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Notes and news — December 1989

In this issue:

Recording Group

The Recording Group's events were severely disrupted by the sudden cancellation of our room bookings at the 'White Hart'. Luckily about 20 members managed to find their way to the 'Artillery Arms' — despite only being told of the change on that day. Thanks to Tim Smith and Malcolm Tucker — with help from John Boyes and Dave Perrett. It is to be hoped that the forthcoming evening on 'Airports in London' goes as well. There is still some difficulty of booking for 4th December for the promised video on the Ghent trip — pubs won't take bookings for December unless you promise to spend a lot.

Before this Newsletter is published the Group will have visited the hoist on the Waterloo/Bank railway line. Hopefully there will be a report of this in the next issue.

In the last newsletter we asked for information about Greenwich. Unfortunately the meetings eventually all took place on different dates. Nevertheless the group has prepared a leaflet on sites in the Greenwich waterfront area, which is being circulated to interested parties in Greenwich.

King's Cross — this enormous area is almost becoming an institution. We are now getting requests for guided tours from groups outside London and letters from students and others wanting advice. Plans for the area change all the time and we almost never know whether sites we are examining urgently because they might be about to be demolished are, in fact — and vice-versa.

The group is always happy to hear about interesting sites — in fact without this they would not be able to continue. Everyone is welcome at meetings — but we must apologise for the recent chaos about the places where meetings are to be held. Mary Mills

AIA Conference — Huddersfield 1989

Yorkshire until this year has seen little national interest in its considerable industrial archaeology. Then came two meetings in one year — in July the Newcomen Society held its summer meeting in Sheffield, followed by the AIA Conference in Huddersfield in September. Both meetings, I might add, had a strong GLIAS element in their organisation.

Once again the GLIAS contingent was the largest at the AIA, with many members making a week of it and sampling a variety of Yorkshire IA in the pre-Conference programme. Some 150 members gathered for the Conference weekend, with its usual mix of lectures and visits plus social get-togethers. Two highlights for me were the lecture by John Goodchild, done entirely without slides, on the Brigg's Coal Empire and the Rolt Memorial lecture, given by Ken Powell, now architectural correspondent to the Telegraph. Here the AIA followed in GLIAS's footsteps, since Ken Powell gave our AGM lecture a few years ago on the same topic, of Re-Use of Industrial buildings. David Perrett

King's Cross

A second planning application has now been made by the London Regeneration Consortium for their proposed developments at King's Cross (GLIAS Newsletter April 1989). There are some major changes as compared with the previous plan and these are mostly improvements. Firstly, the oval park is extended southwards towards the 'country' end of the two termini, hence they are less overshadowed by development. In the goods yard site a 'hard' industrial landscape is maintained. Despite this, there is only a slight increase in the number of buildings that survive. The southern half of the western transit shed is retained, although there seems to be no intention to re-erect the northern end wall. The Goods Office (Regeneration House) and the other buildings on the east side of the site are lost. More worrying is that the size of the proposed adjacent buildings will dwarf the goods site area. One particular problem is that the ground level appears to rise steeply at the rear of the granary. The developers also propose to realign Pancras Road, which will require the demolition of the Turnhalle facade of the German Gymnasium. Charles Norrie

Sailing and motor barges — a personal view

The sailing barge, in its final form, was a product of the last quarter of the 19th century. In London, a number can normally be seen in St. Katharine Dock, but while all are ex-working craft, many have had alterations on deck such as raised hatchway coamings. It is impossible to be dogmatic about traditional paintwork. Various firms have had their preferred colour schemes. The paintwork suffered in certain of the rougher trades, such as sand and shingle, rubbish or spent oxide, but craft in the corn-work, for instance were generally immaculate.

I sailed in several of these craft in their trading days, although by then most of them had an engine installed and our trading area was bounded by Great Yarmouth and Dover while the frailer craft kept in the Thames Estuary.

