Notes and news — June 2022
In this issue:
From the Chair
- From the Chair
- Kilburn — the High Road with bits on the side
- Post boxes
- More ghost signs and Industrial Archaeology
- Suction excavation
- A long-lived London tug
- GLIAS visit to St Pancras Chambers
- Elizabeth line finally opens
As some of you will have noticed, I managed to confuse things over the AGM.
Thanks to everyone who got me 'Off the Hook'. Thanks, also, for the good wishes from the meeting.
We are trying out a new distribution pattern for Newsletters, Subscription Reminders and the Journal and, as I haven't been able to contribute as envisaged, I must apologise for the delays.
On a more positive note we have written in support of an initiative to spread the word, through the Lea Valley Industrial Heritage Group, with a grant application to create a website for this important part of London's Industrial History.
We're moving forward with the Walks Programme over the summer and, if I can find out the starting or ending pub, I look forward to seeing some of you.
Thanks to all GLIAS members for your continuing support. Dan Hayton
Kilburn — the High Road with bits on the side
This walk, from Kilburn Park (Bakerloo Line) station to Kilburn (Jubilee line) station is about 2½ miles and with stops should take about 1½ hours. It includes several retail outlets as well as some more 'traditional' I.A. There really are plenty of pedestrian crossings along Kilburn High Road!
Kilburn Park station, opened in 1915, is 'listed'. It retains wall tiles and three booking office windows. With a familiar red glazed exterior, the steel frame is designed to take additional storeys. Turn right along Cambridge Road and veer first right into Chichester Road. At the end, opposite the former Brondesbury Tavern, is Canterbury House, works offices for Saxby & Farmer (S&F), railway signal engineers (photo 1). The works was behind and to the sides, with its own railway siding from the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), a key customer. Advertisements also mention, others — for example, a signal box 'with 96 levers' at Waterloo. After a merger, in 1906 S&F moved production to Chippenham, though retaining a Westminster office. Conversion of the office block into 'Canterbury Lofts' was completed in 2016. Much of the rest, gradually being replaced by open space, remained in other uses until recently. Part of the site is now occupied by works for a HS2 ventilation-cum-access shaft.
Turn right, along Canterbury Road, parallel with the site of sidings, mostly for domestic coal traffic as well as for S&F. St Mary's School is on a small part of the site. Just after the re-start of the remaining railway boundary brick wall on the left, turn right, passing Gorefield House flats to a path to the left of a sub-station behind Kilburn Park station (no red glazing here: this side once had buildings next to it), then left along Canterbury Road. Houses on the other side and hereabouts were erected in the period 1857-66 by a local builder, James Bailey. They were renovated by Brent Council about 15 years ago. Next is the 'listed' 'Tin Tabernacle' (photo 2). Corrugated iron cladding on a quite delicate (?wrought) iron frame, erected by Bailey in 1863 as a temporary facility pending an increasing population (from the houses he was erecting) then self-financing a permanent structure. He was bankrupted in 1866 and it never happened. The 1878 Kellys Directory notes it was St James' Congregationalist Church and the 1890 edition that it was only a hall. After the Second World War it became (and still is) a Sea Cadets' training base, HMS Bicester. Various ship items are inside. At present (May 2022) it has yet to resume occasional use for concerts, etc.
1. Saxby & Farmer's works offices; 2. The 'tin tabernacle'
Next door, No 10, is a RSPCA centre (closed in 2019; planning given for residential use). Plaques commemorate the contribution of animals in the First World War. A frieze, with animals, was unveiled by the then Prince of Wales. Continue to Kilburn High Road, noting the 'Old Bell' PH opposite, an 1893 rebuild. In the 1820s it had gardens which included Kilburn Wells, tapping natural springs for health-giving waters. The London & Birmingham Railway (later LNWR), was built across the grounds in 1837, separated the pub and Wells, and, well, they soon ceased to be. Cross the road into Springfield Place, turning left at the minor junction. Ahead left is a single large house (No. 11). That was there before the railway, which progressively nibbled away at is grounds as two, four and then six lines were built. HS2 is going to be nearby, underground to the right (south). In 2021 streets were closed for underground water and sewer pipes to be checked for integrity. At the top of the steps, listen for the sound of gushing water from below a metal cover in the centre of the road. The Westbourne, heading Thames-wise. It sounds as if only a few feet below, but it flows from the other side of the railway and the lie of the land suggests it is either far below or crosses under or over the railway via a syphon. (Please let the Editor know if you have the answer!).
