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Monday 6 February 2017

Fact 89. A cure for seasickness?

Earle's Shipbuilders in Hull were the constructors of one of the strangest ships ever seen. SS Bessemer was designed by Sir Henry Bessemer, the inventor of the Bessemer process that made steel production quicker, cheaper and easier to manufacture, as well as over a hundred other inventions. Bessemer suffered from severe sea sickness when ever he had to travel by ship. He therefore set his brain to designing a ship that would prevent this. He designed a saloon that was suspended within the hull of a ship on gimbals and was to remain level even when the ship was rolling. He then patented his idea in 1869 and went on to make a working model to fully test his theory.

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The working model of his great idea.

Once he had proved to himself that the theory was practical he set up a Limited Stock Company called the Saloon Ship Company as the idea was the passenger saloon would be the 'protected' area. £250,000 was raised and he engaged the naval architect Edward Reed to design it for him. As Bessemer was from Sheffield he turned to Yorkshire yard Earle's Shipbuilders in Hull to bring his design to fruition.

The ship was to be a cross channel ferry as this would probably bring the relief of sea sickness to the largest number. It was built as a double ended paddle steam vessel with two paddle wheels on each side, one fore and one aft. This meant that the ship would not have to turn round at each port and just move off the way it had come. The dimensions of the hull were 350' long by 40' beam (65' across the paddle boxes) and 7'5" draft and a gross tonnage 1974 t. (106 x 12.2 (19.8) x 2.3 metres). Obviously the main feature of the design was the saloon that was 70' long by 30' wide with a height of 20'. (21 x 9.1 x 6.1 metres).

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© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
This is the SS Bessemer laying off Gravesend on the Thames in 1875.

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The saloon was beautifully appointed with Morocco leather seats oak paneling and spiral columns with gilt and hand painted panels.

The saloon was suspended on gimbals within the hull and an extra helmsman would watch a spirit level and using an hydraulic system maintain the passenger cabin as close to horizontal as possible. The ship had Earle's yard number of No.197 and was launched on 24th September 1874.

The vessel was to be operated by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company that became part of the Southern Railway in 1921. In April 1875 a private trial was undertaken from Dover to Calais. Things didn't go too well and on entering the piers at Calais damage was caused to one of the paddle wheels. This was said to be due to the difficulties of steering the vessel at slow speed. With a paddle basically at every corner in theory it should have been highly maneuverable but then I don't know how they were controlled. It wasn't until 8th May 1875 that the ship had it's first public voyage. However it had the passenger saloon locked in place, so to all intents and purposes it was a 'normal' ship, due to not being able to repair the previous damage in time according to Bessemer! It didn't seem to help as after two attempts to enter Calais breakwater it collided once  more with the pier and demolished part of it this time.
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A wood engraved print of the incident  from the London Illustrated News 1875.

This was one incident too many and the first public voyage became the ship's last. Competion on the route was fierce and these early incidents were enough to put off passengers, and more to the point the investors. The Saloon Ship Company was wound up in 1876 and the ship languished in Dover until taken to the breakers, sold for scarp in 1879.

Edward Reed, the naval architect, bought the saloon from the breakers and had it positioned at his home, Hexrable House near Swanley where it became a billiard room. The house later became a Women's Agricultural College and the saloon was recorded once more.

Related image and David Greig.
The upper picture shows a dairy class being given in the Bessemer's swinging saloon at Swanley Agricultural College. The lower picture shows the other end of the saloon at the same time when it was in use as a lecture hall.

Unfortunately the building did not survive a bomb landing on it in WWII! The venture did not have much luck. The Channel crossing is a shallow sea crossing and as such the waves and swell are short and steep which would make it quite difficult to counteract in a timely manner. On a deep sea passage, across the Atlantic perhaps, the swells may be larger but they come at longer intervals and would enable better control of the  hydraulics. In this day and age the whole thing would be automated and I'm sure would be made to work. After all we have trains that tilt when they go round bends. However the prevention of rolling in passenger vessels is now done by computer controlled wings or arms that are extended out of the side of the vessel when underway in deep water and can be contracted into the hull when in confined or sheltered waters. Passive system were water is delayed from 'sloshing' from side to side by damping grids with in an  athwartship tank that dampens the rolling motion.

