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Notes and news — April 2014

In this issue:

Startling things in South East London

In South East London there are several dramatic buildings built in the last fifteen years. The Sainsbury's Supermarket in Greenwich (GLIAS Newsletter February 2014) might well have won the Stirling Prize in 2000 but for another eye-catching addition to the landscape. This was the astonishing Peckham Library designed by Will Alsop which was judged first. Situated at TQ 341 767, this controversial building attracted half a million visitors in the first year it was opened and has been likened to a bookend, with one end resting on the ground and the other balanced on slender angled columns. It is the busiest of the twelve lending libraries in Southwark and issued more than 245,000 items in 2010/11. Another more recent 21st-century library in Southwark is that at Canada Water TQ 355 794 by architects CZWG; Piers Gough, Stephen Rigg, Anna Ifanti, Sonja Karapiperidis, Geoff Southern, Lucinda Horner, and Cheyenne Chong. Completed in November 2011 this has the form of an inverted pyramid and the building is clad in light-bronze coloured aluminium sheets with sequined perforations. It is next to the bus and underground station and is said to offer 'a futuristic Pandora's box of possibilities'. It includes a café, 150-seat theatre, meeting rooms and 40,000 books. A design by David Chipperfield for a slender landmark residential tower 492 feet high at Canada Water has received planning consent. Bob Carr

Bugsby's Reach

The PLA is currently consulting on whether to change the historic name of 'Bugsby's Reach' — the section of the river between Greenwich and Charlton — to Waterman's Reach 'in commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the 1514 Act of Parliament for regulating watermen, wherrymen and bargemen when King Henry VlIl granted Royal Assent'. They also give a lot of inaccurate information about the background to the 'Bugsby' name. This, and details of how you can put any points about it to PLA, can be found at

Locally we have put out some historical information about the name. I am far from sure if place names are included in industrial archaeology, but I thought GLIAS members might be interested. The local article giving the background to the name is at

Briefly summarised it says: 'In the days when the river was the River and had real ships on it, Bugsby's Reach was a place name which sailors worldwide would have recognised. Those of you who knew Greenwich Peninsula before 2000 will remember that near the Pilot Inn was a long jetty basically going to Bugsby's Hole — a traditional term meaning "an anchorage". The earliest reference to "Bugsby's Hole" seems to be a report in the Gentleman's Magazine of March 1735 to "Williams the pirate" being hung in chains at Bugsby's Hole.'

Williams had been convicted at a specially convened Admiralty Court for 'running away with the ship Buxton Snow, and selling the ship; and also the murder of the captain, by cutting his throat with an axe'.

The records for the Greenwich Peninsula and its riverside, covering this period are very good. I have spent a lot of time going through the records and I found nothing about anyone called Bugsby as a landowner or tenant. Round the world there are other 'Bugsby's Holes' — the nearest is to the west of Sheerness All of these associations, the date and everything connect back to when 'Bugsby's Hole' along with 'Blackwall Fashion' were names known to sailors and adventurers around the world and to when Thames shipbuilders developed amazing vessels which ruled (and plundered) the world. It is also about trade, and economic thrust. But while we might want to distance ourselves from the politics of empire and exploitation, surely we can respect the technologies developed by a hierarchy of shipwrights, artisans and others — along our bit of the river. Our comfortable lives derive directly from them.

But please read the whole article, which is — er — by me. Mary Mills

Finsbury Van and Wheel Works

In the April 2005 Newsletter Bob Carr drew attention to an old sign to be seen high on a late Victorian building, originally St Luke's School, on the south side of the street (GLIAS Newsletter April 2005). The sign reads 'Finsbury Van and Wheel Works' and has a pointing hand indicating what would have been the works below.