3. Kilburn station original buildings; 4. LGOC depot, 1892
Part way across the railway bridge, stand on the bricks supporting fencing between the pavement and road to gain a few inches' height to look over the left side to see the original buildings (later extended) of Kilburn LNWR station, opened in 1851 alongside the then two-track railway (photo 3). Turn left into Belsize Road and stop on the corner in front of the Priory Tavern (a historic nod to a pre-reformation establishment). Ahead, the three-storey building is lettered and dated, LGOC 1892 (photo 4). Although a busy road in a built-up area, Kilburn High Road never had trams, only buses — horse, then motor. The LGOC used land of its existing horse bus depot and private stabling next door to build this depot. Space for 18 horse buses on the ground floor and stabling, for 200 horses above, reached by internal ramps. It closed in 1911, never becoming a motor bus garage and over the years has, as Priory (now Omni) Works, had many uses as workshops and stores. Occupants have included Dunlop (tyres for cycles before for motor vehicles), two firms making metal zips, car maintenance and so on. Walk a short distance to the right (next to the former Ebenezer Baptist Chapel) to see how far back the building goes. Altered brickwork around the top line of windows suggests that these, as was often the case with stables, were once much smaller.
Return to, and continue along Belsize Road. Next to Omni Works, the corner building (252/4) is quite small, as the side walls are parallel to those of adjacent buildings, forming a wedge. This was used as a depository/store place by R C Barnes & Sons, who had furniture shops in the High Road (seen later). Moving on, left, No 221, was the road-facing side of Kilburn Station, incorporation the station master's house. Further on is the back of part of a station entrance from the main road, built by in 1879 and updated in 1923. Meanwhile, next to Barnes', the slightly ornate door to 256 is a clue it might have been a 'bit more', and it was — the entrance to the Place Cinema (it had other names over time) until 1940. Pause on the corner outside a former bank (2022: Franco Manca). Before using the pedestrian crossing, look for a slightly darker paving stone mentioning the site of the Wells, as does as rounded stone set higher up on the building's façade. Ahead and left a parade of small shops across the railway bridge replaced about eight offices of different coal companies whose wagons were unloaded in sidings on both sides of the line to the west.
Now cross the road and look back left of the nondescript station entrance to see an exposed fragment of its onetime name, Kilburn and Maida Vale. (As reported by Peter Finch, GLIAS Newsletter 227, Dec 2006). Now look north along the High Road. Historically more than just a Roman road — for them, through the Middle Ages, and today, it has been an administrative boundary, now between LB Brent (west) and LB Camden (east). No private residences have a road frontage (except for some new flats) among Kilburn's 200-plus shops and scattering of pubs and former banks.
Both sides have a mix of individual, paired and terraced properties, many unaltered above the ground floor windows and entrances. Stay on this side of the road and walk north, looking across. The corner former London & South Western Bank, later Barclays, (No 42) was, typically, built with office space used by others. In 1961, for example, by firms of architects, accountants and solicitors. Looking at directories showed how many once-familiar names have disappeared from streets such as this. So in 1961, J Lyons had a café at 48 and H Samuel, jewellers, was squeezed in at 48a. 50/2 is in the 'house style' of Montague Burton, The Tailor of Taste, opened in about 1927, and closed before 2010, with the usual billiard hall reflecting the firm's 'temperance' view, though here in the basement rather than the usual upper floors (photo 5).
5. Former Burtons, 50/2 High Road; 6. B B Evans' stores, from 142 to 162 High Road
Next door, 52-56, was British Home Stores, a then new organisation set up by American businessmen in 1928 on a model similar to nearby Woolworths, with a 'everything under 1/-', quickly altered to 5/-. The 'British' came from a promise to sell only British goods, not the origins. This is one of 11 BHS stores sold to Primark in 2009. At its peak BHS had 171 stores. The whole of 50-56 was previously David Fearn & Co's clothing store. Marks & Spencer at 66/8, c. 1926, (site of a former draper's), has an immediately recognised architectural style. It became a food-only store in about 1990. Cross over the road to the look at the four heads on 70, the corner shop. Alfred Phillips, a piano dealer, was here for at least 30 years and (?maybe) the un-named heads are of famous composers. 72 was once Parr's Bank Ltd, later Westminster.
