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Notes and news — April 1998

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras

There was a full house for the February lecture when Malcolm Holmes, Camden Borough Archivist, gave us a very full account of this remarkable building.

Starting with the history, we learned how 4,000 houses and 30,000 people were displaced in order that the Midland Railway could reach its London terminus — not to mention the bodies in St Pancras Churchyard.

The hotel is a quite separate building from the station and the railway company was determined to advertise its presence with the best of everything. Sir George Gilbert Scott was the selected architect and he produced a design in the then popular Victorian Gothic style. The best materials were specified, but not always used, and came mainly from sites served by the railway.

The first part was opened in 1873 but the building was not finished until 1876. It suffered from a lack of bathrooms and by the 1920s could no longer be considered a five-star establishment. It closed as a hotel in 1935 and was used as offices. It was not a popular building in the 1950s and there were calls for its demolition. Consequently no money was spent on it, but it survived and, with a return to popularity of Victorian buildings in the 1960s, it was listed grade 1.

The building was closed in the 1980s and in the early 1990s, following a survey it was restored externally at a cost of £10 million but only £130,000 was spent on the interior, which had been much mutilated by the addition of false ceilings, partitions and other modern necessities when it had been used as offices.

© Sidney Ray 1968 © Sidney Ray 2018

We were then taken on a slide tour through the building, viewing the great staircase, the stencilled walls and ceilings, the Minton tiles and many other features.

This is a very inadequate account of the history of the Midland Grand Hotel and its many unexpected features. A book could be written about it and we are indebted to Malcolm Holmes for giving us such a fascinating evening.

King's Cross gazetteer

New River (south of M25) in jeopardy

As the items for this Newsletter were in preparation the Winter 1998 Newsletter of the New River Action Group (NRAG) was received with disturbing news under the above heading. The following is a slightly shortened version of the NRAG's report.

In October a full meeting of Enfield Council debated the New River Path. In a packed and stormy meeting two delegations spoke against the path, raising such issues as drowning, danger, litter, loss of privacy, security, reduction in house values, etc.

The Chairman of NRAG spoke in favour of the path.

The councillors debated the issue and unanimously passed the following motion:

TWU's standard reply to individual letter of objection includes the statement that 'the decision to create the path from Ware was in response to public requests'...and that the New River path initiative was in line with local planning policies. TWU also state that the Ware to Cheshunt part of the path is used and enjoyed by local and long distance walkers alike without any recorded increase in security or privacy complaints.

A letter in the local paper has pointed out that, if the New River path is rejected, Thames Water can say 'we offered the people a splendid amenity but the people didn't want it'.. TW could then pipe the river and sell the land for other development. Bill Firth
NRAG urges those who want the New River path to write supporting the proposal to: Jessica Rae, Thames Water Utilities, Nugent House, Vastern Road, Reading, Berks, RG1 8DB, with a copy to: Councillor J. Rodin, London Borough of Enfield, Civic Centre, Silver Street, Enfield, Middx EN1 3XE

What's in the food we eat?

If you look at a list of the ingredients on a present-day food jar or packet you will often notice towards the end of the list, several three-figure numbers prefixed by a capital E (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). These 'E' numbers denote additives in the food which are put there to add colour, act as preservatives, emulsify, or stabilise, etc. The European Union has decreed that since January 1986 all food should display the actual name of the additives or their 'E' numbers. The idea was to harmonise laws and make trade in food between European countries easier.

Some of the food additives which have E numbers have been around for quite a long time and may be more familiar if their old names are used. Acetic acid, E260, will be familiar from vinegar, and is used as a preservative. It is not known to have any bad effects and is widely used in pickles, sauces, salad cream, cheese, and so on. Dilute acetic acid, at about 5 per cent concentration (diluted with water) is sold as 'non-brewed condiment' and is often substituted for traditional brewed vinegar. Caramel, E150, used as a brown colouring agent or to add flavour, goes into an enormous range of products from biscuits to pickled onions and scotch eggs to chocolate dessert whip. Not all types of caramel are thought to be safe in food and their use is restricted.

