The Limehouse Basin Accumulator Tower
Tim R Smith
The Regent's Canal Dock 1
The Regent's Canal Dock, now known as Limehouse Basin, 2 lies at the lower end of the Regent's Canal, where it meets the Thames. Originally, in the Regent's Canal Act of 1812, there was to be a small basin for barges awaiting the tide, but a larger dock to receive ships was authorised in 1819 and it was opened with the canal in 1820. There was a ship lock near the south-west corner of the present dock, and a barge lock was added in 1849. The Regent's Canal left the north side of the dock via Commercial Road Locks, originally skirting the eastern and northern edges of London on its way to join the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington, but was soon engulfed within the town.
The dock was used particularly by collier brigs bringing coal from Northumberland and Durham and unloading it into barges to supply gasworks, coal yards and other businesses that grew up along the waterside. The opening of the North London Railway in 1851 from a new dock at Poplar, directly in competition, was met by an enlargement of the Regent's Canal Dock in 1852 and the installation of hydraulic power, more efficiently to work the cranes on new jetties. Further enlargement of the dock with the provision of a new ship lock to take iron-built, screw-driven colliers, could not be effected until 1869 because of other properties and interests that hemmed in the dock.
Although the Great Northern and Midland Railways, bringing coal to north London by inland routes, offered further competition, the Regent's Canal was able to hold a good share of the traffic. Low-rise warehouses were built to attract new custom and the old coal jetties springing away from sloping banks were replaced in the early twentieth century by solid quays and a concrete jetty with electric cranes (Figure 1). In the 1930s, the canal company ran a thriving trade across the North Sea, with onward shipment by canal to Birmingham.
The canal and its dock were nationalised in 1948. To the post-war decline and demise of inland canal carrying and of coal deliveries to canalside gasworks and electricity plants, there was added the revolution in the handling of general cargoes in the 1960s. In 1969 the Regent's Canal Dock closed for shipping, apart from steel scrap handled at one quay, which lasted until the 1980s.
Renamed Limehouse Basin, the dock remains a part of the canal navigation. Ownership passed from British Waterways to a new organisation, the Canal & River Trust, in 2012. In 1968 the Lee Navigation was diverted into the dock 3 and the lighterage trade on the Lee continued into the 1980s. In 1985 redevelopment of much of the land within the dock estate for housing, a marina and (originally) offices was approved after a public inquiry. The last housing is only now awaiting completion, because of the fluctuating state of the property market. Between 1989 and 1993 the remarkable Limehouse Link relief road was constructed in a tunnel below water level across the northern part of the basin. This was performed within a temporary bund of sheet piles and sand. Part of the former water area above the tunnel has been reclaimed and blocks of flats built on the site. A new lock of smaller dimensions and with sector gates was constructed in the former ship lock in 1988-9, while the marina pontoons were installed in 1994.
The London and Blackwall Railway Viaduct
The railway viaduct on the north side of the dock, spanning the canal and a former branch dock by three magnificent brick arches, was constructed for the London & Blackwall Railway in 1839-40 4 (Figure 2). George and Robert Stephenson and George Parker Bidder were the engineers. The line was originally worked by stationary engines and cables, on a 5-foot gauge, to serve the docks and, more importantly, a passenger terminus at Brunswick Wharf from where paddle steamers started their journeys downriver. After conversion to standard gauge and connection to the rest of the railway system, major goods traffic developed to warehouses close to the City. The line was linked at Stepney 5 to the rest of the railway system in 1849. The eastern chord of the junction, close to the accumulator tower, was added in 1880. Passenger services on the section past the dock ceased in 1926 and goods traffic in 1966. In 1984-7 the viaduct was refurbished to carry the Docklands Light Railway.
