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Notes and news — August 2004

In this issue:

Further observations on Henry Bessemer

Denis Smith failed to mention in his lecture on Henry Bessemer (GLIAS Newsletter June 2004) his London steel works on the Greenwich peninsula.

I wrote up my research on this for the Newcomen Society's Bulletin in April 2000, with a rather more popular version in Bygone Kent Vol 20 No 1.

As with so much else concerning Bessemer the Greenwich steel works was a bit of a saga which remains difficult to untangle. He clearly had had some sort of row with the authorities at the Royal Arsenal and so decided to set up his own steel-making plant a couple of miles up river — and handy to reach from his home at Denmark Hill. I more than suspect that he was involved with the gun manufacturer, Theophilus Blakely, also out of favour with both the Royal Arsenal and William Armstrong. Bessemer and Blakeley together probably intended to set up a rival concern.

Bessemer's Greenwich works was on a riverside site known today as Victoria Deep Water Wharf — and it was subsequently occupied by the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Works. There is another tale attached to that, and one that perhaps we should take some notice of. The lino works belonged to Frederick Walton. Walton, like Bessemer, was a professional inventor, and, like Bessemer, wrote a convoluted, tricky autobiography — they may well have known each other, and they certainly had a lot in common. Walton said how proud he was to site his works somewhere 'famous as the spot where Bessemer proved his widely known steel process'. Walton was also to claim that over the door of the Greenwich linoleum factory was Bessemer's so-called 'first flash' — the first piece of steel made by Bessemer and as late as the 1940s is was claimed that 'the gateway to this old factory is still protected from damage by traffic by buttresses forged from Bessemer's first steel'.

Eventually the linoleum factory, by then owned by Michael Nairn of Kirkaldy, was pulled down and Nairns gave the Science Museum the 'first flash' and a small Bessemer converter from Greenwich. I don't know what has happened to this — informal conversations with Science Museum staff have indicated that they don't believe the story, and don't see what the connection of Bessemer is with Greenwich. I think it is about time we all found out! Mary Mills

The last Bessemer 'blow' in the UK was not 'at Kelham Iron Works' but at Workington, Cumbria, in 1975. One of the two Bessemer converters used then is now preserved outside Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield, as a reminder of Bessemer's works in the city and his outstanding importance in steel history.

There was indeed once a Kelham Iron Works (John Crowley & Sons, from the 1840s) where the museum now is, but it did not make Bessemer steel and was replaced in 1898 by the buildings of a tramway generating station which now house the museum. Derek Bayliss

In the 1937 edition of Frank Burt's book 'Cross-Channel and Coastal Paddle Steamers' there is an addenda item under 'London, Chatham & Dover Railway' that reads:

'BESSEMER. According to the Manchester Guardian 8/10/34, when the famous swinging saloon was taken out of the vessel more than 40 years ago it was removed to a private house at Swanley, Kent. The house is now a women's Horticultural College and the saloon is used as a lecture hall. "The old leather seats still remain in place round the walls, and there are some beautiful carved panels with the monogram B.S.S. Co. and twisted mahogany pillars supporting the roof."'

I have asked one or two Paddle Steamer Preservation Society members, including our curator, whether they know anything about the present whereabouts of the famous saloon or if, indeed, it still exists, but no luck so far I'm afraid. Jill Harvey

See also:

St Pancras — gone

The Midland Railway had an enormous presence to the north of its great London terminus. Massive brickwork supported the rails 15 feet above ground level and carried the tracks onwards to higher ground just to the east of St Pancras churchyard. In Midland Road the railway's presence was overbearing.

In the 1860s the Midland had come down on the area like a proverbial 'ton of bricks' but in this case something like 240 thousand tons of bricks were imposed. (A total of 60 million bricks were used in the building of St Pancras station and its approaches). Now after almost 140 years much of this has gone and it is as if the old Midland Road many of us knew well had never been. All the brick arches north of the great Barlow train shed have been cleared away and for a newcomer it would be almost impossible to visualise what has just vanished.

Something like 40 million bricks have gone and all that remains is a small outlier, most likely former coal offices, north of Brill Place on the west side of Pancras Road. This outlier is a remnant of Somers Town goods depot and may be retained.

An outcome of the recent massive clearance of brickwork is that the ground at the site of Henry Bessemer's Baxter House where the first Bessemer steel was made is now clear and some subterranean archaeology might just survive. Baxter House which became St Pancras Ironworks was on the east side of Pancras Road just south of the churchyard. Bob Carr

King's Cross gazetteer

More on Wood Green

The man riding on the upturned bath would have been seriously affronted to be called a refuse collector (GLIAS Newsletter June 2004), he was a horseman, hired along with the horse and harness from Mr Nicholls the jobmaster, just to be a driver, a specialist.

