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

Notes and news — October 2014

In this issue:

Kirkaldy Testing Museum update from Hugh MacGillivray, KTM Director

Kirkaldy Testing Museum, 2012. © Adriaan Linters (GLIAS Newsletter August 2014) The Kirkaldy Testing Museum directors have made a formal offer of terms for a new lease to the landlords and they are considering it. While negotiations continue, the Museum's tenancy has been further extended to the end of November 2014. So we will be able to open as usual on Sunday 5 October and Sunday 2 November, and will be very happy to see you then.

We had a very successful day on Saturday 20 September for London Open House with hundreds of visitors. And we will now be hosting Sensed Presence, one of the exciting events of this year's Southwark MERGE festival, starting on Wednesday 1 October — this free event is transferred from The George Inn — see the MERGE website for details and booking information — please try to come along.

Another item of really good news is that, following an application by Prof David Perrett of GLIAS, English Heritage has raised the listing status of our building and testing machines from Grade 2 to Grade 2*. This puts us in the top 5% of listed buildings, gives much greater protection to all the wonderful Victorian features, and also ensures that Kirkaldy's machine remains fully operational. You can read the new listing document on the English Heritage website.

Many thanks for your continuing support.

If any GLIAS members would like to help at the KTM and wish to volunteer to help they should contact Hugh at the Museum

Threatened historic gasholders in Tower Hamlets

(GLIAS Newsletter February 2000)

The National Grid has recently applied to English Heritage for both historic gasholders at Bethnal Green to be given a Certificate of Immunity against national listing. Without the protection of national listing, both gasholders can be demolished, although they are in the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.

English Heritage is considering the application and there will probably be an opportunity for experts to comment. Even so, English Heritage has already issued a number of certificates relating to historic gasholders in London.

National Grid plans to demolish all gasholders at Bethnal Green (including the two historic gasholders by the canal). And all the gasholders at Poplar (including the historic gasholder by the River Lea).

According to the Tower Hamlets Managing Development Development Plan Documents (DPD), the sites of the two historic gasholders at Bethnal Green (and the sites of some gasholders at Poplar) are to be laid out by developers as new parks next to new residential developments. The DPD was examined in public by a planning inspector in September 2012.

Tom Ridge, for and on behalf of East End Waterway Group, is urging those opposed to the demolitions to sign two online petitions to National Grid and Tower Hamlets Council:

Enderby Tower

In the long term there might be a solution to the problem of how to protect relatively small listed buildings that are very much in the way in areas of high rise redevelopment.

The proposal by Will Alsop's practice ALL Design for a fifteen-storey tower, Heliport Heights, to be constructed on stilts, or piloti, to straddle an existing four-storey building on the riverside at Battersea (GLIAS Newsletter April 2014) might be applied elsewhere, for instance at Enderby House if large scale redevelopment takes place in its vicinity.

From the architects' drawings for the Battersea scheme, the view from a distance looking over the river can be made quite attractive. At Enderby Wharf on the riverside to the northeast of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, a tower could provide income to maintain a small museum in Enderby House nestling safely beneath, and the tower itself, suitably emblazoned to advertise the museum, could be let to businesses engaged in telecommunications, IT and the like.

A solution of this kind might also be applicable to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum in Southwark some time in the next hundred years. The eminent French engineer Gustave Eiffel, in many ways the I K Brunel of France, would be almost unknown to the general public but for the famous tower in Paris. A conspicuous Kirkaldy Tower built over 99 Southwark Street would be a fitting tribute to David Kirkaldy and the testing of engineering materials could still be demonstrated in the Museum at the base of the tower. These may sound like mad proposals but we cannot stop the clock and halt history. In central London redevelopment on a massive scale is bound to take place and by 2114 central London will look very different. We need to be thinking well ahead. Bob Carr

Sir Peter Hall, geographer and planner

Sir Peter Hall died on 30 July 2014, aged 82. He had achieved wide respect and renown as an academic geographer whose interest became concentrated on the planning of towns and cities: his London 2000, published in 1963, offered a radical view of how our city could be re-planned. This would involve widespread 'clearance' (i.e. demolitions), urban motorways, and a network of new townships. This chimed with the thinking of others, notably in the Buchanan report Traffic in Towns. Published in the same year, this advocated the wholesale re-planning of towns and cities to accommodate the unchallenged demands of the motor road vehicle. However, in later years Hall, a prolific writer of books and papers, acknowledged that the consequences of centralised planning along such lines had often been dire.

