Thursday 1 March 2018

A Royal Electrostatic Discharge, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip & The Bishop of Durham

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The Queen may have required a change of underwear after my electrostatic demonstration during her Silver Jubilee.

In 1977 the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, was celebrating a reign of 25 years. A couple of years earlier, I'd constructed a large Wimshurst Machine as a school project for my Engineering Design "O" Level. Machine & Queen were destined to meet.

Electrostatic generators, ancient & 'modern'. Note six inch rule on base

In 1974, aged fifteen, I designed & started construction of the above version of a Wimshurst, using "modern" materials. It had glass-fibre laminate (PCB stock) discs, neoprene 'O' ring belts etc. Max. spark length 11.25 cm. I designed it for 15cm.

As part of her Jubilee tour, Queen Elizabeth and her hubby Prince Phillip were visiting the North East of England. On Thursday 14th July 1977 they met me and my machine in County Hall, Durham City.

The Queen is walking away from the Market Tavern boozer in Durham City's market square. She's on her way to county hall, to meet me. Phil the Greek is behind, wondering whether to jump.
photo - Evening Chronicle

The Bishop of Durham (John Stapylton Habgood) was with them, presumably to ensure there was no bother. At county hall in Durham city, they must have been underwhelmed to see a long line of school craft projects on tables, with attendant teenagers.

I was part of this group. We had been plucked from various County Durham schools, because of our school projects. We'd been lectured by a Royal flunky on the correct way to address Liz and various other instantly forgettable rules of etiquette. During this kowtow instruction I remember wondering if high energy electrical discharges would be acceptable.

Etiquette was the name of the game that day. I couldn't have given a toss, not being a Royalist. Nobody asked me if my exhibit was lethal.

The Royals and the Bishop were looking bored as they wandered down the line, looking at craft work and asking inane questions. The pottery, paintings and wooden objects must have seemed interminable.

Then they arrived at my position. The Queen unwisely asked me what my machine was, although the Bish knew (apparently a family tie with Wimshurst existed) and wisely moved back to let Phil in.

I switched the Wimshurst on. I think I detected a flutter of Royal interest as the machine's discs rotated up and began to crackle with electrostatic energy. Even Prince Phil moved closer, muttering something quite unintelligible, possibly in Greek or Boddington Ale English.

I was telling Liz about electrostatics while things got interesting. I'd connected up a large (2 cubic feet) multiple parallel plate capacitor, made from glass, foil & resin, to the wimshurst. This was charging up, and was it's first public demonstration. Exceedingly dangerous, and easily capable of killing, the Queen was a couple of feet from it's bare terminations (thank fuck she didn't turn violent). 

The capacitor discharged with a loud, sharp detonation. Even I got a fright, and I knew how fucking loud the capacitor's inch spark-gap was. My small crowd of spectators jumped back, away from the bright flash and bang.

The security people started talking down their sleeves and the Royals were hurriedly moved on, possibly with distressed underclothing. I had a good talk to the Bish though, he stayed around for a while. I'm sure he'd found the Royal discharge quite amusing.

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Unrelated to this post, below is an example of
eclectic science esoterica 

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WARNING - Many subjects outlined within this site are extremely dangerous and are provided here for information only. Please don`t experiment with high voltages or chemicals unless you are fully conversant with safe laboratory practices. No liability will be accepted for death, injury or damage arising from experimentation using any information or materials supplied.