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Notes and news — December 2007

In this issue:

All change for Eurostar

Eurostar services said goodbye to Waterloo International on 14 November after exactly 13 years of operations and moved to the restored St Pancras International station (pictured).

St Pancras station, 30.5.08. © Robert MasonJourneys to and from St Pancras International using High Speed 1, the UK's first high-speed line, are now at least 20 minutes shorter, with non-stop times of: London to Paris 2h 15min, London to Brussels 1h 51min, and London to Lille 1h 20min.

Ebbsfleet International, Eurostar's second new UK station just off junction 2 of the M25 near the Dartford crossing and Bluewater shopping centre in north Kent, opened on 19 November.

A three-stage strategy for the development of Waterloo station has been agreed between the Department for Transport and Network Rail. The first stage allows a limited number of domestic train services to utilise elements of the Waterloo International Terminal from December 2008.

Stage two enables the use of the entire Waterloo International Terminal facility, providing at least 10-car capability to all platforms at Waterloo.

Stage 3 proposes to redevelop the entire Waterloo site, integrating the Waterloo International Terminal into a new enhanced facility with at least 12-car capability to all platforms and a significantly enlarged concourse, to provide appropriate capacity for the longer term.

Waterloo International has five platforms (numbered 20 to 24) and was designed by Nicholas Grimshaw to accommodate the quarter-of-a-mile-long Eurostar trains which are far longer than any domestic train.

Crossrail given go-ahead

The £16bn scheme to build the new Crossrail rail line through the centre of London has been given the go-ahead by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Construction for the link — connecting Maidenhead in Berkshire to Shenfield in Essex — will start in 2010, and the first trains are expected to be running on the line by 2017.

It will be 73 miles long — 25 of which will be underground — and serve 38 stations, including new builds at Canary Wharf, Farringdon and Bond Street. There will be spurs linking it to Heathrow and another allowing travel from Whitechapel to the Isle of Dogs ending in Abbey Wood.

Construction will involve digging two 10-mile tunnels deep under central London between Paddington and Stratford stations.

London Archaeological Forum

I attended a meeting recently, at which there were reports of a number of excavations, investigations or watching briefs on a number of sites of interest in London:

There was also a report on the development of a Research Strategy for London Archaeology. An assessment of resources has been undertaken and a framework document has examined the questions which archaeology needs to answer. Museum of London and others are bidding for an English Heritage contract to prepare a strategy document in 2008. The distinction between buildings and below-ground archaeology was becoming eroded and the strategy was expected to cover both.

The meeting also reported on the development of a London Region CBA Group (GLIAS Newsletter December 2006). The CBA has decided to set up a London Region. The proposal is under discussion with the four County Societies and will require clearance with the Charity Commission. CBA are keen to build on existing partnerships and will be consulting widely. There have been discussions with the London Archaeologist and plans for a joint body, which will include subscription to the magazine. London Archaeologist will then be used as the main channel of communication, rather than setting up a separate CBA London magazine. CBA are also keen to establish Young Archaeologist branches. Brian James-Strong

More on a crane near Worship Street

Tim Smith's surmise (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) that the crane near Worship Street was part of the original (1916) railway sub-station may not be correct. It is recorded [1] that the Broad Street sub-station occupied 'some of the arches' ... 'in the vicinity of Great Eastern Street', which sounds like a different location, and a photograph of another sub-station [2] show a single-girder hoist over the rotary converters. Admittedly the latter sub-station was in a bespoke building.

The original sub-stations were replaced in 1940-46, not in 1967. The new ones, using mercury arc rectifiers and not needing hoists, were mostly in different buildings from the originals.

It thus seems possible that arch 541 housed the replacement Broad Street sub-station but not the original and that the hoist was for some unrelated use of the remaining space.

The remaining original sub-station buildings, at Kenton (still in use) and Willesden Junction (derelict), may contain relics worth recording. Peter Lawrence



Bessemer saloon

I was interested to read the recent notes mentioning the Bessemer Saloon (GLIAS Newsletter December 2006).

It inspired me to do a little research, which ultimately ended with asking Hextable Heritage Centre. The curator tells me the saloon was definitely destroyed in the bombing of Swanley/Hextable Horticultural College, although locals 'rescued' fragments. The Heritage Centre archive has photos and some of the panelling on display.

