised by water power and then allowed to drop under gravity were used to turn blooms into more workable bar iron and particularly for fabricating articles from wrought iron, steel and other metals.  In such metal works, multiple hammers were powered via a set of line shafts, pulleys and belts from a centrally located water supply. However during the Industrial Revolution the trip hammer generally fell out of favour and was gradually replaced with power hammers worked by steam, and more recently by compressed air.

Finch Foundry interior

Finch Foundry interior, by aldisley. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. Water powers the bellows for the forge and all the machinery, including the lethal-looking automatic shears.

Traditionally iron workers have always celebrated on St Clement’s Day. There are still remnants of this tradition in the early iron working districts in the weald of Sussex and Kent. More recently it smiths from all over Britain have come to Sticklepath every 23rd November in order to demonstrate their skills and hold a competition to make decorative ironware – and this is open to the public.

Sticklepath was a hamlet of water mills. In 1814 William Finch leased Manor Mills, which had previously been a corn mill and gradually built up his business. Since he was born at nearby Spreyton, it is thought he may have gained his practical experience at the Tavistock Iron Works. Initially he installed a pair of tilt hammers, possibly purchased from them. Later he added power shears and an air blast sufficient to work half a dozen blacksmith’s hearths plus two furnaces, all powered by water. The business became known as The Foundary – but in practice it was a forge employing seven or eight blacksmiths producing up to 400 agricultural or mining tools a day.  Tools with a sharp edge needed to be ground on the water powered grindstone but the workmen found that half a day spent sharpening them was enough for any man, so apprentices were often sentenced to ‘put their nose to the grindstone’ for misbehaviour. Their travelling salesmen followed a regular circuit around the mining and china clay industries throughout the west of England and also visited agricultural merchants and ironmongers en route. To the rear of the main building is a store for the straw and reeds used for packing the tools prior to transportation. The Finch family business interests extended into corn milling, carpentry, wheel wrighting and since they puchased coal and coke in bulk – the sale of domestic fuel. The business only closed its doors in 1960 and many of their account books, catalogues and samples of their hooks, scythes, hay knives, forks and hoes are on display.

Further information

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-finchfoundry

Address: Sticklepath, Okehampton, Devon EX20 2NW

Telephone: 01837 840046

Directions: The Foundry is in the middle of Sticklepath just off the A30 east of Okehampton, Devon. If you ring them in advance they may be able to tell you when a blacksmith will be working there.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, England

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, by Jon Cordery. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) is situated in a magnificent Victorian building on Queen Street in the very heart of Exeter. It holds a collection of approximately 1.5 million objects of local, national and international significance and has a lot to offer to any visitor with an interest in natural history, archaeology, art and world cultures.

Exeter’s owes the existence of RAMM to the initiative of Sir Stafford Henry Northcote (1818-1887), a Devon MP and one of the Secretaries for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Shortly after Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Northcote started to appeal for funds to finance a memorial museum in Exeter. The new building was designed by architect John Hayward (1807-1891) and constructed over a thirty-year period. When it first opened, RAMM comprised a museum and art gallery, a school of science and art as well as a free public library. Since then, the library has moved into its own building, the school of art is now Plymouth University’s Faculty of Art & Education and the school of science is part of the University of Exeter.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, by Tinplaterodent. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Today, RAMM offers a lively programme of permanent and temporary exhibitions. Many of these feature displays from the natural history collection – one of the largest in the country, covering much of the animal kingdom. Among the most cherished objects is Gerald, the famous bull Maasai giraffe. Before coming to Exeter in 1919, Gerald belonged to the Peel Collection, which was displayed in the private Museum of Natural History and Anthropology in Oxford. It was founded by Charles Victor Alexander Peel (1869-1931), an enthusiastic big game hunter with a passion for natural history. When Peel moved to Devon later in his life, he brought with him his vast collection of taxidermic specimens – including Gerald.

The botany collection comprises thousands of plant specimens. Many of these came to Exeter thanks to horticultural firm Veitch & Sons. Sir Harry James Veitch (1840-1924), who founded the company, grew up in Exeter and is now most famous for promoting the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition of 1912, the first Chelsea Flower Show. In addition to his significant art collection, which was donated to RAMM in 1924, RAMM’s plant collection owes much to Veitch. In the nineteenth century, employees of his company would travel the world in search for new plant specimens, which then found their way into the RAMM herbarium. The latter is organised using the Linnaeus’ binomial system, named after Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (1707-1778). Specimens from the herbarium are not generally incorporated in public displays, but special viewings can be arranged with the museum.

