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Notes and news — August 2002

In this issue:

Recording Group

Many members when they are filling in their Membership Renewal Forms ask 'What is the Recording Group and what does it do?' Recording, as well as explaining, London's industrial remains is what GLIAS was originally set up for and older members will remember our regular recording reports. However, as time has gone on, it has proved to be more and more difficult to gain access to sites to record former industries and their buildings.

Recently we have decided to concentrate more on our database of what remains in Greater London. This is very much a work in progress with much to be checked, as well as extra sites to be added. Some boroughs needed to be 'adopted' and looked after as there seem to be very few entries for them.

The Recording Group Meeting will focus on the database as well as other recording issues. Sue Hayton

Spot It And Jot It — update

Thanks to all those who have responded to the Spot It and Jot It series. I am now trying to get all the information onto the Database.

Bill Firth has been invaluable in letting me know about pillar boxes and telephone kiosks around London. He has also got HADAS (Hendon & District Historical Society) involved too so that coverage of the north west of London is better than many other areas.

Other recent correspondents include Peter Finch who pointed out many good examples of coal-hole covers in and around Harley Street, W1 as well as Nigel Picken who suggested looking at Granville Square WC1 with lots of covers in Yorkstone paving. Christine Hall mentioned Chiswick Mall with fine coal-hole covers where the Mall diverts from the riverside.

Paul Calvocoressi sent me a copy of a photograph taken for the LCC in 1908 of the trade sign for the company at 196 Blackfriars Road — a dog with its head in a pot. The pot looks a lot like those pots made by the Coalbrookdale Company in Shropshire — is this another example of Coalbrookdale in London!

Lily Goddard in her book 'Coalhole Rubbings' (1979) adds this.

This is an older sign than the one in Paul's photograph, so I'll have to check with the museum. The works site in Blackfriars Road is now occupied by LCC housing.

J W Cunningham coal-hole plate, Stamford Street. © Robert Mason I was also pleased to hear from Carol Machin who has found a J W Cunningham cover in Stamford Street, SE1. It is on the south side of the road just by Nos 77/79. The plate has the dog and pot motif as well as the date 1882 and the correct address. I think that the date might be a trademark date, something else I'll have to check!

Those who came on my Fleet Street walk were able to see a number of cast-iron covers marked for various telegraph companies, such as the Standard Telegraph Company. Obviously Fleet Street is a good hunting ground as newspapers had to be made aware of interesting stories as soon as possible.

John Henley of Fulham has written to me about something I had not already considered — numbers carved into kerbstones to denote pitches for stalls in street markets. He has found examples locally in North End Road, SW6, where there is still a market, although the numbers bear no relevance to the current pitches, and also at the north end of Munster Road, where there has not been a market for many years. Has any other member noted any such markings elsewhere?

Other members have asked me about horse troughs as well as coal duty boundary markers. Well I can do no better there than check the definitive work written some time ago by GLIAS member Martin Nail. Surely this invaluable work needs to be reprinted for all those, like me, who need a copy? Sue Hayton

LHP Valve Box Covers

LHP cover © Robert Mason 2016

Covers with the letters LHP on them (GLIAS Newsletter June 2002) housed stop valves on the London Hydraulic Power mains and branches. Mains were pipes that connected with other mains at each end, while branches were connected to mains or other branches at one end only. Mains could be isolated by means of stop valves at each end, branches by stop valves close to the junctions.

Records in the Metropolitan Archives show the position and size of all stop valves. For example, there is a valve-box cover just outside the door of the former LTSR accumulator tower in Hooper Street, Whitechapel. It was on a 6in main laid in 1889 from Mansell Street to Upper East Smithfield via Rupert Street and Leman Street.

Round the corner in Gowers Walk another cover is for a valve on a 4in branch that served the adjacent wool warehouse. Later this branch was extended northwards, crossing Commercial Road to join up with another main on Whitechapel Road, thus the branch became a main.

Consumers were served by service pipes which, in general, were smaller than mains and branches. Consumers had to provide stop valves on their service pipes.

