Category Archives: History

Environmentally friendly concrete – the Roman or French model?

As was widely reported in July, a research team led by Paulo Monteiro (professor of civil and environmental engineering) of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, had been analyzing samples from a 2,000-year-old Roman concrete breakwater to determine why Roman seawater concrete is so durable, how its manufacture was more environmentally sound, and how to adapt those characteristics to modern concrete production.

“It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good. It’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,” Monteiro said in a 2013 news release. “The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.”

Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete found in 2,000-year-old Roman piers, massive breakwaters, Trajans Markets (below) and the Pantheon in Rome, was superior to most modern concrete in durability.

Phys.org™ a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, updated this news in a July article. Ms Jackson and her colleagues found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion: when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids.

Marie Jackson says that the mineral intergrowths between the aggregate and the mortar prevent cracks from lengthening, while the surfaces of nonreactive aggregates in Portland cement only help cracks propagate farther. The results are published in American Mineralogist.

As ‘tufo’ volcanic rocks (tuff), common in and around Rome, are not found in many parts of the world, the team is experimenting with substitutions. A more immediate innovation, we suggest, would be further use of the ancient and durable French hemcrete (isochanvre) in Europe; more on this in the next post

 

 

 

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Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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‘Daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of the River Roch in Rochdale

Last year, Rochdale successfully restored the River Roch for the first time in 100 years by daylighting it through the main high street – see a stunning account in the Daily Mail – if only they would confine themselves to this genre.

Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, writes: Hidden underneath concrete for almost 100 years, when tram lines were extended to the town at the turn of the century, was the borough’s workhorse, a packhorse bridge and river over which scores of Rochdale folk transported wool from Yorkshire to be finished in Rochdale’s mills.

Above: the bridge believed to have been built in about 1324 when Edward II ruled England. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-36520198

And the river re-opening also has an even more tangible benefit. It reduced flood risk for 40 properties in our town centre; that’s 40 businesses whose livelihoods depend on being able to stay open all year round, 40 businesses who bring money into the local economy and employ local residents.

The town’s ‘old workhorse’ swung into action again on Boxing Day last year, preventing flood water reaching the Grade I listed town hall and many businesses in its vicinity when heavy rain wreaked havoc across the north of England. Over 160 businesses in the borough were affected by the floods and the shocking sight of Rochdale town centre under water will stay with me for a long time to come. For a borough which is investing heavily to build a great future after difficult times, it felt like the last thing we needed.

Penny Stevenson, a resident of Rochdale said: “Shortly after they finished opening the river up, we had another flood event – but whereas before the excess water didn’t have anywhere to go because of the culvert, this time it was able to drain away naturally, and didn’t swamp the town centre.”

 

 

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Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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A good report from the Ecology Building Society

The Ecology Building Society is dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities.

It aims to build a greener society by providing mortgages for properties and projects that adopt environmental building practices and improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s building stock, funded through their range of simple, transparent savings accounts.

History

In 1980, during a conference of the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the current UK Green Party), a Yorkshire based solicitor complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage for a property needing extensive renovation. Someone asked ‘Why don’t we start our own building society?’ In those days, a building society could be started with just £5,000. Ten people put in £500 each and some of those still save with the society. It began trading in 1981, from a tiny upstairs office in Cross Hills, West Yorkshire, just a few miles from the current headquarters’ eco-build offices (section above).

April AGM approaches

Several reports have been written about this year’s progress. The first lead was a link from the Business Desk (Yorkshire), which led to an article recording another year of solid results, which continues more than 30 years of uninterrupted profitability with record assets and savings balances for 2016.

For the year to December 31, 2016, it recorded assets of £173.1m (2015: £145.9m):

  • gross lending stood at £30.7m (2015: £42.1m)
  • savings balances rose to £163.1m (2015: £134.7m)
  • and net profit increased to £920,000 (2015: £881,000).

In 2016 Ecology lent more than £30.7m for sustainable properties and projects, with 94% of mortgages advanced on residential properties, including new builds, renovations and shared ownership, and 6% on community-led housing, including charities, housing co-operatives and community businesses. Chief executive Paul Ellis (left) said: “Our priority for 2017 is to continue to grow our mortgage book, particularly supporting more and more people to renovate their homes to a high environmental standard.

“Our financial success is based on sticking to our core principles: thinking long-term, putting our members first and focussing on our social and environmental impact”.

 

 

 

Top post of 2014

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Top post this year – by far – Highland Home Industries (2011)

 

Iona,

A web search revealed some contradictory accounts but it is agreed that the original Highland Home Industries was set up in 1931 by Hannah MacCormick, selling products in a small crafts shop on the island of Iona, but most of the information found relates to the silverware produced there.

Read on: https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/highland-home-industries-%E2%80%93-and-much-more/

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Philanthropists in Bournville and Dumfries

 

If half the wealthiest emulated the work of philanthropists in Bournville and Dumfries, the country could be transformed

bournville js 1Bournville Junior School (left) was founded by factory owner George Cadbury in 1906 and built with pride, to provide education of the highest quality in an ethos which was forward looking and tolerant.

Cadbury Brothers moved their factory from Bridge Street in Birmingham to a country location, in order to improve the quality of life of their employees and other incomers. Families in the new town, Bournville, had houses with yards, gardens, and fresh air -improvements in living conditions which enhanced public health. To this day, the town offers affordable housing. Figures published in 1915 show that the general death rate and infant mortality for Bournville was significantly lower than that for Birmingham as a whole, over a five-year period.

Training and employment opportunities multiplied as the factory site became a series of ‘factories within a factory’; everything needed for the business was produced on site.

This policy continued until well after the second World War, when – deplored in hindsight – it was considered advisable to use specialised ‘outside’ suppliers.

Work in progress

Work in progress

In 2007 a philanthropist mobilised a consortium of charities and heritage bodies to buy Dumfries House near a former coal-mining town with 16% unemployment, which according to Strathclyde University, “suffers from social deprivation and widespread degradation of the built environment and associated infrastructure”.

dumfries traineeDumfries House is now employing and training many young people who come from families with three generations of unemployed. They usually progress from apprenticeships to full-time employment.

An engineering centre is being created to revive skills in an industry considered vital to the country, counteracting the prevailing view in education that engineering is dirty and manufacturing ‘dead and gone’.

 

An outdoors centre; a cookery school; mill, woodyard, cookshop and training allotments and vegetable gardens (below) have been created – a comprehensive business, social and environmental approach designed to kick-start regeneration in impoverished East Ayrshire, where mining communities once flourished.

dumfries allotments