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Notes and news — February 2004

In this issue:

Obituary: Bill Firth (1925-2003)

It is with deep regret that we report the death of Bill Firth. Bill died peacefully on 18 December. He joined GLIAS in April 1975 and most members knew him in one way or another.

Bill was born in Wembley but brought up in Hendon in a family of Yorkshire extract — a topic that aroused his genealogical instincts later. He had intended to go to Oxford to read chemistry but with the war he planned to join the RAF as a pilot but due to his height he became a navigator and served on transport aircraft flying high-ranking personnel around war theatres in the Far East. This experience left him with strong interests in aviation as well as maps (on IA visits he was never without a local OS Map).

Following the war he returned to Wadham College, Oxford to complete his scientific education and then joined Esso in Southampton as a chemist. Within Esso he had various roles moving from the bench to management and serving for two years in Brussels. The threat of further moves with its disruption to family life caused him to leave Esso and become a founder of an Industrial Consultancy based in Victoria where he worked until he retired in 1991.

Two years after joining GLIAS he was elected to our executive committee. In 1977 he was persuaded to lead a walk around Hendon — the first of many. He will be especially remembered for those in Westminster which were very much derived from his lunchtime strolls when he worked in the area. In 1979 he took responsibility for GLIAS publicity. In 1989 he volunteered to be secretary, a task he took to with dedication and relish — 'he was the gospel with respect to our constitution'. He stayed in the post to May 2000.

His research centred on early aircraft manufacture particularly in Hendon Aerodrome and its Grahame-White connections. He co-ordinated the IA surveys of both Barnet and Brent for GLIAS, details of which are now included in the GLIAS database. In addition he was also active in HADAS and co-ordinated IA recording for that society.

Having been a member of the Association for Industrial Archaeology since the late 1970s, on retiring Bill was elected to its council in 1991. The day before his death he was chairing a planning meeting for the 2004 AIA conference to be held in Hatfield (a former aircraft site!).

Besides leading walks and arranging visits Bill was a very regular attendee on most GLIAS visits and walks and at AIA and SERIAC conferences and more recently on City Safaris. Although IA played a major role in his life, Bill did have other interests ranging from family history to theatre and opera and a love of rugby and, of course, his family. He is survived by his wife Mary, whom he married in 1957, his two children Martin and Rachel and two grandchildren Christopher and Katie.

GLIAS members will remember Bill as a good humoured, friendly and very willing industrial archaeologist, who was present on so many walks both his own and others, for his large number of hats suitable for all walks in all weather and his umbrella and, in particular, standing there at some narrow opening, gate or alleyway counting us all through and then disputing with Sue Hayton just how many had turned out and why! David Perrett

Note: Bill was cremated in Golders Green Crematorium on 29 December 2003. GLIAS was represented by some dozen committee members, who on this last visit were able to also observe this fine 1902 building constructed by the London Cremation Company to the design of Sir Ernest George and Alfred Yeates. This was London's first crematorium. Many famous persons are commemorated here including James Dewar (the Thermos flask), William Garstin (builder Aswan Dam), Rudyard Kipling and Alexander Fleming.

Obituary: Alan Spackman

Alan Spackman died suddenly and unexpectedly on Saturday 20 September 2003 after showing visitors around Markfield Road Beam Engine and site as part of the London Open House programme. He was 76 years old.

Educated at Beckenham Grammar School, Kent, Alan originally worked for the South Eastern Gas Board. He left in the early 1960s to lecture in chemistry and engineering at Enfield College of Technology which became Middlesex Polytechnic and later Middlesex University. During this period Alan completed an MSc degree at Imperial College. He took early retirement in 1979 and involved himself in the restoration of Markfield Road beam engine, initially through the creation of the River Lea Industrial Archaeology Society.

Alan was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was a member of GLIAS. He believed and argued passionately that young people should be given a proper grounding in science and technology and it was perhaps fitting that he spent his last day advocating that the Markfield Road site should become a 'Window on the World of Engineering', linking the past with the future and promoting interest in engineering and science. Bob Carr

King's Cross — Channel Tunnel Rail Link overbridge

Around and to the north of King's Cross and St Pancras railway stations work is proceeding rapidly to construct a great transport interchange which will receive Eurostar trains when the rapid rail link from Ebbsfleet in Kent is finished. Along the west side of St Pancras station itself there has been considerable demolition and Midland Road is blocked off. To the north of the great St Pancras train shed, on the east side, rails are already being laid for the new terminus to which Midland Main Line trains will be temporarily diverted.

Well to the north of the stations on the east side of Copenhagen Viaduct on the new section of railway embankment (at TQ 302 841) just east of the 'level crossing' (GLIAS Newsletter June 2003) engineers have been constructing a steel-girder bridge truss. This has latterly been clad with metal sheeting to give the appearance of a large tube. (Some WAGN train passengers were under the impression that it was a building.)

