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Notes and news — August 1983

In this issue:

A basement railway

On 11 May 1983, Peter Skilton, Dave Perrett and myself visited the basement of Ludgate House, former headquarters of Thomas Cook Ltd, to examine the remains of a narrow gauge railway which Peter had discovered during the course of his work. The track, 50cm gauge, street tramway section, could be followed along the narrow passages, though it disappeared beneath a wall to re-appear after twists in the passage. It finally disappeared under another wall in the direction of Ludgate Circus. One small turntable was found in situ; the site of another could be discerned and a set of points was located. The turntable bore the inscription 'Decauville Ain /Petit Bourg/Plaque Toumante Portative BT2C DC (WG)', with 'No. 23' in the centre. The cast iron turntable was 80cm in diameter. The purpose of the line is unknown, but might have been connected with the transporting of luggage. (Peter found there had been a bank in these premises and it has been suggested that the railway was used for moving bullion between strong rooms).

Decauville Ain were distillers founded in 1854 by Armand Decauville with a works at Petit Bourg near Corbeil, making distilling apparatus. His elder son, Paul, constructed a portable railway in 1875 to transport crops from the firm's farms. The firm began to supply similar equipment to other companies and were soon manufacturing portable railway equipment, track and waggons, for 40, 50 and 60cm gauges. Further notes on the company can be found in 'Light Railways' by W.J.K. Davies (London, 1964), Appendix E. Tim Smith

GLIAS went to Big Pit (and much else) ... 16 July 1983

As Pontypool drew near, the heat of the day was momentarily forgotten and maps came out, landmarks plotted — we were approaching The Valley Inheritance Centre, the introduction for our day's visit to the urban district now known as Torfaen, an area of early industrialisation much influenced by the Hanbury family. Members of the Torfaen Museum Trust welcomed us with coffee as we gained a feeling for the area from a slide-tape presentation and well-exhibited original objects, housed in the 1830s stable block of Pontypool Park House. While some rushed off to see Pontypool, others took advantage of the restful courtyard for lunch before the next phase of our day.

As the southern approach to Blaenafon Ironworks was made, there were glimpses of the past significance of the area — the twelve 1804 ironworkers' cottages at Forge Row, Cwmafon, the iron tombstones in Blaenafon itself. The coach stopped above the sunken ironworks, in which remains in a bank of two out of five blast furnaces, started in 1789, still seemed massive alongside two casting houses. Ironworkers' cottages at Stack Square opposite enclosed the site, the latter in particular seeming sadly to have deteriorated in recent years.

Then, in the distance we viewed our next stop — the pit headgear of Big Pit, so called for the large diameter of its shaft, sunk in 1860. Here we appreciated the life of a mining community — a reconstructed miner's cottage, the pithead baths and miners' canteen; the original blacksmiths' forge and stables, with cages and winding engine which was powered by steam until 1953. (The pit itself closed in 1980.) So, in small groups we descended the 300ft shaft — to coolness! Now our way was lit by lamps on our helmets — only for moments did we deliberately experience the total blackness which was normal for the 12 hour shifts by boys and girls working ventilation doors. Our miner guide brought the arduousness of the enclosed workings to life; we saw the massive under-ground haulage engines and the stables where pit ponies had waited to pull heavy tram loads of coal. After only an hour or so, on return to the surface, the valley sides, while rather parched and bare, seemed very inviting.

This wasn't the end of our stops. We returned south, near Abersychan passing the beautiful, curved stone Talywaun viaduct of 1876 which had taken the London and North West Railway up to Big Pit. Some two miles SW of Pontypool we stopped. In the warm evening we made our way up a steep hill, supposedly to 'see' at safe distance the crumbling stone engine houses of Glyn Pit, one of the most important sites in coal mining technology in South Wales. It was again the Hanbury family who had owned the site. Both the Cornish-type beam pumping engine and flat rope winding engine were made at Neath Abbey Ironworks in 1845 — pumping ceased in 1966. The barbed wire gates were ignored and we pounced on the overgrown site. But what was everyone searching for? Some puzzled over the visible remains, but others sought something else — wild strawberries! We descended contentedly to the coach after our finds, our guides much relieved at our safety — it had completed an exciting day. We left our Guides, from the Torfaen Museum Trust, very appreciative for so much time having been given to make this an enjoyable and informative visit. Still warm and sunny, we headed for the Severn Bridge. Very many thanks to Dave Perrett for arranging such a full and varied day, especially when planning had a house move in the middle of it! Youla Yates

Anyone who missed Big Pit (or wants to go back to S. Wales) could contact the Mount Sorrel Hotel, Porthkerry Road, Barry, S Glamorgan (telephone 0446 740069) who are offering special two-day holidays @ 32.50 and information about the IA (and other historic attractions) of this area.

