Tokyo Skytree

Skytree Tower, Tokyo, Japan

Skytree Tower, Tokyo, Japan

The successor to the Tokyo Tower, transmitting digital broadcasting signals and other communications across the region, is the Tokyo Skytree, which, at 634 metres, is almost twice the size of its predecessor.  It claims to be the tallest tower in the world, and the second-tallest structure, after the 830-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Its design is both practical and elegant.  The footprint is an equilateral triangle, surrounding the central core, and the external lattice transitions gradually to a cylinder at around 350 metres.  There are two public observatories at 350 and 450 metres.

It was built 2008-2012 on the site of the Tobu Railway’s Narihirabashi Station, now renamed Tokyo Skytree Station, four miles north-east of Tokyo’s central station.  The railway company is a major investor in the tower and the commercial development around its base.

In a location prone to earthquakes the Skytree is seismic proofed, with a suite of devices including the same sort of tuned mass damper that stabilises the CityCorp Center in New York City.

Its colouring is carefully chosen:  it is painted a special blue-white, and is lit sky blue and purple on alternate nights.

The Tokyo Tower and the Toyko Skytree represent the best and most beautiful solutions to the same problem, a generation apart.

And now the city has two landmark high towers.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower, Japan

Tokyo Tower, Japan

When Gustave Eiffel received criticism over the appearance of his 1889 tower in Paris, he simply replied that he’d done the maths and the shape required to withstand the physical forces bearing on the structure was also the best aesthetic solution to the design.

Indeed, the shape has proved impossible to improve.  The canny Lancashire proprietors of the half-size version in Blackpool built a three-storey entertainment complex around the legs, with a circus at its base.   Sir Edward Watkin, the British railway magnate, began an abortive giant version next to the Metropolitan Railway at Wembley, where the stadium was later built.

Over thirty replicas – some closer to the original than others – have been built:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower_replicas_and_derivatives.

Of all these tributes to Eiffel’s design, there is no more sincere example of flattery than the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, at a time of recovery from the devastation of war, to provide broadcasting transmitters for radio and television.

It stands on top of a hill in the Shiba-koen district, and has always been distinctively painted in white and international orange to satisfy the requirements of air safety.  In 1987 the original outline lighting was replaced by a more flexible floodlight system by Motoko Ishii, varying the customary colours, white in summer and orange the rest of the year,

At 333 metres, it was for long the tallest structure in Japan, and exceeds the height of the Paris tower by precisely thirteen metres.

At the base is a visitor-reception building, FootTown, which is not integrated into the structure as in Blackpool.  It’s possible to ascend to two observatories, at 150 and 250 metres respectively.  Indeed, those who wish can climb 660 steps to the first observatory by a staircase from the roof of FootTown.

The Tokyo Tower is not tall enough to provide full digital coverage across the region, but it will continue to carry FM transmitters and act as a limited digital back-up, and its status as a landmark and a tourist attraction seems secure.

Liberty enlightening the World

Statue of Liberty, New York City

Statue of Liberty, New York City

Every citizen of the USA, unless they are a Native American, is by definition the descendant of immigrants.

Something approaching 40% of the current population of the United States can claim ancestry from immigrants who entered through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, arriving under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty.

‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ is the full title of the great copper colossus, perhaps the most famous of all the visual symbols of the city and the nation, designed by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904).

The statue was financed by the voluntary subscription of the French people at a cost of $250,000 “to commemorate the alliance of the two nations in achieving the independence of the United States of America”.

Though the American people were happy to accept the gift, they proved reluctant to subscribe to the cost of the pedestal until Joseph Pultizer, in the editorial columns of the New York World, galvanised public energy into sufficient fund-raising:

It would be an irrevocable disgrace to New York City and the American Republic to have France send us this splendid gift without our having provided even so much as a landing place for it.

It is ironic that even the Statue of Liberty had problems securing a landing here.

The famous figure of a robed woman, stepping forward bearing a flaming torch in her right hand, is formed of copper sheets 3/32 of an inch thick.  The suggestion to use this material, shaped by repoussé hammering, came from the architect Eugène Viollet le Duc, and the problem of supporting it was resolved by the engineer Gustave Eiffel who designed the framework and armature on which the copper sheets are mounted with sufficient flexibility to absorb changes in temperature and the effects of wind.

