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Notes and news — October 2000

In this issue:

Abbey Mills

June's newsletter (GLIAS 188) contained a report of Andrew Norris's lecture on the restoration work at Abbey Mills. The two great pumphouses erected by the Metropolitan Board of Works between 1863 and 1868, Crossness and Abbey Mills, surely rank supreme among London pumping stations in their architectural elaboration and sophistication.

The first big pumping station erected for the Metropolitan Main Drainage is at Deptford (opened 1864), where the structure is simple and unpretentious, something like the stable block to a Georgian country house, with the plain building enlivened by an octagonal lantern over each engine house.

Perhaps because of high public profile of the Main Drainage project, it was decided that something special was required for the next two pumping stations. Crossness (1865) and Abbey Mills (1868) are almost a pair — at least in detail design, and both are architecturally very literate. Their designer had clearly been influenced by the writings of John Ruskin — in particular "The Stones of Venice" — and his insistence on the superiority of the Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles over what was seen as the decadence of the Renaissance. At Abbey Mills the Greek cross plan of the pumphouse no doubt determined by symmetrical layout of the eight rotative beam engines (54" diameter cylinder, Rothwell & Co, Bolton), might well have suggested the Orthodox church as a source of architectural inspiration, and the inclusion of a central dome must have been an irresistible temptation to the designer. The study of Victorian architecture often becomes a game of hunt the sources — in the case of the dome at Abbey Mills no one has come up with a convincing original. Possibly it is to be found somewhere between the Kremlin, Venice and Byzantium!

The design of these buildings has at various times been attributed to Bazalgette himself, his chief assistant engineers (Edmond Cooper and John Grant), and the MBW chief architect George Vulliamy. However obituaries, and professional nomination papers held in the RIBA and ICE archives identify Crossness and Abbey Mills as early works of Charles Driver (1832-1900).

Driver was an architect who specialised in engineering-based projects, particularly railway work. Subsequent to his experience in creating the glorious cast-iron interiors at Crossness and Abbey Mills he was able to describe himself as "giving special attention to ornamental ironwork". Biddle's "Railway Heritage of Great Britain" describes a number of stations by Driver, probably the best known being Box Hill, designed in an ornate French style at the insistence of the local landowner. At the same time as the work on Abbey Mills, Driver was also involved in the architectural design of the Thames Embankment. The technical press was not particularly impressed by this effort. "Lamentable" and "totally ignorant" were just some of the epithets used by the Building News and Engineering Journal to describe structures which today seem quite innocuous.

In spite of this discouragement, Driver seems to have established a considerable practice. In later years he was responsible for the designs of the central station for the Vienna Circular Overhead railway (a magnificent arched and domed iron structure was illustrated in the Builder), and a terminal at San Paulo, Brazil — I am not sure whether either of these was actually built. One structure that was built is the Central Market at Santiago, Chile (c1875). The RIBA has a set of photographs of the highly decorated iron structure, having been trial erected somewhere in this country (the background suggests the Potteries), before dismantling and transporting across the world.

The third of the MBW major pumping stations to be opened (1875) was Western, on the Thames Embankment. Here the teachings of Ruskin were ignored, and the building is in the despised Renaissance style, described by Bazalgette as Italian, although many would consider that the curved Mansard roof gives a French flavour. However it is an excellent example of its kind — all the architectural details and proportions look right. So far, I have failed to find any information on the actual designer of this building. Would any members have knowledge of this? Bryce Caller

GLIAS walks 2000

The walks series for 2000 came to a slightly damp end with Geoff Donald leading a group from Southall Station past margarine, porridge and other factories to the canal-side site of an art pottery works. Coming as I do from far afield the combination of industrial works and the rural surroundings of the canal were an interesting contrast in an unfamiliar area.

The walks series in 2000 has been a great success with even the less promising weather on a couple of occasions proving no deterrent to the dedicated urban rambler.

I must thank the leaders of this year's walks; Charles Norrie for Lewisham to Greenwich, 'A Tale of Three Rivers'; Dave Perrett for Temple to Euston, 'From Brunel to Stephenson'; Bill Firth for Victoria to Westminster 'The Devil's Acre'; Stephen Hine for Brentford 'Western, Water, Works, Walk' (GLIAS Newsletter August 2000); Sue Hayton for Clerkenwell 'Gin & Water'; Chris Grabham for East India Docks 'Tunnels, Trade & Trains'; Tim Smith for Whitechapel 'East of the City' and last but not least Geoff Donald for Southall 'A Curious Confection'.

