Friday, 23 August 2013

The King's Ginger vs the Great Stink

For today's exciting episode of The King's Ginger adventures, I went a little off the beaten track to the bowels of South-East London. Literally - I went to a sewage treatment works. But this wasn't an ordinary ordure pumping facility - oh no. It was opened in April 1865 by our hero, King Edward VII. Well, OK, he was still the Prince of Wales. But how did our beloved monarch in waiting come to be involved with the opening of Crossness Pumping Station? To find out, we must first hold our noses and delve into The Great Stink.

In the early to mid-Victorian era, cities and towns in England were in a bad way. They were horribly overcrowded and sickness was rife thanks to the hideously inadequate sanitary facilities. Little or no sewerage, polluted drinking water, and general filth in the streets led to typhoid and cholera epidemics and death on an almost unprecedented level (the Black Death excepted). The problems were exacerbated by hotch-potch local authorities who had no money to invest in things like water supplies and street cleaning.

By the late 1850s, it was reaching crisis point. Well, what is was really, was that the rich started to realise that death from cholera wasn't something that just affected poor people. The levels of filth, far from just being unpleasant, were downright dangerous for people of all classes, funnily enough. In 1858 came the Great Stink. It was summer, always a time when things in overcrowded London became a bit stinky thanks to the vastly overcrowded streets and very poor facilities. Historically, London's citizens would get their water supply from the Thames, with specially-built waterwheels helping pump water to households. The first waterwheels were built in the 1580s, with a further one added in 1701 and, says Wikipedia, these remained in place, pumping away, until 1822. Unfortunately, in 1815, human waste started to be pumped out from the sewers into the Thames. How anyone thought it was a good idea to pump poo into the city's main water supply to be resupplied to households, I really don't know. But they did. Then, there were the cesspools. Two hundred thousand of these, with gallons of waste being emptied from newfangled flushing toilets. They often overflowed into the streets. The smell must have been pretty bad most of the time.

A few things in the years previous to the Great Stink helped the powers that be realise that something had to be done. First, it was the discovery of the bacteria that caused cholera - previous to that, scientists (and plebs) believed that disease was caused by miasmas - clouds of stink. And in 1854, John Snow linked cholera to water supplies after he he discovered a community in Soho were all being poisoned by the well in their square. He put two and two together when he discovered the only people not getting ill were a group of Irish navvies who only drank beer, never water. He broke the handle off the pump, which is still there too this day! The government then slowly started to overhaul the sewer systems. But then, in 1858, it was exceptionally hot. The cesspools, combined with the stench from the Thames itself, overwhelmed London.

No one could take it. Cholera and the Thames says, "Even the elite were not exempt from such an odious odour: ‘The intense heat had driven our legislators from those portions of their buildings which overlook the river. A few members, indeed, bent upon investigating the matter to its very depth, ventured into the library, but they were instantaneously driven to retreat, each man with a handkerchief to his nose.’

The managers of the House of Commons tried preventative measures like soaking curtains in chloride of lime to try and 'filter' the smell, and lots of companies considered evacuating to the home counties. Rain finally put a stop to the nasal assault and ended everyone's stinky misery but luckily, this whole experience finally pushed the government to act.

Joseph Bazalgette, superstar civil engineer of the age, was hired to transform the sewer systems. He built embankments on the Thames, designed 82 miles of new brick-clad underground waterways and 1,100 miles of street sewers. Brand new pumping stations were built on the edges of town where the waste was still pumped into the Thames, albeit outside of London. Oh, Victorians. (They later built treatment works, thank goodness).

One of these pumping stations, built in 1865, was Crossness. Here it is today - on the one hand, not *that* exciting to look at, on the other, it's a darn sight nicer than anything we build today. It was lower than the original drawings (above) and extended on the left-side much later. It is no longer in use, but it's been partially restored as part of an ongoing project. So inside, parts of it are exactly as it would have been in April 1865, the day Albert Edward, Price of Wales, opened it.

Let's have a look around Balzagette and the Metropolitan Board of Works' masterpiece of engineering. Packed with cutting edge technology for the time, it is also absolutely stunning.

Hard hats are a requirement in Crossness. Something I didn't consider when I
did my topknot that morning! 

Crossness was closed and abandoned in the 1950s as technology moved on and it became obsolete. Vandals and thieves took over, stealing the brass handrails and bits and it became derelict. It took until 1987 to be recognised as the marvel of Victorian craftsmanship it is. The volunteers restoring it found scraps of the original paint and have returned much of the interior to its former glory.

Remembering all the while that this is a facility used exclusively for pumping human excrement, it is astonishingly beautiful. The floors, walls and ceilings are all exquisite, even the bits that haven't been restored yet.

And the bits that have been replaced have been done so carefully, to keep to original specifications.

This is the original entrance, before it was extended in 1897 to add four more pumps.

Crossness has four massive pumps, 'Victoria', 'Prince Consort', 'Albert Edward' and 'Alexandra'. Prince Consort has been completely restored. Victoria is in the works. Sadly, Albert Edward is still looking pretty grotty, but it's impressive nonetheless.

Check out Prince Consort in action. It's turned on for special visitor days at Crossness, pumping nothing at all, of course. But it's a beauty to behold. So huge (40 tonnes!) and the motion is so smooth! 

The reason our hero opened the sewer system in 1865 was because, at that time, it was a mere four years after the death of Albert, the Prince Consort. Queen Victoria was in a state of deep mourning, the same state she remained in for the rest of her life. Thus, the official tasks fell to Albert Edward.

I like to think his Future Majesty enjoyed officiating at these openings. At least I hope so, since he had to do so many of them!

