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Notes and news — December 2005

In this issue:

From the secretary's postbag

The April to July 2005 issue of the English Heritage Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service Quarterly Review includes reviews of:

'Pottery as Plunder: a 17th Century Maritime Site in Limehouse, London' by Douglas Killock, Frank Meddens and others [but with no details of publisher or price!]. The site is at 43-53 Narrow Street, Ratcliffe which 'produced unprecedented finds relating to the period of London's expansion as a mercantile centre during the 17th century.' Finds included a 15th-century brick clamp and those from the 16th and 17th centuries 'proved to be the former properties of people with a maritime focus, heavily involved in piracy and privateering.'

Brunel: the Man who Built the World by Steven Brindle, published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson [price not stated], which 'draws on Brunel's own diaries, letters and sketchbooks... Many contemporary photographs, paintings, sketches and drawings have been tracked down ...'

Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition: Tudor and Stuart Period Finds c 1450-c 1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark by Geoff Egan. Published by MOLAS £17.95. Finds reported include evidence of textile working; ferrous and non-ferrous metalworking; leather working bone, antler and glass working; shipbuilding and fishing.

Reports of archaeological surveys and excavations include:

several at the Royal Arsenal, Greenwich, including building recording of the Grand Store complex, constructed between 1806 and 1813, designed by James and Lewis Wyatt — 'the external grandeur of the complex masked fundamental flaws in the construction of its foundations and in the decades after its completion parts of it suffered greatly from subsidence and much patching and rebuilding work was undertaken to counteract this'; watching briefs on the Boiler House and Rolling Mill and on landscaping work, in which two iron cannon were recovered, which had 'iron rings set in their muzzles for reuse as mooring points along the river Thames'.

building recording of the Greenwich Ferry Engine Room (c 1888-1900), prior to demolition.

building recording of the Water Tower between the Royal Festival Hall and Hungerford Bridge, which found that 'apart from the drainage and supply pipes to the tanks, no evidence of its operation as a water tower supplying steam engines was found... The building was built against a viaduct pier which indicates that the boilers of the steam engines were filled from alongside the structure rather than from a track at one end. No evidence of the pipes that extended over the track to supply the engines, or their method of support, survived.'

an evaluation of the London Nautical School, Stamford Street, SE1, in which a substantial horizontal structure 'had been built from re-used 17th century boat timbers'.

an excavation of Bennett's Mill on Bennett's Ditch on the River Wandle which 'revealed the entire range of workshops including the water-wheel headrace and tailrace which ran through the middle of the building. Within the western part of the trench were four brick furnaces used for the production of dyes. These furnaces were fuelled with coal and recovered from the coal ash were fragments of madder, indigo and woad dyes. A dye mixing paddle and a copper strip from a print block were also found.' The excavation also found Liberty's cloth seals, a Liberty's dye bucket, pottery and iron work from a number of machines and furnaces. A separate excavation of Bennett's Ditch found 'a number of fragments of burnt brickearth, iron slag and clinker ...representing the remains of iron working. Smithing hearth bottoms found represent dumped waste from the smithy nearby.' A third excavation 'revealed [the] 12th-13th century monastic mill of Merton Priory, a building measuring over 25m in length by 11m wide...A 3m wide head-race was formed by a stone and tile abutment located either side of the mill leat. From the 16th century the mill had been rebuilt in brick and continued to function until the early 18th century.' Another excavation revealed two 12th-century fishponds

an evaluation of Crown Wharf Ironworks in Tower Hamlets found evidence of post-medieval industrial activity: 'at least one, and possibly two, timber-lined tanks and several timber conduits were exposed across the site. One of the tanks had re-used sections of a barge in its lining. These are thought to date to the 18th century and were overlain by 19th-century brick footings, conduits and made ground.'

building recording of Battersea Power Station found that 'despite extensive deplaning, the Station B Switch Gear House [closed in October 1983] retained its plant. This was arranged over several floors with vertical and horizontal connections. The survival represented a complete example of switches and ancillary gear.'

historic building recording of the former police station/magistrates court at Rochester Row, SW1.

Brian Strong

GLIAS Treasure Hunt 2005

This was the seventh treasure hunt, which took place on 24 September; a fine sunny day. Twenty four members, in teams of not more than four people, were challenged by Chris and Fiona to answer 25 questions based on an area between Borough High Street and Bermondsey Street. There was a mixture of elliptical clues and photographs to assist us. The photographs included a startled looking horse, a trompe l'oeil building and an amazing anagram. We spent an exciting three hours (the time limit), searching for answers and trying to pretend to other teams that we had failed to find the required information.

