Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Journals | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

Notes and news — June 2000

In this issue:

Electronic Maritime Journal

The National Maritime Museum has launched the world's first electronic journal for maritime research. The Journal for Maritime Research (JMR) provides new, fast and comprehensive coverage on subjects ranging from contemporary issues to the political, economic, cultural and social aspects of maritime history. It is available online via subscription to the museum.

The Great Wheel of Earl's Court

'The Great Wheel of Earl's Court' is described in volume XLII of the Survey of London Volume (South Kensington: Kensington Square to Earl's Court), published by the Athlone Press in 1986. This should be in a borough reference library and is, probably, still in print at something like £70.

The wheel was erected under the direction of one Walter B Basset, with the help of Maudslay, Sons & Field (of which Basset was a director) and others. Basset also built the Prater wheel in Vienna, rebuilt after destruction in the Second World War in time to feature in the memorable film 'The Third Man', based on Graham Greene's novel.

The wheel was built as part of the Earl's Court Exhibition in 1894-95 and was located just to the east of West Kensington station. It was of 300 feet diameter. The wheel itself weighed 500 tons, the eight inclined columns supporting the axle adding another 600 tons. The wheel's rotation was powered by two 50hp steam engines, taking 20 minutes for each revolution. The 40 cars each accommodated 40 passengers. (The Millennium Wheel's capsules, by comparison, rise some 440 feet.)

Maudslays made the axle and bearings. The steelwork was provided by the Arrol Bridge and Roof Company, the carriages by Brown, Marshall & Co.

The wheel carried two-and-a-half million passengers in just over a decade, before 'ceasing to be profitable'. Basset himself oversaw its demolition in 1906-07. Michael Bussell and Paul Calvocoressi

Massey Shaw

In spite of a drizzly, cold morning we had an excellent visit to the Massey Shaw fire-boat, which is owned by the London Fire Brigade and is on lease to the Massey Shaw Marine Vessels Preservation Society Ltd.

Members of the preservation society welcomed us aboard, fortified us with hot drinks and biscuits and told us the fascinating history of this boat and her valiant crews. Space on board was at a premium (as on most vessels) and as we sat huddled together listening to the story of this craft's part in the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, we could only wonder at the cramped conditions those poor wet souls endured as they were brought back to the relative safety of England.

I am one who enjoys anecdotal stories alongside hard facts (this must read like sacrilege, coming from a member of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum) but such stories brought the vessel's past to life for me.

There are sites and projects that I have visted and upon leaving have thought: 'That is worthwhile — more power to their elbow', and I have made a financial donation.

When I stepped ashore from the Massey Shaw, I felt she was a very special project and deserved as much assistance as possible. My involvement with so many other organisations leaves me no time for further commitment. I can, however, promote this good cause at every opportunity and recommend GLIAS members visit the Massey Shaw when visits are available. Peter Skilton

Tate Modern, Bankside

The former Bankside power station, now reopened as the Tate Modern art gallery to enormous media coverage, might have been London's industrial museum, something we now may never have — in the last few years such museums have been proving unprofitable.

The power station exterior by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is being retained solely for its architectural merit, not for any industrial archaeological reasons. Surprisingly some magazine and newspaper pundits have all but expressed a wistful regret that none of the power station's great machinery was retained, sentiments one might have expected only from GLIAS members.

Bankside Power Station © Robert Mason 2013

However, the Tate Modern conversion might almost be taken as a metaphor for what has been happening in industrial archaeology and to some extent industrial history generally. At Bankside the heart of the matter, the machinery, has been left out and unfortunately a similar remark can also be applied to far too much industrial archaeological recording work and to far too many conversions of industrial buildings for use as industrial museums. There has been a great emphasis on the exterior architecture and too little attention paid to the mechanical processes for which industrial buildings were put up in the first place. Especially for 19th-century industrial buildings the architecture often deliberately obscures the real purpose of the factory or works in question and moreover often harkens back to a previous non-industrial epoch. Such buildings, unlike London's low-pressure gasholders, are not peculiarly redolent of the machine age.

The past 250 years have been the age of the machine, something which was of great concern to writers in the 1930s and yet, apart perhaps from steam engines, a very small number of machines in working order survive. This is especially true of machines used in the manufacturing industries, larger and more complicated examples being almost non existent. Many machines which do still exist have so many parts missing it is all but impossible to deduce how they ever worked and the retention of engineering machine drawings has if anything been even more remiss. A recent tendency to retain machines solely for their sculptural quality is more deplorable still. What will people in the future think of the past century? What will they know of the first, mechanical, stage of machine evolution?

