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Notes and news — February 1986

In this issue:

News from Dockland

In the London Docks, work is starting at the Skin Floor (New Tobacco Warehouse 1811-13, listed grade 1) to convert the building to a retail and leisure complex. Light wells will be cut through the floor to provide illumination in the vaults. Inspired by the success of GLC's Covent Garden the developers, Tobacco Dock Developments Ltd., plan to complete their work by mid-1987. A chain of such complexes is envisaged stretching from St. Katharine to the Royal Docks.

The seven-and-a-half mile long Docklands Light Railway is due to open in July 1987 and the Civil Engineering work by Mowlems is well under way. Track-laying has started. It is planned that the railway will have 15 stations and run from Tower Hill (where there will be connections with London Transport) to Island Gardens at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs (opposite Greenwich) and from a junction at Poplar to Stratford. A little demolition has taken place, some railway bridges have been sacrificed and gaps have been cut through warehouses in the West India Docks to take the line at a high level on bridges across the docks themselves, but even industrial archaeologists can hardly complain when a new railway is being built. What an exciting ride it is going to be! Proposals are that trains will have a red, white and blue livery.

W Warehouse, Royal Victoria Dock, is being converted into offices. Many will remember this building as the Museum of London's Dockland store where several times we had very pleasant visits to see Chris Ellmers and his staff and Chris would give us a fascinating guided tour complete with demonstrations. W Warehouse, listed grade 2, was formerly a tobacco warehouse, one of a pair built in 1883 to designs by Robert Carr. The other building was demolished some time ago. W Warehouse now looks a fairly typical Dockland warehouse, brick built and four storeys high, but before the North Quay was rebuilt c.1940 it jutted out over the dock edge supported by tubular cast-iron piles.

Since he is probably not well known to readers a note on Robert Carr might be appropriate. He was born at South Shields in 1827 and after his apprenticeship worked for Sir William G. Armstrong and Co. of Newcastle, being involved in the early development of hydraulic power by that company. He was appointed Resident Engineer to the St. Katharine Dock Company in 1856 and from there his career went from strength to strength as larger and larger groupings of docks were formed, so much so that by 1880 he found himself Chief Engineer, responsible for civil and mechanical engineering in all the docks north of the river, excepting only the Poplar railway docks, Millwall and Regent's Canal Docks. His last major work was the reconstruction of William Jessop's Blackwall entrance of 1802 which is still much as Carr finished it in 1894. After a short retirement he died at Bournemouth in 1897.

Returning to the present day and the eastern end of the Royal docks, a small entrance lock has been reconstructed from the ship lock which connected Royal Albert Dock Basin with the river (the Gallions Lower Entrance). Looking north from here massive demolition at Beckton gas works is apparent. It is reported that a film about the Vietnam War has been/is being made here [Full Metal Jacket]. At the King George V entrance lock just to the south a very necessary flood barrier was added as part of the Thames Barrier scheme. London might otherwise be flooded by the tide flowing through the Royal Docks and by-passing the main barrier in Woolwich Reach. The new railway museum in the former North Woolwich station building continues to improve and can be recommended. The Peckett steam locomotive from the BSC sugar factory at Ipswich, works no. 2000 of 1942, was noted in steam here on the 8th December 1985. Brass fittings are taken off the loco when not in use to thwart would-be thieves. It is planned to have regular steamings in the summer. For the site to the south west of the station there are ambitious plans to build a complex including an engine shed and visitor refreshment facilities. At Tate & Lyle's Thames Refinery Jetty further up river, bulk carriers still come regularly with their cargoes of cane sugar providing a rare opportunity of seeing real ocean going ships in the up-river Port. The Company's dark blue road vehicles are still much in evidence in Factory Road. The railway yard to the north of Thames Road (TQ 417 801) has few tracks left and the diesel shunters are in a sad state. A beautification scheme involving the planting of trees is being implemented in the area.

South of the river in the town of Woolwich much demolition has taken place. The Tram Shed is still in existence and there are regular performances but the Coffee Tavern has gone. A new square and fountain occupy the site of shops and pubs. The main entrance gateway to the Royal Arsenal in Beresford Square (listed grade 2) now stands on a traffic island and the Cadets' Quarters (also grade 2) have gone. The Beresford Square gateway was notable in having real mortars dating from 1829 as part of the decoration. It is being restored and is likely to become a tourist information centre. More of the Arsenal site can be seen from outside. In Powis Street the statue of Robert McLeod on the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society department store building of 1903 is a sight not to be missed. Bob Carr

The Docklands Light Railway development — some notes on progress to date

Most members will know that the Docklands Light Railway is being built on parts of the routes, mostly long disused, of former railways. Here is a brief account of some of the things that are happening.