Now the tube rests over the King's Cross main line railway forming a bridge linking the embankment to the tunnel portal from which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will emerge after its long subterranean passage westwards from Stratford. Presumably the tube was moved to the east over the Christmas break when no trains were running (as mentioned by Malcolm Tucker).

It is not clear why the new bridge is enclosed. The exterior sheeting will not contribute much structurally. Could it be a safety feature to prevent GNER and WAGN train drivers being distracted by a Eurostar flashing into view? The brick Copenhagen Viaduct which carries York Way (A5200) is just as it was. It is due for demolition from autumn 2004 (GLIAS Newsletter August 2003). Bob Carr

King's Cross gazetteer

Fish facts revisited

Since reviving memories of the fish in the cistern (GLIAS Newsletter December 2003), I have been doing some ferreting around among some surviving lorry driver friends.

There is no doubt that many people saw the fish in-situ accompanied by the layer of gravel and the pond weed (at the opposite end to the ballcock). Not a joke, but put in the deliberately and being there for 15 years to my personal knowledge The last memories of the fish being there seems to be around mid 1960, which fits with my original impression. So Malcolm Holmes is quite right in saying there were no fish in the period about which he was writing.

I think the answer to the denials is in the first line of his second paragraph. The 1960s in local government was synonymous with strict organisation and rule books, no one in the exalted position of supervisor would admit to allowing pets in a toilet it would be 'more than his jobs worth'. Why Geoffrey Fletcher should say he 'made it up' I don't know. We know we saw them and the man who could confirm the story is long gone.

We will have to agree to disagree, as Marlene was wont to say, 'It's all part of life's rich pattern' (can't imitate the Brummy accent). Bob Rust

The Gents with the goldfish is still causing controversy long after it was swept away. As someone who has worked in Bloomsbury for three decades, perhaps I could add my tuppennyworth.

This celebrated Gents public convenience stood at, or rather below, the junction of Holborn and Proctor Street, and survived until the late 1970s. Around that time, if not later still, it fell victim to a road realignment. Filtered lanes were introduced at the junction, and the loo was simply concreted over, and buried under the asphalt of the new road pattern.

I am one of those who clearly remember seeing goldfish in the glass cisterns over the urinals. I regularly took long walks around the area during my lunch breaks in the mid-1970s and would go out of my way to visit this loo, just to see the goldfish, which I remember on more than one occasion. I can recall discussing the goldfish with colleagues, and commiserating with lady members of staff in my office that they would never be able to see the amazing fish! The fish in the glass cisterns were common knowledge, and nobody ever said I was imagining things. Until I read recent GLIAS Newsletters, I was quite certain that I had seen them, and indeed it's one of the memories of the area that I treasured, like the old Covent Garden Market, or 84 Charing Cross Road where I would buy paperbacks for a few pence each, and so on. I'm also quite sure that I had never read or even heard of Geoffrey Fletcher's 'The London Nobody Knows'.

The other memorable thing was how sparklingly clean those toilets were kept. Every metal pipe glittered, and the porcelain surfaces shone; in those days there was often an attendant who took a pride in 'their' loo. The cleanliness though was not that unusual; across central London there was a systematic network of public toilet provision which was one of the best in the world. These ornate Victorian and Edwardian structures were often architectural delights as well as important components of the urban fabric and clever bits of civil engineering, but many — probably most — have now vanished, unlisted and unrecorded.

These toilets were often staffed by house proud attendants, some of them old soldiers with a yarn or two to tell in that more innocent age.

Several people who were in a position to know have now written to state that there could not have been goldfish in the Holborn loo. This was also the view of the Camden Local Studies Library when I contacted them. However, I do remember seeing them. Can any other readers verify my recollection? Stephen Pewsey

Glorious Goodwood

Readers are probably quite familiar with the railway preservation movement recreating scenes from the past but not all GLIAS members may be aware that enthusiasts also re-create the motor racing of the past. As well as horses Goodwood near Chichester, West Sussex, is famous for motor racing in the 1950s. The circuit from this period, around an aerodrome, is the scene for meetings which bring back the sights and style of motor sport over the intervening decades. Even though it is mainly about period high-performance motor cars with Second World War fighter planes in attendance (using the aerodrome) you don't need to be a clone of Jeremy Clarkson to enjoy these events. There are numerous side shows and people in the crowd, including children, are dressed in period costume (much 1950s). People eat from wicker hampers and serve drinks from period vacuum flasks. The atmosphere is tremendous and if you arrive in a period car (one built before 1966) you are allocated a parking space close to the circuit. Drivers of E-type Jaguars get really special treatment.

