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Notes and news — August 2015

In this issue:

Obituary: Patrick Graham

We are sad to report the death of Patrick Graham, who was a long standing member of GLIAS, at the age of 87.

Patrick was a chemical engineer and spent most of his working life as a principal engineer at Humphreys & Glasgow. His work often took him abroad, including working on fertilisers in Pakistan, a sulphur recovery plant in Yugoslavia, an ammonia plant in India and, during the Cold War, working on a synthetic fatty alcohols project in Russia.

Following his retirement in 1990, he travelled to many countries of the world, particularly on railway journeys, and industrial archaeology tours. I first met him in 1994 when he became one of the first guides conducting tours following the opening to the public of the House Mill at Bromley-by-Bow, which he continued to do for many years.

He was also the author of an article on 'Kemball Bishop & Company Ltd 1870-1968, a Century of Chemical Production in East London' in London's Industrial Archaeology, No.9; and co-author of an article on 'Acetone Production at Nicholson's Distillery, Three Mills, Bow' in London's Industrial Archaeology No. 13 which, sadly, he did not live to see in print. Brian James-Strong

London Underground HQ to be turned into flats

55 Broadway, 2004. © Robert Mason Westminster Council has given permission for London Transport's headquarters at 55 Broadway to be converted into flats.

The proposed scheme involves 89 units within 55 Broadway, as well as 35 affordable units in the adjoining Wing-Over Station — which is not part of the main building, but off to one side.

Some office space will be retained, and the ground floor returned to Charles Holden's original layout.

The redevelopment will also increase the amount of the retail space at St James's Park Tube station.

Holden designed the building between 1927 and 1929, and it was constructed as a new headquarters for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, the main forerunner of London Underground.

55 Broadway was the tallest office building in London when it opened, and won the RIBA London Architecture Medal in 1929.

Elizabeth House

The fifty years old Elizabeth House (GLIAS Newsletter October 2012) in York Road SE1 is looking pretty good at present. Has it been cleaned? The Portland stone looks excellent, as does the cladding on the nearby Shell Centre. What a really excellent material this is, and there are acres of it in London on buildings of this period. It is a wonder that any of the Island of Portland is left, and they are still extracting it now — from deeper levels.

Elizabeth House. © Robert Carr

Elizabeth House is not far from County Hall and the LCC architects no doubt kept an eye on its design located where it is close to the Royal Festival Hall and Waterloo railway station. This would have been a prestigious site and probably considered fairly sensitive.

It was a John Poulson building — but the head of the firm was mainly involved in brokering deals. The actual architecture was done by one of his architects in the office, a situation not dissimilar to that at Richard Seifert and Partners (GLIAS Newsletter February 2015). For instance Frank Booth, Poulson's senior architect, was said to be academically brilliant. The quality of the architecture would depend on who was assigned the job.

Close by to the east of Elizabeth House, at TQ 309 799 near Waterloo railway station, is another surviving Poulson building, Elizabeth Tower — also known as the Tower Building. This block is still in use for office accommodation, as is Elizabeth House. Bob Carr

Islington bacon smokehouse listed

According to Heritage England a bacon smokehouse in Islington, just up the road from the Smithfield meat market, has been listed Grade II.

Small-scale bacon smokehouses are rare nationally and even more so in London. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, smokeries moved to larger-scale industrial facilities, leaving the smaller examples defunct. Although the building has been converted to offices, its original function is still evident in the racks on the upper part of the building and in the external walkways which allowed the monitoring and control of smoke levels by means of sliding circular shutters.

Smokehouse Yard , rear of 44-46 St.John St, EC1M 4DF

Has anyone any further information on this building, for example its address and name of the firm when it was a smokehouse? Peter Butt

Protection for letter boxes

The future of iconic post boxes on the nation's streets has been secured following new commitments from the Royal Mail and government agency Historic England.

Under the new policy, Historic England will work constructively with Royal Mail through current heritage protection systems to find the best way to ensure that post boxes are retained and well cared for wherever possible.

There are around 115,300 pillar, wall and lamp boxes nationwide and there is a post box within half a mile of over 98% of the UK population. 200 of the oldest and most rare are listed.

The policy also sets out how Royal Mail will work to prevent any unlawful damage or removal of post boxes. In the event of a crime being committed, Royal Mail will work with local policing teams as well as community groups to investigate such cases and prosecute those suspected of criminal activity.

The roadside post box was introduced in Britain following the 1840 postal reform, with the idea of a locked roadside box and regular collection times adopted from the continent by novelist and General Post Office official Anthony Trollope.

Handyside VR postbox on Fleet Street, 2017 Handyside VR postbox on Fleet Street detail, 2017

The first free-standing post boxes were installed in the Channel Islands in 1852 and in mainland Britain in 1853.

See also GLIAS Newsletters December 2001 and February 2002.

Maiden speech hails Greenwich/Woolwich history

Greenwich and Woolwich's new MP Matthew Pennycook used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to deliver a potted history of the industrial heritage of his constituency.

The Labour politician said: 'Greenwich and Woolwich has an extremely rich history ... Yet as imperceptibly bound to its maritime and monarchical past as my constituency is, it has another proud history — one that is far too often overlooked, but which is just as inspiring. It is a history of industry, innovation, progressive social change and self-organisation, and above all of people who have come from every part of these islands and beyond living together and looking out for one another in diverse and tolerant communities.

'The area was once a great manufacturing hub that teemed with the noise of shipbuilding, engineering, Europe's biggest glassworks at Charlton and the colossal Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, birthplace of both the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, which employed 70,000 people at its peak during the First World War. It has been a centre of research and discovery, which in the 1850s produced the earliest telegraph cables and the first to be laid across the Atlantic, by Brunel's vast ship the Great Eastern. It has been a breeding ground of progressive politics, which gave birth to one of Britain's first building societies, the Woolwich Provident, one of its first co-operatives, the Royal Arsenal co-op, and the first mass membership Labour party. It is a place whose people, confronted over the years by hardship, industrial decline, violence and sadly even terrorism, have none the less remained resilient, vibrant and optimistic for the future.'