City Coach Company was operated by Birch Brothers, which ran a regular service to the Wellingborough-Rushden 'boot and shoe' area from its other depot at Kentish Town (more). I can remember double-deckers in cream and green livery.

Those 'Gnus' were in fact Leylands. I had thought they were Guys for 60 years. At that time I was talking to an 'expert' number collector. I knew they were unusual in being 'Chinese sixes', ie two steering axles, and when I commented on the fleet number beginning with 'G' he said, 'That's because they are Guys.' I would say in my defence that they had coach-built bodies without the distinctive manufacturer's radiator.

I was very surprise that Ted Martin never mentioned an outstanding feature of the trolleybus depot, a feature that was itself an industrial artefact, the traverser and turntable. This, I believe, originated in the tram days, although it is possible that the turntable was added with the advent of the trolleybus. Buses were driven in, almost to the back of the depot onto the turntable. They were then turned through 180° and 'batteried' back over the service pits. After servicing they were put back on the traverser to be parked very closely in one of the 13 rows facing the door ready to be driven out with the poles up. This operation could be witnessed every evening as it took place almost in front of the small side door which Ted mentioned (when it was open). During the 50s, cleaning was done very efficiently by well known local family of what today would be called vertically challenged people, what we then knew as dwarves. Many a trip I have had on the 625 to Napier Arms, I wonder how many 10-year-olds with a seven-year-old brother in tow would be allowed to go 10 miles from home to a forest unaccompanied by an adult in these 'enlightened' times?

The old Palace Gates to Woolwich railway was known throughout my childhood as 'The Laundry Line' because that was what Mum called it — she always said that it was built to take labour from north London to work in a big laundry at North Woolwich. The bridge, which carried Westbury Avenue over the line has had its crown lowered but still serves as a pedestrian tunnel, while a housing estate occupies the goods yard. Again that line had a unique feature; its trains were driven from either end. The locomotive headed the train travelling northwest, ie into Palace Gates. As there was no turntable or passing loop, the driver then went to the 'guard's van' which had a regulator, reversing lever and brake control, while the guard joined the fireman on the footplate. In this mode the crew communicated by bell signals. The site of Noel Park station is now occupied by Shopper's City, but vestiges of the forecourt remain, flanked on its northern edge by a building which was once one of Wood Green's two slaughter houses.

Of course Alexandra Palace had its own station directly under the building. This was served by the Great Northern with a line from Highgate starting somewhere near the current Tube station, where it connected to the line to Finsbury Park. One final point on Tubes, Ted mentions Turnpike Lane Underground station. Up to the early 70s (I think) this had two entrances, which came out onto islands in the middle of Turnpike Lane. These served as loading points for trams and later the 41 and 144 buses which parked between the islands. The islands were removed and the stairways filled in as part of traffic improvements.

The land where West Green bus garage stood originally belonged to Harry Champion, the music hall artist, as did some of those coaches that used to load behind Duckett's Common. Incidentally at the southern end of the Common in Frobisher Road stands the first purpose-built cinema in London. Bob Rust

Routemasters for sale

London Transport is selling off 430 of its original 1957 Routemaster buses for as little as £2,000 each. No special licence is required to drive one of these vehicles, providing there are no more than eight passengers on board.

The buses have a top speed of 43mph and fuel economy of 12mpg.
Details from Ensignbus Company, Juliette Way, Purfleet Industrial Park, Purfleet, Essex RM15 4YA. Tel: 01708 865656. Web:

The Art Metal Work Company of J Starkie Gardner

The British Decorative Ironwork Foundation is trying to accurately date the company's premises in Lambeth (and elsewhere, if any existed). This is important, not only with regard to the company's history, for the company is very important to the history of decorative ironwork in the British Isles, but also because we shall then know the address at which some known pieces of decorative ironwork, made by J Starkie Gardner & Co, were produced, thus allowing us to build a history of individual examples of the company's productions.

Mr J Starkie Gardner (1844-1930) was 'Metalworker to King Edward VII', and for 50 years he was the foremost authority on the history of decorative ironwork, being a prolific writer and lecturer on the subject, as well as heading a firm which produced many fine examples of decorative ironwork. Our information on this company is limited. The company's 1936 commemorative catalogue states the business began in 1752, but we have no history of the company before 1885.

As the name suggests the business was a partnership between two families: J Starkie Gardner's father married the daughter of James Starkie. We have yet to discover who James Starkie was, and whether it was through the Gardner line or Starkie line that the forge became established. The earliest reference we have found establishes J Starkie Gardner & Co in Lambeth in 1885, and they stayed in the borough until 1923, after which they relocated to premises in Wandsworth, where the company stayed until its closure in 1994. We are not certain if J Starkie Gardner was still connected with the company after its move in 1923.

