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Notes and news — December 2014

In this issue:

GLIAS Journal

I hope that members are pleased with the more regular appearance of London's Industrial Archaeology and the quality of its content. While the editorial team do their best to maintain both, we are ultimately dependent on a steady flow of articles. As you will have seen, our remit is quite broad covering both recording and industrial history. We are not too prescriptive about the length of contributions. If you feel you do not have a full article in you, what about a 'Snapshot of Industrial History'? The first of these appeared in LIA 12, p37; all that is required is about 1,000 words or so and one or maybe two illustrations on a topic you think might be of interest to members.

If you want to submit a completed article or 'Snapshot', if you have something half prepared or simply have any ideas for articles, please contact me.
Martin Adams, Editor. Email:

London Archaeologist

The London Archaeologist has now published the annual survey of London Fieldwork and Publications for 2013. There are numerous examples of IA interest, which are noted below. If anyone would like references of particular items, please email me at

Brian James-Strong

Obituary: Sonia Rolt

It is sad to report that Sonia Rolt died on 22 October, aged 95. Although perhaps less well-established in the pantheon of pioneering industrial archaeologists than her late husband LTC (Tom) Rolt, Sonia had actually made enormous practical contributions to the built heritage and to industrial archaeology, as had been recognised by her award of an OBE.

Sonia Rolt Sonia Rolt

Sonia trained for the theatre, but a stage career was negated by the outbreak of World War II. She worked for a while at the Hoover factory in Perivale, West London, where she installed wiring on bomber planes. She then responded to an advertisement calling for fit and healthy women to work on the canals, still then a busy means of freight transport, to take the place of working men called up for military service. Here she met her first husband, the late George Smith, and here also she developed a deep interest in canals and in the life and welfare of canal folk. This shared interest in due course led to her acquaintance with Tom Rolt, a founder of the Inland Waterways Association, and eventually they married.

After parting from the IWA, Tom turned his attention to rescuing the derelict Talyllyn Railway, a task in which Sonia energetically supported him. They moved into the Rolt family home at Stanley Pontlarge in Gloucestershire, a house with medieval origins, and Sonia became involved with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, both to support the house's restoration and to contribute to SPAB's wider crusading. She subsequently worked for the Landmark Trust and later the National Trust, choosing furniture and fittings for many properties. She was also an adviser on the restoration of the ships SS Great Britain and HMS Warrior.

Some personal memories. I met Sonia first on 9 February 1974, sadly also the last time that I saw Tom Rolt before his too-early passing. Tom was the first President of the newly-formed Association for Industrial Archaeology, and I was serving a brief spell on its Council. Tom was already poorly, and so we relocated a Council meeting to his house, where Sonia was a welcoming hostess. (Also present that day as a fellow Council member was the late Christine Vialls, who some may remember as a GLIAS member as well as the author of several successful books on industrial history.) Later, Sonia became an enthusiastic member of the Institution of Structural Engineers' History Study Group, which welcomes everyone with an interest in historical structural engineering, and where we often met.

Probably the most memorable event that we shared was a History Group trip to St Petersburg in the summer of 1992. Our party of 13 (known in Russian as 'Hell's Dozen', according to one of our helpful local guides, and including also the then GLIAS chairman Denis Smith) was very fortunate to visit buildings that would have been inaccessible in Soviet days, and indeed to get into parts of some buildings that very few others have seen, including the iron roof structures in the Pushkin Theatre, St Isaac's Cathedral and the Hermitage Museum.

Sonia was unfailingly friendly to all, and enthusiastic and supportive to everyone who cared about historic buildings and our industrial past. She will be missed. Michael Bussell

'Ghost' tube stations could become tourist attractions

Evening Standard, 22 September 2014, page 12.

