Category Archives: London Infrastructure

Campden Hill Water Tower, an Observatory and Sir James South

Before heading to Campden Hill, a quick reminder that if you are interested in discovering the history of the New River, New River Head, the Oak Room and Devil’s Conduit, there are a few tickets remaining for a walk by Islington Guides starting this coming week. I will be guiding on a couple of these walks and they can be booked at this link.

For this week’s post, I am in the area between Kensington Gardens and Holland Park, in Campden Hill Road, looking up the street towards the now demolished water tower as seen in this photo by my father, and dating from 1951:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The same view in August 2022:

Campden Hill Water Tower

The view nearest the camera has hardly changed. The buildings on either side of Campden Hill Road are the same. What has changed is the view in the distance where the water tower once stood is now a development of flats.

The Campden Hill water tower was built as part of the 19th century roll out of water supplies across an expanding London.

The Grand Junction Water Works Company purchased the land at the top of the road in 1843, and built a reservoir. This was followed by a pumping station and the water tower. (I have also read reports that the water works opened in the 1820s on land purchased from the Dowager Marchioness of Lansdowne, and that the water tower was built in 1847).

The water tower is unusual in that it did not hold a water tank. Instead, large pipes ran up the tower, and these would hold water, with the height of the pipes adding to the pressure of water supplied from the location.

I have shown the location of the water tower, and the associated water supply infrastructure, within the red rectangle in the following map:

Campden Hill

The map shows that the water tower was just over half way up Campden Hill Road, but we need to look at another type of map to understand why it was located at this point in Campden Hill Road.

The following map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) shows land height as different colours, with blue as the lowest height, up through green, orange, red and pink as the highest. I have placed a black star symbol at the location of the water tower, and as can be seen by the surrounding colours, this is the highest point in the area, and the natural height of the land would have given a pressure advantage to water from the site, to which the water tower would have added.

Campden Hill

The name of the road – Campden Hill Road – also highlights that the road runs both up and down a hill. Next to the original location of the water tower, we can see the road descending in both directions. Looking north:

Campden Hill Water Tower

And looking south:

Campden Hill Water Tower

There was a local myth that involved the height of the land where the water tower was located. Almost opposite the location of the water tower is a pub called the Windsor Castle, and the myth was that before the water tower was built, a keen eyed observer could see the real Windsor Castle from this high point, hence the name of the local pub.

This myth was certainly still going into the 1950s when a letter in the Kensington Post disputed that you could have seen the castle from this point, and it was even doubtful that you could see the castle from the top of the tower.

This source of the name is not mentioned on the pub’s website, which does though claim the 1820s as the age of the pub, so it does pre-date the water tower.

Windsor Castle pub

The water tower and associated infrastructure became part of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904 when the MWB took over the assets of the many water companies operating in London, and brought these under the control of a single, London wide, water supplier.

The water tower was last used for the storage of water within it’s pipe in 1943, and was then redundant for a number of years. Plans to demolish the tower started in the early 1050s and in the 28th of March 1952 edition of the Kensington News and West London Times, there was an article with the headline “Goodbye to the Great Grey Tower”. The newspaper had asked local residents how they felt about the loss of the tower and reported that their general reply was that they would “Miss it dreadfully”.

The tower would though remain for many years, and during the 1960s it was leased to Associated Rediffusion who had equipment to relay television signals mounted on the tower.

There were a number of proposals for what would replace the tower throughout the 1960s, many reported in the Kensington Post, who also sent a photographer to take some photos of the view from the top of the tower.

It would finally be demolished in the first months of 1970, and the site of the water tower and associated works is now occupied by the housing seen in the following photo:

Campden Hill Water Tower

As well as being part of London’s water supply, and a local landmark, the Campden Hill water tower is also unique as it is (as far as I know) the only water tower to feature in, and on the cover of a work of literature:

G K Chesterton

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesteron is a rather unusual book. Published in 1904, it tells of the story an alternative reality, where the country is ruled over by a randomly selected head of state, one Auberon Quinn who had been a clerk. Quinn decides to turn London into a form of medieval city. One man, Adam Wayne, takes this very seriously, and uses it as a means to support local pride. Wayne even went to the length of setting up a Notting Hill army to fight invaders from other neighbourhoods – hence the title of the Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Theoretically set in a London of the future, the book describes technology and the city as it was when the book was written.

The water tower features many times in the book, including in Chapter Three —The Great Army of South Kensington, where the various forces of different streets and local areas assemble and where battle takes place, for example:

“Morning winked a little wearily at me over the curt edge of Campden Hill and its houses with their sharp shadows. Under the abrupt black cardboard of the outline, it took some little time to detect colours; but at length I saw a brownish yellow shifting in the obscurity, and I knew that it was the guard of Swindon’s West Kensington army. They are being held as a reserve, and lining the whole ridge above the Bayswater Road. Their camp and their main force is under the great Waterworks Tower on Campden Hill.”

and:

“In the event of your surrendering your arms and dispersing under the superintendence of our forces, these local rights of yours shall be carefully observed. In the event of your not doing so, the Lord High Provost of Notting Hill desires to announce that he has just captured the Waterworks Tower, just above you, on Campden Hill, and that within ten minutes from now, that is, on the reception through me of your refusal, he will open the great reservoir and flood the whole valley where you stand in thirty feet of water. God save King Auberon!”

The reason why Chesterton set his book in the area, and uses the water tower as a key feature must be that he was born in Campden Hill on the 29th of May, 1874, so he knew the area very well, and the water tower would have been a very familiar feature.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a really strange book, but good to have the Campden Hill water tower recorded in a work of literature.

Walking south, down the hill from the location of the water tower is this terrace of large residential buildings:

Bill Brandt

One of which has a blue plaque recording that the photographer Bill Brandt lived here:

Bill Brandt

I felt rather guilty taking the photo of Bill Brandt’s plaque on a modern digital camera, when I should have been using my father’s old Leica film camera.

Brandt was a master of film photography. Born in Germany in 1904, he moved to London in 1933, and would spend the rest of his life in the city until his death in 1983.

I have no idea when, and for how long he lived in Campden Hill Road, however a number of his photographs were taken inside the building, many of which date around the 1940s, so he was there for some of that decade.

Brandt took a series of photos of London during the war, and his photos of the Underground being used as air raid shelters have become representative of that period in London’s history. Many of his wartime photos of London are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum:

Bill Brandt
AIR RAID DAMAGE (HU 672) Elephant & Castle Tube Station, 11 November 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205059368

Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church:

Bill Brandt
SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1511) Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194621

Continuing on down Campden Hill Road, and the area around the road is full of interesting architecture and plenty of history and interesting characters. I cannot cover everything I would like to in the space of a weekly post, so I will pick one small street which has plenty of interesting stories to tell.

In the map below, I have put a blue oval around Observatory Gardens, a small street that leads from Campden Hill Road to Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

I will come on to the origin of the name Observatory Gardens, however lets have a look at the buildings first.

Along the northern side of Observatory Gardens is a continuous terrace of brick houses with white painted detailing.

Observatory Gardens

By 1870, the land now occupied by Observatory Gardens had been purchased by Thomas Cawley, a local south Kensington builder. He subcontracted the construction of the street, however his subcontractors went bankrupt, so Cawley completed the work himself, and the street was finished in 1883.

The street suffered some severe damage during the last war when a German bomber crashed into Campden Hill Road, having taken off a large roof in Observatory Gardens, and the crater in the street causing additional damage. A report in the West London Observer on Friday the 18th of April 1941 tells the story:

“London experienced one of the heaviest raids of the War during Wednesday night and early Thursday morning and numerous heavy, high-explosive missiles as well as thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped. Damage was on a large scale and many people were killed.

The German radio yesterday (Thursday) declared that the raid was the heaviest ever on London and the biggest raid of the War, and that 100,000 fire bombs were showered down.

On Thursday morning thousand of Londoners made their way to work over hose-pipes and broken glass, while firemen, begrimed and exhausted, still dealt with the smoldering ruins. Many had to make extensive detours to reach their place of business and thousands found their offices and shops bombed out when they got there.

Altogether five Nazi planes were brought down, one of which crashed in Campden Hill Road, a turning off Kensington High street. Actually the plane hit the roof of a large house in Observatory Gardens before crashing into the roadway about 50-feet away. Bombs from the plane must have crashed into the road in front of this house as there is a very large crater.

The German plane finally came to rest by the side of a large Hostel, part of the University of London.

At the controls was a dead pilot. No traces of other members of the crew could be found, so it is assumed that they had jumped. Later the bodies of two Nazi airmen were discovered in the locality, badly mutilated.

Residents at Campden Hill Road heard the whistle of the approaching aircraft before it crashed. There was no engine noise. Wardens say that it was not on fire.

The bomber touched chimney pots and then disintegrated in small pieces. Its heavier parts, one of the engines and two propellers, landed on the top of a block of flats where some Maltese evacuees were billeted.

An oil tank burst at the same time, and two rooms of the top floors of the flats, which were being used for bedding and linen, caught fire.

During the day, thousands of people passed the spot to see the scattered remains of the bomber. By the afternoon there was little to see as army lorries had conveyed the debris to one of the various scrap bases set aside for this purpose.”

Observatory Gardens was left badly damaged by the crash of the bomber, and as with so many streets across London, the street would not recover for a couple of decades.

In the years after the war, Observatory Gardens became very run down, and it was not until the 1990s that the street we see today emerged. Whilst the exterior of the buildings were restored, much of the interior of the buildings appears to have been considerably rebuilt.

Before Thomas Cawley purchased the land and developed Observatory Gardens, the land was owned by Sir James South, a fascinating character who made astronomical discoveries and also appears to have spent a fair amount of time in the courts.

Sir James South purchased a house and land in 1827 from the Phillimore family, and set about building an astronomical observatory in the grounds.

