Title: Point of view
Pages: 14 - 17
Text: Point of view
What fate for industrial monuments?
The news that industrial buildings of historical value are to be treated in the same way as ancient monuments, and will therefore qualify for a government grant towards their upkeep, means that there is now some chance of Britain's industrial progress retaining its historical context. All too often, as electricity or gas turbines take over from steam, the old plants, which may have done a century's service, are broken up and lost forever; and in the same way, a manufacturing process which dates from Victorian times may become nothing more than an old man's memory.
At the moment, however, the government grant applies only to buildings: what will happen to the works inside them is still a matter for speculation. For example, a pumping station may be preserved because of its architectural merit, but the preservation powers do not cover the engine itself, which may be of much greater significance. Its fate will be left to the local authority concerned - and only a few (like Staffordshire and Hertfordshire) have begun to accept responsibility for such things - or to such bodies as the Cornish Engines Preservation Society and the Newcomen Society. But in most cases the engine will go, so that to many people the whole exercise will have lost its value. The first thing that needs doing, therefore, is to establish the principle that an industrial monument keeps its contents and this means that the contents must be properly looked after.
But while it is important to preserve a number of significant industrial monuments in toto, it is also important that action to do so be taken immediately, ie, before both buildings and plant disappear. What is happening at the moment is that an industrial monuments survey has been put in hand to record what industrial monuments there are and to recommend those to be kept; but by the time the survey has been completed, many of its listed buildings may no longer be extant. As Rex Wailes, the consultant to the survey, has already suggested, the whole process needs speeding up. His solution would be to make industrial monuments the responsibility of a separate branch of the Historical Building Councils, acting in consort with the Science Museum and the Ministry of Public Building and Works. He also suggests that whenever possible, those buildings and plants not preserved should be recorded by drawings, films and sound recordings of the plant, and descriptions of it by those who used it. In addition, firms should be encouraged to keep their own records of buildings, plants and processes. Otherwise, our knowledge of British history will become a very one-sided affair, full of dates of kings and queens and furious battles, but sadly deplete when it comes to the efforts and skills which made nineteenth century Britain the workshop of the world.
1. A water wheel and pump at Devoran, Cornwall.
2. Vat Hall, Hill Evans' vinegar brewery at Worcester, built in 1680. It had the largest unsupported span (120 ft) in the country.
3. The sewage pumping rotary beam engine at Tottenham, London, which was built in 1866.
The plot so far: Once upon a time, some people decided to make a new model of an existing product (call it X). They didn't do this in order to introduce new styling, or to update their corporate image, or to make their product acceptable to a hitherto untapped market in Kensington High Street. They did it because they thought they could make a better product. And because they were serious about it, they set up a whole research project to get the best possible specification. Eventually, they worked out a design brief and built some prototypes.
Now read on: Because they were really serious about wanting a better product, they decided to test the prototypes (of course this is a fairy story. In the normal course of events, prototypes go straight into production and are tested by the fi rst 10,000 people unlucky enough to buy them). They asked themselves if X matched up to the design brief; if the design brief itself represented what was really wanted; and if the end result was in fact better than all its predecessors. And because they were very thorough people, they did this in two stages.
First of all, they asked a lot of people who were used to working with the old version of X what they thought of the new version. And at the same time they took a whole lot of the new prototypes and filled a room with them, so that the people who would have to work with them could work with them, and the people who would have to use them could use them.
Then they got to work: they watched everything that went on in that room, wrote it all down, and asked lots and lots of questions about what everybody did and how they did it and why they did it and what the result was. They ended up with a great pile
of information. And so - because this is a twentieth century fairy story-they are going to feed all this information into a com-pu-ter. It will tell them just how good their new X is going go be; it will tell them just how good their design brief was in the first place; and it will tell them just how much progress they have made over their old models. It may even be that everyone will live rather more happily ever after.
