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Notes and news — February 1992

New maritime gallery planned for Greenwich

At the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, substantial extensions costing £37 million are planned including a two-storey gallery beneath the lawns to the north of the 17th-century Queen's House by Inigo Jones.

It is intended work will take place during 1997-99 when an excavation 50 feet deep will disfigure the museum's lawns.

The subterranean galleries are to house a theme museum presently known as Sea Fever. Redevelopment also includes a glass-roofed courtyard and the scheme is expected to take about ten years. A 30% increase in exhibition space will be effected.

Four outlying buildings at present used for storage will become surplus to requirements. Among these is the Brass Gun Foundry in Woolwich Arsenal dating from 1717 and attributed to Sir John Vanbrugh. It is listed grade one. Bob Carr

Changes in Moreland Street

Gordon's gin distillery, Moreland Street, EC1 © Robert Mason 2016

At the west end of Moreland Street, EC1, Gordon's have moved out of their gin distillery (right) which is now empty and awaiting fresh uses. The still room itself stretched along the north side of the street and was almost on the scale of a power station. It was the largest gin distillery in the world.

Alcohol came by road tanker from Wandsworth to Gordon's where flavouring was added, juniper berries, dried orange peel, coriander seeds and aromatic herbs, and the mixture re-distilled. Demineralised water was added to produce a drink with the correct proof spirit and bottling was carried out at Basildon. Gin requires no maturation and may be drunk immediately. The founder of the firm, Mr Alexander Gordon, from Scotland, established his distillery in 1769 in Goswell Road, a few hundred yards from the present site. These original premises were destroyed by bombing in 1941 and the distillery on the corner of Moreland Street opened about 1950.

At the south-east end of the street the Banks and Taylor's public house, The King's Arms of 1901, is closed and there is demolition at the rear.

Immediately next door to the east, Finsbury Distillery has its ground floor orifices blocked up, with breezeblocks filling the front entrance. Again fresh development may be expected. Of late Finsbury Distillery produced not gin but Stone's ginger wine by a process essentially similar to home wine making but on a commercial scale. GLIAS members paid a visit here when ginger wine production was still in progress. Bob Carr

The Arsenal stand

In Highbury concern is being expressed over the proposed five-storey north stand for Arsenal football ground.

New all-seat facilities must be completed by 1994 to satisfy the requirements of the Taylor Report. Local residents are objecting to the scale of the intended construction and have formed an opposition body GAAS (Group for the Alternative Arsenal Stand) with alternative proposals.

John Thornton of Ove Arup's is involved and there is a group of independent RIBA assessors. The adjudication is becoming a serious matter as this is something of a test case of national interest.

A scurrilous account of the local political situation is given by Piloti on page nine of Private Eye, 6 December 1991.

In his book History of Highbury, Keith Sugden likens the Arsenal club's pre-war main building in Avenell Road to Milan railway station in the best international Fascist style of the 1930s. Bob Carr

Demolition of old Glais bridge

The stone bridge at Glais in the Swansea Valley in South Wales (GLIAS Newsletter June 1991) until recently carried the B4291 across the Afon Tawe.

Constructed in 1806 the old bridge was naturally regarded with affection by local residents who appealed to the Welsh Office and Cadw when its replacement was planned to improve traffic flow. Objections were overruled and a new wider bridge has recently been built in its place.

Old Glais bridge was of stone construction with three segmental arches and stepped outwater buttresses. The bridge of 1806 itself replaced an earlier bridge a little upstream. The present writer is much indebted to Mr Graham Cadwalladr of the Clydach Historical Society for information. Bob Carr

Crossness ceremony

On 15 November 1991 a ceremony took place at Crossness beam engine house to mark the commencement of a two-year probationary period during which restoration work will be undertaken by the Crossness Engines Trust. If things proceed satisfactorily Thames Water will grant the Engines Trust a lease for a further 60 years. The media gave good coverage to this event. Bob Carr

Burton, Burton everywhere and not a drop to drink

Despite the obvious association with Burton on Trent and its breweries, the name chosen by Meshe David Osinsky from Kurkel in the early 1900s both for himself and his tailoring business was not supposed to conjure up visions of pint glasses. The Burton empire (GLIAS Newsletter December 1991) itself strongly disapproved of alcohol and provided temperance alternatives to the public house.

