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Notes and news — August 1984

In this issue:

Strings pulled for rapid wire

The menswear and boyswear shop of W.H. Smith, 123 Mitcham Road, Tooting, SW17, was the last place in London to use a 'rapid wire' system. There were five counter positions and one cash desk. The system was dismantled when the shop was modernised in 1981/2 and the Manager, Philip Hyer, put it in store in case a museum might be interested. GLIAS offered to help him; the upshot was that Ironbridge now has it for eventual installation in a suitable shop at the museum. Meanwhile, 'rapid wires' have not completely left the capital, as there is an example in working order displayed in the Museum of London. As an aside, I have heard that 'rapid wires' are still to be found in Commonwealth countries, eg New Zealand. Can any member verify this? David Thomas

Railway sleepers

At the January GLIAS Recording Group meeting mention was made of a railway sleeper works at Hayes in Middlesex and in the discussion it seemed that little was known about the production of sleepers, so I have put together a few details.

The name 'sleeper' originated from the 'dormant timbers' placed beneath the rails and was certainly in use in England in the early 18th century. Brunel's timber sleepers were 'kyanised', a process invented by a Dr. Kyan for preserving wood by saturating it with a solution of corrosive sublimate, otherwise bicloride of mercury. For maximum strength one pound of corrosive sublimate was dissolved in ten gallons of tepid water and the sleepers were immersed at the rate of 24 hours for each inch of thickness, with large sleepers requiring 2-3 weeks. The corrosive sublimate had to be used in totally wooden vats because it would dissolve all metal fittings and was superseded by creosote about 1840.

The most effective method of preserving timber sleepers, called the Bethel process, is to exhaust the air from a cylinder after the timber is inserted, then allow oil to enter. When the cylinder is full the pressure is increased to 150-200lbs per square inch until the wood has absorbed the required amount, as indicated by a gauge fitted to the reservoir tank of 3-10lbs per cubic foot. The oil is usually heated by coils of steam pipes in the reservoir to help with the impregnation.

Hayes railway sleeper works was brought into operation by the Great Western Railway in 1935 with a yard for storing three quarters of a million sleepers and used over 1½ million gallons of creosote a year. The cost of treating each sleeper would then have been a little under 10/- (50p). The creosoting cylinders at Hayes were 90ft long and 5ft 9ins in diameter, loaded by electrically driven conveyors and held 600 sleepers each.

Host sleepers were made from Baltic Redwood or Douglas Fir, but now they are made from Jarrah, which has always been used by London Transport. As can be seen when one looks at the end grain there is a right and a wrong way up for sleepers, where the timber is laid down on the heartwood with the younger growth rings uppermost forming a series of 'domes' to allow moisture to run off. If the sleeper were reversed the moisture would collect in the 'cup' thus formed, shortening its life.

British Rail still consumes about 2,500,000 wooden sleepers annually. Each timber measures 8' 6" x 10" x 5" and they are used at the rate of 2,112 to 2,404 sleepers per mile according to loadings, foundations and curves. Concrete sleepers measure 3' 3" long and weigh 588lbs with fittings, compared to 237lbs for a chaired and creosoted wooden sleeper and are used on main and fast lines. Paul Verrall

Leisure park for Battersea Power Station

A leisure park with a series of historical and futuristic attractions making use of advanced technology, restaurants, themed shopping and craft workshops has been chosen as the winning scheme in the development competition to find a new, viable use for Battersea power station. Further info in next Newsletter.

News from Chatham

About three years ago a party of GLIAS members visited the Brook pumping station in Chatham and were entertained by the sight, sound and smell of the rare Campbell oil engines pumping Chatham's sewage into the River Medway.

Medway Industrial Archaeology Group are now pleased to announce that following extensive restoration and improvement work by Rochester upon Medway Borough Council, the pumping station will be open to the general public on Saturday mornings (09.20-13.30) throughout the year. The station, which was built as a sewage and storm-water pumping station using both electrical and diesel pumps, was opened with a burst of civic pride in September 1929 and has remained essentially as built. It was scheduled as an ancient monument and after being disconnected from the main drainage system was sold by the Southern Water Authority to the Council (for £1). It is now an outstation of the Rochester Guildhall Museum. There are no permanent staff and all routine maintenance and manning on open days is being carried out by HIAC volunteers (offers of assistance always welcome!). A formal 'opening day' will take place later this year, meanwhile the station has occasionally to do a real job of work, particularly during wet weather and it is intended to run the main engines during public opening hours.

The Brook pumping station is one of several projects that are to transform the IA interest and the general tourist potential of the Medway Towns. GLIAS members will have seen announcements in the national press about the long term future of the historic part of Chatham Dockyard. Near the main dockyard gate a Medway Heritage Centre has been set up in a redundant church. Across the road one of the largest job-creation schemes in the country has been running in order to uncover military fortifications dating from the 18th century up to the Second World War. Recently the derelict Dunkirk veteran paddle steamer Medway Queen was brought back, Great Britain style, on a floating wooden pontoon fron her resting place by the Medina River on the Isle of Wight.

The Brook pumping station is the official headquarters of MIAG. It is situated in Solomons Road, off Batchelor Street towards the Eastern end of Chatham High Street between the Pentagon multistorey car park and Queensway. For further information ring Mike Peevers (0634 362347), John Puplett (0634 34997) or Bob Barnes (0322 25725). Bob Barnes

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© GLIAS, 1984