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Notes and news — December 1987

In this issue:

Streatham Silk Mill

This Georgian building (GLIAS Newsletter October 1987), probably built to house the first Jacquard-type silk weaving looms introduced to Britain, is within a large site which Sainsbury's purchase to erect a new supermarket. As a result of GLIAS' representations, the mill was 'listed' and a public enquiry was held in March to consider Sainsbury's application to demolish it. Both GLIAS and English Heritage produced schemes to show how the mill could be utilised, to form a most attractive facade to their proposed supermarkets without in any way requiring them to alter the market's shape or general position.

Members will be delighted to hear that the application to demolish has been refused. However, such joy does not seem to be universal. The South London Press on 4.9.87 reads "Sainsbury's say the new store will be built next to the mill, leaving the derelict building in the middle of the market's planned 450-space parking area. A company spokesman said: 'The mill will not form any part of the supermarket development.'"

GLIAS is rather concerned at this reaction from an organisation which has in recent years shown a most responsible attitude to conservation, as well as becoming a major benefactor of the arts. We hope soon to report a change of heart! David Thomas

The Rainbow Theatre

According to the July issue of The Finsbury Parker, the Rainbow Theatre (former cinema) in Seven Sisters Road has been sold to the Elim Pentecostal Church for one third of a million pounds. The Rainbow, once famous for its balmy air-conditioned interior, is an important part of the Capital's entertainment archaeology. The Church would like to provide restaurants, small shops and offices, a concert/conference hall and indoor sports and recreational facilities 'with an emphasis on family entertainment'. English Heritage and the Manpower Services Commission are involved. Bob Carr

Electricity versus gas — Part 2 (GLIAS Newsletter October 1987)

Some notes on technical and political history

Both gas and electricity started life as services for lighting, as the title of the early companies show. Both industries started in much the same way, as a multiplicity of local companies, usually small, serving- their Immediate area. Gas production grew rapidly (one almost said, explosively!) after its introduction at the beginning of the 19th century and, though it had to dispose of its coke and other by-products, its main business was lighting. Gas supply was a natural monopoly. Host of the companies were set up by Act of Parliament, so that they could, for example, open up the streets. They still use these powers! Even so, there grew up a widely held opinion, often justified, that the monopoly was much abused by many of the operators. This was to have major and long-lasting repercussions when electricity companies sought their powers to serve the public.

The more forward-looking gas suppliers began, about 1870, to diversify out of lighting, their first attempt at spreading and increasing the domestic load being to develop an acceptable domestic gas cooker. Though unprepossessing to modern eyes they were built mainly of plain cast iron and could be/had, to be cleaned with black lead — they were an acceptable advance on the coal-fired range. There was one in one of my grandparents' house until 1936 and they were still being offered, very cheaply because obsolescent, into the 1920s.

The real fight between the two utilities was probably from about 1890, when electricity supply 'took off', until about 1920. Just as electricity came on the scene using incandescent filament bulbs, the Welsbach mantle was invented and gave gas light a huge boost, just when it desperately needed it. Before that, for nearly a century, gas light had depended on the white hot, more probably yellow hot, carbon particles in a flat flame to provide the light. Better and more convenient than candles, dips or oil of various kinds, it was nevertheless not brilliant. It would have been no match for electric light using Swan's and Edison's almost simultaneously invented filament lamps. At about the same time, too, it seemed that gas night develop and to a degree did develop, a new role as a power supplier, using the new gas engines. For small users, these were hugely more convenient than installing a small steam power plant. This too lasted until the early 1920s, but eventually the electric motor overtook it for new installations. However, some of the bigger plants survived for a long time.

Remember Shad Thames Pump House

It was here that the infant electricity supply industry found itself hamstrung by politicians disillusioned by the behaviour of the monopoly gas and water suppliers. Briefly the President of the Board of Trade, Joseph Chamberlain, a former Mayor of Birmingham, decided on the terms of the Electric Lighting Act of 1882. Drafted to keep the new monopolies under tight, preferably municipal, control, it was so oppressive that no development took place under its provisions until an amending Act was passed, in 1888, though a little work was done where Parliamentary powers were not essential. Much activity then followed and within a year a public enquiry was hold to consider the particular problems posed by supply in London. The resulting excellent report made many useful recommendations, and they seem to have been acted upon. Then, in 1897, came a flood of private Bills asking for powers, never previously envisaged. Yet another Joint Committee resulted, to be followed by a further Electric Lighting Act (still 'lighting' be it noted) in 1909. Meanwhile, much development HAD taken place under Private Acts and some large companies had emerged, serving extended areas far larger than the individual municipalities demanded by Joseph Chamberlain.

