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Notes and news — October 2012

In this issue:

London commercial and other buildings being converted to residential use

In the present economic climate, many office buildings are surplus to commercial needs, and developers are looking to convert them to residential use. This can prove substantially more profitable, especially for characterful buildings in upmarket central London.

The Evening Standard (5 September 2012) carried a feature 'Conversion boom brings communities back into the city', although from the examples quoted it is clear that those seeking such a home will need to be well-heeled. With reportedly some 1.8 million square feet of unwanted office space awaiting planning consent for change of use to residential, this appears to be another example of the trend for adaptive re-use that a few decades ago saw derelict riverside and dockside warehouses being transformed into fashionable dwellings.

Among the buildings featured is the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority at 10 Trinity Square. Interestingly, this splendid Grade II*-listed Beaux Arts building designed by Sir Edwin Cooper and opened in 1922 has already been substantially modified once. A new block was added within its internal courtyard in the 1970s (formerly roofed over by a rotunda destroyed in Second World War bombing), and the building then passed into occupation by the insurance company Willis. I visited it only once, in PLA days, when I collected a permit (price 5/- or 25p) allowing me to enter the London Docks group on its last working day before complete closure, to photograph the many warehouses and other buildings (nearly all of which were to be demolished over the next decade). The former PLA HQ is to become a hotel and 41 apartments ('prices from £3.25 million'). Among other schemes of industrial interest, the former Canadian National Railway Company offices (pictured) of 1902 off Trafalgar Square are to become five apartments priced from £5.5 million.

Canadian National Railway Company offices, off Trafalgar Square © Robert Mason 2016

Meanwhile, Sir Terry Farrell is masterplanning a scheme for 'Midtown', the area centred on Holborn between the West End and the City, which is set to attract more of the better-off seeking a central London home. (His similar scheme a little further west will, if approved, demolish Earl's Court Exhibition Centre and two 1970s housing estates in West Kensington, with a 'green link' across the West London railway lines.)

The same issue of the paper also reports yet another scheme for the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station and its surrounding area (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012). This scheme, costed at a mere £8bn, will provide 3,400 homes (50 within the shell of the former electricity power station) as well as 160,000 square feet of offices, two hotels, shops, restaurants and a large Thames-side open space. The four chimneys are reportedly in too poor a condition to be retained, and will be rebuilt. What now remains of the power station is only its original 'rainscreen' enclosure (minus the turbine hall roof), retaining none of the turbines and generators that were the point of the building. To keep this strikes me — in industrial conservation terms — no less pointless than keeping the shell of Bankside Power Station as weather protection for a modern art gallery, but opinions may differ on this! Michael Bussell

The right to redevelop Battersea Power Station has been won by a pair of Malaysian property companies, SP Setia and Sime Darby, in a deal worth £400m. The £8bn redevelopment is due to begin next year.

Tate tanks — now open

A year or so ago I reported that the original Bankside Power Station's oil tanks were to be converted for use by Tate Modern (GLIAS Newsletter October 2011). Personally, art wise, I prefer the contents of Tate Britain to Tate Modern, but I found it an 'interesting' experience to just wander around the tanks and try to imagine how they had originally been. The following are extracts from a two-page article 'Art in the present tense' in the Art Fund's, The Art Quarterly, August 2012, by Catherine Wood, the Tate's curator of contemporary art and performance.

The article starts with the sentence: At Tate Modern the stark industrial spaces that once contained oil tanks have now been converted into the world's first museum galleries dedicated to performance, live art and installation. ... [In the past] necessity has been the mother of invention, and we have tested the elasticity of the institution in myriad ways. But there is a need — fulfilled by the Tanks — for a more permanent anchor. Rather than having to rehearse elsewhere and bring work ready made onto the site, we can use this space to test things out, to experiment. The rawness of the Tanks makes them perfect as spaces in which to find new forms of working. ... Now that the oil that once powered the Turbine Hall's generators has gone, we see these new spaces as the fuel for the rest of the institution, bubbling up new ideas. ... We know that we've built up an audience for performance and film in the past decade, but what we don't know is what people who come for the first time to see this kind of work will make of it. We hope that some people will just be curious about the new spaces and will experience work that they may not have thought was 'their thing'.
Peter J Butt

Quicklime and limelight

Patrick Graham (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012) suggests that quicklime is 'generally quite powdery'. This is not the case. Having personally handled lump quicklime straight from the kilns of the Dorking Lime Co Ltd at Betchworth (Surrey), major suppliers to London in their day, I can assure readers that the freshly manufactured material looks and feels (albeit still warm) just like the lumps of chalk from which it was manufactured. That it is in fact a quite different compound is obvious from its much lower bulk density (on account of the loss of carbon dioxide during calcinations) and the violence of its reaction with cold water. In my chemistry-teaching days I would supervise classes of children making the stuff from small lumps of chalk heated over Bunsen burners. We weighed them before and after. And dropped cold water on them when they had cooled to room temperature. Another difference is that chalk will write on the blackboard (doubtless readers will remember blackboards, few of which survive in schools today!) whereas quicklime will not!

