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Book reviews — August 2017


A series of books under the heading of 'Crossrail Archaeology' is being published to make available the findings of excavation, building recording, and documentary research undertaken as part of this major rail project. Seven volumes have appeared as of June 2017. These are detailed on the website (as accessed on 11 June 2017); more may follow. The books are in uniform format: softback; 246 x 188 mm; generously illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and photographs (many in colour); and each so far published is priced very reasonably at £10.00, with an additional charge for post and packing if ordered direct from the distributor Oxbow Books.

Three are of particular interest for their IA content.

'From Brunel to British Rail: The railway heritage of the Crossrail route', by Andy Shelley with Richard Brown
Published by Oxford Archaeology, 2016, xviii + 174 pages, 131 figures, ISBN 978-0-904220-79-7
The Crossrail project involves not just new tunnelling under London, but the use or re-use of existing railway routes, the building of new stations including major interchanges, and the provision of new maintenance facilities. This inevitably has involved the loss of or alteration to some existing railway infrastructure, as well as affecting other buildings and sites; but, happily, it is nowadays accepted that archaeology and building recording, supported by documentary research, should be undertaken as an integral part of such projects. This substantial study deals with the various railway sites affected by the building of Crossrail.

The authors acknowledge that the sites recorded do not form a coherent group — they are simply sites affected by Crossrail works — and so they wisely do not attempt to establish artificial connections between them. Instead, as they originate from different periods in railway history, each site is introduced and described in the relevant chapter of seven that trace the development of London railways from their beginnings to the present day, making use of both historical records and the physical evidence revealed by recording work along the Crossrail route. So we begin with the Great Western Railway's arrival at Paddington and its first major locomotive depot at Westbourne Park (evidence of which was revealed in excavations), and the early growth of lines in east London. The important 1906 new GWR loco depot at Old Oak Common has a chapter to itself, followed by a study of the working environment for railwaymen and women, with intriguing social evidence such as the variation in door joinery detailing between what we call blue-collar and white-collar working areas.

From the outset, railways transformed the supply of foodstuff for Londoners, making possible the transport and distribution of fresh milk and other perishables from far afield. Much milk in churns came into Paddington, while the GWR also opened a depot under Smithfield Market jointly with the Metropolitan Railway, into which carcases could be swiftly delivered, aided by the development of refrigeration methods that allowed cold storage of meat. Evidence of all this has been recorded.

So too have examples of Second World War structures, notably air raid shelters, and of new facilities built, particularly as dieselisation accelerated under the 1955 Modernisation programme. At Old Oak Common arose large new sheds and an accompanying 1960s two-storey Amenity Block, an unashamedly Brutalist structure with its exposed concrete frame and flat roof. All now demolished, as is the 1990s Pudding Mill Lane station on the Docklands Light Railway, relocated to make way for the Crossrail route.

These chapters are followed by a selective Gazetteer taking up about a third of the book, one-page entries with at least one illustration each, summarising information on individual structures. A Bibliography includes both original and secondary documentary sources.

'The Thames Iron Works 1837-1912: A major shipbuilder on the Thames', by Daniel Harrison
Published by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), 2015, xiii + 114 pages, 103 figures + 2 tables, ISBN 978-1-907586-34-7
The Thames Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company was founded in 1837 and rapidly expanded to become the leading shipbuilder on the Thames, constructing many iron vessels of which HMS Warrior (now preserved at Portsmouth) is probably the best-known. At its most successful its premises were on both sides of Bow Creek, but in later years it contracted to occupy only the east side. It closed in 1912, apparently unable to compete commercially with shipbuilders on the Mersey and the Clyde (who in turn would themselves later be overtaken by Far Eastern shipyards). The site was largely cleared, some being occupied by new railway sidings but seeing little other use until recently. Indeed, in early GLIAS days we had hoped to run a recording training session there, but when we arrived one summer's evening for a 'recce', we found 'site bulldozed and being tipped on!', as I noted in my diary for 2 June 1970. So we hastily relocated to the opposite end of London, and tackled the eel-traps at West Drayton Mill, later written up in a GLIAS Journal. Further dumping of excavated soil on the site took place during construction of the Docklands Light Railway.

Two large shafts were to be dug here to install Crossrail tunnel-boring machines. Limited archaeological excavations were undertaken ahead of this, which revealed part of an iron furnace and other structures, including an engineer's workshop and an engine house, while nearer to Bow Creek part of a slipway and several other structures were exposed. A detailed auction survey plan following closure of the Iron Works in 1913 aided the identification of buildings and other structures.

Given what might seem to be an unpromisingly modest amount of physical evidence, the authors have put together an illuminating history of the Thames Iron Works, which explains the processes involved in shipbuilding in iron, and traces the rise and abrupt fall of the company. Numerous early photographs help to recreate the feel of what must have been a busy, noisy, dirty place of work, a major employer in West Ham and around.

