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Notes and news — February 2016

In this issue:

King's Cross Coal Drops Yard — Heatherwick scheme approved

On 17 December Camden Council approved the plans for converting the Coal Drops at the former King's Cross Goods Yard into a bijou shopping centre, as a part of the major King's Cross Central development. I went to the Development Control Committee meeting in Camden Town Hall — here are a few notes for the record.

The coal drops comprise two long, slate-roofed ranges built by the Great Northern Railway in 1850 and 1859, facing each other across a sett-paved yard. Trains of coal wagons originally entered at high level and bottom-discharged their loads into storage hoppers, above ground-level cells where the coal was bagged-up and loaded. Traversers at the southern end transferred empty wagons to flanking viaducts for return. These triple-level, covered coal drops were highly unusual and architecturally they were distinguished with open arches on either side to let out the coal dust. They were very significant in the first rail-borne delivery of coal to London. It was found, however, that the drops tended to break the coal and so Plimsoll's improved coal drops were substituted. Over the years, therefore, they were mostly adapted as warehouses and a goods shed, but ten bays at the northern end of the Eastern Coal Drops (ECD) remained largely unaltered until a fire in 1985. For that reason the ECD was listed Grade II.

The approved scheme, by the fashionable designer Thomas Heatherwick, includes first of all a striking modification to the roofscape, portions from the two sides being swept inwards and upwards to meet in an apex above a new bridge spanning the yard. That would provide an extra floor accommodating a large shop and attract additional custom by its curiosity value. A second major change is to lower the upper floor levels over much of the lengths of the two ranges, so that they would be level with the viaducts and the bridge link and thus considerably simplify access for the disabled. The justification in conservation terms is that the buildings are considerably run down, on Historic England's Listed Buildings at Risk register, while this reuse scheme will be eminently viable financially. Historic England has argued that it will leave the southern ends relatively little altered, yet that ignores the fact that the fire-damaged north end of the ECD is archaeologically the most interesting part. Another loss will be the magnificent expanse of blue granite setts in the yard, all but fragments being replaced by precisely laid new setts at the insistence of Camden's disability access officer. The open arches will also be infilled with plate glass shop fronts in accordance with the developer's aspirations.

Coal Drops Yard, 2017. © Robert Mason Coal Drops Yard, 2017. © Robert Mason

The scheme was presented to various local groups in a 'consultation' exercise last July, but it would seem now that all but some details had already been decided upon. Reactions to the roof were divided. The buildings' external form and fabric are mostly to be conserved and the scheme's impact could have been far worse. But I was concerned that the exterior does not demonstrate the function of the coal drops, which has hitherto been expressed particularly in internal features that will be concealed or removed. I met with the project director twice. Some points seemed to be taken on board, such as reusing the heavy cast-iron beams in the Western Coal Drops, but then I found these had already been in a previous brief approved in outline. On the better presentation of the coal drops' archaeology I made no headway — one cell is to be retained as it is through two levels, but without reinstatement of the way beams and tracks and the remains of coal-regulating gear, while its sett paving and kerbs are to be covered with glass so that the space can be used as a shop. With such considerable uplift in the site's accommodation, one should have thought more concessions could be made to the listed building's special points of interest.

The planning application in November showed more than the presentations had done, but clarified many points in a less favourable direction. The objection that I composed on behalf of the Regent's Canal Conservation Area Advisory Committee was hustled through to Committee within seven weeks of the application being registered. All the substantive objections such as from the Victorian Society came in late and were presented in a supplementary report. But had they arrived earlier they would have made little difference since it was stage managed. Crucial to the scheme was the firm 'steer' provided by Historic England in pre-application discussions. Only one Councillor voted against. Malcolm Tucker

News from King's Cross — St Pancras

In mid November to the north of King's Cross and St Pancras railway stations, the area to the south and west of Granary Square had the ambience of a shipbuilding yard; all the bangs and crashes of steelworking, cranes moving, and many men in hard hats. As well as office blocks going up to the south the triplet flats were being erected.

By Gasholder Park (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) the water of St Pancras Basin was ruffled by the gusting wind, there is a dry dock here with narrow boats being repaired. Quite a Thameside feeling, but of course inland.

The architects WilkinsonEyre won a competition in 2005 with a scheme to redevelop the triplet gasholder guide frames, and three buildings circular in plan will by the time you read this probably be nearing completion. These are for apartments which will be surrounded by the original guide frames, now thoroughly restored. The columns themselves may be put in place quite shortly. A visit to the area can be recommended.