It is a common misconception that a barge can be sailed by 'a man and a boy'! The very smallest ones could, but one reason for this was economics. A small barge seldom made enough money to pay an adult mate. Bargemen were paid by the share, so that wages varied according to the type of cargo, the amount loaded, its destination, the time taken to deliver it and get back for the next freight. Some of the biggest barge, the ketch or 'boomie' barges, which went far afield, had five hands. These gradually dropped out because of their high running costs. They also needed a tug in confined spaces — more expense. By my time, none remained under sail.

After the First World War, a number of Army Surplus lorries came on to the market. At first they were not much of a threat to water transport, but they grew more reliable and began to make inroads into some trades. Some owners had auxiliary motors installed to give their craft a better chance of competing. It was generally the bigger craft which had a motor because of the room needed for the engine and fuel tanks. Not all skippers could get on with engines, yet to have an engineer meant one more hand to pay and accommodate, which ruled this out. As share-men, the crews paid for the fuel used.

Barges were extremely versatile craft. They were flat-bottomed and so could take the ground on a tidal berth. Their gear could be lowered, enabling them to penetrate above fixed bridges*. The same gear could be adapted to discharge cargo in little one-horse places without cranes. They could also make coastal passages or reach the head of tidal creeks. In their younger days, the more venturesome had traded down-Channel or across to the Continent.

Accommodation was generally comfortable if you didn't mind living by oil lighting and cooking on a coal range. Most of the fittings were the property of the crew, who also bought their own food, so the quality of life on board was entirely up to them. Some coped. Some didn't bother.

In the docks in London a wooden craft (as most of them were) collected many hard knocks and hard words. Dockers did not care for ex-sailing craft with their two hatchways and wide decks as they represented harder work than loading an open lighter. They took longer to load, too, which was a consideration for men on piece-work. There were endless arguments over stowage and demands for extra money. Quite often it was necessary for the crew to re-stow part of the cargo (in places where the dockers tried to avoid stowing) while the gang was away at dinner or had gone home for the night. Badly stowed cargo can shift and be dangerous in a seaway and we did it for our own so that we could safely load our assigned amount of cargo. So far as the crew were concerned there was no money for all this additional work which should have been done by the gang. The crew were responsible for the cargo, which they helped tally in (and out). The amount had to check with a parallel record kept aboard the ship and at the destination. The condition of the cargo also mattered. So we had quite a different attitude to the job than the dockers.

There were no proper lay berths; we were frequently told to move at short notice, with no guarantee that we wouldn't be shifted yet again. Getting fresh water was none too easy and the shops were a long walk. Small wonder that we were never sorry to got clear of the docks and their denizens.

As a job, barging developed all one's latent ingenuity and resourcefulness. With only two people, it was necessary to be an all-rounder and a good, improviser. While a certain amount of physical strength was needed, timing was even more important. There are a number of jobs which can be done quite easily at a certain stage — but only then.

The life made us alert and observant, sensitive to every change in the weather, always trying to anticipate trouble. Those who didn't soon packed up. If they survived. Sometimes we kept clear of trouble by the narrowest, of margins.

And now, on the tidal Thames, there are few, if any, traces of them remaining. The odd bit of gear lying around, the odd leeboard or spar used to reinforce an old wharf — but not much to show for the numerous, craft which once were such a feature of the river and docks, as can be seen from any old photo. They have been over-romanticised by people who never sailed in them for a living, summer and winter. They represented a lot of work, sometimes ill-rewarded. But running a barge was an interesting and independent job — I spent eleven years at it. On balance, I am glad that I did.

Leaving it was something I regretted, but with the two-shift system coming in I could see that barges as I knew thorn and the way of life that I knew were going to change, not necessarily for the better as far as we were concerned. But if somebody in 1970 had told me that within 15 years there would be no working docks above Tilbury I wouldn't have believed it — never, not, no-how. Time has proved me wrong. Patricia O'Driscoll

GLIAS coal drops evening

Despite the last-minute change of venue, several members assembled on 9th October at the Artillery Arms to listen to, and take part in, a discussion on coal handling led by Recording Group members Tim Smith and Malcolm Tucker. Topics ranged from the Chaldron wagons used on the wagonways of the North-East to the hydraulic Tom Pudding hoists at Goole.

