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Notes and news — April 2016

In this issue:

Enderby Wharf seminar

Campaigners have laid out ideas 'to inspire enthusiasm and support' at a recent seminar about the Enderby Wharf site in East Greenwich, focused around Enderby House which is now derelict. It was from Enderby Wharf that the first Atlantic cables were loaded on to cable-laying ships, most successfully Brunel's Great Eastern, in the late 1850s, forever transforming global telecommunications.

This was an important manufacturing site for underwater cables, a huge percentage of early cables were made here. There was also an important research division where many breakthroughs in cable and other communications technology were made. Alcatel Lucent still have a manufacturing base on much of the site, although the riverside is now being developed with towering flats.

The Enderby name comes from the famous family of whalers and explorers who used the wharf and built the house in the mid-19th century. In the 17th century the Government gunpowder depot was here.

Enderby Wharf

Guests at the seminar were given a guided walk followed by a presentation about the history of the site where developer Barratt Homes are building hundreds of new flats and a cruise terminal has been given the go-ahead (GLIAS Newsletter October 2013). The invited audience was made up of local decision makers — the local Council leader, Member of Parliament, GLA member and Mayor were all there along with some of the local developers. There were also a number of well known industrial historians and several prominent GLIAS members, including GLIAS Treasurer, Danny Hayton, who is one of the organising committee.

The campaign has focused round Enderby House — which is listed and has only fallen into disrepair since being taken over by developers. The group is very aware of the need for refreshment for visitors walking on the riverside path and also the need for facilities for new and existing residents. We would like to see some recognition of the heritage of this important site — but also of the industrial history of the Greenwich Peninsula and beyond that Greenwich itself. There were many other technological and scientific breakthroughs in Greenwich which remain to be acknowledged.

For further information there is a write-up of the event, at

For more info on cable-making and the Atlantic cable and on the immediate area

The group are happy to give more information or to provide a speaker for society meetings.

The UK's last working Lamson tube system

Jackson's, in Reading, is one of those commercial enterprises like Roneo at Romford and Reeves of Croydon which has given its name to a locality although it may not necessarily appear on street maps.

E Jackson & Sons Ltd was established by Edward Jackson at 6 High Street, Reading, selling then as it does now men's, ladies' and children's clothing. The department store is famous enough in the town to give its address as Jackson's Corner, although this is not a street name and doesn't feature on local street maps.

During the 1960s the firm modernised its internal cash transfer system, and installed a Lamson pneumatic tube system for linking all departments with a central cash office. This meant staff could devote all their time to personal service to customers, with no need to stand guard over cash-filled tills. The customer's cash was, and until recently still was, placed in a cylindrical container and inserted into the department's Lamson terminal. An air 'compressor' (as the firm calls it) in the basement then pumps air out of the tube ahead of the container, allowing air pressure the other side of it to blow the cash and paperwork to the cash office, change and a receipt being sent back the same way. The firm's published history (on sale at £6 in the shop) devotes several pages to a description and illustrations of the system, claimed to be at the time of writing the only one still working in a shop. Altogether 10 complete systems survive, the others being mostly in museums (GLIAS Newsletter June 1980). Subterranea Britannica visitors in recent years to former East Germany Cold War installations saw numerous abandoned Lamson systems underground in the many 'secret bunkers'.

Nowadays, of course, many customers pay by debit or credit card, so each department is equipped with the required electronic terminals as well. But it is still an agreeably friendly and old-fashioned shop, although the Lamson installation ceased to be used a few years ago. Paul W Sowan

Tann safe token

Tann's Special Safe

Re: the advertising token (GLIAS Newsletter February 2016).

The Tann Family of London, safemakers in Hackney, have a lineage that dates back to the mid 18th century with:-

The Advertising Token found dates back to Robert's time as the head of the safemaking firm from the 1870s onward, after his mother Amelia handed over the running of the business.

