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Notes and news — February 1983

In this issue:

Early tunnelling in soft ground

May I add to the information given by Paul Sowan in the AIA Bulletin 10 (1), 1982 and GLIAS Newsletter December 1982? The construction of the sewer heading in Hyde Park (surely not two miles long?) appears to have encouraged the Regent's Canal Company in pursuing its scheme to obtain water from the Thames at Chelsea by a heading (i.e. small tunnel) of some two miles to a pumping shaft at Paddington. This was provided for in their Act of 1812 but, not surprisingly, it was subsequently dropped. The Grand Junction Canal Company had used similar but less ambitious arrangements through the chalk at Tring summit from 1804.

The first tunnel through the London Clay was at Greywell, Hants, on the Basingstoke Canal (1,230 yards, 1792-4, William Jessop consulting engineer), those on the Regent's Canal in London followed 20 years or so later. Even earlier canal tunnels in Southern England included the Sapperton Tunnel, partly through the Fuller's Earth Clay in Gloucestershire (2¼ miles, 1783-9, Robert Whitworth engineer) and at Fenny Compton through the Lower Lias Clay in Warwickshire (336 yards, plus 452 yards, 1775-8, Samuel Simcock engineer, later opened out into a cutting).

The information quoted for the Highgate Archway requires amendment, since its Act was not obtained until May 1810 (50 Geo 3 c. 88). The tunnel was still under construction when it collapsed in April 1812, an event probably not unrelated to its unusual four-centred cross section. The engineer, Robert Vazie, had earlier undertaken the abortive Thames Archway from Rotherhithe towards Ratcliffe (Act of 1805, abandoned 1809) and had been thrown off the job, (see Charles Lee, "The East London Line and the Thames Tunnel", London Transport, 1976). 1,000 yards of heading, were driven under the Thames.

Probably the earliest scheme for a tunnelled crossing of the Thames came from Ralph Dodd in 1798, after "his early proposals for the Tyne. He constructed an access shaft for a Gravesend to Tilbury tunnel (in chalk), before its abandonment in 1802 (see, for instance, J.G. Dames, "Ralph Dodd, The Very Ingenious Schemer", Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 47, pp. 164-5, 1976). Marc Brunel's famous Thames Tunnel of 1824-43 never saw road traffic and the first successful road tunnel beneath the Thames was the Blackwall Tunnel, constructed 1891-7, (the first tunnel in the world to combine logically the use of compressed air and the Greathead tunnelling shield, (see the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol. 130, 1897, for a useful discussion of sub-aqueous tunnelling methods). Incidentally, the "North Hyde Works" undertaken by Jolliffe & Banks, to which Paul refers, are most likely to have been connected with the Ordnance Depot next to the Grand Junction Canal at North Hyde, Southall, Middlesex. A canal dock was constructed there in the period 1813-8. It became known as the Hanwell Loop and one of its two former entrances is marked by a winding hole at Grid Reference TQ 120 785. Malcolm Tucker

Cinema IA

On 15 January about 15 members and four junior members visited the Electric Cinema, Portobello Road. I had been going to take issue with Bob over his brief description in the last newsletter, according to my source 'Cathedrals of the Movies' by David Atwell, the Electric Cinema was built in 1905 and known as the Imperial. Early purpose-built cinemas were simply built: a rectangular hall with a barrel-vault roof, usually there was no room for a gallery as in the Electric, but despite this there was still room for about 1,000 patrons. The barrel vault would be covered in ornate plasterwork and the screen would cover the end wall. As talking pictures didn't arrive in most halls until the late 1920s there was no need for anything more complicated. Proscenium arches were often added to facilitate the installation of sound systems.

The Electric's interior remains substantially unaltered, making it the oldest in London. The earliest purpose-built cinema still existing is the Biograph in Wilton Road, Victoria (March 1905), although much altered. Imagine my surprise when the guides to the Electric claimed that it dates from 1911. However, as the frontage had been altered, perhaps the 1911 refers to that re-building.

A number of other very early cinemas still survive, including some which were converted from other uses. The Dara in Delancey Street, Camden Town is now a bingo hall, but was built as a public hall in the 1880s. With the great skating craze in 1903 it was converted into a rink and then into a cinema in 1908. In 1909 the Cinematograph Act ensured that more safety precautions would be taken and so many purpose-built cinemas post-date this Act. A sports shop on Brixton Hill is in reality Pyke's Cinematograph Theatre of 1910; the Bingo Hall in Deptford High Street was the Electric Palace. Theatres were obvious candidates for conversions the Coronet, Notting Hill Gate was designed in 1898 by W.G.R. Sprague. The Palaseum, Commercial Road was designed in 1911 for Freeman's Yiddish Theatre, but closed within weeks to become a cinema — which now shows Asian films.