An article by Matt Watts stated: 'Ghost' disused London Underground stations are set to be sold off to become a network of tourist attractions, hotels, shops and museums. Transport for London is prepared to invite companies to bid to transform the stations and also horse tunnels, dating from the days of horse-drawn transport, beneath the capital's streets. It owns 750 of the tunnels. [There are] 34 possible sites, but the first phase of the plan involves 13 stations which could be converted into art galleries, nightclubs and possibly a fire brigade museum. Tunnels below Clapham North are already used for a herb farm.

Googling 'Clapham North herb farm' produced illustrated articles in the Evening Standard and the Independent on 30 Jan 2014. 'A subterranean farm is taking root 100 feet beneath the Northern line and its produce of herbs, shoots and mini vegetables has already been described as 'delicious' by Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. [The] location is a series of tunnels once used to house people sheltering from air raids during the Blitz. Using special low-energy LED bulbs and an integrated hydroponics system, the farm will be carbon-neutral and thanks to the proximity to New Covent Garden market and London's many restaurants, food miles will be kept to a minimum. Meanwhile, special filters will keep the air in the tunnels free of pests, eliminating the need for pesticides.'

Horse Tunnel Market, Camden © Robert Mason 2016

Googling 'horse tunnels' produced an illustrated article by the Camden Railway Heritage Trust, 'As part of remodelling works for Camden Goods Depot in c1855, two horse tunnels — the Eastern and Western Horse Tunnels — were provided under the embankment so that horses and personnel working in the goods yard could move to and from stables more safely beneath the tracks. They are of round-arched construction with cast-iron ventilation grilles placed regularly in the roof, originally the only source of light for the horses below. The Eastern Horse Tunnel (Grade II) has largely survived. At the northern end a length of the tunnel has been developed as part of Horse Tunnel Market (pictured right), the only part of the tunnel accessible to the public. At the Oval Road end, the exit via horse stairs has been gated and incorporated into the social housing entrance in the development called Henson House. The Western Horse Tunnel has also largely survived. At its western end, where it formerly emerged as a ramp to the LNWR stables, the tunnel has been blocked at Gloucester Avenue, and part incorporated into a restaurant there. This is the only part accessible to the public, albeit in private ownership. The tunnel carries major electric cables, some of which lead into the empty carriage tunnel, via an 80ft (24m) deep access shaft.'

So if members learn of any more plans concerning these possible 13 stations conversions, please let the rest of us know. Peter J Butt

Britains — toy-soldier manufacturers

The digital Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessible with a public library card, now includes three members of the Britain dynasty of toy-soldier manufacturers. William Britain senior (1831-1907), William Britain junior (1859-1933), and (Leslie) Dennis Britain (1903-1996). The following note is drawn from Roger T Stearn's ODNB biography.

Britains toy soldiers flourished in the 'golden age' of British toys, and were for over 60 years part of middle-class boyhood. Britains has been presented as a case-study in successful entrepreneurship. They ousted foreign imports, dominated the home market, and were the world's leading toy-soldier manufacturer until lead-alloy hollow-cast toy-soldier production ended in 1966. They exported to the British Empire, United States, South America, and elsewhere — even Germany.

William senior, although born in Birmingham was apprenticed to his stepfather in London and worked as a brass cock maker and from the 1860s, began making clockwork and flywheel, cast and tinplate toys. Previously, there was no significant other manufacturers in Britain. Their production in Lambton Road, Hornsey Rise, Islington, being on a limited scale was against strong German competition.

William junior joined the firm as did his three brothers. In 1893 William Britain & Sons launched their range of toy soldiers, being promoted by Gamages departmental store. Supply creating demand, for William junior had developed hollow-cast metal toy-soldiers, these used much less metal so cost about half the price of German Heyde solid figures, moreover they were well modelled and painted, usually accurate and mostly in a standard 1:32 scale. The firm became Britains Ltd in 1907. During the First World War they switched to munitions manufacture. Between the wars they successfully maintained their military models and diversifying with for example, farm and zoo animals, and miniature gardens. In 1924 their toys were included in Queen Mary's dolls' house. In 1931 a new factory was opened in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, and they encouraged the creation of the British Model Soldier Society in 1935. William junior was also a pioneer aviator with heavier-than-air aircraft on the Lee marshes.

