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Notes and news — February 2003

In this issue:

Obituary: Michael Robbins (1915-2002)

We are very sorry to have to report the death of Michael Robbins who died on 21 December 2002. Michael was the first President of GLIAS and from the start brought inspiration and encouragement to the Society.

Michael attended our inaugural meeting at the Science Museum in 1968 and at the end he offered to help in the formation of the Society. He was a member of the initial Steering Committee and his advice greatly helped to shape the structure of the Society and to refine its objectives.

Michael's distinguished career began when he gained a King's Scholarship to Westminster School in 1929 and was captain of the school in his last year. He then went to Christ Church, Oxford where he read Greats. An early interest in railways shaped his subsequent career and he joined London Transport in 1939, becoming Managing Director (Railways) in 1971.

In addition, Michael made a notable contribution not only to the serious study and writing of transport history but also to the management of museums. In conjunction with Jack Simmons, he established The Journal of Transport History and their last publishing project was the Oxford Companion to Railway History published in 1997. Earlier, Michael collaborated with Professor Theo Barker in producing the classic two-volume History of London Transport.

In 1962 Michael was instrumental in establishing the Museum of British Transport in Clapham which, in 1980, became the nucleus of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. He became a Governor of the new Museum of London when it opened in 1968 and was Chairman of the Governors from 1979 to 1990.

This brief notice can only give some idea of the wealth of knowledge and experience that Michael gave so freely to our embryonic society in the 1960s and continued to do so even after ill-health brought his Presidency to an end a few years ago. Some months ago I had lunch with Michael at Teddington and he was in good form and keen to know what GLIAS was doing and, as always, generous in his advice.

Michael was not just a figurehead President and we feel that we have lost a valued friend and mentor. We shall always be grateful for his special contribution to the Society. Denis Smith

Electricity pylons

The electric pylons which carry the powerlines for the Thames crossing at West Thurrock (GLIAS Newsletter December 2002) are 630ft high, just 10ft taller than the former Post Office Tower in London of 1966. Was the choice of this height at West Thurrock deliberate?

This powerline crossing constructed by BICC has a minimum clearance for shipping of 250ft. West Thurrock, at 4,500ft, is not the longest powerline crossing over a British river. The one over the Severn erected by J L Eve & Co was 5,310ft. The main towers for this were 488ft high. Only quite small ships use the Severn here. Longer crossings in the UK may have been built since.

When in Scotland for the 2002 AIA Conference we noted the tall pylons taking powerlines across the River Forth just upriver of the Kincardine road bridge. The crossing here is something like 3,700ft in length. Does anyone know the height of the pylons? Longannet power station close by to the east in Fife is rather large as power stations go. In 1972 it had a 2.4 GW capacity. By comparison Drax was to be 3.9 GW and the oil-fired Isle of Grain power station 3.3 GW.

Electric pylons for carrying cables across navigable rivers are among the tallest structures in the country. For comparison Drax power station in Yorkshire had a chimney 850ft high, completed in 1969. Didcot power station has cooling towers 375ft high. Blackpool Tower, Lancashire 1894 of wrought iron, is 519ft high. New Brighton Tower, Merseyside, built of steel 1897-1900 was 562ft high. This was demolished in 1919-21. The GPO steel-lattice radio transmission masts south of Rugby built in 1925 are 820ft high. These are to be demolished shortly. Bob Carr

Unwarranted knighthood

It irks me when someone refers to the eminent Victorian sanitation engineer Thomas Crapper as 'Sir' Thomas Crapper.

The title is usually attached by American authors who, I suspect, have conducted their research by looking at websites on the internet. I have a theory that many Americans cannot distinguish between a 'Royal Warrant' and a 'Knighthood'. They read that Edward VII invited Thomas Crapper to supply Sandringham Estate with WCs and other sanitation fittings, that the company had a 'Warranty', and assume this to mean that Crapper was entitled to prefix his name with the title 'Sir'.

A Royal Warrant of Appointment allows a vendor to display the Royal Coat of Arms and use the words 'By Appointment'.