The function of many industrial buildings was often little more than to keep the rain off what went on inside and although the retention of industrial buildings for their architectural merit may from a general viewpoint have cultural value from an industrial archaeological perspective such retention misses the point. Very few industrial buildings, and this is especially true for more recent construction, reflect the processes which went on inside them. Would there have been much point in keeping David Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works without its great hydraulic testing machine? Bob Carr

Battersea Waterworks

Work on the conversion of Battersea Power Station (GLIAS newsletter April 2000) will probably lead to the demise of a building which is much more important to the industrial archaeologist — the engine houses of the former Battersea Waterworks. The power station was built on the site of the waterworks' filter beds and reservoirs but the Metropolitan Water Board (MWB) retained the waterworks' buildings as workshops. The engine house range on Cringle Street survives as a listed building but listed building consent for its demolition was given on the understanding that full recording would be carried out beforehand.

The story of water supply to Southwark is rather complicated. During the early years of the 19th-century small works extracted water from the Thames at London Bridge and Bankside. These works were combined and concentrated at premises in Park Street, Bankside from 1822 after they had been acquired by John Edwards Vaughan. In 1829 Vaughan installed a Boulton and Watt double-acting crank engine which was later transferred to Battersea. After Vaughan's death in 1833 his executors continued to supply water, purchased from the Lambeth Company rather than drawn from the river at Bankside, until the undertaking passed into the hands of the Southwark Water Company in 1839. The new company established works at Battersea, building a double engine house for the Boulton and Watt engine and a new 68" Cornish engine built by Harvey's of Hayle. The engine house range, therefore, dates from 1839-40. This appears to have been the first Cornish engine designed specifically for a London waterworks (an earlier one erected at Old Ford by the East London Waterworks Company came secondhand from a metal mine). The company minute books show how Anderson, the company's engineer, and West, Harvey's man, solved problems with the new engine over Christmas 1840 by erecting a standpipe, the forerunner of the standpipe tower at Kew Bridge Steam Museum.

In 1846 the Southwark company took over the Vauxhall Waterworks to become the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company. A 64" Cornish engine built by the Perran Foundry had been installed at the Vauxhall company's Cumberland Gardens site in 1842, and this was moved to a new engine house adjoining the 1840 house at Battersea. At the same time a large engine house was added for a new engine which was installed 12 years later. This was the giant 112" engine from Harvey's, the biggest single-cylinder Cornish engine ever built. The engine house at the western end, which had housed the old Boulton and Watt engine brought from Bankside, was rebuilt to house two 55" Cornish engines built by Harvey's.

So this range of buildings was built in stages from 1839 to 1855 and still exhibits features relating to the engines housed there. These include the barring quadrant from the Boulton and Watt engine, the parallel motion anchorages from the 1840 Harvey engine, and the bob-wall of the Perran Foundry engine. The 112" engine house has cast-iron roof-trusses marked 'Charles Robinson Late Bramah Engineer London'.

This range of engine houses are an important survival and their demolition would be a great loss to industrial archaeology. Unfortunately the general public seem more concerned with the more visually dramatic power station and economics seem to dictate that the engine houses must go in the interests of uninformed public opinion. Tim Smith

Follow-up: The inscription 'Charles Robinson Late Bramah Engineer London' on the cast-iron roof trusses on the 112" engine house refers to the successor firm to the foundry and general engineering business of the great inventor Joseph Bramah (Bramah locks, hydraulic machinery, etc) who came from Barnsley and made his name in London. Ian McNeil's biography of him (Joseph Bramah: A Century of Invention; David & Charles 1968) refers to the successor firm (pp186-7) but does not mention this example of their work and says that little is known about Charles Robinson. Derek Bayliss

The Excel Centre

Excel Centre and Royal Victoria Dock © Robert Mason 2022

On the north quay of the Royal Victoria Dock, which was at one time earmarked for London's industrial museum, the building for the Excel Centre is well on its way to completion. A long multi-storey structure with external steel framing, the new building is intended for a number of purposes and there is to be domestic accommodation on the site. The centre is due to open in autumn 2000 and is said to be fully booked as far ahead as 2003.

