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Notes and news — August 2008

In this issue:

Secretary's notes

In the past I have reported on items of industrial interest from the Quarterly Reports of English Heritage's Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service. GLAAS no longer produce printed quarterly reports, but the information that used to be included is now available on their website (; interested members should follow the links to 'research and conservation' and then 'archaeology and buildings'. English Heritage have also appointed a new GLMSR Officer, Stuart Cakebread, who will be developing the Sites and Monuments Record, who can be reached by email at

GLAAS do, however, still publish a printed Annual Report, of which the 2006/07 report includes a chapter on Post-Medieval Archaeology. This includes reports on excavations at the Bow Porcelain Factory; and glass-making at Glassfields in Tower Hamlets. Recent and current work is also reported at the London Archaeological Forum. At its February meeting, GLAAS reported on work at the Olympic sites; the recording of Paradise Lock in the Lea Bridge Road, Hackney and the recording of industrial buildings at King's Cross Station. At the June meeting, GLAAS reported on work related to the extension of Belmarsh Prison, were a former Woolwich Arsenal test site and factory building were recorded; recording of a nuclear shelter in Barking; Thames Plate Glass Works in Tower Hamlets, where Michael Faraday carried out experiments on lighthouse lighting; and a tannery in Southwark.

Earlier GLIAS (not GLAAS!) Newsletters have reported on the discussions to set up a CBA London Group. This has now been achieved and the GLIAS Board has decided that the Society should become a member. A special individual membership deal is offered, combined with a subscription to the London Archaeologist.

Work continues on the building of the new lock on the Bow Back Rivers to take construction materials to the Olympic Site in 350-ton barges. British Waterways expect to complete construction of the lock in October and the surrounding work by February. Members may have seen that a Second World War bomb was unearthed at the site in June and successfully defused. Had it exploded when it fell — or, indeed, when it was found — the tidal House Mill, along with some 400 houses, would no longer be there!

The latest British Waterways Bow Back Rivers Bulletin also refers to the remains of part of the Euston Arch, which were used to plug a hole in the nearby Channelsea River when the so-called arch was demolished in 1962. The Euston Arch Trust hoped to recover them and rebuilt the structure. For more information, visit Brian James-Strong


The writers of headlines for architectural periodicals may give the impression that demolition still takes place using a steel ball and chain suspended from a crane jib but their use of the expression 'wrecking ball' is metaphorical. The ball-and-chain technique is now seldom seen and was in vogue for the demolition of brick walls. Much demolition now involves concrete structures and the current technique is to crush the concrete in steel jaws. The jaws are often on the end of a long jointed arm which can be dexterously controlled by oil-hydraulic rams. These perform the same function as muscles in a human arm. From a distance the complete cruncher roughly resembles the usual self-propelled crane we are familiar with on building sites. For crunching the jib has been replaced by the long arm with jaws on the end.

London has been invaded by long-arm crunchers: a cross between Robocop and Jurassic park these large mechanical creatures have surprisingly lifelike movements reminiscent of large reptiles. Buildings about 40 years old are particularly vulnerable and are now being devoured by these monsters at a considerable rate.

The cruncher's steel jaws are powered by an oil-hydraulic cylinder and when the machine/animal grabs a portion of reinforced concrete a powerful squeezing action rapidly renders material held in the jaws into small fragments and powder. To lay the dust a water jet operates from the vicinity of the jaws giving the impression of an animal's saliva. Do the designers of these machines have a sense of humour? Of course there is intelligence: a human operator works the machine from ground level sitting in a glass fronted cabin protected by steel bars and the skill of the driver is impressive.

One of these machines has been employed recently to demolish Alexandra National House in the Seven Sisters Road (GLIAS Newsletter April 2008). At first a smaller building to the south of the main block was demolished producing a pile of rubble. Smaller machines then formed this rubble into a ramp so that the cruncher could attack the ten-storey block from the south. As demolition proceeded the ramp was increased in size so that eventually the cruncher which runs on caterpillar tracks could reach the top storey of the tall block. Thus, à la Masada, victory was finally achieved and a single cruncher was able to destroy the whole building in quite a short time. What is perhaps most surprising is that at no time was the Seven Sisters Road closed to traffic, even when the top of the wall facing Finsbury Park was being demolished.

