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Notes and news — October 1991

In this issue:

GLIAS visit to Leicestershire

Some fifty members joined the visit to Leicestershire on 13 July. We have a trouble-free run up the M1 to Coalville, where our first stop was Snibston No. 2 Colliery, which is the site of the largest purpose-built science museum in Britain since World War Two and will be opened in 1992.

We were welcomed by the director, Stuart Warburton, and his colleague from the Leicestershire Museums Education Service, who explained what is planned and showed us round the site.

The colliery was the major site in north west Leicestershire and contains an interesting mix of the old — the first shafts were sunk by George and Robert Stephenson in 1832 — and the 'modern', of the late 1960s. It is intended that it would be a museum of colliery state-of-the-art at that time (surface works only. the shafts have been concreted in).

In addition, however, an enormous new surface building of 5,200 sq.m. has been erected on a landscaped spoil heap which will contain a new science museum primarily devoted to Leicestershire industry (textiles, engineering, extractive industries and transport) but with a 'hands on' opportunity to discover how the exhibits really work. It was fascinating to see a museum in the making.

Our next call to Taylor's Bell foundry at Loughborough was for me the highlight of the trip. There has been bell founding in Leicestershire since the mid-14th century and the Taylor family have been bell founders since Robert Taylor completed his apprenticeship with Edward Arnold in St Neots in 1732, although it was not until 1840 that they came to Loughborough.

Mr. T. S. Jennings, who showed us round the foundry and explained it all very clearly, has spent a lifetime with the firm. We started with mould making, followed by casting and then the finishing end tuning of the bells. I am sure that those with more musical knowledge than I have and better pitch got more out of it than I did but, even with my inability to sing in tune, I could follow what Mr Jennings was demonstrating. After the foundry tour we spent time in the adjacent museum.

On our way to our third scheduled visit we stopped briefly at the Leicester Museum of Technology in Abbey Lane Pumping Station, Leicester. The reason for the extra stop was that the beam engines were in steam, an event which had only been discovered a few days before the trip.

Lastly we arrived at the Wigston Framework Knitting Museum. Peter Clowes welcomed us and explained how the workshop was locked up and left untouched when the last master hosier, Edgar Carter, died in 1952 until his daughter Grace, died in 1986.

We were then split into groups to visit the hosier's house, originally of 1740 but with later alterations: the workshop with its eight 150-year-old frames in situ, on one of which we were given a demonstration of a smaller Griswold circular knitting machine: or to have an excellent tea.

The site is really a time capsule and a unique survivor of the most important craft industry in the East Midlands. It is a fascinating place but one must wonder about its future, much of it is 'fragile', for instance the floors in the house rest on almost nothing and one wonders how any number of visitors can be accommodated without considerable rebuilding, which will destroy the atmosphere of the place — and what will be left if emergency exits and the like have to be built in?

Sated with four excellent visits we had an uneventful run back to London by 8.30pm — the original estimate had been 8.00pm but that was before the half hour at Abbey Lane had been added.

The coach was not quite full — a pity because this was a great day out and deserved full support. We were lucky with the weather too. It rained, sometimes, but almost all the visits took place in warm sunny weather and I do not think anyone got seriously wet.

Our warmest thanks must go to David Perrett who, as usual, organised everything so well and of course to our hosts at the various sites. Bill Firth

Dockland news

Of late visitors to the vicinity of Canary Wharf mutter 'Ceausescu' when confronted with the rapidly growing collection of new buildings, unashamedly exhibiting an architecture of naked power of the kind we used to associate with Joseph Stalin and his like. The view from the North West along West India Dock Road is new dominated by the Canary Warf development to such an extent that the formerly impressive grade I listed warehouses by George Gwilt on the North Quay of William Jessop's Import Dock are dwarfed into insignificance to an absurd extent by the fun throw-away classical architecture towering behind. There are at present no signs of conversion works starting on the Gwilt Warehouses. Perhaps one should remember that Stalin, when Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvil, once lived in Whitechapel and that according to George Bernard Shaw, Russian Communism was an export from England. The Salvation Army hostel in Fieldgate Street, E1 where Stalin stayed, is still there.

However, one gets a better view of the Gwilt warehouses from the vicinity of the Canary Warf development itself. Looking North West with SS Robin and a Thames barge berthed along the North Quay of William Jessop's Import Dock things look more encouraging. The early 20th-century transit sheds between the Gwilt Warehouses and the North Quay, which at one time were to have been the home of the planned Museum of London Museum in Docklands, have been demolished and the view from the South East of Sir John Rennie's clock office building and warehouses one and two is much improved.