Finsbury Van and Wheel Works

It is pleasing to discover that last year the sign, which is thought to date from early in the 20th century, was restored (though without the black paint Bob thought might originally have featured) and now looks very good. It was presumably erected by J Liversidge and Son, wheelwrights and later wagon and van builders, who occupied 196 Old Street for some decades. The firm first appears in the Old Kent Road in the 1880s; by the 1890s they had expanded into Hackney and then into Old Street. By 1921 they were back in the Old Kent Road alone, the development of motor vehicles presumably having removed much of their business.

Ironically the site is now occupied by a petrol station. Apart from the sign, nothing appears to remain of their Old Street operation. It seems unusual for a school to provide space for a permanent advertisement like this, but doubtless they charged for it. Valerie Bayliss

The Prefab Museum, Excalibur Estate, Catford, London SE6 1RN

Members interested in the few remaining post-WWII prefab houses and estates in the UK will be pleased to hear that an exhibition and entrance to one such house on Catford's Excalibur (prefab) Estate (GLIAS Newsletter February 2013) has been extended into the month of April. As demolition looms, this is a last hurrah and a celebration of this now-rare post-war housing and the community life that residents have fought tenaciously to save. Although the outcome is not yet final, it appears that Lewisham Council will have its way by demolishing the Estate and replacing it with high-density housing.

Thousands of prefab houses were built across bombed-out London after World War II to help alleviate the housing shortage for returning servicemen and their families. Originally built by German and Italian prisoners of war in 1945 and 1946, six of the 186 bungalows have received Grade-II listing. It was estimated that prefabs would only be needed and last for a decade or so. Sixty-eight years later, the Excalibur's homes (and some others like them nationwide) have defied the odds, housing current residents from babyhood up to their 90s who have done their utmost to stay, but who now will probably have to submit to the march of time. It is planned that all the estate will be demolished, except for its tin-roofed prefab church, St Mark's, believed to be one of a kind.

Curated by photographer Elisabeth Blanchet, the exhibition will show the work of artists, film-makers and photographers on prefabs, in the setting of a prefab home of the post-war period. Come and visit the estate before this unique slice of 20th-century social and industrial housing history before it disappears for good.

The Prefab Museum

Open until the end of the summer. Further events and information:

Ms Blanchet's book, The Prefab Diaries:

A good Flickr photostream of the Excalibur Estate by a former resident:

Sarah Timewell

Paternoster lifts

Paternoster lifts have featured in several GLIAS Newsletters since June 2013 (eg GLIAS Newsletter October 2013). Also late last year the Liverpool History Society published an attractively produced book about the architect Peter Ellis (1805-1884) which includes an account of a very early lift of this type. (Robert Ainsworth & Graham Jones: In the footsteps of Peter Ellis, LHS, 2013). Ellis was the architect of Oriel Chambers in Water Street, Liverpool — one of the earliest iron-framed and fully glazed multi-storey office buildings in Britain, completed in 1864. Pevsner in 1969 described it as 'one of the most remarkable buildings of its date in Europe'.

Ainsworth and Jones reveal in their book that Ellis designed and installed a paternoster-type lift in Oriel Chambers. He patented the design in 1866, as recorded in The London Gazette of 27 July 1866, page 4250. The lift is described in use in Oriel Chambers in an early issue of The Architect (Vol. 2, 4 December 1869, page 278). The authors give the useful tip that typing the words 'architect lift ellis oriel' into Google Books will bring up the article.

It's not easy to follow the convoluted description of the lift mechanism in The Architect article, but at least it includes the reassuring statement that by means of 'a very peculiar break [sic] arrangement ... a suspension of motion can be accomplished ... with absolute certainty.' The lift mechanism could be adjusted to produce a brief pause at each floor level but this was deemed not necessary in Oriel Chambers. The Architect commented that in buildings such as shops 'where most of the passengers would be ladies ... such an arrangement might be useful.'

It is not clear how long the lift was in use, but it is suggested that remnants of it may have been revealed when the east flank of Oriel Chambers suffered bomb damage in 1941.