He started a career as a surgeon in Southwark, and there established an observatory in Blackman Street. He worked with the astronomer John Herschel on the observation of double stars, but he was often difficult to work with, and was frequently drunk.

Despite this, he became President of the Astronomical Society in 1829, but after arguments with a number of Fellows, his involvement with what would become the Royal Astronomical Society faded.

He continued his observations from his house on the land that is now Observatory Gardens, and got involved in a number of disputes with the council who were proposing to extend Camden Hill Road. He believed that the vibrations from traffic on the extended road would impact his telescopes and his observations.

His legal disputes were not just about issues that threatened his observations, he would take legal action on many issues that he daily encountered. One was in 1855 when he took a conductor of a Paddington omnibus to court for deceiving him.

South had apparently hailed the omnibus near King’s Cross and had asked the conductor if it was the Royal Oak omnibus. The conductor confirmed that it was, so South boarded.

The bus continued to Chapel Street by when all the passengers had left the bus, with the exception of South. The conductor stated that the bus would not be going any further than the next stop, and South got into an argument with the conductor regarding the destination of the bus, and that the conductor had informed South that it would go to Royal Oak.

At court, the conductor denied that he had told South the omnibus was going to Royal Oak, stated that South had got on the bus without speaking. Despite this, the court sided with Sir James South and convicted the conductor with a penalty of 20 shillings plus costs.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the case of Sir James South and the conductor of an Omnibus shows that South would take an issue to court no matter how trivial it was, and with the unequal resources and reputation of an omnibus conductor and Sir James South.

Sir James South:

Sir James South

The Illustrated Times published an obituary for Sir James South on the 26th October, 1867:

“We have to announce the death of Sir James South, F.R.S. at an advanced age. He was the son of a dispensing druggist, who towards the close of the last century carried on in business in Blackman-street, Borough; but James South entered upon a higher branch of the medical profession, and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. For some years he practiced his profession in Southwark, and in the intervals in business pursued the study of astronomy, in connection with which he made some extremely valuable observations. In 1822 and 1823, in conjunction with Sir John Herschel, he compiled a catalogue of 380 double stars.

After this he removed to Campden-hill, Kensington, where he constructed an observatory, to which he devoted the closest attention during the remainder of his life, and which has achieved European fame. He was one of the founders of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was for a time its president. In 1830, on the recommendation of the Duke of Wellington, who was then prime Minister, he received the honour of knighthood, and for several years past he has enjoyed a pension of £300 a year on the Civil List for his contributions to astronomical science.

The account of Sir James South’s astronomical observations during his residence in Southwark is published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1825, and is accompanied by a description of the 5 foot and 7 foot equatorials with which they were made. one of these instruments is still mounted and in excellent condition at the Campden-hill Observatory. There are also in the observatory a 7 foot transit instrument, and a 4 foot transit circle. Sir James South was born in 1785.”

The street name Observatory Gardens is therefore named after Sir James South’s observatory that once occupied the land. The following photos shows the end of Observatory Gardens, where the street meets Hornton Street:

Observatory Gardens

One of the newspaper reports I read about the water tower is that the arrival of the Grand Junction Water Works Company, and the resulting reliable supply of water, was one of the reasons why the area developed rapidly during the first half of the 19th century, and that much of that development was of large, ornate, houses.

At the eastern end of Observatory Gardens is Hornton Street, and this is the view looking north – of many of those large, ornate, houses:

Camden Hill

And the view looking south, as the hill which gave the area its name continues to descend towards Kensington High Street. Lots more red brick and white decoration:

Campden Hill

One thing I realised as I get towards the end of the post is that I have not explained the origin of the name Campden Hill. The Hill element obviously comes from the hill on which the area is built, and that resulted in the water tower being built here. Campden came from Campden House, a large house that was built here by Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden in the 17th century. The Camden in his title came from Chipping Campden in the County of Gloucester.

In the 19th century and much of the 20th century, there was a considerable amount of infrastructure supporting the provision of water, gas and electricity across London. As with the Campden Hill water tower, so much of this has disappeared, as the technologies used to distribute these services has changed.

Campden Hill is a fascinating area to explore, and I hope this post has provided an indication of what can be discovered across some of the streets.

alondoninheritance.com

New River Walk – Alexandra Palace to New River Head

I have finally completed the post covering the last stage of the New River Walk, which covers from Alexandra Palace to New River Head in north Clerkenwell.

At the end of the previous stage, we had reached Bowes Park, where the New River disappeared in a tunnel, and for today’s post, we rejoin the New River where it exits the tunnel, opposite Alexandra Palace station.

This stage of the walk will follow the New River from Alexandra Palace to the east and west reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road, where it ends as a river. Then, the walk follows a Heritage Walk that follows the original route of the river to New River Head before the river was truncated at the reservoirs.

The map of the final stage, with key locations covered in the post is shown below  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

New River Walk Alexandra Palace to New River Head

Point S on the map: Alexandra Palace station is at the north west tip of a patch of open, green space, and at the south east corner of this space, the New River exits the tunnel through which it has flowed from Bowes Park:

Alexandra Palace

There is nothing to see of the actual river between Bowes Park and Alexandra Palace, however there are a number of these New River Company pipe markers:

NRC Pipe

Point 1 on the map: Here, a rather over exposed Alexandra Palace can be seen on the high ground in the distance. Hornsey Water Treatment Works are behind the green metal fencing and the New River runs under the footbridge between the fencing:

Hornsey

The route through Hornsey is an example of where the New River has been straightened and does not follow the original early 17th century route.

The following map from 1861 shows the original early 17th century route (dark blue), along with the proposed new straightened route (light blue):

Hornsey

Hornsey Water Treatment Works are to the left, and the New River runs at the bottom of these works, and heads to Hornsey High Street which it crosses, before turning and crossing Middle Lane. It then heads towards the church and crosses the High Street again, heading up to the junction with Tottenham Lane.

Towards the top of the map, the Great Northern Railway runs from left to right, and below the railway can be seen the proposed new route of the New River, which is straight, and cuts of the large loop around Hornsey.

Roughly the same area as the above map, is shown in the following map of the area today, which includes the new route of the river just below the railway, and streets and buildings now covering the original route of the river around Hornsey  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Hornsey

There are a number of similar examples on the New River Walk where the route follows where the river has been straightened rather than the original route. It would be an interesting exercise to follow the early 17th century route, however I think I will put that walk on the long list of London walks.

Point 2 on the map: There were very few places on the entire route where it was not possible to follow the New River walk, however one place on this final stretch was also in Hornsey where the path had been closed off as Thames Water are carrying out some repair works on the river:

New River Walk

Following photo is looking along the closed section of the walk. This is another straightened section of the New River:

New River Walk

Point 3 on the map: The New River then runs through a housing estate which was built around the New River. The following map extract shows the river running between terrace housing and under streets. There is no path alongside this section of the river, and walking to where the river crosses each street, then back, would add a considerable distance to the walk, so the Thames Water New River path runs along Wightman Road to the left  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Wightman Road

The view looking down one of the streets from Wightman Road, the New River crosses the street half way down:

Wightman Road

In the above photo, the streets is dropping in height towards the point where the river crosses about half way down. This stretch of the New River demonstrates how the river follows the contours of the land, from the source in Ware to New River Head. A considerable distance which needed some careful planning, and is remarkable given the survey technologies available in the early 17th century.

The following map shows land height by colour, with blue being lower land, then increasing in height through green, yellow and red (from the excellent topographic-map.com):

New River height map

I have marked the route of the New River which is following the boundary between the higher land on the left (around Crouch Hill station), and the lower land on the right (south Tottenham and Seven Sisters station).

At one point in the map, an area of higher ground (yellow) juts out, and the New River has been tunneled under this, before emerging and running through the streets to the east of Wightman Road.

Point 4 on the map: After weaving through the streets of terrace housing, the New River emerges into the north east corner of Finsbury Park:

Finsbury Park

Where there is a plaque recording the origins and purpose of the river:

Finsbury Park

The New River stays in just the north east corner of Finsbury Park, before crossing under Green Lanes, and reaching:

Point 5 on the map: where the river runs along a narrow green space between an industrial area to the north, school and housing to the south:

New River

In the height map above, the New River is heading towards the reservoirs and is skirting around some higher land to the south, and this is visible as we walk alongside the river, with a downward slope from right to left requiring the river to be banked on the northern side:

New River

North of the M25, between Cheshunt and Ware, there were a number of points where water was being extracted from boreholes and pumped into the New River. There were no examples of this south of the M25, except for one point along this stretch of the walk where four pipes were pumping water into the river, although it was not clear from where this was being extracted.

New River

There is a brick building visible just to the left of where the water is pouring into the river. This is on Eade Road. It houses infrastructure of some sort, and has a 2003 plaque on the outside, but no indication of its function.

The British Geological Survey borehole map lists a borehole under this building, however it is marked as “Confidential” with no data available.

I assume the water running into the New River is from this borehole, however it is strange as to why the record is confidential.

This section of the walk was incredibly muddy, with some sections rather difficult to pass.

