Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1919-476

Britain’s greatest machines?

Did anyone catch ‘Britain’s Greatest Machines’ on Five last Thursday? Chris Barrie is presenting a series looking at the evolution of engineering in Britain, directed by science documentarist Martin Gorst.

Much of what was talked about in the first episode, covering the 1910s, is represented (as you might expect) in the Science Museum’s collections. Back then we’d just become a fledgling museum in our own right and we were hungry to collect the very latest machines and inventions.

In the show, you see a Morgan three-wheeled cycle-car. At our store in Wroughton we’ve got this rather lovely 1914 model…

Morgan cycle-car, 1914 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Chris Barrie watched a replica of the Vickers ‘Vimy’ that crossed the Atlantic in 1919 with John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown. See the original in our Flight gallery…

Vickers 'Vimy', 1919 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

And in our Making the Modern World gallery you can see a First-World-War Vickers machine gun like the one in the programme, alongside a model of a British Mark IV tank from 1917.

British Mark IV tank, France, c.1918 (NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society)

There are lots more than I can fit in here so why not watch the first episode on Demand Five here and then pop down to the Museum to see what you spot.

And if you want to find out more about the story of the Museum, we’ve just launched a new book, Science For The Nation: Perspectives on the History of the Science Museum. A remarkable institution – and an extraordinary century of machines.

Brooklands revived

I saw a splendid programme on BBC2 the other day. In his series, ‘Toy Stories’, James May is playing with old toys like Airfix and Meccano in an epic way. Last week, he revived the famous Brooklands motor racing circuit, opened in 1907 and closed in 1939.

Motor racing at Brooklands, 1927 (NMeM / Kodak Collection / Science & Society)

Motor racing at Brooklands, 1927 (NMeM / Kodak Collection / Science & Society)

Malcolm Campbell (see my previous posts) was a regular racer at Brooklands:

Malcolm Campbell racing at Brooklands (NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society)

Malcolm Campbell racing at Brooklands (NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society)

It wasn’t just cars. Britain’s aviation industry arguably started here with the pioneering work of A. V. Roe and others. Roe’s company went on to make Avro aircraft elsewhere, including the famous ‘Vulcan’ bomber…

Avro Vulcan radar test model, 1950s (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Avro Vulcan radar test model, 1950s (Science Museum / Science & Society)

…and our Vickers ‘Vimy’, used by Alcock and Brown in their first flight across the Atlantic, was built at Brooklands:

Vickers Vimy at Brooklands, 1919 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Vickers 'Vimy' at Brooklands, 1919 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

After the war, the site became a huge aircraft factory for Vickers and then British Aerospace (lots of Concorde was made here), and the old racing circuit was carved up, chopped off, built on and generally made into a non-circuit. Explore it on Google Maps.

How did May revive such a relic? With the aid of hundreds of  helpers, he laid three miles of Scalextric track round the route of the old circuit (flying over fences and factories, diving under roads and ditches, floating across ponds and cutting across housing estates) and, once built, pitted two tiny cars against each other in a nail-biting race to the finish. Top stuff!

You can watch it on BBC iPlayer here, and you can find out more at the excellent Brooklands museum website.

Amelia Earhart on time wastage

Last time I was recalling Louis Blériot’s historic crossing of the Channel a century ago. That got me thinking about other memorable sea crossings.

Ninety years ago, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown were the first people to cross the Atlantic by air, non-stop. Their Vickers ‘Vimy’ craft, pictured here, is on show in our Flight gallery:

Alcock & Brown's Vickers 'Vimy' aeroplane, 1919

The first solo crossing was by Charles Lindbergh eight years later.

Then there was a flight of the Friendship in June 1928 which carried Amelia Earhart, who thereby became the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air (she made the first female solo crossing four years later).

I picked up Earhart’s autobiographical account of her crossing. She was an accomplished aviator, and in her sparkling account she speaks eloquently of the state of flying in America in the 1920s – and the role of women in flight.

It’s a great read, and one passage made me think about the choices we make today about transport, time and distance.

She wrote, “Nothing, perhaps, is more appealing than the sense of quick accomplishment – of getting somewhere, sooner. Aviation means an approach to the elimination of time wastage, and seems to point the way to further increase in the world’s leisure”.

Time and motion. The shrinking of the world. This was the period of the Efficiency Movement, waging war on waste. But now, perhaps, it’s time to rethink some of Earhart’s ideas. Sometimes, slow is good, and doesn’t mean wasted time.

Could we fly less by taking trains and ships more? I’ll return to this theme in future.

For Amelia Earhart, time ran out in July 1937 in a Lockheed Electra airliner, as she attempted to circumnavigate the world. The plane went missing over the Pacific Ocean and neither it nor Earhart have been seen since. You can see an Electra up close in the Science Museum’s ‘Making the Modern World’ gallery. Here it is at our Wroughton (Wiltshire) site before it went on display in London:

Lockheed Electra 10A aircraft at Science Museum Wroughton