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Notes and news — February 2002

In this issue:

Letter boxes

Thanks to all those who have responded to my plea for examples of letter boxes in the last newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001). They have been added to the GLIAS Database. I have been surprised, and pleased, at the number. Here is some of the feedback:

The excellent article by Sue Hayton mentions the pillar boxes designed by J W Penfold which were installed from 1866 to 1879. There is still one of these in use on its original site in Queen's Drive, London N4. It is at the junction with King's Crescent on the corner to the south and was installed c1877 when house building in the area was just beginning. Several others could be found elsewhere in Hackney at least until recently.

There probably still is a Penfold box near the Post Office in Hampstead High Street NW3, now on the north side of the road. When last seen this was no longer in use. The mail slot was blocked off and a plate explained the box was retained only as an historic curiosity.

Using an original Penfold pillar box one is struck by the very small opening which is provided for the mail; rigid A5 packets are too big to go in. The Victorians used quite small cards and envelopes for correspondence. Having an unguarded orifice in one's front door for the new fangled mail deliveries must have been quite disturbing for some Victorian householders. It was not made very large.

Many original Victorian front doors still have their tiny letter box slots to match the slot in a Penfold pillar box. The small openings in Victorian front doors were to mitigate against the delivery of unwanted material. At that time most larger houses had some kind of servant on hand so if a larger packet or parcel was to be delivered the usual procedure was to ring the bell and hand the delivery to someone. Street urchins could play unpleasant pranks and put things through letter boxes the householder would rather not have delivered.

Those of us old enough to remember the Toytown series by S G Hulme Beaman which used to be broadcast on BBC radio in the late 1940s as part of Children's Hour will recall the constant complaints Mr Grouser used to make to the mayor about young animals from the Ark making mud pies and putting them through his front door. The carpet in his hallway was often spoiled and Earnest the Policeman was sometimes brought into action and would threaten to 'take names and addresses'. Bob Carr

When pillar boxes were first introduced in the mainland of this country in 1853 they were all various designs because of there being regional variations and not a single straightforward design. As Sue Hayton mentions in her article, the one issued for London was not satisfactory as they were low to the ground and were easily splashed with mud. The oldest one in the country is at Barnes Cross in Dorset and two of the earliest survivors are in Framlingham in Suffolk, these were for the Eastern Region. There are various fluted boxes with vertical slits still in existence — two are Warwick, one each at the west and east gates of the city, and there are others in Eton, Banbury and Gravesend. The latter unfortunately is not at all well looked after (or at least it wasn't when I made a special trip to see it in November 1997).

The first National Standard pillar box came out in 1859 and there is only one survivor of the large type left in Britain — in Montpelier Road in Brighton and it is kept in excellent condition. This was the first time that the date of casting was shown at the foot of the box. There are still many genuine Penfolds, cast in various modifications, still left in Britain, including over a quarter in London. In Cheltenham there are eight (the largest concentration in one place), in Bray there are three and in Bath there are two. Other well known ones are in Bournemouth, Shrewsbury, Cambridge and Buxton. The best places in London to look for them are around Ladbroke Grove (two), the Kensington Palace/High Street area and Chelsea. I must warn you to be aware of replicas which were mainly cast in about 1987/88. Up and down the country in 'heritage' areas these wretched things were placed — a complete bastardisation on what the concept of 'heritage' really means. Many people who are not in the know obviously think there is a genuine Victorian pillar box there, complete with Queen Victoria's insignia — when no such thing exists at all. In my opinion it takes away the true historic nature of the real ones.

