Aug 032018
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Sir Joseph Paxton, an English gardener, architect and Member of Parliament, best known for designing the Crystal Palace http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crystal-palace/ , and for cultivating the Cavendish banana, the most commonly found banana in the Western world.

Paxton was born in 1803, the 7th son of a farming family, in Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire. Some references, incorrectly, list his birth year as 1801. This is, as he admitted in later life, a result of misinformation he provided in his teens, which enabled him to work at Chiswick Gardens. He became a garden boy at the age of 15 for Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, near Woburn in Bedfordshire. After several moves, he obtained a position in 1823 at the Horticultural Society’s Chiswick Gardens. The Horticultural Society’s gardens were close to the gardens of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick House. The duke met Paxton as he strolled in his gardens and became impressed with his skill and enthusiasm. He offered the 20-year-old Paxton the position of head gardener at Chatsworth, which was considered one of the finest landscaped gardens of the time.

Although the duke was in Russia, Paxton set off for Chatsworth on the Chesterfield coach arriving at Chatsworth at half past four in the morning. By his own account he had explored the gardens after scaling the kitchen garden wall, set the staff to work, eaten breakfast with the housekeeper and met his future wife, Sarah Bown (or Brown), the housekeeper’s niece, completing his first morning’s work before nine o’clock. He married Bown in 1827.

He enjoyed a friendly relationship with his employer who recognized his diverse talents and facilitated his rise to prominence. One of Paxton’s first projects was to redesign the garden around the new north wing of the house and expand Chatsworth’s collection of conifers into a 40-acre (16 hectare) arboretum which still exists. He became skilled at moving mature trees. The largest, weighing about eight tons, was moved from Kedleston Road in Derby. Among several other large projects at Chatsworth were the rock garden, the Emperor Fountain and rebuilding Edensor village.

While at Chatsworth, he built the Emperor Fountain in 1844, it was twice the height of Nelson’s Column and required the creation of a feeder lake on the hill above the gardens necessitating the excavation of 100,000 cubic yards (76,000 m3) of earth. In 1832, Paxton developed an interest in greenhouses at Chatsworth where he designed a series of buildings with “forcing frames” for espalier trees and for the cultivation of exotic plants such as highly prized pineapples. At the time the use of glass houses was in its infancy and those at Chatsworth were dilapidated. After experimentation, he designed a glass house with a ridge and furrow roof that would be at right angles to the morning and evening sun and an ingenious frame design that would admit maximum light: the forerunner of the modern greenhouse.

The next great building at Chatsworth was built for the first seeds of the Victoria regia lily which had been sent to Kew from the Amazon in 1836. Although they had germinated and grown they had not flowered and in 1849 a seedling was given to Paxton to try out at Chatsworth. He entrusted it to Eduard Ortgies, a young gardener and within two months the leaves were 4.5 ft (1.4 m) in diameter, and a month later it flowered. It continued growing and it became necessary to build a much larger house, the Victoria Regia House. Inspired by the waterlily’s huge leaves – ‘a natural feat of engineering’ – he found the structure for his conservatory which he tested by floating his daughter Annie on a leaf. The secret was in the rigidity provided by the radiating ribs connecting with flexible cross-ribs. Constant experimentation over a number of years led him to devise the glasshouse design that inspired the Crystal Palace. Named after William Cavendish, Cavendish bananas were cultivated by Paxton in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House in 1836. They now account for the vast majority of bananas consumed in the western world.

With a cheap and light wooden frame, the conservatory design had a ridge-and-furrow roof to let in more light and drained rainwater away. He used hollow pillars doubling as drain pipes and designed a special rafter that acted as an internal and external gutter. All the elements were pre-fabricated and, like modular buildings, could be produced in vast numbers and assembled into buildings of varied design.