Manufactured quicklime was sold either as lumps (hand-sorted to reject under-burned material detected by weight) or as powder after being ground. I recall seeing hand-sorting at the former limeworks at Riddlesdown, Kenley, in the London Borough of Croydon.

To return to the question of limelight the puzzle to me is how the operator of this sort of lighting prevented 'air-slaking'. A lump of quicklime, left exposed to air, quite rapidly re-hydrates (taking in atmospheric moisture) and then re-carbonates (taking in atmospheric carbon dioxide) thereby resulting in a heap of powdery chalk. This is perhaps what Patrick Graham had in mind. It was never worth buying a kilogram bottle of quicklime for the laboratory as, however tightly you replaced the lid, it rehydrated and re-carbonated long before you had used a fraction of it. We made it freshly as required. Paul Sowan

The Croydon railway 'oddity'

It has been suggested that the anomalous eastern fence-line to the London & Brighton Railway's cutting through Park Hill, Croydon (GLIAS Newsletter June 2010) may be the result of a pre-existing natural hollow.

The location of the oddity is on the Thanet Sand outcrop, below which lies the Upper Chalk. Natural hollows, caused by sand slumping into solution holes in the underlying chalk, are certainly known in and around Croydon. The two most impressive and publicly visible examples lie in the Oaks Road part of Addington Hills, and in the grounds of the Royal Russel School but readily visible over the back fence of Croydon's Coombe Wood public open space.

I have, of course, considered a natural feature as an explanation for the anomalous fence line, and think on balance it is an unlikely one, although not impossible. When the London & Brighton Railway was being surveyed in the late 1830s geological understanding had probably not advanced sufficiently to interpret this hollow as a solution feature which, by its nature, would still have been in process of formation (as indeed would be the case today, if this is what it is). When the original double-track London to Brighton line was doubled to four tracks (I think in the 1860s) and later to five, the cutting was widened (in part, at least) on the east side, sloping cutting sides being replaced by the near-vertical retaining walls still to be seen, which allowed tracks to be added without additional land-take between the original fence-lines. The widening, of course, encroached on the 'oddity' without, so far as I am aware, any particular comment from the engineer(s) or contractor(s) of the day. Paul Sowan

The Southern's double decker

Sadly, like so many of Oliver Bulleid's ideas the Double Decker, 4EPB unit used on the Dartford lines (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012) was not a success. It had two faults, firstly ventilation was difficult as opening windows on the upper deck were not feasible and secondly, and more importantly, because, in effect, one slam door served two compartments the normal loading times at stations could not be maintained so the train was restricted to a special diagram which allowed for these extended dwell times. Thus the two units were joined together for ever and enjoyed a quiet, rush hours (Mon-Fri) only life, on a carefully planned and undemanding day, but they earned their keep.

There was however, a perk for the connoisseur not to be missed, for the right seat in the upper section gave a splendid view of the railway. In particular, from the higher than normal position, it gave a view into engine cabs as if riding on the tender. So I have a vivid memory of travelling down from London Bridge one evening over the L & G viaduct for several minutes alongside the open cab of a Schools class engine on a Cannon Street to Hastings train watching the fun, the driver vigilant for signals on this busy railway and the fireman ensuring the steam supply for the crossing of the North Downs would be adequate. Perhaps this explained why, at that time at least, all boys were thought to want to be engine drivers. David Bosomworth

I understand from a friend who used to work on the Southern Region that there was an incident in which a train travelling in the opposite direction to a double-decker was found to have lost a number of door handles. Investigation found that this was caused by the body of the double-deck cars having bowed out because of the pressure of rush hour travellers. About 15 years ago part of one of the double- deck body shells could be seen lying in the 'vee' between the Canterbury and Folkestone lines just outside Ashford.

Bob Carr also mentions 'ladies only' compartments. I think I remember them on the New (dc) Line out of Euston, and certainly on T Stock on the Metropolitan Line. I'm not sure if the Metropolitan's locomotive-hauled stock also had them. I think the labels on the windows were rectangular with a green background. Richard Graham

London's first hydroelectric turbine

The National Trust estate at Morden Hall Park has installed London's first hydroelectric turbine upstream of its 18th-century East Mill waterwheel on the River Wandle.

