Notes and news — June 2021
In this issue:
From the Chair
- From the Chair
- Hydraulics in London's Theatreland
- London Fieldwork and Publication Round-Up 2019
- Hertford Union Canal de-watered
- More on Bofors
- A recording visit by GLIAS to the former King's Cross Coal Depot
- A stroll from West Ham to Langdon Park via Three Mills Lane
- Level crossing bells
- Around the site of Feltham railway marshalling yard
- Blaze at historic boatyard
- Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited
- Conservation Watch
Well, I caused a bit of confusion in organising Newsletter 313 and LIA19 to include the renewal form to be posted at the end of March on the basis of which several members paid up so quickly we'll have a good number of 'Subs in advance'.
The result of that mailing has been that we've received a good response to the renewals and some confusion as the form was tucked inside the front cover of LIA19 which, even though I knew it was coming, I almost missed. Rather than, as in previous years, including reminders with this Newsletter we've made individual contact with the few outstanding members and found several who, like me, had to hunt for the renewal form.
Thinking about the AGM, the Committee Meeting felt that it would be a good idea to take advantage of the time allowed under Company and Charity Rules to hold the AGM in November by which time a 'Pub Evening' should be a possibility.
Meanwhile, the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery Newsletter (back copies can be found at: www.fownc.org/newsletters/) has arrived via our member and their Chairman Bob Flanagan. Of interest in the Industrial Archaeology connections are the Burges tomb Listed Grade II*, threatened by tree roots, and John Bazley White who is in a plot in the unconsecrated area of the cemetery.
Alfred Burges (1796-1886) was apprenticed to the engineer James Walker (1781-1862), and in turn trained several other engineers, including Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891). Walker and Burgess (his name was often spelt Burgess on advertising material) were responsible for railways, bridges and many marine works.
John Bazley White was a founder director of the South Metropolitan Cemetery Company and a shareholder, a role that was carried on by his son, John Bazley White jnr (1814-1893) for 57 years in all. Dan Hayton
Hydraulics in London's Theatreland
Tim Smith's Gazetteer of Hydraulic Power in London in the latest issue of the GLIAS Journal makes very interesting reading and confirms much of what I have picked up over the years working with London hydraulic systems.
Most of my working life has been associated with hydraulics from my 18 years or so at Whitlock Bros Excavators in Great Yeldham (Essex), designing and manufacturing the 'Dinkum Digger' hydraulic excavators (now more generally referred to as JCBs). As Production Engineering Manager I designed and set up the manufacturing plant to make all our own hydraulic rams in house at a rate of circa 80 units per day.
I then had a couple of years as works manager of a hydraulics company in Ipswich before setting up my own Delstar Engineering Ltd in Haverhill, Suffolk in 1978, with a sister company of Access Hydraulics Ltd a few months later. We soon found our way into the entertainment industry and followed with 40 years manufacturing stage set and permanent venue equipment for the world and London's West End.
The early history there was fascinating and my first involvement with the water hydraulic main goes back to the mid-1970s when notice was given that the London Hydraulic Power pumping main was to be discontinued due to the cost of dealing with the leaks in the ancient pipe runs and the move away from that kind of power transmission.
At that time the Royal Opera House (original building) safety curtain was operated by a large hydraulic water ram from the main and I became involved in the manufacture of a new dual ram which had water one side of the piston and oil the other such that the oil end could force water from the other but now using a modern hydraulic oil power unit and pump. This could then be connected to the existing water system which could remain in situ until the new opera house building was commissioned.
This same problem also applied to the London Coliseum and in this case a modern hydraulic power unit was installed in a room offstage with piping up to the old water ram jigger at fly floor level which was then just filled with oil instead of water.
This system continued in use until the early 1990s when we designed and installed a four-ram replacement hydraulic jigger system there to operate the safety curtain and the flying house tabs immediately behind it. These are still in use today from a dedicated power unit housed in a room at the same level and to which we have added a second unit to power a hydraulic ring main around the stage area for the running of a number of hydraulically operated show effects such as lifts, underfloor jiggers for truck movements, and revolving stages.
This equipment remains in use and is typical of the many installations we have designed and produced from the 1970s to the present in London's West End and around the globe.
I mention this as there has been a belief that hydraulic power was discontinued in the theatres post war — which is true of the water systems and there was a period where not much happened in the way of theatre hydraulics. However, this was followed by the incorporation of modern hydraulics in the building of the new National Theatre on the South Bank and then the big scenic musicals of the 1980s with large items of scenery choreographed and moving on open stages in view of the audiences which is a pattern we are still seeing today.
The difference is that the modern systems run at higher pressures, typically between 1,500 and 2,000 psi, as opposed to the LHP main at 700 psi, hence the equipment can be smaller and manufactured in lighter materials as opposed to the old cast-iron jackets and water pipes.
Interestingly the ram pump and water system in Her Majesty's Theatre has continued in use to the present day but that is probably it now. The only other theatre left in the West End now with the water system, to my knowledge, is the Lyric Theatre.
