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Notes and news — February 2015

In this issue:

Richard Graham — obituary

Richard, a long-time member of GLIAS, died in January. He was very much affable, knowledgeable and unassuming, always having time for a quick chat and often coming up with little gems of information.

His 'home territory' was Wembley and many years ago he arranged GLIAS walks and visits in that area.

Richard was an active member of several other societies and organisations with direct and indirect connections to history and IA (for example, as a volunteer at the Imperial War Museum, he was involved in recording some obscure war memorials), and will be missed by all of them. David Thomas

Victoria 1897 Jubilee — plaques

Queen Victoria's 1897 Jubilee was commemorated throughout the UK by statues, fountains and dedications on new public buildings.

There is a rather more mundane item on the wall of the New Inn, St Mary's Road, Ealing, W5 5EX.

As the date high on the frontage indicates, this public house was (re)built in 1897. A commemorative Jubilee plaque is set into the outside wall. It is about 2ft square with a top extension carrying the date 1897. Centre is a relief of Victoria's head. Surrounding words proclaim her as Queen of Great Britain & Ireland and list other countries in the then Empire. It is covered in the same brown paint as the rest of the pub wall.

Identical plaques, unpainted and appearing to be from a pottery mould, are set into the upper walls of houses in Sambourne Road, Warminster and near the canal in Saddleworth, now part of Greater Manchester. This distribution implies that these plaques were widely available at the time. Are there any more within London? And, assuming there was only one manufacturer, who made them?

(PS. There is a much cruder version on a terraced house in Durham and the Jubilee is commemorated in the exterior cement render of cottages in Ivinghoe. Are there further examples of similar 1897 Jubilee domestic property decorations/embellishments in London?). David Thomas

Empress PCM tandem exchange

Michael Bussell mentioned the hole in the ground in Warwick Road, W14, formerly the site of Empress telephone exchange (GLIAS Newsletter October 2014).

Demolition of the building took place in March 2014; a large decorative mosaic on the exterior of the building had been removed two or three years before, but its present location is unknown to me. GLIAS Newsletter December 2014 included a list of examples of IA interest in the annual survey published by the London Archaeologist of 'London Fieldwork and Publications' for 2013. Among these was a reference to a photographic survey of the Empress building, noting that in 1968 it had housed the world's first PCM (pulse code modulation) exchange, but that the equipment had all been removed. A few additional notes on the PCM exchange may be of interest.

PCM was conceived in 1937 by Alec Reeves (1902-1971) when working at ITT's Paris research laboratories. His proposal was for a transmission system in which voice signals were electronically coded into strings of digital pulses, transmitted in this form, and turned back into speech at the receiving end. The idea was in advance of the electronics technology of the day and could not be fully exploited until after the invention of the transistor in 1948. For speech networks, PCM offered great economies by allowing many more circuits to be transmitted simultaneously over a pair of cables by interleaving the signals, a method called time division multiplex (TDM). By 1967, Post Office Telecommunications in Britain was experimenting with 24-channel PCM transmission on direct links (called junctions) between exchanges, but where such transmissions involved being switched at an intermediate exchange called a tandem, the signals had to be converted to analogue to be switched and then converted back to digital for transmission over the next PCM system. The development of a PCM tandem exchange began in 1965 and was undertaken at the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill, in conjunction with STC (Standard Telephones and Cables, a subsidiary of ITT). The experimental equipment was installed in Empress exchange in summer 1968 and was formally opened for live traffic on 11 September 1968 by John Stonehouse, Postmaster-General.

In the trial, Empress PCM tandem switched the calls between three local exchanges: Acorn (Acton) (01-922), Ealing (01-567) and Shepherds Bush (01-743). The particular significance of Empress tandem was that it was the first of its type in the world to switch PCM signals from one group of lines to another in digital form. It demonstrated that this could be done over the existing analogue network using any type of electromechanical system, and to carry live traffic. The Empress trial laid the foundations for the conversion of Britain's entire public telephone network to digital using the System X family of digital switching systems.

