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South East Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference 2014

SERIAC2014 mill image

"Bricks, Bugs & Computers"

Saturday 12 April 2014
hosted by
Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society
and Croydon
Natural History & Scientific Society
at Royal Russell School, Croydon

0910-0955 Registration & coffee
1000-1015 Welcome by Mr Edward Handley M.B.E., the last proprietor of Handley Brickworks, Croydon
                  about which he will speak briefly
1015-1100 A Most Industrious River - The Wandle Meg Thomas (Curator - Wandle Industrial Museum)
1115-1200 The Rise & Fall of the Surrey Iron Railway Dorian Gerhold (Wandsworth Historical Society)
1200-1230 Early Computing in Croydon includes 1930’s film Danny Hayton (GLIAS)
1230-1345 Lunch Break
1345-1430 If it’s not a Brick then What is it? The story of some unusual building materials. Ron Martin (SIAS)
1430-1515 Bugs & Bow: Fermentation Industries in London Prof Martin Adams (GLIAS)
1515-1545 Tea Break
1545-1630 Secret Underground London Nick Catford (Journal Editor - Subterranea Britannica)
1630           Announcements & Closing Remarks

Post-Conference visits
A) Shirley Windmill
B) Croydon Airport
C) Walking Tour via Park Hill water tower and Surrey St Pumping Station to Central Croydon led by Paul Sowan

Accounts of Talks

Handley‘s Brickworks
Edward Handley MBE was the last proprietor of this company, based in Woodside, Croydon from 1915 to 1974. It was at one time the largest brickworks in the south of England, producing 1 million bricks a week. As the clay was so wet, the bricks had to be dried before they could be fired. This was done in large sheds using waste heat from the kilns. All deliveries had to be made by road as there was no practical rail access. After closure, everything was demolished, the land was de-contaminated and is now housing and an open space called Brickfield Meadows.

A most industrious river
Meg Thomas, curator of the Wandle Industrial Museum, ran through the major industries along the river Wandle. Most were watermills, first recorded in the Domesday Book, making good use of the 125ft drop over 9 miles. Corn milling came first and Upper Mill at Wandsworth was the largest, working until 1928. The establishment of a fulling mill at Carshalton in the 14th century started the pollution problem. Connollys at Colliers Wood were best known for producing leather for Rolls Royce cars and the Houses of Parliament amongst others. Parchment and vellum was also produced including vellum for drums for jazz bands! There were 10 snuff mills on the river, the last closing in 1925. Cloth industries began with dye making, from Brazil wood. Bleaching fields were established on the river banks to dry natural calico treated with lime. Liberty and Morris established fabric printing works using block printing techniques. Morris was downstream of Liberty, which caused some disputes over residual dyes in the water. The board mill at Colliers Wood was the last paper mill on the river, closing in the 1980s to make way for the Savacentre. Youngs Brewery at Wandsworth used the river for cooling until closure in 2006. Mitcham mint was grown extensively, and was exported to France for making Crème de Menthe. Iron and copper mills manufactured pots and pans and brewing vessels.
The potter's wheel in the pottery at Merton Abbey Mills is still powered by a restored water wheel

The rise and fall of the Surrey Iron Railway (SIR)
Dorien Gerhold of the Wandsworth Historical Society worked from the Act of Parliament of 1846 which had to be passed to close the SIR, in which the company set out the whole economic history of the railway. The railway did well at first carrying chalk from the Merstham quarries on the 1809 extension, to limekilns at Wandsworth. The Croydon Canal was completed in 1809 and gave easier access to London. By 1814 railway traffic had fallen by half. The quarries closed in the 1820s, removing most of the rest of the traffic. The Croydon, Merstham & Godstone extension closed in 1838. The London & Brighton Railway’s plan to buy the SIR to use part of the route for its Croydon to London Waterloo line fell through. After closure in 1848, the dock at Wandsworth remained in use until 1923 when it was filled in by the gas company. The SIR had been over-reliant on the Merstham quarry traffic and had been unable to update its technology which had rapidly become obsolete.