Figure 1. North-east corner of the dock showing the north quay and the coal jetty, with the railway viaduct and accumulator tower behind
Figure 2. The London & Blackwall Railway viaduct with Commercial Road Lock beneath the eastern (right-hand) arch
Figure 3. The 1926 coal jetty and 1869 entrance lock
Figure 4. The 1926 coal jetty and accumulator tower
The Coal Trade
For centuries London got its coal by sea from Newcastle and the North East Coalfield in Northumberland and Durham. In the early nineteenth century collier brigs carrying perhaps 300 tons each were unloaded at specific places in the River Thames called the 'collier tiers'. The method of unloading them, called 'coal-whipping', was labour intensive. A gang of 'coal-whippers', eight men plus a 'basket-man', was employed. In the ship's hold, four men filled a basket which held about 1¼ cwt of coal. Ropes slung over a pulley, or gin, were attached to the basket. The other ends of the ropes were gripped by another four men on the deck. A 'way' was constructed on the deck, up which these four men could 'skip' whilst pulling on the ropes, They then jumped off the way in unison, thus hauling the basket of coal out of the hold. The basket-man then grabbed the suspended load and ran to a 'boom' where he tipped the contents into a weighing machine. A 'coal meter' recorded the weight and the contents were shot into a lighter alongside. The average amount of coal that could be 'whipped' by one team in a day was said to be 49 tons. 6
When the Regent's Canal Dock was opened, it became the only dock to allow in colliers. The method of unloading them was the same as at the collier tiers. Between 1840 and 1850 the amount of coal entering the Port of London increased considerably. It was a lucrative trade. But the amount brought by canal and rail together was no more than 1½% of the total. 7 Coal brought by canal probably never reached central London, whereas that brought by rail was probably for the railways' own use. All that was to change.
In 1851 the Great Northern Railway entered the coal trade and then brought increasing tonnages of coal from the inland coalfields of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In due course the London & North Western, the Great Western and the Midland Railways followed suit. Also in 1851 the North London Railway opened its Poplar Dock, with the East Quay given over to the coal trade. The coal merchants who used the Regent's Canal Dock had approached the North London Railway for a part in this new trade, but had been rebuffed. The North London engaged the Northumberland & Durham Coal Company to work the East Quay, run the coal trains and manage the depots established along the line. This company was set up as a subsidiary of John Bowes & Partners by managing partner, Charles Palmer. John Bowes & Partners were coal owners in the north-east. 8 Hydraulic derricks, supplied by W G Armstrong & Co, were erected on the East Quay to unload the colliers. The derricks lifted the baskets out of the ships' holds, but the baskets still had to be filled as before.
In August 1852 an event occurred at Poplar Dock which would have repercussions throughout the sea-going coal trade and eventually led to the building of the Limehouse Accumulator Tower. The first iron-hulled, screw-driven collier, the John Bowes, unloaded its first 540-ton cargo of coal at the East Quay in just 18 hours. The John Bowes was built at Palmer's shipyard at Jarrow. 9
In response to the goings-on at Poplar, the Regent's Canal Company enlarged their dock and built jetties at which colliers could be unloading by hydraulic cranes. Despite the success of the hydraulic system, the number of colliers entering the dock began to decrease. In 1852, the year before the introduction of hydraulic power, 2151 colliers entered the dock, discharging a total of 523 946 tons of coal. By 1864 this had decreased to 1500 colliers discharging 361 904 tons of coal. Over the same period the number of barges bringing coal through the dock into the canal had increased from 9868 in 1852 to 15 336 in 1864. The steam colliers were too large to enter the dock through the old ship lock. 10
A new Act of Parliament allowed the dock to be slightly extended eastwards and a new ship lock built to accommodate the larger vessels 11 (Figure 3). This involved the building of a hydraulic swing bridge to carry Narrow Street over the new lock, hydraulic engines to open and close lock gates and hydraulic capstans. Additional pumping capacity was needed to supply this new machinery with power.