It is my understanding that the massive water rams under the stage in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which is undergoing a major refurbishment, are to be removed and transferred to a museum as part of the refit there.
We have now seen a new period of some 40 years of hydraulically powered equipment in the theatres and some notable installations are:
- the Lyttelton mainstage and forestage elevators and the revolving stage in the Royal National Theatre.
- the Olivier drum revolve elevators also in the Royal National Theatre.
- the Royal Opera House hydraulic ring main providing power for many of the larger shows in the repertoire and also the in-house equipment.
- the main stage lift and many shows in the South of England at the Glyndebourne Opera.
- the stage lift and many shows in the London Coliseum.
- all the moving scenery, lifts and bridges in the 1984 musical Starlight Express, and this has been followed by the large moving scenic pieces in the musicals Time, Chess, Phantom of the Opera chandelier, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Oliver!, Les Misérables, etc.
There have been many more design and build installations too numerous to mention and now we are seeing a move back towards electric motors in the light of the major advances in computerised control of modern electric servomotors with extremely accurate positioning and power not previously available.
I have been personally involved with the design and manufacture of all the hydraulic systems mentioned above over that 40-year period and we were presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on stage for our contribution following the royal gala performance of Starlight Express.
It is also interesting to note that Herbert's weighing machines of Haverhill (previously in London) have been mentioned in the gazetteer, particularly as there have been three principal engineers responsible for the use of stage hydraulics over this period — Mike Barnett, Alan Cook and myself; all three of us were formerly design engineers locally at Whitlock Bros Excavators at Great Yeldham and a major part of the scenic equipment mentioned above has also been designed and manufactured here in Haverhill.
My son Gavin joined in later and has followed suit with designs for the Chitty flying car and the massive hydraulic set and lifts for The Lord of the Rings with more to follow.
As an architectural note the installation of the flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang necessitated removal of the famous 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium' revolving stage to make space for the equipment.
The early revolve had a central lift encompassed by inner and outer independently revolving drums and had been used for Joseph and many other shows. The revolving sections and lift were driven by direct current electric motors and speed variation was achieved by large glass mercury arc rectifiers under the stage. This equipment was supplied by Lawrence Scott Electromotors of Norwich and one of the mercury arc rectifiers was retained for archaeological interest in a back room below stage. (These are quite spectacular and can be seen on YouTube videos). Paul Sadler
London Fieldwork and Publication Round-Up 2019
The London Fieldwork and Publication Round-up 2019 has been published by The London Archaeologist. The following items are of IA interest.
- Custom House. Standing structure recording. Constructed 1813-17 to design of David Laing, partially rebuilt 1825 by Sir Robert Smirke.
- Air raid shelter, Blakefield Gardens, Kenley — standard Anderson shelter, shortly after incorporated into brick shelter.
- Kenley Revival Project. Recording by volunteers of two anti-aircraft machine gun positions and other features.
- Kenley Aerodrome. Found remnants of brick and concrete foundations of 1917 aircraft hangar.
- Acton Refinery, Ealing. Building recording. Built by Mond Nickel Co 1924. Original refinery buildings surveyed to Historic England Level 2; others to Level 1 (external photography only).
- Honey Monster Factory, Southall 1936; good example of a particular type of industrial complex ... known as a 'daylight factory', comprising main multi-storey range with reinforced concrete frame and non-loadbearing curtain wall; internal concrete columns forming large open plan space.
- 164-170 Mare Street, E8. Standing structure recording of early 20th-century purpose-built garage and filling station; distinct Art Deco style.
- Fulham Gasworks, Imperial Road, SW6. Standing structure recording, evaluation. Four listed buildings to be kept and refurbished. Gas Holder 2 'historically important as it was created during the inception of the gas industry ... believed to be the oldest gasholder in the world, designed and/or built by two of the experts in gasholder design: Samuel Clegg and John Kirkham, in 1830'.
- Portobello Dock, The Wharf Building. Standing building recording; wharf consists of yard, ramp and wharf building along the southern bank of the Grand Union Canal, created as storge facility for refuse being transported out of London. Also cobble horse rank.
- Oval Gas Works, Kennington, SE11. Standing building survey of group of gasholders built by Phoenix Gas Co to contain coal gas produced off-site by Vauxhall Gas Works. 'The four gasholders at the site at the time of recording represent the changing technologies associated with Britain's gas industry.'
- Ravensbury Estate, Morden. Watching brief and small excavation on site of former calico printing works. Brick structures from late 18th and 19th-century include dye furnaces, tanks and a wheel pit.
- 185 Park Street, SE1. Located on site of now-silted Bankside Channel, near Rose and Globe Theatres.
- 105 Sumner Street and 133 Park Street, SE1. Found timber-lined tanning pits 'which may relate to a tanner's yard shown on Horwood's map of 1799'.
- Capital House, 42-6 Weston Street, SE1. Evaluation trench exposed probable timber-lined tanning pit, mid to late 17th century.