I did turn up some interesting contemporary descriptions on the way. The write-up is at:

Ray Girvan

Bessemer Court

Bessemer Court in Camden Road NW1 (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) is one of six blocks of flats on the St Pancras Way Estate, built by St Pancras Borough Council between 1948 and 1953. The council's policy at the time was to name new blocks after notable people once connected with the former borough. Neighbouring blocks recall the architect Sir John Soane, the Inwoods (also architects), the painter William Hogarth, and William Wollett (engraver to George III).

Although Bessemer Court does not mark the site of any of Sir Henry's enterprises, it lies fairly near to the sites of three:

1km to the south, in Pancras Road, stood Baxter House, in whose back garden he built a small factory. There, between 1841 and 1862 ,he manufactured his famous 'bronze powder' (a cheap substitute for the 'gold powder' used by japanners); and a centrifugal machine for separating molasses from sugar crystals; and there were conducted the early experiments that led to the patenting of his celebrated eponymous steel-making 'converter'. The recently demolished Midland Railway coal drops later occupied the site. Nearby, in Cambridge (now Camley) Street, was another, 'secret' factory, listed in the 1851 census as “Besemeer's [sic] Glass Factory”.

½km west of Bessemer Court, off Hawley Crescent, was a canalside wharf used by Bessemer, adjoining the 'Camden Glass Works' that he owned in the 1840s, and which was later replaced by the Camden Brewery.

2km northwest of Bessemer Court, in Highgate Road and overlooking Hampstead Heath was the mansion on which Sir Henry took a 14-year lease in 1846, and which he named Charlton House after his Hertfordshire birthplace. Refaced and extended, it is now part of La Sainte Union convent school. David Hayes


Bob Carr asked if anyone had experience of using a planimeter (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007).

I often used one of these devices when working in the Zambian copper mines in the mid Sixties. We used them for measuring the volume of ore bodies from mine plans. The information was then used to calculate the efficiency of the drilling patterns, ie the number of cubic feet of ore removed per metre of blast hole drilled and per kilogram of explosive used. The mechanism was cheap, quick and, so far as I could tell, accurate enough for our purposes.

I imagine it has now been replaced by a computer. John Brunton

I was an analytical chemist and often used a planimeter in my work with a gas chromatograph. In essence a gas chromatograph is a device used to separate and quantify the components of any mixture which can be volatised without decomposition. The separated gaseous components of the mixture pass through a detector which generates an electrical signal. This signal is then amplified and recorded on a chart recorder. Each component of the mixture is represented on the chart as a peak above the baseline. The area under the peak is proportional to the weight of that substance that had passed through the detector. Before electronic integrators became widely available, a planimeter was often used to measure peak areas on the chart in order to determine the quantitative composition of the original mixture.

The planimeter I used, though precision made, was the simplest and cheapest type available. It consisted of two metal arms joined to each other by a pivot. One arm ended in a pivot which was hand-held at a fixed point with the aid of a spike, while the end of the other arm ended in a pointer which would be guided round the peak. Branching off this second arm and parallel to it was a spindle about which a wheel, attached to a graduated cylinder, would freely rotate as the pointer was guided across the chart paper. Next to the graduated cylinder was a fixed vernier scale. To measure area one would mark a starting point on the chart, place the pointer over it, note the cylinder reading, guide the pointer round the peak back to the starting point and subtract the initial reading from the final one to give a direct measurement of the area in square inches. B A Bissett

About 1960 one of the projects for my GCE metalwork was to make a Hatchet Planimeter (also known as a Prytz Planimeter after its inventor Holger Prytz). This was a simple tool with no moving parts. Most drawing offices I worked in possessed a Polar Planimeter, normally kept in the chief draughtsman's office in a velvet-lined case but as I mostly worked in mechanical design offices they were not often used. However, our civil engineer's drawing office used them regularly and had heavy wheeled carriages called pole wagons for converting a polar planimeter into a linear planimeter which could also be raced along the plan tables!

Planimeters were easy to use as one simply read the area off the dial or applied a scale conversion, understanding how they worked was more difficult! Alan Ludbrook

Dragon Rapide

Dragon Rapide, 2006, © Neville Stein Bob Carr's reported sighting of a Dragon Rapide over central London (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) demonstrates the longevity of aircraft from a firm that had its roots in north London, ie the De Havilland Aircraft Company which was located at the Stag Lane Airfield. The most notable of these is the Tiger Moth. When De Havilland started at Stag Lane there were few houses on the site but, as London expanded, suburbia encroached to such an extent that De Havilland had to move to new premises at Hatfield in Hertfordshire in 1934.