Over the next fifty years changes were made to the number of jetties in the dock. In the 1860s there were two short jetties on the west side, three on the north and two more on the east. The two small jetties on the east side went with the expansion of the dock for the building of the new entrance lock. Thirty years later the three short jetties on the north side had been replaced by two longer jetties. In 1891 another new jetty was built from the west quay. A feature of the dock at this time was a number of huge timber-built coal storage bins. Further changes were made until, in the mid-1920s, all the jetties were replaced by one large concrete jetty from the north-east corner (Figure 4). It was equipped with two huge electric gantry cranes, each of 6 tons capacity. It was built for the Regent's Discharging Company which was set up jointly by Charrington Gardner Locket & Co Ltd and the Chartered Gas Light & Coke Company. The era of coal handling by hydraulic power at the dock had come to an end. 12
'Hydraulic Power' was the term used by the Victorians for the transmission of energy to work machinery by means of a liquid under high pressure in pipes. In the nineteenth century, the liquid used was water, typically at a pressure of 700psi (nearly 50 bar), although modern systems generally use oil at still higher pressures. The principle was applied very extensively in the second half of the nineteenth century, before electric power was generally available, the machinery usually being driven hydrostatically, by a 'ram' sliding in a cylinder.
Cranes, capstans, lock gates and other pieces of intermittently working machinery dispersed over a site would be connected to the high-pressure main. This was supplied from a central pumping station where steam engines kept the system under pressure. To keep the machinery and mains compact, the pressure was high, about 1600 feet of head or twice the height of Canary Wharf tower and far higher than any water tower could be built. To regulate the pressure and provide some energy storage, a device called a weight-loaded accumulator was used. This comprised a large weight supported on a long ram mounted vertically in a cylinder between guide rails in a tower. When a machine started up, and water began to be used quicker than it was being pumped, the accumulator would fall to allow the steam engine time to react to the change in demand. When power demand slackened off, the water from the engines drove the weight up again. When fully raised, the engines were shut off, sometimes automatically by a trip on the accumulator which was linked to the throttle valve.
The first hydrostatic machines, so called 'water-pressure engines', were used for mine pumping in the middle of the eighteenth century. 13 In 1795 Joseph Bramah patented the hydraulic press, which became the basis for most future hydraulic machines. 14 By 1802 he was using at least one hydraulic crane at his works in Pimlico. And his patent of 1812 embodied all the principles of the high-pressure hydraulic network, including the accumulator. But his untimely death in 1814 put paid to further development until 1846, when William Armstrong demonstrated a hydraulic crane on the Town Quay at Newcastle, taking out a patent for it the same year. The following year W G Armstrong & Co was set up to manufacture hydraulic machinery at Elswick Works, Newcastle. Armstrong had founded his great engineering and armaments establishment which made him a very rich man. 15
Figure 5. The 1853 pumping station at Commercial Road Locks
Figure 6. The 1869 accumulator tower in the mid-1980s
Figure 7. The 1898 pumping station on Narrow Street. This building has been demolished
Sales of hydraulic cranes were slow in the early days of Elswick Works. Although the pressure in the Newcastle town mains was sufficient to power hydraulic machinery, elsewhere there were problems related to pressure and because many water companies supplied water intermittently. The breakthrough came with the introduction, in 1850-1, of the weight-loaded hydraulic accumulator. 16 Armstrong set up the first ones at New Holland, in Lincolnshire, at a new dock built for the cross-Humber ferries, run by the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway. At once the pressures used jumped from around 50 or 100 psi to 600 or 700 psi, resulting in more compact machinery and a reduction in the amount of water needed. Although capital costs were high compared with available alternatives, running costs were relatively low. Orders for hydraulic systems flooded in.
