The Apprentice

This article is not about the British television show, nor the American one, but about my Grandfather, George Lines, who was an apprentice at Clayton and Shuttleworth – a four year apprenticeship, ending in December 1911.
Clayton and Shuttleworth were a Lincoln based engineering company, mainly focussed, before WW1, on agricultural machinery.
On the 4th July 1907 Commercial Motor carried an article about a new scheme of apprenticeship adopted at Clayton and Shuttleworth, Lincolnshire.
Amongst the benefits were the that apprenticeship would be for 4 years, rather than 7, and would take apprentices between 15 and 22, hoping for boys (the concept of girls as apprentices was not considered) who has been to school beyond 14.

The hours of work are: 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., 1.30 p.m. to 5 p.m., on all week-days except Fridays and Saturdays; on Fridays the works close at 5.30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., and on Saturdays at 12.30 p.m. Time• keeping of apprentices will be most carefully watched.
I am not sure where my Grandfather stayed at first, but by the 1911 Census he was living at 69 Carholme Road, Lincoln (OSM) which is now the Brancaster Guest House.

In the 1911 Census it was occupied by

  • Mary Jane Woodhead, head of the household, aged 50 and widowed
  • Harold Edgar Woodhead, son, 18, and an engineers apprentice in the field of Agricultural Engineering
  • Ethel Mary Woodhead, daugher, 21, no occupation
  • George Edward Lines, Boarder, 23, an engineers apprentice in the field of Agricultural Engineering
  • Alice Cook, 19, Servant
  • Deborah Daisy Turner, 21, Visitor

I assume my Grandfather boarded here through being a fellow apprentice with Harold.
I do not know further details of my Grandfather’s apprenticeship, but he clearly picked up skills that would serve him well in the Royal Engineers in WW1, and later working for Lines Brothers.

Harold Woodhead’s War.

Harold signed up for the Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regiment.
His sister Ethel Mary married someone called Chase around September 1912 in Lincoln, and his mother Mary possibly died in Mansfield around June 1915.
Harold died on the 14th October 1915, age 22, and is buried, along with many others, at the Commonwealth War Commission cemetery at Loos.


Harwell Apprentices

When I started work at Harwell it still had an apprentice school, and the apprentices, and after they had graduated from the school, the on-site engineers could produce almost anything from scratch. As in those days Harwell was doing a lot of leading edge research their skills were often required. Many local businesses also benefited from the graduates of the Apprentice Training School.
Many of the roads on Harwell site are named after famous scientists, such as Fermi Avenue, but the small stub road in front of the building in which I worked was unnamed, until one April First, a sign appeared, labelling it as “Dyer Straits”. Ron Dyer was one of the Group Leaders in Material Physics Division, main occupants of the building. The sign was such a good facsimile of the other road signs on site that it remained, and next time the site was surveyed it was transferred to the official site map, and the name remains to this day, as can be seen on Google Maps

Birthday wishes from Margaret Webster to Ada Webster.

Ada Webster, born on the 30th November 1861, was my Great Grandmother. She married my Great Grandfather, John Box in  1884. Her sister, Margaret Elizabeth Webster, born 23rd November 1851, wrote to her on the 29th November 1867, to wish her a happy 6th birthday. My sister has the letter.

Here is the transcription

42 West Derby Street
                                                                                            November 29th 1867
Dear little Ada
Tomorrow will be your birthday so I write to wish you many happy returns of the day. I hope you will always try to be a good girl and not make Papa and Mamma angry with you. If you love God and pray to Him He will always take care of you for he love all good children. I suppose when I reach home again I shall be able to hear you read, for Mamma told me you had been getting on very nicely. I have sent you a little valentine, I think it is pretty, I hope you will like it. You must kiss Percy, Janet, Edith and Arthur for me and give my love to ——- all and tell them I hope I shall see them soon.
I often think of my little bed-fellow at house and wonder if she misses me. I must say Goodbye to you now because I am going to write Mama _________ So I send you much love and many kisses from
Your loving sister

At the time Margaret (Maggie), would have just celebrated her 16th birthday, and she was presumably living at 42, West Derby Street, which is probably in Liverpool, L7 3EA.  She might have been writing to Ada at 5, Gracechurch Street, where their father, William, mother Elizabeth (daughter of Justus and Elizabeth Reitze), and siblings Arthur and Edith (and six servants) were living in the 1861 Census, six years earlier, or more likely at 124, Albion Road, where their parents, and siblings William Justus, Janet and Alice were living (and two servants) were living in the 1871 Census, four years later.


