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Notes and news — June 1989

In this issue:

Recording Group report

King's Cross

A very successful walk took place around the King's Cross area. About fifty people attended and these were divided into three groups which each took a section of the area to the east and south of King's Cross and members were asked to record their impressions of what they saw. The lists drawn up are being recorded on a computer and it is hoped that this can be used to pinpoint sites which are particularly interesting so that we can go and record them in some detail. After lunch the group continued round the site of the King's Cross Goods Depot.

Everybody who attended was given a form to fill in and return with details of what they saw and felt about the visit. IF YOU WENT IT'S STILL NOT TOO LATE TO SEND YOUR FORM BACK — OR JUST WRITE AND TELL US WHAT YOU SAW AND WHAT YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT. We already have had some interesting replies — and would like to thank people who sent photographs in. They will be very useful. As the result of some of the suggestions made we are to investigate the possibility of making a video of the area and of getting aerial photographs taken.

We have also come across people who worked on the site and we would like to record their memories. If you would like to help with this work please volunteer — you don't have to have any special expertise except an ability to talk to someone about their life and work, but anyone with particular expertise either in interviewing techniques or in the coal trade would be very welcome.

We have also been looking at the future of the canal, St. Pancras lock and the keeper's cottage.

Other sites discussed and looked at:

  • Southall — The old margarine factory is known to be particularly interesting. We have been trying to find out what is happening to it and if anyone has done any work to record it. Can anyone help? (>>>)

  • St. Bride's Institute — We are considering an investigation if the old swimming pool there.

  • Butlers' Spice Grinders — This spice grinding business is one of the few remaining industries in Docklands. Members have been unable to get access to see the machinery although it is known that there is something there. Does anyone have any information?

  • Jason — We understand that the nuclear reactor at Greenwich Naval College is to be moved and have written asking to visit it before it goes. (>>>)

  • Baker's Shop — We have been asked to look at an old baker's shop in Islington and it is hoped to arrange this. Anyone interested or with special knowledge is asked to contact us.

  • Stage Machinery — We hope to find out if any special measures are being taken to record old stage machinery. Many London theatres have very old and interesting back stage equipment. Does anyone have any information?

    If members know about any particular site or subject they would, like to bring to GLIAS's attention, please do so. Mary Mills

    News from Kew Bridge Steam Museum

    We are please to report that the restoration of the tower is at last complete and the scaffolding has been removed. The restoration was funded by English Heritage and Thames Water at a total cost of £110,000 and an opening ceremony was performed on 19th January by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Chairman of English Heritage. Unfortunately, because of insurance difficulties the tower is not yet open to visitors. Diana Willment

    Some interesting dates to note

  • 4th July — Cutty Sark tall ships race.
  • 10th July — Telstar put into orbit 27 years ago.
  • 19th July — The 'Mary Rose' sank 444 years ago.
  • 21st July — First man on the moon 20 years ago.
  • 3rd August — First false teeth patent 140 years ago.
  • 29th August — First air race 80 years ago.
  • 1st Sept. — BBC Home Service began 50 years ago.
  • 12th Sept. — Chelsea Antiques Fair.
  • 13th Sept. — Postcard Exhibition Kensington New Town Hall.
  • 17th Sept. — Duxford Air Show.
  • 26th Sept. — Queen Mary launched 55 years ago.
  • 14th Oct. — First 50p coins issued 20 years ago.
  • 1st Nov. — First part of the M1 opened 30 years ago.
  • 5th Nov. — London to Brighton veteran car run.

    London & Croydon Railway 150th anniversary

    As 1986 was the year of the London & Greenwich Railway's 150th anniversary (GLIAS Newsletter October 1986), so 1989 is the London & Croydon Railway's anniversary (GLIAS Newsletter April 1989).

    The 1989 celebrations may not be so grand as those of three years ago which recalled London's first passenger railway but the development of the London & Croydon Railway was not insignificant.

    Partly built on the bed of the London & Croydon Canal, its features included what was probably the first octagonal engine house with a turntable at New Cross Gate, while on the Bricklayers Arms branch there was what is regarded as the germ of interlocking which prevents conflicting signals being lowered at the same time. Another feature at New Cross Gate was the first semaphore signal. The most extraordinary part of the company's history was the Atmospheric Railway which was later built alongside much of the line; it was operated for less than two years.

    The company had only seven years of independent operation during which time its lines were used by the London & Brighton Railway and the South Eastern Railway for its extended line to Kent via Redhill. In 1846 the Croydon company merged with the London & Brighton Railway to produce the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. John King

    Stoke Newington filter beds

    On Sunday 26th February 1989 a TWA worker found four packets of the explosive material Semtex at the New River filter beds, Green Lanes. The packets were near the road and lying on the sand of one of the filter beds drained for routine cleaning. It was thought terrorists had been disposing of their stock. Semtex is believed to come to this country from Czechoslovakia via Libya.

