Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holy unbelievable!

What a good day! Too much has happened for one blog entry so I’ll just have to save some for later.

And what a bizarre beginning! At half past eight with me still drinking tea in bed and Kath in her jim jams there was a knock on the boat roof. Who could it be here in the middle on nowhere? A nice young man in an overcoat. “Good morning madam, I’m from the Jehova’s Witnesses”!!! No, I’m not kidding - it really was. He gave Kath a copy of “Awake” which had a perfectly good article about British canals in it, and strangely, no mention of religion. Until someone corrects us we’re claiming this as a First.

On then to Waltham Abbey where Peter left for his train back to Cambridge and we went off to visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills - now a museum covering umpteen acres near the Lee Navigation. Explosives were made here for over three hundred years, starting with gunpowder and progressing to cordite, nitroglycerine and TNT. Needless to say it was a highly dangerous place to work and some odd practices resulted.

People were instructed no to work too hard in case mistakes were made or sparks were generated. People watching critical temperature gauges sat on one legged stools so if they fell asleep they would fall off and be woken up. The buildings had deliberately flimsy construction so that if they blew up, the flying pieces would do less harm. The nitroglycerine plant deep in the woods had wash ponds for the workers to leap into if they got acid burns. These ponds accumulated traces of explosive over each week from washing processes and every Friday before they knocked off for the weekend, they would have a controlled explosion to get rid of the danger!

There was a hydraulic press for compacting gunpowder in a wooden hut. The water wheel providing the pressure was in an adjacent building, equally flimsy. Between the two was a stone and brick wall about twenty feet thick. The guy operating the press would load in the powder and run next door and start the wheel and presumably sit there with his fingers in his ears hoping the wall would do its job if it all went bang!

Everything was transported around the site by wooden canal boats on a network of canals. (more of this perhaps in a later blog post). Anyway you can see it’s worth visiting if you have some imagination. Most of it is in ruins but the exhibition, the film and the tour are pretty good.

Returning to Herbie we headed on in the late afternoon sunshine another couple of hours to Broxbourne where we now lie in pleasant moorings outside the Crown pub (more of an eatery really.) Kath’s experiment of making a gaelic coffee with low fat crème fraiche instead of cream has not been too successful (putting it mildly) but we’ve had a very good day nonetheless.

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