All Aboard The HMS Belfast

Moored near to Tower Bridge on the Thames in Central London, the Royal Navy’s light cruiser HMS Belfast was in active service with from 1939 until 1963, seeing action in the North Sea, the Arctic and the East China Sea, the latter during the Korean War. She has been at her current berth since 1971, and is now part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection.

A visit to this floating museum will allow you to access almost all areas over nine decks, from the magazines storing the shells for the ship’s main guns (heavily armoured boxes well below the waterline for safety), to the bridge with its commanding view of Tower Bridge just up the river. You can visit compartments throughout the ship, many of which have tableaus showing what activities would have taken place there – ratings peeling potatoes in the galley all the way through to the ship’s surgeon carrying out an operation in the sick bay. Most of the deck is also accessible, allowing you to examine the decks and to climb inside one of the gun turrets. Worryingly, the displays inside indicate that the ship’s bank of 12 6″ main guns are currently trained on the motorway service area at Scratchwood in Hertfordshire – a distance they could hit accurately even though, as the crow flies,  this is over 20 miles away from the ship’s berth on the Thames!

Two of HMS Belfast’s most interesting exhibits can be found on the two decks below the bridge. As well as containing banks of radar displays and other tactical equipment, visitors to the operations room can take part in simulated naval exercises using several large touch-sensitive  ‘tables’ (which I think are examples of the ‘Microsoft Surface’, but I can’t be certain). You can also visit the radio room, which contains lots of old equipment as well as some newer gear which is still in operation – that’s because the radio room is actually home to the very active GB3RN ham radio club. Ham radio enthusiasts may be interested to know that during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant this Sunday the radio room will be fully staffed, and will be operating under the special call-sign GB60QE. It was manned when I visited on Sunday, and as a licensed operator I was invited to use the equipment – in fact, I had a lengthy contact with a radio amateur all the way over in the USA, who had trouble believing where I was transmitting from!

Due to a botched repair job, in November of last year HMS Belfast’s gangway collapsed, however it has was reopened to the public after the repairs were completed on 18 May. I’m assured that the newly-engineered gangway is much safer than its predecessor so you should have no worries when boarding. The ship is open from 10am until 6pm every day and tickets for adults are priced at £14, but note that for security reasons she will be closed on Sunday 3 June.  I …

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What’s In A Dane?

With the Olympics coming up, the main roads leading up to Stratford have been sprouting new high-rise housing developments for a few years now. However, for whatever reason some plots have failed to attract the attention of developers.

So it is with the factory complex belong to the Dane Group of Companies which sits at the far end of Stratford High St from the town proper. As far as I can tell it doesn’t appear to be functioning as a business any longer given its state of repair and nothing’s going on at the site in terms of demolition or construction – which in this particular case might be a good thing because of a particularly odd cultural treasure that it contains. Witness the mural that sits out in front of the main building – from the design I’d say this is a 1960s piece but I’m happy to be contradicted. It’s a Great Dane – get it?…

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The Antiquities @ the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Secreted in the centre of the University College London campus, and up a rather unassuming flight of stairs, you’ll find one of the city’s best kept secrets – the Petrie Musuem of Egyptian Archaelogy.

Much like its sister museum, the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Petrie represents the University’s earliest forays into this area of study. Amelie Edwards, the Victorian novelist and explorer left her collection of Egyptian artifacts (and a considerable sum of money) to the University so that they could establish an academic position to further study this ancient civilisation – its interesting to note that she chose this institution because at that time it was only the University in the UK to award academic degrees to women. The first professor appointed as a result of her bequest was William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1892.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology contains over 80,000 artifacts encompasssing the entire breadth of the Egyptian civilsation, from prehistory right through the reign of the Pharaohs to about 1000 AD  – representing about 6000 years of history. What I found particularly impressive was the cabinet after cabinet containing the most incredibly decorated domestic pottery, from a time when we were just figuring out how to erect Stonehenge. There are also areas focusing on jewellery and adornment, the complexities of Egyptian sacred ceremony (there are examples of daggers, canopic jars, shantis and the like) and several large cabinets contain fragments of pictograms and heiroglyphs, some of which even retain their original pigments. For those whose visit to an Egyptian museum wouldn’t be complete without a ‘mummy’, you will find an ornate sarchophagus amongst the objects!

Visits to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology are free, however because it is part of the University complex visiting times are a little protracted – opening hours are 1pm to 5pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays. A visit to the museum is a magical experience – it’s far more intimate than the British Museum. Pick the right time and it could be just you and the Pharaohs in the room… You can find more images from my visit…

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London Transport 150 At The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

Although it’s some time away, I thought it might be useful to fill you in on a steam-related event coming up in early August – a London Transport 150 event organised by the London Transport Museum and the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

Of all the celebrations taking place as part of the network’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, this has to be the biggest in the calendar, taking place at the Quainton Road station in Aylesbury on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August and the following Wednesday – if you’re wondering about the connection, Quainton Road was a Metropolitan Line station up until 1936 and has been .

The highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to take trips on several vintage carriages pulled by Victorian steam trains. Vehicles that will be put to use include the now-restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the Metropolitan Jubilee Carriage 353 which was built in 1892 and fully restored last year, as well as the ‘Milk Van’ – this train transported milk from the dairies of Buckinghamshire and returned with a full load of horse manure!

There will lots of activities to keep the kids occupied, including trips on the 1km long miniature railway that the Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES) operates, plus story-telling with Pluto (a puppet version of an early Underground train) and a Family Trail around the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and Quainton Road station.

Amongst the classic vehicles on static display will be the Brill Tramway ‘tram’ from 1872 alongside a Metropolitan Railway Open Wagon which dates from the era when the Underground also carried freight, and a First Class dining carriage from 1901 which was used on services out of Euston, and then pressed into use as the equerries dining car on the Royal Train of all things.

Another rather special carriage to visit will be Queen Mary’s 1940 Royal Carriage which has particular significance in the context of the Second World War – it was used by Churchill and Eisenhower as a discreet place to meet to discuss war planning in the run up to D-Day. You’ll also be able to try your hand at being a postman with several Post Office carriages, which up until 2004 were used to sort mail throughout the night between large cities on the rail network.

Several documentary films will be screened throughout the London Transport 150 weekend, the most interesting being Sir John Betjemen’s 1973 ‘Metroland’ where he mused about the way that the Underground had spurned the development of London’s leafy suburbia. It’s really worth seeing – a very thoughtful snapshot of life in 1970s London.

Tickets for this event cost £10 in advance for adults and £7 for children (£9 concessions and senior citizens £9). If this sounds appealing I would get your tickets booked quickly – given the number of railway and transport fans around it’s bound to be wildly popular!…

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The Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow

Over in Walthamstow Village, the area’s historic centre, you’ll find the Vestry House Museum, the borough’s main museum and home to the Waltham Forest Archives and a Local Studies Library which has a wealth of material on the history of the area since Roman times.


The Vestry House Museum buildings

The museum, which occupies a network of connected buildings just across the street from the parish church, has a lot of interesting displays that explore various aspects of Walthamstow’s past, including information on the museum buildings, which had previous uses as a post office and the local police station (there’s even a reconstructed Victorian cell in one of the gallery spaces on the ground floor). You’ll also find displays dedicated to Walthamstow’s industrial heritage – did you know, for example, that Walthamstow had it’s own camera manufacturing company for 50 years, the Ensign company, and that as far back as the 1930s they produced popular camera models in a range of colours? I had always thought that was rather a recent development, but clearly not! There’s also an area dedicated to the world’s first ‘horseless carriage’, which was manufactured in Walthamstow. The museum also has a pleasant formal garden with raised beds of flowers at the rear of the building if you want to take a break from local history for a few minutes.


A William Morris wallpaper pattern

One gallery at the museum currently contains a small selection of material from the William Morris Gallery over on Forest Road, while that building undergoes a multi-million pound refurbishment until its reopening in July 2012 to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics. You can find out more information about the project at this link on the Waltham Forest website.

Entry to the museum is of course free, and it is open from 10am until 5pm from Wednesday to Sunday each week. The museum also lays on various special events and activities throughout the year, which you can find out about here.…

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The Flying Karamzov Brothers @ Vaudeville Theatre – A Review

Last night I was over at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand to check out the Flying Karamazov Brothers – a group of juggling American comedians and musicians (wearing kilts!) who are playing at the theatre until September.

It was an interesting evening, involving jazz, gentle comedy and some absolutely remarkable feats of juggling. Of the set pieces, I found the most entertaining ones to be  ‘The Challenge’ (where audience members are invited to contribute items for the performers to juggle, or pick from a selection on the stage – last night we selected a rain jacket, a toy VW Beetle and a chocolate cake for Dmitri, who also produces the show, to juggle!) and ‘The Terror’ which involves items that are introduced throughout the show to be juggled as the piece de resistance at the end of the evening. It was a rather eclectic assortment of items, including a very sharp looking meat cleaver, a flaming torch and a block of dry ice! A young lady from the audience also got more than she bargained for, but you’ll have to go and see the show to find out why…

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are also rather slick jazz musicians and can even beat out a convincing rhythm on piles of cardboard boxes! All in all, this show stands out as a rather an unusual theatre-going experience and possibly won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re a bit tired of glitzy West End musicals then an evening at the Vaudeville Theatre might be the perfect antidote. Tickets for the Flying Karamazov Brothers shows are available direct from the theatre here including some Sunday matinees, which are very unusual in the West End…

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Happy Christmas, Doctor

But I’m not terribly optimistic for the New Year. The Doctor Who Christmas Special today was a *titanic* disaster – really poor writing and lots of hammy overacting and hackneyed one-liners – even Queenie got a very corny look-in, and there were a few bars from “My Heart Will Go On”…!

