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Notes and news — December 1996

Red Leicester

Red Leicester (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996) does not mean only cheese. There are also Red Leicester bricks. These are still made at Ibstock in Leicestershire and are of the machine-pressed sandstone type. They were never made by hand.

An example of a building in London made from Red Leicestershire bricks is the former PLA pump house for the West India Docks, West Ferry Road, E14 (TQ 372 801). This impounding station, still in use, was built in 1929 to maintain the water level in the nearby docks and contains electrically driven centrifugal pumps.

We used to think this pumping station was built about 1914, which in fact was when a specification was first drawn up but more recent research has revealed that the original scheme was delayed, probably due to the First World War, and a modified pumping station building to house three pumps was eventually completed only at the end of the 1920s. By that date the Millwall and West India Docks had been joined together by the Millwall Cut and the new impounding station was able to maintain a high water-level throughout the combined dock system. Bob Carr


Routemaster buses at Victoria station. © Robert Mason Visitors to Oxford Street will have noticed the large numbers of venerable Routemaster buses now in operation in the heart of London.

Some of these Routemasters are very early examples of the type and are shorter than the later lengthened version which has an additional eight-seat section added amidships.

These traditional buses with both driver and conductor seem to be very popular with shoppers in Central London and astonishing to younger people visiting London for the first time. From a GLIAS point of view they are veritably industrial archaeology on wheels, some examples are as old as Routemasters currently on display in museums.

It was planned to operate Routemasters in London well into the next century but there are now clouds on the horizon and London Transport has indicated that they may not continue in use beyond 2001. One problem is the open platform at the rear which to present-day safety officers must be a source of wonder and dread.

About 500 Routemasters are still in use in the capital, almost all over 30 years old, and it has been suggested that a replacement bus of a similar specification should be constructed. However in current terms the production run would be too small and make unit costs prohibitive. Bob Carr

Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Mills

Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey. © Robert Mason The Heritage Lottery Fund has made a grant of £6.5 million pounds towards the restoration of the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey in Essex. Closed in 1991, some GLIAS members have since been able to visit the site with a view to carrying out recording work.

Waltham Abbey was in Napoleonic times one of the most important places in Britain for gunpowder manufacture, using water power.

Steam engines were introduced in 1857 and later in the century guncotton and cordite were made, leading finally to TNT and RDX, etc.

Charcoal for the manufacture of gunpowder was produced from plantations of alder, willow and dogwood on the site. Bob Carr
Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 1JY. Tel: 01992 767022. Fax: 01992 710341. Website:

Richmond redevelopment

The scheme to redevelop Richmond railway station is still being pursued.

A planning weekend was scheduled for September 27-30 to be held in Thameslink House near the station. Railtrack plc in partnership with Hawk Development Management plc is undertaking the work.

A Development Team was and is collecting ideas from local people and from anyone with an interest in the future of the area. Richmond's unitary plan identifies the station complex as 'a key mixed used development opportunity'. Bob Carr

Romford Brewery plant sold to China

Ove Arup's have recently been involved in the sale to China of the brewing equipment from the now demolished brewery in Romford. Recent visits to the Brewery site have revealed a cleared expanse, quite an urban void in the town, being used for car parking. This is presumably only a temporary expedient.

The sale of complete industrial complexes to developing countries has been commonplace over the past 20 years. Recently doubts have been expressed as to the advisability of selling off our industry to the Third World.

Members who took part in our evening visit to the Romford Brewery on 28 November 1989 will remember the large quantities of then recent 1980s stainless steel equipment being used. The Chinese will have obtained at a modest cost a brewery ten years old. Will the new beer brewed in China still have the same Romford taste? Bob Carr

Russian Submarine U475 to leave London

Russian submarine on Medway. © Robert Mason The Russian submarine U475 is to leave her berth, a couple of cable-lengths downstream from the Thames Barrier. The 'Foxtrot' class submarine is to move to a berth in Bristol after spending just over two years in the Thames (GLIAS Newsletter June 1995; August 1995; October 1995).

