Book reviews — August 2010
'Lea Valley Series', by Jim Lewis
Members received with Newsletter 248 a special offer for the new 'Lea Valley Series' of books by Jim Lewis on the Lea Valley. This was also the subject of Jim Lewis's GLIAS lecture in April (GLIAS Newsletter June 2010). The series develops the themes in his earlier books on 'London's Lea Valley: Britain's Best Kept Secret' and covers:
Each book is clearly written and well illustrated (though the captions often repeat the text). There are no footnotes, but the source material is referenced at the end of each chapter. In a number of cases, Jim mentions areas he has not had time to research, which might be suitable for further work by individuals or as school projects. The series was originally to be published by the Middlesex University Press but, after the first two volumes, the press was closed and the series was taken over by Libri Publishing. Brian James-Strong
- From Gunpowder to Guns, with chapters on the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, the Lee-Enfield rifle (the name of which has nothing to do with the river); and the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey. It includes a fascinating chapter on the continuing incompetence of the Board of Ordnance in properly equipping the British Army in the Crimea, in which the author has researched the original correspondence in the National Archives.
- Water and Waste, which covers the familiar themes of the New River (with a diversion on the Thames Water London Ring Main); Three Mills and Bazalgette's sewerage system, as well as public health in Tottenham; the Lea valley market gardeners and the modern recycling system and its developments; as well as the ambitious Lea Valley Experience project.
- Industry and Innovation, which has a series of mostly short chapters, particularly on the electronics industry, including the Swan Edison lamp and Ambrose Fleming's invention of the diode valve, which leads Lewis to claim 'that the post-industrial revolution — the electronic technological revolution — began at Ponders End'; the invention of the vacuum flask; Gestetner's duplicating machine; Thorn's development of colour TV; Belling's electrical equipment; TV broadcasting from Alexandra Palace; and Standard Telephones at New Southgate (though the author does not seem to be aware that Nortel left the site some years ago). This volume also covers Congreve's rockets (also covered in From Gunpowder to Guns), Weizmann's work at Three Mills on the production of acetone and concludes with a longer chapter on Fuller's manufacture of transformers at Walthamstow.
- Battleships, Buses and Bombers, a History of Transport in the Lea Valley, Walter Hancock's internal combustion engine buses; the Stratford railway works; early aviators: A V Roe and Geoffrey de Havilland; the JAP motor cycle engine; shipbuilding at Blackwall and Leamouth; and the motor industry, including Lotus, the development of the carburettor, and Vauxhall. He concludes with a trip to Peru and two gunboats built by BSA, using iron from Thames Ironworks, which are still afloat on Lake Titicaca.
- Weapons, Wireless and World Wars has short chapters on the war in the air in the First World War, from which I learnt that the 'Zeppelin' famously shot down at Cuffley was not a Zeppelin but a Shutte Lanz SL 11; the development of wireless listening devices in that war and the role of Alexandra Palace in the Second World War. Most of the book is devoted to a long chapter asking 'did the new methods of weapon manufacture in 19th-century Britain have an immediate effect on warfare?', but which is mainly concerned with the Board of Ordnance failure to integrate rifle design with the manufacturing processes, in which Lewis researches further the original correspondence in the National Archives.
- From Eton Manor to the Olympics covers a miscellany of topics, in which the main industrial interest relates to the development of speedway racing and the bikes used; Harper Twelvetrees' Imperial Chemical Works at Three Mills and Wright's Mill at Ponders End. The title comes from the little known story that the running track from the 1948 Wembley Olympics was transferred to Eton Manor.
'Five London Piano Makers — Brinsmead, Challen, Collard, Danemann, Welmar', by Alastair Laurence
Published by Keyword Press. Price: £14.50 + p&p. Softback, 210 x 148 mm, 136 pages, 49 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-9555590-1-3. Web: www.keyword-press.co.uk
Pianos were made in London for 200 years, in factories and workshops scattered among the houses in residential districts. This book tells the story of five well known firms. Collard & Collard were direct descendants of illustrious 18th-century harpsichord makers; Brinsmead, Challen and Danemann had their origins in the vigorous commercial life of 19th-century London; Welmar brought to success a manufacturing venture begun in the difficult times of the 1930s. All five declined in the late 20th century, and by 2004 all had closed.
This is both a human and a technical history. A host of characters inhabit its pages: the bosses, nearly all of them with direct hands-on experience of work in the factory; the craftsmen, whose skill and experience were the principal asset of each firm; and the designers, on whose technical understanding and innovative flair the success of the enterprises depended. The author knew many of these people personally, and the book contains many details which are based on their first-hand accounts.
Dr Alastair Laurence is himself a piano maker. He has first-hand knowledge of several piano workshops, both in this country and in Norway, and is now the head of the celebrated firm of John Broadwood & Sons. He is an experienced and engaging writer, and author of a number of books on piano subjects and local history.
'Tracks through time: archaeology and history from the East London Line Project', by Aaron Birchenough, Emma Dwyer, Nicholas Elsden, Hana Lewis, et al
Revised edition published February 2010; 1st edition published June 2009. Published by: MOLA 2010. ISBN 978-1-901992-87-8. Pb. 72pp. Many col ills. Price: £9.95
This well-produced book gives a basic introduction to the earlier history of the area around Shoreditch, uncovered during the building of the East London Line.
Many of the 72 pages are full-page photographs, ranging from a Bronze-Age flint dagger to a stall-holder in modern Dalston. The aim is to show the spread of urbanisation from the Thames Valley across what became the City of London and beyond, to the East End.
There is virtually no 'industrial' archaeology mentioned, apart from basic descriptions of brick-making, or Bishopsgate Goods Yard. However, the excavations of Holywell Priory and the large houses along the route of the railway line will provide new historic information on the area. Ruth Verrall
© GLIAS, 2010