At the end, the path runs up to meet Seven Sisters Road, with an information panel covered in graffiti:

New River Walk

For a short distance, the New River Path has joined with another walking route, the Capital Ring:

Capital Ring

And one final loop through housing, with a rather muddy path:

New River Walk

Point 6 on the map: The New River now reaches the reservoirs, with what must have been a gauge house, some means of regulating or measuring the flow of the river, straddling the New River just before the reservoirs:

New River Walk

The New River was truncated at the reservoirs at Stoke Newington in 1946, and now feeds water into the reservoirs, as well as running to their north, through the Woodberry Wetlands, an area surrounding the reservoirs that is now managed as a wildlife haven:

New River Walk

Between the east and the west reservoirs is a building that was once part of the New River infrastructure and has now been refurbished as the Coal House Café. The area outside the café was full of families, so I will not include a photo online, however at the side of the building is a record of the creation of the reservoirs by the New River Company:

New River Company

Also on the side of the building is a wall tie with the initials of the Metropolitan Water Board, the organisation that took over the running of the New River Company’s assets:

New River Walk

View across the east reservoir:

New River Walk

View across the west reservoir:

New River Walk

And a short walk from the west reservoir, we reach the very end of the remaining route of the New River. The last point in the walk from Ware in Hertfordshire, where the river can be seen above ground. It ends in a rather sad dead end:

End of the New River

Just to the left of the above photo is the wonderful 19th century pumping station built by the New River Company:

Castle pumping station

The Metropolis Water Act of 1852 required that water companies supplying water to London, filter the water prior to distribution, and that any subsequent reservoirs after filtering be covered. The aim was to improve the quality of water and prevent much of the pollution from an industrial city from entering the water supply.

Prior to the act, the New River Company was supplying water directly from the reservoirs, however the act now required filter beds to be constructed, along with infrastructure such as a pumping station, and the building in the above photo was built between 1852 and 1856 by William Chadwell Mylne, the Surveyor for the New River Company.

The building housed steam engines and boilers until 1936 when these were replaced by diesel engines.

By 1971, the pumping station was rather dated and too small, and the design of the building did not support an upgrade, so the Metropolitan Water Board applied for permission to demolish the building.

There was considerable local support to retain the building as it was such a local landmark, resembling an industrial castle alongside Green Lanes.

This campaign resulted in the building being given a Grade II* listing in 1972, however it would continue to stay empty, and under threat.

The Historic England listing record provides a perfect description of the old pumping station, and why it is known as the Castle (Historic England source here):

Large building designed to resemble a mediaeval fortress with keep and bailey. 1854-6 by Chadwell Mylne. Stock brick with stone dressings. Battlements and large stepped buttresses all around. The “keep” is of 2 storeys with a tall basement plinth. 6 windows on main south-west front. At north-east and south-west corners round towers with square bartizans the former with a tall conical roof and both having battlements crow-stepped up towards them. Continuous quasi-entablature, with cable moulding, running right around towers. Taller octagonal chimney tower to east. 8 steps (the top one with bootscraper!) to entrance in forebuilding running along north wall and into “bailey” building, which is lower with segmental arcading and 2 slit windows in each bay. Important picturesque landmark.”

The building was empty until 1994 when it was converted into a climbing centre. The large internal spaces perfectly suited for such a use. If you walk past, it is worthwhile having a quick look inside, as the building is still the Castle Climbing Centre.

Leaving the pumping station, we are now following the heritage section of the New River Walk. This section of the route has not seen the New River as a stream of water for many years, as the river was buried in pipes during the 19th century, and since 1946, New River water has ended at the reservoirs.

Point 7 on the map: Here we turn off from Green Lanes and into Clissold Park.

The park retains a couple of stretches of the New River, however these are for decorative purposes only, and start and end within the park.

There is a bridge across one of these decorative runs of the river, which has the arms and motto of the New River Company on the side. “ET PLUI SUPER UNAM CIVITATEM” or “And I caused it to rain upon one city” indicated by the hand reaching down from a cloud, and showering rain drops on the city below.

Clissold Park

Part of the decorative New River feature running up to Clissold House:

Clissold House

Leaving Clissold Park, and walking along Stoke Newington Church Street, there is another reminder of the New River with the New River Café on the corner with Clissold Crescent:

New River cafe

Walk a short distance along Clissold Crescent, and there is a reminder of the New River:

Clissold Crescent

The plaque reads “The Park Lane bridge was demolished and the road widened June 1881”.

Park Lane was the original name of Clissold Crescent, and the bridge carried Park Lane over the New River.

A version of the Ordnance Survey map from the 1890s shows the Park Lane bridge and the New River, although by this time, the New River should have been carried underground in pipes, and as the plaque reads, the bridge was demolished in 1881 and the road widened, so I suspect the OS map was not updated at this point  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).

Clissold Crescent

In the above map, the New River heads south between houses, and the route has been preserved and now forms a series of allotments running along the old course of the river:

New River Walk

The path between the allotments ends at Green Lanes (again, almost a constant companion on the southern section of the walk). We cross over Green Lanes to reach;

Point 8 on the map: this is Petherton Road where the New River once ran down the centre of the street, and is now a walkway with trees and grass on either side:

Petherton Road

A rather nice ghost sign for Barnes Motors along Petherton Road:

Barnes Motors

At the end of Petherton Road, the green space gives way to a street which still follows the route of the New River, past Canonbury Station and cross over St Paul’s Road into another section of the New River route that has been transformed into a long green space, with a decorative water feature running the length of the space:

New River Walk

Towards the end of this green space is:

Point 9 on the map: where there is a round brick building alongside the original route of the New River:

New River Watch House

The building appears to be a late 18th century watch hut. To protect the New River, the New River Company had a watchman or linesman stationed at points along the route of the river to keep the river clear of debris and also to prevent fishing and swimming in the water, or anything that could pollute the supply.

The brick hut is an example of where such a person would have been stationed to keep watch over the river.

The final stretch of the ornamental water that follows the original route of the New River:

New River Walk

Where the above green space ends, we then walk south along Essex Road, and turn off just before reaching Islington Green, to find Colebrooke Row.

This is another street where the houses were built facing on to the New River, and the space occupied by the river is now a green space running the length of the street.

In the following photo, the houses on the right once looked onto the New River where the grass and trees now run, with the street being on the left:

Charles Lamb's House

The white house on the right in the above photo was occupied by the poet and essayist Charles Lamb in the 1820s. The following print shows the house as it was, with the New River running directly in front of the house:

Charles Lamb's House

I have written a detailed post about Colebrooke Row and Charles Lambs which can be found here.

Leaving Colebrooke Row, we cross over City Road and Goswell Road, and cut through to St John Street. Then down to Owen’s Row (which is on the alignment of the New River, I wrote about Owen’s Row within this post).

Crossing over St John Street into Rosebery Avenue, and this is the view along the old route of the New River, with Sadlers Wells on the right (a post on Sadlers Wells and the New River is here):

Sadlers Wells

At the end of Sadlers Wells, turn right into Arlington Way, then left into Myddelton Passage, where we come to the official end of the New River Walk, at the viewing platform looking over what was New River Head:

New River Head

The route is marked on the ground of the viewing platform:

New River Head

And that completed the New River Walk, over four days / two weekends, from Ware in Hertfordshire to New River Head, Clerkenwell.

It was a fascinating journey, and whilst the route has been straightened at a number of points and does not fully trace the original early 17th century route, it did leave me with considerable admiration for those in the early 17th century who surveyed and built the route, following the contours of the land so it would only fall by roughly 20 feet along the entire route ( 5.5m in total or 5 inches per mile). This enabled the water to flow naturally without the need for any pumping.

You can find my posts covering the first two stages of the walk at the following links:

I have also written about the history of New River Head and London’s Water Industry, which you can find at this link.

In the following panorama from the viewing platform at New River Head, I have labeled some of the key features. On the right are the engine and pump house which will soon become the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, a wonderful new use for these historic buildings.

Panorama of New River Head

David Fletcher creates remarkable 3D photogrammetry captures of heritage sites and has one for the historic buildings at New River Head. Hopefully this will work as I have embedded the model in the post (if you do not see this in the e-mail, click here for the post on the website).

You can walk through the site, both inside and out to see this remarkable, historic site in detail:

And finally, if you have not had enough about the New River, I purchased the following book, the Mercenary River by Nick Higham a few weeks ago.

The Mercenary River

It really is a fascinating history of London’s water supply, including, off course, the New River, and is highly recommended.

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New River Walk – Cheshunt to Bowes Park

In October of last year, I started the first part of the New River Walk, a walk alongside the 17th century artificial river that was built to bring in supplies of clean water from springs near Ware in Hertfordshire to New River Head in north Clerkenwell.

Some years ago Thames Water signposted a New River Walk that follows the course of the New River as far as is possible, and where it is not possible to walk alongside, the route guides the walker to the next point to access the river.

A couple of weekends ago, on a grey and damp Saturday, we started a second weekend to complete the walk. Starting at October’s finishing point in Cheshunt, and ending at New River Head.

This post covers the New River Walk from Cheshunt to near Bowes Park station, where the river flows into a tunnel heading to Alexandra Palace. A mid-week post will cover the stage of the walk from Alexandra Palace to New River Head.

The route of today’s post can be seen in the following map. Starting at “S”, and with some of the key points covered in the post numbered.

Walking the New River from Cheshunt to Bowes Park

The problem with arranging a weekend in advance is that the weather cannot be guaranteed, and after some sunny weekends, the weekend of the walk turned out grey and damp, with plenty of mud on the path.

The was the scene starting off at Cheshunt:

New River Cheshunt

In the following photo, the large building on the right is the 40 acre site of Newsprinters. As the majority of newspapers no longer run their own print presses, companies such as Newsprinters provide this service to multiple newspapers, so if you read one, it may well have been printed at this site, which is alongside the A10.

New River, Cheshunt

A short distance onward, and the results of Storm Eunice were still visible, and would continue to be at a number of points along the New River:

New River

Point 1 on the map: In the following photo the New River opens out into a small lake. The Cheshunt Country Club is behind the trees on the right, and behind the trees directly in front is Theobalds Park:

Theobalds Park

Theobalds Park is the site of a 16th century palace that was destroyed during the Civil War, and a later stately home which is now a hotel and club.

A London connection with Theobalds Park is that Temple Bar Gate was rebuilt here in 1888 after being demolished from its original location at the point where Fleet Street meets the Strand. The stones of the old gate were purchased by Lady Meux, wife of Sir Henry Bruce Meux (of the Meux’s Brewery Company), who owned the house in Theobalds Park.

