Monday, 8 December 2014

Delays, delays

Running a complex conservation project can be quite a challenge. Fund raising is the most obvious headache; it isn't possible in advance to identify everything you'll need to spend money on, nor indeed how much. As many people know, embarking on such a venture is a bit like starting to swim without knowing where land is.
Another difficulty is dealing with delays and minor set-backs. In the end they don't amount to much but it can be very hard to put up with them nonetheless. At the moment we are suffering a significant delay to our programme due to the slow conveyancing of the new building into which Peggy will be installed for conservation. Conveyancing is the legal process of passing a building from seller to buyer.
As a result of the delays in conveyancing, we will have to take evasive action on site to protect Peggy from the predicted high tides in January and February 2015. Fortunately, since the museum is closed to the public at the moment, we can install as many unsightly flood defences we want. Also, because we have excavated the dock outside the cellar, we can now ensure the cellar threshold is properly sealed.

We have no choice but to sit out the Spring tides. If we can, we will try to get Peggy out in February, but our January window is now firmly shut.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Archaeological conservation

In the new gallery at the Nautical Museum that we are building, we'll be telling the story of George Quayle, his life and times, as well as that of Peggy and her conservation.
We hope to show some of the weird and wonderful stuff that was excavated from George's dock earlier this year. We can't hope to show all of it, and a lot is very fragile.
One of the most interesting finds was a small cast iron box inside which was a real muddle of things - the kind of stuff you might find in your dad's shed - some large washers, musket balls, a small canon ball, a hook, nuts and bolts, the mechanism of a flintlock pistol, scraps of lead, a key, a door knob, etc.. Most of these objects, as well as the box itself, are made of iron.
If we were to dry these things out and put them on display, it wouldn't be long before the sea salt inside them began to rust them to bits. That's why they have been stored in tanks of sea water since they were found. Now we have to try to draw out the salt, which should make looking after them much easier.
To 'de-salinate' the objects I am soaking them in a warm bath of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphite. This process will take a couple of months, after which I can slowly dry them ready for display.

Flintlock pistol mechanism

Assorted washers

Final preparations for lift-off

We are making the final preparations for lifting Peggy from her 200 year-old resting place. In this photograph of Geoff's work-bench you can see laid out the drawings and components for the mechanism we'll now be using to roll her out. We've had to alter our plans pretty radically since the discovery of the dock outside Peggy's cellar, but it doesn't pay to be too precious about the details .....

White nylon rollers, axles and threaded rod, alongside assorted tools and drawings, this morning 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A new beginning for the Nautical Museum in Castletown

We are currently on hold with Peggy pending completion on her new home. Meanwhile we have not been idle!
The Nautical Museum without Peggy, for the duration of conservation works, is beginning to take shape. Today we began the process of clearing one of the galleries, installed in 1967, in which we plan to present a display centred on George Quayle, Peggy, her conservation and our plans for the future of George's boat house and stables.
The first object to come out is this 19th century ship's tender, which is quite a rarity in its own right, albeit overshadowed by it's larger neighbour.

Builder Stan Rsyack makes a large hole in the museum wall....

The tender is up-ended in a wooden support frame...

... and is then loaded into a waiting van.

The little tender is due to be conserved alongside Peggy in the new conservation facility.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

UK Maritime Heritage Forum

This week I have been attending a meeting of the UK Maritime Heritage Forum in Belfast. The meeting was held over two days in the engine room of the SS Nomadic, one of the original tenders used by the White Star Line to ferry passengers to their Olympic class liners, the most famous of which, of course, was RMS Titanic.

SS Nomadic

The UKMHF brought together around 60 curators and allied professionals to to share news and experience. There were some very interesting presentations, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about the exemplary work of Rhian Tritton and Joanna Thomas of the SS Great Britain Trust at the new Brunel Institute in Bristol.

To put concern for Peggy into perspective we were treated to an excellent walking tour led by Colin Cobb that took in HMS Caroline, last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, and the awe-inspiring Thompson Dock where Titanic was fitted-out.

HMS Caroline

Members of the UKMHF standing at the head of the Thompson (Titanic) Dock

The walking tours are run by Titanic's Dock and Pump House and they are very well worth taking.

Titanic Belfast from the bridge of SS Nomadic

Day two offered us the opportunity to visit Titanic Belfast, pictured above and quiz the team that run it. It's truly very impressive and obviously worth seeing.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Keeping it together...