I am pleased to see more websites are making it clear that Thomas Crapper was not knighted, however, there is still some doubt as to his exact date of birth. Peter Skilton

Wallpaper factory moves

The Islington wallpaper factory generally known as Coles or John Perry's, famous for its traditional designs and production techniques which date back nearly 200 years, has moved from the Offord Road site near Arundel Place to 199 Eade Road, London N4. This is quite near the New River north of the Woodberry Down Estate. Bob Carr

Ten years of London Open House (1993-2002)

London Open House Weekend takes place in September, the week after the rest of the country throws open its doors for the EU's Heritage Open Days.

Last year, 525 buildings were opened to the public, 25% of which were new to the scheme, and approximately 360,000 people took part.

London Open House

Each year, prior to the London Open House event, a booklet listing the sites by borough is released (usually found in local libraries or published as a supplement to the Evening Standard, currently). Extra events and walks are laid on to enhance the event. Architecture and the arts are a regular theme, with dance and art installations in several sites.

For example, in 2002, at 1 St Pancras Chambers the 'Shine' exhibition invited 11 contemporary artists to create an installation using light to work with the neo-gothic surroundings of the old hotel. Last entry was at 9pm, making the installation a memorable close to the day and a chance to see the Chambers before closure for restoration.

Open House have also designed a programme of events for Junior Open House, known in 2002 as 'Open Up', creating links with local schools.

Looking at the Open House booklets of 1996, 1999 and 2002, it is clear that as the number of sites opening increases, the percentage of churches and sites (such as museums) already open to the public is on the decrease. This is in keeping with the intention of the day — opening buildings which don't get a lot of public access. As anecdotal evidence, I have heard volunteers exclaim: 'We didn't expect so many!' This is a clear indication of the success of Open House as well as an explanation of why some of the smaller/more security sensitive sites choose to go for a guided tour approach as a workable alternative to the possibility of being overrun by enthusiastic hordes.

It may be that most of the buildings which are open at other times already take part, and as a result, the newer additions to the list come from the more unusual and desirable sites. There is still a strong showing from the national museums, who will usually put on something extra especially to attract visitors beyond their usual demographic. It would be interesting to see how successful this is and what the demographic breakdown of Open House is. Do our national museums really manage to reach those they wouldn't normally, or might some feel they are taking opportunity which would be better given to other sites (including smaller museums which find themselves obliged to charge)?

Brian Strong comments on behalf of the Three Mills: 'Open House brings us many extra visitors (some other weekends, numbers fail to reach double figures), but the requirement to be free means we raise much less from entrance fees (we normally charge £2, concessions £1, children free) — but sales have usually been good. Overall, it is clearly well worth it.'

The statistics suggest that the raised sales and donations go towards making up on the loss on entrance fees, so for its organisation Open House pays for itself in terms of awareness raising.

GLIAS members have been involved regularly with London Open House, working as volunteers at the following sites: Limehouse Accumulator Tower, Crossness Engines House, the Kirkaldy Testing Museum and Three Mills. The earlier booklets tended to have fewer frills, and as the expanded size of the guide is accompanied by the equally expanded number of sites, I wonder whether a guide with fewer articles might free up a few more pages for new sites to take part. As a commercially sponsored production (currently the Evening Standard), the number of pages is limited. I would also suggest using fewer pictures, for although they are of benefit in drawing people to visit those sites which are lucky enough to have a photo included, if the result is that other organisations lose their chance, it seems a shame.

Open House all year around

London Open House run four architectural tours in London. For the notice of IA fans, these include Bankside and Docklands tours, although at £18.50 per person (inc. VAT, £13 concessions) GLIAS members may prefer to wait for the next GLIAS/Ironbridge tour in the area.
For more information, Tel: 020 7267 7644. Web: Email:

And finally

The Heritage Open Days will take place between the 12 and 15 September. London Open House will take place the following weekend on 20-21 September. Fiona Morton

Caledonia Street redevelopment

Work on the land which has been cleared along the north side of Caledonia Street to the east of the main King's Cross railway station is now fully under way (GLIAS Newsletter December 2002). There is a large tower crane on site and hopefully the former Pontifex brass works will not become too much overshadowed by the hotel. The former KCL building on the south side of Caledonia Street seems to be being kept.