Lots Road Power Station

A visit was made to the Lots Road Power Station of London Transport on 25 January 1983. Together with the remotely controlled gas turbine station at Greenwich this station supplies electricity for London Transport railways in the central London area, those in the outer suburbs drawing power from the National Grid. When first built in 1904 Lots Road was the largest power station in the world and the chimneys were said to be the tallest in Europe. The original plant consisted of 80 Babcock & Wilcox water tube boilers on the first and second floors (boilers upstairs were unusual in England at that time) supplying steam to 10 four-stage parallel flow Westinghouse-Parsons turbines driving 5.5 MW three-phase generators (the largest sets built at the time). The building consists of a steel framework filled in with terracotta and bricks 453 by 175 ft in plan and 145 ft high over the boilers. At the time of construction it was thought to be unduly stark in appearance, but such is the change of taste this important survival now seems attractively ornate. The American Charles T. Yerkes was responsible for the inception of Lots Road which was designed to supply power to the Metropolitan and District Railway, the Baker Street & Waterloo, Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead and Great Northern & Piccadilly tubes and the Brompton Railway (also the Central London Railway in emergency).

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

The present plant, installed in the early 1960s, consists of six dual fuel (oil/natural gas, currently using gas) burning-radiant-membrane wall Babcock & Wilcox superheater boilers with a capacity of 300,000lbs. of steam per hour (MCR) at a temperature of 935 F and pressure of 950 psi. These were the first membrane-wall boilers to be commissioned in this country. The corresponding six twin cylinder impulse reaction 40,000hp turbines by C.A. Parsons take steam at 900 F and 900 psi and drive 30 MW alternators which generate three-phase 50 cycle/ second electricity at 22,000 volts. The present-day station has over three times the capacity of that of 1904 within the same building. At Greenwich there are eight Rolls Royce Avon turbine sets which produce a total of 88 MW and are used at times of peak load in the morning and evening. Either kerosene or natural gas can be used as fuel and they take only 2 minutes to get on load.

Cooling water for the Lots Road turbine condensers and air and oil coolers is drawn from the Thames to screen pits where debris is removed by rotating band screens. Here numerous flat fish testify to the present-day purity of the Thames at Chelsea, The screen pits are connected to the pump house basement 45ft below ground level by pipes of 9ft x 7ft 9ins diameter. Seven pumps are installed, each discharging at a pressure of 19psi. Five have a capacity of 1.38 million gallons per hour and are driven by 435hp electric motors at 500rpm and two have a 0.69 million gallons per hour capacity, being driven by 220hp motors at 750rpm. The electric motors take three-phase current at 3,300 volts, 50 cycles per second. To avoid possible damage by flooding the motors are situated above the highest expected tide level and drive the pumps, vertically below, by shafts 32ft in length. The condensers situated beneath the turbines contain 5,787 one inch diameter brass tubes giving a total cooling surface of 23,500 square feet and on peak load 191,450lbs of steam per hour are condensed, requiring 5,900tons of river water. The condensate is returned to the boilers via economisers. Water to make up losses in the recycling system is obtained from an artesian well.