Pectin is E440a and occurs naturally. It is obtained from the walls of plant cells, commercially as a by-product from cider making or from orange pith. It goes into jams, jellies, puddings and desserts, etc. The only known bad effect might be temporary flatulence, if large amounts are consumed. BFK stands for Brown For Kippers; it is a synthetic mixture of azo (or coal tar) dyes and its use should be obvious. Azo dyes in food are somewhat controversial. They include E102 tartrazine, E110 sunset yellow FCF, E122 carmoisine, E128 red 2G, E131 patent blue V, E132 indigo carmine and E133 brilliant blue FCF. Tartrazine has been very widely used in such things as packet convenience foods, chewing gum, soft drinks, tinned processed peas, marzipan, prepared cakes and so on.

Epsom salts or magnesium sulphate has been used from about the 1860s by London Brewers to produce Burton-on-Trent type pale beer, and the salts occur naturally in sea and mineral waters. The brewers called their process Burtonisation and magnesium sulphate is not known to have any bad effects unless one has kidney trouble. E216m propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, goes into some beer as a preservative and a very wide range of other things. It can produce a numbing effect in the mouth and its concentration in food is limited by law.

Some of the above information may not be quite up to date and contributions from readers with more recent knowledge will be welcome. E numbers don't seem to be used quite so much as they used to be. Is this a trend? Bob Carr
(NOTE: There is a book available called 'E FOR ADDITIVES: THE COMPLETE E NUMBER GUIDE. By Maurice Hanssen with Jill Marsden, published by Thorsons Publishers Ltd, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire — Editor.)

South Kensington Gasworks

Referring to Bob Carr's article (GLIAS Newsletter February 1998), for many there was nothing as unlovely as a gas works; in Victorian Musicals at least, it was the epitome of grime and smell. This image sometimes turned the industry's thoughts to aestheticism, and on rare occasions resulted in the production of cartoons. Most notable were a triptych of cartoons featuring gas holders by Wallace Coop between 1929 and 1931. Coop cartoons were a regular feature for many years in the gas weekly 'Gas World'. His 'Beautiful Gasholders' 1 converted the Royal Albert Hall into a spirally guided holder. Typically of the gas industry wasting nothing, the Albert Memorial became the 'Bride's Cake Model'. I feel sure someone would have not been amused.

The Royal Albert Hall did seem to have an attraction for the industry, the South Metropolitan, to give an impression of size, liked to say that the Hall would easily fit inside their former No. 2 holder at Greenwich. Also the Albert Hall provides the means, for anyone with the urge to contemplate the inside of a gas holder to do so in comfort. The 3.5 million cubic foot auditorium 2 although elliptical in plan, does give an impression. However it must be remembered the interior of gas holders have a more workaday appearance, and unlike the Albert Hall, entertainment is noticeably lacking.

The first gas holders were housed in buildings, those at Warwick are well known examples. This was as Bob stated, developed on the continent, and gave some protection against low temperatures and heavy snow loading, and could be of a considerable size. Alwyne Meade 3 in 1921 quotes the holder building at Tegel works in Berlin as being 300 feet high, 'an architectural work of brilliance'. Severe winters also made the housed holder popular in North America, those remaining have attracted considerable attention from industrial archaeologists. This resulted in the Society for Industrial Archaeology adopting, as their logo, a drawing of the Troy gas holder house in upstate New York.

Although the use of waterless gas holders eliminated the problems of icing, in water sealed holders, they did require the correct formulation of the piston sealant, or problems could occur as related by George B. Le Diamond. In biographical notes of an eventful and distinguished career within the gas industry 4 he refers to his experiences with the Klonne waterless holder at York in the late 1920s:

'... On another occasion I was called to the works at 4am on a winter morning ... there was a sound like thunder coming from the holder, a most ominous and alarming noise. With hesitant and fearful tread ... I went down to the piston in the darkness to find out what was going on. A slight accumulation of ice on the cylindrical piston walls was causing the piston to hang up and judder down ...'

The problem was cured by placing large quantities of glycerine round the piston ring.

Finally on the subject of navigational markings on gas holders, the question of making this a compulsory provision for gas companies was raised in Parliament in 1930. The Air Secretary replied:'... it was necessary, in the interests of safety for pilots to study the normal methods of navigation which did not rely on such aids, and therefore the Air Secretary would not feel justified in putting pressure on gas works owners as suggested.' Brian Sturt


Dunn's of Bromley

Dunn's of Bromley. By Christopher Salaman. Vintage Roadscene (ISSN 0266-8947)
Volume l4, number 53, December 1997 - February 1998. £2.20. pages 12-15.