Midland Mainline trains will cease to use the original St Pancras station forever as from Sunday 26 January 2004. Perhaps on the Saturday before there will be some kind of ceremony? Midland Mainline trains will then temporarily use the new station presently being built to the north east of the great St Pancras train shed, before being moved again to a station which will be purpose built for them just to the north west of the present station. Being 'dirty' diesels the Midland trains will not be allowed inside old St Pancras once it has been cleaned for the electric Eurostar services.

From artists' impressions the new station by Norman Foster to the north of St Pancras will be reminiscent of his excellent contemporary art gallery the Carré d'Art in Nîmes directly opposite the Roman Maison Carré. Bob Carr

Fred Tallant Hall to close

The remarkable Fred Tallant Hall, 153 Drummond Street NW1, will close in about a year's time. Owned by the Countrywide Holidays Association (CHA) — a national organisation with headquarters in Miry Lane, Wigan — the building will very likely be sold. The decision to close is largely dictated by the diminishing number of members, now greatly reduced by old age.

Quite close to Euston station Tallant Hall was in the evening the meeting place for numerous societies with a transport interest, eg industrial railways and trolleybuses. Esperanto had been an important activity and there was also regular ballroom dancing upstairs. There were a number of meeting rooms. The atmosphere was remarkable and catering facilities excellent. Tallant Hall exuded a great feeling of the idealism of pre-war Britain. With cheap foreign holidays now readily available the CHA is unlikely to appeal in the way it once did. Has anyone come across a history of the CHA which was originally founded in 1893? It would make interesting reading.

Do any GLIAS members have anecdotes of Tallant Hall? Quite a number of our readers have probably been here at one time or another. Bob Carr

Follow-up: I was interested to read your comments regarding the closure of the Fred Tallant Hall, in Drummond Street, Euston, home of the London CHA Club Limited. I would like to add, however, that the club was founded in 1901 by a group of holiday makers who wished to preserve the comradeship and co-operation characteristic of a CHA holiday throughout the year. Although connected to the Countrywide Holidays Association, it has never been administered or financed by them.

The association was founded in 1891 by the Rev Thomas Arthur Leonard, a Congregational Minister, who was born in Stoke Newington in 1864. A group from his Young Men’s Guild took a holiday at Ambleside in 1891 and at Carnarvon in 1892. By 1893 Leonard became honorary secretary of a scheme for summer rambling holidays with social evenings of music and lectures. In the late 1890s it became a small company known as The Co-operative Holidays Association. The name changed to The Country-wide Holidays Association in 1964.

It was from these beginnings, that the London CHA Club was founded in 1901. They first met at Gatti's Restaurant in the Strand, then at Furnival Hall, Furnival Street, when the charge on Tuesday evenings was 3d. In 1910 they opened a Club House at 28 Red Lion Square, where they remained until 1926. On 13 April, 1926 the club moved to Drummond Street, when they leased the Tolmers Square Institute Buildings ('Tolmers Hall'). Two years later some club members purchased the freehold of the building for club members. In 1935 Tolmers Hall was renamed Fred Tallant Hall in memory of Fred Tallant, Honorary Secretary of the Club from its foundation in 1901 to 1934. CHA clubs were founded countrywide, but the London club is the only one with its own building. The others were mainly rambling clubs without their own premises.

Tolmers Hall was almost 50 years old when the CHA club purchased the building, the Foundation Stone having been laid on 31 October 1877. It was intended that the building would accommodate the Sunday School of the nearby Tolmers Square Congregational Church, which on most Sundays taught some 750 children. It would also include a 'British Workman' or Coffee Palace, Reading Room, Library and Lecture Hall. The land had formerly accommodated three houses and a reservoir. In its early days the cafe attracted as many as 500 customers before 9am, a good cup of coffee or coca being sold for a halfpenny.

