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Notes and news — April 1987

In this issue:

Going, going, along the Great West Road

Demolition is almost complete at the factory site bounded by the Great West Road, the railway from Kew Bridge to Acton and Gunnersbury Avenue. Sadly the evocative view of a concrete-framed factory beside the railway, seen from the northern pavement of the Great West Road, will be no more. Rather worse is the demolition of the former Henly's Garage, dating from 1936, by Wallis Gilbert and Partners. It was quite a landmark. The showroom with its stylish large overhanging canopy has gone and, only the 130 foot high clock tower remains. Was this not a listed building? Bob Carr

The world's first computer programmer?

It was suggested that the claim of Augusta Ada Byron to be the world's first computer programmer (GLIAS Newsletter December 1986) was rather weak. A better claimant might be Grace Happer, who, working for the United States Navy, devised her computer language FLOW-MATIC two years before the first form of IBM's FORTRAN was constructed in 1955. Bob Carr

GLIAS up Dartford Creek

On Sunday 21st September 1986 a GLIAS party took a trip up Dartford Creek with boatman Pete in the Neptune III, a motor boat operated by Thames-side Services Ltd. The weather was idyllic as we left from Greenhithe Causeway, passing some of Everard's coasters with their characteristic names ending in 'ity'. As the tide was still a little low we first sailed down river to sea West Thurrock power station (now the only coal-fired power station on the Thames apart from Tilbury B), noting the giant new Siwertell machine for unloading coal from colliers at the jetty. The machine puts a probe into a ship's hold rather than using grabs.

At the mouth of Dartford Creek the sand bar looks formidable from the river and it seemed uncertain that we would get into the creek at all. However, despite appearances we did get inside and once past the recently constructed vertically lifting, flood barrier (part of the Thames Barrier scheme), all was water fowl and reedy stillness. (Dartford Creek is famed for its wildlife and our boatman had expected us to be a party of naturalists! A great crested grebe was seen swimming just outside the mouth of the creek and later a number of heron were met at quite close quarters.) Near the mouth fascine work was noted on the East bank.

We first explored Crayford Creek, gingerly as there was little water and we flight run aground at any moment. It was not until we had almost reached the railway bridge which carries Southern Region electric trains from Erith to Dartford that this actually happened. As our cruise was deliberately timed to be on the rising tide this was not too disastrous and we had only to wait for the water to rise sufficiently to float us off. Our skipper told us that barges of 400 tons were still using the creek and that, had he been towing barges, running aground could be more serious. The tug runs aground and the heavy barges behind crash into the tug and drive it farther into the mud. If this happens on a falling tide one can have a long wait!

There was just enough water for us to nose under the railway bridge and peer at the flour mills beyond, still complete with Vitbe Bread sign. Barges lay at the wharf which was stacked with drums, commercial traffic had not completely ceased. It was thought that grain barges were still brought here from Tilbury Grain Terminal. The factory chimney with its lettering 'Dussek Bros' was also noted and there were swans on the other arm leading off south under the railway.

Despite attempts in the 1830s to make Dartford and Crayford Creeks into respectable navigable channels for fair sized vessels little happened and it was not until 1840 that an Act was obtained, the civil engineer William Cubitt being consulted. A new cut was opened in March 1844 and a toll of 3d. per ton was charged. Deepening work was completed in August 1860. A single lock was constructed close to the Daily Telegraph Paper Mills and opened in 1895. James Abernethy had reported on the idea but he did not supervise the building work as the Commissioners considered his fee too high! The tonnage carried on the Dartford and Crayford Navigation reached a peak of 317,435 tons in 1936 but by 1973 it was only 124,987 tons.

Back in the main channel we continued up the River Darent towards the town of Dartford passing the part-submerged wreck of a large motor boat with a funnel. Bob Barnes told us minesweepers and similar vessels had been broken up here. Farther on the gates of the lock were open and we squeezed through, (both sets of gates were open) and turned round just up river. The lock was rather decrepit and there did not seem to be much commercial traffic reaching Dartford itself.

