Notes and news — June 1996
News from Crossness
- News from Crossness
- GLIAS walk: Baker Street to St John's Wood
- The Marshall — magazine of the friends of Low Hall Farm Pump House
- Conservation of Gloucester Road Underground Station
- Filter beds almost gone
- Shredded Wheat packets
- IA pubs
- GLIAS visit to Letchworth
- Fizzy drinks from distant parts
- Year of the pier
- SS Shieldhall
- The City of London Cemetery
- Swanage and Liverpool Street
- London by the sea
- The next gasworks — back to Roan Street
A bust of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette has been unveiled at Crossness Engines. The ceramic bust was commissioned by Mike Dunmow, secretary of Crossness Engines Trust, and executed by his one-time colleague and long term friend, Harold Stevenson (Steve).
Working from photographs, Steve, an amateur sculptor, has executed an excellent likeness of the Victorian engineer responsible for most of London's main drainage.
The unveiling ceremony took place on Saturday 11 May and was performed by Sir Joseph's great great-grandson, Peter Bazalgette, in the presence of the Mayor of Bexley, Councillor Colin Wright and members of the trust. Invited guests included Mr Arthur Green, ex-chemist to the site, and Peter Bazalgette's two small children who took great interest in the new display of 'sanitary engineering' within the museum.
The bust will be on display alongside other items of interest in the newly formed Museum of Sanitary Engineering. Tosher
GLIAS keeps on walking
The first of this season's walks produced sunny but cold weather for the 52 (?) people and the dog (we could count him!) who accompanied Bill Firth from Baker Street to St John's Wood.
Thanks to the enthusiastic following of the regulars and the efforts of our publicity machine (Kathleen Gribble) we met both old and new faces at Baker Street station for the start of the walk which followed the line of various railway lines up to St John's Wood.
Rather than give a blow by blow description (including the pub at the end), I would like to start our appeal for help early for 1997. We have a couple of suggestions already but the committee (through Bill) would be delighted to hear from any members with suggestions for suitable walks. We can arrange help in preparing the details or, if necessary, leading the walk.
Although we have had varying success with the weather everyone agrees that the walks are an enjoyable addition to GLIAS's activities as well as an excellent recruiting ground. Danny Hayton
The Marshall — magazine of the friends of Low Hall Farm Pump House
This is an association of local groups and individuals in Waltham Forest who are dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the pump house at Low Hall and the engines there.
Low Hall Farm was acquired by Walthamstow UDC in 1877 in addition to their sewage treatment works. In 1885 a pump house was built and extended 20 years later.
Inside are two horizontal steam engines by Marshall of Gainsborough, installed in May 1897. The engines were used, particularly in conjunction with a refuse incineration plant at the site from 1905 and from 1928 they pumped sewage into the LCC system and, later, had a variety of other uses.
Early this year a group of volunteers began work on clearing the engine house and restoring the engines. The Marshall describes some of the work already done and future plans.
Details of membership of the friends can be obtained from the Membership Secretary, Mrs P Collier, 184 Brettenham Road, E17. Access to the site can be arranged via Lindsay Collier, 12 Penrhyn Grove, E17. Tel: 020 8531 2627
Gloucester Road Underground Station conservation
The station building is in the standard London Electric Railways style with a steel frame infilled with brick and faced with the typical red glazed terracotta. Serious deterioration had occurred due to water ingress through the upper parapet and cornice causing rust formation on the steel frame which was pushing against the mortar and brick infill and fracturing the terracotta facing. It was originally suggested that the infill and facing should be removed so that the steel frame could be blasted and protected, but this was expensive and was likely to result in most of the terracotta being irreparably damaged. London Underground Ltd therefore appointed a multi-disciplinary team, including engineers, metallurgists and conservation specialists to investigate alternatives to this 'dismantle and rebuild' strategy.