Earle's Ship yard took on many one of projects that tested the ship builders skills. This one didn't quite come off but some did. Earle's Road is now just about all that remains of the old yard but at the river end you will get a good view of the strange vessels that now service Siemens factory, shapes that would never have been contemplated in 1875.

Fact 88. A route to fame.

Not many people have made such  large and lasting change to their city as Alfred Gelder. So much so that a main thoroughfare in the city centre was named after him.

Sir William Alfred Gelder was born in May 1855 in North Cave to the west of Hull. His dad was William Gelder, and this may show why junior was always known by his middle name of Alfred. William was a joiner, wheelwright and later a timber merchant. It seems that he was educated at the village school until age 15 when he became apprenticed to his father. Nobody seems to know why but Alfred soon decided against following in his father's footsteps and left for Hull to pursue a career as an architect. He found time to marry Elizabeth Parker from Hull in 1877 and they had three children, two boys and a girl. It is unclear how he gained qualifications but 8 years later  he set up an architectural practice. It is known that he had a Bachelor of Arts degree and later became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and later still a Fellow of the Royal Institute.

In 1892 he took on a partner in the practice, Llewellyn Kitchen and the firm of Gelder and Kitchen was born. Whether having a partner allowed Alfred Gelder more time for other matters or not, it coincided with him taking his first public office, as a member of the Hull School Board. This was a start of 43 years of public service.He was later elected to the Council as a councillor for Drypool ward.  He was Mayor from 1899 to 1903 and was made an Alderman in 1925.

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Alfred Gelder, around
Gelder started his practice at the time of the Victorian boom in industry and social change, and this gave him ample scope for tendering for the designing new buildings. His Methodist persuasion meant that he knew many of the movers and shakers in the area and was able to secure contracts. The practice became well known for the design of Methodist Chapels such as the that at Cottingham and Brunswick on Holderness Road, as well as all over the country. He also knew Joseph Rank and another of the firms specialisations was the design of buildings for the flour milling for them and many other around the country. He also designed many oil seed crushing mills and this industry became a main stay in Hull along the River Hull corridor.

The River Hull looking north east with the lifting Drypool Bridge that was on the new road designed by Gelder and Kitchen and the Clarence Flour Mill that Gelder designed for Joseph Rank and opened in 1891. This building has now been demolished and is to be the site of an hotel in the future.

Looking west down Alfred Gelder Street with the Guild Hall on the right and the Old Post Office on the left.

Perhaps Alfred Gelder is best known for his name being given to a street in Hull. Alfred Gelder was Mayor and a prime mover in clearing the cramped maze of alleyways and streets to the north of the Old Town, that would have been within the old walls and the replacing Queen's Dock. These days the  fact the the senior partner of an architectural company was involved with the design and planning of a very large development would raise more than a few eyebrows. It is said though that the development was at no cost to the rate payers. A new road was pushed through to the Junction Street Scheme that was the Creation of What is now known as Queen Victoria square, along with the civic buildings there. The road crossed the River Hull on a new bridge now called Drypool bridge. Originally the road was called Alfred Gelder Avenue, but I think it's change to Street was for the better. In front of the Guild Hall and the Wilson statue at the the junction of Lowgate and Alfred Gelder Street can still be seen the Gelder and Kitchen designed Maritime Buildings.

Maritime Buildings, Alfred Gelder Street. designed by Gelder and Kitchen 1900.

In 1903 Gelder was the Mayor when the Prince and Princes of Wales arrived in Hull to unveil the Queen Victoria Statue, lay the foundation stone for the new City Hall and a commemorative plaque at the Infirmary that was then in Prospect Street. That year he was also made a knight of the realm in the King's birthday honours for his services to architecture and the City of Hull.

In the 1920's Alfred Gelder's son Teddy joined the practice and the company continued in the city until very recently. There are some intriguing reminders left of the back courts and slums that were replaced by the creation of a new route through the town and we now have the marvelous buildings that add much to Hull's built environment.