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Notes and news — April 2018

In this issue:

Kew Bridge Waterworks bombed

Just over a hundred years ago R39, a giant German bomber flying from Ghent in Belgium, attacked Brentford. It was a Staarken R.VI, a huge four-engined biplane with a wingspan greater than that of an American Flying Fortress. Built by the Zeppelin Company it carried a crew of seven and had a maximum speed of 84 mph.

The attack took place on Tuesday night 29 January 1918. R39 dropped bombs on Whitestile Road where a number of people, including five children, were killed — and the Kew Bridge waterworks, where both the engine foreman and district foreman were killed. Considerable damage was done to the waterworks and at Kew Bridge railway station a trunk main was breached. At the pumping station itself the engines continued to function and the senior engine driver took over the running of the plant, ensuring that the water supply was not interrupted. For his coolness and courage that night he was later awarded an OBE.

Next day on p7 The Times reported 'Another Raid Last Night'. The local newspapers had little significant to say because censorship was imposed. Bob Carr

'Stephenson's Rocket', NW10

There used to be a steam disinfector (known locally as 'Stephenson's Rocket') which stood for decades in the forecourt of Webster's Yard, off Victoria Road NW10 (around no. 112). I believe that area is still known as Webster's Scrap Yard or Webster's Yard although it now appears to be occupied by Quattro who I believe are supplying the cement for the Old Oak Common Development.

The 'Rocket' was still in its usual place until very recently but has now been removed.


I have enquired with the Quattro staff on site and they remember it being taken away but don't know where it has gone. They promised to get someone to call me, but I think that was a ruse to get me out of the door!

Does anyone know anything about the history of this piece and, even more importantly, where it has been taken? I actually saw it in 2015 and noticed that the paint had almost all gone, so my hope would be that it is being restored to its former glory. My worry is that it has been skipped.

A number of Actonians are worried that this iconic piece may have been lost to the area forever.
Sue Peach. Email:

Sewer gas lamps

I have been researching Webb Sewer gas extractor and destructor lamps – of which there is now only one working example in London in Carting Lane (GLIAS Newsletter January 1975, I feel sure there are unknown examples (perhaps derelict and unrecognised) still to be found; in London and in the more than 100 Local Authorities where they were installed. Can fellow GLIAS members tell me of any that they know of that are not in that article please?
Roger J Morgan. Email:

Hot water street lamps

Re: GLIAS Newsletter February 2018. Way back in 1955 when I started lorry driving I went to Northampton. Needing to ask the way I pulled up at the bus station. There was a group of bus men standing on an island round a lamppost, when I went to speak to them I could see a strange gadget on the post. One of the conductors explained that you put your tea can (those were the days, no canteens) on the little platform, put a penny in the slot and got a pint of boiling water to 'mash' (his word) your tea. He said the post was a lamppost and a safety vent for the sewer gas. It was used to light the lamp and heat the water. The sewer gas I later learned was methane, also used to power Wandsworth's dust carts. Talking about this somewhere in a congregation of drivers a Scots chap said he thought there was a similar thing in Glasgow. A couple of years ago I enquired of the Northampton Museum if they had any records as the whole area had been redeveloped but no joy. Bob Rust

Sironi — the artist who painted gas holders

A collection of paintings from the Pinacoteca di Brera, the main public gallery for painting in Milan is on display in the downstairs gallery at the Estorick Collection Islington until 8 April. Numerous Italian artists who worked in the first half of the 20th century are represented, there are two portraits by Modigliani — also included are four paintings by Mario Sironi (1885-1961). Sironi painted a large number of severe industrial views and Bovisa, an industrial suburb of Milan, was a favourite subject of his. He has been credited as a reason why Bovisa has been redeveloped in the way that it has, retaining several of the gasholder guide frames which characterise the area. See Industrial Archaeology News 116, p12.