Techniques for building demolition have advanced considerably since the demolition of Barkway Court and Sandridge Court, where explosives were used (GLIAS Newsletter April 2002). This necessitated the evacuation of an area and road closures. A considerable cloud of dust was also produced, especially in February 2000 when Barkway Court was destroyed.

The cruncher technique can certainly deal with a ten-storey block and it will be interesting to see if taller blocks still can be tackled. Barkway Court and Sandridge Court were system-built while Alexandra National House was a more traditional design using ferro-concrete rectangular cross-section columns, beams and slabs and presumably was safer to demolish. Explosives may still be used for taller and more treacherous blocks.

The amount of diesel fuel expended in demolishing a building is considerable. Apart from the cruncher which plays the starring role there are about four other machines at work. Following demolition the concrete is ground into small pieces in a large milling machine, which is stationery. Meanwhile JCB-type machines are at work breaking up substantial concrete floors and foundations. These have a large pneumatic drill piece on the end of a jointed arm. This concrete breaking is noisy.

A building represents a large investment in terms of materials and energy. Current design trends are for new buildings to have shorter and shorter lifetimes. Kali's cycle is speeding up. Bob Carr

The Bull engine at Kew Bridge

A Bull engine, as illustrated in the 1884 catalogue of Harvey & Co. The world's only working Bull engine is now running in steam at the Website: Kew Bridge Steam Museum.

Restoration has been a mammoth task, taking nearly seven years of hard work, numerous setbacks and a number of false starts. Work included the removal of many tons of silt and debris from the flooded sump areas, repair or replacement of worn-out components, installation of a new steam line, total refurbishment of the air pump, modifications to the main pump intake and delivery pipework and much scraping, chipping, cleaning and painting. And even when it appeared that the finishing line was about to be crossed, with the first proper test steaming in December 2006, it proved impossible to get the engine working fully, despite having the boiler at full pressure. Further work was necessary to reduce the load on the engine and to prevent steam passing the piston in the worn cylinder bore.

The Bull-type engine was developed in Cornwall in the late 18th century by Edward Bull (1758-1798), in direct competition with the conventional beam engines being produced by Boulton and Watt. Bull's design, in which the cylinder was inverted directly over the mine shaft with the piston rod connected directly to the pumping gear, dispensed with the need for the massive cast-iron beam. Bull engines were cheaper to buy than beam engines as they were much more compact and easier to erect, needing considerably smaller engine houses and requiring fewer metal castings.

Bull's design was one of many that fell foul of James Watt's famous (or infamous) engine patent, which was considered by many at the time to be unclear in its scope and a barrier to legitimate competition. Watt was extremely protective of his rights and in 1793 he started a legal action against Bull for infringement on the grounds that his engine was an act of piracy. The case dragged on for a number of years, in 1795 an injunction was served on Bull preventing him erecting any further engines, and final judgement in Watt's favour was made in 1799. Edward Bull, however, died shortly before the judgement at the early age of 40. Construction of Bull-type engines ceased for a short while, but following the expiry of Watt's patent in 1800 the design was taken up again.

Subsequent developments in Cornwall in the use of high pressure steam, together with control of the steam supply to allow it to expand within the cylinder, transformed the performance of the steam engine. This system of working, known as the Cornish cycle, became widely used for pumping engines, and in the 1830s, Messrs Harvey and Co of Hayle reintroduced the Bull engine using the system. Although not built in the same numbers as the traditional beam engine, many were put to work in the mining and water supply industries both in Britain and abroad. Between 1850 and 1875, a total of 13 Harvey-built Bull pumping engines were installed in London waterworks, ranging from 36 inch to 90 inch cylinders.

