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Notes and news — December 1991

In this issue:

Last hovercraft trip

GLIAS has crossed the Channel before but the object has always been to visit IA sites in Belgium or France. This joint Newcomen Society and GLIAS visit was different. The journey itself was the star attraction — a sure case of 'it is better to travel than to arrive'!

During the planning of the trip quotation marks began to appear around the word 'last', indicating increasing doubts as to whether the 9.30pm flight from Calais to Dover on 28 September would actually be the last, in the event we were told that the Hovercraft Flights would continue for another two weeks and would probably recommence in 1992 and perhaps even in 1993. The 'last Hovercraft' trip could become an annual event.

Bad weather was expected with gales and heavy rain forecast as the party met at Dover. There was an air of apprehension and adventure when we arrived at the Hoverport — would the Hovercraft flight be cancelled?

Our party was split into two for a tour of the Hoverport before departure. Our guide, Penny, the duty manager, took us first to the control tower with its excellent view of the harbour. Phil, who was directing operations, and his colleagues are in constant contact with the Hovercraft and harbour control. Ten minutes prior to departure the Hovercraft captain contacts both the control tower and harbour control for a slot to leave the harbour. A similar procedure applies ten minutes before a craft arrives, but then the control tower must also allocate a berth on the pad. Wind speed and direction and wave height are always available on the console and this information is passed to the craft. Measurement of wave height seems to be somewhat unscientific, depending upon estimates reported by incoming captains. These parameters and the size of the Hovercraft determine whether or not it is safe to proceed with a flight.

We left Phil to his instruments, crossed the roof of the terminal building where fine views of the harbour and pad are to be had and descended to the traffic Duty Office. Here Kerry and her staff of two run the show, liaising with the Senior Marshaller, who is responsible for safety on the pad and whose duty includes the loading and unloading of cars and the Senior Porter whose responsibilities include the ramps and side-stages and the loading and unloading of baggage. The Traffic Duty Office, we were told, comes alive when bad weather is expected as alternative arrangements are planned with the competing ferries; railways and coaches are notified of delays and travellers are kept informed via video screens and announcements.

Our party had preferential treatment, being allowed to board the 'Princess Anne' before the riff-raff! The 'Princess Anne' is one of two SRN4 MK4 'stretched' Hovercraft, rebuilt in the late 1970s. Powered by four Rolls Royce Marine Proteus Type 15M/529 free-turbine turboshaft engines they can each carry 424 passengers and 52 vehicle units, the actual number of vehicles depending on their size. There is a crew of eighteen. Leaving at 12.15pm with a 25 knot south-easterly headwind and a 1.5 metre swell the crossing took 53 minutes at a speed of 30 knots.

Hoverspeed own three smaller SRN2 Hovercraft. We were told these are up for sale. All were built by the British Hovercraft Corporation at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

A 1904 Baedeker of Paris and its Environs was produced. The exchange rate being 1 Franc = 9¾d, (about 4p!). Calais Ville, it said, 'is 7 miles from Cap Gris Nez, nearest point to the English Coast and the proposed starting point of the submarine tunnel between France and England'! But the tunnel works were not on our itinerary. Instead we boarded a coach and set of in the direction of St. Omer, to see the preserved hydraulic boat lift at Arques.

Les Fontinettes boat lift was built to bypass a flight of five locks with a total rise of 43 feet and was officially opened in 1888. The engineer was Latimer Clark, brother of Edwin Clark who designed the earlier Anderton lift; the lift built by S.A. des Anciens Établissements Cail of Paris, could handle 300 tonne barges.

We were split into two parties. Our guide spoke no English but with our own technical knowledge and some nifty interpretation by one member of our party, we were able to understand all she said (or at least we think we were!) in the engine house she explained how the hydraulic power supply was generated by a turbine driving four reciprocating pumps working against a weight-loaded accumulator. The two troughs, each supported on a hydraulic ram, worked as a balanced pair, one being raised as the other was lowered. The system used was similar to that at Anderton prior to its electrification. Hydraulic power was used to assist the operation, open and close the gates, and operate capstans. How the trough gates were sealed with rubber, we were told, was not fully understood. In fact the gates were made watertight by a rubber hose which could be inflated with air at 22 psi. The trough descends into a chamber kept dry with hydraulically operated pumps, unlike at Anderton where the chamber is flooded.

In the workshop we were shown various machine tools including lathes, drills and a milling machine all belt-driven from a turbine. The belts, we were told, were of tough camel skin. Apparently, in France, mothers-in-law are said to have the skin of a camel! Our tour ended with a film of the last days of operation of the lift in 1967.

Before returning to the Hoverport the party visited a hypermarket in Dunkirk, and drove round the centre of Calais noting the statue of Jacquard, the Hôtel de Ville with the statue of the Burghers of Calais in front and the lighthouse in the port area.