In July 1913, when there were nearly 176 miles of pipes, there were 6,176 stop valves. In addition there were 481 momentum valves, to counteract back pressures, and 251 air valves. No doubt there were more valves at the peak, in the mid-1930s, when LHP had 187 miles of pipes.

Today, LHP valve box covers can still be found in many central London streets. Tim R Smith

City Safari: Cologne

Cologne was heavily bombed during the Second World War and a lot of its industry was destroyed. Nevertheless, much of interest remains. This safari (6-9 June) was based at the Altstadt Hotel in Leverküsen — some 20 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) or main station by local S-Bahn trains. The family-run Altstadt provided excellent and very friendly accommodation despite some problems during rebuilding. The group assembled for dinner on Thursday evening when we had an introductory talk on the industries of Cologne by our leader, Sue Hayton. This was the preliminary to a 9 o'clock start on Friday morning.

Leverküsen, now part of 'Greater Cologne' was founded in 1930 by uniting four smaller towns, notably Wiesdorf, which was the largest. The name is derived from the chemist Carl Leverkus, who set up an ultramarine works here in 1889. His sons sold out to Bayer whose chemical works are now the dominating industry of the town. The town was badly damaged in the Second World War but we had a brief walk round to look at some of the few old buildings remaining. The train then took us into the city for an exploration of commercial Cologne.

The first industrial monument to be seen is the Hohernzollern Bridge which takes the railway over the Rhine. It originates from 1907-11 but had to be rebuilt after bombing and it was widened in the late 1980s. This leads to the impressive main station built in the 1890s to replace an earlier structure. The three-bay shed is the only survivor from this time. A new entrance hall was built in 1951-2 and, more recently, a new roof covers an extension.

In the Marzellanstrasse there is a plaque commemorating the nine years from 1817 that Georg Simon Ohm, of Ohm's Law, spent on Cologne. (Ohm — do you remember your laws of electricity?) Moving on we admired the banking area, with a number of impressive buildings in contrasting styles depending on when they were built, the Dom Hotel, an early iron-framed building, and the later shops. One of these, now the Kaufhaus, was originally a warehouse built in 1913. Going back in time, the walk also included a section of Roman sewer, restored and re-erected at street level, the 15th-century government building which became the stock exchange and market hall, and the 4711 Eau de Cologne factory.

In 1709 Johann Maria Farina established the world's oldest Eau de Cologne factory. An Italian from Domodossola, he came to Cologne in 1714. Originally a much stronger product it was used as a medicine but, when Napoleon decreed that the recipes of all curative medicines must be put into the public domain, Eau de Cologne, was diluted and sold as a perfume in order to keep its ingredients secret, which they still are. The building in Gülichplatz is now only offices but include a shop where, besides selling Eau de Cologne, there are displays.

The afternoon's walk started at the Süd Bahnhof (South Station) a typical 1950s four-bay building with a higher glazed central booking hall. Nearby is a semi-circular building which, despite the adjacent railway is not a round house. It was Fort V of the 1847 defences, became the administration building of the isolation hospital, which was built here, but is now used by the geological-mineralogical institute of the university. This area was badly bombed but a number of old or restored houses remain. In Vondelstrasse there is a fine early 20th-century fire station. Further on there is a large public utilities complex, the Städtliches Wasser und Elektritätswerk. Although visits are allowed they are apparently only for citizens of Cologne and we had to be satisfied with walking round the boundary wall and looking through the various gates to the site. Lastly in this area we went to the Grossmarkthalle (Market Hall) a long parabolic-arched hall in reinforced concrete with two large glazed gables on the north side to give light, leaving the south side sheltered from sunlight. A particular feature here is a large above ground air-raid shelter built rather crudely with a tower so that it resembled a church — a form of camouflage.

At this point a sightseeing excursion, with some IA, intervened. By two long tram rides we went via Bonn to Königswinter for the ascent of the Drachenfels by rack railway. It is the oldest rack railway in Germany, opened in 1883. It was electrified in 1955. One of the original steam locomotives is displayed near the bottom station.

It was late in the day and there was not a lot of time at the top but we could admire the view up and down river and to the Eiffel Mountains, visibility was not too bad. We dined in Königswinter and, with German railway punctuality seemingly not much different from this country, arrived back in Leverküsen quite late. It must be admitted that there were a large number of speeding freight trains thundering along the line whereas, at that time in the evening, the passenger trains only ran hourly.