As well as our long-serving 'volunteers' as leaders this year has seen some new faces, and voices, at the front and we are looking forward to the next walking season. If any member has any thoughts on next year please get in touch with suggestions on routes, frequency or style — all suggestions will be gratefully received.

The popularity of the walks and spread of venues across London show that the society is 'keeping its customers satisfied' and living up to its Greater London title.

Thanks again to leaders and also to the many members who have supported their efforts. Danny Hayton

LNWR accumulator tower at Camden

Hydraulic accumulator tower at Camden © Robert Mason 2016

Bob Carr (GLIAS Newsletter August 2000) referred to demolition work next to the main line out of Euston, just north of the Regent's Canal in Camden which has left an accumulator tower isolated.

The red-brick building to the north, now demolished, housed electrically driven turbine pumps by Mather & Platt, installed in 1923, to supply high-pressure water to the Camden Goods Depot's hydraulic system. The accumulator tower, part of that system, is built in stock brick and is older than the pumphouse.

The London North Western Railway installed the first hydraulic cranes at Camden in 1853. The accumulator tower might have been part of the 1850s system. It certainly looks like an 1850s tower with its louvered 'windows'.

It does not appear on the LNWR's 1856 plan of the goods station but the 1870 Ordnance Survey shows it as a free-standing building, so it might have been a remote accumulator tower, becoming a station accumulator when the red-brick pumphouse was built.

The railway has been widened over the years, one track coming so close to the building that the lower part of the corner has had to be removed and RSJs inserted to support the upper half. Now it has lost its roof it is easier to see the guides and buffer timbers through the window openings. It has 13½" brick walls compared with the more usual 24" or more of later towers, and the guide timbers are attached to brick piers.

The tower is not listed, but it stands in the Borough of Camden's Primrose Hill conservation area. Railtrack wanted to demolish it, but Camden Council refused consent for demolition and it is to be repaired and incorporated in a new development now underway.

The nearby premises at 44 Gloucester Avenue belonged not to the LNWR but to the Electric Telegraph Company, the most significant of the public telegraph companies and the owners of the Cooke and Wheatstone patents (see J L Kieve, 'The Electric Telegraph', David & Charles, 1973). The firm was incorporated in 1846 and nationalised as part of the Post Office in 1870. The Camden incline had been a trial site for the electric telegraph for railway signalling, circa 1837, and from 1847 the company installed telegraph lines along the LNWR main line for railway and commercial purposes (PRO: RAIL384/25, Minutes of LNWR Electric Telegraph Special Committee).

North of the single-story building that Bob Carr mentions there is a long, two-storey range with long windows under distinctive cast-iron lintels, perhaps where telegraph apparatus was assembled. There is also a large, later 19th-century building along the street, in Office of Works style from the Post Office period. The tapering chimney, demolished in the 1980s, stood about 30ft high above the ground, rising through the roof of the surviving single-storey building (which has the same cast-iron lintels). It was only about 6ft in diameter at roof-ridge level, narrower than the usual 'bottle' kiln, and presumably the chimney rose straight from kiln, without a hovel. Tim Smith and Malcolm Tucker

Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington

Union Chapel © Robert Mason 2016

I wondered why I received an invitation to a reception at Union Chapel at Highbury Corner in the middle of July. I assumed it was because I was at the time still secretary although there was no mention of GLIAS on the invitation. However, when I got there all was revealed.

The chapel is a Grade II* listed building designed by James Cubitt and built in 1877. The tower, 170 feet (52m) high was added later. It replaces an earlier Georgian church built as part of Compton Terrace in 1806. The chapel is a magnificent example of Victorian Gothic architecture but it has two features of particular interest to industrial archaeologists.

The first is the organ built by Henry Willis and installed in the new chapel in 1877. It has been very little altered since. It is therefore possible to see a quite large 'Father Willis' organ in something like original condition.

The second feature is a large hot-air heating system about which I have discovered very little but the chapel would like to know more.

