Museum of Power, Langford

How many Essex attractions can you truly say have something for all the family? At the Museum of Power, there’s something for everyone: kids, granny – even the dog. This impressive museum is housed in what was once the Southend Waterworks Company’s pumping station. But it’s not in Southend; you’ll find it in the village of Langford, near Maldon and just a ten minute drive from the A12.

Southend Waterworks Company had been founded in 1871. It supplied water to those living between the Crouch and the Thames, pumping water from local wells. But the growing demand was rapidly becoming difficult to satisfy and to enable capacity to increase, an act of Parliament was granted which permitted the company to use water from three local rivers: the Blackwater, Chelmer and Ter. Langford, though some distance from Southend itself, was chosen because of its proximity to the three rivers and its terrain, which lent itself to the process.

At the time the pumping station opened in 1929, it had a daily capacity of around 8.5 million gallons. But times change, and if the same station supplied Southend today, it would need to increase that figure to 132 million gallons. Water was filtered at the plant and sent back out again. In those days, there were a trio of steam-driven engines, the third added in 1931. But the pumping station eventually came to the end of its working life in 1963. For the last two decades, it has been a museum.

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Named Marshall, the third engine is today the museum’s most magnificent exhibit, taking centre stage in the main hall. It was a labour of love to restore it to its former glory, taking a dedicated team of volunteers around six years to complete the job. You can read more about this impressive engine here. Outside, among the vegetation as if they’re specimen plants, you’ll find more engines. They might not have Marshall’s stature, but they’re fascinating nevertheless.

As the daughter of a tool designer and engineer, I was particularly interested in the Edwardian workshop with its collection of belt-driven machines. Many of them had been rescued from the scrap heap in the 1980s and date from the mid 19th century to the late 1920s. You’ll find all sorts of other engines in the hall, which would have originally been inside trains, planes and even a World War Two tank. Steam-driven machinery operates each day, with as much rotation as possible so that the engines are kept in good working order.

If you’re keen to see full steam days, the museum lays on about ten each year. The most popular event of the year is an American classic car show. This year, cars will drive through Maldon High Street on Saturday 1st September and the Museum of Power hosts the show itself on Sunday 2nd. The following weekend, entrance to the museum is free for its heritage weekend, and as with all special events, Marshall will be puffing away.

For something completely different, the Steampunk Essextraordinaire takes place on 16th September. If you’ve ever wondered what steampunk is, or want to try tea-duelling, then you should definitely check this one out. On many of the event days, you can take a short ride on the narrow gauge steam railway which loops the site and there’s even a model village too. The full programme of events can be found here.

It costs about £400 for the oil to run the machines for these special events, which is why you won’t find everything up and running every day of the week. But the museum’s worth a visit regardless. There are plenty of kids’ activities throughout the summer, though book ahead to avoid disappointment. The museum has its own tea room in what was until 2011 the machine shop. There’s plenty of seating both indoors and out, and there’s even a small space where dogs are welcome indoors, so you don’t need to leave your furry friend at home if rain threatens.

For opening times, admission costs and lots more information about the Museum of Power, please visit:

http://www.museumofpower.org.uk/

I’d like to thank the museum for the complimentary admission I received. All views expressed in this post are my own.

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Warner Textile Archive

If you’re a fan of fashion or fabric, then there’s a place in Braintree that’s well worth an hour or so of your time. The Warner Textile Archive is housed in what was once a power loom shed for Warner & Sons. After the mill closed in 1971 there was a move to retain such an important part of Braintree’s heritage. Today, this beautifully restored wooden structure can be found just a stone’s throw from the shops of the town centre.

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Warner & Sons was founded in the latter part of the 19th century and moved to Braintree at about the same time, though the family had been involved in the silk weaving business since at least the late 17th century. Benjamin Warner and his two sons, Alfred and Frank, knew their business well and soon established an enviable reputation as weavers of furnishing silk. After his father’s death in 1908, Frank took the reins. Moving with the times, powerweaving was introduced just after the First World War.

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The company had many important clients including the Royal Family. Many of the silks used in the upholstery and soft furnishings of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle have also been made by the Braintree-based business. Having such important clients was not without its challenges, however. In 1888, Queen Victoria placed a significant order for hand woven silks that were to be used for curtains and upholstery at Windsor Castle. When she changed her mind about the colour,  a third of the order had already been made. The resultant costs were met by the company.

That loyalty and high standard of customer service has been well rewarded over the years. Warner & Sons have made silk for every British monarch’s coronation since that of Queen Victoria. It made the silk used for the train that Queen Elizabeth II wore to her own coronation in 1953. Important clients are not limited to royalty. The altar cloth commissioned by St Paul’s Cathedral in 1925 was made by Warner & Sons and in World War Two they manufactured silk for parachutes.

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In addition, Warner & Sons’ standing in the trade meant that it was a magnet for those hoping to raise their own profile. Many talented freelance designers worked with the company to produce unique and highly desirable fabrics. Many of these innovative prints and patterns can be viewed today at the Archive. Sadly, photography is not permitted inside, so if you’d like to see for yourself you’ll have to pay them a visit. The Archive is used as a museum space and there’s also a small shop on site if you’d like a memento to take home.

At the time of my visit, the exhibition “Warners in colour: a tool for design” made for an easy introduction into the world of fabrics. I also learned how silk imported from Asia was dyed to bespoke Warners colours in the company’s own Dye Lab. We sometimes forget how influential North Essex was in the textiles industry but, like Paycockes in Coggeshall, it’s good to be reminded of our industrial heritage.

Casual visitors are welcome at Warner Textile Archive every Wednesday as well as the first saturday in the month. The Archive also puts on regular workshops, covering skills such as linocut printmaking and cord spinning – book well in advance as these fill fast.

http://www.warnertextilearchive.co.uk/

Dovercourt’s historic lighthouses

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The twin lighthouses at Dovercourt have been a fixture on the landscape since the 1860s.  Iron-framed, they sit 200m apart, linked by a stone causeway that extends out into Dovercourt Bay.  As you can see from the photograph above, this is completely covered at high tide.

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The differing heights of the two lighthouses are significant, allowing the lights to be aligned as ships approach.  The inner lighthouse stands 15m high, while the smaller one is about 4m lower.  Commissioned by Trinity House in 1862, they replaced the two redundant lighthouses in Harwich, a short way along the coast, which had become unreliable due to migrating sand bars in the Stour Estuary.  For more on Harwich, see my earlier blog post here:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/harwich-the-town-that-rocked/

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With the installation of marker buoys indicating the approach to Harwich harbour, the Dovercourt lighthouses became obselete, like the Harwich ones before them.  In 1917, they were decommissioned, falling into a state of disrepair before being renovated in the 1980s.

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The beach today is one of just five in Essex that has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag in recognition of the cleanliness of both the beach and the water.  Off season, the beach is dog friendly, and with Felixstowe’s dock cranes framing the horizon, it’s a pleasant place to let them run.  If you’re planning to take your pooch, make sure you clean up after them to keep the beach in pristine condition.