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Notes and news — June 2001

In this issue:

Croydon's Tramlink

There are two good reasons for industrial archaeologists to come to Croydon to ride on the town's new trams, apart from the system's own inherent interest.

The Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, with Heritage Lottery Funding and sponsorship and support from Croydon Council, Nestles, and Wates, presents a 'Museum without Walls' at selected tram stops within the borough. Displays will feature objects and documents in the society's and Croydon Libraries' collections relevant to the chosen stops. Transport and industrial history will be prominent themes, alongside archaeology, geology, and general local history.

It is hoped that other societies and neighbouring local authorities may extend the scheme beyond the Croydon Borough boundaries.

The Woodside and South Croydon Railway (all two-and-a-quarter miles of it) was built during 1881-1884 by the contractor Joseph Firbank, who is more famous for his work on one of the contracts on the Settle-Carlisle line. It contains three of Croydon's four railway tunnels (the fourth is at Riddlesdown on the Oxted line, still used by trains.) The line was closed as a railway in 1983, but Croydon's Tramlink now takes passengers through all three of the WSCR tunnels between the Sandilands and Lloyd Park stops.

The three short tunnels on the WSCR are of exceptional interest, as they pass under a single hill. At the north and south end are ordinary tunnels bored through, respectively, mostly London Clay and Thanet Sand, and brick lined. The central tunnel, however, of a different profile, is a cut-and-cover tunnel running along the floor of a very deep excavation made from the centre of the hill (the tunnel roof is currently used as a rifle range by a local club.) It has yet to be settled whether the Park Hill tunnels were designed from the outset to be as they are now, or whether only one long tunnel had originally been intended.

What is known, mostly from field observations made and published by geologists from the Croydon Microscopical and Natural History Club, that the civil engineering of the tunnels was exceptionally problematical, the middle of the hill being largely loose pebbles, running quicksands, and similar challenging tunnelling media!

It is as a result of the geological interest of the Park Hill section, and the discovery of several fossil species new to science, that a number of detailed published descriptions of the civil engineering problems survive. The fossils included mammal bones, Coryphodon croydonensis named after the town, and a gigantic bird Gastornis klaasseni named after the local geologist Hendericus Martinus Klaassen who discovered it. The Transactions of the Zoological Society might not be the most obvious place to search for civil engineering history! Further exciting palaeontological discoveries, yet to be published, resulted from more earthmoving to make the junction near the Sandilands tramstop.

Partnership with local naturalists continues, as badgers set up home in the tunnel approach cuttings, and in the central cutting (above the central tunnel roof) after the last trains ran, and the Joseph Firbank Society, under licence from the tramway operator, has its Joseph Firbank closed Nature Reserve in the northern and southern cuttings, members periodically monitoring the badgers' setts. There is no public access however other than as tram passengers.) Paul Sowan

Little White Banger

Bob Carr's piece on the cessation of production of the three-wheeler Reliant (GLIAS Newsletter February 2001) reminds me of the 'little white banger' as my children called it which was part of the fleet in the late seventies and early eighties.

The banger in question was a Reliant Rebel (JLB 40D) which was, I claim, the oldest moving Rebel in captivity. It could be identified as one of the earlier models by the crescent-shaped speedo/instrument unit which was replaced at the 1966 Motor Show with a then more conventional circular twin set of instruments.

The Rebel was the rear end of the Regal van with an extended chassis to the front which carried the suspension units of the Triumph Herald, but not its rack and pinion steering. The driver was greeted by a solid steel tube pointing straight at the chest which was a distinct encouragement not to hit anything.

The engine was mounted farther forward than the three-wheeler where half the engine shared the passenger compartment with a tail shaft on the gearbox to take up the difference.

The all aluminium engine (eventually the big 700cc version) was a conventional design with pushrod overhead valves and a single choke downdraft carburetor.

The body work was of fibreglass and showed signs of having had the off side front wing not too expertly replaced. The steel chassis was the major problem as it was prone to rust in stressed areas such as over the back axle and the suspension damper mountings.

Welding, even arc welding, on a fibreglass car presents the odd problem but it was a short circuit across the battery to an unfused earth which nearly set the car alight one evening on Jamaica Road. The earth was bound in with the other cables and the car needed the whole of the front wiring loom rebuilt.

The gearbox had a tendency to throw the driver out of first gear at any more than the slowest speeds. My wife's driving instructor, in a Triumph Toledo, remarked on her unusual style of pulling away. Its other trick was to knock teeth off third gear leading to some strange gear changes.

The fuel tank was a problem, being the square box style used on the van with a supporting rod through a tube in through the centre. One evening while under the back of the car I ran my hand along the bottom of the original tank and it perforated into a rusty spray.

I forget how long the car lasted exactly but for £125 plus some new gearbox bits and other running costs it took us from BC (before children) to their needing kiddie seats in the back. Finally a local garage was caught out by offer £1,000 trade in for anything with an MOT. The state of the rear suspension wouldn't have lasted much longer so I was able to part exchange it and truthfully say that the 8,000 miles on the clock were genuine — it had lost the 100,000. Danny Hayton

British Waterways booklet

British Waterways has issued its 2001 booklet, Events on London's Waterways, which features a wide variety of events some of which are IA.
Free copies from British Waterways, The Toll House, Delamere Terrace, Little Venice, W2 6ND. Tel: 020 7286 6101. Fax: 020 7286 7306. Website:

MV Royal Iris

The ex Mersey ferry Royal Iris has been in London for some time. She is presently at or near the berth where the Russian submarine Foxtrot U475 used to be open to the public before she went to Folkestone harbour (see GLIAS Newsletter August 1995). This berth is on the south bank of the river just east of the Thames Barrier. Royal Iris is in a somewhat decrepit condition with peeling blue paint but hopefully a silver repaint will take place soon. The intention is to restore the vessel for partying, nightclubbing and similar purposes.

