Notes and news — December 2022
In this issue:
From the Chair
- From the Chair
- News from Kirkaldy's
- Do you remember Plastimend?
- Deptford Power Station tunnels
- Review of Westminster gas lighting
- End of the road for Carter's Steam Fair
- Digging up the road again
- Historic England updates Buildings at Risk
- Broad gauge locos at Crossness
- Farewell to Museum of London
- Industrial Archaeology and the High Street
- Post boxes
- New street furniture
- Snow at Christmas?
- And a seasonal picture from Sid Ray
- Request for help
GLIAS has completed a successful season of walks under the organisational skills of Andrew Turner.
This year's walks were led by Mike and Kate Quinton, David Perrett, Peter Finch, Andrew himself and Alan Wheeler. Our thanks go to all who organised and attended from June to October.
The November 'Pub Evening' was held in the upstairs room at The Sekforde once we could get through the packed bar with two dozen members attending to hear presentations from members.
John King, who travelled down with his wife from Colne for a couple of days in London, spoke about the steam engines from Politi's Turkish Delight factory, one of which went to Waltham Forest College and the other, the inverted vertical Sissons, is in the porch to their house. John was interested to know what had happened to the Marshalls of Gainsborough horizontal engine donated to the College.
Kate Quinton spoke about Harry Beck and the development of the London Tube Map and its history and subsequent versions. The audience added that Harry was really Henry and he wasn't keen on his nickname.
Andrew Turner described the development of the walk round Rotherhithe with sources and some of the questions to be answered about the buildings and history of the area.
Colin Jenkins spoke about the Kirkaldy Testing Museum and their developing contacts with a number schools and the expansion of links with others (see more from Colin below). If any members have contacts with schools do get in touch with the museum (www.testingworks.org.uk).
David Perrett showed a recording, eventually, of the hydraulic stage machinery, now removed, in the Theatre Royal. In spite of the technical difficulties in finding the video we saw the impressive rage of movements in the stage machinery.
The Society is looking forward to the Lecture series starting in January and if members have any suggestions for speakers or offers of talks do get in touch.
Finally, on a disappointing note, it has been decided to postpone SERIAC until Spring 2024 but we look forward to getting together with other societies then.
Merry Christmas and a Good New Year. Dan Hayton
News from Kirkaldy's
Like everywhere else we had to close during the pandemic. We reopened for visits with only small groups of maximum size five and for tracking purposes, advance booking with tours at fixed times. With the return to normality we have kept to the book-in-advance-only system, where we now offer three tours per open day at 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm with a maximum of 15 on each tour. The first Sunday in the month remains the day we always open and we have added the second Saturday of each month. The advantage of this arrangement is that the volunteer guides know how many they have on each tour and the fixed times make efficient use of resources. Previously with people turning up at any time between 10am and 3pm we would have to start a tour because we have no waiting area. This would lead to several small tours running simultaneously and interfering with each other in the small space. The disadvantage is that we have lost the freedom for people to just turn up and visit.
During the pandemic we were unable to operate Kirkaldy's testing machine, but when we did try to resume operations there were problems. The ram would move out under hydraulic pressure but would not return into the cylinder by the action of the counterweights in the basement. After a lot of effort requiring a number of removals of the ram, checking of the alignment and the internal leather seal we have now restored it to operation. Fortunately the existing leather seal is still good. We were considering how we could obtain a replacement in leather or even one using a modern material but this has not been necessary. We plan to offer public tours with demonstrations of the machine in 2023 and can offer this as an option for group visits.
In 2020 the website under the name testingmuseum.org.uk was superseded by a new one, testingworks.org.uk as part of a rebranding exercise. This has a very different look to the old one, but the old website has been retained, showing just a single page because older publicity material will refer to that name.
The most significant new thing we have started is the school visits. We were approached a few years ago by a physics teacher from Dulwich College, but then nothing more happened until earlier this year when contact was resumed and it was decided to follow this up in a larger way. A-level Physics syllabi include sections on the physics of materials so where better than Kirkaldy's to demonstrate various aspects of the properties of materials using our collection of small testing machines.