The intense competition in the London coal-trade heralded by the introduction into the trade of the Great Northern Railway in 1851 prompted several technical innovations. The coal-drop was introduced by the GNR from the North-East where, as the coal-cell, it developed at landsale coal depots. Almost certainly this was in order to make use of the ubiquitous Chaldron wagon with its bottom opening doors designed for ease of discharge at the river staiths. The staiths themselves underwent many changes from their origin in the 17th century. In 1807 William Chapman patented his Coal Drop and began the terminological confusion. The first of Chapman's Coal Drops, on which Chaldron wagons could be lowered on a platform into the hold of a collier so reducing breakage of coal, was installed at Benwell on the Tyne. A group of North Eastern coal cells of 1834, from the Stanhope and Tyne Railroad, has been re-erected at the Beamish Open Air Museum.

The 1851 coal drops at King's Cross were on three levels, railway on top, an intermediate hopper level where coal could be stored and a lower level for carts. Thus a pattern for London coal-drops established. In the 1860s Samuel Plimsoll took out a patent for an improved version designed to reduce breakage of coal. He had a large depot on the site of the Camley Street nature park, served by a viaduct through the GWR Goods Depot. The Midland Railway had many coal drops in St. Pancras, Kentish Town and elsewhere. There were also many coal yards in the London area which had no drops. They were standard flat yards where coal could be unloaded over the wagon side.

The second half of the 19th century saw the introduction of hydraulic coal tips at many ports, particularly in South Wales. These allowed coal wagons to be raised to a height suitable for discharge into a vessel regardless of how low in the water the vessel was. Unique were the Tom Pudding hoists which were used to raise the compartment boats, or Tom Puddings, brainchild of the Aire and Calder Navigation's engineer, W.H. Bartholomew. The Tom Puddings could be pulled along the canal in trains by a tug and then discharged into sea-going vessels at Goole using the hydraulic hoists. Two remain out-of-use, but their future is in doubt. It is said one may be destined for the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester. Surely preservation at Goole, where their context can be better appreciated, would be preferable. In the second half of the meeting we were particularly grateful to John Boyes who gave an illustrated talk on coal drops used for loading ships, with particular reference to North East England. Tim Smith

St Paul's conversion?

There are plans to adapt the former Presbyterian church in West Ferry Road, E14 to an arts and community centre. The building, by architect T. E. Knightley (see Industrial Archaeology Review volume 5, pages 264-7), was opened on 3rd June 1860 and the foundation stone (dated 2nd August 1859) bears the name John Scott Russell, the shipbuilder who collaborated with Isambard Brunel in the construction of the 'Great Eastern', launched close by from Millwall.

Scottish Presbyterian workers engaged in the building of the Great Ship used to meet on board but lost a meeting place when she was finally launched in 1858, hence the building of the church after the building of the 'Great Eastern'. At the commencement of building the church there were problems with foundations; St. Paul's is said to be built on peat and bog 18-22 feet thick. The church, is notable in having a roof supported by laminated timber arches, somewhat like the German Gymnasium (1866-5), King's Cross (GLIAS Newsletter October 1988), although smaller. The King's Cross train shed itself was originally built (1850-4) with laminated timber arches but these were replaced in 1869 (east side) and 1887 (west side). Benjamin Green used laminated timber arches for railway bridges in North East England but these are all demolished (part of one went to the National Railway Museum, York). If no more laminated timber arches come to light this makes St. Paul's one of only two surviving examples.

