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Notes and news — June 2004

In this issue

GLIAS Lecture: Sir Henry Bessemer 1813-1898

Our chairman, Denis Smith, gave the annual lecture after the AGM. He started by disclaiming the phrase 'Man of Steel' which the society had added to his title, as the lecture was primarily concerned with Bessemer's activities other than the invention (or discovery?) of the converter process.

Bessemer was born at Charlton, near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. He had grandparents of French origin on both sides of the family. His father, Anthony Bessemer, had been born in England, but taken to Holland where he had been apprenticed to a mechanical engineer and was involved with the steam pumping of Haarlem Meer. He had then moved to Paris, where was elected to the Academy of Science in 1789 for his work on the improvement of microscopes; he also worked at the Paris Mint. The French Revolution ruined his financial position and he returned to England. Henry was fascinated by his father's type-foundry, which he had built in the grounds of the house at Charlton, finding his way in to the melt furnace when it was regularly fired.

Denis then illustrated Bessemer's wide range of interests, summarising him as a 'furnace and alloy man': stamping and forging, type-casting, steel-making, alloys and bronze powder, sugar and glass manufacture, ordnance, centrifugal pumps, railway lines and brakes and steamships. During his lifetime, he took out 117 patents: 46 on iron and steel, 13 each on sugar manufacture and ordnance, 12 on steamships, 10 on railways, five on glass and 18 others. He spent on £30,000 on stamp duty! The foundation of his fortune came from inventing a cheaper way of making bronze powder. His sister asked him to emboss the cover of her flower collection portfolio in 'gold'. He bought bronze powder at 7s 6d an ounce. He invented a method of manufacture which reduced it to 4d an ounce, which financed the work on all his other inventions. He built a works at Baxter House in the 'quiet suburb of St Pancras', on a site in St Pancras Lane, later covered by the Midland Railway coal drops. He was extremely secretive about the process, building a wall separating the engine and boiler house from the machinery; even his sons were not allowed in until they were grown up.

He invented a die for embossing legal documents with stamp duty, for which he was not paid; and a machine frame type-setting machine, which produced 6,000 characters an hour. It could be operated by women, but that created prejudice! He also invented an improved glass furnace, in which the molten glass passed from the furnace onto rollers to produce sheet glass. He initially forgot to include a cutter and the sheets glass piled up against the door at the end of the building! The invention was quickly bought up by Chance Brothers, who had just produced 900,000 square feet of glass panes for the Crystal Palace by the cylinder method, for £6,000. In the 1851 Exhibition, encouraged by Brian Donkin, he exhibited a centrifugal pump he had invented. He asked George Forester & Co of Liverpool to make it, provided they could do so in 32 days — it arrived in 31 days. He also invented a more efficient method of crushing sugar cane, for which he received the Royal Society of Arts Albert Medal.

His next invention was the steel converter, described in the patent as a method to 'manufacture iron without fuel', though fuel was, of course, needed to operate the blowers. George Rennie realised the importance of the method and changed the agenda of an IME meeting in 1856 to enable it to be taken, though it was never published by the Institution (but it was published in The Times). Denis said Bessemer was lucky to have chosen coal from South Wales, which had low phosphorous content — possible by chance, because the Blaenavon Coal Company happened to have an office in St Pancras Lane. Many of the licences which he sold from 1856 led to complaints that the process did not work, because it was used with coal with a high phosphorous content — a problem only solved later by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas by changing the refractory lining of the converter. Bessemer built his own steel works in Sheffield in 1858 to use the process. The last 'blow' in the UK was at Kelham Iron Works — Denis had been surprised to find that the steel industry museum did not have a copy of the video film of it. He understood one or more converters were still in use in Russia. As a postscript, Denis mentioned that Naysmith had invented a system before Bessemer, using steam rather than blown air. Bessemer offered him a one third share in the profits from his converter, but Naysmith declined.

