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Notes and news — August 2023

In this issue:

From the chair

The summer has started with a walk round Docklands led by Peter Finch. Thanks both to Peter for the details and Andrew Turner for organising the series. Photos of the day have been posted on the GLIAS Facebook Group.

GLIAS is continuing with its walks through to October and our Pub Evening on 15 November will round off 2023.

The Society is always looking for volunteers to help with our activities, including 'Social Media'. Please get in touch by email to if you can help.

We continue to be contacted on planning matters and by local groups with queries on IA matters from Alexandra Palace to Burgess Park.

Do check the Diary for upcoming events and join in if you can. Dan Hayton

Underground, the film

Members might be interested in a screening of the film Underground (1928) at Wilton's Music Hall on 15 November. Both film and venue seem 'very GLIAS'.

According to the IMDb review: 'A lost masterpiece of silent cinema beautifully restored and scored: This is a magnificent film, the first credited film directed by Anthony Asquith, who was then only 26 years of age. His youthful energy, verve, and daring innovation show! Probably Asquith never directed such a brilliant film again in his long career. From a film as wonderful as this one, it was impossible to climb higher. The title refers to the London Underground, and much of the film was shot in Waterloo Underground Station, where one of the main characters works as a member of staff, what was known as a 'guard' ............... A great deal of the action in the latter part of the film takes place at Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea, which generated the electric power for the Underground ....... Some fantastic fight and chase scenes take place there, including some hair-raising ones on the roof, which were clearly inspirational to Alfred Hitchcock, who later emulated them ........... We get such wonderful shots of the Underground, including evocative moving shots going along the tunnels both towards and away from a point of light in the distance. The waiting crowds of 1928 on the platforms seem as real as yesterday in this crisp and brilliant frame by frame restoration by the British Film Institute of this great silent classic.' Peter Hoffman & Sue Waller

The Pool of London

London was for centuries an important port for the export/import of goods to and from the world in general. Its banks were lined with wharves and warehouses to service this trade as best perhaps shown in the book London's Lost Riverscape by Chris Elmers and Alex Werner (Viking 1988) showing extensive photographic panoramas of both banks taken in 1937 by a photographer from the Port of London Authority.

Understandably, almost all of the buildings illustrated there have now gone or been repurposed. Of interest here is the upper Pool of London region of the Thames, stretching from London Bridge to Tower Bridge.

The photographs, mainly of the south bank, taken over some 50 years from the 1960s to date, show the original busy aspects of the region with cargo ships, forests of cranes and crowded warehouses. Then, the best viewpoint was from the top of Wren's Monument but recent encroachment by adjacent tall structures have changed that advantage.

Noticeable is the use of the Pool as a mooring for HMS Belfast and even a visit from a Sunderland flying boat. The wharves adjacent to the warship have gone, displaced by modern buildings and a pedestrian riverside walk giving access to the Pool and its vistas as never before. Sidney Ray. All photos by the author

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Sidney Ray Sidney Ray

Potters Bar bus

Many thanks to David Reason* for telling us about the fascinating adventurous past of the green London Transport bus photographed at Potters Bar last October (GLIAS Newsletter 324, p7). Who would have thought at first sight that this apparently fairly ordinary bus was a preproduction prototype, had been on a tour of the European Continent and then spent six months in Yorkshire? It's always a good thing to check the details.

Are there any other buses in this area which are exceptional? The green livery of LT2 is similar to buses in the Sullivan fleet, but perhaps there are slight differences. Can David tell us anything about the Sullivan Company; it appears to be innovative and interesting and might perhaps involve bus enthusiasts? Chiltern Railways is an enthusiastic train-operating company, might Sullivan's be similar? Bob Carr

Steam around Kent

An email came through from a GLIAS contact saying that, at short notice, there was a spare ticket for a 'Steam Dreams' trip from Victoria to Dover and back.

I took myself to Victoria in good time to see a diesel engine arriving at the platform but there was a wisp of steam in the distance. There was the Pullman Car 'Lochnagar' but my seat was in a well refurbished BR coach. At the table was a booklet for the trip a sheet of timings for the day and a note about the engine 'Mayflower'.