Three teams achieved full marks, but Chris was ready with a tie-breaker question, which produced the overall winners. They each received a Godfrey map as their prize. We all enjoyed ourselves enormously and we acquired some very interesting information. I am sure that I can speak for all who took part in saying thank you to Chris and Fiona, who worked very hard beforehand, and on the day, to make the treasure hunt such a success. Kate Quinton

New transport and advertising

The new double-deck buses on route 19 may no longer be industrial archaeology on wheels but they have been providing industrial archaeology for passengers in the form of video images of the out of use Oberhausen steelworks, including a blast furnace, Cowper stoves and a large piston-type gasholder. A slim screen upstairs at the front of the bus also shows weather forecasts and presumably the intention is to sell time on this system for advertising purposes. A similar arrangement is already in use on buses in Birmingham, and in the West Midlands Centro area on local trains where a quiet coach is provided.

Some months ago trains in Birmingham were using their screens to relay footage of Adolf Hitler's speeches: Anschluss, the invasion of Poland etc. For the unsuspecting visitor from London boarding a train at a small station this was somewhat bizarre. On entering the train a raised voice was perceived and then that the language was German. Looking around you would then see a television screen showing black-and-white images and begin to realise what was going on. Travelling through a landscape of broken buildings in dull weather, with piles of squashed cars being scrapped and heaps of old containers the experience was more like an Art happening than anything else. What made the whole thing really surreal was that everyone in the train was behaving as if this sort of thing was totally normal, which for them it probably was as the footage was shown every day. The quiet coach had a screen showing the same images but with no sound. One had to sit back and reflect — so, this is the 21st century.

In London Routemaster bus route 38 was converted to bendy-bus operation on Saturday 29th October and the week before route 13 from Golders Green to Aldwych lost its Routemasters (GLIAS Newsletter February 2002). Only route 159 from Marble Arch to Streatham is still using Routemasters and this is to cease on Friday 9th December. As a consolation two 'heritage routes' now operate Routemasters using ten refurbished vehicles each day — these services are between Piccadilly Circus and Tower Hill and the Royal Albert Hall and Aldwych (GLIAS Newsletter October 2005). Bob Carr

Fire hydrant covers

I have been looking at fire hydrant covers in Hornsey (GLIAS Newsletter October 2005) for some time.

The earliest that I have found is where Fordington Road N6 makes a right-angle bend. It is marked HLB FP 1887. It is unlikely to be operational because beside it is a later one marked BH FH 1930.

Another one dated 1887 is located at the junction of Southern Road and Eastern Road N2.

The 'new' Pevsner says that Hornsey became a UDC in 1894 and a borough in 1903 so what does HLB stand for?

The latest dated cover that I have seen is for 1930. Perhaps this is when the MWB took over the responsibility.

The only other dated fire hydrant cover that I have seen is where Broomfield Lane diverges from Powys Lane N13. It is marked: SOUTHGATE DISTRICT COUNCIL 1910, FIRE HYDRANT with Blakeborough's name and address in the middle. There may be others but I no longer walk in that area. Patrick Graham

The Chiltern Route

Work has already started building the two new platforms at Marylebone Station (GLIAS Newsletter October 2005). It appears they will be situated to the north west of the site, an area previously occupied by sidings. This is part of an overall project, 'Evergreen Two', to improve the Chiltern route which will include the upgrading of signals to allow more trains to be run. The whole work is to be completed by December 2006.

At off-peak times current practice is to store trains not in use in the train shed at Marylebone with the unit being used farthest from the ticket barriers. The two new platforms are likely to involve an even longer walk, not easy for those with walking difficulties. The tunnel at Gerrards Cross still has a considerable gap and there is currently little sign of activity at the site. The long conveyor on the northeast side of the line which transported material from north of the station to the south appears to have been out of use for some time. Bob Carr

Anonymous pillar boxes

'Anonymous' Handyside pillar box, corner Thurloe Place/Square, SW7. © Robert Mason 2013

Bob Carr (GLIAS Newsletter October 2005) asked about pillar boxes with no mention of a reigning monarch.

On page 11 of a Shire Album booklet, 'Old Letter Boxes' by Martin Robinson, they are described as 'anonymous boxes', made by Handyside between 1879 and 1887. He says that over 300 survive, with a large number in London.

The only example I know of in South East London is on the corner of Chislehurst Road and The Park, Sidcup. Darrell Spurgeon

It seems likely that the pillar box with a blank door is one of the 'anonymous boxes' discussed and listed by Jean Young Farrugia on pp53, 64-73 of her 'The Letter Box' (1969).

In 1879 the hexagonal Penfolds were succeeded by cylindrical letter boxes made by Handysides of Derby; the posting aperture, at first high, was lowered a few inches in 1883.

It was not until 1887 that attention was drawn to the absence of anything on the boxes to identify their owner; nor was there a Royal Cipher. This was apparently just an oversight and the Secretary of the PO at once ordered that future castings were to display the Royal Cipher and the words 'Post Office'. Roy Allen

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© GLIAS, 2005