First, Thanks to Jerry, who identified our mysterious concrete bell as a Bell Bollard. We quote from the website he found: Bell Bollards can provide a stable vehicular barrier, as even high axeled lorries would not be able to drive over an obstruction of this height. Positioned and aligned at appropriate distances across the road, Bell Bollards can also act as effective width restrictors, preventing oversize vehicles from passing through. (As fearful pedestrians in a country which has few red octagonal stop signs, we're happy to know about any protections!)
And thanks to Bryan, who identified our mystery building from our City walk as the former Port of London Authority building, now the home of the Willis, the third largest property insurance company in the world, but recently sold to a development firm. As is the case with several other buildings in the area (some of them partially demolished already) the new owners of this building want to turn it into a hotel.
Monday started out a little odd for us: first of all, we waited and waited for the bus to take us the few blocks to the underground. When a bus Tulips in Chelmsford finally did appear, it was so full of passengers who had been waiting a long time at the previous bus stops that it could not legally stop for us. We needed the walk anyway, and as we approached the underground station were passed by two or three buses in close sequence; apparently whatever bung had been stopping up the stream of buses got pulled out! When we got to Hammersmith Station, to change for the train to Kew, we waited and waited and waited, but no trains came for about fifteen minutes. We reached Kew, and walked the half-mile to the Public Record Office. On the way, at a street crossing, we heard an interminable burglar alarm and then observed a badgered and bothered middle-aged women, cursing the cars and the world in general as she returned (evidently) to the subway. Had we been more observant, we would have seen that the street light was out, but we just walked along with the crowd. On reaching the PRO, we were told of the massive power outage that had affected many square miles, as far south as Richmond. It would be hours before the reading room would open again, sorry. So we joined the crowd walking the other way to the underground, not telling those walking in the opposite direction of their fate. On the way back to the city, an entire bank of four seats on the subway was occupied by a bum (there must be a PC term, but bum will do nicely) along with his three dogs -- a bitch and two large puppies, all of them sprawled out and stinking. After all these setbacks, we regrouped, left the computer at home, set off on foot, and turned lemons into lemonade with a successful shopping foray concluding with theater tickets (report after the performance.)
Our computer has made lists of our ancestors by English county, and the winner (27 family names) is Essex. We took our first day trip by train to visit the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford, the county seat, just 30 minutes out. From the station, we walked past the county council building, then through a long, broad, attractive pedestrian shopping avenue, and along the river to a modern, glass-fronted, high-tech building. Each work seat had a computer and swivel-mounted monitor, extra plugs for one's laptop, and room to spread out papers. Essex has been developing its databases for quite a while, with books of abstracts of wills and indexes. In 1958 they had 700,000 names in their database, so it's not surprising that now, 45 years later, they have an impressive computer capability. They're still adding records to the computer (by one report they're only 10% done), but it's online at www.essexcc.gov.uk/ero. The Gamble Room in the V & A
As in Truro, the bulk of activity was around the microform readers, as people sifted through the data for information about their eighteenth- through twentieth-century forbears. But for us the task was more daunting. All 27 of those families were seventeenth-century or earlier. Although the Church had required rectors to keep written registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials starting in 1558, the system wasn't universally followed for over a century. Add to that the fact that the registers were written in Latin, in ancient handwriting, with bad ink and leaky quills on poor paper that has had centuries of tears and folds, and it's a challenge to get much information of use. Before the church registers, the best clues come from wills, but they're tough to decipher too. So we struggled along, and counted ourselves extremely lucky to discover that Richard Spilman's wife Alice Unknown was actually Alice Roberts, and that the widow Mary Warner left a will, which we hope to copy on our next trip.
Chelmsford has a cathedral, with sixteenth century architecture, nice stained glass, and a warm interior. On the lawn stands a Celtic cross dedicated to St. Cedd, an Irish priest who brough Christianity around 500 A.D. If one ventures to the coast, there's a mediaeval chapel still standing on the site where St. Cedd built his church.
The next day we visited a famous museum, in an immense, imposing building, whose spacious, high-ceilinged rooms are filled with wonderful objects. The Victoria and Albert Museum, affectionately known as the V & A, is The National Museum of Art and Design, and its contents have been carefully selected during the past 200 years. They dazzle the eye. The museum is free, the cloakroom is free, amateur photography is permitted, even with flash.
We came specifically to see an exhibit of Propaganda Posters, including both sides of several wars and revolutions, in Russia, Spain, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. The collection was a recent gift to the V & A. A boy and girl had started collecting anti-war posters to decorate their rooms at Yale in Chihuly glass sculpture the 60s, later married, combined and expanded their hobby over the years. Now divorced and remarried, the new spouses joined in giving the collection away. We speculated about the motives. Had they grown tired of the hobby? Did one or both need a tax write-off? Was the gift part of the property settlement after the divorce? Regardless, it was a thought-provoking display. It seems posters are more effective intensifying the passions of those already committed to a cause than swaying the undecided.
Once we were in the V & A, we couldn't help but notice . . . many other galleries. An interesting gallery devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright featured the entire office he had designed in the 30s for Mr. Kaufman, a modernist Philadelphia businessman. Kaufman's home, Fallingwater, was also designed by Wright. The displays of Wright's earliest nineteenth century designs showed how his work evolved over the decades.
We walked through three ornately decorated rooms which had originally been built as refreshment rooms for the museum. We marveled at the creations of the Italian Renaissance, and wished we had all day to spend. As we returned to the entrance rotunda, we looked up to see an enormous and captivating modern glass hanging sculpture. We were sure we'd seen something like it before at the Glass Museum in Corning, NY. It was created in Seattle by the team of Dale Chihuly. Each of the 1300 elements was hand blown, lined with polyurethane adhesive, tied at the neck with stainless steel wire, and affixed to an armature which provided the structural support for the 3800-pound chandelier, which took five days for a team of six to install.