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Notes and news — August 1990

In this issue:

GLIAS Recording Group report

The programme of walks is going well and other walks will go ahead as advertised. Future walks are planned for winter weekends for the North London Railway (starting from Dalston this time and sticking to the line); a walk around the junction of the Greenwich and Croydon Railways; Hackney Wick (Dace Road) area. We have still not been able to get permission for a walk on the North London line track bed.

A group has been set up to support the preservation of this (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990). The contact is Isobel Watson, 29 Stepney Green, London E1.

A letter has been written to Camden Council about development here. This stresses that Camden was the first trunk goods station in London at the terminus of Robert Stephenson's London and Birmingham Railway, opened in 1837-8. It was the freight terminus for London's trade with the Midlands and North of England; with an initial site area of 30 acres it was the largest and most important of such sections until the opening of King's Cross in 1850. The present basement marked the site of the main goods shed illustrated by J. C. Bourne and until recently, the functional layout of the site, parallel to the main line and terminating at the canal, was evident. The layout of the eastern corner of the site was altered for the construction of the North London Railway in 1848-50 and has survived below ground in the vaulted cellars of the former workshop for waggon construction and repair. The winding engine house of the Euston incline also remains below ground. The letter had stressed the need to respect the site's historic layout in any future development.

We have written a letter to Docklands Forum about the behaviour of guards in the Docklands area. GLIAS now has many instances of members who have been prevented from taking photographs of historic sites and who had sometimes been threatened with damage to their cameras. The Forum wrote to LDDC about it. Their reply makes it clear that security guards can only object if the person is on private property. It is often difficult to know if property is private or not and sometimes the guards are not clear themselves of the limits of their area. It is also difficult to make allegations in a situation where there is often no witness. People with definite experiences are encouraged to contact us or the Forum, 192 Hanbury Street, E1 who remain interested in taking it up.

GLIAS representatives are still attending local meetings; but the future now seems very unclear.

A local group is active in recording the site and GLIAS has been invited to take part. More details later.

Mary said that she had come across an article about a strange gas-powered lighthouse used for signalling at the junction and wondered how well known this was.

A number of issuer from that area have been raised — for instance proposed development on the Post Office Training School site, which the Museum would like to survey. It was known that a number of tunnels and culverts existed between the sites. It is understood that four major industrial sites, including Tate and Lyle, are to be moved from the Royal Docks area. More details when they are known.

Development of the Euro-Disney site might go ahead there and it was agreed to watch out for any industrial sites in the area likely to be under threat.

A letter has been received from English Heritage asking for details of historic buildings in conservation areas or listed which were in danger of neglect. It was agreed that the list was so long it could not be compiled at the meeting and members are asked to send in their own lists to Mary or to Tim Smith.

In attempting to draw up a list it was noted that all the sites we first thought of were water works or sewage pumping stations. Thames Water were about to publish a policy document on conservation.

  • No decision about Crossness where the Engines Trust has been 'locked out' (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990) has been made.
  • It appeared Abbey Mills would be closed soon.
  • Kempton Park. Thames had spent a lot of money on the site and had assured people that important remains were still there hidden, ready to be brought out again. Land there was very tempting to developers.
  • West Ham. West Ham was closed up and no plans were known.
  • Stoke Newington. A local newsletter was trying to get support to keep the West Reservoir (GLIAS Newsletter December 1989). A letter-writing campaign was suggested.
  • New River Head. We saw a glossy brochure about redevelopment of the site. It includes a tiny museum in the old engine house. Comments on the interest of the 1930s lab block were made by members of the group.

    We have seen a press picture of this object dug up at Hayes. There was some discussion about 'kyanising', which is the process in which it was supposed to have been used. Mary Mills

    News from Bob Carr

    As readers will know LDDC funding for the Museum of London's Museum in Docklands project ceased from April 1990 (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990). From April the Museum itself made up the shortfall but by mid-June most of the Dockland Project's staff had received notice and the collection in 'W' Warehouse, Royal Victoria Docks, was to be kept locked from the end of the month. Even access to the excellent and extensive Museum in Docklands Library and Archive is likely to be reduced almost to zero and the outlook is bleak indeed. Now Greater London not only uniquely has no comprehensive industrial museum but even the prospect of modest coverage of the Port of London has receded considerably.

    (Note — Since Bob wrote the above, I understand that some funding has been received and that the position is more hopeful. Editor)

    The troubles at Crossness (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990) have received reasonable press coverage, (see The Times 11th June 1990 page 5 and Piloti on page 9 in Private Eye on 22nd June). Local authority support for the restoration workers is considerable and their strengthened management will be doing its best to meet the requirements of Thames Water.

