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Notes and news — February 2001

In this issue:

Stepney Gasworks Site public inquiry

The inquiry was held in November 1999 and was reported, together with notes on the industrial archaeology of the site (GLIAS Newsletter, February 2000). The inspector subsequently dismissed Bellway Urban Renewal's appeal on the grounds that the proposed development did not include one of the two nationally important gasholders. In October 2000, the Secretary of State rejected the inspector's recommendation and will now grant planning permission (subject to Bellway signing a legal agreement on affordable housing and key-worker accommodation).

Although the inquiry allowed the Save Stepney Campaign and others to give evidence on proper decontamination, retention of historic structures and local housing needs, our evidence has not affected the Secretary of State's decision nor the 34 conditions which Bellway and Tower Hamlets Council agreed on during the inquiry. As a result, the 8½-acre site will be the first gasworks site in this country to be decontaminated using a new product called Envirotreat. This has only been tried out on two sites in the UK, neither of which was a gasworks site contaminated with cyanide and carcinogenic tars.

The inspector's report and the Secretary of State's interim decision letter were issued by the Government Office for London in October 2000. Because Bellway was asked to confirm that it would sign the legal agreements, all the other parties were allowed to make representations. The SSC protested that its legitimate concerns about the experimental nature of the proposed decontamination and its request for an environmental impact assessment had both been ignored. The SSC also accepted that its proposed Stepney Blitz Memorial (a representative portion of the No3 guide frame on a segment of its below-ground brick tank) had been rejected and instead proposed an improved in situ version of Bellway's totally inadequate public art proposal for four removed and truncated columns from the No3 gasholder guide frame. The SSC also proposed other changes to the conditions to allow for better recording and proper conservation of the unique remains of the cast-iron coal tramway. The SSC has not received a reply to its representation letter nor any indication that it is likely to do so.

English Heritage stated at the inquiry that the No2 and No3 gasholders were of national importance mainly because their guide frame columns are probably the oldest surviving in the world and the only ones left of an important mid-19th century type first built in London (with tops of concealed holding-down bolts in enlarged toroidal bases). Unfortunately, English Heritage did not condemn Bellway's public art proposal which contravenes PPG16 as it will destroy the unique in situ relationship between the four column bases and their brick piers on the outer face of the below-ground brick tank.

English Heritage was not interested in the six 'associated structures' (the five walls and the unique remains of the cast-iron coal tramway) which mutually enhance the value of the two gasholders (or a retained representative portion) and make Stepney the most historic 19th-century gasworks site in London. Bellway and Tower Hamlets Council have agreed to keep the remains of the cast-iron coal tramway, the Victory Bridge boundary wall and half the coal store wall but three walls will be demolished. Of these, the most important are London's only known remnant of a 19th-century meter and governor house and London's only known remnant of a mid-19th century gas company head office and showroom. Like the unique coal store wall, both were built at the same time as the No2 and No3 gasholders and all three are therefore 'related contemporary monuments'.

After the inquiry, English Heritage politely declined to consider the SSC request for the Stepney Blitz Memorial and six 'associated structures' to be scheduled as a group. In its October 2000 representation to the Government Office for London, English Heritage was 'disappointed' by the Secretary of State's interim decision but did at least state that it would wish to be consulted on the proposed recording scheme. However, despite the SSC's request, English Heritage failed to comment on the relative merits of Bellway's public art proposal and the SSC's improved in situ version.

It seems that English Heritage prefers local planning authorities to deal with archaeological remains of national importance in inner city areas. However, in agreeing to Bellway's public art proposal, Tower Hamlets Council has clearly demonstrated its ongoing lack of interest in industrial archaeology and its continuing failure to apply relevant statutory requirements (and its own relevant UDP policies) at Stepney.