 

In 1836, Paxton began the Great Conservatory, or Stove, a huge glasshouse, 227 ft (69 m) long and 123 ft (37 m) wide. The columns and beams were made of cast iron, and the arched elements of laminated wood. At the time, the conservatory was the largest glass building in the world. The largest sheet glass available at that time, made by Robert Chance, was 3 ft (0.91 m) long. Chance produced 4 ft (1.2 m) sheets for Paxton’s benefit. The structure was heated by eight boilers using seven miles (11 km) of iron pipe and cost more than £30,000. It had a central carriageway and when the Queen was driven through, it was lit with twelve thousand lamps. It was prohibitively expensive to maintain, and was not heated during the First World War. The plants died and it was demolished in the 1920s.

In 1848 Paxton created the Conservative Wall, a glass house 331 ft (101 m) long by 7 ft (2.1 m) wide. The Great Conservatory was the test-bed for the prefabricated glass and iron structural techniques which Paxton pioneered and would employ for his masterpiece: The Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. These techniques were made physically possible by recent technological advances in the manufacture of both glass and cast iron, and financially possible by the dropping of a tax on glass.

In 1850 the Royal Commission appointed to organize the Great Exhibition were in a quandary. An international competition to design a building to house the Exhibition had produced 245 designs, of which only two were remotely suitable, and all would take too long to build and would be too permanent. There was an outcry by the public and in Parliament against the desecration of Hyde Park. Paxton was visiting London in his capacity as a director of the Midland Railway to meet the chairman John Ellis who was also a member of parliament. He happened to mention an idea he had for the hall, and Ellis promptly encouraged him to produce some plans, provided they could be ready in nine days. He was committed for the next few days, but at a board meeting of the railway in Derby, it is said he appeared to be spending much of his time doodling on a sheet of blotting paper. At the end of the meeting he held up his first sketch of the Crystal Palace, inspired by the Victoria Regia House. The sketch is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He completed the plans and presented them to the Commission, but there was opposition from some members, since another design was well into its planning stage. Paxton decided to by-pass the Commission and published the design in the Illustrated London News to universal acclaim http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crystal-palace/  Its novelty was its revolutionary modular, prefabricated design, and use of glass. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys, and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. The Palace was 1,848 ft (563 m) long, 408 ft (124 m) wide and 108 ft (33 m) high. It required 4,500 tons of iron, 60,000 sq ft (5,600 m2) of timber and needed over 293,000 panes of glass. Yet it took 2,000 men just eight months to build, and cost just £79,800. Quite unlike any other building, it was itself a demonstration of British technology in iron and glass. In its construction, Paxton was assisted by Charles Fox, also of Derby for the iron framework, and William Cubitt, Chairman of the Building Committee. All three were knighted. After the exhibition they were employed by the Crystal Palace Company to move it to Sydenham where it was destroyed in 1936 by a fire.

In 1831, Paxton published a monthly magazine, The Horticultural Register. This was followed by the Magazine of Botany in 1834, the Pocket Botanical Dictionary in 1840, The Flower Garden in 1850 and the Calendar of Gardening Operations. In addition to these titles he also, in 1841, co-founded perhaps the most famous horticultural periodical, The Gardeners’ Chronicle along with John Lindley, Charles Wentworth Dilke and William Bradbury and later became its editor.

Paxton was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry from 1854 until his death in 1865. In June 1855 he presented a scheme he called the Great Victorian Way to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Metropolitan Communications in which he envisioned the construction of an arcade, based on the structure of the Crystal Palace, in a ten-mile loop around the center of London. It would have incorporated a roadway, an atmospheric railway, housing and shops.

Although he remained the Head Gardener at Chatsworth until 1858, he was also able to undertake outside work such as the Crystal Palace and his directorship of the Midland Railway. He worked on public parks in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Glasgow, Halifax (the People’s Park) and the grounds of the Spa Buildings at Scarborough. In October 1845 he was invited to lay out one of the country’s first municipal burial grounds in Coventry. This became the London Road Cemetery, where a memorial to Paxton by Joseph Goddard was erected in 1868. Between 1835 and 1839, he organized plant-hunting expeditions one of which ended in tragedy when two gardeners from Chatsworth sent to California drowned. Tragedy also struck at home when his eldest son died.

