40km Southeast of Moscow in the back corner of Zhukovsky International Airport, there is an an interesting remnant of the space race just left to rot. These are a set of 15 pictures taken by Aleksander Markin on this Flickr album. It shows a 1/3rd scale model of the Buran Orbiter. According to Markin, the replica is made almost entirely out of wood, and was used as a wind tunnel test when developing the aerodynamics.
When the Buran shuttle program fell into disarray, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, these prototypes and test were just left behind in the change. In the intervening years, they have been left the rot. Many shuttles and tests have been found by urban explorers, but many are still out there. In another recent post I talk about a similar Buran prototype left to rot away in an impressive warehouse. You can find that post here.
So browsing the internet recently, I came across a great blog by Ralph Mirebs. He classes himself as an urban explorer and photographer. In this blog post, he has some awesome photographs that he has taken in an abandoned hangar in Kazakhstan.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is currently the only place where astronauts can be sent up to the International Space Station. They get sent up via the Soyuz rocket, after the USA’s Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. Now the European space agency, and NASA both use this launch site to send up astronauts. On the subject of the space shuttle though, one hangar in the Cosmodrome holds some great pieces of history, captured by Mirebs in photographic form.
The hangar in question is knows as the MZK building. Designed by the Izhevsk Institute “Prikampromproekt”, the building is 132m long, and 62m high. Its fairly run down now, but in it’s day it was at the pinnacle of the Soviet space effort. The doors on the front measure 42m by 36m. Big enough to transport the rocket systems needed for the project. On top of that, these doors were perfectly sealed, so the building could be kept at a higher than normal pressure, to keep dust out. They weren’t really doors, they were just structures that just happened to move.
The building itself is fairly close to a heavily used launch site, so naturally it was made from a special form of steel, and was designed to withstand a rocket exploding on the nearest launch site. There are offices and laboratories on either side, four stories high. They hold testing equipment and controls. Inside the main part of the building are 3 cranes that are able to lift 400 tons each.
So what is this enormous secret Soviet era building holding? Well it houses 2 Buran class rockets, of only a few left in the world. The Buran programme was the Soviets reaction to the NASA’s space shuttle system. Although the Buran programme didn’t really take off (if you’ll pardon the pun!) it still holds some historical significance today. The reasoning behind the Buran system will be saved for a later post.
Looking at them, you would be forgiven for thinking that these weren’t really important. They have years of bird poo and dust covering them. Of the two ships in the hangar, one is the second flying prototype. Known as “little bird”, although never officially named. At the time that the Buran programme finished in 1993, it was about 97% ready. Unfortunately, the ship is now showing signs of wear, with the heat tiles falling off, and smashed windows. This ship started to be built in 1988, and was meant to fly in 1991 and 1992; with planned flights to the Mir space station.
The second ship is known only as OK-MT, simply made as an engineering mockup. It has the same look, and shape, but was never designed to fly, it was for use by engineers to test functions on the ship, so they don’t accidentally break the real thing. This one was a mockup for the other ship, known as OK-1k2, which was the only Buran calls shuttle to have the red bars on the cargo bay. This one seems in better condition, still holding onto many heat tiles, and most of it’s windows.
Unfortunately, most of the insides of the shuttles have been torn out, likely salvaged to be used on other projects. Some think they could have been salvaged for precious metals. Although it is a bit of a mess there is still a quality about the way it looks. A ship that was so close to being a massive part of the space age, and missing out by just a few years. Imagine if the Chief Designer had these ideas a few years before, these ships could have been the way we send astronauts into space.
It is sad that these pieces of equipment are just the remnants of the late Soviet Union, just left to rot. Hopefully one day they will end up in a museum, along with the other important parts of the space race era. Until then, we can only use these pictures to get a glimpse into the Buran Shuttle.
So as we discussed in a previous post, Plymouth wasn’t always the power that it is today. In fact, in 1066, during the norman conquest, it was still called Sutton Pool, and had a population of 18 people. So realistically, there was no real need for any sort of fortification. The only place with a need for protection was just up the river at Plympton. Here, there was a Motte and Bailey Castle. Basically a small keep on top of a big hill, surprisingly effective at the time.
