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Book reviews — August 2011

'The impact of the railways in the East End 1835-2010: Historical archaeology from the London Overground East London line', by Emma Dwyer
Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA), Monograph 52, ISBN-13: 978 1 901992 98 4. Published 2011,, £14.00, xiv+116 pages
The sub-title makes clear that this is a study of the effect of railways on that part of the East End through which now runs the extended former East London Underground line (ELL). This bypasses its former northern terminus at Shoreditch (GLIAS Newsletter February 2011; June 2011), crosses the site of Bishopsgate Goods Yard on a viaduct with a new station, and then heads northwards to pick up the route of the former North London Railway line from Broad Street (closed in 1986). It continues to a relocated Dalston Junction station and connections with the main east-west North London line.

The engineering works needed to carry this line through a densely built-up part of London inevitably necessitated some demolition and clearance of sites - most notably (with future more substantial redevelopment of the site somewhat controversially in mind), the removal of most of the above-ground remains of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard apart from listed sections of the 1840 Braithwaite Viaduct and the listed former entrance with its wrought iron gates (GLIAS Newsletter April 2011). These works did however afford the opportunity for archaeological excavation of a number of sites, while structures to be demolished were first recorded.

In 2009 MoLA published 'Tracks through time: archaeology and history from the London Overground East London line' 1, a 72-page generously illustrated paperback that surveyed the area over a wider timescale, from the Mesolithic period (flints found during ELL excavations) to the present day. This new study concentrates on the period since the railways started to be driven through what was already a densely-developed area of East London, beginning with the Eastern Counties Railway line that opened to its terminus, Shoreditch, in 1840 (its name soon 'rebranded' to the more salubrious Bishopsgate). Construction of the Braithwaite Viaduct and the station required the demolition of numerous houses, workshops, courtyards, and alleys. Opening of the successor Great Eastern Railway's new passenger terminus at Liverpool Street in 1874 resulted in the Bishopsgate terminus being demolished and replaced by a large goods station on three levels that opened in 1881. This was devastated by fire in 1964 and its buildings were largely demolished thereafter. Paradoxically, archaeological excavations on the Goods Station site uncovered more evidence of the pre-railway buildings along the western edge of the site than of the original passenger terminal buildings, whose foundations had been 'blitzed' by the construction of the Goods Station. This, occupying a much enlarged upper level flanking the Braithwaite Viaduct, involved heavy supporting structure with substantial foundations. The North London Railway opened its line east-west line through the then-relatively genteel suburb of Dalston in 1850; its southward extension to a City terminus at Broad Street opened in 1865, carried on a brick viaduct through built-up areas that necessitated much demolition. The East London Railway came a little later, making use of Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel — a feat of engineering courage and stamina but a financial failure. Opened from New Cross to Wapping in 1869, it was extended to a terminus at Shoreditch in 1876.

A chapter is devoted to each of these four railways (Eastern Counties, Great Eastern, East London and North London), covering history, construction, and its impact on what was already there. Evidence gathered from excavations and building recording is combined with documentary research and historical narrative. Taken together these sources make clear that the railways in this part of the East End were not built across empty land; instead, their construction destroyed many homes and work places, and displaced many folk.

Attention is also given to how physical features were influential in social issues; for instance the railway bridge over Brick Lane (now demolished) was seen as a 'boundary' between largely immigrant and largely indigenous communities throughout much of the 20th century (not just in the 1930s when Mosley's Fascists were marching). And I was chilled to read that 14 people including six children died during what was feared to be an air raid in January 1918. (This turned out to be the firing of a warning rocket; a similar misinterpretation of defensive rocket-firing led to the Bethnal Green Underground station disaster on 3 March 1943, when 173 died.) Some were forced against the locked lower level iron gates of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard (seeking refuge in what was then an officially-sanctioned ad-hoc air raid shelter), and some were trampled when one of these gates was opened. (I was unaware of this when I was involved in reinstating these gates near the end of the ELL project.)

I would have liked some more informative plans relating excavated areas and recorded buildings to the principal railway landmarks — superimposed for example on the large-scale Ordnance Survey maps current when the Broad Street line was closed. Without these, I had to do a certain amount of reading back and forth to work out 'what was where'. Computer-originated site plans often do not give as much useful information. That said, this is a readable, well-produced and generally well-illustrated study, and it is good to see this (and the earlier general study, 'Tracks through time') published so promptly after the fieldwork, when some archaeological reports take decades to appear.

I particularly welcome the recognition that buildings — as is well proven in this study — are in constant flux throughout their working lives, resulting in what is graphically described as 'messy biographies'. This is surely especially true of industrial buildings! Michael Bussell

'Five London Piano Makers', by Alastair Lawrence
136 pages, appx. 6" x 8", £14.50 plus P&P from Keyword Press.; 020 8519 1170
Laurence, clearly a piano enthusiast, has talked to people who worked in the piano-making firms of Brinsmead, Challen, Collard & Collard, Danemann and Welman. His book brings together a mix of background information about the industry, the personalities, the rise and fall of the firms chosen and personal reminiscences of individuals. There is a selection of photographs. This book is not an IA survey, so there is nothing about, for example, steam or other power. But it has lots of information about piano types, gives so many little insights on those involved and detail of activities and is overall a good read. The Brinsmead and Collard factories had long been cleared of equipment and were in alternative use when GLIAS and Camden History Society visited them in the late 1970s. The book gives a glimpse of what happened there.

Welmar, in Clapham, continued in production until just into the 21st century. The unfortunate circumstances of its demise are summarised well in a few pages. The site is now cleared. Also detailed is the fate of Danemann in Islington, where the former factory in Northampton Street is now The Ivories business units. Finally, we are reminded that continued use of these manufacturers' names on new pianos is a token, as they probably come from China. David Thomas

© GLIAS, 2011