Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Putney Pavement Plaque

There's a bit of a Putney vibe going on at the moment as the Putney Pest House plaque wasn't the only interesting result of my recent stroll around the Common. For a start my eye was caught by this smart metal plate attached to a paving slab.
I think I must have been aware of these plates because it certainly didn't strike me as being particularly out of the ordinary, even though I couldn't recall exactly when or where I might have come across them before. I suspect it might have been one of those things that were reasonably common in the past but which are now far rarer thanks to frequent removal and repair of paving slabs.

This example was on the side of someone's cross-over drive and you can get a better idea of the scale when you compare it to the surrounding block work. Of course these days, being of a slightly more enquiring mind, I had to wonder why anyone would bother attaching metal plates to paving stones...

For a start the name 'ADAMANT' itself is very intriguing and throws up a couple of immediate associations

Firstly those of a particular generation might recall a time-travelling gentleman hero of the same name from the 60s

Whilst those of a slightly younger vintage might also remember another flamboyant performer

All very retro and refreshing for a slow afternoon but what, if anything, do these individuals have in common with a paving stone in Putney?

'ADAMANT' is as good a place to start as any. The Collins Dictionary defines it as
1. unshakable in purpose, determination, or opinion; unyielding

2. a less common word for adamantine

1. any extremely hard or apparently unbreakable substance

2. (Myth & Legend / European Myth & Legend) a legendary stone said to be impenetrable, often identified with the diamond or loadstone

[Old English: from Latin adamant-, stem of adamas, from Greek; literal meaning perhaps: unconquerable, from a-1 + daman to tame, conquer]
The first two might fit our two video heros, but a legendary unbreakable semi-precious stone seems to fit nicely with the Putney paving slab. Trebles all round for the early advertising executive who came up with that name then!

Aberdeen is a useful clue as well and if there's one thing I know about Aberdeen it's the nickname of 'The Granite City' . A quick search came up with this result

The Adamant Stone & Paving Company  of London and Aberdeen developed a mechanical method of producing very strong, very durable and very heavy paving slabs using granite chippings, portland cement and an incredibly powerful pneumatic press, the pressure from which was sufficient to bind the constituent parts together in one dense mass. No water required here and initially it took care of an exisiting industrial waste material, although I expect later on they were crushing granite to demand. It seems it was the development of a specific press that made the whole thing possible as this potted history makes clear:
As Portland cement became readily available, reliable and of sufficient quality, precasters started to benefit from the improved performance that the use of factory controlled conditions could provide, although very few recognised the full benefits at the time. With the Victorian passion for engineering and technological innovation, many advances in production techniques came about. Perhaps one of the least known of its time was the Fielding and Platt hydraulic press; the first hydraulic press in the UK, and possibly the world, which was was manufactured in 1890. Powered by water to rotate its sophisticated triple mould rotating table, the press developed 500 tons of force translated into 2 tons per square inch of product-pressing mechanism. The second press was manufactured three months later. It was transferred to the Adamant Stone and Paving Company of Aberdeen in 1897, where it then continued production for a further 73 years before its retirement – a truly magnificent performance.
Institute of Concrete Technology 2005/6

That might explain the technological and historical background of the company, but it doesn't  really explain why they might declare their patent in such a way on some of their paving slabs. I've no definitive answer for this, but I do have an idle speculation. When looking for details of the company there are frequent and tantalising references to a court case between the Adamant paving Company and the Municipal Corporation of Liverpool. Frustratingly I haven't yet found full details but it was basically a copywright issue and its cause might be guessed from this extract
 "The total cost of the machinery as supplied and fixed by Messers Musker was £1275, the foundations and neccessary plant cost £225, exclusive of the clinker crusher which cost £45 making a total for the whole installation of £1545.

In connection with the above process The Adamant Stone Co. Ltd.  in 1896 bought an action against the Liverpool Corporation..."
 The Removal and Disposal of Town Refuse
William Henry Maxwell,  1898

It seems this dispute was a fairly significant piece of case law and I would imagine it dealt with the method of production Liverpool employed to make its own paving slabs. Apparently not something Aberdeen Adamant were prepared to take lying down !

If Aberdeen Adamant had been succesful in their action, could the patent plaque on our paving slab have been a way of warning off any other possible infringements or even of establishing a prior claim to the process? I'm not sure but whether it's that or just a mundane case of basic advertising the plaque certainly adds a bit of interest to a paving slab - otherwise possibly the single most boring item on the street.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Faded Books - Intriguing Tomes and Tasteful Titles

One of the joys of being  a charity shop book-scourer is the thrill of coming across a book that you've never heard of, is long out of print, which only costs a few quid and is right up your (proverbial) street. As the precedent for mentioning relevant books has already been set on Faded London when I reviewed Gillian Cooksey's excellent field-guide to London coalhole covers, Artistry & History Underfoot  I thought I'd share a couple of other gems with you and look at an intriguing new publication that blends art, coal-hole covers and excellent photography in a single volume!

 First up is the most fascinating, absorbing and altogether envy-inducing of the trio

LONDON IN DETAIL (ed. Ian Messenberg 1986)

'Nothing new under the sun.' Faded London's 70s precursor.
 This seems to have been the result of a project to capture and record a representative example of London street furniture, with a special focus on the quirky and intriguing.  A number of photographers were commissioned to rove specific parts of London with a brief to snap anything of note that caught their eye. The results were assembled, sorted and arranged by general photographic themes that blend into each other. The pictures for the most part speak for themselves, apart for some general explanatory text and historical scene-setting In the days before digital photography and the internet this must have been a painstaking and long-term undertaking but it does provide a fascinating visual record of London in the 80s. I recognise many of the statues, monuments and other unique items, but twenty five years on you can't help but wonder how many of the lesser items, such as the bollards, ghost signs, coalhole covers, door knockers and ornate hinges (to name but a fraction of the themes covered) are still in situ.

The pictures are in black and white, with about fifteen to a page and the locations given are of the most general nature (Putney SW15, Wimbledon SW19 etc.). My prized capture and a quality read. Although long out of print there are some Amazon-based dealers selling copies starting at about £5.

Second up is a book with a more specific subject in mind, the history and development of signwriting
SIGNWRITTEN ART (A. J. Lewery 1989)
Celebrating a great folk-art
Don't worry, this isn't a technical manual, more an exploration of the art of signwritting and it's many applications from shop-fronts, pub signs, Punch and Judy, gravestones and commercial vehicles. I do enjoy coming across a nice bit of lettering when out with the camera so I was interested to spend a while reading up on historical and developmental aspects of what is pretty much a dying craft these days.

The book was republished a couple of years ago and with the magic of Amazon's 'Look inside!' feature you can have a peek for yourself at the contents.

PAVEMENT POETRY (Maria Voltides 2010)
If the first two books were vintage charity-shop treasures, the last book featured is brand spanking new and decidedly modern. The author, Maria Voltides, is an artist behind a project in Notting Hill where commissioned authors had a 20 word phrase describing an aspect of the area  transcribed to coal-hole inspired plaques which were then set in the pavement. A project not unlike the historically-inspired one around Brick Lane I'd guess. There's a nice article online which explains the concept in greater detail and an article in The Guardian as well.

PAVEMENT POETRY - Maria Voltides 2011
This is, in essence, the book to accompany the project but what makes it interesting from my point of view is that it is a book of two halves. The first half concentrates on the project as it developed over time, but the second half looks at London coalholes themselves and provides a fine photographic record of some of the remaining examples in the area. A bit of a niche art market production maybe (it's a limited edition of 500) but anything that celebrates coalholes is fine with me!