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Notes and news — August 1996

News from Crossness

Crossness Engines 'Open Day' 1996 was on 6 July and the Trust was happy to receive in the region of 350 visitors. Feedback from the 'guides' would suggest that the level of questions asked with regard to the engines, buildings and history of London’s main drainage were of a higher standard than in past years. The Museum of Sanitation Engineering being established in the boiler house was much appreciated and the extended displays of the engine restoration are an added attraction.

This year is the first time we arranged for transport in the form of a minibus to convey visitors from Abbey Wood railway station to the Engine site and return them at the end of their visit. Sadly this facility was not publicised as well as we would have wished but we hope to rectify this next year.

Crossness Engines Trust is proud to announce the release of a 20-minute video showing the work of the trust and rare archival film footage of the engines in operation. The video will be on sale at £12 each plus £3 p&p. Further details from Mike Dunmow. Tel: 020 8303 6723. Tosher

Kirkaldy Testing Museum — Riehlé and Hounsfield machines

On 6 June Kirkaldy Testing Museum took delivery of a Riehlé testing machine of 30-ton capacity. Built in Philadelphia, USA, in the early part of this century, this machine is of multi-lever operation and capable of testing in tension, compression and bending. The size and weight of the machine have given museum staff problems in moving it about, but no one said that running a museum such as Kirkaldy Testing Museum would be easy.

On the same day, a much more manageable Hounsfield rubber testing machine was delivered. Little is known about this item at present other than it is electrically driven and has suffered slightly in a fire. Enquiries as to its age and precise operation are in hand and the restoration of the piece will take place later this year.

On 26 June Kirkaldy Testing Museum played host to members of Waterman Partnership and guests and, after a brief talk and video, demonstrated the Kirkaldy Testing Machine with a tensile test. We then all repaired upstairs to the top floor of 99 Southwark Street for a reception to celebrate the completion of Waterman's lease on the building. It was fitting that the reception was held on the top floor as this was David Kirkaldy's original Museum of Fractures.
Kirkaldy Testing Museum website:


The first Garden City (GLIAS Newsletter June 1996) had both an electric power station and a gasworks but at least in the early days of the enterprise electricity was thought proper for the town's new industries, which were encouraged to be clean, rather than for domestic lighting. Originally, the houses in Letchworth would have been lit by gas, which at that time was commonplace in London anyway. As the first housing was intended to be cheap the cost of lighting would be of major importance and up until the Second World War gas light was cheaper than electric. (Electric heating would have been unthinkably expensive). Some of the forward-looking blocks of flats put up in London as late as the 1930s for housing poorer people were totally gas equipped for this very reason (Transactions of the Newcomen Society volume 53, p138).

Cecil Hignett's Spirella factory dominates Letchworth in rather the same way as Louis de Soissons' Shredded Wheat factory dominates Welwyn Garden City. Industry had to be attracted to provide money for the new Garden City ventures and here concessions might be made. The Spirella factory in Letchworth eventually grew to a considerable size, being built in three phases around an open courtyard. There are four pavilions capped by hipped roofs with gables and these pavilions are very much Arts and Crafts in feeling, contrasting markedly with the bold ferro-concrete of other parts of the complex. Overall there is a good deal of glass to let in the light.

In the 1930s wags going to Welwyn Garden City by train from King's Cross used to joke with the booking clerk, asking for a ticket to 'Shredded Wheat'. Apparently no corresponding joke was ever made about Letchworth. It would have been in unthinkably bad taste. Times have indeed changed.

Much of the best work in Letchworth was done before 1925. By that date Welwyn Garden City had been created and the initial idealism and inspiration of the First Garden City had waned. In recent years occupiers have had the right to buy their homes which were formerly all leasehold. This now poses major problems of conservation as it is more difficult to enforce appropriate aesthetic standards when it comes to external decoration or repairs. The retention of original external windows is crucial if the character of Letchworth is to be maintained. In the earlier houses particular attention was paid to window design and the more expensive properties often had special architect-designed ironmongery for their leaded casements. Along Rushby Mead, however, good examples of retention can be seen, here the Howard Cottage Society dwellings are repainted in their original green and cream livery and the roofs and windows have been repaired with sympathetic materials. Bob Carr

Further fizz from afar

Another Scottish drinks manufacturer penetrating the English market (GLIAS Newsletter June 1996) is Woodrows of Dunfermline Ltd, Pitreavie Business Park, Dunfermline KY11 5QT. They produce 'Pola' Dandelion and Burdock. The label depicts a polar bear on skates holding a brown glass and it is declared that the product contains 'no artificial flavourings'. Again, the bottle is the standard clear plastic 330ml size.