A new pedestrian bridge resembling a transporter bridge has been completed across Victoria Dock, towards its western end, and what looks like a boiler house, perhaps for heating or power, has been built into the west end of the K sheds. This conversion has been done in a matching sympathetic style which is commendable and there is a large chimney. Just to the east of the K sheds the Custom House which gave its name to the local railway station was demolished last year (GLIAS newsletter October 1999). Will the name of the station be changed when the Excel Centre opens? Bob Carr

Visit to the TV studios at Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace was a reconstruction of the 1862 exhibition building and was opened in 1873. Sixteen days later it was burnt to the ground but it was rebuilt. It was not a great success and was used as a barracks and later for German prisoners of war in the First World War. In the mid 1930s part of the south east side was acquired by the BBC for TV studios and the first broadcast was made on 26 August 1936. The Alexandra Palace Television Trust has been formed with the main object of preserving the studios as far as possible and to develop the site as a museum dedicated to the promotion of the technical development of TV. Jacob O'Callaghan, secretary of the trust, arranged this visit for GLIAS.

We met in the Palm Court on the south-west side of the palace and walked along the south-east front admiring the view and looking at the TV mast, which has been the subject of a dispute, now hopefully resolved, between the trust and the developers.

The BBC built a 1930s facade as the entrance to the studios and offices and inside there is a contemporary lift with hand-operated metal doors. The studios are on the second floor but there was much more to it than that. Electricity generators had to be installed in the strengthened basement, a canteen was required (actually the BBC called it a restaurant) and a kitchen, dressing rooms, make-up facilities and all the other things a TV studio needed were built into the existing structure.

In the main studio we were met by Robert Hawes who described the studio to us. Robert was particularly fascinating as his father had built an early TV receiver and he could recall his boyhood memories of early TV. There were also a number of vintage TV receivers on display and many pictures and excerpts from the Radio Times. The early Radio Times had a TV Supplement, now the radio programmes listings are effectively a supplement to the TV programmes.

In addition we were shown a TV film of the construction of the studios and the mast. It was quite startling to see the men erecting the mast climbing around with no safety ropes and no hard hats. This was in the days before there was much in the way of safety requirements. Bill Firth
If anyone is interested in helping the trust in their development work they should contact Jacob O'Callaghan at 74 Hillfield Avenue, N4 7DN. Tel: 020 8348 7563

March Lecture: The Conservation of Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Abbey Mills pumping station is no longer operating and Thames Water commissioned Dearle and Henderson Design to survey the building to determine the work required to preserve the listed building. Andrew Norris, a director of the firm gave us a fascinating account of the work and the condition of the building.

In addition to decay over 130 years of life, the building was also badly damaged by bomb blast in the Second World War when 'temporary' remedial work was done. It is some tribute to the 'temporary' work that it has lasted as well as it has.

We were shown a large number of slides which showed the massive blocks of stone which the Victorian engineers solidly built into the structure but at the same time the defective rain water drainage pipes which were built in and which have led to big problems of water seepage. There were places where it seemed parts of the structure were only held up by a coat of paint. The slides included before and after pictures of how the reconstruction work had been assessed and then carried out.

Perhaps the most interesting part was the work on the cupola and the gilded spire above it. This posed further difficult scaffolding problems because, not only were there ground loading problems, but loading problems on the building itself. There was also the story of the intrepid young lady gilder who came from Wales expecting a job on the ground but was faced with climbing up the 170-foot spire.

This was an excellent finale to the 1999-2000 lecture series at the conclusion of which we must thank David Perrett once again for his sterling efforts in arranging our winter lecture series. Bill Firth

Coal-fired aeroplanes

A nine-year government-funded research programme in the United States suggests that the fuel of the future for jet aeroplanes will not be petroleum-based but be manufactured from coal. When gas turbine engines run faster and hotter petroleum-based fuels become unstable and this has impeded the development of super-high-speed jet aircraft. It has been demonstrated that coal-based fuels can operate safely at extremely high temperatures. Coal-based fuels may also be preferred on environmental grounds as it is claimed engine emissions are less noxious.

The United States possesses 24 per cent of the world's coal reserves and at present about half of its aviation fuel is produced from imported crude oil, making the US economy vulnerable to fluctuations in price and supply. With Britain's large coal reserves the use of coal as an aviation fuel should also be to our advantage. Aircraft with speeds of up to nine times the speed of sound are predicted and a working coal-based fuel test engine might be produced as soon as 2003.