Fabrication initially took place in Paris, where it gradually dominated the streets surrounding Bartholdi’s studio, after which it was dismantled and shipped across in 214 large crates.

The location in New York Harbour, formerly known as Bedloe’s Island, was chosen by Bartholdi.  The structure stands on the foundation of the former Fort Wood, in the shape of an eleven-pointed star:  the stone pedestal is itself 89 feet high, and the torch of the statue rises to 151 feet above ground-level.

The statue’s size, though it looks insignificant across the distance of the Harbour, is prodigious – the eyes are each two feet wide, and the right arm and torch, which were displayed as a separate unit at the Centennial exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876, are 42 feet high.

This magnificently flamboyant project came to final fruition in 1886, when the completed structure was dedicated by President Cleveland.

Its visual impact was immediately enhanced in the public consciousness by Emma Lazarus’ famous poem written in 1883:

…From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The word ‘iconic’ is heavily overused, yet ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ is an icon, to everyone from the protesters in Tiananmen Square to Kate Winslet’s character, Rose, in the 1997 film Titanic, as it might be to the property developer and TV show presenter, descended from German and Scottish immigrants, who became the 45th President.

Which is why it’s both distressing and heartening that a protester against Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban was photographed carrying a placard with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…”

La Tour Eiffel

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower, like the London Eye, was intended to have a limited life.

The most memorable creation of the prolific engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was devised as the centrepiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, marking the centenary of the start of the French Revolution.

Eiffel was not at first interested in the proposal of its initiators, his colleagues Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier.  He rose to the challenge because his experience of working with wrought iron in structural engineering made him the pre-eminent specialist in his field:  no contemporary could have accomplished so elegant a solution.

Eiffel had made his name as a bridge-builder – in particular for the magnificent Maria Pia Bridge (1876-7, 353 metres high) in Portugal, and the Garabit Viaduct, (1882-5, 565 metres high), in the French Massif Central.  Both are higher than the Eiffel Tower, which was ultimately 324 metres high, and both consist of an elegant arch which supports piers carrying the deck.

The Tower’s appearance challenged the traditionalists – Guy de Maupassant took to eating in its restaurant, declaring it was the only place in Paris where he couldn’t see it – but Eiffel insisted its daring design had its own aesthetic, “Do not the laws of natural forces always conform to the secret laws of harmony?”.

More importantly, Eiffel intended it to be useful for scientific experiments, some of which he carried out from a private apartment at the top.   After the exhibition and his subsequent withdrawal from engineering work, he conducted experiments in aerodynamics, set up a meteorological station and encouraged its use as a communications tower.

When Eiffel’s licence to operate the tower ran out in 1909 the City of Paris intended to dismantle it, but its value as a mast in the early days of wireless telegraphy, later known as radio, along with its status as an emblem ensured its survival.

It proved almost immediately useful in the First World War to jam the radio signals of the German army advancing on France.

In the Second World War French partisans made sure it was practically useless to the Nazis by cutting the lift-cables.

It is still used as the primary transmitter of digital radio and TV in the Paris region, and is the most visited paid monument in the world.  More than 650 million visitors have taken the vertiginous ride to at least one of the three levels.

The London Eye

London Eye

London Eye

Whenever I pass the London Eye, the great Ferris Wheel on the South Bank, I marvel at its audacity and reflect that the original planning permission for its construction envisaged it would be dismantled in 2005.

It was designated the Millennium Wheel, and intended to mark the start of a new epoch.  Now it’s become an integral part of the 21st-century London skyline, even though it has been superseded as the tallest viewpoint by the Shard observation deck and is no longer the largest Ferris wheel in the world, an accolade successively claimed in Nanchang, Singapore and Las Vegas.

The concept and the construction process were daring.  The husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks enlisted a team of specialists to construct the components downstream and float them to the South Bank location for assembly.

Manufacture was, appropriately for the period, a European enterprise, involving contractors from the UK, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy.

Raising the wheel took two weekends.  During the intervening week it was held at a seemingly precarious angle of 65° over the river.

Its ceremonial opening by Tony Blair on New Year’s Eve 1999 was a deception:  technical problems delayed public access until the following March.

The Daily Telegraph’s architecture critic, Giles Worsley, complained in 2002 [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3574331/Pull-down-the-London-Eye.html] about plans to retain the Eye, as it had become known, and suggested moving it to Crystal Palace.