From 2001 to 2011, RAMM is undergoing major redevelopment. The museum’s main building on Queen Street, Exeter, Devon, EX4 3RX, will reopen in December 2011. For more information on the museum’s collections, history and redevelopment, go to http://www.rammuseum.org.uk/.

Sources:

Royal Albert Memorial Museum Website. http://www.rammuseum.org.uk/. (May 2011).

1 Howard Street, North Shields

1 Howard Street, North Shields

1 Howard Street, North Shields

At the bottom of Howard Street, North Shields, sits a building that has changed its purpose and transformed its significance in line with the surrounding area and its inhabitants. North Shields, a one-time thriving shipping community at the mouth of the River Tyne, now has precious few reminders of its important past as one of Britain’s leading maritime ports, along with the likes of London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Cardiff. This building, also known as Maritime Chambers, is one of these reminders.

Plaque on the side of 1 Howard Street, North Shields

Plaque on the side of 1 Howard Street, North Shields

1 Howard Street was first designed in 1806 as the subscription library (the first in the North of England) for the Tynemouth Literary and Philosophical Society. It served in this important capacity until it was bought by local shipowners the Robinson family in 1891, who used it as their company headquarters for ninety years until October 1981. After a brief period as a pub/restaurant (in the basement) the building changed purpose again and is currently being used as a Registrar’s Office, with marriages being conducted in the old shipping directors’ offices.

It has been estimated that there were at least 90 Tyneside shipping companies that have ever owned tramp ships. The Robinson family of North Shields owned and ran one such company, helping it to become one of the most respected and locally renowned tramp shipping companies throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (a tramp ship is generally defined as a cargo vessel following no set routes, picking up trade when and where it can).

The first vessel purchased under the name of Robinson was the sailing ship Blessing, bought in 1817 by Captain James Robinson (1768-1833), a master mariner originally from Whitby. This vessel stayed in the family until it was wrecked in 1845. Using the insurance money from Blessing, Captain Joseph Robinson (1816-1889), son of James, ordered and bought a new sailing vessel Stag, which was delivered on 14 May 1846. ‘Joseph Robinson & Company’ was formed by Captain Joseph in 1850 to manage the interests of Stag and other sailing vessels. In 1871 the Robinson’s had their first steamship built, the S.S. Stephanotis, and the company quickly built up a fleet of steamers, operating between 10 and 20 vessels from the 1870s to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Stag Line S.S. Linaria (1911-1914) Painting On Wooden Board by one of the Crew

Stag Line S.S. Linaria (1911-1914) Painting On Wooden Board by one of the Crew

From 1870 onwards, the company was managed by Captain Joseph and two of his sons; Joseph Robinson Jr (1846-1904), and Nicholas J. Robinson (1847-1902). The name changed to ‘Joseph Robinson & Sons’ in 1883 before eventually becoming ‘Stag Line’ Ltd in 1895. These three men oversaw the running of the company, helping to transform it from a small-scale, local endeavour into one of the most efficient, successful, and respected North Shields tramp ship companies in the nineteenth century.

1 Howard Street, when owned by Stag Line (c.1970s)

1 Howard Street, when owned by Stag Line (c.1970s)

The image of the trippant stag, bringing up notions of nobility and grandeur, was adopted on the funnel of every ship, on the top of all company correspondence, on the front and side of the company’s office building and even etched into the windows of this building. This symbolism was a prominent part of the company’s identity when ideas of imagery or branding were as important commercially then as they are now (think Google, or Apple). The positioning of the building overlooking the Tyne at the end of Howard Street meant that not only could Stag Line’s owners oversee theirs and others’ ships entering or leaving the river, but also every ship passing through would see the large and prominent image of the white stag on a bright red background (unfortunately, when a council contractor was recently restoring the concrete around the sign he left the background unpainted and coloured the stag in red!).

1 Howard Street from across the Tyne at South Shields (October 2010)

1 Howard Street from across the Tyne at South Shields (October 2010)

In summary, this building serves as a physical reminder of a by-gone age, where entrepreneurial Britons helped their families, communities and the maritime nation of Britain itself to prosper and thrive. In an age where Britain, with its sprawling empire and global shipping networks, was at the forefront of world industry and trade, it was in buildings like 1 Howard Street and in families like the Robinsons who operated in them, where all this ‘progress’ and ‘success’ was made. Without families like these, who helped shape their local society (and who were in turn shaped by them), maritime Britain and its associated buildings and industries may not have been the dominating, seemingly unsurpassable force it once was.

Further Information:

Nicholas J. Robinson, Stag Line and Joseph Robinson and Sons (World Ship Society, Kendal, 1984).

