Category: General

Two Cable Car Journeys – One With A Sunset And One With A Lightning Strike

If you live in or are visiting London’s Capital County – Middlesex at this time of the year, in a spell of fine/dry weather you could be lucky enough to catch an Autumn sun-set and, if you happen to be somewhere in or around the county with a good view, then you’ve really got it made! Just last Friday, I was in this fortunate position for my ride on the Emirates Air Line Cable Car.

The Facts

The Emirates Air Line Cable Car opened on the 28th June 2012 just in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games.  The construction project cost a cool 61 million but took only 10 months to build.  The Cable Car is based on something called MDG (monocable detachable gondola technology) which is a system using a single cable for both propulsion and support.


Crossings take 10 minutes – off peak – and 5 minutes – during peak times.  I decided to begin my journey at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal  which is just 5 minutes walk from North Greenwich Station (on the Jubilee Line).

Emirates Greenwich Peninsula

Buying a Ticket

I was able to pay for my discounted Discovery Experience return ticket using my Oyster card with an Adult fare of £8.40 (which included admission to the Air Line Discovery Experience).  You can also receive this discounted fare by presenting a Pay As You Go Travelcard, Freedom Pass or a Paper Travelcard) but, in these cases, you still need to purchase a ticket separately and cannot use these cards/passes to pay your fare.

I received my Boarding Pass pictured below (Yes – they really do issue these like a real airline!) and my In-flight guide – which makes a nice souvenir – opening out to show all the locations you can view from the comfort of your seat.


I climbed a flight of stairs to the carousel to board my car.  Each car passes by slowly so it was pretty easy to step in (in addition, most wheelchairs and push-chairs can be accommodated).  Before boarding, one of the staff members very kindly offered to take my photo.

Boarding The Emirates Air Line Cable Car

The Ride

The ride across to Emirates Royal Docks was smooth and there was little movement.  Before leaving there was a recorded announcement warning me to remain seated during the ‘flight’.  When crossing the Thames you really get a sense of how much this area has changed and is still constantly evolving.

The Emirates Cable Car is the first urban cable car in the UK – so I had a strange sense of not really being in my hometown when riding it – as my other experiences with this mode of transport have all been overseas.

There is a recorded video commentary which highlights some of the attractions and history of the areas below (I did not watch the video myself as I was too busy looking at the view) .

Royal Docks

Once you get across to Royal Docks there are some nearby attractions in the area worth investigation such as The Crystal (the world’s largest exhibition on urban sustainability), the SS Robin (the oldest surviving steamship in the world), Excel London (for exhibitions/sporting events/conferences), the urban beach (in July/August) and various walks on both sides of the water.

I didn’t stay too long at Royal Docks (due to a later appointment) but did have a little wander round and enjoyed taking these snaps of reflections in the glass windows of The Crystal Building (as the light was fading) before heading back for my ‘return flight’.

Reflections of O2 in The Crystal Building
Reflections from Emirates Cable Car in The Crystal Building, Royal Docks area

Back on the North Greenwich side of the river there are many restaurants and fast-food outlets as well as the Emirates Aviation Experience (where you can learn about modern aviation and to take to the skies in state of the art flight simulators).

Safety on the Emirates Cable Car and Another Cable Car Experience

The Emirates Cable Car certainly suffered a few teething problems in it’s early days being closed 354 times (for 520 hours or 37 days) during the first 2.5 years of it’s operation for various reasons including technical issues, high winds and risk of lightning.

My previous encounter with a cable car happened to be the other side of the world in Cairns, Australia.  Perhaps one of the reasons I had been a little reluctant to try the London Cable Car was what happened when I used the Skyrail Cableway to travel to the rainforest town of Kuranda?

Visiting tropical Cairns in the rainy season I discovered that it was not only very beautiful  but hot and steamy, prone to down-pours and thunder-storms.  For me that threat became a reality as the Cable Car control station was struck by lightning resulting in a number of us getting stuck mid-air for nearly one hour with just open water and rain-forest below.

Skyrail Cableway
Skyrail Cableway

I guess that unpredictable weather conditions are just a fact of life  in that part of Australia and they just keep things running anyway unless it’s that bad.  The result was that me and my cable car companions – a Croatian tour guide and a couple of German tourists – became pretty friendly.  I know that they had to be back by a specific time for the departure of their cruise ship so I only hope that they managed to make it!

Fortunately, everyone was very calm and we listened to reassuring announcements that the problem was being worked on over the tanoy but I think if we had been stuck for longer it could have been a bit different.

Back to London and My Return Flight 

Fortunately, there were no such problems on my Emirates Cable Car journey.  Perhaps it is just as well that they take such care not to fly in adverse conditions.   As I mentioned earlier, on the return flight to Greenwich Peninsula, we were blessed with the most amazing sunset – capping off a wonderful afternoon.

Sunset Emirates Airline Cable Car

The Future

The Emirates Air Line Cable Car has certainly a lot of controversy in it’s short life, being considered by some to be a vanity project of the previous Mayor of London Boris Johnson and with it’s future funding being threatened by the new Mayor Sadiq Kahn.  One of the main issues is that it was intended to be used by commuters but has been under-utilised and most of the users have turned out to be tourists or day-trippers.  The fact that it is not part of the LU ticketing system making journeys more expensive than other types of public transport in the area may be part of the problem.  My visit took place at around 2.00pm on a Friday afternoon and there was no one waiting at all  (though on arriving back in Greenwich at around 4.30pm a queue for tickets had started to form).  Perhaps with the continued development of the surrounding residential areas the cable car could become more popular with commuters.

