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Notes and news — October 2011

In this issue:

Blue plaque for David Gestetner (1854-1939)

A brief note in (English) Heritage Today, July 2011, p11, stated that a blue plaque had been unveiled on 124 Highbury New Park, London, N5, in honour of David Gestetner, developer of office copying machinery, who had lived there from 1898 until his death in 1939.

Gestetner is an example of a London immigrant who built up an internationally successful business from nothing more than a good idea. His innovation in office copying machinery changed the landscape of the business and finance industries, heralded the beginning of the modern office and the demise of the City clerk, whose main function before then had been to copy documents by hand. Images spring to mind of Bob Cratchett, the classic silent Russian film of Gogol's 'The Overcoat' and the entrance of the disguised Hermione into Gringott's Bank in the last of the Harry Potter films.

Born in Hungary, Gestetner moved to Vienna in 1871 before emigrating two years later to the USA but there he was unsuccessful and returned to Vienna, entering into a partnership making apparatus for copying documents using a gelatin plate. The partnership dissolved in 1879 and he moved to London where he started work for Fairholme & Co who were stationers in the City. [The Post Office Directory for 1879, however, lists that firm as general merchants at 7 Great Winchester St, EC, with seven others at the same address.] In the same year he filed the first of his many patents in connection with copying. His breakthrough came in 1881 when he patented the 'Cyclostyle', a pen with a small, sharp-toothed rotating wheel at its tip which could be used to write and draw by perforating a new kind of stencil, the latter based on a Japanese tissue which he knew from his days selling kites in Chicago. It is claimed that a trained operator could produce a good quality copy every 10 seconds. By 1900 Gestetner was employing 100 people at a factory in Cross Street, Islington and in 1907 the factory was moved to Tottenham. By the time of his death Gestetner was employing 6,000. He actually never retired, going daily to his factory's laboratory. The firm he founded remained in family ownership until the 1980s. Peter J Butt

Woolwich Free Ferry — Memories of the paddle boats

Like many readers, I enjoyed Bob Rust's history of the Woolwich Ferry (GLIAS Newsletter April 2011). Between 1958 and the withdrawal of the paddle steamers in 1963 I lived in Woolwich and worked for HM C&E in the Royal Docks so had many free rides with or without bicycle on the ferry.

There was a lot of interest to be had from the 300 metre river crossing in a strange semi-circular course during which the boat seemed to spend quite a bit of the time going sideways or backwards. Compared to today, the river was busy with commercial activity from all sorts of ships and from barges and lighters and the ferry's crossing would often be delayed awaiting the passage of a vessel going fast with a strong tide. So coupled with poor visibility from fog the crossing appeared, at times, fraught with danger. The paddlers were coke-fired so perhaps the LCC, who ran the ferry, were setting an example to their citizens on the importance of smokeless fuels if pea soupers were to be eliminated. Normally, the ferries were berthered at the pontoons with the bow into the current, but when the tide changed the ferry had to be docked at the end of one crossing the other way round causing confusion on the vehicle deck as the cars had to leave the way they came aboard rather than being able to drive through. At busy times three paddlers were in use requiring a mid-stream dawdle until the berth cleared.

But if the activity viewed from the deck was an entertainment, for an observer with an engineering bent the sight, arrangement and operation of the engines was even better. The paddlers had two independent engines, single expansion I think, twin-cylinder arranged as an inverted 'V' driving, big ends side by side, onto a single crank which was coupled to one of the paddles. This meant that, in theory at least, the ship could rotate about a central vertical axis if equal power was applied in opposite directions. On most paddle steamers it suffices to a have a single engine with the paddle wheels permanently coupled to opposite ends of the crankshaft. (Have a look at the triple expansion engine on the 'Waverley' next time you cruise and do correct anyone you hear say that famous ship has 'engines' — she has just one for propulsion). But the ferry duties in Woolwich Reach demanded greater manoeuvrability.

