Book reviews — October 1999
'London's Lea Valley: Britain's Best Kept Secret', by Jim Lewis
The 144-page book (ISBN 1-86077-100-9), published in May 1999, costs £14.99 (hardback)
Over the years many books and papers have been produced dealing with various aspects of the historio-geography of the Lea Valley — its geology, archaeology, hydrography, navigation, horticulture, etc. Until now no comprehensive survey has been made of its industrial contribution to the local and national economy. Now Dr Lewis has taken this theme as the subject of this new book. In doing so he has brought together both personalities who pioneered new concepts of technology and processes which have influenced industrial development world-wide. However, in a book of only 144 pages, as Dr Lewis accepts, each subject has been dealt with in an introductory way and it will require individual books to provide an in-depth study of each topic. In fact in the author's conclusion he lists several topics which offer opportunities for fuller research — is this a stimulus for GLIAS members as well as potential academics?
Surprisingly Dr Lewis does not provide a specific definition of what is the Lea Valley. A map on page xii shows the region of the Lea Valley but does not indicate its actual geographic boundaries. By inference everything north and west of the New River at Ware is excluded, ie the early paper-making mill at Hertford; but Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham and parts of Hackney are included.
It is, however, in the broad range of technological development, with often surprising manifestations that the aura of the Lea Valley shed its light. Although the heavy industries of the so-called Industrial Revolution, dependent on the local extraction of coal and iron were absent from the valley, there were secondary engineering industries such as railway engineering at Stratford; pioneer aircraft design by A V Roe at Walthamstow; standard telephones with communication equipment; electrical and electronic engineering in radio and TV with Sir Jules Thorn; and transport with J A Prestwich and the JAP engines; Walter Hancock with mechanically propelled road passenger vehicles; Frederick Bremer with the first British car powered with an internal combustion engine; and the forerunner of London Transport with the AEC factory at Walthamstow. But even greater contribution to modern technology is found in the chemical, plastic and computer industries. Although the chemical industry had an early start in the gunpowder industry at Waltham Abbey, it later received the innovative genius of Dr Chaim Weizmann in pioneering the production of acetone at Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow; and the dyestuffs, pharmaceutical, and plastics industries all received inspiration from experimental work in the valley. Dr Lewis points out that Charles Babbage, in one sense the pioneer of the computer industry, received his education at Enfield. Even this list does not encompass the wide-ranging and comprehensive research of the author embodied in 33 chapters of this illustrated book.
Nevertheless the following comments should be made. The name of Barnes-Wallis of bouncing bomb fame is not spelt Barnes-Wallace as in the caption under the illustration on p67. Walter Hancock had already pioneered a regular bus service in 1831, though admittedly primarily to gather experience. It is surprising that in connection with the Royal Small Arms Factory no mention is made of Col By who was responsible for the selection of the site and its proposed layout and with his locally gained knowledge of the Lee Navigation later engineering the Rideau Canal in Canada. And speaking of the Lee Navigation and the river Lea the explanation of the difference in spelling was established in print many years before 1995, the reference date given in the notes to the chapter on the Lea Valley.
This book is essential reading for GLIAS members as it provides the flesh to the remaining skeleton of the industrial archaeology of the Lea Valley that has lost so much of its industrial heartland in the last decade. John Boyes
'Paddington Station 1833-1854', by Michael Tutton
The 48-page book (ISBN 0 901461 20 2), published this year by the Railway & Canal Historical Society, costs £8.50 (paperback)
This is the only extensive investigation into the station before the present buildings were erected in 1852-54. It chronicles the procurement of land for, and the erection of the early terminus, and provides a brief glimpse of the station at work. With previously unpublished material, including early plans.
'Memoir of Localities of Minerals of Economic Importance and Metalliferous Mines in Ireland'
Available from Matthew Parkes, The Mining Heritage of Ireland, c/o Geological Survey of Ireland, Beggars Bush, Haddington Road, Dublin 4, price £9.50 plus £1.50 p&p (cheques payable to The Mining Heritage Society of Ireland)
A limited facsimile edition of the 1922 Geological Survey of Ireland.
'Surrey's Industrial Past'
The 160-page softback book, published by the Surrey Industrial History Group, costs £12.95 (softback). Copies can be obtained post free from John Mills, 35 Trotsworth Avenue, Virginia Water, GU25 4AN (cheques payable to SIHG)
This book describes the industrial history of the county. Surrey Industrial History Group is launching the book at Dorking Christian Centre at 8pm on 29 October (doors open 7.30pm).
'Vatmaking', by RR Foskett
The 168-page book (ISBN 1 900747 02 2), published by the Science Museum, costs £18.95 (paperback)
Although described as for academic readers, this book may be of interest as it is based on the records and engineering drawings of Carty & Son Ltd of London. It is a manual of every aspect of vatmaking providing a unique record of a once essential craft.
'Dropping the Fire', By Philip Atkins
The 112-page book (ISBN 1 871608 89 9), published by the Science Museum, costs £14.95 (paperback)
This book is the result of 30 years' research into the fall from favour of the steam locomotive after the Second World War. Several tantalising 'might-have-beens' are included.
'Railways in Focus', by Ed Bartholomew and Michael Blakemore
The 229-page book (ISBN 0 906899 91 5), published by the Science Museum, costs £25 (hardback)
Contains over 200 previously unpublished National Railway Museum photographs from 1850 to the present which document technological developments, working and industrial processes and the railway's impact on everyday life, leisure and the landscape.
'North East Focus', edited by Nigel Harris
The 52-page book (ISBN 1 901551 01 6), published by the Science Museum, costs £4.95 (paperback)
The souvenir guide to a photographic exhibition on the end of BR steam with images taken by members of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group.
© GLIAS, 1999