I am shortly heading off on holiday and top of my reading list is the recently published In Praise of Walking by neuroscientist Shane O’Mara. The publisher’s blurb could have been written by any one of us Nordic walkers: “Walking is good for our muscles and posture; it helps to protect and repair organs, and can slow or turn back the ageing of our brains. With our minds in motion we think more creatively, our mood improves and stress levels fall. Walking together to achieve a shared purpose is also a social glue that has contributed to our survival as a species.
As our lives become increasingly sedentary, we risk all this. We must start walking again, whether it’s up a mountain, down to the park, or simply to school and work. We, and our societies, will be better for it.”
I shall give you the low-down when I’m back.
My last blog was a Bristol local knowledge quiz to which I’m sure you’ve all been eagerly anticipating the answers.
1. What famous publishing house began in Bristol?
Penguin Books. Actually, strictly speaking Penguin books began in London but Allen Lane, the founder of the publishing house, was born and brought up in Bristol. The story goes that following a weekend in the country with Agatha Christie, he was in Exeter station looking in vain for something good to read. He then had a “Eureka!” moment: What if quality books were available at places like train stations and sold for reasonable prices. His aim was to bring literature to the masses.
2. Why is M Shed so called?
It’s a question that apparently often gets asked by visitors. Many people think it stands for ‘museum’, which would certainly make sense, but the answer actually lies in the building’s history.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s, the harbour area around M Shed was a working dock. Boats would come in from all over to deliver goods such as newspapers, oranges and barrels of Guinness. These were then stored in warehouses ready for transportation. To keep things simple, the buildings were named alphabetically. As a former warehouse, the museum was called M Shed. The adjoining workshop and collections store is L Shed.
3. What is this building?
A shot tower. It was built in 1969 to replace the world’s first shot tower built by William Watts opposite Redcliffe Church in 1782, which was demolished in the 60s to make way for road widening.
Shot towers revolutionised ammunition manufacturing. Ever since the invention of firearms around the thirteenth century, ammunition makers struggled to make lead shots that were perfectly spherical. The obvious method of pouring molten lead into moulds was a laborious process that could produce only a limited number of shots at a time. It also often left a seam where the two halves of the mould met, making the shots aerodynamically inefficient. Manufacturers tried pouring molten lead through a sieve suspended several inches above a barrel of water, but this often produced tear drop-shaped shots with a tail. Another method that was used until the early nineteenth century was to take small cubes of lead and agitate them in a barrel until the corners were knocked off and approximately round shot was produced. Yet, none of these methods were satisfactory while the demand for shot, both for military purposes and for sport, was continually growing.
William Watts made the breakthrough discovery that the key to producing perfectly round shots was to drop molten lead not from a few inches but from a great height. When liquids are dropped from a height, the surface tension of the liquid pulls them into a shape that has the least surface area, which happens to be a sphere.
Not only did he add a tower to his house, he also cut holes in the floors and dug down beneath it to achieve the necessary drop. At the top, he poured molten lead through a sieve and as the lead fell it turned into spheres, just as he had predicted. By the time the drops hit the water below, they'd started to solidify. The water caught the shots and cooled them further. The original water bowl is in storage at the M Shed (as those of us that went to the ‘Behind the Scenes tour last week discovered). Watts patented his discovery and shot towers started appearing all over England and Europe.
The current shot tower in Cheese Lane is one of only three left standing in England.
4. Which famous writer was married in Clifton?
I gather quite a few – but the one I was thinking of was Agatha Christie. On Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church (now the site of Emmanuel Court) twenty-four year old Agatha Miller from Torquay married twenty five year old Archibald Christie from Guthrie Road.
5. What well known soft drink was invented in Long Ashton?
Ribena. In the 1930s pioneering work at the Long Ashton Horticultural Research Station led to the manufacture of a blackcurrant cordial which was found to have extremely high concentrations of vitamin C. It was manufactured by Bristol-based food and drink company Carters and called Ribena in 1938, after the botanical name for the blackcurrant, Ribes nigrum.
During World War II other fruits rich in vitamin C, like oranges, became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom and children were given free blackcurrant cordial as a vitamin C boost.
When the Bristol factory was bomb-damaged during the Second World War a new factory was built in the Forest of Dean, where it still is. The Ribena brand is now owned by Glaxo Smith-Kline.
6. Who is this stone head in Ashton Court of?
It’s often assumed that the two stone heads in Ashton Court are of a former owner of Ashton Court Estate. However they are carvings of the mythical giants Goram and Vincent who, according to legend, created Bristol itself.
7. The Observatory by Clifton Suspension Bridge was originally something else. What?
A windmill. Built in 1766, in 1776 a violent storm caused the sails to rotate so fast that it started a fire which burnt the windmill down. A camera obscura was installed in the 1830s.
8. In Blaise Estate there are two caves. Can you name them?
Robber’s Cave and Butcher’s Cave. Butcher's Cave was given its name because of the red tinge to the stones inside, resembling hanging joints of meat. Robber's cave was constructed with large rustic local limestone blocks over a shallow excavated hole to serve as a feature for carriage drives to the castle.
9. What is special about this book in the M Shed?
It’s a fascinatingly gruesome answer – an example of anthropodermic bibliopegy – bookbinding in human skin. John Horwood was convicted of murder when he was 18 years old. He had thrown a stone at Eliza Balsum when his advances were rejected and she died after an operation on her skull. The Court order at his trial read ‘Let him be instantly hanged by the neck until he shall be dead… and let his body be delivered to Richard Smith, of the city of Bristol, Surgeon, to be dissected and anatomized.” He was hanged on 13 April 1821 at Bristol’s New Gaol, the prison’s first public execution. Smith had John’s skin tanned to bind this book. The Latin inscription on its front cover reads ‘Cutis Vera Johannis Horwood’, which translates as ‘the actual skin of John Horwood’.
10. Ashton Court is home to three types of deer. Can you name them?
Red deer, Fallow deer, and roe deer. The large deer park has been there since the 14th century and was later extended in the 16th and 17th century.
Another interesting factoid is that in red deer, antler size determines a stag’s ‘rank’. A red with 12 points on his antlers is called a royal stag, one with 14 is an imperial stag and one with 16 points is a monarch.
11. Do you know the name of the artificial stone that was used to landscape the area around Abbots Pool?
Pulhamite, an artificial type of rock very popular in the Victorian era. The waterfall area and boat house/cave are both constructed with it.
12. What is this building
The old Powder House on the bank of the Avon at Shirehampton. Ships had to off-load gunpowder and other inflammable materials here before they reached the port in the centre of Bristol. It was used during the First World War as a store for explosives, which were brought by barge.