Cross back to the west side to continue. On the next opposite corner, the design of the upper part of 100/4 shows its 1920s Woolworths origin. An offshoot of a successful American company, the first UK store opened in 1921, initially with everything for under 6d. By 1930 there were 400 UK stores. This is one of the ten London stores (plus 41 elsewhere in the UK) sold to Iceland when closed by the then owner, Deloitte, at the end of 2008. Pass the newer development of shops and space for market stalls, until reaching No 125, the former Cock Tavern, retains its hanging sign despite renaming. Cross the road to the corner of Quex Road (name from the landowner's Kent estate) to look across to 127/9, Trinity House, shops with flats above, built in 1929/30 on the site of Holy Trinity School. The curved corner section was the modern showrooms of Grange Furnishing Stores (London) Ltd, who were taken over by United Drapery Stores in 1973 and closed in 1980. Now McDonalds. Cross back and continue northwards, to view a terrace of shops on the east side, from 138.
A draper, B B Evans, opened one as a drapers shop in 1905 and gradually expanded his business, taking over adjacent shops, until he occupied 142-154 and the more modern 156-162, it becoming a full scale, albeit elongated, department store, complete with tea rooms (photo 6). A report about a fire in 1910 says that no resident staff were injured. It was common at the time for West End stores to include, or own, hostels, especially for single female staff. The 1935 voters list has 12 names of people eligible to vote living here 'above the shop' — eleven women and one man. Purchased by Tesco (!) in 1961 and sold on to Canadian & English Stores in 1962, the business closed in 1966 (or 1971). Evans also had stores in Kentish Town and Holloway.
Cross back to the east side to focus on the 130ft tall off-white glazed ceramic square tower with the name STATE in red letters near the top (photo 7). Along with some adjacent shops, it was built by a subsidiary of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation in December 1937. The site chosen had in part been the works of the Central Aircraft Company, from 1918 to 1926. The tower is above the main entrance which led to the vast cinema, with 4,004 seats — plus standing room. A stage meant it was equally a theatre, and the opening featured live performances by stars of the day, including Gracie Fields and George Formby, with the Wurlitzer organ in full belt. (It's still there). As with many cinemas, it was adapted in the 1960s and 70s with a smaller cinema space, a ballroom, held pop concerts (Beatles twice) and finally was a Bingo hall, closing in 2007. After some years it became the Rioch Church; its website shows a sizeable congregation both on the main (no longer raked) floor and balcony. A discrete peak through the glass doors shows a foyer and further swing doors beyond. Go round the corner into Willesden Lane. Next is the surviving Brondesbury Mews, with car sales firms once advertising here as their showrooms. A 1958 Goad map labelling buildings as 'dilapidated'. But there remains car maintenance businesses, specialising in MG models. A bit further on is a second, disused, Cinema entrance, for customers with 9d tickets; it was 1/6d through the main entrance (photo 8). Cross the road to see the huge bulk of the cinema and as walking back to the main road see the corner building, once the Victoria Hotel, later Biddy Mulligans and now Ladbrokes. It was in the newspapers in 1975 after a (non-fatal) bomb went off there.
7. State Gaumont tower; 8. Willesden Lane entrance to the State Gaumont
Return to, cross, and continue along, the High Road, to stop at the next corner, Messina Ave. Ahead a modest dome marks the entrance of the former Grange Cinema, 1914, built on the site of Grange House after it was acquired and demolished by the Council. Cross to it and look back at two superimposed and largely indecipherable painted advertisements on the side wall of 292 High Road. Words Gillette and Matches can be made out. A flip through Kellys directories showed no firms here with an obvious association, so maybe this was a rented advertising space. Continue past the former cinema, pausing at the corner of Grangeway. It takes imagination to reconcile No. 140's present 'fast food' use with it being a Burtons in the 1920s, although the hint of deco above the ground floor suggests a different previous life. Now to look diagonally ahead to buildings on the next corner, numbers 251-5. These were the furniture stores of Robert Charles Barnes & Sons, who owned the depository seen in Belsize Road. By 1961 (Kellys) the shops, while still in the trade, were occupied by Hardy & Co (Furnishers) Ltd.
