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Science Museum Blog

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 […]

You may have been following my recent posts on Britain’s submarine history. One thing that’s emerged has been the important role of Barrow-in-Furness in transport history. The Vickers company, now part of BAE Systems, made most of Britain’s submarine fleet at their Barrow yard, and BAE are manufacturing our latest subs there now. But Barrow was a transport town long before the submarines. In the mid-nineteenth century, Barrow became a centre for steel-making, as iron ore mined in the nearby Lake District […]

Last time, I related the sad story of the demise of HMS Trafalgar, who had her nuclear reactor shut down a few weeks ago prior to retirement. In 1993, Trafalgar was affiliated with the north-west town of Lancaster, just across Morecambe Bay from Barrow-in-Furness where many naval submarines are built. Now the boat has been decommissioned, the affiliation has come to an end, and the tip of Morecambe’s Stone Jetty is to be renamed ‘Trafalgar Point’ in the boat’s honour. Apparently, […]

Earlier, I told you about HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s latest nuclear-powered submarine, due to be handed over by the builders later this year. She’s the second naval submarine with that name, the first being launched in 1944 as part of the Amphion-class of boats. We’ve this model of HMS Amphion herself on show in our Shipping gallery: Another boat in the series was HMS Alliance. To experience life on board a submarine, head for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, […]

While growing up, when I wasn’t busy playing with hammers, I was intrigued by the Moon and I would act out Lego explorations of the Lunarscape. Two interests that that I have in common with engineer James Hall Nasmyth – whose invention of the steam hammer I explored in an earlier post. Astronomy was one of Nasmyth’s passions and when he retired in 1856, he had more time to devote to scientific investigation. He used this 20-inch reflecting telescope for […]

Imagine the following pub conversation: ‘What are you driving these days?’ ‘Actually, I’ve just taken delivery of my Jaguar Jet-Car. Just doing my bit for the environment…’ It’s not as outlandish as it seems. Jet cars have been around for a while and we’ve got the terrific Rover ‘Jet 1’ from 1948 on show at the Science Museum: The problem back then was that the jet engine (or gas turbine) was used to spin a shaft coupled directly to the car’s […]

I love hammers, or to be more precise, I like hitting things with hammers. Be it nails, walnuts or – at some point in the long-distant past – brothers. So when I saw this giant steam powered hammer looming over me in Making the Modern World I had to learn more. It was invented by James Hall Nasmyth. He was born in 1808, and drawn to mechanics from a young age, making his first steam engine at the age of 17. […]

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