Lambeth Borough Council, however, was never likely to reject such a successful tourist magnet on its patch.

By 2015 it had had 60 million visitors, 5,000 of whom have proposed marriage during their half hour spin on the wheel.

It has repeatedly changed ownership since 2000, and has been rebranded at frequent intervals.

It has to make money, and it brings money to the South Bank.

It’s difficult to imagine London without it.

Magna

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

When I grew up in the East End of Sheffield in the 1950s the streetscape was dominated, throughout Brightside, Attercliffe and Tinsley, by the forbidding black corrugated-iron sheds that housed the heavy steel industry that enriched Sheffield and Rotherham.

Templeborough, just over the border from the city of Sheffield in the borough of Rotherham, took its name from a Roman fort (erroneously thought by antiquarians to be a temple) dated circa AD54.  From the site on the valley floor the Romans kept an eye on the local Brigantes’ fort on Wincobank hill and, it seems, operated a small ironworks.

Water-powered mills existed at Templeborough and Ickles (named from the Roman Icknield Street) throughout the Middle Ages and up to the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The Phoenix Bessemer Steel Company began making railway rails on the site in 1871 but went bankrupt four years later.  One of the partners, Thomas Hampton, joined Henry Steel and William Peech, businessmen and lifelong friends married to each other’s sisters, in a new enterprise.  Mr Hampton was quickly superseded by the experienced steel manufacturer Edward Tozer:  the new name, Steel, Peech & Tozer, became celebrated in the South Yorkshire steel industry.

In 1897 Steel, Peech & Tozer replaced their Bessemer converters with open-hearth furnaces, and during the First World War erected their melting shop and rolling mills, then the largest in Europe, on the site of the Roman fort.

This great works was amalgamated into the combine United Steel Companies in 1918, briefly nationalised in 1951-3 and again, as part of the British Steel Corporation, in 1967, reprivatized and renationalised and then merged with a Dutch concern to become the private enterprise Corus.

Along with the adjacent Brinsworth Hot Strip Mill, opened in 1957, this huge steelworks achieved high productivity after the original open-hearth furnaces were replaced by electric-arc furnaces.  When the last of these was commissioned in 1965 the works used as much electricity as the entire borough of Rotherham.

As the British steel industry went into steep decline, the Templeborough mill went cold and dark in 1993, until a half-mile stretch of the buildings was converted in 2001 to a science-based educational attraction, Magna, designed by the prestigious architectural practice WilkinsonEyre, in conjunction with engineering consultancies Mott MacDonald and Buro Happold.

Now this huge space, dramatically lit, commemorates the drama and magnificence of the heavy steel industry at its height, with the redundant furnaces reactivated by clever lighting and special effects to reproduce the “Big Melt” as a spectacle.

By this means it’s possible to experience the entire history of steel in Sheffield and Rotherham in sequence from the modest water-powered works at Abbeydale and the Shepherd Wheel, through the interpretive displays at Kelham Island, ending at the haunting space and pyrotechnics of Magna:  https://www.visitmagna.co.uk.

Magna, along with the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, all feature in the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Exploring Tasmania – Lenna

Lenna, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Lenna, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

My excellent travel-agent Lisa Machin at Sheffield Travel Centre Ltd [http://www.sheffieldtravel.net] has a knack of finding comfortable hotels for me even in unlikely places, and sometimes she excels herself.

From the bottom of the hill the Lenna Hotel, Hobart [http://www.lenna.com.au] looks like a conventional block of modern hotel rooms built above a carpark.  It’s only when the taxi turns into the entrance that Lenna itself, a largely intact and well-restored Victorian villa, comes into view.  The rooms, therefore, are modern and fully up to specification;  the lobby, lounge and restaurant are splendidly Victorian.  I was very happy to spend my stay in Hobart there.

Lenna – the word apparently the Tasmanian indigenous word for ‘house’ or ‘hut’ – was built on what was then a bare hillside overlooking the harbour by a whaling captain and ship-owner, James Bayley (1823-1894), in the 1860s.

It was bought by Bayley’s brother-in-law, the ship-owner and merchant Alexander McGregor (1821-1896), whose brother John had built the Gothic Hillcrest next door.  James Bayley requested that the original hip-roofed house should not be destroyed, and so Alexander McGregor incorporated it into the taller Italianate structure that he built between 1874 and 1880.

