Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Journals | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

Notes and news — October 2007

In this issue:

The Banksman

In response to Patrick Graham's note (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007), and at the risk of saying what might already be widely known to GLIAS members, I write about the meaning of the term 'banksman' in the construction industry.

There a banksman is basically a look-out who guides the driver of a vehicle or piece of plant to ensure that it does not hazard others in the vicinity. The banksman Patrick saw at the entrance to the King's Cross/St Pancras Underground station work site was to make sure that lorries and other vehicles entering or leaving the site do so only when it is safe, if necessary by stewarding pedestrians and vehicles on the public highway. Within a site the banksman will, for example, make sure that a piling rig, while traversing its jib and drill bit to discard spoil drawn out of the pile shaft, does not swing round and flatten someone standing behind it (something that I nearly experienced as a young engineer on site!).

I'm afraid I can't shed light on when or how the term migrated from the mining industry into construction, but the Shorter Oxford Dictionary — as Patrick notes — cites a 1598 reference to an overlooker at a mine, and elsewhere notes than an overlooker is one who superintends or oversees. So the term can clearly be applied equally to someone serving that role on a construction site.

I think the term banksman is generic, meaning what one might call a 'moving matters caretaker'!

Idle etymological thoughts lead me to wonder how the word originated. 'Bank', I know, means a raised natural area, as in river-bank and in 'I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows'; it also means a [freight] platform, as in railways, with connotations of a working place; and I see from the shorter English Dictionary that in mining terms it also means 'the face of the coal at which miners are working' (1862). From the latter we presumably get the 'overseer' meaning, and I imagine it then spread into construction to mean anyone 'keeping an eye' on working activity, although in a 'watchful' rather than a 'managerial' role. Michael Bussell

I first came across this term 50+ years ago when I started driving — anywhere with a crane had a banksman (except the docks). One day I was delivering stone to a restoration job, I was told 'Ask for the banker mason' a term I had never heard before. I found this venerable chap and asked about his title. He told me a story which he said was passed down through the trade from master to apprentice (his line of father to son went back at least to the 16th century) and was part of the oral history of the trade.

'When the Normans brought elaborate stone carving to England for prestige buildings the masons came with them carrying their tools. The mason who did the detailed carving worked on the ground often inside the job. In those early days the stone was laid on a mound of earth to bring it to working height. Thus the mason who did the carving worked at the bank and became the “banker mason” to distinguish him from the masons who put the stones into place. Eventually the mound of earth became a stout wooden bench, he showed me his bench, which in the trade was his bank'. So I asked, 'Does the banksman come from the same source?'. He said the banksman was the banker mason's labourer moving the heavy stones on the bank, unloading them from carts backed up to the bank in the way his banksman would do when I backed up to his bank.

Thinking about it afterwards I realised that nearly everywhere I loaded or unloaded I backed up to the bank, occasionally in farmyards still a mound of earth. Since then I have looked into the word and I wonder if there was an early language problem. The Norman masons asked for a 'banque' meaning a bench, whereas the Anglo Saxons thought bank, a Germanic word already used in defensive earthworks. So did the Normans bring the already established title 'Banquer mason' (the mason who works at the bench) which as usual we have anglicised, with his helper the banquesman.

If his story is based on some sort of truth, then far from migrating south the term 'banksman' migrated north. Have we a master mason of many generations standing who has any knowledge? Bob Rust

It is perhaps worth recording that two of east Surrey's underground building-stone quarries are associated with 'bank' place-names. Some of these quarries supplied one variant or another of 'Reigate' stone to London, it is now known, from Roman times onwards.

In Chaldon, before the parish boundary was removed from the crest of the Upper Greensand escarpment to the crest of the North Downs Chalk escarpment in 1933, there is a quarry entrance at what the Ordnance Survey in the 19th century called Bedlams Bank on its large scale plans. And there is indeed an extensive though shallow spoil bank between two deep pits which gave access to the quarry drifts or tunnels. This area was by the time the Ordnance Survey mapped it at 25 inches to the mile (in the second half of the century) long disused and wooded. The quarries in Chaldon include the two noted in the Doomsday survey of 1086, and are almost certainly largely medieval tunnelling. They seem to have ceased active work in the 18th century.

