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Notes and news — June 1988

In this issue:

A rose by any other name

The Crossness Beam Engine Preservation Group held their A.G.M. at Bexley Civic Suite on Thursday, 24th March 1988. With the previous year's 'Minutes' and 'Matters Arising' having been dealt with, we heard reports from the treasurer, auditor and chairman. There were four other reports on the conservation and preservation of both the fabric of the building and the machinery within and it was clear that the whole project was being carried out in a very professional manner. The building is now completely secure from the weather; work is progressing on one of the beam engines; one of the barring engines has been completely stripped and cleaned; a sand blasting cabinet has been made to assist in the cleaning of some of the smaller iron items; and pumping out has reduced the level of water below ground level.

There was a special motion proposed by Martin Wilson:

The motion was seconded by Peter Skilton and was carried nem. con. There being no other business, the meeting was brought to a close. On a personal note, I wish them continued success and with their new logo and name may they 'smell as sweet'. Peter Skilton

Brewery closure

Although not in London the former Wethereds Brewery in Marlow has since 1975 supplied cask beer to over 200 outlets here. The brewery was taken over by Strongs of Romsey in 1947 and has been part of the Whitbread group since 1957. The Marlow brewery is to close and the brewing of Wethered beers will be transferred to Cheltenham. Bob Carr


The request for information on Porter (GLIAS Newsletter April 1988) was successful and I am particularly grateful for an illuminating letter from David Flett. Even though porter may now be scarce in this country it is still alive and well in other parts of the world. From personal experience in Paris this April a brand called 'Porter 39' is sold in packs in French supermarkets. This claims to contain more than 4% alcohol, so presumably is weaker than the late-Victorian London Porter.

The quantity of porter brewed in London in the late 18th century is indicated by the impressive Porter Tun Room of 1774 at Whitbread's Brewery, Chiswell Street, EC1, which has 65 foot span triple-king-post roof trusses. Chiswell Street closed as a brewery in 1975 but the Porter Tun Room is still in use for prestigious meetings. Discussion with a member of the Editorial Staff of the 'London Drinker' brought to light tales of people in breweries having, been drowned by the failure of large tuns containing porter.

It was stated that the Flag Brewery brews porter in London but there is some doubt that Flag actually does the brewing, which may be carried out for them. It appears that porter and 'entire' are essentially the same. Further comments will be welcome. Bob Carr

Museum in Docklands Project

(Units C 14/15, Poplar Business Park, 10 Prestons Road, London E14 9RL, Tel: 01-515-1162, or 533-0209.)

The library and archive collection houses the large records collection of the Port of London Authority. It is a specialist reference library relating to the: enclosed docks of London, their history, development, growth and decline; and the administration of the PLA. The material in the library comprises the minute books of the various dock companies operating up to 1909 and dating back to 1799; the minute books of the various bodies responsible for the River Thames, going back, to 1770; a collection of unframed prints and engravings; a large photographic collection dating from I860 to 1965; books on London and Docklands; several old maps of Docklands and comprehensive sets of maps of the enclosed Docks; newspaper cuttings from 1889 to the 1950s; a large collection of historic engineering architectural drawings; and an extensive collection of miscellaneous archive material relating to the PLA, the private dock companies and numerous external organisations connected to the Docks, including property leases, minutes and information relating to labour relations in the Docks. There is also a collection relating to the regeneration of Docklands since 1901. In a warehouse in Docklands is stored a comprehensive range of cargo-handling equipment which is open to organised groups of visitors by prior appointment. R R Aspinall, Librarian
The Library is for research and reference purposes only and is open to visitors from 10:00 hours to 17:00 hours Tuesday to Friday inclusive, strictly by prior appointment with the Librarian, who can be contacted on 01-515-1162 or 01-538-0209

Harringay totaliser

There was a presentation at the White Hart on 11th March, along the lines of the evening devoted to Hough's. An excellent account with slides was given by Charles Norrie and Andrew Keene showed his well-edited video. The Harringay totaliser was an electro-mechanical time sharing data processing and computing system and the Science Museum dismantled parts to add to their computer collection (GLIAS Newsletter October 1987). Many thanks to Charles and all involved with organising the evening at the White Hart. Bob Carr

IA recording in Greater London

At a meeting at the 'White Hart' on 15th January a discussion took place on recording work in Greater London and the future of industrial archaeology in London generally. To start the discussion a polemic note was circulated, an amended version of which appears below. Next issue it is hoped to give a summary of the discussion and the conclusions reached.