Gasholder Park, 2017. © Robert Mason Gasholder Park. © Robert Mason

It might be wondered how something as expensive as the gasholder restitution at St Pancras can ever have been contemplated. A possible explanation is that gasholders might now be now part of our culture. Think of the sums of money that have been spent in recent years placing large sculptures and other works of art in public places, often in former industrial areas undergoing redevelopment — say the B of the Bang and the Angel of the North. It has been known for many years that culture is an instrument for developing former industrialised sites and gentrifying cityscapes*. Bob Carr

More on the Tottenham & District Gas Company

The piece on the Tottenham & District Gas Company (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) prompted some thoughts which I had to write down before I forgot.

I loaded many hundreds of tons of newsprint inside the Olympia at Convoy's.

In 1930 the T&DGC bought a very imposing Gothic building in Lordship Lane, Wood Green to be its head offices. This had been Royal Masonic School for Boys, then the Home and Colonial School Society school for teachers to be sent to the colonies. It was renamed Woodall House for T&DGC's chairman Sir Colbert Woodall. By the time I can remember it had been furnished with a very impressive Portland stone wall edging the pavement in Lordship Lane. The centre section was about 6 feet high and slightly set back in a shallow bay with the name of the company in large bronze lettering.

At the north east end was a maintenance base surrounded by a high brick wall entered by a gate in Winkfield Road. It was possible to see the ends of the pipe stock sticking up over the wall. Each morning the maintenance men set out pushing their red box bodied two wheeled 'builder's barrows' with a pipe vice prominent on one end. These were different in having wheels with cranked thick metal spokes and rubber tyred metal rims instead of the traditional wooden wheel.

On nationalisation it became the offices of the Eastern Gas Board, then in 1974 it was bought by Haringey Council and became the Wood Green Crown Court and Remand Centre. After an arson attack in 1984 it was rebuilt and given a very impressive roof. Much of the large grounds which had grown produce for the school was given over to housing. The Driving Test Centre is now housed in an area that used to be cottages for the school's employees, beside Lordship Lane.

During the war the extensive cellars were used as an air raid shelter which were ventilated by a huge fan. In the event of a power failure this was powered by the men taking turns at turning the handles fitted to either end. In the late 40s/early 50s T&DGC and later Eastern Gas delivered coke from the coke ovens at Southgate using Sentinel steam wagons powered with their own fuel.

The beautiful offices with the cast terracotta decoration at 639 High Road, Tottenham were relegated to admin by the purchase of Woodall House. In 1974 they became council offices. They were damaged in the riots and are now an Enterprise Centre but still handsome. Bob Rust

Bob Carr writes: The main works was further south in the Lea Valley at TQ 350 919 with respect to Hoddesdon. Owing to the order of sites being altered in Newsletter 281, what was printed did not make sense.

Bromley gasholders

The item (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) about the gasholders at Bromley is exaggerated and/or premature. I took a walk down Homesdale Road on 15 December and, from the Tesco car park (below left), there was no evidence of demolition but neither was there any evidence of tender loving care.

Sutton gas works (TQ 256 648 or thereabouts, entrance on Crown Road) has been demolished and, after remediation, the site will be redeveloped. Demolition and remediation by Keltbray, development by LXB Retail Properties in partnership with Opportunity Sutton. I took the photo (below right) from the top deck of a bus on 16 December. Graham Kirkpatrick

Bromley © Graham Kirkpatrick Sutton © Graham Kirkpatrick

Maunsell Thames Forts

Bob Carr (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) asked if anyone sailed on PS Waverley to see the Maunsell Forts in the Thames Estuary.

I am pleased to say I did, embarking at Tower Pier, stopping at Gravesend and Southend, before sailing past the Red Sands and Shivering Sands Army Forts and also the Kentish Flats Wind Farm.

There has been local publicity about plans to convert Red Sands Fort into 'a unique hotel and spa and provide a heritage museum'.

Since the days of Radio Sutch and other pirate stations in the mid 60s the only occupied fort, apart from birds, is Roughs Naval Tower off Harwich, aka the Bates family's 'Principality of Sealand'.

Another fort, of 1850s origin, is Grain Tower at the mouth of the Medway, currently for sale and marketed as 'No 1 The Thames', going for a mere £½ million and unlike the other forts, with access at low tide. Peter Finch

Bob Carr mentioned the Waverley cruises out to the 'Maunsell' Thames forts. I went on one on 12 October 2013, which called on the way at Gravesend and Southend Piers. A disappointingly mainly cloudy day, so the forts look dark against backlight. Below left shows two of the 'Army' forts, the nearer one still with its original seven towers. Below right is a closer view of the seven-tower Army fort, while below middle is a view in brief sunlight of another Army fort with six towers and the stump of the seventh visible. We didn't venture out as far as the Navy forts, but even then it was a long day's outing, not getting back to Tower Pier (with the bridge opened for us) until about 9pm. I was interested to see that some (older) folk saw it as I imagine 'coach days out' used to be years ago, with beer, tea, and fish'n'chips being consumed in hearty amounts throughout the day! Good fun for all.