Obviously much more could be written about cinemas in such a large area as London and I would be grateful for any information any members might have. I also hope that Bob can organise more cinema or theatre visits as all those who came to the Electric had a most interesting morning. Sue Hayton

Radio Times twopence?

Re: David Thomas' query (GLIAS Newsletter August 1982). I have a copy of the 50th Anniversary Souvenir 1923-1973 from which it is clear that the first issue of Radio Times was on 23rd September 1923 and it cost two pence. The price remained at 2d for ordinary issues at least until 3anuary 1950. It was 3d by September 1952 so the change took place between these dates. It is possible therefore that a 2d advertisement could be as late as 1950, although during WW2 and the next five austerity years it may be unlikely that such an advert was painted. Some early issues of the RT — maybe only the special Christmas numbers — however cost 6d. Certainly Christmas numbers 1926-38, all of which had covers by well-known artists (unlike the ordinary issues), but from 1939 on Christmas numbers were no different from the others. Bill Firth

Buckinghamshire visit, July 23, 1982

On this rather wet morning our party, which comprised 32 members of GLIAS and the Newcomen Society, visited Matthews Brickworks at Bellingdon (SP936063). Mr. Matthews, who combines brickmaking with farming some 500 acres and pig breeding, showed us the various stages of brickmaking from the digging of the local clays to the final firing. The works, which have been in operation since 1923, produce top quality Buckinghamshire bricks both by small-scale machine methods and by traditional hand methods. Much of the output is to special order for customers such as the National Trust since by varying the mix and the firing temperature Buckinghamshire bricks can be produced in a variety of colours to match existing brickwork. Only one worker produces the hand-made bricks in a variety of shapes at a rate of 300 per day and we were fortunate to see him at work. Bricks are dried in outdoor hacks before firing in what were said to be the last three working Scotch kilns in Southern England.

After an excellent lunch at a fine Chilterns pub and with better weather, we travelled to Gomme's Forge, Loosley Row (SP815003). This small country forge was established before 1865 and is still producing fine castings using both aluminium and iron. We were able to witness the casting of some aluminium ornaments. In the other casting shop iron is melted in a furnace fabricated from an old steam engine boiler. The wooden jib crane in this shop dates from c.1865 and is inscribed with the name of the works founder D. Gomme. The forges output is very varied, ranging from small domestic items to large replacement castings, which recently included railings for the 1810 cast-iron Tickford Bridge at Newport Pagnell.

Finally we visited the Smock Mill at Lacey Green. This important mill was originally erected near Chesham c.1650, but was moved to its present site in 1821. It still contains much early and unique milling machinery. It ceased milling in 1921 and is now being slowly restored by the Chiltern Society. We are grateful to the owners of both works for allowing the visits and to Mr. W.J.D. Parkhouse for making all the local arrangements and acting as our guide. Dave Perrett

News from Calais

Since the GLIAS visit in August 1981 (GLIAS Newsletter October 1981) much demolition has taken place. Almost the whole block between the rue des Communes, rue de Pont-Neuf, rue de Vie and rue de Pont-Lottin has gone, including the usine Cordier and the row of old houses in the rue des Communes. A slight compensation is that this demolition gives fine views of the l'usine Boulart from the west. Happily this lace mill still seems to be in business, but clearly if you wish to see something of the traditional machine-made lace industry of Calais you must hurry. Good news is that Monsieur Gohel's exhibition "La Pioche et l'Aigulle — Calais Industrial and Monumental 1817-1914", which ran at the museum in Calais in 1981, has been put on again, in Paris. Is this a sign that IA is gaining favour in France? Bob Carr