Travellers arriving at the recently opened six platform 'Grand Central' DLR Canary Wharf station by Cesar Pelli and Associates now step out into a world in parts redolent (at least superficially) of the early 1900s and can look over the water at buildings a hundred years earlier than that.

With its mature English trees flown in from Hamburg, lush green grass and period style street furniture the whole Canary Wharf site is beginning to appear to have been around a great deal longer than it really has. Jonathan Glancey on page 27 of the Independent, 13 July 1991, dubbed Canary Wharf 'Gotham City E14'. To the west, the amazing double decker roundabout, Westferry Circus, has a garden on top approached through an ingenious Art Nouveau style gate by Guiseppe Lund. The garden evokes uneasy memories H. G. Wells and the Time Machine. Quasi Egyptian architecture is popular hereabouts and standing amidst the newly created beauty in the garden on the upper deck of the Circus one is persuaded that the allusion to the Eloi and the Morlocks must surely be deliberate. Hearing the traffic noises emanating from ventilators makes the whole experience uncomfortably more realistic then being in a film set for the film of the book.

With the exception of William Cubitt little in the new Canary Wharf street names derives from the past of the area and with the tiled pavements and all the nearly completed building perhaps the South of Spain or the Algarve in Portugal is the most prominent feeling one comes away with. To the East the Canary Wharf main tower and Canada Square is distinctly North American but going Westwards the flavour becomes more European. The centrally placed Cabot Square reminds one that our claim to North America rests on the work of exploration of the Cabots, father and son (from Genoa and Venice respectively). Again, is the decision to commemorate the Cabots tongue in cheek? The writer has not come across the name William Jessop in the vicinity of number one Canada Square but then Jessop was only an engineer and presumably unworthy of mention. However, the main road from Westferry Circus is West India Avenue and I suppose Christopher Columbus (from Genoa) did discover the West Indies. The whole thing is very multi-national which is really what it is all about anyway. It can certainly be said that the Canary Wharf development is a first class attempt to create something above the mediocre and few would disagree that as far as the general visiting public is concerned success is at least close at hand.

At Tobacco Dock E1 and Butler's Wharf SE1, things are not going too well financially. Much retail accommodation remains to be let at Tobacco Dock and traders already there do not seem to have a great deal of business. Unlike Wandsworth the hoped for 'yuppification' of Docklands has apparently not taken place. Successful young business people who have bought flats in the area spend their weekends in the country and are just not around at leisure periods to support the relatively expensive new facilities being provided, while old haunts frequented by the indigenous population are crowded. One of the pirate dummies, part of the 'Pirate Experience', was reported stolen from an imitation pirate ship to the South of the Tobacco Dock building.

A battle is raging over the retention of the elegant Telford period retractable footbridge spanning the passage from the entrance basin to the East Dock at the St Katharine Docks. There are problems owing to greatly increased public use but the conservationists believe an engineering solution is possible. The party desiring demolition have described the bridge as effete.

Hay's Galleria, around the site of Hay's Dock to the North of Tooley Street, is near London Bridge railway station and relatively close to the City. It seems to be attracting somewhat more leisure custom than Tobacco Dock. The late 1980s Horniman at Hay's public house serves pots of Horniman's tea at a price much more reasonable than the beer. (To an extent that makes Temperance attractive.) Apart from the tea room at the Horniman Museum, Forest Hill SE23, this is the only place at which this once popular tea can be bought. Around the bar at Hay's is an interesting frieze depicting the World in the mid-Victorian period. Hay's Dock itself dating from the mid-1850s, while still essentially intact and capable of re-instatement, was dewatered and converted into a multi-storey underground car park in the 1930s. Bob Carr

Notes from Bob Carr

Primrose Hill railway station is threatened with closure despite a campaign by the Heath and Old Hampstead Society and the Green Party to retain a service. There is now merely one train a day in each direction just allowing local residents to commute to the City. Only in 1986 considerable civil engineering works at Graham Road E8 were nearing completion to divert the then train service to Broad Street into Liverpool Street Station (GLIAS Newsletter August 1986). The new line from Navarino Curve Junction which joins the former Great Eastern Railway Cambridge line North of London Fields to allow Watford trains to run into Liverpool Street is now scarcely used. What a waste of money it appears to have been!

The Edwardian station building at Norbury, London Road, SW16, is currently threatened with demolition despite a campaign by local protesters and SAVE Britain's Heritage, who are trying to get listed status. This is a working station and the elegant high beamed spacious booking hall is still in use and has considerable atmosphere. It was built with the help of public subscription in 1902. B.R. would demolish and replace by housing (24 flats) relocating the booking facilities. SAVE claim Norbury is the best of four similar examples on the line. The decision to demolish is with British Rail rather than Croydon Council.