In 1850 Paxton was commissioned by Baron Mayer de Rothschild to design Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. This was to be one of the greatest country houses built during the Victorian Era. Following the completion of Mentmore, Baron James de Rothschild, one of Baron de Rothschild’s French cousins, commissioned Château de Ferrières at Ferrières-en-Brie near Paris to be “Another Mentmore, but twice the size”. Both buildings still stand today. Paxton also designed another country house, a smaller version of Mentmore at Battlesden near Woburn in Bedfordshire. This house was bought by the Duke of Bedford thirty years after its completion, and demolished, because the Duke wanted no other mansion close to Woburn Abbey. In 1860, he also designed Fairlawn No. 89 Wimbledon Southside for Sir Edwin Saunders, Queen Victoria’s dentist.

Paxton was made a member of the Kew Commission which was to suggest improvements for Royal Botanic Gardens, and was considered for the post of Head Gardener at Windsor Castle. On 17th March 1860, during the enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement, Paxton raised and commanded the 11th (Matlock) Derbyshire Rifle Volunteer Corps.

Paxton became quite affluent, not so much through his Chatsworth employment, but by successful speculation in the railway industry. He retired from Chatsworth when the Duke died in 1858 but carried on working at various projects such as the Thames Graving Dock. Paxton died at his home at Rockhills, Sydenham, in 1865 and was buried on the Chatsworth Estate in St Peter’s Churchyard, Edensor. His wife Sarah remained at their house on the Chatsworth Estate until her death in 1871.

Bananas are the obvious ingredient for a dish to celebrate Paxton given that if you live outside Asia, chances are that the bananas you buy will be Cavendish bananas developed by Paxton. Banana split is one possibility: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/banana-split-day/ Or you can try your hand at bananas Foster. Bananas Foster is a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with a sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar and bananas are cooked, and then alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then served over the ice cream. Popular toppings also include whipped cream and different types of nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc.) The dish was created at Brennan’s in New Orleans by Ella Brennan and the restaurant’s chef Paul Blangé in 1951. At this time New Orleans was a major hub for the import of bananas from South America. It was named for Richard Foster, the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission and a friend of restaurant owner Owen Brennan. This is the recipe from Brennan’s:

Bananas Foster

Ingredients

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
¼ cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Instructions

Place one scoop of ice cream in each of four chilled bowls. Keep them cool while preparing the bananas.

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a skillet. Place the skillet over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Mar 192018
 

Sydney Harbour Bridge was formally opened on this date in 1932. Amongst those who attended and gave speeches were the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game, and the Minister for Public Works, Lawrence Ennis. The premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, was to open the bridge by cutting a ribbon at its southern end. However, just as Lang was about to cut the ribbon, a man in military uniform rode up on a horse, slashing the ribbon with his sword and opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the name of the people of New South Wales before the official ceremony began.

He was promptly arrested. The ribbon was hurriedly retied and Lang performed the official opening ceremony and Game thereafter inaugurated the name of the bridge as ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’ and the associated roadway as the ‘Bradfield Highway’. After they did so, there was a 21-gun salute and an RAAF flypast. The intruder was identified as Francis de Groot. He was convicted of offensive behavior and fined £5 after a psychiatric test proved he was sane, but this verdict was reversed on appeal. De Groot then successfully sued the Commissioner of Police for wrongful arrest, and was awarded an undisclosed out of court settlement. De Groot was a member of a right-wing paramilitary group called the New Guard, opposed to Lang’s leftist policies and resentful of the fact that a member of the Royal Family had not been asked to open the bridge. De Groot was not a member of the regular army, but his uniform allowed him to blend in with the real cavalry.