In the races cars are driven at very realistic speeds and make an enormous noise. You can see pre-war E.R.A.s and Grand Prix cars of the early 1950s in action and the epoch of Mike Hawthorn is well represented. Race events are for cars and motorcycles of various periods since the 1930s and reproduce races from the past seventy years with remarkable fidelity. Edwardian steam machines and all kinds of road transport are present and period commercial vehicles are in use around the circuit performing their original roles. There are military vehicles, handcarts and old bicycles. Fish and chips are wrapped in real newspaper, and when did you last see a young woman wearing a fox fur or a hat with a veil?

If you are a typical industrial archaeologist rather than a motor buff there is still plenty to keep up the interest all day and it could be well worth trying a visit to Goodwood, at least once. This year's events are the Festival of Speed (25-27 June) and the Goodwood Revival (3-5 September). The latter will probably be of more interest to GLIAS members (most of the above describes a Revival meeting) but telephone 01243 755055 for further information. Practice days can be recommended and a visit to the Paddock. Please note that this year there is no admission on the day. Pre-booking and arrangements for period vehicles are essential. Bob Carr

Canal pubs

British Waterways is planning to launch a network of high quality waterside pubs on its 2,000 miles of canals and rivers throughout Britain.

British Waterways is to seek a private sector partner and will give the proposed Waterside Pub Partnership access to unrivalled locations and opportunities. The Waterside Pub Partnership will develop new waterside pubs and improve the facilities and performance of some existing pubs that British Waterways owns.

British Waterways has identified 60 sites from its portfolio of prime waterside property that will initially be offered to the Partnership. The Waterside Pub Partnership is expected to invest about £50m over the first few years to develop and improve the sites into high quality pubs.

British Waterways has delivered 220 additional miles of new or restored waterway since 2001, and plans to double this number by 2012.
To see British Waterways Waterside Pub Partnership brochure visit

Pearson's Department Store — Centenary

Pearson's Department Store in Enfield Town, on the south side of the Market Place (TQ 328 966), is still a family business and as such is something remarkable.

The present premises opened in 1928 on the site of Enfield Manor. The firm was founded in 1903 and this year's centenary celebrations include the sale of a special centenary calendar. In addition the china and glass department is stocking special limited edition 1:76 scale die-cast model London Transport buses at a cost of £21 each. There are two to choose from. One is an STL type in red livery operating from Enfield garage with 107 Enfield Town on the destination blind and the other is a green liveried RT from Epping garage on route 396 to Bishops Stortford. The STL type was introduced in 1932 and the RT in 1939. Both models carry advertisements for Pearson's store. It appears there's a bus enthusiast somewhere among the staff. Anyway these metal bus models look good and are highly collectable so hurry while stocks last (Tel: 020 8373 4200).

Pearson's still has a traditional upper-floor restaurant with windows which look out onto the Market Place. The Enfield area has been noteworthy for technological innovation and this tradition was being upheld as late as 1967 when on 27 June the world's first bank cash dispensing machine was installed at the 1897 Barclay's Bank over the road. Twenty-five years later this momentous event was commemorated by a plaque unveiled by the Mayor of Enfield, Councillor Doreen Mardon, on 26 June 1992. There are still Barclay's cash machines here. Just to the west in the Market Place is a black cast-iron water hand pump which stood here from 1847-1904. This was reinstalled in 1979.

Enfield Town is a pleasant place to visit and over the Christmas period was quite animated. Buses run east and west along Church Street past Pearson's store and among these is the frequent double-deck 121 service which at the eastern end of its route used to terminate at the gates of the King George V pumping station. This building still contains three of Herbert Humphrey's revolutionary pumps which were powered by producer gas. Few closed pumping stations could have had such an excellent bus service. Recent bus maps indicate that the eastern terminus of the 121 route may have been relocated to Enfield Island Village. This is the name for the new housing development on the site of the former Royal Small Arms Factory which ceased production in 1988. Can any readers who have been this way recently confirm that the 121 bus terminus has been moved? Bob Carr

Sun Fire Insurance policy registers

The latest issue of Local History News refers to the Heritage Lottery funded project of the London Archive Users Forum to index the 30 volumes of Sun Fire Insurance Policy Registers in the Manuscripts Section of the Guildhall Library. It says: 'By the end of July some 40,355 records had been entered on to the database by a team of 25 regular volunteers. This data will be transferred to the Access to Archives project and will appear on the web early in 2004' at

The End of Engineering

At the Science Museum, South Kensington, the last chartered engineer on the staff is finishing his employment. At the Kew Bridge Steam Museum the engineering department which has been doing so much outside contract work was closed at the end of 2003 with the loss of three full-time jobs and one sub-contractor. We are no longer the engineering nation we were.

While on the subject of Kew Bridge a specially commissioned boring rig has been used there to re-bore the Bull engine's air pump cylinder. This was to correct the oval cross section which the cylinder had acquired. The boring was done in-situ and is thought to be a first such in a preservation context. Modifications are to be made to enable the engine to work against an artificial head of water. The museum's restored Cornish beam engines work in this way. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2004