Each engine required its own driver who took his instructions by way of the traditional chain-operated telegraph from the bridge. Every command was accompanied by a bell code and was displayed on a heavily built brass indicator with a last-forever vitreous enamel face on it. The order had to be acknowledged to the bridge by the driver (more bells) so there was always a certain theatrical excitement in the voyage. Added to this was the sort of smell only present in the engine rooms of steam ships, a pleasant warmth and an aroma of hot oil and damp steam, a great improvement on the odour from the river experienced by passengers sitting on deck. But perhaps the most relaxing feature was the lack of noise with only minor hissing and muffled thumping as the engines got to work pushing the boat against the strong tides. So watching through the large glass-less windows for ten minutes on a cold winter's day was an excellent way of restarting one's circulation again which may have become limited after three hours, moving little, in one of the PLA's unheated transit sheds.

The future of the Woolwich Ferry is interesting to contemplate. Although the new diesel boats and end loading from the new piers from 1966 increased the throughput by a factor of four (I estimate) 45 years on with the demands of motor traffic now being what they are the ferry is an anachronism. It is not essential for pedestrians as they have the foot tunnel available (unpleasant as it is) and since the DLR was opened to the centre of Woolwich rapid and frequent access to the southern side of the now commercially silent Royal Docks and that new gateway to the east — Canning Town is very good. Further, this redundant and expensive-to-run mode is sponsored by the taxpayer in that it stays the 'free ferry' and the main traffic that needs to use it are lorries which are out of gauge for the northbound Blackwall Tunnel — the 1897 bore. Meanwhile the existing three, now elderly, ferries must continue to demand heavy repair bills as they rust away and wear out. Even if we don't build that long-awaited river crossing near Woolwich there seems to be little justification for a ferry with its limited capacity especially as it is paid for by the taxpayer rather than the user. David Bosomworth


As well as having the last Q-ship (GLIAS Newsletter June 2011) the Thames was also home to the last gunboat, HMS Foxhound.

Built by the Barrow Iron Shipbuilding Company and launched in January 1877 she was a screw vessel 125 feet long of composite construction originally armed with four guns. She had three masts with square sails on the foremast and the funnel could be lowered when under sail.

In 1886 HMS Foxhound left Royal Naval service and was transferred to the Coastguard. A later name was YC20 [1], acquired in 1897.

In 1920 YC20 was sold to Harrison's who used her for coaling on the Thames and in 1928 moved her upriver to Blackwall. She was at Harrison's moorings in Blackwall Reach right up to October 1975, generally in the company of an old coastal tanker the Caldergate [2]. By this time HMS Foxhound was the Arabel, her timbers had been tarred and she was in a decrepit state.

Arabel went to Dartford Creek to be broken up and Pat O'Driscoll photographed her there still intact in February 1976 [3]. Arabel was scrapped because of her valuable copper bottom. Bob Carr

TR Thompson — The Leo Computer: A London connection?

The latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online), May 2011, includes the biography by Peter Bird of Thomas Raymond Thompson (1907-1976), mathematician and computer manager.

Thompson joined J. Lyons & Co (best known for its chain of 250 high street teashops) in 1931 and was involved in formalising their clerical methods and by 1940 had speculated that some form of mechanisation must be found if the offices were not to be overwhelmed with minutiae. On returning from a three-month tour of the USA in 1947 with Oliver Standingford to study the development of electro-mechanical-electronic calculators (the Colossus computers of Bletchley Park were top secret until the 1970s) they wrote a memo dated 20 October 1947 that included:

(Bear in mind that at that time more than one internationally respected organisation was stating that only three or four computers would be required, worldwide!)

Lyons invested £3,000 in Cambridge's Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) being built by Maurice Wilkes's team, in return for the right to build its own copy if it worked, which it did in 1949. Hence, the 6,000-valve LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) was developed and on 24 December 1953 became the first stored-programmable computer in the world to undertake a full clerical job, the pay slips of the 1,700 employees at the Lyons bakery near Olympia, West London. Two other ODNB biographies state earlier dates as to when it first actually went operational: 'early 1951' and 'first program, bakery valuations, in November 1951'. Eleven LEO 2's and 60 LEO 3's were sold, and the rest is history!

