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Notes and news — April 2008

In this issue:

Ilford Trolley Bus Depot faces demolition

The old tram/trolley bus depot buildings in Ilford, Essex are to be demolished. They are currently used for vehicle maintenance by Redbridge Council. There is a planning application for them to be demolished and replaced with flats.

The former trolley bus depot on the corner of Ley Street and Perth Road, Ilford (London Borough of Redbridge, IG2) began life as a horse depot in the 1880s. In the early 1900s, it was modified for use as a tram depot, before being revamped once again in 1939 to house the new wave of trolley buses.

The Ilford depot, had a capacity for 43 vehicles and those at this depot had all been originally intended for service in South Africa, 25 for Durban, the remainder for Johannesburg (some of them had some windows with darkened glass, which seemed exotic at the time).

They were diverted during the war for service in London to replace damaged vehicles and provide for additional requirements. They operated from Ilford on two self-contained local services, from Barking to Barkingside (route 691), and Barking to Chadwell Heath (route 693), with peak-hour journeys on route 695 from Chadwell Heath to Bow Church. The reason for this was that the body width of the vehicles was 8 feet compared with the legal maximum width in the UK at the time of 7 feet 6 inches.

As Ilford routes operated in a limited area, a special dispensation was given for the wider vehicles to operate (as a teenage cyclist at the time, I recall that when overtaking them at the stop on the Hones Road 'hill', one had to be very careful for they could pull away so fast from a standing start that they could leave one very exposed in the middle of the road).

By the 1960s, the depot was no longer needed, as the capital's fleet of trolley buses, had been phased out in favour of buses.

The Redbridge council spokesman said that the site had not been used for years and the council planned to sell it for residential use. The only item of historical significance on the site was a sign of terracotta lettering that once said Ilford Corporation Tramways, but now just declares 'Ilford'. He said: 'We will seek to ensure the safety of the lettering through appropriate conditions on the planning application.' Peter J Butt

Does anyone know anything more detailed about this site or its place in the transport history of the area? Please contact Malcolm Tucker. Tel: 020 7272 7160. Email:

Sir William Fairbairn 1789-1874

Brian James-Strong gave the GLIAS March lecture on the achievements of Sir William Fairbairn, whom he suggested was the 'greatest unsung engineer of the 19th century'. He was a contemporary of, and had contact with, most of the leading figures in engineering in the middle of the century, including the Stephenson, Rennie, Walker, Penn, Nasmyth, Babbage and many others. He was born in Kelso, Scotland, the son of a sometime gardener, farmer or land steward and showed early inventive promise, making a four-wheeled wagon to transport his 15-month old brother, Peter — later Sir Peter Fairbairn, also an engineer. He also made and rigged boats and made working wind and water mills. He worked briefly for Rennie on Kelso Bridge before he was apprenticed as a millwright to John Robinson at Percy Main Colliery, when he also resumed his formal education. On completion of his apprenticeship, he became unemployed and travelled to London with a friend, where he was initially refused work by the Millwrights' Society, but later worked at the Patent Ropery and then for John Penn at Greenwich (the subject of the April lecture).

Salt's Mill, Saltaire, 2012 © Robert Mason After touring the West Country, Wales, Dublin and Liverpool, he settled in Manchester, where he worked for Thomas Hewes. However, a conflict of interest over designs for a new Irwell Bridge, on which he was working privately, led him to leave. In 1817 he decided to set up in business in his own right, initially with James Lillie. Fairbairn and Lillie quickly established a reputation, at first nationally and then internationally, for improved designs in mills and millwork. Eventually, Fairbairn was able to offer a complete mill package, including the design and construction of the building and the machinery. Saltaire (pictured right), built in 1852-3, was his largest project.

Fairbairn wished to branch out into other types of engineering and he and Lillie split up in 1832. He introduced many improvements in mills and millwork, including improving the operation of the suspension wheel; building a mill in Switzerland which caused the wheels to rise and fall with the level of the river; and inventing the ventilated bucket, which allowed the water to enter and leave more efficiently. He conducted experiments on steam locomotion on canals, but found the weight of an iron boat and its steam engine prevented the achievement of high velocities to compete with the railways. He started shipbuilding on the Irwell in 1835, but it was too far from the sea and he decided to open a shipyard in Millwall, which, while securing many orders, was never efficient and led to large losses — arguably his greatest mistake.

