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South East Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference 2005


Saturday 23 April 2005,hosted by SIHG

Chertsey Hall, Chertsey, Surrey

0930-1010 Registration and Coffee
1010-1020 Welcome by Gerry Moss - SIHG Chairman
1020-1100 Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway - Paul Sowan
1100-1140 London Docks 1800-1939 - Chris Ellmers
1140-1220 Trams in Southampton and Their Preservation - Nigel Smith
1220-1230 Questions
1230-1400 Lunch Break
1400-1440 Col Stephens, The Man and His Railways - John Blackwell
1440-1520 Croydon Airport - Frank Anderson
1520-1550 Tea
1550-1630 Surrey and the Motor - Gordon Knowles
1630-1640 Questions and Closing Remarks

The actual SERIAC 2005 conference was followed by an opportunity to see the steam pumping engines at Kempton Park Pumping Station, (10 miles from the hall, adjacent to the M3).

Abstracts and Mini Biographies

The Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Iron Railway: a new solution (in 1805) to an old problem
Paul W Sowan

The period of operation of the horse-drawn, freight-only, Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Iron Railway, from 1805 to 1838, was no more than a short chapter in a long story of dragging supplies from the Weald to London. The North Downs have always been an impediment to this traffic. At various times, from the days of the Romans onwards, Wealden iron, building-stone, fullers’ earth, timber, agricultural produce, bricks and tiles, lime, and glasshouse sand have been hauled through the Mole river gap, through the wind gaps at Godstone or Merstham, over the crest of the escarpment, or through railway tunnels under the hills.

In its construction through the Merstham Gap and Smitham Bottom, the dry valley northwards to Croydon, the Iron Railway demonstrated an advance in civil engineering terms over the 18th century turnpike roads to and through Reigate.

Whether or why the Merstham Gap was previously ignored or used as a heavy freight haulage route is discussed. Revolutionary as the Iron Railway was in 1805, it was overtaken within 40 years by the technically far more advanced London & Brighton Railway taking a similar route.

Paul is a retired chemistry teacher, who has lived and worked in and around Croydon all his life. He is a Vice-president and Librarian of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, and Chairman of the national body Subterranea Britannica. His interests in industrial archaeology stemmed from his university training in geology and chemistry, and he has been researching the numerous mines and underground building-stone quarries and opencast pits for various mineral products of east Surrey for some 40 years. More recently he has extended his researches to the subsequent processing, transportation and use of the products of Surrey’s extractive industries. Current and ongoing researches include liaison with Historic Royal Palaces in the Reigate Stone Research Project, documentation of the Reigate silversand (glass-sand) mines and the archaeology and history of the limeworks at Betchworth and Brockham.

London Docks (1800-1939)
Chris Ellmers

The talk will cover ‘The Port of London 1700-1939’. It will examine the ways in which the Port was radically transformed from overcrowded 18th century river wharves and warehouses to one of the great purpose-built Georgian and Victorian enclosed docks. The talk will cover the economic, financial, engineering and social history aspects of this fascinating story.

Chris was responsible for the creation of the Museum in Docklands, which opened in 2003 in a Grade I Listed Georgian Warehouse at the West India Docks. The Museum, which tells the 2000 year story of London’s river, port and associated communities, was a project which took more than 20 years from inception to realisation. Chris was the first Director of the Museum and he is now employed there as Consultant Historian.

Trams in Southampton and their preservation
Nigel Smith

This illustrated presentation will cover the history of the tramway system in Southampton from 1879 until closure at the end of 1949. The key stages include a few words to outline the establishment of the ‘ street railway’ in the UK from its origins in the USA and put the timing of the Southampton system into context. I will briefly cover the days of the horse cars up to the turn of the century, which brought municipal ownership and conversion to electric power. The electric period from 1900 to 1949 will look at:

The second half of the talk will deal with the post closure period up to the present day and focus on the preservation efforts, which have led to the survival of a number of vehicles. This will include car 45 at Crich Tramway Museum and the Tram 57 Project in Southampton. Finally I will assess how the Southampton example fits within the context of the UK preservation field.

Nigel was born in Southampton 15 days after the closure of the tramway system. He has always been fascinated by ‘railway’ vehicles using the public streets. This was reinforced by the discovery that a great uncle was manager of Glasgow Corporation Transport in the late 1930s to early 1940s. His interests cover all forms of transport history, IA, photography and travel. Nigel recently retired from the Ordnance Survey after a career lasting 35 years. Luckily his wife Angela shares his interests.

As well as being the honorary secretary of the Southampton Tram 57 Project and a member of HIAS, Nigel is an active participant in the Hampshire Mills Group, Tramway Museum Society, & SS Shieldhall.