A couple of parishes eastwards, at Godstone, we find, likewise, Dialbank Wood and the Devil's Hole, at a location extensively undermined, again, by building-stone quarry tunnels, with a number of entrances, one of which is still negotiable. No evidence has been found so far for quarrying at Godstone earlier than about the 17th century (Godstone is not mentioned, for example, in medieval building accounts), despite the fact that a Roman road passes one of the entrances. Quarrying and mining (and underground mushroom farming) at Godstone continued into the 1950s.

How far back these place-names go before the days of the first Ordnance Surveyors deserves investigation. A document of 1522 relating to Merstham, on the west side of Chaldon, is replete with oblique references to mineral works in the Manor, including numerous pitts (for loam or marl), chequer (where blocks of building-stone were checked, perhaps), Old Quarrepitden (modern Quarry Dean), a Querne pitt field (perhaps for stones for hand-operated mills), and Stonereden — but no word resembling 'bank' occurs.

It would possibly repay examining records for the Wealden iron industry as that activity resulted in numerous spoil and cinder banks.

Searching the invaluable 'Early English Books On Line' (which can be done free by British Library ticket-holders) for 'bank' or 'banksman' might be worthwhile. This will reveal any citation in a very large proportion of the earliest books published in English — the complete texts can be called up on screen, with the searched-for term highlighted.

The development of the word 'bank' from a natural bank, by way of an artificially made spoil bank (whether at a coal mine or any other mineral works), to the 'banksman' who pushed tubs of spoil to be tipped at the end of the growing heap seems clear enough. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word bank in the sense of an artificially built feature in 1535, the quotation referring to 'a banke about the cite', ie a fortification. The modern 'banksman' supervises the mechanised pushing of vehicles back and forth over short distances, although not so often along the tops of artificially built mounds.

There are, of course, numerous mineral works, not being coal mines, throughout the country incorporating the word 'bank' in their names — such as the Meadowbank rocksalt mine (still operating) at Winsford, Cheshire; the Holme Bank chert mines at Bakewell; Haw Bank limestone quarry near Skipton; Crawbank quarry near Linlithgow; and (coming south again) the Magpie Bank 'caves' (sand mines) at Hillingbourne in Kent. Paul Sowan

The IA of the 'flatpack'

Further to my question concerning the IA of the 'flatpack' (GLIAS Newsletter April 2007). A rare 1913 'prefab', a two-storey, three-bedroom house made from corrugated iron with original price of £425, is being sold in the Scottish Highlands where offers of more than £175,000 are being invited. It had been transported by rail to Strathspey from William Cooper Ltd. of the Old Kent Road, London. This firm apparently 'supplied the British Empire with prefabricated iron churches, homes, offices and hospitals', reported by Severin Carrell, The Guardian, 5 September 2007, p10.

The first church building on the junction of the Seven Kings (Ilford) High Road and Blythswood Road, then the Goodmayes and Seven Kings Wesleyan Methodist Church, was an 'iron church' erected in 1902 which after the present brick building was constructed in 1904 was later moved to Hall Lane, Upminster where it served a similar purpose. There is a photograph of what was locally called the 'Tin Tabernacle' at Upminster with the Church noticeboard advertising its opening services in July 1910 in: 'Upminster and Hornchurch' by Tony Benton — Images of England series. It continued to be used as the church until 1923. After this it was retained for some time as the church hall but at the rear of the site. Was it then again sold or given to another church I wonder?

As a child during the Second World War I went with my mother to an ex-Primitive Methodist chapel in the West Riding of Yorkshire made of corrugated iron and I recall that some 30 years ago there was a similar Methodist Church building in (?) Cann Hall Road, Leytonstone E11. Speaking to its property steward at the time, it was his proud boast that they had negligible maintenance costs. So I may have worshiped in two of William Cooper's church buildings. Does anyone know of the IA of William Cooper Ltd? A cursory search of the 1918 London Directory (Trades) revealed: 'Cooper William & Son, 512 & 514 Old Kent Road, blind mas'. Peter J Butt

With reference to the recent items on prefabs, there is a small estate of well-preserved prefabs on the Norfolk — Suffolk border. They are at Fengate Drove, Weeting and can be reached by a five-minute walk from Brandon Station. I was there recently, and there are signs of encroaching development, so hurry if you are interested! Daron Gunson


There are stretches of cobblestones (GLIAS Newsletter April 2007), in some places mixed with setts, at the Stables Market, Camden Lock. Peter Finch

More on millstones

Millstones (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) were produced at many places in Great Britain, but the main centre was on the Millstone Grit of the moors between Hathersage (Derbyshire) and Sheffield. Many of the quarries can still be seen, often with numbers of part-made or complete but faulty stones. Edge-runner (crushing) stones were also produced.