The next Act was that of 1919, which set up the 'Electricity Commissioners' to co-ordinate the industry. Just how badly it was needed can be judged from London in 1921, a London which was probably little noire than one quarter of the built-up area that we call London today. Eighty supply authorities had 70 generating stations, supplying power on 50 different systems using 24 different voltages and 10 different frequencies. This was typical of the country as a whole. Another Act was found necessary in 1922, but it was still inadequate and the deliberations of the Weir Committee resulted in the Electricity Supply Act of 1926.

Although not completely successful, for full rationalisation had to await Nationalisation in 1947, it did result in a nominal standard domestic supply voltage of 230 at 50herz a/c. It set up the National Grid, completed in 1933 and powers for a central authority to buy all electricity from the (private) generating stations and to sell it to the suppliers, private or municipal. There were also powers to develop fewer and larger power stations and to close down the scores of small ones. This still continues.

By the early 1930s, most of the less realistic competition was coming to an end. Although gas companies were trying to hang on to street lighting, they realised that they were fighting a losing rearguard action. With domestic lighting, gas had already decisively lost the battle in new homes.

Nationalisation of both industries resulted in a very necessary period of rationalisation, consolidation and extension that lasted into the 1970s. For electricity, not until 1971 (45 years after the 1926 Act) was the standard of 240 volts, agreed in 1947, 50herz a/c, finally achieved throughout the U.S. Only then could appliances of every kind be economically made, in the knowledge that a single model would work anywhere in the country without adjustment or modification. Power stations became fewer and larger, then fewer and larger still. The '5% of farms connected to main electricity in 1939 became 95% by 1952. The third of houses without electricity in 1939 were mostly wired by about 1960. The gas industry was every bit as fragmented as electricity pre-1926, and only after 1947 did the construction of trunk mains and the closure of hundreds of tiny gas works get under way. Both utilities were given a boost by the Clean Air Act, gas probably benefitting most. It now has much of the domestic heating load and a large share of the commercial and industrial one; use has grown to four to five-fold since natural methane became available. Electricity is and is likely to remain, pre-eminent in rural areas.

One last thought has occurred, to me while preparing this note. I wonder to what extent the domestic economic and industrial development of this country was slowed down in the half century 1920 to 1970 as a result of that dreadful 1882 Electric Lighting Act? Impossible now to quantify, I have become convinced that the U.K. has paid a heavy price for Joseph Chamberlain's prejudice in favour of an independent electricity supply undertaking in every municipality. John Parker

The Pantechnicon

The depository of the Army and Navy Stores, known as the Pantechnicon, on Turnham Green, Chiswick, is currently undergoing conversion into flats. The building is approx. 90 feet wide by 170 feet long in six bays with a 45ft deep single storey entrance to the main six-storey, building. It is of stock, brick with red brick pilasters and cornices on the Turnham Green facade, with timber sash windows arid a slate roof. It dates from the 1880s probably, when the adjacent Bedford, Park and Sanderson wallpaper factory were developed. The building is well designed and forms an important feature on the Green, and is veil worth restoring.

One of the earlier gatehouses has been removed, but the larger has been retained, and used as a house. The large 20th-century sheds have been removed from the rear, and the window frames have been changed, but otherwise the external appearance is little altered.

Does anyone know further information about this building? It is one of a considerable number of depositories in the area from the same date, including Harrods. Jon Wallsgrove

Mildmay Park Station building

This relic of the former North London Railway, London N1 has now been totally demolished (GLIAS Newsletter August 1987). Many thanks for the replies to my request for photographs. Bob Carr

Dagenham — Crossness powerline crossing

The magazine 'New Civil Engineer' for 15th October showed photographs of the dismantling of the powerline crossing from Dagenham to Crossness (TQ 485821 to 483812) in East London, although historical details were not given.

It was built between 1927 and 1932 as part of the 132KV National Grid, which is now obsolescent. The seven cabled spanned 3060 feet across the Thames and the two lattice steel towers, 487 feet tall and 120 feet square at the base, were the highest of their time and prominent landmarks. This was for many years the easternmost fixed crossing of the river. Merz and McLellan were the consulting engineers for the original project, and Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners the structural consultants. The dismantling, using a high-lift crane, is due for completion in December. Malcolm Tucker

Newham Local Studies Library notes

The Newham Local Studies Library have recently acquired the following:

Electoral Registers
East Ham........... 1832-1915
West Ham........... 1832-1888
NB. Not all residents of East Ham and West Ham were qualified to vote.

West Ham Guardian........... 1880-1902
East and West Ham Gazette........... 1888-1892
West Ham Herald........... 1893-1900
South Essex Mail........... 1901-1943

All the above are on microfilm.