Over time though, the river changed, and the need of Sutton as a main port suddenly became of strategic importance. Around the start of the hundred years war in 1337 it was attracting unwanted attention from continental forces. It’s thought that earthwork defences were built around this time on the hoe and waterfront. There was also likely to have been similar works on the other side of the river at mount batten.
The most important part of this defence was Plymouth castle. In 1377 a murage grant was received, this is basically a tax specifically for castles, walls and other defences. The exact date that it was built is unknown, but it was first recorded in the early 1400’s. The castle was on the western side of Sutton Pool. It had 4 sides, with round towers on each corner, with curtain walls, 4 meters high. The main need for the castle was to control a chain that was raised to stop access to the harbour. If a ship got caught in this, it would be subjected to the castle’s cannons. The castle’s entrance was shielded by a barbican, which now lends its name to a part of the city.
There is no official date that the castle is said to have been built, but based around events we can give a good range. In 1340 during the Hundred Years’ War, the town was attacked by a flotilla of french raiders. Although they burned a manor house, and took some prisoners, they failed to get into the town. It was said to be due to an effective defence, this could be the castle, or it could just have been earthworks. There was another attack by the french in 1377. This lead to the murage grant to fund fortification, this may well be the money used to build the castle, but it could also have been used to fund walls or earthworks.
In 1400, it was likely that the castle was in existence, as it allegedly drove off a fleet of french ships. It was said that an english force of ships were being pursued by James of Bourbon, Count le Marche. The english forces sought refuge in Sutton harbour and scared them away. In august 1403 the castle was definitely present, and provided refuge when a Breton army landed at Cattewater and attacked and burned the town. This attack is still remembered today, by a part of the town known as Bretonside. This is the point where the invaders were stopped by the citizens marching out from the castle to attack them.
After this the castle saw very little real action. Other parts of the city were being fortified, and the castle became less important in the grand scheme. In 1549, it did play a part in the Prayer Book Rebellion; where cornishmen rebelled against the law created to have all church services in the land to be conducted in the english language. The Cornish at the time rarely spoke english, and so a rebellion started. At a point during this time, the town was besieged by rebels. The town quickly surrendered, but the castle didn’t, it held members of the crown and protestants, likely targets by the rebels. Eventually the rebellion was defeated, and the siege was lifted.
In 1588, the castle played a small part in the attack on the Spanish Armada. The English Navy took shelter from the wind and waited for the tide in Sutton harbour. The Castle gave the Navy a good defence. Unfortunately after this, in the Elizabethan era defences had moved on from simple castles. Sir Francis Drake (kinda famous in Plymouth) built an artillery fort on the Hoe. The structure, eventually known as Drake’s Fort was partially built using stone from Plymouth Castle. After this the closest it got to any action was during the civil war, when it held a parliamentary Garrison. Although, because Royalists controlled Mount Batten, Millbay on the west side of the harbour was used over Sutton Harbour so the castle wasn’t used as a military structure.
That is basically the History of Plymouth Castle. The castle itself eventually fell into disrepair, actually described as ruinous. It was used as a prison, and also a workhouse for a time. Unfortunately, in the 19th century, during the population boom, the remains were slowly robbed to be used in houses and other building projects. There is only a small part of the gatehouse still existing, and it has been turned into a part of a garden.
Fun fact: the four towers of Plymouth Castle are said to be remembered in the towns coat of arms, with 4 towers separated by st. Andrews cross (the patron St of Plymouth). The towers are said to be protecting him.
A famous person in the history of Plymouth is Sir Francis Drake, i’m sure many of his expeditions will make it into this section of my blog in the future, but today we are going to talk about a famous ship that he sailed, the Golden Hind.
So in 1577, Queen Elizabeth chose Francis Drake for the most daring challenge of the day. To lead an expedition, passing through South America via the Strait of Magellan. Exploring the coasts that lay beyond it. Before setting sail, Drake met the queen face to face for the first time. She reportedly said “We would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries that we have received.”
Why was this important? Well this basically meant the queen backed him. He had official approval to benefit himself and the queen (the queen had shares in the expedition). On top of this he was told to cause maximum damage to the Spaniards. The problem was, Drake took this too far, and acted more like a privateer. They weren’t to know at the time, but this would eventually lead to the Anglo-Spanish war.