When I spoke with Terry Eiss on 17 October, he informed me the move was being made for economic reasons. In spite of widespread advertising and good sign-posting, there is restricted access to the present site, resulting in insufficient visitors to justify the cost of a berth in London. Terry said he hoped that if a site became available in the Greenwich area in about three years' time, he would bring another Russian submarine to London. The surplus of Russian naval craft means that Terry can buy submarines and sell them on to western concerns as museum pieces, a form of 'Sub-U-Like'.

U475 will be towed down the Thames and round the coast to her new berth in the Bristol docks. The date of departure has not been finalised but, tides allowing, should be mid-December and it is hoped the move will generate interest both on the Thames between Woolwich and Southend, and the River Avon from Avonmouth up to Bristol. What is London's loss, we hope will be Bristol's gain, and wish U475 every success in her new home. Peter Skilton

Kirkaldy Testing Museum

I would like to thank all those who responded to my request for help with a 'Hounsfield' rubber testing machine (GLIAS Newsletter August 1996). Replies brought forth information and material pertaining to both the R.T.M. and 'Hounsfield' Tensometers. Indeed we now have information about the ordering and delivery of our R.T.M. and the first three calibration tests performed upon it.

The large KIRKALDY testing machine is giving problems, or to be more precise, the leather 'U' seal within the cylinder is in need of attention. The ram has been removed, the seal withdrawn and a refurbished seal replaced. After descaling the inside of the cylinder and the application of a rust inhibitor, the machine will be re-assembled and tested.

Work is to be carried out on behalf of the owners of the building, cleaning and stabilising the vaults beneath the pavements. Before this can be achieved, the vaults have to be emptied, which entails the removal of a couple of thousand 6-inch concrete cubes, several hundredweight of coke mixed with soil, and a considerable amount of iron. This is a daunting task for the handful of museum volunteers who hope they will be assisted by a work-group brought in for the job.
Kirkaldy Testing Museum website:

Limehouse Basin Accumulator Tower

The unusual octagonal accumulator tower at the Regent's Canal Dock (now 'Limehouse Basin') dates from 1869, a part of this dock's second phase of hydraulic power, that was installed when the large ship lock was built. In 1995, the London Docklands Development Corporation renovated the derelict listed building, restoring the boiler chimney that had been damaged in the war, and inserting a spiral staircase up through the weight case and chimney to a roof-top viewing platform. This mitigates just a little the destruction in 1994 of the original pumphouse of 1852, then the world's oldest surviving.

British Waterways opened the building to the public on 'Open House' weekend (14-15 September) and at the Limehouse Festival (5-6 October), with the help of a rota of GLIAS volunteers — Tim Smith, Charles Norrie, David Perrett, Mary Mills, Tom Ridge, Keith Fairclough and myself, over the four days — and we got a mention in The Independent's "Weasel" column. We earned money from a booklet we produced giving a summary of the history of the Dock and its hydraulic system. This will also be available for purchase (£1) at GLIAS lectures. British Waterways have asked if we will help them open the tower on a more regular basis, but that raises the question of the availability of volunteers. Malcolm Tucker

The 'where' in neverwhere

I imagine that not too many members of GLIAS watched a fantasy series called 'Neverwhere' shown recently on BBC2. The series was created by Lenny Henry and Neil Gaiman, based loosely on a story-line similar to 'The Wizard of Oz' with scenes that might have been created by Hieronymous Bosch. The names of many of the characters were drawn from those of London Underground stations or places in London, so you would have met: Hammersmith, The Earl of Earl's Court, The Blackfriars, Old Bailey and an Angel called Islington.