They manufactured safes in Mentmore Terrace, London Fields, in Hackney, in one of the Railway Arches close to London Fields railway station. The business was sold to another Safemaking arm of the Tann Family which descended from John Tann (b 1816), the younger brother of George) in 1917.

Interestingly, the two arms of the Tann Safemaking Families were at loggerheads with each other from the time that George set up his breakaway business in 1837, which placed him in competition with his father Edward Tann. Edward called his safes 'Reliance' and unsurprisingly, George's safes bore the tradename 'Defiance', as shown on your advertising token.

George's younger brother, John Tann, teamed up with his father Edward to carry on the Reliance safemaking business in competition with his brother George and George's son Robert until the Tann Safemaking company joined back up again in 1917. It eventually sold out to Chubb in the mid 20th century. From the earliest times, Chubb were major customers (and vice versa) of the Tann safemakers, so it was almost inevitable that they should join up at some point.

You may come across references to the Robert Tann Safes as being of inferior quality to the John Tann safes and even that the Robert Tann Defiance safes were fraudulent copies of the John Tann Reliance safes. Neither is true. The safes made by George, Amelia and Robert Tann were every bit as good as those made by their near relatives.

I have a Tann safe dating from 1853, made during the time that Amelia Tann was in charge of the Defiance Safe company, two years after the Great Exhibition of 1851. The door fits as exactly and snugly within the frame of the casing as the day it was made, over 160 years ago and is difficult to open at first, not because the door binds on the frame, but because it's such a close fit, a lot of suction develops as the door is initially opened.

I think Amelia Tann was quite a tour-de-force because she had to keep the Defiance company going when her husband George died young in his 30s and she diversified her business interests by opening a confectioners on 318 Mare Street Hackney (now a Boots Opticians shop), in addition to her safemaking firm fairly close by on Mentmore Terrace. I own her own safe from that period in the 1850s with her Mare Street address on the nameplate.

In a Hackney directory of businesses, in the late 19th century, the confectionary shop in Mare Street is listed as belonging to Robert Tann and he is also listed as a safemaker in London Fields, so his mother must have passed on both businesses to him after she retired

I've renovated the safe because it was in a poor cosmetic condition. Standing at 31" x 21" x 21", it's the slightly bigger version of the one advertised on the token. It only has a plain nameplate on the door with the name 'Tann's Defiance Safe' above the Mare Street confectionery shop address.

Every other Tann safe of this kind I've ever seen has a fancy nameplate headed by a lion and unicorn crest. This puzzled me until I came to the conclusion that she probably said to the workman making it — don't put one of our expensive nameplates on the one you set aside for me; put a plain one on it alongside my shop address! Tom Crawshaw

Disinfecting station memories

At 82 I must be part of the industrial architecture. Nearly every issue of the Newsletter prompts a thought from my memory.

The words 'disinfecting station' in the piece on the White City Destructor (GLIAS Newsletter February 2016) really stirred childhood memories. We lived in the catchment area of the Coppetts Wood Isolation Hospital, Hornsey, always known locally as 'The Fever Hospital' (now up for sale). Scarlet Fever was the super-infectious disease of the time. I remember as a child that anyone with scarlet fever was spoken about in hushed tones and sent to Coppetts Road. At one time all their bedding and their immediate clothing was burnt.

But by the time that I remember clearly, it and for some reason library books were sent to Wood Green's dust destructor to be fumigated in the disinfecting station using the flue gas. A note was put in the books that they had been fumigated. I also understood that households infested with fleas and/or bed bugs could take their bedding and clothes to be fumigated. In bad cases of the latter the council would send a fumigating team with sulphur candles to fumigate the house.

The dust destructor was behind Weston Road (Wood Green) indoor swimming baths (now converted to a function suite) where the waste heat was used to heat the baths for year-round swimming. I also have a vague recollection that it was set up to supply hot water for a 'decontamination station' after a gas attack in the Second World War. Bob Rust

Oval gasholder given listed status

The Victorian gasholder that looms over The Oval cricket ground is likely to be the last gasholder in London to be given listed status.