For many East Londoners, hop picking was the only holiday they would know. They went down to the Kent hop fields in their thousands by train, van and coach to pick hops, earn a few bob and have a good time in the country. The Newham Local Studies Library are preparing an exhibition on hopping and would be pleased to hear from anyone who has memories of 'hopping down in Kent'.
Contact: Newham Local Studies Library, Stratford Reference Library, Water Lane, London E15 4NJ, Tel: 01-534-4545, ext. 25662

Markfield Beam Engine — help needed!

This engine ceased work in 1956 when all sewage flowing to Markfield was diverted via gravity flow in a new low level sewer to the re-modelled Deephams Works at Edmonton. Conversion of the engine house for public admission started in 1970 when Lee Valley Regional Park authority took on the lease from L.B. Haringey. A group of volunteers under the direction of A.J. Spackman took on the task of restoring the engine and some internal building works to improve access to the basement.

After some 10,000 man hours of weekend work the engine had been restored as a static display. In 1984 it became possible to get a scheme approved as part of the Community Programme. This was to provide a building extension for a steam generator and entrance foyer. The original steam raising plant had been entirely removed, and the buildings demolished before 1970. Ninety per cent of the C.P. scheme has now been completed and the labour withdrawn.

Markfield Beam Engine and Museum Trust was formed as a company, limited by guarantee and registered as a charity, with the steaming of the engine for the benefit of the public as one of its main aims. As a sewage pumping engine which is also a working beam engine, it will clearly be a rare exhibit.

As technical director, I am taking this opportunity to draw your attention to this potential attraction in 1988 and at the same time appeal to anyone who would like to participate in this new venture by contributing some of their time, skill and expertise to the task of getting the engine working in steam again by April 1988 or soon after and subsequently on programmed open days.

The aim is to form an active group, to participate in all aspects of the project, especially those that are more likely to be thought of as non-engineering, but still essential for the successful running, of a working museum during the year, as well as on open days. Maybe there are some people who would like to help out on just a few open days, when there will be a need for quite a number of people to provide visitor services. A J Spackman
Please phone 076 387 331 (4 to 9pm) or write: A.J. Spackman, Nine Elms, Therfield, Royston, SG8 9QE, for further information

From 'Waterways News'

Westminster City Council has granted outline planning permission to British Waterways for their £200 million Paddington Basin development on five hectares of land at the junction of Harrow and Edgware Roads. The area will combine shops, recreation, light industry and housing. David Thomas

Bus garages

Even before the August Newsletter had come out there were announcements of changes compared to the note on closures of garages, which had been prepared some ten weeks earlier.

Kingston has now reopened as a mini-garage to look after a handful of vehicles, Walworth is temporarily housing the Red Arrow fleet pending settlement of 'planning' issues for use of the land at Cornwall Road, Waterloo, and a scheme is under discussion for the re-opening of Bexleyheath and the closure of Sidcup. Meanwhile, Norbiton did not, after all, transfer to a wholly-owned subsidiary. An updated list will be issued as soon as things have stabilised! David Thomas

Activities captured in architecture

Further 'activities' found include:

21. Few Post Offices in London have any motif showing Mercury or other signs of urgent despatch of vital news, but the east and west walls of the currently gutted shell of the edifice between King Edward Street and Aldersgate Street, EC1, do have more genteel figures of letter scribes and readers partly hidden by scaffolding at present.

22. Glimpsed on the east side of Goswell Road, EC1, a quite large building with tiled 'pictures' of objects, including a ship and steam loco. Probably 1920. But who/what for? [Former tobacco warehouse: 'Angel House', 338 Goswell Road, London EC1V]

Former tobacco warehouse - Angel House, 338 Goswell Road, London EC1V. © Robert Mason 2016 Former tobacco warehouse - Angel House, 338 Goswell Road, London EC1V. © Robert Mason 2016
Former tobacco warehouse - Angel House, 338 Goswell Road, London EC1V. © Robert Mason 2016 Former tobacco warehouse - Angel House, 338 Goswell Road, London EC1V. © Robert Mason 2016

23. And opposite the above, in Rawstorne Street some 19th-century flats have brewers (or vintners?) tuns in a shield above the doorway. Were they for workers at an appropriate establishment, or does this merely indicate land ownership?

24. A languid cow's head remains to indicate that 16 Tottenham Lane N8 was a former butcher's shop.

25. The pennies haven't dropped from the façade of the Penny Bank, corner of Fairchild and Great Eastern Streets, EC3.

David Thomas

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© GLIAS, 1987