The interest for GLIAS members was 'Name that location'. The filming of 'Neverwhere' took place in locations all over (and under) London and many were places of interest to industrial archaeologists. Around 30 locations in London were used for filming, among which could be seen the roof-tops of St Pancras and Ludgate Hill, parts of the Royal Mail underground railway system, the abandoned 'British Museum' underground station, the grounds of Battersea Power Station, HMS Belfast, the St Pancras Hotel and Crossness engine-house. However, some scenes were so adequately disguised with scenery and props that one would have been hard put to recognise them. Indeed, I was privileged to witness some filming, and hardly recognised well-known locations. If there is to be a second series of 'Neverwhere', I for one shall be viewing, if only to play the game of 'Name that location'.

Crossness update

The Museum of Sanitary Engineering is progressing well and a new exhibit was officially opened on Saturday 7 September, the new feature is in the form of a room displaying Victorian toilet items.

Peter Taylor, the museum manager, conceived the idea of displaying Victorian toilet items in a natural setting. He approached the AMEC-Lurgi consortium (who are constructing the huge new sludge incinerator at Crossness Treatment Works) and persuaded them to fund the project.

The room is a three-sided affair, decorated and furnished entirely in Victorian fashion including a hip bath. Peter is seeking a more suitable wig for the female mannequin, who at the time of writing sports a blonde 1980s style. Something reflecting the 1880s would be far more in keeping, so if anyone within GLIAS knows of or has such a wig, they would loan or donate to the museum, Peter would be very pleased to hear from them. Tosher

Whitechapel Gasworks

I have rather avoided getting tangled up in speculation about the three or four very early gasworks which seem to have been located in Whitechapel. However, it must be about time to say something about one of them.

The only evidence, as far as I know, for this works is in the Boulton and Watt archive in Birmingham. Scribbled on a piece of paper which, from other evidence, dates from around 1811, are the words 'Liptrap, Whitechapel'. The words seem to be associated with a sketch of a gas making plant probably somewhere else in Whitechapel. (Thank you Tim Smith, for drawing my attention to this.) Liptrap were certainly customers of Boulton and Watt who had supplied them with a 17-inch rotative engine in 1786. Dickinson (James Watt and the Steam Engine Encore 1989, p185) gives some detail of their unusual gearing arrangement Several of Boulton and Watt's customers diversified into gas making equipment when it was available, and so why not Liptrap?

The next question is — who were they? That took a lot more answering. I eventually tracked down Davey E Liptrap in the Mile End Old Town Rate Books but that wasn't too clear as to the site. At that time, around 1800, in a dense urban area like Whitechapel there were a number of authorities able to levy rates. Mile End Old Town were after money to support the (no doubt very numerous) poor. Money to pay for sewage disposal went to the Spitalfields Sewer Commissioners, and it was in their rate books for 1818 that I found two entries next to each other, under 'Tickle Belly Common' — they were 'Liptrap Prop, 8 Bucks Row' and 'Liptrap & Thomas Smith, whole premises'.

Bucks Row is not hard to track down. It is today, Durward Street, and I can see it from my office window. It is a strange triangular open space at the back of Whitechapel Station, on which an old school is currently being renovated for flats. On the 1813 edition of the Horwood plan it is quite clearly shown but called 'Ducking Pond Row'. All of which seems to point to a rural past for Whitechapel which, I am sure, was just a memory in 1800.

Who was Thomas Smith? D L Munby (Industry and Planning in Stepney, Stepney Reconstruction Group 1951) says from evidence he found in a Parliamentary report 'The firm of T & G Smith of Whitechapel ... in Durward Street ... was one of 12 distillers in England in 1832, and the second largest of these'. On the Horwood plan there is indeed a large distillery site on the north side of the street — today it is under a Sainsbury store (what else?). So — we have come a long way from a tiny scrap of paper to the second largest distiller in England! Did they have an on site gasworks? I really don't know and there may be no way of ever really finding out. What I do know is that if we add in all the distillers around East London, that area must have been producing a very, very large percentage of the total alcohol produced in this country. The distillery out at Three Mills was I believe the largest one ... and they really did have a gas works which (thanks to Keigh Fairclough) will appear in this series sooner rather than later. Mary Mills

Chalk in Chislehurst

Chislehurst, for those who don't know it, is a part of south-east London full of expensive, opulent housing. In particular Camden Way, off Camden Park Road, where the dramatic V-shaped roof of a huge new house swoops down the hillside out of lush woodland. What was I doing in this part of the world? I was looking for a mine.