In the late 1950s I recall being tempted by adverts for engineers to join the LEO project and a contemporary of mine did so. He worked for Ilford Ltd (the film manufacturers) as a computer operator on the LEO 2/9 which had a random access memory of 2,048 bits (2K)! Every mark 2 was different and each of the firms that had them had to share experiences, he for example had to write his own operating notes for this was in the days before 'manuals'! He recalls going to 'Cadbury Hall' somewhere in North London for instruction and help, so what was the LEO — London connection?

In 1963 Lyons announced the disposal of their computer manufacturing interests to the English Electric Co. Ltd. Most of the top jobs in this reorganisation were taken up by English Electric personnel, leaving the LEO team in shock, as the negotiations leading up to the merger had been cloaked in complete secrecy. Thompson, who had been associated with the LEO computer project from its infancy, did not achieve the recognition of his central contribution and his transfer to English Electric left him as a peripheral player and he felt betrayed. Peter J Butt

Roy Irons, one of Ilford Ltd LEO 2/9 computer operators, adds:

The British Oxygen LEO 2/8 was in Edmonton, North London where they had a factory, distribution and offices. There was also a LEO 2 in the Slough area, I remember going over there once, at night!

Another thought occurred to me, modern day 'computer experts' would not realise that in the 'old days' the programmes were kept on punched cards, not preloaded as now. Each time you ran a programme you fed the programme in front of the data. As the programmes were regularly updated, sometimes daily for new programmes, it was the operator's worst fear that a card jam would happen while feeding the programme in. You always hoped that the programmer had updated the spare programme pack! I and my shift colleague spent many a time reconstituting ripped punch cards after piecing the bits of the jigsaw together. Problems always occurred at night, rarely when the programmer was about with his or her notes!

Computer operators had to know how to take the various bits of equipment apart to retrieve ripped cards, etc. The knowledge of card readers, punches and sorters became a vital part of our job. We also had to help the engineers locate faults on the main frame. It was a tough life, it was another world!

Thames Sailing-Barge Match 2011

On 23 July this year there was sufficient breeze for the sailing barges to go all the way to the North Oaze buoy and back for the 81st Thames Barge Match. The race was easily won by the newly rebuilt Cambria *. She is surprisingly fast and at the finish was a long way ahead of everything else. Having no engine does this give her an advantage? Bob Carr

News in brief

What has happened to the Flying Scotsman? The 10.00am from King's Cross is currently the Northern Lights and goes to Aberdeen. Is nothing sacred?

The Cornish Pasty is now officially registered and must now only be made in Cornwall.

At King's Cross railway station the new extension to the south west of the main train shed has a roof span of 465 feet, the largest single-span structure in a railway station building in Europe. It was unveiled early in August this year *.

News from Broadgate (GLIAS Newsletter August 2011) is that the Culture Secretary has granted a certificate of immunity from listing for five years. Three buildings will be demolished to make way for a new headquarters building for the Swiss bank UBS AG [1] designed by architect Ken Shuttleworth [2]. This will have four trading floors, each able to accommodate up to 750 traders and should be completed by 2014.

The LCC and GLC architect John Bancroft died on 29 August 2011, aged 82. Among his many works was Pimlico School (GLIAS Newsletter December 2008). There was a full page obituary in The Times on 5 September, page 53. The obituary describes John as belligerent but we always found him a mild-mannered man. In Pullman Gardens Wandsworth, TQ 234 743, his co-educational Elliott School of 1957 was listed grade II in 1992.

In the film Night Mail of 1936 the scene of letter sorting on the train took place not in a railway carriage but in a mock up at Blackheath, South London, in a building at the east end of Bennett Park at TQ 398 760. In this studio the holes in the floor where the film set was secured are still there. This was the Blackheath Arts Club * at number 47 and there is a blue plaque on the outside of the building, unveiled in September 2000, commemorating the GPO Film Unit. This film unit and its successor the Crown Film Unit used the building from 1933 to 1943.

On the railway over bridge south of Lewisham which carries the B236 Ladywell Road, immediately north of Ladywell station at TQ 377 749, is a sign painted in white which reads 'Shelter for 700' with an arrow pointing to the right (eastwards). It is on the N side of the road painted on the brickwork of the parapet. Is this a genuine Second World War sign 70-odd years old? Survivors are rare although one was noted at the Lea Bridge Horse-Tram Depot which is probably genuine (GLIAS Newsletter June 2010). The sign north of Ladywell station might be a more recent survival from a film set?