The SSC finds it difficult to understand that English Heritage can declare the No2 and No3 gasholders to be of national importance and subsequently does nothing to prevent them from being reduced to four bits of public art; and at the same time, allows the destruction of half the 'associated structures' at London's most historic 19th-century gasworks site. Furthermore, it has failed to comment on the conditions which, in the opinion of the SSC, will not ensure the proper recording of the industrial archaeology nor the proper preservation of the three 'associated structures' to be retained as part of the development. Tom Ridge

Former Caird & Rayner Ltd Offices and Workshops

An application for listing these four buildings at 777-783 Commercial Road, London E14 was made in March 2000 (GLIAS Newsletter, February 2000), supported by GLIAS and others. The workshop at 777 Commercial Road was listed grade II as a 'rare surviving' former sail makers and ship chandlers warehouse, built in 1869 by William Cubitt & Company and occupied by Caird & Rayner from 1889 to about 1972.

The 1893-94 office building at 777 Commercial Road; the 1896-97 office building and 1896 steel-framed galleried engineering workshop at 779-783 Commercial Road were not listed. The offices, containing the former drawing office, pattern shop and workshop stores, were dismissed as typical '1890s office frontages'. Because no reasons were given for not listing the 1896 workshop and the listing description for the 1869 workshop contained numerous mistakes, DCMS agreed to send the file back to English Heritage with my request to reconsider listing the offices and 1896 workshop.

English Heritage has refused to reopen the case: referring to the 1896 workshop, it states that other examples of 'early use of exposed structural steel' are 'emerging in some numbers now' and that Caird & Rayner are not a 'sufficiently important firm to give the building historical significance'. The first statement is correct but ignores the fact that the 1896 workshop is an early and nationally rare example of an important sub-type, the steel-framed galleried engineering workshop. The second statement completely ignores Caird & Rayner's contribution to the Royal Navy and the Cunard Line and the fact that in 1964 the film was described as 'one of the two big names in British Marine distillation'. The four buildings are now the sole surviving former marine engineering offices and workshops in East London and probably elsewhere in London.

I have suggested to Sir Neil Cossons that it would he difficult for his officers to name another surviving steel-framed galleried engineering workshop and that they must consult marine engineering historians on the national importance of Caird & Rayner Ltd. Because of the totally unjustified reasons for not reopening the case I have asked again for the three buildings to he reconsidered for listing and have also asked for the group of four buildings to be considered for scheduling as an ancient monument. Failure to list or schedule all four buildings will undoubtedly be used as one of the reasons for their demolition.

Caird & Rayner's four buildings at 777-783 Commercial Road are, in my opinion, of national importance; the problem is that the firm is not sufficiently well known. Caird & Rayner's patent sea water distilling apparatus supplied the boilers on Turbinia which eventually established the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company as exclusive suppliers of turbines to the British Admiralty. Caird & Rayner's apparatus supplied the boilers for Parsons turbines on at least three 'Dreadnoughts' and hundreds of other Royal Navy vessels. Clearly more research is needed to establish the total number and any help or suggestions would be much appreciated. Tom Ridge. Tel: 020 8981 7361 and 01502 724193

Lovell's Wharf

Lovell's Wharf, on the Greenwich Riverside path between Greenwich Town and the Millennium Dome, has become subject to discussion on environmental improvement.

The wharf was originally part of a development project undertaken by Coles Child working with Morden College, the site owners. Child developed the wharf and surrounding housing from c1838 to service the growing of coal imports into London from north-east England. Before that it had been known as 'Dog Kennel Meadow' or 'Walnut Tree Field'.

It was called Greenwich Wharf and by the 1870s had limekilns and coke ovens in the easternmost sector. In the 1890s it was a 'Lime, Cement and Slate Works'.

In the early 20th century the wharf ceased to be operated as a single unit and was subdivided between a number of units — wharfingers, boat repairers, general haulage. One of these was 'Yarmouth Carriers' who probably built the ice well, which reputedly still lies near the western wall.

Shaw Lovell took on the lease in the late 1920s. Shaw Lovell (now Bristol ICO Ltd) were a family business dating from 1869. They originated in Bristol and had interests in several other British ports. Under Lovell's that wharf was soon thriving with the handling of non-ferrous metals. At Greenwich they had a London Metal's Exchange-approved warehouse for the storage of copper, zinc and lead. The Greenwich wharf was ideal at a time when transhipment into barges was common place.

