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Notes and news — February 2012

In this issue:

Steam locomotives in London

In the period leading up to Christmas a large number of special trains hauled by steam locomotives ran in the London area. These used not just the usual Victoria and King's Cross lines but also cross-London routes such as the North London line and the route which was once used by royal trains running to Sandringham via Gospel Oak. Last December quite a number of the special steam trains were routed through London in the week and moreover at busy periods soon after the morning peak.

On Thursday 8 December at 10.40am 70013 Oliver Cromwell came through Highbury and Islington station westbound working very hard (below); it sounded more like heavy freight than a passenger train. However the loco was probably brought to a stand outside the station to the east having to wait for a local Overground service in the platform ahead and the load was quite heavy, about 13 coaches. A busy weekday, there were many people on the station. Highbury and Islington now has Overground trains on all four platforms and lengthy container trains are interspersed between the passenger services. Apparently the system has sufficient capacity to cope with an extra steam train too.

70013 Oliver Cromwell at Highbury & Islington 8th December 2011 © Robert Carr

Most of the locomotives working the steam specials appeared to be 'driven by railway enthusiasts' with plenty of fire and fury while on the other hand 60163 Tornado (below) was 'driven by engineers'. Rather than having the character of an angry monster, this engine gave an efficient impression with a clean white exhaust and almost no escaping steam — as noted previously (GLIAS Newsletter June 2009) it passed rapidly and quietly. There are numerous videos available on the internet depicting the recent steam specials and it is instructive to compare exhaust cleanliness and signs of possible poor mechanical condition. For some of the steam specials a carbon-emission supplement was included in the fare. Tornado is still almost a new engine and the difference is striking. Built recently as a one-off labour of love 60163 is probably more precisely made than a mass-produced loco of 60 years ago.

60163 Tornado eastbound approaching Canonbury on 12th December 2011 © Robert Carr

Regarding the 'royal route', King Edward VII disliked Osborne, preferring Sandringham, as did George V. From the early 1900s royal trains regularly ran to and fro between St Pancras or Windsor and Wolferton station in Norfolk which served the royal estate. These special trains used the line through North London via Gospel Oak and Crouch Hill and were hauled by Great Eastern Railway locomotives throughout, including the through trains over the GWR to Windsor*. Boat trains from St Pancras to Tilbury also used this route. Bob Carr

Great Northern Goods Yard — Central Saint Martins

'INSIDE THE ART FACTORY — its entrance is a restored granary, its main thoroughfare a vaulted street' was the title and opening sentence of a four-page article about the new Central Saint Martins College at King's Cross by Jonathon Glancey in The Guardian (G2, 14 December 2011, p19).

Other quotes about the building are:

Paul Williams, of the architectural practice Stanton William, is quoted as saying:

The Buildings of England, London: North, by Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (published 1988, p366) describes The Great Northern Goods Yard:

 © Robert Mason  © Robert Mason

Andrew Handyside (1805-1887), iron founder and engineer of Derby and London (GLIAS Newsletter October 2010), is now given some credit. The Central Saint Martins' website shows that the whole complex is situated between the Regent's Canal and Handyside Street, the latter not shown on my 2007 street map, and another map labels the East and West Handyside Canopies on either side of the Midland Goods Shed. Peter J Butt

Deptford Creek railway bridge

The London and Greenwich railway and its locality is of great importance. As well as the threats to London Bridge station the whole length of the original line1 will be upgraded in the near future. This swathe of South East London deserves special consideration.

Although the present Deptford Creek railway bridge is not yet 50 years old2 it serves as a significant landmark for the creek, proclaiming that the creek is tidal and navigable. In a similar way Tower Bridge symbolises the Thames and even London itself. The Eiffel tower in Paris plays a similar role there.

At the National Maritime Museum to the east of the bridge in Greenwich, when a visitor was to come down by rail from London to the museum on business a tide table was consulted. Train services from London Bridge could be seriously disrupted around high tide and for whoever was meeting the traveller there might be a long wait on Maze Hill station before the important person finally made it.

The previous bridge of 1884 was replaced in December 1963, the present electric lift-bridge being designed by A.H. Cantrell, chief civil engineer of BR Southern Region, and built by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. When the 1884 bridge was opened to allow a small ship to pass there was what now seems a ridiculous performance. Even the rails had to be completely removed and no less than twelve men were needed to do this3.