    The filter beds at Stoke Newington were constructed by the New River Company in about 1855 following the Metropolitan Water Act of 1852 which required the flow from Green Lanes to New River Head to be filtered and conveyed in pipes, rather than the open channel of the flew River. For this purpose bean pumping engines were installed at a new pumping station close by. Now known as the 'castle' (for obvious reasons), this pumping station (listed Grade II*) was designed in a very flamboyant style by William Chadwell Mylne FRS, engineer to the New River Company 1811-61. Steam pumping at Stoke Newington had ceased by the early 1950s and the beam engines have been removed. The filter beds are of considerable industrial archaeological importance being little altered since the 1950s but redevelopment of the site for housing is likely soon (GLIAS Newsletter December 1988). Bob Carr

    French cannon unearthed

    One of the two French cannon made about 1812 and used as bollards on Bankside (see GLIAS Walk Number One) was noted in February removed from the ground and it was possible to inspect the whole piece. These cannon are more splendid than would be supposed from the view possible in their bollard mode. The trunnions had been broken off but otherwise the specimen examined (that on the corner of Emerson Street) appeared intact. It is hoped the uprooted example is now in the care of the London Borough of Southwark. Bob Carr

    Ron Huitson bequest

    Members may remember that when Ron Huitson, a member of long standing, died some two years ago, he left to the society a collection of books, pamphlets and models (GLIAS Newsletter June 1987). These were transferred from Croydon to my attic and I've slowly sorted them out. The models now reside in Kirkaldy's, but are available for exhibitions etc. The books etc. since Ron's interests were very wide, I sorted into London-based, hydraulics and the largest group others. The hydraulic books will transfer to Kirkaldy's when circumstances permit. I'm still looking after the London items. The rest, which included trade catalogues and the ephemera of IA in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as books, have been transferred, with the agreement of the executive committee, to the library at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in Shropshire. There the collection, suitably credited, will join the main collection. David Perrett

    Tilbury Docks Museum

    How many GLIAS members and docks-buffs know about this superb little museum in Tilbury? Very small but very interesting, it covers much of interest at the Tilbury Docks and the surrounding area.

    Members who don't know Tilbury may have difficulty finding both it and the museum. The Civic Square in the town centre may not be noticed — Tilbury has much in common with the most depressed areas of north-east England. Once in Civic Square ignore the library and the door behind it marked 'museum'. Go beyond that to the large patch of grass 'Anchor Field' and the Leisure Centre. The Museum is actually inside the Leisure Centre — although there are no signs for it. It is open from 10.30am to 10.00pm on weekdays and 9.30 to 7.30 at weekends. Beware of junior Tilbury citizens about their leisure pursuits, but persevere — the museum is well worth it when you get there.

    Thurrock Museum department, of which this is part, have also published a History of Tilbury Docks 'The Downstream Docks' by Rita McLean. Unfortunately they won't sell you any copies. It seems terrible that this little book is going unread because of Thurrock Council's administrative problems. Members are advised to write to Thurrock Local History Department, Orsett Road, Grays, and ask when it is going to be available. Mary Mills

    Visit to south side buildings, Northolt Aerodrome — 7th April 1989

    The terminal buildings and apron on the south side of Northolt Aerodrome were built at the end of WW2 for use by RAF Transport Command for the services which were increasingly being operated into Continental Europe as larger areas were liberated. As intended, these services were taken over by civil airlines using the same facilities and for a time Northolt became the busiest civil airport in Europe.

    The buildings remained in civilian use until 1954 when the last BEA internal flights were transferred to Heathrow but they have continued to be used by the RAF. They are of standard RAF type and were intended to have a life of 20 years but they have continued in use for over 40 years until it is no longer economic to keep them in good repair. They are to be replaced by a new terminal.

    By kind permission of the Officer Commanding, a party of 30 from four societies including GLIAS visited the site on 7th April. We were shown round by Flight Lieutenants Bill Davis and Sarah Griffiths.

    We started in the check-in area and passed through to the departure lounge where we spent some time while the party assembled. The lounge contains many vintage photographs and some other exhibits, notably from WW2 when Northolt was a fighter station. We went out on to the apron where we were lucky to see some flying activity with the arrival of an RAF HS 125 and a civilian aircraft which majority opinion said was a Beechcraft. We were unable to visit the Royal Lounge for security reasons but we could peer through the net curtains since no Royals were in residence. Some of the party had their photographs taken in the porch with the Royal Lounge sign clearly showing above their heads.

    We walked down the length of the buildings, including a storage and a freight hangar and the Air Information Technical Division which prepares all the charts and navigational information not only for the RAF but also for the civil airlines.

    These buildings will remain when the terminal is rebuilt — they were probably airline offices in the civil flying days — so that something of that era will remain although there are some new 'temporary' buildings also in use.

