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Glandford Shell Museum

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

 
Most of us have a collection of one sort or another. Some of us collect old postcards or perfume bottles, others collect Dinky Toys, Elvis records or china teacups. Many collections live in dusty cupboards and drawers, and rarely see the light of day. Some collectors annex a couple of shelves in a corner of the sitting room, and show off their treasures with inordinate pride. Others amass so many items that they need a dedicated garden shed to house them. But country squire Sir Alfred Jodrell went one better to display his collection of shells from across the world: he built a museum. Martyn Oliver goes to visit.
 
The Glandford Shell Museum is on the bank of the river Glaven, between Blakeney and Holt in the very north of North Norfolk. Jodrell was a true late Victorian philanthropist. He completely rebuilt the village of Glandford, so that while many agricultural labourers in Jodrell’s lifetime lived in squalor, the farmworkers and their families on his Bayfield estate had warm and comfortable cottages. The cottages and barns were built in the Dutch style, with rounded gables, a legacy of the engineers from Holland who drained much of East Anglia’s wetlands, and Jodrell used the same style for the Shell Museum.

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The Telegraph Museum

 
‘I’ll put a girdle round about the earth, in forty minutes’, says Shakespeare’s Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, early telegraph messages weren’t quite so fast: a message from Queen Victoria to the US President, for instance, comprising just 98 words, took 19 hours to send. But things improved, and soon Puck’s fantasy became the Victorians’ reality – as Martyn Oliver discovers.

Between Logan Rock and Minack Point, almost at the very furthest tip of Cornwall, lie the beautiful crescent-shaped beaches of Porthcurno Bay. Today, the Rock, the Bay and Minack’s open-air theatre are magnets for visitors. But the white sands hide a secret. Buried beneath them were the submarine telegraph cables that once linked Britain to the rest of the world. Read more…

Dr Johnson’s House

 
Samuel Johnson, intellectual, tea lover and lexicographer, was born on September 18, 1709. In this 300th anniversary year, Martyn Oliver visits the house in which the doctor compiled his Dictionary of the English Language.

Wine Office Court, Fleet St,
London EC4 © Martyn Oliver 2009

London’s Fleet Street is a maze of courts, narrow covered alleys which burrow through the tall, imposing buildings of what was once the hub of England’s newspaper industry, and lead to a warren of side streets and tiny squares. Duck into the dark alleyway that is Wine Office Court, between Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane, emerge into the sunlight again by the old Cheshire Cheese pub, bear to the left, and you step into the peace and quiet of Gough Square.

Surrounded on three sides by tall, anonymous office buildings, Gough Square’s fourth side is occupied by No. 17, Dr Johnson’s House. Samuel Johnson rented the house in the mid-18th century, and it was here that he compiled the famous Dictionary, which was published in 1755.

Johnson was one of the foremost thinkers of the day; in fact, in many respects he was very much ahead of his time, particularly in his encouragement of a group of intellectual women, several of whom were frequent visitors at Gough Square. They were known as ‘Blues’ or ‘Bluestockings’, after the blue worsted hosiery they often Read more…

Lawnmower World

January 22, 2009 Leave a comment

 
Bowling greens, cricket pitches, afternoon tea in the sunshine; we British are very proud of our lawns. Martyn Oliver learns the history of grass-cutting.

Just a few hundred yards from the Victorian splendour of Southport’s Lord Street, its elegant arcades, its wrought iron canopies and its boulevard-style layout, you’ll find a hidden gem that receives visitors from all over the world. It’s well signposted, to be sure, but you could be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn, for, step away from the bustle and glamour of the town-centre stores, galleries and banks, cross the railway lines, and you find yourself in Shakespeare Street, a road of terraced houses and local shops. And on the corner is Stanleys Garden Machinery Warehouse, home of the British Lawnmower Museum.

Squeeze past the bales of razor wire in the doorway, the forks and spades, the shelves of screws and washers and, yes, the rows of shining brand-new grass cutters, climb the narrow staircase, and you enter Lawnmower World. Read more…

A Very British Museum: Jackfield Tile Museum, Ironbridge

October 10, 2008 Leave a comment

What do pubs, butcher’s shops, hospitals, underground stations and toilets have in common? As Martyn Oliver discovers, it’s tiles.

Craven Dunnill, director's lavatory
© Martyn Oliver 2008

Tiles have been used both for decoration and for their durability since at least Roman times. Hard-wearing, easy to clean and thus hygienic, they’re found not only in the home and in areas of high public traffic, but also where there is a special need for cleanliness – in food shops (butcher’s and fishmonger’s, for instance), kitchens and especially hospitals. The Jackfield Tile Museum, situated by the river Severn at Ironbridge in Shropshire, contains examples of all these applications.

Famous as a centre of ironworking, the Ironbridge Gorge is rich in water and good pottery clay; and the river – and later the Severn Valley Railway – provided transport links south to Bristol and north to Liverpool and Manchester. By the middle of the 18th century earthenware and glazed pottery were being made commercially in the Gorge, and a hundred years later Jackfield and nearby Broseley had become internationally known for the high quality of their tiles and bricks. In 1877 Broseley tileworks made tiles for the floor of London’s Royal Academy, and in 1892 supplied tiles for the residence of Spain’s King Alfonso XII. Read more…