Sunday, 24 February 2013

Liverpool (Rnd 2) and Speke Hall

As I might have mentioned previously (or perhaps just thought it), we've visited most of the places that we'd like to see that are "close" by.  In addition, the winter months aren't the best as some places (like the National Trust sites) are closed and it's not the best walking weather.  As a result, we've had to increase our radius a bit and we've also started going back to some places to see some things we might have missed.

This week, we made it back to what is becoming one of our favorite cities:  Liverpool.  I'm not exactly sure what it is, but we really like Liverpool and seem to connect with it.  The city centre is compact and easy to drive to (and park).  There are plenty of museums.  The riverfront, etc.  Just a nice place to visit.  There's something about the history as well.  It's not all Kings and Queens and 500 years old.  Liverpool rose to prominence in the 18th & 19th centuries due to sea trade and crashed hard in the 20th century as those dynamics changed.  The city is very honest about its history (i.e. fortune on the backs of slaves and later drugs (opium) but also justifiably proud of its perseverance as well).   Not sure I can really put a finger on it, but we like it.

FYI, find the blog entry for our first visit here.

But before getting back to Liverpool proper, we decided to stop at Speke Hall (B) thanks to a co-worker's suggestion.  Speke Hall is adjacent to the John Lennon (Liverpool) Airport.  It would normally be closed this time of year, but they were open this week for the February (school) half term break [we decided to save our vacation days for some warmer weather so we didn't take any time off during the week].

Liverpool is about a 1:45 hour drive from Derby.  Going via Speke makes it about 2.  We left around 9 and got home around 8:30 so not too bad.

Speke Hall is a National Trust manor home (link).  Initial construction of this wood-framed Tudor-styled manor started in 1530 with the last major addition completed in 1598.  According to the wiki link (and backed up by our tour guide):

The house was owned by the Norris family for many generations until the female heiress married into the Beauclerk family. The Watt family purchased the house and estate from the Beauclerks in 1795. The last surviving heir of the Watt family was Miss Adelaide Watt, who inherited the house and returned to it in 1878 at the age of 21 years. She died in 1921, leaving the house and estate in trust for 21 years, during which time it was looked after by the staff under the supervision of Thomas Whatmore, who had been butler to Miss Watt. At the end of this period, in 1942, the house passed into the ownership of the National Trust.  

Often times, these type of houses can get into disrepair before the National Trust gets them.  That might be true in this case, but this house also had a period of disrepair before the final owners moved in.  The lower levels were even used as a cow barn for a time.  

Waiting outside before the start of the tour.  Quite chilly today (about 1C / 33F).

Interesting sculpture on the bridge.  I thought it looked like ET.  Nicole thought it was a man with a mustache.  Alex asked the tour guide and he said it was unknown, but staff called him ET (with a mustache) so we were spot on.
Note the sign that says this part (the front section of the house) was finished in 1598 by Edwin Norris.

No photos allowed inside, but I did pop into the courtyard and take these.   The house was a rectangular ring (like a picture frame) around the courtyard on all 4 sides.

and this one (the fam didn't realize I was lining up a photo)

Since I couldn't take any photos inside, I went in search of some online.  These are actually from the National Trust Prints site (credit to Geoffrey Frosh).  This is the Green [bed]Room.  Since the house was last inhabited in the early 20th century, most of the rooms are laid out in Victorian style.   The owners did also go with the Tudor revival style when appropriate (as that would obviously fit).

a different angle in the Green Room -- very intricate carvings on all the furniture.  We were told that many of the carvings were from earlier times than the finished furniture

 Oak Bedroom

The bay window in the Oak Drawing Room with the table laid for a Victorian tea (photo:  Andreas von Einsiedel)

detailed close up of the ornate carving and genealogy in the Drawing Room 

Okay, I did sneak one photo in (though very quickly so poor quality).  These were the bells in the servants area.  They were all mechanically linked throughout the house to the other rooms.  In theory they made different sounds so they know who is calling.

We had lunch at the restaurant on site.  Kuk and I shared a creamed tea (i.e. scones with cream and jam) along with this regional dish:  Scouse.  It's a stew variant associated with the area.  This version is beef (some are lamb; some are both) and it was really good.  Surprisingly good.  I've searched out some recipes on the web but there are many different variants so who knows.  I actually e-mailed the National Trust to see if they will give me their recipe.  We'll see.

Scouse History.  Scouse is also used to describe the very unique (and at times difficult) accent (and vocabulary) used in the area as well as a Liverpudlian in general.

We didn't tour the grounds as we wanted to head into Liverpool proper but we really enjoyed our visit to Speke Hall.

And here we are, back in Liverpool.  You may recognize the Royal Liver (long "I" btw -- LIE - ver) building from my previous post.  I opt for the cheaper parking (£5/day on weekends) on the fringe of "downtown" and this view is on our walk from the car park.

