1952 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1952.

The Korean War dragged on into 1952, with truce negotiations mired.

In February, King George the Sixth died in his sleep, and thus his eldest daughter became Queen Elizabeth the Second. Her coronation was not to be until the following year, but when a monarch dies, the formal response was, in this case, "God Save the Queen."

In the same month, Churchill announced that Britain now had nuclear weapons - 'A' bombs.

The USA experienced its post-war electoral switch. Harry Truman - a Democrat - had been president for the best part of two terms, and had presided over the end of WW2, but now the Democrats were defeated by a landslide in favour of Republican General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was a national hero as a result of his successful command of the allied forces in Europe during the war.

After the war, most Americans wanted peace and stability, but were in fact confronted with rapid social change, and the uncertainties of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Ike promised to come up with what they wanted, though it might be argued that Truman's team, and the decision to develop the 'H' bomb, had already trumped that possibility.

In July, in Egypt, a military coup organized by colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser ousted King Farouk, who had inherited the throne earlier in the year.

De Haviland Comet.

Around my birthday, the British De Haviland aircraft company pipped Boeing and Douglas in the US to the post, when the first commercial flights of the Comet 1 jet airliner began. This was seen as something of a coup for British technology at the time, though events would subsequently prove otherwise. Even by the standards of the day, the Comet was not spectacular. Its primary virtue was speed, but in other respects it had little or nothing to recommend it over and above the propeller driven airliners of the day. For example, comparing it to the Handley Page Hermes, we see:
Maximum speed503 mph270 mph
Range1500 miles2000 miles
Passenger capacity3640 - 82

The Comet could not cross the Atlantic, and was used on routes like London to South Africa. It had to make more stops than the prop driven airliners and consequently used a route to Johannesburg that was 1000 miles longer, but because of its speed it could cut the time for the overall journey from 29 hours to 24 hours.

Work on the 'H' bomb continued. The 'George' test in 1951 had essentially confirmed that this was possible. Edward Teller - "The Father of the H Bomb" - took this knowledge, and Ulam's idea about staged detonations, and at great speed a test of such a device was organized.

To understand how these devices work, you have to appreciate that nuclear explosions take place in a kind of 'Alice in Wonderland' world where things are much different than in the world we know. Everything happens at very much higher temperatures and pressures than we can think about, and above all, everything happens very quickly.

Such is the speed that in the case of either a fission or fusion bomb, all the nuclear energy that is released has been released before any pressure shock wave reaches the outer casing of the bomb and ruptures it. Most of the energy of the fission bomb is radiated in this tiny length of time as X Rays before the shock wave is anywhere near the physical diameter of the bomb. So if you stick the fission bomb in a dense metal container, these X Rays will heat the surface of the container to some enormously high temperature. That very hot surface will then radiate X Rays in all directions, and in no time, the whole inside surface of the container - regardless of its shape - will be heated to a very high uniform temperature.

Of course, the surface of the container then contains matter at very high energy, and remnants of container atoms (ions) escape from the surface at very high velocities. This applies also to the outside of another container that might be inside the outer container. Since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the departing ions cause a corresponding pressure on the surface of the container or the inner container that expands the outer container and compresses the inner container.

Teller/Ulam bomb schematic.

In the Teller/Ulam fusion bomb design, the inner container contains a nuclear fusion fuel, typically lithium deuteride. This becomes compressed within the inner container, and the more compressed it becomes, the more prone it becomes to nuclear fusion. Right at the centre of the inner container there's a mass of Plutonium that is initially not critical, and which in turn becomes compressed within the fusion fuel.

Eventually it is compressed to the point where it becomes critical, and so since there are plenty of neutrons around from the initial fission explosion, a second fission chain reaction begins right in the centre of the compressed fusion fuel.