I would say that the view from the cable car must be amongst the best views of Docklands area and, compared to the cost of a ticket on the London Eye (£23.45) or The Shard (£15.95), it’s something of a bargain.  There are not many other ways – apart from a plane ride – where you could get such a view.  Whilst it’s not a central city view like the Eye, if you’re a tourist visiting for more than a day or two its definately worth taking a trip over to Docklands and incorporating a ride on the Cable Car in your day and if you’re a local who likes urban/industrial views this could be just up your street.

Click here to find out more Emirates Airways Cable Car and here to find out about other activities you can enjoy around Royal Docks and Greenwich.  You can also find some information on the Transport for London website.

You can find a short video on Facebook Page @middlesaxons of my experience travelling on the Emirates Cable Car.

Remembrance Sunday – 7 Things You May Not Know About This Special Day

This Sunday, 12 November, the nation remembers those who sacrificed their lives to secure and protect our freedoms.

Each year, on the second Sunday of the month of November, a service is held at The Centotaph in Whitehall.  At this service, a 2 minute silence is observed at 11am before the laying of the wreaths.  The silence represents the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 when the guns of Europe fell silent.  The silence begins with the Royal Marines buglers sounding The Last Post and ends with the Royal Marines buglers sounding The Rouse. Gunners of the Royal Horse Artillery fire a gun salute at the end of the silence.

Wreaths are then laid by the Queen, Members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and leaders of major political parties.

After the ceremony, the bands play and a parade of veterans, organised by The Royal British Legion, marches past The Cenotaph.

The following are 7 things you may not know about Remembrance Sunday.

Where does the association of poppies with remembrance come from? The poem written by Canadian soldier, John McCrae. The opening line of his poem “In Flanders Fields”, refers to poppies being the first flowers to grow amongst the death and destruction of the battle-fields.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing,
fly Scarse heard amid the guns below”.

McCrae was not satisfied with his work and is said to have crumpled the paper the poem was written on and thrown it away. It was retrieved by a member of his unit and eventually convinced to submit it for publication.

Who Had The Idea Of Selling Poppies To Raise Money For Those Who Have Served? American humanitarian worker Moina Michael came up with the idea of selling silk poppies to be worn as a tribute to the fallen. By 1921, her efforts led to the poppy being adopted as the official emblem of remembrance by the Royal British Legion.

Are Poppies Always Worn In The Same Way? White poppies are sometimes used as an alternative and worn as a statement to commemorate the dead but object to war. Purple poppies are also worn by members of the Charity Animal Aid, whose aim is to remind people that animals also lose their lives during war.  Some people say that you should wear your poppy on the left hand side. The Queen wears her poppy on the right hand side which caused some people to incorrectly believe that the Royals are allowed to position theirs on the right. The Royal British Legion say that there is no right or wrong way to wear it – ‘other than with pride’.

Armistice Day, Poppy Day or Remembrance Sunday? The Armistice was signed at Compiegne in Northern France and took effect on 11 November 1918. Armistice Day was adopted by George V on 7 November 1919 has now become Remembrance Day in Commonwealth nations, though in the UK the focus is on Remembrance Sunday instead which is also known as Poppy Day. Traditionally this day is the Sunday closest to 11 November. The UK changed from Armistice Day to Remembrance Sunday at the end of World War 2 when it was decided that the dead of both wars should be commemorated on the same day.

Where Did The Idea for The Two-Minute Silence Originate? The idea came from Mayor Sir Harry Hands of Cape Town, South Africa whose son was mortally wounded in the First World War and requested that everyone should pause at noon for two minutes silence. It was suggested in Britain by Australian journalist Edward George Honey who, in a letter to the London Evening Standard on 8 May 1919, proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in World War 1. It was introduced as part the Armistice Day ceremony by King George V.

Why Is The Last Post is Always played? The Last Post was first published in the 1790s and sounded daily in British Army camps. At this time, soldiers didn’t have watches so had to be regulated in camp by trumpet/bugle calls to tell them when to get up and when to have their meals. The Last Post bugle call signalled that the duty inspector had carried out his inspection of the sentry posts on the perimeter of the camp with the camp being secure for the night. The Last Post was later adopted into military funerals and Remembrance Sunday ceremonies.

Where Are The Poppies Made? In Richmond, Surrey, there is a poppy factory which employs around 30 disabled veterans to produce the poppies and wreaths for the Royal Family and The Royal British Legion’s annual poppy appeal. The Poppy Factory is the country’s leading employment charity for veterans with health conditions or impairments. It’s possible to do a free pre-arranged 2-hour tour of the factory where you can learn all about the history of the poppy, see some of the wreaths and poppies made throughout history and even have a chance to make a poppy for yourself. Further details can be found at

The following video clip gives some interesting information on the work of The Poppy Factory.

Turn Again Whittington: 6 Little Known Facts About The Lord Mayor Of The City Of London And The Lord Mayor’s Show

Did you know that there is no evidence that Richard Whittington a former Lord Mayor of London (in 1397, 1406 and 1419) ever actually owned a cat?

The myth -popularised in old English folklore tale “Dick Whittington” – is one is of a young man – who was desperately poor and a brutally treated servant – selling his cat (his most valued possession as it kept his room rat free) to a merchant.  By good fortune the cat was sold to a King – who was grateful for the moggy’s exceptional rat catching abilities and paid a fortune for the animal.  The story says that this created Whittington’s fortune just as he was about to admit defeat in his attempt to create a life in London and return home to Gloucester changing his mind upon hearing church bells which seemed to say ‘Turn again, Whittington, three times Lord Mayor of London’.