The 8.5Kw turbine, which was installed on 18 July following some heavy lifting by eight workers and a crane, will generate enough electricity for 18 average-sized houses, and will power the Stable Yard visitor centre and Snuff Mill.

The turbine is part of Morden's £2.6m Livinggreen sustainability programme, with the hydroelectric element costing £350,000. It has an Archimedes screw with a 'low head' which works well for watercourses with low drops, like the 1.2m at Morden.

The Morden visitor centre hosts a range of green technology, including three types of solar panels and with the turbine will have an output of 65,000kWh annually. It claims to be the UK's most energy efficient historic building.

The Livinggreen project, begun in 2009, has helped launch nine projects in five countries renovating heritage buildings to demonstrate sustainability. Peter J Butt

The Royal Mail sorting office and East Croydon station at Billinton Hill, Croydon

Billinton Hill (formerly known as Station Road) runs from the east end of George Street to Cherry Orchard Road. On its west side lies East Croydon Station, with three island platforms and six platform faces. Occupying the land eastwards to Cherry Orchard Road is the Royal Mail's sorting office and, at the corner of Billinton Hill, the Porter & Sorter public house (a Marston's establishment). The road, which appears to be owned by Network Rail and is primarily used by taxis and by private cars delivering or collecting rail passengers, was fitted with Billinton Hill name plates in or about August 2001. According to the Croydon Advertiser (24 August 2001) the name was chosen to commemorate the road's post office and railway associations. Sir Rowland Hill (1795-1879) introduced uniform nationwide cheap postage on 10 January 1840: the 'penny post' would take your letter anywhere in Britain, regardless of distance (a splendid idea which appears to be under threat from current Government thinking).

The Billintons, father and son, worked for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, successor to the London & Brighton Railway which was opened through Croydon in 1841. Robert John Billinton (1845-1904) was locomotive, carriage and wagon superintendent with that company. His son Col. Lawson Boskovsky Billinton (1882-1954) was an engineer with the Brighton company.

What is now called East Croydon Station was opened by the London & Brighton Railway on 12 July 1841, and was shortly afterwards used also by the South Eastern Railway's first main line to Folkestone and Dover (via Redhill and Tonbridge). The first station (of which no good images appear to have survived) comprised station buildings and a platform either side of a double line of rails. The first station was replaced by a much enlarged facility, with its main building on the George Street/Addiscombe Road bridge, during the 1890s. That in turn gave way to the present modernistic structure (designed by Richard Horden Associates) in 1990.

The postal sorting office (General Post Office, then Consignia, now Royal Mail) dates from the 1960s, and opened as an automatic letter sorting office in 1969. Post-coding, necessary for the automatic sorting machines, was introduced in the Croydon area in November 1966. An illustrated booklet about Croydon's Head Post Office (as it was then called) on Addiscombe Road, published in 1970, contains details of the automated letter-sorting machinery and a mail-bag conveyor bridge across Billinton Hill, brought into use the previous year. That bridge, which delivered mail to or collected it from all six station platforms, has long been out of use as a result of mail transport now being done by road. It was demolished and removed during Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2011, there being no trains running on those days. Photographs were taken by the writer (and at least half a dozen others) on Christmas Eve. A similar bridge remains in situ (but out of use) linking the automated sorting office at Redhill with adjoining station platforms.

The immediate reason for the removal of the East Croydon conveyor bridge was the intended erection of an additional pedestrian link equipped with escalator and lift access to all platforms, and additional station entrances on the east and west sides of the lines. This is now under construction.

Other changes, after years of discussion, appear now to be imminent. The former west goods yard bounded by Dingwall and Lansdowne Roads, part-used as a temporary car park for some decades, is due for redevelopment. And on the east side of the station planning permission has now been given for a 55-storey building replacing the sorting office and pub in Billinton Hill. The adjoining Amy Johnson House (an office block named after the pioneer aviator Amy Johnson 1903-1941 who flew to and from Croydon Airport) has already been demolished, preceded some decades ago by the demolition and redevelopment of the head office and rail-linked depot of Hall & Co Ltd, prominent builders' merchants of Croydon. Croydonians now in their sixties or older will remember Halls' own steam locomotives busy in the depot. Hall & Co moved out of their 1931 art deco building in 1975 and it was demolished in or about 1981. Paul Sowan

Golden summer ends with silver celebration for DLR

London's free morning newspaper The Metro (12 Sept 2012, p53) reminded it readers that it was 25 years since the Queen opened the DLR in August 1987 with just 15 stations, 11 trains and only two routes, from Tower Gateway and Stratford to Island Gardens [whose station was then above ground level] and carried 6.7 million passengers in its first year while today it has 45 stations, 140 railcars and carries 90 million passengers a year. The DLR's latest extension from Canning Town to Stratford International with its three intermediate stations was partly funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority, but then the DLR did connect the Olympic Park to the Excel, Greenwich Park, and the Royal Artillery Barracks venues. It carried 7.2 million passengers over the period of the Games, a 100% increase on its normal rates and on its record day it carried more than half a million passengers.