He set sail in December 1577, with 5 small ships with a total of 164 men manning them. Reaching the coast of Brazil in early 1578. Note at this time, Drake’s flagship was named the “Pelican”, and it was small only displacing around 100 tons. Mid way through the journey, Drake had the inspiration to rename the ship the “Golden Hind”. Named after his patron (the man who payed for most of it) Sir Christopher Hatton; who was at the time, one of the queens favourites. His crest was a Golden ‘hind’, another word for a female deer.
The date that made the Golden Hind a big name was the 1st of March 1579, when they were in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Ecuador. The ship challenged and captured a Spanish galleon. Named Nuestra Señora de la Concepción the galleon had the largest treasure ever captured up to that date, at over 360,000 pesos. The six tons of treasure took 6 days to move between ships.
Why is Plymouth important in this story? well it is the first harbour that the ship sailed into when it got home, on the 26th september 1580, a famous day in Plymouths history. Note that of the 80 people the ship left with, only 56 were left aboard.
Even though Drake basically acted like a pirate, the Queen herself went aboard the Golden hind when it sailed to Depthord in the Thames Estuary. There Drake got bestowed with a knighthood, and went into the history books. What did the queen get, around £160,000. This was reportedly enough to “pay off her entire foreign debt and still have £40,000 left to reinvest. The return to all the investors came to £47 for every £1 invested, or 4700%, a good return in anyone’s book.
What happened to the Golden hind in the end? well it basically stayed in Deptford. Maintained for public display, incidentally the first ship to be kept and displayed in this manner because of the historical significance. It remained there for around 100 years, and eventually rotted away and was finally broken up. It’s still not gone or forgotten though, parts were reportedly made into a table in Middle Temple Hall in london, and a chair in Buckland Abbey in devon, also the Pelican Inn in Gloucester claims to be made with some timbers from the ship.
So I have been living in Plymouth as a student for the past few years, studying at Plymouth University. It’s a great place, but I realised I don’t really know anything about it, or it’s history. So I have decided to start finding it out. I intend to post all the interesting stuff I find out here on my blog.
Where better to start that.. well the start! Or at least as far back as is recorded. The early history of the Plymouth area.
There have been many excavations and archaeological digs conducted over the years, with one of the most notable by Barry Cuncliff in 1988. During excavations in local caves in the Mount Batten area, Homo Sapiens were found, along with artefacts dating from the bronze age through to iron age. According to Cuncliff, this shows that it was one of the main trading ports of the country at that time. He goes on to state that Mount Batten was the site of the earliest trade with Europe yet discovered in bronze age Britain.
Ptolemy’s Geographia talks about an unidentified settlement named “TAMARI OSTIA” which translates to mouth/estuaries of the river Tamar. This could be the the location of the modern city of Plymouth, it could also be Mount Batten, or even potentially the settlement of Plympton just up the river.
The modern name of Plymouth is thought to have come from the fact it is at the mouth of the river Plym. Just up the river is the old town of Plympton, was recorded as Plymentun circa 900. There are many theories about where this name comes from, some say its from the old english word for “plum tree” (ploumenn). Other theories include the Latin for tin (Plumbum), or the Cornish word for lead (Plomm). All we know is that the first recorded name for the river was the Plyme in 1238. About this time are the first recorded name of Plymouth as a settlement (Plymmue in 1230, and Plimmuth in 1234). Previous to this though, and area known as PlymMouth was noted in a Pipe roll in 1211.
Plympton was at one point an early trading port, up until around the early 11th century, when the river became very silted, and forced merchants and mariners to trade instead in modern day Plymouth, around the area of the Barbican, much closer to the rivers mouth. At this time there was only a village there called Sutton, an old English word meaning “south town”. Although the town has been mentioned in many documents, Plymouth officially replaced the name Sutton in a Charter of King Henry VI in 1440.
I hope you find my first post about Plymouth informative, and interesting. I plan on doing quite a few of these posts, comments would be appreciated, and ideas that people want would also be great. Thanks for reading.