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Notes and news — February 2018

In this issue:

GLIAS questionnaire

Thank you once again to those members who completed the GLIAS Questionnaire last October. A full report analysing the responses can be viewed here.

Here is a summary of the responses:

1.   162 responses were received from the survey conducted online on SurveyMonkey during October 2017. This was a 48% response rate.
2.   As an organisation, GLIAS is generally very much appreciated.
3.   In particular there was strong praise for the Newsletter's content, the journal, the lectures and the walks.
4.   However only 39% and 18% of respondees attended a lecture or a walk in 2017. A great many members either live too distantly or are disinclined to attend evening events in London.
5.   It was felt that the Newsletter format, the website and the database needed improvement.
6.   78% of respondees are retired and 38% have been members of GLIAS for over 20 years. 30% have been members for 10 years or less.
7.   Many members are also members of a wide range of other organisations with affinity to GLIAS; many members first heard of GLIAS through such organisations.
8.   There would be interest in moderately-priced coach trips or car share trips.
9.   Suggestions for improvement included use of Facebook / Twitter, increased publicity, more involvement of members and increased use of emails / video links.
10.   There was criticism that the GLIAS Board and / or members are unwelcoming and cliquey.

The GLIAS Board are actively considering how we can respond to these findings, and we shall update members in future Newsletters. In the meantime, if you have any further comments on the questionnaire or on the Society's activities, I should be happy to hear from you.
Tim Sidaway, GLIAS Secretary

Battersea developments — by a twist of historic fate

Some of the new build flats to the west of Battersea Power Station, with shops and eating establishments at ground level, were occupied in 2017. Work goes on apace at the power station and other land around it, including construction of a new terminus tube station at the end of a Northern Line branch from Kennington. But it might have all been so different.

In 1909 the Metropolitan Water Board decided to sell part of its former Southwark and Vauxhall Water Works Company's site at Battersea. This fronted the Thames immediately east of Chelsea Bridge. There were two reservoirs, several filter beds and a pumping station. This was noticed by the GWR; its Board Minutes for 6 November 1909 read: 'A memo from the General Manager was read pointing out the disadvantages hitherto experienced by the Company owing to their not having a Goods Depot on the South side of the Thames and stating that a large area of land belonging to the Metropolitan Water Board and adjoining the SE&C Railway near Longhedge Junction, Battersea, was in the market and available for such a purpose... Mr Inglis (the GM) recommended the purchase of the land in question, 12a 2r 0p, at a price of £93,000 with a view to the establishment of a goods depot thereon.'

And so South Lambeth Goods Depot was opened in 1912, the works and main buildings costing a further £170,000. GWR engines brought freight trains via a connection from the SE&C which led into headshunt sidings. Trains were then propelled round a curve of almost 90 degrees to the depot's sidings and adjacent concrete built warehouses. Road access was from Battersea Park Road. Local recruitment topped up the 120 employees transferred from Paddington Goods Depot.

A reservoir and some filter beds remained between the Goods Depot and the Thames, but soon fell out of use. So on 8 February 1917 the GM reported to the Traffic Committee 'It has been considered desirable to approach the Metropolitan Water Board with a view to their granting the Company an option upon the 9½ acres of land adjoining the depot, with a frontage of about 480ft to the River Thames, and that the Water Board are prepared to do so for a period of 2 years upon payment of £250 p.a., the purchase price in the event of the Company deciding to acquire the land to be £94,000'. But although the £250 was twice paid, the GWR did not take up the option and instead purchased only a portion, just over 2 acres, to extend the Depot. All this is now gone in the redevelopment.

The GWR's decision meant there were still 7 acres available. They were later purchased, along with other adjacent land, by the London Power Company which in 1927 obtained permission to build their power station. This received most of its coal by water, although rail was used in emergency if prolonged storms upset North Sea shipping.

In mid January 2018 there was foot access to the riverside walk from Chelsea Bridge as far as hoardings which include a raised viewing area and some small display cases holding a few bits and pieces from the Power Station. A pavement is included in a temporary access road which runs through a fascinating building site, past the south side of the Power Station to Nine Elms Lane, although a lockable gate suggests this is not always open. This road crosses above the site of the new Northern Line tube station, which is below the Goods Depot site. Try a visit now — things are changing quickly. David Thomas

Old Oak Common hostel

Michael Bussell mentions this former trainmen's hostel in the December 2017 Newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter December 2017) and asks a few questions about it. Well, the reply is — wait and see! The next GLIAS Journal will have an article about this and other hostels provided by the Great Western Railway in the London area. It was not the last railway hostel to be built in London, as the Eastern Region opened its Aldersbrook Hostel in the early 1950s. That one accommodated both permanent residents and others on a short-term basis who were attending courses in training rooms which were part of the large building. David Thomas

The benefits of Brexit

There now seems to be more business confidence in the manufacturing sector and particularly so as regards niche industries making traditional or classic products. Cotton is once more being spun in Manchester. In Northampton there are five quality shoe makers. We had a fine visit to Church's shoes there as part of the 2017 AIA Conference. This firm is expanding; it is to take over the former Northampton Corporation bus garage next door.

