Another great Victorian you have never heard of

It is not often one can walk through a genuine piece of Industrial archaeology in a major  central London thoroughfare, but it is possible at Bank underground station. It does take a bit of searching for, but once located there is little doubt what you have found. To assist your mission the lovely people at Transport for London have painted it bright red and it is over 4 metres in diameter.

The artefact in question is a Greathead shield or to be precise one of the two pieces left of a Great head shield. It was named after James Henry Greathead, a South African mining engineer who came to England to assist in building the underground. He developed a relatively safe tube boring system in the 1880s.  His tunneling design placed a metal pipe, big enough for 6 navvies  to work in, at the beginning of a new underground line. He improved on Marc & Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s designs by changing the cut section from square to round and adding hydraulic rams to drive this giant ‘bean can’ through subterranean London clay.

Greathead shield 1

Under the Thames they toiled, digging from Kennington to Bank, finishing their excavations just over 3 years and 3miles later, having created the first electric underground railway anywhere in the world. In 1898 they completed the Waterloo & City railway and left the well worn metal shell where it lay.  It was rediscovered in 1987 when the Docklands Light Railway city extension was dug.

Greathead shield 3

Another Greathead shield exists, but it is buried at the end of a line under Moorgate station, very few people have seen that, but this particular wonder is clearly visible. At Bank underground station follow the signs to the Northern and Waterloo & City line which will take you down a unique tunnel with descending 10 metre long steps. Eventually,  when you  find platform 7 of the Waterloo and City Line, turn left, almost back on yourself and head for the Northern Line and DLR. As there is no reception 18 metres down, you will not be distracted by your phone and you will shortly find yourself walking through a large metal ring of great historical importance.

Greathead shield 2

Emerging from the station please ‘doff’ your cap to the statue of the great man outside The Royal Exchange. I like to think the adjacent statue of the Duke of Wellington, mounted on his horse Copenhagen, is keeping a caring eye on James Henry Greathead, another of those great Victorians you have never heard of.

Ferrari: Under the skin

Today’s visit to Ferrari: Under the Skin, shows that both quality and quantity can be found together in a London exhibition space. The Design Museum (now superbly installed in the old grade 2 listed Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington High Street) has collected a stunning array of Ferrari cars, design studies, memorabilia, film interviews and photos, from the 20s to today.

The exhibition assumes a certain level of auto-literacy, but nobody could miss the savage beauty of the 365 racing Daytona that dominates the foyer, refreshingly resplendent in vivid yellow, the colours of Belgium’s Ecurie Francorchamps. The hearts of British motoring fans are stirred by Stirling Moss’ 250 GT SWB and David Piper’s 250 GTO amongst a marvellous myriad of Maranello’s road and track exotica.
The naked shell of a 250 LM seemingly flying above the other exhibits is breathtaking. Ferrari’s 1st rear engine racer proudly displays its tool marks in the hand-beaten aluminium body. It appears to contradict Enzo’s quote “Race cars are neither beautiful nor ugly, they become beautiful when they win”. This winner was clearly beautiful when only half finished!
The museum is stuffed with curios, such as the great man’s driving licence and a poignant display of Michael Schumacher’s 2006 racing overalls. There are factory order books with detailed records of film stars’ vehicles, such as Steve Mc Queen, Brigit Bardot and Peters Sellers. It all adds up to a fascinating insight into Il Commendatore and his fabulous machines.
Ferrari: Under the Skin runs at the Design Museum, Kensington High Street, until April 15th 2018.

London for Petrol Heads


John Steed’s 3L Bentley, Kensington Hotel

Which hobby is loved by 1 in 6 British adults and generated revenues of £5.5 million in 2016? No, not fishing or horse riding, but old cars, buses, vans and lorries. Yes, petrolheads, according to the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, are doing their bit for the economy, and London is right at the forefront of the movement.

Restoring and maintaining these precious beasts is a skilled business and London has hundreds of automobile specialists, who will fettle your Frisky sport, garage your Goggomobile, respray your Roller or flog your Ferrari. Numerous enthusiastic businesses stock and sell that vital widget that fell off on last year’s Brighton run. Many of them are located in the myriad railway arches that crisscross the capital. The arches near London bridge in Druid street, for example. Brixton & Camberwell arches in the South of the capital, are homes to the armies of Taxi fixers (remember there are 21,000 black cabs registered in London and somebody has to look after them) So, take another look at that row of brick arches, you may be surprised by some serious Aston Martins, Bugattis or cabs.