My own particular interest in his work was triggered while gathering ideas for the Batsford book on London's industrial archaeology in the mid-1970s, a book that for various reasons sadly never saw the light of day. In the Guildhall Library I came across The Industries of London since 1861, by one P G Hall, published by Hutchinson University Library in 1962. (Later I found a used copy in a bookshop that cost me the princely sum of £2.50 — four times the published price. Internet book sites nowadays offer copies at a range of prices.)

The author declared his belief in the Introduction: 'London was the chief manufacturing centre of [Britain] in 1861, and without doubt for centuries before that' — challenging the orthodox view that in Victorian times the country's manufacturing heartland was in the Midlands and North, where coal was most readily available. He argued that this was still the case at the time of writing, when older industries such as clothing, furniture and printing had been joined by newer ones including vehicle manufacture and engineering — particularly electrical engineering. For example, the 1951 Census revealed that one-third of those working in electrical engineering in England and Wales were in the Greater London area.

Many businesses, including engineering and manufacturing, had started on a small scale in central London; as they prospered they would often move outwards in search of larger affordable premises, sometimes not far out but simply 'south of the river' — then thinly developed, with few bridges linking it to the City and other parts north of the Thames. The later construction of arterial roads encouraged further outward expansion in all directions, along with the development of industrial estates such as Park Royal in West London. On the other hand, small craft-based businesses in furniture and bespoke clothing often seemed, on the evidence of the 1951 Census, to be still firmly established in areas such as South Shoreditch and the West End respectively, where they had begun a century or more earlier.

The book is essentially an economic geography, not a study of the buildings of industry. As such, however, it provides an informative guide as to why many London industries are where they are — or rather, where they were half a century ago. Since then of course, huge changes have occurred. Hall modestly wrote that industrial London 'is a vast subject, and to study it adequately is beyond the scope of any one man', and acknowledged that he had given little attention to service industries. So 'Banking, insurance and finance' as a combined topic gets just one entry in the Index, as against 11 for 'Printing'. Anyone writing a similar study today, half a century later, would surely find that the service industries are now dominant, with the computer screen and the keyboard having become the principal 'tools' of London industry. Michael Bussell

Buffer-powered hydraulic lifts at St Pancras?

There is a story that the hydraulic lifts at St Pancras were powered by water raised up from the buffers.

I've heard this story a few times, and indeed it was mentioned here once:
and at RMWeb here:

I've read a few books about St Pancras, and they've not mentioned it. I think the only mention I've seen somewhere was that it was the goods lifts from underneath the platforms that used this power, but I can't be sure about that.

Indeed the only times I have definitely heard it have been from the mouth of Maxwell Hutchinson on BBC local radio in London, who says it was the residents' lifts in the hotel and embellishes it somewhat by stating rather fancifully that the trains actually sped up as they approached the buffers to give them enough energy, startling passengers in the process.

Has anyone seen any real evidence for this? Or could it just be that someone has seen 'hydraulic buffers' and 'hydraulic lifts' and put two and two together...?
Tim Matthews, Albert Street, Camden Town. Email:

Modern London now coming down — in Kensington anyway

I crossed the borough 'frontier' between Hammersmith and Kensington to Homebase in Warwick Road to buy some bits and pieces — only to find that it has recently closed, with a St Edward/Berkeley Homes hoarding round it.