A couple of months ago I went to a lecture by Rod LeGear of the Kent Underground Research. Riveting stuff, particularly about chalk mining in the north Kent area. I was trying to get together information about the Bromley area, so I read my way through the numerous informative volumes of the Chelsea Spelaeological Society Records. I found there many references to chalk mines in Chislehurst (including Chislehurst caves, of course). They mentioned another, almost unknown, mine in the Camden Park area (CSSR 11 p5, 15 p21. TQ 42807015). So off I went.

Lubbock Road doesn't seem the most promising place to find industry of any sort. The houses get posher and posher right up to Christ Church at the end, mentioned in Cherry & Pevsner (The Buildings of England, South London, p175).

No sign of a mine. Carry on down the road, Pevsner in hand, as far as Willett's stables 'one of Newton's happiest and most relaxed works'. (Willett was the 'daylight savings' man who owned Camden Park in the 1890s.) On the side of the stable is a sign to a building firm round the back. On round the back and you are, suddenly, in a different world. The bare chalk face rises up to the woodland above. Huddled up against it is a little row of huts, some built right into the cliff face. I put my head round the door. 'Excuse me, I'm looking for the mine'.

...'Sorry love, it's all shut up these days, we only use it for storage. Go and see Mr Turner on the corner.. he knows all about it.'

So thank you to Mr. Tony Turner, and his helpful telephone call. He didn't remember when the mine was working but he had talked to people who did and had been in it. He said that Chislehurst chalk was particularly white and much in demand. It was used to colour mortar and bricks, and that it was so good that Sir Christopher Wren used it for St Paul's. (Where Mr Turner gets this information from and if it can be checked, I don't know.) He also says that somewhere in the mine is running water and that in 1968 there was a flood which filled the valley and the quarry floor to ten feet, in parts. This led to a landslip which buried some of the mine entrances and led to some subsidence.

The Chelsea Spelaeologists saw that underground water when they surveyed the site in the early 1980s. They made a plan of the workings and recorded what they could. They found graffiti, work benches, electric cables, a drain. In their records they provide a list of references, dating back to 1899 when the Geologists Association visited the site. In 1985 a second survey was made by Per Shreiber and another underground plan drawn. Both surveys point to further, possibly Roman, workings, which cannot now be accessed.

It is important that this sort of lost industry is noted — although the recording of such a dangerous site must be done by specialists. It is only too easy to assume that some of the nicer bits of suburbia were, in the past, just idyllic countryside. This part of Chislehurst is made up of dramatic woods and valleys with a charming stream flowing through. Take away the houses and the garden flowers and you can see the cliff face, the quarry, the fast flowing stream in a wooded ravine, the cleared area around the mine entrance. Walk up the road to Chislehurst caves and the whole scenery there suddenly becomes easy to read — a cleared quarry floor area with a mine entrance under the cliff face. Old maps will show you the main roads and tracks all heading towards Greenwich and the river — as well as many 'chalkpit' and 'rock pit' place names. The area today is very beautiful and expensive — I wonder how much that dramatic new house on the hill is insured for?

Cobham Coal Mine

I was brought up in Gravesend, Kent, and like all children used to play in the surrounding countryside. One day, in the early 1950s I was in Cobham Woods on a 'hike' with the Girl Guides. We were just to the south of today's main A2 — about opposite the Laughing Water restaurant — near 'Scalers Hill' (TQ 674696). What I saw was a line of trucks on rails disappearing into a large hole in the ground at a 45-degree angle going roughly east — there was some other equipment west of this, which I don't remember. I was quite sure what it was. When I got home I said, rather hesitantly, to my father: 'I saw a coal mine today, in Cobham Woods.' 'That's right', he said.

