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Notes and news — April 2023

In this issue:

From The Chair

Another successful lecture at The Gallery in spite of the Underground Strike on 15th. With an in-person and online audience.

This newsletter marks the start of our financial and membership year and you'll find a renewal form along with it. There is an opportunity to give additional help to the Society, as many of you already do, if you are a UK tax payer.

The Government Gift Aid scheme allows GLIAS, as a charity, to claim an additional percentage, based on the basic rate of income tax, of your subscription. The renewal form will indicate if we already have your permission to claim Gift Aid on your subscription. If you wish to help GLIAS with this extra financial support (and take something back from HMRC) do consider adding your name to those we already have listed.

The AGM, before the May Lecture, will be held in person and online as before and the necessary papers are with this Newsletter. GLIAS is run by a committee and volunteers who arrange our lectures and walks and produce the Newsletter and London's Industrial Archaeology on a regular basis. We are always open to offers of help and ideas of what other activities we might arrange (if you also arrange them!).

Do book a place on the walks programme, listed in the Newsletter and come along to the last couple of lectures.

GLIAS has also been approached by organisations and individuals looking for information and photographs on projects ranging from the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe to people who have moved into conversions of industrial buildings and have managed to dig into members' archives going back 40 years and more. Dan Hayton

Prefabs, some further comments

I found the GLIAS lecture by Jane Hearn (Britain's Prefabs and the Temporary Housing Programme — Building the Post-War World) on 15 February most interesting. She clearly has not only devoted a lot of time to the study of these buildings but has collected an immense archive, which I sincerely hope will not be lost.

The urgent need for housing led to the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944 and the Emergency Factory Made Housing programme, more commonly known as The Temporary Housing Programme. It was this programme that produced the limited range of two-bedroomed bungalows that are commonly referred to as 'Prefabs'. A major feature of this programme was to use factory facilities that were becoming redundant as a result of the decreasing need for munitions of war as the end of the war approached.

Not everyone was happy with the resultant houses. Under the Labour government, Bevan rejected the prefabs as 'rabbit hutches' and declared that he wanted permanence and to the highest standards possible and stated 'We shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build ... We shall be judged in ten years' time by the type of houses we build.'

Discussions on the 'prefabs' generally dissolve into a general discussion of non-traditional and system-built housing and Jane's talk and the subsequent discussion was no exception. The desire to produce cheaper housing by using non-traditional methods commenced no later than the mid 19th century. The cheap cottages exhibition of 1905 at Letchworth attracted a significant number of house designs which sought to create a cheap house using non-traditional methods.

During the First World War the houses built for munition workers, in many cases, used non-traditional methods, often in part, with the intention of avoiding the use of timber. As a result, several estates used concrete blocks for the structural walls. To reduce the use of timber, several estates had floors of concrete or patent hollow block systems. Other estates used novel structural systems, two such were Dorman Long's lightweight steel frame house structures at its estate of Dormanstown at Redcar and the precast post and panel houses at Dolgarrog, in the Conway Valley, by the Abdon Clee Quarry Company for the Aluminium Company.

In 1920, just after the end of the war the Ministry of Health issued a pamphlet 'Particulars of systems of house construction approved up to April, 1920'. This pamphlet listed some 115 companies whose systems had been approved.

In the inter-war period local authorities built a little over a million houses, most of which were of traditional brick construction. It may, therefore, be surprising to learn that the Post War Building Studies described some 14 non-traditional methods of house construction used by local authorities in that period and that 44,663 are recorded as built by them.

Towards the end of the war the government set up an experimental site at Northolt to compare the cost and efficiency of a number of system-built houses compared to a control pair of traditional brick construction. Jane in her talk mentioned a number of these, namely: the BISF, the Cornish and the Orlit. There were a significant number of other systems used. In addition, two in situ concrete house systems, Laing's 'Easiform' and Wimpey's 'No-fines' were used in significant numbers.

The houses commonly referred to as 'Prefabs', while representing a significant event in the development in the introduction of non-traditional systems into the construction of low status housing, were neither the first nor the last use of factory-manufactured structural components in such houses. John McGuinness

Ironworks and foundries

London has long been associated with famous companies such as the Millwall Iron Works, Thames Ironworks and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which sadly closed in June 2017 (GLIAS Newsletter February 2017). But a walk along almost any street in London shows the large amounts of cast iron used in buildings and street furniture items such as coal hole covers (opercula), gratings, railings, balconettes and foot scrapers, to name but a few. These examples and others were made and supplied by many small ironworks both in and around London. Sadly, almost all of these businesses have long gone but evidence of their locations can still be found on old signs and embossed on their products, which have endured through the decades.
Sidney Ray. All photos by the author

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From The Pianomaker

From 'The Pianomaker, Music Seller, Radio Retailer & Traders' Record'.