Margaret Elizabeth Webster

Born 23rd November 1851 (almost exactly 10 years before Ada), and baptised 25th December 1851 at St Stephen, Coleman Street, London. This was Christmas Day, but remembering A Christmas Carol, it would appear that much ordinary business still happened on the day. As she was born after the 1851 Census she does not appear in it, and she is not with the rest of the family in the 1861 Census either. Her elder brother William Justus Webster is also elsewhere in the 1861 Census, and as he is not mentioned in this letter he is presumably still away in 1867. He signed up as an apprentice Cook in 1865, and was back living with the family as a Cook’s Apprentice in 1871.
Presumably Margaret was away from home in 1861, when she would have been 9, possibly at boarding school, or living with relatives to broaden her education, and was also away, for similar reasons in 1867.
In the 1861 Census there is a Margarate Webster, aged 9 and born in London, living at (something) School House, Eddington, Kent, where she is a pupil. There was a school (or seminary) run by Jane and Mary Baskerville,  and called Pear Tree House. As well as the Baskerville sisters there was a French Governess, a Music Governess, 14 female scholars aged from 9 to 15 and a cook, housemaid and under housemaid (who was only 15). This could well be the same Margaret Webster, who may have boarded there until about 1866.
She died on 26th March 1868, at the family home  at Albion Road, 4 months after writing the letter, and was buried on 31st March at St James in Swain’s Lane, St Pancras. This is Highgate Cemetery. Her burial number is 34044.

Ada Webster

Born at Gracechurch Street on 30th November 1861, and baptised 1st January 1862.
Married John Box on 6th February 1844, at Highgate Rise Church.
She died 8 September 1944 – Lynwood, Horndean Road, Emsworth, Hampshire aged 82.

Percival John Webster (Percy)

Born in 1865, and baptised on 21st February 1865, so would have been two years old.
Married Edith Amy Day around August 1894, and they has two children, Kathleen Edith Webster (born about 1895), and William John Webster (known as Jack, and born about May 1897)
He died  on 17th January 1904, aged 38, when Jack would have been six.

There is more of the story of Percival and Jack in the post William John Webster – Anthem for a Doomed Youth.

Janet Webster

Born 8th August 1863 and baptised 9th September 1863 at at St Stephen, Coleman Street, London, like Margaret. She would have been four.
She married Thomas Henry Austin in 1900
She died 28th October 1941.

Edith Reitze Webster

Born in 1860, and baptised on 20th March 1860, so she would have been seven.
She married Frederick Braund Box , younger brother of John Box, in 1887.
She died on 20th January 1951.

Arthur Reuben Webster

Born in 1858, and baptised 18th June 1858, so would have been nine.
He was a pupil, aged 12, at College House school in Edmonton in the 1871 Census. According to British History Online

The largest boarding-school was College House in Upper Fore Street, next to the Bell inn, which was attended by 93 boys and run by the White family from before 1840 until 1887 when it moved to Eastbourne.

He as apprenticed to Richard Aldridge on 1st October 1873, as a confectioner.
He was a confectioner and baker, and married Bessie Hamilton in 1882. They had two children, both born in 1884, so presumably twins. Amy Margaret Webster (who shows up in the 1911 Census, living with her Uncle, Frederick Braund Box, at 8 Coleridge Road Crouch End N, Hornsey, Middlesex, England  (OSM)), and Arthur Frederick William Webster, who died aged nine, on March 26th 1892.

Arthur Reuben Webster died 27th January 1936, although his widow was Martha Helen Frances Webster, as he married Martha Ellenor Frances Enstone Wilson (1873-) on 17th Feburary 1901.