Lovell House was built as a head office for Lovell's Sea Container Trade. It is now used as offices for part of Greenwich's Education Services.

In 1982 the wharf handled 118,000 tons of cargo — steel, aluminium, galvanised sheeting and gas pipes as well as timber and some other items. Much of this was modern 'high tech' products, Lovell's did not consider itself old-fashioned and they were proud of their experience and the techniques developed to handle specialist cargoes. In this the two cranes, still derelict on the wharf, played a key role.

The two cranes which remain on the riverfront are a dramatic local feature — much photographed and the subject of many paintings and drawings. Cranes have always played an important part in the activities on this site.

They are really 'Scotch Derricks' — that is a stationary piece of equipment of a type often made in Scotland. Such equipment was once very common around the Port of London but has now almost completely disappeared. The lattice-framed style of the derricks was characteristic of such equipment in the first half of the 20th century and date them probably to before 1950. They are both electrically powered.

The down river crane is the 'Butters' crane brought from Dublin Custom House in the mid-1970s. £30,000 was spent on refurbishment in 1986 when it was moved. It was then capable of handling 20 tons. 'Butters' were a Glasgow-based firm of crane builders, taken over by Morris Cranes several years ago. The upriver crane was manufactured by Anderson Grice.

The cranes prove a great attraction to artists — it is rare to come round the corner of the wharf without seeing them being photographed or drawn. Mary Mills

Reliant Motors and the Robin three-wheeler

For the past year or so the press has been announcing that production of the three-wheel Reliant Robin car will shortly come to an end but perhaps because of this the Robin does not appear to be quite dead yet, even in 2001. The British law allows one to drive a three-wheeled vehicle with a weight of under 550kg with just a motorcycle licence and if you are a motorcyclist of advanced years you may not want to bother to take the test for a full-blown motor car. It is easy to see why there is a small niche market for this remarkable vehicle but first an account of the Reliant company and some of its other products.

The Reliant Motor Company was set up by the engineer T L Williams and produced a prototype three-wheeled van at Tamworth in 1935. Van production was resumed following the Second World War during which production had been diverted to war work and Reliant launched its first passenger car, the three wheeled Regal in 1953. This initially had a aluminium body on a wooden frame but in 1956 the Regal Mark II appeared with a fibre-glass body.

The company's growing expertise in GRP (glass reinforced plastics) led to export markets, notably Turkey for which Reliant developed the Anadol. This was the first passenger car ever built in that country and more than 100,000 were made. A new 600cc light alloy engine was introduced for the Regal 3/25 model in 1962 and over the years this power plant was developed with variants of 700, 750 and even 850cc capacity. This engine is used widely as a prime mover for compressors, fire pumps and electric generators.

In 1972 the Robin three-wheeler superseded the Regal and in 1982 two-door, three-door and van models called the Rialto were introduced. A hatchback version of the Rialto came out in November 1987. At this period something over 300 Robins and Rialtos were being made every week. The company also produced a variety of four-wheeled vehicles using the same engine and drive as the three-wheelers. The Rebel introduced in 1965 was followed by the Kitten range in 1975. This car continued to be made in the UK until 1980 and was also manufactured under licence in India. The Fox, a utility vehicle, was developed from the Kitten and continued to be made up to 1991. Sports cars including the Scimitar and Sabre were also built by Reliant.

Reliant expertise in GRP includes handlay, pressed, pressure injected and moulded forms of manufacture and has been exploited by a wholly owned subsidiary — Reliant Industrial Mouldings. This company's products include fascia panel mouldings, plastic floor gridding for oil platforms, Ford Transit Van roof and door extensions and complete body shells for the Metro Cammel London taxi. In 1988 the power-unit side of the Business was sold to Beans Industries, one of Britain's oldest motor companies. Beans were manufacturing engines, gear boxes, axles and suspensions as sub-contractors to Reliant Motors.

Unfortunately in 1988 Reliant Motors were involved in a 'reverse takeover' of a property company which finally led to receivership. Reliant's were subsequently acquired by Beans Industries Ltd but Beans themselves went into receivership in 1994 taking Reliant Motors with them. Reliant were acquired by the Avonex Group in January 1995 but this enterprise was poorly funded and the company went into Administrative Receivership at the end of the year. However in April 1996 a consortium of businessmen purchased Reliant Motors and by the end of August that year production of the Reliant Robin resumed. In the first full year 720 cars were built.