The solution adopted has been to prevent further water ingress by replacing all internal down pipes, lead flashing the top of the parapet wall, and applying mastic to all skyward joints. The corrosion of the steel frame has been halted by installing cathodic protection. This is the first time such protection has been applied to a structure of this type in the UK. The terracotta facade has been cleaned and damaged units replaced. 'Dismantle and rebuild' has become 'stabilise and restore'. Bill Firth
(A brief summary from the March 1996 issue of Context, the Journal of the Association of Conservation Officers)
Filter beds almost gone
Please note that the Filter Beds at Hornsey are still very much in use. The site, including disused IA buildings, is closed to the public but easily inspected from neighbouring footpaths (bird-watchers take binoculars). Of interest are:
Hundreds of blue plastic water tanks for emergency use, as employed in Yorkshire last year.
Windsock (filthy) for helicopter pad atop grass-covered reservoir.
A small brick building, enclosing pumps, covering well (one of several) for re-charging by gravity, chalk aquifer 40m below. With wall dated 1994 it is adjacent to main road crossing of the New River. A B Knight
Shredded Wheat packets
Pre-war, approximately 4 inches wide, 6 inches high and 9 inches long containing eight biscuits in two layers, separated by a useful plain card. Picture of factory on the side, complete with delivery van. Slogan below: BRITONS MAKE IT, IT MAKES BRITONS. Collect coupons to obtain free willow-pattern rectangular china dish for one biscuit, or double dish for two. A B Knight
'The John Baird', Fortis Green Road, Muswell Hill, complete with photographs of the TV inventor and his apparatus inside. Unusually built on a 'green field' bomb-site after the war, it was the respectable middle-class town's second pub at the top of the hill. (*No chip shop either till after the war!) First TV transmission from Alexandra Palace in 1936, aerial mast still in use but not for TV, and offices below, remain. The latter may be used for a TV museum.
Now closed, this pub is in Craven Passage, a footpath passing transversely beneath Charing Cross station.
IA connection: the clearance of abundant horse manure from city streets.
Sign: a workman leaning on his spade with adjacent pile of ....
Name: 'Ship and Shovel'. 'Nuff said! A B Knight
GLIAS visit to Letchworth
Twenty three GLIAS members and friends took part in the visit to Letchworth by rail on Friday l5 March 1996.
From the railway station the first major site inspected was the Spirella factory set up by an American company early on in the history of the First Garden City. This manufactory made ladies' foundation garments marketed by a made-to-measure arrangement not unlike that of Mr Burton's in gentlemen's suits (GLIAS Newsletter December 1991), but with personal visits to ladies by discreet lady measurement takers.
The factory buildings in Letchworth were put up over the period 1912-20 and although wages were relatively low the workers were provided for on a very lavish scale with a library, sprung dance floor, sports facilities and free medical care, etc. Here there are parallels with the Boots factories at Beeston, Notts. Spirella prospered and at one time there were two thousand employees at Letchworth with other parts of the firm located at Ely and Harlow as well.
The trade in corsets has now almost disappeared and the Letchworth factory finally closed in 1989. For some time before that only specialised medical corsets had been made here. Fresh uses are now being sought for the architecturally interesting buildings by Cecil Hignett, which are quite dominant near the centre of the town. The Spirella factory has a reinforced concrete frame but on the exterior the effect is strongly redolent of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is listed grade II.
From the Spirella factory we headed north east along Icknield Way and then turned south into The Quadrant. Here are some of the pioneer cheap cottages (£150) dating from 1905. Notable in the area are numbers 213, 217, 219 and 221 Icknield Way and numbers 1, 6 and 8 The Quadrant. In Icknield Way number 213 by C S Ingram has a steel frame with external rendering, number 217 by Percy B Houfton was the winner in Class I at the Cheap Cottage Exhibition, with number 221 by Bennett and Bidwell taking second prize in the same class. The name The Quadrant originates from the office in Buxton of the architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin who began practice there in 1896.
The Skittles Inn at the east end of Nevells Road was pointed out. This former temperance pub, now the Settlement, is by Parker and Unwin and dates from 1906/7. Originally there were no licensed premises in Letchworth. The sale of beer was not permitted in the town until the 1960s after seven referenda had been held.