42, West Derby Street

This house was in the Municipal Ward of West Derby in district 27f.
I am not sure who was living at 42, West Derby Street (OSM) in 1867, but it could have been a relative. Margaret and Ada’s great grandfather was General Webster, from a military family, who travelled a lot, so could have relatives all over the country.
In 1861 James Jeffreys, born about 1812 in Scotland  and some form of manufacturer, was living with his wife Mary Eliza Smith Jeffreys, born about 1819 in the West Indies, St Croix, and 2 daughters, two sons, two widowed sisters  and a cook, a housemaid and a nurse. The house must have been reasonably substantial  to house so many.  By the 1871 Census Mary Eliza Jeffreys is living, as a widow with Isabella Cuffin, one of the widowed sisters at Waterloo, Great Crosby, so that family must have moved out of 42, West Derby Street by 1871. James Jeffreys may have died in the last quarter of 1866.

In 1870, according to  “Wealth and Notoriety: the extraordinary families of William Levy and Charles Lewis of London“, a man called Edward Laurence Levy, calling himself Edward Linden, was arrested at 42, West Derby Street for deception and forgery (most carried out in London some years earlier, but he had been living abroad).

In the 1871 Census the house is occupied by John Langsdale, born about 1839, in Liverpool. His occupation is unclear on the census form, although when he was 22 in the 1861 Census he was a Timber Merchant’s Clerk. Also his sister, Mary White, born about 1845, and – I think a widow. His son, who I think is Lionel John Langsdale, born about 1866 is also living there, but no wife, suggesting that John is as widower. I think John was a Catholic, born 19 Aug 1838, and baptised 23 Aug 1838 and he married Bridget Carroll  on 31 May 1864. They are being visisted by Sarah Ellen Fowles (aged 30), and have a servant, Francis Jones aged 19. There is no obvious Webster connection.

In the 1901 Census (over 30 years later) Alfred Harold Tweed was living at 42, West Derby Street with his wife and son. Interestingly the Howes family tree contains a number of Websters, but I have not found any which match the ones in my family tree.

5, Gracechurch Street

The family were living at 5, Gracechurch Street (OSM) in 1861. It is now  a very large and imposing building, but I am not sure when the current one was built. Pod is at number 3, but in 1861 it was Hugh Vendon, ironmonger. Ede & Ravenscroft, robemakers to the Queen, are at number 2 now, but might not have been in 1861.
Leading off Gracechurch Steet is Bell Inn Yard, where I think my Grandfather used to work as a solicitor, which I suspect is just an interesting co-incidence.
The Science Museum has a Stoneware drug jar, by Wayte, 5 Gracechurch Street in their collection, made 1822-1884. From another site this is probably described as “STONEWARE DRUG JAR. 8ins tall, off white glaze, raised coat of arms to front with ‘WAYTE NO5 GRACECHURCH ST’ in raised lettering to fancy scroll above.”

124, Albion Road

By 26th March 1868, when Margaret Webster died, the family had moved to 124, Albion Road (OSM), as this is the address recorded on her burial registration.

Where is everybody – The Fermi Paradox, Self replicating spacecraft and computer system reliability

In 1950 the physicist Enrico Fermi asked the question “Where is everybody ?“, by which he meant – given the size of the universe, the diversity of life on earth, occupying every ecological niche, and the fact that the Solar System is a fairly average star system; why do we not see signs of extra terrestrial life ?

The size of the universe

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Scientists have to resort to analogies to describe the size of the universe – the article linked above says that if the sun was the size of an orange then the next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be 2,300 kilometres away – about the same as the distance from London to Odessa in Ukraine. All the space in between is effectively empty. As stellar distances go, this is quite tiny ! Thus the huge number of stars in the universe –  about 30 billion trillion, is balanced by the huge spaces between them. Surely, with so many worlds, there has to be other life out there ?