The Dragon Rapide (DH98) was a development of the earlier DH84 Dragon Moth, a two-winged moth, which became better known as the Dragon, of which 115 we constructed. It was designed around a request from Edward Hillman who operated a successful bus company and who wanted to start an air service between London and Paris.

The prototype Dragon Rapide was flown on 17 March 1934. In 1936 a modification was incorporated to introduce improved flaps and this became the DH98A. The RAF purchased a number of DH98A aircraft and these became the DH98B and were designated the Dominie. They did sterling service as a transports and trainers in the inter-war years. In all 731 Dragon Rapides were constructed.

The Dominie designation was later assumed by another De Havilland aircraft in the Sixties, the DH125 Business Jet, named the Jet Dragon, however this name was dropped when it became fashionable to follow the American trend and only designate aircraft by their alphanumeric design code.

For those interested in early aviation in and around London, or just a good read, I would recommend the autobiography of Sir Geoffrey De Havilland entitled 'Sky Fever' (ISBN 0-905-778-405). Dan Little

Bob Carr can take a trip himself in the Classic Wings De Havilland Rapide from the Imperial War Museum at Duxford for £189 for a 70-minute flight to and over London — probably what he saw overhead in September. Real Aero IA, all leather and rivets and getting pretty old these 21st-century days. Ben Rayner

Euston Station

I was working for the LMR while Euston Station (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) was being built and remember being told that the height of the station was restricted so that the view of the dome of St Pauls from Primrose Hill was not affected. Alan Ludbrook

Does anyone knows the fate of the arch that used to stand in front of the station and the archives for which it was a repository? Was it dismantled and reassembled elsewhere like the arches of Buckingham Palace (Marble Arch) and Temple Bar? Dan Little

GLIAS Treasure Hunt 2007

Grabhams It's September again and a strange group of people have been sighted around Hoxton, peering at buildings and pavements to the bewilderment of the local population. Twenty four of us joined the annual treasure hunt this year. Fiona and Chris Grabham had clearly spent much time devising the questions with their usual ingenuity.

We started out from Old Street Station with six pictures of objects to find and interpret, plus 17 other questions. The clues were to be found in four contiguous areas: Tabernacle Street, Curtain Road, Hoxton Square and Pitfield Street. There were many interesting buildings and artefacts in an area which I, at least, knew very little about. It included buildings that are no longer used for their original purpose like a former cinema, an electricity generating station and a Christian Mission. There were also more modern features like a sculpture celebrating 100 years of cinema and art work by Aaron Noble, not to mention tube carriages high up on a viaduct.

We met in the park in Hoxton Square at the end of the hunt, where it was so busy with people enjoying a fine afternoon that we repaired to Hoxton Market for more space and seats to sit on. Immediately by the benches were the answers to two of the clues! Chris went through the answers to various groans and exclamations. Everyone enjoyed a most fascinating and revealing afternoon. We would all like to thank Fiona and Chris for all their hard work and the time and effort they expended. It was great fun. Kate Quinton


There is an example of a 'flatpack' building (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) in Kilburn. This is Cambridge Hall in Cambridge Avenue, a corrugated galvanised iron former chapel now used by a Sea Cadets Unit.

This is a Listed Grade II building of the type known as a 'tin tabernacle', dating from c1870, one of many non-conformist chapels and mission halls, designed and made in a kit form, used extensively in the UK and the Empire. Peter Finch

I saw bolted together steel houses at the Black Country Museum, these weren't corrugated but were a bit like those bolted together water tanks. Bob Rust

Tin chapels

Peter J Butt (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) talks of corrugated iron chapels. There is a 'tin chapel' in Shrubland Road, Dalston, E8. It used to be a congregational church and is still used for worship, though now by a 'happy clappy' sect.

In the 1950s, I attended its thriving Sunday School, and knew lots of people who married there as early as 1940, when it was far from new. It is a sizeable building with some graceful features inside, being heated by means of two huge, noisy and not particularly effective boilers.

