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Notes and news — April 2007

In this issue:

The Yavari — A London connection

As a Londoner, it interests me, when away from our conurbation, to come upon references to London. So an article in the February 2007 Saga Magazine entitled 'To Peru with Love', by Bill Mouland, that contained a reference to the 'Thames Ironworks, Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd', caught my attention. In this case the connection between Peru and London or more specifically, Canning Town, consists of a lake and a steamship.

In Peru, Lake Titicaca is 12,500ft above sea level, it is the highest navigable waterway in the world being 100 miles long, 30 miles wide and straddles the Peru Bolivia border. Known as The Sacred Lake, Titicaca is the legendary birthplace of the Incas.

The Thames Ironworks Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd existed for 65 years before going into receivership in 1912 and its site lay between the now DLR and Jubilee railway lines at Canning Town and the Thames at Bow Creek. Canning Town railway station contains a 'commemorative inscription' to the company which mentions by name the HMS Warrior, the first all iron and armour-plated warship and the super dreadnought Orion-class HMS Thunderer, but these were only two of the over 650 ships built there. One of those others, the steamship Yavari, now the only 'working' single-screw iron passenger ship, has perhaps as remarkable story as any of their ships.

In 1861, the Peruvian Government ordered two small cargo-passenger 'gunboats' for use on Lake Titicaca, to enable them to exploit the mineral resources of the southern highlands of Peru and rainforests of Bolivia bordering the lake. The James Watt foundry of Birmingham was commissioned to build the ships but at that time without a rail link to the lake, the ships were to be built in kit form, with no piece weighing more than 3½cwt, the maximum carrying capacity of a mule. Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding were sub-contracted to build the iron hulls of the Yavari and the Yapura. Both gunboats were fitted out in their entirety in the shipyard, each piece was then numbered, colour coded, inventoried, dismantled and packed into cases.

On 15 October 1862, the Mayola, bearing the two ships and eight British engineers, having rounded the Horn, docked at the Peruvian port of Arica. The first 37 miles of the journey from Arica was by the oldest railway in South America to Tacna, 186ft above sea level. Here the 2,768 pieces, weighing a total of 210 tons were unpacked and arranged in order of how they should arrive in Puno on the lake. Local muleteers and porters, competed for the work of transporting the pieces, the winner quoting a delivery date of six months. The British engineers went on ahead to the lake to build a jetty, slipway and machine shops at Puno. However, the 190-mile journey, perhaps understandably, defeated many of the muleteers for the route crossed the driest desert in the world, the Atacama and mountain passes higher than any European peak. After six months the contractor was dismissed leaving pieces of the ships scattered between Tacno and Puno. Outside events also conspired against the project including an earthquake and a peasants revolt. The Armstrong 24-pounder guns were commandeered by the Peruvian Navy and never did make the lake! It was not before January 1869 that enough pieces had arrived for the keel of the Yavari to be laid and on Christmas Day 1870 she was launched. The second steamship was completed in 1873. Even then, there were problems because no suitable coal could be found and so they used dried llama dung instead, 1,400 sacks required to circumnavigate the lake! The two ships worked together going in opposite directions around the lake carrying passengers and cargo. In 1914 the steam engine was replaced by a 'Bolinger 4-cylinder hot bulb semi-diesel' engine and the Yavari continued her circuits of the lake until the 1950s.

Meriel Larken in 1982, who had original thought that the Yavari had been built in her great-grandfather's Yarrow yard, 'rediscovered' her in a corner of Puno Port. Meriel realised the ships historic importance and tourist potential for the area and so commissioned a 'Lloyds Condition Survey' which found that, unlike for example the SS Great Britain, the Yavari having been in fresh water and at high altitude, her iron hull was in excellent condition. Her engine, the oldest and largest of its kind has been restored and the sight, sound and smell when it is running, it is claimed, makes an unforgettable experience. The Yavari is now open daily to the public and with the help of friends, sponsors and volunteers, the Yavari Project continues in association with a Peruvian non-profit making NGO. They claim that she could be carrying passengers within four months if sufficient money was raised.