The main attraction for the afternoon was the excellent (and free) Museum of Liverpool.   We had about 3 hours and could have used another one.  As a result we kind of skittered about through the museum to see a couple of short films and tried to hit all exhibits while prioritizing the ones we were most interested in.  I've tried to arrange the photos in a more logical order but I'm not sure if I succeeded or not.
As mentioned earlier, Liverpool really grew into a key city in the British Empire in the 18th & 19th centuries due to its shipping trade.  Liverpool was able to connect the booming Industrial Revolution in Britain to the rest of the world.  As the dynamics of that have changed (i.e. less labor intensive), so has the population.  Unemployment has been higher in Liverpool than the rest of the UK for most of the 20th century.

Factoid:   in the early 18th century ships were at the mercy of the high tidal swings of the River Mersey and would anchor in the middle of the river so as not to touch bottom during low tide.  This resulted in expensive and inefficient unloading by smaller craft.  The city's answer?  They built the world's first wet dock in 1715.

Carved 19th century tusks from the Loango Coast (Africa).  Early fortunes were built off the slave trade.  Even after the slave trade was abolished (in 1809), there was still money to be had in trading slave-based products like sugar, cotton and tobacco.

Cotton ring from 1906 Cotton Exchange.  Brokers would stand around the ring to broker deals in the cotton trade.

Liverpool's oldest Chinese (steam) laundry.  From the 1880s to the 1940s this was second only to seafaring in terms of jobs for the Chinese.  Liverpool had the first Chinatown in Europe.  In the 19th century, trade had picked up with China and many came to Liverpool to work as a result. 

Factoid:  the British would trade for opium in India and then trade it for silk, pottery and tea (among other things) in China although the drug was officially banned.  The Chinese government tried to intervene and the British sent it warships to force them to keep trading.  These were known as the Opium Wars.  Can you imagine?  I guess it's not hard to.  I missed (or forgot) that bit of history.

As I said, the museum did not shy away from Liverpool's history at all.  Very refreshing.

The Blue Funnel Line (established by Albert Holt in 1865) ran the first direct steamship to China which greatly increased the speed and volume of trade and travel.

Between 1847 and 1853 1.3 million people arrived from Ireland into Liverpool to escape the Great Potato Famine.  Many emigrated to other locales but quite a few stayed.

Slightly more contemporary, this is a bronze sculpture for women's suffrage in the early 20th century.  You might not be able to make it out, but the hemline is full of skulls.  There were quite a few atrocities in some of the prisons.

Gladstone Riot Shield (1929) -- could stop bullets at 5 yards (lots of tension over the years)
On a lighter note . . . . there were 4 pop singers that became rather famous.  Even enough to have their own set of nesting Russian matryoshka dolls (Ringo, George, Paul, John).

As briefly mentioned in my previous post, Liverpool is a huge football (soccer) city with two clubs that pre-date 1900.  You are either a Red (Liverpool) or a Blue (Everton).  I don't think there is anything that can compare in the US.  Even for US cities that have two clubs, they don't play each other on a regular basis.  Perhaps you'd have to go back to the Brooklyn Dodgers and NY Yankees to even be in the discussion.

A quick photo of a Meccano toy set.  Meccano was a Liverpool based toy company and the largest toy company in Britain.  I mentioned it last week in our visit to Ironbridge and the Enginuity Museum.  "Erector Sets" currently sold in the US are actually Meccano sets.

Another first for Liverpool was the Overhead Railway.  This is one of the first coaches made for the LOR in 1892 and operated until the railway closed in 1956.  The tracks were overhead (above ground) and the trains used electricity.

LOR poster.  The LOR helped moved workers up and down the river docks but also became a tourist attraction in its own right.

This is a painting called Liverpool Cityscape (2012).  I bought a print for myself.  The funky shaped building in the middle is the Liverpool Museum.   Albert's Dock is to the right.  The Liverpool Cathedral is top, right.  Two of the "Three Graces" are on the left.

Nice views from the museum.  Here are the Royal Liver, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building.  Early 20th century, listed and part of the World Heritage Site.

another view --  the Beatles Experience building next to the river on the left

 looking the other direction towards Alberts Dock

To cap it off we returned to Etsu for some sushi.  We always eat here when we come to Liverpool (okay, two for two at least).  Very enjoyable.

Well, hopefully I haven't bored you with the details.  We really like Liverpool and we still have a few more things to see so we could go back for more.  It's not just the Beatles, for sure.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ironbridge (Rd 2)

Greetings, Blog Fans.  This week we decided to make a return visit to Ironbridge.  We went last year about this time as well.  During the first visit, we saw the actual bridge, visited the Blists Hill Town living museum and the Museum of the Gorge.  For details on those attractions and some good history on the Industrial Revolution in general, see my previous post.

