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April 2016


Petts Wood


Markfield Beam Engine


Croydon Airport


Perivale Wood

Petts Wood (9 April 2016)


I like to go out travelling on the trains and buses around the suburbs of London and I find it interesting to see how the various areas differ from each other. I look at the mixture of old buildings and new ones, and imagine what it would have been like when the old ones were newly built, and even before that. It is not so long ago that many of the suburbs of London were open countryside and the areas that we have names for were originally separate villages that have now joined up and are separated only by a dotted line on the municipal map to show which council controls which piece. Some of the supermarkets display large framed prints of the high street in times past, and seeing these whilst queuing to pay for the groceries makes me want to find out more. The photos generally go back only as far as the earlier versions of the high street around the beginning of the twentieth century.

A prime example of planned transition from countryside to suburbs is Petts Wood in the London Borough of Bromley which was built as a “garden suburb” in the 1930’s by developer Basil Scruby. His aim was to build homes and a community for prosperous middle class families who wanted to escape the noise and dirt of London, but still have easy access to their places of work in the city. The railway station* was built first and then the houses and community grew up around it, providing high quality housing within easy reach of the city but with one foot in the country. With the spread of the suburb, the countryside is now a little further away and some of my more elderly friends can remember when Petts Wood and surroundings were entirely farmland, strawberry fields and orchards. It is still a pleasant green area, and its spaciousness is very noticeable when compared with other more densely developed areas, especially those closer to the City.

* "railway station" Write the R stroke first, as it is spoken first

Petts Wood is named after the Pett family, shipbuilders* who held the woodland on lease for timber which was sent to Chatham for shipbuilding. Phineas Pett was born in Deptford* in 1570 and became a shipbuilder* at Chatham, rising to the position of First Commissioner* and promoted* by King Charles to Principal Officer of the Navy. One of his ships “The Sovereign of the Seas” has given its name to a pub in the centre of the town. The woodland remains intact, covering 338 acres (136 hectares) and is managed by the National Trust which ensures that the woods cannot be built on and will remain for public use and enjoyment.

* Omission phrase "shi(p)builder"

* "Deptford" Pronounced "Detford"

* "commission" and derivatives do not use the Con Dot

* "promoted" Insert the vowel after the M, to distinguish from "permitted"


As well as the woodlands, there are many green spaces of all sizes, both open and wooded. It is quite a revelation to follow an enticing green gap between houses and find a small footpath leading to a long ribbon of water and tall dense trees, full of birds and birdsong, natural vegetation and wild flowers. Back home I have to look it up online to see how much of the stream I actually saw and how much I have missed whilst on foot, and maybe discover other hidden pathways to add to my list for investigation during the summer. I am very glad that the Wood part of the name is still with us in this way and has not become just a faint reminder of its history. (573 words)


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Markfield Beam Engine (16 April 2016)


At the end of March we went to an open day at the Markfield Beam Engine and Museum, which is located in Markfield Park on the River Lea Navigation Channel next to the Walthamstow reservoirs in north east London. Like its larger cousins at Crossness in south east London, this is a steam powered beam engine from the Victorian era, built for the sewage works which served the Tottenham* and Wood Green area. The engine and engine house have been fully restored and on certain open days throughout the year, the engines are steamed up and can be seen in full operation. They are no longer used for pumping and so the engines are not under load and the only purpose is to keep them in good order, and for enthusiasts, visitors and educational groups to see the glories of Victorian engineering in action.

* The H is not pronounced, generally spoken as "Totnam"


The beam engine was built in 1886 to pump effluent into the London system towards the Beckton treatment works. It remained in service until 1905 when it was demoted to standby pump for storm water. Operations ceased in 1964 and all the machinery* was scrapped except for the engine which was mothballed. A partial restoration was undertaken from 1972 to 1976. A complete restoration and overhaul was carried out* in 2009* when the engine gave its first demonstration to the public. The engine, museum and grounds were completed and opened to the public in 2010*. The engine and pump house are grade two listed and so are protected and secured for the future.

* "machi(n)ery" Optional contracted outline omitting the N, clearer and faster than the full outline which uses hooked Nr

* "carried out" Halving for the T

* "2009, 2010" Long slash to represent current century, arbitrary sign with no phonetic value



The engine is a 100 horsepower* free-standing double-expansion compound rotative beam engine, built by Wood Brothers of Yorkshire. The flywheel* weighs 17 tons and is 27 feet in diameter. There is a Watt centrifugal* speed governor* and the drive coupling to the cylinders is a Watt parallel motion linkage. The engine is built within its own cast iron frame so that it is independent of the brick building, except for the flywheel axle fixing which has its own iron frame built into the wall. When under load, the engine consumed 200 kilos* of coal per hour and the two pumps together were able to move 4 million gallons* every* 24 hours.

