Mr Bowler’s Factivity Pages

Mr Bowler’s been very busy lately, thinking up ways to tease your brain and then some!

All Factivities can also be downloaded here:

Factivities 1

FACTS: Old Pennies

Go into Mr. Bowler’s Office on the Museum’s first floor and you will find old books called ‘ledgers’ where Miss Bowler kept the accounts for the business.

You’ll see that she used old Pounds, Shillings and Pence.
 • 20 SHILLINGS made one POUND
 • 12 PENNIES made one SHILLING

Coppers from 1896


Question: How many PENNIES were there in one POUND?  In 1971 our coinage went decimal, so how many PENCE are in one POUND nowadays?

Question: Why do you think old pennies were called ‘coppers’?  
Answer: Because they were made almost entirely of copper which was easy to stamp and didn’t rust.

Question: Coins are made in the Royal Mint. Where is it located?  You’ll need to do a little research on the internet.

Activity: Create your own coin!  

Tape some paper over a coin, rub a crayon firmly over it, and cut round the outside.  Turn the coin over and do the same.  Glue the two images together to make a replica coin…. but don’t try to spend it!


FACTS: Pointy Bottles
Why does this early bottle in the Museum have a strange pointy base?

Well, it once had a cork made from the bark of a tree, and the bottle was pointed so that it had to be stored laying down to stop the cork drying out, shrinking and allowing the mineral water to lose its ‘fizz’.


Paper is made from pulped wood, so it also absorbs water, expands and contracts. 

Try this DISAPPEARING MOON experiment:

  • Cut a long strip of tissue or blotting paper and place it in a foil tray. Cover it with parcel tape leaving 20mm uncovered at one end, and draw on a blue moon with felt-tip pen as shown.
  • Apply 20 drops of water from a small spoon and then come back in ten minutes.

Where did the moon go?  What made it disappear?  Notice how the wood-pulp paper absorbed water.

Did you notice that the paper is now crinkly?  That is because it swelled when it became wet.

FACTS: Fizzy Pop

Bowler made a range of fizzy drinks with wonderful names like Orange Champagne, Hot Tom and Cherry Ciderette!

The bubbles were carbon dioxide, an odourless gas that dissolves in water to make weak carbonic acid. That gives the tingly sensation when you enjoy a fizzy drink!

How did Mr. Bowler make carbon dioxide in his factory? In the Museum you can see a huge rotating wooden barrel containing chalk or marble to which he added sulphuric acid.  The gas collected in the big cylinder hung from the roof and was pumped into the bottles which sometimes exploded!  

Activity:  Make some carbon dioxide at home and create a volcano!

Put on goggles or a visor. Dilute some vinegar with 50% water and add a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Pour the mixture into an empty 2-liter plastic bottle and add a spoonful of baking soda. (sodium bicarbonate).  This will react with the vinegar to make your volcano erupt!

Mr Horstmann’s Amazing Clock

The Museum has a unique and very interesting clock, invented by Gustav Horstmann in 1866 and still running. 

Gustav’s ingenious invention was a mechanism to wind the clock automatically, driven by changes in air temperature.  It didn’t work very well, but it was a good try in the days before automatic electric winders.


There is a clock in the Museum taller than you are!  Where did it come from?

Both this clock and Gustav Horstmann’s kept good time because of their pendulums, but sometimes clocks need to be speeded up or slowed down to keep accurate time.  Do we need to alter the weight of the pendulum or its length?  Try the experiment below to find out.


  • Sellotape a coin to a piece of string 90cm long and allow it to swing freely.  Count the number of swings per minute.
  • Add two more coins beside the first and re-time its swings.  Did extra weight change it swing-rate?
  • Now shorten the string to 45cm and count the swings in one minute. Did it change?

So, now you can work out how to alter the speed of a pendulum clock. Next time you are in the Museum see if you can spot how Horstmann’s clock is regulated.

Factivities  2 

Words gone mad!

FACTS: Can you read this page of the Bath Chronicle? It is on the top floor of the Museum, but its back-to-front, called ‘mirror image’.

You are looking at old printers’ type blocks prepared by a ‘compositor’, ready for printing on a press. It has to be in reverse so as to print correctly.