By the way, this is a true fairy story: we're talking about the general purpose hospital bedstead designed by the Hospital Equipment Group of the Royal College of Art (DESIGN 195/52-57) for the King Edward's Hospital Fund Working Party. As most of our readers will already know, this is an extremely impressive exercise. And at a recent one-day conference on hospital bedstead design (organised by the fund at the Hospital Centre), S. E. Harrison, regional work study officer to the North East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board, described the way in which trials of the prototype under ward conditions were set up by his unit.
Though the results of the tests have still to be published (they are expected very shortly), the tests themselves seem to us to be a remarkably thorough example of the sort of validation studies that we would like to see undertaken by industry as a regular part of new product development. We hope to publish a fuller description of the aims, methods and results of these tests as soon as information is available.
Paris falls in love with plastics
Peter Thompson, the ColD's industrial officer for the plastics industry, writes: The Europlastique exhibition recently held at the Porte de Versailles in Paris was in the form of a large annexe to the Paris Fair - an all embracing international event with strong domestic and provincial undertones. Here was a compote of industry with agricultural and domestic equipment seasoned by wine tasting, a police recruiting agency, cookery demonstrations and all the supporting hocus pocus and candy floss of side shows which a municipal society demands for a day's outing.
Visitors to Europlastique entered through a glasshouse of gardens laid out with plastics flowers. This, disturbingly, set the tone and standard for much of the exhibition, which was devoted to arts and crafts, boats, textiles, materials (and what to do with them) and other specialist presentations. With a few exceptions, the displays were tawdry, unimaginative and disenchanting to a degree. But the heart of the exhibition was devoted to productive machinery.
This was fascinating - and as much for its social involvement as for the monstrous plant in ail shapes and sizes, which offered towering urban vistas down crowded avenues where families in Emmett swarms pushed and jostled to see and handle the loot. All Paris was there. Nuns and soldiers, lawyers and urchins, jostled and squeezed around the puffing vents with grabbing fingers and open sacks. Above, the German, Swiss, Italian and British mechanics wearily wiped and oiled and adjusted the flying mechanism for the umpteenth time. Sacks of granules were fed continuously into the rumbling maw of rapacious engines. Here was machinery in its element- huge mechanical cows, contentedly masticating, blowing, squeezing and ejecting piping hot milk crates, wash basins, beer bottles and buckets in limitless profusion. But only the fastest machines were able to beat the crowds back with their garish products, producing oceans of empty detergent bottles and patti pans. They were surrounded by hungry children who waded in, cramming their pockets to the full and darting away before the restless tide.
"Is that all you could find in Paris ?" asked the Customs Officer as I marshalled my own little hoard of Italian washbasins through the turnstiles at Le Bourget. Will Paris be the same I wonder - and is Europe now to be totally Europlastique ? It doesn't pay to stop the machines I am told - but how common will the Common Market be ? One snapshot remains: a huge gun-like machine from Mitsubishi producing plastics plant pots;and beneath it, seated, four charming Japanese girls in national costume with their attentive escorts sipping tea. What a brave old world it is.
Can Britain's hovercraft keep their lead?
At a time when British industry is being knocked for failing to make the pace in world markets, at least one group of companies deserves praise for the world's first hovercraft show, held at Gosport two months ago. It was truly remarkable to see how far hovercraft have been developed from Christopher Cockrell's experiments with a hair dryer and coffee grinder little more than a decade ago. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Britain, having invented the hovercraft, will be able to maintain her lead in its development and manufacture.
Besides the hovercraft itself, however, there are a lot of other ways in which the principle of carrying loads on a cushion of air can be applied, and as far as this is concerned, the Hovershow at Gosport gave one only a very small glimpse into the future. There was, for example, a model of the hovertrain, at present under development by the Hovercraft Development Corporation, which rides on a cushion of air but is driven by a linear motor. On the basis of the corporation's model, it should be possible to develop this system for public transport and so produce trains capable of speeds of over 300 mph. So far, however, the practical application of the system has been taken farthest by the French, who already have a full size hovertrain running for six miles outside Paris. But the French train is driven by a propeller instead of a linear motor, and because of this suffers from the drawback which also affects hovercraft noise. For this reason, it seems that the British version could be both a more radical and a more acceptable system which one day should be able to provide surface transport between cities quite as fast as going by air. And because it could be developed from city centre to city centre, the hovertrain would a lot more convenient.
