The Anonymous Widower

Crossrail’s Fans At Canary Wharf Station

I have just watched today’s episode of The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway on the BBC.

In one storyline, they negotiate a giant ventilation fan into Canary Wharf station.

Installing the fans is a fascinating tale, where in the end the last movements are performed using hover-pads and several strong men.

I am reminded of a tale I heard in my youth.

  • At the age of 15 and 16, I spent two summers working at a company in North London called Enfield Rolling Mills.
  • The boss of the company was John Grimston, who was a friend of my father and ERM were the largest customer of his printing business.
  • I got a superb introduction to working in a large factory, where I installed simple valve-based electronic control systems on heavy machinery.

The most important rolling mill in the company, was a mill, that reduced copper wirebars to wire about half a centimetre in diameter.

  • The machine had been acquired from Krupp, as war-reparations after the First World War and was still marked with Krupp’s trademark of three interlocked railway tyres.
  • Enfield Rolling Mills had a trademark of four rings.
  • The hot wire zig-zagged from one side to the other and it was turned by men using tongs.
  • The machine was powered by a massive flywheel driven by an electric motor.

At some time in the 1950s, the flywheel needed to be replaced, by a new 96-ton wheel.

The Chief Engineer of the company was an Austrian Jew, known to all as Shimmy, which was a contraction of his surname Shimatovich.

  • He had spent some time in a Nazi concentration camp and walked with a distinct stoop.
  • He was widely recognised as one of the experts on roll grinding and very much respected by management, staff and workers alike.
  • He had supposedly calculated, that if the new flywheel had come off its bearings at full speed, it would have gone a couple of miles through all the housing surrounding the factory.

There was very much a problem of how the new flywheel would be installed until Shimmy announced at a Board Meeting. “We will do it the way, we’d have done it in the concentration camp. We will use men! But our men are fit, well-fed and strong.”

So one Sunday morning, a large force turned up and rolled the flywheel off the low loader and into position using ropes, blocks and tackle and other equipment, that would have been familiar to ancient builders, after which it was duly fixed in place.

The job was completed just before one and the Managing Director of the company then asked if anybody would like a drink and indicated that everybody follow him to the company’s social club.

They arrived just as the steward was cleaning the last of the glasses and getting ready to lock up. On being asked to provide a large number of pints of bitter, he announced he was closed.

On this the Managing Director, by the name of Freddie Pluty, who was a strong man picked up the steward and sat him on the bar.

He then asked the two large workers at the front of the queue. “Are you going to hit him or shall I?”

They got their drinks.


June 12, 2022 Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tribute To A Hero

At the War Memorial on Islington Green today, there was a tribute to the bravery of Frederick Parslowe, who saved his ship in the Great War, but was killed in the action. He was postumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

According to this article in the Islington Tribune, a commemorative  paving stone is being unvieled as part of the hundredth anniversary commemorations for the Great War.

July 4, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized, World | , | 1 Comment

Another Famous Belgian

Read this article on the BBC web site, entitled Adrian Carton de Wiart: The unkillable soldier. His Wikipedia article says this.

He served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in World War I, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”

He eventually died peacefully at 83.



January 6, 2015 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Viewing The Poppies In The Rain

I went to The Tower today to see the poppies.

Seeing them in the rain, might have made the whole thing more poignant in a way.

But certainly rain or not, the field of ceramic poppies is truly spectacular.

November 12, 2014 Posted by | World | , | 2 Comments

The Connection Between The First Tanks And The Classic Routemaster Bus

At first glance, it would appear that there would be little connection between Little Willie, which was one of the prototypes leading to the first tanks of the Great War and the classic Routemaster bus of the 1950s.

But I’ve just read this article on the BBC’s web site about how the tanks were developed in Lincoln. The article talks about the two designers.

The work needed more than technical experience, it needed two very particular men – William Tritton and Lieutenant Walter Wilson.

“Tritton was a brilliant engineer,” says Mr Pullen. “And he was a brilliant leader. He got things done.

“He turned Foster’s around with new ideas and new markets.

“Couple him with Walter Wilson, who was also a good engineer but a genius with things like gearboxes, and they made a brilliant partnership.”

It goes on to describe how they locked themselves in a hotel room and scribbled designs on envelopes and fag packets.

And the rest as they say is history!

Walter Wilson went on to form a company called Self-Changing Gears, that developed pre-selector gearboxes. I never drove a vehicle with one of these gearboxes, but I’ve sat just behind the driver on many a London Transport RT-bus and watched the driver select the gear and then hit the gear change pedal to engage it. The use of this type of transmission, was to make the effort of the constant stopping and starting easier on the driver.

Routemasters , it would appear had a fully-automatic version of the transmission, linking them back to the original tanks.

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Transport/Travel, World | , , , | Leave a comment

If Cows Could Fly!

Well their intestines did in the First World War according to this story in the Daily Mail and other newspapers. The title says it all.

How Germans were banned from eating sausages during WWI because intestines of 250,000 cows were needed to make each Zeppelin

It was effective wasn’t it!

August 24, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment