Many decades ago, a gentleman in England took the opportunity of purchasing the entire remaining stock of sets of clockwork parts for making automatons. They had been manufactured back in the 1950s or 60s by a company in West Germany, for hobbyists to install into novelty cigar boxes. As you opened the drawer to offer your guest a cigar, the bird on top would begin to trill merrily and to twist and twirl around.
Such hobbycraft (and indeed cigar boxes generally) had lost their popularity by the time our gentleman procured the parts, in the early 1980s. He had grand plans to sell them on for other purposes, such as creating novelty Easter eggs, Christmas decorations and the like.
Alas, his grand plans came to nothing. The boxes of shiny brass and steel mechanisms, with their complicated cams, tiny brass swanee whistles and miniscule rubber bellows were relegated to his attic, where they lay forgotten for many more years until, after his demise, his widow decided she wanted a clear-out.
By now rust and verdigris coated the machines, many of the fragile plastic birds were chipped and the cardboard boxes they were kept in had been nibbled by many generations of mice. It fell to the departed gentleman’s son to dispose of them, which he did by placing a small advert on a local noticeboard, where it was spotted by the eagle-eyed Mrs S.
Many were beyond repair, but others had stood the test of time. Much cleaning and polishing ensued, along with long hours of experimentation to find ways of fitting the components together and allowing the birds to move and sing again.
Finally, some of the vintage automatons are working once more. The birds (previously with rather grubby and unappealing red, white and blue painted plumage) have been given a steampunk makeover and fixed to some little boxes which rather neatly enclose the clockwork motors. There are still pieces of rust and the contraptions need to be handled with care, but a precious few have been tested and are for sale in the Steampunk Dolls House, on Etsy, while others will be available on the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls this coming spring and summer, such as the Shrewsbury Steampunk Spectacular. (See home page for dates and details).
Do come and buy one of these fascinating little automatons and you will own a small piece of history.
Well Mrs S was somewhat displeased when her aged printer finally gave up the ghost.
Charles was delighted, though, and had soon extracted something called a circuit board from the defunct machine.
“Take a look, Henry,” he said. “Spiffing base for another time machine!”
I had to agree, so we have a new model incorporating this futuristic technology with good old steampunk tradition.
Instead of a steering column, there’s something called a control deck. It pulses with multicoloured lights, naturally, and has a clock and time warp repeat button. (Well, someone might understand why…)
I left Charles to fiddle with the pod things that power it, but I insisted on installing a traditional safety valve.
For the comfort of our customers, we added a padded velvet cushion and a steel luggage rack. There is also a handy claxon which sounds automatically to warn anyone in the vicinity when the vessel is due to stop.
Not our most aesthetically pleasing craft, perhaps, but an intriguing machine, nonetheless.
Well if you’re thinking my face looks familiar – drat!
You have probably seen this very unflattering mug shot on those tiresome WANTED posters the Admiralty keeps sticking up around the public houses of Bristol. Where’s a man supposed to go for a quiet tot of gin these days?
And as for honour among thieves – don’t you believe it! There’s only too many as would be more than willing to turn me over to the authorities for that paltry two hundred guineas.
So yes, I’ll admit my way of earning a living might not be honest, in the strictest sense of the word, but it is certainly not easy. My boys and I are out in all weathers, way above the streets where you land-lubbers lurk, lightening the loads of the airships and other sky-faring vessels up there. Out in all weathers, we are, procuring booty and capturing ships, captains and passengers for ransom. There’s always someone willing to pay a handsome price.
Let me tell you (very quickly, now – I don’t want to spend too long in these parts with those posters a-flapping in the wind. There must still be some I haven’t managed to tear down) about my most notorious crime. And this one took place on low land!
There I was, keeping myself to myself in a quiet little inn beside the Floating Harbour one evening, when in he walked. Oh, he didn’t have his fine hat or any of those weapons he’s always bragging about, but I recognised him well enough – Algernon Cholmondeley, the Admiral of the High Skies. Now it just so happens (don’t think I’m illiterate – there are some highly educated sky pirates around, you know) that I’d read Olivia Libris’ book The Vital Chapter, which told his story, so I primed my weapon and sauntered across to his table, just as he was about to begin his meal.
“That looks a fine bird you’re planning to eat, good Sir,” I says, standing right behind him and pressing the plasma gun very lightly against his back. “Not peacock, by any chance, is it?”
He sighed deeply. “Montmorency Fairweather, if I’m not mistaken,” he said. “So is this your revenge? You’re going to blow me to the four winds in this pleasant little hostelry? How very ungentlemanly.”
“Not at all, Sir,” I replied, somewhat affronted that he should expect such coarse behaviour from a refined personage such as myself. “You are worth far more to me alive than dead. If you would do me the honour of accompanying me to my vessel, we will do the necessary and prepare hostage notes for your employers and that lovely wife of yours.”
Rather reluctantly, his Lordship pushed aside the roast pheasant and walked slowly with me from the inn.
We came to know one another quite well, during the time of his confinement on various vessels in my fleet. He took a keen interest in my ships, often asking the men most specific questions about the steering and engines.
In time, the Admiralty paid up and his Lordship was released quite unharmed, to return to his adoring family. He shook me by the hand and expressed a wish that we might meet again, but in quite different circumstances.
I have to admit, I rather took to the chap.
I certainly find myself substantially better off, thanks to that chance encounter beside Bristol’s fine Floating Harbour.
Monty Fairweather can be purchased – every man has his price – at 12th scale from this link.
Further adventures of Algernon Cholmondeley (now in a private collection) can be found on this blog in the Vital Chapter series of posts and here.
Something a little different this week: Jan Miller, who purchased both Algernon and Josephine Cholmondeley from our Etsy shop, has added a further chapter to the story of their impending visit to Brasston, The Most Cosmopolitan City Award winner in 1850. Delighted to know that the Lord Admiral of the High Skies and his wife are in such excellent hands.
We hope you will enjoy reading both chapters here:
It was, not surprisingly, young Molly who found the book first. She’d read her way through everything in the Steampunk-Shrunk library – even the Suffragette newspapers – and had been on the lookout for something new.
“Excuse me, Lady Cholmondeley,” she said, dropping a pretty curtsy to Josephine, “But do you think your husband, seeing as how he’s the Lord Admiral of the High Fleet, could take me on one of his sky ship machines to Brasston? They’ve got a perfectly splendid aerodrome and I’m sure they’d allow him to dock there. Let me show you the pictures. They’re in colour!”
“Why I’ve never heard of the place, my dear. Are you sure you’ve got the name correct?” smiled Josephine.
“Oh yes, Your Ladyship, Ma’am. I think it must be very famous. It won the ‘Most Cosmopolitan City Award’ in 1850.”
Josephine started to look through the book – a most difficult process since, unlike the inhabitants of Shrunk Towers, this book had not been shrunk to one twelfth of its original size. She had to obtain assistance from several other members of the community and they in turn became mesmerised by the splendours of Brasston.
“Good lord!” Barnaby Balsover exclaimed, “There’s a chap there having his shoes polished by a clockwork automaton! Quite remarkable!”
“Certainly,” agreed Ava Brassfeather, “And it says they do tours of the clock factory and provide cake and tea.”
“I believe it says you have to pay extra for cups and saucers, though, Ma’am,” Molly whispered, jumping in alarm when Ava made a loud tutting sound.
Molly wasn’t sure whether this was aimed at herself or the facilities available at the works, but she didn’t venture to speak again.
When Algernon returned from a successful raid on a troublesome bunch of sky pirates who had been terrorising the airways above Penge, he was met by a mass of pleading faces.
His wife took his arm, gazed alluringly into his eyes and purred, “My dearest…”
“Hmm,” he said finally, once he’d had a strong cup of gunpowder tea and an opportunity to peruse the book. “I strongly suspect that this is a work of fiction, created by this rather splendid gentleman on the back cover, Mr Ashley G.K. Miller. I’m not convinced that the city exists.”
“Well if anyone can find it, it’s you, Old Boy,” announced Lord Horatio Backgammon, and the others joined in a chorus of agreement with his Lordship’s sentiment.
And so, as I write, the entire group is busy packing and preparing for an epic journey in one of the fleet’s most capacious dirigibles, while Algy is earnestly poring over his charts, in search of the city of Brasston. Unfortunately the trip was delayed – but that is another story!
Should you wish to discover this remarkable locationfor yourself, dear reader, I suggest visiting Mr Miller’s Facebook page, where you will find all the details you need.