This week another example of the accelerating pace of losses from Peggy. This section of the starboard rubbing strake fell off during Friday night. We have had several similar losses this year. We can expect many more of these because the nails holding the boat together have been completely consumed by rust...

James holds the latest lost piece of Peggy

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scaffold going in

Here is a picture of the unfinished scaffold platform that will soon be bearing the weight of Peggy.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sand baggers

Last week, volunteers from Isle of Man Civil Defense built this sand bag wall to protect vulnerable archaeological timbers from the incoming tide. 400 sand bags were used. Stirling effort!
This week scaffolders will build the platform over the dock that we'll use to get Peggy out...

See the press release here.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Mystery objects

More mystery objects for you to ponder over.

The first is part of George's Marvelous Machine. As you can see it incorporates a crank and a curious, conical drum. Could the drum be intended as a kind of variable gear for a belt-drive?


Second is a piece of 18th century timber with a carpenter's mark upon it. We'd like to identify the mark if we can. if you have any suggestions we'd be happy to hear them.
Timber inscribed with carpenter's mark

Thursday, 24 July 2014

George's Marvelous Machine

Finally today, a quick run through of what I found in the tangled mass sitting on the base of the dock.

The mass was cemented together by a combination of fine, black mud and lime kiln waste. The black mud was formed from night soil waste and was very tenacious. It ranged in consistency from very soft and clayey to compact and hard, similar to Jurassic mudstone such as that you can find on Dorset beaches. Iron salts from the decomposition of ferrous objects made it extremely hard in places. The lime kiln waste was identified as such by analysis undertaken by the Scottish Lime Centre. Like the night soil, it had been dumped upon the mass of machinery etc. from above through a doorway to the alley. Much of the lime had taken a very strong set, like concrete.

The deposition sequence was as follows:
Thick layer of sawdust, wood shavings and off-cuts, 10-15 cm deep sitting directly on the dock floor. There were a few fragments of broken pottery incorporated, including most of a Delft Willow Pattern eggcup. The thickness of the layer and the incorporation of pottery waste strongly suggest it was the result of dumping through the doorway above, of waste from a workshop, rather than of works to boats (i.e. Peggy) in the dock itself.
Machinery components, metal implements, scrap timber. This would appear to be a single deposit, judging from the extremely complicated tangle. There are items from what might best be described as a workshop clear-out: miscellaneous cast iron boxes, one of which contains a flintlock, a key and other oddments; hinge plates and cast iron collars; keys; a set of weighing scales; an auger and a variety of long bars with hooks or T-pieces. The machinery components are distinct from these. They are characterised by substantial and refined castings and finely made gears. They are often composite with wooden parts. They include a number of crank pieces designed to transmit rotary motion to lateral, reciprocal movement, driven by a beveled gear and a separate drive shaft; one of these pieces incorporates a very unusual belt-drive cylinder. 

Part of an elaborate cast iron cam with wooden rods

There is also a rather fine regulator – a long rod, pivoted in the middle, terminating in lead spheres at either end. The two large wheels, one with four spokes and the other with six, are also from this group. The strong indication is that all the machinery components come from one machine unconnected to the dock.

Night soil, as above described.

Lime waste, ditto.

Glass and pottery waste, added while the night soil and lime were soft.

Volunteers help archaeological dig

Also this week Allison Fox, Curator of Archaeology at Manx National Heritage, has been supervising volunteers from the Friends of Manx National Heritage. The volunteers have been cleaning artifacts from the archaeological dig.

and it didn't rain......

We are very lucky with our Friends organisation. They include many talented and energetic people are they are ably organised by Nicola Pemberton. If you'd like to join them, why not contact Nicola by clicking here?

Wierd science

Yesterday I finally finished separating the objects fused together in the dock. It hasn't been a pleasant job; physically exhausting and very, very smelly (my wife threw up when I walked into the kitchen after one particularly difficult day).

These photos will show you how I progressed:








BUT.... what is that machine, and how did it get there? Any suggestions would be more than welcome.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Hearts of Oak

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to visit the Morecambe Bay shrimper Hearts of Oak (1912) as she lay moored in Douglas harbour here on the Isle of Man. Tony, Ray and Brian were there to welcome us, and told us a bit about her restoration, which has taken a good number of years, as such projects do.
Hearts of Oak is the last vessel built in and sailed from Ulverston, a small town in south west Cumbria, otherwise famous as the birth place of Stan Laurel. In sailing to the island from Ulverston overnight, the crew re-created a crossing well-known to George Quayle and described by him in his 1796 correspondence. Just like George they suffered a choppy voyage; unlike his party, thankfully, they were not reduced to bailing out with a hat box to avoid sinking. In fact Hearts of Oak sails very fast and sweetly too, and she is very elegant to boot. Well worth a skeet, as they say over here.

