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Notes and news — April 1985

In this issue:

Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington

Business Design Centre © Robert Mason 2016

Work has just commenced on the £4.6 million first phase of the redevelopment of this site to form a permanent trade exhibition/design centre for City Industrial Limited. In Liverpool Road the listed main hall and surrounding elevations together with the 'new extension' of 1933 are being renovated and adapted to form the main exhibition area. The remainder of the buildings down to Upper Street are being demolished and a new entrance, administration, staircase and restaurant block is being provided.

Various artifacts from the demolished buildings are being retained for incorporation in the new works including cast-iron columns and roof metalwork, the cast iron portal structure to the entrance from Barford Street, together with the two attached bracket cranes, the stained-glass window to Upper Street and sundry balustrades, bollards, etc.

It is intended to remove the remains of the three Ruston and Hornsby single cylinder, single acting, horizontal engines in the basement, part of the electricity generating equipment and to renovate one for display in the main hall.

The main contractors for this first phase are Dove Bros. Ltd. who built the 'new extension' in 1933 and future contracts on the site will be for car parks, offices, landscaping, etc. Ray Plassard

South London visit

Kirkaldy Testing Museum, 2012. © Adriaan Linters This varied day held interest for the student of engineering structures and materials testing, real-ale enthusiasts, local historians, stationary steam engine buffs, railway enthusiasts and the lover of shire horses. GLIAS and Newcomen Society members assembled in the morning at 10:30 on Monday, the 12th November 1984 and were privileged to look round the Kirkaldy Testing Museum which is being set up at No. 99 Southwark Street, SE1. The museum will illustrate the development of the testing of engineering materials such as iron and steel, especially in the 19th century. After working in the Clydeside shipbuilding industry, David Kirkaldy established his first materials testing works at The Grove, Southwark, in 1864.

This venture was successful and purpose-built premises to the design of T.R. Smith were erected at 99 Southwark Street, to which the business was moved by 1873. As space is short the reader is referred to Dr. Denis Smith's excellent paper "David Kirkaldy (1820-1897) and Engineering Materials Testing" in Volume 52 of the Transactions of the Newcomen Society, pp.49-65. We should like to thank Dr. Smith (our chairman) for conducting the party in person. Kirkaldy's unique patent hydraulic testing machine of 1864 is still in situ and forms the nucleus of the museum. Carved in the stone pediment over the entrance to the works in Southwark St. is the bold statement "Facts Not Opinions". The museum occupies the basement and ground floor, the upper floor being let for office accommodation. Formerly there was a machine shop on the first floor and a "Museum of Fractures" on the third, where a large collection of tested specimens was displayed in glass cases. This top floor was damaged in an air-raid c.1940 and sadly the specimens went for scrap to support the war-effort.

After a buffet lunch at Young & Co's Founders' Arms by the river, the party was conducted on a walk through Southwark to Waterloo railway station. Among the more impressive items we stopped to note were the empty Bankside power station building and the demolition of Joseph Cubitt's railway bridge for the L.C.&D.R. The architect for Bankside power station was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and the plant was not installed until 1963, but being oil-fired and of small size (220 MW) it had a limited life and had closed by 1981. Joseph Cubitt's railway bridge was made by the Crumlin Viaduct Ironworks and opened in 1864. It was being demolished to release the land at either end for office redevelopment, said to be producing a sum of the order of one million pounds. The piers in the river will not be removed, simply capped and the well-known L.C.&D.R. cents of arms are to remain nearby as a decorative feature of the redevelopment and will not be going to the National Railway Museum at York as at first planned. The area of Southwark we passed through is densely packed with historic sites and interesting survivals and we also saw the two French cannons used as bollards on Bankside, (genuine cannons have trunnions), Rennie Street where John Rennie's two sons, George and John, had their engineering works from 1821 to 1833, the large portico of the Stamford Street Unitarian Chapel, the Peabody estate, where it is said that a laundry room is being restored to a c.1900 appearance and Roupell Street, a most attractive street of terraced houses built for workers in the area, about 1835 by Mr. Roupell, a local gold refiner. Space does not permit a mention of more than the most interesting items. At Waterloo station we had to inspect the roof. Waterloo opened in 1848 and was rebuilt 1900-22 but over the Windsor Lines (platforms 16-21) the roof of 1885 survives. At the South East end of the station the 1930s concrete News Cinema (closed and with some surfaces spelling, is a structural specimen worth study and we noted the former power station of the Waterloo and City line (1898) which retains its chimney. There are said to be some boilers here still in use. After a short train journey we alighted, at Wandsworth Town station and began our visit to Young & Co.'s Ram Brewery. There has been a brewery here by the River Wandle since before 1675 and GLIAS members were eager to see the two rotative jet-condensing Woolf compound beam engines by Wentworth & Sons of Wandsworth installed in 1835 and 1867. The 1867 engine of 20hp had been put in steam specially for our visit. The older engine was rebuilt in 1863 to increase the power from 12 to 16hp. Steam at 40psi is used and speeds were about 32 rpm. Now out of regular use the engines drove four pumps via gearing with hornbeam teeth and there was also a vertical shaft from which power was taken for milling and mashing on several floors. A tour of the brewery followed. At the roller mills on the top floor we were given samples of the ingredients to chew (not unpleasant) and we proceeded tracing the process down to the ground floor. The plant is being renewed and is now mostly stainless steel and white tiles, but the brewing process is traditional. Some coppers remain out of use but will be incorporated into a small museum section. A highlight of the day was a visit to the atmospheric 19th century stables with about 20 shire horses relaxing after a day's work. For distances up to three miles horse delivery is reckoned to be economic compared with motor lorries. In evening light shire horses look huge and black and with yellow tungsten electric lamps the effect was tremendous.

