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Notes and news — October 1982

In this issue:

Steam news

The AIA Conference's Saturday afternoon excursion to Croydon gave us a chance to update on the steam plant in the area. The visit was kindly arranged at the last minute by Mr. Tomalin, the TWA district engineer, who put on a steaming of the Waddon engine. Waddon Pumping Station (GLIAS Newsletter October 1976) has been for the last two years the last steam-powered public water supply station in Britain and we all thought it would go on for many years yet. Unfortunately, at the end of last year the middle one of the three Cornish boilers failed and estimates for its repair were considered excessive so in mid-June a start was made on electrification. This involved dismantling part of the 1915 Worthington-Simpson engine, but its steam winch continues in use to dismantle the well pump. The boilers will be kept in steam until next Spring for heating purposes and occasional running of the 1910 Simpson engine; then this engine too will stop. (GLIAS will have a special visit before this occurs.).

At Addington the two beam engines were stopped in 1975 and were preserved in the engine house. Mr. Tomalin's latest information is that one may shortly be removed to the steam centre at Strumpshaw Hall, Norfolk, while the other may go to the Museum of London for possible exhibition in a Docklands Museum. (Fuller details of these engines are in GLIAS Journals 1 & 2). Dave Perrett

Answers — and more questions?????

Newsletter 81 included a number of questions from David Thomas. Replies received are below. Any further information/thoughts will be gratefully received by David at 36 Pearman Street, SE1 7RB.

VICTORIA COACH STATION. This was built on former Grosvenor Estate land, sold to Westminster C.C. in 1906 and later purchased freehold by London Coastal Coaches (in which the Southern Railway had shares), the new terminal being opened on 1 April, 1932. Other operators used it from the start, e.g. Midland Red. The land was never part of that associated with the Grosvenor Canal, which was exclusively to the east of Buckingham Palace Road. This reply from Bill Firth still leaves open a question: was the Southern Railway's role in purchase of the site purely one of an interested shareholder, or was some sort of 'deal', perhaps swapping parcels of land, included in the arrangements?

Victoria Coach Station © Robert Mason 2016

BROAD STREET STATION. SAVE has produced a design which shows how, at an additional cost of £2m., the main entrance could be retained (and used for shops/restaurants) in British Rail's £200m redevelopment for Liverpool Street and Broad Street station sites. This information, from Roger Morgan, dates back to May; does anyone know the present position?

RADIO TIMES — TWOPENCE. John Parker says that the painted advertisement definitely pre-dates WW2, when prices increased, but suspects that the Radio Times was not published before c. 1928.

CHELSEA ELECTRICITY SUPPLY COMPANY. The plaque at 4 Milner Street, SW3 states that this was the site of the Company's works 1899-1935. However, Kelly's directories show this address to have been a motor repairers' c.1902-17, involved in aircraft manufacture 1918 and used by a manufacturing chemists' 1921-39. Meanwhile, the Company had premises at Draycott Place, later named Cadogan Gardens, 1886-1934 at least, and a station at 19 (Chelsea) Manor Street/Alpha Place for part of that time. Can anyone unravel this, please? Info received from Bet & John Parker and Mike Bussell.

WOODEN ROADWAYS. Obviously a relatively well-documented and remembered subject, with info from Mick Marr, Mike Bussell, Oliver Dames, Bet & John Parker and Tim Smith. Summarising, it seems that wood block road paving was experimentally laid in Oxford Street in 1839 and was regarded as a new, but accepted, way of paving roads in the 1850s, being cheaper than granite, quieter and, allegedly, as hard-wearing. The wooden blocks were soaked in creosote before being laid end-grain-up. As an aside on the matter of quietness, there is mention in 'The place called Fulenham' by Lo Hasker, 1981, that straw was laid on the street to ensure quiet if someone was very ill and that this practice continued until the 1920s. (I can confirm this, my mother-in-law had straw laid down for her when ill as a child in Maidstone, and it was not only done for the rich, she lived in a terrace house near a brewery where her father worked Ed).