Under the third generation of Britain's, especially Dennis, one of William junior sons, the firm continued to prosper. During the Second World War, they again produced munitions. Dennis being awarded the DFC as a fighter radar operator. After the war Britains resumed toy production and continued to innovate and export, earning vital dollars, Dennis being awarded an OBE for services to exports. Britain's gradually changed their toys from metal to plastic. However, on Dennis's retirement in 1984, as no family member wanted to run the firm, it was sold. The name W. Britain lives on as a brand and logo, though the firm became American-owned, with products manufactured in China. However, the British Britains models are cherished by collectors, and rarities fetch high prices at auction. Peter J Butt

Walthamstow Queens Road Station — A Handyside & Co Ltd

This London Overground Railway Station on the Barking to Gospel Oak branch line is a simple two-platform station with the railway tracks between them and the platforms being below street level. The platforms are connected in the middle of the station by a footbridge over the tracks which is supported by four identical columns, two on each platform.

The columns are round and have identical decorated capitals, each has on it the maker's name: 'A Handyside & Co Ltd/Derby & London'. In its time the Handyside company was one of the leading iron founders making roofs for train stations [sheds] and exhibition halls, railway bridges, pillar boxes, etc., many now being 'listed'. Yet at the time of writing this note I have not found any references to these Queens Road columns in the 'usual' Internet sources, including the GLIAS Newsletter index. Andrew Handyside (1805-1887) and the firm which carried his name, continued to flourish in Derby employing about 1,000 people in the 1890s, but from that height of success it plunged to failure and was wound up in 1910.

A note on the station by the Barking-Gospel Oak Rail User Group ( states that the station was opened as 'Walthamstow' on 9 July 1894 as part of the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway, and was given its present name on 6 May 1968, and the only comment about the station's fabric is that 'its buildings [originally] included a handsome covered and glazed footbridge'. Other sources imply that the station was on a St Pancras to Barking and hence to Tilbury line, and so surely the TFGR be would be part of the Midland Railway. This would give the Queens Road station a Derby connection with Handyside. The booklet: The Tottenham Joint Lines — a photographic journey between Barking and Gospel Oak, by J.E. Connor, pp17-19, has two photographs taken in 1966 and 1969 of the station showing the bridge covered, and glazed above shoulder height with covered and glazed stairs down to the platforms. However, a third photograph taken in 1972 shows the 'station in its initial stages of demolition with the covering [and glazing] removed from the footbridge'. This is how the footbridge and steps are now.

Any information about these Handyside columns and footbridge would be welcomed, and did the Handyside company make any other artefacts for that railway company? For example, were the columns supporting the original wooden canopies that were over the central parts of the platforms at this and other stations on the line, also be made by Handyside?
Peter J Butt (

Dürer printing press model

Earlier this year the Dürer Press Group commissioned a full-size working model of a printing press based on a sketch made by the artist Albrecht Dürer around 1511.

In November, on the eve of the Printing Historical Society's 50th anniversary conference, the press was unveiled at St Bride Foundation. It will remain in the Print Workshop there, initially for five years, to provide a resource for scholars and enthusiasts alike to study — ideally by printing on the machine themselves.

We hope as many people as possible from all walks of life who visit the Foundation in Fleet Street will be able not only to look at it, but to try it, and hence to enhance their appreciation of medieval technology and the astonishing impact that it had firstly on Europe and then on the world. A new wooden press doesn't have the frailty of its older relatives but it shares all the limitations of the materials and engineering approach: most winningly I feel is the very satisfying creak which it emits each time the platen starts to bear down hard on the type. I encourage members to visit the Workshop (best to contact St Bride in advance).
Ben Weiner, Dürer Press Group.

