Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

Notes and news — December 2013

In this issue:

GLIAS visit to R Russell, Chesham

In October, a group of GLIAS members were able to visit R Russell Brushes, a small family business in Chesham run by Robert and Alan Russell. The Russell family has been involved in the manufacture of brushes since 1840 and specialise in the manufacture of quality niche products.

Brush manufacture developed as an offshoot of the general woodworking industry in Chesham in the 19th century. At its peak, there were at least eight brush-making factories in the town employing several hundred people. The last of the large factories closed in the 1980s.

Robert and Alan first introduced the group to some of the materials used in production. Most of their products use pig bristle imported from China, but they also use other materials such as horse hair, plant fibre and synthetics. Wooden components and metal ferrules now come in finished from external suppliers.

Alan then demonstrated the various stages used in the manufacture of sweeping and banister brushes. Bristle is loaded by hand into holes in a drilled template which sets the fibres in the correct pattern and at the required angle. The template is then offered to the wooden stock and the brush assembly is set using epoxy resin. Once the epoxy has set, the fibres are trimmed and loose fibres removed by a flirting machine. Alan also demonstrated making a circular strike brush, a type used for painting metal structures such as electricity pylons. As well as these and brushes for decorating professionals, they also manufacture special designs and replacement parts for restorations, an example being the brushes used in windmill flour dressers. Examples of the products can be found on the company's web pages (

There is currently a temporary exhibition on the local brush manufacturing industry at Chesham Museum. This includes items on loan from R. Russell. Andrew Turner

King's Cross — Open House Weekend, 22/23 September

Information about the King's Cross attractions were well co-ordinated, presumably by the King's Cross Visitors Centre in the Great Northern Goods Yard's Granary Building, the entrance to Central St Martins.

From a GLIAS interest we were attracted by having access to Gasholder No. 8 and the St Pancras Waterpoint. The latter was built in 1872 and relocated in 2001. Originally it was used to supply the Midland Railway's steam engines with water. It was designed by the office of Sir George Gilbert Scott and 'the workmanship is as impressive as the materials'. Its 'water tank' with a most impressive 'ball cock' is still in position and has been fitted out as a viewing platform giving good views of the lines into St Pancras, the tree tops of the Camley Street Natural Park, the St Pancras Basin, and the west side of the Goods Yard. There, the grade II listed guideframe of Gasholder No. 8 which was decommissioned in 2000 is being rebuilt near to its original location after being refurbished and will form part of a public open space facing onto the canal.

We were informed that the frame was made by 'D Douglas', this was a name new to us, any information about this company, welcomed. The guideframe has been placed on a granite plinth, centrally inside will be a 25m diameter grass lawn that will form a natural south facing amphitheatre and there will be a pathway inside around the frames edge covered by a stainless steel canopy. When all is complete, the frames of the famous Gasholder Triplets will also have been rebuilt to the south-east of the No. 8 guideframe, but will have apartments inside them. By complete contrast we were amused to see the 'construction site office' at the rear of Central St Martins in Handyside Street, it is bright red and in the shape of a metal tool box complete with metal clasps and handle.

The new 'square' formed in front of King's Cross station was being hastily finished for its official opening, revealing in all its glory the frontage of the station, apparently for the very first time since it was built in 1852. The square also contains two circular 'vents' for the Underground which will be 'hidden' by retail outlets. We are looking forward to next year's Open House weekend to see how the area continues to evolve. Peter J Butt

60 Farringdon Road

Physical remains of the London wheelwrights' and coach building trades are rare.

60 Farringdon Road was built in 1875 by Thomas Charles Robson. One of the third generation (and numerous branches) of his family in the wheelwright business, he moved from Liquorpond Street, now Clerkenwell Road, when the Metropolitan Railway was built.

Like most wheelwrights he built entire vans and carts as well as their wheels. The new shop had the most up to date kit, not just forges and iron bending machines but a sinking platform for shrinking red-hot tyres onto wooden wheels and numerous cranes. All of this was hand-worked.

