Saturday, 29 February 2020

Postcard of the Day No. 97 - Trolley to the Shore, Norwalk

Another snapshot of long lost transit. This is what was known as an open car on a trip to the coast in the small town of Norwalk, Connecticut. Probably from around 1900. Well patronised - an informal gender segregation seems to be in operation with female passengers occupying the front two thirds of seats while the men are confined to the back. Hats are universally worn. The streetcar styling borrows from the architectural language of the municipal bandstand and the seaside pavilion. Despite some smudgey blemishes and variable print quality, there’s a lot of well defined detail to be seen. The uniformed motorman and his nattily dressed acolytes form a commanding trio at the helm. Behind them, the respectable ladies of the town follow on, their modesty protected by high necklines and low hemlines. Some make little effort to conceal their discomfort at having their likenesses mechanically recorded while others display the frozen expressions that come with long exposure to the camera lens. The Norwalk Street Railway was swallowed up in 1900 by a larger rival which in 1906 leased all operations to the mighty New Haven Railroad - a reminder that rapid turnover of ownership is not unique to our own times. Open sided streetcars, known as toast racks in Britain, were popular across the world and a selection are shown here - from Honolulu to Stockholm, from Malta to Cairo and from Rothesay to San Antonio. 

Monday, 24 February 2020

Uranium 1955

It’s not often that an opportunity like this comes along but readers of the Saturday Evening Post in 1955 were offered the chance to prospect for Uranium deposits and, if successful, establish their own extractive industry and become fabulously rich with the sort of wealth that enables you to assemble a collection of Renaissance altar pieces and set up your own charitable foundation in support of right wing causes. Sadly most purchasers of the El-Tronics Geiger or Scintillation Counter would have to be content with the promised fun and excitement to be enjoyed in the pursuit of elusive deposits of heavy metal. For the recreational Uranium hunter the best buy would be the Three Range Portable device at $99.95, bringing a sense of purpose to family outings and country rambles. A pocket-size version at only $21.95 was available to those with only a casual interest. At the top end the serious prospector could stagger into the great outdoors, equipped with the Master Scintillation device - just a nickel shy of $1000. There’s no way of knowing just how many readers were persuaded to purchase these devices but some of them must have survived - long enough perhaps to become collectors’ items for Cold War connoisseurs and turn up for valuation on PBS Antiques Roadshow.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Storm Dennis

Storm Dennis continues its rampage but soon it will be history. Somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland the next storm will be forming and our weather forecasters will be salivating at the prospect of alerting us to the perils of Storm Ethel or Eric (in reality it will be named Ellen) as they conjure up another national drama and place themselves at the heart of it. As a name, Dennis left much to be desired - in its innate modesty, it could never carry the weight of menace the forecasters strained to convey. Dennis is a fine name for a double-entry bookkeeper from South Ruislip, not a stupendous storm of epic proportions bringing chaos and destruction in its wake. Storm names for 2019-2020 were devised as a joint effort by the UK Met Office, Met Éireann, and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and announced last September. Many of the chosen names are as underwhelming as Dennis although if things get really bad we can eventually look forward to Storm Piet, which will forever be known as the Mondrian Storm. Public submissions are invited, always a mistake - witness Boaty McBoatface. Any suggestions from me are unlikely to get far but if by some miracle they were adopted you may find yourself nailing up your windows and doors as Storm Dracula, Damoclese, Dreadnought, Deuteronymy, Demosthenes or Dumbledore approaches. 

Friday, 14 February 2020

Off the Shelf - Villages of Vision, Gillian Darley

There are three editions of Villages of Vision on the shelf, including the hardback version from 1975. But this paperback from Paladin Books, issued in 1978, is my personal favourite. It came with a superb cover illustration by much under-rated artist/illustrator, Tony Meeuwissen, of meticulously painted vignettes of vernacular detail presented as if they were Victorian scrapbook stickers, seeming as fresh and inventive today as it did more than 40 years ago. The intersecting themes of this book embrace social history, industrial architecture, garden cities, capitalist paternalism, rural life, utopianism, philanthropy, political activism and noblesse oblige as the writer explores the subject of planned settlements and communities in the British Isles. It tells a story of good intentions, unfulfilled ambitions, broken dreams and social experimentation that extends into every corner of the country. A cast of mill-owners, Quaker businessmen, charlatans, utopians, idealists, and social reformers march across the pages. The Gazeteer has been an essential guide and companion on many a journey leading to such destinations as Saltaire and Port Sunlight, Bedford Park and Akroydon, Blaise Hamlet and Tremadog, and Edensor and Letchworth. Some of these trips have inspired posts on this blog, including Bedford Park, Blaise Hamlet, Saltaire, and Port Sunlight. The author is writer and broadcaster, Gillian Darley, whose 2003 book Factory has been equally inspirational. For the last 6 years Gillian Darley has been President of The Twentieth Century Society.