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Notes and news — June 2010

In this issue:

Old Oak Common locomotive lifting shed scheduled for demolition

This piece is based on articles first published in Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group newsletter (spring 2010) and used by permission. Historical details were supplied by Robert Hurst, a technical researcher who has been closely involved with the professional rail industry for about 20 years

The former Great Western Railway locomotive lifting shed at Old Oak Common, known as 'the Factory', is soon due to be demolished to make way for Crossrail.

Recently acknowledged by English Heritage as of special interest, it is now too late to list it because of the Crossrail Act. It may also be too late to dismantle it and move it elsewhere.

Crossrail have appointed a specialist professional recording organisation with considerable experience of railway archaeology to undertake a detailed survey of the area, and — based on their assessment — to record to an appropriate level the Factory and indeed any other building(s) structures and features they identify of historic significance within the Old Oak Common Depot site. This work will form part of the archaeological mitigation strategy for Crossrail.

Angela Dixon, chairman of Hammersmith & Fulham Historic Buildings Group, said: 'Crossrail have told me that, while retention/reuse of the buildings within the new depot design is not likely to be possible, consideration is being given to maximising salvage of equipment that may be of use or historic interest. Indeed they confirm that one of the aims of the internal inspections referred to above will be to identify any historically valuable fabric for removal and/or salvage.'

The lifting shed was built as part of the 215,000 sq ft Old Oak Common (81A) locomotive depot which opened on 17 March 1906. The running shed had four 65-foot turntables in a square hall giving ample working space around the 25 or more steam locos which could be stabled at each, thus permitting their rapid and economic servicing and deployment.

Built by GWR chief engineer George Churchward and his team, the Factory combined the best global practices in one comprehensive model facility for both running repairs and heavier maintenance work on steam engines. It was replete with every convenience to aid efficiency and was the standard on which other GWR railway depots were based in whole or in part. Such GWR engine sheds have all been lost to clearance or rebuilding since the demise of steam. One 1906 turntable remains on site in the Factory, the only one in London for use by visiting steam locos. This is soon to go. The Factory also had a heavy overhead crane. This survived the demolition of the rest of the site in 1965, continued in service until as late as 2009 and remains on the site today.

The Factory's survival is a remarkable tribute to a design that enabled it to evolve and adapt internally to suit the various locos of each age and to continue to serve heavy repairs into the current millennium. It illustrates the phased evolution of railways from steam through diesel. The old Factory must now make way for larger depot buildings for Crossrail's new fleet, an operational necessity as modern trains need no locomotives. So the pedigree continues as it began. Crossrail are to repeat Churchward's adventure with their new depot on this historic site: 'a new depot for new trains on a new railway, equipped with latest technologies — surely a window on the future'.

An interesting proposition is for Crossrail to agree to the rumoured mounting of a bid to salvage part or all of the structure or its components, the intention being to relocate the building or parts of it, rather than simply 'demolish and disregard' the history being built over. The ambitious salvage idea would remind the present of the relevance of past endeavours. Further information on this site and the salvage potential is available.

The research undertaken and contributory material for this piece have been sourced from authorities specialist in their respective fields including, among others: Malcolm Tucker, Engineering Historian; Robert Carr, Industrial Archaeologist; STEAM Archive, Swindon Museum; ET Lyons, GWR author: Contextual research; George Oliver JP: Railway operations history; English Heritage: GWR histories.

The Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group has been invited to assist in developing proposals for any potential salvage items and to offer suggestions on possible locations for them. Further information from Angela Dixon, Chairman, Hammersmith & Fulham Historic Buildings Group, 31 St Peter's Square, London W6 9NW. Tel: 020 8748 7416. Email: Web:

London's Lea Valley — London's best kept secret

The April lecture by Jim Lewis, London's Lea Valley — London's Best Kept Secret, almost remained a secret when the Powerpoint system in the main lecture theatre failed. Fortunately, David Perrett was able to get access to another, but much smaller, theatre, into which we all crammed. Jim talked about the many industrial firsts which had taken place in the Lea Valley — more than anywhere else in the world in relation to its size, Jim claimed. They included:

Jim's lecture was based on a series of six books recently published by Libri Publishing. See review or

See also GLIAS Newsletter October 1999.