The story of the Yavari also raised a related industrial archaeology question. In the late 1940s and 50s, 'prefabs' seemed to appear all over this country and at school in 1951, we were told that Paxton's 1851 Great Exhibition 'Crystal Palace' had been the first prefabricated building. About the same time, Andrew Handyside's Derby foundry (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006) for example was also prefabricating bridges and station roofs to be delivered across the world. The Derby Mercury in 1925 reported that many residents will remember the Glebe Island (Australia) swing bridge, gracefully and serenely revolving in Handyside's Fox Street yard prior to shipment in 1870. Was 'prefabrication' a logical development of Abraham Darby's invention of the smelting of iron by using coke? His 'Iron Bridge' built in 1779 across the River Severn, even though being made effectively 'on site' in Coalbrookdale, recent research shows that most parts were individually made to fit, adapting traditional woodworking joints. There are also related 'prefabrication' questions regarding what 'training' did the installation engineers have and what kind of 'instruction manuals' were they provided with? So, what is the industrial archaeology of the 'flatpack'? Peter Butt


Pre-fab houses

A well maintained and inhabited area of post war pre-fab housing (GLIAS Newsletter 228) exists in the vicinity of Pelinore Road SE6. Road names are associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and the area has a pleasant atmosphere.

It is understood that the local authority is considering demolition but the residents are keen to cling on to their convenient homes. The number 124 bus from Catford or Eltham serves the area and there are attractive pedestrian only routes through the estate. Bob Carr

Mullards' Mitcham Works at Hackbridge

The River Wandle, in South London, was described, in the days of watermills, as Europe's most industrialised 14 miles of waterway. But the biggest industrial concern in the Wandle valley was Mullards', later Philips', factory where from 1927 to 1993 radio valves, sets and cathode ray tubes were manufactured, employing up to 5,000 or more people at one period.

Although it was known as the Mitcham Works, the factory was in fact at Hackbridge, on a plot of land lying to the north of Culver Avenue on the right bank of the river. The site is now occupied by residential development, but the new road names Mullard Close, Phillips Close and Eindhoven Close serve as a reminder of the former A Building, built 1927, B Building, 1938, and C Building, completed by 1929. It was a local joke that two of these adjoining multi-storey factory blocks were built with the floor levels of one, built to metric dimensions, somewhat higher than those in the other, built to imperial dimensions, resulting in the connecting walkways being progressively steeper as the higher floors were reached.

The Mullard Radio Valve Company was incorporated, number 170293, on 17 September 1920. The founder of the firm was Robert Stanley Mullard, 1883-1979, on his birth certificate, but more generally he preferred to be known as Stanley Robert Mullard. Starting from incandescent lamp manufacture, Mullard developed the idea of adding one or more additional other valves for current rectification, signal amplification and so forth. In particular, he developed the use of fused silica glass enveloped. He commenced in a small way at a disused laundry in Hammersmith, and later at a former glassworks at Balham.

Early production was largely for military applications, but the advent of the BBC in 1922 led to a mass demand for radio valves. The Balham works was retained for research and development for some years after large-scale production commenced at Hackbridge. In 1925 half of the Mullard shares were purchased by NV Philips Gloilampenfabriken of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, which concern bought the remaining shares in 1927. Mullards thus became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Philips, but chose to retain the English name until about 1988. Although the Hackbridge factory closed in 1993 and was later demolished, the Mullards, now Philips, Research Laboratories at Salfords, near Redhill, continue in operation in 2007.

Frederick Arthur Sowan, 1914-2006, the writer's father, commenced work as a lab boy at the Balham works at the age of 16, progressed to quality control work at Hackbridge, then to technical writing, and to the post of editor-in-chief of Mullards' technical publications and, for his last two years before retiring from the firm, company historian. His extensive notes and library of published works on the history of lamp and radio valve development and production survive. Paul W Sowan

Hybrid technology buses

Six hybrid electric technology single-decker buses have been operating in London on route 360 since March 2006. These buses were manufactured by the Wright Group from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, a family business founded in 1946. The buses are powered by a 1.9 litre diesel engine, about the size of power plant one might find in a large family motor car. For comparison an RML Routemaster bus of 1961 was fitted with an 11.3 litre engine. A 1970s single deck bus would have had something like a turbocharged 8 litre engine. The road wheels are driven by a 120kW electric motor powered by a 336-volt battery pack.

In this case hybrid is used to mean that both a conventional internal combustion engine and an electric motor power the bus. The diesel engine is used to keep the batteries charged at an optimum level via a generator and regenerative braking returns power to the batteries when the bus slows or stops. An advantage of this system is more miles per gallon and lower greenhouse gas emissions and the hybrid buses are also quieter than a conventional diesel bus. Route 360 runs from the Elephant and Castle to Kensington (Queen's Gate). If the hybrid electric system proves successful more buses of this type will be introduced.