Where the railway crosses, the Creek has a large tidal range with plenty of water at high tide. The knowledgeable Nick Bertrand from the Creekside Centre still leads his ecological walks with everyone in waders to explore the bed of the Ravensbourne at low tide. It is well worth taking part in one of these Low Tide Walks if you get the chance. There is an important ecological aspect to this part of the creek which is also under threat. Bob Carr

Windsor and Blackfriars go green

According to a Daily Mail report by Tamara Cohen (21 December 2011, p13), two steel turbines have been lowered into the Thames to generate power for Windsor Castle.

They are 12m long, 4m diameter, and weigh 40-tons each based on the 2,000 year old screw design by Archimedes of Syracuse. They cost £700,000 each to make and another £1,000,000 to install. The turbines are turned by the water flowing over the 2m high Romney Weir at 22 revs per minute maximum. They will provide the palace's power needs — the equivalent of 400 homes — for up to 90% of the time.

David Dechambeau of Southeast Power Engineering proposed the scheme to the palace in 2006. He said water power was to the Duke of Edinburgh's liking as it was 'quiet' and not really in anybody's view.

Meanwhile, the roof of the new platforms at Blackfriars station that span the River Thames, enabling, since 5 December, access to the station from the Southbank, were designed to be fitted with solar panels. It is claimed that they will provide up to 50% of the station's energy needs. Peter J Butt

Last chance to see

In November 2011 the Science Museum, London, placed a multi-million pound bid with the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant for a major new permanent exhibition on telecommunications. If the bid is accepted, and matching funding obtained, work will begin in spring 2012 with a view to the new gallery opening in mid-2014.

So far, so good, but there is inevitably a downside. The location of the new exhibition will be where the present Shipping and Marine Engines galleries are. These were opened in the mid-1960s but have scarcely changed since then. A modern re-interpretation of these technologies is also desirable but they will have to wait rather longer.

As it is, Shipping and Marine Engines will probably be closed in spring 2012 and the exhibits removed to store. Interested GLIAS members are strongly advised to make the most of the remaining few months that these displays are likely to be open to view. John Liffen, Curator of Communications, Science Museum

Crossrail et al

'Dig for Britain: German “mole” set to tunnel under London' — '£10m, 140m Crossrail tunnel machine unveiled' — 'Seven more will follow to move 6m tonnes of earth'. These were the headings for an article by Gwyn Topham in The Guardian (14 December 2011, p16). The German 140m (460ft) long tunnel boring machines are for what should be a very British achievement, one of the biggest current engineering projects anywhere in the world.

Peter J Butt

London Archaeologist

The Winter edition of the London Archaeologist includes a number of items of interest.

An editorial reports on a split between the Museum of London and MOLA. The latter has become an independent limited charitable company. It will continue to be based at Mortimer Wheeler House and to operate under the same name and branding under a new Board of Trustees. The two separate bodies will continue to work together under a Memorandum of Understanding.

The issue also contains articles on 'Fieldwork on the [Thames] Foreshore', which includes waterfront works at Greenwich and remains of an early bridge between Putney Bridge and the entrance to Carrara [or Swan] Dock; Delftware Pothouses in London, with short notes on 29 sites; and wartime defences at Stratford, comprising a heavy AA gun emplacement, with associated GL Mark II radar receiver, and a pillbox and concrete roadblock on the Greenway where it crosses the River Lea. Brian James-Strong

News in brief

Many famous British fighter aircraft were designed and built at Kingston-upon-Thames in West London and it is claimed that no other town in the country has made a comparable contribution to the Royal Air Force. It is a hundred years since the town's first aircraft factory was founded by the aviation pioneer Tommy Sopwith (1888-1989) and the Hawker Association's Kingston Aviation Centenary Project intends to bring to more-prominent public attention the Sopwith Camel, the most successful allied fighter of the First World War, as well as the later Hawker Hurricane, Hawker Hunter, the Hawk used by the Red Arrows and the unique Harrier vertical take-off fighter. Following the bankruptcy of the Sopwith Aviation Company after the Great War, Sopwith's became Hawker's in 1920. A special celebration, The Kingston Aviation Festival, will be held in Kingston Market Place early in June. A total of 5,747 Sopwith Camel single-seat fighters were built and it is hoped to have an example on display.