Ironbridge is just over an hour away near the town of Telford.

The primary purpose of this trip was to visit the other museums associated with this World Heritage Site before our annual pass expired.  Those included the Enginuity science museum, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Jackfield Tile Museum, and the Coalport China Museum.  This interesting fountain was in the area of the Enginuity and Iron museums (our first stop).
Compare this hazy morning photo to the bright early afternoon photo up top.  It turned into a really nice day, especially for February. An old furnace is housed in the triangular building alongside the old viaduct.

Nearly empty car park at 10 minutes before opening.  It would fill up during the day.  The Iron Museum is straight ahead and Enginuity, our first stop, is between the two buildings.

Can't say enough good things about Enginuity.  It was smallish, but well laid out and had many interactive activities as well as ample learning videos as well.   Here Alex is moving a large locomotive via gearing and pulleys.

  squirting water -- always a hit

 A replica of the 1938 Robot Gargantua.  I found the history of this fascinating:

In March 1938, the Meccano Magazine published a brief article describing an automatic crane of stunning complexity.  A single motor drove all the motions of this monster machine, capable of building complex structures from wooden blocks automatically.  From the original photograph, it was difficult to tell if Gargantua was even made from Meccano, or whether it could really do all that was claimed.  Nobody had ever built anything so ambitious in Meccano.

A full description and more detailed photographs lay hidden for nearly half a century until the Liverpool Meccano factory was demolished.  [they were eventually published]

. . . I [Chris Shutte] built the Robot programmer in June 1997 and met the originator's widow and son.  They encouraged me to build the whole crane, which I did during the following 12 months, about 400 hours work.

And here it is in this little museum (though we didn't get to see it in action).  My erector sets never quite turned out like this.

Alex feeding a "boiler" fuel (red balls) and water (spinning wheel) to generate energy (blue balls at the top).

Throughout the museum they had the question marks near a "Scan It" station.  A little video would pop up to describe the topic that you scanned.  Really neat (especially for Kuk and me). 
The good old jet (gas turbine) engine.  It was good to take the kids through it.  They had two internal combustion engines (one diesel) as well.

Alex's building before the earthquake.

 and after

 Alex and Kuk trying to assemble various cubes out of different shapes.

Great time at the museum.  Highly recommended.  Next stop was the Museum of Iron next door.

Not too many photos for the museum.  I liked the bits in the beginning that talked about the strides that Abraham Darby made in developing a method of producing pig iron in a blast furnace fuelled by coke rather than charcoal. This was a major step forward in the production of iron as a raw material for the Industrial Revolution.

The photo above shows the previous method of making charcoal.  This required a lot of wood that was smoldered to finally generate the charcoal.  Once Darby figured out how to use coke (from coal) such that the sulfur bi-product didn't mix the iron, the Industrial Revolution was on its way. 

I still don't understand all my irons.  Here's a ball of wrought iron above.  I guess I need to study some more.
Massive Aga Cooker made out of Cast Iron.  I hear these are considered posh now.
 Back to they sunny outside and a closer shot of the old furnace.
Next stop of the Jackfield Tile Museum.  It didn't do much for us but we did like the London Tube memory.

 an interesting glass (artisan) store nearby

 neat paperweight

cool piece here -- knock a zero off and I would have bought it

final stop was the China Museum for an admittedly quick walk through -- not much of interest on the inside, especially since we just went to the Royal Crown Derby.

One of the kilns shown here.  The complex was nice to walk around especially on such a nice day.

All and all, it was another nice day out.  Really liked the Enginuity Museum from this trip and walking in Ironbridge and visiting the Victorian Museum from the last trip.  Glad we split it into two trips as it is too much to see at once.

Being the old romantic that I am (ha), I did take Kuk out for Valentine's Day -- 20 years since our first one together.  We went to Masa's which we've been to a few times before.  The food was good but the service was pretty slow even for British standards.  It took about 40 minutes to flag someone down for the bill and to pay.  Not the note you want to leave on.  I think we'll use Darley's for special occasions from now on.
That's not to say we didn't have a nice night out.  Kuk continued her fish theme from the salmon starter above to the sea bass main.

and a strawberry creme brulee for dessert

for completeness, I had a cheese and roasted pepper cannelloni starter

and the horse beef main (we've had some horse meat stories in the news here, primarily in the cheaper prepared food; everyone says the beef tastes different here . . . .)  [this beef was good]

Finally, I'm still rockin' the Jamie Oliver 15-minute meals.  I'll spare you the repeats, but we did try a new one this week:  lamb kofta, pita, mint & hot pepper couscous and a Mediterranean salad.  Another winner.

Have a good week everyone.