What about the conurbations? Many industrial archaeologists in Greater London actually hate the place and do their best to get out at holiday times. They do their IA in Cornwall, the Peak District and North Wales. This situation is repeated in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the West Riding, the North East and so on. We have the phenomenon that little IA recording work is actually done in industrial areas. London is especially bad and with high land prices and great pressure to redevelop, particularly in Docklands, it is difficult for preservation/museum projects to come into being. (We do have some remarkable exceptions — Kirkaldy's and Kew Bridge.) The above pattern is repeated by professionals. In almost all aspects London comes last. (And yet it seems in the provinces the recording work done by GLIAS has a high reputation. Is this because able people gravitate to London and the minority who are active here are above average?)

In London IA tends to be rescue archaeology. We make the best sort of record we can as there is little hope of actually preserving buildings/structures. It seems our aim is to convert material objects into accounts on paper which have a better chance of survival. Are we simply providing fodder for future historians (but not actually doing history)? Is this one reason why many historians look down on IA? (Some actually regard IA as an amusing pastime!) Industrial archaeologists are criticised for not taking sufficient interest in context, for example discussing lime kilns without mention of the quarries which supplied them — (e.g. see 'Trouble at 't Mill', Industrial Archaeology in the 1930s, by C.H. Clark in the July 1987 issue of 'Antiquity', which also discussed other issues). In the case of steam engine enthusiasts who ignore boilers and the machinery the engines drove there is some justification. Dirt archaeologists however are beginning to take us seriously. This may be due to the success of large schemes, such as the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, which have large budgets and have become respectable through sheer financial size. A remarkable anomaly is the number of historians of technology, which is astonishingly small, especially in Britain.

It has been suggested that we don't do work as good as we used to, but compare recent GLIAS Newsletters with, the early ones! (We have a Journal too.) Unfortunately as we get older most of us have more pressing commitments elsewhere and can spend less time on IA. What can we do to recruit the next generation? Are they not interested in the kind of work we are doing? Are we disliked socially — i.e. is there a generation gap, new separate organisations are flourishing: Kew Bridge, Croydon Airport, Docklands. Does this mean we are not keeping abreast of current interests? Will GLIAS fade out with our age group?

The list of sites the recording group is considering is a long one and we cannot do justice to everything. We have a choice between thin spread and concentration on a few selected sites. If the latter what are our criteria? Quite apart from this even the sites on the list are a tiny and eccentric selection from what must be the whole. What do we see as the point of our recording work?

Do we produce a readable account which will reach a sizable audience or simply deposit tidied-up notes and photographs with a local history library? Is it assumed that in say 50-100 years posterity will be grateful for this painstaking work?

There in a geographical bias towards the East, probably due to Docklands, but rebuilding work is now very rapid there and we are down to last sites. Should we not now direct our interests towards Hackney, Barking, Lewisham and further afield?

While concentrating on the East (in fact very much the South East) we have done little to record the Great West Road (GLIAS Newsletter April 1987), for instance and much else has been neglected. In West London there is a tendency for our role to be undertaken by others.

The Museum of London and the Science Museum do some recording work. It is a very appropriate time to make overtures to the latter. The Science Museum's interest in Harringey was very encouraging. Industrial archaeologists in London who are not GLIAS members (they do exist) might be approached via the AIA Bulletin.