In real life, Richard Whittington was certainly not poor being the son of a Lord. As the youngest son he had to find a job (not being entitled to inheritance) and came to London becoming a “mercer” – dealer in cloths such as silk and velvet.

He established great wealth and upon his death, as he did not have children, left his fortune to establish an alms-house (housing for the poor) a college for priests, a library, improvements to the water supply and building a public convenience which became known as “Whittington’s Longhouse”.

Here are some more less commonly known facts about the Lord Mayor of the City of London and The Lord Mayor’s Show:-

The Guardians Of The City at the former home of Middlesex County Council – The 14 foot wicker figures carried in the procession called Gog and Magog are known as the guardians of the City of London and the longest standing participants in the Lord Mayor’s Show. Carvings of Gog and Magog (created by sculptor D Evans in 1953) are kept in The Guildhall – former home of the Middlesex County Council. Earlier carvings were destroyed during The Blitz.

One Of The World’s Most Beautiful Stage Coaches The Lord Mayor travels in a stage coach that was built in 1757 at a cost of £1,065.0s.3d and is the oldest working ceremonial vehicle in the world. If you want a closer look at the coach, you can view it in it’s usual home at the Museum of London. The Museum has counted over 100 layers of paint on the coach ceiling and it still requires regular maintenance and re-guilding but has not seen a major service since it was stripped down and rebuilt in 1952.

At Sixes And Sevens The saying “at sixes and sevens” originates from the rivalry between livery companies (London’s ancient/modern trade associations and guilds represented by the different floats at the Lord Mayor’s Show Parade). There are currently 110 livery companies and the 12 highest ranked are known as the Great Twelve Livery Companies. There has been a long running dispute over precedence between Merchant Taylors and Skinners who swap sixth and seventh places each year – hence the term at sixes and sevens!

Election And The Silent Ceremony The Lord Mayor is elected at Common Hall which meets on Michaelmas Day 29 September. Common Hall comprised of liverymen all belonging to the City’s livery companies. He takes office during The Silent Ceremony on the Friday before the second Sunday in November.  The ceremony is known as “Silent Ceremony” because apart from the vow of the incoming Lord Mayor it is held in total silence.

The First Outside Live TV Broadcast
In the 20th century, the Lord Mayor’s Show was the first outside event ever to be broadcast live and still attracts a TV audience of millions.

Find out more about the return of the City’s Guardians Gog and Magog to The Guildhall by watching this short clip.

Visit The Lord Mayor’s Show website to get full details of the 2017 event.

A Day Of Pomp And Pagentry At The Lord Mayor’s Show – 6 Essential Things Spectators Need To Know

Join the free festivities this Saturday 11 November celebrating the appointment of a New Lord Mayor of the City of London – Charles Bowman – at the Lord Mayor’s Show.

In keeping with over 800 years of tradition, the newly elected Lord Mayor of London, 7,000 people, 200 horses and more than 150 floats will undertake a colourful three mile procession from Mansion House in the City to the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand for a special ceremony in which the Mayor swears loyalty to the Crown.

Here are 6 practical tips to help anyone thinking of going to watch get the most from their day.

Use Public Transport to travel to the event. Most roads in and around the City will be closed for the show so you’ll get there quicker and with less hassle if you leave your car at home.

Familiarise Yourself With The Procession Route in Advance Download a copy of the official information leaflet with map of the route before-hand.

Don’t Get Caught Short by downloading this map in advance you will always know the location of the nearest public conveniences.

Get there early (well before the published start times) to grab the best views. The busiest spot is on the outward procession between Bank and St Pauls from 11am-12.30pm. It may be less crowded for the inward procession between Blackfriars and Mansion House from 1.15pm-2.30pm.  Alternatively, get up much earlier to grab a place to watch the Mayoral Flotilla from Waterloo Bridge (9.00am) or London Bridge (9.20am).

Identify The Floats If you want to know who is passing you by on the procession route download the show app which also provides other useful updates such as where to stand, what’s next and other places of interest nearby to visit. The whole procession will take 1.5 hours to pass by and the Lord Mayor’s Coach is close to the back of the procession.

Dress In Practical Clothing and Footwear Wear layers of clothing to keep out the November chill. If you’re too hot you can always remove layers. A waterproof jacket or umbrella may also be useful if the weather takes a turn for the worst (current forecast is for sunshine– but be prepared just in case!)  Keep in mind that flat shoes are most comfortable if you’re going to be standing up for an extended period of time.

In the short clip below, the Pagentmaster Dominic Reid takes us behind the scenes of the rehearsal for last year’s show.

Full details of this year’s event can be found at


Halloween Tale: The Forgotten Archeologist Who Discovered Saxon Treasure in a Haunted Field

Eccentric widow Edith Pretty saw the ghostly figure of a warrior on one of the mounds in an exposed field on her land in Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in rural Suffolk.  This vision was followed by vivid dreams in which she saw and heard a funeral procession in the same area.

Edith had been living alone with her 9 year old son in Sutton Hoo House since the death of her husband in 1934.  She developed an interest in spiritualism during her husband’s illness (he suffered from stomach cancer) and brought in spiritualists to help him during this time.  Edith’s belief that there was something of significance in the field was encouraged by her nephew, Russell Perkins, who was a dowser and is thought to have told his aunt that there was hidden treasure in the mounds.