It was only after we had published the May edition of The Lamplighter (a periodical of the British Decorative Ironwork Foundation), which featured an article about J Starkie Gardner, that further research about J Starkie Gardner revealed that before his company moved to Merton Road, Wandsworth, it was formerly located in Lambeth, at 29 Albert Embankment.

A more thorough search in 'Street and Trade Directories' revealed the company was registered at two more addresses in Lambeth. The story is incomplete as there are several years without reference to the company, and we do not know if he was operating out of two locations at the same time or not.

Records show that J Starkie Gardner's 'Art Metal Work' company was located in Lambeth from 1885 to 1922-23, a period of some 37 years. From 1885 to l905 the firm is recorded as being at 29 Albert Embankment (in 1909 a leather-maker is registered there, so he must have vacated this address by then).

Records show that from 1907 to 1909 the company was at 69 Wilcox Road, South Lambeth (it appears, that soon after l909 this road was reconfigured, possibly a reason for the company's next move).

We then find the company from 1914 to 1922 registered at la Tradescant Road, Lambeth, SW8.

In 1923 the business was incorporated and they moved to new and larger premises at 267 Merton Road, Southfields, Wandsworth, SW18.

With regard to Lambeth's history, it is important to record that through a period of at least 37 years in Lambeth J Starkie Gardner's company produced, and restored, many important and magnificent examples of decorative ironwork. Also through this period, J Starkie Gardner wrote all his articles and books about decorative ironwork (notably a three-volume series for the V&A being the first authoritative account on the history of decorative ironwork, unsurpassed to this day), and he also gave many lectures on both decorative ironwork and other matters connected with the decorative arts.

At some point, yet to be established, he became 'Metalworker to King Edward VII' and was known as the foremost authority on decorative ironwork, as well as being an expert on many other aspects of the decorative arts. Perhaps the most notable example of his company's work at this time was the commission he received to make the magnificent gates and screens for the forecourt of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. The forecourt was built as a memorial to King Edward VII.

The King had once visited the forge in Lambeth, and J Starkie Gardner was particularly proud that the decorative ironwork produced there was made using traditional methods — the forge, anvil and related tools.

Slowly the history of this great company is emerging, but more accurate dates are required. If anyone can shed any light on J Starkie Gardner & Co, we would be extremely grateful if they would get in touch with us.
Please contact Malcolm Fay, Chairman of the Trustees of The British Decorative Ironwork Foundation (BDIF), The British Decorative Ironwork Foundation, 803 Samuel Lewis Buildings, Ixworth Place, London SW3 3QG. Tel: 020 7823 9139. The Lamglighter is a free publication produced by the BDIF — please send a stamped addressed envelope (A4 size) if you wish to receive a copy

The end of French coal

The last coal mine in France, the La Houve colliery, near Creutzwald in Lorraine, closed on Friday 23 April this year.

Forty years ago France was producing 60 million tons of coal per year and employed 150,000 people in mining. France is the first major industrial power to abandon production of the world's second largest energy source. The last coal mines in Northern France closed in 1990 and coal mining in central France and the Marseille region ceased last year.

In Britain we still have 16 collieries employing 4,000 miners, compared with 170 collieries and 180,000 miners in 1984. Bob Carr

Historic Photographs

The spring 2004 issue of the English Heritage Conservation Bulletin includes the following item:

The bulletin does not say if any of the images relate to industrial buildings.
The NMR may be contacted at Kemble Drive, Swindon, SN2 2GZ. Tel: 01793 414600. Email:

Dr Dony of Luton

Dr John G Dony (1899-1991) was one of those people (like LTC Rolt) who took an interest in what we now call industrial archaeology (or at least industrial history) before the term industrial archaeology came into use. Before the Second World War he made a study of the straw-plaiting and straw-hat industries of the South Midlands and in 1941 was awarded a PhD by the University of London for his work. Subsequently in 1942 he published A History of the Straw Hat Industry.

Following this he returned to an earlier interest in botany and was responsible for the Flora of Bedfordshire (1953). In 1954 he was elected an Associate of the Linnean Society of London and published the highly respected Flora of Hertfordshire in 1967. He was also part-author of The Story of Luton (1964). The John Dony Field Centre in Hancock Drive, Luton, is named after him. Bob Carr

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum

Many members of GLIAS will know of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum (KTM) at 99 Southwark Street and some may recall an article by Colin Jenkins (GLIAS Newsletter October 2002), telling of some recent progress.

Kirkaldy Testing Museum, 2005. © Robert Mason The KTM will now be submitting notes on a more-or-less regular basis, telling either of current developments or giving brief accounts of studies in hand by Friends.

Hopefully, members of GLIAS will find such matters of interest and, who knows, some might be attracted to offer to help at KTM where helpers are indeed few on the ground.

For those not familiar with KTM, there is an open invitation to visit either on the first Sunday in any month (open from 10.30am to 4pm) or for small groups to visit by appointment at almost any time.