As motor vehicles ousted — over a long period — the market for horse-drawn vehicles Robsons built bespoke bodies for motor vans instead. The business survived until 1969, when much of the original kit was still in situ. It disappeared as the building was re-used as a film and recording studio and then as The Guardian's archives centre. Since 2009 it has housed the various organisations concerned with literature and preventing censorship.

Does anyone know of similar survivals in London? Given the huge number of wheelwright businesses — over 320 in 1901 and 205 in 1911 — there must surely be some. I would be very pleased to hear of them. Valerie Bayliss

Ship Carbon Co

Until 1968 Ship Carbon Co (GLIAS Newsletter October 2013) had a plant in Basildon, I think at that time a subsidiary of Morgan Crucible.

Birmingham BRS van loaded with lavatory cisterns

The plant burnt creosote in a special furnace producing a fine black soot commercially known as 'carbon black'. It is the material which hardens the rubber and gives tyres the colour we know so well. It also went to British Vulcanite Ltd to make hard rubber products. I have a picture of a Birmingham BRS van loaded with lavatory cisterns (see right) — that firm also made the shiny black lavatory seats so common in public lavatories, also vehicle battery cases. It is an extremely dirty substance being slightly greasy and being so fine got in everywhere.

The company used to buy Lux Washing-up Liquid by the gallon for the employee showers. (Better than the shower soaps of the day). It was double bagged in strong paper sacks which went through a blower to clean the outside as they were loaded. As drivers we never touched them. The floor of the trailer was lined with brown paper and after the load was stacked, it was covered with brown paper before we sheeted it. I took a load to Millwall Dock accompanied by two of Ships' men. The bags were stacked on to sett boards (by the Ships' men as dockers wouldn't touch the bags but still got 'dirty money'). The setts went straight into the ship and 'stowed in' without being touched. During the course of unloading the lorry one of the bags was pierced. The Ships' men taped it up with the emergency stuff they carried, but it could not be shipped and the shed signed for 'one short damaged'. When I got to the gate I couldn't leave as I had no gate pass. The PLA or the shipper couldn't issue one as neither owned the bag, so a manager had to come from Basildon to confirm we were not pinching it.

We also delivered bags of carbon black to the Dagenite Ltd battery works at Dagenham in the same way, for the above-mentioned battery cases.

The rods Bernard Ford was talking about were made of graphite, a mined mineral form of carbon, also used by Morgan Crucible to make small crucibles which you see on the TV usually full of molten gold. It was also the material for rod in the middle of dry batteries.

Obviously carbon was the connection between Morgan Crucible and Ships. Bob Rust

Archway Bridge

This bridge spanning a deep cutting carries Hornsey Lane over Archway Road, the A1, and connects Crouch End with Highgate. A splendid steel and cast-iron segmental arch with a span of 120 feet by Sir Alexander Binnie it was built for the LCC and completed in 1900. Previously there had been a bridge of brick and stone here designed by John Nash in 1813. Situated at TQ 291 873 the present bridge was listed grade II in 1972.

Since October 2010 seven people have died falling from this bridge. They have all been men aged around thirty with the exception of a professor from University College who was aged 49. It is believed most of these people were committing suicide. The question arises — can anything be done to prevent these deaths? A safety net beneath the bridge has been proposed but there are difficulties as the bridge is listed. Bob Carr

First Crossrail tunnel completed

It was reported (Metro, 16 Oct 2013, p 63) that 17 months after beginning her 4.2-mile journey from Royal Oak to Farringdon that tunnelling machine Phylis has reached her destination and also that machine Ada is in the Holborn area. This is the half-way point, for their machines have completed 13 miles of constructed tunnels to date. Six more machines are still working.

Crossrail 2: the consultation report will be published at the end of the year. There are two options, a metro between Alexandra Palace and Wimbledon, or a regional option from Hertfordshire to Surrey.

Meanwhile, The Wharf (14 Nov 2013, p9) reported that tunnellers have broken into one of Europe's largest underground caverns. The caves, 40m below ground at Stepney Green, are at the point where the line will divide with one spur going to Canary Wharf and the other heading to Stratford. The caverns are approximately 50m long, 17m wide and 15m high.