We now headed back along Bridge Road crossing the railway over Neville Bridge by Barry Parker 1930. In an inner block at the heart of the town we were shown one of the very first buildings of Letchworth, the original estate office c1904 of The First Garden City Co Ltd which was formed in September 1903. In the early days the Garden City was terribly muddy and had a bad reputation for this. In winter the wearing of rubber Wellington boots was all but essential. For those going to London a room at the railway station was set aside for changing into shoes and the boots were kept there for the traveller's return.
After this we inspected the Broadway cinema of 1935 by Bennett and Bidwell, now being divided into three and made our way south-eastwards passing down Gernon Walk. Here we noted the Vasanta Hall of the Theosophical Society, which is still functioning. A number of prominent Theosophists were associated with Letchworth in its early days.
Heading through the Urban Cottage Exhibition Area of 1907 we made our way to the First Garden City Heritage Museum where the curator, Robert Lancaster, gave us an excellent talk illustrated with first-rate archive material. Mr Lancaster made it admirably clear that Letchworth was set up as an industrial town, that being the only way to provide its inhabitants with financial support. Until quite recently the town had numerous factories, including heavy industry. Dustcarts were made (Shelvoke & Drewry founded 1922), and there was a large steelworks using electric furnaces which started in 1915 (Kryn & Lahy, GLIAS Newsletter August 1995). The electric power for the steelworks and other industry was produced by the town's own power station. Extensive railway sidings were laid out for the steelworks which later on was taken over by George Cohen and became part of the 600 Group. It finally closed in the late 1970s.
Printing, book-binding and light engineering were industries attracted to the Garden City early on. The Garden City Press was set up in 1906 with premises by F W Troup (still extant) and Edmund Hunter established the Edmundsbury Weaving Works in 1908 (the architecturally satisfactory building by Parker & Unwin is still there.) In 1920 the British Tabulating Machine Co Ltd. started in Letchworth, later to become part of ICL. The same year the Westinghouse Morse Chain Company was established and Chater-Lea started in 1928. Much of the workforce for Letchworth's industries came not from Letchworth itself where accommodation became too expensive, but from the surrounding villages. Transport to and from work was often by bicycle.
Time was now short and we made our way back to the railway station, calling in for tea at Kim's, where a large chocolate cake was brought out for our party. Special thanks are due to Mr Robert Lancaster and his staff at the First Garden City Heritage Museum for a really worthwhile visit and informal lecture, and many thanks are also due to our local guide, Mr Kenneth Johnson, for his invaluable help in exploring the town. Bob Carr
Fizzy drinks from distant parts
Buying soft drinks from local shops, I have been struck by the large distances relatively cheap but heavy goods are transported (presumably by road) for sale.
'Happy Fizz' Lemonade and Cherryade made by Sangs (Banff) Ltd, Macduff, Scotland (01261 832911) have recently been on sale, and earlier, similar drinks with the brand name Royale produced by Okhai Ltd, Dundee, Scotland (01382 622122) have been noted.
These are probably not regular lines but even 'Panda Pops' soft drinks come from Blandford in Dorset. What is wrong with local mineral water manufactures? There used to be quite a London tradition.
The above soft drinks were all on sale in small (33cl) non-returnable transparent plastic bottles with screw tops aimed at the children's market and sell for about 29p each. This is just about the very bottom of the mineral water market.
It is difficult to see how this long distance trade can be economic, if the bottles really are filled at the addresses on the labels. With the decline in fishing perhaps fish lorries from north-east Scotland coming to Billingsgate now have spare capacity and bring a few boxes of soft drinks to make up their load, but this does not seem very likely. Bob Carr
Year of the pier
1996 is the Year of the Pier, commemorating the many seaside structures erected around one hundred years ago, often to enable paddle steamers to provide a service to and from seaside towns, otherwise without suitable facilities for the embarkation of passengers.