The gate was rebuilt in the park, and used as an entertainment venue by Lady Meux.

The gate was relocated to London, with reconstruction and restoration completed in 2004, and the gate can now be seen at the entrance to Paternoster Square, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The gate in Theobalds Park, five years before moving back to London:

Temple Bar, Theobalds Park

(Image credit: Temple Bar, Theobalds Park cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Christine Matthews – geograph.org.uk/p/185643)

Point 2 on the map: Continuing past Theobalds Park, and it was time to cross a major landmark on the route, a landmark that confirmed we were heading towards outer London. This was the crossing of the M25.

The New River flows from source in Ware to the current termination point at the west and east reservoirs by Seven Sisters Road, without any form of pumping. The incredibly slight gradient along the route is just sufficient to ensure a continuous flow of water.

Despite being built in the early 17th century, the New River continues to be a source of water for London, so when the New River meets the M25, the M25 has to give way.

The M25 has to go under the New River, and the river is carried over the motorway within its own dedicated bridge.

This is the point where the river is split into two channels, ready to enter the bridge:

New River crossing the M25

The two channels flow along the bridge, which has a thick concrete slab covering the top:

New River crossing the M25

Looking along the bridge dedicated to carrying the New River over the M25:

New River crossing the M25

Although the bridge carrying the New River over the M25 has a solid concrete surface, this is not a traffic route. There is a track to the Thames Water equipment on either side of the bridge, so the use of a hard surface over the bridge could be to allow Thames Water equipment to move between the two sides of the motorway.

It could also be used to prevent any accidental spillover from the river to the motorway below.

The view looking west from the centre of the bridge:

New River crossing the M25

And the view looking east, at Junction 25 on the M25:

New River crossing the M25

A relatively rural scene at the southern end of the bridge, with a green New River Path signpost showing the way:

New River crossing the M25

The two channels of the New River exit on the south side of the M25:

New River crossing the M25

Colourful graffiti on a rather grey day:

New River

Point 3 on the map: The New River has to cross a number of natural rivers in its route from Ware to New River Head. One of these rivers is the Turkey Brook, which rises just to the east of Potters Bar and heads to join the River Lee Navigation not far from Enfield Lock station.

The Turkey Brook is shown in the following photo, with, in the background the Docwra Viaduct, originally built in 1859, which carries the New River over the Turkey Brook:

Turkey Brook

Construction of the aqueduct enabled one of the long meanders of the New River to be replaced by a straightened route. The aqueduct was built by Thomas Docwra of Cheshunt, who is presumably the source of the name.

Docwra is an unusual surname, and Thomas Docwra could well be a descendent of another Thomas Docwra who was the Grand Prior of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in England in the early 16th century, and who had their headquarters at Clerkenwell, of which St John’s Gate is a reminder.

According to the Thames Water guide to the walk, somewhere around the Docwra Aqueduct are a number of boreholes which enable the New River to be part of an “Artificial Recharge Scheme”. This is where water is extracted from the New River and pumped into the chalk below ground. When extra water is needed to supply London, it is then pumped back out of this aquifer.

I did not see any evidence of this, but the path diverts slightly around the Docwra Aqueduct, and along the path there were also a number of bland brick buildings with nothing to provide a clue as to their function.

Soon after the Docwra Aqueduct, the evidence of the long straight route of the river enabled by the aqueduct can be seen, along with a number of places where what looked like over sized sandbags lining one side of the river:

New River

Not sure why there would be sandbags, as the New River is not a natural river liable to flood, with water levels in the New River being controlled.

Another casualty from Storm Eunice:

New River

And more evidence of the storm:

New River

Point 4 on the map: The walk has now reached Enfield, and there is very little of the river to see. Originally, there was a loop of the river around Enfield, however in 1900, this loop was bypassed by the construction of three cast iron pipes under the town which carried the river on a more direct route.

This means that the New River Walk now runs through the streets of Enfield, with the green signposts directing the way:

Enfield

Parts of the original route of the New River around Enfield have been preserved as an ornamental watercourse, and the most attractive part is along the aptly named River View, which starts with the Crown and Horseshoes pub overlooking the old river:

Crown and Horseshoes, River View, Enfield

Looking along River View, with terrace houses lining one side of the footpath, the ornamental remains of the New River on the other side:

River View Enfield

The houses on the right in the above photo appear to have their own private bridge over the river to their gardens.

Small park at the end of River View – one of the small bridges over the ornamental New River can be seen on the right:

Enfield

South of Enfield we pick up the New River again, however it does a number of disappearing acts as it flows through housing estates and other areas where there is no accessible path alongside the river.

Point 5 on the map: This is another point where the New River has to cross a natural stream. It also shows the age of the New River Walk, and that there appears to have been little major maintenance of the walk over the last few years.

Another of the natural streams that the New River had to cross was Salmon’s Brook. This stream has its source in fields north of Hadley Wood station, and eventually flows into the River Lee.

To carry the stream under the New River, a lead lined wooden aqueduct was originally constructed, which was replaced by a brick aqueduct in 1682, which was later largely replaced by a clay embankment and tunnel.

The 1682 arch (known as the Clarendon Arch after the Earl of Clarendon who was the Governor of the New River Company at the time that the arch was constructed) through which the Salmon’s Brook enters the tunnel under the New River was a viewing point when Thames Water originally laid out the New River path, however access to the viewing point has become overgrown and in a bad state of repair and is now closed and fenced off, so it was impossible to get down to the stream and see the arch.

At the top of the viewing point, there is a stone plaque. Very hard to read due to weathering and lack of maintenance, however it dates from 1786 when the New River was raised on a bank of earth over the stream.

The following photo shows the stone plaque and Salmon’s Brook. Originally there was access via steps to the right to see the 1682 arch, which is now a Grade II listed structure.

Clarendon Arch

The arch is the oldest part of the New River to remain, and has an inscription and crest around the entrance to the tunnel:

Clarendon Arch

(Image credit: Clarendon Arch, Bush Hill, London N21 cc-by-sa/2.0 – © John Salmon – geograph.org.uk/p/302364)

Around Winchmore Hill, the New River meanders past larger houses, with gardens backing onto the river:

New River

With New River green signs directing the path along some small diversions:

New River

There are a number of buildings along this stretch of the New River that appear to be pumping stations, however unlike the buildings in the stretch from Ware to Cheshunt, these buildings do not appear to be extracting ground water and pumping into the river.

In the following photo, the building does have what appears to be a concrete channel running to the river, so it may have the capability to pump water from the chalk below, into the river.

New River

Point 6 on the map: At this point, the New River comes up to Green Lanes by the junction with Carpenter Gardens before turning away to head into a housing estate. A couple of stones mark the New River along with a small green space, with the reminder that the New River is “Neither New, Nor a River”:

New River by Green Lanes

We can follow the New River for a short distance from the above photo, but it then heads between rows of houses on either side, with the gardens of the houses reaching straight down to the river – so no walking route.

Instead, we walk along the adjacent streets. Here is the aptly named River Avenue, with the New River behind the houses on the left:

River Avenue

I have no idea whether having the New River running at the end of your garden adds to the property price, but it does feature in estate agents descriptions, as there is currently one house for sale in the street that has “fantastic views over the New River and the London skyline • 40ft x 20ft rear garden backing onto the New River”.

Rejoining the New River and more dramatic evidence of Storm Eunice:

New River

The stretch with the marque is along a section of the New River where there is an earth embankment along one side where the river was built along sloping ground and the embankment was needed to ensure the level flow of the river.

At the far end of this stretch, an attempt had been made to close off the access point, presumably due to the marque:

New River

Point 7 on the map: There are two landmarks at point 7. The first is where the New River crosses yet another natural river, this is Pymmes Brook emerging from a tunnel under the adjacent railway line, before it enters another tunnel under the New River:

Pymmes Brook

Pymmes Brook appears to emerge in the golf course, just to the north west of Cockfosters station. As with the other rivers and streams that the New River crosses, Pymmes Brook flows east to where it joins the River Lee.

These streams seem relatively insignificant, however taking a wider view and looking at a topographic map, we can see how they have formed in low ground either side of the higher ground of Cockfosters, and over centuries have probably been responsible for some of the erosion of the lower ground as they drained the area around Hadley Wood.

Pymmes Brook

The second landmark at point 7 is where the New River crosses the A406 – the north circular road seen in the photo below. The bridge carries a railway across the road, the New River is flowing under the road directly in front of where I am standing:

North Circular Road

The following photo shows the New River emerging from the tunnel that carries it under the North Circular:

North Circular Road

After crossing the North Circular, the New River continues alongside terrace streets. One of the houses backing on to the New River has a faded ghost sign for a Builder and Decorator. An unusual position as the sign was not facing onto any road:

Ghost sign

I am approaching the end of the first day of the weekend’s walk, and the New River helpfully provides a natural stopping point.

I have reached Bowes Park (Point E on the map), and here the New River enters a tunnel:

Bowes Park tunnel

The tunnel was built as one of the 19th century initiatives to straighten out the New River and the tunnel runs from Bowes Park to near Alexandra Palace station, and this straight length of tunnel (built in 1859) reduced the original overall length of the New River by 1.5km.

That was the end of Saturday’s walk. Luckily, public transport serves the New River walk really well. In the upper stretches of the walk, it is close to the line from Liverpool Street up to Ware, and for the walk covered in today’s post, it is close to the line to Moorgate, so from the entrance to the tunnel, it was a short walk up to Bowes Park station.

There are numerous places along the route of the New River which take a name from some aspect of the river. Whether a simple name like River Avenue, or perhaps named after someone associated with the river, and the road that leads from the New River up to Bowes Park station is called Myddleton Road after Sir Hugh Myddleton who was the driving force behind the financing and construction of the New River in the early years of the 17th century.