A 'possible Roman tide mill'?

The following article is reproduced from the Friends of the House Mill Newsletter, with the permission of the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust

Tide mill 'buffs' have recently been taken by surprise by discovering a 2002 monograph by Robert Spain, based on the results of a still earlier excavation during a major building development between 1988 and 1992. The excavation discovered two 'eyots' (islands) in the former channel of the river Fleet, just to the east of Farringdon Street and north of Ludgate Hill. On the south eyot, evidence was found of a probable abutment of a bridge over the Fleet, and a revetted quay enclosing a small dock. On the northern eyot, there was evidence of an artificial watercourse between the river estuary and the channel east of the island; and of a large timber structure, with massive vertical posts, straddling the artificial channel. The channel has been dated to about 100 AD and the timber structure to c116 AD. Large quantities of charred wheat and chaff were found. Activity on the northern eyot was found to be intensive around the end of the first century and early part of the second century, but to have ceased at the end of that century. Evidence was also found of an artificial channel or ditch paralleling the Fleet for some distance, which could have supplied river water to a tidal mill or an ordinary watermill.

The full report on the excavations has not yet been published, but a brief note of the work appeared in 1998 in Archaeology of the City of London 1907-1991 (Archaeological Gazetteer Series, Vol.1, Museum of London 1998.p 283/4). This claimed that the upstream eyot 'was used for the processing of imported wheat and the remains of a substantial tide-mill were found'. While there is no published report, the archives of the investigation are held by the Museum of London's London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre, ref VAL 88 Volumes 1-54. The work is summarised in Vol 54, Final Interim Report. These volumes are available to anyone who wishes to study the record further.

This evidence has been studied by Robert Spain, who has written previous publications on Roman mills; and published in a paper by the Kent Archaeological Society ( Paper No 005, 2002). Robert Spain's paper is more cautious than the archaeologists who, he says 'have proposed that a tide mill existed in the northern island'. He emphasises that 'great caution must be used in assessing this evidence'. He examines in some depth the possible layout for such a mill, eg the location of impounding dam(s), millrace etc; the possible type of mill and waterwheel design; and the possible tidal regime and the hours during which such a mill could work. Spain concludes that the archaeologists' 'proposal' can only be regarded as an unproven 'hypothesis', which 'is founded largely on circumstantial evidence, strengthened by our inability to sustain an alternative and secure interpretation of the northern eyot's major man-made features and the mainland 'ditch' feature'.

It would be very exciting if it could be established that there was a Roman tide mill in London in the 2nd century. No tide mills have been recorded anywhere in the world dating to earlier than 600AD. The earliest known in Britain is thought to be at Ebbsfleet, dating to 692AD. However, this raises more questions than it answers:

As Spain concludes, 'this debate must rest pending further evidence'.
Brian James-Strong

Woodberry Down Estate

The report concerning the situation at the Woodberry Down estate (GLIAS Newsletter April 2010) is now much out of date. A great deal has been happening including considerable demolition and new building. Owing to the recession the planned rebuilding programme has been delayed and it is now necessary to build higher in order to generate sufficient funds to pay for the overall scheme. This means that the planned tower giving good views over the reservoirs which was to have been about 14 storeys high will now have to have 27 floors. This is to be built by Berkeley Homes quite close to the West Reservoir and just to the west of Lordship Grove. Residents near the top will have magnificent views over the water to Canary Wharf and the City.