Ah well, at least today marks the day when the Queen finally entered the 21st Century, with a YouTube Channel no less – here’s her Christmas message, which is more watchable than Doctor Who if I’m going to be brutally honest!

Happy Christmas everyone!…

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Sir Anthony Caro’s ‘steelworks’ @ Canary Wharf

Jubilee Gardens in Canary Wharf is currently playing host to some of the work of sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. Taken together, these pieces represent a retrospective of his career, although focusing exclusively on his work in steel – amongst the sculptures you’ll find ‘Fossil Flats’ from 1974, ‘Eastern’ from 1985 (the garishly yellow piece up on the mound), ‘Equator’ from 1994 and ‘Three Up’ from 2010.

If you want to go along to investigate Caro’s work for yourself, they will be on display in the park, which you’ll find directly behind the main entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, until 25 May.

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A Preview Tour of Portsmouth’s Mary Rose Museum, Opening On 31 May

I’m rather ashamed to say that I’d never been to Portsmouth before, so the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum was a great excuse to head to the south coast on a day trip out of London. I found lots to see and do and plenty to appeal to all kinds of visitors, not just for lovers of naval history.

The train journey from London took about an hour and a half to Portsmouth Harbour station, where you arrive right in the heart of all the things that you would want to see – in fact you’re still in the station when you catch sight of the huge HMS Warrior. Britain’s first iron hulled ship, she is a warship that was launched in 1860 and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet – the fastest ship of her day.

Exiting the station, you can choose to turn right to the Gun Wharf or left to the Historic Dockyards. I started with the right side of the station as my eye was taken by the striking white Spinnaker Tower rising 170 metres above the harbour. Entry costs £8.55, which gives you access to 3 different levels with the top one taking you to 110 metres and a lovely looking cafe on the middle level. The views are really wonderful out to sea, over old Portsmouth and across the Historic Dockyards including a glimpse of HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum. On the first level there is plenty of panorama information if you are new to the area and audio guides for each vista. One added bit of fun is the glass floor on the top level for the very brave to stand on!




Passing the cafes on the water front and the handsome yachts in the marina, I walked through old Portsmouth to the Round Tower. This landmark fortification has watched over Portsmouth Harbour since the early 1400s and is close to the site of the sinking of the Mary Rose herself. I was keen to see the Square Tower, the cathedral and the D-Day Museum but was running short of time so had to head off to the Historic Dockyards.

The Mary Rose Museum opens tomorrow, 31st May and is an amazing museum which is well worth a day trip out from London on its own. It sits in the heart of the Historic Dockyards which is packed full of other museums and displays of naval goods – on the way to see the Mary Rose you even pass HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship during his victorious battle at Trafalgar, which sadly cost his life. It’s a wonderful ship and I’ll have to visit again to have enough time to do justice to a tour of this beautiful ship.




I was getting excited as I approached the Mary Rose Museum, as I remembered the news of this Tudor warship from Henry V111’s fleet being raised from the sea floor back in 1982. Since then she has been undergoing intensive …

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Two Foodie Events – Ben & Jerry’s and Free Bagels

First is the annual Ben & Jerry’s Double Scoop Sundae Festival, which takes place on Clapham Common on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July. 15,000 tickets are available on each day and this year’s festival is being headlined by Maxïmo Park and Ocean Colour Scene. Maxïmo Park will be supported on Saturday by Ash, Fun Lovin Criminals and others, while on Sunday Gary Numan, The Duke & The King, Little Comets and Sound Of Rum will be adding to the atmosphere for headliners Ocean Colour Scene.

You’ll also be able to visit the staple of Ben & Jerry’s festivals, a petting zoo, and there’ll also be a fairground and bare toe wrestling competitions… Unsigned bands are also being invited to take up slots on the main stage through a competition called ‘Be Herd’. Acts can submit music and video at the festival site and also be in line for a cool £1000 prize to the overall winners. Tickets are now on sale at £17, but as this is a decidedly family-friendly festival children 5 years or under are admitted free (as long as they’re with an ice-cream loving responsible adult of course!). Keep an eye on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and Twitter for further announcements regarding acts that will be appearing on stage.


Secondly, there’s a freebie coming up in the form of free bagels from the New York Bakery Co. who are celebrating American Independence Day on 4 July. Head over to Canvey Street, behind the Tate Modern, from 12 lunchtime and you’ll be able to sample one of their bagels, but don’t wait too long otherwise the bagels will run out!…

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