Despite the bridge opening in the midst of the Great Depression, opening celebrations were organized by the Citizens of Sydney Organising Committee, an influential body of prominent citizens and politicians that formed in 1931 under the chairmanship of the Lord Mayor to oversee the festivities. The celebrations included an array of decorated floats, a procession of passenger ships sailing below the bridge, and a Venetian Carnival A message from a primary school in Tottenham, 515 km (320 mi) away in rural New South Wales, arrived at the bridge on the day and was presented at the opening ceremony. It had been carried all the way from Tottenham to the bridge by relays of school children, with the final relay being run by two children from the nearby Fort Street Boys’ and Girls’ schools. After the official ceremonies, the public was allowed to walk across the bridge on the deck, something that would not be repeated until the 50th anniversary celebrations. Estimates suggest that between 300,000 and one million people took part in the opening festivities, a phenomenal number given that the entire population of Sydney at the time was estimated to be 1,256,000.

The bridge itself was regarded as a triumph over Depression times, earning the nickname “the Iron Lung”, as it kept many Depression-era workers employed. Sydney Harbour Bridge is as iconic as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower although the design is not especially original to Sydney. If you know Newcastle-on-Tyne or New York City at all well you will know of older bridges of the same design.

There had been plans to build a bridge as early as 1815, when convict and noted architect Francis Greenway reputedly proposed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie that a bridge be built from the northern to the southern shore of the harbor. In 1825, Greenway wrote a letter to the then The Australian newspaper stating that such a bridge would “give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the colony and the Mother Country.” Nothing came of Greenway’s suggestions, but the idea remained alive, and many further suggestions were made during the 19th century. In 1840, naval architect Robert Brindley proposed that a floating bridge be built. Engineer Peter Henderson produced one of the earliest known drawings of a bridge across the harbor around 1857. A suggestion for a truss bridge was made in 1879, and in 1880 a high-level bridge estimated at $850,000 was proposed.

In 1900, the Lyne government committed to building a new Central railway station and organized a worldwide competition for the design and construction of a harbor bridge. Local engineer Norman Selfe submitted a design for a suspension bridge and won the second prize of £500. In 1902, when the outcome of the first competition became mired in controversy, Selfe won a second competition outright, with a design for a steel cantilever bridge. The selection board were unanimous, commenting that, “The structural lines are correct and in true proportion, and… the outline is graceful.” However due to an economic downturn and a change of government at the 1904 NSW State election construction never began.

A three-span bridge was proposed in 1922 by Ernest Stowe with connections at Balls Head, Millers Point, and Balmain with a memorial tower and hub on Goat Island.

In 1914 John Bradfield was appointed “Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction”, and his work on the project over many years earned him the legacy as the “father” of the bridge. Bradfield’s preference at the time was for a cantilever bridge without piers, and in 1916 the NSW Legislative Assembly passed a bill for such a construction, however it did not proceed as the Legislative Council rejected the legislation on the basis that the money would be better spent on the war effort.

Following World War I, plans to build the bridge again built momentum. Bradfield persevered with the project, fleshing out the details of the specifications and financing for his cantilever bridge proposal, and in 1921 he travelled overseas to investigate tenders. On return from his travels Bradfield decided that an arch design would also be suitable and he and officers of the NSW Department of Public Works prepared a general design for a single-arch bridge based upon New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge. In 1922 the government passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act No. 28, specifying the construction of a high-level cantilever or arch bridge across the harbor between Dawes Point and Milsons Point, along with construction of necessary approaches and electric railway lines, and worldwide tenders were invited for the project.

As a result of the tendering process, the government received twenty proposals from six companies; on 24 March 1924 the contract was awarded to British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd, of Middlesbrough well known as the contractors who built the similar Tyne Bridge of Newcastle Upon Tyne, for an arch bridge at a quoted price of AU£4,217,721 11s 10d. The arch design was cheaper than alternative cantilever and suspension bridge proposals, and also provided greater rigidity making it better suited for the heavy loads expected.