The chapel is looking for help to investigate both the organ and the heating system. GLIAS has done some work earlier and the administrator has been put in touch with one of the researchers. Bill Firth
Organ or heating enthusiasts might like to contact the chapel administrator Máirin Power, Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, N1 2UN. Tel: 020 7226 3750. Website:

Redevelopment along the Regent's Canal

Waterside redevelopment is to take place generally along the Regent's Canal and the Grade II listed St Pancras lock keeper's cottage in the King's Cross area is to become offices and studios. Also British Waterways and Railtrack hope to redevelop Hawley Wharf near Castlehaven Road, Camden Town, as a mixed housing, leisure and business complex. At the moment it is used as an overspill area for traders from the adjacent Camden Lock market.

St Pancras Lock, 2012. © Wendy Hasnip St Pancras Lock, 2017. © Robert Mason

In the 19th century the Regent's Canal, built 1812-20 with engineer James Morgan, was a very busy waterway necessitating double locks and to supply water to the canal the Welsh Harp, Hendon, was formed by damming the river Brent in 1834-35. Despite the Welsh Harp having a large area, even this reservoir, larger than it is now, proved insufficient during summer months and the costly expedient of back pumping at locks had to be resorted to. Part of the present St Pancras lock keeper's cottage, a single-storey building, was once in use as a back-pumping station and recording work has been carried out here by GLIAS (GLIAS 161). The last lock keeper moved out of the cottage more than a decade ago. Bob Carr

Notes from north east London

An interesting slightly broad-gauge industrial railway steam locomotive from Finland can be seen from the public road at a timber yard in Enfield Highway. The Enfield Timber Company, 1-23 Hertford Road, has on display an 0-6-0 side tank locomotive with outside cylinders built in 1927 by Oy Tampella A/B, Tampere, works number 373. The locomotive carries a running number 792 and is called HEN. It is fitted with a huge balloon spark-arrester chimney so presumably was intended to work, appropriately, on forest lines. The grid reference of the timber yard is TQ 352 966. The railway gauge the engine was built to run on is 1,524mm, which we would call five feet.

South of Southbury station on the east side of the line a quite large mainline steam locomotive was noted on 1 June. It was something like a 4-6-0, a tender engine of Germanic or Polish appearance, quite likely recently imported. Restoration work was probably being done on it. In Poland British railway enthusiasts have been able to buy steam locomotives up to quite recently as steam has been in widespread use there. More

The building of dry docks on the inland waterways for craft such as narrow boats seems to a popular activity. As well as the new one at St Pancras on the Regent's Canal a newish dry dock was noted on the River Lea Navigation at Enfield Lock near the Humphrey Pumps, close to the 121 bus terminus. It is on the west side of the waterway. Some of these dry docks have surprisingly primitive means of keeping the water out using stop boards at the entrance. The pumping arrangements can be quite crude too involving polythene pipes and an operative in the dry dock itself, up to the waist in water, may be observed putting stop boards in place. This may be all right in mid-summer but how about winter time?

The old electric power station at Brimsdown has been replaced by a new, probably gas fired plant of striking appearance. Some members might be interested in going along to have a look. Quite a good view can be had from the towpath of the River Lea Navigation. The original Northmet Power Station at Brimsdown opened in 1903.

Just too late for the Napoleonic Wars, the Government Small Arms Factory opened in 1815, to the east of Enfield Lock. The former factory area has been very largely redeveloped and you can wander round most of it with ease. There have been problems with the re-use of this site for housing owing to pollution of the soil. The cottages on the east side of Government Row are now quite evocative.

The poet John Keats (the man who has recently had a poem on the Underground about reading Homer) went to school at a railway station; well not quite, actually the school was in a house that became incorporated into the terminus at Enfield of the railway line from Edmonton which opened in 1849. If memory is correct there used to be a plaque commemorating Keats at the station, Enfield Town. This may still be there. Bob Carr

Robert at Stratford

Avonside 0-6-0ST Robert, built for the Staveley Iron & Chemical Co Ltd, and employed at its Lamport ironstone quarries. © Maurice Davies The Avonside 0-6-0 industrial saddle tank locomotive Robert (GLIAS Newsletter April 1995), works number 2068 and built in 1933, has recently been put on public display at Stratford, between the bus and the railway stations. Newly painted red and beautifully lined-out Robert had been in a sorry state at Beckton after being vandalised. Restoration work was undertaken at the workshops of Kew Bridge Steam Museum and it is to be hoped that vandal action at Stratford will be less severe than the Beckton variety. Amazingly Robert still has its superb copper chimney cap, an Avonside characteristic.

