Director’s Diary: America – a loose connection

I am sorry this blog is late. My flight to Tampa, Florida was not without incident, but I am safely on board Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship Jade with two thousand passengers. The ship seems huge and many decked, but Brunel’s last ship the Great Eastern had twice the capacity. Perhaps less luxurious… 

Leaving port is always an event, and Jade ship left Tampa’s huge bay by sailing under an elegant cable stay harbour bridge, and with just a few feet clearance! I enjoy the wonderful anachronism of these big ships sailing, and I remember Brunel’s Great Eastern was always called a ‘steam powered sailing ship’. We dock at the naval base at Key West, America’s deep water harbour designed to take full advantage of the canal they proposed to build. We drive past cliche palm trees to walk the historic board walk of the old port and gaze into iridescent blue seas. Here we are closer to Cuba than mainland America.

In a sense this was all created by Henry Flagler’s railway, and I shall compare him with Brunel in my second talk, but for the moment I am a tourist. I am blogging from Miami, from the top deck of the ship, and the vehicles on the causeway are like toys beneath me. The high rise skyline seems odd amongst the palm trees. We sail this evening for the Azores, Cork and Falmouth. Did you know the harbour at Ponte Delgado was built some thirty years ago by two of Brunel’s  steam locomotives? I shall explore. Never a passenger service, but I believe the last commercial use of the broad gauge.

I will I will try to blog again, but internet reception is slow and sometimes fugitive.  I had not thought of this. The truth is, the Trans-Atlantic cable laid by Brunel’s Great Eastern has not solved the problem for ships in the middle of the ocean. This passage was first made possible under power by IK Brunel, but he didn’t write about it and so I may struggle as well. He joined the New World and the Old World, but sometimes we still get a bad connection. I have four days to think on this…

Here are the dates of my talks on the high seas, which take place 12 noon in the Stardust Theatre. Brunel in sequins, it was bound to happen eventually, and I like to think the showman in IKB would exult and delight in it:

i) 4th May Crossing the Atlantic

Ten weeks – ten days – ten seconds. Brunel: the Man who Shrank the World!

ii) 5th May Holiday Railways

Henry Flagler created Florida, Isambard Kingdom Brunel created Cornwall & the English Riviera

iii) 6th May The Shopping Arcade that Changed the World

Trains in an underwater banquet hall, ballroom, and fairground: Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the Eighth Wonder of the World in London

iv) 7th May The Mayflower sailed from London

The Pilgrim Fathers called at Plymouth (and Southampton), but the ship sailed from and returned to Rotherhithe in London

v) 8th May All at Sea with Shakespeare

The shipwreck in Bermuda that inspired a play

vi) 10th May Famous London Bridges and Southwark The Oldest City in London

This week the Museum hosted more successful visits from City & Village, in partnership with Museum of London Docklands. This is part of the Crossrail exhibition Archaeology of the Tunnel and on 9th May the same exhibition stages a special event: further details available here. On Monday a group of architects visited the Museum and descended the underground chamber on a visit hosted by British Land: they arrived on a Routemaster, driven by the owner Sir Peter Hendy! As Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter helped with the construction of the new floor in the Grand Entrance Hall and he kindly allowed public walks through the Thames Tunnel. Just before he left for his new job with Network Rail, Sir Peter was planning to bring steam back onto the London Overground and he tells me this could still be done and I have written on his recommendation to a number of people who might help…

We also hosted Kensington & Chelsea Ladies group, a Probus group and visited Royal Docks Learning & Activity Centre. Hollydale Primary School were lucky and happy to meet Brunel in person.

Next week Midnight Apothecary’s summer season starts and continues every Friday and Saturday until the end of September.

Here are details of events this week:

Sunday 30th April

10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Monday 1st May

10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

13.00 Odyssey Canals & Railways group visiting from Australia

Tuesday 2nd May

10.00 St John’s Primary School Thames Explore Trust

10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Wednesday 3rd May

10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

10.00 Pilgrims Way Primary School meet Brunel in Person

18.15 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Thursday 4th May

10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

10.00 Hollydale Primary School meet Brunel in Person

19.30 Anglo Russian Culture Club present Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.

Friday 5th May

10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Saturday 6th May

10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks

13.30 lunch at the Tunnel Club, Mayflower pub upper room

17.30 Midnight Apothecary’s summer season starts and continues every Friday and Saturday until the end of September