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Notes and news — February 2000

In this issue:

Obituary — Kenneth Hudson OBE, MA, FSA

Sadly our vice-president died on 27 December 1999. He was one of that group of pioneers of industrial archaeology who in the 1960s helped bring the subject before a wider subject. I first met him at that time during a series of meetings in Bristol which included a young Neil Cossons, then in the Bristol Museum, and Angus Buchanan at Bristol College of Science and Technology where we met. Kenneth was a BBC producer and industrial correspondent for the West Region from 1954 to 1966. He was a wordsmith who wrote and lectured with style and conviction.

In 1963 he wrote one of the first books on the subject, Industrial Archaeology: An Introduction, and in 1965 his Industrial Archaeology of Southern England. He was the first editor of the Journal of Industrial Archaeology in which, with others, he produced an annual review of the rapidly growing literature.

He was, importantly for GLIAS, chairman of the judges of BBC television's Chronicle industrial archaeological competition which GLIAS won in 1971.

In 1972 he published his book on Building Materials in the Longmans IA series, and in 1979 he co-wrote, with Julian Pettifer, Diamonds in the Sky, the result of historical research on the social history of air travel for the BBC television series of the same name.

Kenneth gave two memorable AGM lectures to GLIAS. The first was in 1977 on 'The Archaeology of the Second Industrial Revolution', dealing with the retail industry which touched on such topics as Smith's crisps and Burton tailoring. His second, given in 1996, was entitled 'Industrial Archaeology and the Historical Imagination' in which he said: 'History for me is place, as for others it is libraries, archives and pictures. Industrial archaeology is important mainly because, for the first time, it brought the places used by yesterday's working people out of the shadows and into full historical daylight.' Kenneth kindly allowed us to print this lecture in our journal, London's Industrial Archaeology (No6).

The latter part of his career was largely devoted to work on museums, producing gazetteers such as the classic Cambridge Guide to Museums of Britain and Ireland (1987) on which he collaborated with Ann Nicholls. They expressed a view on industrial museums saying: 'A steam engine in a technical museum does not compare with the same engine at the coal mine or pumping station for which it was designed and where it operated.'

He was a consultant to UNESCO and was actively involved with the European Museum of the Year projects for which he travelled extensively in Europe and was the guest of prime ministers and royalty.

Kenneth made a distinguished contribution to establishing the importance of industrial archaeology in this country and abroad and we will miss his insight and wry humour. Denis Smith

Stepney Gas Works (Commercial Gas Company 1839-1946)

The process that turned the docks into Docklands is sweeping around the canal network in Tower Hamlets. In October 1998 Bellway Urban Renewal applied for planning permission to build housing on the 8½-acre Stepney Gas Works site on the Regent's Canal. The application was not determined by the council and, following an appeal by Bellway, a public inquiry was held in November 1999.

The Save Stepney Campaign, representing 15 member organisations (including GLIAS, the Victorian Society and Save Britain's Heritage), was granted Rule 6 status at the inquiry. The case for better remediation of the site was made by Mark Hadley (Environmental Auditors Ltd) and John Gillespie (SSC) and, for better retention of industrial archaeological structures, by Malcolm Tucker, Brian Morton (The Morton Partnership Ltd) and Tom Ridge (SSC).

The inspector's report on the inquiry may be sent to the secretary of state in February or March and John Prescott will either allow or dismiss Bellway's appeal. Should he allow the appeal and grant planning permission, British Gas will immediately start de-watering and demolishing the gas holders.

The following notes are for those wishing to visit the site, on the corner of Ben Jonson Road and opposite the Ragged School Museum:

The coal store, meter and governor house, head office and showroom were all designed by a local architect and built in 1853-54 by John Perry, a Bethnal Green builder. His company built the brick exterior of Bethnal Green Museum (1871-72), now the Museum of Childhood, and the stone exterior of Tower Bridge (1886-1894).