Dan Hayton

In spite of the ULEZ we set off with plenty of smoke and steam through Brixton and Denmark Hill to Rochester and Canterbury East where we stopped for a top up of water from a road tanker. On to Dover and along the shore to Shakespeare Cliff through tunnels that provided the genuine smell of coal smoke through the open windows. A further water stop at Paddock Wood and then back through Sevenoaks and Beckenham Junction to Victoria.

Although those on the platforms and in the countryside had the best views the memories of school trips on steam-hauled trains came back over the decades.

Details of future trips can be found on the Steam Dreams website. Dan Hayton

Liverpool Street station as a city terminus for LNER?

Recently the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) ran a test train, a bi-modal Azuma, from Finsbury Park to Liverpool Street. The idea behind this was to investigate whether Liverpool Street could be an alternative London terminus when there were problems at King's Cross.

The route used would have been via the Canonbury tunnel and probably the Navarino curve (see GLIAS Newsletter 136, October 1991, p8). If the curve is presently no longer available as an account on the Internet has claimed the route would have been circuitous, continuing on through Hackney Wick and round to the east of the 2012 Olympic stadium.

Before the First World War the London & North Western Railway used to run a business train from the West Coast main line to Broad Street using the North London line. Among the luxury features a lady typist could visit your compartment to take dictation. On completion of the journey you were presented with a beautifully typed letter ready to sign.

Nowadays there might be a market for an appropriately timed business train running direct from the East Coast main line to Liverpool Street? However, a circuitous route to the City might be a trifle unpopular, it would really be necessary for the Navarino Curve (Graham Road) to be in regular use.

Since there is an Elizabeth line station at Liverpool Street some visitors to London might find this terminus preferable to King's Cross. The same is also true of Stratford. Bob Carr

Clarifications and amendments

Sometimes articles for the GLIAS Newsletter are completed in haste to meet the publication deadline and it can be desirable to have second thoughts.

The 'decoration' round the top of the Royal Albert Hall (GLIAS Newsletter 326, pp7-8) should be described as a decorative frieze. Above this frieze the inscription the Earth is Thine is a warning which has been ignored for over a century.

The figures illustrated in the frieze carrying out surveying do not appear to be railway surveyors. More likely this is a Royal Engineers' surveying party and is probably intended to illustrate the Ordinance Survey. Royal Engineers built the Albert Hall.

Out of sight to the left a telegraph instrument is connected to the wires that run behind the figures in the frieze. The frieze also includes the Great Britain, a locomotive of the Iron Duke Class. In 1848 this engine had performed a remarkable run between London and Didcot with the 9.15 am express from Paddington to Bristol. The average speed was 67 mph with a load of four carriages and a van and the achievement was described by Daniel Gooch in a paper read to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Because Charles Russell the highly successful chairman of the Great Western Railway shot himself it should not be assumed that there might have been some financial scandal. This certainly does not seem to be the case. He became very depressed at the end of his life because he was ill and could no longer work and the poor man could bear it no more. Bob Carr

Westbourne Park Coffee Tavern

I read with dismay in June's edition of the newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter 326, p6) that Westbourne Park's GWR Coffee Tavern is once again under threat of demolition. We featured this in our 2016 book on Crossrail's railway heritage:

'Built in 1901, probably to replace an earlier coffee tavern beside Green Lane Bridge. Run by the Great Western Coffee Tavern Company Ltd as a temperance bar for employees until 1921 when it was converted into a GWR Deeds Office. Two-storey structure (first floor at road level), later with living accommodation. Since the early 1980s it has been occupied by 'Big Table', a furniture manufacturer.'

I met the couple who ran Big Table, who spoke wearily of the constant threat to the building they had endured since they established the business in the 1980s. There are original blueprints for the building in Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

On another note, you carry a short piece on stationers in the same edition. I must correct you on the passage about Bricknells – Bodmin and Wadebridge are in Cornwall, not Devon! I miss their Bodmin shop to this day – it was the highlight of any visit into Bodmin in the 1970s. Sadly, this closed in 2017, a victim of out-of-town supermarkets and changing fashions. Andy Shelley, PCA Heritage

Hybrid road vehicles

It is instructive to listen to vehicles when they are in a queue of traffic. Most hybrid diesel-electric buses and many hybrid cars in London now have their engines running when stationary; if their batteries and regenerative braking were in good order such engines should be silent. Only a few hybrid cars are now silent when stationary.