Further in the future it is hoped that motor cars might be powered by non-fossil fuels. Hydrogen which could be obtained from green algae is a suggestion. Bob Carr

Canal news

At the time of writing Paddington Basin is dewatered for extensive refurbishment work. This appears to be quite sympathetic. A good view of the proceedings can be had from the footbridge which runs north over the basin from St Mary's Hospital. The bridge, which links South Wharf Road to North Wharf Road, is approached from the St Mary's end along an inconspicuous curving pedestrian ramp from South Wharf Road. The hotel in front of Paddington Station has been gutted for rebuilding. Presumably the façade by Philip Hardwick (not the most famous one) will be retained.

London has a new dry dock in the shape of a covered dry dock for narrow boats recently completed at St Pancras basin. The gasholders close by look much the same as before but on the King's Cross goods yard site the Fish and Coal office has a new roof. Security arrangements on the goods yard site are stricter than they used to be. Bob Carr


Dr Marilyn Palmer has become the UK's first professor of industrial archaeology at Leicester University.
Dr Lindsay Sharp has been appointed as the next director of the Science Museum. He will succeed Sir Neil Cossons, who retires on 30 June. British-born Sharp, 52, has been president of the Royal Ontario Museum for the past three years. Between 1978 and 1988 he was the founding director of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. The museum's primary mission is to explore Australia's technical, social and intellectual development.

City Safari, Lille Metropole

This City Safari followed the now well-established format, administered by Paul Saulter of Heritage of Industry and guided by Sue Hayton, ably assisted by Danny.

The modern Lille Métropole includes two other ancient and famous textile towns, Roubaix and Tourcoing, and other outlying villages. A modern claim to fame is the Métro, VAL, or Véhicule Automatique Léger, a fully computerised, driverless system which can be overridden by a central operative who has access to live pictures along the whole length of the track.

Some of the party travelled to Lille by Eurostar on the Friday morning and joined the others in the 23 strong party at our hotel, the Mercure Lille Centre Le Royal.

Friday afternoon was devoted to Lille itself. It would be tedious and take too much space to describe everything we saw on our perambulation around the city. The sights/sites, both words are applicable, can be considered, like Gaul, in three parts — around the Grand' Place, around the Place de la République, and along the old canal, now filled in.

Before we got to the Grand' Place we passed the FNAC Bookshop, the former print works of the newspaper, 'La Voix du Nord' the Garage du Centre, an early example of city centre parking, and a number of old shops and restaurants, the decor of which reflects their age.

The Grand' Place, is now the Place Général de Gaulle, Lille's famous son, whose grandfather was a Lille lace maker. Here are the early 1930s offices of 'La Voix du Nord', more fine shops and the Old Bourse, built 1652-53 in an elaborate style designed to rival similar buildings in other cities, but it has been renovated a number of times. Of particular interest are the large plaques round the walls of the inner courtyard commemorating many scientists and industrialists who were important locally. The Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie of 1921 is another fine building.

In the area of the Place de la République we passed the rather pedestrian Post Office, the surprising Théâtre Sébastopol, the impressive Coilliot mosaic works and the art nouveau house designed by Hector Guimard of Paris Métro fame for M Coilliot himself. There was also a statue to Louis Pasteur, who was Professor and Dean of the Faculté des Sciences 1854-7, with scenes relevant to pasteurisation.

Past a series of interesting old shops we came to the Avenue du Peuple Belge which was once part of the Canal de Lille de la Haute Deule which linked Lille to the waterways of Northern France and thus to Calais, Dunkerque and Douai. There are a number of old warehouse buildings extant of which the most impressive is the old sugar market (the north of France is a big sugar beet area) which is now in municipal use, including a Police Station and a Post Office. Further on is the old hospital of 1739 with a 140m long classical façade. It has been enlarged three times but most of it is now derelict.

Beyond this we came to a small section of canal still in water and a pumping station of 1875. There are a number of brick walls, some with arched openings, around the basin which led us to considerable speculation about their origin but one of the French speakers in the party established from a local that they were part of the fortifications to keep an invader out of the canal basin. We found that we could walk right round the basin to a bus stop for a return to the City Centre.