I forgot all about it until about eight years ago when I walked round the site one afternoon. The A2 has been rebuilt and widened since then but just off the road, in the trees, are some vague depressions and half buried bits of ironmongery — nothing very much. In Gravesend Library I discovered that I was not the only person who has been on the track of the Cobham Coal Mine. It has actually been quite well written up. Of course the Kent Underground Research Group (Newsletter 1/85) have had a look and there is an account in their Kent and East Sussex Underground (Meresborough 1991). I have also a photocopy article by a Mr Sydney Champion — given to me, source unknown.

In the 1940s the Cobham Coal Mine had produced brown lignite for many years on an opencast basis for the local estate owner. In 1947 a mining company was formed to exploit it. They found a 3ft seam of bituminous coal. The Coal Board came and had a look, and Cory's were employed to remove it. However, there seems to have been some confusion over samples. Methane was encountered in the mine, Cory's became less than happy. In 1953 it all ended. Nothing very much of a story for those who live in coal-producing areas — but this is Kentish Thameside. Perhaps it just goes to demonstrate that the whole island really is built on coal.

So, anyway, I must apologise to Rod LeGear for my behaviour at his excellent lecture to the Blackheath Scientific Society on Underground Kent. He always starts his lectures with a trick question — 'where is the nearest coal mine to London?' No one, he says, has ever known before. Sorry, Rod — but I did see it, I really did. Mary Mills

GLIAS/SIHG joint meeting

The second joint meeting with the Surrey Industrial History Group was held in the restored Council Chamber of the 1840 Market Hall in Kingston upon Thames on the afternoon of Saturday 26 October.

The first speaker was Richard Statham, Education Officer at Kingston Museum who gave us a survey of the industries of the area. He started with the corn mills on the Hogsmill River, all of which were used for other purposes before demolition, and no mills now remain.

Through metal polish, tanning, ironworking, river traffic and aircraft, Mr Statham brought us up to date with a Kingston which now has no manufacturing industry, and few remains, and which is given over to service industries. In a bare hour, the subject could only be outlined but Mr Statham was able to give us a number of interesting and sometimes amusing quotations from contemporary documents.

After a break for refreshments ably dispensed by Glenys Crocker of the Surrey Group under difficult circumstances, Brian Woodriff presented a history of the tramways of Kingston. Brian is a local historian and a former treasurer of GLIAS and so is not unknown to some members of both societies.

We had an excellent resumé of the history of the tramways and the reasons why Kingston first proposed a tramway system in the 1870s but did not get one until 1906. The local councils forced the tram companies to make up the roads and drain them as well as lay the tracks and the overhead. It is not surprising that the London United Tramways never realised its much wider schemes for a tram network in Surrey. The roads in Kingston did not lend themselves to trams because of the number of sharp corners involved and this was one reason why the first trolleybuses in London were operated in the area.

Brian ended with a fascinating series of slides illustrating what he had told us. Because there is so much historical background detail in such pictures, they were equally interesting to those who do not have a great interest in trams. There had been a number of problems, which continued right into the day itself, in arranging this meeting. However, some 40 people attended a successful venture which ended with the expression of hopes of another one in due course. Bill Firth


I have been very surprised recently to discover the many prominent members of GLIAS don't know what a 'denehole' is. Indeed, I have taken to asking all sorts of people if they know — and they all go 'no... oo, er, what's that?' Now, in Gravesend, where I was brought up, everyone knows what a denehole is. It is something that opens up in the night and swallows your garden. It used to be lived in by Danes, or Druids, or ancient Britons, or someone called Clabberknapper.