Hydraulic Power at the Regent's Canal Dock
Armstrong received several orders from customers in London, among them the Great Northern Railway for King's Cross Goods Yard and the Great Western Railway for Paddington. The Northumberland & Durham Coal Company ordered coal derricks from William Armstrong & Co for the East Quay at Poplar Dock. 17
In response, the Regent's Canal Company's engineer, William Radford, drew up plans to extend the dock to the east and to provide jetties with hydraulic cranes for unloading colliers. The plan was approved by the company's consulting engineer, James Rendel, who was an early proponent of hydraulic power and a friend of Armstrong. 18 In July 1851 the Regent's Canal Company ordered twenty 11-cwt coal cranes, each with weighing apparatus, for the new jetties at Limehouse. The order also included a 6-ton crane and a 15-ton crane, presumably for general cargoes. 19 Five months later two more coal cranes were ordered. A small pumping station, with accumulator tower, was built on the west side of Commercial Road Locks by John Jay. 20 The engine house contained a 20-horsepower steam pumping engine supplied by steam from two locomotive-type boilers in the adjoining boiler room. There were four accumulators, one at the pumping station (the 'station accumulator') and three remote accumulators. Each had rams of 8 inches diameter and 15 feet stroke, and wrought-iron weight cases 9 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. These accumulators were needed to maintain pressure throughout the system, particularly during times of heavy usage.
Figure 8. Drawing of the accumulator tower
The pumping station was in use by early February 1853 21 (Figure 5). The derelict shell of the building was demolished in 1994. The accumulator tower had gone by then, but its ghost could be seen on the outside of the north wall. As noted below, the disposition of coal jetties changed over the years. One of the 1850s jetties is depicted in a Doré print, which shows a rather bulbous looking hydraulic crane with some artistic licence.
In 1869, to cater for the increased demand of the new entrance lock opened that year, a new pumping station was established at the north-east corner of the dock near Mill Place, underneath one of the arches of the London & Blackwall Railway. 22 The present 'Limehouse Accumulator Tower' was built on the north side of the viaduct, next to this arch, to serve as the station accumulator, and its distinctive outline can be made out on the Ordnance Survey plans surveyed in 1870 23 (Figure 6). Just west of it a boiler house with four boilers was built. The chimney was built as an integral part of the accumulator tower. For a description of these facilities, see below. Whilst this building work was going on the Canal Company received complaints about dust and nuisance from the 'Volunteer', a Taylor Walker pub on its eastern side in Mill Place. The problem was solved when the Canal Company bought out the pub! The 1869 accumulator was bigger than any of the 1853 accumulators. 24
Figure 9. The tower after clearance of the site to the west
In the 1870s two new jetties were built to replace three old jetties on the north side of the dock. The first of these jetties, which seems to have been completed in 1871, was equipped with new hydraulic cranes by Armstrong. They each had a 21-foot rake and the end of the jib was 29 feet above the jetty, which itself stood 13 feet 6 inches above the impounded level of the dock at Thames High Water. 25 There were problems with the weighing machinery supplied by Sir W G Armstrong & Co, who had to rectify the situation to the satisfaction of the Canal Company and the Coal Meters' Committee. 26 The second new jetty was built in 1878. 27
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the steam engines and boilers in the 1869 installation were becoming worn out. In 1891 a boiler was replaced by a new one from Thomas Beeley, and two months later repairs were carried out to the hydraulic pumps. 28 In 1893 the company's engineer, Edwin Thomas, reported that the accumulator was worn out. Tenders for a new one were received from Armstrong's, Messrs J Stewart & Son and Messrs Redpath & Paris. The Armstrong tender, at £750 was not the lowest, so Thomas was asked by the Board to 'induce Sir W Armstrong to reduce their tender to the lowest of the quotations'. 29 The tender was exclusive of estimated cost of foundations, house, iron guides etc which would be consistent with renewing the accumulator in the existing house. Over a year later the matter still had not been resolved, since the engineer reported again on 'the necessity for repairing the accumulator attached to the hydraulic pumping station'. The Board ordered it to be repaired. 30 Severe wear of the ram would most likely have necessitated its renewal and, since the styling of the present weight-case components is identical to ones installed at Tower Bridge c1894, a replacement of the whole mechanism at this time seems likely. An accumulator with the present dimensions is recorded in Armstrong's records of this period, although undated.