To recap, these hybrids are essentially electric buses driven by a battery pack — with the refinement that a diesel engine keeps the batteries topped up via a generator and regenerative braking feeds energy that would otherwise be wasted back to the battery. The cost of such a vehicle is probably a good deal more than that of a conventional diesel bus, but a 40 percent fuel saving is claimed.

The operation of zero-emission fuel cell buses in London on route RV1 (GLIAS Newsletter February 2006) has been extended and was due to continue up to January 2007. Hydrogen for the fuel cells in the London bus trials was produced from natural gas by steam reforming. Bob Carr

Camden Town horse tunnels

The account of the Western Horse Tunnel at the former Camden Goods Yard (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007) has got a little condensed in the telling. This tunnel was built not for Allsopp's but for Pickford's, after their goods shed with basement stabling (located on the south side of the canal) burnt down in 1857 and their stables were relocated west of Gloucester Avenue. (The Illustrated London News, 20 June 1857, has a spectacular picture of the horses fleeing the fire).

Samuel Allsopp and Sons, the Burton brewers who at one time stored their beer under the main goods shed, had stables on the east side of Gloucester Avenue which were also connected to this horse tunnel, but not built until 1876 or later. (Previously, they may have stabled underground). Adding those to the railway company's own stables on Chalk Farm Road (now the Stables Market), which were served by the Eastern Horse Tunnel, one can begin to guess what a bustling place the goods yard must have been before the dawn of motor transport — the figure of 400 horses cannot be wide of the mark, on the basis of the accommodation provided. The connection of the western tunnel to the canal towpath would seem to be fortuitous — there was no need for canal horses to mix with the railway, but the tunnel crossed the line of an earlier tunnel that may have conveyed coal to the short-lived stationary winding engines for the Camden Incline.

On the matter of the access to the Eastern Horse Tunnel, the developers of 30 Oval Road have amended their plans so as to accommodate it. Their heavy-handed treatment of the building itself, formerly the LNWR's Goods Offices and now to be largely gutted, refenestrated and raised in height for a housing conversion, reflects the weak and legally challenged state of Conservation Area legislation and the limitations of the public consultation process. GLIAS did not hear about it until well after consent had been granted. Malcolm Tucker

Wagon turntables at Camden Roundhouse

In February last year, two railway turntables were unearthed during construction of the car park serving the new Roundhouse theatre (at TQ 2820 8433 and 8434) (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006). The site had been a coal yard since 1855-56, when a radical remodelling of the LNWR's Camden Goods Yard necessitated the realignment of the North London Railway and the closure of the Roundhouse as an engine shed. They may have dated from then, but more likely from circa 1871 when there was a further local remodelling for the enlargement of Chalk Farm NLR Station.

The newsletter misreported this as the finding of 'an iron turning wheel', as the result of a creative account in the local Hampstead and Highgate Express.

12 feet in diameter, they were of a size typical of the numerous wagon turntables that characterised goods handling facilities in those days but now survive very rarely. Each table was constructed of wrought-iron-plate I-beams, carrying bridge rails and connected to a cast-iron centrepiece and cast-iron wheel housings, with eight unflanged, conical wheels running on a stationary circular track of bull-head rails. The track was tied to the central pintle post by radial bars. This assembly was housed within a fixed outer casing, 12ft 6in in overall diameter and 1ft 10in deep, of riveted plate with a cast-iron curb holding locking bolts and with cast-iron brackets to locate the incoming rails.

The features were recorded by Preconstruct Archaeology, who had a watching brief, and by myself independently. The ironwork was reasonably intact and it was hoped that the better of the two might be restored for display on site. But space and money at the Roundhouse are extremely limited and, I understand, they have been bought by Sir William McAlpine to add to his private railway collection. Malcolm Tucker

Tile Kiln Lane

We are so used to buildings in London roofed with slates imported from North Wales that some people seeing Canaletto's paintings of London complain that with all the red roofs he has made it look like Italy. It was a shock some years ago to see the House Mill at Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow, re-roofed in authentic red clay tiles but we have only been using slates for about 150 years.