Nearly all of the combined telephone kiosks/letter boxes/stamp machines which came out in George V's time are now in museums or situated in private steam railway stations. There are no original ones still in situ in London. There is an Edward VIII box situated in Nunhead Lane, SE15, and one on the Marine Esplanade at Ramsgate. Hazel Ford

In October Royal Mail will be issuing a set of five stamps to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the pillar box. The set includes a short-lived pre-Second World War blue airmail box for which there was an aerodynamically designed blue van to match. Apart from a few experiments, boxes have remained essentially red and cylindrical, apart from the double oval-shaped boxes designed to separate first and second class mail — one of the few things that has not changed over time. Bill Firth

Spot it and jot it 2: telephone boxes

The telephone, as we all know, was the invention of Alexander Graham Bell. The first telephone exchanges in the country opened at the end of the 1870 providing a service for those who subscribed. It was not until 1884 that people were able to make a call from a 'public call office'. At first phones were sited in shops and then later in public places such as stations and post offices. There were a number of rival telephone companies but by 1907 the National Telephone Company was dominant with almost 7,800 call offices in Britain. The General Post Office took over the whole system in 1912 with the exception of Kingston upon Hull and Portsmouth which remained independent. The Portsmouth system was sold to the GPO in 1913 but Hull remained as an independent system until quite recently.

There were a number of different 'kiosks' in use, usually in wood and not necessarily painted in red. The K1, the first national kiosk, went into production in 1923 and by 1934 6,300 were in use. They were made of pre-cast reinforced concrete with a pyramidal roof topped with a ball. They were not universally popular and a competition was held to find a replacement, the K2. Various designs were received, including one from the architect C F A Voysey. The successful designer was, of course, Giles Gilbert Scott, despite competition from Sir John Burnet and Sir Robert Lorimer. The kiosk was made of cast-iron sections with a teak door and a granolithic floor. The crown at the top of the window was pierced to allow ventilation and the kiosk had a classical feel with the decoration round the doors. The first examples were erected in 1926 in Holborn and Kensington. There are 213 listed K2 kiosks in Greater London but who can tell me where they are?

K3 The K3 went into production in 1929 for use outside the capital and it was constructed in reinforced concrete but it did not survive well in our adverse weather conditions. However by 134 there were already 12,000 in use. Some still survive where the weather is better in Portugal imported by the Anglo-Portuguese Telephone Company. The only London survival is apparently by the Parrot House in London Zoo. Has any one visited the zoo recently?

K6 The K6 was introduced in 1936 as the 'Jubilee Kiosk' and was intended to replace many of its old wooden and concrete predecessors. It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and produced in cast iron. Very quickly changes had to be made to ensure that the cash boxes could not be removed by the determined robber. By the end of the 1930s over 20,000 K6 kiosks had been installed. It differed very little from the popular K2 model. However it was 8' 3" tall, a foot smaller than the K2 and it weighed only 13.5 hundredweight as opposed to 1.25 tons. The windows too are different with eight rather than six panes, and with the central pane being much wider than formerly. The K6 remained in production until the 1960s. 996 have been listed but where are they and which ones remain on their original sites?

K7 This model was designed in 1959 by Neville Conder of Casson Conder and was made of aluminium and with glazing on all four sides. Only the concrete corner posts could be painted red. The first examples were erected in the City and reacted badly to the acid in the atmosphere. Are there any left in London or have they all been replaced?

K8 Another competition was held in 1965 as a new 'modern' kiosk to suit the new town centres was apparently desirable. In 1966 Bruce Martin's design was declared to be the winner. The first one in London was erected in Old Palace Yard in 1968, having been cast by the Lion Foundry. It cost £100 and had only 50 parts as opposed to the 400 of the K6 and it had three large windows made of toughened glass. By 1983 11,000 had been made. Its future seemed to be ensured — but in 1984 British Telecom was established which meant that the telephone service was divorced from the Post Office! New style kiosks were introduced, some no more than an open booth. However, I have found two examples of the K8, now painted blue, and used by Underground staff on the Circle/District line platform at South Kensington Station.

British Telecom Various models were introduced with differing degrees of success as many still liked the protection of the older cast iron boxes rather than the draughty glass and stainless steel models such as the KX100 or the KX200 without a door or even the smaller open booth the KX420.