Apart from La lampada, 1919, three of the Sironi paintings displayed at the Estorick Collection this year might be considered of industrial interest. These are The Truck 1914-15, Urban Landscape with Truck 1919-20, and a railway scene, Urban Landscape with Chimney 1930. None of his paintings which depict gas holders are on display at the Estorick.

When they were in power, Sironi was rather too keen on the Italian Fascists, contributing over 1,700 cartoons to Fascist newspapers. Mussolini commissioned from him several large-scale decorative works in the 1930s and he also contributed to the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution in 1932. For this reason his paintings were not displayed after the War and it is only in more recent years that his work is beginning once more see the light of day, at least in this country.

Most of the paintings on display in the Estorick Collection gallery on the ground floor are rather dour, severe and Germanic, not quite what one would expect from sunny Italy – and unlikely to appeal to popular taste. Clearly these artists were trying to be serious and their work is reminiscent of German expressionism and British postimpressionists.

Umberto Boccioni, Estorick, 11 Feb 2018 R Carr

Between the gallery's shop and the café there is a rather nice touch, a reproduction on the wall of a self-portrait by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), one of the most important artists of the Italian Futurist movement. The actual painting is on display in the gallery. The artist is shown in the foreground on the right hand side of the painting which in the background probably shows a new housing development under construction — to some extent this might be considered a Futurist work, professing confidence in Italy's future. The reproduction of the self-portrait is on the wall with a few small seats in front and one is invited to take a 'selfie' with Boccioni.

The artist is wearing a fur hat so presumably this is winter. People who go on holiday to Italy in summer do not always appreciate how cold an Italian winter can be, rather more chill than what we get in England. Bob Carr

An erroneous correction

BEA used to stand for British Electricity Authority. An older version of a London street atlas had the caption 'BEA Power Station' displayed against Croydon A & B power stations. In a later edition of the Street Atlas this was changed to 'British Airways Power Station' which was rather puzzling. Bob Carr

BEA warning plate, 11 Feb 2018 © R Carr

The new London Bridge station

On Tuesday 23 January a leaking gas main near The Strand, at the corner of Craven Street and Corner House Street, necessitated the evacuation of about 1,500 people in the early hours of the morning. A hundred metre exclusion zone was established and Charing Cross railway station was closed. As a consequence Waterloo East and Cannon Street stations were also closed during the morning peak.

The BBC reported 'zombie apocalypse' at London Bridge station. People familiar with the old station would certainly be confused as you can no longer exit the through platforms from their western end and once downstairs in the lofty new cross passage those unfamiliar with the exits would again have had difficulties. This huge new interchange hall makes the individual feel small, it is so high and the escalators so long – the effect is Piranesian 1.

At London Bridge we have lost the great train shed upstairs (GLIAS Newsletter June 2017) 2 but in a sense the lofty circulating area has been moved downstairs and rotated through ninety degrees. We are now provided with a tall hall and London Bridge might be considered comparable to New York Grand Central Station but with the trains upstairs rather than downstairs.

With George Landmann as engineer, the original London and Greenwich Railway was opened between Spa Road and Deptford in February 1836. Built on brick arches, the promoters' concept was that space in the arches beneath the line could be rented out, indeed it was intended that the arches should be used for housing. In placing the Great Hall in the space below the railway tracks at London Bridge station the new layout follows the intention of the line's original builders.

The new canopies to keep rain off the platforms at London Bridge have the appearance of a temporary measure rather than a permanent solution. Perhaps the idea is to have an airspace development in the not too distant future, so the prospects are that below track level the parts of the station now remaining will be retained and looked after while above track level anything might happen. The final outcome could be a large arched roof over the through platforms with the terminating platforms buried beneath a large building but this is likely to be the best we can expect.

After a wait of three years, on 26 February this year Thameslink trains began once more to run between Blackfriars and London Bridge. There are now also through trains from London Bridge to Cambridge via St Pancras low-level and Finsbury Park stations. Bob Carr

Ferry Lane Pumping Station

It is high time that a note on the interesting developments taking place in the Lea Valley appeared in the GLIAS Newsletter. Walthamstow Wetlands in particular will be of interest to members.