Before good transport, locally made clay tiles were the norm and there are still two Tile Kiln Lanes in London. One is off Hornsey Lane N6, just west of the Archway, and the other in Palmers Green, N13.

Tile making was probably quite like stock-brick making, peripatetic and small scale and has left few remains as London expanded outwards obliterating minor edge-of-town industrial sites.

Nationally there are only six Tile Kiln Lanes and perhaps significantly these are all in the south-east. Apart from the two in London there is one in Hertfordshire at Hemel Hempstead, two in Kent at Bexley and Folkestone and one at Harefield, Uxbridge, Middlesex, near the River Pinn. By comparison Glue Lane is a great rarity and there appears to be only one in the UK, at Loscoe. Bob Carr

Prescott Lock

British Waterways have obtained the funding for the £19m project that will allow barges of up to 350 tonnes to carry construction materials to the Olympics sites with greater environmental sustainability than road transport. Works were due to begin in March, for completion in summer 2008.

Utilising the Waterworks River, it will give access to the heart of the Olympics area, where outline planning applications were lodged this February for the 2012 Olympic facilities, supporting infrastructure works and also the Legacy strategy that will follow the Games, while work will soon commence on the massive Stratford City development next to the Stratford International station.

A new lock, 62 metres long, 8 metres wide and with 2.4 metres of waterdepth in the channel above it, will take two 350 tonne barges, whereas the present locks on the Lower Lee limit barges to about 120 tonnes.

It will be sited alongside new flood sluices in the Prescott Channel, just east of the Three Mills. The name comes not from the Deputy Prime Minister but from Sir William Prescott, chairman of the Lee Conservancy Board when it carried out major flood relief works through Stratford in 1930-35. Those works included cutting this new channel to bypass the then still operational tide mills, with sluices that were taken out in the 1980s when the Three Mills were disused.

The new lock will restore a good navigation depth in the currently tidal Three Mills River and Waterworks River, so a dam will be required at the House Mill until its sluices are renewed. The size of craft will be limited by low bridges at the Northern Outfall Sewer and Stratford High Street. Malcolm Tucker

Greater London news in brief

Redevelopment work has started at the old Arsenal football ground (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006). Looking from the east, the listed 1930s stand in Avenell Road has tower cranes behind it and substantial work is in progress. Looking from the northwest the northwest stand has gone and that to the southwest has nearly gone. Development work here is proceeding apace.

North of King's Cross railway station overhead traction wires now run into the Western Portal of the long CTRL tunnel to Stratford and the east (GLIAS Newsletter October 2006). On Wednesday 7 March this year a Eurostar train entered the great Barlow train shed at St Pancras station and the interior of this huge edifice is now illuminated in the evening. Newly restored it is an attractive and impressive sight. A large workforce in hard hats is currently employed in the vicinity of the station. A letter in The Times on 3 March 2007 from James Stevens Curl expressed concern that Stanley Buildings and Culross Buildings to the northeast are in danger of demolition. These are listed.

Clapton Pond © Bob Carr

The Lea Bridge Roundabout has been converted into a bus stand for the bendy buses on route 38 which terminate at Clapton Pond (pictured right) to the south (GLIAS Newsletter December 2005). This new bus facility opened in November 2006. Red buses with the romantic and rural-sounding destination Clapton Pond have long been a feature of central London and until recently they were Routemasters. These buses used to park round the Pond itself at the end of their journey but presumably the longer articulated units require more room.

On the south bank of the Thames, Compass Archaeology carried out excavation work at the site of the subterranean engine house for the Greenwich Steam Ferry (GLIAS Newsletter June 2005). How the winding engine was arranged and in what manner it was utilised is still something of a mystery.

A splendid tiled façade for an off-licence or public house still exists on the northeast corner of the junction of Edward Road and Courtenay Road E17. East of the Blackhorse Road, this is a quiet neighbourhood and few readers may be familiar with this survival. The premises appear to be no longer in use.

On the River Lee Navigation gantries at one time used for unloading barges still exist on the west bank between Springfield Marina and Tottenham Hale. It was reported that they were under threat of demolition but a campaign for their retention was underway. Does anyone have further news?

At Picketts Lock a substantial concrete spillway has been built, just to the north of the lock on the east bank of the Navigation. The towpath dips down into the spillway to cross it making inspection at close quarters convenient. Perhaps a decade or two old, at first sight it appears rather over-designed but probably illustrates just how much flood water comes down the Navigation at times of heavy rain. What a wet climate we have, (or might it be amateur boaters?)

