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A visit to Manchester Sci and Eng Museum

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Robin Graham27/04/2019 23:46:56
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I was in Manchester today and dropped in to the Science and Engineering museum for a quick mosey round. Not visited before. Pride of place was the Rocket. I'm not a steam buff by any means, but wow, it was an experience to see the engine. I hadn't realised how small and simple (by modern standards) it was. Wooden driving wheels! There was a lot of stuff missing (eg the firebox had either been removed maybe to give a better view of the boiler, or perhaps it no longer exists). It also brought home how much things have changed in the last 190 years - maybe 10 generations.

The other parts of the museum I saw were disappointing. There was a demo which supposedly illustrated the way gears work - by turning a handle it was possible, even for a child, to raise a Mini from the ground. The blurb said that gears are good things because they give mechanical advantage but failed to mention that there were bloody great counterweights on the other side of the pulley from which the car was was suspended, so perhaps not as good as the kiddies turning the wheel were led to believe. I had a go myself, and it felt like I was working against the friction in the gear train rather than the weight. Most of the mechanical advantage was in an enclosed gearbox, a worm and wheel I suspect - not great from an educational viewpoint. We're going to tell you how wonderful gears are, but you're not allowed to see how they actually do this magic. Don't worry your pretty little head about it.

Sorry, I'm going into rant mode.

Worth it to see the Rocket though!

Robin.

Edited By Robin Graham on 27/04/2019 23:50:16

Edited By Robin Graham on 27/04/2019 23:59:54

Michael Gilligan28/04/2019 06:24:13
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Rant on, Robin .... You are right to

When we moved here in 1988, that Museum was wonderful

... It has, since then, gone down the pan.

MichaelG.

martin perman28/04/2019 08:45:38
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When I was last there, late 90's 00's, there was a hall full of working steam engines, another full of aviation, are you saying its all gone.

Martin P

Michael Gilligan28/04/2019 09:58:17
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Not all gone ... more forgotten

[ 'gone down the pan' was intended as a quality assessment of the place as a museum ]

The Aviation display was barely lit, and apparently un-manned last time I visited.

The steam hall was nearly as bad.

The once magnificent display of J.B. Dancer microscopes seems to have gone [into storage ?]

etc. etc.

MichaelG.

Edited By Michael Gilligan on 28/04/2019 10:00:27

Kiwi Bloke28/04/2019 12:45:08
256 forum posts
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I went into the museum once, in the '80s. There was a cut-away Rolls-Royce Merlin. I stood before it in awe. So huge and complex, obviously with an enormous amount of hand finishing and fitting. How many man- (and woman-) hours went into making such magnificent things? Of course, I had seen cut-away drawings before, and had made the plastic kits of aeroplanes with these engines, but seeing the thing in the flesh, indeed inside the thing, was altogether different. Imagine the price, if one were manufactured today! And all for an average in-service life of ten hours, before the fighter pilot behind it was shot out of the sky. And they were made in their thousands. The war effort. So much effort; so much was given - by so many. The tears rolled down my face. I had to leave. I never went back.

duncan webster28/04/2019 14:26:10
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They were only manufactured in thousands after US makers were given the task and made them to tighter tolerances so you didn't need all that hand fitting. read Hooker's excellent autobiography 'Not much of an engineer'

Edited By duncan webster on 28/04/2019 14:26:41

Robin Graham28/04/2019 23:30:25
583 forum posts
129 photos

To be fair, the Power Room (where the engines are housed) was closed for maintenance when I visited. Maybe that would have been more interesting and coherent. As it was such exhibits as there were seemed to be chosen at random and weren't given the historical context they deserved. There used to be good tech museum at Snibston in Leicestershire - a lot of coal related stuff obviously, but also general science, technology and even some social history. Sadly it is now closed because of budget cuts.

Robin.

Tricky29/04/2019 09:01:51
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Posted by duncan webster on 28/04/2019 14:26:10:

They were only manufactured in thousands after US makers were given the task and made them to tighter tolerances so you didn't need all that hand fitting. read Hooker's excellent autobiography 'Not much of an engineer'

Edited By duncan webster on 28/04/2019 14:26:41

Not true, according to Wikipedia 160,000 built in the UK and 55,000 Packard versions in the USA and production in the USA did not start until late 1941.

