Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Last Waltz

pointing hand vintage image graphicsfairy1 flipWell, not exactly, because we at Steampunk Morris don’t do waltzes.  But metaphorically it is because the side has done its last public performance for 2014 (well, that’s unless anyone is offering us up something between now and New Year…).  So the side’s second year of existence is completed and what a year it has been.  We have danced at Morris events (Grimspound’s May weekend, Seven Champions day of Dance, Brighton Morris Day of Dance, Croydon Night of Dance, Boughton’s Annual picnic), we have performed at biker’s events (Teddy Bear Bikers and English Roses), we’ve been to a Space Rock Festival (Sonic Solstice), we have strutted our stuff at Folk Festivals (and what a time we had at our second outing to Lyme Folk Weekend!), and we have morrised our way through a number of steampunk events (Surrey Convivial, Eastbourne, Chatham Dockyard Festival of Steam & Transport, and lastly the first Convivial at Crossness Pumping Station). And what a venue that is!  My last post introduced the pumping station and its history but to really get the idea you have to visit it and see how beautiful the place really is, including those parts that have not (yet?) been restored. Stunningly beautiful painted columns stand alongside their rusting siblings, a lovingly restored steam beam engine sits across the way from its three corroded kin. The location was a fantastic venue for a steampunk event and the old boiler house was an excellent performance space – good floor, good light and a lot of reverb for the music.

Crossness2Apart from ourselves performing the day included the old steampunk favourites of umbrella fencing and tea duelling with quite a few new, and young, participants.  But possibly the most attractive of the goings on, with the exception of Bazalgette’s architecture and engineering prowess, was the demonstration of Tesla coils.  Only in such a large space could these amazing examples of high voltage transformers be set up and switched on emitting amazing bolts of purple light flickering from the coils to the floor and iron columns of the building accompanied by a tremendous roaring sound. Absolutely incredible and something that attracted all those who attended the day (which was a total sell out incidentally).

So what happens now?  Well Steampunk Morris now go back into the true practice season which means that on Monday evenings we’ll be found in the crypt at the George Vault’s on Rochester High Street teaching the dances to those newer dancers that have joined us during the past year, improving the performance of the existing dances – sorting out issues and general tidying up where necessary, probably creating one or two new dances.  On Tuesday evenings, again at the George Vaults, the musicians will get together to practice not just the material they already have but new tunes for any new dances, musical interludes, and also some more traditional, folky-kind-of-stuff for those times when having that kind of material is useful as a morris side’s band.  So, if you’re thinking ‘I wouldn’t mind a crack at this’ or ‘I like this Steampunky-morris malarky and would like to know more’, you know where to find us: The George Vault’s, High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1LN.  We are looking out for new members – dancers and musicians – no previous experience is needed, so why not pop in and see us – we’re in the Crypt!


In the footsteps of Sir Joseph Bazalgette

pointing hand vintage image graphicsfairy1 flipWho?  Certainly dear old Sir Joseph (1819-1891), isn’t one of the most famous of people from our beloved bygone age of steam and Victorian invention, particularly if we’re thinking of IKB, but it transpires that we should thank him for a number of things, the great civil engineer that he was.  Sir Joe did, like IKB, get involved with railways, and we have Sir Joe to thank for the Thames Embankments, for Battersea, Hammersmith and Putney Bridges, and many other of London’s capital projects. So he was quite a guy, someone who has left his mark on our fair capital.  But, dear reader, we have Sir Joseph Bazalgette to thank for solving the issue of… The Great Stink!

Now for those of you who are unaware of this problem, The Great Stink of 1858 (and previous years too), was due to the poor condition of the London sewers.  In the early C19th no fewer than eight authorities had control of (or lack thereof) the London sewage system and the River Thames was, basically, an open sewer for the entire capital (population 1.7 million).  The Thames was also the main water supply for the capital. Quid pro quo, QED etc. – typhoid and cholera were not uncommon in the early to mid 1800’s.  In 1848/9 the number of deaths due to cholera in the lower reaches of the Thames was some four times higher than further upsteam where the water was cleaner.  Rotherhithe was backed up with sewage for up to twenty hours a day depending on the tide.  In 1858 the stink was so great that the situation in the Houses of Parliament at Westminster was so obnoxious that the Government realised that something had to be done.  Enter Sir Joe.