The main item in the museum is, of course, the 'big machine' designed by David Kirkaldy for testing materials and structures, built by Greenwood & Batley and put into service in 1866. Kirkaldy transferred his works to the present purpose-built building, opening in 1874 and his machine is still there, in working order.

The museum was set up by Denis Smith, assisted by GLIAS members and others, in 1987 for the purpose of telling of the near 100 years association of three generations of Kirkaldys with mechanical testing and the general development of that subject up to 1967 when the works closed.

The museum occupies the ground floor and basement of 99 Southwark Street and in addition to its prime exhibit, displays a small range of testing machines up to about 1970, when 'push button' types of machines started to supersede mechanical types. Both space and inclination prohibit extension beyond that period!

Practical projects recently completed include a new window display on Southwark Street for passers by, a display bench of 1950-vintage optical and electrical equipment for stress analysis, all instruments that David K (jun) would have known of, but which were not part of the equipment taken over when KTM was set up.

Work still in hand includes the setting up of a display area for Kirkaldy's work on testing cement, concrete and ceramics, and the making of small fitments to try to get several small machines back into working order, starting with the Izod impact testing machine which was original to the Works. (Our thanks to Robert Cox of Bridport, who coincidentally has just sent Denis a note on EG Izod's life).

More cerebral studies include the understanding and indexing of a collection of extensometers, acquired over the years from outside sources, a study of the 1812/14 large testing machines for testing wrought-iron anchor chains (then situated at Millwall but of which not even a picture is known to the writer) an examination of some well known 20th-century structural failures and, still in the reading stage, why, seemingly, did David Kirkaldy (sen) not get involved with fatigue testing since that was a problem which came to light in the mid-19th century, quite contemporary with his own rise to prominence? Ted Turner, A Friend of KTM

Kirkaldy Testing Museum website:

Highbury Corner commemoration

Old Highbury Station entrance © Robert Mason 2016

At midday on 27 June 1944 a V1 flying bomb landed on what is now Highbury Corner, killing 26 people and injuring more than 150. Many buildings in Upper Street, Compton Terrace and St Paul's Road were destroyed including the 1872 Highbury & Islington railway station building and the Cock Tavern. After the war the area was rebuilt with the large traffic island there today. A 60th-anniversary commemoration meeting organised by the Upper Street Association was to be held in the Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, on 24 June with a memorial plaque to be unveiled by the Rt Hon Chris Smith MP.

A V1 carried a warhead of over 2,000lb of explosive and the extent of the damage can still be discerned today. A fragment of the old North London railway station stands immediately to the south of the present Highbury & Islington station entrance. The station entrance building has a temporary post-war look and also perhaps the Post Office in front which was built on the island formed by the station's carriage driveway. After the blitz on Coventry temporary shops were rapidly constructed there and not all these have been replaced.

The V1 flew from its launching site in Northern France to Islington in 15-20 minutes. Having wings it was a Lutfwaffe weapon. The V2 Rocket was considered to be artillery and was fired by the German army. There was also a V3, a great 150mm gun with sufficient range to reach London which was destroyed by bombing just in the nick of time. If the V3 project had been fully completed a barrage of projectiles, one every five seconds, would have rained down on London.

V3 remains are now open as a museum at Mimoyecques to the south west of Calais. The V in V1 stands for the German vergeltungswaffe which translates as reprisal weapon. Bob Carr

Clearing the cutting of the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Iron Railway at Harps Oaks (Merstham)

A dozen or so members of the Surrey Archaeological Society, working as a team alongside Downlands Countryside Management Project personnel, spent Sunday 23 May 2004 clearing rubbish and trees from the best-preserved section of the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway cutting at Harps Oak, Merstham.

The horsedrawn freight-only railway had opened for business, although only between Croydon and the stone quarries and lime works at Merstham, in 1805. Neither Godstone nor Reigate (the other intended terminus) were ever reached. The railway was closed in 1838, when it was purchased by the London & Brighton Railway. Parts of the CMGIR route were required for the new locomotive-hauled passenger railway, which opened in 1841. Other parts, and the stone sleeper blocks and 3ft-long iron rails, were sold off as surplus to requirements.

The CMGIR had only two major earthworks — the cutting south of Hooley (now a Scheduled Ancient Monument) and an embankment and overbridge crossing Chipstead Valley Road (what is left of this can be seen from the Lion Green car park at Coulsdon).

The task substantially completed by the volunteers on 23 May was to make the best surviving section of the 1805 cutting accessible and presentable. The entire cutting (of which parts have been filled in and/or built over) was over two miles long, and up to 30 feet deep. A 24-feet wide trackbed accommodated two lines of rails. Interestingly, the cutting is entirely through a deep superficial deposit of loam or sandy brickearth — no chalk was encountered during the making of it. Where the excavated spoil was deposited has yet to be ascertained (it was not considered suitable for making the Chipstead Valley embankment, which is of chalk).

