31 July 2019

The Denge Sound Mirrors: Radar’s Predecessor

Before the application of radar became a reality a number of experimental early warning systems were developed by the British military.  One which showed the most promise – as it actually worked – were the acoustic mirrors built at Denge on the south coast of England.  Quickly superseded by radar they were abandoned but still remain at their post, obsolete concrete leviathans on an island in the middle of a nature reserve, reminders of a dangerous time in European history.

The mirror would pick up the sound of any aircraft approaching the coast of the UK.  If they were not scheduled (and flights in and out of the country were closely monitored) then they could be judged as possibly being enemy aircraft. Sound waves were caught in the focal point of the mirror and relayed though microphones to an operator, who could then alert the appropriate authorities. The mirrors were able to give a fifteen minute warning of an approaching assault on the England.

30 July 2019

The Hardy Tree: An Early Work of a Great Novelist

In the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, hundreds of old gravestones circle an ash tree. Of course, these were not how they were originally laid out. So, how did they get to this, their final resting place, as it were? And who was responsible?

Long before he became famous for novels like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (like any other aspiring writer) had to find employment with which to pay his way through the world. His chosen field was to be architecture.
However, it is unlikely that the would-be author could guess what one of his firm’s projects would demand of him. He probably didn't sign up for architecture to then be sent to excavate a graveyard. Yet, like many a young man finding his path, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

28 July 2019

The Underwater Billiard Room of Witley Park

Whitaker Wright was a very rich man. He had made his fortune in the mining industry and so when it came to the creation of a billiard room on his new estate perhaps it was only fitting to build it underground. Not only that, this eccentric millionaire decided to build it underwater too. With windows.

27 July 2019

Cruise Ship Towel Animals take to the High Seas

No one knows for absolute certain where the concept of the towel animal came from. The idea seems to have arisen, like so many internet memes, spontaneously. There is no single individual who claims to be the originator of the towel animal. One thing is for sure – the creation and depiction of small animals by folding towels originated on the (not terribly) high seas. This phenomenon seems to be almost completely isolated to cruise ships.

Many maintain that it was started by cabin staff aboard the Carnival Cruise Line ships. The line, which specializes in short and less expensive cruises, is home to many of the ingenious creations you see here. Yet a number of other lines now give their passengers a nightly surprise too.

18 July 2019

Shatili – Medieval Fortress Village in Georgia

The village of Shatili squats on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Even today the area is considered isolated and remote but in centuries past the villagers could not rely on distant authorities to afford them protection. In early medieval times the villagers hit on a solution which was to shield them from their enemies for hundreds of years. They made their village in to a fortress.

The village is very near the border with Chechnya and its inhabitants were constantly at risk from incursions in to their territory from their neighbors. In the twenty first century the village is usually only accessible between the months of June and the end of September so in more feudal times something had to be done to avert death and disaster. As the village persevered, the architecture evolved. What would normally be small stone dwellings grew taller and developed in to watchtowers.