    Plans to construct a ferro-concrete bridge 400 metres downstream of the iron bridge of 1779, close to the Bedlam furnace site, are causing concern in conservationist circles. UNESCO designated the Ironbridge Gorge a World Heritage Site in 1987, one of only eleven in Britain. There is local concern that apart from the new bridge spoiling the view (it will be visible from the Iron Bridge), extra road traffic in the locality will be detrimental. A public enquiry is due in June.

    Astonishing news is that Thames Water have decided they will keep the New River after all and the flow will be maintained at about the present 25mgd from new bore-holes. However, the Stoke Newington reservoirs of 1833 are still very much under threat (GLIAS Newsletter December 1989). Late last year it was announced that the West Reservoir would be drained in September 1990. The plan is to reduce the depth from 6.5 to 1.5 metres and to breach the sides. This would almost certainly be irreversible. It is hoped that a letter-writing campaign will encourage Hackney Planning Department to intervene (write to 161 City Road, EC1). Bob Carr

    Vauxhall Cross site

    The empty riverside site between Vauxhall Bridgefoot, Albert Embankment and Lacks Dock has recently had a dig by the Museum of London prior to redevelopment, which has just commenced. The dig has confirmed the site's interesting end varied history, especially with regard to its industrial usage over many centuries.

    This stretch of river has been embanked at four different times — in the 1470s for a stone wharf for the building of Westminster Abbey; in the 1670s for John Bellingham's glassworks; in the 1890s for Mawbey's gin and vinegar distillery and the new bridge; and in the 1950s for the new public park and offices. The archaeological excavations found and recorded the remains of three barge houses of the mid-17th century used for keeping the ceremonial barges of the Fishmongers', Mercers' and Clothmakers' companies, the dock floors of the first being well preserved.

    Much detailed information on the construction of the 1663 glass kilns was obtained including details of access, linings, crucibles, fuel, temperatures, working methods, etc. Lacks Dock was the principal river access to the nearby Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens from the mid-17th century and Vauxhall steps which have been rebuilt many times but never moved, were the ferry point, until 1816, when the first Vauxhall Bridge was erected. The gardens closed in 1859.

    In the 1760s the site became a distillery for gin and vinegar and regained in this use until the 1930s, the buildings being rebuilt and altered many times. During construction work a large brick built horseshoe arched vault was discovered running at right angles to the river and dating between 1740 and 1813, so it was probably an early part of the distillery. Four walls were also discovered and are recorded as being built for the distillery, though their locations were not known until now. In the southern corner of the site formerly separated by Marble Hall (or Haul) Lane which led to a marbleworks, was the Vauxhall pottery, excavated in 1978 (GLIAS Newsletter June 1979), and a great deal of broken pottery and sagars have been discovered during construction work.

    From the 1930s the site became an oil depot and was cleared in the early 1970s, since when it has remained vacant. The Museum of London excavated down to the natural gravel layer of the old river bank so that all occupation levels are now known and recorded. The old river walls still largely remain below ground level since basements and piles have been kept clear. The site will become offices and a new public park with fountains, a gazebo, and a boathouse, all designed by Terry Farrell. Jon Wallsgrove

    Has advertising changed?

    One has the impression that contemporary advertising is particularly given to silly promotional campaigns and banal slogans but has much really changed in the last 60 years? Dorothy L. Sayers in her Lord Peter Wimsey detective story 'Murder Must Advertise' gives a fascinating detailed description of life in an advertising office around 1930. She was able to do this well having worked as an advertising copy writer in a London office. The passages in the book of most interest to GLIAS readers would be the first to be struck out in any editing.

    There were far more staff at that time than could be afforded, today, about 100. Messenger boys did physical exercises on the roof first thing in the morning before work but the general trend to get rid of people has affected even offices.

    Some good period descriptions of London; the Covent Garden, Fleet Street and Holborn areas in particular, occur in the book and how things have changed! However, perhaps surprisingly, there does not seem to be that much difference between the advertising itself then and now. Has there been an advertising plateau? Do GLIAS members who work in advertising have any comments? (>>>)

    Recording Group visit to the Royal Docks

    To attempt an evening walk round the Royal Docks was a folly in itself. This is a vast area and one of rapid and dramatic change. Those who consider we know the area can still get suddenly lost around the next corner. It is also an area which has been well documented. Bob Carr's first (1984) 'Docklands History Survey' was described as a 'Guide to Research' and laid out to facilitate that. However we took with us, as a guide book, his later (1986) 'Dockland'; page references are to that.

