Saturday, 2 November 2019

Siemens Museum The Duke of Edinburgh's Visit

- Iain Lovell concludes his article on the Siemens Museum

On some matters however Dr Sutton was quite adamant. He wanted any exhibit  that could be made to work to be available for visitors to operate. Thus the water meter had to be connected to a power supply so that it could be operated by a push button. The Alphabetic Telegraph presented problems, as we had only one instrument containing transmitter and receiver The receiving dial was removed from its wooden housing, and set up at the opposite end of the display cabinet, connected by two wires emerging from the hole where it (the receiver) had been fixed. A glass pane was left out of the cabinet so that visitors could reach the transmitter handle to operate it. He reluctantly agreed that it would be impractical to have the visitor operate the Morse Inker or Soot Writer, and settled for messages on the paper tape, described above. We had attempted, at his request, to use the Sound Powered Telephone in conjunction with a modem earpiece. Much to John Arnold's relief these experiments failed, possibly because of mismatching impedances. When I told John that the Victoria Lamp was blown (though not that I had blown it) his comment was “thank God for that".

Another matter of contention was the Cable with the Ends Teased Out. John had identified as one of his themes for the exhibition the fact that early telephone distribution systems used huge arrays of wires on poles, which in modem times had been replaced with multicore cables. We had several excellent Edwardian photographs of streets festooned with wires, it only remained to acquire eighteen inches or so of modern multicore cable, and teased out the ends of the various layers to show how many there were. Terry Card knew the foreman of the shop where it was made, and offered to get an offcut. Dr Sutton felt that he should approach the manager of the Cable Division officially, as it would otherwise "upset a lot of people “. He also doubted Terry's ability tease out the ends neatly, rather an uncomplimentary remark to an instrument maker. However, the request was made, and weeks went by with nothing appearing, despite constant chivvying. We would sometimes sing about The Cable with the Ends Teased Out to the tune of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top". Eventually, a few days before the visit, the exhibit appeared It was a display stand made of pine and covered with treacle varnish, into which were mounted about a dozen or so communications and light power cables, including coaxial wiring.  Far from demonstrating the compression of a festoon of wires into one neat cable, it suggested the substitution of one muddle for another. The effect was totally ruined. Terry renewed his offer to get some multicore cable, but Dr Sutton turned this down as he felt the Cable Division would be upset "after taking all that trouble'.

Eventually the time came to set up the exhibition. I was very impressed when I saw the walnut display cabinets for the first time. The legs were slightly curved and tapering along their length and also curved in section. The curves were continued into the upper part of the cabinet. Although of modern design (in 1958) they perfectly complimented the Victorian panelling of the library, each being related to the appropriate panel sizes. Inside, they were fitted with platforms of various heights, mounted inconspicuously on steel rods, all painted matt black, and tailored in size to match the exhibit to be displayed It gave the impression that the exhibits were floating within the cabinet. I was amazed that four slender rods could support quite comfortably the weight of the W40 Magneto Electric Machine. The notices were printed by a photographic process on to matt white panels, each supported by a rod of appropriate height. There were also panels with drawings reproduced from Victorian books and journals.

Setting up was not without its problems. We checked all the notices immediately and found a few with spelling mistakes, which had to be sent back and corrected. Two of the historic light bulbs, which appeared to have standard bayonet bases, were in fact a little too large to fit the modern lamp holders fitted in the display cases. A little gentle easing with pliers was necessary. Various office and shop floor workers seemed to be constantly moving in and out, sometimes meddling with the exhibits. The water meter was switched on before the circuit was sealed, splashing water everywhere.

The library was close to the offices of several senior executives, including that of Dr John Aldington, the managing director, who was out of the country until a few days before the visit. His secretary a statuesque, impeccably coiffured blonde with icy blue eyes and clicking high heels, made no attempt to hide her distaste for our presence. Surveying the packaging, tools and other items strewn about the floor as we worked, she would say "Oh dear, this dreadful mess will have to be cleared before The Doctor returns'. "The Doctor" was the expression she always used when referring to Dr Aldington. She looked particularly disapproving when she spotted the tank suit I used as a motorcycling outfit folded up with a crash helmet resting on it. Dr Sutton gave us a key, and permission to use the executive washroom nearby, which was invaluable as we needed constant to wash our hands, and required water to clean up parts of the exhibition fill the water meter etc. Executives coming in to find us there would at first look startled, then disapprovingly raise their eyebrows.

The most serious problem, which infuriated John Arnold, was the sudden and completely unannounced installation of radiators in the library. The display cabinets no longer fitted in the room. No one seemed to know who had ordered the work, when or why Appeals to get the work stopped, or at any rate deferred till after the visit, were to no avail. By moving two cabinets into the centre of the room John was able at least to keep the remaining cabinets against the wall, but the overall effect was greatly impaired. The final disaster came when workmen came to paint the radiators a muddy brown the day before the visit. They were by this time in use and hot, and gave off clouds of steaming paint. The stench was appalling. John appealed for something to absorb the smell, and in response crystalline tablets, of the type designed to disinfect lavatories, were placed in the room. This had the effect of making it smell like a lavatory. Half an hour or so before the Duke of Edinburgh's visit John Arnold was trying to dissipate the smell by flapping sheets of newspaper: This greatly amused the people who trundled through but did not amuse John Arnold at all.

The Duke of Edinburgh's visit was by most accounts very successful. On his arrival he was treated to a lecture illustrated with a large carefully drawn map of the works, with his planned itinerary clearly marked fn blue. Predictably, he soon broke away from this as was his wont on such occasions, and entered areas which had not been prepared for him. Some operatives, suddenly recognising him, cowered behind their machines, but were quickly reassured by his outgoing and friendly manner. He was taken into the museum, but made no attempt to play with any of the toys so carefully prepared for him. If he noticed the smell, he made no comment on it . He was in the room less than two minutes, and made some such remark as "Interesting set of old stuff you’ve got here" He was clearly more interested in talking to people than in looking at historic artefacts I am quite confident that I have not in any way reduced the quality of his life by depriving him of the opportunity to illuminate a glass effigy' of his great great grandmother in law.

This article appeared in the GIHS Newsletter January 2000

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