It is also worth remembering that the DLR was London first fully accessible railway providing step-free access at all its stations. I recall being informed at the time by a senior member of the DLR that this was really the only condition that the then GLC laid down when they applied for planning permission to build the system. I have always wondered if there is an innate reason why 'traditional' railway carriages 'miss' the platform level by often a foot or so? Peter J Butt

Thameside conservation and redevelopment

To the east of London much of the heavy industry on the north bank of the Thames that was predominantly connected with chalk extraction and processing, has gone. Rather than be reused for commercial purposes some of the associated land has been reserved for nature conservation and in particular the promotion of bio-diversity. This area is one of the driest and warmest parts of the UK, and has a unique fauna with many rare species.

The power station at West Thurrock Marshes was closed in 1993 and the resulting brownfield site was considered to be one of the three most important sites for endangered wildlife in the country. Seventeen priority species were identified and it was the second-best place for invertebrates in the UK. However, despite protests permission for a redevelopment was granted. Can anyone report on the current situation there?

In some places favourable conditions have been enhanced in an attempt to prolong the survival of endangered species nearing total extinction in this country. An interesting example can be found near Tilbury. It is usual to treat horses and other animals with iverectins in order to control intestinal parasites. This is good for the animals concerned but the dung the creatures produce contains far fewer parasites than would have occurred in the wild, before human intervention began. Close to Tilbury B power station a large number of horses currently roam untreated. This is a deliberate measure which hopefully will prevent the extinction of the Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis) — identified by Linnaeus in 1758. This is the largest fly in Britain with a wingspan of about 18mm. These flies need the parasites traditionally occurring in horse dung as a source of food, etc.

At Coryton to the east of Tilbury the oil refinery is closing. This refinery supplied about a fifth of the fuel used in London and the South East. The site will be used for the import of diesel fuel. Land to the southwest of the refinery is being redeveloped for London Gateway as a new deep-water container port. Bob Carr

News in brief

On the east side of Archway Road at TQ 290 874 is a most interesting London Transport brick edifice — an electricity substation and ventilation building, almost certainly over a shaft for the Northern Line. It is roughly halfway between Archway and Highgate underground stations. Train services on this section of the tube started in July 1939. Dating from the late 1930s in Charles Holden's modernist style, if this were an underground railway station the building would probably be listed. On the Piccadilly line every station from Turnpike Lane to Cockfosters is listed. The Archway substation is similar to the ticket hall and ventilation towers at Turnpike Lane, Frank Pick's favourite station. The Archway building deserves to be better known. There is a bas relief of a transformer on the brickwork of the shaft which makes one purpose of the building clear.

There is consternation in Islington that the beam engine house at New River Head might be redeveloped for housing. A campaign to retain this important building for heritage use is being led by Hugh Myddelton, descendant of Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631). A newly formed Friends of New River Head was to hold its first meeting in the Oak Room, Rosebery Avenue, in August.

Beam engine house at New River Head © Robert Mason 2016

There are about 25 World Heritage sites in Britain. Four are in London; Kew Gardens, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey complex, the Tower of London, and Maritime Greenwich which includes the Royal Observatory. As well as the buildings themselves their context is also important and this must be carefully maintained.

Concern over sight lines in relation to the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London may have consequences for the redevelopment planned near Waterloo station and round the Shard tower. This could affect the demolition of Elizabeth House (GLIAS Newsletter August 2011) and the big LBSCR station of 1864-7 at London Bridge (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011). Because of such threatened redevelopment the Tower of London is presently regarded as an endangered site.

Scrap Metal Bill

The Private Members' Scrap Metal Dealers Bill (GLIAS Newsletter December 2011) has passed the Committee stage of the legislative process in the House of Commons and is now scheduled for a third reading on 9 November 2012.

The Bill has been introduced by Croydon South MP Richard Ottaway and aims to introduce compulsory registration of scrap dealers by local authorities. It will also stipulate tougher applications to get a dealer's licence as well as give police and local authorities greater powers to suspend and revoke licences of illegal operators.

If no MP objects to the Bill in the third reading, then it will move onto the House of Lords.

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© GLIAS, 2012