The name is also displayed on the top of this house in Myddleton Road, that was once the home of Lazaris Family Butchers:

Myddleton

We arrived at Bowes Park station, just as a train was leaving. The next one was cancelled, so the day ended with an hours wait on a windswept platform for a train:

Bowes Park Station

Before I end the post, you may be wondering (or almost certainly not), how the New River is kept relatively clean of floating debris, given the amount of trees that line the side, number of housing estates the river flows through etc.

We did notice that there was more rubbish in the river, the further we headed into London, but we also saw a rather clever cleaning method in use at two locations.

In the following photo, you can see a small cage suspended over the river.

Cleaning the New River

This cage moves along the gantry across the river and is lowered into the river. There is a grating in the river that allows rubbish to collect rather than continue flowing. As the cage is dropped into the river, the lower section opens up as it falls below the surface of the water.

The cage then collects any rubbish collected against the grating, the cage closes, and is raised. It then moves to the right where once over the ground, the cage opens, depositing any collected rubbish on the ground.

The cage is lowered progressively across the river so the whole width is covered.

The whole process appears to be automatic as there was no one visible on the river bank, or building from which to operate the system.

And that is how the New River is automatically cleaned.

Time permitting, the final stage, from Bowes Park to New River Head in north Clerkenwell will be the subject of a mid-week post in the next couple of weeks.

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Tunnelling the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

A couple of week’s ago, I wrote about the construction of the Greenwich foot tunnel, based on a pamphlet published in 1902 by the Institution of Civil Engineers. The pamphlet included details of another recent tunnelling project, constructing the tunnels of the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (known from the start as the Bakerloo line), under the Thames between Embankment and Waterloo Stations.

Parliamentary Acts of 1893 and 1896 had approved construction of the Baker Street and Waterloo Electric Railway, initially running from Dorset Square near Marylebone Station, to Waterloo Station. Further requests for extensions were approved and by 1904 the line ran from Paddington to Elephant and Castle.

The route of the Baker Street and Waterloo railway ran beneath the Baker Street Station of the Metropolitan District Railway, by Regent’s Park and Crescent Gardens into Portland Place, through Langham Place to Oxford Circus (where the tunnels pass over those of the Central Line with a clearance of only 6 inches at one point), down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, along Haymarket and Cockspur Street to Charing Cross, along Northumberland Avenue, then under the Thames to College Street, Vine Street and Waterloo Station.

The majority of the tunnel went through London Clay and was a relatively easy construction project, however there was a challenge where the tunnel went underneath the Thames.

The following diagram from the pamphlet shows the route under the river, from Northumberland Avenue to College Street on the opposite side of the river. The station shown above Hungerford Bridge, labelled Charing Cross Station, is now Embankment Station.

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

The diagram shows a “River Stage” extending south from Hungerford Bridge. This was a large platform, 50 feet wide and 370 feet long on which were built workshops, stores, steam cranes, boilers and air-compressors, staff buildings along with two shafts down to where the tunnels would be built.

The construction platform and shafts on the Thames were needed due to a strange anomaly found in the bed of the river when test boreholes were made along the route of the tunnels.

In the middle of the river there was a sudden depression in the London Clay through which the rest of the tunnel had been bored. This had filled with gravel, which was porous to water and required a different tunnelling method to the rest of the route, which would use compressed air to help keep out water as the tunnel went through the gravel.

The following diagram shows the route under the Thames of the Baker Street and Waterloo railway, the depression in the London Clay and short distance of gravel through which the tunnel would need to run.

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

The diagram also shows the shafts sunk down to the level of the tunnels for their construction, along with the temporary work platform created on the river.

College Street on the right is now under the Jubilee Gardens.

Note also in the diagram how the depth of the two tunnels diverge as they route under the Thames, with the “up” line having a rising gradient towards Waterloo (shown as dotted lines) and the “down” tunnel having a descending gradient towards Waterloo.

The ground beneath the streets and buildings of London is generally invisible, but is just as interesting as the surface. I have written about some of the areas where the geology beneath the city has influenced the development of an area, for example, how water shaped north Clerkenwell, Bagnigge Wells, St. Chad’s Place and a Lost Well, and also when oil was found beneath the streets of Willesden.

There are many features below the surface, some as a result of ice and freezing, some as a result of water, for example when the Thames was a much wider river, and the multiple smaller rivers that ran into the Thames, and some the result of human activity.

I wondered whether the feature shown in the 1902 pamphlet was still there. I suspect we look at the Thames at low tide, and assume a uniform bed to the river as it descends from one side of the river, to rise on the opposite side.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) have a complete set of survey and navigation charts on their website, detailing the river from Teddington to Southend. They show a very different view of the Thames, a view that is essential to those on the river. The depth of water, obstructions, navigation lights, moorings etc.

A view where bridges almost disappear, with only the piers supporting the bridge shown on the chart, as these are the key features for those on the river.

The PLA kindly gave permission for me to include an extract from the chart for Lambeth Reach in today’s post, an extract which covers the area where the tunnel for the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway was constructed.

Port of London Authority chart for Lambeth Reach

Hungerford Bridge can be seen in the centre of map, although only shown by black lines, with the piers supporting the bridge as the key feature.

The depth of the water is shown in metres (the depth is the average depth at the lower of each day’s two tides, which should show the minimum depth of water for those travelling along the river). The green areas along each side of the river are where the land is exposed at each low tide, with the height being shown (numbers underlined).

The depth of the Thames is typically between 2 and 3 metres at low tide in the central part of the river, however as can be seen just south of Hungerford Bridge (arrowed) there is a small area where the depth increases to a maximum of 5.4 metres, which is the same area as the depression in the London Clay shown in the 1902 diagram. Today’s Bakerloo line runs a short distance below the deepest area of this depression.

The PLA charts show how the depth of water gradually increases as the Thames heads towards the estuary, which is to be expected. They are some other similar features to the depression by Hungerford Bridge. For example, just off Limehouse Marina, there is a small area where the bed of the river suddenly descends from an average depth of between 6 and 7 metres, down to 11.7 metres, which is quite a depth at low tide.

Returning to the 1902 diagram of the route of the tunnels, it shows the tunnels running under College Street on the south bank of the river. This is one of the many streets that were lost following clearance of the area for the Festival of Britain.

The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the location of College Street (underlined in red) in the following extract  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):

College Street

Interesting to compare the above map with the PLA chart. In the OS map, the priority is the land, so the river is shown as a blank stretch of water, with no defining features.

The location of College Street today, is under the northern edge of the Jubilee Gardens. The Thames has also been pushed back, with the construction of the embankment and walkway along the river for the Festival of Britain. In the following map, I have marked the location of College Street, pre-1950 edge of the river, where the shafts to the tunnels and the working platform were located, along with the route of the tunnels which today form the Bakerloo line ( © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

Looking at the area today, the tunnels of the Bakerloo line, run roughly under the blue van in the photo below. The edge of the grass to the right is the approximate pre-1950 boundary with the Thames.

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

This view is looking back towards Waterloo Station from the walkway along the south bank, following the route of the Bakerloo line tunnels and College Street:

College Street

in the following view, the work platform extended from the first bridge pillars on the opposite side of the river (in front of the white boat) and extended 370 feet to the left. The depression in the London Clay is in the centre of the photo, and the Bakerloo line tunnels are running from the white ship to where I am standing to take the photo.

River Thames

One of the benefits stated in the 1902 pamphlet of the work platform in the river was that material excavated during the construction of the tunnels could be taken away by barge, saving the transport of large amounts of material through the city’s streets.

The river continues to be used for a similar purpose, with close to the route of the Bakerloo tunnels, a new construction site on the edge of the river for the Thames Tideway Tunnel or the Super Sewer, being dug at a much greater depth to the Bakerloo line tunnels, but with the same need to understand the geology through which the tunnel will be bored beneath London, and to transport materials via the river.

Thames Tideway Tunnel

There is a superb aerial view on Google Maps of the above Tideway Tunnel construction site showing the shaft down to the tunnel, which can be found on this link.

The two tunnels of the Bakerloo are each 12 feet in internal diameter, and were located in the gravel bed at a distance of 23 feet apart from the centre of each tunnel. As the tunnels approach the south bank, they move closer and the east bound tunnel will be running vertically over the west tunnel along the old route of College Street. This was done to keep the tunnels within the limits of the street.

Presumably this was done to avoid any damage to the buildings on either side of the street, or to create problems with later construction on the street, where deep cellars may have been built.

To get from College Street to Waterloo underground station, the tunnel crossed Belvedere Road and then routed along Vine Street. This street was also lost during clearance for the Festival of Britain, and in the late 1950s, the Shell Centre complex was built over the site of the street (only the tower block still remains).

I worked in the building during the 1980s, and fortunately working in what would today be called IT (lots of network, radio and telephone cabling), was able to access many of the tunnels built as part of the complex. There were two tunnels between the upstream (with the tower block) and downstream buildings of Shell Centre (on the opposite side of the railway viaduct to Hungerford Bridge). One of these tunnels was for pedestrians, and the other was a service tunnel.

The service tunnel had a raised section which went over the upper tunnel of the Bakerloo line, and it was possible to hear trains rumbling through the tunnels below.

To start construction of the Baker Street and Waterloo railway tunnels, two shafts of cast iron, 16 feet in internal diameter, were sunk from the work platform on the Thames. They reached down 50 feet. I like to assume these cast iron shafts are still below the surface, filled in, as probably too difficult and expensive to remove.

From a chamber at the bottom of the shaft, tunnels were started heading in both directions, with special attention paid to the tunnels under the Thames due to the gravel. The gravel was waterlogged, and at high tide, the combination of river and waterlogged gravel gave a head of 70 feet which created a considerable pressure of water through which the tunnel had to be driven.