The forts surely merit Ancient Monument status; the steel Army towers, in particular, will need some TLC if they are not to simply rust away.

Two 'Army' forts, the nearer one still with its original seven towers. 12 October 2013. © Michael Bussell Army fort with six towers and the stump of the seventh visible. 12 October 2013. © Michael Bussell Seven-tower Army fort. 12 October 2013. © Michael Bussell

(The Thames forts are described in some detail in an excellent book, The Architecture of Aggression: Military Architecture Of Two World Wars, by Keith Mallory and Arvid Ottar, Architectural Press, 1973, covering the provision of both offensive and defensive structures. If you can put out of mind the horrors that were associated with them, the book is extremely interesting — likewise the English Heritage study Cold War: building for nuclear confrontation 1946-1989 by Wayne D Cocroft and Roger J C Thomas, 2003 but reprinted most recently in 2012. Packed with masses of information — sometimes chilling — that would have put the authors and publisher in jail if published during the Cold War period, eg the layout of cruise missile shelters at Greenham Common and Molesworth...) Michael Bussell

Bob Carr enquired in December if anyone took a trip on PS Waverley to see the Maunsell Forts in October. I did, not in 2015 but in October 2010, and an exciting trip it was too, between the chance to observe (and hear) the Waverley's magnificent 2,100 horsepower, triple expansion steam engine in action; and to see the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands. See below for some photographs of the forts from that day.

© Sarah Timewell © Sarah Timewell

© Sarah Timewell © Sarah Timewell © Sarah Timewell

Project Redsand ( was established in 2003 to preserve and list the Redsand Towers at Shivering Sands' sister site in the Thames Estuary, and if interested, members will find their website has a great deal of information about their efforts and the forts themselves. Sarah Timewell

I have been on a number of PS Waverley sailings over the years and it is an excellent way to view the changes along the Thames and fascinating to circumnavigate the group of forts. Sailing barge Greta also does trips out of Whitstable to see the forts. Waverley returns to the Thames later this year and it is likely she will visit the town of Margate, a trip the artist Turner used to do. Elizabeth Wood

40 years of volunteer efforts to save papermill

In 1975 a small group of volunteers started with cleaning up a then derelict paper-and cardboard mill at Alsemberg near Brussels, the 'Herissem-mill' or the 'Cartonnerie Winderickx', removing the mud left each time the river flooded the site since the production stopped in the 1940s.

Today the site is open to the public, the machinery and the waterwheels are turning again, the steam engine steaming. Recently the last phase of the restoration was launched — the last building where the interior still has to be taken care of.

GLIAS visited the site on one of our Flanders trips before any of the restoration started. The restoration team would be interested in seeing any photographs taken at that time. Dan Hayton

London Archaeologist Fieldwork round-up

The London Archaeologist Fieldwork Round-up (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) illustrates just how much redevelopment is going on in London. And I'm conscious of the years passing when I read that the 'remains' of the Western Goods Shed at King's Cross and other buried evidence were recorded, given that Malcolm Tucker and I and others were looking at the interiors of those buildings from 2001, and writing reports on them to accompany the outline planning application of 2004. I later wrote the building recording specifications for the Western Goods Shed (now demolished) and the Wharf Road Viaduct (retained) about seven years ago.

Re: Lillie Square where 'evidence of layout of Brompton Goods Yard of 1892' was found. I visited the goods yard in March 1968 with Paul Carter (soon to become the first GLIAS Secretary) — see below left with Paul in view, also in the foreground one of the cranes in the goods shed that I drew up for our Industrial Monuments of Greater London booklet of 1969. Below right shows another crane.