Mr McGregor could observe maritime comings and goings in Hobart harbour from his lookout at the top of the house.  The current hotel-owners are rightly proud of this and make it accessible to guests.

In other parts of the world this feature is known as a “widow’s walk”, presumably because it allowed widows during heavy mourning to take exercise unobserved while etiquette prevented them appearing in public.

Eventually, in 1914, the house passed to Sir Alfred Ashbolt (1870-1930), a rich businessman described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as the “undisputed leader of the commercial community in southern Tasmania” in the final years of his life.

Lenna eventually became a hotel in 1973 and now belongs to Lloyd and Jan Clark, who treasure its original features.

Steaming to Dartmouth

Kingswear Station, Dartmouth Steam Railway:  British Railways locomotive 7827, Lydham Manor

Kingswear Station, Dartmouth Steam Railway: British Railways locomotive 7827, Lydham Manor

The Dartmouth Steam Railway is part of an exceptional heritage-railway enterprise which operates as a full commercial operation, with a small amount of volunteer help at one of the five stations.

The original railway, the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, opened between Paignton and Churston in 1861 and to Kingswear in 1864.  The Kingswear terminus connected by ferry with Dartmouth, where there remains a railway station that has never seen a train, like the former station at Hull (Corporation Pier).  An independent branch line three miles long, the Torbay & Brixham Railway, opened from Churston into Brixham in 1868.  The two railways were absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1876 and 1883 respectively.

Both branches carried heavy passenger traffic until the 1960s, when the Brixham branch closed in 1963 and most through trains to Kingswear were cut back in 1966.

Complete closure was avoided when the Dart Valley Railway Co Ltd, which had been set up to run what is now the South Devon Railway between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, agreed to purchase the Paignton-Kingswear line directly from British Rail.  The last BR train ran on December 30th 1971 and the first service by the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway, as it was then called, began on January 1st 1972.

The £250,000 cost of the purchase was balanced by the sale of surplus land, including a hotel in Kingswear, and astute management has kept pace with demand from holidaymakers as well as rail enthusiasts ever since.

While the Dartmouth Steam Railway has developed as a commercial enterprise, the former Dart Valley Railway, now the South Devon Railway, has remained a volunteer operation, successful enough to purchase the freehold of its trackbed and premises from the Dartmouth Steam Railway PLC in 2010.

There’s more to the Paignton-Kingswear railway than trains.  As the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company it runs a fleet of river boats between Kingswear and Dartmouth, and between Dartmouth and Totnes, and its vintage bus service no 100 connects Totnes Quay with the rebuilt GWR-style railway station at Paignton (Queens Park) so that, tide permitting, it’s possible to make a full circuit within the day.

The railway also opened Greenway Halt in 2012, providing direct access to the Agatha Christie estate, Greenway, a National Trust property.

The combination of glorious seaside, heritage transport and the beauty of the River Dart and its estuary make the Kingswear peninsula a magnet for visitors.

All this is accessible by means of the Round Robin ticket [http://www.dartmouthrailriver.co.uk/tours/round-robin], as well as a variety of other options to suit individual visitors’ inclinations.

The Railways of Devon (June 12th-16th 2017) tour includes a visit to the Dartmouth Steam Railway as part of a rail, bus and riverboat Round Robin tour of the Dart estuary.  For further details, please click here.

The branch line that Beeching opened

Buckfastleigh Station, South Devon Railway

Buckfastleigh Station, South Devon Railway

Dr Richard Beeching could open the heritage railway then called the Dart Valley Railway with a clear conscience, because it was not one of the railways that his now notorious Report had closed.

The branch line from Totnes to Ashburton, opened in 1872, had never made a worthwhile profit.  The company that built it, the Buckfastleigh, Totnes & South Devon Railway, eventually sold out to the operator, by then the Great Western Railway, at a huge loss in 1897, and by the 1930s the three stations were between them selling less than twenty tickets a day.

The last passenger train ran on November 3rd 1958 and freight continued until September 1962.  Although Dr Beeching had been appointed Chairman of the British Railways Board in 1961, the first of his two reports, The Reshaping of British Railways, came out in 1963.  Dr Beeching returned to his substantive post at ICI in 1965.

