Home | Membership | News | Diary | Courses | Noticeboard | Books | Journals | Links | Database | e-papers | Contact

Notes and news — August 1992

In this issue:

A seaplane shed at Wimbledon

A large and high metal-framed structure stands out among the complex of one and two storey buildings of the British Railways' Civil Engineering and Signal Telegraph Depot at Wimbledon. This lies immediately south-east of the main Southern Region lines, close to the footbridge leading from Alt Grove, St. George's Road, to Dundonald Road. A drawing among the engineering records of British Railways shows that the building was originally an aircraft hangar, of the Admiralty's "Type G', 180 ft. by 60 ft. in area and 25 ft. high (clear internal height), steel framed, with an annexe or lean-to 20 ft. wide and 10 ft. high along one side.

Signs of its original purpose are still visible, especially the openings for sliding doors at one side; but the structure has been a good deal modified in detail by the Southern Railway and British Railways. What can be pieced together of its history is this.

In the spring of 1917, in order to counter unrestricted submarine warfare declared by Germany in February, the group of Royal Naval Air Service stations based on Portsmouth and Calshot was strengthened, and a site at Newhaven, on the foreshore east of the harbour entrance, was selected as an additional sea-plane base (Ordnance Survey reference TQ 454002). To begin with, a wooden hangar was built, with a wooden slipway leading down into the sea, for launching sea-planes, and various ancillary buildings were provided, including three old railway carriages for offices and crewroom. This was opened as RNAS Newhaven in May 1917. In Apri1 1918 it was extended to accommodate a larger number of planes (now under the Royal Air Force) and a new steel-framed hangar was built behind the wooden sheds. From this base patrols were flown between Dungeness and the Isle of Wight. The station was closed in the autumn of 1919, and the buildings were auctioned early in 1920. The site today is cleared — there is nothing but shingle to be seen on the beach.

The steel-framed hangar could obviously have a further span of usefulness, though few would have guessed that it would still be functioning in the 1990s. Electrification of the London & South Western Railway's suburban lines was approved at the end of 1912. and the first four sections were brought into service in 1915-16. A recommendation to complete the programme, made by the general manager, Sir Herbert Walker, in June 1920, was deferred by the directors in view of the impending formation of the Southern Railway, and in the event it was not proceeded with until 1925. Engineer and signal stores would be required in large quantities, to be assembled and distributed for the electrification and associated works, and it seems reasonable, though it is not certain, to link expansion and rebuilding of the Wimbledon depot with planning for the 1920 scheme.

No evidence has yet been found as to exactly when transfer and re-erection of the shed took place; the only lead is a note on a Southern Railway engineer's drawing, which states: 'Existing seaplane shed at Newhaven Harbour to be taken down and re-erected as Stores Building at Wimbledon'. The 'Southern Railway' heading might be taken to show that the work was done in or after 1923; but it is possible that this was superimposed on an earlier drawing, which was otherwise unaltered. The detailed chronology remains to be filled in; but there can be no doubt that the railway engineering depot at Wimbledon contains 'the main structure of a First World War naval air hangar.

The building type, with its RNAS origin, was spotted by Mr. John Bagley, aviation historian, and it was passed to me by Mr Alan Jackson, of Dorking, historian of transport and suburbs. Mr. Martin Reynolds, Network Civil Engineer, Network South East, Croydon, took up the inquiry I made to him, and Mr. Roger Brasier, records manager in that department, supplied copies of a number of detailed drawings, one of which establishes the link with Newhaven.

The statements about activities at Newhaven are drawn from a longer account in Chris Ashworth, Action Stations, (Patrick Stevens, 1985), which includes a photograph showing part of the hangar during erection. Particulars of the L.S.W.R. electrification schemes are in C.F. Klapper, Sir Herbert Walker's Southern Railway, (Ian Allan, 1973) 52-3, 70. I am grateful to all of them for enabling this curious little story to be put together. Michael Robbins, President of GLIAS

News from Bob Carr

There are plans to restore, at least in external appearance, the top of the chimney at the Brunel engine house, Rotherhithe, which used to be wrought iron lined with firebrick. When the top was taken off, remains of the firebrick lining and ash were packed inside the present brick base. Bob Barnes and a colleague have recently cleared out the relatively narrow bore of the base — a difficult job with rubble tending to fall on those workinq below. A steel cage was devised beneath which intrepid volunteers could remove the packing above carefully. There remains the question of why the brick base is so massive in relation to its bore.

The Richmond Ice Rink in Clevedon Road has been demolished.

The Willesden hump shunting railway yard has been cleared and track is being relaid for Channel Tunnel trains.