We are taking groups in the first year of A-level Physics, so Lower Sixth Form in old terminology. There is a mix of volunteer-operated demonstrations and hands-on use of the machines by the pupils.
These include Charpy impact tests, performed at room temperature and at a lower temperature to show how steel becomes brittle at low temperatures. Using an ice/salt mixture it is possible to get down to -22° Celsius but this takes a lot of effort to prepare. We asked the schools to bring dry ice which we know will always give a low enough temperature to show the effect we want to demonstrate. The machine used for these tests dates from 1916 and was donated by Imperial College (see below).
A swinging arm of known mass and length is released from a known height and hits a notched test piece. This breaks and the arm swings through to a lesser height which is measured. The difference in heights allows the energy used to break the test piece to be calculated.
Testing of the strength of parcel tape or copper wire is performed on a small Avery tensile tester made in 1926. The machine was donated to the museum from a parachute manufacturing company where it would have been used to test parachute cord (see below).
As a handle is turned to apply the load, the extension of the test sample is measured by a fixed ruler attached to the machine and the load by the position of the arm to the left. The students are able to operate this experiment themselves.
The surface hardness is measured using our dedicated hardness testing machines. In the Brinell tester, from the 1920s, a hardened steel ball indenter is used to make a semi-circular indentation and in the Vickers tester, from the 1960s, a diamond indenter makes a square indentation. In both these a known force is applied and the size of the indentation is measured to give a surface hardness number in the appropriate units. Different metal sample can be used by the students.
We also have a Hounsfield Tensometer that one of our volunteers, Frank Scott, has modernised. Strain gauges are used to measure the applied load and a magnetic sensor is used to count the revolutions of the handle which turns a screw thread to give the extension, the data from both is fed to a laptop. A program written in Python processes the data to produce a load against extension graph on the computer screen. Test pieces cut from wire coat hangers are used for this demonstration.
So far we have hosted pupils from Dulwich College, Whitgift School in Croydon and The City of London Boys School, just the other side of the river. These are all private boys schools with large numbers of A-level Physics students. We have had other enquiries and would like to see pupils from state schools coming. If any members are connected with physics teaching, see the website for how to contact us about this aspect of the museum.
We are always looking for more volunteers. For school visits we need four demonstrators for each session and as these are during the week this suits retired people or those with more flexible lives. Ideally it would be good to have working people as guides for the weekend visitor openings. I have been a volunteer for over 20 years and when I was working always found it a nice contrast to the day job. Colin Jenkins
Do you remember Plastimend?
Being able to make an immediate repair to a relatively short-lived plastic mac, Plastimend sounds a good idea. Plastimend was made by Advance Plastic Products Ltd, at the White Lund industrial estate in Morecambe, a seaside town which has plenty of rain. Plastic macs were lightweight and when folded occupied a small volume. This was a considerable attraction in a seaside town which had changeable weather but plastic macs could quite easily tear in the wind.
Sixty or so years ago when plastics were cutting-edge, they were trendy. Initially Plastimend riding on the crest of the wave of fashion would have sold quite well. To pump-prime sales there was also a local market; Southport and Blackpool have weather similar to Morecambe.
As well as mending plastic macs, other suggestions for the use of Plastimend are on the packet including protecting car doors and preserving paintwork, see illustration. In a few years ordinary self-adhesives age, but not so Plastimend.
Inside the packet, illustrated here, there is a strip of material 10 inches long and 3½ inches wide, folded in the middle so that it fits inside the packet which is 6½ inches by 4½ inches. Even after 50 years or so the Plastimend is still quite usable. To carry out a repair or to protect a surface you cut the Plastimend to the required dimensions with scissors, peel off the backing and press the Plastimend into position.
How long did this product remain on the market? It was sold nationally from about 1964 and it is likely that the packet illustrated was purchased soon after this. However, is it still available? It seems not. There is an American Plastimend based in Oklahoma but this appears to be different.