The idea is to celebrate British piers which have been restored to active life and hopefully to inspire the refurbishment of those unhappily in a decayed state. Bob Carr
Sludge ships are a familiar feature of the River Thames, plying regularly from Beckton and Crossness out into the Estuary to shed their loads. SS Shieldhall now based in Southampton originally performed a similar function for the City of Glasgow and was built to sail in rough weather as she had to function all the year round, at times well out to sea. Now restored, Shieldhall will this year be sailing to Bristol and then directly on to the Netherlands. With additional water ballast she has recently been sailed in a force seven gale and rides well.
Shieldhall is a district of Glasgow south of the Clyde opposite Scotstown, where there are large outfall works reminiscent of Beckton and Crossness in London. Built in the mid 1950s to a traditional design, the SS Shieldhall is 1800 tons gross and 270 feet long, in fact quite a large vessel, especially for a preservation scheme. Her two inverted vertical steam engines installed aft driving screws give the ship a maximum service speed of about 11 knots. The boilers are oil fired.
While berthed at Ocean Village in Southampton the ship is often open to visitors. It is also possible to stay overnight on board in the fully appointed cabins at the moderate cost of £10 per person. Single and double berth cabins are available. Bob Carr
For more information and to book your accommodation telephone 01703 230405 (when the ship is not away). Website: www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk
The City of London Cemetery
The City of London Cemetery in Manor Park (GLIAS Newsletter August 1994) is a place with which perhaps most East Londoners are too familiar. But why does 'City of London' appear on the board by the main gate, and what is its IA connection?
The presence of the cemetery seven miles from the City boundary is the result of the combined exertions of the long-serving City engineer, William Haywood (GLIAS Newsletter August October 1995) and the City's medical officer, John Simon, to deal with a serious hazard to public health which existed in the mid-19th century central London. Henry Jephson (1907) with his usual clarity wrote:
'Overcrowding' in the 'City' was not limited to the living; it extended even to the dead, and though the dead themselves had passed beyond any possible further harm from it, yet their overcrowding affected disastrously those they had left behind.'
It was indeed the 'slaughter of the living by the dead'! Edwin Chadwick in his grisly 1843 report to government on 'Intramural Interments' pointed out that, in the metropolis as a whole, 20,000 adults and nearly 30,000 children were being 'imperfectly interred' in the 203 acres of burial ground within its boundaries each year. In Bunhill Fields, 100,000 corpses occupied just four acres. The death rate in the City over the years 1848-52 had averaged 3,139/yr. and many of these deaths were untimely because of disease. City churchyards were grossly overcrowded with up to six coffins stacked above each other. Brick vaults were especially bad as inadequate coffins were placed in them without any earth covering and the stench of rotting corpses was notorious. The 1848 City of London Sewers Act required new coffins in vaults to be made either of lead, or be lead-lined and made airtight. However, it took decades before graveyards lost their smell of decay. Smell was especially feared as at the time the 'mephitical effluvia of death' was believed to be the 'monstrous source of infection' (ie, the idea that evil smelling vapours actually caused disease). Haywood and Simon recognised that the hazard to water supplies to be even more serious. Haywood did not mince his words in his 1853 report to his employers, the City Commissioners of Sewers — in which he proposed the establishment of a 'Place of Extra-mural Sepulture for the City of London'.
'...the harrowing details consequent upon the present interments in over-gorged Church Yards, the recitals of disgusting events attending them; the sanitary evils caused by them, and the moral damage inseparable from them, have been for many years past so repeatedly and prominently brought before the public; that a reiteration of them here would be a needless waste of your time.'
The 1851 Act which sought to remedy some of the shortcomings of the 1848 Act gave the Commissioners of Sewers powers to remove bodies from burial grounds and re-inter them outside of the City boundaries. This provision opened the way to a solution to the City's problem and was acted upon by Haywood. He laid down the criteria for a new site outside of the City — on agricultural land to minimise cost, readily accessible location preferably to the north-east of London, and possessing suitable soil conditions — neither clay nor boggy. The proposal was agreed and Haywood and Simon set out to find a suitable site and the one settled on at Manor Park continues to serve the whole of north-east London. It, however, cost the Corporation £30,500, much more than had been anticipated. Its establishment was not welcomed by the city vestries, clergy and undertakers for they would lose a valuable source of income. The opening of the cemetery was delayed until 1856 as a result of negotiations on fees etc. involved nearly 100 separate bodies (alive not dead!) From then onwards no more interments took place in the 63 City churchyards and the 1851 Act gave powers to enable closed graveyards to be tidied up and made into the public gardens from which the City now benefits.