This monthly publication expanded its coverage over time to include other music-related items, including gramophones, radios, television and even radar.

This 'news clip' is from the July 1951 issue:

This news clip from November 1936:

Carrington House, Hertford Street, is an eight-floor building with a lift. In March 2023 a two-bedroom apartment was for sale at ₤1.5m.

Copies of this and many other periodicals can be ordered by holders of a Reader Ticket for viewing at the British Library, St Pancras. If any is not available, arrangements can be made to view it at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which also has a set. David Thomas

Coal Duty Boundary Posts


Many members will be familiar with the square posts with the City of London crest and '24&25 VIC Cap 42' (or similar). Coal duty/tax was initially raised on sea coal coming into the Port of London to help reparation works after the Great Fire in 1666. The boundary for payment was later redefined to include coal arriving by rail, canal or road and markers placed on the new boundary under an Act of 1861. The duty was abolished in 1889/90, but many posts remain to this day. A much larger version was used for railways. The one in the photo is about 20 minutes' walk from Watford Junction station. Much more information, including a list of all surviving posts, is contained in a website run by Martin Nail 1.

The entry for this one is: TQ1164396578. W side of railway at five-arch viaduct, N side of footpath on N bank of River Colne in Waterfields Recreation Ground. Originally at: TQ1165796562 W side of railway at five-arch viaduct, on S bank of River Colne. Re-erected in 1984 after lying in pieces at original site since 1961. Access: On public footpath.

In 1890 most of London's large flour mills, with some exceptions, such as the tide mills at Bromley by Bow, were powered by steam from coal-fired boilers. So their coal should now be cheaper. But this extract from 'The Miller' periodical for 5 January 1891 shows otherwise 2.

THE LATE METROPOLITAN COAL DUES. A report has been issued by the Coal and Corn and Finance Committee of the City of London on the late coal dues and the present price of coal. As all the world knows, the efforts of the City in 1889 to secure a prolongation of their ancient coal dues failed, and with the summer of that year the duty, which then amounted to 4d on the ton, ceased. The principle of taxing necessaries of daily life is undoubtedly repugnant to modern ideas, but it remains a fact that the London County Council, by urging the absolute extinction of these dues lost a revenue of half-a-million sterling, to supplement which a rate of more than 4d in the pound has been necessary. The object of this report is to show that the abolition of the dues disorganised the coal trade and led directly to the present high prices. To this end rows of figures are quoted, but the whole argument rests on the dangerous 'post hoc ergo proter hoc' basis. The fact that coal is now much dearer than just before the expiration of the duty proves very little, because in the figures on both sides of the column there are such factors as time of year, strikes, &c, which have been hardly taken into account by the framers of this report. On the other hand those who regret the dues are on firmer ground when they allege that the principal enemy of these duties were not the coal consumers of London as a mass, but coal master and coal merchant in the north of England. It is also hardly doubtful that eleven-twelfths of the remitted duty went almost at once into the pockets of these interested parties. In the meantime the ratepayers of the capital have the consolation of paying an additional 4d in the pound. David Thomas

Sailing against the wind

Brought up on Arthur Ransome, in the late 1940s I had a book — Teach Yourself Sailing 1. The chapter Dynamics Applied to Sailing defeated me. I've recently come across another explanation in the Pelican book Sailing 2.

In the earlier days of sail, when ships had square sails, ships could generally only sail with the wind behind them — 'abaft the beam' 3. This meant often having to wait for the wind to change direction. Nowadays yachts and sailing dinghies can sail quite close to the wind — even 45 degrees. Sailing close to the wind or sailing close-hauled means having the sails set so as to sail the craft as nearly against the wind as she will go.

Of course you cannot sail directly into the wind, if you want to sail in the direction the wind is coming from you have to zigzag — known as tacking. It should be obvious that being able to sail close to the wind is a considerable advantage if you want to get to places — you don't have to make so many zigzags.

Sailing was not properly understood until people learnt to fly. When people had an understanding of aeronautics, yachts and sailing dinghies could be much better designed. Earlier sailing ships often had floppy sails as it was thought this would catch the wind better. In fact sails need to be fairly taut so as to present a smooth surface to the flow of air similar to the wing of an aeroplane. A rough surface causes turbulence and turbulence causes drag.