At St. Paul's the semi-circular laminated arches are eleven-ply pitch pine, with the planks screwed together from the outside. The span is about 28 feet and the crown 24 feet from the floor. The arches are tied with a horizontal wrought iron rod and there is a vertical rod going up to the crown. (The horizontal rod passes through the arch to a timber post flush with the well). Each lamination consists of two planks lapped around the crown in a fairly random manner. The screws which secure the laminations pass through about two-and-a-half planks and are arranged fairly randomly at about eight inch centres. It is not known who was responsible for this structural design and one wonders if John Scott Russell himself may have had a hand.

Part of the ceiling blocking off the clerestory has been removed and the interior is much improved by this. The clerestory is in fairly sound condition and was probably blocked off to make heating the building easier. The blind windows at first floor level at the front of the church way originally have contained glass as the red bricks which block them off look rather more modern than the rest of the building.

Until recently St. Paul's was used by Lloyds British Crane and Lifting Services as a store for paint, wire and ropes. The building is now unoccupied and without an electricity supply. From the road the front is still obscured by a concrete fence. Immediately to the North the terrace of small houses is partly demolished. In July 1980 almost all the windows at St. Paul's were intact. These had a fair amount of coloured glass in their make-up and were in a derivative style vaguely reminiscent of art-nouveau. Now quite a few are broken. A bomb landed close by during World War I so the windows most probably date from c.1920. At the back of the church a small house was added in 1905. The Presbyterian archive contains little relating to the building and is mainly anecdotal, concerning the Presbyterians themselves. Bob Carr

Computer Conservation Society

At an inaugural meeting on 12th October a new society was launched under the joint auspices of the British Computer Society and the Science Museum. The object of the Society is to encourage research into and the conservation of historically important computers.

Working parties have been set up covering the Pegasus, Elliot 803, DEC and, of direct interest to GLIAS members, the Totalisator (GLIAS Newsletter June 1988). Each working party is charged with, after very careful consideration, bringing the caching back into working order, collecting documentation on engineering and software and details of operation.

GLIAS has already become involved with the video, which Andrew Keene made at Haringey Dogs, being used at the official launch on 7th November and Charles Norrie is meeting with the Chairman of the Totalisator Working Party. Any GLIAS members with an interest in this new initiative into IA in the last 60 years should get in touch with me or Tony Sale at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD. Dan Hayton

Notes from Bob Carr

Along with much of London, London Wall is undergoing redevelopment. A further site has recently been cleared and to the south east of the Museum of London the new Alban Gate building straddling the road is rapidly gaining in height. When completed bow string arches will support a load of 2,000 tonnes. To the north west of the Museum of London the multi-storey car park has been replaced by a giant building in Broadgate-esque style along the west side of Aldersgate Street. Industrial archaeology does not end at 1914. We have not given much attention to multi-storey car parks. Spare a thought for the post-war parts of London undergoing radical change.

The rebuilding of the eastern side of the railway viaduct north of Blackfriars station has swept away the shop fronts on the west side of Blackfriars Lane. Some of these were decorated with animal heads and it was here that the railway caterers Spiers and Pond had a depot. Above the shops their name could still be made out (see GLIAS Walk Number 3). Further north the relics of Ludgate Hill Station, in use 1865-1929, have been demolished. Office development is expected in the area.

The proposals for the redevelopment of the New River Reservoir area for housing on the site of the Filter Beds and West Reservoir (GLIAS Newsletter June 1989) are probably being shelved for the time being as the property market is in a bad way. It remains to be seen if new ideas will be put forward.

Fairfield Works, Bow, in East London, the former Bryant and May's match factory which closed in 1979 (GLIAS Newsletter February 1989) was being converted for domestic purposes. Renamed 'The Bow Quarter', it was intended to provide affordable housing of a high standard. However the developer, Kentish Homes, also responsible for the Burrel's Wharf redevelopment on the Isle of Dogs in Docklands, ran into financial difficulties and work ceased, with roof trusses exposed to the sky.