A few yards to the east on the same side of the road the attractive 1938 art deco factory building of Adhesive Specialities Ltd has been demolished. It had a smooth white finish and the facade was decorated with two horizontal red bands of what looked like red glazed tiles. There was a flag pole on top and a clock over the main entrance; the whole design appeared a classic of the period — a veritable Hercule Poirot film set. The address was 59 Ladywell Road SE13 7UT and it appears to have been called Tickitape House. There were local community efforts to retain the building and it was listed locally in September 2002. Suitably converted it would have made splendid flats. Built as a laundry on the site of a Victorian villa by Mr Howkins, a local builder; in 1988-9 another local firm Rainey and Rainey refurbished the building and made additions. These 1980s additions probably prevented Tickitape House achieving full listed status.

In Catford the demolition of the Excalibur Estate, the largest surviving estate of post-war prefabricated houses in Britain (GLIAS Newsletter October 2010), is under way *. Six prefabs whose fittings, such as doors and window frames, have been least altered are listed Grade II. The complete redevelopment project should be finished by 2018.

There is an estate of what look like prefabs on Teesside at Lunedale Road Stockton, NZ 458 232, and they appear to be in good condition. The 32 bungalows here were built in 1947. There are also what appear to be prefabs in Wood Lane and Lincoln Green to the north of Wolverhampton at SJ 919 025. Does anyone have further information?

The transporter bridge in Middlesbrough is currently celebrating its centenary. Opened on 17 October 1911 by HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught the centenary day itself will be a grand affair. Was a transporter bridge ever proposed for London? Well, the answer is that there is one in Newham across the Royal Victoria Dock connecting the south side of the dock with the Excel centre. Finished in 1998 it was built as a transporter bridge but the transportation function was never implemented. It just serves as a high-level footbridge.

Royal Victoria Dock bridge

The electric traction winch for the transporter bridge in Middlesbrough is being replaced by a new computer-controlled system and the original equipment is being removed. This replacement should keep the Middlesbrough Bridge in operation for some time to come but the present continuous operation may be reduced to occasional demonstration runs for tourists. The new computer system will make many of the men who currently work at the Bridge redundant.

The SS Robin (GLIAS Newsletter October 2009) arrived in London at the Royal Docks this year on Wednesday 13 July. Mounted on her floating pontoon and towed by two tugs, the ensemble was already in the King George V entrance lock by 10.00am and stayed there about an hour. It was a particularly dour day making photography difficult. Leaving the entrance lock Robin was taken north westwards to a berth on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock just short of the Connaught Road swing bridge. The vessel was welcomed to Newham by the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, and a number of speeches were made.

SS Robin, Royal Victoria Dock

After lunch the Connaught Road swing bridge was opened and the ship was towed into the Royal Victoria dock. She is to stay there near Millennium Mills for about a year while further work is carried out. This includes the fitting out of the pontoon to provide a large display gallery, educational facilities, café and shop etc. There was television coverage of the event on the Wednesday evening.

On Monday afternoon 18 July this year a severe fire broke out at a scrapyard in Dock Road, Silvertown, a short way to the east of Royal Victoria Dock. A lady who took photographs from south of the river said you could feel the ground shake from the explosions taking place. Gas cylinders were involved and about 40 people were evacuated. The A1020 Silvertown Way between the Lower Lea Crossing roundabout and Thames Road, to the east of Pontoon Dock, was closed and trains on the DLR were halted between Canning Town and West Silvertown. Fire engines from stations at Stratford, Plaistow, Hainault, Stoke Newington, Poplar and Millwall attended the blaze and did not all depart until early Tuesday morning. Shades of the Great Silvertown explosion of January 1917 (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007), and also see GLIAS Newsletter June 2006.

As part of a redevelopment scheme, 'Woolwich Central', a student hall of residence has been demolished and nearby a four-storey municipal building is also being removed to make way for a Tesco supermarket. About 50 years old the municipal building is proving surprisingly difficult to demolish and very powerful special demolition equipment has had to be brought in *. It is thought the robust construction might have something to do with the Cold War. Is the municipal building in question Peggy Middleton House?