W Lindley & Sir W H Lindley: London blue plaque

The latest English Heritage London Blue Plaque honours father and son civil-engineers, William Lindley (1808-1900) and Sir William Heeriein Lindley (1853-1917) at their former family home, 74 Shooters Hill Road, Blackheath.

They were part of the 19th-century engineering British diaspora so hardly known here but between them they were responsible for constructing water-supply and drainage systems in more than 60 cities including Vienna, Warsaw, and Sydney.

Lindley senior, who was born just off the Old Kent Road, assisted in the designs for the Newcastle and Carlisle, and London and Southampton Railways. He also worked with Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1836-8) on the Thames Tunnel, and it was on Brunel's recommendation that he moved to Hamburg, eventually becoming consulting engineer to their water board and board of works. In 1850 three Hanseatic cities entrusted Lindley with the sale of a large Thames wharf, the site becoming Cannon Street Railway Station.

Lindley junior was educated in Greenwich and Blackheath and graduated from London University in 1869, initially becoming his father's assistant at Frankfurt but later becoming that city's chief engineer. He took over his father's civil-engineering practice in 1879. His expertise was also used in Britain for he served on the 1906 royal commission on canals and waterways and was knighted in 1911. The last great undertaking of Lindley junior involved laying a 110-mile pipeline across the Caucasus mountains to supply water to Baku, in Azerbaijan, which was completed just before Russian revolution. Peter J Butt

Gasholder plate saved

A plate from one of the recently demolished gas holders in Rickmansworth has been presented to the town's Three Rivers Museum.

The two gas holders dating from 1852, which were based along Wharf Lane, were dismantled earlier this year as part of National Grid's programme to regenerate unused industrial land.

National Grid announced plans in 2013 to demolish a total of 76 gas holders across England, and Southern and Scottish Gas networks followed suit with their proposal to get rid of 111 over the next 16 years.

Many, including gas holders at Battersea (GLIAS Newsletter February 2015), have disappeared this year.

Hawley Wharf lock-keeper's cottage?

In June I noticed the presence of a couple of archaeologists poring over some building remains on the Hawley Wharf development, and got chatting to one them.

They believe they had uncovered a long-lost lock-keeper's cottage or other associated building. A two-roomed building, with the doorway clearly visible and a fire place between the two rooms. There was also a cobbled ramp leading down to the tow-path level, which probably led down to below the lock and therefore would have been some yards in length. Presumably the ramp was for leading horses up there for some reason?

He had also found a bottle which contained, in his words, 'opiated liquor' — to keep the lock-keepers going?!

The plan was to uncover the whole site — quite an area, record and photograph what was there and then hand it back for redevelopment, but the next time I went there large dust-screens had been hung on the fencing making it impossible to observe the goings-on.

But from a quick look at 19th-century maps there doesn't appear too much else there anyways, and the building uncovered was still there as early as 1834 and as late as 1878, although I'm sure it actually passes both those dates. It is also much smaller than the Hampstead Road lock-keeper's cottage, now a Starbucks. So perhaps if this building was for the lock-keepers it was a 'satellite' building, although if the maps are to be trusted it appears to pre-date the current Starbucks building.

The archaeologist said he would report back to the developers and to English Heritage at some point, but when I mentioned GLIAS he didn't seem very interested! Tim Matthews


Shot of site
Location of site
19th-century maps showing site

Remembering the workers

Reading the piece about Crossness (GLIAS Newsletter April 2015) and hearing a subsequent radio programme set me thinking. We are not only celebrating 150 years of the marvellous engines, but 150 years of the Thames Embankment and that great piece of industrial archaeology the sewerage system. Much taken for granted used and walked above by Londoners every day of the week.

The anniversary also triggered many mentions of Sir Joseph Bazalgette. But having seen the sewers on television and admired the work (my uncle was a foreman bricky) I thought there is never a mention of the army of brick makers, hundreds of bricklayers and their labourers, not forgetting the carpenters who made the 'centerings' for the arches. Men whose skill, like that of the engine builders, gave us this functional monument to British skill. Bob Rust

Alfred Roberts — request for information

I am a volunteer with the Greenwich Heritage Centre, investigating an archive of Alfred Roberts prior to accessioning.

This note is to invite any interested member of GLIAS to join me in the investigation to glean information not otherwise available, and to suggest to me what aspects deserve more attention than I have been giving them so far.

Alfred Roberts practised as an architect in Greenwich from 1895 to 1930s. Most of his work was domestic, but he did industrial work for the:

There is an interesting account of bomb damage to the works of the Gutta Percha Company.

The archive contains detailed job descriptions to be followed by the contractors, but is otherwise very one sided, with minimal outgoing mail but copious incoming mail from the companies, suppliers and contractors. The mail is dated.

The jobs were for the buildings, not their industrial contents, apart from the odd crane, lift or winch. Calculations for the size of beams intended for heavy loads are given.

The building regulatory bodies (particularly in WW1) loom quite largely — Alfred Roberts was a go-to person to deal with them.

The Archive is in the Plumstead Library, where the Heritage Centre has an overflow store upstairs in what used to be the Plumstead Museum. I am there most Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10.30am and 4pm.

Public transport to Plumstead is good, car parking diabolical.

I ask anyone interested to contact me in the first instance:
Richard Buchanan, 79 Ashridge Crescent, Shooters Hill, London, SE18 3EA. Email:

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© GLIAS, 2015