- 16 Mill Lane, Carshalton. 19th-century development of houses for mill workers.
- 767 to 785 Commercial Road, Mile End, E14. Historic building survey recorded group of industrial and office buildings; 19th-century sailmakers' and chandlers' warehouses built by William Cubitt & Co, adapted in 1869 by Caird & Rayner, coppersmiths, machine shop and brass finishing shop. 'The workshop was built with an innovative internal rolled-steel frame, which marked the transition from iron- to steel-framed buildings in Britain.'
- Empress Coachworks, 1-3 Corbridge Crescent, E2. The stratigraphy reflected landscaping works 19-20th century as part of construction of industrial. facilities and then the Coach Works.
- Duke Shore Wharf. Standing building recording; historic mapping suggests timbers may relate to 19th-century river wall or wharves/dry docks. Five phases of construction and modification were evident. First phase was red stock brick river wall 18th century. Between 1887-95 the wharf was converted to rubbish collection point for barges.
- Barratt Industrial Estate, Gillender Street, E3. Five evaluation trenches and four test pits recorded 19-20th-century masonry remains of Four Mills Brewery.
- Orchard Wharf Service Station, Leamouth Road, E14. Large wooden tank and substantial boiler associated with copperas industry, superseded by 19th-century structures built by East India Company, including potential remains of Engineer's or Dockmaster's house.
- Pennington Street Warehouse, London Docks, E1W. Constructed c.1804, designed by Surveyor Daniel Asher Alexander and Engineer John Rennie to store high value commodities.
- 1-9 Quaker Street, E1. Stable block for Great Eastern Railway.
- 32 Whitechapel Road, E1. Site of historic inn and later the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
- Leyton Gas Works, Clementine Road, E10. Historic building recording during dismantling of three gasholders. 'This work forms part of a national programme of recording these distinctive structures ...' Originally established in 1853.
- Atheldene Road, SW18. Demolition and levelling of 19th-century workhouse.
Hertford Union Canal de-watered
The Hertford Union Canal has recently been 'de-watered' from its junction with the Regent's Canal in Old Ford, apparently along much of its two-mile length towards the River Lee Navigation. This was done to allow inspection and maintenance of the canal wall.
The notice of the works is here: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/notices/17657-bridge-54a-junction-of-the-regents-canal-to-bottom-lock-3-bow-hertford-union-canal
I took some photographs of the junction with the Regent's Canal (originally a lock, the upper gate still in place) and the first stretch of the canal up to Grove Road. Away from the lock section it is remarkable how clear the bed is: I wonder if it was tidied up as part of the works.
According to the Canal and River Trust's website, a temporary dam at lock 1 at Parnell Road failed on 19 April. It isn't clear from the notice how serious this problem is, but this section is protected from the waterways at each end so the volume of water is presumably relatively small. Looking back at my photograph of the dam at the junction with the Regent's Canal, it seems remarkably lightly constructed — but equally shows no sign of weakness! Ben Weiner
New website: Regent's Canal Heritage aims to keep the Regent's and Hertford Union canals' history alive through oral histories, historic accounts, photos and paper material.
More on Bofors
David Thomas reports that there is another Bofors gun platform at Brooklands. This is on the Members' Hill near the motor-racing circuit embankment at about TQ 071 629. It is quite unlike the example at Cheshunt — see GLIAS Newsletter February 2021. At Brooklands there are two tall spindly towers constructed from reinforced concrete, very different from the massive blockhouse arrangement at Cheshunt.
This video gives a good idea of the installation at Brooklands:
The tower for the predictor would probably be sufficiently rigid but would a Bofors gun on the top of the other tower be stable? The tower doesn't appear to be sufficiently massive to resist the recoil of the gun. Apparently it worked.
In the Second World War Brooklands was a significant military target; both Hawker and Vickers had aircraft factories here which were bombed. Bob Carr
A recording visit by GLIAS to the former King's Cross Coal Depot
Situated north of King's Cross mainline railway terminus, the original Coal Depot was constructed from around 1851.
Initially the Eastern Coal Drops were built with the Western Drops following about 1860, and the Plimsoll Coal Drops of 1866 later fronting Pancras Road. The Regent's Canal flowed through the site.
The Eastern Drops were largely converted to warehouses about 1872 and the Western Drops to goods sheds at the end of the 1890s. Over the succeeding decades of the 1900s many changes took place in the infrastructure, configurations and usages. Usefully, most of these have left their traces, often in minor ways. Examples are often in the shape of notices, signs, electrical fittings, access covers, clocks and windows and as such often overlooked as records, particularly of human activity.
In 1985 a serious fire damaged much of the Eastern Coal Drops. In July 1988 a visit was made by the Recording Group of GLIAS in the days when access to such sites was much easier and Health and Safety requirements less strict (GLIAS Newsletter August 1988). The opportunity was taken to photograph as much as possible in the limited time available.
Later, after further decades of neglect and temporary uses such as lorry park, warehousing and nightlife, the site was masterfully redeveloped for public use and opened in November 2019 as the now popular and populous Coal Drops Yard (GLIAS Newsletter February 2020).
