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Notes and news — February 1979

In this issue:

A Contemporary Good Turn For Industrial Archaeologists

British Waterways Board have just announced that the permits formerly required to walk along canal towpaths have now been discontinued — the towpaths can now be freely used by walkers.

If you're interested in the Vauxhall Pottery Dig, Brian Bloice of the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society has sent the following brief report:

After sixteen months of weekend excavation extensive remains of the 19th century pottery complex have now been uncovered. The site, adjacent to Vauxhall Bridge (Lambeth side) has a continuous history of pottery production from c.1680 to c.1865. The remains consist of the clay preparation area, three stoneware kilns and two tin glazing kilns. The site has also yielded a large volume of utilitarian stoneware produced in the factory just before its closure, together with a quantity of the earlier produced delftware. The site is open each weekend when helpers or visitors are welcome. Copies of two interim reports are available at 70p (inclusive of postage) from the Cuming Museum, 155 Walworth Road, London SE17.

Who was Bennet Woodcroft (1803-74)?

The exhibition 'Bennet Woodcroft & the Heritage of British Patents' at the Patent Office celebrates a man to whom industrial archaeologists owe much; born in Stockport, the son of a successful dyer and velvet finisher, he received a technical education and set up as a consulting engineer in Manchester. In 1846 his consultancy moved to Furnival's Inn, London and from 1847 to 1851 he was Professor of Machinery at University College London. In 1852 he was appointed Superintendent of the Specification at the newly established Patent Office. He founded the Patent Office Library and Patent Museum.

The exhibits from that Museum formed the basis of the Science Museum collection: Bennet Woodcroft was instrumental in the preservation of such important items as Puffing Billy (1814) and Rocket (1829) locomotives, Watt's first pumping engine (1777) and rotative engine (1788), also Arkwright's cotton machinery. Dave Perrett

GLIAS Tenth Anniversary Dinner Told Of Need to Record Industry Still In Operation

Following the valuable recording and archival research carried out by GLIAS in the past, the Society could usefully extend its attentions to the study of the existing operations and processes at still-active sites, such as Billingsgate, Dr. Margaret Weston told diners at the 10th Anniversary Dinner on 24 November.

Dr. Weston, Director of the Science Museum, was responding on behalf of the guests to the toast by the Chairman, Dr. Denis Smith. Denis had outlined the history of GLIAS and thanked those responsible for getting the Society off the ground before welcoming the guests who also included GLIAS-member Chris Ellmers, Assistant Keeper of the Modern Section at the Museum of London and his wife. Mr. Ellmers has been closely involved with our recent exhibition at the Museum.

In her reply, Dr. Weston praised the Society for its efforts in the past ten years and went on to describe further fields of activity to which its members could direct their attentions. These were largely concerned with the human side of industrial operations: the way in which buildings and machinery were used to produce the finished article. The recording of existing processes that would one day become of historic interest was of importance in this respect and Billingsgate fish market was a prime example of this type of site.

The President, Michael Robbins, replied to Dr. Weston's toast of the Society and, in what may be his last address to GLIAS before his retirement from London Transport, was his usual urbane and witty self. He concluded by reminding the attending members that the essence of the study of industrial archaeology was that it was fun.

The 70 members present were thus praised, inspired and encouraged towards new fields of interest which should add to the enjoyment of IA activity. So fortified mentally, in addition to the pleasures of the excellent dinner provided by the Institution of Civil Engineers, in whose historic premises the dinner was held, the members and guests settled back to hear the guest who had to sing for his supper — Mike Donald the Skipton-based singer of industrial folk songs. In introducing his programme, which was mainly original material, Mike Donald added humour to an already polished performance of songs dealing with industry and transport, accompanied by the guitar. Even the top table were enjoined to participate by providing a syncopated "Splish-Splash" to the chorus sung, with more or less musical ability, by the remainder of the diners. It is a tribute to the quality of the Institution's wine and the talents of Mike Donald that the "community singing" only came to a reluctant end through pressure of time.

Altogether it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening worthy of such an auspicious anniversary and those present will be grateful to the organizers and participators for their worthy contributions to the event. Maggie Heraty

Kingston Workshop, 1st December 1978

Unfortunately GLIAS members received rather short notice of the Ninth Annual Kingston Workshop. For those of us who ventured out on that cold and frosty evening Bryan Woodriffe had arranged an interesting evening.