Figure 10. The bottom of the accumulator after clearance of debris and gravel. Note the state of the sheets of boiler plate, the valves and the pit for the pressure main
In 1894 the Regent's Canal & Dock Company engaged Sir John Wolfe Barry to report on the dock and he suggested several improvements. Among these would be a new pumping station, to be built on the old ship lock, to pump water into the dock (impounding) and to pump water up the canal to Mile End (back-pumping). From there a number of smaller pumping stations would take the water up to the summit level of the canal at Camden Town. This back-pumping system was to replace earlier installations of the 1860s. But in 1897 one of the two hydraulic pumping engines at Mill Place failed. The remaining engine was unable to cope with the demand, so a supply was taken from the London Hydraulic Power Company. 31 For this, a connection, with a 2-inch high-pressure meter, was made to LHP's 7-inch main in Horseferry Branch Road on 9 May 1897. 32 Barry recommended building a replacement hydraulic pumping station alongside the proposed pumping station at the old ship lock and two steam pumping engines and two accumulators were ordered from Armstrong's. A date plaque '1898' on the east gable of the building, on Narrow Street, recorded the completion of building work (Figure 7). Installation of the hydraulic pumping engines was probably completed by the following year since a payment of £12,858.14s.2d was made to Armstrong's in that year. 33 A trial with the new engines was made in January 1900. John Glass, the company's engineer, noted a 'rather disagreeable pulsation which occurs to the covers of the high pressure steam chests when the engines are in motion', and wrote to Sir John Wolfe Barry about it. Wolfe Barry replied, on 24 February, that Armstrong's 'consider it of no importance in itself but that as attention has been drawn to it they will supply new covers'. 34 The old Mill Place engine was kept on standby.
Figure 11. The end of the crosshead showing its connection to the outer drum of the weight case and the guide
Figure 12. The two valves: the relief valve is behind the Haarer valve
Figure 13. Extract from Goad Fire Insurance Plan of February 1891. The engine house is shown in Arch No 267. The boilers are to the left of Arch 266. (Author's collection)
At this time there were thirty hydraulic cranes and fifteen other hydraulic machines (capstans, lock gate engines etc) around the dock. 35 The cranes included coal cranes and cranes for more general cargoes. A new coal jetty was also built in the north-east corner of the dock. Although Glass recommended cessation of the LHP contract, the supply was not terminated until 25 March 1907 and, after various changes were made to the pipe connection, the supply was recommenced on 4 April 1912. 36 The 1869 pumping station was perhaps discontinued as a standby at this time. Its equipment had been removed by 1921. 37
In 1920 two new connections were made from the LHP mains in Narrow Street and Commercial Road. It seems likely that the hydraulic pumping engines in the 1898 pumping station were stopped at this time, with all power being taken from LHP. Many companies found that it was cheaper to take power from LHP than to use their own pumping stations. Such were the economies of scale at the large LHP pumping stations. In any case, use of hydraulic power was in decline, especially after the construction of the new coal jetty a few years later.