Turn right into Grangeway and on through gates into the park and sports area developed in the former Kilburn House's extensive garden. Turn right at the paths' junction to reach Messina Ave, then left, past an extensive school, to turn left into Kingsgate Road. A gate, left, includes metalwork letters LSB, with 'Special School Boys' above. The progressive school had separate classrooms for pupils with special needs. Across the road, surrounding No 107, are various community and council premises (Hampstead as was, now Camden). Words near the near the top of the tallest section are 'Restored in memory of King Edward VII 1841-1910'. This was also a local health clinic and administration centre, treating TB and, one evening a week, for registering births and deaths.
9. Kingsgate Workshops
Kingsgate Workshops, 160/6, was built in about 1887 as workshops (eg, door and window carpentry) and stores for John Allen & Sons, builders, when the area was being developed (photo 9). They moved on to a site which later was covered by the State cinema. Barnes (see above) then used the premises as a furniture depository, as well as the Belsize Road premises seen earlier. They still had a presence here, as part of a sheet metal firm, in the late 1960s, though by then there were also other occupants. A Trust now runs the site as about 50 separate workshops, studios and galleries for a variety of artists and crafts persons. Walk on, left into Hemstal Road and after passing Beacon House, 20 flats, left through a gate back into the park. Turn right, and just after the path turns left, notice an old LCC MD (main drain) cover, before turning right to regain the High Road.
Cross the road diagonally left to No 269, signed as the Kiln Theatre, but also carrying the original name, The Ancient Order of Foresters. (1980-2017, the Tricycle Theatre). The entrance style suggests an earlier date than its c.1929. Their large meeting hall, behind, has been refurbished and extended, with a café, etc. and a new second entrance on Dyne Road. The Foresters, a friendly society founded in 1824 (with earlier roots) was one of the largest such benefit societies in England and still exists — their website offers life insurance and ISAs and there is a museum in Stoke on Trent with sashes, marching banners and regalia. This branch closed c.1970. Turn to continue a short distance along the east side of the High Road until after 299, then go left through a covered entrance into Drakes Yard (signed 'deliveries') to stop to look along its length. You'll be on CCTV. Offices on the left were part of the Gas Light & Coke Company's District offices and base; the section at the far end included openings for the stores. All are now a mix of flats and office businesses. To the right are chunky rear extensions of buildings on the High Road.
Return to the High Road and cross to look at numbers 293-303, a terrace erected in about 1921/2 on the roadside site of Kilburn Brewery, 1824-1920. This is followed by 307-311, rather imposing Gas Company offices (photo 10). The single-storey extensions were described as showrooms. There is nothing else of note, except the railway bridges, not all of which are original. First (1860) is the Hampstead Junction Rly, with Brondesbury station on the west side. Next, the Great Central's line into Marylebone (1899) and then the (1879) parallel Metropolitan Railway. Finally, and worth seeing, is one added in 1914, its ownership spelt out. And the makers' name badge — E C & J Keay Ltd, Birmingham & Darlaston (photo 11). A structural engineering firm responsible for Aston Webb's well-known London landmark. The dome of the V & A museum. Kilburn Jubilee Line station is beneath this bridge on the other side of the road.
10. Gas Light & Coke Co offices; 11. Keay badge, Metropolitan Railway bridge
Many thanks to staff at Brent Archives, Camden Archives, the LMA (Goad plans), Bishopsgate Institute library (Kellys Directory) and especially to Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms, very much key local historians, who have written much about the area. Other sources include OS maps and various blogs and websites. David Thomas
In the local area south of Finsbury Park railway station there is quite a varied collection of postboxes. A Penfold letterbox installed at about the time the first houses were built is still in use here.
