Notes and news — February 2010
In this issue:
- Secretary's notes
- GLIAS visit to Mortimer Wheeler House
- London Archaeologist
- News in brief
- Electrical Vehicle Syndicate Ltd
- A special message from the GLIAS Chairman to all members
Malcolm Tucker and I attended a meeting on 26 November on Olympic Park Archaeology organised by Wessex Archaeology, who are taking forward the Olympics site archaeological project through the post-excavation phases, with an emphasis on dissemination to the general public, based on the work already done on the ground by Museum of London Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology (the latter having been particularly involved with IA investigations). The Olympic site at Stratford covers some 250 hectares, which have been divided into 15 'delivery zones'. The work has involved more than 150 trial trenches, on which there will be individual reports, site by site and zone by zone; and the recording of 50 buildings before they were demolished. Bringing the results together has produced a picture of the history of the site, from the arrival of the first hunter/gatherers to modern industry, including mills, waterways, sewers, railways and factories. The building recordings show changes of use over the years. The intention is to produce reports on all the sites and buildings; and to draw them together in a number of themes, including life and work; fields to factories, showing why particular areas were selected for development; the movement of goods and people, including migration and trade; and changing profiles of the river. The aim is to complete the work, with publication in various formats, including printed reports, leaflets, websites etc by March 2012.
I have also attended a meeting of the London Archaeological Forum, which brings together representatives of all the archaeological societies in Greater London. The meetings are at present organised by the Museum of London, but it may be taken over by the new London Group of the Council for British Archaeology. During the meeting, there were brief reports on the recording of Lots Road Power Station; what is possibly the first purpose-built ice house in the world in Barking, related to the fishing fleet; the investigation of Convoy Wharf, shown to be part of the Dockyard; and the recording of Battersea Power Station, on which more work is to be done.
The annual report of the English Heritage Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service 2007/8 includes reports on the Olympic Park; Bishopsgate Goods Yard; King's Cross Central; the Old Seager Distillery at Deptford Bridge and New Providence Wharf. Further information is available on the GLAAS website (www.english-heritage.org.uk/glaas). Brian James-Strong
GLIAS visit to Mortimer Wheeler House
On Saturday 7 November 2009 a sizeable GLIAS party of about 25 people visited the London Archaeological Archive Resource Centre (LAARC) in Eagle Wharf Road N1. This is accommodated in Mortimer Wheeler House at TQ 3254 8353, sandwiched between the road and the Regent's Canal immediately to the north. Dating from 1963 the building was designed as a steel erectors warehouse with offices. It has drive-through facilities for lorries which make it convenient for its present use as a store for archaeological artefacts. Archaeological Units deposit a considerable amount of material here from excavations in the Greater London area and in this building the material is sorted — the items of most interest being then kept in store. The building is named in honour of Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), the eminent archaeologist. Older readers may remember Sir Mortimer as a popular television personality in the 1950s.
In this building, state-of-the-art facilities enable curation, research, learning and access to be carried out. The Museum of London has 10.1 kilometres of shelving for cardboard boxes — a sufficient length to hold 180,000. The Metropolitan Archive has 80 kilometres of shelves. Mobile racking is in use with modular boxes to hold artefacts. Older material often deposited from elsewhere known as 'legacy material' is in non-standard boxes and is being re-boxed by volunteers to save space. The structure of Mortimer Wheeler House can support a floor loading of 9 kN per square metre (about 1.3 psi) which is thought to be generous for its present use. At one time there were 32 different storage locations in London, for instance brick typology had premises in Lever Street EC1. Collections have since been concentrated at Eagle Wharf Road although a store at London Wall holds 17,000 skeletons.
We were shown Roman glass which apparently is very stable. There were also some Roman glass replicas including at least one outrageous anachronism. Different materials require different storage environments. Metals need de-humidified conditions while paper prefers slightly warmer and moister storage. In the metal store silica gel, which is changed often, is put with artefacts and also an indicator strip. Some good Roman coins were taken out for us to examine. If valuable finds are discovered during an excavation it is quite a headache to determine ownership. Who is the actual legal owner of a particular site can be difficult to discover. We were informed that plague pits are now considered safe to investigate. At one time it was believed that the Plague might have been some form of anthrax but this is no longer the case. Currently there are four main players in contract archaeology.