In the south east R Whites' traditional lemonade is still made. Whites started business in 1845 combining with Rawlings in 1891. The latter firm was old-established having started business in the mid 1780s. Rawlings used to make ginger beer and sold their soda water in syphons. The combined firm was taken over by Whitbreads in 1969 and after a number of more recent rearrangements is now part of Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd, which is 90% Britannia Soft Drinks Ltd and 10% Pepsica Holdings Ltd. The address on the Whites lemonade bottle is Chelmsford, England. Not long ago in Finsbury Park adverts for Whites lemonade claimed it was made from 'real Lenins'!

Presumably the effect of imbibing many of the soft-drink brands is meant to be thought invigorating. The polar bear on the dandelion and burdock label mentioned above is shown in a speeding posture wearing skates and many of the names evince vitality. The appellation '7-Up' has a certain uplifting quality. Pepsi and Vimto will be well known and Rawlings used to make a 'Zesto' orangeade. Bob Carr

Shirley Windmill

Shirley Windmill in Croydon (TQ 355 651) will be accessible to the public in 1996. The brick tower mill with a Kentish-type boat cap you will now see was originally built from the mid 1850s to replace a wooden post mill built in 1808 which had burnt down. The machinery installed in the new tower mill was largely second hand, coming from a mill at Stratford in East London. In the final years of commercial operation at Shirley up until 1892 only grain for animal feed was milled. The reader is referred to George Arthur's article 'Windmills in Greater London' which appeared in London's Industrial Archaeology, No 3.

This year sees the first full season of regular public openings at Shirley. The windmill is situated just to the west of Upper Shirley Road, and the number 130 bus from close to East and West Croydon railway stations passes almost alongside. Visitors will be welcome. Bob Carr

GLIAS walks

The second GLIAS walk of 1996 took place on the first Saturday in June in sunny weather, much cooler than it had been. (Actually we were lucky with the weather, close by in Blackheath it was a wet afternoon). Some 70 people were led round the Millennium and other sites in Greenwich by Mary Mills. Unfortunately, due to mistaken publicity, we met at Maze Hill Station rather than Westcombe Park and in consequence the walk was rather longer than intended. We apologise to all those with sore feet and blisters. We must thank the Greenwich Yacht Club for their hospitality part way round, which allowed us to refresh ourselves and rest our legs.

Rather than attempt to describe the walk (a publication is planned) I would like to reiterate Danny Hayton's appeal (GLIAS Newsletter June 1996) for help in 1997. The same team of committee members is now running the third season of walks, we are running out of ideas and wish to recruit new blood to lead some walks. They are a valuable and enjoyable addition to GLIAS events and I am sure members would not like them to stop for lack of volunteers. Please come forward, we can arrange help in preparing details, and if necessary, in leading the walk.

The July walk, again on the first Saturday, saw the completion of Charles Norrie's trilogy of Regent's Canal walks, with the leading of some 40 people and a dog from the Regent's Canal Dock (Limehouse Basin) to Kingsland Basin in Hackney. In the last three years we have now walked the length of the canal.

There were two highlights, one scheduled, one unscheduled. Chronologically the unscheduled came first when we found a large yacht in the entrance lock to the canal basin preparing to go out into the river. We stayed to watch the operation of the modern hydraulic lock gates, followed by the opening of the swing bridge taking Narrow Street over the entrance channel. Having walked round the dock we came to the scheduled stop — a visit to the Limehouse Accumulator Tower, kindly arranged by Robin Gray, Recreation Manager, British Waterways, to whom many thanks. The tower structure has been restored and the chimney, which has been missing for at least 50 years, has been replaced to its original height of 70 feet. The views from the top of the tower were stunning.

