Archive for the ‘Family & Friends’ Category

The scary automatic door, the alarming burglar alarm, the spooky coal mine, the thump of the iron weights, the disappearing golden ball. Does anyone remember the Children’s Gallery at the Science Museum in London?

exhibition road, london underground, the science museum, south kensington

On the left, the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, South Kensington, which opened in 1928 replacing buildings from the 1860s. On the right, an Underground poster from 1928.

From 1931 when the gallery was first opened up until 1993 when it closed, children visiting the museum in South Kensington would turn left in the main entrance hall and go down the stairs to the Children’s Gallery in the basement.

Families would usually have got to the museum by going along the pedestrian subway – first opened in 1885 – from the Tube station in ‘South Ken’.

In the basement, there was a long thin rectangular room, which I recall from the 1950s was fairly dimly-lit, where children were free to play with working models that had buttons to press, handles to turn, and levers to pull. There were also historical dioramas and models showing the development of science and technology throughout history. I thought some of these were dull compared with what we would now call ‘hands-on’ exhibits.

 children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

Going by this photo of the Children’s Gallery taken when it opened in December 1931, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of ‘hands on’ exhibits, but it was innovatory at the time. A printed guide to the gallery from 1935 states ‘if there is anything you want to know about the exhibits ask one of the Attendants in uniform’ © Science Museum/SSPL

Whilst the aim of the gallery was to ‘inform and instruct’ children on the social, material, and even moral impact of science and technology on society, surveys carried out in the 1950s revealed that this approach was more or less lost on the children. There was a lot of curiosity and fascination about the many exhibits, but the kids were also having fun.

Consequently, when the Children’s Gallery was revamped in 1969, the historical perspective was to some extent abandoned in favour of combining instruction with pleasure in order to make the children feel that ‘science is a wonderful thing’.

The Children’s Gallery was replaced in 1986 by Launchpad, an ambitious interactive gallery for young people, which moved to the top floor of the museum in 2007. Launchpad itself was replaced in 2016 by Wonderlab, an interactive science gallery with 50 exhibits in seven zones that was 60 percent larger than Launchpad, though an admission fee was also introduced reflecting the £6m cost (school groups are free).

A Selection of the Exhibits

Here are some of the exhibits from the Children’s Gallery that I remember from the 1950s through to the 1980s. I would have liked to include others but photographs of the gallery are thin on the ground. At the end of this post are some memorable exhibits from elsewhere in the Science Museum.

children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The noisiest area of the gallery was the one devoted to Lifting. Ropes that went around pullies could be pulled to lift heavy iron weights. The fewer pullies, the more difficult it was to lift the weights, and there was at least one that I couldn’t lift. There were also jacks where weights were lifted by turning a handle. These photos seem to be from the 1940s or 50s © Science Museum/SSPL

chappe semaphore, children’s gallery, diorama, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

There were many dioramas (three-dimensional models in glass showcases) on the development of transport (photo left), communications (photo centre), and lighting through the ages. Some of these had buttons and levers such as the model of the Chappe Semaphore (the first practical telecommunications system of the industrial age invented in 1792) the top of which can be seen in the middle of the centre photo. On the right, is a display behind glass panels of vacuum experiments. Again, these photos seem to be from the 1940s or 50s © Science Museum/SSPL

automatic door, children’s gallery, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The information stand on the left says ‘Automatic Door 1933. This automatic door has been in almost constant use since it was installed in 1933. At the time most people had never seen an automatic door, and the exhibit became a star attraction in the Museum’s old Children’s Gallery. The door’s 13 ½ millionth opening in 1967 was celebrated when the photograph below was taken’ © Science Museum

There were two exhibits that could be a little scary to a young child. The automatically opening door and the burglar alarm.

With the door, you queued up, and when it was your turn you walked towards the closed red door. You’d break a beam of light shining on a photoelectric cell and the door would swing open abruptly. If you were very young, you didn’t know about the beam, and it was a bit spooky. I wanted to be trapped by the door or something. It was very popular with kids who queued up again and again to go through the door.

The door is still on display, as in the photo on the right, in the Secret Life of the Home gallery in the basement of the museum.

Nearby, there was mock safe in the wall. The idea was to creep as close as you could towards the safe from a line on the floor of the gallery. You would break an infra-red beam, and the word Burglar, in red lighting, which was fixed to the wall near to the safe, would light up with a buzzing sound. Well that’s how I remember it, and I haven’t a photo of the burglar alarm to confirm this.