London has always had its fair share of motor manufacturers from A to Z. Allards were built in Putney (Sydney Allard created the first British dragster) and Zephyrs were built at Dagenham (some of us remember ‘Z’cars on TV). John Cooper had his works at Surbiton (he of Mini Cooper fame) and Vauxhalls were made at …….well Vauxhall, using a Griffin as a badge, the crest of the 13th-century knight, who originally owned the land on which the original Wandsworth Rd factory was built.

Though devoid of a specific car museum, London has lots of fascinating vehicles to admire. The next time you take a Blue Badge Tourist Guide walk of South Kensington, pop into the Science Museum on Exhibition Road; entry is free and the motoring exhibits are superb. On the ground floor, there is a 1916 black Model T Ford, colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie. Famously Henry Ford, the pioneer of the moving assembly line, stipulated you could have one “any colour so long as it’s black”, not for sobriety reasons, but because black paint dried the quickest and that way he could get more cars off the assembly line and into the showrooms.

Also at the Science Museum in London, there is a stack of popular 1950/60s family cars. I mean, stack, from ceiling to floor. A Fiat 600 perches on a Citroen 2CV, resting on the charming Morris Minor designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, that Viscount Nuffield described as “Looking like a fried egg!” In turn, a Volkswagen Beetle sits on a SAAB 93 and at the bottom is a Hino Contessa from 1965, the first Japanese, European-styled car. Then there is JET 1, the sublime Rover Gas turbine car of 1950 that would beget the Rover BRM racer, seen at the Le Mans 24-hour races of 1963 and 65. Its pilot was none other than Londoner Graham Hill OBE, double world champion, whose racing helmet always bore the colours of the London Rowing Club. Dark blue, surrounded by 8 vertical, pointed, white stripes. His world champion son Damon, would sport the same colours.

Round the corner is Fiskens of Queensgate Mews. They are celebrating 25 years of being “Where the greatest cars come to be sold.” Recent stock included an F1 Ferrari, a lightweight racing Jaguar E-type and a 3 litre Bentley. Beyond the Science Museum and Fiskens of Queensgate Mews, every February ExCeL London hosts the London Classic Car show easily accessible from Prince Regent Station, on the Docklands Light Railway. In 2017 it showed, amongst other things, a display of 70 years of Ferraris, from Enzo Ferrari’s Alfa Romeo racing team cars, to its current road burners. There was also a celebration of concept cars or “what Detroit & Turin wanted to build, but weren’t allowed to” and a Beaulieu Motor Museum style autojumble, to find the other widget that fell off on last year’s Brighton run!

London also looks to the future with the new Tesla electric car showrooms on the Hogarth Roundabout in Chiswick. The building was previously The Classic Car Garage, but is now the largest electric vehicle shop in Europe. Petrolheads going west, can marvel at the latest electric technology and mourn the loss of the Bristol Cars workshop round the corner. Whilst there, wonder at the Hogarth flyover, a giant Meccano construction, that was built as a temporary traffic solution in 1971. It is still in use today and provides motorists with a brief, free, white-knuckle ride coming into town.

London to Brighton

Problems on route at Clapham Common                  London to Brighton Run 2017

The most famous motoring event in London is the annual London to Brighton veteran car run. Please note it is not a race but a run, celebrating the repeal of the Act of Parliament requiring a pedestrian to walk in front of a motor car waving a red flag! 58 horseless carriages assembled on November 14th 1896, to drive to Brighton. Thirty years later there was a re-enactment of the event, that proved so popular it has been run annually ever since. It is now the largest free motoring event in the world, with hundreds of pre 1905 vehicles and their drivers braving November weather to get to Brighton. Great viewing spots along the way include; the start in Hyde park at 7.15 am, Constitution Hill (with Buckingham Palace as a back drop) Westminster Bridge (with the Houses of Parliament in the background) and Brixton Hill, where the intrepid motorists meet their first incline, and for many passengers their first push. If all goes well, the front runners arrive in Brighton 3 hours later. If things don’t go well, it’s back to those railway arches!

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