The dimensions of the packet are roughly that of a seaside postcard and in the early days small shops might have sold Plastimend by displaying it in a rack with the postcards. Visually the packet is a splendid period piece; nothing like this illustration would be produced now — those were the days! Even the term 'plastic mac' seems to have fallen out use. Bob Carr
Deptford Power Station tunnels
An impulse purchase at a second-hand bookshop found me in possession of an accident report dated 1927 in which five workmen were killed in an accident while digging an access shaft for a tunnel crossing the Thames. The 20-foot diameter shaft was intended to be 55 feet deep, but at about 47 feet, with the excavation chamber pressurised to about 13 lbs per square inch, the steel deck and its four 2ft deep supporting girders, weighing about 33 tons in all, blew out. Sadly the men were killed by the falling debris and the rapidly rising water.
The upward pressure on the deck amounted to about 250 tons. It was bolted to the flanges of the cast-iron shaft lining segments, but due to an unforeseen stress concentration, and possibly poor casting, the flanges broke away.
Deptford Generating Station is best known for being designed and built for the London Electric Supply Corporation by Sebastian de Ferranti at the age of just 23, producing his legendary 10kV, 85Hz AC power supply conducted in his own design of concentric cable mostly along railway company land and reaching the substation north of the river via existing railway bridges. Opening in 1889, the station and its pioneering power distribution were not without teething problems, which can be read about elsewhere, but demand soon exceeded the much enlarged capacity of the original station, and a second station, known as Deptford West, was envisaged in 1925. It was presumably part of the preparatory work for this station that the shafts in my accident report were being dug. It is reasonable to suppose that the tunnel was intended to carry power north of the river, although the accident report claims (improbably) that it was for cooling water.
The original station, renamed Deptford East Low Pressure, remained in use until the 1960s, while Deptford West closed in 1972 and, with the exception of the transformer station, the site is now all housing. The transformer station is, however, quite substantial, and it is reasonable to assume that the access shafts were on this site. There exists on YouTube a video made by urban explorers claiming to be in this tunnel, which certainly still carries power cables. The accident report shows there were two shafts being sunk in close proximity, which suggests there may be two parallel tunnels across the Thames at this point.
The Accident Report is remarkably thorough and describes the working practices and methods of the time which may not be recorded elsewhere. It includes photographs in good resolution, and a plethora of pull-out engineering drawings of the site, the materials, and test reports. I have failed to find another copy in any UK archive index, so my copy may be the only one remaining, and in my opinion deserves preservation for general access. I would welcome any suggestion of where that might be.
John Joyes (email@example.com)
Review of Westminster gas lighting
Westminster Council has been consulting residents and interested parties about whether to retain gas-powered lights or replace them with 'gas effect LED lanterns'.
Around 300 of the council's 14,000 streetlights are gas powered.
In 2020-21, some streets were electrified and lanterns were changed on non-listed lamp columns that closely mirror the appearance of the original gas lights. The existing lamp columns were not changed or moved.
Reasons given for the review include safety, cost of maintenance and the effect on the environment. In particular the council claims: 'Gas lamps currently produce 200 tonnes of carbon per year. That's the equivalent of 40 return flights from London to Sydney. Electrifying our gas lighting will reduce carbon emissions by over 85%.'
The four-week 'engagement exercise' ended on 20 November.
If you want to check out Westminster's existing gas lamps, have a look at David Flett's excellent walks (GLIAS Newsletter August 2022).
There is a campaign to save the gas lamps: https://thelondongasketeers.com/
End of the road for Carter's Steam Fair
Carter's Steam Fair (GLIAS Newsletter October 1999) has retired from touring the country after 45 years.
The collection of steam-powered fairground equipment, which dates back to the 1890s, held its final show at the end of October.
The fair began in 1977 when John and Anna Carter bought the Jubilee Steam Gallopers, and other rides were added to the collection over the years. Son Joby and his wife Georgina have been managing the attraction in recent years but are now looking for someone to buy it as a going concern, or find a permanent home to house it.
There is a chance to see the fair at a Yard Open Day on Saturday 3 December at Carter's Steam Fair Headquarters in White Waltham, near Maidenhead.
Digging up the road again
In the earlier part of the 19th century people in London were inconvenient by gas and water companies frequently digging up the road to lay their pipes. In parts of London we are now beginning to experience something similar. Fibre-optic cables are being laid over quite wide areas.