Other working exhibits that I can remember – though there are no photographs – was the eclipse of the sun by the moon, a diorama of an Archimedean screw being used for irrigation, a Watt engine and hammer, a model of an electric passenger lift, a submarine periscope (the sight poked out somewhere in the ground floor above, so that’s what you saw), and an automatic telephone number selector.

Two smaller working exhibits attracted quite a bit of attention. A Van de Graaf generator from 1929, used to accumulate an electric charge, and a Wimshurt machine from the 1880s, used to generate high voltages. I can’t recall what happened when these machines were demonstrated, but there were machines like this in the X-rated Frankenstein films of the 50s.

children’s gallery, disappearing golden ball, exhibition road, science museum, south kensington

The disappearing golden ball, which was introduced in 1958, was intended to demonstrate the capacity effect, though I can’t find out what this is. © Science Museum

Another popular exhibit was the ‘disappearing golden ball’. The ball was in the middle of a raised circular table 5′ or so wide at the bottom of the stairs down to the Children’s Gallery. When you leant out to grab the golden ball, it would disappear with a click or clunk into a small socket. No matter how quick you were, you couldn’t get hold of it. I think the ball’s movement may have been activated by a motion sensor in the ceiling above the table.

The ball is still on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery.

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It’s been a while since my last post but something I’ve been working on has turned out to be a much bigger task than expected. In the meantime, a walking trip to the Eden Valley in the north of England last June with outdoors mate Patrick had many highlights.

drybeck hallThe fertile Eden Valley lies between the Lake District in the west and the northern Pennines in the east. We stayed at Drybeck Hall in the middle of farming country west of Appleby-in-Westmorland. It’s a Grade 2* farmhouse built in 1679 when Charles II was monarch and fighting with Parliament. Drybeck Hall lies in the eastern half of now defunct Westmorland, a sparsely inhabited historic county that has its origins in the 12th century, and which was absorbed into Cumbria in 1974.

We did three circular walks. There’s no detailed instructions but a small map of each walk (click on it to zoom) is included to give you a rough idea of the route.

Day One – Great Rundale Tarn & High Cup Nick

great rundale tarn & high cup nick walk map

The starting point of this clockwise walk was the village of Dufton nestling below the western edge of the Pennines, three miles north of Appleby. The 268-mile long Pennine Way passes through this attractive village which dates from the 14th century. With a youth hostel and several campsites, it’s a popular stopping off point for walkers. From here the Pennine Way goes north to Cross Fell and Alston, and east in a dog-leg to Teesdale. Dufton was a centre for lead mining, and the Quaker-owned London Lead Company which mined here between 1821 and 1873, provided housing, a school, a library and installed piped water. Before setting out we had tea at the Post Box Pantry in the village.

barytes, lead drift mine, dufton fell, dufton pike, rundale beck, threlkeld side

It’s a slow climb up the track towards Dufton Fell, past cone-like Dufton Pike, alongside Rundale Beck, and through the steep limestone walls of Threlkeld Side. All around were the remains of the lead miner’s drift mines, their smelting kilns, spillways, and spoil hummocks. Barytes (barium sulphate, a source of the metal barium) was also mined here in the late 1800s, and the dumps were worked for minerals in the 1980s.

great rundale tarn, tarn sike

Once onto the moors, there was a weather-beaten stone-built ‘shooting box’ at 2,224 feet, the highest point on our walk. It offers little relief from the wind for our short tea break, though the sun is out. Heading east along a stream bed we skirt Great Rundale Tarn, and follow its outlet, Tarn Sike, for several miles.

maize beck, maizebeck scar, tarn sike,

Many tributaries join the stream from the north. The path is hard to find and the stream has to be criss-crossed repeatedly. In wet weather the moor around Tarn Sike would be a soggy peaty mess. I don’t think we saw anybody, it was a remote spot. Tarn Sike turns south-east and eventually joins Maize Beck which becomes an unexpected trench-like gorge, Maizebeck Scar.

After a short distance Maize Beck turns again and flows north-east for four miles before joining the River Tees, which eventually flows into the North Sea, near to Cauldron Snout. The source of the Tees is to the north on Cross Fell, the highest point in the Pennines. But less than 500 yards away on High Cup Plain, a stream flows in the opposite direction over High Cup Nick and down to the River Eden, which flows into the Solway Firth on the west coast. High Cup Plain is a watershed between the east and west of England.