© Michael Bussell © Michael Bussell

I revisited this site in 2011 with the local Historic Buildings Group, when it was still in use as an ambulance station and vehicle park following clearance c.1970. And now it is being redeveloped densely with (mostly 'unaffordable') apartments, as part of the Earl's Court and West Kensington yuppie village scheme. (Earl's Court Exhibition Centre still being demolished — very very slowly...) Michael Bussell

The Winter 2016 issue of the London Archaeologist contains two articles of London IA interest;

A short note also reports on the wreck of the London, which blew up and sank in the Thames Estuary off Southend in 1665. There are currently no plans for full scale excavation, which is hampered by poor diving conditions. There is local pressure to revive proposals for a Southend Maritime Museum, but the funding position could be difficult. Brian James-Strong

Museum of London set for Smithfield move

3.9.14 © Robert Mason 2014

The Museum of London may relocate to the historic market in West Smithfield after deciding to quit its London Wall home. The current museum, which opened in 1976, has a number of problems including a failing building, difficult access, and a site that is hard to find.

Following news in December that property developer TH Real Estate sold a derelict section of Smithfield Market to the City of London Corporation for £35m, the museum sees the site as its preferred new home.

A spokesman said: 'The Museum of London welcomes the news that the City of London Corporation has purchased the Smithfield Quarter from TH Real Estate. This makes way for us to achieve our ambition to create a new museum for London and Londoners in West Smithfield by 2021.'

The museum's director Sharon Ament said: 'Working together with the City of London Corporation and Greater London Authority we will help make the area a world-class cultural hub.'

The 25,000 square-metre Smithfield site — which includes the currently empty general market and fish market at the Farringdon Road end of West Smithfield (GLIAS Newsletter August 2014) — is particularly attractive because the new Crossrail-Thameslink-London Underground interchange at Farringdon station will be nearby.

The Museum of London will be launching a competition to find an architect to design the new museum. The winner will be announced in the summer.

If the move is given the go-ahead, there are plans to redevelop the museum's current London Wall site as a classical-music concert hall.

Flying Scotsman to return to King's Cross

Flying Scotsman at Rawtenstall © Robert Mason 9.1.16 © Robert Mason 2016

Iconic steam locomotive Flying Scotsman is due to return to King's Cross on 25 February after a lengthy overhaul. The A3 Pacific is scheduled make its inaugural run between London King's Cross and York after a £4.2m restoration project by Bury-based steam and diesel engineering specialists Riley and Son Ltd, which began in 2006.

The locomotive returned to steam in January for tests on the East Lancashire Railway, painted in wartime black livery. It will be repainted in BR Green as No 60103 on 10 February ahead of its return to mainline services.

Originally built in Doncaster in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), Flying Scotsman ran on the national rail network until 1963. After years in private hands the locomotive returned to public ownership in 2004 thanks to backing from public donations, Sir Richard Branson and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley (GLIAS Newsletter April 2015), Flying Scotsman was officially the first steam locomotive to exceed 100mph in 1934 and at one point recorded what is thought to be the longest ever non-stop run by a steam locomotive, travelling 422 miles in Australia.

Eye-catching coaches

From October a number of blue and yellow Irish Citylink coaches were being driven through North London emblazoned Galway-Dublin-Dublin Airport. These coaches were running between St Pancras railway station and Stansted Airport. They were operating a new non-stop service, the 767. Depending on traffic conditions the driver is free to choose between a number of specified routes although mostly the coaches run to the M11 via Seven Sisters Road and Forest Road. Some plain blue coaches were in use later but now the vehicles have been repainted or replaced and it reads Stansted to Central London on the side. They leave London from stop S in Midland Road, generally every half hour. An introductory single fare of £5 was being offered. Bob Carr

Plans for Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

The wartime bunker beneath Clapham South Tube station is set to be opened for regular public tours by Transport for London and the London Transport Museum.

The Clapham South Deep Level Shelter was used by the public during the Second World War and is one of eight deep level shelters that housed up to 8,000 Londoners during bombing of the capital by V-1 and V-2 bombs in 1944.

After the war, the dormitories became temporary accommodation for Caribbean migrants arriving on the Empire Windrush ship in 1948 and provided bed and breakfast for school children during the Festival of Britain in 1951 (GLIAS Newsletter February 2015).

The shelters, which are 120ft below ground, can be accessed via a surface building known as the rotunda which will be turned into a café as part of the new plans. The bunkers beneath will be used for an exhibition about the history of the tunnels as well as for regular Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum. It is thought construction work could start around the middle of 2016. Clapham South is the only deep-level shelter that still retains much of its original signage and bunk beds.

Transport for London's director of commercial development Graeme Craig said: 'Clapham South's deep-level shelters have played an important role in shaping the London that we know today. The planning approval that we have received from Lambeth Council means that this structure can once again be brought back to life.'

Clapham South is not the only Deep Level Shelter being put to good use. Nearby tunnels beneath Clapham High Street are being used for underground farm Growing Underground (GLIAS Newsletter December 2014), while a bunker by the Gherkin will become a new bar and crazy golf hub (Evening Standard, 28 October 2015). A shelter beneath Soho Square could also be transformed into a new subterranean restaurant or bar (Evening Standard, 20 January 2015).