If the hovertrain is an exciting and romantic form of transport which may prove itself in the future, then a second exhibit was equally extraordinary - but for quite a different reason. This consisted of a tray powered by an Electrolux cleaner which could carry a load of 340 lb and be used to move heavy industrial loads in factories, storehouses, ship holds and other places. The hoverpallet, as it is called, can either be supplied with a flow of air from an external source, or can be given its own motor so that it becomes in effect a small hovercraft, and once its load had been lifted from the ground it is extremely easy for someone to push it around in whatever direction he likes. There is obviously tremendous scope for this use of the hovercraft principle in a wide range of industrial applications.
As for the hovercraft themselves, however, one of the most obvious criticisms that can be made was that little or no attention has yet been given to the design of their interiors-and this is as true of those hovercraft intended for carrying passengers as for those intended for freight. On present evidence, it seems that the development of British hovercraft is repeating what happened in the aircraft industry, where little attempt has been made to encourage British industrial designers to develop the exacting skills required for designing the passenger space. The result has been that the design of British aircraft interiors has passed almost entirely into the hands of experienced American designers. It would be a pity if, in 10 years' time, one finds that Americans are again the only people who can really design the interior of a hovercraft. To stop this happening British industrial designers should be brought into the development of hovercraft immediately. And in a future article we will be describing the kind of work which they can do.
1. Hovercraft Development Ltd's model of a hovertrain which was shown at this year's Hovershow.
2. The hoverpallet, powered by an Electrolux cleaner, which can lift 340 lb; and,
3, a model showing how the pallet could be used to bans port a power station generator.
Road signs - an urgent case for reappraisal
At the end of this month, when the Bank Holiday spree is over, people will begin counting the cost; and the cost which is sure to receive the most publicity will be the number of people killed and injured on the roads. No doubt the usual variety of reasons will be given for their misfortune: bad driving,
Far left, the five signs used by Mass Observation Ltd to find out how many people know what they mean. And, left, a comparison of signs outside Buckingham Palace, showing how in one case one of the signs has been placed upside down.
inadequate roads, and cars that have not been properly maintained - despite the tests imposed on all those more than five years old. But there is another factor which may also contribute to this month's road accidents: road signs. Despite the fact that the purpose of road signs is to warn drivers of hazards and determine how they behave, there is a good deal of evidence to show that road signs are failing to do so, either because they are not being properly used, or because they are not understood.
Consider first the use of road signs. Many local authorities are either putting up signs in the wrong place, or using the wrong sign altogether. Not so long ago, for example, one could have travelled westwards along the North Circular and been told, on approaching the junction at Finchley High Road, to turn right for Whetstone. But the motorist who did so would have driven straight into the wrong end of a one-way street; and had this led to a head-on collision, he would hardly have been to blame. In this case, one sign was encouraging him to do something which, in fact, was forbidden. And as both the AA and RAC will testify, this situation occurs quite frequently.
There are many other cases of the wrong signs being used. For example, on one of the main roads out of London, a sign was needed to say 'No right turn' at a gap in the central reservation. The first sign put up by the local authority, however, said 'No U turn'. So the authority tried again. This time, the sign merely said 'Ahead only'. Not until the third time did the sign 'No right turn' appear. And a little further along the road, a 'Keep left' sign was used in place of the correct sign for 'Duel carriageway ahead'.