Interestingly there is an analogy between biplanes, and sailing ships that have more than one mast. Compared with a monoplane, a biplane is at a disadvantage because it has four wingtips instead of two. Wingtips cause turbulence so it is better to have one long wing rather than two shorter ones. This is one reason why monoplanes can travel faster than biplanes and why biplanes generally fell out of fashion after the 1930s, even though biplanes have more lift and are more manoeuvrable 4.

For a sailing ship the top of a mast produces turbulence in a similar way that of an aeroplane wing tip. Thus, other things considered, it is better to have as few masts as is practical.

An aeroplane flies not just because of the air pressure beneath the wings 5, what is more important is the partial vacuum which rapid airflow produces on the upper side of a wing. This partial vacuum is the main component of lift. Something similar is true for yachts and sailing boats but as their speed through the air is so much less this suction effect is nothing like as significant. The main force that drives a sailing vessel is the wind pressure on the windward side of a sail.

It is important to reduce turbulence on the other side of a sail where the pressure is reduced. More modern aeroplanes are generally equipped with a slat in front of the wing which can be adjusted so as to induce a smoother airflow over the wing's upper surface 6. In a small sailing vessel the jib can be adjusted to perform this same function.

I have no practical first-hand sailing (or flying) skills; this note has been written to elucidate the similarities between sailing and flying. We probably have readers who will be able to correct the errors and misconceptions in this piece. For them apologies that much of the above may be painfully obvious.

Bob Carr

Controversy over Liverpool Street Station redevelopment plans

Plans to upgrade Liverpool Station that would see the ornate concourse roof and several key heritage buildings demolished have been met with opposition from a number of interested bodies.

SAVE Britain's Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society, Historic Buildings and Places, the Georgian Group, the Spitalfields Trust, Civic Voice, London Historians, the Victorian Society and Historic England are all believed to be against the proposals by developers Sellar Property and Network Rail.

The developers want to build two new office blocks of 10 and 15 storeys. Their plans can be viewed at There is also an online petition opposing the redevelopment.

Brunswick Wharf Power Station — surprise demolition

On 10 December 1988, just before 1 o'clock a group of us were at the back of The Gun public house in Coldharbour watching the river. A police launch came up and paused in midstream. There was an announcement that all river traffic must cease. Shortly after this at 1 o'clock there was a sharp report and we were completely taken by surprise when the two chimneys of Brunswick Wharf power station were demolished by explosives (GLIAS Newsletter February 1989). There was no time to take a photograph. This photograph shows the dust after the explosion.

RJM Carr

On 30 April 1989 Dr Brian Mullins (GLIAS Newsletter 130, p6) took two photographs (below) at Brunswick Wharf power station showing the wreckage after four more explosions had destroyed much of the power station's interior plant. Bob Carr

Brian Mullins Brian Mullins

Battersea Power Station cranes

The future of a pair of listed dock cranes that once stood on the river jetty by Battersea Power Station is still unclear.

Now that the power station is open to the public the Twentieth Century Society has asked the current owners what plans there are for reinstating the two Stothert & Pitt cranes which were used for unloading coal.

The response was: 'To date, we have been focused on successfully opening the restored Power Station which welcomed the public for the first time in October 2022 and since then, we have introduced new heritage items throughout Power Station Park, such as original turbine equipment and segments from the original chimneys. The cranes remain in storage at the port of Tilbury in Essex, and we will be bringing forward a plan for these in the future.'

A walk from Purfleet to Rainham

This is a pleasant walk of about five miles with a few bits of Industrial Archaeology along the way, as suggested by David Flett, who has helped with information. It is described as in March 2023. The best time is at low tide and before mid-afternoon, to avoid walking towards the sun. Enclosed shoes are advised as there can be minor surface mud. It can be done in reverse, but the route out of Rainham is difficult to follow. Rainham station is within Zone 6, but Purfleet is outside it, so anyone with a London pass needs to buy an add-on ticket, say at Fenchurch Street or Barking. There is no ticket office at West Ham. Trains are every 30 minutes, seven days a week, with rush-hour extras.

From Purfleet station, turn right towards Purfleet village. The first turning on the right is a former approach to the original passenger station buildings and goods yard. On the right, a few yards before reaching the six houses of Botany Terrace, are remains of a bridge parapet. Below, across land being covered by new housing, was a tramway from chalk quarries to a riverside wharf, and later a standard gauge siding serving a bitumen works and its jetty. Nothing remains of those works, which occupied a large area on the left side of the road. In March 2023 a sign said 'Land Acquired'. Continue past the war memorial to 25 local men killed in the 1914-18 war and just before the second terrace cross the road and take a path alongside the (former) Royal Hotel to the riverfront.