Saturday morning started with a walk in Deutz, the cross river settlement from Cologne. The station of 1914 has a high domed entrance flanked by two lower pavilions and seems too imposing for the place. In the station yard there is a memorial to Niklaus Otto the inventor of the Otto gas engine. On the other side of the station are the Messe (Trade Fair) buildings. During the Second World War it was used as a concentration camp for those on the way to Buchenwald and outside there is a memorial to these unfortunates. The river front gives good views of Cologne across the water.

We crossed the Rhine by the footway on the Hohernzollern Bridge, all that remains of the original road alongside the tracks, and went on to the Rathaus (City Hall) which has been rebuilt a number of times. On one corner a figure of Johann Maria Farina was erected in 1995 to commemorate his contribution to the city. In the middle of the square the site of Jewish ritual baths was recently uncovered. Downhill in the Fischmarkt, not much fish but lots of eating places, we stopped for lunch.

In the Marsplatz there is an old water supply pump, still working, as Sue demonstrated. The Heumarkt (Hay Market) is an impressive square with a large monument to the unification of the Rheinland into Prussia. Otto's house is in one corner of the square. From the Heumarkt we crossed the river by tram over the Deutzer Brücke and after a short walk in old Deutz returned, again by tram, over the Severinsbrücke.

Around the Barbarossa Platz we found the large brick water tower of 1870, which has surprisingly been converted into a hotel. The staff were most helpful and invited us in to see the internal structure of the tower and models of the conversion. Nearby is the fine church of St Pantaleon (not the patron saint of trousers, as more than one wag suggested) the tower of which was used for a telegraph station. Along the street are the offices of the first Köln-Bonn railway. This brought us to the brewery pub and the end of industrial monuments for the day.

Sunday dawned the warmest and sunniest of the three days and the morning was spent in the now no longer commercial harbour area between the Südbrücke (railway bridge) and the Severinsbrücke (road bridge). There are 1920s warehouses, one block of which is known as the Siebengebirge after its seven gables. Coincidentally Sue later collected a free copy of the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung in which there was an article about the proposed conversion of these buildings into apartments. (Warehouse lofts are not confined to London.)The Hafen-Zollamt (Customs Offices) of 1896 are impressive. At the harbour entrance there is a hydraulic swing bridge of 1896 with an adjacent hydraulic tower, known in Germany as a Malakoff Tower after the name of a defensive tower of the Crimean War.

Most of the party then adjourned to a riverside restaurant for lunch from which we dispersed on our various ways.

Many thanks to Sue, our leader; Paul Saulter, who, as Heritage of Industry, makes all the travelling and hotel arrangements, and Danny, as 'back marker' who keeps the group together. Between them these three do a lot of research, not only on industrial sites, but on local travel, restaurants, cafés and their beers, etc. which make City Safaris run enjoyably and smoothly. Bill Firth
City Safaris aim to show the urban rambler a different side of major cities — that is the industrial landscape and its remains. For further information contact Heritage of Industry Ltd, 80 Udimore Road, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7DY

Grahame-White Hangar, Hendon Aerodrome

Long serving members may remember that, back in the 1980s, GLIAS, along with other interested parties, campaigned for the retention of the listed Grahame-White hangar at Hendon Aerodrome, which the Ministry of Defence was proposing to demolish (GLIAS Newsletter February 1990). The upshot of the campaign was the listing of some more historic buildings at Hendon and a plan to dismantle the hangar and relocate it as part of the adjacent RAF Museum.

RAF Hendon © Robert Mason 18.4.2016 RAF Hendon © Robert Mason 18.4.2016

There have been various plans over the intervening years, which have not come to fruition, but at last the relocation is occurring. Work started recently on dismantling the hangar and, with piling complete, new brickwork at the relocation site is under construction. The work should be complete early in 2003 and the hangar should be opened with new RAF Museum displays in December 2003. Bill Firth

Central London Trams on way back

Trams are set to return to central London for the first time in 50 years. London Mayor Ken Livingstone has given the go-ahead for a £300m north-south Cross River link and a £200m tramway through west London. The West London tram, due to be completed by 2009, is set to run from Uxbridge to Shepherds Bush via Acton, Ealing, Hanwell and Southall town centres.

