Trip to Tower Bridge and its bascule chamber AV installation

Ever since the first FoSH blog post about the Tower Bridge bascule chamber concert in 2015 I have wanted to experience this unique venue for myself. My wish was finally fulfilled last week when I was privileged to attend the preview of the latest audio visual experience in the bascule chamber. The event lived up to all my expectations and more.

 

The magic of the occasion began as soon as we stepped from entrance into the stairwell and began the descent down the 115 steps to the chamber deep below the tower. An eerie blue light, image projections on the walls and electronic music with voices set the atmosphere for what was to come. We entered the bascule chamber, a vast, damp, brick-lined space with a steeply stepped curved wall to the front and massive steel plates of the counterweight above. Our seating was at the very base, with space for only 50 people. Even without the cold of the chamber I was chilled at the thought that, should the bridge be opened, the 1200 tons above my head would come down and fill the space where I was sitting. But all that was forgotten as soon as the audio visual installation began. Tower Bridge: 125 years of London’s defining landmark was created by artists of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to celebrate the people who built, maintained and operated the bridge since construction began in 1886. Archive images passed before our eyes across the stepped wall as we listened to a haunting electronic soundtrack and voices of actors portraying characters from the past.

Photograph of a sepia photograph of Tower Bridge projected onto a wall with blue lights below.

Image projected on the stepped wall of the bascule chamber

We were transported through the ages by photographs of the workers and the bridge at various stages of construction and operation, passing through times of war and changing cultural fashions through the decades, culminating with the bridge’s display for the 2012 Olympic games.

The following day I took the opportunity to revisit the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The last time I had visited was over 4 years before and at that time could find no reference to Sir William Arrol or the workers who had constructed the bridge. Since then the content of the exhibition has been greatly developed and the focus is very much on the working people who contributed to the life of the bridge.

Climbing the stairs of the north tower the story of construction of the bridge and the people involved unfolds amidst the riveted girders of the staircase. Profiles of people like Andrew Stephenson Biggart, Arrol’s general manager for the steelwork, and images of the steelworkers are portrayed alongside text and images of other construction workers, including divers and stonemasons. At the top of the stairs we are greeted by the portrait of Sir William Arrol in pride of place beside Horace Jones, John Wolfe Barry and Sir William Armstrong. Continuing on through the exhibition we find stories and images with audio recordings of some of the people who worked on and operated the bridge. Many of these ordinary workers have been immortalised in brass plaques in Tower Bridge’s ‘Walk of fame’, a blue line which leads visitors from the south tower to the engine rooms and shop.

photograph of a brass plaque in a blue painted line leading across the walkway on Tower Bridge

Edward Roughley’s plaque in the ‘Walk of fame’

I was very pleased to walk along this and see plaques dedicated to some of steelworkers that I had researched and written about in my blog post, Tower Bridge and the work of its men of steel, men like John Heaney, riveter; Andrew Dick, blacksmith; Edward Heaney, crane driver and, a personal favourite, John Chalk, 15 year old rivet boy.

 

Kirsty Menzies, FoSH Committee

Many thanks to Tower Bridge for the invitation to the preview of  the bascule chamber event and Tower Bridge Exhibition.

4th FoSH AGM : Monday 15 May 2017, 6.30pm : Ellisland House Hotel, Ayr

The 4th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) will be held on Monday 15 May 2017 at 6.30pm at the Ellisland House Hotel, 19 Racecourse Rd, Ayr KA7 2TD

Download a pdf of the Notice and Agenda here.

Following the business of the AGM, we will have a presentation on econstruct design and build’s plans for the restoration of Seafield House, which are now at pre-planning application stage.

We look forward to welcoming all those who can attend.

Meet the author of Arrol/Eiffel inspired novel in Ayr

poster with an image of the book and details of th event.If our blog post about the launch of Beatrice Colin’s latest book, “To Capture What You Cannot Keep”, has whetted your appetite, then come along to join us for a drink and hear more about it at Waterstones Ayr on the 2 March at 7pm.

Beatrice will be there to discuss and read excerpts from her novel, and if the Glasgow launch is anything to go by, it will be a very enjoyable evening. Afterwards Beatrice will be happy to sign copies of her book.

The novel is beautifully written and and builds a very evocative atmosphere of Paris in the late 1880s. It is based around the construction of the Eiffel Tower, and as it grows, so does the romance between Caitriona Wallace and Emile Nougier. Cait and the Arrol niece and nephew are fictional creations, but many of the characters are based on historical figures and have been well researched, including William Arrol. Although he isn’t one of the central characters, he has a strong presence throughout the novel and has been sympathetically portrayed. In the story, during an encounter with William Arrol, a reference is made to the house he was building in Ayr “with a vast conservatory and a view of the Firth of Clyde”, what was to become Seafield House.

Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) have organised the evening in association with Waterstones Ayr who are putting on the event to celebrate World Book Day and the launch of the novel, with its Ayr connections. Drinks will be served in store from 6.30pm and members of the FoSH committee will be there to answer any questions about Seafield House and Sir William Arrol.

Tickets are free and available now from Waterstones in Ayr or by phoning 01292 262600.  Further details are on the Waterstones Ayr website and Facebook page.

Arrol and Eiffel inspiration captured in fiction

Last night saw the launch, in Glasgow, of Beatrice Colin’s latest novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep.  It is a story of love in the 1880s set around the construction of the Eiffel Tower and may be the first work of fiction to feature Sir William Arrol.

Cover artwork with image of the Eiffel Tower

It follows the romance between Émile Nouguier, one of the engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower and Cait Wallace, a young widow and chaperone to Alice and James, a niece and nephew of Sir William Arrol. Whilst Cait and the Arrol siblings are purely fictional characters, Beatrice has cleverly woven them into a story based around historical fact.  She was inspired to write the story following a visit to Paris which sparked her interest in the Eiffel Tower and she chose Émile Nouguier as a central character for the story.  Beatrice also wanted to introduce a Scottish dimension to the story and it was only when she discovered that Gustave Eiffel had attended the opening of the Forth Bridge that the Arrol connection was made.  As Beatrice has pointed out, both Nouguier and Arrol are responsible for building famous iconic structures, like the Eiffel Tower and the Forth Bridge, and yet, despite their achievements, the two engineers are relatively unknown.

Beatrice Colin lives in Glasgow and is a novelist and lecturer in creative writing, and this is her 7th published book.  It was during her research on Sir William Arrol that first introduced Beatrice to Friends of Seafield House, when she came along to the launch of the campaign, back in 2012.  Since then we have been intrigued to hear how her story developed and eagerly anticipated its completion.

To celebrate its publication, Friends of Seafield House have arranged with Waterstones bookshop in Ayr to host an evening event with Beatrice Colin on 2 March.  Keep an eye on this page for further details if you would like to come along and hear Beatrice read some excerpts and talk about her novel.

Bascule Chamber Concerts Return

Following the success of the Bascule Chambers performances last year, Iain Chambers is returning to the Totally Thames Festival this September with a new programme to be performed  inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers.

Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch - on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons
Bascule Chamber by Martin Deutsch – on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/qJJrVB under Creative Commons

All the steelwork for Tower Bridge was manufactured by William Arrol & Co. Ltd. in Glasgow and shipped down to London for construction. Bascules are the steel sections of the bridge which lift to allow passage of tall ships underneath. The bascule chambers are massive, brick-lined spaces which house the counterweights that enable the bascules to be raised.

Performances of “Bascule Chambers” are being held on the weekend of the 24th and 25th September. A unique opportunity to admire Arrol’s engineering prowess whilst listening to classic and contemporary music in the atmospheric subterranean chamber.

Further information on the performances can be found on the Totally Thames website.

Further information on bridge tours can be found on the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

Scottish Opera at Titan Crane

As a lover of music, I am sure Sir William Arrol would have been fascinated to learn that Scottish Opera are going to be performing at the Titan Crane in Clydebank on 30th June and 1st July.  In rare moments of leisure time at Seafield House he loved to listen to music on his gramophone or sometimes host live performances in the drawing room.  When Sir William Arrol & Company finished building the Titan Crane in 1907 the site was very much an industrial working shipyard and the last place you would expect to find the opera. John Brown’s shipyard has long since closed down and instead of lifting heavy equipment the giant cantilever crane, now one of only 4 remaining on the Clyde, functions as a tourist attraction.

Clydebank Titan Crane - geograph.org.uk - 1069892

Titan Crane, Clydebank

It is not so surprising then that Scottish Opera have chosen this as one of the sites on their Pop-up Opera tour of Scotland.  Each show provides a 25 snippet of an opera, performed in a specially adapted trailer.promotional image showing a photo from one of the pop-up operas
There are 3 operas to choose from:

  • A Little Bit of Northern Light
  • A Little Bit of Mikado
  • A Little Bit of Figaro

There still seem to be a few tickets available but they may be snapped up soon. Ticket price is just £5 and includes a trip up the crane, where you can appreciate the mastery of Arrol’s work.

Details of the performances and booking can be found on Scottish Opera’s Pop-up Opera webpage.

Find out more about visiting the Titan Crane.

Invitation to 2nd FoSH AGM on 19 May 15

All Friends of Seafield House members and Friends are warmly invited to attend our Second Annual General Meeting (AGM).

It will be held on Tuesday 19 May 2015 at 6pm at the Ellisland House Hotel, 19 Racecourse Rd, Ayr KA7 2TD.

Tea, coffee & shortbread will be served (£2 – donation appreciated). It would be helpful in gauging numbers for refreshments, if you would kindly advise the FoSH Secretary by Monday 11 May 2015 that you plan to attend.

See this flier for full details and Agenda for the meeting .