A sturdy all-weather bridge spans the scar, and an indistinct path crosses High Cup Plain towards High Cup Nick to the south-west. The map indicates there are ‘areas of shake holes’ on the plain. These are steep-sided, often conical, depressions in the ground formed through the collapse of the soil into rain-eroded cavities in the underlying limestone. The smaller ones are overgrown and hard to spot so we take care.

hadrian’s wall, great whin sill, high cup nick, high cup gill, u-shaped valley

High Cup Nick is a notch at the apex of the spectacular U-shaped glaciated valley of High Cup Gill. The horseshoe-shaped rim around the top end of the valley is formed of erosion resistant grey-blue crags of dolerite that are part of the Great Whin Sill. The sill was a tabular intrusion of igneous rock up to 70 metres thick that occurred across much of northern England some 295 million years ago. Hadrian’s Wall was built on exposures of the Great Whin Sill. At High Cup Nick the sill is exposed to dramatic effect, the dolerite having formed columns as the molten rock cooled and shrank.

The way back to Dufton is along the northern escarpment of the steeply sided valley of High Cup Gill. The track, called Narrow Gate, is on the Pennine Way, and it was indeed quite narrow in parts so again care was needed. Lower down, the well-worn and wide path passes through endless fields, but it is hard going. The Stag Inn in Dufton, which overlooks the village green and which was built in 1703, is a welcome sight.

Our walk was 9.7 miles long, the total ascent was 2,210 feet, and it took us the best part of six hours. The walk was taken from the Cicerone Guide Walking in Cumbria’s Eden Valley.

Day Two – Smardale Gillcrosby garrett

Five miles south-east cross-country from Drybeck Hall is the village of Crosby Garrett, the starting point of this anti-clockwise walk. An imposing railway viaduct passes over the southern edges of the village. I later discover that this is the renowned Settle to Carlisle railway, that the viaduct is 55 feet high, and that the village’s railway station closed in 1952.

smardale gill walk map

It’s raining as we leave the village under the viaduct on a short no-through-road heading south. After five minutes we leave the track and start a gradual climb across Crosby Garrett Fell. The directions for the walk quotes paths becoming fainter, gullies disappearing, and the need to keep going in the same direction over tussocky ground.

Unfortunately a mist descended and we lost whatever path we were supposed to be on. When the mist eventually lifted there was a great view of the Howgill Fells to the south, but it took some guesswork to locate where we were on the southern flanks of the fell. We unexpectedly cross over Wainwright’s 190-mile Coast to Coast Walk on a part of the fell called Begin Hill.

We found a path that took us off the fells and down to a new wooden gate at Severalls Gill. Crossing the footpath east-west was the cutting of a dismantled railway (photo below left). The rain eased a little and we had a damp but welcome tea break. Old railways make for easy and usually interesting walking so we set off eastwards full of expectation.

ravenstonedale, scandal beck, smardale bridge, wainwright coast to coast

The valley formed by Scandal Beck comes in from the south, and down below from the railway track, a packhorse bridge, Smardale Bridge (photo right) crossed the stream. What was striking was that this 18th century bridge (or 15th century depending on your source) just carried a bridleway; the nearest road is a mile away in Ravenstonedale. It was as if nothing had changed in a few hundred years. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk also crosses over this bridge and heads up east away from the valley to Kirkby Stephen.

A county road once crossed this bridge and there was once an inn close-by, the Scotch Ale House, for drovers bringing their livestock south from Scotland to markets in England. It is reputed that at the time of the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions, plotters supporting the Stuarts against the Hanoverians met at the ale house. On the surrounding hillsides are the remains of Romano-British settlements, medieval strip lynchets, man-made rabbit warrens called pillow mounds (known locally as Giant’s Graves), as well as disused quarries.

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‘More than 5,000,000 of these biscuits made and sold every week’. So it says on the wrapper of a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer which is made in the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston, a small town seven miles from Glasgow in Scotland. Five million bars is an impressive number of bars. If this is made up the number of the biscuits made in a week and the number sold in a week, it’s a bit like double counting.

tunnocks tea cakes, tunnocks boy

This is a box of 48 milk chocolate Tunnock’s Tea Cakes with the rosy-cheeked face of the Tunnock’s boy from the mid-1900s.

Tunnock’s, registered name Thomas Tunnock Limited, has two main lines, the Caramel Wafer and the Tunnock’s Tea Cake, both sold in milk or dark chocolate. A Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer is a bar of five layers of wafer, interspersed with four layers of caramel, and coated in chocolate, made from cocoa and milk solids. The milk chocolate wafers are wrapped in red and gold foil paper, the dark chocolate variety in blue and gold.