There is a very informative book about French burr stones — Owen Ward, French Millstones: Notes on the millstone industry at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. The International Molinological Society, 1993.

Once the French stones became available, they were generally preferred for wheat, and the Derbyshire stones were used for animal feed.

There is a number of papers in Journals about the Derbyshire millstone industry and its archaeology, but there is no recent short publication. Derek Bayliss

Remembering Bessemer

Regarding the naming of a block of flats after Bessemer (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) it would, as your correspondent says, be interesting to determine its origin.

Hertfordshire, the county of Bessemer's origin, has only named three streets after its famous son. He was born in the village of Charlton just outside the town of Hitchin. Dan Little

Bessemer house © Dan Little 2007 Bessemer plaque © Dan Little 2007

JS Farley's stone mason's business

James Farley established his stone mason's business in 1833, in the Harrow Road, Kensal Green opposite the cemetery which was consecrated that year.

The firm continues to this day, as Jordan Farley with many examples of their work in the cemetery but the original building, with workshops, entrance for vehicles and a showroom is to be demolished to make way for a four-storey building, with flats and retail units.

Also to go are neighbouring early 19th-century buildings, one recently occupied by Grant's motor parts business, formerly a Chapel of Rest with an ornate carving over the doorway.

Artefacts from Farley's have been moved to new premises shared with the Kensal Green Cemetery Company, but a marble window-sill, bearing the firm's name remains in situ, as does an elaborate carving in the entrance. These are now 'fixtures and fittings' owned by the developers but Farley's and the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery hope that these examples of the monumental mason's art can also be preserved. Peter Finch

The planimeter

This is an interesting mechanical device for measuring an irregularly shaped area on a plan. It would have been useful in drawing offices and was of interest to surveyors and engineers. A civil engineer could use one to assess the amount of earth contained in an embankment. Another application was the determination of the power of a heat engine from an indicator diagram. Has anyone experience of using one? They will now be as outmoded as a slide rule. Bob Carr

The size of Virgin kettles?

The amount of energy returned to the National Grid each year by Pendolino electric trains was expressed in graphic terms as enough to boil 440 million kettles (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007). That's all very well but how big were these kettles?

Now to bring a litre of water just to the boil from room temperature takes around 80 kilocalories. Carrying out the arithmetic (simple proportion) assuming one hundred per cent efficiency (ideal kettles) we find that the Virgin kettles contain 1.34 litres. But perhaps the published figures made allowance for lower efficiency and heat losses (real kettles) and so they might have been one-litre kettles. Alternatively could 1.34 litres be the average amount of water people in the UK boil? Anyway the kettles are reasonably average, about two pints, and this is a fair size. Bob Carr

East Greenwich gasholder under threat

East Greenwich gasholder. © Robert Mason The famous giant gasholder on the Greenwich Peninsula is under threat of demolition following objections from a nearby school — it's a potential hazard — it might explode. If cleared away the school would like to use the site for a playground.

Constructed in 1886 it was the world's first four-lift holder, designed by George Livesey. It has survived the Silvertown explosion of 1917 and a terrorist bomb attack about 30 years ago. The holder failed to explode. Low-pressure gas storage in water-sealed holders has had an excellent safety record and this includes the bombing of the Second World War. A large mass of gas inside a gasholder cannot explode because there is no air present. You need the right gas-air mixture for a big bang. It you make a hole in the holder and light the gas the escaping gas just burns gently as it mixes with sufficient air for combustion. This is what happened at East Greenwich following the terrorist bomb. The kitchen at Ronan Point exploded (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) because it was filled with the right mixture of gas and air.

