Thursday, 23 September 2010

Musings on the Steam Fayre, and Jersey Past and Present

Last Saturday saw the autumn steam fair, an event which I always enjoy. The large steam train leaves the Victorian style station every half hour for two circuits of its track, billowing clouds of steam from its funnel, while the smaller perimeter track is the smaller train clanking along on its rails. In the middle of this outside grassy area are dozens of vintage cars, vintage tractors, standalone steam engines in operation, and a traction engine setup by moving belts to drive a threshing machine. Sadly this year there were no raw materials for the threshing machine but it still was a splendid display.

Inside the museum, which is like a fast bright and airy hangar, there are people peddling toy cars, the odd stalls selling books and bric-a-brac, enthusiasts ready to display and explain their miniature engines, cups of tea or coffee and home-made cakes, freshly baked Jersey wonders, and of course all the marvellous tools, vehicles, trains, farm implements etc which form the museum display proper.

This was the vision of steam enthusiast Don Pallot, whose full name was Lyndon Charles Pallot. Annie Parmeter worked at the museum and made some notes on his life, and on the displays there, and I have transcribed these, along with various comments as the displays nudged awake my own memories of the past.

Lyndon Charles Pallot was born a farmer's son in 1910 in the parish of Trinity. He attended Trinity Parish School and left at the age of 14 to take up a five-year apprenticeship with the JRT & T sponsored by his uncle. During this time he also undertook bicycle repairs out of a workshop at Les Petits Cainons, Trinity. This is how his lifelong passion for engineering began. In the 1930s, he moved to Sion Central Motorworks - tractor and motor repairs, truck alterations and agricultural engineering including design and manufacture of very important agricultural items some of which were patented. In the 1950s, he became the first in Jersey to do plant hire - hydrodigger, first JCB, mobile cranes, dozers, micks, compressors and demolition. He supplied plant hire for Quennevais School, Grainville School, and the airport runway.

In the 1960s, he moved to this site operating as suppliers of tarmac and tractor dealers. The museum opened in 1990, the station in 1995, and the new museum in 2002. I had the pleasure of working for him for a number of years. He was a lot of fun to be around with all manner of amusing tales to tell. He was an innovator and a man of great vision. Thanks to him, here stands this wonderful museum - a great record Jersey's agricultural and industrial heritage.

Why does anyone collect things? What does it tell us about them? On the most fundamental level this collection tells us about the life of one particular person, L.C. Pallot. Through this man's life we have a privileged view into a window of history and also of the contribution that he made the Jersey's agricultural and in just real heritage. 1910 to 1996 when he died was a period of extraordinary change that signalled the end of an era.

If we look at the domestic balcony, we can appreciate the great thing was that he collected everyday items not just the rare or valuable things. Instead he collected things that most people threw away. The first half of the 20th century life was hard but this was how he grew up. Here we have a range and bean crocs, water jugs, butter churns, grater, baby bottles, paraffin lamps, and an early design of washing machine from the 1930s, the grey one from Les Lumieres.

Even in the 1960s, when I grew up, I can find things to relate to. The hand-cranked mangles for squeezing the water out of newly washed and damp clothes are large in comparison with the one that my mother had, which I remember as being small, made of heavy solid metal, painted green, with a metal crank handle, but if I remember right, wooden rollers. I remember going to the houses of various great Aunts, and visiting their living rooms which were warmed by the cylindrical paraffin heaters on a tripod of legs, and the distinctive smell of paraffin burning. My mother still has an old and large pot for making Jersey bean crock.

Further along the balcony, are the displays which Annie termed the "Forge".

Jersey was primarily an agricultural community and every parish had at least two blacksmiths. Things were made by people, you could name the person who made your garden gate or your plough or your trepid and hooks for your fire. They would turn their hand to anything. Often they were agents for agricultural equipment and did repairs. Don Pallot was more into engineering work because of his JRT training. In this section are found Forge and bellows, cow pegs, line shafting, more light engineering works, lathes, wooden Grandin patterns.

There is an area devoted to ploughs and what might Annie termed "barn machinery".

Most ploughs were locally made by blacksmiths at the parish Forge. This is especially true of the wooden ones which were made in conjunction with local carpenters. Fore-carriages and wheels, which can be seen here, were more likely to be imported. I remember these ploughs being used during my childhood in the 1960s.

Unlike Annie, I don't personally remember seeing old-fashioned ploughs but I do remember the local artist Gerald Palmer doing a very fine watercolour of an old horse-drawn plough in a field, with the church spire in the background. What I do remember is the end product, when my grandfather, who was secretary of the RJAHS would take us around the old Springfield where the growers presented all manner of fruit and vegetables to win prizes for the best in different categories. But the farm that we visited with my parents, which belonged to Eric and Iris Le Feuvre, had modern mechanical ploughs drawn by tractors. A few years ago, I went with Annie and we saw tractor trials in a field in Trinity and it was great fun to see old and new tractors ploughing furrows up and down the field, gulls ever flocking in the wake for juicy worms and other insects thrown up in the process.

There is also a fine organ co collection from pianolas and parlour harmoniums to church and cinema organs. Don loved organ music.

I don't myself remember organs playing in the local cinema but my mother has fond memories of the organ at the Forum Cinema which used to play before the film, during the interval, and the national anthem at the end, and which would apparently a rise up from a sunken recess when the organist was playing and descend again when the film was shown.

When I went round last Saturday I saw, close to the organs and musical instruments, an old television set. That itself brought back memories of the smallness of the box which we used to watch in grainy 425 lines and how the valves would gradually warm up and the picture eventually appear, often plagued by problems of horizontal or vertical roll. Around midnight, television stations would close, often locally with the news broadcast for five minutes in French (and I've often used to wonder which members of Jersey's French community, mostly itinerant farm workers, actually stayed up to watch Jacques Darreau) after which was broadcast the national anthem with the Queen -- a very youthful looking Queen -- sitting on a horse. That continued quite late until the advent of all night broadcasts. After that would be a high-pitched whistling sound to tell viewers to turn their sets off especially if they had nodded off before. When the set was turned off, the display would slowly shrink to a single point of light which, in turn, would gradually fade.

Also in this area is an old-fashioned telex machine. Telex machines were still around in the early 1980s, and I remember using them. Often the bulk of the transmission would be prepared on punched tape to save time and then when connected, this would be sent to the receiving station. In fact I had come across telex machines outside a work environment in the early 1970s when a group of students including myself used to telex machine to access a Honeywell computer in Manchester from Highlands College. This was after six o'clock to take advantage of cheaper phone rates and to make it even more cost-effective, we would prepare the programs on punched tape beforehand. Telex machines would be superseded by fax machines and even with the advent of fast scanning, scan to e-mail, for sheer reliability, faxes are still in use today.

But the steam museum does not just represent nostalgia for times gone by. It also has lessons for us. It marks the extremely swift transition between a culture of make and mend, when local craftsmen made local tools, to the modern "throw away" society, where goods are manufactured far away, imported from across the world (and never mind the carbon footprint), and are often disposed of casually when they break down or are damaged. It is a transition between a society in which artifacts where made for a lifetime's use, and those mass produced but made cheaply, the modern world of "built in" obsolescence, and the "throw away" culture of today. Our forebears would have marveled at the sparkling modern technology of our world, but they would also have been shocked by the casual way in which we wasted the earth's resources.


Nick Palmer said...

Et maintenant, les actualités, lu par Jacques Darreau.... Bonsoirrrr.

TonyTheProf said...

Thanks - I've corrected the original