Sutton Hoo/Tranmer House – Mrs Edith Pretty’s House
Interior – Sutton Hoo (Tranmer) House

Who was Basil Brown? With her curiosity aroused in the summer of 1938, Edith Pretty decided to engage self-taught local Archeologist Basil Brown to investigate.  Basil was an intelligent man who had had a humble education attending the large mixed ability classes at the local village school in Rickinghall, Suffolk, in which he developed a dislike of the subject of history allegedly because he always wanted to prove his teachers wrong!  After leaving school he went to work at his father’s farm but was not a natural farmer.  He then pursued an interest in astronomy and gained recognition in 1923 by publishing ‘Astronomical Atlases, Maps and Charts: An Historical and General Guide’.  In the 1930s he developed his love and knowledge of archeology and began working for Ipswich Museum and the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology.  It was the museum who introduced Basil to Edith (who had asked for recommendations for someone suitable to undertake the excavation project at Sutton Hoo).

The Excavations

Basil, working with Mrs Pretty’s gardener and gamekeeper, began digging and unearthed several ancient Saxon burial mounds which had been disturbed or plundered in the past.  Excavations stopped during the winter and then resumed in May 1939.  Within a short space of time in this second period of excavations, they discovered the hull of a Saxon Burial Ship (of around 27 metres in length) in a mound which had not been looted.  It is thought that the person buried with this ship was Raedwald, a 7th century King of East Anglia – which at that time would have included the Lands of the North Folk (now Norfolk) and the Lands of the South Folk (now Suffolk).  Raedwald was not only King of the East Angles but also held the lofty position of King of Kings – so is considered by some to be the First King of England.

Basil Brown’s plan for the excavations

The ship is thought to date from the early 7th century AD.  Although hardly any of the original ship timber had survived, the form of the ship was perfectly preserved in the sand.  The heavy oak ship would have been hauled up the hill and lowered into a prepared trench.  Only the tops of the stem and stern posts would have been seen above the land surface.  The covered mound would have been a symbol of power visible to those using the nearby waterway.  Although no body was found, soil analysis confirms that it had dispersed into the acidic soil.

Excavations – Sutton Hoo
Middlesex Explorer – Mound 2

Ship Burial

Rulers in Norway, Sweden and Denmark around the same time also shared the same beliefs in ship burial and this world is described in the Old English poem Beowulf (see pic of my copy).


Other cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians, also used ships to bury goods to transport into the after-life (although rulers would not be buried with them in the same way as was the Saxon custom).  Here is a photo of the Khufu ship (King Cheops) I saw when in Cairo many years ago which was thought to have been buried in a pit in the Giza pyramid complex for this reason.

Khufu Ship - Cairo
Khufu Ship – Cairo

The Arrival of Charles Phillips

Unfortunately, rumours of Basil’s incredible discovery had leaked out and reached the The British Museum, The Ministry of Works and Charles Phillips, a pompous Cambridge don and expert in all things Saxon, who weighed into the project. Phillips felt that a discovery of this importance could not be left to a man with no formal training and two estate workers.

The British Museum told Basil to stop excavating but he ignored them.  Then, just as he was on the verge of exploring the treasure chamber, The British Museum announced that Charles Phillips would be taking charge of the excavation.  An outraged Edith Pretty insisted that Basil remained working on the project which he did until the site was covered upon the outbreak of World War 2 – sadly demoted to shovelling and wheel-barrow duties.

The new excavating team took charge of investigations into the burial chamber which was packed with treasures – gold jewellery, byzantine silverware, a lavish feasting set and, perhaps the most famous items – an ornate iron helmet and golden buckle (replicas of which can be viewed in the Sutton Hoo Museum).

Replica Gold Buckle – Sutton Hoo
Replica Saxon Helmet – Sutton Hoo

How These Treasures Found Their Way to Middlesex

In August 1939, an inquest at the local parish hall decided that Edith Pretty was the rightful owner of the treasures.  Edith decided to donate the findings to The British Museum, Great Russell Street in London’s Capital County – Middlesex where a large number of them remain to this day in Room 41.

Later Years

Edith Pretty passed away in 1942.  Upon the outbreak of the Second War World, Basil returned to his home village of Rickinghall and continued to pursue his love of archeology  carrying out excavations at local sites and sometimes working for the Ipswich Museum.  He encouraged local children to become involved in his digs and many of them had fond memories of helping him.

The British Museum’s attitude towards Basil softened, as evidenced by a letter from them to him displayed in Sutton Hoo (Tranmer) House dated 29 January 1970, which advised that they were planning to publish his log and diary and reads ‘It reflects great credit on you and makes excellent reading and shows very clearly all the work that was done before Phillips arrived’.

It seems that Basil was not particularly concerned about gaining recognition or money from Sutton Hoo and was content to live out the rest of his days doing what he loved.  In 2009, a plaque was placed on the wall of Rickinghall Inferior Church to commemorate this well respected and fondly remembered resident.

Middlesex Explorer’s Visit

I very much enjoyed my visiting to Sutton Hoo.  I did a guided tour of the burial site – which I definately recommend.  I learnt that the National Trust would like to build a high raised platform around the site so that visitors can get an aerial view.  If will be interesting to see if this does go ahead in the future.

Whilst at Sutton Hoo I explored Edith Pretty’s House – now known as Tranmer House.  There is also an exhibition hall which tells the story of Sutton Hoo through a mixture of original and high quality replica objects. In the exhibition area you can also view one of the ‘Sandmen of Sutton Hoo’ whose body was preserved in the sand in one of the mounds.  Below is a photo of one of the preserved bodies that can be viewed on the site itself.

Sandman – Sutton Hoo

The following photos show some of the original finds which can be viewed in the exhibiton hall.

Finds from Mound 17
Finds from mound 17

The Sutton Hoo cafe has a picturesque view across the fields and there are lovely walks around the estate.

Whilst in the area, I took some time to explore the attractive town of Woodbridge.