A special shield was constructed, weighing 29.5 tons and with an outer steel cylinder of 13 feet in diameter. The shield included 14 hydraulic rams, each 6 inches in diameter, to push the shield forward as the gravel in front of the shield was excavated.

The following diagrams show some of the detail of the shield’s construction, including the hydraulic rams, their controls and the pipes feeding the rams, along with elevations of sections of the shield. Each hydraulic ram could be operated independently

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

Specially constructed iron rings were designed for the tunnel wall under the river. Each ring was 18 inches wide, and constructed of seven segments. Initially, the joints between the rings were machined to give a smooth fit between rings where bolts were inserted to join the two, however this design was soon revised with rough surfaces on the joints, which were then packed with creosoted pine wood (figures 7 and 9 below).

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

Gaps were grouted using a specially designed grouting machine (figure 10 above), which applied the grout at pressure, through special grouting holes, to help make the rings water tight.

The first part of the tunnel was through London Clay, however as the tunnel approached the centre of the Thames, it hit the water bearing gravel shown in the diagram earlier in the post. This required a change in tunneling method.

Compressed air was now used to keep the tunnel pressure at a level slightly higher than the pressure of the water through which the tunnel was being bored. This prevented water entering the tunnel, but required adjusted working conditions for the workers, with shifts reducing from 12 to 8 hour shifts.

Air pressure was also adjusted as the tide above rose and fell as the pressure of the column of water above the tunnel through the gravel and the river changed.

As the air pressure in the tunnel was higher than the water column, air would escape from the tunnel, up through the gravel, and could be seen by those on the side of the river as water spouts, with the position of the spouts changing as the tunnel progressed across the river.

The configuration of the shield needed to change as the shield approached and entered the gravel. The following drawings show the shield as it approached and then went through the gravel (called ballast in the diagrams).

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

Work on the first tunnel commenced on the 19th March 1900. it had taken the previous January and February to construct the shield at the bottom of the shaft. On the 2nd of April, work was stopped to allow the construction of an 8 foot thick bulkhead brick wall in the tunnel. This would form the airlock to the section of the tunnel through the gravel where compressed air would be used.

Tunneling restarted on the 2nd of May and on the 6th of June the shield entered the gravel, and on the 15th July, the tunnel was fully within the gravel.

During the period of tunneling through the gravel, there were a few “blowouts” where water entered the space behind the shield. The design of the shield allowed time for the men working to escape, and provided a means of re-entering sections, and continuing work.

On the 27th September, the tunnel re-entered London Clay, with the last of the gravel seen on the 6th October 1900.

Tests were then carried out by removing the pumped air pressure to check for leaks, repairs carried out and compressed air was ended on the 27th October, with the airlock being demolished in November 1900.

The second tunnel was constructed in 1901, with the majority of the same workers, and using many of the lessons learnt on the first tunnel. This second tunnel was completed separately as the shield from the first tunnel was reused.

There were no deaths during construction, two “illnesses” due to working in compressed air, neither of which appear to have been serious. Workers were provided with hot coffee, clean work clothes, and a place to change before and after work. A doctor was assigned to the project to monitor those working in the part of the tunnels with compressed air.

Figure 11 at the top of the following diagrams highlights the method of tunneling in loose, water-bearing gravel:

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway

The Baker Street and Waterloo Railway commenced services in 1906, from Baker Street to Elephant and Castle. The Middlesex & Surrey Express on March the 9th, 1906 provided a description of the new railway:

“The Bakerloo, London’s new tube railway, running from Baker-street to Kennington-road, will be opened tomorrow. There are intermediate stations at Waterloo, Embankment, Trafalgar-square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Regent’s Park, and a novelty about the new stations is that they are each treated in a separate colour scheme.

A uniform fare of twopence for the whole or any distance is to be charged, and trains will run at frequent intervals from half-past five in the morning until twelve thirty at night. The cars are of the usual type, well lighted, and with good, if not excessive provision made for ‘strap-hangers’ and one can imagine a scramble for straps taking place during the busiest hours. Collisions are rendered practically impossible for a most ingenious system, of automatic signaling has been adopted. Should, however, there be a prolonged breakdown, passengers will be able to leave the trains as a lighted footway has been provided between each stopping place along the whole length of the line.

The booking halls at the various stations are almost palatial in their design, and a feature of the lift accommodation is the use of compressed air in the rapid opening and shutting of the gates. All the wood used in construction has been rendered fire resisting”.

What is not mentioned in any of the news reports covering the opening of the Bakerloo is the tunnel under the river, and the challenges that were overcome in building two rail tunnels through water logged gravel under the Thames.

There was speculation at the time that the depression in the clay was caused by dredging for an earlier tunneling project for the Whitehall and Waterloo Railway.

This was a scheme to build a pneumatic railway in an iron tube under the river, the tube being sunk into the river bed rather than bored. The Railway News on the 20th of May, 1865, provided a description of project;

“THE WHITEHALL AND WATERLOO RAILWAY. Arrangements have now been completed which will admit of the commencement of works of this proposed railway immediately on the necessary Parliamentary powers being obtained. The bill has passed the Commons, it is now unopposed in the Lords and in a few days it may be expected to receive the Royal assent.

The railway is to be worked on the pneumatic principle, and is to be carried under the River Thames from Scotland-yard to the Waterloo Station of the London and South Western. The work must, of course, be finished before the wall of the Thames Embankment on the north side is built up, hence the necessity of pushing forward the preliminary arrangements as quickly as possible.

The railway will be formed by an iron tube, twelve feet in diameter, sunk into the bed of the river and supported in piers – a bridge, in fact, built in, not over the waters. the iron tubes will be made by Messrs. Samuda, and the laying of the tube and the other works will be undertaken by Messrs. Brassey and Co. The principle upon which the line will be worked will be much the same as that adopted on the experimental railway in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. The machinery will be on the Surrey side at the York-road Station.

The whole of the works will be completed in twelve months from the date of commencement. The cost of the undertaking will be about £130,000. The total weight of iron in the tube will be about 5,000 tons, and it will be sunk in four separate sections.”

The project soon ran into financial difficulties, the proposed timescale and costs for the project were hopelessly optimistic. In February 1868, papers were reporting that “The Whitehall and Waterloo Railway is at a complete standstill, and the directors advise the abandonment of the concern, unless, as they say, something turns up between this and the spring. They, of course, hope the South Western will help them in their difficulty, but one would think nothing could be farther from the thoughts of the directors of this company.”

In 1871, the company formed to build the Whitehall and Waterloo Railway was wound up.

The route of this earlier railway did follow much the same route as the later Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, and some parts of the iron tube were found during excavation for the construction of the Shell Centre complex, however I am not sure whether the depression in the London Clay was caused by dredging for this abandoned project.

The shape looks natural, the plan was to dig in the tunnel across the river to bury the iron tube, however the PLA chart shows the change in depth running along the river.

Whether natural or man-made, it was a considerable achievement to bore two tunnels that would become the Bakerloo line, through water bearing gravel, under a considerable head of water, at the start of the 20th century.

If you travel from Embankment Station to Waterloo on the Bakerloo, you will pass through this area of gravel soon after leaving the station.

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Walking the New River – Ware to Cheshunt

I have written about New River Head in a previous post, as well as a number of posts about how water has been key in the development of Clerkenwell and parts of Islington.

New River Head was the point where water delivered by the New River was collected and treated, then sent on through an extensive pipe network to London consumers from the east end to Soho and the west end.

The New River was built in the early 17th century, opening in 1613. A very innovative and complex bit of civil engineering for the time as it transported water from springs near Ware in Hertfordshire all the way to New River Head. Helping to transform London’s water supplies, that had depended on water from the Thames along with small local wells and springs, to a constant, high volume supply of clean water.

What is remarkable is that this 400 year old artificial river is still in use, and for the same purpose. Today, the New River provides around 8%, or 220 million litres a day, of London’s water, so if you live in London, there is a good chance that you have drank or showered in water that has reached you via the New River.

The New River no longer runs to New River Head. It terminates at the east and west reservoirs around Woodberry Wetlands, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.

Starting in 1992, Thames Water created a New River Walk that follows the 28 miles from the source to New River Head. 25 miles follow the river from source to the reservoirs, and a further 3 miles makes up a heritage walk that follows the original route of the New River through to New River Head.

I have long wanted to walk the route from the source of the New River, and a few weekends ago, had the opportunity to spend a weekend walking the New River with a small group from Clerkenwell and Islington Guides and the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, who will be moving into the historic buildings at New River Head.

My post on New River Head and London’s Water Industry covers the history of the New River, so I will not focus on this aspect in this post, however before starting the walk, a quick look at why a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst, who had served in Ireland, in 1602 proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

The following map is a heat map (from the excellent topographic-map.com) showing the height of the land around the town of Ware. Blue the lowest, through green, red and to the highest land shown as white:

Walking the New River

I have circled the source of the New River. It is here where the New River draws water from the River Lee, and where the Chadwell Springs rise and feed the river. The Chadwell Springs were the original source, with the link to the River Lee added later when more water was required to support London’s growing population.

As can be seen in the map, the source is in a low lying area, there are multiple streams running through the area as well as the River Lee which follows the low lying land to the lower right of the map.

The surrounding land rises, and water collects in the area, providing a significant source for the river.

The Chadwell Spring is the original source of water for the New River. The spring is a large pool of water which is filled with water rising from below ground.

The geology of the area is interesting. Some of the water that rises at the spring comes from the Mimmshall Brook, which, ten miles to the west near Hatfield, drains into a sink hole.

The sink hole forms part of a large underground drainage network called a Karsitic network – an area where the underlying chalk has been dissolved by water forming sink holes and sub-surface drainage networks, which around Hertford and east to the Chadwell Springs covers an area of 32 square kilometers.

The geology of the area means that it was a perfect choice for Edmund Colthurst to propose for the source of the river in 1602.