Similarly a full petrol tank in a motor car is safe but an almost empty tank is a danger and can explode. This fact was only too well appreciated during the Second World War. In combat you tried to ensure that full tanks were hit by the enemy and not empty ones. The coal bunker on the Lusitania exploded because almost all the coal had been used during the Atlantic crossing (GLIAS Newsletter April 2005).

That is why traditional low-pressure gas storage is safe — air is excluded. If the new school teaches children some elementary science they will appreciate this. The safe use of water-sealed gasholders has been going on for the best part of 200 years. Bob Carr

A crane near Worship Street

Broad Street station closed in 1986 along with the line to Dalston Junction. The viaduct north of Great Eastern Street is being refurbished for the extension to the East London Line. The section south of Worship Street was demolished several years ago to make way for the Broadgate development. Now the viaduct between Worship Street and Plough Yard is being demolished. The Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) carried out a survey of the structure in advance of demolition. In one arch, numbered 514, they found a double-girder overhead travelling crane by Herbert Morris of Loughborough.

Herbert Morris (1864-1931) started as a salesman in pulley blocks in London. In 1889 he acquired an interest in Shardlow's, a Sheffield company. With Frank Bastert he formed the Sheffield Crane Works. In 1897 they moved to the East Works on Empress Road, Loughborough. The West Works (1902) and the South Works (1917) followed. Until the First World War the firm were known as Herbert Morris & Bastert Ltd, the Bastert being dropped as it is a German name.

MoLAS approached GLIAS for information about the crane and I visited the site in August with Andrew Westman of MoLAS. The crane with a span of about 25 feet was hand-operated and had a capacity of 10-tons. The Goad Fire Insurance Plans show that Arch 514 contained an electricity sub-station. The floor of the arch was about eight feet below ground level, but had been filled with rubble. There were brackets for cables along the walls and in the western half of the arch a brick box had been built. This appeared to be for a now disused replacement sub-station. The crane tracks covered only the eastern half of the arch but clearly those in the western half had been removed.

It seems likely that this sub-station supplied dc traction current to the electrified railway above, since it is known that one of the railway's sub-stations was under the viaduct. The power supply came from the railway's own power station. The sub-stations included rotary converters, switchgear and storage batteries. The electric train service from Broad Street to Richmond started on 1 October 1916. The power station at Stonebridge Park closed in 1967, after which power was taken from the grid. Perhaps the replacement sub-station dated from that time.

On the west side of the viaduct was the former LNWR coal depot. Coal wagons were taken down to the ground level sidings by wagon hoist. There were also coal drops in some of the arches. The wagon hoist has long gone but the remains of the coal drops have been recorded. The MoLAS report and records on the viaduct will eventually be available at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre. Anyone can consult their records by appointment. Tim Smith


Greater London News In Brief

The east wall of the LIDL supermarket building at Finsbury Park (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007) consists of recent-looking brickwork all in stretcher bond. Might most of the building have in fact been renewed? Perhaps little of the Rink cinema survives let alone its predecessor. Incidentally the supermarket has been selling blue stilton cheese made by Tuxford & Tebbutt, Thorpe End, Melton Mowbray LE13 1RB (GLIAS Newsletter 163, p5&6).

On the site of the Arthur Simpson Library, London Borough of Islington (GLIAS Newsletter February 2007) a new red-brick building has been put up. Superficially it is not dissimilar to the building it replaced.

The 1960s hotel on the A405 North Orbital Road from Watford to St Albans has been demolished. It was on the south side of road just east of the M1 motorway, to the north west of Bricket Wood, just beyond the east end of Chequers Lane at TL 119 021. Stylish for its time but now out of fashion it was quite a prominent landmark for motorists driving south towards London. Surprisingly the new development for housing replacing it is quite low rise and does not even occupy all the foot the hotel formerly stood upon. Does this indicate that local nimbys are particularly powerful?

However, higher-level rooms at the front of the hotel overlooked the M1 and would have had noise problems. When first opened this might not have been serious but heavy traffic has increased to the extent that the inability to get a quiet night's sleep might be an additional reason for the demolition of the hotel. The new flats might be low rise simply because they occupy the only volume within which living is tolerable. Does anyone remember the name of the Hotel? Something like Motorwayview Hotel would hardly attract customers.

A current fashion in architecture is to clad buildings in strips of softwood. This is fast becoming ubiquitous. Maintenance appears to be a major problem but perhaps there is now a way round this?

