The Way To Go Round Outer Space
Folks, before I get to the Outer Space, I feel I should share a little secret I found the other day, in case you find yourselves in Tunbridge Wells at any point. If you happen to be a bookworm like me, you’ll probably already know there are at least two fantastic secondhand bookshops there - one in the Pantiles; one a little way further up towards the station. (There’s also an Oxfam books which often yields results.)
But I bet you didn’t know about another one, just up Neville Road, more or less equidistant between the two shops. This, at first glance, looks a bit rubbish, but go in. It’s the ‘remainder’ shop from the one in the Pantiles – all the weird secondhand stuff they couldn’t sell. And since London is close enough for lots of people to have visited the place, but too far away for anyone to be interested in keeping their souvenirs of it, that weird stuff has a lot of London books.
Even better, because it’s a remainder shop, everything is £2 or three items for a fiver. Don’t say I never share things with you.
I spent fifteen quid in there the other day (the mathematicians among you will work out that that comes to no fewer than 9 splendid books…) and there’s stuff coming in all the time as they chuck things out of their main shop. I noticed a whole load of really obscure Woolwich stuff in the main shop – too expensive for me at their full price, but I’ll be surprised if anyone around Tunbridge Wells will be interested in it, so hopefully it will shuffle over to the two-quid shop ready for me – or one of you - to hoover it up…
One of the items I picked up was a brochure for the 1951 Festival of Britain. I got it mainly for my bulging ‘general London’ collection, not expecting anything about Greenwich to be in there…
It’s a fantastic piece of memorabilia, even if only for the wonderful space-age adverts for exotic things like tinned peas and a particularly gruesome, smoke-belching vision of Dagenham Ford Motor Plant, portrayed as some kind of Utopian dream. Just for IP, who requested it, here is that ghastly vision:
I enjoyed a flick through exhibitions on Modern Farming (how to get rid of all those pesky wild flowers and enjoy insect-free crops), Home Entertainment (two varieties, “by such devices as the radio, or one can entertain visiting friends”) and Transport (the joys of the steam engine) and turned excitedly to the next page The Way Around Outer Space:
I find it extremely gratifying that the gateway to Outer Space in 1951 was Greenwich. At the very entrance to the Outer Space pavilion, the visitor encountered a life-size replica of the Greenwich Time Ball. The Astronomer Royal might have moved out to Herstmonceux in 1949 but as far as the world was concerned, Greenwich was still the centre of space and time.
To be honest, there’s not much about it in the brochure, save an interesting use of tense in the blurb. “the famous Greenwich Time Ball, which used to give a time check at one o’clock every day so that ships in the Thames could regulate their chronometers.”
So does that mean that the time signal hasn’t been an unbroken event since its creation in the 1830s? I had assumed that the ball always dropped at 1.00pm, but this implies that the practice was stopped. Which begs the questions – when did the daily signal cease - and, more intriguingly, when and why was this charming practice reinstated?
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