Many of us have seen London stables before but not with their occupants and the impact can be likened to a first visit to a working steam engine house. The horses' day's work is calculated at 9 tons of beer delivered each and they work in pairs. There is a forge at the Ram Brewery for shoeing horses and each horse has its own pattern. Some horses need to be re-shoed every ten days. Most of the horses we saw were not even tethered, the harnesses were being attended to and put away in an adjacent harness room. Feed had been portioned out and most horses were gently chewing with their backs to us, rather indifferent to the visit. There seemed to be almost a horse-society atmosphere of which we were an insignificant part! It should be stressed that these were working horses, only about two were used for shows. We were told that the character of the horses varied greatly; some ate all their food straight away while others saved special parts for snacks in the night. The effect of one of these great gentle animals suddenly deciding to clop around was tremendous, to me their gait was very curious. Horses were not the only animals at the Ram Brewery. There are also geese and a number of other creatures such as the brewery cat, but unfortunately the ram was dead from lead poisoning. The Surrey Iron Railway of 1803 used to run along the East side of the brewery and we spotted several stone sleeper blocks. Some of these were used to mark out the horses' exercise ground in the brewery. We were jokingly told that they had difficulty making people go home after work as it is so pleasant. We certainly had a very fine time.

The day ended sampling the products of the brewery. We are most grateful to our chairman, Dr. Denis Smith and the Kirkaldy Testing Museum for the morning visit and to Mrs C.M. Butler and Messrs. Young & Co. for the brewery visit. Mrs Butler led our party in person and specially arranged for a beam engine to be in steam, for which we are truly grateful. Bob Carr


In January we saw the demolition of the 1864 Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which was designed by Joseph Cubitt for the London Chatham and Dover Railway. The wrought-iron lattice trusses were lifted off by a giant floating crane, so huge that it was able to work from the further side of the remaining bridge downstream. The demolition will make way for an office development on the goods station site. Subsequently, members attending the GLIAS winter lectures will have noticed the large and difficult demolition job just NW of Moorgate Station. This is the former BP House in Ropemaker Street, one of the major offices rebuilding after the last war. It was completed in 1959 yet it is now obsolete. With its congested lay-out, lack of provision for air-conditioning and computer facilities and an unfashionable stone-clad exterior, it could not be let at the astronomical rentals now demanded from prime City sites. The task of demolishing this sound and substantial steel-framed building is but a small part of a £27 million redevelopment scheme.

All this must be viewed with envy by the councillors of Newham, who are searching for funds to demolish and replace the notorious Ronan Point and five other unsafe tower blocks, monuments of the industrialised housing drive of the 1960s. Incidentally, an exercise analogous to archaeological excavation is planned during the demolition, to discover how well, or badly, Ronan Point was actually built. Malcolm Tucker

A F Suter & Co. Ltd, 83/84 Eastway London E9 — the visit of 20 September 1984

A F Suter & Co. Ltd is unique in the UK in the carrying-out of the bleaching of shellac. Only four firms in the world carry-out this process and, with a constantly declining market for this natural product, Suter's continued existence remains in some doubt.

