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Notes and news — October 1999

In this issue:

London's most recent aeroplane factory

A team of technicians has been labouring at perfecting a robotic production line to mass-produce flying model aeroplanes at the rate of about 200 per day. The end product was to have been the type of thing described by Squadron Leader Alan Birt (GLIAS Newsletter April 1999), made of balsa wood, plastic and tissue paper (wing span about 12") and powered by a rubber band. The idea was that without human intervention the models would be launched at the end of manufacture on a maiden test flight and then offered for sale to the public at a modest price. The work was sponsored by American Airlines and the technicians had until 18 July to get it all going.

The production line was the concept of American artist Chris Burden who lives in Los Angeles. He is the son of an engineer and is fascinated by technology. What is being described is an art installation at the Tate Gallery, entitled "When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory". Burden was making the point that few people have much idea of how the world they live in functions or how the things they use are manufactured. This recent installation (in the Duveen Galleries) demonstrated mass production "in an ingenious and entertaining way" but throughout sadly remained a "work in progress".

The new art work which was Burden's first major venture in Britain referred to mass production and the American way of life and cheap flights to the United States. The idea was that people who bought the models and were seen with them in London would help advertise the event. It was envisaged that numerous crashed examples would be abandoned (is this litter?). The area around the Tate Gallery was expected to be particularly animated and children might have tried to make their first flights from the gallery steps. However none of this happened.

Some of us may have been wondering what the Tate will do with the large space available at the former Bankside power station in Southwark when this opens as a gallery. If art turns in the direction of Burden's work developments could be interesting for GLIAS members. Even the Kirkaldy Testing Museum might become an adjunct. Surely a large hydraulic testing machine has aesthetic potential. If readers still think of art as just about putting paint on canvas — well things have changed. The popular Sunday evening television series This Is Modern Art has been a useful introduction to the past 40 years.

Burden used to be known for performance art rather than installations. When younger he had himself shot at and nailed to a motor car in the name of art. In his maturity in December 1977 he flew one of the tissue and balsa wood model aeroplanes forwards down the central aisle of an Air France Concorde travelling from Paris to Washington. The model thus achieved a speed relative to the ground about 10mph faster than Concorde's 1,400mph. The model was subsequently placed in a clear Perspex box as a work of art and is now in the possession of a collector, CBTV, (shades of Andy Warhol).

There is an uncanny feeling that artists are looking over our shoulder. Archaeology as well as industrial archaeology seems to be an inspiration for some recent work. Rubber-band-powered model aeroplanes made of balsa wood and tissue have just recently been mentioned in this newsletter. Did Squadron Leader Birt know what was about to take place at the Tate Gallery?

A working demonstration of an obsolescent robotic production line is close to industrial archaeology but if it can't be made to work then maybe that's art. Perhaps the whole point was that it should be a failure. Bob Carr

Carter's Steam Fair

During August Carter's Royal Berkshire steam fair could be seen in action at Hornsey and Wembley and is an attraction with great GLIAS appeal.

Carter's Steam Fair yachts, 2018

There is a steam roundabout running on best Welsh coal and a pair of splendid steam yachts dating from 1921, the only examples still in working order. Everything is painted in superb period style and you can spend much time just looking at the paintings.

The supporting road vehicles are a delight to the transport antiquarian (many Scammells) and the whole show is a lively working museum with few anachronisms. Also the erection and dismantling of the fair is well worth watching. Bob Carr
Details. Tel: 01628 822221. Web:

Dockland development

A large housing development is taking place in the Brunswick Wharf area. In the 1930s the wharf itself served as a riverside promenade for East Londoners and was noted for its fresh breezes off the river. It is to be hoped that some public access to this stretch of the riverbank will be allowed again once the new residents have moved in. Presently the footpath that gave access to the riverside is closed. Public access provided by the nearby nature park just to the east of the East India Dock entrance is now interrupted as the area is closed for maintenance and improvements works, presumably with the millennium in mind. Getting to the river in this part of London is currently problematical.

On the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock to the east of the K sheds another substantial development is taking place, again presumably this will be mostly for housing. The Custom House (Dock Directors' Access Centre) by Sir Edwin Cooper 1920-24 has been demolished. This building gave its name to the present railway station just to the north. Docklands is rapidly becoming sterilised as far as reminders of pre-LDDC days are concerned. It is more than two decades since there was much port activity and now prospective residents probably prefer their new neighbourhood to resemble west London. The area around the K sheds and W warehouse was formerly earmarked for London's industrial museum. Bob Carr

Lewis and Stockwell

A great many people refuse to take any notice of information posted on the internet — saying you have no proof as to its accuracy. I have always felt that you must apply the same criteria of judgement as you would to any piece of published information — a lot of books and papers are rubbish too! I hope however that the Government of Tasmania can be relied on since I have found something very exciting on their tourism department's website.