The expected deterioration in the weather never happened, so the Hovercraft flight went ahead as normal. With a two-metre swell and a 23-knot south-easterly wind we raced along at 53mph towards Dover, arriving at about 9.15pm. This was an uneventful flight and not the last one we expected. Nevertheless a good day was had by all and we must thank Danny Hayton for organising it. We must also thank the staff at the Dover Hoverport and our guides at Les Fontinettes. Tim Smith

The first launderettes

Britain's first coin-operated launderette, opened at 184 Queensway W2 on 9 May 1949, was the first of three prototypes to test the feasibility of introducing the launderette, which had originated in New York in 1945, to Britain (GLIAS Newsletter February 1990). By the late 1940s the Bendix Corporation had become the leading American supplier of self-service laundry equipment. There were about 5,000 launderettes there and Bendix had an 80% share of the market.

In 1947 Bendix acquired premises at 46 Baker Street and it was from here that the campaign to introduce the launderette to Britain was directed. Three locations were chosen to test the concept; Queensway in Bayswater, an obvious choice being classic bedsitter land; Raynes Park, regarded as typical of outer suburban London and a shopping location near the centre of Lincoln, considered to be an average town of medium size.

The Bendix washing machine was being manufactured under licence in Britain by Fisher and Ludlow who also made the pressed steel bodies for Austin cars. At the time purchase tax was charged on domestic luxuries such as washing machines. The washing machine made for the new launderettes were essentially the same as the standard 9lbs domestic model but the fitting of a three-phase electric motor avoided purchase tax for the launderettes.

There may have been some resistance to the use of the 'Americanism' launderette, a Bendix registered name. Reporting the opening of the Bayswater branch, the 'Power Laundry' of 14 May 1949 describes the new venture as a cub laundry and places the word launderette in inverted commas. The cost per Bendix load, 9lbs of dry washing, was 2/- 6d including detergent and customers could book in advance with the initial staff of three. An important addition to the washing machines were two 'hydro extractors' which for 1d would reduce the wet load to an 'almost ironable state', known as 'damp dry'. Tumble-dryers did not arrive until the 1960s. Bob Carr

Industrial archaeology in street names

GLIAS member Oliver James has for some time been researching street names with an IA connection, eg.:

Oakey Lane Lambeth SE1. Map Ref. BY 4166; Site of Messrs J. Oakey & Sons, Wellington Mills, for the manufacture of emery paper, etc.; Demolished c1950.

Unfortunately Oliver has had to give up his hobby for medical reasons and has passed his collection on to me. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who can add to, or expand, the collection. Best wishes to Oliver. Charlie Thurston

Sir William Perkin

Members may be interested to know that (as expressed as a 'hope' in the October Newsletter) a blue plaque, sponsored by the Stepney Historical trust, commemorating Sir William Perkin on the site of his home in Pennington Street, was unveiled by his grandson on 31st October. Bill Firth

Ice Houses

Following the Recording Group Report about the ice wells at Battlebridge Basin, we have received a letter from Mrs Sylvia Beamon, co-author with Susan Roat, of the book 'The Ice Houses of Britain', published in 1990. She has a continuing interest in ice houses and is maintaining a gazetteer. She would appreciate any information members may find about these structures and perhaps this could be channelled through the Recording Group. Tim Smith

Civil defence bunker, Hackney

In Rossendale Street, Hackney, underneath premises occupied by Hackney Community Transport (HCT), there is a WW2 Civil Defence Bunker.

Being bomb-proof and so difficult to dispose of, such bunkers may be quite common but this one in Hackney still retains the air purification and emergency lighting equipment which may be much less common.

The air purification equipment consists of a blower and a fairly massive filtration unit together with the necessary ducting. The emergency lighting equipment consists of two 12 volt lamps with reflectors hanging from the ceiling and two 'exercise' bicycles used to generate power to charge the 12 volt accumulators for the lighting. The original double steel doors on the air-locked entrance with their original rubber seals are still in place and, at the far end, the emergency exit, also with steel doors giving on to a large diameter concrete pipe through the massive wall, also exists.

HCT will be vacating the premises and this may put the bunker and, more particularly, the equipment at risk. HCT organised an open day to launch an appeal for a Civil Defence Museum in the bunker with retention of the equipment. The organisers are desperate for information on CD bunkers and their equipment. If anyone can help, please contact Gay Watton, HCT, 24 Rossendale Street, E5, Tel: 071 306 0944 (Mornings). Bill Firth

Kensal Green Cemetery open day

The General Cemetery Company, which owns Kensal Green Cemetery, held an Open Day on 6 July 1991 to celebrate the launch of the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery. A number of specialist tours had been organized including the catacombs, where we saw the hydraulic lift with bronze decorations and velvet covering still intact albeit dusty. It is hoped to restore it for future use in the Anglican chapel. Freehold cells in the catacombs are still available at £4,000 each. The Friends plan to have the chapel itself restored to its original state. The 1950s stained glass will be replaced, the walls stripped to their original panelling and the ceiling — at present multi-coloured — will be repainted its former cream. I understand there are also plans to restore the smaller dissenters' chapel at the east end of the cemetery.