Perhaps the most tangible survivor of the Iron Works is its football club, founded in 1895 under the philanthropic guidance of Arnold Hills, whose family were the majority shareholders in the company. The club became professional, and took the name West Ham United in 1900. Both the club's location and the company's activities explain its motto often bellowed by Alf Garnett — 'Up the Hammers!'.

'Crosse and Blackwell 1830-1921: A British food manufacturer in London's West End', by Nigel Jeffries with Lyn Blackmore and David Sorapure
Published by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), 2016, xi + 100 pages, 70 figures + 2 tables, ISBN 978-1-907586-37-8
Like the Thames Iron Works study, this book presents an account of industry on a long-abandoned site. The construction of a large new ticket hall, giving interchange between Crossrail and the Underground Northern and Central Lines at Tottenham Court Road station, necessitated the demolition of standing buildings on the site. This afforded the opportunity for archaeological excavation.

Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell had both been apprenticed to a pickle-maker in Soho and subsequently bought him out, establishing their eponymous partnership in 1830. In 1838 they acquired a site on the east side of Soho Square. The business expanded rapidly, both in the area between the square and the present-day Charing Cross Road, and elsewhere in London. In 1921 the firm moved to Branston in Staffordshire, after which the famous pickle is named.

Excavations established the footprint of various buildings (already indicated by Goad insurance plans), but to me of particular interest was the uncovering of vast quantities of glass and ceramic C&B jars and other food containers. In one cistern were found over 13,000 vessels, weighing almost 3 tons! They appeared to be unused, and it is speculated that they had been used to backfill the cistern before rebuilding above it. (Some of the stoneware containers came from the Fulham Pottery, which I helped to excavate in the early 1970s.) Many are illustrated and described, and in this respect the book comes close to a 'traditional' archaeological report, with much attention being given to 'finds'.

However, the authors go much further than that. They include company price lists showing the enormous range of products being offered by Crosse & Blackwell; they address marketing and sales practice, which ensured that C&B products were supplied not just to the home market, but also abroad, and especially to 'the Empire'; they illustrate staff at work and play; and not least they explain why the preservation of foodstuffs by pickling and related processes was such an important business in the days before refrigeration and freezing had become the norm, although early canned foodstuffs could be hazardous to health if lead solder were used to seal the tins.

It is easy to forget that until fairly recently there was much industrial activity in inner London. Whereas Crosse & Blackwell moved out of London back in 1921, it was as recently as 1983 that the huge Cadby Hall food factory of J Lyons & Co, located on Hammersmith Road, closed down after the company had been taken over by Allied Breweries. While Cadby Hall awaits a good historical study, the Crosse & Blackwell site near Tottenham Court Road has been well served by this Crossrail Archaeology book. Michael Bussell


Historic England has recently published two Research Reports of interest. They are:

'Canal and River Navigations National Overview: an appraisal of the heritage and archaeology of England's present and former inland navigable waterways'
Author: Keith Falconer
The navigable inland waterways that are subject of this overview constitute an immense heritage resource that has developed over many centuries. It is a resource that has fundamentally changed in its use from a privately and commercially developed transport system for heavy goods to a public leisure and heritage resource enjoyed by wide range of users. It has been subject to periods of great expansion, prolonged decline, contraction and then renaissance. It has witnessed an extraordinary triumph of voluntary enthusiasm and campaigning zeal. From years of neglect, abandonment, dereliction and turmoil, a slimmed down waterways system which, through a remarkable partnership of official agencies working with voluntary bodies and with the support of Lottery funding, has emerged as a national treasure.

The overview includes:

'Early Railways: Review and Summary of Recent Research'
Authors: David Gwyn, Neil Cossons
This study reviews the current literature and summarises the wider state of understanding of early railways with a view to recommending future research and publication and to offer guidance on potential designation. It is intended to offer a way forward that is practical and achievable. The most important conclusion is that a wide-ranging survey of early railway heritage assets should be undertaken. This should embrace field evidence, documentary sources and collections held in museums. It could build on the existing corpus of knowledge and the expertise of those people already committed to the study of the history and archaeology of early railways. The objectives have been to define and further refine our current understanding of early railways, identify the most significant material evidence and — in particular — those elements at risk; to offer guidance and set out priorities for future designation assessment; and to propose methodologies for achievement of these aims. The authors' view is that the history and archaeology of early railways deserve more serious consideration than has hitherto been the case and we put forward practical proposals on how this can be achieved with the extensive involvement of volunteers under clear and co-ordinated management.

Professor David Perrett

© GLIAS, 2017