Woodbridge – Suffolk


Woodbridge Suffolk
Woodbridge – Suffolk
Woodbridge – Suffolk

Click here for more information on Sutton Hoo and here for information on Woodbridge.

Learn more about the Ghosts of Sutton Hoo in the following You Tube clip.


Trying A Healthy Sugar Drink And Other Fun At Zee London Mela In Gunnersbury Park – Sunday 3 September

I really enjoyed my visit to the colourful Zee London Mela in Gunnersbury Park last Sunday.  The Mela is a great place to experience a heady dose of South Asian creativity and culture as well as trying an exciting range freshly prepared food and drink.

Zee London Mela Cuisine
Zee London Mela Cuisine

Had some lovely sugar cane juice at the Team Kaveet stall.  As I haven’t come across this drink outside Asia it was a great opportunity to try it.  It’s really refreshing and I think tastes a little bit like a mild sweet apple juice.  The juice from the cane is extracted using a special press.

Zee London Mela

Being a sugar drink, I was surprised to find out that as it’s unrefined sugar and contains no simple sugars it has a relatively low glycemic index (the effect carbohydrate has on blood glucose levels) which keeps the body’s metabolism healthy and helps maintain a health body weight.  Approximately one teaspoonful of raw sugar contains only 11 calories – just as well as I had 2 glasses!

Zee London Mela

It’s a shame that the weather was a bit wet this year but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the dancers.

Zee London Mela – Dancing
Zee London Mela Dancing

Zee London Mela is good value – being completely free to get in – and a great place to spend a few hours.  I am already looking forward to next year and hoping for better weather then!

Scenes From Egham Royal County Show In Middlesex’s Neighbouring County of Surrey

Very much enjoyed visiting Egham Royal Show last weekend.  Looking forward to the day when Middlesex can once again host it’s own County Show.

Well done to the organisers for all their hard work!

The London Eye made from Lego at Egham Royal Show, Surrey

Prize winning fairy cakes at Egham Royal Show
Prize winning burger fairy cakes at Egham Royal Show
Models at Egham Royal Show
Prize Winning Veg at Egham Royal Show
Prize winning Fuscia at Egham Royal Show
Decorative Cart – Egham Royal Show
Manx Loaghtan Sheep
Diesel Engine – Egham Royal Show
Egham Royal Show
Siberian Eagle Owl – Egham Royal Show
Piglets – Egham Royal Show
Archery – Egham Royal Show


As previously mentioned, the original Middlesex County Show was sadly cancelled back in 2010 – see article.


The Elixir of the Gods: Discovered in Bournville – How One Special Food Item Began It’s Life On A Tree In Ghana And Fuelled The Excesses Of The Rich and Famous in London’s Capital County – St James’s Street, Middlesex

Throughout my life there has always been one faithful companion who not only kept me going when times were rough, but was also an exuberant buddy who wrapped me in a cloud of ecstasy celebrating the great times too.  That friend is chocolate.

During my early childhood in the Seventies, chocolate bars were given sparingly as a treat by my parents.  I had regular pocket money that I used to purchase penny sweets such as Cola Bottles, Spaceships, Rubbard/Custard Chews and Gob-Stoppers from the local newsagent. However, nothing could beat the taste of smooth, velvety chocolate whenever I got the chance to indulge.  In those days my favourites were Picnic Bar, Frys Chocolate Cream and of course the slightly crazy Curly Whirly.  One of my cousins worked for Nestles and would bring my brother and I small piles of reject Milky Bars which we loved!

In my teenage years, my school decided to open a small tuck shop which had a pretty good selection of chocolate.  Perhaps in those days (mis-guidedly) schools thought the pupils could be placated with a regular intake of sugar and fat because it also coincided with the introduction of ‘cafeteria’ style school meals – in which the former daily staple of meal and 2 veg was replaced by hamburger/chips and pizzas.  Needless to say, with the advent of both these things, us school kids were in seventh heaven!  With slightly more pocket money in my teenage years, I could also sometimes visit the tuck shop to indulge in favourites such as Maltesers, Crunchy and Fruit and Nut.

The Story of Chocolate from Ghana and Discovering Cadbury World

My recent trip to Cadbury World in Bournville, Birmingham brought back strong memories of early days in development of my chocolate taste buds and was a fantastic journey into the history of this much enjoyed food item.  As the exhibition explains, the Aztecs (whose Empire flourished from 1300-1521) enjoyed a chocolate drink prepared from cacao seeds which they believed were a gift from the god of wisdom Quetzalcoatl.  Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes is thought to have been one of the first to bring chocolate to Europe from the Aztec Empire in 1528.

Ghana in West Africa is one of the main countries where Mondelez International (who now own the Cadbury’s Brand) buy their chocolate.  I travelled to Ghana 10 years ago and took these pics of the cocoa pods growing on the trees.

Cocoa Pod

The cocoa trees there each produce around 30 pods each year. Each pod contains 30-40 seeds, which sit in a sweet white pulp, a bit like cotton wool.  These seeds are the cocoa beans.  It actually takes a whole year’s crop from one tree to make 1lb (454g) of cocoa.  When they’re ripe, the cocoa pods turn a rich golden colour. They are then cut down from the trees and the pulp and beans are removed from the outside husk. The beans are then fermented between banana leaves.  The wet beans are then dried in the sun as shown.

The beans are then graded according to quality, selected by Mondelez and shipped to the UK.  There they are roasted, kibbled (broken into small pieces) and winnowed (the broken shells blown away) leaving just the ‘nibs’ – centre of the beans.  The nibs are then ground until they become a thick chocolate coloured liquid which is the basic ingredient for all cocoa and chocolate products.