The Apsley Paper Trail

In 1791, Henry and Sealy Foudrinier, stationers in the City of London, purchased a mill at Two Waters, near Hemel Hempstead, and began making paper. In those days paper was made by hand although water-powered beaters were used to prepare the pulp. A few years later John Gamble brought back from Paris details of the French patent of Nicholas Louis Robert for a papermaking machine. Gamble obtained the British patent in 1801 and then co-operated with the Foudrinier brothers on improvements in two later patents. The Foudriniers leased Frogmore Mill, downstream of Two Waters on the River Gade, and engaged John Hall of Dartford to build a machine. Hall had the help of his former apprentice, Bryan Donkin. The machine was installed in 1803. Donkin built a second machine at his works at Fort Place, Bermondsey, which went to Frogmore the following year.

Downstream of Frogmore Mill were Apsley and Nash Mills. Both were papermills before being purchased by John Dickinson. Dickinson, in partnership with George Longman, bought Apsley Mill in 1809 and installed his own version of the papermaking machine. By 1815 Apsley had three machines powered by steam. Dickinson purchased Nash Mill in 1810. Apsley Mill closed down some years ago and the site is now occupied by large retail outlets. Apsley railway station was built by the LMS to serve Dickinson's mills. It was opened on 28 September 1938 by a special train, carrying the chairmen of both Dickinson's and the LMS, breaking through a large screen of Croxley paper stretched across the rails. The station is substantially as built.

Apsley and Nash Mills grew considerably over the years whereas Frogmore remained much smaller in scale, though the complex had piecemeal extensions. Dickinson leased Frogmore from 1877 to 1886 for the preparation of half-stuff (partly pulped material) from esparto grass. From 1890 to the year 2000 Frogmore was run by the British Paper Company which was set up by H S Sanguinetti. It has recently been purchased by the local authority, Dacorum Borough Council, to form the centrepiece of the Apsley Paper Trail. The mill is still in production. Watford Pulpers are used to prepare stuff, and a modified Hollander beater is used to mix additives and dyes. The original Foudrinier machine is long gone, but there is a later machine, small by modern standards, driven by a small steam engine, the exhaust steam being used in the drying cylinders. The steam engine is an inverted vertical, two-cylinder duplex, fully enclosed engine of about 130hp, by Ashworth & Parker of Bury. The buildings straddle the watercourse though the two waterwheels are no longer there. The wheelpits show how they were arranged, side-by-side.

Plans are in hand for a modern interactive visitor attraction, a research centre, an art gallery and a restaurant at The Paper Trail Project, to come on stream from 2004. Later this year a Project Presentation Centre will be opened at Apsley Mills. Phase 1 opening is scheduled to coincide with the bicentenary of the first Foudrinier machine. Tim R Smith

Molasses incident photos

GLIAS has been given two photographs by Simon Bass. One of them shows what appears to be a factory yard, taken from above, the other shows a crowd of people standing in the road. In both the ground appears to be covered with something black, and shiny. The crowd are standing in Blackwall Lane in Greenwich — since the distinctive frontage of the Inland Lino Works and an advertisement for them can be seen in the background.

I have a fair idea what is being shown in the pictures — since an account of it appears in 'A History of the United Molasses Company Ltd.' (W A Meneight 1977). 3,000 tons of molasses had escaped from a tank and was making 'its ponderous and inexorable way into Tunnel Avenue'. As Mr Meneight pointed out this was not useful in an area where 'trams were served by a conductor rail running in a gully between the lines'. Try as I can in the local papers I cannot find the date of this incident which must have taken place in the late 1920s.