The Workshop began with a short talk by Mr. John Benney, of the Transport Trust Research Unit based at Kingston Poly, outlining their survey of transport-related historic buildings. Kenneth Hawley of Wortley Top Forge gave an illustrated review, packed with facts and anecdotes, 'about the development of the forge. Members who went on the GLIAS trip to Sheffield last October will remember this site. Those of us who were able to understand the dialect were disappointed that time did not allow him to tell us all that he had prepared.

Dr. David Baldwin of Imperial College gave an insight into the development of modern inland shipping and canals. His slides covered canals both in Europe and North America and a variety of barge-eating ships.

The evening was completed by Professor Walter Minchinton who had specially travelled from Exeter after an afternoon of lecturing. He revealed to us how he had unearthed the sites of windmills and tidemills in Devon by using old maps, prints, postcards and other archive material as well as his feet and eyes. He had been able to prove that Devon had once been a county well-served by windmills although no complete mills remain.

Our thanks to Bryan Woodriffe and KPIAS for arranging this interesting evening and providing us with light refreshment. We look forward to the Tenth Annual Workshop on the first Friday in December this year. Olwen Davies

Local Boy Makes Good

The first Rolt Memorial Scholarship (named after IA author L.T.C. Rolt) was won last Autumn by one of our members, John Boyes of Chingford, for his work on the Lea Navigation. Congratulations, John.

For the Record

First, a note from David Thomas: Recording, the practical side of I.A., is fun. It covers many aspects, from trying to puzzle out how a part-derelict site really worked, chatting to employees, checking up on facts, gleaning details of history of buildings from library bocks, or poring over old maps to, as part of a team, pulling the total together into a written-up report. Some of us prefer the photography, some sketching layouts, some the library research; all of us enjoy BEING industrial archaeologists. All of us, that is, who have taken part to date, who want more members to help us in 1979 (volunteers are always advised on what to do) — especially in the major task of covering Docklands (see below).

I firmly believe that site work is useless unless published soon after the visit, but am all too aware of GLIAS failure in this respect. This is one of several factors behind by decision to resign as Recording Group Secretary/Coordinator after leading 2½ years' recording activity (and busy they've been!) which will give a little more time to report writing.

In turn, this means that the Recording Group needs a new leader to plan for the future, and I'd be glad to explain what is involved to anyone who wants to do their bit for GLIAS. But, please, don't leave things too long, for the AGM is my retirement deadline!

I'd like to take the opportunity of thanking all my friends who have helped in site work (and warn many that I'll still be seeking assistance in those reports!) and Anne Morris who continues to bear the brunt of my letter-typing. And now, the news.

News on the Docklands Survey from Bob Carr, who writes:

The GLIAS meeting at the Architectural Association on 18th December to discuss the recording of London's Dockland was well attended, with 17 members present. I gave a brief account of a meeting at County Hall on 28th November involving representatives of the Museum of London, National Maritime Museum, Docklands Development Team, Tower Hamlets and the GLC Historic Buildings Division. A general impression was gained of goodwill towards GLIAS, Very little Docklands recording has been done by official bodies apart from the most important listed buildings. There is thus little danger of GLIAS duplicating previous recording work. Useful ideas were obtained for sites to be visited. There is so much we could do if only we had more resources. It is hoped that further meetings will take place on a regular basis; Chris Ellmers has kindly agreed to act as their coordinator, making facilities of the Museum of London available.

At the A.A. meeting the future Dockland recording visits was discussed. High on the priority list are the various ship repair works on the Isle of Dogs, at the Royal Docks, Nelson Dock and Surrey Commercial Docks on the Rotherhithe peninsular. The ship repair works will probably have to be visited during the week, as will P.L.A. property. If time is too short for visits to be advertised in the Newsletter, I will contact directly the members who gave me their names at the A.A. meeting, If anyone else is interested, please contact me. It is planned to organise waterborne outings later in the year to photograph sites from the river.

GLIAS would like to thank the A.A. for its hospitality on 18th December and to give especial thanks to Chris Ellmers for sparing an evening of his own time.

