I have a feeling that this is yet another RAG event that has long disappeared. The Chariot Race down Oxford Street from Speaker’s Corner was last referenced in FELIX way back in 1976 and has not been mentioned since. Well, until today of course because we have some silent 8mm film once again shot by STOIC. This was yet another item featured in their weekly news programme TOPIC. This particular item has suffered from the ‘home processing’ that was carried out on these black and white films. I think that a combination of over exposure and dodgy processing has resulted in rather poor quality. However, it is a wonderful record of what Imperial students used to get up to to raise money during RAG week 50 years ago.
This 8mm film that we have is from 1972 and is not even listed in the STOIC archive index. That is simply because the original videotape in which the film was used no longer exists. In this case I cannot find any corresponding audio, which I assume was added during the recording of TOPIC, so it will appear silent.
The Inter-CCU Raft Race across the Serpentine in 1979 is yet another part of college history that’s very difficult to find anything about. I can certainly find several references to the event in Felix, but nothing about why it started. What I can tell you is that this 1979 race is the first I found mentioned, so it could have been the first race to happen and the reason why STOIC recorded it.
Of the listings in FELIX, there are only mentions of the fact that it’s happening or that it had already happened and which CCU won it (photo on right). Just one tiny extra piece I found was this ‘thanks’ from the Union President who said after the 1979 race: “Thanks to the Underwater Club for giving up their Sunday Lie-In to ensure the safety of the Raft Race“. And there was one photo in Felix announcing that RCS had won the race.
So sit back and enjoy this brief coverage of what may have been the very first Raft Race across the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park. It started in Prince’s Garden and then up the roads to Hyde Park.
Well, who remembers the Great Tartan Race? Other references that I’ve found also called it the Great Tartan Barrel Race, either way it seemed to involve beer! This news item from STOIC’s 8 June 1973 TOPIC programme is missed from the card index because it was shot well before the index was started. The original videotape is long gone, so this item would have been forgotten. But, once again I found this gem in the collection of 8mm films that I’m currently digitising. If you remember, film was the only way for the programme to provide coverage of events outside of the college TV studio. Sadly this film is all that now remains of the programme so I’ve had to revert to a news clipping from FELIX dated 3 May 1973. (And yes you will have noticed a month’s difference between when it was shot and actually used in the programme)
“A team consisting of two members each from City and Guilds’ Union and Royal School of Mines Union were outright winners in their class in the Great Tartan Race, run annually by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. The race involves transporting an (empty) keg of Tartan beer from Edinburgh to London, and the various classes of entry are for the most novel way of doing this, the team collecting most money for their nominated charity and for the team completing the distance in the shortest time. The IC team made the trip in a tartan-liveried Morris Minor accompanied by tartan-clad dolly birds, and collected for Action for the Crippled Child. The Tartan Race was entered by teams from universities and colleges throughout Britain.”
Coverage of the race was not only from STOIC it would seem, but also from British Movietone News. I didn’t realise that news for the cinema was still running in 1973, but at least STOIC’s was shot in colour (although seen in black and white). You’ll also spot that I found not only the used footage from the programme, but also the off cuts. These I’ve also included to show all that is still available in the archive collection. And when you look at the British Movietone News coverage does anyone recognise the voice doing the commentary? It’s the first presenter of BBC Television in 1936, Leslie Mitchell.
Today I’ve unearthed an unusual interview, it’s with Chris Sleap, who at the time of this interview in May 1979, was RSM Union President Elect. However, on further research I find that in FELIX dated October 1979 Chris Sleap had failed his exams. FELIX also states that papers will go back up for this (and other failed Union posts) shortly.
I’ve not been able to find out who did actually take on this roll, later that year. This then is a somewhat unique interview. Mark Foley was the interviewer in the college TV Studio. We’d still not gone fully into colour, so interviews were still in black and white.
In 1957 Imperial College was celebrating its 50 year half century. Many events took place that year, none of them were recorded visually and only some recorded onto audio tape or disc. One item that does survive is a presentation given by Dr S.W. Smith on the History of the Royal School of Mines up to that time. When I digitised the tape a few years ago I heard one or two things that stood out.