Several families were instrumental in the successful running of this church, which formed the hub of the community in a then essentially upper working class area, full of sober, industrious people. The Dents, the Masons and the Bournes between them acted as superintendents, etc, ensuring that there were a variety of activities ranging from Women's Groups to Girls' Life Brigade and Bible Study evenings, all well attended.

Before computer dating, and more freedom of movement, it acted as a sort of marriage bureau, and I knew of many couples who met their future spouses at, say, 'Band Practice'.

It has weathered well as a building and adapted to being successfully and enthusiastically supported now by ethnic groups that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. No-one could have imagined just how much the clientele has changed, but not the building, which has remained essentially still an ongoing, dependable place of non-conformist worship.

All around that area, apart from some local authority housing (mainly where bombs fell), stand grand and elegant houses built as early as the mid 1800s, all needing, in the throes of, or having had much renovation work. Half a million pounds would be an average price. The tin chapel, bereft of such attention, still sits there, proudly and rather anachronistically, among its salubrious neighbours.

In Australia, one sees corrugated iron in use far more frequently for dwellings; the climate treats it kindly, but the tin chapel in Shrubland Road is a pretty good example of solid endurance and adaptability. Norma King

Telegraph poles

Wymondham signal box, 27 October 2007. © David Flett Anyone proposing to visit Brandon in Suffolk to see the prefab estate at nearby Weeting (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) is also recommended to take a trip on the train from there to Wymondham and back.

The railway line between these two places (about 27 miles) is, I believe, the last in England where the signalling and telegraph wires are carried in the open air on poles rather than in cable troughing (though there are some gaps).

'Telegraph poles' were once so familiar a sight alongside railways as to pass virtually without remark, except by luminaries such as Sherlock Holmes, who could calculate the speed of his train by merely counting a few of them and doing some swift mental arithmetic ('Silver Blaze', 1892). Now, they have disappeared almost completely.

The survival of this stretch of open-wire pole route is notable for another reason. The Norwich and Brandon Railway (opened in 1845) was equipped with electric telegraph block working by William F Cooke in 1846, being one of the earliest railways in the country to adopt it. It has thus retained this feature, though with periodic renewals of infrastructure, for over 160 years.

As with the prefabs, an early visit is recommended. I have not visited the line since August 2006 and my information might already be out of date. John Liffen

Rowton Houses

By the time this appears in print demolition of the Rowton House near Elephant and Castle will probably be complete. This was one of six such establishments in London.

The book 'Rowton Houses 1892-1954' by Michael Sheridan, published 1956, gives some background to these hostels for working men. An internet search, using Google, has provided further information. The idea was to provide cheap individual, albeit spartan, sleeping cubicles, adequate shared washing and toilet facilities, a kitchen with a dining room and a communal sitting area. Individuals could stay just one night or longer. Lord Rowton was the driving force. The hostels were intended to be self-financing.

Key dates and bed numbers (which vary slightly depending on the source) were:

In 1903 the LCC opened a 'copy' at Deptford, Carrington House (named after Lord Carrington, LCC Chairman of the Housing of the Working Classes Committee). The Salvation Army was also active in providing accommodation from c1905.

Hostels similar to the Rowton Houses were erected by 1908 in Vienna (Mannheim, still in use 1954), Berlin, Birmingham, Dublin, Newcastle, Hull, Milan, Frankfurt, New York, plus, shortly after, Paris (Hotel pour les Hommes, still in use 1954). The Birmingham premises, at 145 Alcester Street, Digbeth, were converted into a 4 star hotel in 1992. The Newcastle hostel was at Dog Bank.

The London Rowton Houses were solely for men, although the 1897 report on opening Hammersmith says money was available for a similar hostel for women. This story was repeated in the August 1899 edition of Nursing Times.

A visit to each of the London sites in late October 2007 showed:

A longer version of this note has been deposited at Southwark's John Harvard Local Studies Library, 211 Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA. David Thomas

Beetroot Red

Taramasalata is the fishy version of houmous and is made from cods' roe, bread rusk (about a quarter) and a good deal of vegetable and olive oil. The pink colour is imparted by E162, Betanin. This is not a synthetic dye like Carmoisine but a natural extract of beetroot which has no known adverse effects. It is one of the safe food colourants like E160b Annatto (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). Houmous is mostly chick peas and sesame seed paste with oil.