The twin screw Royal Iris is surprisingly large — 1,234 tons gross and was built in 1951 in modern styling with diesel-electric propulsion. She is 159 feet long with a beam of 50 feet and had a speed of 13 knots. The other Mersey ferries are/were about half the tonnage and all straight diesel. By the mid 1970s Royal Iris was not in regular ferry use but reserved for dining and cruising. With her very streamlined styling she was something of an oddball vessel but must be very well known to older Liverpudlians who no doubt have pleasant memories of her evening entertainment cruises. With such a strong Merseybeat connection she might just make it back to life in London if the pop music fraternity takes a sufficient interest. Bob Carr
The vessel's present owner, James Jegede, would like to hear from anyone interested in her restoration. MV Royal Iris, Barrier Gardens Pier, Unity Way, London SE18 5NL. Tel: 078 1865 620. Email:

Silent Millstone Feed Systems

After publication of my article on the Fairbairn-style Machinery at the House Mill, Bromley-by-Bow, London, E3 in London's Industrial Archaeology No 7 June 2000 (pp28-38), someone told me there was a silent feed system at Coggeshall Mill, Essex. This turned out to be a different system, involving vacuum ventilation, patented by George Bovill in 1861 and 1863. The system was marketed by Swayne and Bovill of Millwall and Abchurch Lane.

I am now seeking to research this system. I have seen references to it in Coggeshall Abbey and Abbey Mill (Jane Greatorex, Manors, Mills and Manuscripts Series, Essex 1999) and Some Essex Watermills (Harvey Benham, Colchester 1976). Martin Watts has kindly sent me material on the system at Houghton Mill, Cambridgeshire and a copy of the commentary on the system in the fourth edition of Fairbairn's Treatise on Mills and Millwork. I have also researched several sources at the Science Museum Library but have not yet looked up Bovill's patents. I should be interested to hear from any members who have information on this system; or on any others which dispensed with the traditional damsel. Brian Strong. Email:

Transmitting and the MoC

Transmitting is the Museum of Communication Foundation members' newsletter covering radio, radar, computers, biography etc and by spring 2001 it is already up to number 34. For GLIAS members with an interest in the 20th century this could be just what you have been waiting for. Not all members are in Scotland; the Museum of Communication (MoC) has a store at Longannet Power Station in Fife. Professor Colin Davidson is Hon President. Bob Carr
For further information contact Transmitting, The MoC, PO Box 12556, Bo'Ness EH51 9YX. Tel: 01506 823424. Email:

Colour Annatto (E160)

The harmless vegetable dye Annatto is used in other things besides Red Leicester Cheese (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). It is an ingredient in Grantham Gingerbread Biscuits which are still sold from two shops in that town. Such biscuits are made by Sharp and Nickless Ltd (77 College Street, Long Eaton, Nottingham NG10 4NN. Tel: 0115 973 2169). This firm was established in 1888 and the biscuits are delicious. Grantham Gingerbread Biscuits were baked in Grantham from the 18th century and there is thought to be a tradition of gingerbread in Grantham from the 1430s.

Grantham Gingerbread Biscuits are to some extent seasonal and are associated with the traditional late-autumn hiring fairs of the East Midlands, especially the Nottingham Goose Fair. They are little known outside the region. They are not on sale in London but can be bought from two delicatessen shops in Nottingham, from a stall in the Victoria Centre Market there and almost certainly from some other places in the East Midlands. They were at the Boston fair held early in May this year. Is there any mention by D H Lawrence? Bob Carr

Trouble at the Palace?

All is not as it should be at Alexandra Palace in North London. The south-east wing contains the two studios from which the world's first high-definition TV broadcasts were made in 1936. These are the EMI studio A and the 1936/37 Baird studio B. There is now a possibility that due to a proposal to lease the palace to a developer at least some of the interior of the wing might be gutted and used for purposes such as a wine bar or restaurant. The outside of the building is listed but the two historic studios are unlisted and under threat and a campaign and petition to save them is being organised by John Thompson. Bob Carr
Contact John Thompson for further information at 5 Prospect Place, London N17 8AT. Tel: 020 8808 0692. Email:

What is Industrial Archaeology?

The awkward question as to the definition of industrial archaeology has been further complicated by a Time Team television broadcast. On 4 February 2001 (Channel Four), the term industrial archaeology was used (erroneously?) to mean archaeology on a large or industrial scale. In order to find remains of a deeply buried ten-arch horse-drawn tramway viaduct built in 1788 at Blaenavon in South Wales a great excavation, 11m deep, was undertaken which needed substantial earth moving equipment and approached civil engineering in scale. Also of a civil engineering nature was the necessity of being sure that the huge hole was made in the right place. If they had got that wrong no doubt we would not have had a programme about Blaenavon. For the viaduct it was not a case of digging a few trail pits and hoping to find something. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2001