On the west side of Waterloo railway station the extensive new roof for the Channel Tunnel passenger terminus is nearing completion.

Ernö Goldfinger's Alexander Fleming House, Elephant and Castle, formerly occupied by the DHSS and built in the 1960s is still unlisted despite a considerable campaign. It has been threatened with cladding or demolition but Imry Holdings may now find new office uses.

The Roundhouse at Chalk Farm is not the only such building in London. At Kentish Town the former Midland Railway locomotive depot still has a roundhouse in alternative use.

Finsbury Park depot for diese1 locomotives (a long shed), long derelict, has been demolished and the site is being redeveloped. This was home to the famous East Coast main line Deltics.

At Stratford Market to the south east of Stratford railway station a considerable amount of recording work has been taking place. After a recent fire the site is now cleared.

On the delta of the River Lea noxious industry has long been a tradition. Sulphuric acid was manufactured by Berk Spencer Acids, Crow Road, E15. The extensive site is now cleared and for sale.

Granoplast Wharf Deptford is currently being demolished. Further east the former East Greemwich Fire Station, on the corner of Woolwich Road and Tunnel Avenue has been adapted; built in 1901 with married quarters at the back it is now the Greenwich Hotel.

Further east again the former LCC central tramway assembly and maintenance depot, Felltram Way, SE7 has now been almost totally cleared.

A new firm, Downtown Marine has restarted ship repair work in London. At the yard used by Cubow Ltd, to the west of the Woolwich Free Ferry, the vessel 'Wear Hopper No. 3' from Sunderland, 414 tons gross, built 1959, was noted on the slipway in June. Bob Carr

News from Crossness


The liner of Portland Place


Letter boxes


Industrial history - its growing role in London's redevelopment


Letters to the editor

(GLIAS Newsletter June 1992)


Bill Firth's West London walks


Concrete problems

The Concrete Society is planning an archive of drawings and other original documents to show how the technique of detailing reinforced concrete and communicating these details has evolved in Britain since the 1890s. The repository for the collection is to be the Institution of Civil Engineers. James Sutherland (GLIAS member), convenor of the Concrete Society Working Party, discussed the background and appealed for help in a recent edition of CONCRETE (March/April 1992).

'The collection is not planned to be large but show significant examples from each decade up to the present. All the drawings of one notable structure of limited size, say a bridge, would be an excellent example, preferably with supporting documentation. One or two sample drawings showing techniques with a reference to the location of the rest, would be next best. Negatives would generally be better than prints and original prints far preferable to those from microfilms. For the moment the aim is to reject microfilms but this may need to change. Drawings could be outright gifts or on permanent loan.

Any suggestion would welcome. It is quite likely that prints of original drawings which have been destroyed are lurking in maintenance departments or in tea chests returned from site offices and not yet sorted. There must be a large amount of chance here. Working copies could be made for the donors of originals, if needed. Apart from suggestions and specific offers the Working Group would welcome any available help in following up leads or inspecting possible collections ...

I suggested that the archive would be for future historians. It would; but it could also be invaluable to engineers appraising existing concrete structures. Given a date or a name or both one could get an idea of what to expect. Reinforced concrete structures must be more 'opaque', to investigators than any other, yet frequently they need to be checked or altered.

Finally there is the question of the future. Should we be starting now to make provision for the reinforced concrete records of the next few decades?'

Any information to another GLIAS member: Dawn Humm, Andrews, Kent and Stone, Palladium House, 1-4, Argyll House, London W1V 2DH. Tel: 071-437 6136.

What's that in the Royal Docks

The new storm water pumping station just to the east of the Tidal Basin Tavern, Royal Victoria Dock, is an eye catching high-tech in bright contrasting colours. Designed by Richard Rogers this pumping station complements John Outram's Temple of Storms in Stewart Street built for the Isle of Dogs (GLIAS Newsletter February 1989). The tradition of memorable pumping stations continues but unlike the latter, the former is not the kind of structure which would allow visits; scarcely a building, more a collection of cylinders and pipes painted purple, yellow, red and green with some unpainted silver parts. Most would agree that this is industrial if not archaeology. Bob Carr

La Encartada beret factory

The Encartada beret factory at Balmaseda, Bizkaia in Spain was founded in 1892 and in its centenary year it retains almost all the original machinery. The 19th-century machinery is still used to generate power for washing, carding, spinning and weaving wool.

The Asociacion Vasca de Patrimonio Industrial has sent us a copy of a magnificent recording report on the factory in both Spanish and Basque. If anyone would like to see this report please apply to the Hon. Secretary.

Next issue >>>

© GLIAS, 1992