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Notes and news — June 1990

In this issue:

GLIAS Recording Group report

The Recording Group has been involved in a series of meetings with Camden Council on Camden Goods Yard and members have visited the site. Work on the King's Cross site continues.

It was noted that the Somers Town Hydraulic Pumping Station on the British Library site has now been demolished, as has the sulphate house at East Greenwich Gas Works. Members passing through the Royal Docks area have noted great changes — this area is to be investigated in a drive round the district towards the end of May. (>>>)

It has still not proved possible to organise a walk along the trackbed of the old Broad Street/Dalston line but a number of other events have been organised.

Several members have reported difficulties taking photographs in Docklands. Security guards are alleged to have intercepted members taking photographs from the public highway and this is being investigated. Mary Mills

Romford Brewery — part two

(GLIAS Newsletter April 1990) Regular Brewery visits are paid by the Customs and Excise men who have an office in Romford not far from the police station. The specific gravity of a vat is taken before fermentation and this determines the duty to be paid. A brew can go wrong and be lost in which case the duty is refunded. Brewing at Romford takes place on a large scale and if beer has to be thrown away it cannot all be emptied down the drains at once for environmental reasons (the main drainage would not wish to cope with so much yeast for instance). It has to be emptied slowly over a period, all of course carefully supervised by customs men!

Real isinglass finings from the sturgeon, not a substitute, are added to the beer at Romford when it goes to cold starve. This is to precipitate yeast residues. Kieselguhr presses with filter papers produce bright beer. Residue scraped from the filters goes to waste. All Romford beer is bright and is kegged. Cask conditioned beers come by road from Burton-on-Trent. Most of the equipment seen in use on the GLIAS visit in November 1939 was of stainless steel dating from 1935/7.

The present kegging plant was installed in March 1987, computerised and highly automatic. It is designed for access from above for maintenance. There are two lines, one of which can package 9 and 18 gallon containers, the other 35 gallon containers as well. In a day the combined output can be as much as 11,000 containers of beer. Before filling with beer, kegs are washed out with warm water, then there is an acid wash followed by a heated wash at about 140°C. The carbon dioxide propellant goes in next and then the beer from the flash pasteuriser, after which the keg is tested to see if it has filled properly. There is a reject rate of about fifteen per cent. If the keg requires attention the beer is not lost but recycled. At Romford there is a 'keg hospital'.

The kegging plant is housed in a large and impressive hall at the South West corner of the site, constructed in the mid-1950s in a style redolent of that period. Ferro-concrete shells with steel tie rods provide a roof of huge span.

At one time much beer was sent out by railway and the Brewery had its own railway system. Information can be found in the book 'Brewery Railways' by Ian Peaty (ISBN 0 7153 3605 0). Now Romford Brewery is a big user of road transport and its drivers are sent on varying itineraries. Large customers are supplied by bulk tanker. Kegs receive rough handling and brewers have a constant battle to discourage ill-treatment. Kegs can be used as footballs which costs brewers money. Notices at the Brewery give details of mislaid kegs.

Much pedestrian traffic about the Brewery makes use of walkways at first floor level or above. In our extensive tour we saw the traditional laboratory, boiler house and an engine room with numerous pumps etc. In many ways Romford brewery is reminiscent of a standard chemical plant with fluid used to transport ingredients around the site.

At the North end of the site we did see a little 19th-century cast-iron structural work preserved and a good many period illustrations of brewing are displayed in public waiting areas. In the hospitality room to which we adjourned after the visit was a fine display of old bottle labels including family stout, dinner ale and stout brewed in Irish Town, Gibraltar. There was also an interesting collection of artefacts such as jugs, bowls and so on displayed in a glass case. Near the large computer control room some copper tuns are retained. These date from the 1920s to about 1962. Thanks are due to Romford Brewery for an interesting evening spent on their premises. Bob Carr

The Falcon & Firkin brewery trip — 12th February 1990

A hardened few braved the elements and forced their way to the outer fringe of darkest Hackney on an otherwise bland Monday evening in February.

