Cathedrals to Science and Industry

Bank Holiday weekends normally involve a lot of travel… going to see parents, friends, relatives, loved ones. All good Brits are used to moaning about the clapped out travel infrastructure of this country; endless jokes about leaves on lines, pot holes in pavements, and long queues at Heathrow, but we rarely stop to marvel at the sheer beauty of some of our engineering masterpieces.

Dashing about in our everyday lives we never stop to focus on some of the awe-inspiring collections of rivets, cleats, plates, joggles, spans, arches, ribs, joists and finials that make up what early engineers might have called our ‘Cathedrals to Science and Industry.’

Now I know I am a geek, but I have always found Paddington Station a beautiful place. Crawling into the barrelled vaults by train, all London beckons. It’s a place of meeting and parting, passing time waiting and frantic dashing. It’s also beautiful. Believe me, and if you don’t, then stop and have a good look next time you are loitering waiting for the 17:56 First Great Western service to Worcester Shrub Hill.

Now real geeks have been allowed to study architectural drawings and  railway archives in libraries all over the country, but Network Rail has just put part of its beautiful archive of Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure diagrams on the web. Its ‘geekery light’ if you like… you dont actually have to own a thermos flask, nor a high vis jacket, but allows you to peek at their impressive collections from the privacy of behind your laptop.

 I defy you not to marvel at the audacity of the high-level bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne, with its columns cascading like waterfalls, nor find harmony in Bristol’s neo-gothic Temple Meads station. And do have a look at Maidenhead bridge, designed in brick by the multi talented (and most spectacularly named) Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has two middle arches spanning the river in great leaps. The image below shows Turner’s attempt (successful in most estimations) to capture the scene.  They were lower and broader than anything previously constructed in brick, and the Great Western Railway’s directors feared the bridge would collapse: they insisted on the bridge’s temporary timber supports remaining even after it opened. Annoyed, Brunel secretly lowered the supports a bit so they did not actually support anything… but thats exactly what you might expect from a man whose middle name is Kingdom. 

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Filed under Technology, Timology

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