Saturday 21 May 2022

Bath Humane Society: a history and an ode

Alongside the Kennett and Avon Canal in Bath is Top Lock Cottage, a former canal lock-keeper's cottage. It also used to hold rescue equipment on behalf of the Bath Humane Society, as a sign on its wall still attests. 

Photograph showing a small stone building with a pitched roof and gothic-arched windows. On the side wall is a blue enamel notice with the words 'Bath Humane Society's Station for Lifebuoys and Drag-Poles' visible. In the foreground is a hedge.

This society made life-saving equipment available to the public to rescue people from water. A booklet from 1806 now in the Wellcome Library gives more information about how the Society operated. 

It aimed to provide assistance with all stages of the rescue process. Grappling poles allowed people to be rescued from the water and brought to dry land; rewards encouraged the public to make the effort to use them; and printed 'Directions'for performing rescues were distributed among the 'lower classes'. Receiving houses provided spaces to attempt resuscitation. A number of local doctors were willing to provide medical treatment. 

Photograph showing a closer view of the blue enamel sign in the previous image.


The pamphlet is not so much celebratory as reproachful in tone. It reproaches the city for not having established this system sooner; the canal builders for not making their sluices and locks safer; parents for letting their children play by the water; the working classes, who had formerly assumed assistance was futile; and reckless young ice-skaters. Those last are advised to 'make it a practice ... of holding a staff or a strong walking-stick, of a convenient length, in both hands in a horizontal direction' so that in case of accident, they would stay 'suspended' until help arrived. I suspect that this recommendation was rarely followed. 

The rescues of 1805 and 1806 - successful or not - are detailed. In its first year, the Bath Humane Society paid out rewards for those involved in recovering 'a young lad' who seems not to have survived; a six-year-old boy; a pregnant woman; two children (one of whom did not survive); and a woman who threw herself in the river. All these incidents occurred in August and September. The following June, premiums were paid for recovery of the body of a young woman; a chimney-sweep in 'a fit of desperation'; a boy working for masons who fell and could not be saved; a 6-year-old who recovered fully; and two young brothers, the younger of whom could not be revived. In July, a 7-year-old boy survived; an 8-year-old did not; a 5-year-old was retrieved with some difficulty; two unnamed boys were recovered lifeless by the same man, three days apart; another boy was successfully rescued the next day, as was a young man with his horse a day after that. 

After much discussion of drag and grappling-hook design, and a list of subscribers, the booklet ends with an ode:

RESUSCITATION HAIL! whose potent breath
Can wrest the Victim from impending Death; 
Type of the World's great Saviour! him whose hand
Could make the still, cold breast again expand; 
And, list'ning to the Widow's piercing cries, 
Command to life her bier-stretch'd Son to rise;
Oh! glorious attribute of pow'r divine!
To shield, to succour, and to save be thine!
The treach'rous stream, that stilly winds
Around old Badon's walls,
Lures to its bosom youthful minds, 
And by its smile enthrals.
One, fearless of its surface green, 
Adventures from the shore:-
Through eddies strong, or depths unseen, 
He sinks - to rise no more!
And scorning Heav'n's first law, ah! wretch accurs'd!
"His Maker braves, and dares him to the worst!"
Meet consolation, with reprovals kind, 
Cheer'd, sooth'd, and reconciled the chasten'd mind.
Whilst mild RELIGION ev'ry effort tries,
To crush DESPAIR, and point to happier skies.
Oh! then, ye Promoters of this hallow'd plan, 
Who the embers of life thus successfully fan; 
Proceed in your labours, so nobly begun,
And be to mischance, like the beams of the sun, 
Whose heat can invig'rate the senseless cold clod!
And bid the sunk spirit rejoice in its God!
Keep from obloquy's stain, what too long has been said
- In Avon once sunk - irretrievably dead; 
Be the slaying of thousands the boast of the Brave -
Your triumphs are greater - your boast is - TO SAVE!

 The author was William Meyler, a local bookseller and newspaper editor. Born in Anglesey, he had been apprenticed to a bookshop owner in Bath before opening his own shop and later becoming a publisher. He was also known as a poet, performing addresses and works at the theatre, and in 1792 launched the Bath Herald and General Advertiser. He was by 1806 a prominent citizen, member of many charitable and other societies, City Councillor, and Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Somerset in the Freemasons. A decade later, Mary Godwin and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley lodged at Meyler's shop while she completed Frankenstein.

Bath's smaller organisation had been inspired by the Royal Humane Society, whose original full title  was the 'Humane Society for the recovery of persons apparently dead by drowning'. It had been founded in London in 1774 and promoted resuscitation of the drowned. While it apparently impressed the Bath author with its success in restoring people in whom 'every spark of vitality appeared to have been extinguished', they had to concede that the local organisation's successes lay in rescuing people who still showed signs of life. A better result, but a less dramatic one!

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Elizabeth Line: behind the barriers at Tottenham Court Road

With the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail project due to open to passengers next week, here is a sneak preview of what's behind the barriers at the Tottenham Court Road Station! 


Photograph showing a yellow concertina barrier across the entrance to the Crossrail platforms inside the station

The new station is full of carefully-designed details, designed to reflect the area above ground. Look closely at the rather abstract pattern of dots on the wall panels and you can see it is in fact a stylised map: spot Soho Square and the roundels marking the station entrances.  

Photograph of a shiny red panel with white dots in a grid pattern. There is a square gap in the dots, with an outline of a house shape in the centre, representing Soho Square. Some of the dots are in fact Underground roundels.

The new tunnels and platforms are full of curves, light, and the distinctive 'totems' which will be a feature of all Elizabeth Line stations. They serve multiple functions including signage and lighting. 

The opening of the central section on 24 May 2022 will be a giant step towards completion of a project which began in 2009. When I visited the construction site at Woolwich Arsenal in 2014, it was apparently at its halfway point - but there have been a few delays since then, unsurprising in work of this magnitude. When the line is fully open, it will run from Reading to Shenfield and be over 100km long.

All that work has not only brought much-needed new transport infrastructure. It was accompanied by a huge archaeology programme which brought exciting discoveries. It also reminded us that Crosse and Blackwell originally had a factory a few steps away in Soho Square!

Inside the new Tottenham Court Road station, finding your way through its generous spaces is made easier through some clever colour-coding. The eastern side, with the St Giles Circus entrance, features red glass walls; at the western, Dean Street end they are black.Above our heads, the lights are modelled on stage lights - a reference to the many theatres above.

In fact, all that was missing on this visit were the passengers and trains ... but they will soon be here too!