Mick Douglas of DCMP drew our attention to three very large trees, an ash and two oaks, which he considered pre-dated the 1805 railway, and interpreted as having been growing in a pre-existing bank incorporated into the east side of the cutting. He also pointed out a nice patch of 'town-hall-clock' or moschatel, an 'ancient woodland indicator species'. We speculated on the nature of the landscape here in 1805, and on where the lowest point of the valley floor might have been, and the position of the 1808 Croydon & Reigate turnpike road and its predecessor.

Steps were also taken to block off a point of access from the A23 which has clearly been used by fly-tippers, by forming a barrier of felled sycamore and hawthorn, and by clearing sycamore to let more light in to encourage a healthy patch of nettles to expand in the fly-tippers' pathway.

This section of the cutting (by the southbound Harps Oak bus stop) lies on the east side of the A23 immediately inside the boundary fence. It is mostly owned by Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, with a smaller part owned by the Highways Agency. Paul W Sowan

Croydon Crematorium

London's first crematorium, at Golders Green (TQ 252 880), dates from 1902. Croydon's (TQ 305 677) commenced with a single chapel (now the west chapel) on 1 June 1937.

It is sited in Croydon Cemetery (the first part of which was opened for use in 1897), with access from Mitcham Road and from Thornton Road, the latter being the principal entrance for funeral parties attending cremations Subsequently an east chapel was added, in the early 1960s, and there are now four modern gas-fired cremators.

The following notes were made during the course of a behind-the-scenes guided tour on Sunday 13 June 2004 (cremations take place on weekdays only).

From one or other of the chapels the coffins are delivered into a single transfer room, and are conveyed on trolleys to the charging machine. This machine pushes a single coffin into each cremator furnace. Manual loading is no longer used, as each furnace is preheated to about 700-800°C, and the use of the charging machine allows operatives to remain at a safe distance from the charging doors.

Each furnace can accommodate only a single coffin. Cremation for an average adult body takes about 80 or 90 minutes. Complete combustion is ensured by conducting furnace gases from the primary chamber through two further chambers at higher temperatures. Sensors record furnace temperatures, furnace gas oxygen contents, and so forth, on computer screens. Flue gases are monitored to ensure they comply with regulations relating to particulates (smoke) and so forth. Visual inspection ports allow the operators to check when cremation is complete, when all that remains of each body is a mass of red hot incinerated bone and coffin ash This material is raked forward, from the far end of each furnace, into bins where it is cooled by a cold air blast.

The ashes are then ground to a fine powder in a mill, by a flailing titanium chain. At this stage metal residues are removed (primarily coffin screws, and surgical implants.) Hitherto these have been buried, although a nationwide metal recycling scheme is currently in contemplation, with the proceeds of sale of titanium and precious metals intended to be donated to charities. An average adult body yields about 3kg of ashes, about half of which is usually derived from the timber coffin. An identity card follows the deceased, and his or her remains, throughout the entire process.

A current cause for concern is the emission of mercury from dental amalgams. Removal of this from the flue gases is likely to be exceptionally expensive. The crematorium charges lower fees for bodies in 'environmentally friendly' cardboard, bamboo, or similar coffins, as these consume significantly less fuel during combustion. As cremation is a 'batch' process, there is potentially a loss of thermal energy if a cremator is allowed to cool down between cremations. For the sake of fuel economy, it is now the practice generally to have only a single cremator operating. All bodies are cremated within 24 hours, the cremators being operational from 8am to 8pm.

The chapels are not consecrated buildings, and can be adapted for whatever form of ceremony is required. The LB Croydon Bereavement Service has expressed itself willing to allow interested persons to visit 'behind the scenes' at mutually agreed convenient times by appointment At least one non-Christian faith requires the cremation to be witnessed, behind the scenes by those attending, and obviously an 'industrial archaeology' visit would not be appropriate in that context. This consideration and pressure of work aside, the service expresses itself willing for visitors to see the cremators in action. Paul W Sowan

Uxbridge Centenary

On Sunday 4 July 2004 centenary celebrations were held at Uxbridge LT station. The Metropolitan Railway's line to the town was officially opened on 30 June 1904 and public services began on 4 July that year.

The present station at Uxbridge was opened on 4 December 1938 and with entrance decoration based on stylised railway wheels and springs is still a well-maintained example of pre-war London architecture.

On Sunday 4 July there were society stalls on the station concourse, preserved period buses outside and two three-hour special return outings were run using a restored 1938 tube train. The special train fare was £10. A centenary mug was on sale at Uxbridge station priced £3.95. Bob Carr

The first motorway

The M1, the first major British motorway, opened on 2 November 1959 from the St Albans bypass (near Watford) to Crick, Northants. This first section, 55 miles long, was by Owen Williams (built in only 19 months) and many of his original bridges survive. They now have protection as historic structures. Originally 134 bridges were built and the M1 was the largest civil engineering operation ever carried out by one firm in Britain (contractors John Laing & Son, Ltd).