Being on the north side of the Thames with its 'London clay', surely this cavern was man made, if so, what are its origins and what has it been used for in the past, and are there any signs, 'entrances' above ground? Peter J Butt


This year has been replete with centenaries. The New River celebrated 400 years (GLIAS Newsletter October 2013) and Deptford Dockyard 500.

In Islington on Sunday 29 September the original theatrical New River opening ceremony of 1613 was re-enacted at the Round Pond, the London terminus of the New River aqueduct from Chadwell and Amwell.

Deptford Dockyard is currently threatened with massive redevelopment which, if it is permitted to go ahead, will obliterate most of the surface evidence of the historic dockyard. The two covered shipbuilding slips of the 1840s (GLIAS Newsletter December 2009) survive and can currently be seen from the river. These slips are now being called the Olympia slip sheds or Olympia warehouse.

The Institution of Civil Engineers headquarters building in Great George Street is 100 years old this year. James Miller RSA (1860-1947) won an architectural competition for the design and building work commenced in 1910. The charter establishing UNESCO was signed here in 1945 and parts of the building have been used as film sets for subjects ranging from Bridget Jones and Mr Bean to Gandhi. Modernisation of the building took place 1987-91. Bob Carr

Deptford Dockyard

The Evening Standard (18 October, p31) reports that Deptford Dockyard has been put on a list of threatened heritage sites as one of 67 landmarks deemed at risk by the World Monuments Fund.

The Fund calls for a redevelopment of the area to be carried out 'sensitively'. Developers have plans to build 3,500 high-value homes plus parks and restaurants in their Convoys Wharf scheme. Peter J Butt

Medway Queen

The newly built paddle streamer Medway Queen arrived in Gillingham on 19 November.

The Medway Queen is a new ship built to the original 1924 design GLIAS Newsletter December 2010; GLIAS Newsletter October 2011. The diagonal-compound steam engine and a few fittings are original.

This ship was built at David Abel's in the Albion dry dock, Bristol, close to SS Great Britain.

Medway Queen left her berth at Avonmouth on Friday 15 November, towed by the tug Christine. Further fitting out is to take place at Gillingham Pier, Kent. Bob Carr

News in brief

Public consultation on the redevelopment of Battersea power station (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012) has been taking place recently. A master plan by Rafael Viñoly was approved by Wandsworth Borough Council in August 2011. Current plans include unobstructed turbine halls, cafés, shops and restaurants, and a public viewing platform at the north-west chimney. The architects are Wilkinson Eyre. All four chimneys are now in poor condition and will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

The 551 yards long Woolwich foot tunnel beneath the Thames was opened with ceremony 101 years ago on 26th October. This year a celebration of 101 years took place on the south bank at 11am on Saturday 26 October followed by a commemorative walk through to the north end of the tunnel, returning back south by the ferry (see This replicated the walk which took place at the original opening. Currently the lifts at each end of the tunnel are out of use. Bob Carr

Forest Hill Brewery

Forest Hill Brewery sign, Tintern Street, Brixton © David Flett 2013

The Forest Hill Brewery was taken over by Whitbread in 1924 and promptly closed down. The name of one of their beers survived until relatively recent times in the form of Whitbread's 'Forest Brown Ale'.

Whitbread themselves no longer brew — however, if you go to Tintern Street, Brixton (off Ferndale Road) you will find a surviving Forest Hill Brewery tiled advertisement in very good condition. It takes the form of numerous standard (domestic sized) tiles which between them depict a detailed picture of a hand pouring pale ale from a bottle into a glass. The slogan reads 'Forest Hill Beers'. The wording on the bottle label is clearly readable. Around the advertisement is a raised tilework border painted black, with the paint scraped off in places to reveal a red colour underneath.

Presumably the building it's on was once an off-licence, however it is now a hairdressers. Apparently the advertisement had been painted over, but now the paint has been carefully removed by the owner to reveal the tiling. Offhand this is the only tiled brewery advertisement I am aware of in London, though the names of long extinct breweries survive on quite a few pubs or ex-pubs, often on tilework. David Flett

London Gateway

London may once again be the nation's main hub port following the opening of new deep-water port London Gateway.