The City end of the line will have a terminus a little to the east of Fenchurch Street Station. The long disused high level goods and coal yard to the south of the line into the station has been cleaned up and extended sideways, the extensions being of concrete raft on heavy RSJ's, supported in turn on in-situ cast concrete columns. It would appear that the rails are to be laid direct on the continuous concrete slab. Once well out of the station the line uses the road bed (and possibly even the rails) of two of the four tracks that used to run from Stepney East to Fenchurch Street station.

Nearer Stepney East, the present viaduct narrows, so there is some more concrete raft on columns. A girder bridge over a side street behind the station has been replaced with reinforced concrete, before the line swings onto the old brick viaduct that runs along the north side of Regents Canal Dock and then south onto the Isle of Dogs. This is being thoroughly cleaned up but doesn't appear to need much other work, in spite of many years of idleness. I have no knowledge of what is going on the Isle.

Other activity can be seen from the top of a bus going along Commercial Road and East India Dock Road. George Cohen's 600 Group scrap yard by the Regents Canal Dock has been taken over as a works yard; various original girders from the, many bridges included in the brick viaduct have been seen in the yard. It would seem, from the fact that several of them are being cleaned up and repainted that they are still fit for many more years of service, carrying the Railway's lightweight trains.

South of East India Dock Road, where it crosses the former North London Line, a steel raft is being built over the track at street level, apparently to take a new station, There were for several years still two pairs of rails in place on this route, but these were reduced to one pair some time ago and even these were becoming overgrown. Now, the remaining pair of metals has been lifted, vegetation in cuttings has been cut back, and a new road bed of clean ballast laid along most of the route from the Isle to Stratford.

Devons Road Bridge over the line has had some work done on it, possibly to provide extra clearance for the overhead conductors. North of the District Line crossing between Bromley and Bow Road the new service will run through an artificial tunnel built in the 1960s to carry flats and it will be interesting to see what clearance there is inside it for the power supply. It looks somewhat tight to me.

At Stratford, a slip road south and west of the low level and high level platform and tracks has been lifted. This will clear the way for the run in to the bay platform used for a short time by trains from Fenchurch Street, when that route was first electrified. Some additional steel columns have been put in to carry the conductors over the new route alignment between Stratford and the junction where the routes to Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street diverge, above Fairfield Road, Bow. There are already the remains of a complex of tracks in this area. It is being further modified by tipping spoil on the old North London bed, south from the Fenchurch Street line over-bridge, so as to provide the way for a rising curve from the North London route up to the presently disused line in to the Stratford bay.

Work is going on along all of the route that I can see, the widening between Fenchurch Street and Stepney East being the biggest civil engineering task. The whole surely underlines the wisdom, even if passive, of not disposing of old railway routes. John Parker

Camden IA and transport survey — progress

Our all-too-small group (GLIAS Newsletter December 1985) is continuing with library research on the 1st and 13th February and there will be other dates which are not shown in the Newsletter. We are rather stumped by the remains of the coal drops in Holmes Road — any members who know anything about Plimsoll's design of drops is asked — begged — to get in touch with David Thomas! We haven't yet got round to doing site work as such (we are first finding out all we can as background), but the first recording visit should be in February. We do need more assistance and this is a good opportunity for members who might be a bit wary of getting involved to see-what is done. Please contact David at 36, Pearman Street, SE1 7RE (928-0702) for further details.

Trails of water and rails

Following the appeal in the last newsletter, we have a team of four working on the trail around Battlebridge Basin, King's Cross. We are doing research to find out histories of buildings following a detailed, walk around the area on 18th January. Meanwhile, we have committed GLIAS to producing a 'trail' as seen from the train between London Bridge and Greenwich, to be ready for the line's 150-year celebrations. Library research is under way for this as well.

However, for both we do need someone who can convert a map and a couple of photographs into illustrations and a volunteer with a word processor who can help edit the text. The timescale for both is quite tight and it really is essential to spread the workload. So please, if I can hear from someone soon, I'd be very grateful. David Thomas

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© GLIAS, 1986