Arrol’s Seafield House revealed: our new virtual exhibition

Friends of Seafield House had planned to launch the exhibition “Arrol’s Seafield House revelealed” on 16th May 2020 at Rozelle House, Ayr, in association with South Ayrshire Council, as part of 2020 Year of Coastal Waters.  The exhibition was in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the completion of Seafield House and the opening of the Forth Bridge, Sir William Arrol’s greatest construction.  However, as one of Arrol’s favourite poets, Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”.  Due to the COVID-19 lock-down we postponed the launch and instead bring you this virtual exhibition as a taster of the full exhibition, now planned for May 2021.

Screenshot of the home page of the exhibition titled "Arrol's Seafield House revealed" with balck and white photograph of the house.

Click on the image to enter the exhibition

 

The exhibition was created by FoSH Committee member, Kirsty Menzies, and offers a guided tour through Seafield House using the photographs of Bedford Lemere and Co., which are held by Historic Environment Scotland.  The photographs were taken by Harry Lemere on 12 May 1890, not long after the construction and interior decoration of Seafield House was completed. Our grateful thanks go to Historic Environment Scotland Archives for permission to use the images from their Bedford Lemere Seafield House collection.

Screenshot of tweet by Historic Environment Scotland on 15 June 2020 saying "William Arrol was the engineer whose company built the Forth Bridge - but have you ever wondered what his house was like?  No cantilivers in sight, but there is some rather interesting stuff from our #HESarchives in this from @ Friends Seafield!"

There may be no cantilevers in sight but we hope you will find the exhibition riveting nonetheless.

 

 

Celebrating 130 years of the Forth Bridge

On 4th March 1890 the Forth Bridge was officially opened by Edward, Prince of Wales.

The Forth Bridges are celebrating the bridge’s 130th anniversary at the Education Centre, South Queensferry, on the 4th March.  There will be a free exhibition from 12:30-17:00 and expert talks from 18:00-20:00 on construction and restoration of the bridge. Further details of the event on Facebook.

Invitation titled 'Happy Birthday Forth Bridge, 130 years' with details of times for the exhibition and talks.

The Forth Bridges Invitation to the day of celebration

The bridge was a feat of engineering, designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker, and built by William Arrol & Company.  It took 8 years to complete and over 4, 000 men were involved in its construction. It took 54,000 tons of steel to build, was 2,467 metres long, and when opened had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world (521 metres).  The Prince of Wales drove the last rivet into the bridge,  assisted by William Arrol, and at the luncheon afterwards he announced that Queen Victoria had conferred a knighthood on William Arrol in recognition of his great achievement in the construction of the bridge.  Today the Bridge remains an icon of British engineering and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

ForthBridgeSouthQueensferryShore_0706crop

Front cover of the Illustrated London News from 8 March 1890

Sir William Arrol assists the Prince of Wales to place the last rivet in the Forth Rail Bridge.

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.

Celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge and the work of its ‘men of steel’

Yesterday we celebrated with Tower Bridge the 125th anniversary of its opening on 30 June 1894.  On anniversaries like these we always remember the bridge designers and main contractors, but we should also remember the individual construction workers whose toil and skill helped build this iconic structure. Little is written about these men and boys but research carried out by FoSH committee member, Kirsty Menzies, for Tower Bridge helped to reveal stories of some of the steelworkers.

Colour photograph of Tower Bridge showing the central towers, bascules and side spans.

Tower Bridge, London

Today we take a look back at these ‘men of steel’ in a blog post based on this research and published on our Sir William Arrol website.  The stories of the workers demonstrate the high level of skill that Sir William Arrol & Company Limited required of them.  It also tells of the experienced men who were deployed to Tower Bridge to ensure the successful completion of its steel structure.

Read more about the Tower Bridge ‘men of steel’.