Walking about the estate it is not clear just which of the original buildings will be retained. Some refurbishment might be taking place as well as demolition. There are two pairs of Zeilenbau blocks. The pair to the east, Ashdale House and Burtonwood House are quite close to the East Reservoir and flats towards the south and near the top probably have quite a good view over the water. Judging by the parked cars they are still inhabited and may be being refurbished.

The western pair, Nicholl House and Needwood House, are north of the West Reservoir. Needwood House, the first of the eight-storey blocks to be completed, was opened on 17 February 1949*. Berkeley Homes are constructing a new building immediately to the east of this block. In May 2007 an application was made to English Heritage to list all four Zeilenbau blocks but there were objections from Hackney Council and it was made clear that it was their intention to demolish them. Bob Carr

East London Line reopens

The new East London Line (GLIAS Newsletter April 2009) fully opened to passengers on 23 May.

Up to twelve trains an hour now run from Dalston Junction, north London, to West Croydon, New Cross and Crystal Palace in south and south-east London.

Before the extension the line carried nine million passengers every year, but this is expected to rise to 33 million by 2011 and to 40 million by 2016.

The route is the first phase of a £1bn extension of the line. Engineering works are continuing to extend the line to Highbury and Islington by spring 2011, while an extension to Clapham Junction is planned by 2012.

Over the weekend 12-13 March the Brunel Thames Tunnel was open for pedestrians. This was a popular event and tickets from the LT Museum ran out early.

All change on the Northern Line

'Northern Line service divided in £312m bid to end overcrowding', was a headline in the Evening Standard (12 May, p22).

It was reported that approval has been given by the Mayor to press ahead with an upgrade that will increase the number of trains on the City and Charing Cross branches. At peak times the City branch via Bank should increase from 22 to 32 trains per hour and the Charing Cross branch from 20 to 28 per hour. Southbound trains on the Charing Cross branch, which serves the West End will terminate at Kennington so all passengers travelling to and from south London and who want to use that branch will have to change at Kennington. Kennington has been chosen because passengers do not have far to walk between the City and Charing Cross branch platforms and because the station has the capacity for Charing Cross trains to be turned round. All trains to and from Morden will travel on the City Branch via Bank and London Bridge. This will be the second phase of the Northern Line upgrade due to be completed by 2018. The first phase which should be completed next year will introduce computerised signalling and a new control centre.

The changes will return the line to a format not seen since 1926. The City and South London Railway ran from King William Street in the City to Stockwell, while the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway became what is now the Northern Line's Charing Cross and Edgware branch. Peter Butt

Secretary's notes

I attended the Inaugural General Meeting of CBA London, of which GLIAS is a member. This is a new Group of the Council of British Archaeology. Previously, London was covered, somewhat inconveniently, by two Groups, for South East England and East Anglia. The draft constitution was duly passed and officers and committee elected, with Andrew Dinsmore (who had lost his Parliamentary seat a week earlier) as chairman. The meeting was followed by the periodic meeting of the London Archaeological Forum, for which CBA London will in future take responsibility. A number of projects of IA interest were mentioned:

There was also a discussion about the new Planning Policy Statement 5, which was considered to have strengthened advice on the recording of historic buildings, but needed to be underpinned in legislation. Brian James-Strong

Lea Bridge Horse-Tram Depot

The group of buildings at 38-40 Upper Clapton Road, TQ 348 863, constitute the kind of industrial archaeology site GLIAS would have been eager to explore in the late 1970s. Full of 19th-century character and occupied by small craft businesses this is just the kind of thing we wrote about 30 years ago. Surprisingly the almost complete remains of Lea Bridge Horse-Tram Depot which date from 1873 survive little altered by the passage of time — a phenomenon which must now be very rare indeed in Greater London.

The first range of buildings was put up in 1873 and these were added to in 1885 and 1897. An engineering shop was located below upper-storey stabling. The northern part of the site is almost filled by a range of six contiguous single-storey buildings running south to north. These may have been stables. A yard running west to east paved with granite sets separates this range from a taller large brick-built shed to the south. The sets are uneven and heaving giving the site great character. A painted sign on the large shed reminiscent of the Second World War, black capital letters on a white ground, proclaims 'Tram Depot'.

