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Science Museum Blog

I was inspecting the Science Museum’s shipping collections at our Blythe House store a few months ago, and came across this model of the oil tanker World Progress, built in 1973. She was classed a ‘Very Large Crude Carrier’, and with a carrying capacity of nearly quarter of a million tonnes, she was certainly well described. But she carries oil no more. According to the website of supertanker enthusiast Auke Visser, she was scrapped on the beaches of Chittagong back in 1996. Chittagong has been in […]

A few days ago, I told you about riverfront industry in Greenwich. I recently made another Thames-side discovery. Just by Masthouse Terrace pier on the Isle of Dogs, you can see the original launching slip for the record-breaking ship, the Great Eastern. Close by is the frontage of its manufacturer, John Scott Russell. The Great Eastern was huge. Designed by Brunel and built by Russell, when launched in 1858 she was by far the largest ship ever built. In fact, […]

In my last post I told you about my weekend of London tunnel visits, culminating in an exceedingly rare chance to walk through Brunel’s Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping. Well, to help acclimatise to the underground world of Rotherhithe, my friends and I had spent the morning in training, by walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Unlike its 1840s counterpart a shade further west, built for pedestrians and taken over by the railway, the Rotherhithe Tunnel, opened in 1908, was originally […]

As today is St Patrick’s Day and I’m of the Paddy persuasion myself, here are a few objects with Irish links in our astronomy collection. This is one of the earliest mechanical models of the Solar System, on display in Science in the 18th Century. It was made for the 4th Earl of Orrery, Charles Boyle. His County Cork title gave its name to subsequent planetary models. Another Irish peer with a keen interest in astronomy was William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse.  He built several […]

I had decided to write a few lines on a Museum object called Silverbird. On a whim I asked Wikipedia to show me what it could find and I was delighted to learn also of a similarly named passerine bird native to Eastern Africa, a former software label of BT from the mid 1980s and even Leo Sayer’s debut album. Despite such tempting distractions I decided to stick with my Silverbird, or the more accurately named Silbervogel, the Museum’s scale […]

I loved our public health curator’s recent post about his expedition to sniff out London’s underground sewerage system. While Stewart was nosing around the drains, I spent last weekend in some rather less odorous tunnels. Oldest first. I’ve mentioned the Brunel Thames Tunnel before. It was the first tunnel under a river, now forming part of the East London railway, and in advance of the line reopening in May, officials led two days of walking tours through this historic construction. I managed to […]

Curatorial work can be pretty desk-bound, so opportunities to get your hands dirty are not to be missed. I recently fulfilled a long-held ambition to venture into London’s Victorian sewers. Hey – we’ve all got to dream… Back in the 1800’s London’s sanitation was terrible, as this satirical engraving of ”Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water”, illustrates: It was a public health disaster, that claimed numerous lives. London’s sewage system, although it’s still being modernised, is essentially a Victorian construction engineered by Joseph […]

If you’re planning to have a look at Richard Wilson’s Slice of Reality sculpture on the Greenwich peninsula, following my last post, you’ll find plenty else of interest along the Thames path while you’re there. The area was once a hot-bed of industry, and there’s still plenty going on, though there’s been a spate of demolitions recently that are rather depressing for those interested in our industrial heritage. One aspect of Greenwich’s industrial story is little-known, and even the best local […]

This week in 1977, astronomers discovered faint rings around Uranus. Or did they? It’s just possible that William Herschel beat them to it by almost 200 years. Herschel’s notes for February 22, 1789 say ‘A ring was suspected’. It was assumed he was mistaken, but Dr Stuart Eves, inspired by one of our objects, has a theory that could explain Herschel’s observations. A few years ago, Stuart visited our Blythe House store to see this orrery, or planetary model – the only surviving one of this design. It shows Uranus with six moons. […]

I was walking up Kingsway at the weekend, and was stopped in my tracks by the most striking sculpture I’ve seen in a long time: Square the Block, by internationally-renowned sculptor Richard Wilson RA, is a five-storey addition to a chamfered corner of a London School of Economics building. I must admit to being a huge fan of Wilson’s work. I first encountered it in 2004, when I visited the Saatchi collection at London’s County Hall. One exhibit was Wilson’s 20:50, a room full […]

I was in Cambridge last week for a couple of meetings. It’s a glorious city. The buildings reek of history and tradition, the streets are filled with bright folk lost in dreamy thought and the river carries its languorous cargo of students and tourists in pole-driven punts, as depicted in this poster from the NRM collection: And then there’s the bicycles. Cambridge is teeming with them, and whilst I’m all for cycle-friendly streets, I need eyes in the back of my head when I […]

My favourite part of curatorial work is adding new objects to the collections. Aside from the warm fuzzy glow of knowing that something I’ve acquired will be stumbled upon by future generations of curators, visitors and researchers, it’s always an opportunity to find out something new and meet interesting people.  Recently, I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for a whistle-stop tour. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a project to bring our physics collections up to date, and RAL is […]

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