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Notes and news — August 2006

In this issue:

Ram Brewery to close

The Ram Brewery in Wandsworth is set to close as part of plans to merge the brewing operations of its current owner, Young & Co, with those of Charles Wells, the maker of Bombardier bitter.

Under the deal, Young's beers will be brewed at the modern 16-acre Charles Wells site in Bedford alongside Wells brands.

Beer has been produced at the Ram brewery since 1581, making it the oldest site in Britain on which beer has been brewed continuously. The brewery was acquired by the Young family after Young's was set up in 1831.

This was one of the earliest industrial sites in London to be the subject of a GLIAS visit, when as I recall at least one of its two beam engines was still working on a daily basis. It also housed — still does? — the drays and their splendid horses that delivered beer to the local Young's pubs, and no doubt has still much of 19th-century origin. This and its location in central Wandsworth with the Surrey Iron Railway terminus makes it an important industrial site.

Breweries have had a bad time from the planners and developers in London over the years — Stag (Victoria), Lion (Waterloo), Anchor (Tower Bridge), Guinness (Park Royal) being some that come to mind. The only small-scale 'traditional' brewery I can think of in our patch these days is Fuller's at Chiswick.

On a more positive note, Radio 4's 'Making History' has just run a story on water towers, noting the formation of a Water Tower Appreciation Society and interviewing Brian Barton who was, if I recall aright, the author of the book on water towers published by the Newcomen Society a few years ago. Michael Bussell

Cash for Medway Queen restoration

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded a £1,861,000 grant to help restore the Paddle Steamer Medway Queen.

This grant, together with a substantial contribution from the Medway Queen Preservation Society's own funds, will meet the costs of the first stage of the restoration rebuild. The first stage will see the restoration rebuild of the hull, steelworks and decks, making the ship suitable for the second stage of the work and for certification for use.

The second stage of the restoration rebuild of the Medway Queen will see the main and ancillary engines restored to use, the paddle wheels rebuilt, the boiler renewed and the ship refitted for service.

The Medway Queen was built at the Ailsa shipyard on the Clyde in 1924. Today the designated vessel is one of the few surviving paddle steamers in the UK with an unrivalled place in both social and naval history. She was a pleasure craft throughout the post-Edwardian period when the British seaside boom was at its height.

During the Second World War she was working as a minesweeper when she was one of the first ships on the scene at the Dunkirk evacuation and saved 7,000 soldiers, earning the title of 'The Heroine of Dunkirk'.

She was saved from being scrapped in 1966 and relocated to the Isle of Wight to become a marina clubhouse. An accident after she was moved to the River Medina sunk her in the 1970s and she was subsequently rescued by enthusiasts who brought her back to Chatham. Sadly she again sank but the Medway Queen Preservation Society bought her and began enough repairs to move her to her current home at Damhead Creek where she has been awaiting restoration.

Industry and pollution

In our post-industrial 21st century have we already forgotten what industry was like? At Dunkerque recently the pollution from oil refineries and the large steelworks seemed unbearable and the whole effect was reminiscent of recent television programmes about China. In 1970 would we have accepted this as quite normal? Is most of the UK now so near to total de-industrialisation that we are unfamiliar with the effects of heavy industry?

Just west along the coast from Dunkerque is the nuclear power station at Gravelines with six reactors and a net capacity of 5460 MW of electricity (MWe). It is the second biggest in Europe* and supplies eight percent of France's electric power. France has well over 50 nuclear reactors which produce about 80 percent of the country's electricity. With a good deal of hydro electric power, as well as tidal energy and wind turbines, France is more or less independent of fossil fuels for the generation of electricity and coal is no longer mined (GLIAS Newsletter August 2004). Oil imports will be mostly for road vehicles. The TGV is essentially nuclear powered.

In the early 1970s France decided to go for nuclear power and there really was no debate — it seemed an obvious decision. The choice was a simple one between industrial pollution and having to store nuclear waste. France is rather greener than the UK. Diesel powered motor cars are quite common and all this is fine so long as there are no nuclear accidents and the radio-active waste is properly looked after. British anti-nuclear campaigners are unhappy about Gravelines being so close to Kent and point out that if the Romans had nuclear power we would still be looking after their radioactive waste. Bob Carr

*Zaporozhe in the Ukraine opened in 1995 is Europe's largest with a net capacity of 5718 MWe.

25 Payne Road, London, E3 — metal framing

I should like to correct a misunderstanding in Bob Carr's report regarding metal framing in buildings (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006).

Bob rightly distinguishes between internal framing and full framing. Internally framed buildings have internal beams and columns, lightly connected together, which carry the floor loads, while they largely depend on external and dividing walls of heavy brickwork or masonry for their lateral stability. Fully framed buildings, on the other hand, do not need their walls for stability, because strong and rigid joints between columns and beams can resist all lateral loads. Also there are braced frames, which use diagonal members to prevent sidesway, and some other buildings where the framing extends to the outside walls but still relies on infillings of brickwork as shear walls for stability.

All except the fully framed, unbraced type have precedents in timber framing before metal was used. Metal internal frames may be of cast iron, wrought iron, mild steel or combinations of those materials, depending on availability through time from the 1790s to the early 20th century. 25 Payne Road with its cast-iron columns and compound rolled-steel beams of 1897-8 is a good example of that — steel was by then the cheapest material for beams, but that does not equate to a transition to full framing.

Full framing was used in cast-iron transit sheds in the 1810s, gasholder guide frames in the 1830s and multi-storey buildings from the 1850s, although it is particularly associated with 'skeleton' construction in mild steel from the 1890s, for which a whole new design methodology and language of detailing was developed. Dispensing with heavy walls and being able to build tall offered certain economic advantages — we think of the skyscrapers — but it was not until 1909 that Inner London's building regulations acknowledged the technical efficacy of that. Malcolm Tucker

Waste bricks

Following the articles on waste bricks (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006) may I add my piece?