In the exhibition you can view a wonderful selection of old chocolate advertising. Remember the Cadbury’s Flake Girl delighting in the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate or contrastingly Terry Scott extoiling the virtues of non-crumbly Curly Whirly?  Although, at the moment you can’t see the factory line in action, you can view the production of some of weird and wonderful hand-decorated chocolates which can be bought in the exhibition shop (see chocolate shoes).


Inside Cadbury World – hand decorated chocolates

I am looking forward to trying the Milk Chocolate Cocoa Pod I purchased which actually contains some of the nibs produced earlier in the chocolate making cycle which I was assured by one of the Cadbury World staff are very interesting to try having slightly more bitter taste than regular chocolate.

Chocolate cocoa pod from Cadbury World

Chocolate Houses

During my visit to Cadbury Word I discovered that Chocolate Houses became popular with high society in Middlesex during the 17th century and rivalled Coffee Houses for their business.  One of the first Chocolate Houses was opened by a Frenchman on Queen’s Alley in Bishopsgate Street and it’s chocolate was advertised as a ‘West Indian Drink’.  Italian, Francis White, opened White’s Chocolate House in 1697 at 4 Chesterfield Street which was then moved to 37 St James’s Street where you can still view the exterior of the building.


In those days the drink was marketed – among other things – as an aid to fertility, a cure for consumption and indigestion and even revered for it’s ability to reverse the ageing process.  The diarist Samuel Pepys even lauded it’s properties as a remarkable hangover cure.

17th century White’s had a somewhat decadent and debauched reputation being featured in William Hogarth’s 6th episode of A Rake’s Progress.  One story of the extreme gambling activities behind it’s doors was revealed by the son of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, Horace Walpole.  Apparently, when a man collapsed in the street he was brought into White’s and bets were taken as to whether or not he was dead.  He is thought to have died shortly afterwards.  Other typical bets included whether or not certain members would survive the year, get married or political bets around events taking place during the French Revolution or Napoleonic Wars.  Other pastimes revolved around such things as card playing, dice, poetry recital, newspaper reading and political debate.

White’s is now an exclusive gentleman’s club – rumoured over the years to have been a haunt of Prince Charles, Prince William and even former PM David Cameron.  In fact, it seems that it was is so exclusive that I had some trouble locating it.  Upon making a phone call for directions a rather suspicious voice enquired upon my business in the club.  Not surprising as further research revealed that even in 2017 the only female to ever to have set foot across it’s doorstep was none other than the Queen herself back in 1991.  The club is said to have a 9 year waiting list with many applicants regularly turned down.

The Future

The story of chocolate is constantly evolving.  For example, in the case of Cadbury’s, the acquisition by Mondelez resulted in the combining of traditional Cadbury’s chocolate products such as Diary Milk with Mondelez products such as Oreo biscuit – something many purists might be none too keen on.  However, perhaps consumers are more open to change these days as, according to The Food and Beverages Website, Dairy Milk and Oreo is one of their best selling co-branded lines.

Worldwide, the popularity of chocolate shows no sign of diminishing with increasing growth particularly in markets in Asian Pacific countries where consumers are becoming more accustomed to Western tastes and demand is growing.

To find out more about the story of chocolate, visit

Cadbury World,
Linden Road, Bournville
Birmingham B30 1JR

If you travel by train to Cadbury World with London Midland, Virgin or Chiltern Trains you can get a 30% discount with pre-booked tickets to Cadbury World with pre-booked train tickets

The Story Of The Gadget King of Middlesex Who Inspired The Creation Of Wallace And Gromit

Knowing how best to spend the valuable time created by a 3 day Bank Holiday weekend can be tricky.  As Wallace said to Gromit whilst reading Cheese Holiday Magazine and trying to plan his own holiday weekend –  in the 1989 animation ‘A Grand Day Out’ – ‘We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese – everyone knows the moon is made of cheese..!’  However, this coming Bank Holiday, it may not be necessary to go to the end of the earth or sit in a long traffic jam to find the ideal place to spend a few hours.  In fact, the best place may be right here in Middlesex in a wonderful gem of a museum in Pinner Memorial Park, which celebrates the life of artist Heath Robinson whose work influenced the animator Nick Park in the creation of cartoon heroes Wallace and Gromit.

In a sense, my journey to writing this post began several months ago.  I had called out an electrician to advise me on installation of electrical sockets at home.  As he surveyed the mass of cabling and adaptors in the corner of my living room he drew a sharp breath.  I tried to explain that I had never had enough electric sockets to furnish the mass of modern appliances that I need to keep going – such as TVs, Sky TV, DVD players, recharging points for ‘phones etc., and he muttered ‘it’s a certainly bit Heath Robinson, isn’t it?’  I didn’t think anything much about the electrician’s phraseology to describe my botched electrical circuitry until some months later, when I had the chance learn more about the life of the artist behind an expression that became so well used it became part of the English language.

The Heath Robinson museum is a few minutes walk from the entrance to Pinner Memorial Park.  It’s quite a new museum having only opened in 2016.  It was funded by the National Lottery so it’s good to know those ticket purchasers who, though failing to become millionaires, actually contributed to the existence of this amazing place.

The museum consists of two main rooms, one room contains the exhibition of the work of Heath Robinson and the other a fascinating exhibition of Rejuvenated Junk which runs until 3rd September 2017.