This 1988-1990 building by Ian Pollard just made it into the 1991 edition of Pevsner's London 3: North West. As a 'mere' DIY superstore (apparently among the five most lucrative Homebase stores in the country) it attracted attention, and some notoriety among the Modernist architectural Establishment. It dared to be different, even interesting, with its neo-Egyptian columns and other facade elements in 'reconstructed stone' (the PR man's term for exposed reinforced concrete), and its curved facade onto Warwick Road of glazing and granite panels, echoing James Stirling's Stuttgart Staatsgalerie.

But the site is worth more to its owner than the rental income from Homebase, which itself is apparently being challenged by online competition.

Already a hole in the ground is the c1960 'Empress' telephone exchange immediately to its north, which reputedly had some interesting mosaic work internally and had long since been emptied of its once-mechanical call routing machinery that almost filled the building, serving me and others in this area, before GPO Telephones morphed into British Telecom or BT. North of that in turn, the unloved late 1940s Charles House (beige brick facades with Crittall windows, facing onto Kensington High Street) has already been replaced — only a decade or so after extensive (and doubtless expensive) refurbishment. So the whole of the west side of Warwick Road, bar a large Tesco at the eastern end of the Cromwell Road Fly-over, will soon comprise large blocks of expensive flats — a sad fate for the site of the Kensington Canal terminal basin (the original Canal Company offices survived until blitzed for Tesco less than twenty years ago), joined some years later by the temporary southern terminus of the West London Railway that originally passed under the Grand Union Canal in a tunnel east of Wormwood Scrubs.

See e.g. — an interesting site for other losses too! Michael Bussell

It's those fish tank cisterns again!

Those with long memories may recoil at the many entries on 'fish tank' cisterns in public loos (eg GLIAS Newsletter August 2009).

Open on Openhouse Weekend was a Gents toilet on Kennington Lane (No 180) called the Arts Lav. It has been saved by some local artists as a sort of micro arts space. Down the stairs behind the cast iron railings you find a Victorian Gents with original marble urinals by Finch & Co of Lambeth and three heavily graffitied cubicles. There are two cisterns — one is modern but the other is a fish tank cistern probably original and dating to 1898. The vent pipe outside is also by Finch & Co; it is topped with affine golden crown. David Perrett

Developments at the former Young's Brewery, Wandsworth

Adverts are appearing in newspaper property pages revealing that, after much planning controversy, the site of the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth is starting to be developed, with sales starting on 2 October.

The brewing on the site 'finished' in 2006 with the transfer of brewing to Charles Wells' brewery in Bedford and I was lucky to visit and sample a few days before closure (GLIAS Newsletter June 2010).

The Wandsworth site was then acquired by Minerva but has since been acquired by a Chinese group. The original brewhouse complex including its two Wentworth of Wandsworth beam engines (from 1835 and 1867) are listed grade 2*. When I last visited the site in 2010 I was surprised to find that the site manager was continuing to brew on the site in order to keep the site's claim to be the oldest working brewery in Britain and in fact it was a good beer that he was producing and he was also maintaining the machinery in good order.

According to the Sunday Times Property Magazine (21 September) there are plans to build a large number of flats etc. on the site and a heritage microbrewery. Watch this space. David Perrett

Churchill's funeral — anniversary documentary

Next January the BBC will air a documentary to mark the 50th Anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, presented by Jeremy Paxman.

The production company Blakeway Productions are keen to track down anyone who may have manned one of the cranes at Hay's Wharf that famously bowed to Sir Winston's coffin as it travelled up the Thames on 30 January 1965.

Do any GLIAS members know anyone who was a docker at Hay's during that period and may have operated one of the cranes that day?
Contact Jonathan Parker, Blakeway Productions: A Ten Alps Company. Tel: 0207 428 4714. Mob: 07976 836 127. Email:

Is this really an old advert?