Neil Wyatt29/04/2019 09:51:25
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When did Rocket move to Manchester? It doesn't seem long ago that I saw it in the Science Museum in London.

Neil

SillyOldDuffer29/04/2019 10:12:40
4708 forum posts
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Posted by duncan webster on 28/04/2019 14:26:10:

They were only manufactured in thousands after US makers were given the task and made them to tighter tolerances so you didn't need all that hand fitting. read Hooker's excellent autobiography 'Not much of an engineer'

Edited By duncan webster on 28/04/2019 14:26:41

A variation of that story is that tolerances improved radically after Ford(UK) were engaged to build the engines. Apparently, Ford were obliged to ask RR for 'proper engineering drawings', before work could start and these were used to develop the engine using mass-production techniques.

There's a collision of philosophies:

  1. Quality from highly trained craftsmen using only the best materials with parts fettled by fitters, versus
  2. 'Fit for Purpose to a specification' made with mass-production techniques producing interchangeable parts that don't need to be fettled.

Before WW2 RR didn't make enough engines to justify spending money on mass-production techniques. Actually this was probably shortsighted. Manufacturing comes to a sticky end when it fails to compete with what the other guy is doing, and - in general - affordable 'fit for purpose' pays the bills when overpriced 'quality' doesn't. More money made from making Ford Fiestas than Buggati Veyrons!

Dave

mgnbuk29/04/2019 10:35:46
511 forum posts
13 photos

Not true, according to Wikipedia 160,000 built in the UK and 55,000 Packard versions in the USA and production in the USA did not start until late 1941.

**LINK**

Ford built Merlins in quantity at Trafford Park.

Nigel B

Ian Hewson29/04/2019 10:42:51
259 forum posts
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Rocket moved in 2018 to Newcastle, then to Manchester, and will be going to National Railway Museum in York later this year.

A Smith29/04/2019 11:56:38
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It is a disease. The medical description I, "Arts based degree-ism". Publicly owned museums are now run by professional curators who, having an arts degree, have no interest in engineering and assume that the entire general public have the same outlook.

I was recently at the Black Country Living Museum, all the cars and bikes, especially the bikes, are crammed into small spaces where it is almost impossible to look at them. The curator is, "more interested in the interpretation of history, rather than artefacts", or so I was informed.

It will soon be the case that private museums, run by enthusiastic volunteers, will be the only ones that appeal to those interested in engineering and technology.

Andy

Martin Kyte29/04/2019 15:55:54
1488 forum posts
24 photos

Could I maybe put a slightly different view on all this. Many of us who actually build stuff would consider ourselves something of a specialist in whatever we do. Not neccesarily an 'expert' but generally more knowledgeable than the general interest public visitor of museums. It is therefor not really surprising, that often a visit to one of the more popular large museums, leaves one with some sense of superficiality or at least a mild dissapointment that our particular interest was not covered in much greater detail or the obscure artifact we wereparticularly interested in was not brought centre stage. Our Lab recently pensioned off an XRay plate microdensitometer which was of sufficient interest as being both part of the history of structural molecular biology and technologically unique enough to be of interest to the Science Museum. It is unlikely however to see much of the general public or indeed the general public to see much of it. However the museum considered it to be worth preserving along with it's documentation so as to make it available for historical research projects on into the future. With most of these museums what the public gets to see is just the tip of the iceberg as it were with vast numbers of artifacts squirreled away in reserve collections. In future years and to a certain extent today more and more of this is likely to be available in digital form accessable by all, and free at that. I have at home an engineering 'survey' of Rocket published in book form from such a research project. It's a facinating study of the 'artifact' that is Rocket today complete with full drawings and photographs and detailed analysis the locomotives engineering history born witness to by both the written documentation that still exists and the marks and spare holes still present in the structure of the loco itself. Without the museums this would not exist.

So I would consider that the museums do a great job in both th epreservation of the material itself, telling the story of life gone by and making much of it accessable to the general public and particularly children in a form which is entertaining and informative.

We who yearn for more specialist detail maybe should just do a little more digging.

regards Martin

Oily Rag01/05/2019 15:32:43
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MK, while I appreciate what you are saying above I still feel there is a 'loss' of interest by the 'Arts Degree' regimes currently and over-whelmingly running most museums. As Andy above has mentioned, the once superb Black Country Museum, is now a shadow of it's former self. All the curators want to do is preach to all and sundry what a bunch of b******ds all the beastly bosses were, a carry over from the politicisation of the schools and universities over the last 40 years.