To the left, downstream, are remains of the bitumen works' concrete jetty and beyond the Dartford Crossing Bridge. Turn right (upstream) on the tarmac path passing the hotel's river face. Before flood prevention alterations, the land sloped down to the river and this was a destination for London day trippers. Stop at a line of metal cut-out soldiers. Below is a long brick building. (Photo 1). It contains the Purfleet Heritage & Military Centre. (Open only 10.00 - 15.30, Thur & Sun; ₤2.50). Displays include 'life as it was' and a glimpse of former nearby extensive army camps.

Photo 1. Former gunpowder store

This is the eastmost survivor of five such buildings, built in the 1760s as gunpowder stores and becoming part of a larger Government munitions base. That included, from about 1900, a narrow gauge railway along this end of them from a cordite store some distance away. There was also a line onto the solid wharf built out into the river, ahead left 1. In the Second World War these buildings were used as army barracks. Continue ahead on the path, noticing, across the river, the concrete towers holding the 'flood control' sluice gate at the end of the River Dart. Ahead left, on the other side of a small inlet, the mouth of Mar Dyke, a mass of decayed timbers remain of a pier that carried a branch of the narrow gauge railway which had crossed the inlet from the upstream end of the wharf. (Photo 2). Go onto the new footbridge and look to the right where there is a sluice gate. The narrow gauge railway crossed here also, but its principal line continued along the eastern side of the Dyke.

Photo 2. Remains of wooden pier

This next bit is a long loop, to arrive back close to the far end of this bridge. Walk back off the bridge, through an '0', down a few steps and turn left. Take the footpath, ahead, which follows the route of the narrow gauge line until it reaches a children's play area, then turn left to a bridge across the Dyke. This is where maps show the line from the cordite store crossed, so seems that the embedded length of track (2ft gauge) is original. (Photo 3).

Photo 3. Bridge with arrow gauge railway

Cross and turn left onto the pavement of an access road. There is nothing now of several ordnance buildings hereabouts, also served by the narrow gauge line. As the road bends to the right, take the tarmac footpath, left. After about 40-50 paces, there is an earth path through a gap in the bushes on the left. Venture in to see ahead, on the other side of a short steep dip, the concrete entrance to an air raid shelter. In March 2023 this was doorless. A torch is essential if venturing inside. Continue along the tarmac path to join the one from the footbridge. Immediately to the right a metal gangway leads to the Visitor Centre with a café. (Built 2006; open daily 09.30 to 17.00). There is a single 'unisex' public toilet on the metal veranda, with the usual gents' and ladies' down the steps.

A few paces ahead the path splits three ways. Take the lesser one to the left, which drops down to run closest to the shore line. It's mostly along concrete slabs. Large pieces of 'driftwood' indicate that this is not the place to be during high spring tides! The path eventually rises to a small car parking area, with a hefty mound of London rubbish, now grassed, ahead on what was once marshland. Turn left, through the footpath 'motorcycle barrier'; not the road, which has artic lorries still taking waste to an active area. There was once a minor pier hereabouts, and a second after a couple of hundred yards, but nothing remains of these. A substantial concrete jetty on pillars formerly handled waste arriving by lighter. From outside the 'no entry' fence it is possible to see weeds/grass along some remaining railway track. This reached the jetty via single lines on additional sections at both ends, with points to give two loops. The gauge was the standard 4ft 8½in, so normally available wagons and cranes could be used. Maps suggest rail was replaced by lorries before it closed.

Ahead is Coldharbour Point automatic light beacon. There is no sign of a couple of houses which stood at the end of a path across the marsh. The large bulk of a metal shed on a jetty is a transit station for barge-brought rubbish to be transferred to lorries which cross the linking bridge to the still-active area extending the mound.

Not much further on are a dozen concrete barges/lighters, all with the hold enclosed, rather than open and sheeted if needed, so for either liquid or grain cargo. (Photo 4). They must all have been holed to prevent moving. Continue on the (lesser) waterside path towards the riverside mill. Before reaching it, a slender metal jetty, carrying a pipe (about 18in diameter) and walkway, stretches into the river. The pipe drops down below water level before the far end. There is nothing indicating ownership or use.

Photo 4. Concrete barges or lighters Photo 5. Tilda Ltd rice mill

The path continues in front of silos of the Tilda Ltd rice mill, with its name facing the river. (Photo 5). This, opened in 1988/9, occupies a site previously of Murex Ltd, 1917, which processed rare metals 2. The jetty, perhaps the Murex one retained, supports a grain conveyor, but where the path crosses the land end are two sets of rail track. The narrow gauge (2ft) was presumably, as at Angerstein Wharf, for miscellaneous ship supplies and the much wider set, around 17ft., perhaps for a moveable crane or grain elevator. Looking across the river, are the silos and buildings of a flour mill at Erith. (Photo 6). Further upstream is Belvedere domestic rubbish incinerator. The path, now not so well used, continues alongside, but dropping below the level of, a relatively new riverside wall. Signposts may have been noticed pointing to 'The Three Crowns', once a pub hereabouts in the hamlet of Rainham Ferry. A booklet, 1970s, on the history of the area, says it had been incorporated as part in an office block. But alas, now not even half a crown is to be seen.