During the Crimean War, Bessemer met Napoleon III to demonstrate a steel lining inside a cannon. The Emperor asked why he did not make the whole gun of steel. In 1854, Bessemer took out two patents which proposed a method of imparting spin to the shell without rifling, using tangential outlets for the charge so that the escaping gases caused the shell to spin. But there was no interest. In an 1861 trial, steel rails outlasted 16 wrought iron rails; the steel rails were also tested by Kirkaldy. His last ventures were into the construction of steamships. In particular, his proneness to sea-sickness led him to invent a system to keep the cabin stabled by mounting it on gimbals. A prototype was built by Maudslay, Son and Field in 1875 but was not successful. It had two sets of paddle wheels, which made it unmanoeuvrable and it twice hit the jetty at Calais, causing considerable damage. The cabin is reputed to have survived and to be located in a garden in Dover — Denis would be delighted if anyone can tell him where it is! Bessemer was knighted in 1879 and died in 1898. There are cities around the world bearing his name — including 13 in the United States. Brian Strong

Follow-up: GLIAS Newsletter August 2004

Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S. — An Autobiography

GLIAS Lecture: Water Towers

The March lecture was given by Barry Barton, a water engineer, member of the ICE Panel on Water Towers and author of a book on the results of the panel's work. Water towers were constructed to store water above ground level as part of a water supply system and consist essentially of a tank and shaft, with associated valve and pipework. There is an almost infinite variety of design and configuration. They were not needed in ancient systems, which involved local streams and wells or supply by aqueducts. Pumping was included from Roman times — Roman pumps have been found at Cirencester and Lincoln, operated manually or by horse gins. Water wheels were later used, eg in York and at London Bridge — the latter operated 52 'pumps' under five arches. They were replaced by steam pumps.

The growth of towns not only led to a need to supply water to larger numbers but also in close proximity to pollution. Bulk supply at a high level was needed. There was also a problem in matching the constant flow of a water wheel or steam pump to the diurnal variation in consumption, which required storage. This could, of course, be provided by a service reservoir, which was more cost-effective provided there was a convenient location. Mr Barton showed a diagram of the typical structure of a water tower, which is roofed to secure hygiene and ventilated to maintain atmospheric pressure, with inlet, outlet and overflow facilities. A water level gauge was operated by a floating pulley system but is today provided by telemetry: a radio signal sends the level to the pumping station.

The earliest water towers tended to be provided in existing structures, such as a church tower in Norwich or a medieval defence tower in York; Shrewsbury had a tank in the town wall, and later on the roof of the market cross. The earliest purpose-built water tower is not certain, but was probably built in York in 1726. This was a timber, lead-lined structure, which was unsuitable, because timber rots and lead slumps. The earliest extant structure was built at Houghton Park, Norfolk (seat of the Walpole family) in 1732. Other early candidates are at Abington Park, Northampton 1768 (though water supply may not have been its original function) and the Dame Mary Bowles Tower, Wakefield.

The provision of public supply systems was capital-intensive, though water towers are not expensive to maintain and operate. As towns grew, hygiene deteriorated, but major technical advances came with the railways, which needed an elevated water supply for locomotives. The earliest were small cast iron tanks, but larger ones were soon needed. The railway water towers and tanks disappeared in the 1960s with the end of steam traction.

Cast-iron tanks are heavy and need support, which was also of cast iron, as in the large structure at Portsmouth Dockyard. There were also riveted wrought iron tanks, but these required local expertise in construction. The 'classic Victorian' water tower was ornamented as an expression of civic pride. Some had internal tanks; those that were external required an external access. There was also a choice between internal and external flanges — external flanges gave cleaner internal surfaces but internal flanges were aesthetically superior. Other structural methods were sectional pressed steel (the well-known Braithwaite tank), patented in 1870, which was lighter and cheaper but unattractive; and reinforced concrete, patented in 1854, which was popular in the early decades of the 20th century. The extension of water supply in rural areas from the 1950s led to a wide variety of styles, including the 1960s 'wine glass' design which reduced the shaft to the minimum. Brian Strong
Water Towers of Britain by Barry Barton published by the Newcomen Society, £28.50 (+P&P)

GLAAS Review

The English Heritage Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service Quarterly Review for November to January includes a number of items on industrial sites:

Brian Strong

LAMAS Conference

This year's annual conference of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society took place at the Museum of London on 27 March. The morning was devoted to 'traditional archaeology', with talks on an early Neolithic burial from Yabsley Street, Blackwall; a Roman building complex at Shadwell; the archaeology of Roman Enfield and recent Roman finds from Tabard Street, Southwark. The morning concluded with a trailer by Hedley Swain for LAMAS' 150th anniversary in 2005, in which members will be asked to vote on their favourite London archaeological site, to produce a 'Top 50'. He ran through likely candidates, of which the most modern were the Rose Theatre and the crypt of Christ Church, Spittlegate — not an industrial site mentioned!

The afternoon sessions were devoted to 'The Archaeology of the Recent Past'. The first talk was by Kieron Tyler, of MoLAS, on the Archaeology of 19th and 20th century London. His thesis was that, just because records of the period survive, we should not ignore what remains under the ground — still less dig through it to find the 'real archaeology'. So far, so good. However, he then went on to distinguish Industrial Archaeology, which he argued was about structures above the ground, from what he called 'the archaeology of the industrial era', which was below ground. I suspect few GLIAS members would agree — particularly as his first example was the excavation of the Doulton Lambeth factory site behind 9 Albert Embankment, which not only identified kiln and chimney bases, but also the flues connecting them, which made it possible to establish how the complex worked, which he claimed was previously unknown. If that is not industrial archaeology, I don't know what is! His second example, across the Albert Embankment, was of cesspits which were filled with imported fill after the introduction of London's sewerage system in the 1850s. The fill included Victorian tableware, industrial crucibles, stoneware blacking bottles, glass phials, children's marbles, writing stylos, bone dominos.

The second talk was given by Gus Milne, on behalf of Nigel Jeffries, on the material lives of Victorian Londoners. Milne also argued the case for more modern archaeology. He pointed out that, when Grimes was seeking funding after the Second World War, he was criticised for including the medieval period! The Society for Post Medieval Archaeology was only founded in 1967. So perhaps we are making progress as industrial archaeology becomes more recognised? Jeffries is running a project seeking to construct a database of the contents of pit groups, such as the one in the previous talk, and relate it to the social profile of the area, trades and professions and the census, street by street and chronologically. He will then aim to compare different areas in London with areas in the rest of the country and abroad, including Australia and the USA.

These talks were followed by our own David Perrett, who took us on a quick trot around the Industrial Archaeology of the 20th Century, looking at declining and new industries and changes in transport and communications, materials, power, entertainment, housing and the environment. In some cases, the buildings and structures he illustrated have gone or are about to go; others survive, some in new uses (many as loft apartments!). But in many cases, manufacturing and other processes have gone, unrecorded. For example, many telephone exchanges are now empty, or modern exchanges use only a part of the building. The complicated electronic machinery has gone — has it been recorded? And what has happened to the Mercury phone boxes, which were spread around London so recently? He concluded that 'we cannot preserve everything. We can record, but beware ... Will we know more about Victorian industry than we do about today's industry? Records are fallible; colour slides fade and digitised information may not be readable in a few years.' Brian Strong

Brunel Bridge Found At Paddington!

The Brunel bridge discovered around early March this year (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) to the north west of Paddington Station in London has received enormous media coverage. It does, however, appear to be of significant engineering interest and the amount of hype surrounding the discovery is not entirely inappropriate. The bridge, 1838, is cast iron and not of a standard design. It is very much a one-off phenomenon.

In March public visits to see the bridge from a distance of about 50 yards were organised. At this period the bridge was being dismantled. Large scale redevelopment is taking place around and to the north west of the bridge and it may be possible to re-assemble it on a new site about 200 yards away. On Monday evening 29 March the Institution of Structural Engineers History Study Group was to include in its programme a preliminary presentation on the Paddington Brunel Bridge.

The I K Brunel bridge carried Bishop's Bridge Road over the Paddington Arm of the Grand Junction Canal (GJC) at TQ 265 816. Immediately to the south west a later large bowstring bridge carries the same road over the numerous tracks of the GWR. Brunel's bridge was not 'enclosed in modern brickwork' but partially obscured by later brick parapets for the pedestrian footpaths. The original bridge was wide for its period (as required by the Bishop of London) and was never widened. Brunel's work has always been visible from beneath.