Snibston Museum in Leicestershire probably ranks as one of the most disappointing museums I have ever visited, when it first opened there were artefacts aplenty, from a wide range of local history and it's industries - coal mining, agriculture, lace making and the hosiery industry were all well represented; on a later visit there were many less objects and in their place was a loop TV documentary running with objects shown 'on screen' - This I was told, was what the younger generation now expected "as they get all their information from a TV screen" - God help us if this is true! There were endless 'activity attractions' which were of mediocre interest to the youngsters I noted. I was also told that the TV loop documentaries were replacing written signage almost everywhere and that this is the modern approach as "people don't read anymore"

In 2012 I went to London and having a free day decided to go to the Science Museum and then the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum had shuffled all the aero engines into floor to ceiling racks, making most of them unsighted. As for the NH Museum the old museum from the past had disappeared, fronted now by a 3D 'day in the life of a dinosaur' on a SuperMax widescreen cinema (now its a battle to see who has the coolest AV system it appears!) meanwhile the dinosaur in the main entrance lobby has I understand been dis-assembled.

Museum's need 'shock and awe' to spark an interest in a youngsters mind, you don't get that from hogwash TV.

Robin Graham01/05/2019 23:25:50
583 forum posts
129 photos

That's interesting Oily R. I can't remember when I last went to Snibston but I recall lots of interesting and educational exhibits - even a working lens polishing machine complete with bitumen pad and 'random orbital' drive, I wonder if the move to TV documentaries might have been as more to do funding cuts than a change of strategy. Must be cheaper, and no H&S concerns!

The whole thing about sci/tech education is a hard biscuit for sure - it's great that kids have access to so much information so easily, but it's difficult to navigate through all that stuff without guidance. In my own field (physics) I have seen many changes in teaching. When I retired I did some private tutoring - I was surprised to find that the first module on the AQA AS syllabus was concerned with sub-atomic structure. The students were required to remember the number of up and down quarks in a proton, draw 'Feynman diagrams' , understand conservation of strangeness etc. Later on in the syllabus we get to wonder about how things push against things, rub against things and sometimes fall over. Seems arse about face to me.

Sorry, ranting again, Robin

Edited By Robin Graham on 01/05/2019 23:26:39

Edited By Robin Graham on 01/05/2019 23:43:38

Paul Kemp01/05/2019 23:56:01
308 forum posts
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Well fear not all, soon the whole of history will be digitised. Now we are officially in a state of emergency all those nasty old relics that belch smoke and steam will be locked firmly in a dark and dusty shed. We must be clean and electrickery is the future, by 2050 with zero emissions there will be not a drop of liquid or solid fuel anywhere near a spark or a flame. The industrial revolution, steam, internal combustion engines and their ilk will be a fantasy only visible on you tube and Newcomen, Trevethick, Brunel and Stephenson will be exposed as the climate criminals and planetary vandals they were.

So my friends, cast off your affinity to emissions and embrace the brave new world.

Paul.

Ian S C02/05/2019 11:52:02
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Someone's going to be very busy building all the machinery that will be needed from the near future until infinity. Some people(don't) think of how we get things, an E-car has to be built as does every thing else,

Engineering education is probably near the top of what is required. Some places museums are going digital, but the more enlightened ones are going hands on, you can look at a screen all day. and learn little, but get to see and handle something for a few minutes and you'll learn a lot.

Ian S C

Michael Gilligan02/05/2019 12:08:52
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Posted by Ian S C on 02/05/2019 11:52:02:

Engineering education is probably near the top of what is required. Some places museums are going digital, but the more enlightened ones are going hands on, you can look at a screen all day. and learn little, but get to see and handle something for a few minutes and you'll learn a lot.

.

Well said, Ian

MichaelG.

Geoff Theasby02/05/2019 13:35:47
593 forum posts
15 photos

Regarding the Merlin, I have just skimmed Stanley Hooker's chapter on Merlins, and found the Ford/tolerances section, but not another item I remember from somewhere. Ford or Packard suggested using head gaskets, instead of the metal to metal joints originally used. This meant cutting several operations and speeded up production considerably.

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