A Tunnock’s Tea Cake bears no relation to a teacake, which is a sweet roll with dried fruit added to the mix, which is usually served toasted and buttered. It consists of a small round shortbread biscuit covered with a dome of Italian meringue, a whipped egg white concoction similar to marshmallow, which is encased in a thin layer of milk or dark chocolate. The milk chocolate teacakes are wrapped in red and silver foil paper, the dark chocolate teacakes in blue and gold. Three million Tunnock’s Tea Cakes are sold and made every week.

tunnocks caramel wafers

Here’s a pack of eight dark chocolate Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.

Both the wrappers of the tea cakes and the wafers are ‘dead-wrapped’, that is without glue, so the wrappers come off quickly. There are two other Tunnock products, the Snowball, soft marshmallow with a chocolate flavoured coating, and the Caramel Log, a wafer and caramel biscuit, again with a chocolate flavoured coating, both sprinkled with roasted coconut.

tunnocks delivery van, bothwell, uddingston

Vans like this one were used to deliver Tunnock’s products to shops in the 1920s and 30s throughout the central belt of Scotland. Bothwell is where the factory is sited, a couple of miles from Uddingston.

The company was formed as Tunnock’s in 1890 by Thomas Tunnock, who was born in 1865, when he purchased a baker’s shop for £80 in Lorne Place in Uddingston. The two core products were introduced in the 1950s to replace cake which used sugar and fat that was still rationed after the Second World War, and which had a short-shelf life. The company is said to be the 20th oldest family firm in Scotland still in operation. It employs 520 staff and is headed by the grandson of Thomas, Boyd Tunnock CBE. The company has resisted pressure to make own brand biscuits for supermarkets. The face of the Tunnock’s Boy appears on much of the packaging of Tunnock’s products. You can read more about Tunnock’s and the factory in Uddingston here.

tunnocks caramel wafer

Grandson Daniel shows obvious delight in anticipation of what is believed to be his first Tunnock’s Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafer

In Scotland, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes have an iconic status, possibly evoking memories of childhood or symbolising ‘home’ for Scots around the world: the company exports to 30 countries, the biggest being Saudi Arabia. Factory tours are so popular that the there is a two-year-long waiting list. It is said that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service gives Tunnock’s Tea Cakes to blood donors after giving blood. Dundee University has a Tunnock’s Tea Cake Appreciation Society and St Andrews University in Fife has a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society.

Other products or brands have followers and fan clubs, one of the more well-known is the spotters club of Eddie Stobart trucks which has over 25,000 members. There is a fan club for the chocolate spread Nutella, and for the canned meat Spam. There is even a fan club for the penetrating oil WD40. Whether or not this is a case of a company seizing an opportunity, or an otherwise ordinary even dull product catching the public eye, I don’t know, but Tunnocks is in a different class. You can’t feel fondness for a truck surely.

Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate 1984-98, seems to have had a soft spot for Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers. He wrote three ditties on the back of wafer wrappers and donated them to the St Andrews’ appreciation society. One of them is now in the hands of the Scottish Poetry Society.

To have swallowed a Crocodile
Would make anybody smile
But to swallow a Caramel Wafer
Is safer

tunnocks tea cakes, glasgow, commonwealth games, celtic park

At the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games on 23 July 2014, dancers dressed as Tunnock’s Tea Cakes had a starring role as they pranced around Celtic Park stadium.

Tunnock’s Tea Cakes may have iconic status, but to me Tunnocks still sounds mildly humorous, a bit like tussocks, or the Trossachs, a range of hills north of Glasgow. It’s a catchy name, and it’s a big name. The Tour of Mull, an annual car rally held on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, has been sponsored by Tunnock’s since 2005. Promotional items such as teacake and wafer wrapper tea towels, aprons, cushions, tote bags, umbrellas and mugs, and even a Tunnocks truck and a van, are produced by a Glasgow-based firm, Orb. In 2013, Tunnock’s agreed that the supermarket giant, Tesco, could sell its promotional items.

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It’s not everyday there’s a victory against the march of change where market forces so often prevail regardless of the consequences. A victory for simple things, for the old ways, for something that should be cherished.

brads tea hut, bikers tea hut, motor biker, fairmead road, epping forest

The tea hut at Fairmead Road in the heart of Epping Forest.

