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Notes and news — December 2015

In this issue:

London Archaeologist Fieldwork Roundup for 2014

The Autumn 2015 issue of the London Archaeologist includes the London Fieldwork and Publication Round-up 2014, which includes the following items of Industrial Archaeology interest (in alphabetical order of London Boroughs):

If anyone would like references of particular items, please email me or write to me at Brian James-Strong

The Tottenham & District Gas Company

The Tottenham & District Gas Company was a major undertaking supplying gas over a wide area in North London and the counties beyond. Their principal works was in the Lea Valley at TQ 350 919 to the northwest of Northumberland Park railway station, on the west side of the railway. This was sometimes known as the Willoughby Lane Works. The gasholders there were demolished quite recently. At Blythe House, the Science Museum has an excellent pencil and watercolour drawing of these gas works which gives an idea of the size of the undertaking. The drawing is dated 1930 and the artist was Herbert J Finn (1861-1942).

Early last century this was a large gas company; in 1901 they opened imposing offices on the north side of Lordship Lane at the junction with Tottenham High Road. This fine building is still there.

The slim volume published at the end of the Second World War, The Railways of Tottenham by G H Lake, devotes a section to these gasworks, see pages 86-87. Reading between the lines it seems Mr Lake was given a tour of the works. He describes coal handling and the extensive gasworks workshops, of sufficient size and sophistication to build their own railway locomotives.

The Tottenham and District Gas Company used about a quarter of a million tons of coal every year, all arriving by rail. Coal from Yorkshire came through Doncaster, and probably via March, to the Lea Valley. Initially these coal trains would arrive at the Northumberland Park sidings on the east side of the Great Eastern main line. Only end-opening wagons were used for this and complete trains of these were made up. At the Gasworks, on the other side of the main line to the north, these wagons were emptied by hydraulic tipping rams between the rails which engaged with the axle of the wagon furthest away from the end door. This end of the wagon was raised until the floor was at an angle of about 50 degrees to the horizontal.

Coal also came from County Durham by collier ships which were unloaded in London. Ordinary wagons were used to bring the coal from the river and these were unloaded by a rotary tipper. The company had an extensive fleet of ten ton railway coal wagons and before wartime pooling, these wagons were regularly sent empty to collieries to collect coal. Bob Carr

Hoddesdon gasholder

There is still a spiral gasholder, apparently quite well maintained, in Broxbourne near the New River at the east end of Gas Works Lane — Gas Works Lane is a continuation of St Catherine's Road. This is a Hoddesden Gas Company works site, established 1886. In 1932 the company was taken over by the Tottenham and District Gas Company. The site has been a holder station from the early 1960s. Bob Carr

Gasholder Park opens

Gasholder Park, re-erected St Pancras No. 8 guide frame © Dan Hayton 2015

The mini-park with the re-erected St Pancras No. 8 guide frame is now open.

Bell Phillips Architects, who won a design competition for the scheme six years ago, have added a 30m-diameter polished stainless steel canopy inside the reconditioned 25m-tall structure, which has been moved from its original location to a site next to the Regent's Canal (GLIAS Newsletter April 2006; December 2013).

Gasholder Park will be used as a play space for local families as well as the children who attend the new schools in the neighbouring Plimsoll Building. It will also be a venue for events, displays and celebrations.

Hari Phillips, partner at Bell Phillips, said: 'To design a new use for such a well-known London landmark was both a daunting responsibility and an unmissable opportunity. We have hugely enjoyed watching Gasholder Park take shape, and we hope that it will become a much-loved public space as King's Cross continues to emerge as one of London's most interesting new quarters.'

Three other historic gasholders have been dismantled and are being rebuilt next to Gasholder Park, where they will be re-used as part of an apartment-development designed by architects WilkinsonEyre.

A really useful map

When reporting on sites close to the Thames it is all too easy to become confused regarding the direction of north and south. We tend to think of the river as flowing from west to east, which roughly speaking it does, but in eastern London the river has dramatic bends such as the course it takes to form the Isle of Dogs, and when exploring close to the river you can change direction without really being aware of it.

For instance when exiting North Greenwich underground station you might suppose that you are facing south, in fact the direction is southwest and the river is immediately behind you to the northeast. You are probably also not aware that the site of the great East Greenwich Gasworks lies not far behind you, with the substantial retort houses located over your left shoulder.

A very useful East Greenwich & Peninsula History Map was published in 2010. It shows what is there now overlaid on former industrial and other premises such as the Gasworks, above, the Delta Metal works, two tide mill sites, Bessemer steel works, the Martini-Henry small arms factory, Granite Wharf, Aluminium Works, Greenwich District Hospital, Enderby Wharf and so on. There is also information about bird watching and wildlife, works of art, people and pubs — and V1 and V2 sites are marked. Travellers have been associated with the area near the Gasworks for 100 years or more and a showman's site directly above the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel was cleared when the Millennium Dome was built.

The map extends southwards to just beyond Trafalgar Road. Following the river bank, the coverage is complete from Greenwich Yacht Club to the Old Royal Naval College, Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. On the back of the map there are copious notes, quite a mine of information, with small photographs.

The production of this excellent map was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and produced by a team led by Rich Sylvester. The work took six years: 2,000 copies were distributed, mostly locally, and all free of charge. It was not for resale.