Empress PCM tandem continued in public service until 21 May 1975. Fortunately the redundant equipment was later offered to the Science Museum, London, which in 1978 accepted one of the two tall racks of electronics that comprised the exchange. It was not possible at the time to display the equipment so it was stored in a dismantled state. That remained the situation until last year, when the re-assembled rack was included in the Science Museum's new Communications gallery, 'Information Age' and from 25 October 2014 could at last be viewed by the public.

'Information Age' also includes several more items of telecommunications equipment of particular relevance to London. Among these are one of the two five-needle telegraph dials used by Cooke and Wheatstone in September 1837 for demonstrating their electric telegraph system to the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway at Euston station (newly identified as such by the museum); a needle telegraph repeater from the London and Blackwall Railway in 1840, argued by the museum to be the first commercially-successful use of the electric telegraph anywhere in the world; and the Marconi broadcast transmitter '2LO' of 1922 installed at Marconi House, Strand, which on 14 November 1922 inaugurated BBC broadcasting. The Science Museum is open seven days a week, 10.00am to 6.00pm, and admission is free.

I am indebted to BT Archives, Holborn, for historical and technical information readily given to help ensure the accurate re-assembly of the Empress rack by the Science Museum conservation team.
John Liffen (

Earl's Court exhibition centre

Earl's Court exhibition centre is no longer used and will soon be demolished.

A special feature was its railway connection, located between the present-day 'Overground' Shepherds Bush and West Brompton stations, as described in the GWR staff magazine for December 1938: '... a private siding having two roads, with a platform extending the whole length of the inner track, while the outer one is used for dealing with end-door railway vans. With these facilities, general merchandise, motor cars, livestock, etc., are easily and efficiently handled.'

It goes on ... 'recently installed a 10-ton gantry crane for dealing with railway containers ... (which) ... affords direct access between the private siding and the ground and first floors'. The steel gantry was 98ft high overall; from rail to first floor levels the lift was 63ft. David Thomas

Tottenham pink cake

As one who grew up in the adjoining borough of Wood Green I knew about Tottenham Cake (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014) from childhood, but never knew until recently of its Quaker connection or why it always had pink icing. It was always made in a tray about 18in square and 2in deep then cut into squares. A cup of tea and a piece of Tottenham was thrupence ha'penny.

When war started local councils began to collect the food waste (pig swill) from the 'pig bins' on the street corner and Tottenham Council used the heat from its 'dust destructor' to boil it into pig food. This was sent out to farmers in steel trays that looked like the cake trays and it was immediately christened Tottenham Pudding (GLIAS Newsletter August 1978). Bob Rust

When I was at school I had a Saturday job on a stall in Romford market. Around midday it was customary for me and a business associate to adjourn to the Tea Pot café for a light repast which invariable included a piece of Tottenham. Thus fortified we were able to return invigorated to our posts at the cutting edge of metropolitan commercial life. The cake is still widely available at branches of the bakers — Percy Ingle. They have 51 branches in London and Essex including four south of the river in Woolwich, Deptford, Lewisham and Catford.

At the risk of setting in train a rival to the 'goldfish in the cistern' debate, does anyone know why the delicious London confection of flaky pastry, sponge, icing and coconut is called a cheesecake? This thought first crossed my mind when I was introduced to them as a boy and, beyond a passing resemblance between the coconut and grated cheese, after 50 years of profound consideration I am still unable to come up with any better explanation. Martin Adams

As a Tottenham schoolboy in the 1950s I was a regular customer for school dinners, and recall that at least once a fortnight we were served pink iced yellow cake with a helping of custard as a pudding. I don't know that we were ever told at the time that it was named after our home town — it was just cake (and rather boring, though to be preferred to semolina maybe).

However, if you had called it Tottenham pudding, a completely different recipe would have been required. Because in the late 50s Labour-controlled Tottenham Borough Council began collecting domestic kitchen waste from buckets supplied to each household. This was processed, the result called Tottenham Pudding, which was then fed to pigs that the council kept in sties adjacent to the Markfield sewage pumping station which some members will be familiar with. The pigs were then sold onto Walls which made me chuckle whenever I saw ads for their 'Country fresh sausages'! The highly profitable pig farm was closed in the 1960s after complaints by the local Conservatives that councils shouldn't operate profit-making businesses.