However, the KX Plus is a glass box with a red and white curved roof and it presents a more familiar face on the High Street as it resembles older models.

Privatisation In 1987 Mercury Communications was allowed to erect its own public kiosks. Perhaps the most obvious was the ogee-headed canopy by Machin Designs. But where are they all now? When Mercury disappeared from public call boxes their sites were taken over by Interphone who put in their own boxes. Will they disappear from the street as quickly?

Manufacturers There were only five founders who provided kiosks. The Carron Company; The Lion Foundry of Kirkintilloch, later Macfarlane (Saracen Foundry); McDowall Steven, later Bratt Colbran.

Police boxes The police box was introduced as a kind of office and rest station for the patrolling beat 'bobbie' as well as an emergency phone for members of the public who, at that time, were unlikely to have a phone of their own. The chief constable of Sunderland first introduced the idea and then when he was promoted to chief constable of Newcastle, the boxes were introduced there too. London installed boxes in the outer suburbs after 1930 with posts in the Central area. By 1953 there were 685 but they were phased out after 1969 when personal police radios were found to be better. In 1937 the 999 emergency service was introduced. The 'Tardis' design in reinforced concrete was painted dark blue in the capital. There were eight listed boxes in London. Have they all disappeared?

RAC and AA boxes The RAC was founded in 1897 as the Automobile Club and it set up its first roadside box in 1919 in Egham in Surrey. The AA was not founded until 1905 and they introduced their boxes as early as 1911 or 1912. Members could open the box with their key and call for help and in more remote areas, actually shelter in the box. Again with the advent of modern communications, in particular, the mobile phone, there is little need for such boxes and they have all disappeared — or have they?

Where can I see telephone boxes? The police box used in the Dr Who series can be found in the National Telephone Kiosk Collection at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, Stoke Heath, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire along with many other examples.

The National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire has examples of AA and RAC boxes. The Science Museum has a K3 in its telecommunications gallery.

Where can I find out more? BT Archives is on the 3rd Floor, Holborn Telephone Exchange, 268-270 High Holborn, WC1V 7EE. Tel: 020 7492 9792. It advisable to phone in advance and it is open from 10am — 4pm on Mondays to Fridays. It is closed on Bank Holidays. The archive's website is www.bt.com/archives

Further reading: Neil Johannessen — Telephone Boxes (1991, Shire); Gavin Stamp — Telephone Boxes (1989, Chatto & Windus); Geoffrey Warren — Vanishing Street Furniture (1978)

If any one would like to contribute, all you have to do is send me the item, its address and a short, possibly very short, description. Please contact Sue Hayton

Follow-up: At the bottom of the Strand, near Trafalgar Square, may be found a K6 with two different crowns while in the Russell Square area are three Ks with distinctive Scottish crowns. Another such stands near Rickmansworth Church. P Lynch

Spot it and jot it 3

Rubber roads in London

The use of rubber as a road surface in London has been poorly documented and this note summarises all that the writer so far has been able to discover.

The earliest mention of a rubber surface is in Gregory (1931): 'A rubber pavement was apparently first used in the Admiralty Courtyard in Whitehall about 1840: it was used in Woolwich Arsenal in 1844 owing to its safety for horses especially when hauling heavy loads.' These installations predated the vulcanisation of rubber and so were probably not durable.

The next brief references were found concerning the use of sheet rubber road surfaces installed in 1870 at Euston and St Pancras stations. Were these perhaps referring to the same installation — after all, St Pancras church is very near to Euston? In due course, reliable sources were found indicating that there were two different installations. Percy Boulnois (1895) gave details of the Euston installation, the details of which were provided for him by Francis Stevenson, the chief engineer of the LNWR. Two-inch thick rubber sheet, 11ft 1½in long, 3ft 10in wide, was laid on a concrete foundation with the edges held down by iron strips. Boulnois noted that 14 years later this surface was performing well requiring only minor patching. The other installation was on the arrival platform entrance road at the newly opened St Pancras Station. The details were given in a divisional engineer's typed report dated 1926 and filed in the archives of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The rubber surface lasted over 50 years, additional sheets being laid when the carriageway was widened in 1891, and further sheets added in 1918 and 1924. The only maintenance over that period had been the renewal of worn edges.