Many of the original artefacts have been retained and incorporated, including hydraulic capstans and turntables. A visit is highly commended as one is surrounded by reminders of London's industrial past and present. Sidney Ray
All photos by the author 1988-2020
East side of Eastern coal drops in 1988 and 2019
East side of Eastern coal drop wall, details
Coal and fish office
GLIAS members inspecting coal drop after fire
Capstan being recorded; and in new location
GNR and LNER covers
GR logo on pillar
A stroll from West Ham to Langdon Park via Three Mills Lane
This takes 100 to 120 minutes. It passes the House Mill, described in the guide sheet sent to GLIAS members earlier this year. Paths are a little uneven and may have some surface mud or shallow puddles after rain, so enclosed footwear is advised. Check transport for weekend closures. And beware speedy cyclists.
1. From West Ham station (Jubilee and District Lines, DLR, C2C), turn right, north, along Manor Road. After passing under the District and C2C bridges, glance left. Crows Road rises to cross the present DLR and Jubilee lines. Tie bar plates suggest its structure needed strengthening. Now closed, it accessed industrial premises, of which nothing now remains. Historically the DLR route was a Great Eastern Railway line, Stratford to North Woolwich, with no station here; the Jubilee Line uses the route of local goods-only lines.
2. Ahead, stop under the bridge which carries the Northern Outfall Sewer, to look at the sewer's five large pipes. Contents flow by gravity to Becton treatment works, the north bank equivalent of Crossness — though with little historic left. Go back and left, up 48 steps, or the long slope alongside, to The Greenway, a foot and cycle track atop the sewer pipes, and turn left (west). Occasional aromatics make this a place to tarry not.
3. Soon the short access Canning Road is reached. Across it, diagonally right, is a building of 1895-7, West Ham's combined electricity generating and sewage pumping station. (Photo 1). Now partly used as a skills training centre. Two beam engines, still in the taller section, pumped into the sewer; additional smaller engines helped with peak loads. Walk forward onto the right-hand side of a bridge over the Channelsea River, a branch of tidal Bow Creek. Coal for the boilers was delivered by lighters to the wharf at this end of the building. (Photo 2). The channel once continued beyond its present ending at a road across the site of Abbey Flour Mills.
West Ham pumping and generating station; Coal wharf
4. By now the central lantern if the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) Abbey Mills sewage pumping station will have caught attention. But before going forward, cross to the other (left) side of the bridge and look down to the far (west) bank of the channel to a brick-faced wharf. Coal for that pumping station's boilers was here transferred to drams on a narrow-gauge railway to coal stores. Walk forward to a concrete patch across the Greenway for a good view of the main pumping station, built 1865-8. (Photo 3). It had eight beam engines, two in each arm of the building, lifting sewage 40ft from low level sewers to the Northern Outfall. Replacement electric pumps, 1931-3, have in turn been superseded twice. Pumping is now by ones in an aluminium-clad building (1994-7) in the background. Part-obscured are the substantial bases of the east and west boiler house chimneys and, with its long glass clerestory roof, a gas engine house of 1910-1914. The seven engines, now removed, provided ancillary pumping at times of heavy 'storm water flow', discharging into the Channelsea. On the other side of The Greenway are eight houses for MBW employees.
Abbey Mills pumping station
5. Return and take the footpath on the right before this end of the bridge, stopping just before a plinthed large pump. (Photo 4). Behind it is a short length of iron railing between two stone-capped brick posts. This is above the portal (filled in) of a short tunnel for the narrow-gauge railway. Go down the steps onto the former wharf. A MBW sign, left, below the sewer, reads: 'Northern Outfall Sewer. Constructed 1862-63. John Thwaites Esqr Chairman. J W Bazalgette Engineer. Edmund Cooper Resident Engineer. Charles Anderson Clerk of Works. George Furness Contractor'. Walk along the wharf, which also covers the 'storm water' outlets, and take the concrete, soon gravel, path continuing alongside the channel. As it curves right, the far bank had chemical works (access via Crows Road), shown on maps for the 1860s and later. Eventually they became Berk's, served by tanker barges until closing in the 1980s.
6. The path is soon parallel to the District and C2C Lines. Beyond is the cluster of the (Imperial) Gas Light & Coke Company's Bromley gas works holder frames, 1872-82. No. 1 (furthest away) was heightened in 1927. (Photo 5). Continuing, the path opens out alongside the Prescott Channel, built in the 1930s as part of a flood relief scheme. A single sluice here was replaced by the two sluices and lock structure, ahead, in 2009.