Emily Gee, head of designation at government heritage agency Historic England, which recommended Gasholder No. 1 in Kennington for listing, said: 'We consider our industrial heritage very carefully, and must be rigorous when assessing these once ubiquitous, now redundant, holders for listing. It is unlikely that many more will be listed, but we are delighted that this special one is now listed at Grade II.'

Gasholder No. 1 was the largest gasholder in the world when it was built in 1847. It was rebuilt in 1877-79, just before the first Test match in England was played at The Oval in 1880.

The decision to protect the structure was made on the grounds of its historical, technical and architectural interest and for its importance in the landscape.

Heritage minister David Evennett said: 'A lot of cricket fans will recognise this structure which provides an iconic backdrop to a world-famous cricket ground.'

Royal theme for Crossrail

Elizabeth line

London's new cross-capital rail link is to be named the Elizabeth line in honour of the Queen.

The first section — between Liverpool Street and Shenfield in Essex — will still be known as Crossrail when it opens next May. The route will officially become the Elizabeth line when trains start running through central London in December 2018, linking Paddington and Abbey Wood.

Work on Crossrail started in 2009. Tunnelling, using eight huge 1,000-tonne boring machines, was completed in 2015 and work continues to fit out the 40 stations and 26 miles of twin-bore tunnels (GLIAS Newsletter December 2013).

When fully operational, 24 trains an hour will run in each direction, adding 10 per cent to London's rail capacity.

The Elizabeth Line is Europe's largest infrastructure project and will open in five phases:

The Queen was the first reigning monarch to travel on the Tube in 1969, when she opened the Victoria line. Eight years later the Jubilee line was officially opened by Prince Charles, marking her 25 years on the throne.

The Elizabeth line will have a purple theme.

Regeneration of Old Oak Common

Old Oak Common will be the meeting place of Crossrail, HS2, the Great Western Line and other London routes. A new station, the size of Waterloo, will bring these together and catalyse regeneration in the area.

The 46-acre Old Oak Park is at the heart of Old Oak Common. Cargiant and London & Regional Properties have published their 'evolving masterplan' for the site, their priorities being:

  • to provide homes for Londoners, around 9,000 of the 24,000 envisaged for the area
  • to create around 8,000 jobs and help local people access those jobs
  • to deliver an exceptional place, a fantastic canalside environment and new open public spaces
  • to ensure local people genuinely benefit from this regeneration


    Arthur Wren Lambert [?-1924] and his patented steel book stacks

    Movable book-stacks on rollers running on tracks on the floor are a familiar feature of many modern libraries and archives stores. They allow a very large number of items to be stored in a small space, being rolled back and forth as required to leave a single gangway space clear for access to any particular shelf.

    This approach to library storage is older that might be realised. A recent issue of Pulse, the newsletter of the Linnean Society of London, reveals the existence and continued use of such a system in the vaults accessed from the Society's rooms at Burlington House, Piccadilly.

    The Linnean Society's 'compactor shelving' differs from that with which many will be familiar, in that the book-stacks are suspended from and can be moved backwards and forwards along ceiling-mounted rails. These are movable shelves manufactured in the 1890s or early 1900s by Lucy & Co. of Oxford. They are marked either 'Lucy & Co., engineers, Oxford' or 'Perfect adjusting shelving, Lambert's patent, manuf. by Lucy & Co., engineers & founders, Oxford'. The inventor and patentee was Arthur Wren Lambert of Croydon.

    The original notion of 'compactor shelving' is credited to Antonio Panizzi, keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum from 1837: his plans for book storage were adopted by the museum in 1852. Apart from their mobility, and non-flammability, the advantage of (initially) cast-iron bookshelves over wood was that they allowed much enhanced air circulation and thus the maintenance of the optimum relative humidity in the book-stacks and consequent reduced risks of insect infestations and moulds. Sir Anthony Panizzi [1797-1879], according to the Dictionary of National Biography, was appointed an assistant at the British Museum Library in 1831, chief keeper of printed books in 1837, and chief librarian in 1856.