Inside the large shed the roof is supported on cast iron columns c1880 in date. The building is presently occupied by a motor-car firm. This shed may have housed tramcars. There are further buildings to the south, lower in height. All the Depot buildings are brick-built — essentially London stock brick.

There is a cabinet makers in about the middle of the range of single-story buildings to the north and a foam-cutting firm in unit 14 at the east end of yard. The complex has two art galleries, the Tram Depot and Vulpes Vulpes — claimed to be the only ones in Clapton. Proposed redevelopment would replace all this by 92 residential units. Most of the small businesses on this site have been here for ten to 20 years and if they close about 100 jobs will be lost. There was an article by Merlin Fulcher in A J, Architects' Journal, on 9 December 2009. Bob Carr

Coal duty boundary marks — new website

Members will be familiar with the cast iron square posts dotted around the outskirts of London. Painted white, they have a City of London shield and lettering usually, but not always, 24&25 VICT CAP 42. These are alongside roads and paths. Different markers are alongside canals, navigable rivers and railways.

Epping Forest

All indicate the point at which duty was payable on coal being brought into London. This duty was imposed after the Great Fire of London, to help pay for rebuilding of the infrastructure. At that time coal arrived only by sea, but later canals and railways increased the possibilities, so a boundary around the whole of London was implemented, with markers along it. These included where roads and paths crossed the boundary, so there was no escape from paying the dues by unloading coal outside the boundary and carting it forward.

Martin Nail has produced an excellent website ( which has photographs of all the different types of markers, the history of the various slightly different boundaries used and, most usefully, a complete list of the 211 still existing, giving a clear location in both words and 10-number grid references. That is to the nearest metre! Added is a note on whether the marker concerned is accessible, visible or, in a few instances, where access or visibility is restricted, and, for a few, relocation from the original site. Every one has been checked in the past three years. There is a separate list of sites of 66 locations where markers no longer exist, again with a precise location. Only a handful have disappeared since 1972. A summary lists every location.

The useful website map gives at a glance the headings for other information on the history of the duties, sources used, etc, broken down into short separate sections. 'Frequently asked questions' section clarifies confusion about wine duty. Throughout, the text is clearly laid out and easily understood, complemented by maps. Martin could have turned this result of his research and fieldwork, which considerably expands on a small booklet he published in 1972, into a nice little book selling for about £5. I am so glad that he has made it into a website freely available to all.

Highly recommended as essential downloading for both armchair browsing and exploring/walking! David Thomas

Quill Street

Quill Street Islington, TQ 313 863, is a recent addition to London street atlases. The name is a subtle double-entendre referring to the former Stephens' Ink Factory of 1892 which was close by in Gillespie Road and Councillor Quill in Peter Sellers' delightful parody travelogue Balham — Gateway to the South.

Michael Stephens designed the ink manufactory. It was said to be inspired by a Venetian palace and had an illuminated chimney*. Work ceased here in the mid 1960s and the factory demolished. Bob Carr

Manhole covers

In Wharfdale Road, King's Cross on the northern pavement, almost opposite the Central Station pub, is a manhole cover marked 'Vestry of St. Mary Electricity Company'.

I understand the Metropolitan Management Act 1855 which created the Metropolitan Board of Works, also formed parish vestries, based on the traditional parishes and that these existed until 1900. The Islington Vestry started electricity generation in 1894, subsequently taken over by the Borough in 1900.

There is a St Pancras Vestry cover outside the old Camden Theatre, aka Koko's. Are any others known? Peter Finch

News in brief

In the London Borough of Islington as part of a large new development, it is planned to build two 21-storey tower blocks and a ten-storey tower immediately to the west of Finsbury Park railway station. This is 'City North Islington', between Fonthill Road and the station. A development covering 9,000 square metres in area, it is to include 355 flats as well as offices and shops. All buildings presently on the proposed site are to be demolished.