Ready for the opening of the M1, the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Co Ltd (BMMO or Midland Red) built special supercharged coaches for services to London. These new coaches could cruise at 85mph (there was no speed limit on the M1 when it opened). They were thoroughly tested beforehand at MIRA Nuneaton. As well as superchargers they were also fitted with a toilet, quite an innovation at the time. Racing up and down the M1 the supercharged coaches rapidly accumulated a very large mileage and so few now survive.

At the time, the competing British Railways trains from London Euston to Coventry and Birmingham would generally have been hauled by one of Sir William Stanier's Jubilee 4-6-0 steam locomotives, or perhaps a rebuilt Royal Scot. The load was as heavy as 14 coaches and the Jubilees were based at Bushbury depot, Wolverhampton (code 3B). Speed would seldom have been as high as 85mph and that downhill. The timing of two hours from Euston to Birmingham was increased about the time the M1 opened to allow for electrification work along the West Coast Main Line. The number of trains via Coventry was reduced in favour of the Snow Hill to Paddington route — all good news for the fast coach operators. Of course if you had a larger budget at your disposal it was also possible to fly from Elmdon Airport to Heathrow in a turboprop Vickers Viscount with a maximum cruising speed of about 360mph. Bob Carr

Cross about Cross Rail

The Strategic Rail Authority has drafted plans to use parts of the disused North London Railway between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace for the Cross Rail Two project.

The line, which was last used for passenger trains in 1956, was turned into Parkland Walk nature reserve in 1976 and Haringey Council's conservation officer David Bevan has gone on record as saying he would vehemently oppose the plan.

The Muswell Hill Metro Group, which has been campaigning for a tram or light railway on Parkland Walk since 1988, has vowed to keep up the pressure to ensure it goes ahead.

Holborn loos — and the mysterious goldfish

A colleague swears blind he saw a programme on the television by Lucinda Lampton showing the goldfish (GLIAS Newsletter June 2004) — but she might just have put then there herself. Roger Morgan

One of the urinals is preserved at the Museum of London, and the accompanying notice clearly states that goldfish were kept in the tanks. Daron Gunson

The film referred to by Eric Deal (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) was synonymous with Geoffrey Fletcher's book. It has been shown on TV several times but not for a number of years now. In the final 'chapter' of the film James Mason visited the remaining sites of Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, most of which have now changed beyond recognition due to redevelopment. Peter Quilley

I certainly put the cat among the pigeons by mentioning goldfish (GLIAS Newsletter February 2004). I am amazed at the lengths that some people will go to and the spurious references they will quote to prove something did not happen. There is not much point in quoting a 1965 book when the owner of the fish would have been retired three or four years, local councils were strict about such things. I am beginning to wonder if they are relations of the Cleansing Superintendent who allowed it to happen.

All they need to say is 'The bloody old fool is a liar.' However, I saw the fish, my brother saw the fish, he even believes that they featured in an early TV broadcast. As to the Billingsgate lobsters, does Mr Morgan believe that only the Mafia and druggies are capable of hiding things in cisterns? It is no good pinching a live lobster unless you can keep it alive until you sell it to a chef. Bob Rust

Ball Tower Museum, Deal

Deal time ball. © Robert Mason On a recent visit to Deal I was delighted to find the Timeball Tower Museum. Here a Time Ball was installed in 1855 to duplicate the one at Greenwich Observatory, from which it was controlled by the electric telegraph.

In the days of sail the relatively sheltered waters between Deal and the Goodwin Sands made that the favoured anchorage for a naval fleet defending the English Channel. So communications from London went thither, rather than Dover which is nowadays the maritime centre of the region. The museum shows the development of naval communication — from beacons, shutter telegraph, semaphore, to the electric telegraph.

Greater London features largely in the story. The Admiralty, of course, and the first few shutter telegraph stations: West Square in Southwark (still with the tower added to the house they used), Telegraph Hill at New Cross, and Shooters Hill on the Deal line; the Chelsea Military School and Putney Heath on the Portsmouth line. The development of the electric telegraph by the Post Office brings more interest, and the several engineering companies that designed and installed the equipment.

The museum was newly opened this year. It is small, does not detain one long, but is highly focused and rewards the visitor with fascinating information and exhibits. Richard Buchanan
Deal Museum Trust, Timeball Tower Museum, Prince of Wales Terrace, Deal, Kent CT14 7BP. Tel: 01304 360897/368824. Web:

More memories of steam — The demise of steam

After designing fans and ductwork to remove sawdust and woodchips from woodworking machinery (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) I changed jobs in the '70s, dividing my time between designing heating for commercial buildings and hospitals.