* "horsepower" You could contract this by leaving out the Ray

* "flywheel" It is not practical to join the WHL stroke here

* "centrifugal" Based on the outline for "centre" for convenience, to obtain a clear and fast outline, similarly "central" "concentric"

* "gove(r)nor" Optional contraction omitting the first R. You could write it with Vr stroke, but it is clear enough without

* "kilos" "gallons" Both units of measurement, so prudent to insert vowels

* "every" Insert the final vowel, as "over" would also make sense


The engine is decorated in an ornate style typical of Victorian times. I think this was a desire to express high quality and fineness and our present-day preference for clean lines and minimalistic* appearance would have seemed quite strange to them. The doric columns and acanthus leaves in dark green with red detail are very smart and pleasing. It is thought that the original colours were dark and light green, and before the present version it was light blue and cream. The rocking beam is a rich red, as befits its superior position, held aloft over all the other parts of the engine, cylinders and pistons, flywheel and rotating shafts. Part of its attraction is that you can see all the moving parts and so get an idea of how it all works, which is both interesting and educational.

* "minimalis(t)ic" Omits the T (outline not in dictionary)

In summer the museum is open twice a month, but only some of these are steaming days. We arrived at midday half an hour before the start time of the first demonstration*. This gave us an opportunity to look at the museum items and read all the information posted around the room, explaining about the engine in detail and giving the history of the facility. Beyond the engine room and the museum lobby is a small room where two oil-fired boilers produce the steam. We were given a detailed introduction by one of the volunteers, from his vantage point halfway up the iron stairs above the cylinders, which was very interesting and went through its history, background and purpose.

* "demonst(r)ation" Omits the R


By this time there were* more families with children, sitting and standing around in the narrow space beside the engine. We were asked to cheer loudly to help the machine to start up. The machine duly began to turn, hiss, rumble and thump. The regulator* began spinning, the flywheel got up to speed and the ends of the giant steel shafts, attached to it through the cogwheel* mechanism, began their circular dance. The regular low thumping noise, which seemed to be coming up from the area below floor level, was proof that it was now alive, with a good strong heart beating and ready to do some serious work. Alas, in retirement it does no work, except be an object of admiration by enthusiasts and a succession of young children who are sure they want one of their own for their next birthday present.

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "regulator" The U diphthong sign is placed at the end of the stroke, as it is an intervening vowel

* "cogwheel" It is not practical to join the WHL stroke here

Wheels of the mind are turning - Shall I learn shorthand? - It would be great to write fast - OK I think I will


Everyone was very polite with people shuffling around so that everyone could get their photos. About an hour later the engine slowed to a halt and the puffs of steam died away. Several thousand photos must have been* safely captured in all the cameras and smartphones. I had pictures of every part of it, close-ups of the decorative detail, all the individual components, and the building itself. It was not possible* to get the whole engine in one picture as there is no room to stand back and get it all in one view. Afterwards we wandered around the park area, finally settling on a bench by the riverside to eat our sandwiches. Although the sun was shining, there was a chilly breeze, and we spent a short time* watching the swans and ducks* before heading for home. (908 words)

* Omission phrase "must (have) been" "short (t)ime"

* The phrase "was not possible" on its own could used the shortened "poss", but here it would descend too far below the line.

* "ducks" Insert the vowel, so it is not misread as "dogs"

www.mbeam.org Markfield Beam Engine and Museum, open throughout the year



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Croydon Airport (25 April 2016)


I am always on the lookout for places of interest to visit in and around London. I am discovering many places that I did not know existed, even though I have lived in London all of my life. This happened last month when we visited the former Croydon Airport in south London. The site is now mostly* built over with housing, industrial units, playing fields and parkland. The terminal building is now used as a business centre, and the booking hall, two small rooms and the control tower are where the Croydon Airport Society have their displays. The Society hold their open day once a month and I was expecting to find out some facts about what I mistakenly* thought was a minor airfield of limited importance, but probably worth visiting for a day out. I realised I was wrong when I checked their website prior to the visit, which shows that Croydon Airport was the first international airport in the world and the source of all our methods of aircraft and passenger management.