You can also find the occasional anonymous box — see above left. These boxes have no mention of a monarch. Unlike the brass buttons of the Coldstream Guards this has little to do with republicanism. For some reason quite a large batch of postboxes was produced without the usual reference to Queen Victoria. Questions were asked in Parliament and the further installation of these boxes ceased.
A possible explanation is that these boxes were manufactured quite late in Queen Victoria's reign. It may have been thought convenient to have a stock of boxes which could be installed whoever was on the throne. This economical notion did not go down well with monarchists who felt it somehow disloyal.
Above right shows a fairly common GR pillar box. This one has additions. It is reported that there are people who knit woolly hats for pillar boxes! Bob Carr
More ghost signs and Industrial Archaeology
In the process of digitising my photography archives covering the last 60+ years and classifying them, I found I had some 300 images of 'ghost signs', many with relevance to industrial archaeology in its widest sense. A previous article in GLIAS Newsletter October 2021 presented a small number of these.
This second article on the topic presents a further selection with a slightly wider scope. Usefully, there are a small number of books on the subject albeit covering a wider scope, see further reading below, and a few websites.
Ghost Signs: A London Story. Sam Roberts and Roy Reed. Isola Press 2021
Fading London. Helen Cox. The History Press. 2021
Sidney Ray. All photographs by the author
In North London, Thames Water are upgrading water mains, some of which have been causing trouble including flooding. The photograph below shows a site where they have been carrying out suction excavation to gain access to a large water main.
The suction technique avoids much work with pick and shovel and has the advantage that it causes little disturbance to existing cables and small-bore pipework.
Enabling work was carried out with a power saw to cut concrete. The earth beneath the roadway was exposed. Next a suction lorry was brought in. These vehicles are equipped with what is in effect a large vacuum cleaner; they have a substantial flexible pipe at the back which hangs down from a short jib in the manner of an elephant's trunk.
The suction lorry carefully vacuums out soil to create a pit, clearing the space around the water main. It can then take the extracted material away; the lorry has quite a large hopper on the back which can accommodate about 10 tonnes.
Also the giant 'vacuum cleaner' can be used in reverse, blowing rather than sucking, and deliver a load of material either into the access pit or close by for subsequent infilling. In the photograph a pile of earth can be seen at the back behind the wire screens. Most of the suction excavators have been provided by J A Rattigan & Son.
Another sight common in North London is a water tanker — see above. These tankers are stationed about the area and can be brought in to extract water as needed. Other road tankers which generally belong to the Thames Water fleet are used to deliver potable water when the domestic supply is interrupted. Bob Carr
A long-lived London tug
In the 1960s the tug named Britannia was quite a common sight at work on the Thames in London (GLIAS Newsletter April 2022). She seemed nothing out of the ordinary and had the appearance of being built in the 1950s. However, this tug was much older than that, she had been built in 1893 on the tidal Trent at Gainsborough by J.S. Watson Ltd.
When built she was fitted with a two-cylinder compound steam engine. This 60 hp engine was made in London by Edward Young at Millwall. The steam engine might have been installed here but it is quite likely that the engine was packed up and sent by sea to the Trent and the tug was fitted out at Gainsborough. Following successful trials she could then make her way round the coast to London under her own steam.
The new tug was delivered to the South Metropolitan Gas Co (South Met) and named T B Heathorn after Captain Thomas Bridges Heathorn (1831-1911) who was a director of the Company. South Metropolitan gas company tugs were used to tow lighters loaded with coal upriver from East Greenwich and Rotherhithe to Nine Elms etc. The regulations allowed a tug to tow a maximum of six lighters. This rule still applies today. Lighters were towed two abreast in a train up to three lighters long and you can still see some of this practice nowadays. The company's tugs would also make themselves useful assisting seagoing ships berthing at South Met's jetties.
The coal-fired steam tug T B Heathorn gave very good service and outlasted South Met, in 1949 passing on to the South Eastern Gas Board and it was only in 1956 that she ceased to be a gasworks tug. She was bought by the Greenhithe Lighterage Co Ltd who rebuilt her. A seven-cylinder 360 bhp National diesel engine replaced the steam engine, the tall slender funnel which would be lowered to pass under bridges was removed and she was given an up-to-date appearance with a squat streamlined funnel — rebuilding took about 18 months. The lighterage company renamed her Britannia and with this name she worked on the Thames looking much like other tugs about at the time.