This well (?) publicised event — all in the cause of I.A. — got off to a storming start at 8pm in the Falcon & Firkin public house, just to the North of Victoria Park, London E8. To be on the safe side, the 'organiser' (and scribe), with fellow GLIAS member Ian Young, met straight from work, arriving at the above venue a quarter of an hour early. Needless to say, there was no sign of any other members, the brewer, Nick, or the manager! Worry and panic were soon lost with a swift half of Dogbolter, one of the 'in-house' brews. From this moment things got decidedly better and in the end everything ran smoothly, making a very satisfactory evening. As a piece of background information (which should have been mentioned earlier) the Falcon & Firkin is one of a group of over 15 pubs in London — now owned by Midsummer Leisure — which brew three or more ales, to the same recipes, in each of their pubs. Just like the days before the domination of the big brewers. The Firkin pubs have now been steadily brewing for 11 years.

But back to the trip description! After an anxious short wait Nick the brewer appeared, followed by the manager. Discussion on brewing matters ensued between the four of us until the first of the other IA people arrived. The manager, by the way, was a Lancastrian with much experience of his trade. He was, I am assured, a good 'cellarman' who keeps his beers (both in house and guest) in excellent condition.

Although only eight members turned up (which made it a 'homely' occasion), the evening went to plan. The initial period was taken up by people familiarising themselves with the amenities on offer at the hostelry. This of course meant imbibing the local beverages and indulging in the superb Firkin 'fodder' available at all times. The trip in earnest commenced about 9pm. We were shown round the brewing room, stores and cellar by the brewer. All the machinery and equipment was viewed in order of the brewing process, accompanied by an interesting, informative, detailed but informal narrative by the knowledgeable brewer. The array of equipment included the mill, mash tuns, fermenting vats, piping and storage vessels. We were all invited to taste the ingredients (hops and barleys), the highlight of my evening being the tasting of the various barley malts.

After this educational, but highly entertaining tour, we all retired to the bar for informal discussion and to reacquaint ourselves with the ales — seen in a much different light! At least this was one GLIAS brewery trip that I could actually enjoy the products! Members drifted, off to the far corners of London as and when they wished, all agreeing that the trip was a success and a very enjoyable occasion. The brewer was thanked for his time and enormous effort. Jeff Primm

Ammonia Store demolished

The demolition of the Ammonia Store, Phoenix Wharf, at the former site of East Greenwich gasworks, took place about the end of March this year. The building was of precocious structural design, erected for the storage of Ammonium Sulphate powder about 1954.

It originally consisted of a store 168 feet by 96 feet and a bagging house 108 feet by 60 feet. Precast, pre-stressed three-pin arches with a rise of 48½ feet spanned 86½ feet. The arch ribs were 66 feet long and weighed about 13 tons. They were prefabricated on site on a special whale back casting bed. Rocker hinges at the abutments and a knife edge hinge at the apex were of malleable cast iron.

The contractors, the Demolition and Construction Co. Ltd, proposed to cast and stress six ribs per fortnight but actually achieved a rate of five per week. Stressing was carried out six days after casting. The Lee-McCall system of pre-stressing was used and the ribs were stressed with two one and one-eighth inch diameter Macalley bars. After stressing, the ribs were taken to a special storage area from which they were lifted into position by a crane with a 117ft. jib.

When the building was in use a pneumatic handling plant conveyed ammonium sulphate from an adjacent production building. Loading bays with long span cantilevered roofs were provided on either side of the bagging house which was equipped with screening, conveying, weighing and sack-sealing machinery.

