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Notes and news — August 2017

In this issue:

New gasholder listing: Old Kent Road No.13

On 6 June, Historic England announced the listing of Old Kent Road No.13 Gasholder at the former South Metropolitan Gasworks site in Peckham, London SE15 (London Borough of Southwark). The list entry number is 1446329, to which people may like to refer, at This is only the second gasholder added to the statutory lists in many years. The preceding one was Kennington No.1, next to The Oval cricket ground in Kennington, London SE11 (London Borough of Lambeth), which was listed in March 2016 (list entry number 1427396) (GLIAS Newsletter April 2016). Other gasholders on those two sites were refused listing. The listings are made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

November 2020 © David Thomas

OKR No.13 was built in 1879-81 according to a radical new structural concept that treated the guide-frame as a cylindrical lattice shell, forming a single vertical cantilever of great diameter for resisting the wind forces. Previously, gasholder standards had cantilevered individually with imperfect coupling. The new gasholder saved considerably in materials and was able to be built much higher than previous designs. It was for a time the largest in the world, 160 feet (48.8m) high and holding nominally 5.5 million cubic feet (156,000 cubic metres) in three lifts within a diameter of approximately 218 foot (66.5m). The designer was George Livesey, the dynamic engineer and secretary of the South Metropolitan Gas Company (GLIAS Newsletter April 1983).

The structural principles of its wrought-iron guide frame can be appreciated from the strongly expressed diagonal bracing of flat bars, that help it behave as a monolith and transfer the wind shear forces around the shell in conjunction with light horizontal struts. The I-section vertical standards are very light, no longer acting as cantilever beams in their own right but taking the compressive and tensile forces within the single cantilever, also serving as stiffeners. Livesey was persuaded here to use no applied ornamentation and rely instead on the purity of the structural form for good appearance — another step-change in gasholder design that gives it a very 20th-century feel. He used solid webbed members rather than latticework, to avoid rust traps. In other advanced details, Livesey added tangential guide rollers to the usual radial ones, helping to transfer the wind loads from the bell to the frame, and he used rounded curved plates in the stiffening of the bell (no longer visible as the bell is now deflated into the tank). The in-ground tank, constructed in a deep dewatered excavation, progressed the use of mass concrete by casting it tight against the soil face, so avoiding backfill, and using embedded wrought-iron hoop reinforcement to maintain watertightness in the porous ground.

The Old Kent Road guide frame was a truly revolutionary structure, then at the leading edge of thought, and it had a great influence on later designs. Considering that Great Britain was the international leader in the design of gasholders, it is a pity the level of its designation has been set no higher than Grade 2.

George Livesey and his brother Frank continued to develop gasholder design. A larger and more spectacular version, East Greenwich No.1, was constructed in 1884-8 and it still stands prominently near the riverside (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007). Like all gasholders now, it is disused. Historic England has assessed it but declined to recommend listing, in particular because No.13 was where the primary innovations had been made. Greenwich Council is preparing a brief for the redevelopment of its site and without the support of Historic England there is no means in our current financial climate by which so large a gasholder could be kept. GLIAS has objected to brief's lack of imagination and has asked for the heritage to be reflected in the site's layout, with the prominent retention of some remains.

The Liveseys' ultimate development in gasholder guide frames was the 'flying lift', in which the top of the bell could rise significantly above the top of the guide frame, but requiring careful and robust construction. They tried out the idea first at Rotherhithe in 1887-8. In 1890-92, they built East Greenwich No.2, to an unprecedented capacity of 12 million cubic feet (340,000 cubic metres), using six telescopic lifts of which two were flying. That holder no longer survives.

In 1890-1, they doubled the height of an existing, very large gasholder, Kennington No.1, which has now been listed as mentioned above. In an ambiguous press release, Historic England implied this was first built in 1847, but that was a smaller holder previously upon the site. As built in 1877-79 by the engineer Corbet Woodall, the height was about 90 feet (27.5m), for 3.1 million cubic feet (88,000 cubic metres). It used the earliest type of wrought-iron, lattice standard, introduced in 1876, which was strongly tapered vertically and shaped like a letter T in section. By considerably strengthening the diagonals, Frank Livesey was able to use the new design method to justify the doubling of the gasholder's height. This was achieved partly with an extra, straight section let into each standard and partly by a flying lift on top, to hold in all 6.1 million cubic feet (170,000 cubic metres). So, technically, this gasholder commemorates among other features its early, T-section wrought-iron standards, the Livesey design principle and the flying lift, while its landscape importance in the backdrop of the celebrated cricket ground is also acknowledged. It remains to be seen in what manner this protected structure may be adapted, to meet the housing demands upon the site and to assure its long-term maintenance.