The coal store, meter and governor house, head office and showroom were all built at the same time as the original Nos 2 and 3 gas holders. Walls B, E and F are therefore 'related contemporary monuments' associated with and mutually enhancing the value of the nationally important Stepney Blitz Memorial. The value of this group is further enhanced by the proximity of walls A and G and the unique remains of the cast-iron coal tramway. It is the only fully representative group of surviving 19th-century gas industry structures in London and is therefore the only place in London where schoolchildren and others can see evidence of the several stages in the production, storage and distribution of town gas at what was the most important gas works in the East End.

While English Heritage informed the inspector that the Nos2 and 3 gas holders at Stepney are of national importance, it failed to acknowledge the regional importance and value of walls A, B, E, F and G and the remains of the cast-iron coal tramway. Furthermore, it recommended that one of the guide frames is removed from its below-ground brick tank for retention within the development and subsequent scheduling as an ancient monument. However, the SSC believes that, even if this were a practical possibility, relocation would be far too expensive for Bellway. It is also contrary to Planning Policy Guidance: Archaeology and Planning 16 which makes a presumption for in situ preservation of nationally important archaeological remains.

All the evidence presented at the inquiry is now being considered by the inspector. In view of the government's brownfield housing policy, the campaign thinks it highly unlikely that he will ask the secretary of state to accept English Heritage's advice. The campaign hopes that he will recommend the Stepney Blitz Memorial rather than Bellway's 'public art' proposal, and also the retention of walls E, F and G and the proper preservation of the remains of the cast-iron coal tramway.

English Heritage gave its evidence to the inspector as a result of the campaign's request (following a failed attempt to list the No2 gas holder guide frame) to consider the Stepney Blitz Memorial for scheduling as an ancient monument. In a final effort to save the representative portion of the No3 gas holder guide frame and the equally important related remains, the campaign has recently applied to English Heritage for the Stepney Blitz Memorial and the six associated structures to be recommended for scheduling as a group. Tom Ridge
There is a small exhibition about the gas works and the campaign's proposals at the Ocean Estate Community Hall (behind the flats on the corner of Harford Street and Ernest Street), open 10am-12pm (Mondays and Tuesdays) and 2pm-4pm (Wednesdays). Tel: 020 7790 1294

Whipps Cross Hospital

People wishing to complain or make representations about the Whipps Cross Hospital proposals (GLIAS newsletter December 1999) should contact the Forest Healthcare Trust (who are making the application) or Mr Bob Bennett, Director of Planning and Economic Development, London Borough of Waltham Forest, Municipal Offices, 16 The Ridgeway, Chingford, London E4. The person in the Planning Control Department dealing with this matter is Mr Kevin Herring. Tel: 020 8527 5544.

The Forest Healthcare Trust want to demolish all the old buildings at Whipps Cross Hospital and sell the land off for redevelopment as a 456-dwelling housing estate under a Private Finance Initiative. The money raised would be used to build a new Kidney Dialysis Unit.

Whipps Cross Hospital was built on 44 acres of grounds at Whipps Cross as an infirmary for the Leytonstone Workhouse. Construction started in 1900 and was completed in 1903.

When it opened the infirmary provided 672 beds in 24 wards in four awe-inspiring symmetrical blocks with tiered covered walkways and two massive towers. The buildings cost £186,000 to construct, which was criticised as extravagant.

By the end of the Great War in 1918 the infirmary had started to become a general hospital and the name was changed to Whipps Cross Hospital.

The hospital contains some of the most interesting buildings in Leytonstone. Without these, Leytonstone and Upper Walthamstow will become much poorer in terms of built environment. The Waltham Forest Civic Society is co-ordinating a local campaign to save the buildings. Katy Andrews
For more information, to offer help, or to make a donation, please contact Adrian Stannard, Chairman, WFCS, 19 Avon Road, Upper Walthamstow, London E17 3RB. Or David Boote, Hon Secretary, WFCS, 85 Forest Drive West, Leytonstone, London E11 1JZ

European Federation of Industrial Heritage Associations

On 14 November, representatives of industrial and technical heritage associations of France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany gathered in Flanders (Poperinge and Harelbeke) and unanimously adopted the statutes, aims and objectives of the 'European Federation of Associations of Industrial and Technical Heritage' (E-FAITH). A number of organisations from other countries were not able to come to the meeting, but they sent messages of support and they certainly will join E-FAITH in the future.