Colonel Stephens- The Man and His Railways
John Blackwell

Sidings full of rotting coaches and life expired engines, services that bear little relationship to timetables and may not even reach their destination; these are the perceptions of the Colonel’s railways. But in the final years of the nineteenth century there appeared a future for light railways in depressed and isolated rural areas.

As a young engineer HF Stephens became associated with the construction and management of this type of railway and remained committed to them until his death. He collected railways ‘as another might open grocer’s shops’ and presided over this empire, which stretched over the southern half of England, from a small office in Tonbridge. The competition of road transport prompted the early use of railcars to cut costs but inexorably the passengers deserted and the lines crumbled into bankruptcy and receivership.

Today we will be concentrating on the Sussex and Kent railways, discovering a surprising amount of tangible remainders including a line that has been resurrected and adheres to the Colonel’s principles as far as a tourist attraction can.

John has been a member of Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society for more than 30 years and Chairman for the last ten. His particular interest is transport and he is a regular contributor to the Society’s newsletters. He spent his working life with London Transport and his final post was Commercial Manager for the construction of Jubilee Line extension to Docklands and Stratford.

Croydon Airport
Frank Anderson

Croydon Airport came into being in 1920 as a result of the amalgamation of two airfields, which were established on agricultural land west of Croydon, during World War I. The first of these, Beddington Aerodrome, was set up in 1916 as a base for Royal Flying Corps aircraft, the task of which was to intercept enemy airships and aeroplanes attempting to bomb London. The second airfield was named Waddon Aerodrome and was to the west of Beddington Aerodrome. This was established in 1918 as a test flying ground for aircraft constructed in a large factory, the National Aircraft Factory No 1, which had been set up to construct military aircraft for use during the war.

Following the end of the war, in 1920, the two airfields were amalgamated and were renamed Croydon Aerodrome, thus becoming London’s major civil airport. Four small independent British airlines operated from the site and were later amalgamated into Imperial Airways, the pre-world War 2 British national airline.

The layout of Croydon Aerodrome was not entirely safe or satisfactory and in 1928, the original administrative buildings were demolished and replaced by a re-sited complex on the eastern edge of the airfield. The 'new' airport flourished until the beginning of World War 2, when it was taken over as a Royal Air Force station. Following the end of hostilities, major airlines returned to Croydon, but after a flurry of activity in the 1946-1947 period, they gradually transferred their operations to the larger London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. From the late 1940s, Croydon effectively reverted to the status of a small regional airport hosting services to the near continent and the Channel Islands, and flying club activities.ln September 1959, Croydon Airport finally closed because of governmental concerns over safety.

Frank, as a youngster living in northern England during the Second World War, became fascinated by aviation, and in particular its history. Through reading on the subject, he first learned about Croydon Airport from books on civil aviation, most of which had been published in the prewar period. His aviation interests continued into adulthood as a member of the Air Training Corps, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the Royal Air Force during national service and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Training Branch (a total of 28 years in air force blue uniforms). In his civilian life, after a few years working in industry and the civil service, he embarked on a career in further and adult education, in East Anglia, Hertfordshire, and finally Surrey for the last 13 years before retirement in May 2000. It was while living in Surrey, only four miles from the site of the former Croydon Airport, that he became a member of the Croydon Airport Society, of which he is now Chairman. Frank’s particular historical research interest is in the socio-economic and socio-political aspects of British governmental attitudes towards UK Civil Aviation, during the period from 1910 to 1940.

Surrey and the Motor
Gordon Knowles

The county has been involved with the motor for over 100 years. Development of its road system has been in response to the internal combustion engine and to government legislation and assistance. The county provided a pioneering motoring inventor, John Henry Knight of Farnham, who at one time was thought to have put the first British car on the road. Both the RAC and the AA had origins in the county and the repeal of the notorious Red Flag legislation was largely brought about by the actions of Knight.

Brooklands race track forms a major part of any history of Surrey and the motor and it stimulated a number of significant designers, builders and drivers of record-breaking cars. There have been over l00 manufacturers of cars and commercial vehicles in Surrey, most of them in very small numbers, but two significant ones, Dennis and AC, have celebrated their centenary and are still in business today alongside builders of specialised off-road vehicles, sporting and racing cars.
[SIHG have recently published Gordon Knowles’s book, Surrey and the Motor.]

Gordon retired in 1989 after a career in the engineering industry and management education and training and has since been able to develop his long held interests in Industrial Archaeology and the history of land and air transport. He is a committee member, and former chairman, of SIHG and a former council member and affiliated societies officer of the AIA and a former council member of the Newcomen Society. He is secretary of the Roads & Road Transport History Association and lectures to adult education groups and to professional and local societies on IA and transport topics. He also writes on IA and transport themes.