It is interesting to speculate why the name Burton was chosen. It must have been a name very well known to most working class men in the North Midlands at the time through the advertisements of Burton brewers but it has been suggested that Mr Osinsky saw the name at a railway station or took it from a railway timetable. Was the choice however a masterstroke of marketing, akin to contemporary cigarette advertising?

The Burton billiard saloon alternative to the public house flourished from 1930 to the early 1960s when the saloons were closed and their contents sold. Kenneth Hudson, on page 68 of The Archaeology of the Consumer Society, speculates whether this was the world's biggest ever sale of billiard tables.

Although many of the Burton shops are still with us in a modified form the tailoring business suffered a severe setback. Young men simply stopped wearing tailored suits and the collar and tie appearance disappeared very quickly. Levi jeans were introduced to Britain from the USA in 1959. The clothing business changed dramatically. Sir Montague had died in 1952. Had he been alive and vigorous one can almost imagine photographs of Elvis Presley being measured for a (suitably trendy) Burton's suit but this was a new age and the shops went in for selling off the peg items bought in from a variety of sources. Burton's national tailoring organisation was an obsolete embarrassment, the Hudson Road Mills ceased production and the Burtonville factory has been demolished.

Since the 1960s there has been a good deal of business reorganisation. Dorothy Perkins which had 392 retail outlets was bought by the Burton Group and Top Man is part of this empire. Burton Retail still has about 500 shops. (To be continued). Bob Carr

Visit to British Aerospace — Kingston-upon-Thames

Thanks to GLIAS member Piers Calver, and permission from BAe, a party of some 50 members of GLIAS and the Croydon Airport Society visited the BAe factory at Kingston (Ham Factory). The last Harriers are now being assembled at Ham before the factory is closed.

BAe kindly provided refreshments before we had an introductory talk from Piers. The gist of the talk is in a BAe booklet '75 Years of Aviation in Kingston, 1913-1988'. (For those not on the visit copies are available at £1 from Mr. Ager in PR at Kingston). What follows is a very condensed account.

Kingston has been associated with the aviation industry since 1913 when T.O.M. Sopwith set up Sopwith Aviation in a former roller skating rink in Canbury Park Road. Harry Hawker soon joined him. The skating rink was eventually demolished but parts of the first factory remain — as part of Kingston Poly. During the 1914-18 War the company expanded enormously and also took on the Ham factory, built for the government's failed national aircraft factory scheme. However, the war over, times were hard for aircraft manufacturers and, with a demand for excess war profits duty, the company went into receivership. All creditors were paid in full and the company was wound up but, on the same day, Hawker Engineering, with the same directors, was formed.

In 1928 Hawker leased the Ham factory to Leyland, who built the famous Trojan 'can you afford to walk' car there under licence. During the 1939-45 War the factory produced tanks and incendiary bombs. Hawker went on producing their well-known line of bi-plane fighters at Canbury Park but in 1933 bought the Bloater Aircraft Company to obtain store factory space. (Hucclecote, Gloucester.) In 1935 the Hurricane prototype was built at Kingston. Hawker did not reoccupy the Ham site until the early 1950s and later in the decade built the imposing office block fronting Richmond Road out of the profits on the Hunter. A large experimental shop and offices, in which we met, were also built at the rear of the factory. In 1977 BAe was formed and took over the aviation interests of Hawker.

We visited the factory in several parties. On Saturday there may not have been much activity but the extent of the rundown was obvious. The 'sights' included some interesting destructive test rigs where a fuselage was set up for stress testing, the high temperature test room where jet nozzles are tested at high temperature and air flow and the original factory, where a few Harrier fuselages were being assembled. We also saw one of the vertical cylindrical heaters (Rocket heaters) designed to heat the enormous floor space of the factory.

We are grateful to BAe for permitting the visit, to Piers for arranging it and for his talk, to Piers and his colleagues far guiding us so ably and we should not forget David Perrett who managed the administration of the visit.

Trojan Motor Car

As an adjunct to the BAe visit Don Williams, a former Hawker-Siddeley employee drove to Kingston in his Trojan and after the factory visit, demonstrated it and gave rides in the car park. Don bought the car from the first owner who was an undertaker in Oxted.

The Trojan of the early 1920s was an early attempt to produce a mass-market car. It sold for £140 with solid tyres or £145 with pneumatics. It was driven by a four-cylinder two-stroke motorcycle engine, which operated as a two-cylinder two-stroke as two pistons joined to drive one crank. There was a two speed epicyclic gear with final chain drive. The engine and epicyclic gear were mounted amidships under the floorboards.