Oliver Carpenter, ”The Robinson Line of Boats’, Networks of Trust in a Nineteenth Century Shipping Company’, in Don Leggett and Richard Dunn (Eds), Re-inventing the Ship: Science, Technology and the Maritime World 1800-1918 (Ashgate, Forthcoming).

William Denny & Brothers Test Tank, Dumbarton, Scotland

Few buildings along the famous River Clyde region of Scotland figure as importantly to the history of shipbuilding, naval science and the British maritime empire than the small and innocuous brick structure that holds the Denny test tank: the world’s first commercial tank (or model basin).

The Denny tank, opened in 1884, was only the second of its kind, built on specifications provided by William Froude, an Oxford-trained mathematician and one-time collaborator with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Froude designed the first private test tank to provide the British Admiralty with an accurate guide to how full-sized ships would perform at sea.

Well into even the twentieth century, shipbuilders continued to rely on the untrained eye, craft practice and a series of fairly arbitrary calculations to work out the optimum hull shape for ships of all varieties. Froude posited, and then demonstrated, that twelve-foot long model hulls propelled by railway carriage in a water tank 300 meters long would more accurately represent the behaviour of the same said design at sea.

The 300 metre long Denny tank at Dumbarton

The 300 metre long Denny tank at Dumbarton

The British shipbuilding industry was largely unconvinced of the benefits to be derived from Froude’s work, but he did find an influential supporter in the shipbuilder William Denny (whose firm built such ships as the King Edward, the first commercial vessel driven by Charles Parsons steam turbines). In a competitive business community where shipbuilders bid for contracts, accurately estimating ship speed and performance could provide a significant advantage.

William Denny (1847-1887) led his firm through a series of major shipbuilding reforms based on the use of experiments and rigorous sea trials to develop a working knowledge of efficient hull shapes. He instigated the practice of progressive trials to examine the relationship between engine power, speed and hull resistance in different ships; in the mid-1870s he began to closely work with Froude on the analysis of hull resistance; and in 1884 he finished work overseeing the construction of the test tank. He would later write of his firm’s approach to shipbuilding:

A quick and all-round approximation of any new proposal is the only platform from which a professional man can safely start; and it, again, can only be the outcome of years of laborious investigation, and observation, and experiment. The bulk of our brother-ship-builders, and I suspect pretty nearly all your men, don’t yet understand the meaning of this.

Today model testing remains a key part of shipbuilding practice, complimenting computer modelling. The machinery on display at the Dumbarton test tank (now part of the Scottish Maritime Museum) covers a wide chronology, but the museum displays have been presented as ‘Victorian’, complete with mannequin invisible technicians undertaking detailed study of ship curves and test tank measurements – while also moonlighting as night guards to the tank archives stored within the displays.

'Victorian' museum display complete with mannequin invisible technicians

'Victorian' museum display complete with mannequin invisible technicians

Dumbarton is a little over ten miles west of Glasgow. The frequent train service is recommended as it passes alongside the River Clyde, the birthplace of much of Britain’s former maritime empire.

For further details on visiting the tank visit the Scottish Maritime Museum website see http://scottishmaritimemuseum.org/dumbarton.html.

Science in Fairyland: Second Star to the Right, and Straight on till Morning

A fairy in the garden

A fairy in the garden

It is almost impossible to conjecture when science began in fairyland, but we can be sure it was once upon a time.

Serious attempts to map the terrain were made from the nineteenth century, when the scientific discipline of fairyology first started to receive sustained academic attention. Works such as Michael A. Denham’s A Few Fragments of Fairyology, Shewing Its Connection with Natural History (1859) demonstrated the correlation between natural historical objects and those from the fairy realm: fossil sea-urchins and ‘fairy heads’, fungi and fairy rings, or cattle-disease and ‘elf shots’. Key geographic landmarks were also determined, including ‘fairy caves’, ‘coves’, ‘holes’, and ‘parlours’; not to mention the basaltic monuments of the Giant’s Causeway, and Fingal’s Cave. Peoples from all over the world were classified according to a euhemeristic fairytale scale, identified with legendary tribes and disappeared miniature or gigantic races. And the folklore of regions and nations was collated and synthesized, leading to such pioneering works in linguistics as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

cover image of The Fairyland of Science by Arabella F. Buckley (1879)

Front cover of "The Fairyland of Science" by Arabella F. Buckley (1879)

By 1879, Arabella Buckley’s Fairyland of Science went beyond topology, taxonomy and re-telling, to uncover the mysteries of this under-researched scientific location. Fairies, she showed, were really forces called ‘crystallisation’ and ‘cohesion’. Gravity was a ‘great invisible giant’, and lumps of coal buried ‘gnomes’ freed by miners. She also gave useful directions for those visiting the realm for the first time: where other authors had recommended travelling through rabbit-holes and looking-glasses, Buckley claimed the simplest mode of transportation was best. ‘How are you to enter the fairyland of science?’ she asked her reader. ‘There is but one way. Like the knight or peasant in the fairy tales, you must open your eyes.’ With the right perspective, ‘anything, everything’, from fire and water to flowers and flies could ‘reveal to us nature’s fairies’. Fairyland was not ‘some distant country’: it was all around, and her readers were in many ways already there.

