Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Mother of Invention

Oh for a Muse of  fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
Shakespeare Henry V

The Prologue in Shakespeare's Henry V is calling for heavenly inspiration to assist the creative imagination. In 1990, during a visit to Avebury Manor, Wiltshire, my eleven year old son posed beside an unusual mechanism. Not the sundial we are used to seeing in the grounds of English country houses, but an astrolabe, an ancient form of calculator used in astronomy. I'm not sure what its provenance was at Avebury, but presumably, one of its many owners since its construction in the 1500s, had an interest in the heavens. Perhaps he too was seeking inspiration. A year after the picture was taken, the house came under the protection of The National Trust, and much restoration and conservation work has been carried out. I do hope the astrolabe was preserved. You can inspect it more closely here.

Nearby, the biggest stone circle in the world at Avebury, forms part of a larger complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments; West Kennet Long Barrow, Windmill Hill and Silbury Hill, together described by English Heritage as, "forming a huge 'sacred landscape', whose use and purpose can still only be guessed at. Avebury and its surroundings have, with Stonehenge, achieved international recognition as a World Heritage Site." Not surprising then that the astrolabe was sited at Avebury Manor, which would seem an auspicious place for watching the stars.

More information has since been provided by 'Willow' who writes a blog about Haunted Wiltshire (where you can read about the Manor's ghosts) and one about Avebury Manor. He asked the National Trust curator, and kindly sent me this:

'Known as an astrolabe or armillary sundial, they were designed not only to tell the time but also models of objects in the sky, measuring longitude, latitude and other astronomical features.

Our example is made of a copper alloy, probably bronze, and positioned on a composite capital, which incorporates Corinthian and Ionic features. The instruments of measurement have long disappeared or were never present - it's certainly non-functional. It's definitely been present since ownership by the Marquess of Aylesbury, Mr Brudenell-Bruce but the exact installation date is unknown. The Manor guidebook of that period describes it as dating to the 17th century although it is unlikely it was installed at that time.'


More recently, on a visit back to UK, we went with my son's family to the Naval Dockyards at Chatham. There was an exhibition there called 'Whirrs, Cogs and Thingamabobs' and we had an interesting hour marvelling at some very strange inventions. Here is my granddaughter at the entrance. The gadgets were amassed by one man, Maurice Collins, who has been collecting them since 1976 and recently won TV's Best British Collector award. They cover items from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the Festival of Britain in 1951, and include an eye massager, a self-pouring teapot, a 'laptop' of the1920s and a sandwich-box camera.




The exhibition reminded us that every item on display was thought by at least one person to be great leap forward

This rather beautiful machine was devised to help cure all ills. It worked very simply be holding onto the two metal pieces, and when the handle was turned it would give an electric treatment that would make the user healthy.

If this has whetted your appetite for strange inventions, you can view the rest of the photos on my Flickr page.


This week the cogs of our brains whirred as we sought amazing contraptions amongst our images to match the prompt in Sepia Saturday. If you want to see how inventive other contributors have been take a 'great leap forward' and visit the blog. Be assured that dressing like an inventor is not compulsory!
















I think my grandson may have been trying out the gadget  above.

24 comments:

  1. What an intriguing link to this week's prompt.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This reminds me of the days when we lived in rural Wiltshire, and telephone exchanges had names, instead of codes. We had a Stonehenge telephone number, which I always thought was remarkably prescient of the builders - everyone thinks it was some sort of calendar not the communications nexus it really was!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Liked your take on the prompt. If I lived in your area, you can bet I would have attended the "Whirrs, Cogs, & Thingamabobs" exhibit. I love stuff like that. We once had a book called "Yesterday's Tomorrows". I don't know what happened to it, but it was fascinating. Some of the inventions and futuristic ideas from ages ago were almost spot on years later. On the other hand, some caught you laughing out loud the minute you turned the page and saw them. Still, relevant or not, they prove man's (and woman's!) mind is always struggling to come up with something new for whatever reason. And thank goodness, else where would we be?!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would certainly have visited such an exhibition, but I'm not sure that I would have troed out the device to sure all ills.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have always been fond of thing-a-mabobs and such, so your post was intriguing. However, I have to admit that once I read "astrolabe" all I could think about was the son of Heloise and Peter of Abelard. Those star crossed lovers named their only son Astrolabe. Of course, then they spent the rest of their lives secluded, he in a monastery and she in a nunnery. Of course there was more to the story, but to name your son Astrolabe, rather like naming a child Computer, Satellite, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'll look out for the astrolabe, Nell. Inspired by works of the artist, Paul Nash, I'm off to investigate the stones for myself next week.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A 1920s laptop must have been interesting! Really, how people a gazillion years ago figured out space amazes me. They were geniuses to think of it first, that's for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Don't you just love the design of the "machine to cure all ills". I bet the CERN Particle Accelerator does not have spokes designed to look like swimming fish.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I can use a readesk and a teasmade!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I watched the documentary in which Penelope Keith and her team set about restoring the manor at Avebury, and found it all fascinating. The whole village is amazing, and to think they dug the ditches with antlers! Now there's a contraption :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I learned about astrolabes when I found the word in a New York Times Sunday Crossword -- until that time, I'd never heard of them! They're pretty amazing contraptions, for sure!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Too bad one can't really cure all ills with a little electricity.

    ReplyDelete
  13. The sun is such a wonderfully regular timepiece (clouds less so) that an astrolabe needs no batteries and little adjustment. There are few modern appliances so reliable.

    ReplyDelete
  14. A great report and photos. The exhibition of Collins' collection must have been intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Chaucer was fond of the astrolobe but his would have been a more primitive one than the above.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I want a self-pouring teapot!

    ReplyDelete
  17. How clever these people were to tune in to the sun's power to operate this apparatus. They were solar minded long before it became "fab"

    ReplyDelete
  18. Practical,Groundbraking & (unlike most modern contraptions) Pleasing On The Eye.

    ReplyDelete
  19. This reminded me of several responses I could/should have used for this prompt. I should have read it first! I wonder what I could put together with the wonders in our garage?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I've been meaning for a while to visit Chatham Dockyards and now that I have seen the machine that cures all ills, there'll be no stopping me going for the cure.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I love the name of the exhibition - if we had visited it, Mr Jax would have had to try everything - he is a big gadget fan!
    I agree, a self pouring teapot would be great but it wouldn't stop our tea getting cold when we got carried away with our research.

    ReplyDelete
  22. These are wonderful. And I think they had something very similar to an astrolaba on a recent US Antiques Roadshow.

    It does make me wonder about all the interesting patents that people created for items they were sure were THE answer to some problem.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Yeah, especially with that white wig,
    one electro-shock too many...
    Interesting piece though,
    but I'm wouldn't care to give it a try.
    It is indeed a wacky object!!
    :D~
    HUGZ

    ReplyDelete
  24. We had an astrolabe in my parents back yard. My grandmother liked to send my dad unusual gifts and this was one of them. At some point he had to wrap the bottom of the arrow with padding so that my then-toddler would not fall on it, get poked, or otherwise injure herself at Papa's house, lol. When they sold the house the astrolabe stayed but I have no idea if the new people kept it or not. You can tell time on the wider ring if the hours are stamped there. The shadow of the arrow shooting through the center provides the time keeping.

    ReplyDelete