A good deal of houmous and taramasalata is manufactured in London. Originating from the Greek part of the Mediterranean where they are often served as an hors-d'oeuvre, houmous and taramasalata have become widely known in Britain since the 1970s.

Some readers may remember the kebab house with a real charcoal grill, on the east side of Charlotte Street south of Goodge Street, where Greek food, especially souvlakia, was available more than 30 years ago. Bob Carr

Cabmen shelters

Cab shelter, Hitchin, 15/12/07. © Dan Little David Flett mentioned two cab shelters, one in Ripon and one in Hitchin, similar to those found in London (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007). The one in Ripon's Market Square dates from 1911 and is now an information centre. The Hitchin shelter (pictured) was built 'by public subscription' in about 1907.

The number of shelters in London differs according to the source. The London Vintage Taxi Association website ( says 54 were erected in the period 1876-1897 and a 1974 article in the 'Record', the newspaper of the Transport & General Workers Union, says there were a maximum of 63 in 1915. I have not yet found a definitive list of all sites and dates. Some shelters were moved, so such a list might include double-counting. There might also be other types of 'shelter'; I understand that equivalent facilities were (?are) provided for taxi drivers at Heathrow Airport.

A search of the internet in 2001 gave a number of references to cabmen shelters outside London in Dublin (three), Edinburgh (1859), Liverpool (1869, brick), Wolverhampton and Hull. I suspect that this is merely the start of a much longer list. David Thomas

News in brief

At St Pancras the northernmost of the two Stanley Buildings has been demolished. The Eurostar service from St Pancras International to the Continent via Stratford through the Channel Tunnel started on Wednesday 14 November 2007. The refurbished and extended station was officially reopened by the Queen on Tuesday 6 November. On Monday 12 November 2007 no Eurostar trains could be seen at the North Pole Junction depot, Wormwood Scrubs. They may have already left for Temple Mills by that date.

The new timings from St Pancras to the Continent come fully into force on 9 December this year when most other fresh UK timetables will be implemented. Customers of the modestly priced former Silverlink County service to Birmingham via Northampton will be relieved to hear that the present half hour or so enforced wait while 'changing trains' there will be abolished. Silverlink and Central Trains are amalgamating to form London Midland and staff are already wearing the new uniforms, although having still to operate the old timetable. The new journey times from Euston to Birmingham New Street should be about 2 hours 15 minutes. Although well-heeled Londoners will have been using Virgin Pendolino trains which take just over an hour to reach Coventry, spare a thought for people living in places such as Berkhamsted whose service to Birmingham has been exceedingly restricted in the last few years. The misery should soon be over.

The railways are presently having a great shake-up with new train-operating companies being formed, old ones disappearing, and a great deal of musical chairs taking place. The North London line trains which have been operated by Silverlink Metro will be transferred to London Overground who will also operate the services from Clapham Junction to Watford and Gospel Oak to Barking. The change of name should make these trains more popular. Currently many timid people regard surface trains in London as expensive, for the rich and 'not for the likes of us'.

Cladding buildings with strips of softwood is very fashionable (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007). The Alan Higgs sports centre southeast of Coventry is a prime example. Situated in Allard Way, CV3 1HW, at approximately SP 358 773, nearly all the exterior is softwood. A multi-storey car park north of Cecil Road, Enfield, at TQ 327 964, also has extensive softwood cladding. This is part of the new Palace Exchange retail centre. There is wood cladding on a building at Thames Valley University, Slough, just west of the Brunel bus station. It is reported that this bus station, probably nearly 40 years old, might be demolished. If so it could be replaced by a building with timber cladding. Such is fashion.

Otto Mönsted, who came from Denmark, established a giant margarine factory in Southall in 1893-95 and some buildings from this manufactory survive. South of the Great Western Railway a multi-storey building still has a Sunrise Radio sign attached but it is not known if the building remains in use for radio purposes. In 2000 there was a GLIAS walk in the area (GLIAS Newsletter October 2000).

In Walsall the Afrikana Restaurant and Bar in Bridge Street has shut. The loss of such an enterprising establishment with its modish design style and breathtaking interior decor is a considerable blow to the town. Have any readers eaten at the Afrikana?