At other times, travelling around fairyland has been shown to be remarkably easy: however, rather than riding the magic carpets of the Arabian Nights, harnessing the magical power of electricity has been the preferred means of scientific navigation. The Children’s Fairy Geography [ca. 1879], for instance, employed many newfangled technologies (or ‘Edisonian notions’) to take a trip around Europe. The ‘Electric Boots’ were self-confessedly ‘medium-paced’, but could still go up to a remarkable 15 miles an hour; the ‘Chilly-warmer’ and its ‘chemical preparation’ could be used to warm the chilly, chill the warm, and even make a cup of tea. Telegraphic communication could beat Puck in a race around the globe; and the railway train would travel faster than any fabled shoes of swiftness. By the early twentieth century, the fairytale hero of The Master Key could travel, eat, attack and defend, record and judge character, through the gifts of the ‘Demon’ of electricity (conjured in a manner akin to Aladdin’s genie, through the rubbing of the eponymous ‘key’). As its preface declared, its story soon ‘may not seem … like a fairy tale at all’.

Guides to science in fairyland have appeared in varied guises, from insect characters attending entomological events such as the ‘Butterfly’s Ball’, to A.L.O.E.’s miniaturised grasshopper lecturer Fairy Know-a-Bit, bedecked in tiny cap and gown (and even tinier spectacles). For Know-a-Bit, the scientific takeover of fairyland was characteristic of the industrial age; as he claimed: ‘Times have changed – and so have I. A railway now runs right through the valley which was our favourite haunt – there are engine-lights instead of the glow-worm’s, and the scream of the whistle drowns the song of the bird! Education is now all the fashion, and fairies, like bigger people, are sent to learn lessons at school.’ J.G. Wood’s preface to an updated edition of Episodes of Insect Life by ‘Acheta Domestica’ [L.M. Budgen] published in 1867 emphasised how close the relationship was between these creepy-crawly characters and the objects of scientific investigation: ‘most of the drawings must be examined, as the insect itself must be viewed, with the aid of a magnifying glass; and not until this is done, will the singular truthfulness of their execution be seen’.

Overall, it is clear that a tour through science in fairyland teaches us one important lesson: that truth is stranger than fiction. The Victorian synthetic chemists were superior modern alchemists; the worlds revealed in the reflecting telescope more strange that the visions of the magic mirror; grisly lizard-like monsters wrestling in primordial ooze more dangerous than dragons. The real history of the world, transformations of matter, and powers of the universe, were far better than any fantastical imaginings. As Charles Kingsley declared in his evolutionary fairy tale, Water Babies, ‘fairy Science’ provided the best stories, and was ‘likely to be queen of all the fairies for many a year to come’. However, he cautioned his readers at the conclusion to his tale about how seriously they should take the fairyland of science, with a warning about what they had just read; ‘remember always… this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true’.

Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

I then bequeath the whole of my property…to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge…

Portrait of James Smithson. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives)

In 1826, James Smithson (1765-1829) wrote his last will and testament with the above statement included in case his nephew died without an heir, as he did in 1835.  While his motivations have been lost to history, this will by a man who never visited the United States resulted in the creation of an educational, research, and preservation organization whose main public face is the largest museum complex in the world.

To get a sense of the enormity of the Smithsonian Institution, look at some of the numbers:

In 1826, when the will was written, there was no way that James Smithson could imagine the organization that would bear his name.  In 1836, President Andrew Jackson announced the gift to Congress and on 1 July 1836 Congress accepted it.  They pledged the faith of the United States to the charitable trust that would be founded with Smithson’s fortune.  Two years later in September 1838, the legacy of over 100,000 gold sovereigns arrived at the Philadelphia mint where it was recoined into over $500,000.  It would take another eight years for Congress to decide how to use the money!