NEW FACES: DAVID WILLIS, as local contact for the Borough of REDBRIDGE. We need local contacts to keep an eye open for sites of interest and for news about them, David would like to hear from any other local members who can help.

NEW FACES: BOB MITCHELL, as coordinator of work covering railway installations which will be affected by the VICTORIA RESIGNALLING SCHEME. He wants to hear from other volunteers who can take photographs (or, indeed, have already done so).

Eyes Up... Eyes Down!

The fringe items of I.A. are perhaps more fascinating than massive factories, pumping stations and transport systems. They range from bollards to traffic lights, fire insurance marks, oil jars used as shop sign, balcony railings, old glass bottles, engraved letter headings, barbed wire... the list is seemingly endless. Two everyday examples of the wealth of interest are shown.

Elizabeth Wood took but a few minutes to make this sketch and note. Not only has she made a good impression of the watches' appearance, but has taken trouble to note exact location and lettering on both faces — more than many photographs would show.

Elizabeth is also indirectly responsible for the second item, for her enthusiasm for coal hole cover rubbing is infectious! This down-to-earth pastime has much to recommend it — there are many designs, they are common, no special permit is needed and for almost no cost one has an additional wall decoration!

The rubbing shown is of a smaller type of cover but no less attractive — one of at least six designs in the 150 yards of Heyford Avenue.

Negative Progress, or that was the IA that was

HIBERNIA WHARF is the one site that tends to put one off I.A. for life — a large rambling warehouse complex, apparently always freezing and never-ending in the number of rooms and cellars to investigate. It forms part of a Conservation Area which includes that small warren of narrow streets behind Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. Here, several warehouses, linked by walkways across the cobbled Clink Street. In short, a Conservation Area with a definite scale and atmosphere and a representative sliver of riverside I.A.

However parts of the complex have been demolished piecemeal over the years, leaving the most important (visually) section intact. The most recent history has been:

SILCHESTER ROAD BATHS is a fine complex, designed by Thomas Verity and built in 1882 to serve residents of North West Kensington. It contains several swimming pools, slipper baths and a public laundry with washing stalls, roller-mounted drying horses and some early belt-driven washing machines. Below is a boiler room and above a flat for the Superintendent. The facilities were closed in 1974/5 and subsequently 'listed' by the DoE. The Royal Borough proposed demolition and a public enquiry was held in April 1976 at which a local pressure group put up imaginative plans for conversion to a Community Centre, incorporating sports facilities, a playschool, shops, small workshops and a museum section containing representative items of equipment.

The DoE Inspector, in recommending refusal of demolition consent, made special mention of these plans, now, some three years later, a second demolition application has been made by the Council and a second public enquiry is imminent. The local pressure group has found that brilliant ideas do not equal action. Vandalism has occurred. The structure has become an eyesore. The lessons to be drawn are that a reluctant owner can simply allow buildings to decay so that the alternative in time becomes one of merciful relief from the sight. The result of the enquiry is awaited with interest!


No-one who thinks in hard economic terms will entertain retention of buildings of I.A. interest in un-used limbo and few are of such vital importance that they can exist as museums or simple monuments. Nor should industrial archaeologists — the key to keeping buildings in existence is to produce a realistic scheme for their continued economic use. Where their initial raison d'etre has ceased to apply, then the new use may be radically different. Derek Bayliss, in making a case for retention of the Boot and Shoe Factory in Croydon has compiled an interesting list of successful conversions; with his permission the first part is reproduced below.

1. Re-use for industrial purposes:

2. Conversion to housings:

DEBRIS — NOT ALL RUBBISH! Discarded documents can often tell us more about a site than any amount of fervent photography, measuring and note-taking, especially when machinery has already been removed. The form below is one of many found at Somerstown Goods Depot; from them we can tell how many mechanical devices were in use, their motive power and the date at which maintenance (and hence use) ceased. It's worth glancing around!

Silchester Road Baths, W11. Photographed shortly after closure, before vandalism had taken place. This main entrance clearly gives an impression of grand style and proportion. It in turn is now surrounded by new houses and flats and thus is one of the few landmarks still remaining in the area.


Hibernia Wharf, SE1, The portion which was destroyed by fire in December 1978; the open space in the foreground was a further warehouse, the two buildings having connection by overhead walkway bridges. To the left is part of Southwark Cathedral.

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© GLIAS, 1979