On the south side of the Lea Bridge Road at number 142, west of the River Lee Navigation, is a modest factory-like group of buildings of Vicwardian appearance. Behind a three-storey office with a mansard roof there is an engine house with Dutch scroll gabled pediment roof and terracotta detailing. There is a red-brick chimney stack of square cross section and the yard between the offices and the engine house is paved with granite sets. The site has a somewhat municipal appearance but was used by the Carbonic Acid Gas Company who presumably manufactured mineral waters — glass bottles were made close by. Later it was used as a furniture factory. It is believed some of the buildings are listed grade II.

This has now become the Paradise Dock development. The site has been through the stages of industrial use, abandonment and dereliction, use for artists' studios and now substantial rebuilding for upmarket housing. This is quite a usual sequence of events — it seems the art studio phase removes the taint of the world of work and cleanses a property ready for polite habitation. Paradise Dock is now like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Judging from notice-boards on the outside of the site the developers are Vision Homes. Some affordable housing will be included in the scheme.

A small row of houses in Otley Terrace face the works from the west and nearby is the Ship Aground public house at number 144. To the south of the engine house a small dock was constructed, probably before 1830. This dock, currently filled in, is to be reinstated but only as a shallow-depth water feature and gives its name to the new development. There is or was a 1960s concrete framed building here. Car parking is to be provided underground beneath the water feature which will be about a metre deep. This will prevent future deepening of the 'dock' and its use for serious waterway purposes. Paradise dock, later Lea Bridge Dock, was still in use pre-Second World War but had been filled in by the 1960s.

Forming a big traffic island at the western extremity of the Lea Bridge Road, the recent bus park south of Clapton railway station generally has a group of red 38 Clapton Pond bendy buses on view (GLIAS Newsletter April 2007). There are some Portakabin-like temporary buildings to the east of the 'island' which are probably rest facilities for the 38 bus drivers. These are surrounded by large steel drums which may be filled with sand or gravel, perhaps as a protection. Might someone steal the buildings in the night?

Reliant Robin racing is reputed to take place at Mildenhall Stadium, Dover Raceway, Nuttscorner Oval, Hednesford Hills Raceway, and the Norfolk Arena King's Lynn. Have any readers witnessed this phenomenon? A GLIAS member once owned one of these remarkable vehicles (GLIAS Newsletter June 2001).

The coach station at Digbeth, Birmingham, is to be rebuilt. Presently its condition is still reminiscent of travel in the post-war 1940s, with all the queuing and deprivation this entails. On 12 November 2007 facilities are due to move to a temporary coach station to the north across Digbeth High Street, to a site between Meriden Street and Oxford Street. The coach station in Manchester at Chorlton Street used to have a similar ambience to Digbeth but has recently been thoroughly modernised. It now offers facilities rather better than a railway station and quite transforms the image of long-distance coach travel, conjuring up fast comfortable motor coaches running on motorways between city centres. The feel is quite like that of a small efficiently run airport. No doubt nostalgia merchants will deplore these changes. Digbeth won't be what it used to be.

National Express is generally much better than many people expect, probably because travel in organised coach parties has given road travel a bad name. The National Express service between London and Bristol is a good example of what can be achieved and you can get from Golders Green to Chesterfield in under three hours. The journey to Leeds takes about three hours 40 minutes. Coach travel on a motorway is very energy efficient.

In Cumberland at Calder Hall power station the four cooling towers were demolished by explosives at 9am on Saturday 29 September 2007. This was something of a public spectacle with crowds turning up in large numbers. Calder Hall was opened by the Queen in October 1956 and was the first commercial-scale nuclear power station in the world. By December 1958 four nuclear reactors were at work there. It is unlikely that any of the early nuclear power stations will be preserved; residual radioactivity would make this difficult and very expensive. There were plans for a museum at Calder Hall but this seems to have been shelved. It will be interesting to see what happens to nuclear power stations in the South East. Bob Carr


Health and Safety now decrees that every site must have a properly trained and certified banksman (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007) to guide and control vehicle and crane drivers, using designated and codified hand signals. He can also act a slinger for the crane provided he has had the proper training.

A quick look at Google shows that trained banksmen are in demand. All the offers of jobs or training only mentions 'banksmen' — in these politically correct times should it not be bankspersons? Although it would need a fat person to get that all across their high-visibility jacket! Bob Rust

Musical Museum reopens

The Musical Museum opened in its new purpose-built premises on 27 November. It is at 399 High Street, Brentford, TW8 0DU and is open 11am - 5.30pm, Tuesday - Sunday; last entry 16.00. £7/£5.50 conc. The museum is a few minutes' walk from Kew Bridge pumping station.