I refer to the River Lee a number of times in the post. The name can be found with spellings of Lee and Lea. The River Lea is frequently used for the natural river and Lee Navigation for parts of the river where it has been turned into a navigable canal. For simplicity I will use River Lee to refer to any part of the Lee / Lea water system.

Now to start walking the route:

Day 1, Ware to Rye House

The first day’s walk was just under 8 miles in length, which included the walk to get to the source of the New River. The route is well served by the rail network, so starting from Ware station, it was a walk to the source following the dotted red line in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walking the New River

The blue circle in the above map marks the location of the Chadwell Spring.

The first day’s walk from the source to Rye House is shown by the red dotted line n the following map:

Walking the New River

After walking from Ware station, along the River Lee, the first sign of the New River comes with New Gauge House on the banks of the River Lee:

Walking the New River

At the side of New Gauge House are two signs, the one on the left is part of the original signage covering the path alongside the river, the sign on the right shows that this is still a working bit of water supply infrastructure, with appropriate safety precautions.

New River Gauge House

Looking west along the River Lee, with New Gauge House on the left, and on the right in the river is the infrastructure that allows water to be drawn off from the Lee into the New River.

River Lee

The following view shows New Gauge House, with the start of the New River coming from the arch below, where water from the River Lee starts its journey south to provide water for the population of London.

New River Gauge House

New Gauge House was built in 1856. The equipment that controls the flow from the Lee is in the ground floor of the building, and accommodation for a Gauge Keeper was in the floor above.

According to the Historic England listing, 22.5 million gallons is taken each day from the Lee into the New River.

Looking south along the start of the walk:

Walking the New River

Looking back along the New River to New Gauge House, slightly hidden by trees, with the higher ground, part of the higher ground that surrounds the area, seen in the background.

Walking the New River

As shown in the heat map at the start of the post, this is a low lying area, with large amounts of water lying across the surface of the land:

Chadwell Spring

Signposting from the creation of the New River Path:

New River Path

A straight stretch of the New River with the A10 road crossing:

Walking the New River

Underneath the A10:

Walking the New River

It is theoretically possible to get to the Chadwell Spring, however the area around the spring is very overgrown and wet, and required a detour from the main path. The Chadwell Spring rises into a circular pool.

This is the view looking in the direction of Chadwell Spring from the walk alongside the New River:

Chadwell Spring

This is the White House Sluice. The building originally contained the equipment to control water levels on the river:

White House Sluice

The most historic building here though is the Marble Gauge photographed below:

Marble Gauge

The Marble Gauge was built in 1770 to control the water taken from a former inlet to the River Lee. Today, the Marble Gauge does not have any function, and water flows through a couple of iron pipes to bypass the structure.

The Marble Gauge was designed by Robert Mylne, the architect and engineer to the New River Company. The structure, along with the railings shown to the left of the above photo are both Grade II listed.

“This Belongs To New River Company” – stone in the undergrowth to the side of the river:

New River Company

When completed in 1613, the Chadwell Spring was the furthest north of the sources feeding the New River. The connection to the River Lee would not come until Parliament approved a 1738 Statute that allowed the company to take up to 102 megalitres a day from the River Lee (a significant additional source compared to the original 10 megalitres a day from the Chadwell and Amwell Springs).

Whilst the River Lee provided a considerable additional supply of water for London, it did not please barge and mill owners who were concerned about the impact that such a loss of water would have on their use of the Lee.

The photo below shows the channel from the Chadwell Spring where it joins the New River:

Chadwell Spring

A significant additional source of water was added to the New River during each of the river’s first three centuries.

During the 17th century, the springs at Chadwell and Amwell provided the water. In the 18th century, water from the River Lee was added, and in the 19th century a number of pumping stations were built along the northernmost stretch of the New River. These pumping stations extracted water from bore holes to add to the river.

The first of these is the Broadmead Pumping Station, built in 1881:

Broadmead Pumping Station

Whilst many of the pumping stations are still in use, Broadmead seems to have been converted to offices, and is currently the offices of a car hire company. The building and adjacent chimney are Grade II listed.

The New River then passes through Ware, just to the south of the station, and continues on parallel to the A1170 London Road:

Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail

In the above photo, there is a concrete wall projecting out into the centre of the river. A small figure can be seen at the end of the wall:

Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail

The figure is part of the Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail, which consists of 31 small bronze sculptures made by a class of 7 and 8 year old children from St John the Baptist Primary School in Great Amwell.

The above sculpture is called “Murphy and his Dog”, by James. The leaflet detailing the trail can be found here.

The river soon moves away from the London Road, and we reach the village of Amwell, where the Amwell Spring adds water to the river. To mark the location, there is a small island in the river:

Walking the New River

The monument in the above view has the following inscription:

Amwell Spring

An appropriate inscription to think about whenever we turn on the tap.

Walking past the island, and at the opposite end is another monument, with a Latin inscription facing the path:

Walking the New River

And the following inscription on the other side of the monument:

Robert Mylne

A short distance along the New River is Amwell Marsh Pumping Station, a Grade II listed building, completed in 1883:

Amwell Marsh Pumping Station

The British Geological Survey have the bore hole record for the boreholes under the pumping station. The record dates from 1899 and details two boreholes 5.25 feet diameter at the top, reducing to 4 feet diameter at the bottom of the boreholes, which are 109 feet deep.

The combined boreholes had a total pumping capacity of just over 7 million gallons in 24 hours, and that when pumping stopped, water rises quickly within the boreholes.

A note in the record shows that the water pumped from below ground is part of a much larger underground water system as the record states “Pumping here affects Amwell springs, Amwell Hill Well and Chadwell spring”, so whilst water can be pumped from the boreholes, the total impact on the water system needs to be considered.

Amwell Marsh pumping station is still extracting water. The steam pumping engine has been replaced with electric, and looking into the New River we can see the turbulence created by water being pumped into the river:

Amwell Marsh Pumping Station

A Metropolitan Water Board sign warning that fishing is strictly prohibited, trespassers and persons throwing stones will be prosecuted, and that any person bathing, washing an animal, or otherwise fouling the water is liable to a penalty of five pounds:

Walking the New River

Not sure of the age of the sign. The Metropolitan Water Board was formed in 1903 when it took over the New River Company. The notice is signed by A.B. Pilling, Clerk of the Board. Pilling was authoring books about the new Chingford reservoir in 1913, so the sign must date from the early decades of the 20th century.

A quiet stretch of the New River:

Walking the New River

Rye Common Pumping Station, another Grade II listed building, constructed in 1882.

Rye Common Pumping Station

As with the other 19th century pumping station on the route, it was originally steam powered, but was converted to electricity in 1935. As can be seen from the water gushing from the pipe into the river, Rye Common is still contributing to the New River and London’s water supplies.

The New River, running alongside a housing estate:

Walking the New River

The New River is now approaching Rye House, with the three chimneys of Rye House Power Station in the distance.

Walking the New River

And at Rye House, the first day of walking the New River ended, with the conveniently located Rye House station a very short walk from the river.

Day 2, Rye House to Cheshunt

Day 2 of walking the New River, a stretch that will take us from where we finished yesterday at Rye House, along the route of the New River to Cheshunt – the route highlighted by red dashes in the following map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walking the New River

An overcast and grey Saturday was followed by a sunny Sunday. Not long after leaving Rye House, the route reached Essex Road Pumping Station (difficult to photograph, just a very small part of the brick wall is on the right of the following photo), with new building on an old industrial site in the background.

Walking the New River

Two large pipes from Essex Road Pumping Station discharging water into the New River:

Essex Road Pumping Station

Essex Road Pumping Station draws water from a borehole beneath the building. The borehole consists of an upper shaft of depth 54 feet and average diameter of 7 feet, followed by a bore hole which extends to a depth of 403 feet below the surface.

The bore hole record demonstrates that there is a considerable volume of water not that far below ground. In 1920, water would rise to a level 2 feet below the surface, and without pumping, this standing water level does not vary.

The record stated that the bore hole would yield 2,160,000 gallons of water a day.

A short distance after Essex Road Pumping Station is a new road bridge that carries Essex Road over the New River:

Walking the New River

The walkway alongside the New River carries on under the bridge, with some appropriate artwork lining the under side of the bridge:

Walking the New River

After passing through some housing and industry around Rye House, the New River regains its rural setting, with views helped by the sunny weather after the previous day’s rather grey walk:

Walking the New River

It is rather hypnotic watching the flow of the water in the river. Leafs and twigs are carried along at the equivalent of a fast walk. The only turbulence at the occasional sluice and where pumping stations add water to the flow.

To the west of this stretch of the New River are some rather nice houses that make the most of having the New River passing the end of their gardens:

Walking the New River

Before returning to a tree lined river:

Walking the New River

We then come to the 1887, Grade II listed, Broxbourne Pumping Station:

Broxbourne Pumping Station

This is a pumping station that is still in use, extracting water from deep below the surface and adding to the New River. Some turbulance can be seen at the right edge of the photo where water is pouring into the river. There are two other pipes pointing onto the river which must have been used in the past, as this was a pumping station that produced a considerable quantity of water.

The bore hole records for the Broxbourne Pumping Station state that there is a shaft below the building to a depth of 197 feet. It is a large shaft of 14 feet diameter at the top down to 10 feet diamter at the bottom. The bore hole record implies that there are additional bores heading out from the shaft.

The 1909 record states that the standing level of water is only 8 feet below the surface, again indicating how high the water table is along the route of the New River. The 1909 record stated: “Great quantity of water, the temporary pumps being drowned in sinking when 2 to 3 million gallons a day were got out. The yield has been returned as 4,500,000 gallons a day”.