    The Linnean Society's article includes photographs of early compactor shelving in use at the British Museum and in the Society's own vaults. Also reproduced is an advertisement from Library World of 1901 which lists 11 other public and national libraries where Lucy's shelves were in use.

    Lambert (according to Elaine Charwat) was 'a very interesting character' ...

    Elaine Charwat cites Library construction: architecture, fittings and furniture by F.J. Burgoyne (published in 1897 by George Allen) as a source for her information.

    Ward's 1901 street directory for Croydon lists Arthur W Lambert, inventor, and Mrs Jane Ann Lambert at 11 Sunnybank, South Norwood in that year. Paul W Sowan


    Letter Box Study group nears Project Zero

    The Letter Box Study Group is hoping to mark its 40th anniversary this year by fulfilling its ultimate aim: to catalogue every single post box in the British Isles.

    At the start of the year there were only 2,000 left to go — of an estimated 115,500 scattered around the country. The mission is known as 'Project Zero'.

    The group, founded in 1976, estimates there are close to 600 different types of letter box — be it wall box, pillar box or lamp box.

    Porters' rest replaced

    A replacement porters' rest in Piccadilly (GLIAS Newsletter February 2015) is now in situ. And long may it remain.

    In East London History Society Magazine or Newsletter is announced launch of a project to record foundries, the website for which is or, tel 01435 830155.

    All grist to the mill! Bob Rogers

    News in brief

    At Didcot A power station a disastrous partial collapse of the boiler house took place at about 4pm on Tuesday 23 February with people killed and injured. It is understood that at the time of the collapse, Coleman & Company was carrying out preparatory work prior to the controlled demolition of the boiler house by explosives. Colemans recently completed the successful demolition of the four gasholders at Battersea which was very carefully done with consummate skill. It has been suggested that at Didcot there was a structural flaw in the boiler house, hidden since it was built. However, we await the outcome of a serious and no doubt lengthy investigation.

    Victorian public houses are disappearing from London at an alarming rate. A recent example is The Sir George Robey near Finsbury Park which was demolished about September 2015.

    Close to the former grade II* listed Rainbow Cinema, the George Robey, 240 Seven Sisters Road, was a fine substantial Victorian building. Dating from 1870 it was originally the Clarence, the named was changed to The Sir George Robey in the 1960s and it became a popular music venue in the 1980s. The building has been empty since 2004 and latterly gutted. There was an expectation that adaptive reuse as an arts venue would take place. Steelwork was inserted into the building and it looked as if something was about to happen. The Local Authority, Islington, asked for it to be listed but this was refused. Sir George Robey (1869-1954) was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre and considered one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An application to demolish the building was made in July 2014 which was refused a month later.

    On 20 February this year it was noted that at St Pancras the re-erection of the guide frames of the Triplet gasholders had started. Three cast-iron columns and wrought-iron lattice cross beams were already in place. Bob Carr

    Bazalgette honoured

    Crossness Engines Trust's application to Bexley Council to change the name of Belvedere Road to BAZALGETTE WAY has been approved with immediate effect.
    Greg Warner, Crossness Engines Trust. Website:

    New website: Gooseygoo

    GLIAS members may be interested in a new online database for industrial heritage called GooseyGoo in which experts can participate and contribute.

    Maryann Soper, co-founder & creative director, says: 'GooseyGoo is a collaborative mapping project for industrial heritage in the UK & Ireland. It creates an exploration guide to encourage more interest in our remaining industrial relics and introduces a new audience to our visitor centres. The other element of GooseyGoo is the Preservation Hub, which aims to assist and promote all campaigns in the industrial heritage arena.'

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  • © GLIAS, 2016