The subject of the Lea Valley's industrial heritage is an enormous one, quite impossible to cover in an article in this Newsletter, so for this issue it is proposed to concentrate on the Marine Engine House, Ferry Lane at TQ 349 892. This building is being got ready for the public to be admitted and by the time you read this article a visit there should be a pleasant prospect.

A new 'chimney' or 'swift tower' has been added to the Ferry Lane pumping station to replace the original chimney which was demolished before 1960. A topping out ceremony for this structure was held on 28 April 2017. In the place once occupied by the original chimney, the new 24m-high Swift Tower (over 78 feet) now rises. It incorporates 54 swift nesting boxes and the interior of the Tower is also intended to provide accommodation for bats.

Ferry Lane Pumping Station, 30 Jan 2018 © R Carr Ferry Boat Inn, Jan 2018 © R Carr

The Ferry Lane pumping station was built by the East London Waterworks Company and completed about 1893. The engineer was William Booth Bryan (1848-1914) 1 and the architecture is in his typical style, characteristic of many of the remaining Waterworks buildings in the Lea Valley.

Notions that the Marine Engine House contained steam engines rather advanced for their time seem to be somewhat incorrect. From the eulogies heaped on Mr Bryan it appeared highly likely that this was the case 2 but it seems that perhaps this praise was just the directors being pleased that he was not going to spend too much money. In this respect he was characteristically quite cautions, advising against many grandiose projects that were proposed.

In fact the Marine Engine House contained Lancashire boilers, this sounds a little old fashioned for 1893; figures for the steam pressure are not yet available and it is intended to write in more detail in a later issue of this Newsletter. Anyway the steam pressure could not have been very high. There was an inverted-vertical triple-expansion engine in the Marine Engine House and a steam turbine was added, probably a few years later, in a building attached to the western side of the pumping station. Taking a cue from Tate Modern, the room which contained the turbine is now an art room for children. There was another engine, a horizontal. This is believed to have been contained in a separate building a short way away to the south-west.

The original pumping station chimney was 100 feet high and from photographs we can deduce that it was red brick to match the building and its cross-section was octagonal. This brings us to the question as to whether the current 'chimney' or 'swift tower' is an appropriate replacement, something about which there had been some concern. The actual height of the new erection is more than 78 feet and viewing the building and chimney in silhouette from the northeast it really does look quite appropriate, so they have done a fairly good job really. Also the new structure, which is square in cross section, is clad in some kind of small grey tiles which makes it quite clear this is in addition and not part of the original building.

We must appreciate that we are now in a post-industrial archaeological age and that in order to attract the general public something other than industrial archaeology is essential, in this case the surrounding nature reserve has hopefully saved the pumping station building from demolition although as one might have expected the interior of the building has been pretty well gutted.

There is car parking for a payment close to the engine house and across the road at the Ferry Boat Inn parking is free for two hours so long as one has a meal there. This gives sufficient time for a visit to the engine house and in the week there is a modestly priced lunch menu. There is a bookshop in the pumping station which has been selling a new book by Dr Jim Lewis 3. Bob Carr

Gospel Oak to Barking

The Gospel Oak to Barking line, now called GOBLIN, is currently being electrified and the overhead wires will shortly become live. Presently freight traffic on the line is heavy — liner trains carrying road vehicles or containers and also trains consisting entirely of tank wagons. These are generally hauled by class 66 diesel-electric locomotives.

Where the route is in cutting, some bridges have had to be raised to accommodate the overhead wires. The last of these, the bridge carrying Crouch Hill, is currently being raised by 300mm. It has been closed since mid February and is due to reopen for single-file traffic on 1 May. Whiteman Road was closed for about five months. In some other places the clearance has been increased by lowering the track bed instead.

Crouch Hill Bridge was rebuilt in 1989 to replace 1860s cast-iron girders. Similar replacement of cast iron was carried out in 1995 on another Crouch Hill bridge, the one over the former Great Northern branch line that is now the Parkland Walk — comparable work has been completed at Upper Holloway on the GOBLIN line and is ongoing on the North London line at Highbury Corner.