The power of the 1,500cc engine and its extraordinarily even torque enabled the car to be driven continuously at any speed in top gear, the bottom gear only being used to start from rest. Leyland gave up the Trojan licence in the late 1920s when other car manufacturers started to make more conventional mass-market cars but the Trojan company went on building vans for some time.

A full account of the Trojan car is given in 'The Light Car and Cyclecar' for 25th June and 16th July 1926. Bill Firth

Letters to the editor

Two small points arising out of notes in the GLIAS Newsletter December 1991 which may be of interest to members:

(1) Montague Burton had another large factory during the 1940s engaged mainly I believe on uniforms and latterly on demob clothing, at Little Hulton, Bolton, Lancs, just off the East Lancashire Road. I suspect it started about 1939 and I think it was still operating when I left the area in 1947. It was in a converted spinning mill.

(2) The Civil Defence Bunker in Hackney was the scene of a tragedy on 9th July 1973 when four small boys crept through a very narrow gap under the security gate and gained entry to the bunker. When inside they started playing with the equipment particularly the 'bicycle generators'. Also inside the bunker were some Calor gas cylinders, one of which had possibly been leaking. Apparently a spark from the generator ignited the gas and a violent explosion occurred in this confined space. One boy was killed outright and a second died later. John H. Boyes

Recording Group report

  • Battersea Waterworks — Tim Smith and Malcolm Tucker are continuing to work on this site. A letter from Roger Morgan had been received about the possibility of the site having been used for trials of the Pneumatic Dispatch railway, Tim and Malcolm have drawn up a document on Codes of Practice for such sites.

  • Harefield Copper Mills — June Gibson reported that the site was empty, had been vandalised and there were signs of demolition but there was now a nightwatchman (see below). Visits may possibly be arranged with the estate agents, but contact June Gibson first.

  • Connolly Leather Works — Robert Vickers had sent us an article about this firm on the Wandle which will go out of business in about two years and he suggests that a visit should be arranged.

  • Ice Wells, Battlebridge Basin — A letter had been received from Roger Morgan forwarding a letter from a researcher on ice cream from Hull. Malcolm Tucker has looked into it and its omission from Sylvia Beamon's book on the subject.

  • Delta Enfield Cable Factory, Charlton — Mr McNair had written about this works, now closed. The site had been built by Johnson and Phillips. A particular feature is the prominent cable tower. Anyone with further information please get in touch.

  • Telford Bridge, St. Katharine Dock — Taylor Woodrow has made another proposal in which the wrought iron would be retained as 'wall-paper'. Malcolm Tucker had made submissions on behalf of GLIAS on the previews proposals.

  • Victoria Dock — Bob Carr had reported that mills at north side of Victoria Dock were being demolished. Museum of London have surveyed these fairly thoroughly.

  • Finchley Open Air Pool — June Gibson reported that Barnet wishes dispose of this open air swimming pool to adjacent health club and close Squire's Lane pool. In addition the 30s Society had produced a book on Lidos which were disappearing fast.

  • Berk Chemicals — This site at West Ham was now demolished. Parkes Thesis described building, possibly from the 1820s on the site in the 1940s.

  • British Waterways Board, Bulls Bridge — Tim Smith reported that the site is to be redeveloped for Tesco's when BWB move their maintenance depot out. A visit to the site is being considered.

  • New River — Don Munday reported that the portion of the New River, between Enfield and Coppermill which was to be closed, is to be retained. New pumping stations (24) (6m x 5m x 3m) will put mains water into the chalk aquifer in times of plenty which can be returned to the New River as required. East Reservoir at Stoke Newington may be lowered. West Reservoir will be lowered so that surface area is reduced from 20 acres to 9 acres, eliminating need for inspection under the Reservoirs Act.

    Questions were also raised about Woolwich Arsenal and Richmond Ice Rink.

  • Meeting Place — Mary Mills said that it was impossible to meet charges for rooms at the Architectural Association. It was agreed that Kirkaldy's would be suitable for regular meetings; although one member objected strongly on the grounds that the society should have a meeting place in Central London. Some more general meetings could be held at Bow Gas Museum, The Brunel Engine House or Kew.

    Harefield and its copper mill

    Harefield is a large village, almost a small town, with no train station but buses run from Denham or Rickmansworth. By car, one of the most interesting routes is along the A40 past the NCR works at Park Royal and the Hoover factory on the A40, soon to be converted by Tesco.