As for protecting other types of later-19th-century guide frames, the picture is very much less rosy. The technical principles and practice of gasholder construction were shooting forward from around 1870 to the end of the century and improvements to guide frames produced a succession of technically and visually distinctive types, particularly numerous in London, which I investigated and classified within a report I researched for English Heritage in 1998-2000. However, Historic England, which advises the DCMS, regards gasholders as 'a relatively standardised form', needing considerable selectivity in listing, and they have been particularly reluctant to acknowledge significance in later-19th century gasholders. They have now assessed the majority of gasholders of potential interest in England and have declined to recommend the listing of any of them. Particularly rankling have been instances where a gasholder was not the first to use a distinctive design, and therefore was disqualified in Historic England's terms from being considered 'innovative', and yet its predecessors had already gone. So it is that the giant single-tiered Battersea No.5 (GLIAS Newsletter February 2015) and the diagonally-framed Cutler's Patent at Hornsey (GLIAS Newsletter April 2017) have been demolished. Vitruvius Wyatt's cast-iron buttress standards at Beckton and elsewhere, Harry Jones's curvaceous box-lattice girders at Poplar and George Trewby's rigidly framed box-lattice standards at Bethnal Green (GLIAS Newsletter February 2017) are expected to go and, without a listing, it is difficult to persuade planners and developers to retain even a small part of them. Malcolm Tucker

Gasholder tanks

For a traditional water-sealed gasholder the pit which contains the water is generally referred to as a tank. A fine example can be seen looking south from the train between Limehouse and West Ham. The gasholder itself has been demolished to reveal an instructive view of its tank and 'dumpling'. This tank has a neat central dumpling which is cylindrical with vertical sides. The grid reference is TQ 371 820. A view of this kind would have been really exceptional when water-sealed gas holders were in regular use. Bob Carr

In a London laundry?

Among the many famous railway locomotives of the past, the 4-4-2 Atlantics designed by H A Ivatt for the Great Northern Railway were particularly celebrated. These locomotives were built to haul express passenger trains on the main line between King's Cross and York. There were two types, large (pictured) and small, and an example of each has been preserved.

990 Henry Oakley © Robert Mason 2016

Apparently a redundant boiler from a Great Northern Railway large Atlantic was installed in a laundry, probably in North London. This is likely to have taken place between 1943 and 1950 when the class was being withdrawn from service. This Atlantic boiler is said to have been discovered derelict and purchased by an enthusiast. It is likely that this boiler is the one being used on the Bluebell Railway to build a replica Brighton Atlantic. Does anyone have further information?

The Atlantics for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway were designed by D E Marsh and were similar to the large Atlantics of the Great Northern. These locomotives survived quite well into the British Railways era, the last example being withdrawn in 1958 — none were preserved. One of their duties was to pull express boat trains between London and Newhaven on the line via Uckfield and Lewes. The engineer for a good deal of this route which involved large-scale civil engineering works was F D Banister, also the engineer for the London Bridge terminus (GLIAS Newsletter June 2017). Some of the Brighton Atlantics were allocated to Newhaven and accommodated in the four-road locomotive shed there. This building survived for a surprisingly long time, and has only recently been demolished.

The reuse of surplus boilers from old steam locomotives for industrial purposes was not that uncommon. Readers might be able to give us some further examples? It is understood that The Brighton Atlantic Project is now sufficiently well funded and it is hoped to have the engine completed and in steam in time for the 60th anniversary of the Bluebell Railway in 2019. Bob Carr


The Victoria & Albert Museum has made a departure from its more traditional focus on 'high' art and design to showcase a material — plywood — and its industrial as well as classic design uses, in a free exhibition which opened 15 July and runs till 12 November, entitled Plywood: Material of the Modern World. This is a development to be celebrated. The V&A website states:

Plywood-manufactured highlights featured include the 1941 de Havilland Mosquito, the moulded plywood cover of a Singer sewing machine (that many of us will remember), a 1912 Deperdussin monocoque fuselage, and a moulded plywood Eames chair. Plywood was nothing if not versatile.