Deneholes are everywhere in the chalk. I go up Dene Holm Road when I visit my father-in-law in Northfleet. As children we used to play in them — typically they are on the edge of a wood near fields. In the Bexley area there are huge clusters of them and there are some housing estates where every garden has one or two. They are very dangerous and many have been filled in or covered over — coverings which will break through in a hundred years to the surprise of the home owners above.

Deneholes have long been excavated and investigated by antiquarians and archaeologists. In the 1970s, in Kent, a Mr Caiger began to specialise in them and, following his death, the Kent Underground Research Group and other have taken them on. As a result a systematised typology has been developed and this has led on to a better understanding of what they are and what they were dug for. There have been a number of publications. Some of these are, for example:

Deneholes, Harry Pearman — Chelsea Speleological Society Records, Vol 4.
Deneholes, Part 2, compiled by R F LeGear — Chelsea Speleological Society Records, Vol 10.
Deneholes in the Gravesend Area, R F LeGear — Kent Underground Research Group Report No 1.
Bexley Deneholes, R F LeGear — Bexley Libraries and Museums 1992.
Kent and East Sussex Underground, Kent Underground Research Group — Meresborough Books, 1991.

In what way are they industrial? The research carried out and written up so meticulously by Rod, Harry and their chums has led them to the view that deneholes were small chalk mines. Most were used as a source of chalk to be used as an agricultural fertilizer but the chalk had many other uses. They have worked out the size of the mining teams and methods which were used for excavation. They have found tools, and from them and marks on walls they have analysed work in the holes and how they were developed. Many seem to be pre-15th century, with a new type developed after the Black Death, but some more recent denehole diggers have themselves been discovered and interviewed. All of this is outlined in fascinating detail in the works listed above.

So, no one should any longer be in doubt as to what a denehole is. Can I just say one thing though ... who was this Mr Clabberknapper? While I don't know what a 'clabber' is, I do know that 'knapping' is something you do to flint. Flint is found in the chalk. There were flint mines, holes in the ground — like Grime's Graves in Norfolk — and isn't there something about the flint knapping industry being transferred by the Board of Ordnance from North Kent to Norfolk around 1800?

I only asked. Mary Mills

Factory Hooters

I was interested to read Mr Croome's query on factory hooters (GLIAS 163), having just been reading a (borrowed) copy of 'Derby Works and Midland Locomotives' by JB Radford which was published by Ian Allen in 1971. The Derby works was equipped with a splended version of such a device and I enclose a short extract from the book describing it.

The extract reads:

"The Loco Bull was the steam whistle which announced to the whole of Derby that the men in the Locomotive Works were either about to start work or leave it, and it sounded six times on a normal working day. The 'few timorous rivals, like poor relations at a rich man's feast' which used to 'chip in', were reckoned of no account.

"No record of the actual installation of the Bull appears to have been made, but in March 1864, a page of pictorial allegory to its honour and glory, drawn by Mr GS Smith, a local artist, appeared in the press. Derby people set their clocks by the Bull, regarded by many as the 'local representative' of Greenwich, and many imagined its operation to be free from all human agency! The truth was that a disc on the big finger of an ordinary clock 'dropped' and upon this signal a man on a step ladder pulled a chain, releasing steam from a boiler thus giving the Bull his voice.

"In 1861 the operator was one Sammy Brown, and for many years, without a single omission, he performed the simple operation six times a day and everyone was happy, until one day as passing years had taken their toll, he started the Bull at 12 o'clock instead of the usual one o'clock! What an upset in the town; gossip ceased and dinners quickly set on the table an hour too soon. Brown had performed his task for a period of 20 years, but as a result of this incident he was taken off the job, which broke his heart, and he died in December 1881, shortly afterwards. Strange to relate, his successor had performed the task for another 20 years exactly when he too repeated the very same error that led to poor Brown's downfall. Nowadays this type of time signal is not quite so common, but by the turn of the century there were so many competitors that the inhabitants of Derby had a job to tell 't'other from which'." Paul Harris

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© GLIAS, 1996