The molasses was used by the Molassine Company which had a riverside factory on the Greenwich peninsula on part of the site now largely covered by Hays and Amylum. In October 1999 we published an article about them in the Greenwich Industrial History Newsletter. This described how the company was founded in 1907 to exploit a Balkan secret formula for animal food — and the company made a number of well known brands including Vims which 'all dogs love' and a sphagnum moss and molasses based feed for horses (also used as a plaster by First World War soldiers). The article included some memories of the works contributed by John Needs and he remembered how Vims was frequently mentioned in Norman Wisdom films and how the yard sweepings were sold as a garden fertiliser 'RITO'. The company eventually became part of Tate and Lyle.

Today there is a large red stone office block in Blackwall Lane which is said to have been built by Molassine — although I have never seen any actual details of this. Behind it are a number of large tanks. I cannot believe that these are the same tanks which stood there in the 1920s and which leaked so dramatically into Blackwall Lane and which Molassine's publicity department described as a landmark on the river, although it might be a good story to say so. To local people the most notable thing about the factory was the smell! Mary Mills

Politi Turkish Delight Works

At one time Politi's Turkish Delight Factory 10 Manor Road, Stoke Newington N16, had stationary steam engines, probably to stir Turkish-delight mix. Steam would also have been used for process purposes and there were boilers as a square-cross-section brick chimney was built at the back of the works, to the north east. The chimney remains with the white lettering Politi running vertically downwards clearly visible. The grid reference is TQ 335 870. Looking across the railway a fairly good view of the chimney can be had from the Safeway supermarket to the east in Stamford Hill (the A10).

The yellow brick building which fronts Manor Road is two storey, of two bays with double pitch roofs. The gables are decorated with the Star of David and on the eastern gable is the date 1911. In the centre of the façade at first floor level there is a loading loophole with a cathead. This loophole may be a fairly recent addition. The brick chimney is immediately behind this building and has iron bands and a lightening conductor.

According to the article by David Perrett in London's Industrial Archaeology number one (p8), Politi's had a 1901 horizontal single-cylinder steam engine by Marshall Sons & Co Ltd of Gainsborough still at work c1978. There was also on standby an inverted vertical single-cylinder enclosed engine made about 1950 by W Sisson and Co Ltd of Gloucester. It is understood that a GLIAS member visited Politi's about 25 years ago. They probably ceased to use steam engines in the early 1980s.

D Politi and Sons Ltd were well-known for the manufacture of Rahat Lacoum, British Manufacture Turkish Delight which was marketed in wooden drums with paper seals. The red labelled boxes were a popular luxury at Christmas about 45 years ago. On opening the drum one came to a white paper lining and on disturbing this clouds of fine white powder would be created which could make quite a mess. The powder, used to pack the Turkish Delight, was a mixture of cornflour and icing sugar. The Turkish Delight itself was of several flavours indicated by colour and the powder packing was to stop it fusing together into one great lump.

This is the traditional way of retailing Turkish Delight and in more recent years it has been possible to buy it like this loose, weighed out into paper bags in the shop. This Turkish Delight was probably made by people in London who were of Cypriot origin and was generally sold in Cypriot shops. More recently still it has been possible to buy Turkish Delight in Hackney and thereabouts which is made and packed in Turkey. This is generally sold in printed cardboard boxes. Very recently supermarkets have started to stock a range of Turkish Delights made in Turkey but packed in the UK. These are displayed on the shelves in transparent plastic boxes. Turkish Delight is a common accompaniment to a small cup of Turkish coffee — finely ground coffee in suspension, which settles as a sludge at the bottom of the cup.

An example of a Politi wooden Rahat Lacoum drum measures just over five and a quarter inches in diameter across the lid and is overall about two and a quarter inches deep. It is marked one and a quarter pounds nett and cost nine shillings including purchase tax. The address London N16 is given on the lid of the drum. It is probably the order of 25 years old. This method of presenting luxury Turkish Delight by Politi's was in marked contrast to the cheaper mass-produced Turkish Delight made by the big sweet manufacturers which in some cases could be chocolate coated and just bought like a chocolate bar.

Politi's Turkish Delight was eaten with orange sticks or a wooden fork. From memory there used to be one on top of the Turkish Delight when the drum was opened. Even removing the fork spread about a good deal of white powder, the mixture of cornflour and icing sugar used for packing. The fork was rather like the disposable ones still in use by some traditional fish and chip shops.