* "mostly" "mistakenly" Both these omit the T

Reproduction of painting by Kenneth McDonough 1930



As we came along Purley Way on the bus, there came into view the unmissable large white de Havilland Heron airplane on the forecourt, held aloft on struts over the path leading to the terminal building entrance now called Airport House. We entered the booking hall which remains unaltered from the past. The central columnar departure board showing flight times (not world times, as our guide pointed out) has long since gone, and the space is occupied by a modern reception desk. All the walls are covered in photos, prints, posters and other framed exhibits illustrating the history of the airport. While waiting for the tour to start, we sat on very comfortable sofas and watched a video of archive footage of the planes. Our tour began in the rear corridor, with many more photos and prints on the walls. Our volunteer guide described the background and history of many of the images, and, being an older man and a long-term resident of Croydon, he was able to describe some of the wartime events from personal experience as a youngster.


Next we went up the rear staircase, with yet more prints and posters on the walls, and came to a small room full of exhibits. The first thing I noticed was the giant 4-blade wooden propeller positioned between the windows, and we heard about how they were designed in two pieces, so that they could be transported easily and flown out as replacements anywhere in the world. Another room leads off this one and has even more items, mostly in glass cabinets, as well as several original airplane seats. One is a very early wicker chair and another wooden one has deep floral cushions to make the passengers feel right at home. Air travel in those days was a huge novelty and only for the very wealthy, although the earliest flights were far from comfortable, and both pilots and passengers might have been open to the weather. Our guide told us that outfits could be hired from various department stores for passengers to protect themselves against the cold and wind.


Finally we went up to the control tower, built in 1928, the first in the world. One corner is a separate glazed section set up to show how it would have looked when in operation, with all the furniture and equipment needed to handle all the planes and flights. There are more display cases and table top models of aircraft. To one side was a family with children eagerly crowding around a computer screen. They were engrossed in a flight simulator programme and their young boy was sitting in the aircraft seat holding the control column, with the volunteer helping him fly his way around the virtual countryside. After the tour we were free to wander around at our own pace and make our way down again, with time to inspect everything more closely.

Control tower re-created



Croydon Aerodrome began in 1915 with the merging of two adjacent airfields, Beddington which was used to launch attacks against Zeppelins, and Waddon which was used for testing new aircraft. In 1918 The National Aircraft Factory No.1 was built here and Croydon became the base for the Royal Flying Corps Home Defence. After the war came the beginnings of civilian air travel and it was then known as “The Air Port of London”. Britain’s first national airline Imperial Airways (later to become British Airways) had its beginnings here in 1924. The airport became known as London Terminal Aerodrome, Croydon, and was the centre for aviation engineering innovation. Radio position fixing was developed, which was the forerunner of all the subsequent air traffic control systems. Croydon’s Senior Radio Control Officer Fred Mockford coined the word “Mayday” which is now the standard international distress term. As most flights at Croydon were to and from France, this term was based on the French “Venez m’aider” (come and help me) to make it easily recognisable in both countries. The word is always said three times, to prevent confusion with any other similar sounding word or phrase.


Many record breaking flights started in Croydon, including those by Alan Cobham, Charles Lindbergh*, Bert Hinkler and Amy Johnson. Air traffic increased over the years until the Second World War when the airport had to cease hosting civil airlines and in 1939 it returned to its former role of defence from air attack and was renamed RAF Croydon. The area suffered a major Luftwaffe bombing attack in 1940. By 1943 RAF Transport Command was moving large numbers of troops to and from Europe. After the war the airport reverted to civil airline use but the short runways and the lack of room to expand meant it was unable to retain its role as London’s international airport and it closed on 30 September 1959.

* "Lindbergh" Not in dictionary, this seems the clearest way to write it

Yes I did, the stairs were clear of aircraft

This place is a real treasure trove of information and history, and of immense importance in the history of London and of world aviation. Although the areas for display are somewhat limited, they are packed with as much material as can be fitted in and one wishes that more space was available for all their other archive material as well. It is entirely fitting that they are based on their home turf (literally) and the only thing missing are the wings in the sky. We left Airport House with our minds full of the sights and imagined sounds of 44 years of flying history. The airplane parked outside now looked completely* different, now that we had learned something of its past. I felt I could almost hear its engines revving up, ready to take to the skies again, but it was in fact a couple of motorbikes with noisy exhausts taking advantage of being the first to move off from the green traffic lights and take off down the wide straight Purley Way, which cuts through two open green spaces, just like the tarmac runways that used to be here. (1163 words)

* "completely" Downward L to balance the outline, which helps keep the angle sharp