The website features a short video on how plywood is made, a fascinating page from the exhibition on A short history of plywood in ten-ish objects, and there is an exhibition catalogue.
Further information from

The V&A is also sponsoring a related symposium on Materials of Design, on 6 October 2017, which is sure to be popular. Sarah Timewell

Readers may be interested in Oliver Wainwright's half page review (What's behind our unbending fascination with plywood?) of 'Plywood: material of the modern world' exhibition at the V&A London (Guardian Thursday 13 July 2017, p36). Peter Butt

Mark Lane Station

Brian Strong, in London's Industrial Archaeology No 15, mentions that the name of Mark Lane station was changed to Tower Hill in 1945/6, as indicated by Beck's Underground maps of the period.

In fact the change of name took place on 1 September 1946, but this was only part of the story. In 1967 Tower Hill station (the former Mark Lane) was closed and replaced by the present station of the same name, which is on a different site. Reconstructing London's Underground by H G Follenfant, published by the London Transport Executive (LTE) in 1974, indicates that the new station was located east of Mark Lane, re-occupying the site of a much earlier station named Tower, which closed in 1884, a week after Mark Lane station was opened. Graham Bird

Cleveland Street Workhouse

A plan has been approved to convert Cleveland Street Workhouse (GLIAS Newsletter June 2011) into eight flats. There were more than 180 objectors including the celebrity heritage enthusiast Griff Rhys Jones who lives nearby.

Cleveland Street Workhouse

It is now widely accepted that this workhouse, built 1775-8, inspired the 25-year-old Charles Dickens to write his second novel, Oliver Twist. Cleveland Street Workhouse was listed grade II in March 2011. It is situated to the west of Tottenham Court Road quite close to the BT Tower. Bob Carr

Lea Valley Heritage Alliance

In April this year the Lea Valley Heritage Alliance was formally launched at a meeting held at City Hall. This is an umbrella organisation involving quite a large number of groups and heritage attractions. Some examples of these are the SS Robin, Trinity Buoy Wharf, Cody Dock, Bow Locks, Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Carpenters Lock, Hackney Wick & Fish Island, A V Roe's Railway Arch, Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum, Markfield Beam Engine & Museum and The Royal Small Arms Trust. The chairman of the Alliance is Lindsay Collier with the author Dr Jim Lewis another prominent participant.

The Lea Valley is London's green lung, now a target for developers building high-density housing projects such as London City Island and Bow River Village. We must expect more of these further north, especially near railway stations or good transport. However, there will still be large areas of green space between the new developments allowing considerable scope for heritage and wildlife projects to attract new residents to the area.

The image of the Lea Valley is changing. A notable example of this is the extensive Walthamstow Wetlands nature reserve — one of the largest urban wetland nature reserves in Europe. Bob Carr

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Reservoir is set to open to the public as Walthamstow Wetlands in September 2017 and give visitors free access to its natural, industrial and social heritage.

The ten reservoirs that make up this 211-hectare site are significant for wildlife, particularly overwintering wildfowl, and are the largest fishery in London. They will continue to be an operational water supply site for Thames Water.

The centrepiece of the site will be a new cafe and environmental education centre after the conversion of the derelict Marine Engine House pumping station (TQ 349 891), formerly known as the Ferry Lane Pumping Station (constructed in 1894).

Another significant building on the site is The Coppermill building, at one time used for rolling out copper ingots into sheets.

Welsh-based British Copper Company purchased the mill in 1808. Copper was brought to the mill from Swansea by barge via the River Lea and Coppermill Stream. The business was sold in 1824 to Henry Bath & Co. and in 1832 to Williams, Foster & Co., but the name British Copper Co. was retained. The mill, which employed 30 hands in 1848, ceased rolling copper in 1857; the machinery was dismantled and taken back to Swansea.

In 1859 the old mill and the rights to the waters were bought by the East London Waterworks Company, who converted it into a pumping station.

The Coppermill building is Grade II Listed. The mill has undergone a number of alterations over the centuries, including the addition of its Italianate tower in 1864. Records, including the Domesday Book, show that a mill has been on this site for nearly 1,000 years with various uses including grinding corn, paper production, gunpowder production (possibly) and production of linseed oil

A viewing platform will be incorporated into the Coppermill, allowing visitors to view the site which has been described by Boris Johnson as 'London's best kept secret'.