Figure 14. The entrance to the tower in the mid-1980s before clearance of rubble and vegetation
In the early 1960s the Narrow Street swing bridge was replaced and new lock gate engines using electric pumps were fitted. The LHP supply was finally blanked off on 8 February 1966. 38
The Configuration of the present Accumulator Tower
With its octagonal shape and adjoining chimney, the 1869 accumulator tower is unusual (Figure 8). Most accumulator towers are either square or rectangular in plan. But there are two early towers in Liverpool which are not, at Stanley Dock (1854) and Wapping Dock (1856). The Limehouse tower is 54 feet 8 inches tall to the top of the roof parapet, with a floor level three feet below ground. This allowed the buried hydraulic main to enter the tower to connect with the bottom of the accumulator cylinder. The tower is constructed of yellow London Stock bricks (Figure 9). Pale cream bricks, possibly Gaults, form the reveals of two tall and narrow, round arched windows, which light the space above the accumulator and were formerly unglazed, and a third, similar but blind 'opening' which is purely decorative. Similar bricks form a weathering band where the tower reduces in diameter above mid height. The 'flat' roof is behind a parapet that is modelled as a classical entablature, with a simple but bold cornice apparently of stucco. The tapering, octagonal chimney shaft rises from a square base embellished with a massive grit-stone moulding. There was formerly a substantial cornice around the cap, seen in a 1910 photo of the Dock. These Italianate features are consistent architecturally with the dating of 1869, although drawings do not survive.
The cylindrical accumulator weight case fits fairly closely inside the tower and although there is an entrance arch at ground level the constricted octagonal plan would have made it almost impossible to climb up beside the accumulator to effect any building maintenance. Access was presumably achieved through one of the windows via a ladder, while tall ladders or scaffolding would have been needed to reach the upper roof and its guttering, concealed behind a parapet.
As we have seen, a new accumulator was ordered in 1894. Armstrong's records give the present dimensions, a 20-inch diameter ram and a stroke of 23 feet 6 inches. To fit within the existing building, the new accumulator would have to be of similar size to that of 1869, but not necessarily identical, and in view of the present weight case's tight fit it is possible it was slightly enlarged to maximise the capacity. It was a standard Armstrong product, with a huge cast-iron crosshead beam supported on top of the ram, from which to hang the wrought-iron weight case. The ram is housed in a cast-iron cylinder more than 24 feet high and nearly 27 inches in overall diameter, freestanding at the centre of the tower, so the weight case has to be of an annular [doughnut] configuration to fit around it. It has an outer drum about 10 feet in diameter and 23 feet 6 inches high and an inner drum 3 feet 9 inches in diameter. The inner drum was hung from the centre of the crosshead by a ring of suspension links, called 'sling bolts'.
The weight-case was filled with some 80 tons of gravel, the total weight being adjusted with pieces of cast-iron. The inner drum, which carried the weight, is of boiler plates ¼ inch thick, bent to shape and riveted up into a single piece with staggered joints (Figure 10). Double lines of rivets give strength to the horizontal joints. The outer drum is also built of ¼-inch boiler plate, with angle-iron stiffeners riveted on the inside along each horizontal joint. Each sheet is 33½ inches high and 80 inches long around the curve. The horizontal joints are mostly riveted while the vertical joints, five in all, use nuts and bolts at 4-inch centres. So it is evident that the outer drum was prefabricated in sections, probably at Armstrong's Elswick Works, and bolted together on site.
The suspension of the outer drum is of a lighter construction, with cranked hanger plates which will have introduced some spring (Figure 11). So this was probably only to restrain lateral movements and not take the weight. To be able to support this drum and the weight of the ballast that was within the weight case, the bottom of the weight case had a conical shape which, through its three-dimensional geometry as a 'shell', would perform as a cantilever to transfer the load to the inner drum and thence to the crosshead and ram.
The ram emerged from the cylinder through a watertight seal called a stuffing box, in which packing material was compressed around the ram beneath an outer plate, tightened down by bolts. This is now missing, making it less easy for the observer to envisage the cylinder once filled with water at high pressure. So that the accumulator weight would travel perfectly vertically, without putting lateral strain on the ram and cylinder, guide slippers were attached to the ends of the crosshead to slide in fabricated wrought-iron guide channels. These guides are fixed to substantial timber uprights, which, unusually, are set into the brickwork of the tower. At the top of the tower the timber uprights are fixed to a massive timber buffer (now renewed), designed to prevent the ram from coming out of the cylinder.