The London Transport Museum will be announcing a new programme of Hidden London tours in March 2016.

If you are interested in seeing a London Deep Level Shelter captured in 3D laser technology then now you can take a virtual trip to Clapham North and enjoy the views from a perspective never seen before.

The Thames Barge Match

The traditional annual Thames Sailing Barge match did not take place in 2014 owing to the unfortunate death of the organiser, Captain Mark Boyle. However, there is now better news — on Saturday 22 August 2015 the race took place again — and moreover it was a splendid warm day with bright sun. As has become a feature in recent years the barges were accompanied by the steam tug Portwey carrying passengers (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012).

Usually the barges start from Mucking No. 3 buoy, in Lower Hope Reach, and sail east down the Thames Estuary to the South West Barrow buoy, where they go about and return up-river to the finishing line off Gravesend. This course can be shortened if there is insufficient wind and in 2015 the course sailed was shortened to Sea Reach No. 3 North Buoy as the outer mark. Actually the wind appeared quite brisk towards the end of the race and when returning to Gravesend some of the barges were easily travelling at 10mph.

According to their rig, barges are divided into three classes which start at 15-minute intervals. This year the Coasting Class set off at 7.30am, at 7.45am the Champion Staysail Class started and the Champion Bowsprit Class were started at 8.00am.

The winners of the 2015 Thames Barge Match were Lady of the Lea, Coasting Class, the sailing barge Niagara in the Staysail Class and Adieu for the Bowsprit Class.

At the end of this fine day we had the splendid sight of a group of Thames barges off Gravesend with their sails brailed up. A sight like this, with working barges, was quite common 80 years ago and a regular feature of the Thames, but now you probably only see anything like this once a year after the annual barge match. Bob Carr

The vagaries of listing

It is difficult for the outsider to appreciate why some buildings or structures are listed while others appear to be almost impossible to list. For instance the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne* built 1961-63 is listed, not just grade II, but grade II*. This was a status only achieved by the uniquely important and threatened Kirkaldy testing machine and its building after very considerable effort. Generally aesthetics rather than history appear to be the dominant factor and taste is an issue difficult to quantify. It is also more subject to fashion and clearly popular and generally uninformed opinion has to be guarded against. Whoever makes a decision with respect to listing has a seemingly almost impossible task.

Designed in 1958 by Bryan and Norman Westwood, Eastbourne's Congress Theatre in Carlisle Road was listed grade II* — apparently ab initio. It is interesting that in this case the decision to list was based not solely on aesthetic grounds but because originally every aspect of the planning and design of the theatre had been so carefully thought through. Bob Carr

White City destructor site

Malcolm Tucker (GLIAS Newsletter December 2015) kindly quotes my comment on the book relating to the White City destructor that I looked for vainly in the 'new, improved' London 'library' of the Science Museum.

The site of the destructor — properly it was the Kensington Vestry's destructor, but located on the Hammersmith side of the West London line — also included a disinfecting station and a later refuse 'digester' that was a disastrous experiment as its only 'product' was a summer plague of flies and bluebottles. All cleared around 1980, the site was redeveloped with dull single-storey industrial steel sheds. These in turn are soon to be knocked down, as the Westfield shopping centre is to expand northwards, with a huge new John Lewis store as the centrepiece. Another industrial site, like the goods yard at West Brompton, that has been 'turned over' twice in the time I've known them. Michael Bussell

Advertising token

Tann's Special Safe

A colleague on the Committee of the Computer Conservation Society found a round token in his garden in Surrey. It is difficult to tell obverse from reverse but one side gives the outside and inside dimensions of

The other side gives details of the company itself;

Any ideas?
Please get in touch with Dan Hayton. Email:

British Transport Treasures

Rotherhithe historian Stuart Rankin has started a website which offers reasonably priced downloads of now scarce historic publications on shipbuilding, railways and road transport.

Currently there are over 200 items on offer, with additions every week. There is a special reserved category London Thames and Docklands which includes many interesting works relating to rail and road transport, shipbuilding, the Commercial Docks and long out-of-print parish histories.

Fully printable downloads of facsimile books, souvenirs and documents, priced from 50p to £5. A donation of 5p per item downloaded is made to 'Help For Heroes'.

Make a 'four-tune!'

The Channel 4/More 4 series Four Rooms is looking for people who want to sell their desirable collectables.
To apply, please call 01494 733575 or email:

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© GLIAS, 2016