As wages rose the high cost of maintenance killed steam. One of the last uses in hospitals was for laundries and sterilisation, these declined with the introduction of disposables. The compact electric steam generator appealed to the accountants but they quickly suffered from misuse. I can remember one on the quayside at St Katharine Dock, was it used to power up a Clyde puffer? It didn't last long! I saw another recently, but oil-fired, and again rarely used. Similarly this was intended to power the beam engine, at Bottalack Tin Mine near St Just in Cornwall. These now flooded workings extend out under the sea and, interestingly, are being investigated for electricity generation at present. The Atlantic waves cause air to rush up and down a number of old shafts. They create a very strong draught of air, it's really eerie. It is proposed to install turbines in the shafts.

From the above it can be seen it was the steam generation plant that caused the demise of steam. Explosions of boilers in the early days led to stringent inspection and testing of steam boilers to gain insurance. Boilers tubes could only be replaced so many times before the tubeplates became too corroded and the whole boiler would have to be replaced, at great expense.

Those familiar with traction and railway engines may not appreciate that, for a continuous steaming boiler serving widespread heating plants, sterilizers, calorifiers, laundry plant, etc on a big hospital site, water treatment of the feedwater was paramount. Water treatment was poorly understood and was the first casualty of bad maintenance. Perhaps the second casualty was the distribution system, not the steam supply, without that the remote plant would not work, but the condensate return. This should have returned the steam, generated from expensively treated water, back to the boiler for reuse after it had been condensed in doing its job.

A digression to remind you that we were using the LATENT heat of steam, the heat that produced no apparent rise in temperature but changed it from water at 212°F to steam at the same temperature. Compare that with your domestic heating system which uses the SENSIBLE heat of water, usually in old money, between 180°F and 160°F.

Distribution systems rapidly became 'total loss ' systems, The condensate would 'flash' to waste at point of use, requiring the addition of raw water and more water treatment to the boiler. This raw water was cooler than the hot condensate would have been and thus needed more heat to make steam. (At point of use the condensate needed to be at least at a pressure of 5 to 10 psi, like when you take the cap off a hot car radiator, it would 'flash' back to steam when discharged at atmospheric pressure.)

The solution was thought to be complex systems that returned every bit of condensate and recovered all waste heat in the boilerhouse. The accountants did not like this heavy first expense and the complex plant suffered even worse from poor maintenance. Complex systems, for instance, recovered the heat from 'blowdown'. Salts and sediment etc accumulated in the bottom of the boiler, this was periodically blown down to atmosphere, the familiar occasional cloud of steam beneath a traction engine. After many accidental scaldings most well regulated boilerhouses had a blowdown pit, a sump with residual water in to cool the steam and a high-level vent. The pit and the blowdown valve had one key, so that someone could not be working in the pit when the valve was opened. Water gauges were also blown down to remove bubbles and sediment and to ensure a true level.

These considerations do not trouble the owner of a traction or railway engine only occasionally in steam but they will be familiar with the problems of inspecting, testing and insuring their boilers.

I have been out of the business now for 10 years but doubt if any steam plant survives, it must be difficult to get fittings, steam traps etc now. Of course steam is used in nuclear power stations. I am unsure when, if ever, they will come within the purview of the Industrial Archaeologist! Dave Hill

Garratt or Garrett?

It is most unlikely the 'Garratt loco' referred to by Dave Hill (GLIAS Newsletter April 2004) was a railway engine without wheels — a railway loco has a separate boiler and engine. More likely that it was a stationary engine made by Richard Garrett's engineering works, Leiston, Suffolk.

I'm unaware of any railway engines being stored/scrapped in a private yard at Coleford, Gloucestershire in the 1960s — the steam machinery rusting away there would most probably have been traction/agricultural engines? Peter Quilley

The Portland Road railway bridge, its canal bridge predecessor, and its failures in 1876 and 1891

The railway bridge over Portland Road, immediately to the north of Norwood Junction Station (South Norwood) has an interesting location and history, and an important place in the development of railway infrastructure safety.

The swing bridge over the canal

From 1809 until 1836 the Croydon Canal had passed this way, traffic on Portland Road crossing by way of a swing bridge. The canal closed on 22 August 1836, having been sold to the London & Croydon Railway, part of the canal bed being required for the new railway line. Brian Salter's booklet Retracing Canals to Croydon and Camberwell (Living History Publication 7, 1986) indicates that the canal was alongside and to the east of the railway as it approached Portland Road from the north, and to the west beyond that point. The canal swing bridge itself (at road level) was thus more or less exactly where the railway bridge stands today.