Very junior IA

Have you noticed how the average age of GLIAS members is falling? On the visit to the Electric Cinema, Portobello Road there were four members under school age: Barbara Hayton (4), Simon Purkis (2), Alice Hayton (1) and Kirsty Perrett (7 months). Although the children were not necessarily impressed by their surroundings they did not distract the adults from appreciating the visit. At lunch afterwards at Obelix, Westbourne Grove, there were all four young members and six adults. Under GLIAS's family membership scheme all family members are entitled to be card holders, providing the membership secretary is informed. Perhaps some of the events organizers would consider families when arranging events. I have sadly missed all this winter's lectures as these and all other evening events coincide with Kirsty's bedtime. Daytime visits are sometimes possible, but obviously some sites are unsafe or unsuitable. Maybe we could have a couple of family-oriented visits during the summer (what a pity Hollycombe has been disbanded). What about a crèche at the AGM? That way only one or two adults need miss the lecture, rather than one parent in each family. Olwen Perrett

More gas

Bet & John Parker have added another Woolworth's to their list of those with emergency gas lamps still in place (GLIAS Newsletter December 1982): Bethnal Green branch. The Spotted Dog (visit on 23 March 1983) has partial gas lighting, there are quite a number of gas lamps in the Covent Garden area, many Thames Water Authority pumping stations have emergency gas lighting. Simon Hickmott and Peter Hopkinson, who wrote 'The Surviving Gas Lights of Central Leeds', have been in touch with GLIAS regarding their project of recording gas lighting throughout Britain: does anyone know of any more examples?

GLIAS 'gas man' Brian Sturt's article in the August 1982 SEGAS magazine prompts me to ask also what GLIAS members know of the waterborne coal traffic to the gas works dock on Bow Creek, to the N of East India Dock Road (TQ 386 819). Did colliers sail here until c.1960? The negotiation of the East India Dock Road bridge must have been impressive (were special flatirons used?).

Malcolm Tucker has given me a cutting from the New Civil Engineer (22 July 1982) concerning coal gas and its effects on health. According to Lewis R. Mather men who spent their working lives in gasworks enjoy a surprising longevity. However, before the efficient purification of gas things were probably not so good and in their booklet on the gas lights of Leeds Simon Hickmott and Peter Hopkinson quote the following passage by Fred R. Spark, Chief Medical Officer in Leeds 1879: 'The impure gas in Leeds inflicts upon health depression and headache'. Bob Carr

Croydon Airport Society

After mentioning the proposed aviation museum in Newsletter 82 I received details from Croydon Airport Society's press officer and GLIAS member John King of their 'goings on' which included a Christmas Soirée no less! Seriously, it sounds as if most interesting things are happening and anyone interested in this project should get in touch with their membership secretary; Mr. C. Fuller, 11 Purberry Shot, Epsom Road, Ewell KT17 13X (enclosing SAE for a speedy reply).

Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology: Brent Transport continued

On the N side-of the bridge taking the southern arm of Craven Park over the railway there are two boundary stones in the pavement (one at each end of the bridge) marked Id IB/MR — probably Willesden Local Board / Midland Railway.

At the N corner of the bridge taking the NW arm of Craven Park over the railway there is a partly broken Midland Railway 'do not trespass on the railway' sign.

'Typical ' Midland Railway signal box controlling the junction of Brent Curve to the N and Cricklewood Curve to the S which lead to the MR main line. On the opposite side of the lips there is a platelayers' hut.

Road Transport

450 CRICKLEWOOD BUS GARAGE Edgware Road, NW2 TQ 234 863
First motor garage built by LGOC (1905). Considerably extended, but original small garage building backs on to Edgware Road.

451 WILLESDEN BUS GARAGE High Road, NW10 TQ 222 847
The front on to High Road of 1912 is a fairly early example of an LGOC motor bus garage. Little else old remains.

452 ALPERTON BUS GARAGE Ealing Road, Wembley TQ 180 837
Only two bus garages were designed by London Transport before WW2. Alperton was opened in 1939, Victoria in 1940.


453 THE PLUMES HOTEL, Abbey Road, NW10 TQ 199 828
The Edwardian Plumes Hotel was built to serve the Royal Agricultural Society's ground at Park Royal. There was flying here from 1910-1913. Today it is a factory estate, but the hotel is a historic aviation site as it was Grahame-White's base for his first attempt on the London — Manchester prize.

Manufacturing Industry

454 ex-SUDBURY & HARROW BREWERY Harrow Road, Sudbury TQ 166 854
Now occupied by Tasker & Booth, building plant and scaffolding hire. Slate nameplate from entrance is in Grange Museum, Neasden. Believed to be one of few, local mid-19th century breweries in London of which substantial parts remain.