You will remember Chris Salaman from his fascinating talk on the road transport firm McNamara's which we heard as a GLIAS lecture at St Bartholomew's Medical School in October 1997. Before the Second World War, McNamara's were situated near the present site of the Museum of London and the talk included background information on the area of London just north of the City. Here in this article Chris moves out to the suburbs at Bromley in Kent and deals with a firm which set up in 1710 as a household furnisher and draper.

The growth of population in the Bromley area in Victorian times led to Dunn's diversification into the household removal business and a large storage depository was established in Widmore Road, Bromley. Initially horse-drawn transport was used but a Foden steam wagon was purchased about 1900 and this led to the use of this type for quite long distance removal work without the intermediate use of rail transport as was the case in horse-drawn days. Steam wagons continued in this role until after 1930. On average the removal distance was about 50 miles and they were allowed two days for a return journey to Brighton and three days for Hastings, as the road was more hilly. There was a constant problem of finding water for the engine. On a long journey, say to Devon, they could be away for two weeks. There was a speed limit of 12 mph.

After the First World War, internal combustion vehicles came into use in considerable numbers and a very varied fleet was acquired of which Chris Salaman gives an account in his article. Dunn's removal business was wound up during World War II and perhaps surprisingly was not restarted after hostilities came to an end. Sadly no Dunn's removal vehicle survives in preservation, but at the Museum of London you can see a baker's hand cart on display, courtesy of Dunn's of Bromley. This is an interesting article of particular appeal to road-transport enthusiasts and the account of working steam wagons will probably have a wider audience.

In the same issue of Vintage Roadscene you will also find articles on British Lorries in Holland, restoration of a Leyland Titan PD2/40 bus, English Electric tramcars, the Road Preservation Scene, restoration of a 1924 Albion van, restoration of an ex-Lowestoft AEC Regent 11 bus, filming trolleybuses, and the Scammell Rigid Eight lorry which originated from Watford in 1937.

There are numerous photographs of vans, buses, and lorries etc. Vintage Roadscene is edited by S W Stevens-Stratten FRSA and is published quarterly. The article on English Electric trams is part one of a series. The English Electric Co. Ltd. was formed in 1919 by the amalgamation of Dick Kerr & Co, Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works, Stafford, the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, and Willans and Robinson of Rugby. It is mentioned that Dick Kerr & Co built the first electric conduit tramway line in the world between Gravesend and Northfleet, Kent. Does any reader have more information on this technological first and are there any remains? For what period did it operate? Bob Carr

Has Industrial Archaeology Lost Its Way?

I have just written the text of my forthcoming Rolt Memorial Lecture and sent it to the organisers. The title of the lecture is 'Has Industrial Archaeology Lost Its Way?' My conclusion is, briefly, that it has.

'Industrial Archaeology was a lively and well-patronised affair in the Sixties and Seventies,' I say, 'because the people taking part in it had the satisfaction of realising that, often in relatively humble ways, they were contributing to the common stock of historical knowledge. During the Eighties and Nineties, however, its appeal has been fading, largely because people have become weary of grazing the same old pastures.'

I go on to say that, in order to restore IA to full health, two developments are required. 'One is a great extension of its field of activity and the other is a change of name.' A new generation of cultural monuments is in the process of annihilation and these need to be located, recorded and studied with the same care as the relics of the age of coal and steam.

In the words of my lecture, 'I am thinking about places as varied as small hotels, Lyons Corner Houses, 1930s cinemas, small butchers' and grocer's shops, gas and electricity showrooms and uncomputerised offices. These all formed part of a culture that is rapidly passing away, a previous stage of capitalist society which has been just as important in its way as that of the shipyards, cotton mills and coalmines which preceded it and which attracted such devoted attention from the first generation of industrial archaeologists.'

So far as the name is concerned, the words 'industrial archaeology', an improbable combination which once had such a powerful shock value, have lost much of their appeal. I am convinced that the time has come to replace them by something better suited to today's and tomorrow's situation.

I suggest 'workplace archaeology' or, if that is felt to be too long and clumsy, 'work archaeology'. I think I favour 'work archaeology'. In its flavour and apparent absurdity, it has the same potential strength as the once-useful 'industrial archaeology'. And it covers all the half-forgotten sources of employment which so badly require the attention of the successors to the pioneers of 40 and 50 years ago. It would pump new life into an ailing body.' Kenneth Hudson

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© GLIAS, 1998