On a dull day like today it's good to be able to look back a few weeks to the Bedfordshire Steam And Country Fayre and to have a closer look at some of the exhibits, both mechanical and animal.
I'd never considered just how many of these machines were manufactured, with makers in even small East Anglian towns like Thetford, Leiston, St Ives and Kings Lynn as well as bigger places like Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester; or even the variety of purposes to which the machines were put.
This is "Margaret", a showman's engine from 1922. The role of these great beasts was to tow the fairground rides from town to town and then to power the roundabouts and other amusements. But the first engines were used for agricultural purposes, to power threshing machines and for ploughing. These were nearly all owned by contractors who moved between farms. Then there were steam rollers used for road-building and huge road locomotives that were used for moving large loads along the winding British roads.
Newquay Steam Beer was the brainchild of one Michael Cannon who was much impressed by the Anchor Steam beer from San Francisco. In 1987 he set out to create a similar craft beer in his Redruth brewery. Redruth is not a particularly trendy part of Cornwall, but Newquay is the nearest thing that the county has to California - well, there are a lot of people with long hair and surfboards anyway - so Newquay Steam Beer was born. You might have thought that the American company would have had their lawyers all over this in an instant, but in a preposterously audacious move Cannon succeeded in preventing the San Francisco brewery operating in Britain, claiming that "steam" was an old Cornish word for strong beer, a claim of dubious veracity, to say the least.
An American-made Stanley steam car built in 1910. In 1906 a Stanley steamer set the astonishing world record time for an automobile over a mile course in 28.2 seconds. Yes, that's 127 mph (204 Km/h)! It's a wonder that the internal combustion engine ever caught on.
Measuring the horse-power of steam engines has always been a matter for debate. Although manufacturers quoted a "nominal horse power" this is usually considered to be an underestimate. No such problems with the vehicle below....
The heavy horses traditionally used in the UK are Shires, Clydesdales and Suffolk Punch. Unlike their mechanical counterparts they don't have a nameplate on the side which makes them harder to sort out! Of the beautiful, matched pair seen above, for example, one is a Clydesdale while the other is a Shire. And no, I can't remember which is which!
A family story about horses:
My maternal grandfather had a coal delivery business in the Kings Cross area of London between the wars. He always kept five draught horses, like the one above, to haul the carts. He was very particular that each horse had a rest day each week as he realised that his livelihood depended on them. However one horse went lame and he gently nursed it back to fitness.
When he was satisfied it had fully recovered he put it to work and found that though it seemed fine it retained a slight limp when pulling away. Unfortunately for him this was spotted and he was taken to court accused of cruelty to the animal. Now my grandfather, perhaps as a result of the coal dust he encountered every day, had rather watery eyes and had to wipe them frequently. The newspaper reporter who was present saw a chance to conjure up a story, "Man weeps in court", and then went on to say how he was the father of four children and to stress the fact that, though he was a coalman, he wiped his eye with a snow-white handkerchief. When the story was published so many well-wishers sent money, to pay the small fine which the court imposed, that my grandmother had to write to the paper to implore people send no more.