    The visit seemed to end at the gate guard Spitfire (soon to be replaced by a plastic replica) but some of us who stayed around were also shown the VIP Lounge (a downgraded version of the Royal Lounge) but we could not stay long because a VIP was arriving.

    It was particularly fascinating to have with us a number of people who had served at Northolt in the RAF and/or BEA, including Ron Wilson, the British Airways archivist, Bernie McDowell, Keith Hayward, who has just retired from BA after 43 years service, Keith Woodbridge and R. Barnard, whose experiences go back to before WW2. (Apologies to anyone who has been missed out).

    Finally our thanks must be expressed to the Officer Commanding for allowing the visit and to our two able guides. Bill Firth

    Covent Garden

    The Floral Hall, to the south of the Royal Opera House, designed by E M Barry, was opened in 1860. Following a fire in 1956 the original glass dome and arched glass roof, supported by cast iron columns were lost but many people still consider the remaining structure to be of considerable value. It has been one of the items campaigned for by the Covent Garden Community Association but is likely to disappear if current redevelopment proposals go ahead (GLIAS Newsletter February 1989). Being cast iron and therefore, for a building, relatively portable it might be re-erected on another site but this suggestion does not seem to have been made. A row of early 19th-century houses on the north side of Russell Street have less prospect of survival. Bob Carr

    Mapping London — Alan Godfrey Maps

    Living north of Watford, Alan manages to have a more balanced view of London than do most of its inhabitants, but he is certainly no less keen to reproduce its maps than those for elsewhere. The first London sheet, Kensington 1894, appeared in March 1983, and the hundredth, St. Paul's, has just been published. Perhaps surprisingly the tally would be higher were it not so often difficult to find usable sheets. The set in the British Library is in wonderful condition but cannot leave the premises and therefore Alan cannot copy it. The quality of his reproductions is so good because they are in fact contact prints — although the originals are reduced from a 25" to about a 15" scale the print is not re-enlarged from the negative and there is therefore no loss of clarity. The only drawback is that a camera capable of making such negatives is not portable. Indeed it looks rather like an old-fashioned X-ray machine and occupies the best part of a room.

    Finding maps which will be able to journey to it and which are in good enough condition to copy is an alternately exciting and frustrating treasure hunt. Many of the collections in record offices and local history libraries have come from engineering or planning departments, where they were used as working copies and updated or annotated. Others which were always in libraries were dissected and book-bound the better to preserve them. The aim was achieved, but again they are spoiled for reproduction. Many sheets are simply too torn or damaged. Others are themselves only (usually poor) copies. As the first hundred testify though, all is not gloom and doom. Although the 1890s edition is the most elusive, sheets do continue to turn up both within London and outside. That first Kensington map was in fact lent by a private collector from Morecambe and a new leap forward, into the London Borough of Bexley, has recently come into prospect with the discovery of the sheets for Bexley and Bexley Heath in the Birmingham University Geography Department.

    Within London itself there have been some highly unpredictable finds and as a direct consequence some far-flung strays have been transferred to their home areas. More predictably neighbours have often been able to help each other. Usable sheets for Hampstead in both 1866 and 1894 were found not at Camden but at Barnet, whose authority covers only the top left-hand corner and whose engineer's department had therefore owned but not worked over the maps. Some of the other sheets for Barnet have in turn been borrowed from the Hertfordshire Record Office.

    Alan is now emulating London by spreading out into the surrounding counties. In what is still Hertfordshire, the two sheets for Hertford have already appeared and the four for St. Albans are well on their way. (The number of maps, of course, usually reflects the luck of the sheet-lines rather than the size of the town). Pushing northwards towards areas which are already being covered, the first two maps in Oxfordshire — Oxford and South Oxford — both appeared this summer. Predictably, Alan is already also considering expanding southwards beyond Bexley. There is still a long wanted list; if anyone has a possible sheet would they please get in touch. My personal plea is for Hendon (Middlesex Sheet 11.07) in the 1890s edition. Luckily, although annotations and red lines are insurmountable, a whole range of other blemishes from frayed edges to foxing are not and Alan, who visited 75 libraries nationwide during the year April 1987 to March 1988, is always delighted to add to his total. Pamela Taylor

    The above article is from 'CONTOURS', the Newsletter of Alan Godfrey Maps, Rooms 24-26, 2nd Floor, Exchange Buildings, Quayside, Newcastle NE1 3BJ. David Perrett

    Scottish lifeboat returns

    A rare example of a sailing lifeboat, the Jane Ann, built by the Thames Ironworks in London for the Scottish port of Irvine in 1898, was discovered in 1988 in a wood near Taunton, Somerset. It has been rescued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and is being returned to the Scottish Maritime Museum which is appropriately based at Irvine. David Perrett

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  • © GLIAS, 1989