A pleasant journey back, especially that down the Thames, brought us once more to Greenhithe with good views of Littlebrook power station on the way. The day had been a great success, helped, to no small extent by the superb weather. Thanks are due to Mr. John Sargent for help in organising this event. Bob Carr

DIAS founded

A familiar looking document has just been sent to GLIAS. It is the first Newsletter of the Dorset Industrial Archaeology Society (DIAS) and the familiar style is that of the typewriter which gave us some 60 editions of our newsletter. The Dorset Newsletter editor is of course Brenda Innes and Tony Innes is Chairman of this new, 70-plus member, society. The new newsletter reports the usual array of events including lectures and visits and, the start of the compilation of a county gazetteer. Brenda invites GLIAS members to contact her with regard to joining a DIAS visit to the traditional brewery of Eldridge Pope in Dorcester on Wednesday afternoon May 6th. Any GLIAS member interested should contact Brenda on 0747-3330.

GLIAS' best wishes go to this new society — we know it is in good hands! David Perrett

Letter to the editor

From Alan H Faulkner, who writes:
Stone Block Sleepers (GLIAS Newsletter December 1986). The Grand Junction Canal Company's minute books shed some more light on the company's use of the redundant stone block sleepers from the London & Birmingham Railway.

On 15th October 1850 John Lake, the canal company's Southern District Engineer, recommended purchasing railway stone blocks for lock copings and guards to bridges. His advice was followed and in the following month 5,000 blocks were acquired for 1/6d each. In September 1851 Lake was authorised to buy a further 1,000 blocks at 1/9d each delivered to the canal. Then in August 1853, as the original ones had nearly all been used, another 5,000 were purchased at 1/9d. More followed in December 1855 — 1,250 at l/5d and 1,250 at l/7d. In fact Lake had asked for 5,000 but only 1,732 of the last batch had been used so far. Finally in May 1858 Jesse Cherry, the Northern District Engineer, reported that this was probably the last chance to buy stone blocks. Lake agreed with this view and was authorised to purchase 3,000 at 2/-d.

Today the blocks can be seen widely along the canal and particularly at bridge holes. I hope these details are of interest and supplement Ian Wilson's notes (GLIAS Newsletter February 1987). Alan H Faulkner

The Docklands Light Railway — Part Six

This final extract from 'The Docklands Light Railway' has been reprinted with the kind permission of Mr R.E. Bayman, Operations Manager of the DLR.


Due to the lightweight nature of the rolling stock, the running rails and associated track, components can be of lighter construction (approximately 80 per cent of the weight of normal BR tracks), than those used on a conventional railway. Extensive use will be made of modern welded rail joints instead of traditional bolts and fishplates. A modern, concrete track base will be used in some areas whilst conventional ballasted track will be used in others High-standards of noise reduction will be incorporated, throughout the track design.


It is proposed that when the system opens in July 1987 direct services will be provided between Island Gardens and Tower Gateway and between Island Gardens and Stratford. Passengers wishing to travel between the Tower Gateway and Stratford branches will change trains at West India Quay, though other facilities already link Stratford and Bow directly with Liverpool Street and the City.

A 7½-minute service will operate on each route from 7am to 7pm. In the early morning and late evening this will be reduced to a 10-minute service. At weekends a 10-minute service will be provided on each route all day. These frequencies will be modified as traffic on the system grows.

The average schedules speed, including stops, of trains running from Tower Gateway to Island Gardens will be approximately 30 km/h (18½ mph) and the figure for those running from Stratford to Island Gardens will be 32.0 km/h (20 mph), giving total running times of 13½ and 16½ minutes respectively. About one and a third million train kilometres (800,000 train miles) will be operated annually.


The construction of this railway would not be possible within the required financial regime without the use of Light Rail technology.

If the system were to be built to conventional railway specifications the extra cost in terms of structures and land alone would be prohibitive. This system — like all Light Rail systems — can also be upgraded in relatively inexpensive increments to match traffic growth.

It is highly likely that when the railway is completed it will act not only as a fast and frequent link between the old and new communities in the Docklands and East End, but as a showcase displaying British Light Rail expertise to the world. R.E. Bayman

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© GLIAS, 1987