The 70-inch Bull Engine at Kew Bridge is the largest example of its type in existence, the only one remaining in its original location and now, the only working example in the world. It was ordered by the Grand Junction Waterworks Company for its Kew Bridge Pumping Station from Harvey & Company in 1856, as part of a larger scheme to supply the reservoir and new pumping station at Campden Hill near Notting Hill Gate. Although the engine was completed at some time between July 1856 and July 1857, delays in getting the Campden Hill site ready meant that it did not run for the first time until 2nd March 1859.

The Bull engine operated until 1944 when, along with the other steam engines at Kew Bridge, it was decommissioned. Although the shut down instruction bore the annotation “Subject to alteration as this is a standby unit”, the evidence of all the hard work necessary for restoration suggests that the engine was actually in very poor condition when it was stopped.

The restoration of the Bull engine has undoubtedly been the most challenging piece of work undertaken at Kew Bridge. Apart from over 7,000 hours of work by volunteers, the work has been made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Science Museum's PRISM Fund and a number of very generous donations from private individuals.

This unique engine can now be seen running on the museum's Giants of Steam weekends. Steaming dates for the remainder of the year are 27 & 28 September, 25 & 26 October, 29 & 30 November, 30 & 31 December, and also New Year's Day 2009. Bryce Caller

Science Museum Library

The new Science Museum Library (GLIAS Newsletter June 2008) refers to the new location as being at Swindon, despite it being well out of that town. Its website states that bus 49 from Swindon passes the site en route to Devizes. At least it passes the Red Barn Gate entrance, after a 17-minute journey. On my visits to the Museum Open Days occasionally held there, I know it can be a good distance from that gate to the various hangars on the site. I do not know which one houses the library.

David Flett remarks that the trains and buses are still going to run whether or not people use them to get to the library. Few people used the library when it was entirely in London (most of those occupying desks there were Imperial College students studying), so on the grounds of small numbers he must be right in this case. But his point does not have general application. In 2006, 85% of domestic passenger miles were by car, van and taxi, 6% by bus and coach, and 7% by rail. Any modest shift of passenger travel from car to public modes must require more buses and trains to run. Indeed, the increase in rail travel in the last decade has been accompanied by a 24% increase in train mileage. Some of that increase is no doubt the result of the private companies seeking more business, rather than reacting to it. John Knowles

Greater London news in brief

London parking meters celebrated their 50th anniversary on 10 June 2008. The first in Britain were installed in Mayfair but the London Borough of Westminster has since replaced coin in the slot meters by a cashless system.

Just to the northwest of the London Canal Museum at Battlebridge Basin (GLIAS Newsletter June 2006) a new arts venue King's Place (TQ 3041 8349) will be opening at the beginning of October this year. There will be a 420-seat concert hall and the building is to be home to the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. There are restaurants and art galleries and the offices upstairs will accommodate the Guardian and Observer newspapers. As part of the opening festival 1-5 October there will be free events including a performance each morning at 9am of György Ligeti's Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes.

Kings Point, Reading (pictured below — SU 7218 7336), clad in white tiles is a good example of its period. It is unlisted and is likely to be demolished soon. Opened as Alpha House at 120 King's Road, it first appeared in the Reading street directory in 1969 and won an architectural award at about that time. It is said to be in the style of YRM's white tile period and dates from 1966. Situated in what might be described as a 'dockland' area by the River Kennet next to Watlington Street Bridge (which dates from 1988), when Alpha House was built there were probably still active warehouses hereabouts. Until recently Firestone tyres had a depot at the bottom of the building. Does anyone know who the architects were?

Kings Point, Reading, June 2008, © Robert Carr.

Walthamstow Greyhound stadium (TQ 376 912) which opened in 1933 will close in August 2008. Fifty years ago there were 30 dog tracks in London and White City Stadium saw crowds of up to 100,000. Greyhound racing can still be seen at Romford and Wimbledon. All the Art Deco Walthamstow stadium is listed.