After several months, Algernon Cholmondeley, Lord Admiral of the High Fleet, was finally re-united with his dear wife Josephine. He had been captured by Sky Pirates before he could take his friends on the planned trip to Brasston. Josephine was so relieved to see him again. But they had been communicating by means of the steam telegraph while he was captive.
It seems the Sky Pirates extracted a large ransom from the Admiralty before releasing Algy unharmed. He, meanwhile, had secretly been inspecting the Sky Pirates remarkable Airships and learning as much as he could about their design. Of course Algernon was used to high powered airships in his normal day job, but the Sky Pirates had adapted some new ideas from other countries they had plundered. Algy was now determined to make a new airship of his own. It would have all the latest technology for the 1850s, including a pigeon-guided location finder.
As his wife and friends were so interested in visiting this Brasston, he could use that trip as an experimental run.
Lady Cholmondely had also been in contact with Mr Ashley G. K. Miller, the author of the esteemed volume; ‘A Traveller’s Guide to Brasston’ which had started the whole thing, and he had sent pictures of himself on one of his recent Hot Air Balloon Flights.
He said he would be delighted to help them make the Airship and take them to Brasston.
Lady Cholmondeley soon got the local enthusiasts together to collect all the bits and pieces they could find to make the new Airship. Having Algy’s colleagues in the Admiralty look through the old sheds, and with Mr. Miller’s collection of past pieces they had quite a good start.
Josephine and her friend Penelope set to work right away to make a comfortable day-bed for the passengers inside the Airship, while Young Algy played with his own model one. ‘Oh these feathers are going up my nose!’ exclaimed Josephine.
They were happily employed in this activity while Lord Algernon thought about his new Airship design. More about how he is getting on with it another time!
Jan Miller is a writer and publisher on the conservation of native plants. She also has an interest in miniature plants and crafts. See her website www.7wells.co.uk where you can also find her Asperger’s Syndrome son Ashley G. K. Miller’s book about Steampunk Lego ‘Brasston’.
Lord and Lady Cholmondeley and the Steampunk artifacts were upcycled and made by Jan Stone at Steampunk-Shrunk. Victorian dolls’ house and conservatory with real plants by Jan Miller.
A new year dawns, marked here at Steampunk Towers by Charles’ jubilant arrival on January 1st in his velvet-seated time machine. Considering the adventures he’s had, neither he nor the machine are looking in bad shape at all. True, he’s been slightly pompous since someone commented that he looked ‘very timelordish’, but we can forgive him for that.
Anyhow, for those new to our site, or confused by recent changes, here are some notes on what exactly Steampunk-Shrunk is and how it trades.
Unique and Upcycled
Everything produced by Steampunk-Shrunk is a hand-made and one-of-a-kind (OOAK) creation. Upcycling is very much part of our ethos. It is a point of honour here to find novel new uses for plastic packaging, broken jewellery or watches and the kind of junk that lies about most homes and charity shops in forgotten boxes and shelves. This tinkering and repurposing lies, after all, at the very heart of steampunk.
Our favourite way of selling is through the Steampunk-Shrunk trading stalls. These can be found at various steampunk fairs and conventions throughout the UK, at selected dollshouse and miniatures fairs and sometimes at craft and vintage fairs. We love to be able to chat to customers, to allow them to pick up and examine our wares and see if they can read our tiny books.
The next fair we have booked is in Shrewsbury in March 2019, but all venues will be listed on the home page of this website and promoted on our Facebook page.
The Steampunk Dolls’ House
This is the international trading arm of our micro-business. At the time of writing, we have around 35 lines for sale in this Etsy shop, which can be shipped around the world. We try to provide plenty of photos and detailed descriptions, so that customers know what they are getting, and it’s very easy for them to ask questions or chat about items we are selling. All our reviews so far have had five stars, which is hugely encouraging. The link to the Etsy shop is here.
The Crispin Emporium
Our latest sales venture is hiring a glass cabinet in a beautiful craft emporium in the Somerset town of Street.
Street is best known as the home of Clarks Shoes and the massive Clarks Shopping Village.
The emporium, upstairs in the newly refurbished Crispin Centre, supports and showcases local artists and craftspeople and provides a welcome change from the chain store outlets. The building also houses a gorgeous florist shop, a very lovely cafe (Street Food!) and various meeting and event rooms. It gets its name, incidentally, from St Crispin who – along with his brother St Crispian – is the patron saint of shoemaking.