Quantifying E.T. – the Drake equation

In 1961 Frank Drake formalised the question of the number of intelligent life forms in the universe into the Drake Equation (spelt out in full in the Wikipedia article).
As a brief summary it multiplies the number of stars by the chances of a star having habitable planets, and then considers how many of those go on to develop life, and from those what chance that life will develop intelligence. Finally it considers the chances of us detecting that intelligent life. Since 1961 we have better data for some of the parts of the equation – for example we now have direct(ish) observation of planets in other solar systems.
I am not going to go into all the factors in detail, but I have had personal interest in some of them.

Millers experiment

When I did Sixth Year Studies biology, you had to perform and write up an experiment, and I re-created – as best I could in a school biology lab, Millers experiment.  This was an experiment which showed that the more complex chemicals needed for life (amino acids) can arise spontaneously from the chemicals expected to be in the atmosphere of an early earth (or earth-. This involved explosive chemicals, sparks, Bunsen burners and other potentially exciting items, so in those days I was allowed a free hand to set this up, and it did produce some result – although in a school environment it is difficult to be sure this was not the result of contamination. Also not as dramatic as I had hoped !

Frankenstein’s monster

Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

If you use some reasonable assumptions into the Drake Equation (there are a number of calculators on the internet where you can try out different factors, such as one provided by the BBC) you find there could be quite a lot of civilisations in our galaxy, let alone the whole universe. The great distances alluded to earlier might explain why they have not dropped in on us, but might we be able to detect their presence in the sky ?
This process of using (mostly) our radio telescopes to listen for signs of intelligent life is known as SETI, and has been undertaken since at least the 1960’s, but so far has (mostly) not found anything.
This lack of demonstrable contact with other beings, in the context of the numbers of civilisations there could be out there is known as the Fermi Paradox. The Wikipedia article gives several possible explanations, one of which being that Civilizations broadcast detectable radio signals only for a brief period of time.

Listening to the radio

When I was at school we made what was essentially a crystal radio, by dropping a long piece of wire out of the physics laboratory window (which was on the second floor), and using a diode to demodulate the signal – that is to extract the sound signal from the Amplitude Modulated  (AM) radio waves, and an earpiece to listen to Radio One.  There was no amplification, and the tuning came mostly from the length of the aerial being around a quarter of the Radio One wavelength.
I also build a Sinclair matchbox radio, which was not a lot more complicated than that crude crystal radio.

Frequency Modulated (FM) radio is more complex to decode, but can be built from general purpose components by an electronics enthusiast, and if we on earth detected FM signals from some alien source we would recognise them as containing information, even if we were unable to decode the language.
Even a television receiver, in the days before Digital Television, could be built by a hobbyist and the signal was quite recognisable .
With digital radio and digital television the signal is much more complex, and used Data Compression to carry many channels in the space which used to just carry one.

Open University Broadcast

My mother did an Open University degree in the late 1970’s and part of the coursework was broadcast in the middle of the night. These broadcasts ceased in 2006, and the frequency they used now carries about a dozen shopping channels. Ironically, from an information science point of view, this counts as carrying much more information ! The flip side of this is that all the regularities in the signal, which might give a clue to its contents, are eliminated. Unless you know where to start then decoding a digital TV signal is very hard.
In addition any signals, of any kind, which are sent out into space are – from the point of view of the broadcaster, a waste of energy.
Many of the signals are now travelling through wires, or optical fibres, rather than being broadcast, thus increasing proportions of TV are watched over the Internet rather than over the airwaves.
This drive towards communication efficiency is likely to mean that the radio (or electromagnetic) output from an advanced civilisation may not be detectable even with our sensitive instruments.

Space Probes

An alternative route to contacting other civilisations, would be to send a small robotic space ship. This would be take a long time to arrive, given the distances involved, and even at the speed of light, and there are many hazards which will deplete the number which can be expected to arrive.

The book ‘The Anthropic Cosmological Principle‘ has a section which attempts to demonstrate, by considering the age of the universe, and the distances involved, that humans have a special place in the universe as other intelligent life forms could create robot space craft which could reach other solar systems, and use their resources to create copies of themselves, which go on to reach new systems, and so on. The authors argue that, as we are not seeing such craft, we must be alone in the universe.