A group of three or four fine Victorian houses in the Seven Sisters Road which face Finsbury Park are being demolished. It is surprising that at least the façades, roughly Italianate in style, are not being retained as the demolition significantly alters the view southwards from the Park. The boundary between Hackney and Haringey runs along the Seven Sisters Road. Finsbury Park itself was in Middlesex while the houses used to be in London. They are just to the east of the junction with Portland Rise at TQ 319 873.

Buses on route 38 from Victoria to Clapton Pond are no longer bendy (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007). They are now all double deckers again. Wright Gemini 2 DL and Enviro 400 vehicles were introduced on Saturday 14 November 2009. The bus drivers' rest facilities are still situated in the centre of the Lea Bridge Roundabout, TQ 3488 8618. Apparently there used to be underground pedestrian passages here for crossing beneath the road but they are no longer accessible. Does anyone know more?

The Clapton Pond has been improved almost beyond recognition. It has undergone a transition comparable to that at Markfield Road (GLIAS Newsletter April 2010) and is now worth a journey from Piccadilly in order to admire it. There is a working floodlit fountain and around the Pond the ambience in evening twilight is wonderful.

Redolent of the days of horse traction, the Pond is a popular destination for buses. Route 488 from Bromley-by-Bow terminates here. These buses, single deckers, also use the facilities at the Lea Bridge Roundabout. On the destination blinds the terminus at the southern end of the 488 route is displayed as 'London Gas Museum'.

A striking tall iconic tower, the 14-storey Kinetica building designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects, roughly elliptical in plan, has been built at Dalston. This aerodynamically shaped landmark tower block has a large vertical wind turbine at the south-east corner, the shaft of which stretches almost the full height of the building.

The inn sign of the Cat and Mutton public house, just to the south of London Fields TQ345838, depicts a cat with a leg of mutton being pursued by an irate butcher. Does anyone know the story?

Forman's Smokehouse Gallery TQ 371 840, Stour Road E3, is a recently opened art gallery housed on the top floor of the now disused salmon smokehouse of H Forman & Son, the oldest salmon smoker in Britain. It is situated on Fish Island just east of Victoria Park, Hackney. It is claimed that Hackney Wick has the greatest concentration of artist studios in the world and Forman's reflects the vibrant art scene of the area. The new gallery has an exhibition area of over 6,600 square feet and is said to have a good view of the 2012 Olympic site.

At the Essex Filter Beds, Lea Bridge Road TQ 360 867, the Central Well Head which was previously covered has been partly exposed so that the Victorian arches and brickwork can be admired. This well head stored water cleaned by sand filtration prior to it being pumped away to consumers through the mains.

The Foundry TQ 331 825, Great Eastern Street EC2, is to be demolished. A former Midland Bank building there is a turntable in the basement still in working order for moving ingots about. The building is to be replaced by a 17-storey hotel.

The Shard Tower at 32 London Bridge Street will be over a thousand feet high — the tallest in the UK and also the EU. Work started in 2009.

At the Silwood Estate TQ354784 just two blocks remain (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006). Is it intended to retain these?

The Ferrier Estate Kidbrook is being demolished. It was system built by the GLC in 1968-72.

On the riverside at Angerstein Wharf there is a narrow-gauge railway along the western jetty, TQ404792. The gauge is about 30 inches and the rails were probably used for men to push a wagon carrying materials out to a ship. It may still be in use?

In Greenwich the Royal George public house, 2 Blissett Street TQ 381 769, closed in March this year. This venerable pub, recently managed by Shepherd Neame's, has been in business since 1827 and the London Drinker (1) likened its loss to the disaster in 1782 when HMS Royal George accidentally sank off Spithead (2). It is expected that the present pub building will survive and be converted for flats. Ship models and tankards gave the interior character.