It would be a considerable boon if this map could be made available again. Bob Carr

The Great Arkley kiln mystery

The Hendon and District Archaeological Society has leafleted residents on the northern edge of Barnet, seeking their help when digging their gardens. In 1960, over 2,000 pieces of pottery were excavated in the rear garden of a house in Kings Road, Arkley. Many of the pieces are in Barnet Museum. The pottery dates back to the late 12th century. The pieces come from pots which did not fire properly. Some fire bars were found but not the kiln itself. In recent years, more pottery has been found in gardens in Galley Lane and other local sites. Residents are asked to look out for pieces or for any evidence of a structure. Brian James-Strong

Francis Griffen IA paintings

The work of the artist Alfred Francis Griffen is illustrated on the interesting local studies website of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and several of his scenes are of industrial archaeological interest. However, in the section 'Mr Griffen in his studio'

it appears that one of the works of most interest, showing a prominent M.A.N. gasholder, is incorrectly captioned as King's Cross. Malcolm Tucker writes:

Griffen's paintings should appeal to GLIAS members. At the beginning of the following article one notes the exceptionally florid Fulham No. 5 Gasholder (nicknamed 'The Sultan', completed 1867 and dismantled 1951. With a diameter of 230 feet it was probably the largest of its time). Bob Carr

New research centre/library at Science Museum

The Science Museum's Dana Research Centre and Library — home to its library and archive services in London and to the Research & Public History department — opened to the public on Monday 9 November 2015.

Between 2006 and 2007, most of the Science Museum Library's books and archives were transferred from South Kensington to the museum's awkward-to-get-to outstation at Wroughton, near Swindon. A portion was kept back for ready reference, within the Imperial College Library in the library's old building (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007; February 2008; April 2008; June 2008; August 2008).

The London facility was closed in February 2014 and its material taken to Wroughton, in preparation for this latest development. The new research centre is to house 'around 6,000 books and journals covering museum studies, the history and biography of science technology and medicine and the philosophical and social aspects of these subjects', which may not be entirely the same material as before.

It looks as if the new centre is a transmogrification of the Science Museum's former Dana Centre within the Welcome Wolfson Building, which was opened in 2003 as a 'public event venue in London for contemporary science'. Among several Dana's, I suspect this could have something to do with Charles A Dana (1881-1975), an American philanthropist who endowed various medical institutions in the USA.

Michael Bussell wonders if some material may have remained uncatalogued digitally or been disposed of. He writes: 'E.g. I did a catalogue search for "Goodrich", the author of a valuable book on refuse destructors that I studied in the former library building back in 1976, when we were working on the White City destructor site. The search turned up 14 Goodriches, but not that book.

'A search for "destructor" in the title yielded just two items. At least they were in GLIAS Newsletters — both held for reference only at Wroughton. The articles in the online GLIAS Newsletter are somewhat more readily accessible, thanks to the excellent index! (Lett's Wharf and Shoreditch.)' Malcolm Tucker

Arco Trent

The ship that was sectioned to create Richard Wilson's 'Slice of Reality' art installation in the river near the Millennium Dome, was the Arco Trent built in 1971. Originally a dredger, in later life she served as a floating booster station, modified to assist other vessels in the discharge of aggregate at more remote locations, even in open water. It is understood that Richard Wilson currently uses the superstructure as a studio. Has anyone paid a visit? Bob Carr

News in brief

Spiral gasholder at Lea Bridge, inflated, in April 2006. Taken from the Essex Filter Beds, the view is looking north east. © Bob Carr 2006

At Lea Bridge, Clementina Road TQ 366 869, at least two of the gasholders survive. This was the Lea Bridge gasworks. It was built in 1853 by the South Essex Gaslight and Coke Company and supplied parts of Leyton. The bricked-up entrance gateway in Clementina Road is probably still there; it was there recently. An oil painting 'At the Gas Rig, Clementina Road' by R W M Hunt, was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this year. It sold for £900.

London's gasworks are early, even this relatively remote works. In 1853 Lea Bridge was some way from London itself, which was then surprisingly compact. These gasworks opened about the same time as King's Cross railway station, well before St Pancras was thought of. Only two years after the Great Exhibition, Robert Stephenson and I K Brunel were still quite active at the time.

At Bell Green, Sydenham, the two gasholders at TQ 365 720 were still there towards the end of October and appeared in good condition. The guide frames are painted blue. At Bromley, Kent (pictured below), it is reported that the holders at TQ 414 688, Homesdale Road, were demolished fairly recently.

Gasholder, Bromley, Kent. © R Carr

PS Waverley was scheduled to operate cruises on the Thames this year from 25 September to 11 October. Cruises to see the Thames forts designed by Guy Maunsell * were advertised for 1 & 10 October. Did anyone make use of this excellent opportunity?

Bob Carr

The Prefab Museum: 70 years of post-war prefabs 1946-2016

The Prefab Museum (GLIAS Newsletter April 2014; June 2014; February 2015) is applying for funding to celebrate the 70th anniversary of post-war prefabs in 2016. To help plan events and apply for funding, the museum is conducting an online survey:

John Evelyn collection

I have a collection of books and research material about John Evelyn (1620-1706), his garden at Sayes Court, Deptford, and other works by him that I would like to donate to someone with an interest in his life.
Contact Gillian Friar. Email:

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© GLIAS, 2015