This reaction raises the compressed fusion fuel to a temperature where self-sustaining fusion takes place, and bingo, you have a massive release of fusion energy in nanoseconds.
That was the theory. So Teller's team constructed a huge steel vessel weighing about 64 tons lined with a suitably dense material - dense materials work out to be best for reflecting back the X rays. Inside that they placed a powerful fission bomb and a dense inner container made of natural or depleted Uranium. That in turn contained a cryogenic tank of liquid deuterium with a hollow plutonium core at its centre. This thing - code named 'Mike' - was purely an experimental weapon. No aircraft could have delivered it. When the fission trigger bomb was detonated, the staged bomb behaved generally as predicted, yielding 10.4 Megatons of energy, and completely obliterating the Pacific island on which the test took place.

Actually much of this energy was derived from fission of the Uranium fusion fuel casing caused by the energetic neutrons emitted by the fusion reaction. Mike produced the worst of two horrors, vast destructive power, and masses of fall out products resulting from the fission of lots of Uranium 236.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.

So started the era of MADness; that is in the latter sense of the term 'MAD' - Mutually Assured Destruction. The Boeing B-52 "Stratofortress" bomber was introduced the same year, providing the capability to take madness almost anywhere. The keel was laid for the USS Nautilus - the first nuclear powered submarine - which would be the progenitor of other such capabilities.

The IBM Company, previously the world's principal manufacturer of office automation equipment using punched paper cards, introduced its first 'mainframe' computer, the IBM 701. This machine was designed for scientific calculations, and in its fully expanded version had a memory size equivalent to just over what would now be called 18 Kbytes. It would sell 19 of these machines.

The junction transistor had developed sufficiently by this time that the Western Electric Company - the manufacturing arm of AT & T - registered its first RTMA (Radio & Television Manufacturers Association) model numbers, the 2N27, 2N28, and 2N29. These were low power Germanium transistors for use in audio applications. Other manufacturers also started to produce transistors around the same time.


Back in Cottingley, or rather in Bingley, of which Cottingley is a part, my horizons were further expanded by a move from our house in Main Street. I should perhaps at this point expand a little on the geography of the area where I was brought up.

The River Aire runs roughly north west to south east. For part of its length - my part - it runs in a rather steep sided valley. In the area where I grew up it shares the valley with a canal, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; with a railway line, connecting Leeds to Carlisle in the northwest of England; and with the A650 trunk road, one of the main routes between Yorkshire and Lancashire, through the Pennine Chain of hills.

Within my range of interest, the cities and towns in the Aire valley, from east to west, are the City of Leeds, and the towns of Shipley, Bingley, Keighley, and Skipton. Cottingley lies on the southern slope of the valley between Shipley and Bingley.

Aire Valley circa 2008 - courtesy of Google Maps.

At this point, as also at Bingley, the valley is quite narrow. The river, the canal, and the railway compete for space and for a level course. Just north of Cottingley, there's a point called Dowley Gap. The road skirts round it on the southern slope of the valley, but in the valley bottom the canal crosses the river on an aqueduct, and the railway crosses both.

To the west of Dowley Gap, and to the north west of Cottingley, the road descends from the slope and crosses the river to the north bank at Cottingley Bridge. Immediately over the bridge, and running parallel to the river on its north bank, there's a street called Ash Grove, comprising six blocks of terrace houses that I guess were built sometime in the 1930s. It was to number 32 Ash Grove that the Teale family moved in 1952.

There were too many of us for the house at Main Street, and another of us was on the way. My brother Robert would be born shortly after the move, and occurrence which my Mother explained to me later was more by accident than by design.

My father's involvement in the contract wool sorting partnership had been successful enough that he was able to make the required deposit on the new house, and pay the mortgage. The Main Street house had been rented, and then as now, it was the ambition of most British to own their own home. In any case, there was no way we'd all have fitted in 9 Main Street.
32 Ash Grove was not dramatically larger. It had been a two bedroom house, but the second bedroom had been split into two, the second of which was accessed through the first. However, it had a small combined inside toilet and bathroom, hot and cold running water, gas, and electricity. So in those respects it was a great improvement.