The social and working history collection is extensive, including a telephone exchange from Buckingham Palace. There are transport items such as a Ford Cortina and the Duke of Wellington's coach and they have the lectern formerly at Lloyd's of London. We were shown a monster black iron bandsaw* from Blackfriars — hardly representative of such machines! Our informative and energetic guide was Roy Stephenson, Head of the Early History and Collections Department, and we were a given a really excellent and educational tour for which we are extremely grateful. Thank you Roy and the LAARC for a well-spent morning, and also Fiona Morton of GLIAS.
Following the visit to the Archive and Research centre we were taken across the New North Road to the east to look at a large expanse of grass. This is Shoreditch Park, formerly an area of dense terraced housing dating from the 1840s. On closer inspection the former streets are still discernable. During the Blitz of the Second World War many houses here were destroyed and most of them were at least damaged by enemy action. Prefabs were built Post War and the area was completely cleared in the 1980s. About five years ago over 3,000 people took part in the award-winning Shoreditch Park Community Archaeology Project which investigated the subterranean remains of houses on this site in collaboration with the Museum of London. Results of this work were presented in a Time Team television programme. Several period cast-iron lamp standards have recently been erected here in a line running roughly south to north across the park. At first sight these appeared to be Edwardian but examination revealed that almost all of them were composed of replica parts. Lamp standards of this type were originally put up for carbon arc electric lighting.
The above account was written from notes taken at the time. It was a concentrated event — impossible to take in all we were told. Readers who took part should be able to add more and perhaps make corrections. Bob Carr
*Bandsaws of modest size driven by electric motors can be seen at work in butchers' shops cutting up carcasses.
I was pleased to see the item about The London Archaeologist (GLIAS Newsletter December 2009), which began publication just as GLIAS was being established in 1968. In those early years, GLIAS members contributed to it a number of articles, news items, and book reviews. For example, our first Secretary Paul Carter wrote a two-part account of St Katharine Docks when these had only just closed to traffic, and attention was also drawn to the splendid Crossness Engine House and its beam engines, then derelict and largely unknown.
In the early and mid 1970s we contributed an industrial archaeology 'round-up' on several occasions, summarising recording and other work then being undertaken — usually by GLIAS members and other 'amateur' groups, in contrast to the present position, when most of such work is undertaken by professional archaeological contractors in response to planning requirements for archaeology and/or building recording ahead of site redevelopment.
The website — www.londonarchaeologist.co.uk — gives details of how to subscribe to the current publication. In addition, I was interested to learn that issues from 1968 to 2005 have been scanned and can be downloaded free by clicking on a website link. More recent back numbers can also be purchased. Michael Bussell
News in brief
The Brownswood Library was being demolished over Christmas (GLIAS Newsletter June 2009). Along with the local petrol station branch libraries are becoming scarce. The library demolition was intermittent but by the end of the first week in January almost all of it had gone.
The recipe for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce was discovered recently in a skip among material disposed of by the manufacturers. Notes written in ink in the mid 19th century in two leather-bound volumes were rescued by Mr Brian Keogh, a former accountant. The ingredients have been a secret for 170 years. Marketed by John Wheeley Lea (1791-1874) and William Perrins (1793-1867) the sauce was first sold c1838. Lea had a pharmacists shop in Broad Street, Worcester, and at first employed Perrins as an apprentice. They went into partnership in 1823.
There is a spherical gasholder (GLIAS Newsletter December 2009) south of Luton at TL 124 175 to the west of the B653 Lower Harpenden Road. There is just the one and it is probably for the storage of methane under pressure. A similar gasholder is situated to the west of the M40 motorway on the outskirts of Banbury. It is at SP 470 402 to the south-east of Thorpe Mead.
A plaque to Wayland Hilton Young, Lord Kennet, who died on 7 May 2009 aged 85, is due to be unveiled at St Pancras station by March 2010. This will be close to the statue of Sir John Betjeman and is to mark the role Lord Kennet played in saving the station from demolition in the late 1960s. At that time Wayland Young was one of the few hereditary peers in Harold Wilson's Labour Government, and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 1966-70, where he was responsible for Planning and Conservation. It was he who listed St Pancras grade I — then a controversial decision. Wayland Young was a prolific author. His mother, the sculptor Kathleen Bruce, had been the wife of Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic. Young who probably coined the phrase 'the built environment', lived at 100 Bayswater Road, where J M Barrie, a friend of his mother, had written Peter Pan.