In Epping Forest, the ancient woodland and former royal forest of over 6,000 acres that straddles the border between north-east Greater London and Essex, there are two ‘tea huts’. Here for as long as people can remember, walkers, bikers, runners, cyclists and all sorts have stopped off for a cup of tea and to have a chat. One hut is just north of High Beach, near the Kings Oak public house, where there is quite a large open space, and it is here that large numbers of people come in the summer. The other tea hut is south of High Beach at the start of old Fairmead Road, near to the Robin Hood Pub roundabout on Epping New Road, the A104.

The hut is a gathering place for motor bikers, cyclists, horse riders, rangers, tradesmen stopping off in their vans for a tea break, blokes with looked-after retro cars, local people just dropping by, as well as a host of regular users of the forest. Some may have known the hut as Bert’s Tea Hut as it was run for many years by Bert Miller. Nowadays, it’s run by Bradley Melton, Bert’s grandson, and it’s known as the Biker’s Tea Hut or to others as Brad’s Tea Hut.

brads tea hut, bikers tea hut, epping forest, dave twitchett, john betjeman, candida lycett green

David Twitchett told the Friends of Epping Forest of his cycling memories from the Fifties, and on the left is a photo he took of the tea hut as it was at the time. On the right is a photo from the 1999 book Betjeman’s Britain compiled by his daughter Candida Lycett Green. The photographer is unidentified but the photo is dated October 1955.

Apart from a hut that’s painted green with a hatch and a side door, there’s only outdoor wooden benches, but the atmosphere is as far away as you can imagine from a high street coffee shop. And that’s its attraction. Whatever the weather (though a gazebo is put up if it’s raining hard), the tea hut is open 361 days of the year, with a fair range of hot and cold food and drinks at very reasonable prices, delivered cheerfully and efficiently, though don’t expect a cappuccino or a panini.

epping forest, edward mcknight kauffer, underground electric railways company

A pre-London Transport poster from 1920 by Edward McKnight Kauffer

In June last year, the City of London Corporation, who manage Epping Forest, announced that the ‘Mobile Refreshment Facility’ at Hill Wood, that is Brad’s Tea Hut, the lease on which was due to expire in December, was to be put out to tender. The reason given was that due to reductions of 12½ % in the budget for the management of the forest, the Corporation needed to ‘ensure value for money on its licensed outlets’. A ‘Service Statement Guide’ was issued with the invitations to tender. Item 7 said:

The Tenant will be expected to employ friendly and helpful staff with good communication and customer service skills with the necessary experience to perform duties efficiently and effectively. Staff are expected to be able to speak fluently to patrons and conduct themselves professionally at all times. Ongoing statutory training and customer care training should be provided.

Like many of the clauses in this guide, this was window dressing: it is only what may be desirable, rather than what is required. So having decided to go out for tender, the Corporation under pressure of budget cuts, would be looking more at the size of the bids than whether a bidder can offer anything better than what is provided already. What the existing customers thought didn’t seem to come into it.

Bradley’s family has been running the tea hut in one form or another for 84 years. Ernie Miller, Bradley’s great-uncle started the business in a mobile unit in 1930 which he towed up to High Beach. Ernie passed it over to his brother Bert, and after that Bradley’s grandmother, Min ran the hut, when it was known as ‘Min’s’. So Bradley Melton was going to have to tender for his own business so he could continue to serve the customers that had been built up by successive members of his family over the past eight decades.

save the tea hut petition, city of london corporation, steve barron, paul morris, ralph ankers, epping forest, bikers tea hut

Tea Hut campaigners Steve Barron, Paul Morris and Ralph Ankers delivered the petition on 27 June. This was reported as far afield as the Lancashire Telegraph!

What happened next was that a petition, Save The Tea Hut, was launched by Paul Morris, a familiar face at the hut. Within a few weeks the petition gathered 9,000 signatures. The local newspaper, the Epping Forest Guardian took up the fight, as did the local MP for Epping Forest Eleanor Laing who said that the strength of local feeling should be considered in the tendering process. The petition, which called for the Corporation not to put the lease of the tea hut out to tender, was delivered to the Corporation. Whilst the delegation was welcomed into the offices at the City Guildhall, the Corporation later decided that tendering would go ahead in order to ‘test the market’.

brian dean, her majesty the queen, eric pickles, bikers tea hut, high beach, epping forest

The reply to Brian Dean said that ‘Her Majesty has taken careful note of your concern … however this is not a matter in which The Queen would personally intervene’. Nevertheless the letter was passed onto the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, who is also the MP for neighbouring Brentwood and Ongar.

One of the supporters, Brian Dean wrote to the Queen asking her ‘to intervene in the decision to tender out the tea hut at High Beach and, if at all possible, to put the necessary pressure in the right place that can cause this comedy of errors to be overturned’.