The Exhibition Of The Work of Heath Robinson

Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872 in Finsbury Park, Middlesex. He lived in Moss Lane, Pinner from 1908-1918. He came from an artistic family with his father a regular illustrator for the Penny Illustrated News and his brothers Charles and Tom both book illustrators. Although Heath had initially dreamt of becoming a landscape painter (and some of his early paintings can be viewed in the museum) he found that this occupation didn’t earn him enough to pay the bills.  Therefore, when he left art school he began working as a book illustrator with his brothers from his father’s studio in the City of London.  His early successes included the illustrations for Indian Folk tales from the Ramayana and a selection of the poems of Edgar Alan Poe for Studio Magazine. He gained some financial stability from the success of the 1902 publication called Adventures of Uncle Lubin which he wrote as well as illustrated.  In this book you can see early examples of illustrations of some of the zany gadgets for which he became well known.

During World War 1, Heath Robinson became popular with both soldiers and civilians using gentle satire and ridiculousness as an antidote to pompous German propaganda and the terror of war.

While living in Pinner, he was commissioned to illustrate Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After the War, Health Robinson left Pinner and took his family to live in the country in Cranleigh, Surrey.  At this time, he focussed on advertising and humorous drawings for magazines.  His work highlighted the human condition, the workings of fate and weakness of man.  In the 1930s he published a series of books written with KRG Brown with titles such as How to Live In A Flat, How To Be A Perfect Father, How To Make A Garden Grow, How To Be A Motorist.  The How To Books established him as ‘The Gadget King’.  In these books he illustrated a range of weird and wonderful contraptions poking fun at modernism in design and architecture.  For example, in How to Live In A Flat, there were sections on how to prove there is room to swing a cat in your living-room and inventive space-saving solutions, such as the ‘Combination Bath and Writing Desk for Business Men’, the ‘Bed Dining-table’ and the ‘Dresser-Piano’.  The nearest modern day equivalent of books using this type of concept I can think of would perhaps be something like the Ladybird Series of Books for Adults.

How To Books
How To Book



In 1934 the Daily Mail asked him to design a ‘Gadget House’ for The Ideal Home Exhibition. A firm was paid to construct a giant doll sized house with the front removed to reveal the inner workings.  Robinson found creative solutions to problems such as middle-class families not having enough money to employ servants by replacing them with pieces of string, so that people could bring themselves whatever they wanted without moving from their chairs — the early 20th-century version of remote control.  Perhaps surprisingly, Heath Robinson never made any actual models himself, but the exhibition does have a fantastic Heath Robinson-esque type model constructed by a local school called ‘An ingenious device for the successful performance of opening ceremonies’.  According to the museum signage when operational ‘music is played to calm children before the dramatic cutting of the ribbon, enabling the Master of Ceremonies to accomplish the task with rapt attention, while appearing to have complete control of time’.

The onset of World War 2 filled Heath Robinson with a sense of foreboding.  His sons went off to fight in the war and it seems that he found the whole situation so difficult to contemplate that he could not directly include it in his artistic output instead choosing to focus his work on poking fun of British soldiers and civilians on the home front.  He died in 1944 and is buried in East Finchley Cemetery.

The Rejuvenated Junk Exhibition

This exhibition is inspired by the series of drawings created by Heath Robinson in 1935 called Rejuvenated Junk, illustrating new uses for unwanted objections.  Some of the drawings were used to illustrate an article entitled ‘At Home With Heath Robinson’, written by KRG Browne and published in The Strand Magazine.  The exhibition features several of these drawings and an incredible collection of upcycled and recycled objects from 33 countries around the world collected by knowtrash

Nesting box
Stove from Mexico
Stove from Mexico


Shoulder Bag from Vietnam – newspaper cut into strips and woven with thread



Bag made from metal drink cans
Boat made from Coke cans

After viewing the exhibition, you may wish to take a stroll around Pinner Memorial Park which has a nice little café, pond and children’s play area.

Pinner Memorial Park
Heath Robinson Museum and Cafe


The Heath Robinson Museum,
Pinner Memorial Park,
West End Lane, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 1AE
020 8866 8420

Open from Thursday-Sunday (Check website below for opening times)

The Museum is less than 10 minutes’ walk from Pinner station on the Metropolitan Line (lifts in station serving both platforms). Four buses stop even closer, on Bridge St: H11, H12, H13 and 183.

If driving, there is a car park next to the entrance of Pinner Memorial Park.

Watch the following to view examples of the work of Heath Robinson:

Wallace and Gromit Plan their Bank Holiday:

Discovered In The War Zone of Brentford, Middlesex – Controversial Characters Through History (Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prince Rupert and Charles the 1st)

Some people think that the formidable angel in the plaster over-mantel above the fireplace in the State Drawing Room in Boston Manor House, Middlesex is a dead-ringer for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Boston Manor House – Mrs T look-a-like / Abraham and Issac

The fireplace dates from 1623 and the plaster over-mantel was inspired by an engraving by Abraham de Bruyn of 1584.  The central oval medallion depicts the biblical story of Abraham about to sacrifice his son, Issac and being stopped by an angel (the Mrs Thatcher look-a-like). The inscription below reads ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shal be seene’.  The story goes that God was testing Abraham’s faith by instructing him to kill his only son. According to legend God stopped Abraham in the act at the last minute and instead instructed him to kill a sheep.

Drawing Room Fireplace Boston Manor House

Maybe seeing the Mrs T lookalike image was an omen because it seemed to me during my recent visit to Boston Manor House and Brentford that this area of Middlesex was significant to the lives of some difficult and rebellious characters throughout history.  In this post I thought I’d focus on a couple of these characters at a pivotal point in English history.  To do this we need to go back in time to the early days of the English Civil War in November 1642.