At the junction of GJC and GWR property on the south side of the road stood a small cafe, recently demolished. The GJC/GWR boundary was marked by a prominent lozenge shaped faïence tile on the north side of the cafe about 18in above the pavement. This feature was well known to the numerous travellers who used the bridge but its present whereabouts are unknown. It may no longer exist. Bob Carr

Coronation Trains

I would like to advise Bob Carr of the possibility of a small ambiguity in his otherwise excellent report on Finsbury Park (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004).

Most people will think of the Coronation train as the LMS train Coronation Scot which would have been based at Euston and never have passed Finsbury Park. (Born in the streamline era of the 1930s, 'The Coronation Scot' provided a high speed luxury service between London (Euston) and Glasgow (Central). It was put on by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in response to competition of it East Coast rival, the London & North Eastern Railway, whose first high-speed train began operating in 1935.

Bob is surely thinking of the Sir Nigel Gresley streamlined A4 Pacific locomotives of the LNER, such as Mallard, which hauled expresses such as the Silver Link and which indeed featured a Coronation Express but which is much less well known by this name.

Also route 39 also still operates Routemaster buses and is a special route as it goes along York Way and a lot of the CTRL work going on at Kings Cross can be seen and photographed from the top deck as they have opening windows! Barry Emmott

As well as the London and North Eastern Railway's Coronation streamlined train which passed through Finsbury Park on its way to Edinburgh, the rival London Midland and Scottish Railway ran a streamlined 'Coronation Scot' from Euston to Glasgow. The two trains were introduced in the summer of 1937. The LMS Coronation Scot ran the 401.5 miles from Euston to Glasgow in six and a half hours, while the LNER Coronation took six hours to cover the 392.7 miles to Edinburgh. This train covered the 188.2 miles from London to the first stop at York at an average speed of 71.9mph which was a British Empire record.

In 1935 the LNER had introduced their Silver Jubilee service from London to Newcastle. This was scheduled to run the 232.3 miles to Darlington in 198 minutes, an average speed on 70.4mph. Only 122 passengers were allowed in the coaches and 76 in the restaurant cars. One had to pay a supplement, five shillings first class and three shillings in third. On the LNER Coronation which in July 1938 left King's Cross at teatime, 4pm, and arrived in Edinburgh at 10pm, refreshments were provided at every seat. There was also a 'beaver tail' observation car at the rear which carried twin red tail lamps (of the traditional pattern — somewhat incongruous). Bob Carr

Transport in Wood Green in the 1950s

A recent item concerning the refuse collection and disposal service in Wood Green in the 1950s brought back many memories — including what must have been the biggest 'sulky' in the world. A shire horse harnessed to the separated bogie of the refuse trailer, with the refuse collector sitting atop an upturned metal bath, padded with old sacks, galloping back to the depot after the Scammell Scarab tractor had collected the trailer.

Although we did not appreciate it at the time, Wood Green was a transport mecca in the 1950s.

On Lordship Lane there was the City Coach depot which, with its chocolate and cream mainly pre-war Leyland Gnus and Tigers with Duple bodies, provided a regular service to Southend via the old route (A12, A129) calling at Romford Market Place, Brentwood, Shenfield, Billericay, Wickford, Rayleigh and Southend. My father said that City Coaches had been a pirate bus company but had converted to the Southend route with the advent of London Transport. As boys we used to spend hours at the depot watching the coaches arrive and depart. The routine was for the arriving coaches to discharge their passengers in Lordship Lane in front of the depot where the driver would alight. The depot fitter would then drive the coach into Redvers Road, the next turning left, and, passing parked trolleybuses for routes 543, 625, 643 (649A — Sundays only), would pull in to the side entrance of the depot. The vehicle was then refuelled and cleaned and the fitter would then drive it into position to go onto the stand for an outward service, facing out into Lordship Lane. If we were lucky the fitter would give us a ride on an incoming coach round to the depot. We had occasional trips to Southend on the coaches, including one memorable occasion when a puncture was sustained on the return journey at Waterworks Corner, Woodford, and we had to be rescued by another coach.