Further to Thames Water installing pressure reduction valves in their water mains (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007), the above-ground control equipment can be quite voluminous. For housing such equipment a steel cabinet with double doors more than four feet high has been noted. The valve itself, inserted in the main below ground, consisted of a brown painted cast-iron sphere with polished steel working parts protruding. This was vaguely reminiscent of a cylinder for a late 19th-century stationary steam engine fitted with Corliss valve gear. (For obvious security reasons it would be unwise for GLIAS to publish the locations of such installations). Bob Carr

Cobbles again

Answering my own query (GLIAS Newsletter December 2006): I was walking south from St Paul's Cathedral down Deans Court just after my query in the newsletter and found that the gates to the former Deanery were open. The whole of the courtyard was cobble stoned. According to Pevsner the former deanery is the best surviving c17th century mansion in the City. It was built c1672. The Dean of St Paul's lived there until in the 1970s. David Perrett

There seems to be looseness in the use of this term in some recent correspondence. To me, a cobbled paving is made of un-dressed stones, often rounded and water-worn and relatively difficult to walk upon, whereas the neatly-dressed, usually rectangular stones for paving roads are called setts. Another form of paving, not often seen, is stone pitching, in which stones of narrow, 'tabular' shape are laid on edge.

The recycling of materials is nothing new, but obsolete cobbles and broken or non-standard-sized setts would be difficult to find new uses for, unless mixed in with other, less intractable materials to form hardcore. I have seen granite setts used as 'plums' to bulk out mass concrete. In 2000 I recorded the large Ice Well at 34 Jamestown Road, Camden Town (TQ 2861 8400) during site investigation works, and I found that a brick chamber (probably built to receive ice harvested from the Regent's Canal) had partly been backfilled at abandonment circa 1914 with assorted granite setts, broken kerb stones and cobbles. The cobbles were of hard, fine-grained igneous rock and well rounded, as if originating from an exposed beach and perhaps brought to London in ships' ballast. Generally spheroidal in shape, their sizes ranged from 130 x 100 x 70mm to 260 x 180 x 130mm. Where had they come from? They might have been part of the surfacing of the wharf, but there were then several paving contractors with wharves on the canal, so material dug up from London's streets may be the answer. Malcolm Tucker

The discussion about cobbles and wood block paving in recent newsletters (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007) is interesting. I think there were exchanges about wood block paving (also 'silent' rubber paving blocks) way, way back in early GLIAS newsletters. I recall seeing an area of such paving in Howland Street off Tottenham Court Road many years ago, buried under tarmac but revealed during road repairs. Many earlier types of road surfacing survive likewise, buried under that ubiquitous and boring tarmac which perhaps suits motor vehicles better but does little to enhance the streetscape.

Large numbers of granite setts and quite a few York flagstones were salvaged during the Underground and related works taking place between King's Cross and St Pancras stations, which it is hoped will be re-used in the area. English Heritage's publication Streets For All encourages the informed treatment of road and pavement finishes in conservation areas, making use of reclaimed setts, kerbstones, flagstones, and the like. Alas, too often — as around me in west London — schemes to make crossing the road safer for visually impaired folk, worthy in themselves, are so often carried out in ignorance of such principles. Sound original kerbstones with rounded nosings are ripped up and replaced by imported sharp-nosed efforts, together with a chaotic mix of dimpled and plain concrete and clay paving slabs. Unnecessary and inelegant bollards add further visual distress to the disfiguring speed bumps, parking meters, parking and waiting restriction signs, etc, that are considered necessary in the typical modern street. It's not just the cars that spoil the view! (And of course these eyesores gobble up our Council Tax too.) Michael Bussell

Phone box campaign

The Twentieth Century Society has launched a campaign to save the 12 remaining K8 phone boxes (GLIAS Newsletter February 2002).

Bruce Martin's design, chosen by Tony Benn when he was postmaster general in the 1960s, was a rationalised version of earlier models, derived from Giles Gilbert Scott's classic phone box.

There were once 11,000 K8 boxes in existence and the society wants all 12 to be listed.

The Twentieth Century Society says: 'The K8 is the final stage in the lineage of a design that has become nothing short of a global icon, a symbol of Britain.'

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© GLIAS, 2007