Baby Robert, after spending his infancy in a cot in my parents room, later shared the furthermost room with my sister, while I had the one they had to walk through.

The street itself was of packed earth and stones - considerably rutted in places where the residents did not take particularly good care of it, like where I'm living now - and it was a cul-de-sac. The house was on a frontage of about 4m, and was about 8m from front to back. The side of the house that faced the street was designated as the 'back', and the property included a 'back' garden about 8m long, and another patch perhaps 6m deep at the other side of the street.

At the front there was another shorter area of garden, then a common-access concrete path that passed along the 'front' of all the blocks. Beyond this path was a further garden area that extended down to the bank of the river.

It wasn't the Taj Mahal, but it was a pleasant spot. You could walk to the end of the street, and there you had a choice of the Bradford Corporation electric trolley bus or the West Yorkshire Road Car Company motor bus to take you to Bingley or further up the valley to the west, or to Shipley, Bradford, or Leeds to the east. The walk to Bingley was only about twenty minutes along the main road in any case.

As far as I was concerned the river was a definite plus. It was a source of fascination to me at that age how it flowed steadfastly from wherever it came from in the west to wherever it went to in the east past the end of our garden. The proximity could have been problematic, but fortunately the River Aire is a pretty benign beast, and we were never really flooded, though in the winter and spring the river could look pretty angry, and be pretty close to the top of its banks.

I turned ten years old in this year. By now, my reading had turned definitively toward technology, through steam engines into engineering, and through alchemy into chemistry. I also started on a lifetime course of reading about history, particularly military history. By then I had adult library tickets, or I was using my mothers'.

My association with my friends from the Cottingley new estate was reinforced by the move to Ash Grove. I had to walk to school: this meant I had to pass through their territory, and that I would often walk part of the way home with them, and linger where they lived.

There were two ways I could reasonably walk. Most directly, I would cross Cottingley Bridge to the south bank of the river, and walk east along the main road until I came to a small and rather posh residential road called Cottingley Drive going up the valley side on the right. I would walk up there, and then when I got to the top of that road, there was a snicket that crossed over to Ghyll Wood Drive. Like all the roads leading up from the main road towards Cottingley both of these were pretty steep. I'd go on up Ghyll Wood Drive until that petered out into rhododendron and birch woodland. A track led through the wood up the hill to the southeast, across Staybrite Avenue, and continued through another snicket to the fields to the northwest of the school. Then there was a path across the field and the Rec to a style in the wall surrounding the school grounds.

The routes from home to school - normal, safe, and alond the main roads

Alternatively I could walk further along the main road until I came to another snicket that took me up the hill to another rather posh (by my standards) oval of mostly detached houses called Grange Park Road. Then I'd walk around the oval and take a short connecting road to Manor Drive which ran along the northern edge of the same woodland. From there I could walk up through the wood, or walk up Staybrite Avenue, and the after that it was the same route. But this route was less than optimal, and I used to save it mostly for the return trip after school when I was likely to run into older boys walking back up from Bingley Modern School, who used to bully me in the wood if our passages coincided, and if they felt that way out.

I could also have walked along the main roads to Cottingley, but that was boring and it felt like a longer walk no matter what the map says.

In the summer holidays that year I explored my new surroundings. Beyond the end of Ash Grove there was the Bingley Cricket Club pitch and grounds. This was reached through a gate on Wagon Lane, the next branch of the main road that initially ran parallel to the length of Ash Grove. Alternately, if no-one was looking, you could climb over the garden fence of the last house on Ash Grove, and then over the wall into the cricket field.

The cricket field was bounded by the river on the south, by Ash Grove and Wagon Lane on the west, and by the steep banks of a Victorian or early 20th century refuse tip on the north and east. The sides of the tip facing the field were quite old, and had well established trees growing on them. Further to the north east, the tip was still in active use. In the same contained area as the cricket field, to the east, Bingley Rugby club had its ground.

