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Notes and news — June 1979

In this issue:

Report on GLIAS Tenth A.G.M.

Some eighty members and guests attended the AGM on 5 May at the Museum of London. Treasurer Danny Hayton presenting the accounts for 1978/9 explained that 'accountancy' meant GLIAS had a deficit of £40 for the year, but an increase in cash at bank of ₤943. Danny thanked Ken Catford for being auditor for the past two years. David Thomas introduced his successor as Recording Group Secretary, David Thompson, and they briefly outlined the scope of GLIAS recording activities in the past year — Fords, Vogans, etc. — and the coming season's work. The AGM was the public launch of the GLIAS Journal and members attending received their copies. Brenda Sowan, the editor, thanked the many members involved in its production. The meeting thanked Brenda for her efforts and congratulated her on the quality of the journal. Our Chairman, Denis Smith, in his report said the last year had been one of the most memorable for GLIAS: the 10th-anniversary dinner (GLIAS Newsletter February 1979), the Museum of London exhibition, the journal (GLIAS Newsletter April 1979) and the continuation of our successful lecture series in connection with these he thanked Elizabeth Wood, Brenda Sowan and Glenn Drewett. After briefly summarising the progress (or lack of it) on sites such as Kirkaldy's and Wapping Pumping Station he finished by thanking the outgoing committee.

Neil Cossons, director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, delivered the annual guest lecture this year entitled 'The Ironbridge Project'. It was a lecture of the highest calibre — absorbing, informative and humorous — outlining the development of the museum. The Ironbridge Gorge has been converted from an area that in the late 60s was derelict and overgrown, a place for the romantic, into International Museum of the Year 1978. The revival of interest in the area started in 1957 when Dr. Arthur Raistrick and Dr. G.C. Lincoln of Allied Ironfounder's excavated the old furnace at Coalbrookdale, removing some 14,000 tons of slag. The Company museum opened in 1959.

With the establishment of Dawley new town, which expanded to include Oakengates and Wellington and changed its name to Telford, the possibility of redevelopment arose. To protect the historical sites a trust was set up in 1968 led by Dr. Raistrick and Michael Rix, with the idea of conserving the 3 x ½ mile area and setting up an IA park. The initial estimated cost of ₤1 million exceeded the Trust resources of £468 and an appeal was started. That appeal has so far raised ₤1.75 million from industry and funded the restoration of the Bridge, Blists Hill, etc. The running costs of the museum are completely met by admissions and sales, which together amount to ₤1.2 million p.a. Neil outlined the organisation of the Museum with its two trusts: the Museum Trust and the Development Trust for the donors and explained the important art of finding and picking from the grant-giving trees.

The anniversary year should see ¼ million visitors, about half schoolchildren, visit the Gorge. The new Museum of Ironfounding and the student visitors' hostel will open. Work is also progressing on the rebuilding of Walmsley's puddling furnace to be housed in the Woolwich Dockyard smithery (which GLIAS members were largely responsible for getting preserved at Ironbridge). The puddling furnace will eventually produce iron commercially while acting as an exhibits an interesting piece of museum economy. The opening of the Institute of Industrial Archaeology will help the advancement of IA throughout the country. Dave Perrett

Officers and Committee For 1979/80:

Chairman — Denis Smith
Treasurer — Danny Hayton
Secretary — Brenda Innes
Newsletter Ed. — Brenda Innes
Membership Sec. — Lyn Holliday
Journal Ed. — Brenda Sowan
Auditor — Robert Vickers
Events Sec. — Dave Perrett
Publicity — Bill Firth
Sales — Peter Skilton

Co-opted member — Derek Holliday
Recording Sec. — David Thompson

Colliery Steam

On the 19th April members of a joint GLIAS/Newcomen Society party visited the surface installations of three collieries in South Lancashire to see a total of nine steam engines, including five winders. First, we saw the unique Galloway duplex winder (W1 of 1923) which was on standby at Parsonage and was turned over for us. The working shaft here has a new electric winder replacing a Markham steam engine. Parsonage is one of a complex of three mines linked underground and its two shafts are now used only for winding men, A quick dash down the road brought us to Bickershaw where coal from the complex is wound using an electric skip hoist. Bickershaw provided us with three engines, two winders and a compressor engine. A Walker duplex winding engine of 1881 is due for replacement later this year. In a dingy room where the ancient engine contrasted with its modern electronic control panel, we watched as men and materials were wound up and down Number 3 shaft. The other winder, probably by John Wood & Sons, Wigan (1875), was out of use awaiting its fate as was the compressor engine, which, after a hunt round the pithead, we finally located in a dark corner underneath the Number 4 shaft headstocks.