The advantages claimed for a rubber surface were: very durable, minimised noise and vibration from iron-shod wheels and horse hooves, resistance to abrasion, sanitary as it did not absorb horse excreta, smooth but not slippery, and possessed the highest coefficient of friction of main groups of surfacing materials then in use. It was, however, very expensive — the sheet used at Euston cost £7 per square yard — and this effectively ruled it out for use in the public highway.

The next recorded use of rubber roads in London was in block form, of which several types were marketed between the wars. In 1913, an experiment took place in Borough High Street with paving which consisted of a ½-inch thick rubber capping interlocked on to hardwood blocks. By 1915, although the surface had not worn, the rubber at the interface between the rubber and wood had worn significantly, probably because of relative movement resulting from the absence of bonding between the two materials. In 1923, an experiment with rubber blocks of unknown type was carried out in Whitehall around Cenotaph, the surface was claimed to produce 30% less noise than wood and traffic vibration was reduced. In 1926, 700 yards of New Bridge Street, said to be one of the most heavily trafficked streets in Britain, were paved experimentally using Gaisman blocks. The Gaisman block was 103/8in x 85/8in x 4½in and consisted of a 5/8in thick resilient rubber cap on a hard intermediate rubber layer and that, in turn, was on a vitrified brick base. The blocks did not stand up very well to the heavy traffic and, by the end of three years, about 10% of them had been renewed.

Other blocks were tried. In 1928, 300 square yards of Thurlow Place, South Kensington, were paved using 'Cowper' interlocking paving blocks. 'Leyland' blocks were used in Southwark and showed no signs of wear after 3½ years' use. These all-rubber blocks consisted of a soft capping on a hard base. Other types of block included the Cresson — this had a base of stone chippings and sand combined with vulcanised latex cap 3/8in thick. The North British Block had concrete base. It is not known if either of the latter types or any other varieties were used in London.

Although rubber provided a good surface in the horse-drawn era, in the motor vehicle era it was regarded as rather slippery. I have a rather vague memory of a rubber block surface remaining on one of the principal City streets in the late 1940s/early 1950s but have found no information what type of block was used — any information on that or other installations would be most welcome. Although rubber surfaces have long since disappeared, yet rubber in latex form is now being used to modify bituminous surfacing materials. It seems that the earliest patent concerned with rubberised bitumen mixtures was taken out in 1844. Don Clow

Wrotham Park Steam Engine

Students from Denis Smith's Barnet WEA class and the Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society have been researching a surviving steam engine at the Home Farm, Wrotham Park, just north of Barnet. Wrotham Park is a family home of the Byng Family and the home farm was set up in the mid-19th century, at around the same time as the model farm at Windsor established by Prince Albert. Research so far has established that it is a Grasshopper engine, built by Easton & Amos of The Grove, Southwark, supplied in the 1850s. Notes and photographs of the engine are included in George Watkins' Collection, now at the National Monuments Record in Swindon, following a visit — no doubt on his famous motor bike — in 1950.

The engine operated a sawmill, threshing and other farm machinery in adjacent barns and workshops through a system of belt driven shafts, some of which survive. It also appears to have pumped water over a considerable distance (possibly to the mansion), as it was supplied fitted with a pump, which was driven direct from the beam, and 600 yards of pipe which was included in the price. It also seems likely to have been replaced by a Gardner gas engine, which were on the market in the period 1900-1910. The gas engine, with its cooling tank and various pipework connections, survives on the other side of the wall from the steam engine.