Later, Westcliff-on-Sea Motor Services took over the City Coach Company and were then themselves taken over by Eastern National. Green double-decker Bristol Lodekkas replaced the elegant Leyland coaches and low-bridge Leyland Titan double-deckers (four seats together in one row upstairs). The coach station closed in the 1970s and is now a carpet warehouse.

Further up Lordship Lane towards the junction with the High Road there was a garage for the Cream Coach Company, next to a timber yard! But there were no passenger facilities there. This site is now part of a cinema.

Trolleybuses were very much part of our lives — a smooth silent service to or from school or the 625 on the Woodford Napier Arms route: to fish in the River Lea at Tottenham Hale or run all day in Epping Forest at the end of the journey. The buses used to stand in Redvers Road at the end of their routes and then exit via Buller Road to the High Road, then right into Lordship Lane to start again. I believe this procedure was later reversed.

The trolleybus (former tram) garage on Jolly Butchers Hill opened for trolleybuses on 8 May 1938 and closed for them on 7 November 1961. It was opened for electric trams in 1904 and until 1910 had contained the repair works and paint shop for all the Metropolitan Tramways vehicles on the 'northern' lines. In its 100th year it is a main motor bus depot for Arriva and their registered office. It was not quite as interesting as the coach station, being relatively quiet when the buses were out and so cavernous that you couldn't see much from the front. There was only a very small side door which wasn't always open. We did, however, appreciate the sturdy tower wagons for overhead line repairs and the occasional mismanagement of a trolley arm by a conductor which sent it flying skywards and unresponsive to his efforts with the enormous bamboo pole.

The remaining bus interest was the experimental pre-war underfloor engined Q class single-decker on the 233 service to Finsbury Park via Alexandra Palace operating out of West Green garage. This was used at holidays and weekends to get to the Palace grounds and also to the ATC squadron (16F). The Qs were withdrawn in 1953 and replaced by RFs. The use of single deckers was dictated by the low rail overbridge in Station Road on the Palace Gates branch line, just past which was the United Dairies main distribution depot.

West Green garage also housed the 8ft wide RTW motor buses on the 41 route (Tottenham Hale to Archway Station). This called at Turnpike Lane, on the borders of Wood Green and Haringay, but did not go into the LT bus station at the rear of the tube station. Across the road from Turnpike Lane station is Ducketts Common. From here on summer Saturdays the local coach operators, including Orange Coaches and Cream Coaches, departed for the Kent and Sussex coasts, usually about 8am with an arrival at Margate by 12.30 and Broadstairs by 1pm. Incidentally, Ducketts was the manor in which Wood Green was situated in medieval times.

We were lucky with railways, too. On the Palace Gates branch from Seven Sisters we had the former Great Eastern Noel Park station built at the side of the embankment. It had a diminutive forecourt fronting the High Road. The station consisted of a booking office on the left as you entered with stairs immediately in front to the up platform and a subway to the right leading under the embankment to stairs to the down platform. The stairs on both sides were cladded timber affixed to the outside of the main station building. It always smelt damp and musty and I never saw many passengers there. We used it for trips to Palace Gates and back during the school holidays. It had lost its reason for existence with the advent of the Piccadilly Line tube in Wood Green and the opening of the Holden-designed Wood Green tube station on 19 September 1932. The lack of events at Alexandra Palace also contributed to its lack of use, though it was used in rush hours by workers travelling to the industrial undertakings in East London (eg Tate and Lyle). The service was to North Woolwich but you could change at Seven Sisters for Liverpool Street. Noel Park Station opened in 1878 as Green Lanes. In 1884 it became Green Lanes and Noel Park, following the erection of the estate of the same name on 100 acres nearby, and finally Noel Park and Wood Green in 1902. Passenger traffic ceased in January 1963 and the line was later lifted and built over. It was the preserve of F5, N7 and L1 tank engines and very old-fashioned compartment coaches with leather window straps.