The £8.7m project is being led by the London Borough of Waltham Forest in partnership with Thames Water and other stakeholders including Environment Agency, Natural England and the Greater London Authority. £4.47m has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund in addition to £3.7m contributed by the partners.

Postal Museum opens

London's new Postal Museum opened on 28 July in the former Mount Pleasant depot. It is home to a vast archive of mail-related content spanning 400 years, including telegrams sent by passengers on the stricken Titanic.

The Postal Museum is also home to an exhibition on Mail Rail and, from 4 September, visitors will be able to descend into the network's old engineering depot where it will be possible to travel through the narrow subterranean tunnels on board a specially designed miniature train.

Credit: The Postal Museum / Miles Willis Credit: The Postal Museum / Miles Willis

Mail Rail, the Post Office Railway London, closed in 2003 (GLIAS Newsletter June 2003). In its heyday the railway operated for 22 hours a day with electrified driverless cars transporting mail across London from Whitechapel to Paddington via six stations.

Tickets to travel on Mail Rail are being sold online and are selling out fast.

Credit: The Postal Museum / Miles Willis Credit: The Postal Museum / Miles Willis

The first National Postal Museum opened in February 1969 in the King Edward Building, the headquarters of the Post Office from 1910-1996 near St Paul's Cathedral in London. It closed in 1998, when the King Edward Building was sold.
Postal Museum, Phoenix Place, WC1X 0DA. Web:

Kew Bridge Museum

Near the entrance to the Kew Bridge Water and Steam Museum is a new exhibit, a mock-up of a well in which water was raised by a small reciprocating steam engine located at the top. You can go downstairs to observe the original pump rods and bucket pumps in action.

The restoration has been carried out to a very high standard and recently received a Dorothea Award, the second such award given to Kew Bridge.

At the back of the museum a new room which will be devoted to the pumping of water by means of electric pumps is nearing completion. Bob Carr

The first motor vehicle

The Ashburnham Triangle is a short way to the south-west of Greenwich railway station. Local historians in the Triangle are keen to promote the importance of this interesting area. It is here that the first motor vehicle in Britain was built. In 1888 Merryweather's, the fire engine manufacturers, built Edward Butler's patent velocycle, a motor tricycle with great potential — but for the notorious Red Flag Act. Having established the mechanical possibility of a petrol-driven vehicle on public roads interest waned as it was not really practical to demonstrate the potential of the machine sufficiently enough to generate widespread popular interest.

At roughly the same time Karl Benz in Germany was developing his motor tricycle. Benz achieved great publicity when in August 1888 his wife Bertha made an adventurous demonstration drive of 106 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim, incidentally inventing brake linings on the way. It was clear that test drives were the way to promote motor vehicles — something legally impossible in Britain. Bob Carr

First electric taxi in London?

A letter in The Guardian from David Beake (p34, 13 July 2017) queried a 12 July 2017 report of the first London electric taxi. He noted that: 'Electric taxi first appeared in London at the end of the 19th century, but were hounded off the road by their horse drawn rivals. The London Electric Cab Company, which built them, went bust.'

Do any members have more information on this company and their invention? Peter Butt

Wymondham South Junction signal box

Wymondham South Junction © Robert Mason 2017

The telegraph pole route on the railway between Wymondham and Brandon (GLIAS Newsletter February 2008) was the last section remaining in England and one of the last remaining in the United Kingdom.

It was removed gradually during the early part of 2009. The semaphore signalling was replaced by lightweight LED signals controlled from Cambridge in 2012.

Wymondham South Junction signal box, built for the Great Eastern Railway in 1877, is still there (pictured right) and owned by Network Rail. According to heritage railway Mid-Norfolk Railway, which branches off here and runs to Dereham and beyond, they are in discussions to lease the box.

The box was listed Grade II in 2013 ( for the following reasons:

Signal box numbers in Great Britain peaked at around 12,000-13,000 just prior to the First World War. British Railways inherited around 10,000 in 1948 and numbers dwindled rapidly to about 4,000 by 1970, and then to 750 in 2012. Network Rail announced plans in the autumn of 2011 to concentrate railway signalling in 14 signalling centres with the consequent closure of all remaining mechanical signal boxes on the national rail network — with 80% going within the next 15 years.