I started researching the site of the Millennium Dome many years ago and although my book on it (Greenwich Marsh: the 300 Years Before the Dome) has now been published I still haven't stopped seeing what I can find out. We had always known that there had been a dry-dock on site and assumed it was used for ship repairs only. I discovered that it was built by a company called Lewis and Stockwell in 1871 and there were some press reports of ships built there for foreign interests — but no real no information. Lewis and Stockwell do not appear in Philip Banbury's book on 'Shipbuilders of the Thames and Medway' nor anywhere else that I can see. I had written up what I knew about them and the dry-dock — there is something in my book and a detailed article should appear in Bygone Kent within the next month or so.

Then, looking for something totally different on the internet, I came across a site describing the wreck Bulli. She lies in the Bass Strait where she was wrecked in 1877. The Tasmanian Tourism Authority clearly sees her as having potential for leisure diving pursuits. They say that she was built be 'Lewis and Stackwell (sic) at Greenwich, England in 1872'.

I would defy anyone to say that this information can be anything but correct since the firm is so obscure — I am not aware that anything has been published about them — that it could not be made up. The website says that Bulli was a steel-hulled collier, powered by a twin compound steam engine (no information given on that) rigged as a three-masted topsail schooner. She was registered in 1873 in Sydney, New South Wales, to the Bulli Coal Mining Co.

I think this is very exciting and I hope that some of the shipbuilding enthusiasts in GLIAS might come back with more information. I know of no other Greenwich-built ship (other than sailing barges) that still exist. Does anyone know of anything else? More than that I would be interested to know of any London-built colliers? Nothing comes to my mind immediately! I hope that in due course we might be able to contact the people who have researched Bulli in Australia and who know what that wreck might yield of information on Lewis and Stockwell and Thames built ships. Mary Mills

Visit to the Railtrack plan archive

Thanks to John King, who is the manager, some 35, almost all GLIAS members, were able to visit the Railtrack archives at Waterloo on 6 September. A key Railtrack responsibility is the management of the railway infrastructure — the track, bridges, tunnels, yards, signalling stations, level crossings and traction current supply. When the company was formed in 1994 it inherited the infrastructure records of British Rail.

Waterloo is one of five Railtrack Record Offices, the other locations are Swindon, Birmingham, York and Glasgow) and holds the records of Southern Zone (essentially the old Southern Railway or Southern Region of BR) and East Anglia.

Waterloo has had a plan archive since LSWR days before the First World War. The East Anglia records moved here in the last days of BR Network South East.

Most of the records at Waterloo, over 5 million and continually growing, are drawings — plans of various aspects of the rail infrastructure but there are also photographs. The main users of the records are departments of Railtrack and contractors or consultants who have been commissioned by Railtrack for particular projects. Other users include developers, historians, local authorities, railway enthusiasts and modellers.

Considering that pre-Railtrack the records were not managed in a positive way it is surprising how many old drawings, right back to the beginnings of the railways are still in a remarkably good condition. The present staff at Waterloo fully appreciate the importance of the records to the company and are working on a database to replace the old card index system.

John gave us an introductory talk, which was followed by a lively question and answer session. We then had a tour of the archives. Two rooms proved particularly popular, the microfilm room and the gallery where photographs are stored.

In the microfilm room the printing of a filmed drawing was demonstrated. In almost no time via two, or was it three computers a full size drawing was produced already folded. The photographs were popular as we searched for pictures of our favourite rail locations.

One of the recurrent themes of the tour was the lack of resources available to John and his team. There is still much work to be done in archiving and microfilming records — and there are no resources for conservation.

The archive has benefited from the voluntary work of the Great Eastern Railway Society which has done work worth thousands of pounds. Also the Railway and Canal Historical Society has helped in sorting out photographic records. Perhaps GLIAS members could help too?

Many thanks to John for a very interesting evening. Bill Firth

The Far Side — A Southerner's view of Wapping

Some 70 people met at Limehouse DLR Station on the hot and sunny first Saturday in September for Danny Hayton's walk in Wapping.

The walk actually started in front of the ventilation shaft and administration building for the Limehouse Link road. At this point it was possible to point out the three modes of transport which were important in the development of the docks. The Limehouse Link is the latest in road development in the area, to the east the Limehouse Basin, originally the Regent's Canal Dock, represented water transport while, across the top of the dock the viaduct of the Blackwall Railway, now used by the DLR, could be seen. (Air transport at the City Airport was too far away to be seen).

We passed into Butchers Row taking in the buildings of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, and Thames House of the 1920s, at one time the factory of Batger's Sweets but now small industrial units. Continuing along Cable Street, which was the site of rope walks, we came to Glasshouse Fields and the premises of T W Ide who continue the tradition of glassmaking in the area. From here we could see Free Trade wharf, originally the saltpetre warehouse of the East India Company. We crossed The Highway by some Peabody buildings and went down to the riverside, where there was much to point out.