This can be looked at from two directions – if we sent a number of space probes from earth, what are the chances of them returning information about an alien civilisation, and – if an alien civilisation had send a space probe to us and it arrived, what are the chances we would know it was there ?
A calculation, similar to the Drake Equation, may give us an idea of whether the answer to the lack of known probes from space is due to this being harder than it may appear.

Computer Systems Reliability

In the early days of my career at Harwell I was working on Computer system Reliability. This gave me some insights into the many and varied ways that computers can go wrong. Colleagues were investigating the effects on silicon chips of being bombarded with nuclear particles, as would be required for space hardening, as we had access to nuclear reactors.
The on board computers for any form of interstellar probe will have to function for centuries, in an environment which is much harsher than on earth, where the atmosphere shields us from cosmic rays.

Mean Time Between Failures

When we calculate the percentage of failure of our space probes due to equipment malfunction we will be using concept of Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), i.e. how long, average are they expected to operate. For example a Cisco PIX firewall has an MTBF of over 11 years. While there is some pressure to develop and market devices with an MTBF of, say 20 years, this is mostly so that the expected failure rate within, say 5 years, will be very low. Manufacturers have no interest in developing equipment which will last significantly beyond the time that it becomes obsolete. We have little real experience of items in use for over 100 years, the Centennial Light being a rare exception, and even its story provides a useful lesson in how tricky reliability can be, as in 2013 it appeared to have burnt out, but it turned out that the Uninterruptible Power Supply which powered it had failed.

Modulated Launch Laser

If the laser system used to push the probes was modulated to carry a signal, it would not reduce its efficiency greatly, but would be an additional signalling method, which would help with the Fermi Paradox issue that everyone could be listening, but nobody is sending.
(what to send – thought experiment  – show message to ant colony, dolphin, chimpanzee, octopus, primitive tribesman …)

Explorers and colonists

Another possibility for reaching the stars is to go there ourselves (or for another civilisation from another star to come here). Much as I would like there to be Faster Than Light travel of some form, as is the staple of much science fiction, I take the lack of any evidence of alien visits to be a sign that this is impossible.
That leaves the slow route. There are many proposed solutions for this, but they are all huge projects, which will require the explorers and colonists to spend many lifetimes in space, in a Generation ship, before reaching their destination. Our rate of progress into space seems to have slowed – I was very disappointed when by the year 2001 there was not an almost routine, airline like, space flight.
Unlike the expectations of science fiction we do not have colonies on the moon, miners in the asteroid belt, and although there is talk of a manned expedition to Mars, I would say that a permanent population somewhere else in the solar system was a prerequisite to an attempt to reach another star.
Many of our ideas of the colonisation of space are influenced by the colonisation of America, however, as I described in Amazing Love, Demographics and Mass migrations, one of the reasons the people of Europe were willing to go to such risk and expense to undertake such a hazardous journey was that they were being pushed by population pressure at home. The parts of the world which have the capacity for a mass migration into the Solar system, let alone the stars, have already undergone a demographic transition, and a stable, mature populations lacks the incentive to emigrate to a less comfortable life.

Micro Colonists

Brian Cox, in his book Human Universe, suggests that the reason we do not see other civilisations due to the improbability of two of the steps on the route to complex lifeforms required for intelligent life in the Drake Equation. The two steps are the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, which created the oxygen levels we have in our atmosphere today, and the evolution of eukaryotes (cells with nuclei and other complex cell structures).
If this is the case then the universe may be awash with planets which are stuck at the single celled life stage, and seeding them with the right organisms could bootstrap their Cambrian Explosion, and possibly leading to civilisations  to converse with.

Is Entropy against us ?

Stephen Hawkin, in his posthumously published book ‘Brief Answers to the Big Questions‘ discusses the question ‘Is there other intelligent life in the universe ?’ , which he starts with a description of entropy, the measure of disorder in a system, which the second law of thermodynamics tells us is always increasing. Life creates a local decrease in entropy – a more ordered part of the universe – at the cost of a larger increase in entropy somewhere else.

As we attempt to communicate with other solar systems we are exporting order from our closed system, at a rate which has to be higher than the (pretty huge) rate at which the entropy is already increasing due to natural processes in the sun.