The sixteen Whitbread Brewery shire horses formerly residing in stables at Garrett Street EC1 should by the time you read this have moved to the Whitbread hop farm at Paddock Wood. Shires have been stabled at Garrett Street since 1897 when they were transferred there from the main Brewery buildings in Chiswell Street EC1 but regular horse-drawn deliveries ceased in 1988 and since then horses have only been used for special occasions. Ninety years ago Whithread's employed more than 300 dray horses delivering beer in the City. The Brewery in Chiswell Street which Samuel Whitbread moved to in 1750, ceased brewing in 1976 but a number of notable buildings survive and by special arrangement one may still see the Sugar Room of 1782, the Smeaton Vaults and the great Porter Tun Room with its 65 feet span triple king post roof trusses. King George III and Queen Charlotte visited Chiswell Street in 1787 and saw the James Watt beam engine. To see the shire horses at Paddock Wood telephone 0622 872068. Bob Carr

Ford's visit

On Friday 10 May 1991 a party of GLIAS members had the privilege of a tour of the production line at Ford's Dagenham where the Ford Fiesta was being assembled. A finished car is produced in 26½ working hours. Broadly the process is much as Henry Ford envisaged but computers now enable cars to be built to individual customer's orders and much of the welding is done by robot.

We started with the assembly of 1.8 litre diesel engines at the rate of 75 per hour in the very oldest part of the works. The Ford's site was bought in 1924 for £167,695 and production started in 1931. The part presently in use for engine production covers 57 acres. Casting of engine blocks no longer takes place at Dagenham, these come from Germany and on completion of the engine most return to Germany to be fitted into a vehicle. Ford has operated as a co-ordinated European group since 1967. The 1.8D engine block weighs 25lbs and the engine design is 3-4 years old. Only one petrol engine is still built at Dagenham. When assembly of the 1.8D engines is completed they are tested at the end of the line and faulty items returned for reassembly. Failure rate is about 0.2 per cent.

Next we visited the press shop which uses mainly Schuler presses of 1984 but some Vickers Armstrong presses from the early 1940s are still in use. To produce a Fiesta 463 dies are required, mostly hand-made. Steel offcuts are recycled. Manufacturing tolerance is 1.2mm. The Ford plant at Genk in Belgium is also involved in Fiesta, production. For internal delivery at Dagenham automated guided vehicles are in use and we were able to watch some of these at work.

Later we saw hand welding of the high alloy steel used for car bodies as well as much of the robotic variety. No Japanese robots are employed at Dagenham, only European, but none of these were built in Britain. Each vehicle requires about 4,500 spot welds. We saw a framing butt welding machine in action which carries out 200 welds at a time.

Prior to painting a car body receives six alkaline washes and is then submerged in phosphate. As an anti-rust precaution the joints are sealed with plastic and PVC is used on the under body. Painting is made easier by the technique of electrostatic spraying which inhibits paint runs and drips. Unwanted static electricity is first removed by the use of ostrich feathers. For each car four litres of paint are required and the spraying operation takes six-and-a-half hours. Fiesta gearboxes come from Cologne, the doors are made in Valencia. Each car contains about 2,500 components. At Dagenham 1,200 women are employed on the shop floor.

Fiestas for Italy are manufactured with opening windows at the rear. These are not available in Britain. A new Fiesta van is being introduced. The Ford works at Dagenham covers 1.1 square miles and there are 57 miles of conveyors. 1,200 cars are produced each day, both left and right hand drive. Staff facilities include 25 dining rooms.

Parts are ordered only as required and computers allow very small stocks to be kept — just sufficient for three working days. There is no longer any 'running in' of cars. Tests are carried out on each car at the end of the production line. The guided tour we were given was excellent. Each member of the party was provided with individual earphones and thus able to hear our very knowledgeable guide at all times, even in noisy parts of the works. Many thanks are due to our Newsletter Editor Charlie Thurston for organising this excellent enjoyable visit and of course many thanks to Ford's of Dagenham for a memorable and well spent afternoon. Bob Carr

Letters to the editor

From Tim Smith, who writes:
I have had a request for information about a man named John Cowderoy who, it is thought, was a flour miller in the London area between about 1815, when he married in Westminster and 1862 when he died in Ilford. If anyone knows anything of the man or his mill please contact me on 0442 863846, or write to 30 Gaveston Drive, Berkhamsted, Herts. Tim Smith

And from Bill McNair:
As a new member of GLIAS I very much welcome the information on bibliography of printed works on London history to 1989 (GN 135). I find the extract list from the London Journal of particular help. Please continue on a regular basis if you can. Bill McNair

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© GLIAS, 1991