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Friday, 26 September 2014

The killing machine

The inventor and his baby
Hiram S. Maxim arrived in Britain from Maine in the 1880s to run the London office of the US Electric Lighting Company. He eventually became a naturalized British citizen, being knighted by his chum King Edward VII. He was an inveterate inventor – claiming responsibility for the light-bulb – but also amusement rides, hair curlers and even a mousetrap. He remembered as a child being knocked over by the recoil of a rifle. Later in life he encountered an old friend in Vienna who advised him if he really wanted to make big money he should invent something that enabled Europeans to cut each other’s throats with greater facility. His Maxim gun, invented in a workshop in Hatton Garden, was the first rapid fire weapon to operate on the energy of its own recoil. Rapid fire weapons had hitherto used a crank system. Maxim also worked on his gun in the garden of his home in West Norwood, South London, where he would thoughtfully run newspaper advertisements warning his neighbours whenever he intended to trial the weapon. He went into business with Edward Vickers a Sheffield steel magnate and his weapon became the basis for the successful armaments company Vickers Limited.
Hiram at rest in West Norwood Cemetery

In the 1890s the Maxim gun was used to lethal effectiveness by the British Army in numerable colonial wars where native forces were encouraged to mount conventional mass attacks to be knocked down in their thousands by Hiram’s nifty invention, memorably at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 when Kitchener conquered the Sudan. As the poet Hilaire Belloc observed, ‘Whatever happens, we have got/ 
The Maxim gun, and they have not. ‘

Winston, the young warlord in training at Omdurman

Other European powers were attracted to the weapon and it eventually in various adaptions – the pom-pom gun and the Vickers machine gun – was deployed by the imperial powers against each other on the battlefields of WWI.

The Machine Gun Corps memorial at Hyde Park Corner, features two actual Vickers/Maxim guns, bronzed.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

London's W14 - a Land of Hope And Glory?

The theme to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 became Britain's unofficial national anthem during World War One, especially on Armistice Day in 1918 when the crowds in Trafalgar Square heartily embraced it. An Eton schoolmaster A C Benson had written the words to the tune, after Cecil Rhodes' will had requested an anthem be created for the British Empire. Edward Elgar lived in West London during an exciting but trying time in his career. Edward was in his early thirties and struggling to gain recognition as a self-taught classical composer. He had recently married a former piano pupil Alice Roberts, eight years his senior. Alice’s family had disinherited her, considering she had married beneath her, Edward being the son of a provincial sheet music seller from Worcester while Alice’s family were upper class Indian Army. Alice, therefore set her life’s work as proving her family wrong. She became Edward’s publicist, manager and copyist. Avonmore Road is where their only child, daughter Cerise was born. Edward had to wait well into his forties before recognition came with his Enigma Variations. He was knighted by King Edward VII and appointed OM (Order of Merit) by King George V. So Alice eventually became LADY Elgar! Today Land of Hope and Glory marks the end of Last Night of The Proms.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Stars of the South

I'm new to South London and the other day took my first trip south on the 432 bus to Anerley from Tulse Hill, through Gipsy Hill - where REAL gipsies hung out in the 18th century - to Crystal Palace Park. The reconstructed Crystal Palace from 1854 was destroyed in a fire in 1936 but the massive terraces and the equally massive rail station survive, testifying to the huge draw of the place in the late Victorian period. Surviving also are the dinosaurs, as the world's first dinosaur models, unveiled in 1854 and representing the latest thinking of dinosaur expert Sir Richard Owen in regard to shape and colour.
Later discoveries may have rendered Owen's theories extinct in their turn, but they have survived the neglect and the weeds and have been restored as Grade I listed monuments and now wait to take their place in the planned reconstruction of Paxton's original park and palace. True stars of the South.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A private Guard Change, anyone?

A Blue Badge colleague was leading a private tour for a family, and included the morning's Guard Change. Aghast at the crowds the mum asked, "Do we really have to stand with all those people over there?" "Yes, " replied the Guide, "I'm afraid so." The mum answered, "So we paid for a private tour and have to stand with everyone else!" What do you think the cost of putting on a private Guard Change might be? Blocking off the traffic + mounted police + flying the Royal Standard + Guards = a million quid?