Gas holder frames
7. Walk across the footbridge above the top of the lock and go ahead a short distance, past a tempting route alongside the lock, before turning left via a short tarmac footpath to a road turning circle, then right, through a foot access alongside metal gates across the road. Pass the north side of what are now Three Mills Studios, utilising buildings that remain from the former Nicholson's Gin Distillery (1836 onwards), providing theatre, rehearsal and studio space. (Photo 6). Continue ahead to the centre of a footbridge on the left (south) side of a slightly humped road one. Right is the upstream wooden rear of the House Mill, with its large sweep of tiled roof. Incoming tide water from Bow Creek ran through and was then trapped here and in channels off the River Lea to the north, as was much of that river's natural flow, by sluices until the tide ebbed. It was then released to work waterwheels within the building, which is being restored. See 'email@example.com' for the mill's summer Sunday café opening hours and to book organised tours. Two smaller, new/rebuilt buildings are centre, then, far left, a domestic one of c.1820. The channel to the left is to a second tide mill (below).
Part of Nicholson's Gin
8. Return to the end of the bridge and turn right, passing the latter building, to stop alongside the second gate on the left. Embedded in the cobbles is a narrow gauge (2ft 6in) railway from a short wharf into Nicholson's yard. Its tracks there can be seen through the metal screen in the gate. (Photo 7). Now turn to look right (west) along Three Mills Lane. On the left is the second tide mill, now offices, unsurprisingly named the Clock Mill. Extensively rebuilt 1817. The far end has two grain drying kilns. The main façade of the House Mill has a 1776 date stone retained in an 1812 rebuild. A wall-mounted diagram shows how this mill worked. Nicholson's purchased both mills in 1872, using them to prepare grain for gin making. A section of stoneway, easing passage of carts across the cobbles, completes the scene. (Photo 8).
Railway track in Nicholson's yard; Three Mills Lane
9. Go forward to, but not across, a bridge over the River Lea Navigation, a canalised section of that river, which has a towpath alongside for horses towing barges. Turn left (south) for a broad view of the mills. Continue on the path towards, and under, the railway line bridges. The towpath itself was on the other side of the bridge columns. Concrete slabs in the path cover electricity cables that run to, and over, a dedicated bridge across the Creek. Next are two gas pipes, then a bridge built in 1872 to access the nearby gas works. A searching squint at the centre of the balustrade over the Navigation will find a small cast-iron plate. It has the letters B St L, six names and the date 1895, suggesting it marks the St Leonards, Bromley, parish boundary, in the centre of the Lea. Now the divide between Tower Hamlets and Newham.
10. Ascend steps after the bridge to the road, and head right (east). The ex-gas lamp on the right has the makers' name, Z D Berry, Westminster. Stay with the pavement as it curves right, until crossing the road to the corner of a brick office building. This, well within the 170-acre site, was the gas works' offices. The preserved terracotta crest, lettered C.G.C., Chartered Gas Company, is from a retort house at that Company's Becton works. Turn back, walk between some seats onto grass and turn right into a small Memorial Garden. Sir Corbett Woodall, Governor of the Gas Light & Coke Company from 1906 until he died in 1916, stands clasping his spectacles. There are an eternal gas lamp flame, plaques listing names of over 500 employees who died in both world wars, and a lovely curved seat. (Photo 9). 'Stet Capitolium Fulgens', beneath the plaques' fiery salamanders, translates as 'The Capitol stands gleaming'. A path to the left through a wooden gate leads to the base of gas holder Frame No 1 (with the 1927 extension ring). Plates on the columns, dated 1872, name Clark & Kirkham, engineers and Westwood & Wrights, contractors. Walk along the road back to the bridge and down the steps.
11. Cross the reinforced concrete footbridge above Bow Tide Locks. One of the two chambers was converted in 2000 to act solely as a flood barrier/sluice. The other has two sets of gates, to allow craft to be locked up or down in either direction, depending on tidal water level, between Bow Creek and the Lea Navigation. (Photo 10). On the right is the Limehouse Cut canal, opened 1770, then directly to the Thames and now to it via Limehouse Basin.
12. Walk past the three lockkeeper cottages, stopping next to a single storey dark brick building. The East London Water Works Company built this in 1896 as a supplementary pumping engine house. From 1916 it was used to stable towing horses (and perhaps later their mini-tractor replacements?). Taller buildings replace Sun Flour Mills; there are a note and photos in GLIAS Newsletter 63, August 1979. Do not go ahead, but take the lower parallel floating towpath, installed in 2003 to avoid crossing the wide busy road ahead. Just before going under the road, a solitary lock gate lurks close to the wall on the left. It is a remnant of a lock provided primarily to protect the water level in the Limehouse Cut.
13. Continue, stopping opposite a four-floor large building containing many windows. (Photo 11). This, c.1930, was for the then-expanding Wm Lusty & Sons Ltd, 'established 1872'. The firm had the UK licence to manufacture 'Lloyd Loom' furniture (woven coated wire that looked like basketwork, marketed as 'Lustyware'). It also made various wooden products, such as bottle crates. Lusty owned the adjacent (left) large shed. Cut-off remains are of an overhead crane runway, long enough to directly unload timber from lighters. (Photo 12). The firm moved away c.1963. The present occupant of the windowed building, Limehouse Arts Foundation, has studios taking advantage of the excellent natural light. In spring 2021 the long shed was mostly unoccupied.