The afternoon found us at Sutton Manor Colliery some twenty miles away in the new county of Merseyside. Here we were treated to, the greatest concentration of steam power, much of it in use. Of special interest to GLIAS members was the cross-compound winding engine built by Fraser & Chalmers Ltd, of Erith in 1907, which was busy winding men. But the high spot of the day was the Yates & Thorn engine, another cross-compound with Corliss valves, hard at work winding coal. Exhaust steam from both these engines was being used to generate electricity with a mixed pressure turbine, reputed to be the last in the country. One of the two compressor engines by Walker Bros, of Wigan was seen, in use, the other was on standby. Lastly we saw a cross-compound fan engine, again by Walkers, with rope drive to the fan; this was unfortunately out of use.

All in all, we had a splendid day and we must thank Bob Carr and the NCB for organising it, especially since many of these engines are due for early retirement. Tim Smith

Book List for Practical Industrial Archaeologists

INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY by Arthur Raistrick, Eyre Methuen, 1972

1. The classification of industrial monuments by I.L. Donachie
2. Some problems of dating milestones by C. Cox
3. Surveying an industrial ruin The Abbey Mill West Ham by A.L. Thomas
4. Industrial sites by R. Storey
5. The East Lancashire railway (2 parts) by P.T.L. Rees
The Rolle Canal by B.D. Hughes
1. Industrial Archaeology & Photography by R. Bracegirdle
2. A small fish processing community in Great Yarmouth A training course in Field Techniques by S Martins

The following books are not specifically related to Industrial Archaeology, but they contain useful information:

FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY IN BRITAIN by John Coles, Methuen 1972
LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY by M. Aston & T. Rowley, David & Charles 1974
BRINDLEY AT WET EARTH COLLIERY by A.G. Banks and R.B. Schofield, David & Charles
Chapter 5 Tracing old lines David & Charles

Compiled by Tim Smith and Bet & John Parker

Another invaluable aid for GLIAS members

'London Streetplan' new editions published, by Geographia at ₤1.50. This production is a considerable improvement on previous paperback London Street Atlases and represents the very best of the genre. The registration is remarkable, print definition is superb. It covers a much wider area than usual: Watford to Dartford, Esher to Gidea Park. An added bonus for the hard wear GLIAS members are likely to give it is the sewn pages. What is most important it shows the National Grid. This is just the thing for Industrial Archaeology in London. Unlike a 1:25,000 map it has street names as well. Ideally use the two in conjunction. Bob Carr

Recording Group training site visit, Saturday 12 May 1979

This session proved as instructive to the organisers as to the 29+ other GLIAS members who came along to the assembly point at London Bridge station.

The organisers discovered that the modern pattern of company groupings can make it difficult to obtain access to a site for two reasons: firstly, because it may be difficult to discover who actually owns a particular site (and in any event the owner may not have keys readily available) and, secondly, the responsibility for making the decision as to whether or not to allow GLIAS access tends to be passed up the chain of associated companies.

Ultimately, we obtained access to three warehouses in Southwark: 33 Bermondsey Wall and two adjacent buildings at Clink — Pickfords' and St. Mary Overy's Wharf. Reports on these should appear in the August newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter August 1979).

Everybody who attended the session will have discovered at least four important things about site works that the outside of a building can be as informative about its history, use and structure as the inside? that detailed measurement is a very tedious and inefficient way of using such time as is available; that the most efficient method of tackling this type of site is to photograph and sketch it and to take derailed notes as to what can be seen, at the same time asking just what it implies; also that two teams of three will cover twice as much ground as a team of six in the same amount of time.