The Crossness Engine Trust is only open every once in a while but it is so worth a visit. You get a very small idea of what the Great Stink must have been like as you walk through the newer sewage works to get to the main event. The café is unbelievably cute, serving egg rolls and cakes made with no frills by the volunteers. And Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales has even been there, bringing history full circle. 

My fab dress is by Time Machine Vintage on Etsy 

Thanks as ever for reading and those Brits reading who have always wanted to try some King's Ginger for yourselves, good news. It's now available in all Waitrose stores! Hurrah! 

Do fan KGL on Facebook to find out about some upcoming tasting events too. That's all for now... wishing you a very unstinky bank holiday weekend,

Fleur xx

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Can(n)on of Work

A couple of months ago, I went to a very scary casting. It was for a BBC advert, for a very, very small part. I stood in a room with a group of 'proper' actresses and we all had to mime firing a cannon. In front of each other. Terrifying! However... I GOT THE PART! We filmed on a sunny day on top of a hill. The view looked like this.

My tiny horse co-star looked like this! 

And here is the finished advert. Blink and you'll miss me! I am wearing a brilliant blouse from Time Machine Vintage on Etsy. I'm sure you'll see a better close-up of it on here soon...  

Fleur xx

Monday, 19 August 2013

Field of Chap Dreams

I just did a double-take at the calendar because it's now been over a month since the glorious Chap Olympiad and over 10 days since my last confession. I mean blog post. The whole of the last week was a complete write-off due to me undertaking a solid week of film extra work. I've been a background actor on a new Marvel film set in space - I had to sign a very strong NDA so I daren't say any more but interested geeks should be able to find out what it is pretty easily, as well as seeing some photos of my fellow extras runnin around in central London a couple of weeks ago. It's been fun but 4.30am starts and 15 hour days don't make for much blog-writing enthusiasm, I can tell you.

I have lots and lots of other posts to write (scary amounts n fact, it's all backing up), so in the meantime let me show you pictures from the Olympiad.

Photos I took of the action look identical to all the other years, so I won't repeat myself with too many of those. Instead I will show you my outfit since really, that's what most people want to see on this 'ere blog, right?

Here is a photo by me. I can't remember who took it for me!

Look at that awesome dress. Isn't it awesome? It's the La Bonita by Miss Bamboo and not only is it indeed awesome, it's also pretty darn bargainous at only £59.99 of your English pounds. And it wasn't only me that wore one!

The Vintage Mafia were planning to wear the Heyday PinaFleur as seen in my last post but, due to it's marginal shortness, we had to find a last-minute alternative. La Bonita was perfect and the lovely Miss Bamboo rushed them to us after we bought them a few days before the event. Sterling customer service Miss B!

Bethan is, as you may or may not know, the events manager for the Chap. So she was on duty all day, organising the crap out of everything perfectly. We had some duties as a threesome though, namely scoring the Well Dressage round. Here we are in more photos by Hanson. 

Some of us were more generous than others

Bribery with lollipops is how Edward Marlowe received 'all the points' for his round

Jeni was used as a prop - as captured by The Vintage News

Jeni and I also took part as Diners in a round of Breadbasketball, which I took very seriously. 

Photo by Stephanie Wolff

Photo by Sin Bozkurt

...and we were interviewd by Vintage News, where our in-jokes made poor Sadie crack up a bit.

I also took part in a cockney walkabout in tribute to the late Chap writer Nathaniel Slipper.

I shall leave you for now with this final stunning photo of Jeni and I sharing a moment at the Breadbasketball table. This is probably the most accurate representation of my face on a typical day. Lovely.

Back with a report on What Katie Did's new loungewear, my King's Ginger August adventure, a book review and probably more that I have forgotten.

Have a good day, readers! 

Fleur xx

Ps. if you like Swedish Hasbeens and discounts and you haven't visited the Vintage Mafia blog in a while, now is a good time to subscribe. We have some mega discounts lined up. Keep an eye on the VM Twitter, too!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Introducing... the PinaFleur!

Exciting news! Long-term readers will know that I have my own dress - it's a recreation of my favourite wrap dresses of the 1940s and 1950s and is part of a collaboration with Heyday Clothing. It's cleverly titled the Fleur Dress.

But there's a new addition to the range, which has been in the works for a while and I am so pleased to be able to announce now... the PinaFleur!

The pattern was taken from a 1940s pinafore dress in my own collection and slightly tweaked to make a better fit. The bust ruffles on my original went all the way to the waist which is a style that doesn't work so well for very petite or very busty ladies. So, it's been adapted to finish at just below the bust. The PinaFleur has been made up in a cute turquoise-y green gingham with a gingham ric rac trim around the shoulder ruffles and the pockets. It fastens up the back with eleven buttons and has a self-tie to cinch the waist in as much, or as little as you like!

Why am I not modelling it, you might well ask? Well, unfortunately, as can sometimes be the way with these things, the first run of these dresses have come out a little short. It means that on me, at 5'10, they hit an inch or so above the knee and I just cannot pull off that length (things need to be mid-thigh or below knee!). They hit Heyday designer Shona, who is 5'3, just on the knee. SO, it's a lucky deal for those of you who are petite pinafore fans because you can buy one for a steal! This first run of shorter dresses is only £60 - there is a longer one on its way that will hit at just below knee on me, so upper/mid-calf on shorter ladies but it will be more expensive.

So, calling all ladies of petite stature... be the proud owner of the first ever Heyday PinaFleur dress now at a bargain price!

And taller ones, stand by for more info soon.

Here's a bonus picture of me in my original - taken in September last year, just after I faceplanted the pavement when running. Pinafore ruffles are very good for disguising grazed shoulders.

Hope you're all having a lovely day!

Fleur xx

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