Further to the note on cow biscuits (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011) Bob the Builder corn and rice pasta shapes, made in Italy, have been on sale. These are 'wheat, egg, dairy and gluten free and organic bio.' The shapes depict Bob himself and an assortment of building site plant. The cement mixer is particularly fine and there is a JCB, a dumper truck and a road roller.

What is probably the oldest-known mechanical pencil has been found in the wreck of HMS Pandora (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011). At first sight this may seem a surprising place to find an advanced artefact but in the late 18th century surveying for charts was generally carried out from quite small open boats and some of the hardships suffered almost beggar belief. Conditions could be such that the issue of a ration of rum was often deemed necessary, at least for the oarsmen. The point of having a mechanical pencil is the consistent line width it produces. At this date wooden pencils would be sharpened with a hand-held knife and not having to do this in extreme conditions is clearly desirable. The most amazing fact is the accuracy of the charts produced by these pioneer navigators, sometimes not significantly bettered until the later 20th century.

Work on Boris Johnson's cable car across the Thames from Greenwich to the Royal Docks is progressing at a fine pace and it looks as if the scheme will be finished in time for the Olympics. Sadly London's only transporter bridge (GLIAS Newsletter October 2011) built across Royal Victoria Dock has languished unfinished since 1998. What a pity this cannot be completed for the Games as well. Bob Carr

Bendy buses ceased operation on London's roads in December after just a decade's service in the capital. The vehicles (GLIAS Newsletter December 2004) were used on 12 routes but they proved too big for narrow streets and encouraged fare-dodgers. However, campaigners said they were 'the most accessible bus in London' and would be missed by wheelchair users. The final route to be operated with bendy buses was the 207 between Hayes and White City.

The former Western Central District Post Office

The large building just to the west of One New Oxford Street is beginning to look derelict and vandalised — immediately east of the Travelodge in High Holborn there is no discernable name on the outside. This is 21-31 New Oxford Street WC1 and it was originally the Western Central district post office (dpo), a postal sorting centre with access to the Post Office Railway beneath*. It does not look noticeably big until you examine it — the architecture is quite clever in that it is not as overwhelming as it might be. The building conforms with the locality quite well considering its great size — 8 to 9 storeys high. It occupies the whole site west of Dunns Passage. After the Post Office, the British Museum used part of the Western Central dpo as a museum support building, then when the Museum moved out the building housed fashion and marketing events. The present building presumably replaced an earlier, probably smaller, Post Office building as the Post Office Railway which ran underground from Whitechapel to Paddington was in operation by about 1928.

The Western Central dpo was almost certainly the work of Eric Bedford, chief architect for the Ministry of Public Building and Works 1951-1970. Born in 1909 near Halifax in Yorkshire, he worked for an architectural practice in Leicester after leaving school. In 1936 he joined the Ministry of Public Building and Works and in 1950 he became the youngest chief architect to the Ministry. He is famous for designing the Post Office Tower and his numerous other achievements include the Fleet building in Farringdon Street (GLIAS Newsletter August 2005). The excellent semi-abstract murals, hand painted on tiles, by Dorothy Annan on the outside of this building at pavement level in Farringdon Street have recently been listed, see Islington Tribune, 2 December 2011, p5. They depict the wonders of telecommunication and date from 1960. Bob Carr


Re: the query about 'doping' in aircraft manufacture (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011). The Concise OED, 1990 edition, p349, says: 'dope....1. a varnish applied to the cloth surface of aeroplane parts to strengthen them, keep them airtight, etc....'. It suggests that the word comes from the Dutch 'doop', a sauce.

I remember my father applying dope to the large kit model of a Spitfire that he made for me around 1945. It had a strong and distinctive smell, which I believe was due to the acetone (or a derivative) used as a solvent. Derek Bayliss

'Dope' (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011) is a laquer applied to fabric-covered aircraft to render the airframe airtight and weatherproof.

Re: Woolwich Ferry (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011). The London County Council came into existence in 1889, not the 1890s. It covered a large chunk of what had been Middlesex, and parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey. It was superseded in 1965 by the Greater London Council. Richard Graham

Re: David Dawson's article on the Crossness gridiron (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011) a similar drying out structure is still being used on the Thames.

This timber grid belongs to the Port of London Authority and is situated between Strand-on-the-Green and Oliver's Ait. Capable of taking vessels up to 25m length and 9m beam, it can be hired by private and commercial boat owners. Peter Finch

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© GLIAS, 2012