Sir Joseph, as Chief Engineer to the Metropolitan Commission for Sewers, had proposed in 1853 that a system of sewers be developed to channel sewage eastwards to a treatment plant where “deodorized water” would be discharged into the river.  Two main sewers, one north  and the other south of the river, would collect the outfall from the sewers that had previously flowed into the Thames.  These collecting sewers were constructed in brick and housed within what are the Victoria Embankment (to the north) and the Albert Embankment (to the south).  Work had started in 1856 and was completed in 1859 largely urged on following the summer of ’58. Eighty two miles of intercepting sewers were constructed, connecting to 450 miles of main sewers, serving 13,000 mile of local sewers. This had to handle half a million gallons of waste per day!  So where did it go?

The two halves of the Main Drainage Scheme, north and south of the river, are broadly similar, and the principle upon which each is based was very simple. In short, get the sewage to the east of London, store it until high tide, then release it.  The southern system led to Crossness where the effluent was pumped up into a reservoir where it was held until high tide when it was released into the Thames.  This reservoir had to be capable of being emptied within six hours (before the next incoming tide).  To do all the pumping Sir Joseph built The Southern Outfall Works, now called the Crossness Pumping Station.  Steam engines ran the pumps that pulled the sewage in the reservoirs from the sewers. As might have been expected at a time when Victorian Gothic was on the rise (Pugin was building the new Palace of Westminster, Barlow was constructing St Pancras Station…), the pumping station was ornate; built in the Romanesque style it was a cathedral on the marshes of south east London.

So why are we purveying all this information about London’s stinking past?  Well, firstly the Crossness Pumping Station still exists (in the grounds of a modern sewage treatment plant). Moreover it has been lovingly restored; it’s a Grade I Listed Industrial Building, it has steam pumps that work!!!! And on Sunday 28th September there is a Steampunk Convivial occurring there. And!!!! Steampunk Morris will be performing there!!!!!  So we follow in Sir Joseph’s footsteps, with welly boots on perchance, to strut our stuff within a temple to London’s ancient crap.

PS  This is, unless things change in the meantime, our last public performance of the 2014 morris season.

Information from

Hopping down in Kent

pointing hand vintage image graphicsfairy1 flip

Not the kind of hopping normally associated with the county tucked away in the south east of England, but rather another weekend excursion by the motley crew of the Airship Steampunk Morris. This time it’s a smaller affair than the spiffing Lyme Folk Weekend, instead it’s Malcfest!

Malcfest is a small, free music festival at a pub in the small village of Charing located a wee bit west of Ashford and a wee bit more east of Maidstone. More precisely it’s at The Bowl Inn, Egg Hill Road (honest!), Charing. It’s a small festival (did I already say that), there is camping but (because it’s a small festival) it’s tight and rather homely.  But it’s a great little festival if that’s your thing.

Of course things don’t end there.  the following weekend, 13-14 September, the airship arrives back in Eastbourne on fair England’s southern coast for the Eastbourne Steampunk Festival.  Not only are we dancing but we are also running a workshop to teach people a dance and, if you’re lucky and dressed up all steampunky, get a chance to dance with us during the day.  We are informed that there will be a Big Top/Marquee/Tent of someArmillarySphere-GraphicsFairy2 sort on the seafront at the main lawns where the workshop will be held at the unearthly hour of 09:00hrs! Yes gentle folk, we know that’s the time for getting up, second cups of jasmine tea etc., etc. but this is special, this is a steampunk event like no other, so shake a leg, bring along your toast and marmalade, and come strut your stuff with us!! Huzzah!!


Gadzooks! What was that?

pointing hand vintage image graphicsfairy1 flipWe are absolutely stunned! Steampunk Morris have had their flabber well and truly ghasted! It is impossible to really put into words the way we are feeling right now following the side’s second visit to the Lyme Folk Weekend. From the outset on Saturday the response from visitors to Lyme, local residents and local traders (Mr Pastyman, thank you sir for the sustenance provided, and Mr Cheesemonger, thank you sir for your support and calls for particular dances), was phenomenal. Members of the airship crew were approached throughout the weekend by people enquiring about next performances, where we come from, and what we are doing, performances ended with calls for encores (this is morris dancing!), and the evening ceilidh spot was unbelievable with the large crowd packed into the marquee singing along with the music as the dancers did their stuff (and there were more calls for encores). Captain Jack Skylark found himself having drinks bought for him by just going into a public house while two of the side’s fairer sex were still being stalked by admirers a day after the event finished while they were in town incognito. The weekend was truly epic.

So, a huge thank you to all those at Lyme Folk Weekend for your invitation and trust. And another huge thank you to everyone who saw us perform, spoke to us, bought us drinks, gave us pasties, sang along with us and gave us encouragement. It really does mean a lot. Thank you!

PS If anyone reading this has a video of the ceilidh spot performance then would you please get in touch.