According to the internet David Politi was a persecuted Greek Jew who moved to England and started the manufacture of British Turkish Delight in 1872. Politi's seem to have gone out of business before 1987. According to a steam engine website both their steam engines were removed for preservation. Does anyone know where?

Politi's occupied quite small premises. Looking at the site now it is hard to believe that all that Turkish Delight was made there. Bob Carr

Follow-up: Bob Carr's Politi drum is perhaps a bit older than the 25 years he suggests. Decimalisation of the currency was imposed in February 1971, and purchase tax was replaced by VAT (then 10%) on All Fools' Day 1973. Richard Graham

What's under Dover Road

Industrial Archaeology has become only too live an issue in Greenwich with the collapse of the A2 Dover Road at Blackheath Hill (GLIAS Newsletter June 2002). We now have a situation where the lorries are once again thundering through Greenwich Town Centre and motorists are rat running in every direction (many of them illegal ones). People have been rehoused from several blocks of flats and are already settled into their new homes.

Ever since the original collapse in April everyone with any pretensions to knowledge of local history has been writing articles and every local publication has featured them. I was asked to speak at the first public meeting after the collapse and already residents had acquired copies of the two — very obscure — publications in which research on what might be under the hill has appeared. These are 'Leonard Searles the Elder and the Development of Blackheath Hill' by W Bonwit, in Transactions of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society (Vol IX No2, 1980) and Caves and Tunnels in Kent (Chelsea Speleological Society, Records Vol 6) by Harry Pearman. GLIAS members may remember that Harry gave a GLIAS lecture a couple of years ago.

There are really two issues about what might be under the Dover Road. One of them concerns the Blackheath Cavern. This is reasonably well known and lies under the Point — the tongue of hill top on the south west corner of Blackheath. There have been many articles and theories about the Cavern (Jack Cade's Cavern, Temple of Isis, etc etc). It was used as a night club in the 18th century, closed by the authorities as a fire risk and reopened in 1938 with a view to use as an air-raid shelter. The 1938 investigators found some lurid wall paintings and a pile of old bottles. They made sure was it was safe, and sealed it up again.

Anyone was has travelled up Blackheath Hill, and tries to think about it before the houses were built, can see that it is cut through an area of chalk quarries. These are well known and appear in several old paintings. The activities of the Steer family in the 17th century were described in Mr Bonwit's article and some other research has been done since. The Steers exploited the area for chalk and gravel — and it is assumed that they were the people who dug out the Blackheath Cavern and the open cast areas on either side of the Dover Road. The problem is, did they, or someone else, also dig underneath it? A couple of years ago a pub on the southern side of the road suddenly descended several feet into its own cellar and has stood there ever since, held up by scaffolding, a storey shorter than it used to be. People have speculated about the old railway tunnel for the Greenwich Park Line – but that is slightly lower down the hill, and not an issue.

Meanwhile, very slowly because the hole is very dangerous, engineers have been scanning the area with radar and working to stabilise the area. Whatever happens it is likely that what lies below will be destroyed in the remedial works but we can hope that it might give us at least some information about the activities of 17th-century underground chalk extraction. I cannot believe that anyone would ever have been allowed by the authorities to tunnel under the Dover Road — but it has taken over three centuries for the activities of these illicit tunnellers to appear, and to dramatic effect.

Follow-up: When I wrote the above, investigations were still going on. Now, in mid-July, this work has ceased and last week Transport for London reported their findings to a packed public meeting in Greenwich Borough Hall. This was followed over the next few days by an excellent exhibition.

They reported that investigations had begun in April 2002, immediately after the hole appeared. They had used Microgravity — a technique that uses the earth's own gravity to identify voids/loosely compacted soil. They had also sunk 105 boreholes — three to monitor ground water.

The geology of the area consists of chalk overlaid with deposits of Thanet Sand and evidence indicates that the road down Blackheath Hill follows the route of the Roman Road which was narrower than the present A2. Chalk extraction has taken place there since medieval times and there had also been lime kilns in the area. The quarries had been backfilled but had not disturbed the original road. Microgravity testing and core hole sampling have also confirmed that the line of the original Roman Road is substantially intact. The centre of the road is on natural ground — a spine of intact chalk — while the areas near and under the footpath have generally been disturbed and back filled. The investigations also identified an old gallery under the road, as well as the disused railway tunnel.