The branch line reopened as the Dart Valley Railway in April 1969.  Because service trains had always used the main-line platform at Totnes station, rather than a bay platform, access to heritage trains at Totnes remained a problem for years, until the specially constructed riverside station short of the main-line junction, Totnes (Littlehempston), was linked by a pedestrian footbridge in 1993.

Since 1991 this charming little line has been operated by the South Devon Railway Trust.  It carries far more passengers – around 100,000 a year – than it ever did as a commercial railway.

In the early days, until 1971, the Dart Valley Railway trains operated all the way to Ashburton, but an upgrade of the A38 trunk road blocked the trackbed and the terminus ever since has been Buckfastleigh.

That might seem to be the end of the matter, but Ashburton station remains intact, and the Friends of Ashburton Station [https://friendsofashburtonstation.co.uk] have put forward a business case for retaining the station’s environs and restoring the rail connection with Buckfastleigh.  Their report itemises nine such unlikely reinstatements, ranging from the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways to the linking of the two Great Central Railway lines at Loughborough:  http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/549983/FoAS-Proposal.compressed.compressed.pdf.

The South Devon Railway Trust has committed to supporting this venture, though the process of enlisting local community support is delicate:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/ashburtonstation (see January 16th 2017 post).

The chairman of the Trust, Allan Taylor, provided a statement of his board’s position under the heading ‘Background information’ at http://everythinggwr.com/save-ashburton-station.

In the meantime, on high days and holidays, there is a rail replacement bus service between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton:  http://www.rm1872.org.uk.

The Railways of Devon (June 12th-16th 2017) tour includes a visit to the South Devon Railway.  For further details, please click here.

Under the radar

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993);  detail

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993); detail

I’ve only once ever visited the former Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, in 1993, the very first time I went on a Cinema Theatre Association outing.

What was then the Silverline Bingo Club, Long Eaton, was – to be polite – not splendid.  It had had a chequered history as the St James Theatre (opened in 1907), then Vint’s Picturedrome (from 1910), then the Coliseum (from 1916), then the Scala (in 1923).

After a fire in 1934 it was refurbished in an up-to-date Art Deco style.  It operated as a cinema until 1964 and then as a bingo club until 1993.

In 1991 a suspended ceiling had been installed from the edge of the balcony to the proscenium, horizontally cutting in half not only the stage aperture but also the elaborate plaster decoration to each side.  The effect was faintly claustrophobic.

Its decorative scheme was pale grey and pink, and its lighting bare fluorescent.  Outside the Ladies was a sign which read “Beware Paint Still Tacky”.

We shinned up a ladder in the foyer to what looked like a cupboard door but turned out to be the truncated steps to the balcony.  There, dimly lit and devoid of seating, slumbered the upper half of the auditorium, a dark, silent, expectant space.

The bingo operation seems to have closed down soon after our visit, and there was a fire during the years that it was dark.

It reopened in 2007 as the tripled Galaxy Cinema, which operated until 2012.

In October 2012 the Derby Evening Telegraph reported that local reports of a possible burglary led the police to discover the place was in use as a “professional” cannabis factory, and they removed some 1,500 thriving plants:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/Huge-cannabis-factory-Long-Eaton-s-Galaxy-cinema/story-17198019-detail/story.html.

The building was sold again in 2014 [http://www.nottinghampost.com/stage-cinema-s-history/story-19821693-detail/story.html] but apparently remained unused until a significant fire in January 2017 probably sealed its fate:  http://www.nottinghampost.com/fire-breaks-out-at-former-galaxy-cinema-in-long-eaton/story-30084788-detail/story.html.  A young man was quickly arrested on suspicion of arson:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/long-eaton-galaxy-cinema-fire-being-treated-as-arson/story-30084875-detail/story.html.

I write repeatedly about interesting, potentially valuable buildings that are below the Heritage England radar for listing, but depend for their future on the imagination and business acumen of an owner with vision.

Making money with the Galaxy building was a challenge, not least because Long Eaton is a small market town equidistant between two major cities, Nottingham and Derby, and it was never likely that the building would be put to economic use that would give it a long-term future.

Nevertheless, the images that someone took in 2008 show how much remained of the historic interior [https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069688/sizes/l and https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069678/sizes/l], and it seems a pity to lose it.