Students have taken measurements, both of the engine and the buildings; and a member of the Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society has produced measured drawings of the engine. It had been Denis Smith's intention to produce measured drawings of the buildings. However, the need for that may have been overtaken by recent developments, in which the group concerned has established very successful contact with the professional archivist now responsible for the Byng Archive. He has given us access to the records, which include:

During an earlier visit, Denis found a ledger labelled 'Engine Book', which is understood to have included costs of operating the engine, fuel usage etc. Unfortunately, this now seems to have disappeared. However, the farm accounts include some information on the fuel costs for the engine.

The Home Farm is no longer used for that purpose and is the subject of development proposals to set up an office estate. The proposals include provision to retain the steam engine behind a glass case in an eating area. They do not include any provision for cleaning or otherwise restoring the engine in any way, which needs to be pursued. There also appears to be no provision to retain the gas engine, the significance of which was not previously realised. Further research on the Byng Archive is currently being arranged. We hope in due course to be able to produce a modest publication about the engine. Brian Strong
(More)

From the secretary's postbag

I have now been secretary for six months and must say I have been delighted to find I was in no way misled when I was advised that it was not an onerous job. Bill Firth said it took about an hour a week (plus attending committee meetings), which is about right. I thought it might be of interest to members to get a flavour of the things which arrive in my postbag — or to be more accurate, mostly emails on my computer; and also some of the issues with which the committee deals on members' behalf.

Most of the examples relate to particular cases where London's industrial heritage may be at risk. For example:

Other topics of interest have been:

I also get some interesting queries, some stimulated by our website. For example, there was one inquiry from Indonesia from a lady wanting to know what souvenirs we had for sale; and another from a lady in Paris, following up her visit to the November GLIAS lecture. Brian Strong

King's Cross — St Pancras: devastation

There has been a tremendous amount of demolition in the area to the north and west of King's Cross station (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001). A great swath of buildings has been cleared along the east side of Pancras Road and further north most unlisted buildings and structures no longer exist. The character of the district has been so dramatically altered that visiting the area now is a case of exploring terra incognita. Quite a few people have been wandering about photographing the devastation.

To the east of Pancras Road, Battlebridge Flats built in 1936 for the British Steelwork Association went some time ago and further south Stanley Passage, Clarence Passage, and Wellers Court now scarcely exist. On 6 December 2001 the entrance to the German Gymnasium at 26 Pancras Road was just surviving as an isolated fragment with the inscription 'Turnhalle' still clearly visible over the doorway. It is understood that the doorway and the lintels which were over the windows with their bearded faces are being retained with a view to eventual incorporation into a new building. The western part of the German Gymnasium main building (listed grade II) is also likely to be demolished as also is part of Stanley Buildings.

To the north west the grade II listed St Pancras locomotive watering facility which was built in a gothic style to harmonise with the main station has been cut horizontally into three slices, moved to a new location near the canal cruising club and re-erected. Not surprisingly this involved a great deal of clever reinforced concrete work — a veritable Civil Engineering tour de force. It should be made clear that the 'locomotive watering facility' was moved for architectural reasons. Will it ever be used to service preserved steam locomotives? Almost certainly not.

On 22 December the last part of the St Pancras gasholder triplet, that to the south, consisted of just eight columns. When dismantled the columns are being stored to the east, near gasholder number eight. This gasholder, just to the north of Culross Buildings and Battlebridge Road, has a guide frame consisting of cast-iron columns and will probably be retained on its original site.

The closure of St Pancras station at weekends is continuing. Passengers must then make use of King's Cross Thameslink and local trains to pick up Midland Main Line. The large excavation immediately south east of the Midland Grand Hotel is now clearly visible. Due to the development work taxi cabs can no longer pick up passengers from the south west corner of King's Cross station. The old carriage road to the east, parallel with platform one and York Way, has been cleared of portable buildings and brought back into use. In an area which in places is now almost unrecognisable this period touch is a welcome relief. Bob Carr

King's Cross gazetteer

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL)