The London scene is sometimes enlivened by faded signs and adverts; often well up on the sides of buildings. In order to preserve the character of an area many of these old signs, sometimes dating from the Second World War, appear to have some form of protection — perhaps locally listed. Advertisements higher up are usually genuine but those lower down, roughly within reach of the pavement, can be problematical. Some are fakes, perhaps the work of film makers who were shooting a period location scene. A fairly new development is street art emulating the well-known Banksy. A recent example in Islington at first sight looked rather like a poster for the 1955 American film Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean *. However, on closer perusal the actual title is Rebel Without a Clue and the James Dean look-alike is a somewhat confused young man. This artwork painted on a battered old door which still has embedded hinges and holes where screws are missing is thought to be the work of a lady graffiti artist known as Bambi. Bob Carr

Chislehurst Business Centre

I was intrigued to read Bob Rust's contribution about the Chislehurst Business Centre (GLIAS Newsletter August 2014). I know this building well — originally called Sunnymead and built in 1875, it was one of a number of quirky buildings in Chislehurst designed by Joseph Moye — but I had no idea there was an electric motor there connected with a bunker erected in the 1950s for use 'in the event of a nuclear attack'.

It may be relevant that, not far away in Kemnal Road, there still exists a large concrete blockhouse which would have been a Regional Command Centre; it has walls of reinforced concrete 1.5 metres thick. In 2001 it was converted by Fountain Flanagan Briscoe to a house called The Glasshouse, lit by a totally glazed roof. The roof, doorways and splayed window openings were punched through the concrete, and the rooms are in a square around a central ground floor swimming-pool in an atrium looking directly up to the roof. Darrell Spurgeon

News in brief

Tottenham Cake roughly resembles sponge cake and has pink icing on top. Originally it had Quaker origins but later became associated with Tottenham Hotspur football club. The pink colour was first derived from locally grown mulberries. It can now be bought in North London in branches of Greggs the Bakers. Has anyone noticed this cake being sold south of the river?

Billet Road works * has gone. A new building is going up on the site which is situated on the north side of Billet Road E17 at TQ 368 908. Part of the Kimberley Estate, the name of the estate suggests it might originate from shortly after 1900. A somewhat ramshackle building in recent years, the architecture of Billet Road Works might just be Edwardian. Latterly the firm Enterprise rent-a-car was using the eastern part of these works.

Near Blackhorse Road underground station the front of Café Rodi (GLIAS Newsletter December 2010) has been given a facelift (below). The business may now be under new management but it is not known if the cooking or interior decor has changed. Has anyone eaten there recently? Presently the café closes about 6pm.

Café Rodi © Robert Mason 2017

A hundred years ago the brick bridge which carried the New North Road across the Regent's Canal in Shoreditch at TQ 325 836 was replaced by a new reinforced concrete bridge. Wider than the old bridge, the new one allowed for two sets of electric tramway rails and gave greater headroom for canal traffic beneath. Opened in July 1914, the outline design was by the Shoreditch Borough Engineer T.L. Hustler and the bridge itself was designed by L G Mouchel & Partners, the UK agent for the Hennebique system. The building work was done by Higgs and Hill of Bow. The bridge is a typical later example of a Mouchel-Hennebique beam bridge in which the girders also serve as parapets. It is claimed that this bridge, now number 41 on the Regent's Canal, was the first reinforced concrete bridge in England to carry electric tramcars and is the oldest surviving reinforced concrete bridge in inner London.

The recently built Tesco supermarket complex in Woolwich, known as Woolwich Central, was a clear winner in this year's Carbuncle Cup contest for Britain's ugliest building. Designed by the Sheppard Robson practice, the new development is 17 storeys high and incorporates 189 apartments in six interconnected blocks as well as the large Tesco store and enclosed car parking. Owen Luder described it as 'oppressive in terms of shape, size and colour and a negative contribution to the overall environment of the area'.

Bob Carr

Next issue >>>

© GLIAS, 2014