He was heavily involved in the improvement of boilers, inventing the Lancashire boiler, while a boilermakers' strike led him to invent the riveting machine, which enabled a man and a boy to fix as many rivets in an hour as three men and a boy in 12 hours by hand. He was frequently invited to investigate boiler accidents and was highly critical both of the manufacturers and the operators. He opposed government intervention and set up an association to promote boiler safety, which had 768 members by 1874.

He was also involved in railways and bridges. His experiments at Millwall with the mathematician Eaton Hodgkinson led to the design of the box sections for the Britannia Bridge across the Menai Strait. He claimed to have built more than 600 locomotives and designed one intended to travel the 112 miles from London to Birmingham in two hours; but it proved to be too expensive to run. He also designed a steam crane which was able to lift larger articles to a greater height. During his career he carried out many experiments on the strength of materials, including advising on the armour plating of ships; and he was an adviser on the second attempt to lay an Atlantic cable.

Brian James-Strong concluded the lecture by looking briefly at Fairbairn's activities in London and the South East, which included the demise of the Millwall Shipyard; the so-called silent millstone machinery at the House Mill; the roof of the Albert Hall; the Enfield Small Arms Factory and a water wheel at the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills.

Livesey Museum For Children closes down

In Peckham South East London, the George Livesey Museum at 682 Old Kent Road, SE15 closed at the end of February. This is to save the £140,000-a-year running costs and the building is now likely to be sold. Aimed at children under 12, this was a fully hands-on free museum.

Originally built in 1890 as Camberwell Public Library number 1 it was the gift of Sir George Livesey of South Metropolitan Gas Company fame. Situated on the south side of the Old Kent Road the gasworks were opposite. It was envisaged that gasworkers would flock to the library during breaks from work. The building ceased to function as a public lending library in 1966 and was reopened as a museum by Sir John Betjeman in 1974.

Sir George Livesey's great niece, Althea Bailey said: 'The building was given to the people of the area for their benefit. I would like to see it kept for the people and not sold off.

'It was intended for the local community and they have said they want it. I'm all for them keeping it open. My great uncle would be turning in his grave if he knew it could be sold.' Bob Carr

Corrugated iron buildings

A two-storey prefabricated corrugated iron house (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008), shipped out from England c1854, is displayed, with appropriate fittings and furniture, at the Gippsland Heritage Park (, Moe (pronounced Mo-e), Victoria, Australia.

It stood in North Melbourne, a working class area, and was moved here when the area was cleared.

The heritage park is run by volunteers and has a good collection of representative buildings, machinery and smaller items — well worth a visit, and in need of more support.

There are two portable engines and a threshing machine by Clayton & Shuttleworth, and a Fowler traction engine. Derek Bayliss

Herbert Road tin tabernacle

Shaftesbury Hall, 17 February 2008. © David Flett I don't know how common corrugated iron chapels (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008) ever were in London — but they must be exceedingly rare now.

At the end of Herbert Road N11, next to Bowes Park station is a structure with external walls of corrugated iron and an asbestos roof.

It is now disused, but bears the name 'Shaftesbury Hall'. Ecclesiastical gothic windows indicate something to do with religion. I don't think it can have been a church hall as there is no church anywhere in the area. Perhaps it was a small chapel?

Anyway, there is currently a planning application in to demolish it and replace it with a Samaritans centre. David Flett

Waterloo — St Pancras — King's Cross

At Waterloo the international station designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and opened on 14 November 1994 is now shuttered and deserted (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007). The roof is getting dirty and signs of re-use have not yet appeared. In such a busy location this seems a dreadful waste.

Considerable archaeological work has been taking place at the Goods Yard site north of King's Cross railway station (GLIAS Newsletter December 2002). Goods handling here was hydraulic and remains of the hydraulic accumulator to the east of the site are being uncovered. To the west hydraulic capstans often in excellent condition and complete with motors are being exposed on removal of rubble.

Most of the period buildings are to be retained but the Western Goods Shed c1900 is to go. It is the intention that the gasholder triplet at present dismantled and in store to the north of Battle Bridge Road will be re-erected here. Culross Buildings are to be demolished but the remaining Stanley Building immediately to the north of the German Gymnasium will be kept. The other Stanley Building was demolished (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007) — to make way for a road?