The buffer was a last resort in keeping the ram in its cylinder. The accumulator was fitted with a chain-operated pressure relief valve. The chain ran up the side of the accumulator and was attached to the tower brickwork at the top. The lower end of the chain was attached to the lever of the weighted valve. The chain passed through an eye on the accumulator weight case, and had a 'stop' towards the top end. As the weight case rose the chain passed through the eye until the stop was engaged, raising the chain and opening the valve to allow pressure water to be released either to waste or back to the pumping station header tank. The valve and the remains of the chain can still be seen (Figure 12).
There was a second valve associated with the accumulator. When power was taken from LHP the accumulator remained in use. If the relief valve had been kept in use the Canal Company would have had to pay for all water released to waste (there was no longer a pumping station to which to return it). So a Haarer Valve was fitted. This was a special stop valve designed to stop the accumulator rising once it had reached the top of its stroke. But it would allow the accumulator to fall in response to demand and allow it to rise again afterwards. This type of valve was named after its designer, E C Haarer, who patented it in 1913, the year before he took over from E B Ellington as chief engineer of the London Hydraulic Power Company.
In front of the door into the tower there is a pit for the pipe which connected the bottom of the accumulator's cylinder with the dock pressure mains. A short section of this pipe has a smaller diameter than the rest and served as a choke to slow down the descent of the accumulator in the event of a breakage in the mains.
Initially, the 1869 pumping station had one 80 horsepower engine in the railway arch adjacent to the accumulator tower. Later a second 80 horsepower engine was added. The boiler house, with four boilers, stood to the west of the accumulator tower, as is shown on the Goad Insurance Plan of 1891 (Figure 13). The remains of the boiler flue can be seen at the bottom of the chimney. Coal was stored under an adjacent railway arch. The water to be pumped through the high-pressure mains may have been taken from the canal, although water from the dock, with a small and fluctuating salt content, was used in other hydraulic installations in the Port of London. As at other pumping stations, there was a large header tank on the roof where any silt could settle out. A header tank was also needed to provide sufficient head of water to lift the suction valves of the pumps. The whole yard was beneath a metal roof at this period. A 1921 revision of the Goad plan shows the pumping engines removed and a warehouse constructed over the site of the demolished boiler house. At some time after that, probably through war damage, the top section of the chimney was lost. It was replaced in the 1990s during refurbishment of the tower.
The Refurbishment of the Tower
The tower was first listed as a building of special architectural and historic interest in 1973, when investigators mistook it for a 'railway lookout tower'. The listing was corrected in 1983 (although assuming an 1850s dating, based on the original hydraulic installation).
The idea of renovating the tower and opening it to the public as an industrial monument first came from Tom Ridge, the chairman of the Ragged School Museum Trust, around 1985. With help from the contractors working on the Docklands Light Railway and the permission of the building's owners, British Waterways, he and the author organised volunteer working parties to tidy up the derelict building, while the author measured it up (Figure 14). The building was largely roofless and open to the elements. The outer drum of the weight-case was badly corroded, and parts of two of the panels at the bottom were missing, allowing the gravel to spill out. Since then, this ballast has all been removed and a metal spiral staircase installed in its place, within the restored weight case, as part of a remarkable refurbishment project undertaken in 1994-5 by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC).
Figure 15. The tower at a London Open House day, showing the chimney as restored
In the course of their task of rejuvenating the Docklands following the closure of most of the up-river port facilities, the LDDC had been financing the repair and refurbishment of various neglected historic buildings within its area. It commissioned an imaginative architectural scheme from Dransfield Design and Project Management of Bermondsey, who took forward Tom Ridge's idea of the spiral staircase in the weight case. Above the accumulator an 'exhibition floor' was introduced, partly suspended by rods from the renewed roof rafters, and from there a second, narrower spiral stair ascends inside the rebuilt chimney to a viewing platform on the roof. The oversailing topmost courses of the roof parapet and the chimney were restored conjecturally (Figure 15).