A highlight of the day was the visit to the 1935 control room situated overlooking the turbine hall high up at the east end. This room maintains much of its original appearance, redolent of a Lyons tea shop in decoration. The 1904 control room was situated half way along the turbine hall and the present day control room is in a separate building to the west. We were given a superb commentary hero for which we are especially grateful. A feature of Lots Road is the varying load; fluctuations of up to 60MW in a few seconds are not uncommon. We should like to thank Mr R.P. Joiner for permission to make the visit and our two guides. Bob Carr

End of an era — a visit on 8 June 1983 to the Cork Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Langite Works, Chingford, E4

The last cork mill in Britain will be closing very shortly. The Cork Manufacturing Company's factory at Hall Lane, Chingford, is due to cease production before the end of September, following which processed cork will be imported direct from Portugal for final manufacture at the firm's remaining factory at Slough, The factory was set up in 1922 to make cricket and hockey balls and later expanded its product range to include bath mats, gaskets and insulation fittings. Although much of the product manufacturing side has already been transferred to Slough, the primary processing is at present continuing and was viewed recently by a group of GLIAS members. A full report on this unique site will appear in the near future. David Willis

Activities (and products) captured in architecture. Part 3 Industry and communications

Following on from Parts 1 (Transport) and 2 (Food), this deals with industry and communications, but excludes public utilities, banks and service industries, which will appear in a later Newsletter. In turn that will be followed by a list of general scenes and items omitted from previous lists. Members who know of buildings which feature scenes or products in the design are asked to let David Thomas know at 36 Pearman Street, SE1 7RB. Roy Allen, Paul Rainey & Brenda Innes are thanked for help.


1. South Bank House, corner Black Prince Road/Lambeth High Street, SE1
Former showrooms for Doulton Ltd, with pottery sales scene above door and much use of their products as 'trim' on building.

2. 165 Great Dover Street, SE1
Brick cherubs handle pots of hot metal as visitors hastily enter premises of Dewrance Ltd, founders and boiler makers.


3. Leather Hide & Wool Exchange, corner Weston/Leathermarket Streets, SE1
Tanning scenes. The market stalls area has gone, but stores, with windows grilled to safeguard valuable leathers, remain.


4. 28 Addington Street, SE1
The casing of a small centrifugal pump fits snugly into a brick circle high on the facade. Can any member advise why, please?

5. 928 Great West Road, Hounslow
Gillette's factory of 1935 has a tall clock tower which, it is said, is a stylised inverted contemporary safety razor.

6. Great West Road, Hounslow
Former HQ of Sperry Gyroscope, 1931, has air vents between ground and first floors that resemble stylised gyroscopes.

7. Great West Road, Hounslow
Opposite and slightly E of (6), Trico House has an illuminated sign in the form of a world map swept by a windscreen wiper: the firm's product. Although not visible from outside, the earlier 1931 buildings have a corrugated design on doorways, reflecting the previous owner, Thompson & Norris (Corrugated Boxes) Ltd.

8. Great West Road/Ealing Road, Hounslow
Maybe it's just imagination, but there is a resemblance to the blades of a separator, which is what is made by the occupiers, Alfa-Laval. 1925.

9. Western Avenue, Perivale
Hoover's factory railings and gateways have stylised vacuum cleaner shapes.

10. Trojan Works, 41 Kentish Town Road, NW5
An elephant's head smiles down on passers-by from premises built c.1885 as the India rubber stamp works of Stricklands.

11. 21 St James Street, SW1
Bronze doors have raided boot and tyre treads, plus hockey sticks, products of Dunlop who occupy. At present there are a few old tyres on display in window.

12. 66 Portland Place, W1
Trades/professions involved in architecture are represented by figures on RIBA's premises. Doors have 'London & its buildings' scene. (For more, see RIBA Journal 6/11/34).

13. 144-6 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2
A lady bookbinder ignores distractions as she concentrates on work for her employees, Joseph Zachensdorf (c.1890).

14. Hollen Street, W1
High above cherubs industriously operate a Wharfdale flatbed printing press. Put to work c.1898 by Novello, music publishers, whose adjacent main offices, in Wardour Street, are now the British Library copyright receipt office.

15. 20 Cranbourne Street, WC2
The sandwich bar occupies the former main entrance to Cranbourne Chambers, above, late HQ of Wisden, makers of cricket gear and almanac publishers: hence bails and bat design.

16. 32-6 Farringdon Street, EC4
Cherubs display a graph and thermometer in front of a boiler section astride the doorway of Babcock & Wilcox Ltd building of c.1930 when the firm expanded from 30-31 adjacent.

Babcock & Wilcox, 34-5 Farringdon St Babcock & Wilcox, 34-5 Farringdon St

17. 153 Farringdon Street, EC3
Two small fishermen trawl away on premises built in 1883 for J. Tull & Son, net, rope and twine makers.