For the major work of making the main-line rail link underground from Stratford to St Pancras which will bring Eurostar trains right to the Euston Road two shafts are being (or have been) constructed, near Graham Road E8 and Corsica Street N5. The shaft near Graham Road is situated by the Navarino Curve, built to take North London Line trains from Watford southwards into Liverpool Street station. The shaft to the east of Corsica Street is situated on the triangle of land formed by the railway lines which branch off to the west from Canonbury Junction, (one northwards to Finsbury Park the other westwards to Highbury & Islington station), and Corsica Street itself. The tunnelling machine has started at Stratford and is working its way westwards, essentially beneath the North London line. Presumably when it passes through a shaft prepared ahead of it spoil will be taken out from that shaft until one further to the west has been passed. At present it is understood the spoil is coming out at Stratford.

On the east side of Corsica Street desirable houses (a short walk from Highbury & Islington station) had to be demolished as they were in the way. In the summer we saw a wall here pushed over by two or three men — a little unnerving to see such a graphic demonstration of fragility. This is (or at least was) a traditional method of demolition. The valuable London stock bricks were being salvaged for re-use. Finally the tunnel is to emerge into daylight from a portal to the north of St Pancras station, a little way north of the great Cubitt granary of 1851-2. At this site preparatory work is already in progress. Substantial work to the north of St Pancras will be necessary before the old station is fit to receive full-length Eurostar trains. (The Eurostar trains currently operated at slow speed by GNER from London to York have been shortened and these take up all the platform length at King's Cross). Bob Carr

What to do with gasholders

One of the gasholders at the Athens Gasworks has been converted into a theatre.

At Bovisa, outside Milan, a museum and exhibition scheme called Museo del Presente is well under way involving two disused gasholders.

As early as the 19th century gasholders were thought fit subjects for the brush of painters. In 1886 Paul Signac (1863-1935) produced a sizeable (25" x 32") oil painting of the gasworks at Clichy on the outskirts of Paris. Few of us are likely to have seen this painting as it is/was at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

Probably the most distant gasworks museum is the Dunedin Gasworks Museum in New Zealand. Bob Carr

In North London

Anchor Glass. The building on the left is Endeavour House.

The present Wembley Stadium is under sentence of death and demolition is likely to start soon. In mid-November it was noted that the famous 'twin towers' were still there.

About the same time at Brent Cross the former Anchor Glass building on the north side of the North Circular Road had been almost demolished. This was a pleasant smallish low-rise block highly redolent of its period, probably about 1960. An attractive coloured mural also very much of the period was on the east side of this building. The structure consisted largely of reinforced concrete columns and beams. Was listing ever considered? Bob Carr

Follow-up: Bob Carr has his facts a little mangled on Anchor Glass, Brent Cross. Three industrial buildings once stood on Etheridge Way here — Anchor Glass, which was demolished first some years ago; the headquarters of NCR, the largest building, which I photographed during demolition about five years ago; and Endeavour House, the first to be built and last to go.

It is the latter which Bob saw — it was finally demolished at Christmas. It was particularly sad, because it was essentially a social/industrial experiment from the 1950s — dozens of small businesses under one roof, on an outer London greenfield site (it was then!) with a huge communal dining/meeting hall, a kitchen and a caretaker's flat. It can be seen — erected in what was then open allotments — in an aerial photo of the area showing the site which was to be the shopping centre, which was on display a couple of years ago inside the centre as part of a history exhibition.

Endeavour House (note the name) had every characteristic feature of 1950s architecture, including pillars, wood block floors, decorative sections of rubble-faced walls, large glass areas, Festival lettering, and the mosaic that Bob mentions. It was also interesting structurally, in that a side view from a distance showed clearly how the columns supporting the floors — massive on the lower levels — became thinner as one rose up the building.

I arranged a visit of this building before it came down, and would have loved to find out more about it, as the structural aspect was very reminiscent of Owen Williams, but alas time ran out. Chris Rogers

More recent industrial archaeology?

Quite what constitutes industrial archaeology is by no means clear. The boundary between industrial archaeology and pioneer modernist housing developments is a case in question.