Wooden blocks were in common use for all sorts of roadways by the early 1930s, from new residential roads in Baron's Court to the Barking and Old Kent Roads, although granite was used for roads with exceptionally heavy goods traffic, around the docks and at busy junctions, e.g. Elephant & Castle. Problems of the surfaces swelling up wore not uncommon. Typically, wood block roads were laid on some 2in of concrete, so that any water that did manage to get underneath was trapped, the blocks eventually swelling and on occasion going 'pop'!. The creosote had, recalls Oliver Dames, a hidden danger: during the Blitz wood block roadways burned.

From Kelly's Directories it appears that the main London firm associated with wood block roads was the Improved Wood Pavement Co. Ltd., which an advertisement in the Elements of Road Making by J.W. Green (1924) stated was founded in 1872 and had provided 'the ideal road for heavy motor traffic', with a list of some 80 well-known London streets so laid, 2/3 including Bishopsgate, Clapham Road, Edgware Road, Strand, Pall Mall, Woolwich Road. This firm had depots in Rotherhithe from the 1870s until the 1950s (close to the Surrey Commercial Docks) as well as a wharf in Greenwich, although many more addresses are also given. Bet Parker reports that wood blocks exist beneath tarmac in St. Chad's Street, WC1 and at entrances to 245 Grays Inn Road, 142 Old Street and Royley House, Old Street, all EC1. Are there any more — or any streets where wood blocks are not covered by tarmac?

Incidentally, two correspondents recall blocks of rubber being used experimentally in the 1920s, the main disadvantage being a smell when temperatures rose and, in spite of these blocks being designed with an irregular surface, slipperiness when wet. However, further streets in the City were laid with rubber, or possibly synthetic rubber/neoprene, in the 1950s. Can anyone throw further light on this? David Thomas

GLIAS turned on by gas

Requests in GLIAS Newsletter August 1982 on the subject of gas lighting in the home produced an unexpectedly high response. Brian Sturt told me of the all-gas Kensal House (2 blocks) opened as late as March 1937 (tenants chosen by the local Council) and of several schemes opened shortly before. In the mid 1930s blocks of flats equipped with gas lighting were erected in Peckham, Bermondsey, Brixton, Charlton, Kensington and the Old Kent Road, largely because gas lighting was then cheaper than electric; an important consideration for low income families. At the AGM of the Gas Light & Coke Company in 1934 it was stated that only 50% of the domestic lighting load in London has been lost. It would appear that at any rate in London gas lighting in would-be Utopian flats for the artisan was the rule rather than exceptional in the blocks erected in programmes of slum clearance around the Metropolis in the mid 1930s.
Refs. Gas Journal 14 Feb 1934, 5 Dec 1934 pp 754-5, 12 Dec 1934 p819, 30 Dec 1936 p899, 24 Mar 1937 pp771-2 and pp780-783. Many thanks for the letters, etc. Bob Carr

My grandparents' house on the towpath below Staines was built about 1914 and was lit by gas, operated by switches like the old-fashioned electric light switches. Each gas mantle had a pilot light and when the switch inside each room was moved to the on position one mantle was lit. This system remained unchanged until the house was sold about 1960 and the new owner had the house wired for electricity. Michael Shilston

Jolliffe & Banks queries

The old bridge at Staines (GLIAS Newsletter August 1982) was fortunately left in place until Rennie managed to locate solid footings in the river bed capable of carrying the weight of masonry for the two piers supporting the main arch which was built some few years prior to 1837. The old bridge was a timber structure with masonry ramps on the Middlesex and Surrey banks, the Surrey bank masonry being still present when I left Staines in 1976, with its toll house and sweeping run-up and masonry parapets still standing above the towpath. I have an engraving published Nov 1 1821 showing the old bridge with its four timber piers, curved span and a centre pair of lanterns. Stukeley's drawing of the bridge (published 1750 or so, but drawn during his perambulation around the UK in 1722-3) shows virtually the same bridge. Try Staines History Society for info. Michael Shilston