The old Gospel Oak to Barking route, say in the late 1980s, was a delight for the railway antiquarian and since its conversion to the Overground a good deal of its period charm has gone. You can no longer see signal boxes with oil lamps.

The two-coach dmu Overground trains currently in use on the GOBLIN line are about to be withdrawn. Because of peak-period overcrowding, the new electric trains to replace them will have more coaches but fitted with longitudinal seats only, Underground style, and so will be nothing like so convenient for looking out of — quite apart from being rather less comfortable. The ride across the Lea Valley is a fine experience so make the most of the old trains, off-peak, before they have gone. If you are interested in visiting the Marine Engine House, Ferry Lane (see above), you can go on the Gospel Oak to Barking line to Blackhorse Road and catch a bus westwards along Forest Road. Bob Carr and Malcolm Tucker

The proposed 'Cube', Paddington

Re: GLIAS Newsletter February 2018. An article in the Evening Standard, 20 February 2018, said that Save Britain's Heritage was pursuing further legal action to prevent the demolition of the Edwardian former Royal Mail sorting office building. David Thomas

Oil and colour merchants

An article by David Thomas (GLIAS Newsletter February 2018) refers to premises with earthenware oil jars, cut in half, attached to the façade. There is an example at 1, The Polygon, Clapham Old Town. Built in 1792 and grade II listed the occupant in the 1860s was E. Durham, Bottle Merchant and Grocer. It was a grocers shop until the 1980s, when named L.S. Wildey & Son, retaining its original front almost unaltered. There is a good 'photo of it on p24 of 'Discovering Clapham' published by The Clapham Society. Predictably it is now an estate agent. Derrick Johnson

Michael Bussell has kindly mentioned three articles in The London Archaeologist which give both a history of the use of oil jars and a list of locations known at the time. My intent to do a current list of those in London later this year still stands, but in the meantime, members can download the London Archaeologist articles, free, from the Archaeology Data Services website at:

The articles are:

David Thomas

South Lambeth Goods Station (Battersea Power Station)

Re: GLIAS Newsletter February 2018. Michael Bussell has also mentioned that there is an article with several photographs in 'GWR Goods Services — Goods Depots and their Operation, Part 2A' by Tony Atkins (Wild Swan Publications, ISBN 1 905184 33 6, publ 2007 and still available at £24.95 plus P&P). This volume is devoted solely to Depots in the London area, from the large Paddington complex via Brentford to a short mention of Poplar Dock, two photos each of Acton and Hayes and just one photo — but what a great one, accompanied by a map — of Chelsea Basin, with Lots Road generating station's four chimneys gently smoking away.

Michael Bussell rounded off his helpful info by mentioning that a photograph of the road access to South Lambeth Goods Depot appears in 'A Pictorial Record of Great Western Architecture' by A Vaughan, Oxford Press, 1977. David Thomas


The 84-minute silent film Underground, made in 1928, has been shown at several locations about London and you may still be in time to see it. It was released to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground in 2013. This film should be of interest to readers of this Newsletter as there is footage showing the interior of Lots Road power station in the days when it still had four chimneys. There are views of the chain grates in the boiler house and also scenes on the roof.

For people used to talking pictures this film may take a little getting used to as the film stars, Brian Aherne, Elissa Landi, Cyril McLaglen and Norah Baring, have to overact in order to explain what is going on. By this date there was probably a convention understood by audiences as there are surprisingly few captions. Almost all the film is shot in a studio, at that date virtually no filming took place on location. The scenes which are likely to be of most interest to GLIAS readers are nearly all illustrated by back projection. To a present-day viewer this is a trifle painful. However, you will not see these sights otherwise.

In 1928 some formally dressed young men still wore top hats although 'peaky blinders' were a popular fashion. There is an interesting advertisement, 'look at your hat, other people do'. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2018