There are still garden walls of highly vitrified and distorted bricks in some of the Edwardian houses in Shepherds Hill N6. By that time I think that the brick fields would have moved farther out of London. I had the feeling that at least some of the vitrified bricks came from demolished gasworks horizontal retort settings. I have seen in one wall pieces of firebrick. Patrick Graham

Flower pot makers

On the subject of pottery industries in the Wood Green area (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006) I don't think the making of flower pots has been mentioned. There two potteries, South's and Bysouth's, in White Hart Lane beyond the site of what is now the New River Sports Centre on the site of the present St Georges Industrial Estate. The ridge behind is well weathered London Clay which made good pots. As boys we only had ask at the office of South's to have permission to go round the site. It was a popular place to take school friends who were staying during the holidays.

Clay was dug from the pit cut into the bank and placed on a single flat truck. When loaded it was hauled by a rope to an elevated floor where it was fed through crushing rolls into a pug mill. When the truck was unloaded the rope was carefully coiled on it and a gentle push sent it whizzing down the curved track back to the pit. Vertical guide rollers kept the rope from going astray. A wire and mechanical bell gave the signal when the truck was ready to wind. By the early 1930s the pit was getting a bit deep. The contractor extending the Piccadilly Line north of Wood Green was looking somewhere to dump the spoil from tunnelling. So they filled the pit with fresh London Clay. Access was available from above via Norfolk Avenue. The clay was not popular with the potters probably because it had not had time to weather.

From the pug mill the clay was cut into lumps with a wire and taken to the potters. All the pots were hand thrown from tiny ones to very large. They would also make other things if they were in a good mood. At my home we had a double twist candlestick made of fired London Clay. The thrown pots were placed on boards and slid into drying racks with steam heating pipes underneath. Dried pots were loaded into circular coal-fired kilns. Fired pots were stacked in the yard before dispatch.

The whole works was driven by a single cylinder horizontal steam engine with steam provided by one of two Lancashire boilers. The feed water was, as far as I am aware, untreated mains water and so the boilers needed regular descaling. I think that the waste steam from the engine fed the heating piped under the drying racks. There was a second, smaller engine as standby.

The works continued until put out of business by the advent of plastic pots, probably in the 1950s. I know little about Bysouth's except that their equipment was driven by a gas engine with a hit or miss governor. Patrick Graham

Greater London news

The stylish period chimney, oval in cross section, at the Greenwich District Hospital site (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006) was felled at 10.30am on Sunday morning 18 June 2006. Controlled explosives were used. Roads in the vicinity were closed and there was a good crowd of onlookers. Little is now left at this location.

The site being cleared in Drayton Park (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006) is to be used for Barratt housing. A remnant of the laundry (?) building remains at the west end of the site. Hoo Hing Ltd occupied part of this building. The chimney remains have gone.

Mr Henry Bloom (GLIAS Newsletter June 2003) died on 8 May 2006. The shop in the Blackstock Road is still closed.

The fishing supplies shop and live maggot vending machine in Tollington Park (GLIAS Newsletter June 2002) are no longer there. The area has been going upmarket in recent years. In Eddington Street older small houses, now somewhat inner-block in character, indicate that there might have been a small settlement here outside built-up London before the widespread building c.1880.

Over the bar at the south side of the room in the Coronet, a Wetherspoon's public house near the Nag's Head, 338-346 Holloway Road N7, is a fine North Eastern Railway clock in working order. It is probably a station clock and the face carries the inscription B A Watson (maker) Thornaby. Has anyone heard of this clockmaker? Bob Carr

Greenwich foot tunnel

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 29.4.16. © Robert Mason Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 29.4.16. © Robert Mason

This message was sent out to cyclists in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and Southwark by Barry Mason, co-ordinator of Southwark Cyclists. Mr Mason instigated the celebrations for the centenary of the Greenwich foot tunnel in 2002.

Wooden brick roads

There is a road near where I work which has a wood block road surface (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006). It is 'Chequer Street', just off Bunhill Row and opposite the non-conformist cemetery. It's only about 10-15 yards in length, the rest is cobbles or tarmac, but it's definitely wood blocks. It's not in great condition and the road itself is too small to be marked on Multimap but it's by the ADT office if anyone is interested. Simon Bass

Death of Professor Hoshimi Uchida

Professor Hoshimi Uchida was born in 1926 and after the Second World War studied applied chemistry and then economics at the University of Tokyo. He taught and carried out research at the Tokyo Keizai faculty of business administration for 34 years until his retirement in 1997. He was a visiting research fellow at Imperial College, London, 1975-6 and a director of the Japan Industrial Archaeology Society (JIAS) which was founded in 1977. He was TICCIH National Representative for Japan 1984-1990 and a Board Member 1990-92. He was also Professor Emeritus of the History of Industrial Technology at the Tokyo Keizai University, President of JIAS 1987-9 and a member of the Newcomen Society from 1975. He was killed in Tokyo in a traffic accident. Was he run over?

It is notable that in Japan a national industrial archaeology society was formed so early — just four years after our own national society, which was established in September 1973. Professor Uchida's visit to Britain and his fellowship at Imperial College appear significant as Japan's national society was started the following year. When in Britain he joined the Newcomen Society, and probably met staff at Imperial College interested in the history of technology. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who remembers this time and perhaps Professor Uchida in London. At any rate London seems to have played a role in Japan acquiring a national industrial archaeology society at an early date. It is instructive to note when other such societies were formed. In Germany, even now, a national industrial archaeology society still has to be established. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2006