Sopwith motorcycle

ABC Motorcycle

I thought readers might be interested in an event that occurred while entertaining some friends recently who were over from Australia for the TT races. Knowing of their interest in motorcycles I took them for a visit to the Stondon Motor Museum where there are many interesting vehicles on display. These include veteran cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks and even an East German rocket launcher. Almost at the end we came across an exhibit from the Sopwith Aviation Company with whom we associate the Pup (1916), the Triplane (1917) and the Camel (1917). However, this exhibit was, to my surprise, not an aircraft but the ABC motorcycle. The ABC is derived from the name All British (Engine) Company which closed its doors in 1970. Much more information regarding this company and its talented designer, Granville Bradshaw, can be found online.

The information card on the saddle reads as follows:

The ABC is reputed to be the forerunner of the BMW motorcycle. BMW copied the design in 1925 but fitted a shaft drive. However, ABC had already applied this in 1923. This machine, in the owner of this museum's opinion, is the best in existence. Dan Little

The Fleet Building

On the west side of Farringdon Street just south of Holborn Viaduct, the Fleet Building (GLIAS Newsletter February 2012) is being demolished. It was designed by WS Frost of the Ministry of Works, who worked under Eric Bedford the chief architect. Eleven stories high, the Fleet Building was completed in 1960 and was the largest building to be constructed for the Post Office since the 1939-45 war. It was a purpose-built communications building which accommodated the Central Telegraph Office and the Fleet Telex Exchange. It remained in use up to about 2006 but has been semi derelict since then. Not surprisingly the Fleet Building has been entered by urban explorers — see the internet *.

In early October 2014 only about two storeys remained. The grade II listed murals by Dorothy Annan which depicted the wonders of telecommunication have been taken away for storage. At one time the Fleet Building housed a museum of telecommunication equipment and techniques. Goldman Sachs, a US investment bank, is planning a new development which will occupy both this site and Plumtree Court. Bob Carr

The Twopenny Lodging House

A steam omnibus which ran between Oxford Circus and Hammersmith in the early Edwardian period acquired the unfortunate nickname 'The Twopenny Lodging House'. This appellation appears to have been bestowed by street urchins and The Engineer * was at a loss to explain how this title came about, but suggested it arose from the large number of people the new bus could accommodate compared with an ordinary horse bus. Are bus enthusiasts familiar with this steam bus service? Bob Carr

News in brief

Sunrise Radio celebrated 25 years of broadcasting this year. They were established in a former margarine factory in Southall (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007). Otto Mönsted built a large factory here in 1893-5. If you have never listened to Sunrise Radio it is worth tuning in.

Do readers remember porters' rests in central London? These were provided for people who carried heavy loads, sometimes on their heads. An example used to be preserved on the south side of Piccadilly, at the southwest end near Hyde Park corner. Is one still there?

The first reinforced concrete bridge to be built in London was constructed in Shoreditch by the local council, apparently 'in defiance' of advice from the LCC *. It carried Whiston Road which runs east to west across Haggerston canal basin. The concern shown by the LCC may have been caused by the new method of construction, and low cost — £424. To test the bridge a ten ton steam roller with an additional load of two tons ran back and forth. This rolling load of twelve tons produced a deflection of 1/64 inch. At the time it was claimed that the new bridge would be extremely durable and need little maintenance. It is no longer there; when Haggerston basin was filled in about half a century ago the bridge would have been demolished. Quite soon after the Whiston Road bridge was opened another reinforced concrete bridge was built in Shoreditch, and this still survives carrying the present-day heavy traffic of the New North Road over the Regent's Canal (GLIAS Newsletter October 2014).

Dating from 1873, the almost unaltered Lea Bridge Horse-Tram Depot in Upper Clapton Road (GLIAS Newsletter August 2010), is in dire danger of demolition but apparently has been saved again — for the third time? Currently things look just the same from the outside. The Old Tram Depot Café is nearly always shut — has anyone seen it open recently?