The Science Museum Library, South Kensington

Now incorporated into Imperial College Library the former Science Museum Collection of periodicals relating to industrial archaeology and industrial history is once more on open-shelf access, and now more spaciously arranged than before. A full set of back number of this newsletter is available and you will also find AIA and Newcomen periodicals close by. Unlike the floor below which is crowded with students this part of the library is a haven of tranquillity. So, be warned, if we do not make use of this superb facility it is likely to be withdrawn. Bob Carr

Goldfish and 'The London Nobody Knows' film

I was recently minded of the now seven years-running and always entertaining discussion of the goldfish (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007) and the glass cisterns of a Holborn public toilet; as cited by Geoffrey Fletcher in his book The London Nobody Knows. I recently saw Norman Cohen's 1967 53-minute film of the same name, which is narrated by actor James Mason (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) as he guides the viewer around a disappearing London. And lo — there he is in the derelict Holborn toilets, which he dates to 1897, while goldfish swim in the glass cisterns! Before anyone gets excited by this 'proof', Mason says 'These fish don't live here — we just put them there for the occasion'. He also offers a dry claim that here was 'the only true democracy, as all men are equal in the eyes of the toilet attendant'.

The film holds many pleasures for the GLIAS member who wants to see what certain streets or landmarks looked like in 1967. These include Camden's dray horse tunnels (GLIAS Newsletter April 2007), the roundhouse nearby (designed in part by Stephenson, Mason says), a working model of a steam train which you could see at Broad Street station for a penny in the slot, and London's 'unique sewer ventilating gas lamp' in Carting Lane (GLIAS Newsletter January 1975) by the Savoy (it was still there in 2005). 'We don't want to lose this' says Mason. Other treats include the 'last of London's lamplighters' at work; Clink Street; and on the working docks, the marvellously named S Behr and Mathew Egg Breaking Plant, which provides an opportunity for an amusing little sketch (and yes, the plant really did exist). Mason explores parts of the East End, touching on Spitalfields' Huguenot past, Commercial Road's faded Grand Palais Yiddish Theatre (the last of its kind, finally closed in 1970), and taking us into the house and yard where Jack the Ripper's second victim was found.

On the human front, the film treats sensitively and movingly the poorer occupants of 1967 London — Caribbean and Asian immigrants, meths drinkers, toothless patrons of pie and mash shops, shoeless children, and Salvation Army hostel dwellers are all treated with dignity and compassion. One of the closing images is of a man who clearly has taken all of life's knocks and more, and still sings beautifully in Yiddish for the camera.

Mason makes a slightly odd choice of guide — at times he seems not to know quite what he is doing in the film. Well-dressed and dry to the point of diffidence in his manner, he is respectful and laudatory of London's heritage and its losses — except for his astonishing claim that 'most of Victorian London was fairly hideous'. But that was what people thought in the mid-60s.

As a quick internet search will reveal, The London Nobody Knows screens very rarely. I was able to find an acceptable DVD copy of an original VHS tape for sale on eBay at £4.99 — the seller (to whom I have no connection) appears to always offer this. Now, shall we have a GLIAS viewing? Sarah Timewell

Holborn urinals at Museum of London


The last remains of Jericho by artist Anselm Keifer, Hon RA, were being cleared away at midday on Sunday 29 April 2007. The Annenberg Courtyard, Burlington House, London, was closed that day but the Royal Academy itself was open. The main demolition presumably took place over the previous Saturday night and Sunday morning. The use of a large mobile-crane would necessitate at least the partial closure of Piccadilly.

Jericho had been in the courtyard for just over three months. Although quite safe the two concrete structures which made up this artwork, twin towers 46 and 54 feet high, had the appearance of gutted apartment blocks, and appeared precarious — in fact quite dangerous. Grosso modo as high as the surrounding buildings, this has been a sight well worth seeing. Cast inside old freight containers and about 9 feet high, some of the concrete units which made up the towers weighted as much as 40 tons. The towers were only stacks, piled at awkward angles five and six units high, with no interior structure holding them up. The ends of steel reinforcing bars poking out horizontally were just part of the individual units. This artwork was safe structurally simply because of the great weights involved — an amazing feat of engineering, which really had to be seen to be believed. It provoked interest among structural engineers. Bob Carr

Obituary — Rick Gibson

Former GLIAS member Rick Gibson died in 2007 from mesothelioma, a lung cancer contracted from exposure to asbestos when he worked at the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill. Although he did not handle asbestos it was present in the building and it is understood he received some kind of government compensation. Dollis Hill was a very prestigious place to be associated with; in 1943 Colossus I was built there by Dr Tommy Flowers and colleagues. The whole Post Office site at Dollis Hill was sold to the private sector before 1980.