These stops, especially the unscheduled one, meant that we did not leave the tower until after 4pm and the walk up the canal was a more hurried affair than we would have liked, but the general opinion was that the stops made this worthwhile. The day was one of showers but again it did not rain on GLIAS walkers. Our luck with the weather in 1996 makes up for our bad luck in previous years when we have had some wet walks. Bill Firth

Hornsey Waterworks

Regarding A B Knight's note (GLIAS Newsletter June 1996), the 'grass-covered reservoir' he mentions was a reinforced concrete contact tank, of one and a quarter million gallons capacity, for chlorination treatment. The former Metropolitan Water Board's publication, 'London's Water Supply, 1903-1953', describes the early chlorination of London's water supply, between the wars, using chlorine in low doses, to avoid residual taste. This was followed by the development, after 1939, of 'super-chlorination' with chlorine gas held in contact with the water for several hours. In the 19th century, 'subsidence reservoirs' had been constructed to settle out silt and organic matter from the raw river water before passing it to the filter beds and the public supply.

But the subsidence reservoir at Hornsey was of inadequate capacity, so this works was a prime candidate for full scale trials of 'super-chlorination' in 1947. The trials were successful and the new form of chlorination was soon deployed throughout London.

Hornsey Water Treatment Works was due to cease public supply by mid-March this year and, although the slow sand filter beds are still mostly in water, some accumulations of surface weed suggest that the shutdown has indeed taken place. The filter beds are arranged in a neat quadrangle, and three of them were built in 1857-59 but reconstructed, with vertical sides, around 1900, while the other five were added around 1879. Thus they are not so important archaeologically as the late lamented filter beds at Stoke Newington, opened in 1856. But the prospects of their retention for amenity purposes are better.

Haringey Council's planning department asked me to prepare an industrial archaeological report on Hornsey Waterworks, to help them to plan for the site's future development and partial retention as an open space.

I outlined the history of the works from its opening in 1859 and commented on the significance of surviving features. I drew particular attention to the site of a Poncelet-type water wheel (once used for pumping) in the sluicehouse of 1859 on the New River, to the construction in wrought iron, cast iron and timber of the trussed vehicular bridge of c1875, adjacent to it (which once carried coal to the boiler houses from a railway siding by means of a narrow gauge tramway), and to the distinctive architecture of the two remaining engine houses, namely the Campsbourne Well Pumping station of 1887 in Cross Lane, and the present Hornsey Pumping Station of 1903 (extended 1937) near the site entrance. These earlier steam-powered pumping stations on the site were in the vicinity of the modern vehicle-maintenance depot. Malcolm Tucker

Not a gasworks at all

The gasworks sites I have written up so far have all been very early. Most of them have started from evidence in archives about sites which have long ceased to have any connection with gas making. On most there has been very little to see. Some of them have been public supply works but some others have been small installations supplying gas to a factory. There were, of course, very many of these. Plant to make gas for railway lighting is fairly well known but there were many others. Some of them were in buildings run by public authorities — hospitals are particularly good examples. It is often very difficult to discover any information about them.

I have been warned about finding little circles on maps and jumping to the conclusion that they are gas holders. However on an obscure corner (actually at TQ 754144) of the 1894 OS map is the word 'gasometer'. Beside it was a little circle and a number of buildings. It does not seem to be a public supply gas works because the site appears very remote and surrounded by woodlands. It does not seem to be near a hospital or a railway — and the buildings shown on the map were very small.

Further research into the site shows that it was the old Finchley sewage works. Finchley, now in the Borough of Barnet, was an Urban District until 1963. It was in the County of Middlesex, and thus outside the Metropolitan sewage system. Middlesex had a big sewage disposal scheme to the west of the county based on Mogden Works. In the eastern area, which included Finchley, local authorities disposed of their own sewage. In 1938 an Act of Parliament gave Middlesex powers to build a sewage disposal scheme for this eastern part of the County but it was not until 1963 that Finchley Works was closed. Today the site has become part of a large tract of woodland — the Coppets Wood nature reserve and open to the public.

