Friday, 1 November 2019

Siemens Museum - another episode



During the progress of the project tensions soon began to appear. John Arnold became increasingly impatient with Dr.Sutton's detachment and inability to see the need for keeping to schedules. Sutton's reminiscences of his childhood and early career, while interesting, wasted precious time at the all too short meetings. I remember that on one occasion a map of the Woolwich Works from the 1880s was produced. In one department it showed 'winwoms'. Dr Sutton described how as a boy if he asked his father what he was doing and his father felt it was too complicated to explain, would say "I am making a winwom for a duck's foot." He had assumed it was a nonsense word. He asked Brian and me to look into this, but was persuaded that this could be left till after the meeting. Later we did make some attempt to find out what the word meant but we were not successful

Terry restored the Master Clock to working order, and, running it off large dry cells, set it to make two torch bulbs flash in different parts of the room at thirty second intervals. John found this particularly irritating, and we agreed with Terry to disconnect the batteries.

At another meeting I mentioned in passing that, putting together two of the notices from the Science Museum exhibition, it appeared that William Siemens had been buried in Westminster Abbey eight months before his death. Dr Sutton was particularly intrigued with this, telephoning the museum there and then, and speaking to various people, including the organiser. At least twenty minutes were spent on this exercise He was told that none of the visitors during the six months of the display had commented on this John Arnold was fairly abrasive to me afterwards for raising a point which led to such a waste of precious time, but we remained on good terms. On another occasion Dr Sutton left the room to go to the lavatory but failed to re appear. Eventually we checked the car park to discover that he had driven away, presumably forgetting that he was at a meeting.

One constant bone of contention was the decision of what to display, on which Dr Sutton constantly changed his mind John Arnold had plan and elevation drawings of 'each display cabinet, on which he stuck scale drawings of each exhibit, which were constantly being repositioned. On one occasion when Dr Sutton wanted to introduce some new exhibits, John pointed out there was not room to accommodate them The display cabinets were already under construction and it was far to late to change them or build more. Dr Sutton then suggested that we use some trestle tables, which were stored in the basement. John was aghast saying 'but we can't use those dirty' old tables amongst our beautiful walnut display cabinets'. Dr Sutton then suggested getting Thunder & Lightning to scrub the tables. He was eventually persuaded to drop the trestle table idea.

John Arnold became increasingly worried and tense as the deadline approached, though always good humoured. He said on several occasions "This place is really mad. Even the radiators are half way up the wall", a reference to the unusual positioning of the radiators. A lot depended on the success of the exhibition; a fiasco would jeopardise his chances of future contracts, and a fiasco attended by a member of the Royal Family would be even more damaging.

Things were not helped by the deterioration of Terry Card's attitude. Initially, when he was rather awed to be reporting directly to a director, his work was excellent. Later, as he realised that there was no firm control, his timekeeping became poor and his workmanship sloppy. This put Brian Rispoli and myself in a very difficult position; we had no authority over him, and he treated our attempts to pressure him with amusement. Dr Sutton would not respond to even the broadest of hints from us. We did win a wordy battle over the Soot Writer which here-varnished with varnish unevenly mixed with gold size, resulting in a patchy ginger effect. He eventually agreed to strip and re-varnish the instrument properly.  Fortunately Brian and I remained on good terms throughout.

This episode appeared in GIHS Newsletter for October 1999

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