Winter is now upon us and buildings are unroofed. If the wet is not kept out demolition will be inevitable. For listed buildings local authorities have powers to step in and make roofs weathertight by means of tarpaulins, etc. At least let us hope that Tower Hamlets ensures that listed buildings at Burrel's Wharf (the launching site of Brunel's 'Great Eastern') do not go the way of 'C' Warehouse, St. Katharine's.

Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin did not invent the Guillotine (GLIAS Newsletter August 1989) any more than Monsieur Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the loom that bears his name (or for that matter George Stephenson invented the steam railway locomotive). Dr. Guillotin counselled the use of the device that bears his name during the French Revolution. A similar machine known as the Mannaia in Italy, as the Maiden in Scotland and as the Demoiselle in France had been used throughout various parts of Europe, several centuries before its adoption during the Reign of Terror. Perhaps some of our members with a Scottish background may be able to add anecdotes of its use north of the Border. As to the sensation of the victim the writer has no personal experience. Bob Carr

Charing Cross station

Now that the Charing Cross station in which so many of us have spent so many hours (voluntarily or otherwise) is being buried beneath an office block, this may be an appropriate time to raise two queries about its early history.

1. The opening date
All recent authorities agree that Charing Cross was opened on 11th January 1864 for Greenwich and Mid-Kent trains, but I know of two contemporary sources which suggest that it opened earlier. The 'Annual Register' for 1863 (which did not bother to record the openings of many railways) stated that it was opened on 1st December 1863 for Greenwich trains only and the 'Bromley Record” of 1st January 1864 that it was opened provisionally on 2nd December 1863. Both agree in later issues that the complete opening was on 11th January 1864. Does anyone know whether the station was used in December 1863, or were both relying on a press release?

2. Steamer piers
It is well-known that the present Hungerford railway bridge replaced the Hungerford suspension footbridge; the supports include a pair of red brick piers which originally formed part of the suspension bridge. In 'Thames Crossings', Geoffrey Phillips records that the suspension bridge company increased its revenue by allowing steamer companies to use the piers as landing stages and a print which appeared in the 'Illustrated London News' and has been reproduced a couple of times shows that this practice continued, when the railway bridge was built. 'It shows a short landing stage extending downstream from the Westminster pier, and passengers walking through an arch in the base of the pier. At that time, the Victoria Embankment had not been built and the Westminster pier stood well out in the river, as the Lambeth one still does, however, the opening of the Embankment in the late sixties provided a much more convenient place for landing and the OS map for 1872 shows that landing stages had been built on the Westminster bank both upstream and downstream of the bridge.

The arches can still be seen in both piers, picked out in white stone but bricked up (except for an intriguing padlocked door on the Westminster pier). In itself, this prompts a query. The bridge was widened on the upstream side in 1387, long after the arches had lost their purpose, so why was an arch provided in the new parts of the piers? 'For symmetry' is not a very good answer because although the two sides are generally similar in style, the downstream side is semi-circular in plan, while the upstream is flat.

I wonder how passengers from boats reached the bridge. During the life of the suspension bridge there would have been ample room to arrange stairs, but the footpath beside the railway is quite narrow. I can imagine two possible layouts, a spiral staircase leading to the downstream side of the bridge or a conventional staircase leading to the second path which was originally provided on the upstream side. Perhaps something remains behind the locked door which would solve this problem. (Members may recall that about ten years ago a temporary footway was provided on the upstream side while the permanent path was repaired. Michael J O'Conner

Old Westminster village

In December 1986 two delightful cottages c.1815-20 in Medway Street, SW1, and five shops with flats above on the corner and round into Horseferry Road wore sold as late Victorian and as suitable for redevelopment over the heads of the tenants who had formed an association and hoped to buy. However, during the stock market crash they were sold again, as two packages, to a developer and one tenant.