It is intended to organise another training session, or sessions, for August, hopefully to a site with machinery in situ as this requires different skills to those used in recording an empty shell. Meanwhile, members without previous site experience should not be deterred from going along on recording visits, but they should check with the event organiser as to what to wear and what to bring along, etc. David Thompson

Tram Depot at Hendon

I have been asked for information about the tram depot at Hendon (Colindale). The Metropolitan Electric Tramways Company seems to have been very reticent about what went on there, but some famous trams were built there. When London Transport ended the trolleybus services out of the depot it was given up and has subsequently been demolished and another building put on the site. If any members have any information about it, would they please let me know. Bill Firth

A Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology in the newsletter

In a mood of nostalgia generated by GLIAS tenth anniversary last year, I was looking through some old correspondence when I came across a small book produced by three members — John Ashdown, Paul Carter and Mike Bussell — in 1969. The book was a gazetteer or survey of the Industrial Monuments of Greater London and it occurred to me that a 1979 gazetteer would be of interest and probably of great use to most GLIAS members. However, the task of drawing up a definitive list for a built-up area as large as London is a formidable one for anyone to undertake and as items also disappear frequently a once-and-for-all list did not seem to be what was needed. Consequently I am undertaking to supply in the newsletter in every issue, sections of a gazetteer of London IA sites and artefacts under their respective boroughs, which members can file to build up a complete list. David Thomas and the Recording Group have given the idea a tremendous send off by writing the following section for South Kensington, but the help of all members will be needed if all the boroughs are to be properly covered.

Most people will not be able to produce anything like a complete list for a borough and inevitably items will turn up after the appropriate section has appeared in the Newsletter. That does not matter: each single item — whether it is St. Pancras Station or a lamp-post — will make a valuable contribution and supplements will be issued to make the list as comprehensive as possible and to keep it up to date. Volunteering to be a Borough Correspondent or to lead a walk takes lots of energy and a bit of nerve, but sending in an item or two for the GLIAS Gazetteer involves no further commitment and takes little time. We shall, of course, try to make the gazetteer as accurate as possible, but that does not mean that if you don't know everything about an item it is not worth submitting it (someone else may know the date), but do please say where you got what information you are able to furnish. Don't worry, either, if the items that occur to you seem obvious — we may even overlook Tower Bridge if you don't remind us! The South Kensington section is written in the form of a short walk; this will not always be possible, but it seemed a useful plan to follow where it can reasonably be done.

You will see from this section what sort of information is being included. An accurate address (or grid reference in the case of, say, a bandstand in a park) is important but length will vary as some items obviously require more coverage than others. If you can think of any improvements that can be made in the way of additional information or clearer explanation please let me know, but items for the Gazetteer should go to the Recording Group Secretary, David Thompson. If you can provide a good photograph (some items will be illustrated) say so, but please do not send photographs to David unless requested. Brenda Innes

Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology: South Kensington

Location of sites 1-9

1. SOUTH KENSINGTON STATION. 1868 269788 (>>>)
Legend 'Metropolitan and District Railways' above entrances. The Metropolitan Railway ran a service from here, to Baker Street. Adjacent to the south (Pelham Street) entrance the formerly separate Piccadilly line station is easily recognised by its ruby-red glazed brick facing. Designed by Leslie W Green, steel framed and with flat roof to facilitate addition of offices above if desired.
Lee Charles '100 Years of the District' & 'The Piccadilly Line'

South Kensington station © Robert Mason 2013 South Kensington station © Robert Mason 2013

2. Pelham Place & Pelham Crescent lit by former GAS LAMPS converted to electricity.
Houses have CAST IRON BALCONIES and other embellishments. Two COAL HOLE COVERS, outside numbers 11 & 6 Pelham Crescent have distinctive interlinked circle pattern of BARTLE & CO whose ironworks at Lancaster Road, W11 was demolished in 1976.