Fibre-optic cables are inserted in the road by the following process. The intended course of a slit trench is marked on the road and a small machine which is a combined walk-behind surface breaker and roller *, is used to break up the road surface. This machine is small and self-propelled. How it works is obscure — the mechanism is enclosed. A man walks behind to guide it.
A small Volvo excavator is then used to remove the soil to the required depth and the fibre-optic cable is laid. The photograph 1 shows the result of this work.
Once the cable has been laid on the bottom of the trench, the trench is refilled. At first a fill consisting of small brown particles is put round the cable. The bulk of the trench is then filled with what look like fairly large-size granite chippings. To pack down the fill a man comes along with a pneumatic tamper. This makes a pleasant sound which at a distance is reminiscent of a narrowboat Bollinder engine. Finally Tarmac is put down. The machine which was used to break up the road surfaces is then employed again, this time acting as a small road roller and once again guided by a man. Following the laying of a good top surface the road has been made good again.
As well as the main line of the trench, branches to individual premises are laid at right angles to the main cable, to both sides of the road. The single slit trench suffices to provide the street with access to fibre-optic Internet.
Quite apart from this fibre-optic cable work, Thames Water are lining cast-iron water mains along the pipe track which runs north westwards from Stoke Newington pumping station. This is quite a major operation. There are three parallel 36-inch water mains to deal with which have been laid close together. The central water main is at a lower level than the two on the outside, and might have been laid at a different date. It is this deeper main which is being lined and it is not a particularly easy operation.
Shafts are sunk at appropriate positions along the route of the pipe track by means of a suction excavator, see photograph 2. The sides of the shafts are supported by sheet piling, timber work and often a horizontal adjustable steel frame. At the start of the length of main to be lined a larger excavation takes place and a drift is constructed. This is so that a plastic lining for the pipe may be dragged into and along the main.
At a distance away from this drift quite an elaborate arrangement is put in place so that powerful hydraulic winches can draw the plastic lining from the drift through the intervening length of water main. At one point it was observed that some of the equipment used, which must have been heavy, required a really massive crane to remove it and load it onto a suitable lorry for it to be taken away.
A purpose-built concrete raft was constructed to support the heavy plant. This concrete platform spanned from the roadway, across the gutter and onto a pavement. Heavy equipment which included steelwork supporting pulley sheaves was noted. The concrete raft stretched diagonally across the road, from the winches as far as the shaft where there was a pulley wheel supported on steel framework.
Photograph 3 looking into a trench shows the blue plastic lining having emerged from a main. Inside the plastic lining is a bung to support the open end.
The concrete platform was broken up soon after it was used. Examination of the rubble showed that it was constructed from very rough aggregate, big lumps of stone and large pebbles packed closely together. There was little sign of reinforcement, no re-bars were visible but there were a few thin wires.
The work of relining water mains can be noisy and to mitigate this problem acoustic screens are often arranged round the site of a shaft — see photograph 4. This can make it difficult to see what's going on.
1. Slit trench; 2. Pneumatic excavator; 3. Blue plastic lining
4. Acoustic screens
Associated with the fairly elaborate work above a refreshing feature was that some new signs reading 'New River pipe track' had been cast and put in place. Most of the original ones have been removed by souvenir collectors. Thames Water have inherited the right to maintain the ground above the water mains free of buildings so that when it is necessary they can excavate at any time. This wayleave cutting diagonally across the pattern of streets is a notable feature of the locality.
Further information has recently come to light and it is hoped to write more in the next issue of the Newsletter. Thanks are due to Malcolm Tucker for useful discussions. Bob Carr
* It at first appeared difficult to describe the small machine which was used to break up the road surface and later act as a road roller. There seemed to be nothing like it on the Internet, it was probably several years old.
Later it was realised that this neat machine performs the same function as a traditional steamroller. I once saw one of these in action on Hayling Island, about 1947. This steamroller, which from memory belonged to the local authority and was probably near the end of its working life, was equipped with a massive fork at the back with hefty tines; I saw the roller drag the fork through the tarmac on the road. It was effective, and a brutal display of force majeure on a virgin road surface. Never having seen anything like this before the event seen almost shocking; the steamroller had to work hard to perform the work.
