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Notes and news — November 1974

In this issue:

Steam engine for sale

The Woodside Brick Works, Norwood, were closed at the end of August. Four coal-fired continuous kilns (one several years disused), two disused compound steam engines and drying sheds originally designed to use heat from the kiln in under floor ducts. Recorded by David Thomas (May 1974) and Ron Huitson (1966). The steam engines, one of 1912, one of about 1930, are in working order and for sale if anyone is interested. (Please advise David Thomas if any possibilities).

Calling steam and ship enthusiasts

Volunteers are needed to help restore a steam coaster for the Maritime Trust. The coaster, which was built on the Thames and launched in 1890, was still carrying Spanish coastal trade up to June this year and is now moored at Rochester. If you would like to help, contact Robin Craig, c/o Department of History, University College London, Gower Street, WC1. Tel: 387 7050 x 524.

"Veteran Machinery”

This is a new magazine edited by Brian Jewell of the Broadwater Collection Trust, which has a museum in Tunbridge Wells. Contributions are welcome. Subscription to the magazine costs £2.40 per annum from the publishers, Grade Magazines, Sheldon Way, Larkfield, Maidstone, Kent.

New Trad Beer

Real Ale-drinking readers of the "Sunday Times" will have been cheered to see reported the success of a new brewery, the Litchborough Brewing Company. It's run by Bill Urquhart, former head brewer at Watney Mann's in Northampton (which was Phipp's Brewery as I remember); his Northampton Bitter is selling very well in local free houses. GLIAS members heading up the A5 or M1 may like to know the outlets; the Pirate's Den, Farthingstone; the George in Maidford; the Red Lion in Blakesley and the Crossroad Hotel in Weedon. It's nice to see traditional beer-making prosper, particularly when CAMRA are claiming that Watney Mann's Brown Ale would have been acceptable in the US during Prohibition as a non-alcoholic drink!

Rail News: Not Much Light in The Tunnel

Most people will have seen that British Rail have now got their Office Development Permit for the redevelopment of Liverpool Street and Broad Street stations, but less publicity has been given to the fact that the British Railways Board plans to move out of the old Great Central Hotel. This puts a question mark on the future of this pleasantly florid turn-of-the-century building, which has effectively hidden Marylebone Station from the bustle of Marylebone Road for 75 years.

Further afield, it's good news and bad news. Monkwearmouth Station Museum, North Bridge Street, Sunderland, has won the £1,000 second prize in the 1974 National Heritage Museum of the Year Award. They plan to relay the cattle dock site to house a display of rolling stock. On the other hand, over the water on the Isle of Man, the Tynwald (Parliament) may withdraw its financial support for the Isle of Man Railway, which they feel might be better as a museum with a short stretch of track for running the steam locomotives.

Meanwhile, down at Brighton, I understand the Council is toying with the idea of replacing the ancient Volk's Electric Railway on the sea-front, with Sussex University's magnetic "hovertrain"; since Volk's Railway has been let fall into a very shabby, unglamorous state, the Council may well succeed.

Mod Cons

Ivory House (1854) the tusk warehouse by St Katharine Docks, which spent some of its life housing convicts awaiting deportation to Australia, has now been turned into 36 ultra-luxury flats for international businessmen with a few weeks to spend in London. The rent? £15 a day, which is cheaper than the Hilton.

Morrell's: Bookbinders, Nottingham Court, Covent Garden — Report on Visit

This firm, visited by GLIAS on 16 October, has been going since 1861 and binds both old and new books in high quality leather.

It is situated up steep stairs on two upper floors, in an alleyway off Shelton Street, north of Long Acre. On the top floor, the work benches make optimum use of the long line of large windows which face west. The less well lit areas behind are used for guillotining, pressing, storage and so on. On the lower floor, despite poorer daylighting, a preference for working by natural light was observed.

There are three principal stages in high quality bookbinding — sewing, forwarding (putting on the covers) and finishing — and all are hand operations. In the operation of sewing, the sections are stitched, one by one, to linen cords stretched in a wooden frame. In the forwarding department, the boards for the cover are cut from mill board and pierced with holes, through which the cords are threaded. The book is held in a vice while a hammer is used to dress the edges of the spine into shape and then the cords are glued down. A hollow cardboard sleeve is glued to the spine and fitted with headbands of vellum and silk. Projecting bands of leather may be applied for ornament, in imitation of the cords which, on early books, stock proud. The cover is usually of Niger morocco (supple goat skin from West Africa) pared thin at the edges and inside the spine. This is glued round the book, which is then put in a screw press overnight. The presses are made of wood which, through its resilience, can maintain the pressure as the book slowly compresses.