Lusty's building; Truncated Lusty's gantry
Buildings between this and the next, railway, bridge, are on the site of the North London Railway (NLR) engine sheds. The line, now used by DLR's Stratford to Poplar trains, ran from the NLR's Poplar Dock, plus connections and industrial premises' sidings, north to Dalston, where a junction provided routes to many destinations.
14. Go under the railway bridge. To its immediate right a concrete structure, like a small platform, is where end-door railway wagons were tilted to discharge coal to barges or lighters for delivery to canalside customers. High above, left, are balconies in a brick façade. Go up steps beyond the following road bridge, cross the canal and look back. The buildings proclaim their provenance — 'Spratt's Patent Limited', or as publicity said, 'The biggest dog biscuit factory in the world.' Spratt's moved to this site, previously partly occupied by a grain merchant, in the late 1890s. Biscuit production ceased in 1969. Cross the road to note the bridge opening stone, 1900 (the present deck is newer) and continue south along Morris Road, past Spratt's yard gates. Turn left into Fawe Street, passing ends of the bakeries, and onto the railway footbridge for a sidelong view of Spratt's. (Photo 13).
Spratt's, east side
15. There is nothing to show that the bridge crossed the north end of an island platform of NLR's South Bromley station (1884-1944). From steps at the far end a sequence of pavements alongside the railway lead south to Langdon Park DLR station, opened 2007. All this area had been terraced housing under the clock faces of the tower of St Michaels Church, now apartments. David Thomas
'East End Waterway Guide' by Tom Ridge (Internet);
'Dockland', a book with sections by GLIAS members, published by the N. E. London Poly, 1985;
Tower Hamlets' Limehouse Conservation Area document;
'Buildings of England, London 5: East';
Kelly's Directories at the Bishopsgate Institute Library;
O.S. maps on National Library of Scotland website;
Historic England website re 'listed' gas holders and bridge;
Brian Sturt re preserved crest.
Level crossing bells
When the railway route from Liverpool Street to Cambridge was electrified at 25 kV, the level crossings were protected by a row of bells suspended from a wire on each side of the line. This was to warn drivers if their load was dangerously high and might get too close to the overhead wires.
The photograph shows the arrangement at Cheshunt, the view is looking east along Windmill Lane. This method of protecting a level crossing may not be so common elsewhere in Britain? Bob Carr
Around the site of Feltham railway marshalling yard
East of Feltham station, south of the railway from Waterloo to Staines, are ten newly-laid carriage sidings for electric multiple unit trains. These sidings and associated buildings occupy about a quarter of the 45 (or so) acre site of Feltham Freight Concentration, or Marshalling, Yard, ('Yard' hereafter). Built by the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) on a greenfield site, it was opened in stages between 1917 and 1923. Freight train wagons were sorted into new trains for onward journeys. Most of this traffic was trip-worked from or to yards of other company's lines on approaches to London, via the North London Line's connection to Kew West Junction and Hounslow; a small amount came via Clapham Junction. A new engine shed was included. An excellent, well-illustrated, paperback book, 'Feltham Concentration Yard', describes the yard's history, buildings and operation. Photographs include the exterior of an enginemen's hostel within a building beneath a substantial water tank 1.
The yard closed in 1969 and the (by then diesel) engine shed in 1970, although a few sidings were used for a while longer. Tracks were lifted and the whole site, with derelict buildings removed, was left to become woodland. About a third, at the eastern end, was developed from 2008 for light industrial use. The main occupant is the Royal Mail Jubilee Centre, a sorting office, accessed via (private) Godfrey Road. About a quarter of the original yard area, between this and the new sidings, remains disused, largely overgrown, but with access paths.
The LSWR realised that men employed in the yard and engine shed needed housing accommodation. The only existing provision was Fulham Station House and ten cottages (now demolished) at Hounslow Junction, occupied by signalbox and track maintenance workers. During 1919, 1920 and 1921 the company gradually purchased many recently built houses in Queens Road, some of which were already rented by its employees 2. It also built eight houses there (see later). These were followed by an estate of 128 properties (houses and flats) on a site which it owned, a former gravel pit, north of the line and west of the station. They no longer remain, survived only by a road name, Southern Avenue.
Now follows a relatively long walk route from Feltham station to see some remaining items. Allow 1½ to 2 hours. A few short steep bits of earth path are slippery in wet weather. It can be followed by car, for which a few notes are shown in italics.
Start outside the south (down) side of Feltham station in front of the original main building of 1848. The station master lived in the upper two stories. (Photo 1). A newer entrance (c.1930, red brick) from the road bridge alongside is sealed off. Go ahead, turn left and cross Hounslow Road into Hanworth Road. Just after this curves right, turn left along Queens Road. Most of the odd-number houses were purchased by the LSWR to rent to employees. Numbers 67-81 were built by the company itself. (Car: park hereabouts). Having decided to build housing for its workforce, the LSWR bought this then vacant plot and built two pairs of houses — one (67&69) in brick and the other (79&81) in concrete. They had the same layout, the aim being to see which would cost least. There was only a ₤50 difference 3. Two further brick pairs, 71-77, were then built on the remaining land. All brick houses had smart, good quality, red brick fronts. The concrete pair were painted. (Photos 2, 3). Page 274 of the book mentioned above has a photograph of houses and maisonettes built on the estate, not at all like those here. Roofs are slate. Walls appear to be covered in render or pebbledash, implying brick, but they could be concrete.