Pelham Crescent © Robert Mason 2013 Jas. Bartle coal-hole cover, Pelham Crescent © Robert Mason 2013

3. ESTATES OF FLATTED DWELLINGS at Ixworth Place, SW3. 1910-15
Two large estates built by charitable bodies in early 20th century (both have estates elsewhere in London); Samuel Lewis Trust 1915 (916 flats) and, beyond, Sutton Dwellings, funded by a trust set up under Suttons will in 1903.


4. MICHELIN HOUSE, 81 Fulham Road, SW3. 1910
Built as head office for UK operations, with striking tiled section at west end incorporating 12 coloured scenes of car races 1902-7 (more inside). Designed by M. Espinasse; reinforced concrete; basement engine repair shops; ground floor tyre store, tyre changing bay and garage; offices for 300 staff above.

(Until 1895 self-propelled road vehicles in Britain were restricted by law to 4mph in rural areas and 2mph in towns, plus need to observe the 'Red Flag Act'. This effectively inhibited British motor vehicle development. On the Continent the petrol-engined car was developed successfully by Benz and Daimler in the 1880s and some 10-15 years later several firms were in competition with their cars being tested in road races. Tyre manufacturers were naturally closely involved. When the Red Flag Act was repealed (1896) such firms were able to easily exploit the British Market)
Wilson A. 'London's Industrial Heritage' structure; 'Concrete & Constructional Engineering Volume 6' (1911) Notes on economic context by Robert Vickers.


5. CONTINENTAL TYRE & RUBBER CO, Empire House, Brompton Road/Thurloe Place SW3. 1910 (>>>)
Offices and garage. Note emblem above garage entrance in North Terrace — 'tyres', decorating the walls. The firm's factory was at Wembley, its successor trades in Surrey.

Empire House, Brompton Road © Robert Mason 2017 CAPTION CAPTION

6. BROMPTON ROAD TUBE STATION. Cottage Place, SW3. 1906. (>>>)
Only a fragment remains, recognised by its red brickwork. Closed 1934.

Brompton Road tube station © Robert Mason 2013

7. CABMEN'S SHELTER. Centre of Thurloe Place, SW7. c.1900.
One of about 10 wooden shelters of a maximum of 63 in 1915. The first was erected in 1875 by Capt. G.C. Armstrong (owner of the GLOBE newspaper) and others who felt sorry for cabmen whose work exposed them to the elements. Others were donated by well-wishers. Upkeep costs are met by sale of refreshments.
(From an article in 'The Record', 5/74, by the editor of 'Cab Trade News', sent to us by Alan Thomas, also notes by Bernard Hoddinott).

Cabmen's shelter, Thurloe Place, SW7 © Robert Mason 2013

8. 'ANONYMOUS' PILLAR BOX. Corner Thurloe Place/Square, SW7. 1883-7
Carries only maker's name (Handyside) but no Royal Cypher. The public were reluctant to trust letters to these boxes and the Secretary of State for the Post Office ordered cessation of their production after four years; one speculated whether omission of the cypher was deliberate to enable mass production for export without complication! (GLIAS Newsletter January 1975)
(From notes by Paul Carter and William Morris. See 'The Letter Box', J. Farrugia).

'Anonymous' Handyside pillar box, corner Thurloe Place/Square, SW7. © Robert Mason 2013

9. MILK DELIVERY CART. Corner Thurloe Place/Exhibition Road, SW7.
Used as a permanent advertisement by 'Contented Sole' restaurant, a three-wheeled cart similar in style to that on wall panels of Friern Manor Dairy, Crouch Hill Road, N4 (>>>).

The sites above are arranged as a stroll of about 20 minutes, starting and finishing at South Kensington Station. Somewhat briefer details cover other known locations in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

10. FLOUR MILL. Lots Road, SW10. 1894/1937.
Originally a provender mill for horse bus owners, London General Omnibus Co, extensively modernised and rebuilt 1937 and 1955 (appx.) for flour and semolina mill. Part still in use; roller mills, pneumatic intake from river craft.

Red brick and terracotta, built to supply the 'Electric Group' of tube and District Railways plus part of London United Tramways system. When built the largest traction power station in the world.