The renovated building was first opened to the public on London Open House weekend, September 1996. Since then it has opened every year on Open House days, with GLIAS members acting as guides on behalf of British Waterways, now the Canal and River Trust (Figure 16).
Figure 16. Visitors to the tower enjoy the view from the top
The author wishes to thank the staff of what was British Waterways for allowing access to the tower in the 1980s, and the staff at the various libraries and archives used. Thanks must also go to members of the Ragged School Museum History Group who helped to clear rubbish to allow measurements to be made; also to Tom Ridge for all his help. Special thanks go to Malcolm Tucker for his generous help and guidance in the preparation of this article, and for his contribution of paragraphs on the architecture and restoration of the tower. All photographs are by the author.
Notes and references
1. For a history of the Regent's Canal and the dock see Alan Faulkner, The Regent's Canal, Burton-on-Trent 2005
2. Not to be confused with the older 'Limehouse Basin' which once connected the Import and Export Docks of the West India Docks with the Thames, and was used by lighters
3. There had been a previous connection from 1853 to 1864
4. At first called the Commercial Railway
5. Now Limehouse Station
6. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, Volume III, pp. 233-243, London 1861, reprinted 1968
7. Parliamentary Papers 1871 Volume XVIII
8. The National Archives (TNA) RAIL529/9; Colin E Mountford, The Bowes Railway, London 1976, p. 22
9. Illustrated London News, 28 Aug 1852; Mountford, op. cit.
10. House of Lords, Session 1865, Regent's Canal (Limehouse Basin) Bill, Minutes of Evidence, 29 June 1865, Mr Edwin Thomas [Thomas was the resident engineer of the Regent's Canal Company]
11. 28 & 29 Vic c365 RA 5 July 1865
12. Alan Faulkner, op cit; Elspet Fraser-Stephen, Two Centuries in the London Coal Trade, London 1952
13. Ian McNeil, Hydraulic Power
14. British Patent 2045, 31 March 1795
15. Henrietta Heald, William Armstrong, Magician of the North, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 2010
16. The accumulators were ordered in mid-1850, the dock works were completed by February 1851. Henrietta Heald, op cit; TNA RAIL463/1
17. Tyne & Wear Archives MS 1975/1
18. Henrietta Heald, op cit
19. Tyne & Wear County Archives MS 1975/1
20. There was another pump house on the east side of the lock, which contained a 12-hp engine used for pumping water back up the canal in times of drought. It was in use from 1866 until c1898
21. TNA RAIL860/44, 9 February 1853
22. Engineering, Volume 7, 11 June 1869
23. OS, London 5 feet to 1 mile. Sheet VII-70, surveyed 1870, engraved 1874
24. The 1853 pumping station might have been kept as a standby, as it still had its engine, although disused, in 1891. See 1891 Goad Plan, London sheet XII-374B, February 1891
25. Guildhall Library MS 10173A (now at the Metropolitan Archives)
26. TNA RAIL860/56, 16 August 1871; 30 August 1871; 25 October 1871; 6 December 1871
27. Alan Faulkner, op. cit., p. 94
28. TNA RAIL860/64, 6 November 1891; 22 January 1892; 12 February 1892
29. TNA RAIL 860/64, 4 August 1893
30. TNA RAIL 860/64, 14 September 1894
31. Alan Faulkner, op. cit.
32. London Metropolitan Archives B/GH/LH/06/63, p. 42
33. House of Commons, Report on the Port of London Bill, 1908, Appendix No 3
34. TNA RAIL 860/66, 3 March 1900
35. London Metropolitan Archives LRB/LD/P/33/16/1
36. London Metropolitan Archives B/GH/LH/06/63
37. Goad plan XII-374B revised by over-pasting to January 1921, copy at Camden Local Studies Centre
38. London Metropolitan Archives
© GLIAS, 2013