There was a snicket running through the gardens behind Wagon Lane that you could walk through to get to the cricket field. By the cricket field gate, Wagon Lane turned away to the north on the west side of the cricket field, then veering north east past the end of the tip, it crossed first the railway line, and then the canal, before banking up steeply through other outlying suburbs of Bingley toward Gilstead and Eldwick.

Beyond Wagon Lane was Bingley Modern School, with its large playing field in the right angle where Wagon Lane turned to the north. On the far side, an unpaved narrow lane - Dobb Lane - bounded by stone walls left Wagon Lane heading north-west, behind the school, until it met the railway, which it then followed toward the centre of Bingley. A stone arch ran under the railway embankment into a landlocked area between the railway and the canal. Here there were marshy pools that in the spring had a large population of frogs, newts, tadpoles etc.

The area around my new home.

Across the main road on the north side of the river there was a large flat area of allotments, one of which was soon acquired by my father. Then as the main road climbed out of the valley to the north-west, the built up area of the town started in earnest with good class detached and semi detached housing.

On the south bank of the river, Beckfoot Lane, initially paved and with housing on the side away from the river, ran to the west. This was an alternate and longer way round into Bingley, which could be reached by a footpath from the lane, over a footbridge across the river and up through Myrtle Park. South of Beckfoot Lane was the Shipley Golf Club course, bounded on its south by steeply rising woodland, an extension of that which I crossed on my walk to school, though by that point converted into pine tree plantations.

You could walk east along the south bank of the river, past the gardens of the houses on the main road that face Ash Grove across the river, then past fields between the river and the main road. After a while, the river bank path passes through a section with high walls on each side where it crosses the grounds of a country house called Bankfield (now a hotel), then there were further cultivated fields by the river. The path reached Nab Wood at the point where the river, the railway, and the canal cross and compete for space. From there you could walk along the canal towpath, past the three-rise locks to Wagon Lane and so back home by a circular route.

Shortly after our move to Ash Grove my dad got me a full-size bicycle, and I learned to ride it up and down Ash Grove. At first, the main road was out-of-bounds, so I did not use the bike to go to school. Had I done so I would have missed the company of my friends on the way there and back, and in any case the way to school that would have been practicable on the bike was so much further as to be barely worth it.
Exploration kept me pretty busy that year. Then in the evenings, there was "Dan Dare" on the radio, and "The Archers", and the news, and of course more reading.

After the summer holidays I moved into Mr. Holmes' class at school. Mr. Holmes was the headmaster, and the only man on the staff. As far as I was concerned he was a kindly man who never bothered me much. By that time my reading had exploded to extend over all the subjects on the primary school syllabus, except perhaps some of the mathematics, which had not got my attention at that stage. Otherwise I was generally well ahead of anything he might be teaching. If I wasn't, I would listen to what he had to say and soak it in like a sponge.

The Cruel Sea poster.

In the US, the award winner was "The Greatest Show on Earth", a circus movie by Cecil B. DeMille. I have no comment - I hate circus. Box office wise it came second to a promotional movie "This Is Cinerama" - how sad.

On the British film scene, the critically acclaimed film of the year was "The Cruel Sea", a WW2 movie that attempted to portray to the British public just how bad the Battle of the Atlantic had been. I saw it, and was suitably moved. The other British film I saw was "The Sound Barrier" - another David Lean film. It was a fictional story about attempts by aircraft designers and test pilots to fly faster than Mach 1. Not one of Lean's better attempts, but a box office success.

This was the year when the first real UK singles chart was published by the New Musical Express, but not until November, so it's not much help. In it, "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" by Vera Lynn did well, and this song was also at the top of the US charts for nine weeks.

Other than that, all I remember from the US charts was the revolting Christmas song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". You should have hung around son, you might have seen something interesting. "High Noon" by Frankie Laine did pretty well, and I remember that one.

A US group, "Bill Haley and His Saddlemen" changed their image to become "Bill Haley & His Comets" in this year, but I would not be aware of them for a while yet.

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