Lots Road Power Station, 23.9.07 © Anne Mayoh 2007 Lots Road Power Station, 23.9.07 © Anne Mayoh 2007

12. CHELSEA CANAL. Chelsea Creek — Warwick Road W14. 1828.
Site mostly used as railway land, recognisable as land alongside West London Extension Railway. Lock cottage remains north east of West Cromwell Road bridge.

13. GENERATING STATION. Kensington Court, High Street, W8. 1886/95.
Crompton's former generating station rebuilt after fire. No equipment remains. Subways beneath Kensington Court residential development carried cables and water.

14. PUBLIC BATHS AND WASHHOUSE. Silchester Road, W11. 1888
Excellent example of comprehensive facilities — four pools, two classes of slipper baths (M and F), washing stalls, early (1937) belt-driven washing machines, drying horses, oil fired boilers (3). Closed 1975.

© Sidney Ray 1974

15. PENFOLD PILLAR BOX. Kensington Palace Gardens, W8.

16. POTTERY KILN, Walmer Road, W11. Early 19th. Cent. (>>>)

17. REFUSE TRANSFER BASIN. Ladbroke Grove/Grand Junction Canal. W10. 1891.
For cart to barge transhipment of rubbish. Now Port-a-Bella marina/restaurant.

18. SHOP SIGN. 102 Portland Road, W11. c.1850-60.
Four half oil jars to indicate oil and colour man.

19. RAILWAY SITES. (Short list only)

Preparing lime mortar — an ephemeral of Industrial Archaeology

Having a cafe bite between sessions at Guildhall Library, members talked of cement kilns, then of lime kilns and then, how was the lime used? Much went for agriculture, but much went for building and on this, I was asked, to recall my observations of an obsolete process.

In 1929, my father bought a new house in Woodford Green. All the processes concerned with building were carried out on site (there were no sub-contractors) including making the bricklaying mortar and the internal plaster. They were prepared, as they now are not, in a way that cannot have changed much for many centuries.


First, a lime putty was prepared. The builder laid a platform of scaffold boards, about 15ft square, on the grass of the field. Round this, stakes (old scaffold pole pieces, broken putlogs, etc.) were driven and sides of more scaffold boards, I think 3 high, were fixed. The shallow wooden tank so formed was filled with lumps of quicklime — and very careful the workers were not to handle it, or to cat it in their eyes. I was kept well away, up wind. The quicklime was then slaked by soaking it in water and in the early stages the heat evolved caused clouds of steam. After slaking was complete, some more water was added and the whole turned over to form a thick cream. It was then left to temper for as long as possible — four or even six weeks — becoming lime putty. The putty could then be worked up in several ways, processes all called gauging. For mortar, it was mixed with sand and some more water, one of putty, two of sand and enough water to suit the bricklayers being a usual mix.

For covering internal walls, ceilings, or lathed partitions, it was worked up with clean sifted sand into plaster, either "coarse stuff" for the first coat, or "fine stuff" for finishing. The former was strengthened with cow hair. The cow hair was always lumpy and the lumps were removed by beating it, I remember seeing this. A man stood in front of a makeshift table made from a mortar board on stakes. He would put some of the lumpy hair (it was usually reddish) on this table, pick up a stout lath in each hand and beat it, keeping the twin stroke close together and working back and forth across the board. When he was satisfied, he would drop the teased-out hair into a container beside him and repeat the process. A lot of hair was needed, not much could be treated at a time and the rhythmic drumming of beating out the plasterer's cow hair was one of the many sounds of manual labour that came from the building site for a long time.

A third use for lime putty was to provide the parging for the inside of flues, so that they were smooth and soot would not stick to the surface. Ordinary lime and sand mortar would crack with the heat and the established, way to stop this was to mix the mortar with fresh cow dung. I have a book printed only in 1955, but already 24 years old, which says that there is no better material for the; lining of flues and comments that it is not as objectionable to handle as might be supposed. Whether it was used at Woodford, I do not remember, but it would seem probable.

