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Notes and news — June 1998

Northfleet tramway

Re: The Early Electric Tramway at Northfleet (GLIAS Newsletter April 1998). The history of this short experimental line (Dick Kerr built) is written up in 'The Tramways of Kent' Vol I (LRTL 1971) plus articles in 'Engineering' of February and March 1889. It ran from the Leather Bottel, Northfleet, along Northfleet High Street to the Huggins College, approximately one mile in length. Two cars were built and the system was electrically arranged to operate in series, as opposed to the parallel method that became normal.

The theory was that a steady current of 60 amps would always flow, thus smaller feeder cables would be required. There seems to be some doubt as to whether public service ever operated. By November 1890 the Company had ceased trading and the electric line was incorporated into the earlier horse car line to Brunswick Road, Gravesend. J A Winteridge

Regarding Bob Carr's review of Vintage Roadscene, I cannot imagine who thought that the Northfleet tramway was the first electric conduit tramway in the world. My sources indicate that it was either 9th or 10th, depending on the exact date of Dresden. Earlier installations were mostly in the USA, beginning with Cleveland (1883/4, which really was the first electric conduit tramway in the world), Boston, Chicago and Baltimore; 'soon afterwards', Denver (1885), Blackpool, Lancs. (1885 — the first successful electric street tramway in Great Britain), Budapest (1887), Pittsburgh (1888) and possibly Dresden (1889).

The Northfleet installation was built as an extension of an existing horse tramway between Gravesend and Northfleet, and ran from Northfleet 'Olde Leather Bottel' (or in other words the tram depot) to Northfleet, Huggins College (also referred to as Station Road), a distance of about two thirds of a mile. It opened in March 1889 and closed in November 1890, with the service then being maintained by an extension of the horse tramway. The installation was purely experimental, and was built by Brush, and if both cars were moving at the same time, they were electrically in series. Positive and negative cables were in an 8 inch diameter conduit just below the road surface, and current was supplied to the cars through a long collector bar suspended from the car body through a slot in the conduit.

The Gravesend — Northfleet tramways were taken over by the Gravesend and Northfleet Electric Tramways Ltd. in 1901, which converted them from three feet six inches gauge to the standard gauge of four feet eight and a half inches and electrified them on the overhead system. They made an extension to Swanscombe, Craylands Lane.

These early conduits were generally shallower and of far lighter construction than later installations such as that of the London County Council Tramways. I do not have any information on any surviving artefacts, but I doubt whether anything survives. The depot for the new electric trams was in a different location from the horse/conduit depot, whose site was utilised to build an R.C. church. Desmond Croome

Follow-up: Desmond Croome expressed doubt as to whether any artefact survived of the pioneer conduit tramway systems laid down in the 1880s. In fact the Science Museum has a portion of conduit from a line equipped in 1886 in the USA. This is to the design patented by E.M. Bentley and W.H. Knight and incorporates two continuous conductors within the slot, as in later systems, unlike the Northfleet installation which had spring-loaded contact pieces at 21ft intervals. However, it is an interesting survivor, having been presented to the museum in 1905 by Robert W. Blackwell & Co. Ltd, 59 City Road, London EC. It is not currently on display but is part of the reserve collections held at Wroughton, near Swindon, Wiltshire, and can be seen by prior arrangement with the Site Curator there, telephone 01793 814466. The Northfleet electric tramway is fully described and illustrated in an article in 'The Engineer', 15 March 1889, pp.219-22.

Romford Brewery

The last substantial part of Romford Brewery, the former kegging plant to the south west of the site, has been demolished. The brewery chimney was still standing in early May but the mid-1950s building with dramatic large span ferro-concrete shell roof structure was all but gone. Latterly this part of the brewery was used for the road transport distribution of beer kegs after brewing at Romford had ceased. The attempt to have the 1950s building listed must have failed. A GLIAS visit here took place on 28 November 1989 (GLIAS Newsletter June 1990). Bob Carr

Heathrow Junction to close

If you like to visit railway stations you should be aware that the temporary terminus at Heathrow Junction for the overhead electric trains from Paddington to the airport is due to close this summer when the trains are to run directly underground to the Terminals. The new railway line which branches off southwards from Brunel's GWR main line between Hayes and Harlington and West Drayton obliterates the zigzagging line of a canal branch known as Broad's Dock or Pocock's Dock. The canal originally served brickworks which were a main feature of the district in the 19th century. There were a number of these temporary canal branches serving the brickfields and a good deal of Victorian West London was built from bricks burnt in clamps in the locality.

Household rubbish was brought here by barge along the Grand Junction Canal from Paddington Basin to be mixed with the local clay, and the finished bricks were returned there for distribution to the builders. The process was analogous to that which operated eastwards on the Thames until c1890 using sailing barges and Kentish clay at places like Sittingbourne. If you do not want to pay the £5 single fare on the train, a fairly good view of Heathrow Junction station (not much to look at anyway), can be had from Stockley Road. At present the ride on the new trains from Paddington is something of a nightmare with compulsory video hype and piped muzak, hardly the kind of thing to indulge in after a long flight. Hopefully we will get a quiet carriage once the service gets over the initial marketing stage and settles down with regular customers. The trains themselves are excellent and the journey could be made very pleasant indeed. Bob Carr

Food additives

The book 'E for Additives' by Hanssen & Marsden mentioned by our Editor last time was published in 1984. A 70 per cent enlarged version (384 pages) appeared in 1987 and there were other books at about this time, but for the past ten years there has been a dearth of such publications, hence the request for updating.

From pre-Roman times London has been engaged in the import of exotic foodstuffs and food additives. Anyone who has watched the film 'City of Ships' will be aware of the scale of this activity. Members who took part in GLIAS recording at the spice grinders in the Butler's Wharf area where stone edge runners were inspected and a former steam engine location was investigated will be very much aware of the huge range of food additives which were being produced there. Tate & Lyle are great experts in sweeteners. In East London the tailored fats industry is still very much in business and in Greenwich at Tunnel Refineries by the Blackwall Tunnel, wheat from East Anglia is turned into a wide range of specialised tailored products by Amylum UK for addition to our diet (GLIAS newsletter 172, p5). Additives are an important component of the London industrial archaeology scene. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 1998