Category: News

Winter-Quarters Warmth – The Gurney Stove In Antarctica

A collaborative blog between Janine King (Heritage Development Officer, The Castle Bude) and Lizzie Meek (Programme Manager-Artefacts, Antarctic Heritage Trust).

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On a gently sloping beach on Ross Island, with the slopes of the active volcano Mt Erebus towering behind, a simple wooden structure has weathered the storms of Antarctica for over 100 years. Built by Captain Robert Falcon Scott to shelter his British Antarctic Expedition team of 1910-13 whilst they carried out sledging journeys of science and exploration, the 50ft long building often known as ‘Scott’s hut’ housed 25 men, with an adjoining stables for the ponies and mules. With winter temperatures ranging down as low as -45C, an insulated and heated hut was essential for survival. The building had three stoves – a galley cooking stove in the ‘messdeck’, a small heating stove in the stables, and a Gurney stove (radiator) in the officer’s wardroom area.

Captain Scott’s 1911 “Terra Nova” Hut, Cape Evans, Antarctica, credit AHT/Gord Macdonald

The wardroom ‘Gurney’ stove, Cape Evans, with water tank on top for melting ice blocks credit AHT/Lizzie Meek

Even so, the hut was hardly cosy by today’s standards. Thomas Griffith Taylor (one of the expedition’s geologists) had numerous arguments with his colleagues about the temperature, and being scientifically minded he documented his findings. His measurements are in Fahrenheit: near the Gurney stove, it was 55°F (13°C) but at his bunk about 5 metres away on the southern side of the hut it was 42°F (5°C!!). Luckily ‘Grif’ as he was known, apparently preferred a cooler sleeping temperature.

Illustration from ‘With Scott, the Silver Lining’ by Thomas Griffith Taylor (1916), pp263

The Gurney stove was undoubtedly the most successful invention of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. A true Cornishman, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney’s contribution to the world of science and engineering was significant. Born at Treator, near Padstow, Cornwall, on Valentine’s Day in 1793, Gurney was to spend much of his life in the county of his birth. He originally trained in medicine and had a successful career in that field, however it was his calling to engineering and inventing that would go on to define his life.

Many of Gurney’s inventions were way ahead of their time. The Bude light, for example, was designed to create a bright light by introducing oxygen into a flame. The clever use of mirrors meant that the light could be reflected to cover a larger area. So successful was Gurney’s light that it was used to light the House of Commons for 60 years, with 3 lights replacing 280 candles. He even experimented with his home, when in 1830 he built The Castle in Bude, Cornwall using a concrete raft to build it on sand. This was a risky experiment, but one that paid off, as it is still standing today.

An early advert for the Gurney Stove

The Gurney stove was an early type of radiator. The chamber containing the heat source rested in a trough of water, which transmitted heat as it evaporated. Another pioneering feature was the structure: 24 cast iron fins that surrounded the stove, which further improved its performance. It is likely that Gurney’s design was the forerunner of the modern radiator. Designed to heat large spaces, the stove was installed into 22 cathedrals, including St. Pauls and over 10,000 churches and many schools and government buildings across the UK. There are still some examples that are still working, having been converted to gas, at Chester, Hereford and Tewksbury cathedrals.

By the time Captain Scott went south, the Gurney radiator would have been a well-known and trusted heat source, and provided a compact heating option for the hut, where space was limited. Designed to burn anthracite, the stove would have been fuelled by the compressed coal briquettes the expedition used as a fuel source.

By 2008, the condition of the iron stove was poor, with major corrosion affecting all surfaces. As part of a major programme of conservation works at the Cape Evans site, the Antarctic Heritage Trust(NZ) has applied conservation treatments to the stove to stabilise the metal. Corrosion removal and corrosion product conversion have been carried out and a protective coating applied. Careful research using historic photographs helped the Trust to track down missing components (scattered outside in the intervening years) such as the stove-top water tank, and the stove flues. These have also been treated and reinstated.

The Gurney stove before conservation treatment (top and middle) and after treatment (bottom).