Pigs weren't the only unusual idea employed by the Council's cleansing department. In 1962, I had a visit to the depot and was shown the rubbish on a conveyor belt being sorted to reclaim bottles, cardboard and cans. I don't remember the word 'recycling' being used then but there were visiting delegations from Sweden and West Germany that day to look at something evidently unusual. Was it?

Tottenham was shortly to be merged into the London Borough of Haringey. John Finn

I have seen 'pink cake' in the Morden branch of Gregg's labelled Tottenham Cake. It looked like ordinary sponge cake with pink icing.

Not realising the interest in it at the time, I did not buy.

It was also available under the same name at Gregg's in Richmond, whilst Tesco in Richmond sell a pink iced sponge cake as Hackney Marsh Cake coming from the Euphora Bakery which is actually situated on the Brooklands estate in Weybridge. Joyce Brown

Tottenham Cake is on sale at Greggs, Addiscombe near Croydon. Chris Cook

Battersea gasholders — update

Readers may be interested to see photographs of the final Morton-designed gasholder still in situ at Battersea (Battersea gasholder No.6) being carefully dismantled by Coleman & Company in December 2014 (see also GLIAS Newsletter June 2014). Work had also started on No 7, the tall blue MAN holder; and according to the site manager, was proceeding apace.

Crests (nameplates) bearing the name of engineer-designer RM (Robert) Morton and date of the gasholder's construction have been eyed up by a few parties, but are all spoken for, it appears. Lucky recipients of the 70kg cast iron mementos include English Heritage, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (next-door neighbour and scent inhaler since 1872) and nearby St George's School. Sarah Timewell
More details are at

Dismantling the Morton gasholder - crests hanging prior to removal, 9 Dec 2014. © Sarah Timewell Battersea Gas Holders, No 6, R Morton, Engineer, 1882. © Sarah Timewell

Dismantling the Morton gasholder, 9 Dec 2014. © Sarah Timewell Dismantling the Morton gasholder, cutting through, 9 Dec 2014. © Sarah Timewell

More on Britains

When Britains (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014) had its factory at Lambton Road my grandmother along with many local women worked as 'outworkers' painting soldiers; they were paid a halfpenny a dozen (granddad was earning £3 a week as an engine driver). Round about 1925 my mother worked as a housemaid and later nursery maid to William E Britain (one of William Junior's sons) at a very upper class house in Royal Crescent, W11. She was told off for using the lady of the house's scented soap! She used to go with the family to their country bungalow at Birchington-on-Sea. The bungalow was called Rosdelbay from three of the children's names, Rossiter, Delia and Bayard John. Delia's twin Josephine was left out. Bob Rust

Clapham deep-level shelters

The underground farm mentioned at Clapham North (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014) was not a ghost station but one of London's eight 'deep-level air-raid shelters' which were all sited at an Underground station and connected for an escape route. They were at Chancery Lane on the Central line; Belsize Park, Camden Town, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common, and Clapham South on the Northern line. Two more were planned but never built. They were all built using the curved segment system used for the Tube. It was planned for some of the tunnels to be converted to railway use after the war.

I understand that Clapham North and Clapham Common were used to house school children from the provinces bussed into London to see the 1948 Olympics. At the same time Clapham South whose gaily decorated circular entrance building can still be seen, was used to temporarily house West Indian immigrants from the 'Empire Windrush'. This may account for the strong West Indian community in Brixton half a mile down the road. In 1955 I spent the night in Goodge Street deep shelter which was being used as a military transit centre. It was entered through an unremarkable door from a vacant site in Whitfield Street. Those of us from the Far East immediately recognised the smell of bed bugs. These went on to make a meal of the troops from Germany leaving them covered in big itchy red bumps. Giving a good laugh to us from the Far East who had become immune to their bite.

There is much information about the shelters on the internet and there are two excellent books on abandoned stations by J E Connor. According to current information, access to these stations is extremely difficult due to security considerations. Bob Rust

Piccadilly porters' rest

Sadly the porters' rest (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014) in Piccadilly is no more.

I suspect it fell victim to the doings of a utility outfit. The loss of this heritage-protected item is known to English Heritage and to Westminster City Council. It is possible Westminster will replace this piece of street furniture. Bob Rogers

Paternoster lifts

I came across the following while browsing Google Books. It is taken from an obituary of Barrow Turner, in the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 94, 1888.