The Manor Park cemetery contains a large monument designed by Haywood to mark where the 11,000-12,000 bodies removed mostly from St Andrew's churchyard, but also some from St Sepulchre's, were re-interred — the partial clearance of these burial grounds was necessary to enable the Holborn Valley Viaduct to be built. The cemetery was also used for other re-interments from plague pits, from Christ's Hospital demolished in 1903 for a Post Office building, and from the Newgate Street prison site which was redeveloped for the Old Bailey. Although Haywood was the City's engineer, he was able to use his early experience as an architect in the overall plan of the cemetery, in the design of the monument mentioned above, and in the principal entrance 'in the Pointed style' and other buildings. 'The Builder' journal, often a highly critical commentator on the governance of 19th-century London, breathed a sigh of relief in 1856 when the City of London Cemetery was opened — it stated : 'Mr Haywood's office as engineer and surveyor to the London Commissioners of Sewers, is evidently not a sinecure, and he appears to be doing his duty well.' It, therefore, seems appropriate that the ashes of Haywood who died in 1894 were placed in a Gothic mausoleum near the main gates.
Hugh Mellor in his book 'London Cemeteries' (1994 edn) states that among those buried at the City of London Cemetery was George Birks (1793-1872) 'inventor of wire ropes'. I can find no information on Birks — was he really the inventor of wire ropes and was he active in London? Don Clow
Swanage and Liverpool Street
I refer to Mary Mills' request for information (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). In order to explain the history of Durlston Castle and The Globe, it is necessary to summarise the careers of the two 'founding fathers' of modern Swanage, John Mowlem and his nephew George Burt, who both have numerous connections with London's industrial archaeology.
John Mowlem was born in Swanage in 1788, and started work as a quarryman in the local Tilly Whim quarry. At that time there was a growing trade in exporting Purbeck stone to London by boats from Swanage. In 1806 Mowlem sought to improve his prospects by travelling to London, where he later obtained a post with the mason and sculptor Joseph Westmacott. In 1820 he set up his own business at Paddington as mason and contractor, but did not finally leave Westmacott's employment until 1823. Mowlem built up his own business by supplying paving stone to the London parishes, but by 1831 he had opened a quarry in Guernsey to extract granite and ship it to London. Henceforth granite formed the major part of his business, and in 1840 he secured the contract to provide and lay a granite sett pavement on Blackfriars Bridge. In 1844 Mowlem retired from active direction of the undertaking's affairs, which he made over to two partners, both relatives and both Swanage men, George Burt (1816-1894) and Joseph Freeman. However, Mowlem was still active in securing new contracts and overseeing the loading of the stone boats in Swanage.
He died in 1868, but the partnership, under George Burt, went from strength to strength, successfully tendering to build Queen Victoria Street and the Northern Low Level sewer (Chelsea-Westminster) (both in 1869), work for the new Liverpool Street station in 1872-74, and numerous other London civil engineering contracts. From 1870, Burt spent as much time as possible in Swanage, and threw himself heartily into designing town improvements, some of which were delayed by local opposition.
In 1864 Burt purchased a large tract of land outside Swanage known as Sentry Fields. He intended to develop this as the Durlston Park housing estate, but the intended housing was not completed, mainly because of the steep hill. The southern tip of the estate was Durlston Head, and here Burt built both the Globe and Durlston Castle.
At this point one must diverge slightly to explain that the stone boats needed to carry ballast for a safe return journey to Swanage, and brought back to Swanage an extraordinary variety of stone and metal artefacts, many acquired during Mowlem constructions of new buildings, but others because Burt felt that keeping these objects in Swanage was better than seeing them destroyed. Acquisitions included complete facades of London buildings, re-erected in Swanage, stone monuments, and numerous cast-iron bollards and lamp standards.
