Steampunk inspiration and resources

Travel

The Tower Bridge Part 1: The Outside

Tower Bridge 1Due to increased commercial activity along the Thames in the 19th century, the city of London needed to create bridges to allow access to both sides of the river without hindering the approach of tallships like the Cutty Sark (see above). To accomplish this goal, a committee was formed in 1877 to decide on a design for either a tunnel below the river or a bridge that allow traffic to cross over the water. More than 50 designs were considered before Sir Horace Jones’ hydraulic drawbridge was chosen in 1884, which took 10 years to complete. You can see some of the design submissions here.

Though the bridge has two towers built on foundations sunk deep in the river bottom, the name Tower Bridge comes from the nearby Tower of London. The bridge gets its strength from a steel skeleton, but the designers also used Portland stone across the facade to add a cosmetic touch.


The Leadenhall Market

IMG_1754The site of this market has been a trade center in London dating back to the Roman period, but its current visage was constructed in 1881. Like the Hay’s Gallery, it is enclosed by an amazing wrought iron and glass ceiling, which shelters the various shops and bars within. The Victorian redesign of the original stone marketplace was by none other than Horace Jones, the Architect and Surveyor of the City of London from 1864 to 1887. Though he is best known for the Tower Bridge, Jones was responsible for several markets around the city. Unfortunately most of them have been destroyed, damaged or moved in the century that followed.

I passed through the Leandenhall Market complex on a weekday at happy hour, and many of the city’s well-dressed businessmen were enjoying an after-work cocktail near the main intersection of this pedestrian area. I wandered around some of the side streets and also found an incredible hanging sculpture made out of books that look like they are flying around the halls. On a side note, The Leadenhall Market has appeared in several films, including as the access point for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Like what you see? Check out my posts about The Sherlock Holmes Museum, The London Museum of Water and Steam, and The Tower Bridge!


Hay’s Gallery and “The Navigators”

IMG_1734The Tower Bridge is worth visiting all on its own, but when I spent a day exploring the area I also found some other great things to tickle your Steampunk fancy. I could see on the map that St. Katherine’s Marina was nearby, and on my way I found a hidden treasure tucked away inside a Hay’s Gallery. In it’s heyday in the 19th century, the then-named Hay’s Wharf received 80% of the tea shipments bound for the Pool of London. Today the amazing glass ceiling provides shelter to restaurants, homes and shops in Victorian-era buildings, as well as an amazing sculpture called “The Navigators.”

The combination fountain and sculpture by David Kemp was installed in 1987 and has a decidedly Steampunk feel. The 60-foot homage to the shipping history of the area is made of bronze which has been pleasantly oxidizing. Some parts of the piece have been selectively polished, and the pool has been painted blue which detracts somewhat from the artist’s original intention to combine “Gothic fantasy, sea monsters, man & machine in this Kinetic Sculpture”, but it is still a lovely piece installed in a historic setting that reflects the Steampunk aesthetic from around the time the term was coined. (http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/the-navigatorslondon-bridge/)


The London Museum of Water and Steam

IMG_0763This is my pick for the best place on my entire Steam Tour to take your littlest Steampunks. There are fun, hands-on exhibits about the water cycle and great info about the history of harnessing the Thames and combatting the Cholera outbreaks through London’s history. But the most exciting parts of the museum complex is room after room of real, working steam engines. They don’t run every engine every day, but I was lucky enough to visit on a bank holiday when they did run every engine for at least 15 minutes at some point during their open hours.

In the courtyard there are some smaller engines as well as a station to make giant bubbles in the afternoon, so that is another plus for kids. There is also a replica of a Victorian-era workshop where all the machines run on the same belt system (the original workshop was destroyed during the Blitz) and they offer tours.


The Victoria and Albert Museum Part 3: International Exhibitions

The site of the Victoria and Albert Museum was purchased largely through the proceeds from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the first international exhibition of its time, though not the last. Many of the wonderful items showcased at these types exhibitions that were held all over Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries eventually found a home at the museum and are still on display today. When walking through the exhibit halls I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt looking for these pieces of history which were seen by millions of people during the course of exhibition and are still breathtakingly beautiful to behold over 160 years later. One of the appeals for me about Steampunk and the era that gave rise to the aesthetic is the emphasis on craftsmanship, and there is no shortage of that at the V&A. Here are two pieces of the most impressive pieces that I encountered during my visit.

This “cathedral in wood” was a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Ferdinand, to Queen Victoria. According to the museum label, it’s decoration reflected the debate about the unification of all German-speaking peoples under one rule. The bookcase had to be at least 20 feet tall, which means it just might hold the entire literary collection of one Steampunk fan 🙂 In the center there is a Belgian altarpiece on display that looked like it had been carved out of the most delicious dark chocolate, but it was also made of wood. These two pieces were not originally shown together, but they both made cameos at the Great Exhibition. The altarpiece reflects the revival of the Gothic style that is often seen in Steampunk works, and makes it a lovely addition to the imposing bookcase.

This symphony in metal is called the Hereford screen, and was on display at the International Exhibition of 1862. Like the altarpiece above, this was a way of harkening back to the Gothic era when churches employed magnificent screens like this one. The choir would stand behind large and ornately carved wooden screens, but this one was intended to showcase new advances in metal-working techniques as much as celebrate the Gothic style. There are several figures on the screen, which is over 10 meters high. The figures could very well have been cast in bronze, but instead were created by using newly-discovered electroplating technology that employed plaster molds and electricity to bend copper to the artist’s will. This is truly an example of old-meets-new in the Victorian era, so it definitely piqued my Steampunk interest.

Have you spotted any pieces of the Great Exhibition or the International Exhibition in London? Please share!

 


Victoria and Albert Museum Part 2: The Clothes

The primary reason I wanted to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum was because I heard about the amazing displays of fashion through the ages. There is a really great circular gallery with men’s and women’s clothing, and right now there is also an exhibit on wedding dresses, though that has an extra charge where the rest of the museum is free. It would be a great place to do research for costumes, both to get visual inspiration as well as great background info. My best pictures were mostly of dresses, but there are lots of great suits, boots and hats for the menfolk as well.


Weekend at the Asylum: The Great Exhibition

Besides the amazing outfits and incredible sessions, there was also an exhibition of Steampunk arts and crafts during the convention. There were some fun gadgets, punked paintings and imaginative accessories on display all weekend in the Tennyson Suite of the Bailgate Assembly Rooms. Check out the gallery below, and if you want to know about any particular work or artist, feel free to leave me a comment. I took pictures of almost all of the labels for the gizmos and I can pass them on if you want more info.


Cosplay at the Asylum: The Costume Contest

IMG_1828You should have been there. The buzz in the ballroom was happy and excited as the DIY models assembled to strut their stuff for a very appreciative audience. I had hoped to get a seat at the end of the runway, but even 10 minutes before the show started it was difficult to find any empty floor space at all, so I had to settle for sitting on the floor seat near the stage. I hope you enjoy the gallery of photos as much as I enjoyed being there, and I also got a chance to shoot a quick video of the models’ final procession right before the judges made their decision.