I have never heard of Barrow Turner before, but he was from an engineering family. His great grandfather, a Mr Barrow, founded the firm of Barrow & Turner of East Street, Manchester Square. His father was Thomas Turner so the Barrow and Turner families were linked. Tim Smith

Berlin is the place to go for paternoster lifts (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014). A retired local civil servant friend of mine says there are about 60 in the city in use. Certainly in council premises in Schönenberg there are two to my knowledge. Going round and round. Bob Rogers

Hammersmith Bus Two Penny Lodging House

I read your little snippet (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014), and the first thing that sprang to mind was Rowton House.

There was a huge one in Hammersmith, opened about 1896 or so, which offered overnight accommodation to 800 men: I remember it in the 1950s and sixties, as a forbidding place of last resort, with a seamy reputation. Though I know from historical sources that they were a generous and dignified solution for many young homeless working men at that time. And not just in London.

The use of the omnibus to get to it sounds reasonable, as Hammersmith was beyond the accepted three miles walking commute to work in the City or West End. The sheer numbers would evoke the wise crack.

As a throwback to those ideas, I recall during a bus strike in the late 1950s, that we were told we were expected to walk to work if we lived less than three miles from it. Maureen McCarthy

News in brief

During a previous bus strike in February 2014 a number of historic London buses hired by TfL were pressed into service and a commentator remarked that Camden Town was like an outdoor transport museum. Bus enthusiasts noted RMs and RMLs of various colours and even the odd RT. On 13 January this year TfL might again hire vintage buses for another strike: it will be interesting to see what venerable vehicles appear again on the streets of London running on ordinary bus routes.

A bronze sculpture by Henry Moore was unveiled by Richard Calvocoressi * in King's Cross Square (GLIAS Newsletter February 2014) on 8 August. Adding to the things there already, this is Large Spindle Piece dating from 1974. Over ten feet high it is a relatively late work, inspired by a flint pebble Moore found in a field near his home at Perry Green, Hertfordshire. A monumental work, it has been exhibited worldwide and is now on loan to Network Rail. A larger version 15 feet high is in the USA.

Duke Street electricity sub-station off Oxford Street contains transformers which convert high tension AC electricity from the national grid to a lower voltage to provide power for this busy shopping street. The transformers are oil cooled, the oil also providing a measure of electrical insulation. Some larger stores have their own sub stations and these are also fed from here. Normally everything is remote controlled and engineers only visit Duke Street a few times a year.

Built for the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation in 1903-5 the substation is mostly subterranean, but above ground the exterior is architecturally attractive and features in Gavin Stamp's 1979 book Temples of Power. It was designed by C. Stanley Peach and C. H. Reilly. The paved area on top, known as Brown Hart Gardens and open to the public, was originally intended to be an Italian garden and here quarrelling is forbidden by law: this is a polite part of London and local residents did not want to be disturbed. The original electric supply was at 200 volts DC so the substation very likely contained noisy mechanical motor convertors which in Edwardian times were also known as transformers. The epitome of modernity, perhaps whirring and humming machinery of this kind was all right then. Brown Hart Gardens are presently being upgraded by BDP and there is already a café. The intention is to create an 'enhanced public space providing a haven from the bustle of Oxford Street and a quiet, contemplative space for visitors and local residents'.

The architect Richard Seifert (1910-2001) did more to alter the London skyline than any architect since Wren; for instance he was responsible for the 600ft tall Nat West Tower built 1971-80. His Centre Point of 1966 is a listed building and English Heritage have been considering which of his other buildings should also be listed. The late 1950s Copyright House, 29-33 Berners Street W1, has been turned down; Space House completed in 1966, the Civil Aviation Authority building Kemble Street WC2, and the 24 storey NLA Tower *, Addiscombe Road Croydon, completed in 1970, are other suggestions.

There has been a fire at the prefab museum on the Excalibur estate (GLIAS Newsletter April 2014) which is believed to be arson. People involved with the museum have been threatened and it has been decided not to continue with the museum at this location. Elisabeth Blanchet has recently published a book on prefabs which is reviewed elsewhere in this newsletter (see Books). Bob Carr

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