It was noted at the end of February that on the south elevation of Culross Buildings three boarded towers had been put up at the western end as well as scaffolding staircases. This could be the start of demolition work. Culross Buildings are interesting and can be seen from Battle Bridge Road. If you don't know them you might take a look before they come down. Bob Carr

King's Cross gazetteer

Olympics project — volunteers needed!

Artist and inventor Clare Newton is proposing to create and erect a large scale work of art to form a cultural focus at the 2012 London Olympics site.

She will be working in the medium of photographic montage and her aim is to construct some 200 large-scale display or storyboards and on each board portray an aspect of the overall theme, which is the heritage, traditions and diverse cultures of East London. The overall exhibition should stretch for over a kilometre in length.

It is intended that the project will have a community base and so helpers and volunteers are needed to take part in the project in a variety of ways. Rob Jeffries, heritage co-ordinator for Newton's Heritage Arts Project of East London, has been charged with the task of creating a skills database so that the right volunteer gets the right job which is best suited to his/her skills.

He said: 'This is an excellent opportunity for interested people to not only be involved in the London Olympics but also to champion their own favourite parts of East London. I am hoping that this is a project that some of your members would like to assist and support in some way or other.'

Transport to the new Science Museum Library

Wroughton Aerodrome is an unfortunate site for the Science Museum Library (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008), but with a computer catalogue and a van service to London, it as convenient for London-based members as much of the British Library, which still outhouses a lot of its collection, to one place in Yorkshire even more distant from London.

Bob Carr's ideas about public transport to the site are far fetched. Why does it have to be by rail? Visitors are too few for a railway or tramway, which are the most expensive means of moving people we have. Construction of such would use a lot of energy. Rail vehicles are heavy and need a lot of occupants to be energy efficient. Buses are the most energy efficient means of transport, then moderately full cars.

And car users need not feel too guilty. Cars stay where their occupants are during their visit, which gives them an energy advantage over any public transport which has to make return trips against the peak all but empty. Low density tail ends of routes also reduce the energy efficiency of public transport. John Knowles

Myths associated with industrial archaeology

There are present-day folk tales that any amount of historical research can't dispel. For instance there is the story of a South London child, often a little girl, exploring rough ground who fell down a hole and found herself in a Victorian underground railway carriage. The remains of the passengers were still there, as skeletons in top hats, long dresses, and so on.

This tale seems to be compounded from the 1950s TV science fiction series Quatermass and the Pit and a BBC Radio Goon Show, broadcast not long afterwards, which was a send-up of the Quatermass programmes. The Goon Show mentioned an underground train with passengers delayed so long that they survived only as skeletons. There is also an association with the pneumatic tube railway of 1864 which was demonstrated, carrying passengers, in the grounds of Crystal Palace. Here a demonstration carriage was blown through a 600-yard tunnel which was in fact not underground. Now, there have been serious archaeological attempts to find remains of the Crystal Palace trial railway but excavations firmly concluded that no remains can exist.

If the child in the story is a girl we might also mention Lewis Carroll's Alice as a source. Alice after all did have some memorable adventures under ground. The book Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 just three years after the start of underground railways in about 1862.

Folk stories such as the above are regularly repeated and survive as an oral tradition passed on by word of mouth. One is often told such tales by people like security guards or foremen, and they appear to believe such stories absolutely. Their faith is apparently unshakeable. Any attempt to dispel such beliefs is futile and results in one being regarded as a deluded fool. 'I KNOW this to be true — I talked to a man, who talked to a man, ... , who was there*. The authorities tried to hush this up at the time you know'.

Of late the media have been repeating the hoary old tale of the rivetter and his boy entombed within the double hull of IK Brunel's SS Great Eastern and only discovered when the ship was finally broken up on Merseyside. This is a story that just won't lie down. LTC Rolt spent considerable effort trying to verify this tale and concluded that it was false. See Isambard Kingdom Brunel by LTC Rolt, Chapter 15. Bob Carr

* cf the Between the Wars popular song 'I danced with a girl, who danced with a man, who danced with a girl, who danced with a man, ... , who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales'

News in brief

Railway civil engineering works overran after the New Year. Liverpool Street station in London failed to reopen on time and there was enormous disruption on the West Coast Main Line at Rugby. Here six days of planned work overran by four days.

Liverpool Street station failed to reopen on 2 January after a closure of ten days. The main reason for this closure was the removal of the tracks near Grimsby Street which went over the Great Eastern main line [at TQ 339 822] and into Bishopsgate Goods Station.