June 2008 was the 150th anniversary of the London Natural History Society (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007). The Haggerstone Entomological Society, its oldest constituent, started meetings in 1858 when seven entomologists met on 10 June. Meetings came to be held on Thursday evenings at The Carpenters' Arms, Martha Street, later renamed Angrave Street. As the society grew meetings moved to the Brownlow Arms, Haggerstone, and continued there for 30 years. A visitor about 1878 described a meeting, held in a spacious room upstairs above the bar. As well as beer each member was provided with a long clay pipe. The Brownlow Arms was demolished in the 1990s.

Despite a campaign led by Lord Rogers, Zaha Hadid and Lord Foster, the long high-rise blocks at Robin Hood Gardens, to the north of Poplar Docks, have not been listed and are likely to be demolished. Built in 1972 the estate was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson.

SS Robin (GLIAS Newsletter October 2004) is now in Lowestoft for repair. It was quite likely she would be broken up. Splendidly enough money, about £2m, has been scraped together and the ship will go on the slipway at Small & Co's yard, recently vacated by the Lydia Eva. If Robin returns to her former berth by the Museum in Docklands, in about six months she will become imprisoned for five years by Crossrail's railway works at the east end of the Import Dock.

The North Woolwich Old Station Museum (GLIAS Newsletter August 2007) is to close shortly. Nearly all the large exhibits which were outdoors have already been moved away. The closure of the railway station next door has had a bad effect on visitor numbers.

Tower Hamlets Library, Bancroft Road, (GLIAS Newsletter February 2006) is to close and the building will be sold. The fate of the important local history collection there is uncertain.

Diespeker Wharf by the Regent's Canal, TQ 3193 8323, is a Vicwardian factory building with a 90 feet high square cross-section brick chimney. On the south side of the canal between the Danbury Street bridge and City Road Basin it is probably well-known to many readers. It once handled timber but the premises are now occupied by PTE Architects and on Sunday 20 July 2008 as part of the London Festival of Architecture, 20 June - 20 July, members of the public had the opportunity to experience 'buildering' and see 'stunning views over central London'. The event was to be supervised by instructors from the Castle Climbing Centre (GLIAS Newsletter April 1996). A building firm was here before the architects.

The purpose-built trainspotting platform in Finsbury Park, TQ 3144 8735, probably about 50 years old, has been removed. Does anyone know of a similar platform?

The east end of Culross Buildings (GLIAS Newsletter April 2008) has been demolished.

The Pump House Museum TQ 362 882 (GLIAS Newsletter June 1996) has seen more activity than usual recently. There are plans for a new large museum building behind the pump house itself. Cultural Olympiad funding may be available for this. Bob Carr

Information required: W Williamson & Co Ltd, Laundry Engineers, Hackney

I am writing from Simon's Town in South Africa — which is a naval port on the Cape Peninsula, operated by the British Royal Navy from the late 1700s through to 1957. Part of the extensive infrastructure built here by the British was an 87-bed hospital for naval personnel. This would have been designed in England around 1890-1898; the foundations were 'almost complete' in late 1899 and the hospital was formally opened by Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (third daughter of Queen Victoria) on 11 October 1904. Most of the materials and equipment for the hospital were procured in England and shipped out to Simon's Town for erection on site.

The hospital has been boarded up and disused for many years. I have recently gained access for the purpose of a photographic survey — and to my amazement found the Victorian laundry equipment to be virtually intact.

A significant part of the laundry equipment was evidently manufactured in Hackney, by a company called W Williamson & Co Ltd, Laundry Engineers, Milborne Works, Well Street, Hackney.

I have been trying to research this company but so far have not been able to find any references to it, which is why I am writing to you in the hope that you might know (a) of the company, or (b) of a relevant organisation/industrial history society that caters for industrial history in Hackney.

W Williamson produced the following items for the naval hospital here in Simon's Town: Line shafting and cast iron support brackets; vertical racking/airing system; belt driven extractor fan; belt driven vertical washing machine.

They may have produced other items for this hospital laundry — I have yet to survey the steam engine and boiler rooms which contain other artefacts. The equipment documented so far (see attached photo selection) is heavy duty, with many cast iron components, so either Williamson's had their own iron foundry or else subcontracted the casting work.