In Bristol the new hull for PS Medway Queen (GLIAS Newsletter December 2010) is taking shape quite rapidly. See the bow and stern webcams at Bob Carr

Bankside oil tanks to reopen as galleries

Former Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern, is to reopen its oil tanks as gallery spaces thanks to anonymous donations totalling about £150 million.

The chambers, which have not been used for 30 years, are sited behind the Turbine Hall's southern wall and measure more than 30m across and 7m high.

They will become venues for installations, film, performance and discussions — but keep their industrial character.

More tube stations given Grade II protection

On English Heritage advice sixteen Tube stations were granted Grade II listed status in July to protect their architectural heritage, taking the total on the network to 72.

The stations given Grade II status are: Aldwych, Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Covent Garden, Hendon Central, Oxford Circus (originally two separate stations), Perivale, Redbridge, Russell Square, St John's Wood, West Acton, and Wood Green. Three other stations — Arnos Grove, Oakwood, and Sudbury Town — have been upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.

The grading will protect station facades, including 100-year-old ornate tilling and brickwork, but allow internal changes for safety measures.

Halifax and Huddersfield City Safari, 8-11 September 2011

A group of us gathered in Halifax at the Wool Merchant Hotel, itself previously an industrial building. On the first evening we had an introductory talk by Sue Hayton about the two cities, their origins and important citizens like John Crossley, John Mackintosh and Edward Akroyd.

Sue and Dan hearing about a project in one of the mills in Halifax. © Kate Quinton On the following day we walked around Halifax City Centre, starting with the original station of 1844. It is now occupied by Eureka, the National Children's Museum. We saw many fine buildings mostly of stone, although the Square Works and the Square Independent Chapel are in red brick. We visited the famous Piece Hall, which is actually an open courtyard with arcaded walls on a sloping site so that one side has two storeys and the opposite one has three. Pieces of cloth were sold here until 1868 when it became a fruit and vegetable market. It is now used for shops and galleries.

The town hall is very imposing with a tall steeple. We were able to go in and admire the main hall and the council chamber with their decorations, stained glass and statues. There was a recognisable former Burtons with its elephant heads and an evocative Victorian market. We also viewed a theatre auditorium, an art deco pub and walked through the People's Park, designed by Joseph Paxton. We returned to the hotel beside the remains of the Halifax branch of the Calder and Hebble Canal. This climbed through 14 locks in less than two miles and always struggled with its water supply.

On Saturday we travelled to Huddersfield by train. We admired the railway buildings, some in red brick, others in stone, and the main station with its statue of Harold Wilson and its fountains. We saw two markets, a Victorian one built using cast iron and glass and one erected in the 1960s having a roof of 21 asymmetrical hyperbolic paraboloid shells. There were also some large woollen mills now converted for a variety of uses, many of them providing student accommodation. We walked along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to Aspley Basin, formerly an important transhipment centre. We looked at Locomotive Bridge on the Huddersfield Broad Canal; this is a unique vertical lift bridge, worked by a combination of wheels, chains and counter weights.

From the hotel we could see the Stone Dam Mill, one of the oldest remaining in the city. On Sunday we looked at this and then walked to North Bridge which has stone piers supporting ornate cast-iron elliptical arch ribs. Originally a railway line to Keighley passed under here; few signs remain of it today.

We visited Dean Clough which used to be a complex of eleven mills, many dating from 1854 to 1858. Some have been restored and among them there is to be found an art gallery and a hotel. We continued along the valley passing All Souls' Church. It was commissioned in 1856 by Edward Akroyd; he chose George Gilbert Scott as the architect. It has a tall spire which is visible from some distance away. Inside it has granite, Derbyshire marble and Minton Tiles. It is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and is open very occasionally. Further up the hill there is Bankfield Hall, now a museum, which was Edward Akroyd's home. He was a local mill owner, philanthropist, MP and founder of the Yorkshire Penny Bank. Opposite to the hall is Akroydon, a model housing scheme in Gothic style again by George Gilbert Scott. The houses are built in stone and vary in size. Some workers bought their own homes as the Halifax Permanent Building Society lent them money.