Reliant are or will be expanding into import and distribution of various new models from abroad including the Ligier Microcar from France, the Piaggio Ape commercial vehicle from Italy and San sports cars from India. The works moved to a brand new purpose-built factory at Burntwood in January 1999 and a new Robin hatchback has been introduced.

Unfortunately having only one wheel at the front, unlike some earlier sports three-wheelers which had the single wheel at the back, the Robin is unstable on corners. However if you are a dedicated motorcyclist and occasionally need to transport a number of passengers short distances the economical to run three-wheel Reliant Robin has its attractions. It can accommodate four people and their luggage and as mentioned previously you can drive it with just a motorcycle licence. The Robin is not cheap, it costs about £10,000, but it has desirable features for long-term ownership. Bob Carr

Listed birds

Birds may be listed grade one, grade two, etc just like buildings when it comes to ecological arguments over redevelopment schemes. A particularly prize bird in London is the Black Redstart which likes to nest in rocky places. It took to London bombsites from about 1943 and is now highly regarded by ornithologists. It is a grade one bird.

Unfortunately with the number of bombsites diminishing (the last one in London, near Ludgate Circus, has in fact already gone) the Black Redstart is in decline. If you have a pair nesting on a site threatened by redevelopment you have (at least in the short term) a more powerful argument against the proposed scheme than if a listed building occupied the site. However it seems a listed bird only gives a stay of execution until the chicks are reared and the parents and young have flown away. Do any of our ornithological members have anything to add?

Listed buildings are such a nuisance; if only they were on wheels and could be moved about. Ships are all right. They can be berthed so as to beautify a new waterside development and left there until all the properties are let or sold. But a listed building is just stuck in the way. Isn't it inconsiderate of people to get buildings listed in the first place?

Why don't conservationists concentrate on ships instead? The poor SS Robin has been dreadfully neglected. Most people hardly seem to know we were once a great maritime nation and had a huge merchant fleet only 40 years ago. Bob Carr

Steam Tug Portwey

Further to the note on the steam tug Portwey (GLIAS Newsletter December 2000) although coal of inferior quality was being burnt and this gave rise to problems of excessive heat where it was not required the tug was not actually burning anything quite so bad as 'household-type' coal.

GLIAS members are still welcome to visit Portwey. Maintenance work takes place on Wednesday afternoons and visits on board are possible then but even two or three people in the stoke hold is rather a crowd so be considerate. Bob Carr
Contact Barrie Sanderson, Secretary of the Steam Tug Portwey Trust, 'Tethers End', Old London Road, Rawreth, Wickford, Essex SS11 8UE. Tel: 01268 769583. Website:

New Arsenal football stadium

Arsenal Football Club plan to build a new 60,000-seat stadium at Ashburton Grove to the south-east of the present stadium. At the old ground the listed East Stand and the West Stand would be retained and converted into flats. Much of the other space would be made available for housing development with the pitch being retained as a private open space for people living in the new housing. Bob Carr

White Hart Depot weighbridge listed

The weighbridge at the White Hart Depot in Plumstead has now been listed. This is a particularly interesting structure and its listing will in some ways mean that the future of this old local authority depot has to be planned with some respect for the past.

Greenwich Industrial History Society chair Jack Vaughan had been planning for some time to persuade the authorities to move this weighbridge to Woodlands Farm Trust at Shooters Hill where a wood chip recycling scheme is planned and a weighbridge is needed. The listing of the weighbridge at White Hart means that this is no longer an option and two other sets of such equipment in Woolwich are not complete enough to be used at the farm.

Do any GLIAS members know of a weighbridge that is not wanted and which could be transferred to Shooters Hill at a reasonable cost? Mary Mills
Contact Jack Vaughan, 35 Eaglesfield Road, Shooters Hill, London SE18. Tel: 020 8855 6512

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© GLIAS, 2001