In September 1958 there was an exhibition of locomotives and rolling stock at Noel Park goods yard and among the attenders was the record breaking A4 Mallard and a 9F 2-10-0. I had my first ride in the new generation of diesel multiple unit at this event.I have already mentioned the tube which from 1954 I used almost every day to go to work. Through the good offices of a neighbour who worked on the Underground I was able to have a cab ride from Wood Green to Arnos Grove one Sunday afternoon in the 1924 stock — an experience that has lived with me for years.

Finally, we had the East Coast main line with its then unrebuilt station at Wood Green Alexandra Park (opened in 1859). It had an ancient glazed wooden footbridge painted green and cream and smelling of disinfectant, steam and smoke. For a while I used this station to go to work in preference to the stuffy Underground. The service used the widened lines from King's Cross into Farringdon and was compartment stock headed by a Brush type 31 diesel in the evening but a diesel multiple unit in the morning.

Outside Alexandra Park station, as it later became, you could stand on the other footbridge over the main lines and leading to the Palace. A4s would smother you in steam as you tried to see or photograph them through the gaps in the planking. I also have a memory of chatting with the driver of an N2 tank waiting on the Palace side of the line for another job and also walking through the carriage sidings on a footpath leading to and from Hornsey, taking in the multicoloured carriage stock. It certainly was a mecca. Ted Martin

Further reading:

Connor, J E — North Woolwich to Palace Gates: A Photographic Journey (Colchester, Connor & Butler, 1997).
Jackson, Alan A — London's Local Railways (Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1984).
Jones, Dave — Enfield and Wood Green Tramways (Midhurst, Middleton Press, 1997).
Hambley, John A S — London Transport Buses and Coaches 1953 (Malvern, Images Publishing with John A S Hambley, 1994).
Leboff, David — London's Underground Stations (Shepperton, Ian Allan, 1994).
Taylor, Hugh — London Trolleybus Routes (Harrow Weald, Capital Transport Publishing, 1994).

London Transport Country Bus Services

Here is some more information on the former London Transport Country bus services (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004):

'London Country', a subsidiary of the National Bus Company took over the 'green buses' and Green Line coaches of London Transport on 1 January 1970. They inherited 28 operational garages. London Country was split into four companies prior to privatisation in the '80s.

Most of what is left is now owned by 'Arriva'. They are now the owners of the three operational garages that survive from 1970. These garages are Northfleet, Harlow and Garston (Watford). In addition Guildford survives on the same site but has been totally rebuilt. There are a number of other operational bases but they are all on new sites, typically out of town industrial units. The former Swanley garage still survives in the ownership of Southland Coaches (who also run some buses).

Most of the remaining 28 have been demolished and the sites most commonly used for housing or commercial premises. Details of known survivals are as follows:

- Reigate: listed front entrance survives as part of office development.
- High Wycombe: believed to be B&Q store.
- Tring: believed to be dairy depot.
- Romford: thought to still be in some sort of commercial use.

Note that the site of Luton garage is now a housing development. Luton, in accordance with the Midlands atmosphere mentioned, had its own corporation transport buses. This was the only place where London Transport buses met such an operation. However, LT were always in a minority in Luton. Most rural services were run by 'United Counties', who bought out the corporation buses in the late '60s.

Some garages that closed prior to 1970 may survive — for instance Epping and Watford Leavesden Road. The pre-London Transport Amersham & District garage in Amersham is thought to survive. Things change very rapidly in the bus industry!

On the subject of buses, this summer it may be worth a trip to the Isle of Wight. Southern Vectis (the main operator) are the proud owners of a 1939 Bristol Commercial Vehicles 'K' type double decker. Converted to open top, I believe in the '50s, it survived in regular summer use into the '70s. By this time it was quite a celebrity and was saved from scrapping, continuing to appear regularly in the summer.

