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Notes and news — August 1997

Greater London news in brief

At the south end of Crouch Hill exterior restoration work is almost complete at the ornately decorated Vicwardian dairy building (GLIAS Newsletter June 1997). It is not known what use the building might be put to.

At Three Mills the roof of the House Mill is now entirely covered by red clay tiles. The unauthentic slates we had taken for granted have all gone.

Low cloud and heavy rain prevented the Dakota (GLIAS Newsletter April 1997) landing at Biggin Hill for the planned Newcomen Society flights on Saturday June 28th. Disappointed participants will be accommodated on other dates.

Regular delivery of beer by dray horses from the Ram Brewery Wandsworth may soon be a thing of the past. Motorists are getting too angry at the slow pace of the drays in the dense traffic of the locality and there have been unpleasant incidents of road rage. This might be the last brewery in the country to use horse drays for regular commercial deliveries as distinct from the occasional use of show horses and vehicles. Bob Carr

© Sidney Ray

Shirley Windmill

Shirley Windmill in Croydon (TQ 355 651) is a picturesque brick-built tower mill with a Kentish-type boat cap and the interior even though incomplete is well worth a visit.

The mill is being maintained and restored with the help of local enthusiasts. Now surrounded by new houses it is situated at the end of Post Mill Close. Don't be confused by the road name, this refers to the previous mill of 1808 which burnt down and was replaced by the present tower mill.

This year Shirley Windmill will be open to the public on the first Sunday afternoon of every month from 1pm till 5pm from now until October 1997 with an additional European opening on September 14th. Visitors will be welcome at the Windmill on the designated open afternoons. For further information telephone 020 8656 6037. Bob Carr

If it's Victorian, it's doomed

The kind of Victorian urban building we used to take for granted is beginning to disappear at what seems to be an ever-increasing rate. This may not be in large scale clearances of the kind we had in cities 30 years ago, demolition can be piecemeal a few houses at a time but it all adds up. An example of this process is taking place on the north side of Victoria Dock Road E16 just opposite Customs House Station. The public house on the corner was recently demolished and now a few other properties are being cleared. It will not be a great surprise if the rest of the terrace soon goes too. Generally there will then be a rapid building of relatively low-rise redbrick housing squeezed into all the space available. This is becoming an almost ubiquitous process and one wonders will almost all of inner London soon be low rise housing and apart from major public buildings little else?

Not only domestic-type housing has been disappearing. At water pumping station sites we had got used to chiminies and boiler houses being absent but by now the engine houses themselves have in a number of cases gone as well. In recent years there have also been heavy losses among large factory buildings and mills, sometimes associated with fire damage. Traditional floor maltings are becoming rare and what has been saved of many industrial buildings by adaptive re-use is often almost unrecognisable, so extreme is the exterior modification or decoration. In London there are not that many Victorian warehouses left, often a warehouse has been demolished to be replaced by a housing block built in a style resembling the original building. We awaken to the fact that buildings roughly of the late Victorian period are no longer commonplace. Bob Carr

Walthamstow Pump House


Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland: first conference


Early gas in London

(GLIAS Newsletter April 1997)


The history of Clarence Wharf jetty, Rotherhithe


Can we find a better name?

Why is industrial archaeology so unpopular? It seems particularly unattractive to people young enough never to have known working industry at first hand and part of the distaste is probably due to the name. Factory work has dreadful connotations involving exploitation, appalling working conditions and diseases associated with particular trades which reduce the life expectancy of the unfortunates who worked in them. Is industrial archaeology something horrible most people would prefer not to think about? The word industry itself seems now to be perceived as unpleasant, perhaps even in its other sense of diligence or hard work.

Of course industrial archaeology covers far more than the study of old factories but phrases such as 'the romance of industry' and 'the wonders of engineering' are redolent of the titles of nineteen thirties books for boys and have a decidedly dated flavour. Some effort has been made to find a better name for our interests but industrial heritage is not that appealing and again we are saddled with the unfortunate word industry which appears to be widely regarded with horror. Manufacturing industry is now largely confined to areas of the Developing World where workers are generally believed to be badly treated and exploited and the polite preference not to be associated with trade is very persistent.

We do concern ourselves with public services and transport but railway enthusiasts are considered pathetically anti-social and are now even the butt of advertising jokes so we don't want to be associated with them. The word archaeologist has a pleasant ring but there is then an unfortunate general assumption that archaeologists only dig things up (literally). The study of the past seems to be well regarded and popular provided that past is either long ago or very comfortable. Escapism seems to be an important ingredient in order to explain, at least subliminally, why a particular largely unpaid activity is worth pursuing. To a considerable proportion of the population industrial archaeology is regarded as an activity only associated with old men who were once engineers and at that engineers in the sense of factory hands who went around with a swab of oily cotton waste in disgusting and unhygienic conditions.

In the West scientists seem to be mostly old men and almost no-one studies engineering at university to pursue a career as an engineer afterwards. Bright capable younger people go into the City to make money and one wonders who will be around to understand what industrial archaeology was all about in say 40 years' time. Trends in history of technology are leading to sociological rather than technical studies and the mechanical engineering culture of 40 years ago is becoming ancient Greek to an increasing proportion of the population. There might be a case for concentrating on social history rather than the nuts and bolts of engineering in that future generations will simply not be equipped to understand the details of what was done in the industries of the last hundred years or so. To a manager a machine can be a 'black box' whose interior is totally unpenetratable and the understanding of which is in any case unnecessary. Industrial archaeology whatever change of name is contemplated might become equally expendable if we cannot broaden its appeal and interest succeeding generations. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 1997