In the finishing department, hand tools are used to imprint patterns and lettering in gold leaf. The firm has several thousand different decorative stamps for this purpose, neatly stored in racks. Many have not been used for years. The tools are heated in gas flames on purpose made stands and applied to the leather with carefully controlled muscle power. Finally, the book is pressed and heated between smooth nickel plates to give a glossy finish. In the same building another firm gilds the edges of the pages if required, clamping the books in vice-like wooden frames. Malcolm Tucker, 23 Oct 1974

Baker Street Station

Following the formal AGM business, our President gave us a paper on Baker Street Station. Having set the outline in an almost single-sentence thumbnail sketch, Mr Robbins elaborated on the detail — and it was both intricate and fascinating.

Soon after the 1863 opening for broad gauge traffic, a Bill was passed for the technically independent initial section of the later Metropolitan "main line". Through trains to Moorgate ran for a few months only, being revived only upon electrification.

The possibility of Baker Street becoming the London terminal of the MS&L (Great Central), electrification of passenger services in 1960-7 and construction of an adjacent station for the new line to Waterloo, all happened before any major improvements were made to the original station.

Complete above-ground rebuilding of the whole, now large, site commenced in 1911, was held up by the war and policy uncertainty and finally saw completion in 1930, with flats instead of a grand hotel on the Marylebone Road frontage.

Mr Robbins' slides showed us the railway symbols (buffers etc.) which embellish the Portland stone finish and the elaborate armorial decorations on the restaurant ceiling.

A fascinating subject — and we are grateful to Mr Robbins for giving us the benefit of his knowledge and researches.

New Covent Garden

After several postponements, the new fruit and vegetable market at Nine Elms, near Vauxhall, is due to open on 11 November. Traders are expected to move quickly to the new site, but it may be many weeks before the present buildings at Covent Garden are finally vacated. The other London markets are not moving.

The central market building at Covent Garden (designed by Charles Fowler in 1828-31 in the Tuscan Doric style, with later iron arched roofs) is to be given an external spring clean during 1975 "Architectural Heritage Year". This will be followed by two years of structural adaptations, to provide small units to let for commercial and cultural purposes, as yet undetermined and probably 'studio' flats in the existing attic floors. Parts of the ground floor will be cut away to give access to the basements. As so often with the adaptation of old buildings, the building regulations pose problems (not insurmountable) of ventilation and means of escape from the basements and the degree of fire resistance of exposed structural ironwork in the public areas.

Many other market premises in public and private ownership will be vacated and proposals are less advanced for their temporary use prior to redevelopment or for more permanent uses. Weather penetration of empty buildings, rodent control, vandalism and planning blight are problems to be faced in the meantime in an area of 12 acres or more.

The Floral Hall (with its distinctive cast iron façade of 1859) will be incorporated by the Royal Opera House in its extensions. The Flower Market of 1872 is also 'listed'; its conversion to Turkish baths has recently been proposed.

It was the vacation of the market site which prompted the GLC's massive proposals of 1971 for the wholesale rebuilding of two thirds of the area bounded by the Strand, Charing Cross Road, High Holborn and Kingsway, involving something like sixty acres of demolitions. These plans seem to have been largely abandoned in the wake of public criticism and the GLC have recently published a series of study papers which attempt a fundamental reappraisal of the area's problems. One of the major issues of the controversy were the many small traders and craftsmen who would have been forced to close by developers' higher rents. It is therefore gratifying that the original conservation area through the centre of Covent Garden has now been extended northwards to take in the area east of Seven Dials, where commercial and cultural uses occupy converted warehouses. Individual buildings are not protected by a conservation area, but the prospects of this part of Covent Garden retaining its character and utility are much improved. Could this be the first industrial conservation area in the country? Malcolm Tucker, 19 Oct 1974


In addition to events previously listed, there is local activity in the following areas — members from all parts of London are welcome to join in.

Notting Dale: Now urgent, covers W10, W11 — expansion to adjacent areas possible. Contact Mike Nyman, 200 Ladbroke Grove, W10 (969 3572)

King's Cross/St Pancras Goods: Demolition has already removed some items. Contact David Thomas urgently.

Fitzrovia: A fascinating part of W1, being recorded under the leadership of Alan B Hills, tel: 857 7051.

North East London: Contact Denis Smith — 504 0702 evenings.

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© GLIAS, 1974