Therefore there was no problem in conveying the sections of the Globe from the Mowlem works at Greenwich to Swanage. These comprised 15 segments of Portland Stone, held together by granite dowels. The Globe weighed 40 tons and was (and still is!) of 10ft diameter. It was erected in 1887, and its surface is carved in some detail, and lettered to show the continents and oceans.
Behind the Globe is the huge bastion of the foot of Durlston Castle, but when one has climbed to the top of the slope, one finds the folly-like building which was designed as a restaurant and has fulfilled this role ever since, although it had fallen on hard times by 1927, when it was merely a cafe, and a Donald Maxwell recorded that he would 'rather die of thirst than patronise it'. Today, it is a popular family pub. It was built in 1887-88 and there were unfulfilled hopes of renting the first floor castle-like structure to Lloyds as a signal station. However, some signals were received 10 years later when a Marconi assistant dangled 250 ft of wire from the Castle and down the cliff, to receive a message from Marconi at Bournemouth Pier.
A leisurely visit to Swanage is well worth while, if only to identify the numerous transported London objects which make it a '19th-century London in aspic', and of course, there is always the Swanage Railway.
Your note on the fate of the Great Eastern Hotel (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996) reminds me of what (if the facts were correctly reported) must have been one of the most inappropriately sited commemorative plaques of all time. On 13 March 1975, the Secretary of State for Transport (William Rodgers) was invited to make a formal opening of the Great Northern Suburban electrification scheme. The official party travelled from King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, and on return stopped off to look at Hornsey Depot and the electric control room. Resuming their journey, they went to Moorgate by BR, and made the final leg to Liverpool Street by a new London Transport train (C.77 stock). At the Great Eastern Hotel there were the usual speeches over lunch, after which the Transport Secretary unveiled a plaque in the hotel.
I hope that this plaque will be grouped with the features worth preserving, or else moved to a more appropriate site that is really on the Great Northern. Desmond Croome
London by the sea
To answer Mary Mills' queries arising from her holiday (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996) exploits the following may be of interest. At the beginning of the 19th century Swanage was an important embarkation centre for the Purbeck stone trade. Here stone from the stockpile near the shore, the Bankers, was taken by cart into the sea, loaded into boats and transferred to the waiting stone ships. If you think that was a hazardous operation, further west stone was loaded directly into ships off the cliffs; accidents were not unknown. Large quantities of the stone were transported to London by this means. Like the coal trade ballast was required for empty ships on the return voyage.
In 1807 a 19-year-old quarryman, John Mowlem (1788-1868), used a stone boat as a means of reaching London. Here he found success and by 1823 was able to set up on his own in the stone trade in Paddington. Later he brought in his nephew George Burt (1816-1894), also from Swanage, to join the business. This was highly successful, winning a number of contracts for repaving London's thoroughfares. In the process they were able to acquire items of redundant street furniture, even monuments, which were dismantled and used as ballast for ships returning to Swanage. Much was re-erected in Swanage, where today several pieces of old London are to be found (see Curiosities of Swanage or Old London by the Sea — David Lewer and J Bernard Calkin.)
Mowlem retired a wealthy man in 1844 and eventually returned to Swanage to indulge in philanthropic works, including the first pier for the stone trade. Also much effort was made in trying to bring the railway to Swanage. Burt also retained strong ties with his home town, purchasing the Durlston Park Estate in 1862. He had a long association with the Weymouth architect G R Crickmay (1830-1907), typical of which was the inclusion of the former Mercers Hall frontage, from Cheapside, in the Town Hall.