Headset on, ready to take your automated shorthand dictation


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Perivale Wood (26 April 2016)



Many apologies to the London Marathon, but we found something better to do with that particular Sunday. We had another item of interest and destination in mind. We travelled through London doing our best to avoid* the crowds from that event, and yet when we arrived at the place, we found a dense crowd of three million or more all in one enclosed area. All of them were English despite my expectation of seeing a few Spanish ones amongst the throng. The venue for this amazing* gathering was Perivale Wood Local Nature Reserve where the Selborne Society were holding their annual opening of the woods to the public, so that everyone can have the opportunity to walk around and admire the three million native English bluebells that fill the wood. We have mostly* Spanish bluebells at home, which are larger, lighter blue and slightly stripy, and just a small clump of the true English variety, which are darker blue, with smaller flowers lined up on one side of the arching stem.

* "avoid" and "evade" Always insert the 2nd vowel

* "amazing" and "amusing" Always insert the 2nd vowel

* "mostly" Omits the T

The website said, be warned, the paths are muddy. As we boarded the train near my home, I realised that I had forgotten to give my oldish shoes another layer of wax dubbin as added insurance against the wet, so whilst on the train I broke off lumps of soft lip salve from the tube and smeared them over the shoes with a tissue. At last I felt I was properly* ready and prepared for everything from loose soil to woodland puddles and gloop. As we left Perivale Station, we noticed people coming towards us with a muddy ring around the edge of their shoes. We knew we were going the right way! We followed our directions which just happened to coincide with the trail of tiny lumps of mud here and there*, which increased in density as we neared the entrance.

* "properly" Always insert the first vowel, and the diphone in "appropriately"

* Omission phrase "here (and) there"


The event was very well attended by families with children. There were* stalls with maps and pencils to mark off the wildlife found en route, craft stalls relating to the woodland and an example of a section of laid hedge. We started the circuit around the woodland, following the arrows. Wildlife information sheets were pinned to the posts and trees. We continued swimming through the sea of blue and followed the winding paths until we had blue left and right, blue at the front and blue at the back. There were* people in front of us talking about the bluebells and people behind us talking about the bluebells. This was one of those* places that demands your whole attention and does not allow you to think or chat about anything else.

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "one of those" Insert the vowel in "those" and "these" when they are in a phrase and out of position


The atmosphere was almost like a party, with everyone invited who wanted to come and appreciate the national treasure of a bluebell wood. Everyone had a permanent smile on their face and I kept hearing the phrase “just look at that!” Of course, looking is not enough, one must take photos, and when the sun comes out, take the same view again in brighter colours and more varied contrast of shadows*. I intended taking this bluebell wood home with me for ever, and then coming back next year to capture it all again.

* "shadows" Insert the 2nd vowel, as "shades" could also make sense


We came upon Little Elms Meadow with more stalls scattered around a central clear area. As we entered, the Northfields Morris Dancers started their display of traditional dancing, with bells, white handkerchiefs and clash sticks (made of hazel from these woods), accompanied by music on the violin. The wonderful Mr Stag was standing around and having his photo taken with the children. People were sitting on logs or their picnic blankets eating their sandwiches. The sun came out and lit up the trees which were* just showing green buds opening. I was delighted to be here at this repetition of the long-held English custom of special events and gatherings to mark the coming of spring, in a secluded field away from houses and traffic, apart from one or two* trains passing behind the trees on the boundary bank. After a while we continued our walk around the remainder of the wood, passing the Grand Union Canal on the northern boundary where the bluebells gave way to nettles and less spectacular undergrowth.

* Omission phrases "which (w)ere" "one (or) two"


Once home I had a closer look at the printed map, which lists the quantities of trees and wildlife in the reserve which covers 27 acres (11 hectares). There are 3,000 hazel trees, 300 large oaks, 100 crab apples and 10* wild service trees, also maple, ash, hawthorn, blackthorn, elm, wild privet and cherry. The Paddock is an old permanent pasture and has 28 species of grass. There are 23 species of butterfly, including orange tip, speckled wood, purple hairstreak, comma, small copper and peacock and a large variety of moths and beetles, and wild honey bees. Society members have access all year and so they get to see the long list of birds, as they walk and sit in the woodland during the summer and listen for the different songs and flashes of colour. This great diversity can only be found in undisturbed ancient woodland and is the reason why we must preserve those that we have left, as they can be managed but cannot be artificially recreated. (877 words)

* "10" Always insert the vowels in the outlines for 10 and 18








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