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Notes from Bob Carr — October 1995

W F R Stanley (1829-1909) and South Norwood

The son of a mechanical engineer, inventor and builder William Stanley was born in Buntingford, Hertfordshire, and although receiving rather a limited formal education did attend classes in technical drawing at what we would now call Birkbeck College. In 1849 he worked with his father at an engineering works in Whitechapel. Here William made improvements to the design of the tricycle and by 1854 was in his own business at 3 Great Turnstile, Holborn, as a worker in metal and ivory and a scientific instrument maker.

His 'Panoptic Stereoscope' introduced in 1855 proved profitable and the business expanded with the addition of another shop at Holborn Bars. At the 1862 International Exhibition he was awarded a medal for his straight line dividing engine. This award brought him considerable extra business and laid the foundations for later large-scale business success. He commenced work as an author and in 1866 published 'A Descriptive Treatise of Mathematical Drawing Instruments' which became the standard work on the subject reaching a seventh edition in 1900. Further branches of the business were opened at Lincoln's Inn, London Bridge and Norwood and the firm became W F Stanley and Co in 1900 with a capital of £120,000.

William Stanley made substantial improvements to the theodolite and other surveying instruments and his numerous inventions included a meteorometer patented in 1867 which recorded simultaneously wind direction and pressure, temperature, humidity and rainfall. There was also an integrating anemometer (1883), a coin in the slot machine (one of the first of its kind) for automatically measuring people's height (1886) and a spirometer for determining lung capacity (1887). He had a considerable interest in photography and made improvements to camera lenses.

As well as his many scientific interests Mr Stanley involved himself in painting, wood carving, architecture, music and drama and lectured widely. He composed part songs and had some of his oil paintings exhibited at the Marlborough Gallery. He designed his own house, Cumberlow, in South Norwood to which he retired in later life. As an author he was quite prolific and amongst his works might be mentioned 'Photography Made Easy' (1872), 'Stanley's Pretty Figure Book Arithmetic' (1875), 'Experimental Researches into the Properties and Motions of Fluids' (1881), 'Surveying and Levelling Instruments, theoretically and practically described' (1890), and 'Joe Smith and his Waxworks' (1896).

In Croydon and Norwood he took a prominent part in public life and many local hospitals, technical schools and other charities benefited from his generous philanthropy. Near the bottom of South Norwood Hill close to Norwood Junction railway station you can still admire the excellent Stanley Halls designed and paid for by William Stanley himself and first opened to the public on 2 February 1903 at a cost of £13,000 (2 February was Mr Stanley's birthday). At first there was a Hall and Art Gallery but a clock tower and another hall were added in 1904. In 1907 adjacent to the north the Stanley Technical School was opened and became an immediate success. Stanley later presented the buildings to the public with an endowment to the value of £50,000.

A cast-iron clock tower was erected in South Norwood at the junction of Station Road and the High Street in 1907 to mark the golden wedding anniversary of Mr and Mrs Stanley and this is still in place. The clock tower was financed by local public subscription as a tribute to Mr Stanley's generously.

The Stanley Halls continue in use for a variety of purposes now administered by the local authority and a blue plaque on the facade records brief details of William Ford Robinson Stanley. These interesting and singular Edwardian buildings deserve to be better known. In recent years theft and vandalism have taken their toll but there is still much to be seen. The busts of Shakespeare, Faraday and Co over the entrance to the main hall have been stolen (GLIAS Newsletter February 1980) and Mr Stanley's bust over the door to the former Art Gallery is no longer there. Beside the door a plaque even now advertises that admission to the Art Gallery is free. No doubt some of Mr Stanley's paintings once hung there.

Inside the main hall grills for the warm air ventilating system devised by Mr Stanley can still be seen and the heating boilers are still in the basement. Throughout the buildings the interior detailing and woodwork is excellent and there are some very nice tiles. Over the proscenium arch in the main hall an inspiring slogan is emblazoned which in several ways expresses ideals Mr Stanley would one feels sure like to be remembered by. Bob Carr

Lighten our darkness with radio

The invention (or perhaps re-invention) of clockwork radio by Mr Trevor Baylis of Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, is a very obvious and long overdue development for the third world where the frequent need to purchase batteries means that radio sets are not listened to as much as they might be. The pressing need to transmit health information brought home to Mr Baylis the desirability of being independent of batteries when you have no mains electricity.

Clockwork wireless sets are now being manufactured in South Africa and are quite sophisticated products with fashionably styled black cabinets and multiple waveband reception. A minute's winding gives more than half an hour's operation and in a village with communal listening there should be no shortage of volunteers to rewind the set if it runs down at a crucial point of the broadcast. Bob Carr

Second garden city is 75

This year the second Garden City (GLIAS Newsletter August 1995), at Welwyn in Hertfordshire, celebrates its 75th anniversary. Although London is generally considered to end at roughly the M25 the process of forming new satellite towns in the home counties has been going on for a considerable time and shortly after the second World War there was a veritable New Town Mania when Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Hatfield were added to Hertfordshire alone (which already had two New Towns). The process of rehousing 'surplus' London people away from the capital has more recently included transportation as far afield as Peterborough and King's Lynn. Perhaps now the fashion for New Towns is abating and it is being realised that rather than combining the advantages of Town and Country one can end up with the worst features of both. At least in Welwyn there is something of an urban feel about the town centre.

In 1919 Mr Ebenezer Howard (as he then was) bought at an auction several farms in Hertfordshire on either side of the Great Northern Railway main line from London to York and in 1920 Welwyn Garden City Ltd was set up. Louis de Soissons was appointed as architect/planner and presented his famous 'master plan' on 11 June the same year. The layout of the town centre is peculiarly characteristic of Welwyn Garden City and is one of its most successful features with the spacious Howardsgate and Parkway intersecting at right angles, each featuring a central garden throughout their length. Louis de Soissons stayed with Welwyn Garden City until his death in 1962 and designed much of the new town.

For industrial archaeologists perhaps the pièce de résistance of Welwyn is the listed Shredded Wheat Factory by de Soissons where construction work started in 1925. This is a prominent landmark close to the railway station with a strong North American feel to it. The Shredded Wheat Company of Canada was persuaded to build its European factory here and it became almost a symbol of the new Garden City. It is still in production and walking about the town one's nostrils are often assailed by the delicious aroma of baking shredded wheat.

It was originally intended to create a self-contained community with an industrial area providing jobs in manufacturing industry. This industrial area was to border the main line railway and the branch line to Hertford (now closed). Now with Britain scarcely a manufacturing country at all many residents of Welwyn Garden City make use of the convenient train service to London and commute to work in the City. At least people still eat shredded wheat and will probably continue to do so. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 1995