GLIAS members may recall Rick working for Our Price records, maintaining their amplifiers and electronic equipment in the high street shops — from memory he was a partner in the firm. Sometimes if equipment failed in a shop a long way from London he would be flown there so as to keep the shop in business. He was particularly good at fault finding and his specialist skills were a crucial part of the Our Price record-selling operation.

About 15 years ago he very kindly presented to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum a large Sony monitor which came from an Our Price shop. They used to have a whole wall of these set up in a rectangular array and so wired up that a huge image was displayed, making simultaneous use of all the screens. This was impressive technology at the time and was used to show promotional pop videos.

For a time Rick was also very active in Subterranea Britannica taking part in many visits, both here and abroad. Rick is survived by June whom members will also remember. Bob Carr

Obituary — Bernd Becher (1931-2007)

The British Newspapers gave considerable coverage to the German photographer Bernd Becher who died on 22 June 2007. Together with his wife Hilla they had spent a lifetime together photographing industrial structures, firstly in Germany and later on a worldwide scale.

There were substantial obituaries in The Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph and The Guardian; a very large number of words appeared in print. Most of these obituaries covered similar ground and concentrated on the art. They may have been prepared from the same press release and emphasised the achievement of Bernd with a good deal less mention of his wife Hilla. However it was she who made the wonderful prints we have been enthusing over since the 1970s.

Hilla is still with us and it will be interesting to see what she can yet still do. In earlier life she had been apprenticed to the sternly traditional Walter Eichgrun, descended from a family which for many years were official photographers at the Prussian Court at Sans Souci. From here developed her wonderful skills as a print maker.

Bernd and Hilla Becher were awarded the Golden Lion for sculpture at the 44th Venice Bienalle in 1990 and received an Erasmus prize, of substantial financial value, in 2002. They won the Hasselblad Award in 2004. However their eminence in the international world of art is probably not well known to industrial archaeologists.

Bernd was born in Siegen, Westphalia, where Rubens was born. The steelworks there fascinated Bernd and it was from hereabouts his interest in recording industrial structures developed. Bernd met Hilla in 1957, when they were both working at the Troost Advertising Agency in Düsseldorf. They married in 1961, in Düsseldorf, and their son Max was born in 1964. By this time they had been together taking photographs of industrial sites for several years.

The Bechers admired the work of the new objectivity photographers of the 1920s who worked in Germany — August Sander and the industrial landscapes of Albert Renger-Patzsch, depicting the Ruhr. The precise photo-documentary work of late 19th-century industrial photographers was also important to them.

Bernd and Hilla collected together their photographs of similar structures, say blast furnaces or mine winding towers, into groups and presented these as typologies. Several examples of this can be found on the internet — a Google image search reveals many Becher photographs. Some of the early photographs are specially noteworthy. From 1970 they started publishing their work in art books. Their Munich publisher Lothar Schirmer always emphasised that this was fine art. The books were expensive and for this reason much of the Bechers' work will be unknown to many newsletter readers.

Although the press obituaries stressed the artistic achievement of the Bechers, the fact that we regard the wonderful images they produced as highly relevant to industrial archaeology must not be overlooked. Most of the structures they photographed were demolished quite soon after the pictures were taken.

Bernd changed little, from early on when people laughed at him to his later days of international fame and respectability. Throughout, he remained the same taciturn self. Bernd and Hilla both taught at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, where incidentally Joseph Beuys also taught. Bernd was a wonderful teacher and his disciples became numerous and successful, in fact he founded a school of photography which includes Laurenz Berges, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Simone Nieweg, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich. Gursky currently holds the record for the highest price paid for a photograph by a living artist — £1.7 million for his 99 Cent II Diptychon, sold at Sotheby's London in February 2007. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2007