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Book reviews — June 1991

'SILVERTOWN 1917' by Michael Paris
Ian Henry Publications. 1986. £3.25
I cannot trace a mention of this 62-page booklet in earlier Newsletters. The Silvertown explosion of 19 January 1917 gets mentioned frequently in the history of London's Dockland but this Is the first detailed account in recent times. The massive blast at Brunner-Mond's works which purified TNT killed 73 persons in the works and in the neighbourhood and the author estimates that some 70,000 properties were damaged - West Ham Council had to deal with some 600 homeless families. Debris was scattered far and wide including a piece of boiler-plate which hit the gas-holder at Blackwall Gas Works and set the contents alight! DON CLOW

It is rare to find a general guide book to a tourist area which really Incorporates industrial archaeology - but that is what Darrell Spurgeon has done in his 'Discover Greenwich and Charlton', a companion to his guide to Woolwich next year. This is intended as a general interest guide book. Clearly arranged around a series of walks with additional detailed notes most of the book deals with well known Greenwich tourist sights plus (boringly) endless architecturally O.K. suburban villas. However, in a specialised index, Darrell has listed 50 odd IA sites - the longest Index in the specialised section. Classification of sites Is slightly different from 'The Industrial Archaeology of South East London' which Darrell has acknowledged as a key source and this can therefore be seen as the most comprehensive cover of IA sites in Greenwich and Charlton yet published with more sites in more detail than any other. While one could complain that in describing the Royal Naval College he has missed Jason, the nuclear reactor (GN xxxxxxxxx), it is impressive that he has picked up the small piece of remaining track of the Glenton Railway - which SELIA missed. He is very good on tracing housing development and estates and equally on pubs, which are all dated and put in their settings.

There is also a problem, common to a lot of guide books, of integrating disparate parts of an area into a whole. All those suburban villas would have been a lot more interesting if they had been linked into the local industry - Darrell lists 51 West Combe Park Road as being worth looking at; he doesn't say that it was built for local cycle manufacturer John Beale with a test track in the garden. Nor that at 49 was the Managing Director of local fire-engine manufacturer Merryweathers and at 45 the Manager of East Greenwich Gas Works. That sort of Information would turn Greenwich from a collection of pretty buildings into a real, working, community. Darrell doesn't ignore working class housing, although again the descriptions are dehumanised - and - what about the Co-op?

None of this is serious criticism - this is a guide book by which you will find out a whole lot more about Greenwich than any other. Darrell should obviously be given every encouragement. The book is £4.99 and obtainable from Greenwich Guide Books, 72 Kidbrooke Grove, S.E.3. MARY MILLS

Irwell Press. 1990. hb.
This book comprises five sections, two of which are of obvious interest in the London context. There seems to be an almost inexhaustible supply of high quality atmospheric photographs of the Great Eastern Railway and its environs. The chapter 'Mean Streets' concentrates on the impact of the GER on the East End. Several of the overbridges are illustrated from street level - in some cases the dwellings do not just about the viaducts but are actually built into the arches! The other London chapter deals with the complex railway history of the Stratford loco depot and works.

The Newcomen Society is catching up on its backlog of publications and a number of important papers on the History of Technology in London have just appeared in their Transactions.

Vol. 58 includes an important biographical paper by our Chairman, Dr. Denis Smith on Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), who died 100 years ago this year. (There should be an exhibition at the Institute of Civil Engineers about him in the early summer).

Vol. 60 includes 'Frederick Eliot Duckham and the Millwall Docks' by Edward Sargent, who many of you will know following his period as conservation architect with the LDDC. This volume also includes 'Shipbuilding and the Long Span Roof' by James Sutherland. The shipsheds of the Thames were structurally even more important than trainsheds. The paper was given at SERIAC 90.

Technical Notes on 16th and 17th century London Windmills by J.S.P. Buckland are also included. A detailed survey of early mills in London obtained by studying early saps and other sources including two 15th century postmills shown on stained glass in Greenford Old. Parish Church, Middlesex.

© GLIAS, 1991