Photo 6. Mills at Erith Photo 7. Office building

Cross the road (Ferry Road South) directly to a continuing path. It's worth first walking a few paces to the left to see the façade of a two floor office block, maybe 1960s, before continuing. (Photo 7). After crossing a second road the path continues quite close to it, across marshland. Somewhere to its east (right) there were rifle ranges with targets on light tramways, but these had gone by the 1950s. The path finishes at a slip road off a viaduct carrying the main A13 road. Follow the pavement round to cross the slip road on the other side. The path continues ahead onto a footbridge across the HS1 railway to steps down to a level crossing at the east end of Rainham station, with access to both platforms. Over the crossing there are a few shops and a church. David Thomas

Deptford Dockyard clock tower

Deptford Dockyard clock tower

About 1983, just after high water I was near the riverside, close to the Greenland Entrance to the Surrey Commercial Docks. To my astonishment I glimpsed a building moving. A clock tower on a lighter was being towed downriver. This was the clock tower from Deptford Dockyard.

It was on its way to Woolwich. In September 1985 the clock tower was moved to Blackheath — restoration costing ₤60,000 took place and in April 1986 the GLC donated the tower to Thamesmead. The clock tower is still there as an architectural feature — see photograph, right. Bob Carr

Willesden Junction substation

Demolition of an old electricity substation east of Willesden Junction station has revealed a historic DC testbed.

The testbed, which consisted of a wagon, tracks and third rail electrification on the floor, was used to test the technology of taking power from the third rail rather than from the overhead line equipment. It was housed in a building dating from around 1916 that was one of 10 substations for the electrification of the London and North Western Railway.

Network Rail demolished the substation in December because it was rail-locked with no safe public access and had not been used for decades.

The equipment is reported to have been saved. Does anyone know where it has gone? (>>>)

Findlater's Corner

A set of railway arches next to London Bridge station known as Findlater's Corner has been restored to its former glory.

The Arch Company, a small business landlord with a portfolio of approximately 5,200 railway arches and other commercial spaces, began renovations in 2022.

The arches were once home to wine and spirits merchants Findlater, Mackie and Todd who first opened a shop there in 1863.

The Edwardian façade of Royal Doulton glazed terracotta tiles, known as Carrara ware, has been restored as well as the ceramic stag's head above.

Findlater's Corner Findlater's Corner

During the ₤3m restoration the project team also discovered a glass mosaic for an Express Dairy Tea Room dating back to the early 1900s.

Express Dairy Tea Room

The restoration is part of the Arch Company's 'Project 1,000', which will see an investment of ₤200m into 1,000 derelict railway arches across the UK, bringing them back to commercial use.

Routemaster liveries

Re the photo of the new Routemaster published in the recent newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter February 2023), my reaction is that the real LT country bus green colour was a couple of shades darker than that used on LT 2 as seen on route 313 — but that is perhaps a minor point. Of related interest is that the two new RMs run by Go-Ahead London painted in the two heritage London General colours — LT 50 and LT 60 — usually seen on route 11, were both repainted red late last year. Martin Weyell

Can you help?

We are seeking a volunteer to act as production editor for the GLIAS Journal, 'London's Industrial Archaeology'. The work will entail working with the Editor to take final copy, in the form of text files in Word and images, and set them up using desktop publishing software, eg Adobe Indesign, or word processing software (supplied), produce proofs in pdf form for authors and submit final artwork as a pdf to the printer.
If you are interested in taking this on and/or have any queries about the role, please contact the Editor at


Does anyone have a photograph of 'VINOLIA', painted on the end wall of a building in Warton Road, Newham, to mark the Vinolia Soap Works, here from 1898-1907 before they moved to Port Sunlight (GLIAS Newsletter 75)?
If so please contact Jerry Vondeling. Email:

Alternative postcards

Postcards usually depict well-known tourist attractions; here are some alternatives which may be more to the taste of GLIAS members. The filmmaker Paul Wyatt has produced a set of five postcards showing the riverside in south-east London, as it was until very recently. These cards are illustrated below. To buy these postcards see his website. Bob Carr

Paul Wyatt postcards

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© GLIAS, 2023