Industrial tank locomotives were built for use by private owners on their own internal sidings and were hardly ever seen on main line railways. Robert had no connection with Beckton gas works, even though a large fleet of private engines was in use there.

The Avonside Engine Co Ltd which made Robert was in Bristol and there was another builder of industrial locomotives in the same city, Peckett & Sons Ltd, Atlas Locomotive Works, St George. A Peckett 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotive, works number 2000 built in 1942 can be seen at the North Woolwich Old Station Museum where it is put in steam from time to time. This Peckett came from the British Sugar Corporation factory Sproughton, Ipswich. Bob Carr

Bull Engine Restoration Project

Restoration of the Kew Bridge Steam Museum's unique Bull-type Cornish steam pumping engine is now under way.

The 1870 Bull engine (named after the Cornish inventor Edward Bull) is housed in the original Georgian engine house at the museum. Unlike the four other original Cornish engines in the collection at Kew which have overhead rocking beams, the 70" (cylinder diameter) Bull engine drives the water pump directly — the piston and pump effectively being one mechanism. Engines of this type took up less than half the space of a conventional beam engine of comparable size and capacity. The engine at Kew is believed to be the largest survivor of its type and the only one remaining in its original location.

The cost of restoration to full working order is estimated at £80,000. The museum still needs to raise a considerable amount of this sum, although it has been awarded £4,000 from the Science Museum's PRISM Grant Fund for the first year of the predicted three-year restoration period with an 'in principle' approval for a further £8,000.

London's Industrial Archaeology — Errata

The recently published issue of London's Industrial Archaeology, number 7, contains quite a few typographical errors. Mostly these are errors of punctuation and missing or unwanted spaces, the odd missing word which can be guessed and obvious spelling mistakes. These should not prevent an intelligent reader from deducing what should have appeared but more seriously some bits of text were left out.

Turning to the short article at the end on London Ship Repair Yards (pp55-63), the main text is cut short about a third of the way down p56 after 'fig'. For readers anxious to know which figure shows the dry dock off Blackwall Basin it is number 2. Below this the references are too cramped with all but one of the spaces after the reference numbers missing but in Further Reading there are more serious errors. The article on Shipbuilding Machine Tools in Scottish Themes actually occupies pp158-180 and to see a photograph of the blacksmiths' shop at the Royal Albert Dock Works the reference should be LIA3, p44, plate 4.

It appears that the most recent and corrected computer file was not the one used by the printers and there were problems with 'roll on'. At least the illustrations and the print quality are good. Bob Carr

Does technological variety generate industrial archaeologists?

There was an amazing overlap of technology at the end of the Second World War. At that time the aircraft builders Miles of Reading were developing a jet airplane with thin straight wings which had it been completed would have been capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight. By contrast in 1947 the Cardiff Queen, essentially a late Victorian paddle steamer, made her maiden voyage. P S Waverley made her maiden voyage on the Clyde in the summer of that same year. On the roads, as well as buses there were still horse-drawn goods vehicles, steam rollers, trolley buses, trams and a number of battery-electric delivery vans, milk floats etc. A decade later there was nuclear electric power while large numbers of textile mills were still being directly driven by stationery reciprocating steam engines, even including those of beam engine type, and no doubt there are many other examples from this period.

Is this extreme diversity of technology, perhaps almost comparable with the recent situation in India, one reason why many people who were fairly young at that time later took a keen interest in industrial archaeology? Bob Carr

Factory hooters in Watford

A recent letter to the Watford Observer (7 July 2000) recalls that West Watford was quite an industrialised area with firms such as Sun Engraving, Wemco, Millers and Steam Laundries, Norths (Rembrandt House), Button Factory, Scammell Lorries, Allensors, and Yeast Vite. Most of these had their own distinctive hooters which would sound off five minutes before starting time and again at knocking-off time.

The writer, Mr W Puddifoot, believes the hooters were banned when the Second World War began. More

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© GLIAS, 2000