In 1887 Burt started laying out Durlston Head, as an area for recreation for the public. Paths were bordered with bollards from London, stone plaques of curious inscription were set up, and most curious of all the stone Globe referred to by Mary. The Globe was carved in Mowlem's yard in Greenwich in fifteen segments. It is 10 feet in diameter and weighs 40 tons. It was set up on a plinth at Durlston cut by William Masters Hardy, a local antiquarian whose book 'Old Swanage and Purbeck' (1908) provided some of the detail for this note. The building referred to by Mary is Durlston Castle, built to the designs of Crickmay. It always was intended to be used as a restaurant, the upper level was to have been a Lloyd's signal station. The Castle was described by the surgeon Sir Frederick Treves, forever associated with John Merrick (the Elephant Man), in his 'Highways and Byways of Dorset' (1906) as:
'On the cliff edge is Durlston Castle, a stronghold of the Bank Holiday period, in which are combined the architectural features of a refreshment buffet, a tram terminus, and a Norman keep.'
Today the Castle and the Globe survive as features within the 261-acre Durlston Country Park, complete with stone trail, suitable for those with IA interests. For anyone wishing to read further about extraction of Purbeck stone, copies of Eric Benfield's 'Purbeck Shop — a Stone Worker's Story of Stone' can sometimes be found in remainder bookshops. Brian Sturt
The next gasworks — back to Roan Street
I was speculating on the origins of the 'Roan Street' gas holders in Greenwich (GLIAS Newsletter February 1996). I had thought that they might be the site of an early Greenwich gasworks set up by Mr Gosling. Thanks to Brian Sturt I found that that wasn't true, and also thanks to Brian for some later history of that site (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). We still don't know who started that site and built the holders ... but I always was one for a challenge...
Wading through the Greenwich ratebooks for the last century looking for Roan Street gasworks was no fun. I knew that the site had been a market garden owned by a local dignitary called Hargrave, but it wasn't clear which road it was listed under ... Roan Street? Ravensbourne Street? Cottage Place? or something else. The only thing I really knew was that the Roan Street gas holders were shown on the 1869 Ordnance Survey map and were then owned by the Phoenix Gas Company.
So I went to look at the Phoenix Minute Books to see if they had anything to say about it. They were awful — not indexed, and written in an illegible copperplate hand (give me scrawl any day!) I got so fed up that I turned to the back page where the minutes were in a different hand-writing (copperplate might look beautiful but you can't read it! However there is always one fortnight a year written in untidy writing.) There it was, right at the end of the book, 'the engineer at Greenwich reports a need for more holders, he is looking at suitable sites.'
So, in October 1864 Phoenix Gas Company bought a site in Greenwich from a Mr Smith and ordered a gas holder to be built on it. The trouble is that they never recorded where the site was, just that it was 'in Greenwich'. So — was it Roan Street?
There are two clues. One: they minuted a problem when they bought the site — someone wanted to build a road through it and they tried to persuade 'Mr Rennie' to take over the unwanted river frontage on the grounds that this road might not be built. If you look at a map of the Roan Street site, you will see that it used to go down to the Ravensbourne but in the 1860s Norman Road was built and cut the river frontage off. The other clue is that Phoenix's order for a gas holder was accompanied by another for a main 'to go down Roan Street' — although I suppose that it doesn't necessarily follow that it was going to connect to the new holder. Anyway I hope we can be 90 per cent (well, perhaps 85 per cent) sure that the Greenwich Roan Street site was a holder station built by the Phoenix Company in 1864.
This illustrates a danger with looking for old gas works sites. Just because you see a gas holder it doesn't mean that gas was made there. This is one of the problems posed by the Friends of the Earth's 'Gasworks Sites in London. An investigation into contaminated Land.' They treat all the sites as if gas was made there, whereas in fact some only ever had holders on them. And in the scale of things that poses a very different pollution problem.
To get back to Greenwich, and another problem for Brian. In the British Library is a prospectus for 'Greenwich and Deptford Gas Co.' Its first 'Committee of Management' is listed, headed by Sir William Beatty, and includes prominent local industrialists like Brocklebank, Whiffen and the Gordons. There is no date on it but I would guess, from the company it keeps, that it comes from around 1840. It may well be a body set up to take over the Greenwich Railway Gas Works — but the prospectus doesn't say that. Any ideas? Mary Mills
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© GLIAS, 1996