My immediate plan is to conclude the photographic survey, carry out research into the various pieces of equipment and their respective manufacturers, thereafter to compile a formal report for deposition with the Simon's Town Historical Society, and the Naval Heritage Society. The laundry would appear to be worthy of preservation, possibly as an external element of the Simon's Town Museum and/or the South African Naval Museum — this will need to be separately evaluated with the organisations concerned.

Looking forward, with some restoration work we might be in a position to perhaps run annual “Steaming Days” to demonstrate the Victorian Laundry in action!

I will be most grateful for any information that you may be able to offer, concerning W Williamson & Co Ltd.
David Erickson, 6 Flagship Way, Simon's Town, 7975, Republic of South Africa. Tel/Fax: +27-21-786-3384. Email:

Information required: Rodney Iron Works, Battersea

I am currently researching the history of early (1830/40s) minimum gauge railways (that is 15in or less) and there use on the private estates of wealthy individuals. In particular I am trying to locate some further information on the Rodney Iron Works in Battersea (probably on Bolingbrooke Row) and which commenced operation c1840. The works was started by one EM Clarke (about who I already know quite a lot) and may well have been financed by Robert Baron Rodney of Alresford, Hampshire.

Though I am quite well versed in the normal research methods for industrial history I have on this occasion drawn mostly short straws. I would therefore be most grateful if you could put me in touch with any of your members who you believe might know anything about the Rodney Iron Works or who are experts on the industrial history of the Battersea area. If you have any other ideas for possible sources of information then that would also be most appreciated.
Ian Biscoe. Tel: 07528 819 690. Email:

Information required: Shaftesbury Hall

Can anyone help identify a building referred to as 'Shaftesbury Hall' in a magazine article from June 1922 in The Wireless World and Radio Review?

This article refers to a resident of Bowes Park at the time, Donald MacAdie who lived at 190 Bowes Road and, among other patented devices he devised, designed what is very likely the world's first multimeter, the essential basic measuring instrument used by all electricians and electrical and electronic engineers. His instrument, which he called the 'Avometer' was found in all British and Commonwealth electrical workshop and laboratories from the 1920s to the 1990s and, in one form, is still available today.

I have been researching the development of the Avometer in some detail for a considerable time with the eventual aim of publishing my findings. As the public awareness of this important instrument started in Bowes Park, I would like to establish exactly where the Shaftesbury Hall mentioned in the article was. One document which I have traced refers to a Shaftesbury Hall in Carlton Road ( used as a Baptist Church until 1954. I have attempted to trace this building using internet mapping without success. However, the GLIAS Newsletter (GLIAS Newsletter June 2008) refers to a Shaftesbury Hall in Herbert Road — the 'Tin Tabernacle', at the west end of the footbridge at Bowes Green Railway Station.

It is perhaps coincidental that our local church was founded using a very similar corrugated iron building which was bought second-hand from near Mr MacAdie's birthplace. This has been used as a church hall for about a hundred years but has been much modified and is about to be demolished to make way for a replacement.
Peter M Munro, Dundee. Email:

Journal — Request for articles

Following the success of our latest journal the editorial committee would like to invite submissions for articles for LIA No. 10.

To submit your articles or to get further information, please email and please send your articles in .rtf or .doc format. Please contact the editor at the same email address for the format requirements for any accompanying images.

AIA Conference 2009

The AIA Conference programme always begins with a seminar. AIA have been reviewing the format of the seminar and in 2009 propose a theme of 'The Study of our Industrial Past'. The aims are to explore how the approaches of Industrial Archaeology and History, Local History and Family History can be combined to generate an integrated understanding of our industrial past; and to bring together AIA Affiliated and other Local Societies and professionals working in the field. GLIAS is an Affiliated Society. AIA seek to achieve this by:

GLIAS would welcome any suggestions from members on how the Society could contribute towards the Seminar and information on any studies in which members have been involved which might meet AIA's criteria. If you have any ideas or information, please get in touch with me. Brian James-Strong

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© GLIAS, 2008