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Notes and news — October 1978

In this issue:

From Our Croydon Correspondent

First the bad news. Cooper's Steam Boot Factory, 4 South End, Croydon. Further to the note in Newsletter 56 (GLIAS Newsletter June 1978), the owners have now applied for listed building consent to demolish this fine mid-Victorian factory. GLIAS has supported local societies in opposing this and a decision is awaited. Now the good news. The DoE refused in May to list the 1928 terminal building of Croydon Airport as recommended by the GLC Historic Buildings Div., GLIAS AGM passed a resolution deploring the DoE decision. Less than three months later, on the recommendation of Croydon Council, the DoE has reversed its decision and listed the building'! Bob Learmonth, part author of the book on Croydon airports is setting-up a Croydon Airport Society.

The Purley Way (A23) from Thornton Heath, past the old Croydon Airport terminal building, to Purley, had what is thought to be the first major installation of sodium street lights in the country, put up about 1932 by Phillips Electrical. The lanterns ware not fixed to posts as in more modern installations, but slung on cables between posts. Some lanterns had been replaced over the years, but the installation was substantially complete until mid-September, then after a number of the lanterns had fallen, the whole system, was hastily taken down. Phone calls to the Science Museum and to the Museum of Street Lighting at Ware (GLIAS Newsletter December 1977) revealed that both knew of the installations historical interest and had plans to acquire items from it, but did not 'know of its sudden removal'. As a result the Science Museum was able to acquire a lantern and a set of control gear while the Museum of Street Lighting has also been in touch with Croydon Council. Derek Bayliss

Short, Sad, Snippit

Sadly it has very recently been learnt that the small table steam engine belonging to the London Graving Dock Company and used to drive a lathe at the Royal Docks has been broken up. Bob Carr


No your braces/suspenders have not given out on you, THAP stands for Tower Hamlets Arts Project and if you find yourself in the vicinity of Wapping stroll along to Watney Street and browse round THAP. The shop is run by Alan Gilby, an energetic young man with a strong sense of community spirit and a love of the past. The shops main interest is in books dealing with local life, mostly written by local people and range from 'The Cockney Song Book' to walks round Tower Hamlets. Peter Skilton

For the Record

John Backhouse, Pauline Flanagan, Bernard Ford, Peter Cousins, Jill Belcher, Bob & Pam Carr, Bet & John Parker, Lyn Holliday, John Phillips, Roy Allen, Joyce Rammett, Jim Barr... Just some of the GLIAS members who have helped in the practical IA over the past year, often for the first time, on both site and research work. But now they are mostly tied up in putting together reports and following through investigations, so there is an urgent need for a transfusion of more 'new blood'. Newcomers are, of course, always welcome on site surveys and library sessions (the latter being the main activity in winter months).

Help! For various reasons David Thomas will be relinquishing/shedding some of his GLIAS activities as soon as possible; they can quite easily be spread between three or four members so several volunteers are asked to contact him to do things such as:

Docklands Survey We hope to do a feature next time, but members able to help contact Bob Carr, who particularly wants assistants in researching dock plans.

Railways A massive resignalling scheme for lines into Victoria has already started, with closure of some signal boxes and replacement of semaphore signals by colour light signals. We need several members who can take black & white photographs of items likely to disappear; the diagram below indicates the routes involved:

Area to be controlled by the new Victoria signal box

Going Through the Mill — Some impressions of two sites visited on Recording Sessions on Friday 16th (?) August by John Parker:

Preferring to visit food processing plants rather than his psychiatrist (see newsletter 57) your reporter joined David Thomas and half a dozen others outside Vogan's Mill, Bermondsey, on a sunny hot morning. Inside, it turned out to be as fascinating as a process plant always is, comprising a modern concrete silo, (quite a local land mark) grafted onto three, old and separate warehouses. Each housed a complete plant, one producing split peas and pea flour, one pearl barley and one lentils and lentil flour. The aim in each case was to take in raw material and prepare a product for the final user. One remembers the attractive interiors, all timber, including the columns, the noise and vibration; the dust and the equipment to deal with it; the conveyors, elevators and chutes, mostly made in house, moving materials that were little seen and never handled; the strong impression of "good housekeeping"; the small staff; the contrast of modern plant in old buildings; and appropriately at the very end of our visit, the sudden beauty of a cascade of tiny, brightly polished, coral-coloured buttons — the finished lentils.

Vogan's Mill

After what was very accurately described as 'cafe nosh', we moved on to the Chelsea Flour Mills of Messrs. Spillers French. Here, though the silos and finished product bins were clearly purpose-built, the structure housing the mill proper was late Victorian, built (for what purpose?) for the London General Omnibus Co, as a handsome foundation stone proclaimed. We saw the process of semolina making (for the final grinding to flour was not running) from sucking wheat out of a coaster lying alongside, to the delivery points of the semolina bins. One recalls the many ingenious yet, often simple devices the removed unwanted materials, animal, vegetable or mineral, from the wheat: the good housekeeping and other precautions needed to minimise the very real risk of dust explosions; the somewhat daunting experience of walking between the moving walls that were a double row of plansifters; the oddness of seeing white rain (part processed semolina) "falling" upwards through the sight glasses of numerous pneumatic elevators; and even more than at Vogan's, one recalls a plant, 40 years old, that ran itself. It must have been cleaned, maintained and, on occasion, adjusted, but the machines in most of the rooms were in full operation with nobody present at all, watched only by the monitoring instruments. Clearly, automation is not new.

Chelsea Flour Mills

We left, passing road tankers that remove the finished products, after a most interesting pair of visits. It is hoped that fuller and more objective reports will appear in due course.

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© GLIAS, 1978