Hearts of Oak, moored at Douglas breakwater

The crew of Hearts of Oak: L to R, Ray, Tony and Brian

Hearts of Oak on Facebook

The Nobby Owners Association

Hearts of Oak is also inscribed on the National Small Boats Register

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Night soil, night soil

This week I have been working in Quayle's dock in 15cm of water with the Bee Gees Night Fever running through my head as I chip, chisel and scrub away the mud and concrete from the mass of fused machinery lying there. The black, night soil mud is hard and sticky and full of broken glass - nice! It's also very fine and gets everywhere. It ruined my pneumatic hammer in the space of three hours, forcing me to buy a new one.
This time I am taking no chances. As you can see, I have tied polythene bags on to the chisels so the hammer (top) can be protected from the mud while I work.
Pneumatic hammer and chisels

I did, finally, manage to get a piece of the mass off. It's this very nice 18th century winding handle....

18th century winding handle

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The dock in 3D and mystery objects

Please bear with me if you find you are unable to download and open the linked documents in this post. I am sailing uncharted waters here!

I have been hard at work this week in the recently excavated 1802 dock at the Nautical Museum in Castletown. At the bottom of the dock the archaeologists were obliged to leave, as found, a tangled mass of machinery and timbers stuck together under a heap of concrete (see my previous post entitled 'End of the dock dig'). It falls to me now to record, separate and remove from the dock the various parts of this concretion. To do this I have each day to drain the dock with a pump at low tide. Then I am using a compressed air chisel to remove the concrete bit by bit. It is a very laborious process and I've only just begun.
To record the stages of this work I am using close-range photogrammetry, otherwise understood as 3D modelling from photographs. Here is a link to a 3D scan in pdf format. The file is very large so you will have to DOWNLOAD THEN SAVE it before you can view it. Those of you with more basic computers may not be able to view the file even then. If this is you, I apologise.

3d Model: download me!
Meanwhile, here are two photographs of a mystery, unidentified object extracted from the mass in the dock, yesterday. 

The photographs show a pair of bevelled brass collars, two concentric brass tubes and a coiled, steel spring. At the top of the photos is mounted a kind of latch. We are very interested to hear from you if you think you might know what this is..... 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Conservation Plan

Last week an invited audience of historians, curators, conservators and Manx National Heritage staff attended seminars at the Castle Rushen in Castletown to discuss Paul Drury's Conservation Management Plan for the Nautical Museum. The two days were very stimulating and absolutely fascinating. The focus was primarily upon the eighteenth century buildings, their purpose and significance. 

Delegates assemble for the conservation seminar

Wendy Thirkettle (archivist), Edmund Southworth (Director) & Paul Drury

There was a great deal of discussion about Peggy by the by, and I particularly valued the contributions of John Kearon, Master Shipwright and historic vessel conservator, and Andy Wyke, Boat Collection Manager, National Maritime Museum, Cornwall in that regard. We discussed my proposals for the conservation of Peggy in some detail. John and Andy stressed that drying her out, however carefully it is done, will result in considerable shrinkage. This is just something we are going to have to manage and monitor. We also discussed the desirability of a meeting devoted to Peggy and comparable conservation projects, possibly in a year's time.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Archaeological dig: time lapse

Click here to see the time-lapse footage of Oxford Archaeology North's recent excavation of the Peggy dock. Don't miss the bit near the end of the tide racing in - small wonder the boat cellar floods occasionally....

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Splash and relax!

During the last week we have installed a rather fetching swimming pool at the Nautical Museum, supplied with great efficiency by UK firm Splash and Relax. The pool is filled with seawater pumped from the dock. I have now done some splashing (though not much relaxing) as I submerged the large archaeological finds from George Quayle's dock in it. These include pig iron ballast, ships planking, structural timbers and wrought iron parts from unidentified machinery, a hatchway or door, and a great variety of unidentified, worked timber.

Intex pool, with views of Castle Rushen

Me putting timber finds into the pool

Some of the packages refused to sink....