The engineer who presented these findings at the meeting also discussed the possible causes of the collapse. It is believed that water is the most likely culprit — either as ground water percolating down the hill or a sudden rush. It cannot now be proved if there was a build-up of water — for whatever reason — before the collapse since any evidence was destroyed by the collapse itself.

Work on repairing the road is going to take many more months using a cement grouting technique to stabilise the sub soil beneath the road. This will fill up any voids and firm up the ground.

The engineer's report dealt only with the road itself — but the roadside areas belong to Lewisham and Greenwich Councils and they too are going to have to deal with the results of chalk extraction over the centuries alongside the Dover Road. Mary Mills

Design versus evolution?

If you could bring an educated Roman citizen, perhaps Vitruvius, back to life and show him our modern world he would more or less comprehend much of present-day civil engineering. If you showed him a railway train, motor car or television set he would be totally at a loss and regard these as magic.

Does this mean that civil engineering has developed slowly compared with many other human activities?

Because of the scale of their task civil engineers cannot afford to be wrong and must proceed with extreme caution. They have very heavy responsibilities. In order to build the Channel Tunnel great thought had to be given beforehand. Only one could be built and that had to be right. By contrast in many other areas of engineering and technology, say in motor-car design, it is possible to build several prototypes, test them, perhaps by racing and choose the best.

Much technology proceeds by putting products in competition and selecting the best, a process not unlike biological evolution. Thus, to use the language of Richard Dawkins, our high-tech artefacts tend to be designoid rather than merely designed.

Is this another example of evolution being superior to creation?

We might also consider our British Constitution or a traditional town compared with a planned high-rise housing scheme of the 1960s. Sir Patrick Abercrombie — where are you now? Bob Carr

Coal-fired aircraft engines

Coal-fired aircraft engines sound a bit far fetched although it has been considered from time to time (GLIAS Newsletter June 2000).

Coal has one of the highest concentrations of carbon, which is why our coal mines are shutting down! CO and CO2 are the pollutants after combustion.

About 15/20 years ago, American companies were experimenting with coal, again, in internal combustion reciprocating engines, using Government funding, but the abrasion damage and emissions killed the projects. I suppose the latest thinking that CO and CO2 isn't causing all our global problems, because volcanoes contribute over 90% of our pollution anyway and records don't go back 60,000 years monitoring the environmental cycle, may raise the possibility of coal-engine research again.

Rudolf Diesel's first experiments were with coal injected into the cylinder, but they came to little, so he successfully pursued the oil injection system. Coal abrasion is the big problem, so reliability and durability are compromised, unacceptable in aero-engines. George Murray

Camden Roundhouse

The Roundhouse, the 1846 former railway shed in Camden, has finally secured the permanent access and space necessary for its redevelopment as a performing arts centre. The scheme had been put in jeopardy when the Greater London Magistrates' Courts Authority decided to dispose of the land that included a car park providing the only access for lorries taking equipment to the Roundhouse.

Battersea Power Station

Enabling works to convert Battersea Power Station's hulk into a mixed use complex are now under way. Developers Parkview want to create a leisure, retail, business and housing complex. There are also plans for a pedestrian bridge across the Thames and a major overhaul of Battersea Park and Queenstown Road railway stations.

La Riviere's Patent Governor

In researching the Easton & Amos steam engine at Wrotham Park (GLIAS Newsletter February 2002), we found that the June 1856 Invoice referred to 'One 8 Horse Power Steam Engine fitted with feed pump, fly wheel and La Riviere's Patent Governor'. At the Science Museum Library, I have researched the computer index, the Index to The Engineer 1856-1959, the indexes to the Proceedings of the Newcomen Society and several books on steam engines, but have not found any reference to La Riviere or a patent in that name (Dickenson refers to several other inventions in the period). I have yet to have a chance to check the patent at the British Library. Meanwhile, if anyone has any information on La Riviere's Patent Governor, we should be most grateful. Brian Strong

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© GLIAS, 2002