In any case, the question is now academic, I haven't seen a lime putty tank on a building site since World War 2 and the tanks themselves were dismantled at the end of each contract, leaving a limy patch (which I saw) in some buyer's new back garden. In fact, an ephemeral piece of Industrial Archaeology. John Parker, May 1979

Vauxhall Pottery

The Thames bank between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges has long been associated with potteries. That at Vauxhall Bridgefoot existed from at least the late 16th century until 1865. Over the last two years the site has been excavated and, whilst work will continue, the present amount of visible evidence is likely to disappear soon as it is re-covered. A good view can be obtained from a footbridge across the southern approach to Vauxhall Bridge, work is continuing on most weekends and volunteer helpers are welcome to contact Southwark & Lambeth Archaeological Society for details.

The plan below is reproduced from a bulletin by Roy Edwards, Site Director. Copies from Cuming Museum, Walworth Road, SB17, 15p plus postage, we will be able to see what remains on a walk in the area on 11th August.

Drawing of Vauxhall Pottery site


Close to Lambeth Bridge were extensive works of the Royal Doulton Company, whose first kiln was erected in 1815. Their fine gothic office block of 1877 stands at the corner of Black Prince Road and Lambeth High Street, SE11. It has much terra-cotta trim and extensive "Doultonware" stoneware decoration on window sills, panels and bosses. Above the door is an excellent relief by George Tinsworth showing art-potters.

This office was in turn replaced by a flamboyant new block in reinforced concrete in 1959 its façade being adorned by a fifty-foot long frieze depicting "Pottery through the Ages". The sculptor of this multi-coloured work was Gilbert Bayes.

In 1956 the last kiln closed and in 1971 Doultons vacated the office which, after various proposals was demolished in 1978 (as was the 1936 former W.H. Smith's H.Q. adjacent).

At the very last minute the frieze was saved and is now at Ironbridge in store, with an ultimate intention of it being returned to London.

Two bridges remain which gave barge access beneath Albert Embankment to the works, some examples of Doulton work do remain in the vicinity, for five ceramic tile panels with nursery rhyme themes were salvaged from the Royal Waterloo Hospital and installed in the children's ward at St. Thomas's Hospital in 1978.

Henry Doulton (d. 1897) is buried at South Metropolitan Cemetery, West Norwood, SE27; the monument to him (below left) is itself a classic in use of characteristic terracotta.

Doulton's Office blocks

South Metropolitan Cemetery, West Norwood © Robert Mason CAPTION CAPTION

- that of 1877 (above middle), that of 1939 (above right), adjacent is Smith's Head Office of 1936. Of these only a cleared site remained in May 1979 plus the two bridges which gave barge access to Doulton's works.

Tinsworth's work can be admired when the Museum of Gardening is opened by the Tradescant Trust in St Mary's Church, Lambeth.

Further examples of products of a similar industry to Doulton's, Coade Stone, may be seen in the form of grave stones in the churchyard. And the Coade Stone Lion still overlooks Westminster Bridge and Parliament.

Poplar Docks

As part of the GLIAS docks tour on 3rd September 1978 the ex-North London Railway Docks at Poplar were visited. Some notes appeared in GLIAS Newsletter 59 (GLIAS Newsletter December 1978). Here is a fuller interim account, first of the history and then of the site visit.


There were two sets of railway docks at Poplar, completely independent of each other (see the plan below). To the east, the Midland Railway had principal use of a dock adjoining the river; across Prestons Road to the west several railway companies shared, the two basins of the North London Railway (NLR; Poplar Docks, physically part of the West India and Millwall Dock System. We shall deal briefly with the Midland Railway Poplar Dock and then pass on to discuss the NLR Docks in more detail.

Poplar Docks plan

The Midland Railway Poplar Dock was built on ground formerly occupied by shipbuilding yards'. The Ordnance Survey (OS) of 1867 shows the site as part of Blackwall yard. By the 1893 revision the dock had been constructed as shown on the plan. The dock basin had a single pair of mitre gates; access from the river was possible only at high tide. A railway warehouse was situated on the west quay with open sidings on the east quay. There was little change until after railway nationalisation. By 1966 (evidence from aerial photographs) the site had been completely redeveloped as an oil depot (Charrington's) and the basin filled in. A hydraulic pumping station building in characteristic later 19th-century red-brick Midland Railway, style remains, on the north side of Duthie Street.