They used to cross over the main line on bridge GE19, a three-span brick jack arch construction dating from 1880. Rather like the approaches to St Pancras station (GLIAS Newsletter August 2004) the viaduct here was massive and much material had to be removed. Using a crash deck to recover rubble and ironwork, this was completed on time over Christmas and took nine days. It was other work on the main line itself which overran.

The replacement of bridge GE19 is necessary for the extension of the East London Line towards Dalston (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008). A new Warren Truss bridge by Fairfield Mabey is being built at TQ 340 822, near the site of Shoreditch Station, Pedley Street, and this will be launched northwards across the GE main line during a second closure starting on 4 May. When in place the 275ft single-span bridge will present a rising gradient of 1 in 30 to northbound traffic. A view of the works can be had from the top deck of a number 8 bus.

So much railway civil engineering work has been going on nationally that even after bringing in people from abroad there has been a shortage of suitably skilled workers.

Close to the River Lee Navigation at TQ 367 853 the Lesney Matchbox Toys factory still presents an attractive façade to the south. This can be seen looking northwards from the A12. What we see now was probably offices. Is any of this now used for social housing?

At Edmonton Green Shopping Centre built 35-40 years ago the distinctive five-storey oval reinforced-concrete car park on the Broadway is being or has been demolished. Structures of this date are now disappearing quite rapidly. Also going or gone are the banqueting suite and a number of low-rise shops. Work started here in 2004. Is much left? The old bus station has been replaced.

Little seems to have taken place at the site of the Gerrards Cross tunnel since the tidying up after the tunnel collapsed (GLIAS Newsletter October 2005). The design is deemed to be sound but the arches were incorrectly loaded, too much material was put over the top of the arches before the sides were properly packed. Deutsche Bahn AG have recently acquired Laing Rail (who own Chiltern Railways and a half share of the London Overground).

The celebrated Pimlico School in Lupus Street, just north of Dolphin Square at TQ 294 782, was opened in 1970 (by the Queen Mother?). It is now threatened with demolition. Much of this building is below street level so as to minimise its visual impact on the locality. It has a traditional classroom layout and is well provided with windows. It is unlisted despite winning a RIBA Award in 1972. There have been protests, eg from Lord Rogers.

Demolition using a long-arm cruncher (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006, GLIAS Newsletter December 2004) has been taking place along the Seven Sisters Road at Alexandra National House, TQ 317 869. At the time of writing demolition has been restricted to a relatively low-rise building to the south and the removal of the ten-storey block overlooking Finsbury Park has not commenced. Explosives might be used here as at Barkway Court in Brownswood Road and Sandridge Court in Green Lanes, opposite Clissold Park (GLIAS Newsletter April 2002). Demo One Limited are undertaking the work at Alexandra National House. Bob Carr

Goldfish — again!

The London Nobody Knows film (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008) is now available on DVD from Movie Mail (code 52556, price £15.99 plus £1.00 p&p).

Released in 1967, the film (46 minutes) evokes many memories and includes scenes shot in the old Bedford Theatre, Camden Town shortly before demolition. As an added bonus the DVD includes 'Les Bicyclettes de Belsize', a charming (27 minutes) musical shot in 1969 around Hampstead Village. David Dell and Pat Dennison

Movie Mail. Tel: 0844 776 0900. Web:

As a boy in the late 1950s for a couple of years running I was taken to Gamages store (around Christmas time?) primarily to look at the model railway layout on display.

I can DEFINITELY remember goldfish in the cisterns in the Gents of the public toilets which were underground in the middle of the road — after the first time, on subsequent visits I used to make a point of visiting these toilets, not through physical necessity but to look at the fish. I remember being absolutely fascinated to ponder on the effect on the fish when the toilets were flushed and the water levels got very low, but of course they always survived. I also have a recollection of lots of highly polished copper fittings in said establishment. Dave Seddon

Southern Electric centenary

Next year sees a hundred years of electric-train operation on surface lines in South London. Is any kind of celebration planned? Bob Carr

Minutes of 1st AGM

Held at the Robin Brook Centre, St Bartholomew's Hospital at 6.15pm on Wednesday 16 May 2007

Present: Dr Denis Smith (Chairman), Daniel Hayton (Hon. Treasurer), Brian James-Strong (Hon. Secretary) and 59 other Members.