In 1873 Ellis's patent became void 'for non-payment of stamp duty'. Five years later a provisional patent was awarded to Frederick Hart for what became 'Hart's Cyclic Elevator', which appears to have been a variant of a previous design — perhaps Ellis's? Hart's elevator went into production by J & E Hall who apparently advertised it from November 1878.

Graham Jones also mentions that a 20th-century paternoster lift still exists (2013), unused but seemingly intact, behind the scenes in the Marks & Spencer building in Church Street, Liverpool. It was last used in the late 1990s. Ken Catford

Mail Rail plans get green light

Islington Borough Council has approved the British Postal Museum & Archive's planning application to develop a stretch of the old Post Office Underground Railway — Mail Rail — into a subterranean ride (GLIAS Newsletter December 2013).

The decision means that visitors to the newly created Postal Museum, due to open in central London in 2016, will be given the opportunity to explore the hidden world of this railway under Mount Pleasant through an exhibition and interactive ride. In total, visitors will be taken through 1km of the original tunnels, following the same route that much of the nation's mail took for nearly 80 years from 1927-2003.

The BPMA is currently waiting on the outcome of an application for £4.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A decision is expected in May this year.

News in brief

The cooling towers at Didcot power station are to be demolished shortly. A Certificate of Immunity from Listing has been granted. Didcot has a similar sister station in Cheshire at Fiddlers Ferry on the north bank of the River Mersey. This opened in 1971 and was in full operation by 1973.

Last July Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, agreed to the demolition of the Earl's Court Exhibition Centre in West London. The Earl's Court Area Action Group is pursuing legal action against the decision by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to allow demolition of the buildings. The redevelopment scheme also includes the demolition of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates — 760 homes. The Twentieth Century Society is opposing the demolition of the Exhibition Centre and suggests that the main elevation of Earl's Court One (facing Warwick Road) should be retained and incorporated in the new scheme. English Heritage have twice issued a Certificate of Immunity from Listing. Sir Terry Farrell has drawn up an 'exciting Masterplan' for the Earl's Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area on behalf of EC Properties Ltd.

The Ram Brewery (GLIAS Newsletter August 2010) has been bought by a Chinese property developer. Up to about eight years ago, beer was still delivered locally by horse dray.

Will Alsop has submitted plans for Heliport Heights, a new fifteen-storey residential development in Battersea which would be built on stilts over an existing building. The CZWG partnership has completed a residential tower near Arsenal football stadium and two more by the Partnership are to be built there.

It appears that back-to-back type housing is now being built in London. Near the north end of Finsbury Park Road on the east side at TQ 316 868 a new development 1 consists of a minuscule terrace of about two houses by the road. These houses overlook a small courtyard at the back. Further back to the east beyond this courtyard there is a similar minuscule row facing west. However this short row immediately abuts an art-deco office building at the back in Wilberforce Road 2. That is these inner block-houses have NO back. Have readers come across similar recent building schemes?

Locally listed, the remaining part, about a third, of E Gibbons furniture store (GLIAS Newsletter June 2009) in Amhurst Road near Hackney Central station has been in trouble recently. In November 2013 residents, businesses and diners were evacuated from this residue, 1-5 Amhurst Road, when serious cracks appeared in the walls of the Raw Duck restaurant, at number 5. Inspection showed that the building was structurally unsafe. Subsequently number 5 was carefully demolished by hand while preserving the building's historic façade. From November to January Amhurst Road was closed between Mare Street and Pembury Junction and access to Hackney Central station was restricted. So far demolition of numbers 1 and 3 has been avoided. However the façade of number 5 is now considered structurally unsafe as the ground is too soft to support its weight. The recent period of heavy rain and high winds will not have helped. Further work was expected to start in March.

At Enderby Wharf (GLIAS Newsletter October 2013 & GLIAS Newsletter August 2012) the boiler house has been demolished leaving the chimney free standing. Within the boiler house steam plant was at work until quite recently. The chimney is to be removed shortly, piecemeal rather than by being felled. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2014