Many GLIAS members seem to agree that the famous 1937 'gas flats' by Maxwell Fry, just north of the railway on the west side of Ladbroke Grove, Kensal Green, should be included under the heading industrial archaeology — but how far into more recent high rise housing developments do we go? What is industrial archaeology and what is merely architecture?

The following examples may be considered as test cases. How many would you consider to be industrial archaeological, at least in the sense of being part of the archaeology of the industrial (or post-industrial?) period?

Trellick Tower in West London by the famous architect Ernö Goldfinger, 31 storeys high, was listed grade II in 1998. It is gritty and industrial in appearance but has no direct association with manufacturing.

In Sheffield the Park Hill Estate flats constitute the largest listed building in Britain. They were opened in 1961 by Hugh Gaitskill and are sometimes referred to as 'Streets in the Sky'.

In Glasgow the Red Road Flats, six blocks, make up the largest housing estate in Europe. They are steel rather than concrete and some are 32 storeys high.

Back in London at our own Barbican we have three 44 storey tower blocks built 1963-1982. They are called Lauderdale, Cromwell and Shakespeare. How do these rate in your affection? At least some people at English Heritage seem quite keen on this type of building, especially if considerable areas of concrete are exposed. How important is 'truth to materials' to you? Bob Carr

Routemasters

Routemaster buses at Victoria station. © Robert Mason Sovereign, which operates bus route 13 from Golders Green to Aldwych, has recently taken delivery of a fleet of reconditioned RM buses for this route.

These are the original 27ft 6in long, 64-seat RM type not the later 30ft long, 74-seat RML type. Since spotting these early Routemasters I have seen a number on other routes.

The RM type first went into passenger service in June 1959. Over 40 years of service and still going strong in the same city must be some sort of record for bus longevity. Their lifespan in this country is now limited since all buses must be wheelchair accessible in the future but Routemasters have been sold abroad and may yet clock up 50 years or more of passenger carrying. Bill Firth

Small ships on the Thames and Southampton Water

I noticed mention of the Ross Leopard in the newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001). The ship is not moored at Bow Creek, but at Battersea, near the heliport. Unfortunately we cannot stay there much longer, and are looking for a suitable new mooring. Any suggestions welcome! Dave Allen
Website: www.rossleopard.com

The small steamship VIC 56 is currently based at Trinity Buoy Wharf (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001). Although not usually open to the public it is possible to visit the ship from time to time. There is an informative and considerate website at www.vic56.co.uk where it is possible to ask for details of open days to be sent by email.

Rather larger than the two vessels above is SS Shieldhall based in Southampton. She was built in 1955 with a length of 268 feet and is 1,972 tons gross. Although less than 50 years old she is surprisingly traditional in design. Shieldhall has twin screws each powered by an 800 hp triple expansion steam engine. Bob Carr
Website: www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk

Disappearing Thameside

The traditional London working riverside scene much beloved of painters in the 19th century has now all but disappeared and in about two or three years time we will almost certainly have densely developed housing schemes packed cheek by jowl on both banks all the way from Richmond to Gravesend, replacing almost all the former riverside wharves. Visually the new developments have replaced the old warehouses and now shut off the river in much the same way that the warehouses did.

A last fragment of Price's Candle Factory in York Road SW11 (roughly opposite York Gardens) is about to be demolished very shortly and Lots Road power station will be closed in the near future (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001). Near the southern terminus of the number 19 bus route the area round the formerly secluded Ransome's Dock SW11 is being substantially redeveloped, probably most of the new buildings here will be for business use.