Apparently this year they have converted enough modern buses to open top to cover normal requirements. The 'old girl', as she is usually known, will be relegated to spare vehicle at Ryde depot. But as this year is the 75th anniversary of Southern Vectis buses it is expected the 'K' will be used on some occasions. David Flett

Following the note on London Transport bus garages in Hertfordshire, Christopher Salaman MCIT has written with information on the original Amersham and District Motor Services corrugated buildings which are still in use today. They are situated in the High Street, Old Amersham and although the front of one of the sheds has been modified, (this building is now in use as a car showroom), the central office and the other building are much as they were in the 1920s. The original premises were superseded in 1936 by a new garage for London Transport which lasted until the mid 1990s, when it was demolished to make way for a Tesco supermarket.

In Watford the Leavesden Road LT garage still exists although this was superseded in June 1952 by a new garage in St Albans Road, Garston. Garston bus garage was built in the international modern style by T Bilbow and is a fine example of the standard LT post-war design. It is still in use as a bus garage.

Have any readers come across the book 'Forty Years in Transport' by Walter Gammons? Perhaps because he failed an exam while working for the Midland Railway at Cardington he became a bitter enemy of all railways and made a successful career for himself in road haulage. Bob Carr

Contract engineering workshops at Kew Bridge Steam Museum

Bob Carr's piece on the closure of the contract engineering workshops at Kew Bridge Steam Museum (GLIAS Newsletter February 2004) is, sadly, correct, but the picture is not all gloom and doom.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum. © Robert Mason After nearly 30 years, the museum trust found it was unable to guarantee work for the three staff directly employed in the workshops and as the museum doesn't have the safety net of national or local government revenue support, redundancy was the only option.

However, the good news is that the workshops are far from dead. The museum has just appointed a heritage engineer who will have two core responsibilities: the maintenance of the museum's working collections and the re-organisation of the museum's workshops. The ultimate aim of the latter will be to help the museum realise its ambition to create a heritage engineering training facility.

Initially this facility will focus on training the museum's own volunteers and developing their skills base to ensure the museum can continue to be self-sufficient, but we are also talking to a wide range of organisations, including the Steam Apprentice Club, with a view to developing a training service for volunteers at other similar museums.

Obviously we are not going to create time-served mechanical engineers overnight, but we can teach people skills such as welding, milling, lathe work, pattern making etc, at a basic level, to ensure we have some chance of continuity.

Our big success story in 2003 was recruiting 13 new volunteers, of whom four were under the age of 25. We believe it is imperative that we capitalise on these younger people's interest and pass on the skills we need.
Kew Bridge Steam Museum. Tel: 020 8568 4757. Fax: 020 8569 9978. Website:

Channel Tunnel Rail Link Tubular Bridge

I attended a presentation at the ICE by the engineers where there was a question from the floor as to why the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at King's Cross bridge was tubular (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004).

The answer was that originally the enabling Act had the tunnel emerging on far side of the canal. For technical reasons the portal was moved back to the present position but the adjoining neighbours in the flats insisted that the effect should remain as originally planned for visual and noise reasons, and so the line over the bridge had to be enclosed in a 'tunnel'. Roger Morgan

Holborn Lavatories Fish Tank

Say 'London Loos' to anyone in the '60s and they would say 'The Good Loo Guide' Jonathan Routh 1965, 1968, 1987.

It was the definitive guide. I have the 1968 revision. Page 46 covers 'The Loos of High Holborn'. He principally describes ones in the middle of the road opposite the Prudential, without mentioning tanks. As a throwaway he says 'another very similar one in the middle of High Holborn at the bottom of Proctor Street ... high marble stalls, ancient glass water tanks and polished brass attendant'.

If there had been fish (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) you can be sure he would have mentioned them. He doea refute the claim that live lobsters were kept fresh in the Billingsgate loos in Lower Thames Street. Roger Morgan

Bakers' Ovens Discovered

I recently visited Great Expectations, a picture framers' art shop at 43 Denmark Hill SE5, which was formerly a bakers' shop.

The proprietors have uncovered the old bread ovens in the basement and the lift crane wheel on the ground floor.

I have no idea how common such survivals are — I had never seen ovens like these before except on a smaller scale in old stately home kitchens. Mary Boast

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© GLIAS, 2004