Built at Woolwich Dockyard from 1746-1756, the warship Royal George was the largest in the world when launched. At the time of her sinking on 28 August 1782 HMS Royal George had been deliberately heeled over by repositioning cannon so that repairs could be carried out to the intake for a pump on the starboard side which provided water for washing decks. The gunports on the port side were close to the water line and the situation became dangerous. The ship's carpenter raised the alarm but his warning did not reach the captain for 20 minutes. Royal George foundered with the loss of over 800 lives including numerous civilians who were visiting the ship. The water was 65 feet deep. A poem by William Cowper commemorates the disaster.

Some of the victims' bodies were recovered on the Isle of Wight. Here they were buried at Ryde in a mass grave (3). Part of the site is now a boating lake on the Esplanade and in April last year a memorial plaque was erected by Isle of Wight Council. Bob Carr

More on the Croydon railway 'oddity'

Although not able to visit in person, I have had a good look at Paul Sowan's 'Oddity' (GLIAS Newsletter April 2010) using all the Google offerings. I wonder if this was originally a natural feature, a big hollow. So there was no need for a cutting at that point as the ground was already at track bed level. There appears to be a line of trees on the park side of the hollow. Perhaps that was the natural edge of a drop in the 1800s and the fence builders just followed the existing line to keep park users well away from falling down the slope and getting on the railway.

My other suggestion, if Chatsworth Road was built after the railway is that there were plans for a 'rich man's station' to serve the park. Bob Rust

Award for Rotherhithe & Bermondsey Local History Group

The Rotherhithe & Bermondsey Local History Group has been honoured with a Southwark Civic Trust Award 'in recognition of its exceptional dedication and commitment to keeping local history alive in the community for the past 15 years'.

Civic orator David Wilson described the group as being 'a hidden jewel in Southwark's crown that gives much pleasure to its members and is an invaluable aid to promoting and preserving the borough's historical associations'.

Ram Brewery visit

We had fully toured the Ram Brewery just before it 'closed' in August 2006 'disguised' as microbiological scientists and received a very warm welcome from the chief microbiologist (GLIAS Newsletter December 2006). Brewing ceased a few weeks later and Young's transferred to Wells in Bedford. The site was sold and plans for a complex of offices and flats were said to be imminent (GLIAS Newsletter June 2008). The future of the historic parts of the site and its equipment looked very bleak.

So it was with some trepidation that on 3 April 2010 we went on a private visit arranged by local GLIAS member Mac Downes. I expected to see the two beam engines stripped of the brass work etc, and rusting as at other similar sites. From the outside most of the site looked intact although a detailed planning application for the whole site is, according to Wandsworth Council, proceeding. The Brewery Tap is sadly completely disused now. Like most empty sites in London the brewery is currently being used for film and TV location work.

The gateman called the only other permanent person on site, the site manager, who was to be our guide. He is a former Young's brewer and immediately said that he was continuing to brew on the site. What a surprise! The site is to remain the oldest continuously operated brewery (1) in Britain and in order for that to continue he had set up a small microbrewery in the former laboratory block. He brewed about a firkin a week and since this cannot be sold it is given to the film crews — the overall aim being to maintain the tradition during the redevelopment which now includes the historic Ram brewhouse.

We were taken to the brewhouse where the two Wentworth of Wandsworth beam engines of 1835 and 1867 were in immaculate condition, well polished and oiled. The engines drove ram pumps in the next room; they too were in excellent condition. The historic coppers were also in superb condition, their brass work gleaming. Other historic equipment was also being well looked after. The aim is to have an historic brewery driven by steam working again in the redeveloped site.

Altogether a wonderful and surprising afternoon and to finish we just had to help drink this week’s firkin of ale. A light pleasant drink, although no longer allowed to be called Young's. David and Martin Perrett

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© GLIAS, 2010