Located on the north side of Thames at Thurrock with 2.7km of quay, the port is able to handle a new generation of super ships which each can transport 22,000 containers (GLIAS Newsletter April 2013).

The first container to be unloaded from the 58,000-tonne MOL Caledon — on 7 November — was wine from South Africa.

London Gateway is import-biased with a huge distribution park which will cover an area of 300 hectares (740 acres).

Railway offices

There is a very informative book about the North Eastern Railway offices (GLIAS Newsletter October 2013) in York and London: Bill Fawcett, The North Eastern Railway's two palaces of business, Friends of the National Railway Museum in association with GNER, 2006. The London office is covered on pages 47-55 with some good photographs, and this is followed by a section on the architect, Horace Field. Derek Bayliss

London Archaeologist

The autumn edition of the London Archaeologist is an East London Special Issue. It includes an article on the Dallow Glass works in Saltpetre Bank (later Dock Street) just north of the Ratcliffe Highway in Tower Hamlets. The article includes a brief history of the development of the London glass industry, from its early development by Venetian glass-makers in the second half of the 16th century; through the development early in the 17th century of coal-fired furnaces, which required changes in the physical layout of the furnaces, with flues for fanning the furnace and removing the ash; to London 'becoming a leading centre of glass production' in the later 17th century, including what appears to have been a price-fixing cartel. The Dallow Glassworks manufactured bottles, drinking vessels, medical and domestic vessels. The excavation (in 2005) found a large square brick structure, later referred to as a furnace, filled with glass waste, and three flues. However, 'evidence for the heating platforms or 'sieges' for the crucibles was missing', as were 'the iron grates seen in other furnaces, upon which the fuel was placed. ' The authors conclude that the 'possibility remains that rather than representing the main furnace of the works, the feature was a component of another part of the glass-making process'. The Dallow family sold the works in 1730. They were still known to be in operation between 1793 and 1800 but appear to have ceased operation by 1819.

Another article discusses the suggestion of a Roman or post-Roman port at Shadwell but is doubtful of its existence. A brief note also refers to Grade II status being given to 'one of the rarest and best preserved signal boxes in London' at Liverpool Street, built for the Metropolitan Railway in 1875. It was a bespoke design for the Metropolitan by McKenzie and Holland, 'unusually having glazing on all sides because of its location on what was originally a junction. Its survival at a central London railway terminus is unique'.
Brian James-Strong

London Fieldwork and Publication Round-Up

The London Fieldwork and Publication Round-up 2012, published by the London Archaeologist, contains the following items of Industrial Archaeology interest (in London Borough alphabetical order):

  • Former Inglis Barracks: Mill Hill pre-demolition survey of buildings dating from 1904-14, constructed to standard designs by the War Office.

  • King's Cross Central: Watching brief recorded evidence of 19th-century structures, including Culross Buildings; remnants of brick walls of the Retort House; remains of gasholders and remains of brick walls of Crushing House.

  • King's Cross Station Roof: monitoring of refurbishment of two barrels of main shed roof structure.

  • King's Cross Central Building: Watching brief found remains of railway infrastructure, thought to be related to Western Goods Yard.

  • King's Cross Regeneration House: standing building survey of offices built 1850/1 for Great Northern Railway Goods Yard.

  • King's Cross Western Goods Yard: Watching brief found 19th-century features including brick and concrete column bases for the Gasworks Viaduct, a weighbridge and possible evidence for blacksmithing.

  • Ronan House, Fore Street, EC2: Geoarchaeological investigation found sherds of industrial metal-working ceramics dating to c.1550-1580. Including distillation flasks (cucurbits) used in distillation of strong acids required for parting precious metals. Also sherds of shallow, thick-walled crucibles for melting metals, including four triangular Hessian crucibles and fragments of two ceramic moulds.

  • Sugar Quay, Lower Thames Street: Evaluation found timber remains of mid 14th-century waterfront and later waterside structures.

  • Three Quays House, Lower Thames Street: evidence of Roman, medieval and 17th and 18th-century waterfront.