In 1879 the Institute was opened with a Dedicatory Service, followed by tea attended by many members and friends of Tolmers Square Church, and in the evening nearly 1,000 people attended a meeting in the lecture hall. The total cost of the purchase of the site and the erection of the building was £11,000.

The CHA Club activities over the years have included Ballroom, Old Time and Scottish Dancing, Badminton, Table Tennis, Drama, Lectures, Film Shows and Rambling. They have also let their rooms to more than 20 organisations, with varied interests, eg Transport, Cinema Organs, Drama, Esperanto, etc. It is sad that the club has to close, which has been occasioned by a decreasing and ageing membership. The Fred Tallant Hall, which has been a hive of activity and a much loved venue, is to be sold by the CHA Club. Joan Hardinges


GLIAS database: news from Croydon

Having received a copy of the Database during the AIA Annual Conference at Edinburgh, I have been busy adding entries for Croydon. As received, the Database had, I think, something like 21 entries for the borough. It now has almost 300!

Croydon, being Croydon, obviously has numerous sites for industrial buildings and structures which no longer survive, at least above ground. However, they are important to have on record to give a complete picture, and in at least some cases there may well still be evidence for them below the surface.

Industrial Archaeology can hardly be taken seriously if it doesn't take notice of subsurface remains! Thus Croydon's first gasworks (1826) in Overton's Yard, off Surrey Street, might have left some trace (although most if not all has probably been destroyed by deep foundations for new buildings). The gasworks, and the bleaching works established in the Old Palace, may well both have been significant customers of coal suppliers via the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway, which lay between them.

Croydon, now, is nothing if not multi-storey car parks and office blocks. A number of these are now over 40 years old, and some of the first have already been demolished. As the Database has to an extent been based on IRIS I have adopted the very wide scope embraced by the AIA recording scheme, so am including everything that might remotely be called 'industrial archaeology'. We obviously have our 'plums' such as the Airport, Shirley Windmill, and the Surrey Street Water Pumping Station. We also have some little-known gems, including two former Second World War deep air-raid shelters, both subsequently used as underground optical works (one is still in such use). Although Croydon's railways and numerous current and former stations are well-known, less has been published concerning the interesting civil and structural engineering railway works, so these are receiving due attention.

Adding to the Database is going hand in hand with working on the proposed Industrial History of Croydon guidebook, which I am writing at the suggestion of GLIAS and the Surrey Industrial History Group. Paul Sowan

Seething Wells historic filter beds

With a number of other local people, we are about to embark on a second planning inquiry (we won the first!) to try and prevent destructive development at Seething Wells, historic filter beds along the Thames at Surbiton.

These water bodies were among the first to be built above Teddington Lock to provide clean water for London, pre-dating the Metropolitan Water Act and the mass relocation of water extraction plants upstream on the Thames. They were designed by Sir James Simpson on the slow sand filtration system and they also feature a whole network of tunnels, many with original plant still intact down there. We do not have the full details of these and could not find plans although we spent a long morning examining microfiches back to 1850 at Thames Water's Reading HQ. These filter beds also played an historic role in proving cholera to be a waterborne disease — they provided the perfect double-blind study for Dr Snow because they piped clean water to some of the homes in Lambeth while others in the same street had their provision from the river locally, where the water was filthy.

A new inquiry is scheduled for 18 February and again we will be presenting evidence to the Inspector, much of it new since the last inquiry. In this we are working with Kingston, the local planning authority, and we hope English Heritage and Hampton Court.

Support for these wonderful filter beds, their history, architecture, archaeology, heritage, nature, place in the landscape, would be welcome. You will be able to find a great deal about these filter beds, their history, the threats that face them and the efforts of local people to protect them for the future at the website of [website defunct]

In the Journal (left of screen) you will find an article with photography about the discovery of tunnels and also in the Journal, in the colourful boxes down the right hand of the page, you will see a photo-feature on Seething Wells which gives you more background.
Jill Sanders, 25 Garrick's Ait, Hampton on Thames TW12 2EW

Mail Rail faces closure

Royal Mail's 'Mail Rail' service which runs under London faces closure after 75 years, unless a new backer can be found to save it.

