Castles in the Air and Other Fantastic Inventions

President Richard Wood with speaker Nick Brazil

Wacky, weird and wonderful are some of the thoughts that come to mind hearing about and viewing some of the inventions covered in an illustrated talk by Nick Brazil to the Probus Club of Basingstoke.

Of course all the inventions were from past ages but some had the germ of an idea that came to fruition and can be seen today. Although some inventions made it into production the vast majority got as far as the Patent Office and no further. Many offered labour saving as their main attraction such as the canine powered sewing machine where a dog ran on a turntable replacing the traditional treadle. And the dog powered turn spit saving servants the labour of continually rotating the carcase of meat over the fire. A type of dog was bred for this task and it is said Queen Victoria had two of them. The breed died out after the invention of different cooking equipment.

Multitasking is nothing new. What about the machine that was a combination baby rocker and butter churner which enabled the busy farmer’s wife to also have free hands to continue with her knitting. BUTTER CHURN BABY ROCKEROr the fresh air bed that had a large trumpet shape over the sleeping person that brought in fresh air from outside. The problem was that on waking and sitting up the person banged their head on the trumpet.

The sweat bed, designed to rid the occupant of a fever, had a boiler at its foot to heat up pipes under the mattress. The electric under blanket today offers the same result. And the swooning chair that provided some sort of recovery to ladies fainting in their tight corsets and clothing in the heat of an airless room. By sitting on a chair with a descending cushion it caused two paddles to fan the face of the distressed young lady.

Talking of hot rooms there was the invention of a table railway that brought food to diners that overcame the need for servants to be skilled in the art of silver service. Similar ideas can be seen in several restaurants today.

Britain has always had variable weather conditions and the thought of being out in a thunder storm and being struck by lightning saw the invention of the lightning conductor umbrella. This had a tall aerial to attract the lightning and a wire to take the strike to ground. It was modified for some ladies’ hats. Not to be outdone in the millenary department there was the portable umbrella built in to the hat which is something that keeps coming up these days. One idea in the not really successful category was the invention in the German army in Africa of a rain collecting hat complete with a small tap.

Aerial photography developed by using pigeons with a camera strapped to them. The picture was taken at a particular height caused by atmospheric pressure. Two photographs could be taken by strapping two small cameras to the pigeon. This was superseded in WW1 with early planes fitted with cameras for reconnaissance purposes. The Lumiere brothers in France developed a successful type of colour photography known as autochrome that only stopped in the 1950s.

Transport had many eccentric developments. The Danish Hunting Monocycle could travel at 24 mph and the American Monocycle beat that at 30 mph. The Dutch military Multi cycle in 1887could transport twelve soldiers on one vehicle and for something completely left field was the Telegraph Wire Bicycle in 1890  which, as the name suggests, was suspended from telegraph wires rather than running on the ground.

And was there a castle in the air? CASTLE IN THE SKY - 2There certainly was when at the Antwerp exhibition in 1894 the idea was promoted of using 150,000 cubic feet of lighter than air gas in a balloon to support the building of a town. Residents would ascend and descend using elevators. Naturally it was all hot air and it never saw the light of day.