Messrs. T. Cribb & Sons of Canning Town gave a demonstration of their 1890s horse-drawn glass-panelled hearse pulled by two black horses looking very handsome in their black plumes and velvets. The horses were described in the programme as the 'traditional black Friesian stallions'. When I asked the driver their names, however, they turned out to be Prince and Duchess.

Attendance was high and included the Mayors of Hammersmith and Brent. The Chairman of the General Cemetery Company felt so encouraged by the success of the Open Day that he spoke of holding another one next year, if it is going to be as good as this year's. I can recommend it.

A subsequent letter from the Secretary of the General Cemetery Company states that William Smith of London made and installed the hydraulic catafalque in 1839. It is still hoped that the catafalque will be restored — this time as an oildraulic lift but by whom and when have yet to be confirmed. Megan Phillips

Streatham Silk Mill

GLIAS members visited the Streatham Silk Mill (GLIAS Newsletter February 1989) and Sainsbury's on 28 October in a party led by Brian Bloice of Streatham Adult Education. The survival of the mill was in part due to the prompt listing of the building and imaginative proposal for its retention put forward by GLIAS at the subsequent public enquiry. Today, the mill building is fully incorporated into Sainsbury's, providing offices and refreshment facilities for both staff and customers.

The silk mill was erected in 1820 (shown on the 1823 Bryant's map) by Stephen Wilson, a silk manufacturer, whose family lived almost opposite, but with long connections with the Spitalfields industry. Although importing both French personnel and new Jacquard techniques, Wilson is thought to have found his new 'greenfield' site cheaper to operate.

In the face of increasing French imports, the factory became an india rubber works by 1838 owned by Thomas Foster, who sold out to Peter Brusey Cow in 1856 and continued to work for them. The Cows developed the site frequently adding lean-to's to the existing buildings, but never undertaking wholesale redevelopment. Their conservative policy led to almost, complete survival of the mill.

The policy of the architects, said Rob Hughes of David Gibson Architects, was to preserve as much as possible and repair in situ where necessary, this has resulted in the building retaining much of the original fabric — 80% of the wood is original. The windows are 75-80%, the 1890 replacement metal hopper windows. Where modern solutions have been used, they are clearly identified so that future confusion will be minimised. Features such as the curved ceiling in the office on the second floor, though not currently visible, have been retained.

The talk on the mill was followed by a tour of the store, led by Carry McKenzie, the bakery manager. 'Ozone friendly' refrigeration has just been installed, making a first. Stock is ordered on an overnight basis, based upon stock counts on the shelves and not data from the tills. The store is served by depots at Charlton, Elstree and Hoddesdon and is just about to start a scheme in which the full delivery containers will be docked and left to be unloaded through the day and not overnight as is the current practice. Most goods are moved directly to the shelves. The warehouse uses moveable shelf units which economises on space.

On the main road the Beehive Coffee Tavern 1878 designed by Sir Ernest George has been restored and is now a solicitor's office. Charles Norrie

Public footpath from the Royal Albert Dock basin to the Gallions Hotel

The following is taken from a letter the Editor has received from the Royal Docks Development Surveyor, Mr. Stephen Dunlop:

Gallions Hotel
The Corporation is pursuing the extinguishment of the footpath as we previously discussed and in order to maintain access for responsible bodies and individuals for as long as possible before development, the Corporation is entering into a legal agreement with the London borough of Newham within which, the Corporation undertakes to permit access from Gallions roundabout past Gallions Hotel and onto the KGV shiplock. Although the 'public' status of the paths will be removed, signs at the gate you mention, will denote that access is possible over private land. This will stay open until construction work is initiated and development will only take place where there is a legally binding commitment on developers to create new public footpaths.

Ferndale Pub to Gallions Roundabout
The replacement path is now open to pedestrians only. This reflects the Corporation's desire to separate vehicles from pedestrians at every opportunity and to create a pleasant environment for pedestrians to pass through. Stephen Dunlop

GLIAS lecture: Tobacco Dock

The first lecture of the 1991-92 Winter Lectures was given by John Chatwin of the Terry Farrell Partnership on the renovations at Tobacco Dock.

A fascinating series of slides covering the work at the Dock was prefixed by a brief look at work carried out at China Court in Covent Garden and proposals for redevelopment at Spitalfields.