The North London Railway Docks at Poplar developed from a reservoir, built to regulate water levels in the West India Docks and used as a timber pond from 1833. This reservoir became the eastern of the two present dock basins, the western basin being added later. The East & West India Docks and Birmingham Junction Railway (renamed North London Railway in 1853) obtained its Act in 1846 with Robert Stephenson as engineer. It was completed in 1852, connecting the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) at Chalk Farm with the docks at Poplar. Coal from. North-East England was transhipped from colliers (at the time small square-rigged sailing vessels of 100-500 tons) to railway wagons at Poplar (the dock being known as Collier Dock. It was established in 1850). By an extraordinary arrangement the Northumberland & Durham Coal Cooperated traffic over the line with its own locomotives and wagons, paying £10,000 pa for the privilege. For more information on the railway see R M Robbins' book 'The North London Railway', Oakwood Press, 1937 and later editions.

The London and Blackwall Railway (opened 1840) already ran west to east across the northern part of the site and the NLR had to cross this after passing under Poplar High Street. A direct line was carried over by a bridge with a very steep approach from the north (1 in 34). The steep gradient impeded the working of heavy trains and alternative approaches were subsequently constructed. A second line of greater length branching to the east side of the basin was built (still in use 1978). Sidings from the NLR were 1865 in a westerly direction along the north side of the Blackwall Railway with exchange facilities (Harrow Lane Sidings). In 1875 the direct approach line was replaced by a curve from Harrow Lane Sidings called the Loop Line. To use this trains had to reverse, but the gradient from the north was eased. This curve was widened to many tracks and the bridges and embankments remained in 1978.

Around 1875 major developments were undertaken. A second basin was added on the west of the original dock with goods facilities for other railway companies. A small GNR warehouse already existed (1867 OS map) on the south side of the east basin, reached by a swing bridge across the dock entrance. On the east side of the east basin a heavy lift crane was added, with an octagonal base which remains today. By 1877 facilities included a large hydraulic pumping station of which the shell still remains and two accumulator towers also surviving as shells. The water tower serving the pumping station was added after 1877. There was formerly a large chimney. A photograph in Bancroft Road Library LBTH (Local History Room Railway Photographs, ref-385.2) shows a hydraulic pumping engine 'one of six' at Poplar Dock NLR in 1905. The engine depicted is a two-cylinder horizontal cross-compound. By 1877 arrangements were substantially complete.

The NLR Poplar Docks, having been fully developed, changed very little between 1877 and the mid-20th century. By April 1966 the ex-GWR and the two ex-LNWR goods stations had been removed although the ex-GNR warehouses remained, including the swing bridge across the dock entrance.

In January-May 1968, the Blackwall Railway track having been partially lifted, a direct connection was made on the level to the west quay of the eastern basin. The old high-level line was then lifted, cutting off rail communication with the western basin. By 1973 most buildings had gone (except for the hydraulic pumping station and accumulator towers). The eastern basin continued in use for rail/lighter transhipment, on both east and west quays.


GLIAS members on a wagon turntable , 3 September 1978 © David Thomas

Across the north end of the site, the disused Blackwall Railway sloped down towards the east, where it had been filled in, so that the track bed was waterlogged for some distance. There remained the over-bridges which formerly carried the loop-line tracks to the west side of the docks. Under these bridges, along the south side of the Blackwall Railway, ran a road surfaced with granite setts. We followed this road to the east. On the far side of the bridges the ground was dry and short station platforms of blue brick still survived the remains of the GER Millwall Junction passenger station. The line of the branch to the south into the West India Docks which once ran to North Greenwich had been blocked off. Just to the west of the station and south of the Blackwall Railway we found the remains of the body of a six-wheeled timber-framed railway carriage. The underframe was constructed of wood flitched with iron. To the west, the branch sidings from the NLR are still occasionally used. We looked at the hydraulic power station remains, in the triangle between former railway tracks. It consisted of four contiguous buildings. To the north is a two-storey building with internal wooden staircase, perhaps a fitter's shop and stores, with a flat top probably for a water tank. Immediately south of this is a broad building with single-span wrought-iron roof of 19th-century type. Large round-headed openings on the west side had been bricked up. Down the centre of the modern concrete floor was a line of six squares paved with stone. Otherwise the interior was featureless. This was the boilerhouse. There was no immediate sign of the tall chimney, which had already gone by 1937, when the LOG partially revised the OS. Next was an accumulator tower with the accumulator removed. Arched doorways provided access from the rear of the site (east) and from the engine house. Lastly to the south was the engine house itself, windowless except in the gable ends. It contained concrete plinths raised above ground level for a number of engines.