A popular local public house for nearly 150 years, the Chesham Arms in Hackney was bought by a developer in October 2012. It has been under threat of conversion into flats but recent news is that the Planning Inspector has refused permission. The Chesham Arms, 15 Mehetabel Road E9 also known as The Cat's Head, became Hackney's first ACV, a registered Asset of Community Value, in March 2013. In London public houses are disappearing quite quickly — and it is claimed that nationally the rate is about 30 per week.

Owing to recent building works it has gone now, but until quite recently at the junction of Norway Street and Creek Road SE10, looking north-westwards you could still see a period painted sign. This was on the brick wall that curved round the corner and advertised a coal merchant. It could have been a hundred years old. There was a coal wharf here for a very long time. The site behind had been that of Kent Ironworks used by the engineer William Joyce. Bob Carr

Buffer-powered hydraulic lifts at St Pancras?

The 'urban myth' of the lifts at St Pancras Station being powered by trains hitting the buffers is, of course, complete nonsense (GLIAS Newsletter October 2014). The bizarre notion that drivers would deliberately speed up as they approached the buffers beggars belief. Even in Victorian times the Railway Inspectorate would never allow such a dangerous practice. This whole idea does not stand up to chronological or technical scrutiny.

The lifts at St Pancras were installed in the 1860s and 1870s. The hydraulic buffer was not patented until 1880, by Alfred A Langley, chief engineer of the Great Eastern Railway (British Patent No 4449 of 1880). Manufacture was taken up by Ransomes & Rapier of Ipswich, the makers of the hydraulic buffers at St Pancras (GLIAS Newsletter June 1993). Furthermore, the amount of energy available from the stopping of a train would be insufficient to power one lift, let alone the number that were installed at St Pancras.

At the north end of the passenger station there was a hydraulic wagon hoist (the 'beer hoist') used to take wagons to and from the cellars. In addition there appear to have been one or more hydraulic capstans and possibly a couple of cranes. (Records do not distinguish between the passenger station and the goods station further north). Just how many lifts were installed in the hotel is unclear. But there were two passenger lifts and at least two dinner lifts. All the hydraulic machinery in the passenger station and all except one of the passenger lifts at the hotel were powered from a small hydraulic pumping station to the north of the station. Under one of the arches carrying the approach lines there was a 40hp steam pumping engine. In an adjoining arch there were two boilers. The tall chimney was on the east side of the lines, near the gasholders. Next to it was an accumulator tower, not unlike the water tower to its south in architectural style. (The water tower was moved to a position alongside St Pancras Basin and is now known as the 'Waterpoint'). A number of photographs of Midland Railway locomotives posed in front of the accumulator tower have been published.

The story of the hotel lifts is more complicated. The Midland's engineer, John Crossley, initially proposed three possible solutions to the problem of powering the lifts. The first was to take water from the New River Company which would be stored in tanks in the two towers of the hotel. This would provide sufficient head of water to supply low-pressure lifts. A second suggestion was to sink a well nearby and to pump water into the tanks at the tops of the towers. The third idea was to use the high-pressure supply from the passenger station pump house. This latter plan was the one approved by the Board. The main reason was that the amount of water needed to power low-pressure lifts would be excessive. The well was sunk, but to supply the kitchens and laundry.

The eastern half of the hotel was built first and Armstrong installed the lifts. Unfortunately there was an accident to the passenger lift, for which Armstrong took the blame. The nature of this accident is not known, but one possibility is that the rope broke. There are two types of hydraulic lift, the suspended lift and the direct-acting lift. Victorian engineers were reluctant to use high-pressure direct-acting lifts for heights of more than two or three floors. The lift at St Pancras served five floors. After the accident the Midland Railway Board decided to install a low-pressure, direct-acting lift in the western part of the hotel, supplied from the tank in the western tower.