When it opened in 1927, Mail Rail had eight 'stations' — rising to nine at its peak — serving mail centres and delivery offices along a track running from Paddington in west London to Whitechapel in the east. Today it serves just four: East London Mail Centre (Whitechapel); London Central (Europe's largest mail centre, Mount Pleasant, at Farringdon); West End Delivery Office (in Rathbone Place, off Oxford Street); and London West Mail Centre (Paddington). That number will reduce to only three in March when the mail centre at Whitechapel closes and sorting of all mail for east London moves to the new £38m operation at Bromley-by-Bow.

The idea of an underground rail service for London was first mooted in 1855 by the then secretary to the Post Office, Rowland Hill. Although trials were conducted in small tunnels, the Post Office abandoned the scheme until early in the next century. It was eventually given the go-ahead by the government in 1913.

The outbreak of the First World War halted construction and the little tunnels were used to store art treasures from major London galleries, such as the Tate and the National Portrait Galleries.

Work began on the tunnels again in 1923 and the first trains started delivery four years later — under the banner of the Post Office Underground Railway. It became Mail Rail on the service's 60th anniversary, shortly after the old stock was replaced with 34 new trains.

GLIAS evening visit to the P O Railway, 15 January 1976 © Michael Bussell GLIAS evening visit to the P O Railway, 15 January 1976 © Michael Bussell

David Chapman, Royal Mail's London programme manager, said it was sensible to consider the future of Mail Rail given the financial losses suffered by the postal business.

He said: 'It serves fewer stations than originally intended and it costs us five times as much as moving mail by road. For a business losing £1.2m a day, that is clearly not sustainable.'

Meanwhile, as part of its 'Taking Stock' review, Royal Mail has launched an analysis of the mail centre capacity that will be required in London to handle the capital's daily postbag in five, ten, and 15 years' time.

'The amount of mail posted in London over the last five years has dropped by nearly the equivalent of an entire mail centre operation, and those volumes continue to decline because of the economic climate and e-substitution,' said Chapman. 'Our review will examine future trends to see what other changes might need to be made to the capital's mails operation — so that it provides an increasingly cost-effective contribution to our business and delivers an increasingly efficient service for our customers in the capital.'

Mail Rail facts:

Trains are 8.4m long
They carry loads of 980kg of mail
The tunnels are 21m (70ft) underground
Trains run on a 610mm electrified track

Industrial archaeology theory — get rid of people

At present industrial archaeology is rather like the biological sciences were before Darwin and natural selection. We just collect and classify information but there is no theory. Can we ever hope to have something in industrial archaeology comparable to the Darwinian paradigm?

One thing which is noticeable whenever a case study arises is that the replacement of plant, machinery and so on always (?) seems to be accompanied by a reduction in the number of people employed. Could we have a principle that for anything of this kind to happen we must always get rid of people. Is getting rid of (expensive) people a major incentive for industrial or technological change?

Is it always necessary to get rid of people for a project to be economically feasible?

Although there may not be a simple one to one correspondence there does appear to be a strong correlation. Bob Carr

Prince of Wales gone

On the south side of Gloucester Gate NW1 close to the Outer Circle of Regent's Park at number 14 stood an imposing classical style house with a dominant portico. Over the entrance was the inscription 'The Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture'. It has been noted recently that the inscription is no longer there.

Has the institute moved or closed? The full title of the institute was 'The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Architecture and the Urban Environment'. Bob Carr

Follow-up: The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Architecture and the Urban Environment is now located at 19-22 Charlotte Road, London EC2. The premises are a former 19th-century Victorian warehouse with interiors by Robert Kime and furniture by Leon Krier. The architects are Matthew Lloyd Practice.

The premises were open to the public during London Open House days 21-22 September 2002. John Reeve

It's an ill wind

Advertisers are even able to make use of motorway traffic jams to promote products. On the east side of the M6 just north of the RAC Control Centre near Walsall in the West Midlands the following advertising sign was noted — 'Duerr's Marmalades beat M6 jams by miles'. Can the M25 beat this? Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2003