If you are visiting Street this year, or nearby Wells or Glastonbury, do call in and take a look. Here is a link to the emporium’s Facebook page, so you can check opening times etc. The address is: 83 High Street, Street, Somerset, BA16 0EZ.
There is also a contact form on the home page of this website, if there are items you would like to know more about.
The ingenuity and range of adornments to bowlers and toppers at any steampunk gathering is stunning.
Mine tend to be diminutive.
However customers often arrive at my stall searching for items to add to their own headgear. Imagine my delight when I recently met a lady and gentleman whose top hats were decorated with some Steampunk-Shrunk gizmos!
I was happier still when they purchased more. Perhaps at a future venue, I’ll see those in place on the Inventors’ Hats they are creating.
We may have met before, but permit me to introduce myself anew.
I am George Entwistle, tinker and general handyman to the gentry. Yes, I have resigned from my post as patents clerk and become a full time tinker. Indeed, I would venture to say that my time machines are very much sought after by ladies and gentlemen of discernment with an adventurous temperament.
I like to consider myself something of an adventurer, too. Very recently I travelled in a railway carriage to a steampunk spectacular in the delightful town of Shrewsbury. What an experience it was!
The purveyors of our products were the most splendidly attired persons I had ever encountered. Even Mrs S, who is quite used to these affairs, was impressed and kept taking photographs of them, a few of which I will reproduce here.
We had scarcely opened before Alice announced that she was changing her name to Olga and heading off to become an opera singer with her new patron. I think Sir William was sad to see her go, but he soon began to chat in a very friendly manner to Miss Delilah.
I confess I was quite delighted when a charming lady and gentleman agreed to purchase my latest time machine. I often wonder where my customers will end up when they head off on their temporal journeys.
My greated delight, though, came when a distinguished looking gentleman stopped to admire our wares. There was something familiar about him and I was quite taken by his military bearing and immaculate appearance. He chatted for a while about our room cases to his good lady, and it was only after he left that Mrs Steampunkle told us it was none other than the great Icabod Steam!
How I regretted not having removed my stained and grubby leather apron or straightening my tie! I even had the honour to view his trailer at close quarters, although Mrs S wouldn’t permit me to leave the stall to watch one of his performances. I noticed that she was mysteriously absent at that time, however…
Upon our return to Steampunk Towers (and mainly, I suspect, to quieten the complaints about the journey from Lady Christabel) Mrs Steampunkle announced that some of us would be heading to a new residence. I was fortunate enough to be chosen, along with Lady Christabel, Sir William and the lovely Miss Delilah, to inhabit a glass display cabinet at a quite charming Emporium in the Somerset town of Street. We have five of my friend Mr Robottom’s robots with us, as well as several cabinets of curiosities and the Looking Glass rooms Mrs Steampunkle quite recently completed.
It feels quite strange to be away from Steampunk Towers, but our creator visits us regularly and has promised to pop in and check that we are all happy in our new surroundings.
Do come along to pass the time of day, should you be in the vicinity.
“It’s been a while,” Henry told me, wistfully, “since I went time travelling. Any chance you could help me out with a new machine?”
“Fine,” I said. “As long as you can source all the components from our junk box.”
“My pleasure, Madame,” he beamed, and headed off to rummage through the collection.
An hour or so later he was back with a particularly ugly little bamboo chair, a couple of clarinet keys, a light-up Christmas badge, an empty ribbon reel, the inside of a sewing thread spool, a clip from the old shower curtain, a few beads, promisingly-shaped wires and springs and a plastic robot arm.
“Hmm,” I said. “Interesting. How are you going to power it?”
” ‘If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,’ as my dear old friend Nick used to say. That circuit in the badge is at a perfect frequency and has plenty of energy stored in its batteries. As for the vibration, just take a look at these springs and the switch on that clarinet key. Try twanging it!”
I did. It made a rather pleasant Jew’s harp sound and vibrated beautifully.
“Okay Henry. You get the circuits sorted and I’ll get to work with some paint and copper tape,” I told him.