Historic England, then called English Heritage, carried out a review of Railway Signal Boxes in 2012 (

As a result of this review 26 of England's rarest and best preserved signal boxes were given Grade II status. As well as Wymondham South Junction the following boxes were listed: Liverpool Street (owned by London Underground Ltd), Hebden Bridge, Hensall, Bournemouth West Junction, Lostwithiel, Marsh Brook, Par, Totnes, Brundall, Bury St Edmunds Yard, Downham Market, Skegness, Thetford, Wainfleet, Aylesford, Canterbury East, Cuxton, Eastbourne, Grain Crossing, Littlehampton, Maidstone West, Rye, Shepherdswell, Snodland, and Wateringbury.

Wymondham Station was built for the Norfolk Railway in 1844, together with the goods shed and row of railway cottages, all of which are listed at Grade II.

The station now houses an excellent tearoom, the Station Bistro (, full of railway memorabilia and vintage character.

At the other end of the Mid-Norfolk Railway there is a signal box with London connections. The top half of Dereham Central signal box (plus levers and the locking frame) (pictured below) came from Stratford Southern signal box in 1997 where it stood on legs over a siding.

Dereham Central signal box © Robert Mason 2011

And in the yard at Hardingham station (not open to the public) is a London Underground 0-6-0 diesel, formerly LT DL82, built in 1968.

If London-based GLIAS members wanted a day trip to Wymondham and the Mid-Norfolk Railway, they could travel via Cambridge to Wymondham. After a hearty breakfast at the Station Bistro it is about a 20-minute walk to Wymondham Abbey halt, which is the starting point for trains on the Mid-Norfolk Railway.

Some preserved signal boxes are now open to the public. St Albans South signal box (GLIAS Newsletter October 2009) has a list on its website at:
See also

Eastside community heritage

This organisation, which started in 1999, is extremely active in several Boroughs which, as the name suggests, are in London's 'East Side', though not exclusively north of the river. It concentrates on exploring and recording personal reminiscences and local events relevant to the last hundred years or so. There are frequent 'workshops' to do this and talks on findings, together with exhibitions. An approximately monthly e-Newsletter (free) shows the programme. Thus the July 2017 issue mentions a forthcoming new website and exhibition on the 1917 Silvertown explosion; a project on changes in leisure activities and facilities in Forest Gate; an oral history project on 70 years of the NHS in Havering, focusing on Harold Hill Hospital; reminiscences sessions in Barking and Dagenham and some more general social activities. Their Newsletter really is an eye-opener on what can (?and should) be done in recording social history by direct involvement. David Thomas

Upminster Tithe Barn Museum of Nostalgia

This is indeed a fascinating and nostalgic place to visit. It is in the (circa) 1450s Tithe Barn off the east of Hall Lane, about 12-15 minutes' walk north from Upminster station. Buses 248 and 347 go from Stop A.

A long open space below the wooden beams is full of a wonderful mix of bits and pieces. They include, of course, a few relatively large pieces of farming machinery (tractor, thresher) but there is little in the way of thematic presentation of items ranging from dolls houses to television sets, a Kayak, a paraffin lamp, press cuttings, mangles, typewriters, local bricks — well, you get the picture! Enthusiastic volunteers listen to visitors' stories of 'I remember...' An enjoyable hour or so, and no charge, though there is a donations receptacle. The place has no running water (thus no WCs) or heating (so winter shut-down) and is open from 10.30am until 4pm only on selected weekends. Remaining dates for 2017 are: 5&6 and 19&20 August; 2&3 and 16&17 September and 30 September &1 October.

Although Upminster Windmill is currently closed, and so cannot at present be included in a 'day out', Havering's Museum (open Wed–Sat 11am-5pm) at Romford is easily reached, taking 23 minutes on the 472 bus, or a 12-minute train ride (every half hour) from Upminster to Romford station. It is less than ten minutes' walk north along the pedestrianised South Street (fragments of deco in facades) and left into High Street to find its entrance at No 19, along part of the former Brewery. This museum is impeccably laid out, with a screen showing a number of local scenes of local industries, display cases, informative captions and a few maps. There's thus more 'information' to absorb, and again an hour was about right. It charges £3 (£2 conc) for entrance and forbids photography, but does have 'facilities'.

I learned about the Upminster museum from 'Ian Visits', a free weekly email, which describes itself as 'of lectures, talks, heritage events, organised walks and other random miscellany', which is always worth a skim through. I do recommend subscribing via David Thomas

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© GLIAS, 2017