The new federation will promote co-operation and networking between non-profit associations involved in the study of and research in, the recording, conservation, development and management, and interpretation of Industrial and Technical Heritage. The scope of the federation's activities will embrace the European countries.

The following board was elected: chairman: Joan Munt (Catalan Association for Industrial Archaeology, Spain); members: Jürgen Berger (Germany), Adriaan Linters (Belgium), Paul Saulter (United Kingdom), Jurrie Van Dalen (Netherlands) and Evangelia A Varrella (Greece).

The meeting also discussed future gatherings (eg in Greece and the UK in 2000) and activities.

The meeting also agreed upon a proposal to launch a campaign for an European Industrial and Technical Heritage Year. The text of a memorandum was adopted; it is now available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Catalan, Esperanto and ... Latin (E-FAITH is looking for volunteers who are willing to translate the text in other languages).

Relic of Crystal Palace moved to Bucks

When the Crystal Palace was being built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 it is thought that some spare or sub-standard iron castings were incorporated in the building of the LNWR station in Rewley Road, Oxford. Until recently used as a rubber-tyre fitting depot, the former station building was listed grade II*. Despite objections, Oxford University and the City and County Council wanted to demolish the building for road widening and a new business school. The remains of Rewley Road railway station have since been dismantled and moved to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Quainton Road, where they will be re-erected to serve as a visitor centre. Bob Carr

IA is never far away

Visiting art galleries isn't a way of escaping from industrial archaeology. If it's not the manufacture of paint, or welding then less traditional video art may have an industrial or engineering connotation. The current Turner Prize exhibition at the Tate includes a multi-screen video installation by Jane and Louise Wilson where apart from yards of foot tunnels you experience a virtual visit to an American hydro-electric power station. Bob Carr

Around King's Cross

Despite expectations of imminent demolition, the St Pancras gasholders are still pretty much as they were in September. Until building the Channel Tunnel Rail Link actually starts nothing can be done to them as they are listed. It had been intended to purge the gas from the holder bells ready for dismantling to start but a successful local objection put an end to this.

Flat-iron building, 30.5.08. © Robert Mason

To the south east of King's Cross main-line railway station on top of a narrow building, sometimes referred to as the flatiron building (probably with North American examples in mind), stands an architectural folly some people think of as a windmill or lighthouse. It has looked much as it does today since 1884 but its date of building and original purpose are unknown. A recent excellent article by David Hayes in Camden History Review (Vol 23) attempts to unravel the mystery but comes to no definite conclusions. Apparently GLIAS visited the 'lighthouse' in 1984 but there is no reference to this in the index to the GLIAS newsletter. Does anyone remember taking part? The official view used to be that the 'lighthouse' was an advertising feature intended to promote Netten's oyster bar which was immediately beneath on the ground floor. This is now shown to be unlikely. Bob Carr

King's Cross gazetteer

The colour of marzipan

If you have eaten Christmas Cake recently you have probably eaten Lutein which is often used to colour marzipan yellow. Xanthophylls Lutein (colour index number 75135) is natural, derived from carotene present in green leaves and is not known to have any adverse effects. Bob Carr

The Billy Bean Machine

Does any reader remember the children's television series Billy Bean which used to be broadcast about 4.30pm on some weekdays, circa 1954. It was roughly contemporaneous with Bill and Ben, Flower Pot Men, and probably Andy Pandy, but was after Muffin the Mule. It was a straight, very American import and there was some objection from adults that its language was unsuitable for English children. In particular a number of elaborate words were introduced to viewers; eg mixerator rather than mixer, and cutterator rather than shears, scissors or just cutter. We have had similar remarks recently regarding the media use of vocalise rather than sing.