While on the subject of St Pancras mention should be made of Alistair Lansley CBE who was the chief architect responsible for the reconstruction and rebuilding of the station to become the terminus for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link — High Speed 1. Twenty years ago Lansley was a member of the British Rail architects' department and worked under Nick Derbyshire on the rebuilding and refurbishment of Liverpool Street Station, another lavish scheme widely regarded as worthwhile and a considerable success. It is mooted that Alistair Lansley may be involved in the rebuilding of Euston station to become the terminus of High Speed 2 to Birmingham and the North West. This may involve the reconstruction of the Euston Arch (GLIAS Newsletter August 2009). In 2009 Lansley was appointed a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
We owe Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society a considerable debt for their past championing of excellent but out-of-fashion buildings. Without their persistence many of our present favourites would no longer be in existence.
St Pancras station has been described as 'a great pork-pie shop' and even as the terminus of High Speed 1 the tradition is being maintained. The extensive Sourced Market currently sells high-quality pork pies made from free-range pigs. The market, which specialises in high-quality food of known provenance, is situated in the transverse passage at ground level which runs westwards from opposite the German Gymnasium. The pies currently on sale are not described as from Melton Mowbray (GLIAS Newsletter February 2002).
The Westfield shopping centre at White City (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006) is considered to be the largest urban-area indoor shopping centre in Europe. It first opened in October 2008 and is on the site of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition. Car parking beneath the shopping mall is currently free for the first two hours and can be easily accessed from the A3220 West Cross Route in either a north or southbound direction.
The new TfL White City bus station opened in late November 2008. It incorporates the former coal-fired electricity generating station built in 1898-9 for the Central London Railway, London's second deep-level tube line now the Central Line. More recently used by Dimco Machine Tools there are two red-brick buildings, listed grade II. They have been fully restored. Dimco appears to be an Italian company based in Milan. Bob Carr
Electrical Vehicle Syndicate Ltd
Re. the piece on Electric Taxi Cabs (GLIAS Newsletter October 2009), I have just come across a reference to the 'Electrical Vehicle Syndicate Ltd.' in a newspaper article, dated 31 May 1898 (in The Newcastle Daily Chronicle), which alleges that that firm 'built the London [electric] motor cabs and those that are being introduced into Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and other large centres'.
The chairman and the MD of the syndicate were brothers Alfred and Leonard Holmes, who were among the partners of a Newcastle electrical business.
Does anyone at GLIAS know whether (or how) the London Electric Cab Co and the 'Electrical Vehicle Syndicate Ltd.' were linked? And did they get as far as running these vehicles elsewhere than in London? John Clayson, Newcastle upon Tyne. Email: email@example.com
A special message from the GLIAS Chairman to all members
With the AGM coming up in May, we are approaching another opportunity for GLIAS members to participate in the formal running of the Society by being elected to the Board. The current Board (or the Management Committee as it was previously known) has changed very little over many years and whilst the present Board members are happy to continue, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we will need to find new members to carry the Society forward.
You, the members of GLIAS, appear to be generally happy with how the Society is run and events organised by the Society are well-supported. Any society, however, is the sum of its members and I feel it is time to invite some of you to step forward to volunteer help. There are a number of events or projects we could undertake, but we need the manpower to do it. We have had a couple of suggestions recently as to what the Society could be doing, but no offer of help came with them. We cannot keep expecting the present Board members to do this additional work as they already give quite a lot of their valuable time to running the Society.
The GLIAS Database is a case in point. Chris Grabham has designed a specialist database to help record London's IA, which won an award from the Association for Industrial Archaeology. A small team, again made up of Board members, helped to input data from the erstwhile GLIAS Book which was to have detailed London's IA. Now, to carry the project forward, we need help from you, the membership, but recent calls to attend Recording Walks and Archive visits have largely gone unheeded. Perhaps some of you might feel you could 'look after' the parts of the Database pertaining to your interest or to where you live.
I am sure that there are many of you who have skills and knowledge which could make a valuable contribution to the future of the Society. If you feel you would like to contribute in any way, however modest, perhaps by joining the Board or by helping with other projects, please get in touch with Brian James-Strong, GLIAS Secretary, who will be happy to discuss the matter with you.
With the AGM fast approaching, now is the time to come forward!
Denis Smith, GLIAS Chairman
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© GLIAS, 2010