The pool, full of archaeological finds

I should add that the pool is sitting in the stable yard, a part of the complex that isn't accessible to the public. Whilst it's certainly not in keeping with the Georgian architecture surrounding it, it is only a temporary installation! Once we've had a chance, this summer, to review the finds, we'll build a more discreet and permanent tank in the adjacent cellar to house them. If we are lucky there'll be a bit of summer remaining so that we can reuse the pool for the Staff Swimming Gala (just kidding).

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The end of the dock dig

Last Friday Oxford Archaeology North completed the archaeological excavation of George Quayle's 18th century dock at the Nautical Museum, Castletown. Readers of previous posts on this blog will already know that our expectations had been quickly confounded as soon as the first skip of spoil was full. Now, 160 tonnes of spoil later, what did they find, and what's next for Quayle's boat house?

The excavated dock, looking towards the sea arch

In this picture you can clearly see the outlines of the dock. It's under at least a foot of water at all times. The remains of the inner gate are slumped at the end - we had to stop excavating at that point in case the rubble infill under the arch began to collapse upon us. It's just one of several things that remain to be dealt with. You can see submerged timbers on the left side of the picture: the dock was neatly lined with timber, but most of the lining has gone. Less easy to see are the beautifully laid stone flags that line the base of the dock. One of my first jobs is to plan the construction of a temporary scaffold platform to pull Peggy out upon (for more information on this see my previous posts from early 2013). Cue further meetings with scaffolders and engineers.

In the foreground of the picture is a jumble of wheels and other objects. These are all fused together.

Unidentified, fused mass of machinery and rubbish

You'll no doubt be able to make out a pair of cast iron wheels as well as any number of unidentified submerged objects (today we'll call these USO's) along with nineteenth century bottles. The whole pile is sitting on a layer of wood chips and saw dust on the bottom of the dock. It would appear to be the remains of some kind of machinery or contraption, and because of it's archaeological context we can date it to the Quayle period. It seems to have been dumped in the dock after the  latter had fallen into disuse and disrepair. At some point not long after somebody dumped a whole load of cement mortar or plaster on top of it - it's this that has fused the whole lot together. It looks to me like Portland cement mortar - proper analysis might confirm this - and this would be very interesting since Portland cement was not patented until 1824. Traditional lime mortars, such as those used to build the dock, don't set when wet.

Fused mass with cement

I am currently working on a plan to remove this mass of stuff, separate the pieces and record it. I also have to find a temporary home for the 1000 other archaeological finds. We are looking at going through all the finds this summer, possibly using local volunteers to help. Allison Fox, our Archaeology Curator, will be instrumental in this phase of the project.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Archaeological Dig Week 3

Oxford Archaeology North are continuing to dig George Quayle's private dock and, at the time of writing, are at or near the bottom. We have learned an enormous amount but, predictably, we are faced with more questions than we currently have answers for!
The main findings so far:
  • The dock was used as a tip through the 19th century. There's a layer of 'night soil' (contents of chamber pots etc.) that has preserved a lot of items below it remarkably well. This is because there was very little oxygen filtering through.
  • The dock retains a metre or so of water even at low tide - we think this is because there's a 'lip' at the dock entrance. This too has contributed to the preservation of some objects.
  • We have excavated many more finds than we had anticipated, including a large number of rigging blocks and pulleys, glass and china. Caroline has also found parts discarded from Peggy during the boat's conversion to the form we see today. This shows, remarkably, that Peggy was worked upon in this very dock.
  • There are some very strange timbers, wrought iron artefacts and leather straps emerging. Plenty of evidence, in short, of George Quayle's ingenious imagination at work. At the moment we have no idea what we are looking at, but we have faith that the end of the dig will enlighten us.
  • The depth of the dock is greater than we thought and that has meant the dig has overrun. We now hope to complete the excavation by the end of March 2014.
The conditions in which the archaeologists are working are truly very nasty, as this photo, taken at low tide, shows. Aside from the wind and rain, the dock never fully empties.

East side of the dock at low tide

We are having trouble finding room for all the finds, many of which will have to be kept wet to stop them from falling apart.

Studded brass strapping - from a carriage?