Signs upside down
Another thing which local authorities (and others) do to road signs is to use the right sign - but incorrectly. The most celebrated case of this happening occurs immediately outside Buckingham Palace, where one of the signs put on a traffic island to say 'Pass either side' is upside down (de, the arrows pointing upwards instead of downwards). Charles Greville of the Daily Mail, in conjunction with the RAC, has taken the matter up with the Ministry of Transport, which says, yes the sign is upside down, but that Westminster City Council is responsible. So over to the Council, which says no, it isn't responsible, as the forecourt of Buckingham Palace is looked after by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. And from that ministry comes the reply, "The signs on this site were agreed with the GLC. the police and the Ministry of Transport. And we don't consider them upside down." We only quote the story to show what confusion exists among authorities who should know better.
Two separate systems
One reason for the confusion is that Britain is using two sign systems side by side - one inherited from before the war, the other based on an international code adopted in 1949. Thus, for example, the internationally agreed sign for 'end of dual carriageway' (which looks rather like a tuning fork) is sometimes - and correctly used, while at other times the end of the dual carriageway is marked by the old double-arrow sign for two-way traffic. But what is inexcusable is that the latter sign, which is now redundant, is still being put up et the end of new dual carriageways (as on the A386 Tavistock road at Plymouth and the A30 at Camberley), despite the fact that Britain is changing over to the new signs. And the changeover itself, which the Government originally hoped to complete within five years, is now being delayed by cuts in government finance so that it looks as if motorists will have to go on using two systems for some time to come.
Quite apart from the inconsistency of two sign systems, the international sign system as used in this country is itself inconsistent, and this may partly explain why motorists are not always sure what a sign means. A diagonal line, for example, is used to show prohibition, and hence 'No left turn' or 'No U turn' is shown by symbols for these things being struck out by a diagonal line. But the signs for 'All motor vehicles prohibited' end 'Cycling prohibited' show a car and a motor cycle, and a bicycle, within a red circle but without the diagonal line across them. Similarly the 'No overtaking' sign adds confusion by showing two cars, one black, the other red, side by side within a red circle. The right hand car is in red, because red is meant to indicate danger - but logically it should have been struck out by a diagonal line. This particular sign is to be condemned not only because it may be misread by people who are colour blind (or who fail to 'read' the colours when travelling at speed), but also because it was adopted by the Ministry of Transport (for political reasons, since Britain was anxious to adopt a European convention) against the advice of the designer of Britain's version of the international sign system and against the advice of the Road Research Laboratory.
The extent to which road signs may be contributing to road accidents is illustrated by the widespread ignorance of what the signs mean. In a survey conducted by Mass Observation Ltd at the end of last year, which asked 2,000 people to identify five signs, 17 per cent did not know what the 'No overtaking' sign meant, less than half got the sign for 'End of dual carriageway' right, and 84 per cent could not recognise the sign for 'All motor vehicles prohibited'. But the most frightening thing of all was what people thought the 'No overtaking' sign did mean, including such things as 'Dual carriageway ahead' and 'Overtaking on the inside'. Of all signs, surely the 'No overtaking' sign needs to be immediately understood. And public ignorance about road signs is made ever worse by the attitude of those motorists who, when questioned about signs, reply, "I don't understand these newfangled signs, and I don't want to. I've been driving for 38 years and I don't need a lot of signs to tell me what to do."
Three courses of action
Three things, it seems to us, need to be done to rectify the present situation. The first is to ensure that one sign system alone is used on British roads, and that it is put into force without delay. In other words, the Government must stick to its promise to complete the changeover by 1968 for primary rouses end 1969 for all others, even if it means granting extra money. And incidentally, these dates already represent a year's extension of the changeover time.
Second, it seems that stronger steps must be taken to see that the signs are correctly used, since the guidance given by the Ministry of Transport's manuals and the work of its divisional road engineers doesn't seem to be enough.
And third, consideration should be given to redesigning those signs which are clearly misunderstood, at least to make sure that they do conform to the system's logic. In fact, moves are already being taken in this direction and an international conference will be held next year to reconsider some of the signs including the one for 'No overtaking'. But even a year is a long time to wait when road safety and people's lives, are at stake. Action on confusing and illogical signs is needed now.