Medway Street was open fields and market gardens until first rated in 1813; the land was owned by Lord Romney, descended from John Marsham, the antiquary who went to Westminster School nearby and whose family names are given to streets in old Westminster. There were coffee houses in Medway Street, numbers 11-22 becoming, the 'Old Rose' public house, the name still in use today. No.44 is a charming and simple three-storey house with basement of Flemish Bond brick with early 19th-century sashes and with a vertically sliding, brass-handled shutter to the front room, and late 19th-century entrance door. It has an early 19th-century dog-leg staircase and fire-places and is notable in its interior for the retention of rare vernacular detailed plank and stud partitions with panelled, dados.

No.45 has a semi-circular arch over an early 19th-century panelled door and segmented arches over late 19th-century four pane sash to its ground floor, with early 19th-century sixteen-pane sashes above. It also has an early 19th-century dog-leg staircase and early 19th-century fireplace but with fine c.1872-80 Minton tiles from the 'Aesop's Fables and Renaissance Heads' series. There is a basement with floor runnel under 45 but only having access from the basement of No.44. The iron railings and what seems a gate remain in front on to the street. Would any member know the dates of this ironwork? Would the basement have been used as a cow shed? After much research and having alerted the Georgian Group and English Heritage, these cottages were listed as a pair, Grade II, by the Department of the Environment.

The area from Medway Street round to Arneway Street was then proposed for conservation extension by the Thorney Island Society, supported by the local councillor to be heard in September, but no hearing has been fixed. Meanwhile, the building, part of 122-120 and adjoining No.45 was opened up with bricks and window removed, but boarded over after local concern on squatters and a fire. Sadly proposals have now been submitted by the developers to put mansards on an infill between 45 and 122-120 and for change of use from the flats above where families were raised. A separate application is now before the Council to put Mansards on 118-116 also, which if passed would just leave 114-112. Strong objections hove been placed by the Georgian Group to those proposed Mansards as being totally out of place on this unique row of buildings next to the listed pair in this part of Westminster and it is very much hoped the Council will not allow this application for Mansards. June Stubbs

  • The Thorney Island Society would like to attract new members — or non-members — who would help with research and description of interesting buildings in Westminster. Contact June Stubbs, 39 Westminster Mansions, Great Smith Street, SW1. Tel: 222-2449.

    Catalyst — The Chemical Museum

    On the last Saturday of half-term a group of GLIAS members visited the Catalyst, Museum in Widnes. Once we had paid, we went up in a glass hydraulic lift to a glass-sided room on top of the building which contained, telephones, videos and computers to show visitors the effects of the chemical industry on the banks of the Mersey. Recorded descriptions of the scene included instructions on how to steer the television cameras to get the best views as well as describing some of the history of the area. Videos also showed what used to happen in the factories and transporting the chemicals by rail, river and road. The computers let you try to control a chemical works and guess which products you would find in everyday things.

    The best thing was a 'display' of artificial smells which you had to sniff and guess which was which. Shampoo, Florists' shops and Coffee shops can be bought, but the worst ones were the Disinfectant and the Perfume! On the way down, by the stairs, we saw signs saying what was coming next in the development of the lower floors and we had to stop at the sales desk on the ground floor. When it is fully open the museum will be worth the entrance fee of £1.00 meanwhile the views from the top floor are quite expensive. Barbara Hayton (aged 10⅔)

    Crystal Palace — the pneumatic railway

    On the day that the Tour of Britain Rally raced round Crystal Palace we were looking into a hole which contained the remains of an experimental pneumatic railway of 1864 (GLIAS Newsletter October 1975). Two holes had been excavated using a mini JCB, one of the holes contained nothing much, the other hole had a sleeper from the railway at the bottom.

    The Marquis de St. Empire, who showed us the holes, explained the brickwork, concrete and the sleeper and with aerial photographs, explained the route of the railway, alongside the adventure playground. The story of a train full of passengers being bricked up when the experiment was over can't possibly be true, as the bottom of the brick tube is only four feet down and the railway was built mostly above ground. Further excavations, with the mini JCB, will take place on the site of the upper terminus. We will keep looking into the holes. Alice Hayton

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  • © GLIAS, 1989