18. 21 New Street, EC2
A large ram looks disdainfully down from the gateway at the end of this cul-de-(wool)sac that leads to warehouses built in 1864 for John Cooper, wool merchant.

New Street

19. Warton House, 32-50 High Street, Stratford, E15
Cheerful lavender-collecting girls smile from the W wall of the former Yardley perfumery. 1930s.

20. 345 Ruislip Road, Southall
Taylor Woodrow's premises have an aluminium version of their 'teamwork' design of 1959.

21. Western House, Western Avenue, W5
As (20), but 1958 and in granite.


Very much concentrated around Fleet Street, with Mercury figures abounding (or a-flying!) All EC4 unless stated.

1. Temple Avenue/Victoria Embankment
Telephone House, erected 1898/1900 for National Telephone Company, with cherubs along the roofline alternately listening to earpieces (at a respectable distance) or thumbing through directories. Also, Hermes/Mercury looks over them.

2. 233 Gray's Inn Road, WC1
The cherubic operators in (1) have gone, leaving a row of silent phones along the wall of this exchange of c.1940. (A phone also appears on 69 Cannon Street).

3. 84 Moorgate, formerly Electra House
Now City Poly, but built 1900-3 as HQ of a number of telegraph companies, hence the wires and insulators behind the figures above the door and the 'globe' on the roof. See (4) and (5) below.

4. Electra House, Temple Place, WC2
Dates from c.1935, HQ of overseas division of Cable and Wireless Ltd. (at the time the UK division remained at 84 Moorgate). A beefy hand clutches an electric spark while two Mercurys look away.

5. 110-124 Theobalds Road, WC1
Mercury House, further premises of Cable & Wireless, perhaps replacing their 84 Moorgate site, with Mercury heads above the door.

6. 135 Fleet Street
Telegraph Building, from which two more Mercurial characters dash.

Telegraph Building

7. 99 Shoe Lane
Mercury's left his wings after getting caught in the telegraph wires that form part of an emblem with motto 'Was, is and will be'.

8. 85 Fleet Street
Pan soothes the panic by blowing sweetly from the doorway of Reuters/Press Association, where he's got a dry spot astride a globe.

9. 23-7 Tudor Street
A more sedate Mercury stands with a banner, the legend, of which has been erased, but probably read Argus Press Ltd, who installed him c.1898.

© Dave Thomas

10. Carmelite House, Carmelite Street
The Associated Newspapers group has a more down-to-earth view of news: its bronze doorway of about 1940 shows scenes in production and distribution of newsprint.

11. Farringdon Buildings, Farringdon Street
Have a 1960s mosaic depicting, in pretty mixed-up abstract form, the state-of-the-art in communications, with cables, aerials, switchboards and so on.

12. While not in architecture, a feature in Battersea is worth recording here: Eversleigh Road, SW11, on the E wall of a corner shop is painted a TV transmitter aerial with 'rings' coming from it, just like the mid-50s pre-programme signature picture!

13. 2 Bridewell Place
Door light has small glass 'map' of UK with initials of National Federation of Retail newsagents (and Booksellers). The lamp above and motto NISI DOMIS refers to other communications, for this was previously the rectory for St. Brides Church.

David Thomas

London Transport Museum 'Friends' group

London Transport Museum, Covent Garden, WC2E 7BB has formed a 'Friends' group to assist them on special projects and get more involved with the museums' work than the ordinary visitor. The sub is 5 and gives free admittance to the museum until the end of 1984. Anyone interested should get in touch with the Hon. Sec. D. Graeme Bruce at 38 Sudbury Court Drive, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 3TD.

Westminster archives

Members' particularly those who use the Westminster historic archives in the reference library in Buckingham Palace Road, may be interested to know that proposals have been submitted to Westminster Council for further development at Victoria Station which will include a new public archive library for Westminster. The project should take three years to build, perhaps in the late 1980s we can consult the Westminster archives in greater comfort than we do now. Sue Hayton

Maudsley's tomb plates

Woolwich Antiquarian Society have been successful in obtaining permission to remove three tomb plates of Maudsley's tomb which were being left to decay in Woolwich Churchyard (one is still missing). It is hoped that these will be restored for display in the Foundry House at Woolwich Arsenal.