Young architects are currently expecting their new buildings to last only about 15 years. The reduction in the useful lifetime of buildings represents a waste of resources — labour, materials and energy. The Green movement has not really taken up the issue of shortening building lifetimes. In general it is always better the reuse than recycle. It is not only building conservationists who should be making this point.

The present Euston railway station officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 14 October 1968 is a low-rise building of little more than bungalow-type construction. It is surprising that only now, after 40 years' use, is consideration being given to extending it upwards (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007). It can be argued that valuable air-space is being wasted; there is not even a multi-storey car park on top. Was it intended that Euston should remain as built for so long? Seeing the value of the site one might have expected provision in the original Sixties scheme for the addition of a few extra storeys.

In the Blackstock Road N4 the final day of trading at H J Bloom's shop (GLIAS Newsletter August 2006) was on Saturday 25 August 2007.

The 20th anniversary of the Docklands Light Railway fell on 31 August 2007. Originally just Tower Gateway to Island Gardens it has since been extended to Bank, Lewisham, Beckton and City Airport. Light rail is regarded as one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport and we are likely to see more of it. The extension under the river to Woolwich is due to be completed in 2009 and that northwards to Stratford International for the Olympic Games stadium in 2010.

The Pura Foods site (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) has been completely flattened. It is now ready for redevelopment.

Around the beginning of September this year a Dragon Rapide biplane was flying over central London. These remarkable machines are still viable for surveillance work. About 45 years ago the RAC was using one to report on traffic conditions associated with the new M1 motorway. Bob Carr

EU money service

The Annual 'EU Money Grants Directory', containing details of over 400 grants available from the European Commission has been published on CD-Rom, or is downloadable from the internet (, from £25.99. Purchasing the Directory entitles you to 12 months unlimited access to the EU Money Grants Update Service.

Grants are available for all types of organisations and range from £3,000 to over £1.5m and cover a wide range of activities including racism, women's issues, the environment, child protection, education and training, the disabled, human rights, energy, transport, and hundreds of other activities.

Quoting 'MM07' in the 'Offer Code' box on the on-line order form entitles purchasers will receive a £10 discount off the cost of the directory.
For details visit

Lots Road Power Station

I have always understood that the Lots Road Power Station was built by my grandfather and his brother — Arthur and Joseph Mayoh, possibly in partnership with other engineers or contractors.

I have also heard that German steel was used in the construction. My grandfather did spend some time in Germany about 1902/3, in fact my uncle attended school in Freiburg prior to enrolling at Kings College School, Wimbledon, although my father, his younger brother had enrolled there in 1902. This suggests to me that my grandfather and his elder son Eric were living in Germany for some time, not merely visiting. The timing would certainly fit with overseeing the production of steel required for the Lots Road project.

Lots Road Power Station, 23.9.07 © Anne Mayoh 2007 Lots Road Power Station, 23.9.07 © Anne Mayoh 2007

To update you, I have just returned from a trip to the UK. I visited a few libraries and archives while there and had limited success. The local history section of Kensington Library had a file on Lots Road and to my delight the third piece of paper I viewed was a copy of a letter to a Chelsea resident dated 23 May 1958, informing him that London Transport had advised the power station had been engineered by J.H. Chapman and the 'constructors' were Mayoh and Haley, Ltd, 235 Upper Richmond Road, SW15. They had been unable to discover the architect. One of my questions answered!

I also visited the Hammersmith and Fulham Archives where I found references to London Metropolitan Archives. There I procured a copy of a photo showing the power station from the river, taken in June 1947. I was unable to locate the photos listed in the index showing it under construction.

My greatest success was at the archives of London Transport Museum where I found various articles about Lots Road and a 1904 version of promotional material with a lovely drawing of how it would look when finished, and simple diagrams. Their indexes also revealed drawings draughted by Mayoh and Haley, Contractors, 12 Norfolk Street, Strand WC are held by the London Underground Engineering Information Service whom I plan to approach in the hope of getting a digitised copy of those drawings.

I still want to discover the source of the steel used in the construction. It would be wonderful if any of your members had knowledge of its origin. I would be very happy to chase up any other leads that may be suggested to resolve this.
Anne Mayoh. Email:

Next issue >>>

© GLIAS, 2007