  • UKPN Cable Trench, St John's Street: Excavation of 19th-century non-conformist cemetery.

  • Park Hill Park Water Tower, Croydon Test pits contained features of the water tower and underground reservoir nearby.

  • Elsyng palace, Enfield Recovered parts of plan of L-shaped threshing barn built c.1657 and probable grain storage bin.

  • Charlton Foreshore recorded ships' timbers, including frame, keel and keelson timbers from HMS Duke of Wellington, launched 1852 and other frame timbers from ships of the line; and armour plate from proto-battleship Ajax launched 1880. All were broken up 1904-5.

  • Cinema Site, Plumstead constructed 1913 for Alexander Bernstein, the second purpose-built cinema he commissioned.

  • Greenwich Palace Foreshore Observed two possible fish traps, potentially Anglo-Saxon; remains of a medieval jetty, probably 12th century: 'the largest medieval structure yet to have been recorded on the foreshore'.

  • Fulham Wharf Survey of site originally built as Kop's Brewery 1890, including foundation of warehouse.

  • Crossrail Facilities Diversion, Farringdon Station Found human remains from former Black Death (Charterhouse) cemetery

  • 15 Garrett Street EC1 Found features of Goat Brewhouse, the original brewery of 18th-century Samuel Whitbread Brewery, including remains of mash tun.

  • Kingston Police Station Watching briefs found brick walls tentatively identified as belonging to a structure for distilling and brewing.

  • Hampton House, Albert Embankment Found 18th-century walls of Randal and Suter, starch makers; also base of two downdraft kilns, ovens and complex system of air flues of Henry Doulton terracotta works c. 1880-20th century.

  • Thames Water Pipeline, SE11 Watching brief recorded footings of former tramline between Brixton and Westminster/Clapham and Borough.

  • Land to south of National Theatre Foundations possibly of 18th-century Woollen Cloth Manufactory.

  • Convoys Wharf, Deptford Identified former 17th-century boundary wall, officers' quarters and an ironworks. Also Small Mast Pond and Basin or Wet Dock

  • Morden Hall Park Found 18th-century brick wall of snuff mill, rebuilt 1825.

  • Limmo Peninsula, Canning Town Found mooring posts mounting iron bollards installed during redevelopment in 1930s.

  • Hill Rise Richmond Mid-19th-century ice house.

  • Transforming Tate Modern Waste material from kiln furniture from period when Gravel Lane pothouse operated 1694-1748.

  • Car Park, Ewer Street, SE1 Found series of mid-18th-century timber lined industrial tanks; also extensive evidence of late 19th-20th-century iron foundry.

  • Empire Warehouse, Bear Gardens SE1 Buildings 'are typical examples of industrial properties of the late 19th and 20th centuries'; occasional remains of belt-driven machinery; parts of original machinery extant, including conveyors, hoppers and lifts.

  • Rotherhithe Foreshore Recorded two large bed revetments of possible late 18th to early 19th century which incorporated re-used nautical timbers.

  • Sea Containers House, SE1 Found series of timber piles of possible 17th-18th-century waterfront structure

  • 20-30 Wild's Rents, Bermondsey Evidence of post-medieval tannery. Established 18th century, developed in three phases.

  • Goodman's Fields, E1 Large 18th-century brickfield quarry. Backfill of later construction cuts contained large quantities of sugar-syrup (molasses) collecting jars, which may relate to sugar refineries of the former Rupert Street.

  • Tower of London Foreshore Recorded four phases of possible wharf or barge bed revetment.

  • 64 Tredegar Row, Bow Building recording prior to demolition of extant buildings, the earliest being former silk mill constructed for Stephen Walters & Sons 1873; described as 'a rare example of a 19th-century steam-powered silk-weaving and winding mill, used for the manufacture of umbrella and parasol silks'. Manufacture lasted only 30 years.

  • Whitechapel Station Recorded Albion Brewery well prior to infill, formed of two sections lined with cast-iron panels; 'the penultimate surviving piece of equipment of the former Albion Brewery' which closed in 1979.