Before long the machine was finished. Certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing of objects, but when he sat in the seat, Henry had foot pedals that could be calibrated to the target date and time, a copper steering column, a strange silvery sphereoid that did goodness-knows-what, but seemed very important, along with a clock and altimeter.
“Dear Madame, if you would be good enough to give the temporal booster rocket a turn and then ping that little lever you liked so much, I’ll give it a spin,” Henry smiled.
“Don’t forget to put your goggles on, I told him. And make sure you’re back in time for the trip to Shrewsbury.”
“It’s a TIME machine, Madame!” he chided. “I can be back at whatever time I choose!”
“Yes, I know that, but – just be careful, Henry. You know how, um, adventurous you can be.”
Henry waved his cap to me and then, as I started the contraption’s rocket up and watched the blue and red sparks firing away inside it, he focused all his attention on that strange silver ball.
“Henry, how are you going to start it up by yourself when you want to come back…?” I was asking.
But I was all alone.
He still isn’t back.
I just hope he’ll make it by the time of the Shrewsbury Christmas Steampunk Spectacular, Knowing Henry, he’ll be there with seconds to spare.
If you’d like to take a look at the machine, or even contemplate buying it, do come and join us at the market in St Mary’s Church on December 1st and 2nd 2018.
How very inconvenient it is to be bundled into a wheelie suitcase and carted off to different venues with such frequency. True, Mrs S is always careful to cushion us well and give us as much personal space as possible, but it is not a pleasant way to travel.
No sooner are we back from a spate of ‘Dolly’s Daydream’ sales, than we are once again off on a new adventure.
Ah, but this one is a steampunk gathering, and we do love those! All the wonderfully attired people who actually understand what a tea duel is and why we have Racing Teapots and Octopuses’ Gardens.
So on September 16th, we and our gizmos, gadgets and other wonders will be on display at The Steampunk Essextraordinaire VI in the splendidly named Museum of Power.
Do come and join us if you are in that part of the world.
Not twenty thousand. I can’t yet lay claim to that. Yet who can say? One day, perhaps.
To build a vessel capable of travelling underwater and exploring the depth of the seas has been an ambition of mine since my youth. In those days, I was fortunate enough to sit at the table of the great Dr Pierre Aronnax himself, while he regaled us with tales of his voyage on the Nautilus, with the strange and troubled Captain Nemo.
How I loved his stories. How I longed to follow in his footsteps – or in his wake, perhaps. That I, Maurice Souslesmers, should be able to travel in this way was but a distant dream, until I joined forces with Mrs S, upcycler and creator of weird and wonderful 1:12 scale creations.
“So you want something like The Nautilus?” she asked. “Sounds an interesting challenge. Trouble is, I’m flat broke, so the budget for this project is zero. Everything will have to come from my junk stash. Agreed?”
What choice did I have? We explored the pile of objects together: a cardboard case, a clear plastic lid from a packaging box, some corrugated foil card from a children’s craft set, a finger light left over from last Hallowe’en, a brass radiator key, a small brass bell and whistle, a broken dolls house dressing table, some bits of polymer clay, a blue plastic bag, an empty shower gel bottle, a few watch parts and a jar of nail art gems.
“That should do nicely,” she said.
I was less than convinced.
Nevertheless, she set to work with coloured nail polish, a dizzying array of adhesives and some very messy burnishing paste.
“See this broken watch part – how it swivels?” she asked excitedly. “That will make a turntable for your searchlight. You need to be able to scan around the ocean, looking for creatures, don’t you?”
Before my eyes, the plastic (a strange and rather ugly synthetic substance alien to my era) finger light became a leather and copper-clad lamp on a turning steel base.
I stacked oxygen tanks in the navigation deck’s storage compartments and set about burnishing the huge boiler.
Mrs S found a way to mount the periscope, which had somehow stopped looking so much like a radiator key, and we tested the construction so far.
True, our vessel lacked the opulence of The Nautilus as described by Aronnax – the library and study, the leather armchairs and so forth. Nevertheless, I saw that I would finally be able to make my own voyage of discovery, and I was delighted.
Eagerly, I named my craft after my great hero, and The Aronnax began its journey.
You will see that I am keeping a careful ship’s log and making sketches of the mysterious creatures of the deep I am encountering on my journey. As for those apparently man-made arches and columns I have encountered in the murky depths… Might I, like my predecessors have stumbled upon the famed ruins of Atlantis?