Challenge: What does the headline say?How much was stolen in the reported raid? Find a small mirror, turn around, look at the picture through it over you shoulder and you’ll find it makes sense. Next time you come to the Museum bring a mirror with you and check it out.

A Question to Think About:

Question: When you look into a mirror you left hand stays on the left of your body in the reflection. So why then does the printers’ type read right to left, not right to left in the reflection?

Answer:  Mirrors provide an image that we perceive as being behind it, reflected in its plane.  You turned around and reversed the image!

Activity:  Sharks Gone Mad!  This is a real mystery and will baffle you and your friends.

1) Print two images like this on card, (enlarged if you wish).  Cut them out and stick them back-to-back  with the sharks at right angles to each other.

2) On one side write a small ‘1’ on one corner and a ‘0’ on the other corner.

3) Hold the octagon like this with your finger on ‘0’. Note the direction the shark is swimming. Gently spin the octagon through 1800 between your finger & thumb. Check the shark on the other side is swimming in the same direction. If not, unglue it and reattach it so that it is.

4) Now hold the octagon with your fingertip on ‘1’. When you  rotate & check the other side, which direction is the shark swimming?  

Why? What has happened? 

You Are Stronger Than You Think

Humans are not very strong when it comes to lifting big weights so we have invented simple machines.  This one in the Museum is called a’ crab winch’ and could lift half a tonne!

A handle was slotted onto the protruding end of the shaft whose little gear drove the big gear. The ration of the gears reduced the speed of rotation but increased its torque or lifting power.

Activity: Make a simple geared crane using Lego©, Meccano© or another construction kit.

Make sure you have the handle on the small gear driving the big gear. The big-gear’s shaft has the rope on it around a drum.

Try lifting a load.

Now re-construct the crane with the handle on the big gear, driving the small gear. This time the small-gear’s shaft has the rope-drum on it.

Try lifting the load again. Why is it so difficult to lift?

Factivities  3 

The Big Time!

FACTS: This giant clock on the top floor of the Museum is as tall as an adult and nearly as heavy!

It is called a Tavern Clock because it was of a type used in coaching inns where it struck each hour to announce the departure of stage coaches.

Make sure you are next to it when it starts striking, and you will hear it start wheezing, which is the striking mechanism getting up to speed, and then a clever counter inside will measure out the number of strikes needed for each hour… clever, eh?

This remarkable clock spent its life in the Royal Mineral Water Hospital in Upper Borough Walls where it hung in the lobby for all to see. It came to the Museum in 2019… and yes, that is real gold leaf on the face and case!


Make Your Own Clock

Take a white paper plate and punch a hole through the centre. Insert a pencil, put your sundial in a sunny place in the garden, weight or glue it down, and tip the pencil slightly to the north.

Our clock was made in 1730 in Bath, so is very old, but timekeeping is as old as mankind himself. Make one of the earliest time-keepers for yourself… a SUNDIAL.

At 12.00 noon mark where the shadow falls on the plate. Do the same each hour for as long as you can. Check the next day to see if your sundial is keeping time. DON’T look at the sun, only the sundial.

A Challenge:  Can You Detect the Movement of there Earth?

Challenge:  Can You Detect the Movement of there Earth?Use the side of a building or a very long pole stuck into soft ground, and look for the shadow as far away from the pole/building as you can.  Mark the ground with chalk and watch the shadow carefully.  Can you see it moving?

But what if the sun doesn’t shine?

The Chinese had an answer 3,000 years ago, WATER-CLOCK.

Activity: Let’s make a water-clock

Cut a tall thin squash-bottle as shown, invert the top part with cap on, and place it on a cardboard ring as shown in the photograph below.

Put food-dye, red for example, into some water and pour it into the top. Adjust the screw-cap to allow the water to drip slowly into the bottom half, and mark each hour in felt-tip pen on the side.

Challenge: Decide which clock keeps time best. Why?

A Man of Letters   

FACTS: Next time you are at the Museum look for some giant letters.

They would have been used by a mason to fix to stonework, perhaps for a memorial or public building. Each letter has spikes on the back which would have been cemented into small hidden holes in the stone.

Keep looking and you will find some even bigger letters made of black-coloured metal pipes with rows of little holes.   

These pipes were connected to the town gas supply and lit to form illuminated signs in Victorian times.  Neon signs invented around 1910 were much safer.  They didn’t catch things alight or risk exploding if the wind blew out the flaring flames. 