One of several wet finds tanks

Our fragile wet finds tank

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Archaeological Dig Week 2

Caroline Raynor and her archaeologist colleagues from Oxford Archaeology North are making steady progress with their excavation of George Quayle's boat yard.
They ended last week contemplating a test pit they'd dug next to the boat cellar doors. We were surprised to find, instead of the expected slipway, a deep dock. Surprised, but not too much so because we are aware that workmen were employed in 1950 to level the boat yard but were forced to abandon the attempt because they claimed to have encountered a giant hole. The reference to this episode comes from a letter from the then Director of the Manx Museum and National Trust (the precursor to Manx National Heritage) Basil Megaw, to the dignitary he had invited to preside over the opening of the new Nautical Museum in 1951. We can now make sense of Megaw's letter. The test pit was pretty deep before OAN too had to stop digging as they had begun to undermine the scaffold platform they'd had built. So, dock - not slipway.

From the test pit have emerged a number of very interesting and well-preserved timbers strongly reminiscent of boat knees. For these and other finds I have installed a tank of sea water in the cellar - it's important to keep them wet until such time as we can decide their fate. Caroline has already drawn and photographed everything she has found so far.

Click to enlarge
Caroline in front of George Quayle's sea arch

In the photo can clearly be seen the shallow archway exit from the dock, and the sides of the dock, too. Less easy to see are timbers under the arch, the remains of a very substantial wooden doorway. Behind them you can see how the archway has been carefully blocked with a dry stone wall of squared blocks. 
Caroline is standing at least five feet or 1.5 metres from the bottom. Our current estimate stands at 130 tonnes of spoil from the dig as a whole. She has identified 29 distinct strata so far, all composed of nineteenth-century rubbish, including a great variety of broken crockery and other such miscellaneous items.
Because of the obvious eventual depth of the excavation we now know the dig will be somewhat more tricky and time consuming than might otherwise have been the case. This is mainly because the scaffolding platform and ramp we are using to get the mini digger and dump truck in and out of the yard will need to be altered more times than we'd originally hoped.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Archaeological Dig, Week 1

Caroline Raynor from Oxford Archaeology North spared us some of her time this morning, during a break in the rain, to tell us about the substantial progress she and her colleague have made over the past three days.
We are currently expecting to unearth George Quayle's slipway and perhaps, too, the remains of mechanical contraptions and of structures such as George's faux boat deck. So far Caroline has identified six or seven distinct layers of deposits, and that's just in the first 75 centimetres (two and a half feet, if you prefer) of digging! This suggests that the slipway may have been used as a dump on numerous occasions.
More interestingly she has uncovered some interesting features of the building itself. Chief amongst these is that we can now see the head of George's sea gateway. It's located in a wall that is 2.5 metres (eight feet) thick. We had thought the lowest part of that wall was just a rough and relatively recent buttress, but that's clearly not the case. So it seems Peggy would have been pulled out of the sea and up a tunnel...

Dig in progress: L - R: Steve Blackford; Head of Properties at MNH; Caroline Raynor from OAN North; Andy Johnson Field Archaeologist at MNH; and Roland Ardern-Corris, MNH technician.

The sea arch emerges....

Andy inspects a recently discovered buttress

Friday, 21 February 2014

Industrial archaeology at the Nautical Museum

The archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology North have arrived on the island and are setting up their equipment ready to begin digging George Quayle's slipway. To prepare for this, local building firm Ryzack Construction Limited have been hard at work removing the stairways and balconies from the area.

Copyright MNH
The yard/ slipway cleared for excavation

Plant hire specialist JCK have created a bridge from scaffolding that will allow a mini digger to remove spoil from the yard...... 

Access platform for mini digger
The view of the boathouse and the platform for the mini digger

 ...... and out through the disused adjacent cellar. Ryzack Construction opened up doorway for us that had been blocked in the 1950's or 1960's. This will be the route the archaeologists use to remove the spoil from their dig, estimated at 100 tonnes (!).

The new doorway. The yard/ slipway is on the left, Quayle's stable yard on the right

This is an unpublished sketch of George Quayle's coach yard from the Manx National Collection IOMMM 1954-5420 signed R.S. Buckingham, 1941. In it you can clearly see, amongst other things, an opening, lower right, giving on to the cellar, or undercroft. This is the opening we have re-established. We have been very careful to take into account Paul Drury's work on the relative significance of the modern additions to Quayle's buildings.

IOMMM 1954-5420 'Harness Rooms, Bridge House, Castletown, April 1941

And this is how the same view appears right now.....

Harness rooms and cellar, from the stable yard