Feltham station; 67&69 Queens Road; 79&81 Queens Road
Ascend steps to Harlington Road East and take a few paces to the left to look at the rears of the brick houses — lower quality bricks compared to the front. The walk now crosses the main road. First, go some distance downhill to better view traffic coming over the bridge. Step over the low metal barrier and cross a cycle lane before reaching the far pavement. Below the railings, partly obscured by foliage, is a fairly modern railway 'Institute', a common adjunct to many centres of railway employment. (Photo 4). Turn left, through the pedestrian bridge alongside the original road one. This has obliterated any trace of steps down on the far, north, side. They had led to a pathway alongside the railway for workers to reach the yard centre via a footbridge over the existing double track line. (Car: return to it, drive to the far end of Queens Road and double back to cross the bridge. Continue to traffic lights and turn right into Hounslow Road and almost immediately right into Brainton Avenue, which leads into Durham Road).
Continue after the bridge to turn right (pedestrians only) into Brainton Avenue and again right into Durham Road, keeping to the right hand pavement. It curves left to run parallel to the railway. There's a METESCO service box cover in the pavement outside No. 62. When the road curves again, turn right into Cygnet Avenue. Between Nos. 76 and 78 is grass enclosed by railings. The yard was built over three water routes which were already crossed by the existing railway. This is the first, a sub-surface water main, its route to here being a green path between houses to the north. The yard was built above its pipe. That was dug up in 2020 and replaced by a new concrete culvert before the new sidings were laid across 4. Continue along Cygnet Avenue and left around the corner to a space after No. 148, which ends in a gate onto a grass path. (Car: parking spaces both sides of the road).
Take the path and turn right when it meets the River Crane, to soon reach a bridge carrying the railway, on embankment, over the river. This is 30-45 minutes' walk from Feltham station. An adjacent bridge to the west provided a footpath beneath the railway, plus, perhaps intentionally, a flood relief route. In building the yard, here over 30 tracks wide, the LSWR straightened the meandering crane and built two parallel brick tunnels to abut the south sides of the arches of those bridges. That over the crane is 20ft wide, 14ft high and 750ft long. The second was the same height and length, but 28ft wide, explicitly for flood relief 5. Footpath use was allowed. Given its dark length, railway minutes mention providing hand lamps. Both tunnels, above which were over 30 tracks, run under a part of the yard which has not been redeveloped. The railway bridge across the crane has been rebuilt with a flat concrete deck, but the adjacent original footpath arch remains. (Photo 5). Oddly, it is a mismatch with much larger flood tunnel.
River Crane railway bridge and tunnel
Since the yard closed, a new entrance has been made into the west side of the flood tunnel for a permissive footpath. This end has an uninviting lockable gate, which nevertheless is always open. (Photo 6). Walk into the tunnel to stop opposite the new entrance to glance to the far end, where light comes through a small door, soon to be seen from the outside. Please don't try walking towards it. Stumble and fall on broken glass, or worse ...
Footpath into flood relief tunnel
As the new entrance opens out, take the narrow path, right, rising and curving through some 270 degrees to open ground above the tunnels. Go forward to some abandoned short lengths of rail and over 200 concrete sleepers; a couple of extended ones have conductor rail holder bases. (Photo 7). Continue towards the end of the open patch, bearing right to re-reach the path from the flood tunnel, now almost at a level. Turn left. A few paces further, fencing to the right encloses inaccessible woodland, both east and south of further fencing around the new sidings. This woodland covers about a sixth of the yard site. Going forward, more fencing close to the left surrounds the end of the flood tunnel. A few more paces ahead, take a minor earth path to the left, down a short steep slope, and then a lesser path to the left to an opening opposite the end of the crane tunnel. (Photo 8). The river is taken east to rejoin its original course. A few more steps along that path get to opposite the fenced-off door at this end of the flood tunnel. (Photo 9).
Abandoned concrete sleepers and rails; River Crane tunnel south portal; Flood tunnel south portal
Turn back, walking alongside the crane until meeting a main path. Turn left to reach, and cross, an arched wooden footbridge over the river. Go straight ahead alongside the concrete, then brick, wall, to a concrete bridge on the left. This is over the third water course, a mill stream. Taken off the Crane some distance upstream, it still has a minor flow, despite debris. It worked machinery in gunpowder mills (see alternative ending, below). The railway crosses this stream on a brick arch bridge, the north side of which remains unaltered. (Photo 10). It then ran under the yard in a tunnel, 20ft wide and 750ft long, under the area now used as a Royal Mail car park. The tunnel no longer exists. The stream passes a new concrete structure providing abutments on the south side of the railway bridge and then goes in an open channel around the outside of the car park. (Both sides of the railway bridge are without footpath access. They are not included on this walk). The bridge you are next to was outside the tunnel's south portal, perhaps built to allow road access to the yard. (Photo 11).