    The Mill is in a tiny lane off Jack's Lane which leads to Black Jack's Mill. Still called that, it has been a restaurant for some fifteen years. On the map is shown the nearby site of an iron foundry of which there is no sign and also a tile kiln where I went to find only a pile of rubble.

    Although the area is predominantly rural and there are pleasing tracts of water and land, it bears the usual scars of rural squalour with rather horrid new housing developments shoe-horned in.

    There are the usual assortment of pubs, some looking very attractive. The largest and the best for viewing the mills is The Fisheries Inn at Coppermill Lane, adjacent to the Grand Union Canal and with a beer garden at the back on the banks of the River Colne. It's a rather old-fashioned area for pleasure; fishing; canoeing; canal boating; walking etc... But if the mills are redeveloped..?

    The cottage at Coppermill Lock was closed when I visited and I had passed the only entrance to the mill, on the right before crossing the canal bridge, which is marked by a 30s-style bell tower and wrought-iron gates painted in faded turquoise. "Bell Works" is the name on display along with "The Harefield Rubber Company". This company owned all the buildings on the site but it seems that parts were leased out, like a small industrial estate. A lane passes the entrance of Bell Works and at the end there are still some buildings in use. These are on the site of a disused chalk pit according to the map.

    On the way to the Mill there is a quaint little electricity sub-station, a brick building like a small chapel with a big window and a transformer sitting inside. The large brick-built mills are very lovely indeed, being mellow brick and period style. It seems as if these are listed, probably Grade II. There are some windows broken but the buildings look in a reasonable state. I took a video film which shows them much better than I can describe them.

    However, the process of demolition of the other buildings has started and from the locked entrance in Summerhouse Lane you can see debris and a bulldozer. The site is very big, I should think it's about half a mile long, by a quarter of a mile at the widest part of the site. At the rear is a security fence of corrugated iron, but you can a goods loading bay and gates of mesh wire, leading to a chemical store. There has been a lot of vandalism and there is a caravan parked near the entrance gates, for a watchman.

    The following information was taken from a book in Harefield's local library. The Mills are first mentioned in the Doomsday Book and in 1674 as a Corn Mill and in 1683 a Paper Mill. In 1781 they were leased to the Mines Royal Company with the house called the Manor House and in 1802 copper was introduced by them while Black Jack's Mill continued as a Corn Mill.

    Copper was brought from a smelting works in Glamorgan to be used to roll copper for sheathing the bottom of the ships to be used in the Napoleonic Wars and by 1803 production was at 30 tons of copper a week. But by the mid 1850s fewer wooden ships were being built and because Harefield was so far from the source of copper they were one of the first works to close. By 1863 the Mines Royal Company had gone out of business and the Mills were abandoned. One roof left was entirely of copper and a later leaseholder made money by selling it.

    The Mills were supported by Thomas Newell from Paris and he turned them into a Paper Mill but it wasn't a commercial success and they were again for sale by 1872. In 1882 they were leased by the United Asbestos Company in which Midland Railway managers were involved. After a great deal of pioneering work, a government contract was secured and others followed. There were a textile factory and an India Rubber and Mill Board factories. In 1910 the company amalgamated with the Bells Asbestos Company and throughout the First World War employed a great many women, some from mills in the North of England.

    In 1927 the company was sold to Turner & Newell who moved to Erith in Kent. The machines were sent to Old Trafford and unemployment in the area grew. In 1935 the works were taken over by Rubber-wear Limited who also traded as the Harefield Rubber Company. Printing rollers, asbestos, ink and other things were manufactured on site by a variety of firms.

    The Harefield Rubber Company is still in existence but the works closed in 1978 because plastic was being used for many goods previously made of rubber.

    This was once an industrial area with cement works and brick fields. In 1886 Coles Shadbolt and Company with many cement kilns provided a great deal of local employment. Today in south Harefield there is a reminder of the Copper Mill in a pub called the Mines Royal.

    There is a Harefield local history group who may knew something about the mills. Further local information would be of interest if anyone would like to write in. Books consulted were: 'Life in a Middlesex Village, 1880-1930' published in 1978 by the Harefield local history group and 'Life and Work in a Middlesex Village, Harefield 1880-1914' by Geoffrey Tyack, Oxford 1984. June Gibson

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  • © GLIAS, 1992