Originally the offices of the de Havilland company. To the N on the other side of Grove Road there is another early de Havilland factory. Stag Lane aerodrome (1916-1934) is entirely built over but is commemorated by de Havilland Road and Mollison Way. (>>>)

456 SMITH INDUSTRIES Cricklewood Broadway, NW2 TQ 235 862
The famous clock and instrument makers for tears and aircraft occupy a large site bounded by Cricklewood Broadway, Temple Road, Langton Road and the railway. Parts of these buildings,: particularly on Langton Road, date from 1912 when they were occupied by the Nieuport and General Aviation Company and they are one of the earliest aircraft manufacturing sites in the country.

After being vacated by Rolls-Royce in 1980 this complex has now been demolished.

34 HOLLAND & HOLLAND LTD (GLIAS Newsletter August 1979)
This factory was purpose built.

Service Industries

Opened in 1933, given up by the PO in 1976 and now in other commercial use. Typical brick built buildings of the period by A.R. Myers, HM Office of Works architect. Main block is 286 feet long with 3 principal floors, one other large block and a number of individual single storey research blocks also remain.

Street Furniture

458 CAST IRON URINAL, Carlton Vale (on NW6/W9 and Brent/City of Westminster boundaries) TQ 248 830
Urinal not in use, but attractive above ground metal railings and a 'Gothick' vent pipe remain.

Bill Firth

Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology: Mouth of Bow Creek/Blackwall area

This is a compact, heavily industrialised area coincident; with the River Lea delta and characterised by heavy industry: gas works, electric power stations, railways, docks and shipyards. Some of this, industry survives and small sea-going ships still sail up Bow Creek to the north of the East India Dock Road bridge. The following are a 'top 21' sites in a particularly interesting area; although not arranged as a walk they are collected into four groups for convenient exploration (459-465, 466-470, 471-475, 476-479) but remember that like many sites in this Gazetteer they are not open to the public without prior permission.

459 EARLY DRY DOCK Blackwall Yard, (Blackwall Engineering) off Blackwall Way, TQ 387 806. The eastern of two dry docks at Blackwall Yard coincides with the site of a dock which existed in 1803, It had been enlarged to approximately its present length by 1850. Granite blocks set in the walls at the entrance have bearing faces for struts at 45° in plan, probably to help support an early caisson gate. This dock is out of use and silting up, but the other, dating from the 1890s is still in use for ship repairing and a forge with a pneumatic hammer is at work.

460 FORMER SHIPBUILDER'S HOUSE now offices for Blackwall Engineering, Blackwall Way TQ 385 806. Mid-19th century house of the Green family who owned Blackwall Yard. Three storey brick and stucco, with imposing central stair well.

461 FORMER HYDRAULIC PUMPING STATION (ex-Midland Railway.) Duthie Street/Blackwall Way TQ 384 806. Built in 1870s to serve the Midland Railway's railway yard and dock (now filled in). A fine example of the Company's characteristic architectural style in red brick with lozenge-pattern cast iron window frames (unfortunately not 'listed', only on the local list at present).

462 FORMER HYDRAULIC PUMPING STATION (ex East India Dock Company) East India Dock
Wall Road TQ 386 808 c.1860, the earliest of the surviving hydraulic pumping station buildings of the dock companies in London. In a striking architectural style, it is listed Grade 2 and currently used for furniture storage. (>>>)

The East India Company obtained its Act for these docks in 1803, four years after the West India Docks Act. Prior to this the 'East Indiamen' had been unloaded in the River at Blackwall as owing to their size they were unable to come further up river. The goods imported by the East India Company were of high value and little bulk arid were taken to the City by (horse-drawn) road van for warehousing. Large warehouses in the City at Cutler Street were built in 1782 to accommodate the trade and so little warehousing was built around the docks themselves. The engineers for the East India Docks were John Rennie and Ralph Walker, The docks opened in 1806 and were closed by the PLA in 1967. There were two docks, an Import Dock to the N with a smaller Export Dock to the S and an entrance basin. The Export Dock was heavily bombed during the 1939-45 war and the post-war Brunswick Wharf Power Station was constructed on the site (see 464). The Import Dock has been partially filled and the W end is used as a container stacking yard; there is still water in the E end. Portions of the original dock wall and some sheds, especially along Leamouth Road, are noteworthy survivors.

Bob Carr

(More of BOB CARR's Bow Creek/Blackwall Gazetteer will be in Newsletter 85)

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© GLIAS, 1983