The Castle from the National Mall. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

On 10 August 1846, President James K. Polk established the Smithsonian Institution as a charitable trust administered by a Board of Regents and overseen by the Secretary of the Smithsonian.  In late 1846, Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was named the first Secretary.  During his tenure, he focused on increasing and disseminating knowledge but was reluctant to establish a National Museum.  The first collections had arrived with Richard Rush, the lawyer that had successfully sued on the United State’s behalf for Smithson’s fortune in the British Chancery Court, and included his library and mineralogical collection.  Further objects were added in 1848 when Robert Hare of the University of Pennsylvania gifted scientific instruments and other donations were regularly made to the young Institute.  In 1855, the Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the Castle, was completed as the administrative home of the Smithsonian.  It served as the home for Henry and his family, the main office, and from 1858 until the 1960s as an exhibition space.  Today, it still houses some administrative offices, is the home of the Smithsonian Information Center, contains Smithson’s crypt, holds special exhibitions, and has guided tours of the Institute’s and Castle’s history.

The interior of the new United States National Museum building, now the Arts and Industries Building, decorated for President James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur's Inaugural Ball, March 4, 1881. This was the first event held in the building. Electric lights were strung along the ceiling and the statue of America in the rotunda held an electric lamp in her hand. Buntings and flags decorated the walls and a wooden floor was laid for the event. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

While Henry actively discouraged collecting, including transferring portions of the collections to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress in 1865 and ’66, his successor focused on creating a great National Museum.  Spencer Fullerton Baird was Secretary from 1878 to 1887 and had been Henry’s assistant since 1850.  Baird’s goal was a comprehensive collection of the continent’s natural resources at the United States National Museum.  While working as Henry’s assistant, Baird was involved in several important national events.  In 1867, his testimony about the natural resources of Alaska helped to convince Congress to purchase the territory.  In the preparations for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Baird planned all of the government’s exhibitions and won the Smithsonian international visibility.  Additionally, he greatly expanded the Smithsonian’s collections by convincing exhibitors to donate the majority of their displays and he then convinced Congress to construct a new National Museum Building, today known as the Arts and Industries Building.

Samuel P. Langley's Aerodrome Shop in the South Shed in the South Yard of the Smithsonian Institution Building on 31 January 1900. Langley was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian and attempted to build the first manned flying machine. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

Opened on 4 March 1881 for Garfield’s inauguration, the building came to house exhibits on history and natural history when it was opened to the public in October of that year.  It remained the main exhibition space for the Smithsonian until 1911 when the new U.S. National Museum Building, now known as the Natural History Building, opened.  With the opening of the new space and the removal of the natural history across the Mall, it was renamed the Arts and Industries Building and became home to many of the Institution’s most visited displays.  These included the First Ladies Gowns (a collection started in 1912 by Mrs. Howard Taft), military artifacts, and a variety of new technologies – such as photography, telegraphy, the telephone, the automobile, and aeronautics (especially “The Spirit of St. Louis” which went on display in 1928).  Since 2004, the building has been undergoing restoration and is likely to be reopened in 2014.

Here is a list of the Smithsonian’s Museums and their locations:

  • African American History and Culture Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.) Opens in 2015
  • African Art Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Air and Space Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, VA)
  • American History Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • American Indian Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Anacostia Community Museum (1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, D.C.)
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (New York City)
  • Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, contains both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.)
  • Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • National Zoo (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Natural History Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.)

(Links to articles on the Travel Guide will be updated as they are completed.)

For more on the history of the Smithsonian, it maintains a number of useful resources on the history of itself and its various subsidiaries.  The majority of them can be accessed from the official Smithsonian History website.

Museum of Victorian Science, North Yorkshire

I can guarantee that virtually no readers of this article will have heard of this museum, located somewhat out of the way in the village of Glaisdale, near Whitby, North Yorkshire. It’s not a museum in the conventional sense – you can’t simply turn up, pay your admission fee and wander round. Instead you have to book in advance (£20 if you turn up as an individual, or £10 a head for groups of 2-5). In return you get a two-hour lecture demonstration of aspects of radioactivity, electrical discharges and the work of William Crookes, and (briefly) Thomson’s work that led him to “discover” the electron. I claim these as chemical discoveries, but physics colleagues might disagree. We also see demonstrations of various electrical machines including those like Priestley might have used in his experiments. These were improved during the 19th century culminating in the famous Wimshurst Machine (1880) capable of generating sparks several inches in length.

The museum’s website is at http://www.museumofvictorianscience.co.uk and bookings should be made by telephone: 01947 897440. I went as one of a party of four like-minded scientists. The talk was tailor-made to our mainly chemical interests, and as they say, a good time was had by all!

Original article written by Alan Dronsfield and published in V. Quirke (ed), Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter, February 2010.