At Battersea Power Station little has happened in the past few years but recent plans envisage a very large redevelopment on the site. The power station itself will be largely retained in an adapted form but with large buildings encircling it. Across the river to the north of Grosvenor Road the area formerly including a dock and local authority Rubbish Transfer Station is now undergoing redevelopment. Following rebuilding in 1928-29, the dock was the last remaining part of the Grosvenor Canal. Tower cranes in London are presently a very common sight in most areas. Bob Carr

The birthplace of civil aviation

I must take issue with Paul Sowan that Croydon Airport was arguably the birthplace of civil aviation (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001) although I accept that it had a major role in its development. In September 1911 the Grahame-White company operated an experimental air mail service for two weeks between Hendon and Windsor. This was to commemorate the coronation of King George V, to raise money for charity and to publicise the possibilities of the aeroplane as a means of transport. This is hardly the birth of civil aviation but it was the precursor.

Later in 1918 the RAF operated scheduled services out of Hendon to Paris to take delegates and mail rapidly to the peace conference. Later, in 1919 Kenley was the base for this operation. However, these were not civil aviation operations. In 1919 Hendon was the base but not the terminal of the first airline in Britain, Air Transport and Travel, and for a short time another company, British Aerial Transport Company, operated a service to Amsterdam. There were also scheduled flights from the Handley-Page aerodrome at Cricklewood. However, Hendon did not have customs facilities and Cricklewood only for a short time. Flights had to clear customs at Hounslow. Neither Hendon nor Cricklewood can be described as an airport but they were important in the history of civil aviation.

Hounslow Heath had been used as an aerodrome as early as 1910. At the beginning of May 1919 it was acquired from the RAF for civil flying as London Terminal Aerodrome. The first service took off from Hounslow on 25 August 1919. Hounslow Heath was London's first airport until 29 March 1920 when Croydon was opened as London's official airport and Hounslow Heath was closed down.

Hounslow Heath thus predates Croydon as the birthplace of British civil aviation by some five months but Croydon witnessed the growth of civil aviation from March 1919 at least until 1947 when the major civil airlines moved out. It was not finally closed until 1958. Bill Firth

The comments about Croydon being the birthplace of civil aviation are interesting but, to my way of thinking, not correct.

The world's first scheduled passenger airline, using heavier than air aircraft, was the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line operated by P E Fowler. It started on 1 January 1914 using a Benoist Type XIV flying boat over an 18-mile route. It ended in April that year due to the start of the Mexican War.

The world's first commercial air freight was a box of light bulbs flown from Shoreham to Hove on 4 July 1911 in a Valkyrie monoplane by H Barber. The first official airmail (there had been private letter-carrying before) was between Allahabad and Naini Junction, flown by Henri Pequet in a Humber biplane on 18 February 1911. The first British airmail was between Hendon and Windsor on 9 September 1911.

Somehow, Croydon does not appear in this early history. Is it not time Shoreham received a bit of the credit? John Day

J Stone & Company, Deptford

Thanks to the support of a private benefactor, Kew Bridge Steam Museum is currently restoring a horse gin that was used to lift well water for irrigation on a farm near Basingstoke. The main frame of the horse gin bears the inscription 'J Stone & Co. engineers Deptford London SE' Can any member supply any information about this company and its products; we are particularly keen to know whether the manufacture of horse gins was a speciality.

The horse gin will complement the museum's Hindley waterwheel which celebrates its 100th birthday this year and it is hoped to complete the horse gin this summer.
Lesley Bossine, Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Green Dragon Lane, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0EN. Email: info@kbsm.org

Pork pies — seriously!

Nearly 40 years ago (1963-64) the learned Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society published in Volume XXXIX of their Transactions a paper entitled 'The Melton Mowbray Pork-Pie Industry', by J E Brownlow.

This publication marked something of a breakthrough. Was it now really possible to consider seriously the history and industrial archaeology of an industry — and even a local pork-pie manufacturing industry at that (GLIAS Newsletter December 2001)? Good gracious!

This pioneering paper occupies pages 36-48 and fig 1 on page 37 is a marvellous period (pre-second world war?) illustration of the exterior of the Dickinson & Morris shop (see www.porkpie.co.uk). How things have changed in 40 years! The Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society has probably not published anything further on pork-pie manufacture since. Bob Carr

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© GLIAS, 2002