Across the room below roof level was a wrought-iron trough and traces of a second one, perhaps for ducting pipes. The roof had wooden trusses. There was no lifting equipment such as an overhead crane. To the west was a triangular yard enclosed by brick walls and the site of a railway siding to bring in coal. A derelict footbridge crossed all the railway tracks immediately to the west to give access to Millwall Junction Station and the West India Docks.

From here we moved south along the western perimeter of the dock estate. We found a hydraulic accumulator tower in the west boundary wall which still had the bottom of the hydraulic accumulator intact, a heavy cast-iron cylinder with a large wrought-iron drum around it to contain the pig-iron load. All had been burnt off at a low level and was covered with a thick deposit of bird droppings. Brickwork here (and in the other accumulator tower) had been damaged by the contractors removing scrap. At the south end of the estate was the entrance from the Blackwall Basin of the West India Docks. This was a stoplock. Old cannon had been used as bollards alongside the lock. At the West India end of the lock was the site of a rolling footbridge with rollers on the east side of the lock to land the nose upon. At the north end of the lock was the site of a siding rail/bridge. The fixed gear ring and pintle around which it turned still survived.

On the west quay of the east dock two electric rail cranes by Stothert & Pitt were noted, dated 1960. They were probably older with the lower parts renewed. The quay was crowded with railway vans and traffic had clearly not ceased. At the north end of the quay were two disused wagon turntables with shunting capstans and free pulleys.

On the east quay of the east dock the number of cranes had recently been reduced to four. All were electric and of the same type, by Sir William Arrol & Co Ltd, Glasgow. Two were dated 1929. Shunting capstans were by Cowans Sheldon (of Carlisle) dated 1928/9, of one ton capacity, still in use. A few were examined by GLIAS members who concluded they were hydraulic capstans converted to electric drive. Close by each was a hemp rope for shunting wagons, protected by a tarpaulin. The free pulleys (fairleads) were by the Chatteris Engineering Co Ltd (Cambridgeshire), dated 1929. A number of discarded wagon labels (pictured) littered the site indicating that recent transhipment traffic was by no means inconsiderable. One hundred yards from the north end of the quay was a granite plinth projecting into the dock, for a large crane. It was octagonal with a circular central hole, in eight huge segments of granite, on a brick base. It formerly carried an iron track. At the south east corner of the site surrounded by vegetation was a second hydraulic accumulator tower, identical to that on the west side.


Thanks are due to Paul Gibbons for drawing the plan. We acknowledge use of correspondence in the Journal of the Railway and Canal Historical Society, XX(3) 70-71, Nov 74, 'The North London Railway at Poplar', H V Borley. We should also like to express our thanks to the LBTH Bancroft Road Library, Local History Room, for the use of plans and photographs. Finally GLIAS would like to thank Mr D A W Green of British Rail for permission to visit the site.

Malcolm Tucker and Bob Carr


Disused wagon turntables

Disused wagon turntables, shunting capstans and free pulleys at the north end of the west quay, east dock. The North London Railway hydraulic power station buildings are in the distance, top right hand. View looking west. (Photograph by David Thomas)

Discarded wagon label, 3 September 1978 © David Thomas

Discarded wagon label. (Photograph by David Thomas)

Stothert and Pitt electric cranes

Stothert and Pitt electric cranes on the west quay of the east dock, looking south. (Photograph by Adrian Saunders)

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© GLIAS, 1979