 

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Nikolai Tolstoy Visits The Castle

Nikolai Tolstoy, author, historian and former parliamentary candidate, visited The Castle this week and met with Mark Berridge, the Castle & Communities Manager. Nikolai, who is 85, and his wife, Georgina, had made a special trip to share photographs, documents and letters pertaining to members of his family who lived at The Castle during the 1930’s. His great-aunt, father and two uncles lived with Lady Nicholson and her husband, Admiral Nicholson, who owned The Castle at that time.

Mark explains, ‘We knew a Countess Tolstoy lived at The Castle and had set up a school with Lady Nicholson for children who were Russian emigres. We also knew of Nikolai and that he might have photos from that time but we weren’t sure of the relationship between the two. At the beginning of lockdown whilst working from home, I reached out to him, initially through his daughter, Alexandra, and a few hours later I had a response from him. Over the next few months, we conversed over email, swapping facts, but Nikolai had a lot more to give from that period than we had at The Castle from that time.’

Countess Maria Tolstoy, who helped set up the school and an emigre herself, was, in fact, his great aunt. His father, Dimitri, did live in the Castle during school holidays but was schooled elsewhere. His uncles, Paul and Ivan, did live at The Castle and attended the school. Other Russian children, included Prince Serge Obolensky and his half-sister, Alexandra, also attended the school. Some English children, whose parents worked abroad, were also schooled by the Countess.

The photos, which have not been seen before in Bude, were numerous and show the children performing plays and ballet within The Castle and out on the lawn. Some of the photos show either The Castle, Breakwater Road or The Grenville Hotel behind the children. In addition to the photos were some written accounts from former pupils of the ‘school’, one from a Lorna Glanville, painted a vivid picture of her time as a pupil. There were also letters, to and from the Countess to various family members around the world and to friends such as the Grand Duchess Xenia. Unfortunately, these were mostly in Russian and French so no further facts could be taken from these. They did, however, help build a timeline of her whereabouts from the addressed envelopes and either the dates of the letters or the post frank marks. There were even formal invites to royal events which showed the close friendship with the Grand Duchess.

Nikolai gave permission for these artefacts to be scanned, archived and used by The Castle and in return, he asked if he could have digital copies so he could share with his family. Nikolai’s scanner is broken and he could not share these rare items over email and so saw the opportunity, and an excuse, for a trip to Cornwall. Morwenstowe is one of his favourite places and has visited friends there for many years. His connection to the West Country goes back many years, not only did his father stay at The Castle, his mother is from Appledore in North Devon.

Mark expressed, ‘I was so grateful for Nikolai and Georgina to make this trip and it was an honour to meet them. What they have shared with us is amazing and really adds to the rich history of The Castle. To us, these photos are priceless and it is great to add these to our archive collection. Nikolai had mused how if he hadn’t shared these now and named those in the pictures, that information would be lost forever once he is no longer around. I can’t express my appreciation enough and if it wasn’t for his daughter who passed on my email, this would not have happened and I am so thankful to her that she did.’

Mark is in the process of writing a book on the history of The Castle and the information and the photos will help depict the history of that time.

Photo credit to Nikolai Tolstoy

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The Castle Wins!

It is with great pleasure that we can announce The Castle has won the “Contribution to the Environment and Circular Economy” Award at the Cornwall Heritage Awards Ceremony on Wednesday the 21st October 2020.

This was for how The Castle actively promotes environmental practices, spreading the word through public programmes with events such as Bude Earth Day and through conferences and talks.

The awards ceremony was due to have taken place on 26 March 2020, at the Royal Cornwall Showground Pavilion Centre, in what has been in recent years a fantastic event celebrating the achievements of the 70 plus museums in Cornwall.

This year due to the Coronavirus outbreak the event, unfortunately, had to be held online. Nevertheless, the event was a real success, Janine King, The Castles’ Heritage Officer attended the ceremony online and received the award.

This award will be added to the collection of awards The Castle has won over the years, showcasing the fantastic contribution The Castle and the team offers, firmly placing Bude on the map!

If you haven’t been in to visit The Castle recently all exhibitions are open and free of charge to the public, they will remain open throughout the coming winter months for all to enjoy. This half term there is an extra special Where’s Wally? event taking place for the whole family to participate in, free entry and prizes to be won!

 

 

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