So, did the old Finchley Sewage Works have its own coal gas making plant? Such things were not unknown. Crossness certainly had some sort of gasworks on site. But Crossness was Crossness — a big, showplace works with everything money could buy lavished on it. Finchley Urban District was very unlikely to think on that scale and Finchley Councillors were probably more than a bit concerned to save rate payers' money. Although, I suppose, you never know! Finchley Urban District in the 1880s might just have had a gas enthusiast on the council who insisted on a plant going into the new sewage works. The other possibility is that this 'gasometer' was not for coal gas — perhaps they had some sort of methane collection scheme. I have been unable to find any archive material about the site at all. Barnet Local History Department (otherwise more than helpful) have one brochure — which does not show the gas holder; and there seems to be nothing in the old Middlesex Record Office collection.

The Coppetts Wood nature reserve is a huge area and contains much of great interest. One Sunday last winter Alan and I went for a morning walk to see what we could find. Much remains of the sewage works although the wood has grown over and engulfed it. We found several interesting looking piles of rubble, mysterious hollows and lines of drains. We came across a group of volunteers who were collecting rubbish and we asked them what they knew about the site. One of them was only too eager to help and very happy to point out various relics of the sewage works in the undergrowth. This friendly guide offered to take round a larger party. I am only sorry that GLIAS members did not respond to my offer to run a walk round the reserve last year. He could however throw no light on the possibility of gas being collected or made on the site, everything had gone 'before his time'.

The site of the 'gasometer' is easy enough to find. It is alongside a path with the wood on one side and an area of now buried tanks on the other. Foundations of buildings, half hidden in the undergrowth, match those on the 1894 map and are easy to find. We soon found a circular depression with trees growing out of it. The collapsing sides make it difficult to judge how large this depression was — perhaps 20 feet across?

Perhaps someone might be able to clear up the various mysteries in this saga. I am very doubtful about the possibility of coal gas being made on this site — so what were they doing, was it for methane or what? Or is the whole thing perhaps just a mistake — a circular tank, which, once on a map, became one of those little circles easily mistaken for gasholders. Mary Mills

Thames Tunnel

Following the approval of details for the works to strengthen the Thames Tunnel (GLIAS Newsletter February 1996), the stripping of the lining started in April, and will continue through the summer. The new concrete invert slab was nearing completion at the end of June and reinforcing of the cross-arches was about to commence, while the whole of the structural work is to be completed by the end of 1996. The new concrete lining will be of slightly lesser bore than the original, to avoid cutting into the brickwork where it is thinnest. I have been recording features of the original lining and the structural brickwork as they have been revealed, and I hope to report on this at a future time. Malcolm Tucker

Thames Archaeological Survey

This is a collaborative venture by English Heritage, the Institute of Archaeology, the Museum of London and the newly constituted Environment Agency. Funding has been obtained for a three-year survey to record London's biggest archaeological site, the inter-tidal Thames foreshore on both banks from Richmond to Greenwich, and resulting data will be passed on to the GLSMR. Now that channel maintenance has practically ceased, the foreshore is changing shape and artefacts are appearing and disappearing rapidly.

The foreshore has never been systematically surveyed, now parts are threatened by development and the whole is under threat from tidal erosion. Few sections have been surveyed so far and work can take place only in short bursts around low tide. As artefacts are being uncovered by the river no digging is necessary. There is plenty of overlap with IA in barge beds, jetties, dockside equipment, ships and ship parts as well as more traditional field archaeology. Help is needed and training offered.
If you would like to find out more or help with this project please contact Mike Webber, Thames Archaeological Survey, Department of Early History, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2Y 5HN

Ironically, another new organisation called ThamesClean is turning its attention to the Thames foreshore this summer. The aim of this group, also publicly funded, is to tidy up the foreshore by removing rubbish. Let us hope that ThamesClean does not tidy away the archaeological evidence before Mike Webber's teams get there! Diana Willment
ThamesClean also needs volunteers. To offer help contact Mark Lloyd, ThamesClean, 12-13 Hatton Garden, London EC1N 2NH

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© GLIAS, 1996