Saturday was devoted to Roubaix and Tourcoing. Trams still run to both places from Lille along a Grand Boulevard comprising a 60m wide roadway which included the tram tracks, a macadamised car route, a pavé goods route and walkways. Along the route the different styles of ribbon development could be followed — large villas of the late 19th century, rural styles of the 1920s and apartment blocks of the 1960s. After the Roubaix and Tourcoing routes diverge there is a linear park, about 1.5km long on what was intended to be an underground section of a new canal system.

In Roubaix we started by looking at various styles of industrial housing including inner court housing with a narrow entrance off the street to a narrow inner court. This made the most of the available space. The courts have been modernised but the lack of open space, ventilation and light remain.

The buildings of the dyeworks of Motte et Marquette are now used by a flea market but this meant we could get inside the building. Some large mills followed. The Usine Lemairre et Dillies has been much altered for use by students but part of the original construction with cast iron columns has been left open to view. The Usine Motte Bossut is a huge castellated 'monster' mill built in the English style on the opposite bank of the Canal de Roubaix after a fire had destroyed an earlier mill on the opposite bank. The canal is now part of a boulevard. Part of this mill now houses Le Centre des Archives du Monde de Travail, another part houses Le Centre International de la Communication. We went on to the Grand' Place and the imposing Hôtel de Ville which bears impressive tableaux of sheep shearing, and both wool and cotton processing.

After lunch we passed some impressive commercial buildings and a mill redevelopment project on our way to the railway station with a large glass facade with a large clock, flanked by two pavilions. The clock was necessary because Roubaix followed Brussels time while the railway used Paris time. The métro took us to Tourcoing.

The weather had deteriorated with a cold wind and, from time to time, driving rain but we pressed on regardless. Sites in Tourcoing included the Hôtel de Ville, the first fire station, the Chamber of Commerce, the local museum and the railway station which has similarities to that in Roubaix. However, the most interesting sites were perhaps Les Arcades, a fine example of 1930s housing, the 1935 Post Office and the Pont Hydraulique.

Les Arcades is a huge development, seven stories high with corner towers built in concrete and brick with glazed tile panels. It has been cleaned recently. The arcaded ground floor is given to shops and the doorways to the flats with their original doors and lights. The rear is much plainer and includes car parking space.

The Hôtel de la Poste was built in 1935 on a corner site in decorative red brick with long windows through three stories. The various services are proclaimed in concrete 1930s style lettering.

Part of the Canal de Tourcoing remains. The hydraulic bridge on the Quai de Marseilles built in 1903 has recently been restored. We had a short stop here between alighting from one tram and joining the next one back to Lille.

Sunday took us to some of the outer communities which are now part of Lille Métropole. We started at the market at Wazemmes. Here there is an enormous street market but this was not our aim. We came to see the cast iron market hall of 1870. Thence we went to look at more late 19th-century housing but in, particular, the earlier Cité Napoléon. Napoléon III decided that towns should provide housing for less well off citizens. The Wazemmes scheme of six blocks linked in pairs by porches, was built in 1861. The buildings were renovated in 1974.

We returned to Wazemmes métro station but found the station where we wished to change was closed. Plan B went into operation and we walked to a nearby station on another line. However, this was closed! So! Plan C, rearrange the morning to go to Hellemmes first and Moulins later — walk back to Wazemmes station! Plan C worked!

The main feature of Hellemmes is the railway works established by the Nord company in 1880 and now run by SNCF. Opposite the main entrance is a preserved locomotive but not much can be seen from the road. However, there is a long footbridge spanning the works from which a good view of their extent can be gained. On the way back to the métro we paused at the brewery, 'La Semeuse' with a huge brick tower still bearing the name of the brewery, which now operates elsewhere.

Lastly, successfully completing Plan C, we went to Moulins which takes its name from windmills (277 in 1880) which no longer exist. However, there are a number of rather splendid textile mills in various stages of redevelopment. The most impressive are La Filature le Blan and the Wallaert Mill. The le Blan mill of 1900 was converted into flats in 1980 and much of the building must look as it did when built but the addition of a roof garden has changed some of the roof line. The enormous Wallaert Mill of 1898 with extensions in 1906 has also been restored as offices, notably in part as the local tax office.

This brought the trip to an end with time for lunch before dispersing either individually or on Eurostar back to England. It had been an excellent three days. Bill Firth
For further information on City Safaris contact Heritage of Industry Ltd, 80 Udimore Road, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7DY. Website:

Next issue >>>

© GLIAS, 2000