Britannia worked for Greenhithe Lighterage for 25 years but in 1982 they sold her to Medway Secondary Metals Ltd of Rainham Kent. This company then sold her to Atlas Transport Ltd, London who in 1983 sold her to Greenhithe Salvage Services, and she worked for them until 1987 by which time she was 94 years old.
About 10 years later Douglas Steven & Partners bought her with the intention of preserving her at Butlers Wharf. A survey of Britannia's hull showed that it was still in good condition and she was kept with other historic craft near Butlers Wharf for some time.
Britannia's subsequent history is unclear and additional information will be very welcome. During the late 1990s Britannia was 'sold as a houseboat' in Barking Creek. Mr Tears of Rainham bought her. He is said to have used her for fishing trips, if this is correct the engine must still have been in working order. In 2002 it was reported that she had sunk. However, the tug was 'salvaged by W Blake. Later in Barking Creek in 2010 Britannia was sold to a new owner who removed the wheelhouse and some bulwarks and put two wooden accommodation sheds on the main deck. Britannia's 1950s appearance had not been previously altered and although by now the hull was in poor condition up to this time she had still been in a suitable condition for preservation.
Her end came in October 2017. At high water on Tuesday 3 October she was towed by the tug General VIII to EMR Erith and 124 years old was scrapped. The hull built at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire was of riveted-iron construction 68 feet 6 inches long and had lasted well.
What does 'riveted iron' mean? SS Robin launched in 1890 was built of steel so Britannia herself could have been steel but it is probable that her hull was made from puddled or wrought iron. This material lasts better than steel which rusts more easily in brackish water and wrought-iron construction probably accounts for the longevity of Britannia's hull.
Britannia, 76 tons gross when rebuilt was 'the oldest tug in Britain'. Wrought iron has a high scrap value. Bob Carr
GLIAS visit to St Pancras Chambers
Fronting St Pancras Station is the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel which opened in 2011. Prior to that it was the Midland Grand Hotel which opened in 1873 but closed in 1935, latterly being run by the London, Midland and Scottish railway (LMS).
It was by then outdated and expensive to maintain, previously lacking bathrooms and relying on chamberpots. It was then renamed St Pancras Chambers, much modified and used as railway offices, latterly by British Rail. It was listed Grade I in 1967.
The railway offices closed in the 1980s prior to restoration and conservation. In January a short restricted visit was paid by a GLIAS Recording Group which was given the opportunity to photograph a limited amount of its faded glories.
Items recorded included the entrance, radiator screens, faded signs, a hydraulic lift of mahogany, lamps, alcoves, a dresser and the magnificent central staircase. A comparison photograph of the last named was taken in October 2018.
As a hotel, free access is now limited but the central meeting point, formerly the taxi rank of the station, is well worth a visit.
Sidney Ray. All photographs by the author
Elizabeth line finally opens
The first phase of the Elizabeth line — also known as Crossrail — opened on 24 May.
Plans for the project began in 2001 but it wasn't until 2007 that it was finally approved (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007). The work commenced in May 2009, eventually costing ₤18.9billion — more than ₤4billion over its original budget of ₤14.8billion.
The Elizabeth line covers 73 miles from the west of London (Reading and Heathrow) to the east of the city (Shenfield and Abbey Wood) with over 25 miles of new tunnels under London.
The line has also made use of disused rail infrastructure, such as the site of the former GWR shed at Old Oak Common (GLIAS Newsletter December 2017) where the Elizabeth line's 70 trains will be housed and maintained, and the Connaught Tunnel on the former North London Line branch to North Woolwich, dating back to 1878, which has been enlarged and refurbished (GLIAS Newsletter April 2012).
Seven million tonnes of material were excavated during the construction, half of which was used to create a wetland nature reserve twice the size the City of London at Wallasea Island in Essex.
The line will be fully operational from May 2023; a journey from Paddington to Canary Wharf will take just 18 minutes.
The following website which showcases a wide range of archaeological objects that were unearthed during the construction is worth a look: https://archaeology.crossrail.co.uk/exhibits/
© GLIAS, 2022