    The evening started with a drive through the centre of the area. Leaving West Ham Station we drove past Canning Town Station (p.218) which remains much as it was and turned along Victoria Dock Road. Tidal Basin Public House (p.219) has been renovated but is still there as are many buildings on the north quay — 'W' Warehouse (p.220) is still the Museum of London store and has now acquired a moat and some landscaping. The North Quay buildings are difficult to see from the road, being masked by drainage works, in particular the new, dramatically bright blue, pumping station. Arriving at Connaught Crossing everything has changed with a complicated new road layout. The Connaught Tavern (p.223) is closed, derelict and in a sort of enclave of its own, its Cast Iron Urinal (p.223) missing. The swing bridge and hydraulic pulping station (p.224) are gone and a dramatic new bridge now in place. All that seems to remain is the small brick building for the top of the pumping shaft of the railway tunnel (illustration p.224).

    Having negotiated the new road system we continued along a new road following the north quay of the Albert Dock. Clearly evident is the new London City Airport, sited between Royal Albert and King George V Docks. Also evident and difficult to see in the past, is the Central Buffet (p.227). Everything else appears to have been cleared. The road continues alongside a central trough in which the extended Docklands Light Railway will run; sunken roundabouts are being built for the stations.

    Arriving at North Woolwich (where a new eel and pie shop is reassuringly traditional) we left the cars and walked. The Railway Museum appears to be flourishing as is the police station; the Royal Victoria Gardens and the TWA Engine House (all p.230) are there despite some yuppification on the riverside. The Harland and Wolfe site (p.230) has recently been cleared for development. At King George V Entrance Lock work is under way; when we went the road was closed. In this area so much work is being done that it is difficult to make sense or predictions; many areas to the Gallions have been closed; new roads appear all the time. In the distance Beckton Gas Works (p.234) still remains in ruins having been Vietnamesed and blown up for 'Full Metal Jacket' and a new road has been driven through the eastern section. The Alps (p.234) are busy ski slopes including a chalet for après ski drinks.

    Getting back in the cars we drove eastward again. St. Mark's Church (p.223) at least has emerged from the process of renovation sparkling but is not being used. The Silvertown bypass (p.223) is still with us but new road building has exposed its undersides. The south side of Victoria Docks seems to have acquired a raw embankment but as far as we knew the Pontoon Dock (p.222) is still there as are the Granaries — despite being lit up by Jean Michel Jarre last year. Spillers is even reputed to be being used. A few cranes remain (rumour says they will go) and a grain elevator. The Graving Dock Tavern is still with us and on the south side of the road behind the rather sorry looking 'Silvertown tramway' built by the LDDC, sites of many erstwhile important works are being used as lorry parks and depots. A memorial to those who died in the Silvertown explosion remains. Travelling eastward we started to walk again with the view of visiting Lyle Park. This was closed but we walked quickly round the area of Bradfield Road and Knights Road. Here at last was some real industry! A tiny patch of what this vast area had once been is left here, apparently overlooked.

    We had seen very little of the area. Had we chosen to go down Factory Road on our way back we would have seen Loders and Tate and Lyle, (p.229) still in full swing. Current rumour has it that they will soon close. It is not easy to know what will happen. Development to turn the area into another Isle of Dogs has been cancelled; plans by the local authority cannot go ahead. What is certain is that the riverside and docking industries have in practice all gone. Anyone who wants to know what the area used to be like should go to the area around Lyle Park — as soon as you can. Mrs X

    Save Crossness Engines

    Enclosed with your Newsletter this month is a card produced by the Crossness Engines Trust (a society affiliated to GLIAS). After reading the following letter the Committee would suggest that you complete it and send it to Thames Water. Please do not forget to put a stamp on it.

    GLIAS has been involved with Crossness for many years, it featured in a BBC Chronicle programme which won GLIAS an award (GLIAS Newsletter April 1971). The Trust's work in restoring the Engine House has been halted (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990) and the Committee would draw all members' attention to this problem.

    The Crossness Engines Trust, 61 Parkhurst Road, Kent, DA5 1BA

    Help needed

    John Parton is seeking information on the history of the construction of Victoria Embankment's Cheyne Walk Riverside Wall and lamp-posts. If you can help, please telephone him on 081 876-1520.

    This market is to remove from Burford Road to Temple Mills, as part of the Spitalfields redevelopment and brings to an end 121 years of trading in Stratford. Newham Local Studies Library seeks any memorabilia and also wish to record people's memories of the market.
    If you can help please contact Howard Bloch or Jill Davies at the Local Studies Library, Water Lane, Stratford E15 4KJ, or tel. 081 534-4545 Ext. 25662 or 081 519-6346.

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  • © GLIAS, 1990