North side of mill stream railway bridge; Concrete bridge over mill stream
To return to the station, about 35-45 minutes' walk, return over the footbridge, going ahead on the main footpath. (Car: turn sharp right when a good path joins. This goes back through the opened part of the flood tunnel). Keep ahead, eventually reaching open ground. Take the lesser grassy path turning right, which soon joins a solid one for some distance across the grass. To the right, the carriage sidings are beyond the inaccessible woodland mentioned earlier. At Uxbridge Road, cross it and turn right, or use the pedestrian crossing at the traffic lights. Bear left into Hanworth Road. The Airman public house, right, is a reminder of a nearby former grass airfield. Continue ahead, passing, on the right, a 1960s telephone exchange (its modest adjoining brick predecessor has a small 1934 date stone) and the Magistrates' Court, to reach the station.
Alternative ending. From the mill stream bridge, go back a few paces then turn left (south) onto the main earth path. It is a 10-15 minutes' walk through woodland to (a different) Hanworth Road. Although well used, the undulating path has several dips which can be muddy, becoming challenging in wet weather. Hanworth Road has bus stops to the left 6. Across that road, diagonally left, a tarmac path provides an easy walk, 10 minutes each way, to the 'Shot Tower'. GLIAS member Elizabeth Wood has mentioned doubt that its height is enough to fulfil that function. A few edge runner stones remain from the gunpowder mills previously on the site. (Photo 12).
Shot tower and stones
It is possible to continue on paths for an hour (or so) to Twickenham station. Initially there are earth mounds, once blast walls to do with the gunpowder works, but otherwise there is no I.A. interest until near Twickenham. That length will be covered in a future short item on 'Twickenham Rough'. David Thomas
1. 'Feltham Concentration Yard', Colin Chivers. A5, 276 pages, 2016, published by The South Western Circle. Copies (3/2021): ₤12.50, incl p&p: SWC Sales, Nettlestone, Soames Lane, Ropley, Arlesford, Hants, S024 0ER.
2. RAIL 411/85, LSWR Engineering & Estates Committee Minutes, 1918-22. National Archives, Kew.
3. RAIL 411/86, 22/7/1920. They were erected by LSWR employees. (RAIL 411/85, 20/11/1919).
4. South Western Railways. Aerial video, 'Feltham Sidings', May 2020. (Viewed March 2021).
5. ZLIB 6/205. Railway Gazette article, 12/5/1922, gives tunnel dimensions. National Archives, Kew.
6. Bus 111. Kingston via Hampton station or Heathrow Central via Hibernia Road stop (for nearby Hounslow station) and Hounslow East. Approx every 10 mins Mon-Sat; 15 mins Sun. (March 2021).
Blaze at historic boatyard
A huge fire has destroyed two Grade-II listed boatyards at Platt's Eyot, the Thames island in south-west London.
John Isaac Thornycroft's Hampton Launch Works was where the Royal Navy's motor torpedo boats were first created in the First World War.
The Dunkirk Little Ship Lady Gay, a 34ft motor yacht built in 1934, was destroyed in the blaze but the Little Ships Mary Irene and Elvin, which were also on site, were moved to safety.
Investigators believe the fire was accidental and caused by a stray ember from rubbish which was being burned nearby, carried by the high winds.
Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited
I am attempting to resolve a historical matter involving land purchases in Cornwall by Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited.
I am writing a paper on the history of the Great Western Railway's 1935 scheme to construct a new branch railway from St Germans to East Looe in Cornwall, the whole project to be funded under the Government's Guaranteed Loans legislation. The railway alone would have been spectacular, involving three long tunnels and three imposing viaducts, together with halts serving the growing seaside resorts of Seaton and Millendreath, and terminating on the hillside above the existing station at East Looe. Of direct relevance to my query is the accompanying scheme for extensive residential, leisure and resort development along the coastline to be served by the new line east of Looe.
MRCE was a major development partner of the GWR. From 1935, the company bought up well over 700 acres of farmland and 30 acres of beach; some of this land was dedicated to the construction of a new championship golf course and 60-bedroom luxury hotel on the clifftops above Millendreath. By 1939, the golf course was completed, along with new access roads. The hotel, railway and resorts were never built. Some of the housing may have been, and I am currently determining the sites involved. In 1954, MRCE auctioned off all its landholdings associated with the GWR's grand project.
My real difficulty is in locating any company records of MRCE for the period in question. I cannot discover the identities of the directors of the company, nor can I find a definitive list of the properties purchased in south-east Cornwall — these do not appear in the London Gazette, where all other transactions seem to be listed.
Can any GLIAS members offer me any guidance for my search?
Alec Kendall. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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