Incredible as it may seem at that time Brentford was something of a war zone with the Royalist forces advancing through Brentford towards the Parliamentarians who were encamped in London.  During the height of the Civil War, a surprise cavalry charge in the area against the Parliamentarian forces was led by a charismatic German soldier called Prince Rupert the nephew of King Charles I of England.  Rupert was known for his youthful arrogance which alienated many of the King’s senior advisers, particularly as Rupert was exempted from taking orders from anyone but King Charles himself.

On the morning of 12 November, taking advantage of a thick mist, Prince Rupert advanced with four regiments of horses along the Great West Road towards Brentford, Middlesex.  His forces attacked the small Roundhead garrison who defended the town in hand to hand combat.  Many Roundheads were driven down to the river and drowned.  The battle continued throughout the day, with a retreat of survivors made possible, upon the arrival of Colonel John Hampden’s regiment from Uxbridge, Middlesex.

After the capture of the town Prince Rupert ordered that it should be destroyed.  Boats and nets of fishermen were burned, goods stolen, homes pillaged and residents turned out. The delay caused by the Royalist destruction of the town gave the Earl of Essex the opportunity to gather the Parliamentary troops and, in a pivotal point in the fighting, the Royalist army went into retreat after a stand-off at nearby Turnham Green the following day.  In blocking the Royalist army’s way to London, the Parliamentarians gained an important strategic victory as the standoff forced Rupert’s forces to retreat to Oxford (the King’s capital) for secure winter quarters.

The mellow side of Rupert’s character was shown through his love for his dog called ‘Boy’.  The white poodle was thought to have been given to him during his time in prison in the thirty year war.  It was believed by some Roundheads that ‘Boy’ had possession of supernatural powers as a ‘dog-witch’.

It is rumoured that Charles I had watched part of the Battle of Brentford in 1642 from the roof of Boston Manor House.

Charles the First was certainly a controversial figure himself.  He was reserved (he had a residual stammer), self-righteous and had a high concept of royal authority, believing in the divine right of kings. He was a good linguist and considered to be a man of refined tastes.  He spent a lot on the arts, inviting the artists Van Dyck and Rubens to work in England, and buying a great collection of paintings by Raphael and Titian, his expenditure on his court, his picture collection as well as a number of overseas conflicts greatly increased the crown’s debts.

Charles married Roman Catholic French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625.  Parliament were concerned about the marriage because they did not want to see a return to Catholicism and they believed that a Catholic Queen would raise their children to the Catholic faith.

Charles’s ideology was opposed by those who believed that there should be a limit to Royal authority and that the people and their representatives – Parliament – should have a say in how the nation was governed.

In an act that marked the beginning of the English Civil War, on 22 August 1642 in Nottingham, Charles raised the Royal Standard calling for loyal subjects to support him.

In common with Prince Rupert, King Charles the First was also a dog lover and before his execution for high treason in Whitehall in 1649, one of his last wishes to be granted was to go for a last walk with his pet dog in St James’ Park.

Prior to the days of unrest of the Civil War, the Manor of Boston was inherited by Lady Mary Read in 1621 who was married to Sir Edward Spencer of Althorp, Northamptonshire – an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales (and her second husband).  Boston Manor House was believed to have been completed in a hurry by local builders in 1623 to be ready for the marriage of Sir Edward and Lady Mary (problems with the walls and foundations have long bedevilled the house).  Mary Read’s initials and the date 1623 can be seen on the ceiling and at the top of a drainpipe overlooking the back lawn of the house.

When Charles I watched the Battle of Brentford from the roof of Boston Manor House he may have warmed himself against the chill of the November evening in front of a roaring fire at the spectacular fireplace showing the story of Abraham and Issac?  To be a fly on the wall and hear the conversations between him and Sir Edward and Lady Mary (who if the rumours are true must have been sympathetic to the Royalist cause) would have been fascinating.

Boston Manor was home to the Clitherow family from 1670 to 1924.  It’s thought that the Clitherow moto ‘Loyal yet Free’ was painted above the fireplace in the state drawing room at around 1670.  The Clitherow family had a long association with Middlesex being magistrates at both the Middlesex and Brentford sessions.   James Clitherow (1766-1841) was also a Colonel of the Royal Westminster Middlesex Militia and Chairman of the Committee instrumental in setting up Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum in Hanwell.

Although much of the contents of the old house were sold at auction in the 1920s, you can still view much of the original features including some very rare locally made wallpaper which was fashionable in the 18th century.  The wallpaper would have been hand blocked in sections, not in a roll as it is nowadays.  Each section included 5 different colours which would have to have been applied separately.  The wallpaper would have likely been extremely expensive in those days.

Wallpaper – Boston Manor House

The Drawing Room ceiling is a highlight of any visit to Boston Manor.  Dating from 1623 it is divided into panels showing figures illustrating the senses (Light, Taste, Touch, Hearing and Smell) and the elements (Earth, Air, Water and Fire), Peace and Plenty, War and Peace, and Faith Hope and Charity.   The elements are from designs by the painter Marc Gheeraeharts.  The idea of the ceiling was that an uplifting day could be spent reading and meditating of the meaning of the design.

Ceiling – Boston Manor House
Interior – Boston Manor House
Interior – Staircase – Boston Manor House

Whilst very few people are going to have the luxury of appreciating the ceiling for a whole day, a couple of hours discovering Boston Manor House is time well spent.  It’s open every Saturday and Sunday until 29 October 2017.  Not only is it FREE of charge to go in but there’s even a guided tour at 2:30pm.

Location: Boston Manor Road, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 9JX.

Tel: 0208 568 2818

Public Transport:

Train – Boston Manor (Piccadilly Line) 200 yards from the house, Brentford Station
Bus – E3 , E8, 195

Find out more by visiting Friends of Boston Manor and The London Borough of Hounslow