Historic England updates Buildings at Risk
A search of the New Buildings at Risk register for London Industry revealed the following worrying sites. This is my summary, there is more on the Historic England website. David Perrett
Crystal Palace SE19 Pedestrian subway under Crystal Palace Parade
The Subway was designed by Charles Barry Junior and opened in 1865 (GLIAS Newsletter February 2022). It provided a direct link from the High-Level Station (demolished 1961) into the Crystal Palace. Passing recently I could see that repair work had started.
Upper and Lower Terraces, Crystal Palace Park
Terraces situated to the east of the site of the Crystal Palace (re-erected here in 1852-4 and burnt down in 1936), at the top of Crystal Palace Park. The terraces designed by Sir Joseph Paxton are in a very poor condition and suffering from erosion, with fenced-off balustrading. Discussions are ongoing to determine their conservation.
Toll Gate House, Spaniards Road, Highgate NW3
Late 18th-century toll house, marking the spot where the road entered the Bishop of London's estate. It is now in good condition; but unoccupied.
Bishopsgate Goods Station walls and gates, Shoreditch High Street E1
Boundary estate Cleeve Workshops, Calvert Avenue E2. Row of workshops built 1895-8 to the design of Reginald Minton Taylor of LCC. Listed Building Consent applications for a revised repair and refurbishment scheme are under consideration.
Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Abbey Lane E15. There are three buildings at Risk here in the TW stations Station C with associated Valve House, Pumping station 1910-14, There are no long-term proposals for the re-use of the building at this stage. Station B, Pump house circa 1868, probably by Bazalgette and Cooper. The building is vacant and has no identified use.
Bases of two chimneys built in 1865 by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. A survey has been carried out and Thames Water are considering options for repair.
Chimney to Beckton Sewage Works, Jenkins Lane, Beckton E6. Chimney dating from 1887 to 1889, designed by Joseph Bazalgette (GLIAS Newsletter October 2022). Regular surveys are carried out to review its condition and maintenance works are being undertaken based on these findings.
Baring Hall Hotel, Baring Road, SE12 with stable block designed by Ernest Newton, 1881-1882, with later additions. The pub was closed and broken into during lockdown. The stable block is unoccupied and derelict.
Mausoleum of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, St Mary's Churchyard, St Mary's Road, Wimbledon SW19. The ironwork requires repair and the gates are missing. Charity Habitats & Heritage and the church are seeking funding to enable the necessary works to be carried out. Portland stone mausoleum from the end of the 19th century.
Three Mills (known as the House Mill), Three Mill Lane E3. Tide Mill dating from 1776 and last used in 1941. Much of the building fabric has been repaired, but work is needed to the undershot water wheels and surviving machinery. The House Mill Trust continues to work towards a sustainable strategy for repair of machinery.
Two stations are on the list. Peckham Rye Station, Station Way, Peckham SE15. The station is an H-shaped building, built in 1864-65 by Charles Henry Driver for the LB&SCR. Further works are planned in relation to eventual community use of the wing.
Battersea Park Station, Battersea Park Road SW8 — Wandsworth. Italianate style station built circa 1865 for the LB&SCR. Alterations to the train service mean that the architecturally significant Platform 1 is redundant. Discussions about the wider station site, including an additional entrance, a new use for Platform 1, disability access and improved facilities are under way.
Chingford Mill Pumping Station, Lower Hall Lane E4. The Water turbine house built in 1895 for East London Water Works. Pumping station built in 1895 for East London Water Works, in a variant of the style popularised by Norman Shaw.
On a happier note. Two new pubs in London have been listed Grade II. The Blythe Hill Tavern at 319 Stanstead Road (on the South Circular Rd), Forest Hill; I know it well, being near my home. The 1920s fittings survive throughout. Its unusual T-shaped layout was designed to create a serving counter in each of the three rooms.