The design of the building was prepared by the Central Construction Department of the South Eastern Gas Board in collaboration with Twisteel Reinforcement Ltd. who made most of the detailed drawings. It is understood that at least one of the original designers was present at a demolition ceremony. Details of this would be appreciated. Bob Carr

Letters to the editor

From GLIAS member Malcolm Tucker, who writes on the subject of BELFAST TRUSSES:
Regarding John Barley's note (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990), I can report that there are still three Belfast truss roofs in Orchard Place, Poplar (TQ 393 810, in the loop of Bow Creek), with the lattice struts arranged on the radiating principle, as described.

The Belfast truss had the advantage that it could be made of standard softwood planks of relatively random length, knocked up with nails and bolts without skilled labour. As at Orchard Place, it was widely used in timber yards. Other London examples include Latham's timber yard, Lea bridge (TQ 353 069 and TQ 354 860, demolished recently for a housing development), Montague L. Meyer's timber yard at River Road, Barking Creek (TQ 455 821 approx.) and Handley's Brickwords, Woodside, Croydon (TQ 341 673), demolished in the 1970s. These were probably on the parallel lattice principle, as at Hendon aerodrome. The roof of 31 metres span at the former Grahame-White aircraft factory, Hendon, is the longest I have seen — others are commonly about a half to three quarters of this. Malcolm Tucker

And also from Mr. D. B. Munday, who writes:
Further to Mary Mills' note on the Woolwich Antiquarian Society (GLIAS Newsletter April 1990) and her mention of the Edmonton Society. Col. then Captain By was responsible with Charles Rennie for planning the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield in 1812. His work there is described in the recent Edmonton Hundred Historical Society Occasional Paper No. 50 — 'Guns and Gunpowder in Enfield' by Robinson and Burnby. The factory was recently purchased by British Aerospace and now stands empty awaiting redevelopment.

The Canadian canal scheme was completed in 1832 and is used today for recreational traffic and is known as the Rideau Canal. It was built to provide a safe route for traffic from Montreal to Kingston — an alternative to the direct route using the St. Lawrence River which was menaced by the U.S. whose border with Canada is the southern bank of the river. The route follows the Ottawa River to what was then a new settlement called Bytown — now Ottawa, the Canadian capital — thence southwards for 123 miles by canal, rivers and lakes to Kingston.

The publication referred to above is available from the Local History Unit, Enfield Library, Southgate Town Hall, Green Lanes, Palmers Green, London N13 4XD, price £2 plus 50p post and packing. D. B. Munday

Potted biography — Eugenius Birch

If you are taking your holidays in England this year at the seaside, you may well come across the work of Eugenius Birch. He was our most prolific pier builder. Born in London in 1818, he died in 1884. The son of an architect and surveyor, he had the idea of placing railway carriages directly above the wheels instead of between them. He originally joined a Limehouse engineering firm straight from school and later gained a medal from the R.S.A. for his design of a maritime engine and a silver medal for his steam engine. Birch could see a great future for seaside piers whose building represented an exciting new era of marine construction. After Margate pier, now demolished, he designed 13 others over the next 30 years. They included Blackpool North, Deal, Brighton West Pier, Aberystwyth, Lytham, Eastbourne, Scarborough, New Brighton, Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare, Bournemouth, Hornsea and Plymouth. He also constructed the first large sea-water aquarium which had the problem of water pressure against large areas of glass — at Brighton and also at Scarborough. Editor

Dates to note

  • 10th July — Telstar put into orbit 28 years ago.
  • 19th July — The Mary Rose sank 445 years ago.
  • 26th September — Queen Mary launched 56 years ago.

    Reprinted O.S. maps

    Alan Godfrey has increased the price of his maps from £1.25 to £1.50, which may be too high in price for GLIAS to stock since there are now over 110 maps in the series. At present GLIAS have nearly all maps in stock and to clear stocks we will sell all maps in hand at £1.10 each (post free for five or more).

    Details from and orders to: Tom Smith, 74 Lord Warwick Street, SE18 5QD or telephone 081-317-9101). David Perrett

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  • © GLIAS, 1990