The amount of water required for the high-pressure lifts at the hotel was estimated to be 7,000 gallons per day. The capacity of each pair of buffer stops would be about 15 gallons. So trains would need to hit the buffers twenty times an hour throughout the day to power the hotel lifts, without taking into consideration the beer hoist. I think we can dismiss this urban myth as just that, a myth. Tim R Smith

New River Company charter

London Metropolitan Archives has announced the deposit of the original New River Company charter and the oath of Sir Hugh Myddelton, the company's founder and first governor, both dating from 1619.

The original charter, deposited by The Rayne Foundation and Derwent London plc, has a partial surviving seal depicting James I. The company's own seal depicted the hand of Providence bestowing rain upon the city and its motto was 'et plui super unam civitatem' (and I rained upon one city).

As the first Governor, Sir Hugh Myddelton swore his oath to the King. In this document, the King commands Sir Hugh Myddelton that 'You shall well and honestlie behave your selfe in the place of Governor of this company, and justlie and indefferentlie, shall order the matters and causes of this Company according to Right and conscience, and no singular profit to your owne person doe nor take...'.

Paternoster lifts

A rather belated entry for the Paternoster lift discussion (GLIAS Newsletter June 2014), but interesting possibly, nonetheless?

I came across a card game recently on eBay called Comings and Goings. It is made by Gibson Games (1991) and the description is: 'The game of who went where, with whom, and when. In an old town, in an old hotel, is an old lift. The lift revolves slowly, endlessly; the compartments on the right always going up, and those on the left always going down.'

It seems to be the English edition of an American game actually called Paternoster (

It very faithfully states: 'A paternoster is a type of elevator that has no doors, you simply step onto a narrow platform on a continuously rotating belt. Apparently they were common on the Continent and are still used in places where lift doors would be unsafe, such as nuclear power stations.'

Some of the artwork is surprisingly accurate, given its comic nature.

This seems quite bizarre choice for a car/board game topic, but someone seems to have done their research. Various editions are described:

'A surprisingly hard memory game but still lots of fun. Published as Comings & Goings in the UK and Vanished in the US, it is now in print as Think: Paternoster by Ravensburger, with the player's cards being simply objects held by the people, like a Handy (that's German for mobile phone).' John Perry

Pink cake

It's always enjoyable when GLIAS takes a slight detour from serious matters, to pause at lightweight topics such as cake, in this case, pink cake of Quaker origin (Pink Quake?) (GLIAS Newsletter October 2014).

A South London Quaker relative tells me it was until recently unknown to her too. 'I only found out about this cake from a segment on the Great British Bake Off last season. I gather the icing was made using mulberries from the mulberry tree in the Tottenham Meeting House garden. I have no idea if it is sold south of the river — perhaps Greggs is the best bet!'

Perhaps an inquiry to Greggs' Head Office is in order. Sarah Timewell

Tottenham cake was on sale in a branch of Greggs in Southampton in August this year, so it is likely to be distributed over quite a wide area. Has anyone else come across it on sale beyond North London? Greggs, founded in 1939 by John Gregg, is now the largest bakery chain in the UK. The firm is based in Jesmond, near Newcastle upon Tyne. Bob Carr

Call for papers — 6th International Early Railways Conference

16-19 June 2016, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England

Researchers into the history and archaeology of early railways (defined as those which were pre-mainline in concept if not necessarily in date) who would like to present their findings are invited to indicate their intention to the organising committee by the end of May 2015. A 300-word synopsis should be submitted for consideration by the end of September 2015.

The standard length of papers is 30 minutes, with shorter presentations and papers welcome.

Proposals for papers, which are encouraged on such topics as economic, business and social history as well as on technical subjects, should be sent to:

As before, it is intended to publish the proceedings.
Further details on the Conference can be found at:

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© GLIAS, 2014