There is mention of attending a lecture in 1897 and the astonishing thing that he heard suggested. And on 13th March 1901 he was present at the RSM half-century celebrations, the formal dinner for which, was delayed due to the death of Queen Victoria. Fascinating to hear a college alumni talking about what was happening in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the summer of 1984 I was asked by Peter Burridge the Telecoms Manager, to make a special video to alert all members of Imperial College to the fact that we were about to put into service a new electronic telephone exchange. Until this time we had two systems running side by side: an internal automatic exchange and an external (BT) manually operated switchboard.
The original internal exchange, installed sometime around 1959, was located in the basement of the Royal School of Mines, whilst the external switchboard was installed in the Sherfield Building around 1969. This was probably to coincide with the opening of the building that year. For those only familiar with how things operate these days, the old system now seems very ancient. It required two telephones on a desk, internal and external. You called via the internal exchange with very old dial phones (in some cases), whilst to make an external call you picked up the receiver of the other phone and waited for the operator to answer.
You then had to request an ‘outside line’ and from there you could dial your call. All incoming calls to Imperial were answered by the operator and then put through to the extension in question. There were no connections between the two systems! So if a location only had an internal phone there was no way to contact them from outside of the college. The internal exchange catered for some 2,500 extensions whilst the external catered for 1,500 extensions.
The new system was deemed so “new” that training sessions were put into place at various locations around college. These were designed for either staff or students and some even took place in the Great Hall. It may seem odd, but at that time most secretaries, for example, were using normal electric golf-ball typewriters and few people had contact with computers unless they were academic. So, having to press button combination’s to achieve things like two way calling or call transfer had some people a bit stumped, thus the training sessions were arranged. As this concerned all of college there was great publicity and this can be seen from this mid-summer edition of the student newspaper Felix from 17 August 1984 (pages 4 & 5).
The colour stills of both the 1950’s exchange and switchboard are taken from the videotape I shot. So far, I’ve not located any other images of, what was, a major part of the daily unseen operation of Imperial College. I suspect that these sequences in the video may have been the first time that some people had seen any of these background services operating. I was also one of the first to experience the new system.
A few weeks before operation began I was asked if I’d wait by my current internal phone at around 6pm one evening whilst it was manually switched from the old to the new system. I then received a call via the new exchange to test all functionality and quality of sound. The rest is now part of college history as we all take the new systems as part of normal daily college life. But is was just a little bit different when you picked up the external phone and knew the person on the switchboard and had a short conversation before saying…”can I have an outside line please?”.
It’s funny how things happen by chance. This months entry is a bit like that. I thought it was about time I made use of some of the footage that we have of the college’s Tywarnhale mine in Cornwall, when I looked at the label on the tapes I noticed that it was 30 years ago this month, April 1980 that I went down to Cormwall. The mine and surrounding land (purchased in 1909/11 with extra land purchased in 1912) was sold by Imperial in about 2005. Here’s a BBC Cornwall web page about the sale dated 15th October 2005. As we couldn’t find any real photos of it in the college’s archives, the picture of the RSM sign is from one of the videotapes I shot. Here’s a brief history of the mine from the “Cornwall Calling” website. Please click on MORE to continue..
The videos you’ll see were all shot about 9 months after we received our new colour portable recording equipment. This all sounds amazing, but the early equipment was not a camcorder like the ones used now. It was a camera connected to a stand-alone videorecorder, and that was a heavy piece of kit and so was the camera. The entire unit ran from what are called sealed lead acid batteries and were the main cause of it all being so heavy (a bit like a car battery but smaller). To make matters worse, these batteries were in both the camera and recorder. If you look at the photo you’ll see a small black box at the back of the camera containing one of these batteries.