1. Meeting Notice: Dr Denis Smith welcomed the members to the meeting, which was the first Annual General Meeting of the new limited company. Christopher Rule proposed that the Notice calling the meeting be taken as read. The motion was seconded by Bob Carr and carried unanimously.

2. Apologies for Absence were received from John Boyes, A J Ellis, Doreen Estall, Peter Fordham, Susan Hayton, Rhona and Bob Hunter, Chris and Fiona Grabham, Gordon Joly, Robert Mason, Mary Mills, Ray Plassard, Tim Smith, Ruth and Paul Verrall, Martin Watts and Youla Yates.

3. Chairman's Report: Dr Denis Smith reminded the meeting that a meeting of the former Society had been held on 18 January 2006 at which, following legal advice, the Committee of Management had recommended that the Society should change from being an unincorporated body into a company limited by guarantee. The meeting had agreed. The new company had been incorporated on 3 January 2006 and the AGM therefore covered the period from 3 January 2006 to the end of the first financial period on 31 March 2007.

The Chairman said this had been another successful year for GLIAS. The Society had continued to provide public lectures on subjects associated with industrial history. He thanked David Perrett for arranging the lectures. Five Saturday walks and three research walks had also been held. He thanked Daniel Hayton for arranging the walks; and Fiona Morton and Chris Grabham for arranging the bookings and those who had led the walks. For the coming year, the Board proposed to continue with the lecture series from January to May; walks on Saturdays in the summer and research walks in the autumn, and a training session in the use of archives. This would provide a GLIAS event in each month of the year.

The Society had continued to publish six Newsletters during the year. He thanked Robert Mason and Sue Hayton for editing the Newsletter, despite the family difficulties Robert had experienced; Sue Hayton for printing it and Pat and Brian Sturt for collation and posting. He also thanked Mary Mills for acting as commissioning editor for the Journal, the next issue of which was in preparation. He thanked Robert Mason for keeping the website up-to-date; and Malcolm Tucker for all the work he had done in commenting on planning applications on behalf of the Society. He also thanked all the other members and his fellow Directors for the voluntary work they did to make the Society such a success. He welcomed any further offers of help.

4. Treasurer's Report and Statement of Accounts: The Chairman reported that the Board had decided not to appoint external auditors, which was only a statutory requirement with an annual turnover of £250,000. The Board had therefore chosen the alternative of having the accounts scrutinised by a competent person. Daniel Hayton said the Report and Statement of Accounts had been circulated unexamined in order to get them to members in the required time before the AGM. They had since been examined by Richard Graham. He drew attention to the unusual cost of nearly £6,000 for setting up the limited company. £500 had also been spent in digitising a photo archive which would become publicly available.

Patrick Graham proposed the adoption of the Chairman's Report and the Treasurer's report and Statement of Accounts. The motion was seconded by Malcolm Tucker and carried unanimously.

5. Appointment of President: The Chairman said the company's Memorandum and Articles of Association allowed the Board to appoint people to certain positions, but such appointments had to be approved by the members at the next General Meeting. John Boyes had been President of the former Society and the Board had been delighted when he had agreed to become President of the new company. He read a letter from Mr Boyes accepting appointment. Dr Denis Smith then proposed the appointment of John Boyes as President of the company. The motion was seconded by David Perrett and carried unanimously.

6. Appointment of Directors: The Chairman said the Board had also appointed six Directors, whose appointments now needed to be approved by the Meeting. Bob Carr proposed the appointment of George Arthur, David Perrett, Christopher Rule, Peter Skilton, Ruth Verrall and Youla Yates as Directors of the company. The motion was seconded by John King and carried unanimously.

7. Election of Directors: The Chairman said the Meeting could elect up to five more Directors. The company's Memorandum and Articles of Association required that one third of the Directors must resign each year. Daniel Hayton, Brian James-Strong and Dr Denis Smith, who had been longest in office, were therefore required to resign but, being eligible, offered themselves for re-election. Peter Skilton proposed the election of Daniel Hayton, Brian James-Strong and Dr Denis Smith as Directors of the company. The motion was seconded by David Perrett and carried unanimously.

8. Notices and Announcements: David Perrett drew attention to the fact that 2008 would be the Society's 40th Anniversary; and that it would also be host to SERIAC, for which help from members might be needed.

There being no further business, the meeting closed at 6.35pm. It was followed by a lecture on 'William Webster, Builder of Crossness and the Thames Embankment' by Neil Rhind. Brian James-Strong

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© GLIAS, 2008