The work on the Skin Floor required some ingenious solutions which enabled the local building inspectors to be satisfied that the wooden piles would remain suitably damp and that, by careful demolition and rebuilding, missing bays could be replaced.

The lecture ended with some discussion on the materials and techniques used in fitting out the shopping spaces after which the lecturer was warmly thanked for his presentation. Danny Hayton

Gone for a Burton

It is claimed that the World War II forces' expression 'gone for a Burton' originates from the use of the upstairs part of Montague Burton's tailoring shop in Blackpool as a Morse code examination centre for RAF wireless operators. The final pass-out examination would, for instance, determine if the candidate were to become the member of an aircrew. Thus the expression came to be associated with portentous events.

This century Burton's the Tailors, often with an associated billiard hail, became a ubiquitous landmark in industrial towns and cities and today former Burton shops are still readily identifiable by their architectural house style. The Burton empire also embraced manufactories including Hudson Road Mills, Leeds, by 1925 the largest clothing factory in Europe, the art deco Burtonville Clothing Works opened in 1933 and the Goole Garden Factory of 1949.

Montague Burton opened his first shop in Chesterfield by 1904 (GLIAS Newsletter December 1990), a second shop in Mansfield (1908), Sheffield (1909), Manchester (1910), Leicester (1912) and Stockport (1913). By 1914 there were 14 shops including bespoke tailoring with several small workshops supplying them and outside side customers. The subsequent rise of Burton's was phenomenal. There were 40 shops in 1919 and 595 in 1939, Mr Burton became Sir Montague in 1952 and by the time of his death in September 1952 there were 635 shops.

During the war Burton's employees contributed towards a Spitfire Fighter, Sir Montague Burton paying half the cost; this plane, the 'Montague Bee', operated with a Polish squadron reformed in France from survivors of the Crackow squadron who had escaped the Germans.

In 1940 Burton's acquired a button-making factory at Ightham near Sevenoaks in Kent which produced one-and-a-half million buttons every week. Burton's suit buttons were made from the Corozo ivory nut grown in South America, the Dom variety being used for trouser buttons. These nuts were dyed to the appropriate colour, thirty buttons being needed for a suit. During World War II Burton's were a major producer of uniforms for the armed forces. Because of supply difficulties during the World War II genuine nut buttons were replaced with less durable plastic ones. At least buttons made of nuts explains the liking horses and goats have for them!

The Burton empire has already caught the attention of our Vice President, Kenneth Hudson. On page 68 of 'The Archaeology of the Consumer Society' (1983) he draws attention to the billiard saloons often associated with Burton tailoring shops. Providing an alcohol-free club environment which young men could go to for entertainment rather than public houses was in accordance with Sir Montague's teetotal beliefs. It also displayed sound business sense in that visitors to the saloon would see the suits displayed in the shop windows.

Tailoring was industrialised relatively late compared with more basic industries. At the turn of the century almost all work was carried out on a very small scale. It was Montague Burton and his competitors such as Fifty Shilling Tailors, Hepworths and Weaver to Wearer, who changed all this using good communications and transport, by than readily available. A nationwide chain of shops provided outlets for the products of a large, centralised, efficient factory.

The Singer sewing machine had been introduced from the USA as early as 1857 and the bandsaw enabled several layers of cloth to be cut simultaneously at high speed. Early this century the Hoffman press speeded up pressing operations and work was organised on a large scale.

Leeds was an important centre for the clothing industry which remained a staple industry until at least the 1950s. Sir Montague Burton lived nearby at 'Foxwood', Harrogate.

Burton's produced a book in the 1930s, 'Ideals in industry', a panegyric to the Hudson Road Mills. Many of the eulogies are from people prominent at the time and perhaps surprisingly a number holding political opinions to the left of centre. In this century Burton's Hudson Road Mills played a similar role to Marshall's Temple Mill of 1941, with its Egyptian façade, as an industrial wonder of Leeds. In October 1934 the Princess Royal opened a new canteen, the largest in Europe, which could accommodate 8,000 workers at one sitting.

In London Burton's shop on the corner of New Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, in empire stone with granite fascia, was the 'World's largest tailoring establishment' costing a third of a million pounds. Burton's had five shops in Oxford Street and as early as 1916 a branch had been opened in Wandsworth.

There is plenty for the urban industrial archaeologist to look out for: terracotta, black-and-white vitrolite, emerald pearl granite and, of course, empire stone.

Visitors were encouraged. The publicity value of a photograph of the cricketer Don Bradman being measured for his Burton's suit in London at 118-132 New Oxford Street, WC2, was obvious and from the collection of photographs in 'ideals in industry' this kind of event seems to have been staged whenever possible. Whole sporting teams are often depicted. One begins to wonder if in pre-war days any man escaped wearing a Burton suit. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 1991