Sue provided us with a fascinating insight into Halifax and Huddersfield with so many fine buildings and the remains of so much industrial archaeology. She was well supported by Dan and we would all like to thank them both very much for providing us with such an interesting and illuminating stay. Kate Quinton

More on re-housing of people associated with railway development

(See GLIAS Newsletter August 2011). At least two phases of rebuilding of Euston Station saw housing provided for displaced people. In 1900 the LNWR erected Mornington Mansions, now demolished, on the corner of Mornington Terrace/Place, NW1.

In 1936-8 the LMSR paid £90,000 to the Home Improvement Society to build five blocks containing 119 flats on land until then occupied by St Johns Farm at the south west end of York Rise, NW5. The Society's architect designed the flats. The railway paid the Society £90,000 and owned the land until 1985. The flats are now part of Saint Pancras Housing (SPH) and included in a conservation area. David Thomas

Malam Gardens, Poplar, E14

This small estate of 29 houses in three terraces was built by the Commercial Gas Company in 1935-6 to house its employees. It is named after John Malam, 1791-1855, who patented several gas devices and processes. Still a 'private estate', the road is lit solely by five well-spaced gas lamps. One standard is concrete, the others have two designs of cast iron. Is any other London residential road outside of Westminster and the City lit only by gas? Imperial Square, SW6, for workers of the adjacent Imperial Gas Company, was, but has been modernised with electric lights. David Thomas

New DLR connection opens

A direct line from Stratford International to Woolwich Arsenal via London City Airport is now operational.

This involved a new extension of the DLR system to Stratford International using the old North London Line then into platforms 1 & 2, but now platforms 16 & 17. New track parallel with the Jubilee Line to just south of Canning Town where it merges with the DLR track from Bank, new platforms at West Ham and Canning Town and three completely new DLR stations.

I understand that there are no immigration facilities at Stratford International so is its name a misnomer? Peter J Butt

Major Nissen

In response to Peter Butt's query about Major Nissen's factory in Hertfordshire (GLIAS Newsletter June 2011), it was at Rye House, Hoddesdon. Nissen was born in USA, became a mining engineer in Canada and then moved to England in 1910 to further the use, in South Africa, of the stamping mill he had developed. In 1915 he joined the British Army at the age of 43 and developed the hut design in April 1916. 100,000 were ordered from manufacturers in UK. Various uses for the huts, mainly in agriculture, were developed after the war. In 1922 Nissen purchased land at Rye House and established a factory later known as Nissen Buildings Ltd. This had a link to the adjoining Great Eastern line to Hertford East.

Nissen died in 1930 but the company continued and in 1935 the Hoddesdon Journal reported that steel structures and high class joinery were also undertaken. By the time I became involved in the adjacent precast concrete factory in the 1970s the Nissen factory was owned by Schreiber furniture who used it to make components for kitchen cupboards. This followed a period when Nissen Buildings entered the television cabinet (then veneered wood) business. The precast concrete works closed in the early 1990s and the whole area (which has frontage to the River Lea) has now been redeveloped for housing and a large Sainsbury's distribution centre.

There is a somewhat discursive biography of Nissen, Nissen of the Huts by Fred McCosh (1997) — ISBN 0 9525799 1 X.
John Buekett


Re Jasper Wallace's news (GLIAS Newsletter August 2011) about the cleared basin on the Regent's Canal, according to Alan Faulkner in his 'The Regent's Canal', this was the Cambridge Heath Coal Dock, later a timber dock. The rubble, now cleared, was dumped overnight sometime in the 1970s. Peter Finch

I was interested in the comments on Broad Street Station (GLIAS Newsletter August 2011). I used Broad Street Station a little during its final few years. I recall that they still had an old Festival of Britain sticker on the window of the (rather run-down) ticket office! Daron Gunson

In the article on Croydon B power station (GLIAS Newsletter August 2003) there was some mystery about the naming of Hesterman Way. It may be a long shot, but Charles Merz, leading electrical consultant of his day (fl 1910-40) was Charles Hesterman Merz. He was a Quaker, anxious to avoid publicity, honours etc. Maybe the middle name satisfied all parties, only a guess. Roger Hennessey

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© GLIAS, 2011