Mention should be made of the range of subjects we study. As IA develops specialisation is inevitable and already it is impossible to have more than the most superficial grasp of the whole field. We have in the past tended to concentrate on 19th-century survivals but are now in an age when power stations, airports, cinemas and multi-storey car parks are in need of recording (let alone London Wall!) Can we cope with the 20th century? There is a great interest in WWII history and artefacts. Nostalgia for times within living memory is very strong. Can we tap this and obtain fresh active members in a GLIAS modern sub-group?

Since the formation of GLIAS we have to a large extent been following our noses. Perhaps we could give just a little thought to aims and objectives. We should soon have Charitable Status and now is the time to discuss fund raising and what to do with any funding we might acquire. Not much has been said so far other than what ought to be done and few will disagree. The question is how given our great lack of resources. Bob Carr

380 years, 5,000 feet and one pair of hands

The whole of the archives of Thames Water, going back about 380 years (nobody's quite sure — yet) are now held in New River Head and Surbiton. They will be transferred to the Greater London Record Office in Northampton Read, a few minutes from Rosebery Avenue, where they will be kept permanently for free use by the public. Archivist Clare Wilson, who works for the Corporation of London, has been funded by Thames Water for two years to catalogue of all the archive material. She started on March 21st at New River Head where all the minute books are kept and when she has completed listing them will move on to Seething Wells, the Surbiton works, where the huge collection of documents — 5,000 to 6,000 linear feet of them — is stored in three muniment houses.

The minute books, which are due to be catalogued and transferred to the GLRO by the end of this month (April) date back to the days of the New River Company. 'The earliest record of that company I have found so far is December 1769, although the Chelsea Waterworks' minute books date back to 1724,' said Clare. 'The New River Company started in the early 17th century but there, was a fire at the office in 1769 and I think a lot of documents must have been lost.'

The task awaiting her at Surbiton is huge Engineers' reports, letters, letter books, financial records, journals, trade effluent agreements, old photographs, lantern slides and a vast collection of maps and plans have to be catalogued. Once it is sorted out, this valuable historical material will be available to help scholars.
Extract from 'Thames Water News'. Contributed by GLIAS member W.J. Whitehead

Grafton's, SE9

Readers of the history of industrial archaeology will doubtless know the 'London's Industrial Heritage' published in 1967 and compiled by Aubrey Wilson.

One of the more obscure items in the book is the Whitworth planing machine, then at the works of Walter Grafton in Eltham. The machine was thought to have been there since the early 1900s and been acquired by them from Arthur Martin & Co. of Westcombe Park such machines being extant from the 1860s.

Grafton's crenellated factory, a local landmark, was demolished earlier this year. The Grafton family sold out and the works seems to have been asset stripped. The machine does not appear in the final auction catalogue. Does anyone know when it was removed and what happened to it? We are trying to find out.

I said at the beginning of this account that this is an obscure corner — I have, never seen it mentioned anywhere else and to one local seems to have heard of the reference. Does anyone also know how Aubrey Wilson came to use it? Someone must have done some research to know about the connection with Martins. Any ideas? Mary Mills

Albion dry dock

Constructed about 1876 from the remains of the entrance to a timber pond, Albion dry dock was for much of its life used for the repair of barges and lighters. Operated by the Port of London Authority the barges serviced there were principally of the smaller kind which worked on the River Lea, Navigation and along the Grand Surrey Canal. It is said that Thames Barges were sometimes dry docked there but only smaller ones would have been able to enter this tiny dock.

Quite an oral tradition exists concerning the operation and servicing of lighters in this area and I have made a number of interesting contacts recently. One relatively young-looking man I spoke to had worked for a small family lighterage business where, despite wages being lower than for larger firms, a great deal of loyalty was felt on the part of the work force. Great favours were frequently done despite lack of payment. Often a man would, help out with extra unpaid overtime. Astonishingly he claimed that he had been engaged in bow-hauling along the Grand Surrey Canal. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 1988