The characters were glove puppets and Billy Bean had the appearance of a US railroad engineer. Billy Bean's machine, something of an oracle, also had a manufacturing capability and what was interesting from our late 1990s point of view is the way in which communication between the glove-puppet characters and the (intelligent) machine took place. This was by means of the 'cartoonerator' which had a screen very much like a present-day personal computer. You could draw on the screen to tell the machine what you wanted and it communicated back by means of pictures. These were drawn in a manner strongly reminiscent of a present-day GUI (graphic user interface). In the 1950s this was done by concealing an artist behind the cartoonerator screen.

If you wanted the machine to make something you would draw it on the screen. The machine then drew pictures to indicate what raw materials were required. When these were placed in the mixerator, levers pulled and buttons pressed the machine got to work with suitable mechanical sound effects. Needless to say there were 'bugs' and the possibility of misunderstanding the graphical communication gave rise to considerable amusement. Some of the things the machine made were surprising.

An introductory song gave new viewers an idea of what the programme was about. It went something like this:

'Billy Bean built a machine to see what it would do;
he built it out of sticks and stones, nut and bolts and glue.
The motor sang chug-a-lug clang, rattle kerrator-kerrator,
and all of a sudden a picture appeared on the funny old cartoonerator.'

This is from memory and the spelling is unlikely to be correct!

Had futurologists of the 1940s predicted what human/machine communication was going to be like 50 years later? Did American children brought up on Billy Bean have a subconscious image of the cartoonerator that influenced their thinking when some of them came to be employed in the computer industry in the 1970s? They would have been aged about 25-30 then. Has anyone in the United States written a PhD on Billy Bean?

Readers of the newsletter may have their own impressions of Billy Bean and it would be interesting to hear from them. The programme was not broadcast for very long and this 'undesirable' import, 'silly and American', was probably seen off by Sooty, Sweep and Rolf Harris. Bob Carr

Follow-up: I too used to watch this programme but only during the holidays as I wasn't normally home in time from school. My favourite character was Yoohoo, the stupid cuckoo bird who laid an egg at intervals, never more than one per programme, which rolled down a series of zig-zag channels on the machine and which I thought quite fascinating. I'm glad somebody else remembers it — I can still sing the tune (and do)! D'arcy Ryan

Battersea Power Station

I thought the following tirade against Battersea Power Station might interest readers. It comes from a 1929 edition of the South Metropolitan Gas Company's house journal 'Co-partnership Journal'.

'It is not surprising that strong protests have been made in influential quarters against the proposal to erect at Battersea one of a chain of superpower stations to be set up all over the country. In these utilitarian days it is probably no use being squeamish about the addition of six chimneys, 155 feet high, to the less popular sights of our city; but the addition of two or three hundred tons of sulphur fumes to its atmosphere every week is in a category that the most hardened materialist cannot but regard as disturbing — and, apart from the cost in health, it would accelerate the decay and besmirching of public buildings and parks in the city and West End by the agency of the prevailing south-west wind thus entailing heavy expense to the ratepayers for extra cleaning and repair work.

'It appears, moreover, that at present no satisfactory method of dispersing these fumes from furnace gases exists, and that residents in the vicinity of power stations still complain bitterly of the quantity of smoke, dust and grit emitted. It is worth while recalling here that no charge of air-pollution can be brought against the gas industry and the general use of gas in home and factory, on the other hand, would almost entirely put an end to the smoke evil.

'We can only hope it will be realised that the well being of the public and the maintenance of the amenities they at present enjoy are objects even more worth striving for than the superficially more practical ones the promoters of this scheme have in view.' Mary Mills
For details on the issues currently facing the power station visit the Battersea Power Station Community Group website:

Future use of the Millennium Dome

The government has shortlisted six of the 50-plus bids for the future use of the Millennium Dome after the current attraction closes at the end of the year (GLIAS newsletter June 1999). They are:

Meanwhile, the delay-hit Millennium Wheel (GLIAS newsletter August 2000) is now not expected to open to the public until at least 1 March.

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© GLIAS, 2000