It is widely believed that we now have vehicles in London which are probably more polluting than if they were straight diesel or petrol. The small engines in hybrid vehicles were only intended to recharge batteries and are less efficient and more polluting when used as the principal means of propulsion via electric motors, they were never intended to be used in this way. Five years ago UBER taxi drivers were delighted with their new hybrid vehicles; compared with their previous car they were saving a thousand pounds or more a year on petrol. How true is this now?

It is a fairly common feature of high-tech that performance is initially excellent but then begins to tail off. Also the overall life of high-tech compared with something cheap and simple is generally shorter. High-tech does not generally have a long life. The cost of replacing the lithium battery in a motor car, let alone in a London bus is prohibitive, representing a substantial fraction of the cost of a completely new vehicle.

Regarding the Boris Johnson Routemaster buses of which a thousand were built 2011-2017 at least one has been rebuilt as a pure electric vehicle. It is said that the cost of doing this is half the price of a new bus but as many of these Routemasters are nearing the end of their life (they were intended to last for 12-15 years) will it be worth doing this? There are some new all-electric buses in London which appear to be good and they are quite quiet when stationary.

With the wisdom of hindsight, for the private motorist not intending to visit central London on a regular basis, it is perhaps being wise to retain a petrol-engined car until enough electric charging points are available to make the use of an all-electric vehicle a satisfactory option. Bob Carr

Ships, cranes and submarines

Merchant Ships such as the MV Clan Maclaren were fitted with hefty jumbo derricks that could handle pretty heavy loads (GLIAS Newsletter 326, June 2023, pp6-7). However, some even heavier deck cargo required a massive crane and these might be situated on a quayside. Such cranes are fixtures so it is necessary to move a ship to the crane. However, it was very convenient to have a floating crane which could be moved about a port to any part of the system as required.

The Port of London had several floating cranes; some readers may remember the London Mammoth built in 1926 which could lift a load of up to 200 tons. This crane was sold to Greece in 1975.

In 1963 a fairly late addition to the PLA fleet of floating cranes was the London Samson. This floating crane built in the Netherlands is actually a ship which can move about from port to port.

Following the decline of the Port of London, London Samson now known as the Devon Sampson moved away to the South West of England. Presently she is back on the Medway; the photograph (below) shows this floating crane there in May 2023.

Devon Samson, Medway, May 2023, Pam Carr

Still on the Medway (photograph below) is the Russian Foxtrot class submarine U475 or more correctly B49, (see GLIAS Newsletter 290, June 2017, p6).

B49, Medway, May 2023, RJM Carr

Now in a bad external condition one side of the hull is being repainted, the other side is red with rust and red oxide so remedial work is being undertaken there. But it is of course a massive task and moreover this painting is only taking place above the waterline, expensive dry docking would be required to preserve the rest of the hull. It was reported that the interior of the submarine is still in quite good condition. Does anyone have up-to-date information? Bob Carr

Sir Alfred East RA

In his heyday there were people who considered him the greatest landscape painter since Constable. Born in 1844 in Kettering, at first he worked in the boot and shoe trade but later in life he was able to devote himself to painting and was active in London from the 1880s. Achieving fame, he had a house in Belsize Park and was knighted in 1910. East died in 1913 and his body was taken from Belsize Park to the Alfred East Gallery in Sheep Street, Kettering where he lay in state. Photographs of his funeral depict scenes reminiscent of a rite for a hero in ancient Greece. The funeral service itself was held simultaneously in Kettering and London. In Vicwardian times the best English artists were considered the equal of Titian or Raphael.

Alfred East RA, May 2023, RJM Carr

Until recently East has been totally neglected. His art gallery in Kettering, the oldest purpose-built art gallery in Northamptonshire, only used to have one or two of his paintings on display. The rest were in store in the basement.

Judging by the number of his paintings that you can now see on the Internet there is a revival of interest. At the time the previous GLIAS article was written, (GLIAS Newsletter 215, p10) only a handful of East's works could be seen online.

In Kettering the Alfred East Art Gallery is currently closed and on enquiry the date when it might reopen was not known. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2023