The other newly listed pub is The Admiral Vernon Public House, 141 Broad Street, Dagenham. A Courage brewery pub of 1939, built in the 'Brewers Tudor' style to serve the Becontree Estate. Its almost complete interior includes a games room, private bar, saloon bar and publican.s offices behind the counter.
Broad gauge locos at Crossness
A chance finding of the mention in the article in LIA 14 on the other steam engines at Crossness by David Dawson led Paul Garnsworthy of the Broad Gauge Society to ask me to send him a copy. The article mentions that the MBW purchased a redundant Broad Gauge Loco for the site.
Paul has sent me copies of issues 86 and 87 of the Society's Journal 'Broadsheet'. In the first he details the locomotives obtained for emergency pumps on the Effra overflow in the late 1870s and in the second he describes locos at the Falcon Brook storm overflow as well as a further part about the locos at Crossness. These are very detailed and well-illustrated articles. David Perrett
Farewell to Museum of London
The Museum of London's site at London Wall will close on 4 December after 45 years.
The collections will be transferred to a new home in West Smithfield where it will reopen in 2026 under a new name The London Museum.
Internal works to the General Market building at West Smithfield are well under way with excavation completed on the site's former Salt Stores and Vaults to create trenches for ventilation and services. Precast planks, which will form the basis of a new floor level, have been installed. Around 10,000m2 of Victorian brickwork in the basement has been cleaned and restored to its former glory.
The Museum of London Docklands will remain open, and will become The London Museum Docklands from January 2023.
Industrial Archaeology and the High Street
The local High Street or equivalent can be an unexpected and fruitful source of information of former light industries and associated services. Following my previous articles on this topic in the GLIAS Newsletters for October 2021 and December 2021 I offer a further selection of photos to show relevant shop fronts and signs now largely vanished. Sidney Ray. All photos by the author
Apropos Bob Carr's note (GLIAS Newsletter June 2022), here's an interesting example recently installed in another corner of N4, on Crouch Hill at TQ 303 876. At first sight it looks like a traditional cast-iron design, but in fact it is made of thin sheet metal, the details variously press-formed and laser-cut and assembled with fillet welds and probably resistance welds — all very clever and neat.
The previous box on this site was relatively recent, a Type K, stylishly modern in cast iron, but an unreliable mechanical design necessitated its replacement. Malcolm Tucker
New street furniture
Noted outside the Fire Station in Upper Street, Islington, this appears to be a new-style drinking fountain for pedestrians to fill water bottles. The idea is to save plastic, see photograph. Bob Carr
Snow at Christmas?
The following photographs, taken just over a quarter of a century ago in the mid-1990s depict snow in London and the South East. They are mostly taken in and about railway stations.
Firstly we have two photographs of Brentwood (1 & 2) taken in December 1995. In (1) we see a train approaching the railway station. The houses in photograph (2) are quite close to the station. You might like to investigate how things have changed; it can sometimes be surprising even after only 25 years.
Next we have Shenfield (3 & 4), just beyond the summit of Brentwood bank. Again the quiet road depicted in snow is fairly close to the railway station. The Shenfield photographs were taken on the same day as those at Brentwood.
London Transport surface lines experience snow; here in March 1995 is Chorleywood station (5). Further west in Hampshire, the Bramley Inn (6) was photographed in snowy conditions in February 1996.
You are not being told in which direction the photographer was facing. Over Christmas perhaps you might like to work this out for yourselves? Answers in the next Newsletter. Bob Carr
1. Brentwood station; 2. Alexandra Road just north of Brentwood station
3. Shenfield station; 4. Mount Avenue in Shenfield
5. Chorleywood; 6. The Bramley Inn
And a seasonal picture from Sid Ray
Heavy snowfall in the former Midland Railway coal yards in Somers Town which in January 1970 was being used as a coach and lorry park prior to its demolition.
Request for help
I am looking for old pictures of Chalkhill Road at Wembley Park from the 1930s to 1980s, also information on Chalkhill House and a man named Henry Doo Rawlings who sold soft drinks in the 1880s (he also lived in Chalkhill House).
I know about The Willesden Green Library Archives.
Also any old pictures of Wembley Town Hall in the 1930s please?
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© GLIAS, 2022