Other British manufacturers that might be mentioned include Morgan motorcars made in Worcester, Moulton bicycles in Bradford-upon-Avon and Pashley Cycles based in Stratford-upon-Avon. Can readers add any more to this list and are there now London examples — readers might like to comment?

Owing to the effect of the Northern Powerhouse, an initiative started by the 2010-15 Coalition government, business confidence might be particularly high in Lancashire and Yorkshire. A pack of Sheldon's Lancashire Oven Bottom Muffins *, baked in Manchester, was recently noted on sale in London. In the capital manufacturing may be picking up more slowly? Bob Carr

A modest proposal

As expounded at Heritage Day, held at the Royal Society of Arts on 5 December, the Palace of Westminster is now sadly outdated and unfit for purpose. It is a fire risk and to continue using the building for its present purpose is no longer acceptable. To bring the old building up to appropriate present-day standards would be ruinously expensive — pretty well economic nonsense. It would be far better to construct a new parliament building elsewhere, perhaps in the Midlands. A study of the viability of the current Parliament building has been carried out and the arguments in favour of constructing a new Parliament Building on another site were admirably presented in London on 5 December.

If the new Parliament Building is built somewhere near Birmingham, Solihull say, or in the vicinity of Manchester it will be considerably easier for people to access it. There would be no need for MPs to buy expensive houses in and around Westminster. For instance in Nottingham houses are very much cheaper and there would be numerous other advantages.

The old Palace could be adapted as a tourist attraction and this would raise money from admission charges. With suitable precautions perhaps Ceremonial Events such as the State Opening of Parliament might still be staged there. However, it seems that Members of Parliament themselves are uncomfortable with this proposal for a number of reasons. They are in favour of the historic traditions of the old building and a move to the Midlands in the near future is unlikely. Bob Carr

More London Place

Running down the centre of this relatively recent pedestrian street which leads eastwards from Tooley Street is a flume of water flowing westwards. At the western end there are what look like large blocks of stone covered by a film of water. This arrangement has the appearance of a heat exchanger, probably connected with air-conditioning and central heating for the surrounding buildings. Does anyone have further information?

Making an attractive public display from a heat sink is not a new idea. In the 19th century the fountains in Trafalgar Square were used to cool warm water from a pumping engine in Orange Street. This beam engine pumped water along a main which ran up Whitehall to supply government offices. Bob Carr

The new London Bridge station — first thoughts

On 2 January this year, platforms 1, 2 & 3 at London Bridge station came back into service allowing trains from Cannon Street to stop at the station once more. Down below is a vast transverse concourse connected to the platforms above by lengthy escalators. Now all 15 platforms are connected by means of this voluminous hall. At the north end there is a large window letting daylight into what would otherwise be rather a gloomy cavern. To achieve this effect we have lost the former South Eastern Railway offices in Tooley Street.

One can see why this was considered to be architecturally desirable; we can now look out to the north east along More London Place. The argument that these railway offices had to be demolished because they posed a security risk now seems curious. It was said that if a terrorist were to park a road vehicle loaded with explosives next to the offices, the explosion which might result could scatter bricks and injure people. A brick building in this location was deemed a security risk which could not be tolerated.

Now all the platforms at London Bridge station are connected by stairs, lifts and escalators to the great transverse hall below, interchanging trains at London Bridge is easier. The price we have had to pay is the loss of the Great Victorian terminus above which was listed grade II in 1988 *.

It is said that grandiose totalitarian architecture emphasises the power of the State and makes the individual feel small. To some extent we get this feeling at the new London Bridge — all rather un English? The notion that the state exists for the benefit of the individual, rather than the other way round, is peculiarly British. Victoria and Charing Cross stations are far less intimidating. London Bridge may now be seen as simply a place to change trains and not a destination, although there are still platforms with buffer stops. Bob Carr

The Odessa Street crane

This Scotch derrick has now been demolished (GLIAS Newsletter October 2017). The argument that the demolition of this until-recently-protected industrial archaeology was acceptable was based on the notion that the crane was fairly new; it was rebuilt about 1969. However, it could be argued that its recent date made it a favourable example for retention. Being constructed from lattice steel girders such a structure will in any case have a fairly short life owing to the decay of the steel. To preserve a considerably earlier example would have been pointless — the life of such a monument would be too short. At the time the decision to allow the demolition of the Odessa Street derrick was made there were other examples of Scotch derricks in Greater London. However, now the Scotch derrick is almost extinct throughout the whole area, something like a thousand square miles. The Odessa Street example might well have been the appropriate candidate to represent the type within the area enclosed by the M25?