West Ham Beam Engine

Mr. John Porter, the last manager of River Thames Shiprepairs Ltd at Tilbury (GLIAS Newsletter December 1982), phoned me with news of the inverted vertical compound engine that Tilbury apprentices had restored. It used to be kept on the jetty and before the jetty was demolished British Shipbuilders' apprentices from Newcastle paid a visit, dismantled the engine and returned with it to their Tyneside training establishment where it has been re-erected. They are said to have a boiler and it is hoped to steam the engine. (Mr. Porter also remembered the days when Tilbury Works had a large sail loft where sails were made for Orient Line steamers).

I am also grateful to Mr. James Wood for correcting an error in dimensions: the diameter of the low pressure cylinder of the Cochrane engines should be 30in. Incidentally, these engines appear in an illustrated article in 'Engineering' of May 10, 1901, pp 603-4 (two plates). Mr. Wood points out that there were only two Cochrane engines, the third engine being different and by an unknown make. It is thought that this is the engine which went to Tilbury.

For electrical buffs

At one time parts of the London Borough of Newham used to have a public two-phase electricity supply. I was told by a former employee that West Ham power station used to have Scott Connected Transformers to convert three-phase to two. This helps to explain the Westinghouse Synchronous motors in the pump house at Royal Albert Dock (GLIAS Newsletter October 1982). Does anyone have further information? Bob Carr

Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology: Mouth of Bow Creek/Blackwall area (cont.)

This is the maintenance HQ of Trinity House: buoys, lightships etc. for England & Wales are serviced from here. The works include a blacksmiths' shop, machine shops, electrical department and a training school for the instruction of new staff. Some fine 19th century machine tools were still in existence in 1981, reputedly some obtained second hand from nearby Thames Ironworks which closed in 1912. Notably, in the large machine shop, were a pyramidal three rolls by Craig & Donald of Johnstone near Glasgow (said to be c.1905) and a shearer/punch by S. Appleyard of Halifax: typical shipyard machines. Fog horns are tested in a small department near the river. A travelling rail-crane by D. Booth & Bros Ltd, Engineers, Rodley, Leeds of 1924 stands, out of use, at the Thameside wharf all traffic to and from Trinity Buoy Wharf is now by road. The stone lighthouse which marks the entrance to Bow Creek (the only substantial lighthouse in Greater London) has not been used for navigational purposes for some time, perhaps not this century, but has been in use for the training of lighthouse keepers. Attempts to investigate its history have been unsuccessful; the records and drawings formerly at Trinity House, EC3 were destroyed by fire c.1941, but the lighthouse is thought to date from c.1880. (For a more detailed report see GLIAS Newsletter February 1981). Trinity Buoy Wharf is quite a large establishment, but appears modest from outside. From the river a collection of brightly painted navigation buoys may be seen near the point, but from the landward side only a small decorative light reminiscent of a buoy lantern on the N side of the entrance gate at the end of Orchard Place indicates anything of note. The maintenance works at Trinity Buoy Wharf are being run down and work is to be transferred to depots out of London, the most likely candidate being Harwich.

474. Site of former POPLAR HOSPITAL, East India Dock Road, E14 TQ 384 811
Demolished 1982. A chimney at TQ 384 812 remains and there is also a plaque along East India Dock Road inscribed 'A.D. 1900'.

475. Rutland Terrace, Oban Street, dated 1881
Attractive row of terraced houses (presumably for gas workers?). A number of streets in the area have Scottish names.

476. Former GASWORKS, now Poplar Holder Station (North Thames Gas), Leven Road E14
3 gasholders of varying dates. Attractive c.1880 office with arched windows to the E of the gate (TQ 387 814). The original gas works belonged to the Commercial Gas Company which was formed in 1837. Production ceased here in 1967. At one time there was a wharf on Bow Creek for sea-going colliers.

477. DEVON WHARF, Leven Road, E14 TQ 384 817
Joseph Ash & Son. Foundry building towards Bow Creek. New galvanising plant being installed, 1983.

Bob Carr

Bob's gazetteer will be continued.

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© GLIAS, 1983