The walk continued past the original entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the remnants of Shadwell Basin, with its 1930s bascule-type rolling Scherzer lifting bridge and the London Hydraulic Power Wapping pumping station to the Prospect of Whitby. The narrow building of The Prospect of Whitby recalls the original scale of development with small buildings and access to the river down narrow 'stairs'.

Along Wapping Wall there are many examples of warehouses converted into dwellings with some residual warehouse features either retained or imitated. Along Wapping High Street we came to Wapping Station, a modern, to me not very interesting building but it is listed Grade II, and more converted warehouses. Further along we came to the tower of St John at Wapping, all that remains of the bombed church, and beside it the old school with its Coade Stone figures of a boy and a girl.

We continued past the site of the entrance to Wapping Basin with some fine Georgian houses by David Asher Alexander who also designed Dartmoor Prison. From here we worked our way to St Katharine Dock to view some of the features there. Many people left at this point but the hardy, and thirsty, went on to Tower Bridge and across it to a quiet pub for a drink.

This is but a selection of the sites we saw in an interesting and entertaining afternoon for which we must thank Danny. Bill Firth

King's Cross, The Railwaylands

With no publicity 63 people met outside the Great Northern Hotel on 21 July for Charles Norrie's Wednesday evening walk covering the railwaylands to the north of King's Cross Station.

Passing in front of the original entrance to the station we went up Cheney Road to the German Gymnasium, past early industrial housing, Stanley Buildings, and into Battlebridge Road to view the famous gasholders and more housing, Culross Buildings. From here Goods Way leads to the entrance to what was the extensive goods depot of the Great Northern Railway, and later the London and North Eastern Railway.

The goods depot was the main objective of the walk. Here we were shown, inter alia, the ventilation shafts for the tunnels taking the lines from King's Cross under the canal, the Granary, for the storage and transshipment of grain, the fish and coal offices and the extensive coal drops. The walk ended by going up York Way to see York Road Underground station building and the now unrecognisably redeveloped northern area of the goods yard.

Charles must not only be thanked but must also be congratulated on not only giving us an interesting evening but accomplishing it in the space of two hours.

Members may be interested to know that one of our walks leaflets covers this area. Bill Firth

King's Cross gazetteer

London Bus Preservation Trust conservation award

The London Bus Preservation Trust has won the Surrey Industrial History Group's annual conservation award for its work on former London Transport vehicles at the Cobham Bus Museum.

There are some 35 buses based at Cobham, of which 17 are owned by the trust itself and the remainder by individual members.

The museum is open to the public on the first Sunday in each month from May to September and occasional bank holidays.
For further details contact John Bedford, Secretary, Cobham Bus Museum, Redhill Road, Cobham, Surrey KT11 1EF. Tel: 01932 868665 (weekends only). Website:

Henry Dixon's London

As well as the waste disposal chimney at Lett's Wharf written about by Malcolm Tucker in the last newsletter (GLIAS newsletter August 1999) the exhibition Henry Dixon's London: photographs of a changing city 1863-1893 contains several other images of industrial archaeology interest.

Dixon recorded the Holborn Valley Improvements of the 1860s, which included the erection of Holborn Viaduct, opened by Queen Victoria in 1869. A small selection of these important images which record the construction work and those who undertook it are included in the exhibition. These include an image of the mortar mill with the exposed internal arches of the viaduct behind; a photograph of paviours at work completing the road surface and a bird's-eye view over the whole of the viaduct works. The exhibition also includes images of threatened historic buildings such as the galleried coaching inns of Southwark and Holborn.

Related images can be viewed on the Guildhall Library's Collage visual database, available in the Print Room and also on the internet. The Guildhall Library Print Room collection contains much of potential interest for those interested in the industrial past. It contains the best collection in the world of prints, maps, watercolours and drawings of London as well as photographs and is a fruitful source for those seeking images of structures now gone. Lynne MacNab
Guildhall Library Print Room, Aldermanbury, EC2P 2EJ. Open 9.30am-5.00pm Monday to Friday. Admission is free. Tel: 020 7332 1839. Collage can be viewed on the web at:

DLR Lewisham extension

DLR Cutter Head at Cutty Sark station, 29.4.16. © Robert Mason

The Docklands Light Railway extension is now at system-testing phase and is due to be operational at the beginning of 2000.

The extension runs south from Crossharbour on the Isle of Dogs and continues under the Thames through Greenwich to Lewisham. The journey time from Lewisham to Canary Wharf will be only 17 minutes, and from Lewisham to the City in around 28 minutes.

Work included a 4.2km extension of the existing DLR network with twin 1,080m bored tunnels under the Thames, 600m in cut-and-cover tunnel, 1.7km at ground level and 800m on a viaduct over Deptford Creek and the A2 trunk road.

IA photographs

The Greenwich Observations website ( has links to online photo archives/records of IA sites, including:
Crossness Pumping Station, 10 July 1999 (
Buildings of the Royal Arsenal, 1998 (

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© GLIAS, 1999