From the internet it appears that Scotch derricks are still manufactured in Jaipur, India. One can simply order a new one and install it. Thus there is a contrary argument that as Scotch derricks are still in production they are simply not historic and the retention of any examples within Greater London is quite unnecessary. Bob Carr

The cube, or box, at Paddington

Planning permission was granted towards the end of 2017 for a new 18-floor office building on the north east side of London Street, between Winsland Street and Winsland Mews, W2. This was after plans for a 72-floor construction were rejected. It will entail demolition of the pleasant, though not stunning, former Edwardian Paddington Post Office sorting office building, mostly red brick and three or four floors high. Below was the westernmost station on the Post Office railway. Conveyor belts in tunnel for letters and parcels connected this building with Paddington main line station.

Although ground floor windows are boarded up, part of the building is currently (January 2018) temporarily used as a base for Crossrail/Elizabeth Line construction work. See it while you can.

In the vicinity are a few other items of interest. The former GWR three-floor Mint Stables block is on the corner of South Wharf Road, where there is a vehicle entrance to its courtyard. A GWR cover plate is in the roadway alongside the former (humans') living accommodation. The complex was converted to drawing offices for British Railways (Western Region) in the 1950s. Concrete horse ramps were retained, while most, but not all, windows were enlarged. It is now a public access route to the Mint Wing of St Marys Hospital. But don't hang around too long — the area is monitored by CCTV. A railway-style emblem survives above a back door, in Winsland Street.

Paddington station's platforms 9 & 10 have their hydraulic buffers in situ, though no longer functional, and unlikely to remain for long, as new friction buffers have been fixed to the rails ahead of them. (Waterloo ones are in use).

Finally, St James (parish) church, Sussex Gardens, W2, has a post-war replacement stained glass window, dedicated at a service on 11 December 1952. It incorporates links with the station, the hospital and Baden Powell, who was baptised here. The church is usually locked, but often has lunchtime organ recitals at 1pm on Thursdays. David Thomas

The Stretcher Railings Society

Yes, it does exist and has a website,, though contact can only be made via Facebook. It aims to share knowledge of, and help ensure retention of, metal ARP stretchers. These had a considerable advantage over their wood and canvas predecessors — they did not need to be kept dry and could easily be hosed down. After the Second World War they were found to be just right for placing sideways and welding together to become fencing atop low brick walls on council estates.

The society's website has two items of interest. Firstly, some photographs of railings in situ and, secondly, a (printable) one-page map showing location of known examples. These cluster in Lambeth and Southwark. News of further sightings is welcomed. David Thomas

Oil and colour merchants

Some shops or former shops still have earthenware oil jars, cut in half vertically, attached to the façade above ground floor level as a trade sign. Perhaps the most central examples in London are on buildings now in different use:

1.   39 Greville Street, EC1, off Hatton Garden.
2.   127 Lower Marsh, SE1. (>>>)

I had always assumed they were unique to London, but recently saw a pair on 29 High Street, High Wycombe, also in alternative use, as a lettings agency. So were they used elsewhere? I hope to include a list of London ones in the Newsletter later this year. David Thomas

39 Greville Street, EC1, off Hatton Garden

Hot water street lamps

I have very recently acquired a copy of the 1899 edition of the Sunlight Year Book. In the scientific section is the description of a 'Hot Water Street Lamp'. It was claimed that it could 'supply a gallon of hot water for a halfpenny on the "penny in the slot" system; and for another penny supply a compressed slab of cocoa or tea, compact with condensed milk and sugar'.

The lamp post was said to hold thirty to fifty gallons of water, supplied from the mains. The water was heated by 'a small quantity of water carried through a spiral pipe round the lamp flame several times and then into a little boiler right at the top, which turns it into highly-heated steam, and the steam passing down again boils a gallon of water in a small tank.'

'When the halfpenny is paid, and the handle pulled, the gallon tank of boiling water is emptied, and when the handle is closed the tank is refilled from the large tank, and down comes the superheated steam and boils it in about three minutes, and so on all day long.'

It was stated that 'the first lamp of this kind was erected in Queen's Buildings, a block of model dwellings in Southwark, in April, 1898.'

This was of course an era when many lower class houses did not have water laid on to the home let alone have a hot water system. Did the lamp have to stay on all day or was hot water only available at night?

I wonder how many other such lamps were installed and how effective they were. Does anyone know of any others or if any still exist? I should be pleased to hear from anyone with further information on this or similar devices for the public provision of hot water.
John McGuinness. Email:

More on signal boxes

Regarding interesting examples of remaining signal boxes (GLIAS Newsletter October 2017) — there is a GWR timber 'box at Greenford West Junction on the old GWR main line via Ruislip, along with GWR lower quadrant signals.

You mention the visit to Clapham Junction signal boxes in 1979. I carried out a photographic survey of many of the 'boxes affected by the Victoria Resignalling Scheme and recently came across the negatives. I have sent scans of the images to the Signalling Record Society. Bob Mitchell

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© GLIAS, 2018