One curious aspect of the bridge’s architecture are the pylons which are purely for aesthetics. At each end of the arch stands a pair of 89 m (292 ft) high concrete pylons, faced with granite. The pylons were designed by the Scottish architect Thomas S. Tait, a partner in the architectural firm John Burnet & Partners. About 250 Australian, Scottish, and Italian stonemasons and their families relocated to a temporary settlement at Moruya, NSW, 300 km (186 mi) south of Sydney, where they quarried around 18,000 m3 (635,664 cu ft) of granite for the bridge pylons. The stonemasons cut, dressed, and numbered the blocks, which were then transported to Sydney on three ships built specifically for this purpose. The Moruya quarry was managed by John Gilmore, a Scottish stonemason who emigrated, with his young family to Australia in 1924, at the request of the project managers. The concrete used was also Australian-made and supplied from Devonport, Tasmania and shipped to Sydney on a ship named Goliath.

Abutments at the base of the pylons are essential to support the loads from the arch and hold its span firmly in place, but the pylons themselves have no structural purpose. They were included to provide a frame for the arch panels and to give better visual balance to the bridge. The pylons were not part of the original design, and were only added to allay public concern about the structural integrity of the bridge. Although originally added to the bridge solely for their aesthetic value, all four pylons have now been put to use. The south-eastern pylon contains a museum and tourist center, with a 360° lookout at the top providing views across the harbour and city. The south-western pylon is used by the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to support its CCTV cameras overlooking the bridge and the roads around that area. The two pylons on the north shore include venting chimneys for fumes from the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, with the base of the southern pylon containing the RMS maintenance shed for the bridge, and the base of the northern pylon containing the traffic management shed for tow trucks and safety vehicles used on the bridge. In 1942 the pylons were modified to include parapets and anti-aircraft guns designed to assist in both Australia’s defense and general war effort. The top level of stonework was never removed.

There had also been numerous preparatory arrangements. On 14 March 1932, three postage stamps were issued to commemorate the imminent opening of the bridge. Several songs were composed for the occasion.

Australia always presents me with a culinary challenge, but for Sydney Harbour Bridge I have created a dish using local ingredients. John Dory is commonly found in Australian waters including Sydney Harbour and is a popular fish variety in local cuisine. It can be battered and fried and served with chips, or pan-fried with herbed oil on a bed of mashed potato with salad, and is popular in Australia. John Dory fillets are mentioned by both Eliza Acton in Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) and Mrs Beeton in her Book of Household Management (1861). Both compare the John Dory to turbot and give recipes that can serve for either. They are very plain recipes calling for boiling or baking as in this example from Mrs Beeton

JOHN DORY.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1/4 lb. of salt to each gallon of water.

Mode.—This fish, which is esteemed by most people a great delicacy, is dressed in the same way as a turbot, which it resembles in firmness, but not in richness. Cleanse it thoroughly and cut off the fins; lay it in a fish-kettle, cover with cold water, and add salt in the above proportion. Bring it gradually to a boil, and simmer gently for 1/4 hour, or rather longer, should the fish be very large. Serve on a hot napkin, and garnish with cut lemon and parsley. Lobster, anchovy, or shrimp sauce, and plain melted butter, should be sent to table with it.

Time.—After the water boils, 1/4 to 1/2 hour, according to size.

Average cost, 3s. to 5s. Seasonable all the year, but best from September to January.

Note.—Small John Dory are very good, baked.

We can do better than that by adding another ingredient from NSW, the macadamia nut. Macadamia nuts are indigenous to eastern Australia although they are not found quite as far south as Sydney. You have to go north to Byron Bay where they are plentiful. Here is my macadamia-crusted John Dory.

©Macadamia-Crusted John Dory

Ingredients

4 skinless John Dory fillets (about 6 oz/180 gm each)
2 cups (300 gm) unsalted macadamias
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (plus wedges to serve)
1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1 tbspn flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbspn chives, chopped

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Place the macadamia nuts, garlic, lemon zest, half the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a food processor and pulse to make a coarse paste. Do not process too finely, the paste should be a little chunky. Add in the parsley and chives and stir to mix.

Place the fish on a greased baking tray and press the nut mixture into the top of each fillet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden and the fish is cooked through.

Serve with lemon wedges on a bed of salad greens sprinkled with the remaining lemon juice and some extra olive oil.