Someone posted on Facebook:

Over the years many people have used the hut as a focus for remembering relatives and friends that have passed on. Many people’s ashes have been scattered there, and there are many echoes of friends and loved ones that have been part of the 80-year-old community surrounding the place. People may well be gone, but they are remembered.

Bradley Melton put in his bid by the deadline of 18 July, and waited.

Paul Morris posted on Facebook:

That’s it, the chance to tender for the tea hut is over. We now have to wait and see if the views of the thousands of people that use this facility is listened to or not. Heritage, history, and family ties with the people and the past are hard to value but to thousands of us they are of paramount importance. To break such ties for us is not conservation, it is a disregard of the history and the wishes of thousands of people who wish to see the hut remain as it is with the same person running it.

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Daughter Anna Gryce had a further success at the Lambeth Horticultural Society Show, this time at the Summer Show on 7 September 2013.

Her two exhibits in the ‘Dark and Light’ photographic class won first prize, and best exhibit in the photographic section!

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Dark’
The train in Sharpthorne Tunnel

The original photographs were taken from a steam hauled train on the Bluebell Railway heritage line in West Sussex as the train approached Sharpthorne Tunnel between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote stations.

The image of the train in the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘dark’. In this photograph, the red from the fire of the engine is reflected on the tunnel roof and the light from the carriages reflects off the smoke and the stone ballast of the track.

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Light’
The train enters Sharpthorne Tunnel

The image of the train as it is about to enter the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘light’. Here the light from the sky and the smoke from the engine merge into one.

Incidentally the wooden carriages are from the London Metropolitan Railway and date from 1900.

Anna’s previous success at the show can be seen here.

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diana princess of wales, fountain, hyde park, london, anti-clockwise

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London.
Children are walking along the fountain in an anti-clockwise direction

I was at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, a few weeks ago with my eight-year old grand-daughter. As the official website says ‘water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom’. Although the information on the site says visitors should ‘feel free to sit on the edge of the Memorial and refresh your feet’, it adds ‘visitors are asked not to walk on the Memorial’. Well when I was there, on a pleasant sunny weekday afternoon, it is hardly surprising that a couple of hundred children were walking and running all over the circular memorial having some outdoor fun.

My grand-daughter completed about a half a dozen circuits of the fountain, following and then passing groups of children, never seeming to get tired of going round and round. Then all of a sudden she was walking through the water in the opposite direction to virtually everybody else. Well, so what? But it struck me that everyone was moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the fountain (counter-clockwise in the USA). There wasn’t a notice telling the children that they had to move in a particular direction (after all they were only supposed to be splashing their toes in the water), nor was there any discernible difference between the two halves of the circular fountain that might influence the direction that the first children to arrive at the fountain in the morning, might take. Obviously once the early arrivals went in one direction, then the others coming after would be influenced to walk in the same direction, but was anti-clockwise the preferred direction?

roger bannister, athlete, running, oxford, four-minute mile

Roger Bannister becomes the first person to break the four-minute mile, running anti-clockwise, at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on 6 May 1954, in a time of 3 min 59.4 sec

Athletes on tracks throughout the world run in an anti-clockwise direction. ‘Left hand inside’ was adopted at the first London Olympics in 1908 and it has been used ever since. However the UK Amateur Athletic Association left open the choice of direction and as late as 1948, Oxford University athletes still ran clockwise. Some of the reasons advanced for this are, firstly, that with the majority of humans being right-handed, the same applies to your feet, so you push off with your right foot, and you are automatically steered in an anti-clockwise direction. Secondly, with the heart being on the left-hand side of our bodies, running anti-clockwise is more comfortable and reduces the stress on the heart.

One study though showed that statistically people tend to turn left more easily than right, although the variability is large. This may suggest that running in a left-hand turn (anti-clockwise) is easier than in a right-hand turn (clockwise). But why? Well the study concluded that ‘veering is related to a sense of straight ahead that could be shaped by vestibular inputs’. Whatever that means, it suggests that the two reasons given earlier are incorrect.

The anti-clockwise rule also applies to ice-skating, roller-skating, ballroom dancing, and apparently to aircraft in the circuit waiting to land. But this doesn’t seem to prove much as it doesn’t apply to horse-racing, which can be clockwise or anti-clockwise, nor to motor racing, which is predominantly run clockwise.

But for the children going round the Memorial Fountain, it does seem that anti-clockwise is their preferred direction.

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