  • Cockpen House, SW18 Found timber bleaching tank of late 18th-early 19th-century calico-printing works of Henry Gardiner.

  • 8 Balderton Street, W1 Site of one of the first purpose-built garages in London, 1925-6.

  • Bond Street Station Found red-brick vaulted drain which appears to be part of the Great Conduit, on which construction commenced in 1237.

  • Manchester Square Fire Station Found domed well constructed with (probably re-used) shed bricks manufactured locally between 1600 and 1750

  • Paddington Station Listed historic features, including facade of Macmillan House; passenger footbridge; canopies of platforms 1 and 2 outside the train and other features.

    If anyone would like to have the report reference(s) to any of these, please email me at Brian James-Strong

    Ordnance Survey Maps, London, five feet to the mile, 1893-1896

    This amazing new resource, from the National Library of Scotland, should interest fellow GLIAS members. Below is the associated text from their own website, which itself has much of interest:

    Why the NLS does this and no one south of the border, I do not know, but it is a great free research tool. David Gaylard

    Plans to preserve Mail Rail

    The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) submitted a planning application in October to develop a section of the old Post Office Underground Railway (Mail Rail) (GLIAS Newsletter April 2013).

    BPMA wants to repurpose the ground level workshops, the car maintenance depot and part of the underground tunnel network around Mount Pleasant, allowing public access to the site for the first time in its history.

    Brought into service in 1927 and in constant use until 2003, Mail Rail is the world's only purpose-built underground mail transit system. A narrow gauge railway, the electrified, driverless cars were used to convey mail across London from Whitechapel to Paddington via six stations. At its peak, the network operated for 22 hours a day, during which time it would carry up to 4 million letters.

    Exhibition space will highlight the industrial heritage of the railway and how the Mail Rail system operated, relating it to the wider story of moving the mail by rail and the links it provided to the rest of the country and beyond. In addition, the development will include an event space for functions and conferences and a Family Zone for children and parents/guardians that will be available for all members of the community.

    Meanwhile, the British Postal Museum and Archive have worked with Jonathon Bradley on a photographic project to document Mail Rail. There are over 100 digital images available to view on screens in their exhibition space at the BPMA Search Room, Feeling House, Phoenix Place, WC1 0DL. Peter J Butt

    Walks 2014

    The dates for walks in 2014 will be on the following Saturdays: 7 June, 5 July, 2 August, 6 September, and 4 October.

    We are looking for volunteers to lead the walks, which may be anywhere in the 'Oystercard' area.

    Do you live in or visit any part of London which has points of interest, eg, factories, transport, docks, street furniture and social housing? If so, please consider doing a walk. Preparing it and sharing it with others is great fun and very rewarding. The route does not have to be circular and it is good to start and end in an accessible place.

    Please send any proposals to us at

    We look forward to hearing from you. Kate Quinton

    Any ideas?

    Can anyone help identify the purpose of these small-ish iron plates I've seen embedded in the pavements around Camden. There are two in Camden Town and five in Hampstead, and possibly others.

    A cobbled together photograph of them can be seen here:

    (They're about 3" x 2" in size).
    Tim Matthews. Email:

    Answer: HVEL is Hampstead Vestry Electric Light and HCEL is Hampstead Council Electric Light.

    The code is:

    F = Feeder
    HB = House box
    D = most likely Distributor, but I've not seen one myself

    Feeders, as the name implies would have been a high voltage (2Kv) main cable from the power station to a remote underground transformer pit, from which low voltage (210/105v) distributors would radiate. The plates would be placed over the cable routes at regular intervals. The house box plate would have been above the point at which the house service cable was jointed to the distributor.

    As to the couple in St Pancras; both St Pancras and Hampstead were Vestry municipal undertakings, so wouldn't have strayed beyond their parish boundaries, albeit that St Pancras did bulk supply Hampstead at a later date. This wouldn't have been reflected in their distribution networks. I guess the two in St Pancras are translocations.

    Incidentally, the early St Pancras system was a culverted network with tell tale vents. Robin Brooks

    Next issue >>>

  • © GLIAS, 2013