Book reviews — June 2011
'Corrugated Iron Buildings', by Nick Thomson
Shire Library no 592, ISBN-13: 978 0 74780 783 4. Published 2011, www.shirebooks.co.uk, £6.99. 64 pages
In this book Nick Thomson, who is an architect with a special interest in the conservation of buildings, sets out to answer questions about small-scale buildings made from corrugated iron and their British manufacturers.
The book is divided into six chapters with an index.
The first chapter, New Properties, sets the scene from 1829 when Henry Robinson Palmer patented the idea of corrugated iron while engineer of the London Dock. The galvanising process, that solved the problem of corrosion, was developed in Paris and brought to England by HV Craufurd who took out a patent in 1837, however it was John Porter of Southwark who in 1843 constructed the first roof in Britain of corrugated and galvanised sheets. One of the first buildings to be exported was a palace for a west African king! It is in such details, some of which I had not come across before, that makes this book a worthwhile addition to the 'Shire Library' series. However, a book of this size cannot answer all questions, for example, it does not state for which building Porter's first roof was made.
More Than Just A Cottage Industry: recounts the growth of many firms and their export markets. The title page of Frederick Braby & Co's 1873 catalogue shows their offices and works in the Euston Road, it gives the impression that it could be set in one of the northern industrial cities! This firm later had a factory in Glasgow covering 35 acres and employing 1,700 people and only closed in 1960.
Building For A Changing Society: the second half of the 19th century was a time of social change and population growth, resulting in the need for new and different buildings, for example churches, hospitals, schools and village halls. Corrugated iron buildings were able to satisfy these needs at a reasonable cost. Buildings In Stock: by the end of the 19th century the trade in such buildings had matured, corrugated iron sheets had become standardised and for example William Cooper claimed that a hospital could be dispatched in 24 hours and erected and ready for occupancy within 14 days.
A Kindly Domestic Beast: covers the 20th century. The creation of Birchinglee in 1901-02, a complete self-contained corrugated iron village for a population of nearly a thousand, the builders and their families of the Peak District's great dams. Birchinglee was dismantled as quickly as it had been erected. There was also an answer to the accommodation requirements of both World Wars — Nissen huts. I have read that Major Nissen had a factory in Hertfordshire, but where was it? However, it is also noted that in 1907, an Austrian invented a machine to manufacture corrugated sheets of asbestos cement!
The final chapter is titled: The Ups and Downs of Iron Sheeting, and concludes with the truism, 'though they tend to be undervalued, these jaunty and friendly buildings can continue to add delight and character to our built environment'.
There are 11 references for further reading and suggestions of 10 UK museums to visit, four in the home counties. The diversity of these buildings, that were made for the Empire and home markets, are covered by the 89 illustrations.
Some of the illustrations in the book particularly caught my attention having GLIAS Newsletter connections. There are plans and buildings by William Cooper of the Old Kent Road — (GLIAS Newsletter October 2007), and a picture showing that indeed the tin chapel in Shrublands Road, Dalston, 'still sits there proudly and rather anachronistically, among its salubrious neighbours', as Norma King wrote so movingly (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007), also Cambridge Hall, Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn that Peter Finch drew our attention to in the same newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter December 2007). Peter J Butt
'The Royal Navy Victualling Yard, East Smithfield', by Ian Grainger & Chris Phillpotts
Museum of London Archaeology, Monograph 45, ISBN 978-1-901992-89-2. Published 2010, pp144 +xiii, £16, www.museumoflondonshop.co.uk
The victualling yard in East Smithfield was founded in 1560 and operated from the same site until 1785 when victualling was transferred to the better known yard and with significant surviving buildings at Deptford. The East Smithfield site became the Royal Mint in 1809. When the Mint had finally moved to Wales in 1975, the site was sold for commercial redevelopment although Smirke's 1809 Building was preserved. From 1983 to 1988 the site was subjected to a major archaeological investigation by the Museum of London and this volume is an attempt to catch up with reporting outstanding investigations. This report is the third in series that have documented the Mint site: the earlier ones covered a Black Death Cemetery 2008 and The Abbey of St Mary Graces.
This volume includes not only details of the excavations and the significant remains that were found but is also a fascinating account of supplying the Royal Navy during this period. It is illustrated not only with high quality plans and photographs of what was unearthed but also with archival illustrations and maps. While the main body of the book follows the standard archaeological approaches with detailed descriptions of pottery fragments and analysis of bones, plants, etc. from the various levels it is the discussion of the uses of the buildings and the development of the site that the industrial archaeologist will find of most interest. The Museum of London team link their archaeological findings to other evidence in an informative way but I found Chapter 3 on the history of the site the most interesting and gathered much fresh information. For example prior to the slaughter house in the victualling yard cattle were grazed and then slaughtered at Deptford for the Royal household and also the Navy. Like the current debates over our ability to supply the troops in Afghanistan so the victualling yard failed when it came to supplying the Navy at the time of the Spanish Armada! Attempts at privatisation also failed and it was taken back into state control.
This is an excellent and very well produced volume and, for those interested in the topic, well worth the low price. David Perrett
'St Pancras Station', by Simon Bradley
Profile, £8.99. www.profilebooks.com
(GLIAS Newsletter February 2007). Now reissued with a postscript to mark the reopening of the former Midland Grand Hotel.
© GLIAS, 2011