Shooting video underground was a new experience for me and former colleague Stephen Bell who come back to help me out for the few days we were down in Cornwall. We needed to hire battery lighting and create a way to protect the equipment (which of course was brand new) from the various elements we faced: water dripping down, heat and of main concern, humidity. A way was found to wrap equipment in polythene, but allow a way to operate it without unwrapping it! We found dry areas to park the recorder and run out an extension camera cable to where I was located. In most cases the cable ran in deep water from point a to point b and this photo gives an idea of what we took with us and how it connected together.
When speaking with Steve about this blog he mentioned that this was the first time he’d ever seen the ‘humidity’ light illuminate on a videorecorder. Indeed this happened several times when underground and, because of moisture, we had to remove videotape that was stuck to the video head drum. Needless to say, these tapes were then useless, so we lost a good few recordings. It’s also rather difficult trying to take the lid off of a video recorder when you’re underground and trying to see what you’re doing with a miner’s lamp on your helmet being the only source of light! Jumping forward to this year, 2010, it’s been a struggle with some of the U-matic tapes making them playback correctly. Time has not been too kind to them and all the problems underground didn’t help (moisture). But, they’re all now backed-up onto DVD from where these clips have now come.
This first video sequence is taken from the car being driven by Steve. I’m hanging out of the car window with a very large and heavy camera. You’ll also notice that this, and all other shots, will look a bit ‘soft’ and almost ghostly. This is because our very early colour camera had what is called a Vidicon tube inside it. These camera tubes required large amounts of light to get good pictures. As you’ll see, the weather was not brilliant and was very misty. None of this helped the situation. Thus the shots are rubbish compared to material shot these days. This video shows the original college buildings along the entire site.
This next video shows: students walking along the road along side the mine; Dr Thomas explaining how to use various instruments; a student entering the mine via ladder down the vertical shaft and two sequences showing students working underground. Now, it’s worth remembering that Steve and I had to enter via this same entrance carrying all of our equipment. We did have help, but camera, recorder, tripod, lights and spare batteries & tapes are difficult to carry when going down a vertical ladder! And, of course we were kitted out with the same outfits with: boot; helmet and safety lights etc. We all came out at the end, more than a bit dirty and very wet indeed.
The original 1911 purchase document says that the purchase was to “…enable the Professors and Students of the college , including the Royal School of Mines, to use the levels, above adit level, of the South Towan Mine in the manor of Tywarnhaile…” There are two interesting things I’ve spotted in searching for this information, one is the spelling of Tywarnhale. I’ve found three versions: Tywarnhale, Tywarnhaile and Tywarnhayle. But I’ve gone with the version as seen in the photo of the sign that was outside the main building. Also, in the original document it’s referred to as South Towan Mine not Tywarnhale. If you know any more on this matter we’d love to know so we can get the history correct.
There are very few photos of the mine in the college archive, so, if you have any that you would like to donate or would allow to be copied, then Anne Barrett, of the College Archives, would love to hear from you. And, as always it’s thanks to her for sourcing the material that we do have available. It’s very lucky that the video footage was shot and that we have at least some record of our former students working in it. If YOU are one of those shown in the videos then please do comment, we’d love to hear from you. It’s been interesting to run through all these tapes again after these 30 years and remembering all the major technical issues we had to overcome. But not too pleasant remembering how wet it was underground and how the weather was typically UK that week. These recordings are a perfect example of what archiving is all about, remembering our past and our history. The fact that this ‘outpost’ was part of Imperial College from 1911 until about 2005 is something that most people are simply unaware of.
Oh and one last thought….I thought it was an old Tin mine, but all other references seem to say that it was Copper…..30 years have certainly confused me!
Colin Grimshaw April 2010 (updated 2016)
In 2016 Michael Hulmes added this useful comment to the blog post:
The guy swinging on the rope, in white overalls and blue undershirt in the underground video is Geoff Perry. I suspect his colleague with his back to the camera is Paul Dayton-Lewis. The red haired guy in the video being instructed by Dr Thomas is Philip Sharman. All were in the Mining Engineering class which spent six weeks at Tywarnhale through easter 1980