The firm was founded by A F Suter who was born near Zurich in 1882; he came to Britain in 1899 where, amongst other jobs, he worked for a firm dealing in shellac. In 1906 he started-up his own business and by the end of the First World War had opened a large warehouse at Upper Clapton where machinery began to be introduced for reconditioning material which had suffered in transit. In 1925 the shellac bleaching and merchanting business of the Swanlac Company at 21 Mincing Lane was purchased and the Eastway works, previously a sweet factory, were acquired the following year. The works were substantially adapted for the purposes of manufacturing and warehousing and, again, after a disastrous fire in 1935.

Shellac is an excretion from an insect, laccifer lacca, some 150,000 of which are involved in the production of sufficient matter to result in one pound of shellac (the word "lac" derives from the Sanskrit word "lakh", meaning 100,000). Lac is the only known animal resin, all others being of vegetable origin. It is harvested mainly in India and the Far East and is not generally cultivated, being classed as a minor forestry product. The resin is a protective secretion of the larva as it feeds on fresh twigs of certain trees called lac hosts. The final deposits are scraped from the twigs and sold as "sticklac". The refinement of sticklac into seedlac, the semi-processed material, takes place mostly in cottage-scale or semi-mechanised factories in the lac-growing areas and here the sticklac is crushed, sieved and washed. This removes the dye and most of the impurities and, after drying, the seedlac is extruded and rolled into sheets which, when crushed, forms handmade shellac. Shellac is a polyester type of resin and finds use, despite the growing importance of synthetic resins, in many coating applications requiring a film, having excellent adhesion, high gloss and hardness. Being non-poisonous, it is widely used for pharmaceutical and confectionery glazes and its high dielectric strength makes it a valuable insulator in the electrical industry. However, most of these applications require a refinement of the basic shellac and this is the process carried out by Suter's.

The seedlac is first ground to a powder, ready for an aqueous alkaline extraction using 8% sodium carbonate. The residues are recycled whilst the processed liquor is bleached using sodium hypochlorite. The solution gravitates to the first floor where it is filtered in one of three filter presses (Photo 1). The deposits, which are scraped from the filter sheets, are boiled in a vat (refined) (Photo 2) to produce shellac wax which is used in, for example, car polish. This process manages to reclaim about two-thirds of the wax although this only constitutes about 4% of the raw material. The bleached material is mixed with hydrochloric acid on the ground floor and, as it flows on to the surface of cold water in tanks, solidifies as a sheet (Photo 3).

The final processes involve the crushing and drying of the treated shellac. A pneumatic dryer reduces the moisture content to 14%, at which point it is blown automatically up to the second floor where the powder is spread on to trays (Photo 4) and allowed to spend about a day in the "drying room" at a temperature of 32°C. This process reduces the moisture content to 5% and it is then ready to be tipped to the ground floor and bagged off.

Exports are an important part of Suter's business, surprisingly much of it to India. However, the decline brought about by the introduction of synthetic material has reduced production from 1,500 tons/year on 24-hour working down to the present 400 tons/year produced by twelve men working a four-day week.

Many thanks are due to Mr. John Suter for showing the party round and providing such an interesting and informative afternoon. David Willis

Gazetteer of London industrial archaeology: Kew

The second itinerary covering the pre-1965 Borough of Richmond. It starts and ends at Kew Gardens station; the total distance is about 3½ miles. (P) indicates a reference to Pevsner's Buildings of England — London 2: South (1983).

522. KEW GARDENS STATION (P — p.505). Note the refreshment pavilion, contemporary with the station house, provided for visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The station is little altered since it was opened and, together with the parades of shops in the approach roads on each side of the line, forms a delightful area of outer-suburban townscape. (cf. The only other extant (but mutilated) original building of the Kensington and Richmond railway — the booking hall, formerly the station house at Turnham Green (now District Line)).

523. VISCOSE SPINNING MILL, Station Avenue, off Station Parade (backing onto the railway). Occupied by the short-lived Viscose Spinning Syndicate 1900-3; since then used for a variety of light industrial purposes.