The London & Croydon Railway was built between 1836 and 1839, when it opened. At this point it was on embankment, and so crossed Portland Road (as now) at a considerable height above the original canal bed and bridge. The first station at South Norwood, opened on 5 June 1839 as the Jolly Sailor (renamed Norwood in 1846), was about 80 yards to the north of the new railway bridge, and has subsequently been demolished. The station appears to have been named after an existing canal-side public house, a predecessor of the present Jolly Sailor on the corner of Portland Road and South Norwood High Street. Behind the (original) pub the garden sloped down to the canal bank. At some point the ground level between the High Street and the railway has been raised, so the canal garden has disappeared below made ground and more recent buildings.

On 1 June 1859 the Jolly Sailor station was closed, and replaced present Norwood Junction station to the south of Portland Road.

The first Portland Road railway bridge

The first railway bridge here, erected in 1838 or 1839, was of cast iron, with a span of 20 feet. It is assumed to have carried only the two original tracks of the London & Croydon's railway to Croydon's first station, a terminus at what is now West Croydon.

The second Portland Road railway bridge

The bridge was rebuilt (again in cast iron) in 1859 (in conjunction with the relocation and enlargement of the station) with a span of 26ft 9in and sufficiently wide to accommodate seven railway tracks. By 1841 traffic of the London & Brighton Railway had also to be accommodated, followed soon after by the South Eastern Railway's traffic to and from Dover

The 10 December 1876 bridge failure

One of the seven tracks, used only for shunting, was lifted c1872. On 10 December 1876 a shunting engine fell off the unprotected end of the part of the shunting track left in situ and fell onto a pair of bridge girders which failed, precipitating them and the engine into Portland Road. Fortunately the only injury was the engine driver's fractured arm! It was concluded that, apart from the brittleness of the cast iron leading to failure on impact, the girders were in any case not strong enough to bear the weight of 1870s locomotives, which were significantly heavier than those in use when the line opened for traffic in 1839.

The Board of Trade refused to sanction the erection of any further cast-iron under-line bridges (other than arch bridges) with effect from August 1883. In 1884 the BoT circularised railway companies to enquire what steps they were taking to ensure the safety of existing cast iron bridges. It is thought that the railway company (by then the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway) had taken little or no action.

The 1 May 1891 bridge failure

In 1890-91 Croydon Corporation expressed a wish that the span, and road width, should be widened. On 27 January 1891 the LBSCR Board invited tenders for a wider bridge with wrought-iron girders, Croydon to contribute £3,000 of the estimated total cost of £4,233. Nothing was done before the second bridge failure, on 1 May 1891. On this occasion one of a pair of girders collapsed under the weight of an up train (the 08.45 all first class City Limited from Brighton to London Bridge) travelling at 40mph. The locomotive and at least some of the carriages were derailed. Again, casualties were remarkably light, no more than a passenger's dislocated ankle, and badly shaken passengers and crew.

The Board of Trade report on the second bridge failure identified an internally flawed girder as the cause, although the flaw had not been detectable by visual inspection, and the girder had passed testing in 1886. However, it did not meet the BoT specifications for 1890s traffic.

Cast-iron girders had been prohibited in the construction of all new railway underbridges in August 1883, and the Inspector in 1891 recommended that all existing cast-iron underbridges should as soon as possible be replaced by wrought iron structures. It was revealed that on the LBSCR alone there were 181 cast-iron underbridges! These two accidents led to a nationwide review of such railway bridges, and their replacement.

The rebuilt bridge of 1891

The rebuilt bridge has a span of 42 feet, over Portland Road and a footpath each side, and is supported by yellow brick abutments and two rows of iron or steel columns. The abutment wall alongside the footpath on the south side of the road has an interesting mural display celebrating South Norwood's former industries, amongst them Brock's fireworks, Pascall's brickfields, Stanley's mathematical instruments, and others.


This note includes data from the LBSCR Board Minutes kindly made available by Edward Hart of the Brighton Circle. Paul W Sowan

New forum for European water museums

London's Kew Bridge Steam Museum and the Museum de Cruquius (Netherlands) have joined forces to establish a new forum for water-related museums in Europe. The forum has been created as an email discussion group for directors and senior management of any European museum which falls into one of the following categories:

1. steam-pumping stations that are open to visitors
2. feature water management in general and who have devoted a substantial part of their exhibition to the steam-era.

The forum aims to freely exchange ideas, gain more insight into related museums and to build networks resulting in partner-projects throughout Europe.
The group can be found at:

New websites

Ingenious is a new website that 'brings together images and viewpoints to create insights into science and culture'. Drawing on the resources of NMSI, the site contains over 30,000 images which are used to illustrate over 30 different subjects, topics and debates.

Making the Modern World is a new website that 'brings powerful stories about science and invention from the 18th century to today'. It explains the development and the global spread of modern industrial society and its effects on all our lives. The site expands upon the permanent landmark gallery at the Science Museum, using the web and dynamic multimedia techniques to go far beyond what a static exhibition can do.

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© GLIAS, 2004