Activity:  Fiery Words

There are about 170,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, but we use less than 3,000 of them. Several dozen are special words called PALINDROMES which read the same forwards and backwards, like:


There are even palindromic sentences like:   


There are a few palindromes that can be read upside down too, like:


Can you think of more palindrome words or names?

Factivities  4 

The Grand Bath Chair

Interesting Facts:

Empress Eugenie was a headstrong, daring French aristocrat who loved horse-riding and physical sports when she was young. She was once rescued from drowning, and twice attempted suicide after being disappointed in love.

The Museum’s Bath Chair was exhibited in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Later a similar grand Chair was given by Prince Albert to Eugénie , made especially ornate by James Heath of Bath. Eugenie was still quite young when she received her gift, so let’s hope she had a sense of humour!

When just eleven Eugénie and her elder sister Paca briefly attended a boarding school for girls on Royal York Crescent in Clifton, Bristol, to learn English. Eugénie had red hair so was rather unkindly nicknamed “Carrots”. She tried to run away to India, but only got as far as climbing on board a ship in Bristol docks!

The Museum’s Bath Chair was exhibited in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Later a similar grand Chair was given by Prince Albert to Eugénie , made especially ornate by James Heath of Bath. Eugenie was still quite young when she received her gift, so let’s hope she had a sense of humour!

Facts: What is a Bath Chair for?

They carried the sick from their lodgings to and from the spa, and the wealthy about their business in Bath, especially older people.

They were popular because the occupant could steer themselves and so go wherever they chose.
For a time Bath was the foremost spa city in Europe and Bath Chairs quickly spread to continental spas, indeed, modern versions are still in use at Lourdes .

The Bath Chair was popular and eventually superseded the two-man Sedan Chair, probably because it only required one person, not two, saving on labour costs. Eventually wheel-chairs became cheaper so were more widely used, and motorised invalid carriages superseded the Bath Chair for the wealthy.


Pushing a Bath Chair up Bath’s hills was hard work for the nurse or porter, and coming down was dangerous for the occupant! Next time you are shopping in a supermarket with a full trolley feel how heavy it is to push. Now imagine how difficult it would be to push the full trolley up a slope.

Then imagine what it would be like coming DOWN the slope, WITHOUT ANY BRAKES!
Don’t try this… its seriously dangerous!

Would you like to have ridden in a Bath Chair on the hills of Bath?

All Washed Up

Facts: There are nearly 10,000 bottles in the Museum, that’s a lot of bottles!

The sugar in Bowler’s mineral waters stuck to the insides of his bottles, so when they were returned to his factory for re-filling they needed to be washed inside, and quickly.  

Check out these three amazing machines!

This one takes twelve bottles placed upside down in brass ‘trumpets’.  The wooden handle in the foreground was depressed to open a valve and allow hot water to squirt up inside all twelve at once. 

Any persistent dirt could be dislodged with the treadle-operated brush, see right.

Even more bottles could be washed at one time by this giant ‘dunking machine’.  Nearly 200 bottles could be slotted into the rotating rack, and repeatedly dunked in warm water by turning a handle on the side.

Imagine the noise as they sposhed into the water and clattered around in the rack ! 


Look again at the ‘dunking machine’.  You will notice that the rotating rack is not vertical, but leans back.  In fact, the whole machine is built leaning! This is to allow the air in the bottles to escape when they are dunked under water.  If they were dunked horizontally the air would be trapped and the water couldn’t get in.

Try this with an empty plastic drinks-bottle.  Push it under water with the neck tipped slightly down and you will find the water has difficulty entering because the air is trapped inside.

Now put a little water into the bottle and place a disc of cardboard over the top.  Hold the disc in place with your finger, turn the bottle over and give it a gentle squeeze to expel a little water.  You should now find that you can take your finger off the disc, and it will stay in place.  Why?


When you squeezed out a little water you collapsed the bottle reducing the air pressure inside. The pressure of the atmosphere now pushes the cardboard disc upwards against the bottle, preventing water from leaking out.

The concept of using atmospheric pressure was employed in the world’s first steam engine developed by Dartmouth inventor Thomas Newcomen.  

Research ‘Newcomen Atmospheric Engine’ on Google.

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