Early computing in Croydon
Danny Hayton of GLIAS showed a silent black & white film, made by the Accounting and Tabulating Machine Company in the 1930s, on the manufacture of early computing machinery in Croydon. Machines were made to order by hand and there were many women workers. Machine operators wore long hair, loose clothing, ties etc, and were exposed to moving parts of the machines. The footage of a spring being tested by pinging it up and down with a large nut on top raised a laugh. The machines were driven by punched cards, which were sorted first in card-sorting machines: each card had its metadata printed on it. The end product was a print-out of financial information. The machines evolved into accounting machines. The company merged with the British Tabulating Machine Company to form International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) in 1959 and moved to Whyteleafe.

If it’s not a brick, what is it?
Ron Martin of the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society illustrated some of the different types of building materials that have been used since humans moved out of caves. Timber, was among the first, but ran short by the 15th century as so much was used to build ships and provide fuel. Bricks became universally popular, but stone was an alternative, originally undressed. Artificial stone started being used for landscaping, e.g. ‘Pulhamite’ (see walk, below), and artificial marble, e.g. terrazzo for flooring. Render could be marked to look like stone blocks or worked into patterns (pargetting). Flint was used where it was found (in chalk land), but was difficult to use for corners. Cast iron has been used for lintels, window sills, parapets, and pillars and window tracery in churches. Coade stone was very successful artificial stone for sculpture and decoration, and terracotta was used as brick. Bricks have been in use for about 5000 years. After the Romans left in 410AD, there was a 1000 year gap before bricks were used again in Britain. A brick is the size it is because it is the size of a man’s hand, although a brick tax introduced in 1784 resulted in oversized bricks being made. Mention was made of the different styles of bricklaying, and that tiles were often used to imitate bricks.

Bugs & bows: fermentation industries in London
Martin Adams was, until recently, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Surrey. London's brewing industry matured very early. A favourite drink was ‘Entire Butt’ 6% -7%, dark, hoppy and matured for a year. From its popularity with porters it acquired the name Porter. Whitbreads converted their Chiswell Street cellars into cisterns to hold porter. By the 1820s it was replaced by mild, a less strong, un-aged beer. Pubs still showed the Porter and Entire signs outside e.g. Youngs. Hodgson's Bow Bridge Brewery, near the docks, brewed a strong, hoppy beer for the East India Company, ideal for transport to India that acquired the name India Pale Ale. Production moved to Allsopps of Burton on Trent. Vinegar brewing was an early use of fermentation. Champions of Old Street produced vinegar from 1710 to the end of the 19th century. Originally it was made in open air vats, until the quick vinegar process was invented, in which alcohol was sprayed onto a bed of wood chips and collected underneath. Sarsons is well known, as is Beaufoys of South Lambeth Road which closed in 1982. Their clock tower is still visible from the platforms of Vauxhall Station. Distillation of stronger alcohol, eventually lead to acts of Parliament to control gin drinking. Famous brands are Booths of Clerkenwell and William Nicholson (of Three Mills), who lent money to the MCC to buy Lord's cricket ground. Acetone can be created by fermentation. It was used to make cordite in World War 1, and Lloyd George wanted to take over all British distilleries, to make acetone. Because maize was the best raw material and it was not grown in Britain at the time, production went to Canada instead. Citric acid was made by Kemball Bishop using the aspergillus niger fungus. Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin at Paddington Hospital in the 1920s and Norman Heatley worked out how to make it usable.

Underground London
Nick Catford, journal editor of Subterranea Britannica, showed us some of the sites listed in his new book. Locally there are 3 former railway tunnels near Sandilands which are now used by Tramlink, air raid shelters at Whitgift School, and a waterwheel at Carshalton Water Tower.Other categories of features listed were:


The guided walk into Central Croydon was led by Paul Sowan of Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society.
The party followed the edge of Addington Hills beside the tram line. The gardens of Coombe Wood contain some rock gardens built with ‘Pulhamite’ artificial rock. There are many chalk pits in the area and the tram line uses the trackbed of the old Woodside & Croydon railway in part. The next sites viewed were Park Hill reservoir and water tower and Queen's Gardens, a former railway cutting on the line to Central Croydon station (closed 1890). Surrey Street water pumping station could be viewed just before the lack of daylight curtailed the walk. Some walkers retreated to the Dog & Bull pub, a listed building from the 18th century, claiming to be Croydon’s oldest pub, an earlier building dating from 1431.

The reports are by Peter Cousins of the Wandle Industrial Museum, by kind permission