524. FIRE BRIGADE STATION, Kew Road (near junction with Mortlake Road). Built pre-1880 for the Kew Volunteer Fire Brigade, which was amalgamated with the Richmond Brigade in 1893, when it became their No. 2 Station. Closed 1920.

525. ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS; CUMBERLAND and VICTORIA GATES, Kew Road (opposite Kew Gardens Road and Lichfield Road respectively). 1843. Cast-iron, by the Coalbrookdale Co.

526. MILE STONE, Kew Road (opposite Holmesdale Road). VII miles from Hyde Park Corner. See item 503. (>>>)


527. TEMPERATE HOUSE (P — p.511). Bench seats inside, with cast-iron ends marked 18 VR 78.

528. PALM HOUSE (P — p.510)

529. CAMPAMILE (P — p.510). Designed as a combined water tower and (unsuccessful) chimney for the Palm House furnaces.

530. ICE HOUSE Pre-1759.

531. AROID HOUSE Ho. 1 (P — p.509)

532. MAIN ENTRANCE GATES (P — p.509) Marked with maker's name — WALKER, YORK (not Rotherham, as stated in Pevsner). (Railings outside British Museum are by same maker). Lamp posts marked with royal cipher (G IIII R or W IIII R) and maker's name, T. EDGE.

533. CAST-IRON SEWER VENT COLUMN, Kew Green (TQ 188 776). There are several of these around. Richmond. Marked with maker's name — F. BIRD & CO, 11 GT. CASTLE ST. REGENT ST

534. CAST-IRON LAMP POSTS, Kew Green. Gas lamp posts for street lighting in Richmond were generally of two types; both are represented here. Two of the earlier, more elegant design stand outside the church entrance. There are several of the later, hexagonal pattern, one of which is marked with the maker's name, — W. EDGE, HAMMERSMITH — and B.G.C. (Brentford Gas Co.)

535. KEW HORSE FERRY STEPS, end of Ferry Lane. The ferry closed in 1759, when the first Kew Bridge was opened.

536. KEW BRIDGE (P — p.715)

Kew Bridge. © Robert Mason

537. KEW PIER (TQ 191 778) The first pier serving the Botanic Gardens, was in mid-stream attached to the old Kew Bridge and was opened in 104C/9. It moved tc the present site when the bridge was rebuilt.

538. NAVIGATION TOLL HOUSE (TQ 191 778) The old toll-house, now a private house, was built in 1872. 'Replaced by the present PLA toll house in the 1920s or 30s. Nearby are some rows of two-storey terraced artisans' cottages of the 1870s/80s; also Old Dock Close built on the filled-in dock which served the Kew Parish Wharf.

539. KEW RAILWAY BRIDGE (P — p.715) Steps for former ferry beneath the bridge.

540. KEW SEWERAGE WORKS, Kew Meadow Path (P — p.505) (It is necessary to enter the works to see the buildings; alternatively view from river tow path). Built by Richmond Main Sewerage Board, a joint board of Richmond, Mortlake and Barnes.

541. CHRYSLER MOTORS LTD. WORKS 111 Mortlake Rd. c.1925. Closed 1967. Now a warehousing/light industrial complex.

542. WESTON'S GARAGE, 97-101 North Rd. 1927. A good example of a 1920s car showroom and petrol station.

The Gunpowder Mills Study Group

This held its Inaugural Meeting on the 16th March 1985 at Birkbeck College, University of London. Phil Philo reports:

Twenty eight people attended this first meeting, to establish the need for and aims of a group to study the whole range of activities associated with the production of explosives, including the processing of raw materials and the manufacture and handling of the finished product.

The meeting started with introductions and individuals outlining their particular interests and potential contributions and went on to include short illustrated talks on some of the work already being carried out.

The Group agreed to meet twice yearly, the date of the next meeting is the 12th October 1985 at the North Woolwich Old Station Museum, London E1, and to compile a gazetteer of known sites in Great Britain and Eire. Anyone interested in contributing to the work of the group or with information on explosives manufacture or mill sites is invited to write to me at Gunnersbury Park Museum, Gunnersbury Park, London W3 8LQ. Dave Thomas

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© GLIAS, 1985