News from Docklands

As shown on TV, HMS Belfast went to Tilbury on Sept 15 to use the large ex River Thames Ship Repairs Ltd dry dock; she passed through Tower Bridge backwards. A visitor to the Upper Pool is the four-engined flying boat G-BJHS, an S.25 Sunderland V which was stationed in the West Indies until recently; the landing on the Lower Pool must have been quite tricky with all that driftwood. The expedition ship Benjamin Bowring entered the Royal Docks after first coming up-river to the Pool of London. She returned from her 82,000 mile voyage just four days short of three years since Transglobe Expedition left Greenwich. A day of welcome was held on August 29 with speeches at Greenwich by HRH Prince Charles and Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Benjamin Bowring (1,184 tons gross) is now at No. 11 shed Royal Albert Dock.

The Royal Albert and King George V Docks are becoming quite full of shipping: the Royal Docks are impounded and have security men on duty which makes insurance rates lower than for ships rising at anchor, it is therefore proving economic to lay up some of the many ships out of use owing to the recession and vessels of up to 30,000 tons in size are being brought from Greece to London for this purposes try the view from the bridges on Woolwich Manor Way, it is quite reminiscent of the 1960s. At present the largest ship in the Royals is the British ship King Charles (30,276 tons gross) berthed at 10 & 12 sheds King George V Dock.

Other survivals in the Docks

The Royal Victoria and Albert Docks are connected by the Connaught Road cutting. Connaught Road itself is carried across this cutting by a hydraulically operated swing bridge originally built for both road and rail traffic. The small hydraulic power station for this area at the NW corner of the Riyal Albert Dock still survives complete with its hydraulic accumulator (in a small tower) and electrically driven reciprocating pumps. The BR railway line from Canning Town to N Woolwich passes beneath the Connaught Road cutting just to the E of the swing bridge: on the surface its course can be traced by a pair of ventilation shafts. When Asa Binns became chief engineer of the PLA the Connaught Road cutting was deepened (in 1937) from 28 to 31ft (without interrupting the passage of ships!). In 1958 the cutting was widened, from 84 to 100ft. Water leaking into the railway tunnel beneath is pumped out via a shaft constructed just to the E of the small hydraulic power station. This pumping shaft is surmounted by an attractive cupola, reminiscent of the Greenwich foot tunnel and with the hydraulic power station forms an interesting group of small buildings for the industrial archaeologist.

Two dry docks are situated to the SW of the Royal Albert Dock and are drained by pumps at the end of the peninsula formed between the docks. The pumphouse, even now, is in quite good order, after the demise of River Thames Shiprepairs it was placed in the hands of the PLA. In the pumphouse are two large centrifugal pumps by Tangye, driven by Westinghouse two-phase synchronous electric motors. These motors are of some interest, the electrical equipment of the pumphouse includes Scott Connected Transformers converting the three-phase mains to two phase. No dates appear or, the motors. The large centrifugal pumps are primed by a pair of small Tangye two-cylinder reciprocating pumps with Westinghouse DC motors. There is also a pair of deep well reciprocating pumps driven by Lawrence Scott DC motors. In the other half of the pumphouse are four splendid Alley & Maclellan Sentinel two-cylinder vertical air compressors driven by Electric Construction company DC motors dated 1919. The air receivers outside are rated at 100 p.s.i. Bob Carr

St Mary Overy Wharf, Clink Street, SE1

A familiar sight just upstream of London Bridge is likely to disappear soon, as planning permission has now been given for the demolition of this attractive warehouse, in spite of listed building status. David Thomas

Twisting the developers' arm

We cannot stem the tide of 'development'. We can ask Planning Authorities to make, as a condition of planning consent, the preservation and conservation of old buildings and industrial structures, or the provision of a mini-museum. Development is intended to make big profits. Preserving an IA feature would probably be met from 'petty cash'; and perhaps enhance the value of the site (I think the technical term is 'planning gain'). Example. A huge development is planned at Limehouse Basin. The fine old mooring bollards will be incorporated in the new 'waterside village'. The GLIAS Newsletter seems often to report destruction of the industrial past. Consultation and participation with Planning Authorities might preserve some of it. Philip Daniell

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© GLIAS, 1982