There was a chimney at the pumping station which has been demolished, as along with the other pumping stations along the New River, it was converted from steam to electric. There is though a considerable amount of infrastructure to the side of the building. No idea whether this is still in use, however (if you like that sort of thing, which I do), there are some wonderful green painted tanks to the side. The Historic England listing makes no mention of these, only referring to the building.

Broxbourne Pumping Station

It is not just the pumping stations that are listed along the route of the New River, also one of the train stations. This is the rather wonderful Grade II listed Broxbourne Station, built between 1959 and 1961 by the British Railways Eastern Region Architect’s Department:

Broxbourne Station

Broxbourne Station is next to the New River. In the above photo, the New River embankment is the grass seen at the lower left corner.

Whilst this is the closest station to the New River, stations are not that far away for the majority of the walk, and the rail line is here for the same reason as the New River.

The New River needed to follow a route that was almost flat, with a very shallow drop in height from the springs to New River Head. This would ensure a smooth flow of water without any need for pumps.

The valley created by the River Lee and associated water systems had created a relatively low and flat wide channel of land between higher ground on either side.

This enabled the New River to follow the 100 foot contour (height above sea level) almost from source to destination, and the height of the river dropped by only around 20 feet along the entire route. Given the surveying methods and equipment of the early 17th century, it was a remarkable achievement.

This relatively flat land was also ideal for the rail network, which avoided the need to construct tunnels or large embanked routes for the railway, so the New River and railway ended almost parallel to each other.

The following map from topographic-map.com shows the lower land as the blue in the centre, with Walthamstow towards the bottom of the map and Ware at the top. The New River follows the light blue along the left of the blue of the Lee Valley.

Walking the New River

Continuing along the New River into Broxbourne, and the river runs around the church of St Augustine’s.

Broxbourne St Augustine's Church

As the New River Path gets into more built up areas, there are now sections where it is not possible to walk alongside the river. Fortunately these are for short lengths, and a quick diversion is needed to get back to the river.

The following photo shows one such section where the river runs through private gardens, A 1926 road bridge crosses the river.

Walking the New River

In the following photo, the Mylne Viaduct (part of which is the low wall to the left) carries the New River over the Turnford Brook which runs below the New River, left to right.

Walking the New River

The New River has been straightened in places from the original early 17th century route. I have not yet had the time to compare the route today with the original, however I suspect the view in the above photo is of one of the later, straightened sections.

The river is carried on a high earth embankment, which may have been too difficult for the original entirely manual construction method, but easier with later mechanical earth moving.

The New River then passes under the A10. The walkway has a slight diversion through a pedestrian tunnel under the road.

Walking the New River

The New River then returns to a rather rural environment, with a large bush growing over half the river. Not sure how much maintenance of the New River is needed today, or is carried out by Thames Water to keep the course of the river open.

Walking the New River

Although the New River passes through a number of built areas on the way to Cheshunt, it continues with a rather rural appearance with trees lining the banks. Small foot bridges ensure crossing points as the river winds through communities.

Walking the New River

Sluice to manage water levels on the outskirts of Cheshunt:

Walking the New River

Passing alongside a new housing estate:

Walking the New River

The creation of the New River Path dates back to the early 1990s, and the path continues to be well sign posted with only a few places where some careful reference to the map is needed. This may well change as we get into the built areas of north London.

New River Path

At the end of Day 2 – an autumn scene in Cheshunt:

Walking the New River

From here it was a walk into Cheshunt to return home. The end of a brilliant weekend walking the New River.

Each day was just under 8 miles (which included getting to and from each day’s starting and end point). The early stages of the walk around Ware were wet and muddy in places, after Ware the path was mainly dry and easy to walk.

My thanks to those also on the walk for making it such an enjoyable weekend. We have a second weekend booked in a few weeks time, with an aim of walking from Cheshunt to where the New River currently terminates at the East and West Reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road.

The next stage will include the symbolic crossing of the M25, where rather surprisingly the New River crosses over, rather than under the M25.

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Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 2

This post continues my walk exploring the Swanscombe Peninsula. The previous post covered the section marked in red in the following map, and this post covers the route in blue, alongside Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The eastern and southern sides of the Swanscombe Peninsula are more industrialised than the western side, and the noise from these sites is starting to be heard above the breeze blowing through the thick fields of grasses and reeds.

The footpath follows the eastern edge of an area known as Botany Marsh, and the wet nature of the land is very obvious, despite September having slightly less rainfall than the average for the month.

Botany Marsh

Electricity pole in the marsh:

Botany Marsh

In the following photo we can see all the infrastructure needed to carry high voltage electricity across the River Thames. On the left is the pylon on the north bank of the Thames in Thurrock, with slightly to the right, the pylon on the peninsula. These two pylons carry the cables across the Thames. In the middle is the tower catching the descending cables and from this tower cables run off across north Kent.

Botany Marsh

View to the south west across Botany Marsh. More water and the chalk cliffs which are the boundary to the south western edge of the peninsula.

Botany Marsh

The Swanscombe Peninsula has long been the site for large industrial companies that needed access to the river for transport of raw materials, and space for large processing plants. One of these companies in operation today is the Cemex Northfleet Wharf and Concrete Plant:

Cemex

The concrete plant has a wharf on the eastern edge of the peninsula where the raw materials for the manufacturer of concrete, aggregates, asphalt and mortar are landed.

Looking in the opposite direction and the peninsula is still wild and wet. Fortunately I did not need to take this footpath.

Botany Marsh

The western side of the peninsula is more open, however walking along the eastern edge of Botany Marsh, and there are some lovely stretches of footpath, with banks and tall bushes on either side. It feels like walking in the depths of the countryside rather than a site with industry, a Greenhithe housing estate and the Thames all a short distance away.

Botany Marsh

However evidence of industry along the edge is not far away, and the noise of lorries running to and from the plant now compete with the breeze through the grasses.

Cemex

This adds to the wonderful contradictions of the peninsula. look one way to see industry, look the other to see the most wonderful landscapes, with Botany Marsh really living up to its name:

Botany Marsh

The road that provides access to the industrial areas also provides access to the peninsula, with some limited parking for cars. At one of these entrances is an information panel which tells how the peninsula is managed, and the wildlife that can be seen on Botany Marsh:

Botany Marsh

Botany Marsh is subject to land management to maintain the biodiversity of the place. Without management, the land would revert to scrub and woodland. Ditches were cleared and the footpath I have been walking along during this part of the walk was created.

The information panel also explains where much of the water comes from. A system to collect water from 20,000 square metres was installed which increased the water flow into the marshes by up to 10,000 cubic metres a year. The water is run through an oil interceptor to ensure the marsh is not polluted

The rear of the panel provides information on the species of animals that can be found across the marsh, many of which have seen a severe decline in numbers over the last couple of decades. Three of the six reptiles native to Britain are found on Botany Marsh (grass snake, slow worm and vivaparous lizard).

Botany Marsh

Campaigning to save the peninsula from development has included the need to designate the area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The uniqueness of the place, diversity of animal species, the rarity of such a variety of habitats all support an SSSI designation.

In March 2021, an existing SSSI to the south (Bakers Hole – a back filled quarry that was the site of many finds of Stone Age occupation), was extended to include most of the Swanscombe Peninsula.

Consultation on the recommendation to extend the SSSI took place between March and July and a recommendation to the Board of Natural England will be made based on the results. The Board then have until the 10th of December 2021 to either confirm or withdraw the recommendation.

The London Resort are looking at ways that this recommendation can be withdrawn or accommodated within their plans, so the outcome for both the London Resort and the Swanscombe Peninsula is not yet clear.

Map and details of the proposed SSSI are on display at all the main entrances to the peninsula:

As well as the Cemex site, another industrial company on the eastern side of the peninsula is Britannia Refined Metals, a company owned by the multinational Glencore. The company specialises in lead, zinc and tin production.

Britannia Lead

Given the current shortage of HGV drivers, and the poor facilities provided for them, the above photo provides an example. To the right of the photo was a long layby off the road for lorry parking. The blue box behind the site safety sign appeared to be their only toilet facilities.

Britannia Refined Metals was originally formed around 1930 as the Britannia Lead Co. Ltd, and their original brick building is still onsite with the name above what was probably the original main entrance to the site.

Britannia Lead

After having a looking at the industrial side of the peninsula, I walked back to Botany Marsh to continue south along the footpath.

Botany Marsh

Old building on the northern edge of the southern industrial area gradually being overgrown:

Botany Marsh

Although there are some large industrial sites along the eastern side of the peninsula, they are not that visible, apart from the very tall chimney of the Cemex works. More reeds, grasses and water of Botany Marsh.

Botany Marsh

The path I was following south, then turned towards the west, to loop back inland. I suspect it ended up at the flooded footpath shown earlier in the post, so after a lengthy detour, I turned back to access the road at the site of the Britannia factory.

Following this road south took me through an industrial estate, very similar to those that have traditionally lined the River Thames, but I did not expect to find a number of London buses:

Routemaster

This is the site of London Bus and Truck Ltd – “For All Your Bus, Coach & Commercial Vehicle Requirements” and specialists in Routemaster buses which explains the small fleet of buses in their parking area:

Routemaster

A bit of protection for pedestrians from the many HGV’s passing along the road:

Swanscombe peninsula

At the end of the road running through the industrial estate, it meets the A226, or Galley Hill Road, and I followed this busy road to head for Swanscombe station. The road runs across the bridge seen in the distance in some of the photos in today’s posts. The height of the road provides a good view across the Swanscombe Peninsula, and also shows where HS1 enters the tunnel under the peninsula to cross underneath the River Thames:

HS1

HS1 is the high speed railway running for 108km between Paris and St Pancras Station. Regular services started on the route on the 14th November 2007. The entrance on the Swanscombe Peninsula is the start of a one and a half mile tunnel under the Thames.

There are industrial sites lining the southern end of the peninsula, on either side of HS1. These industrial sites are also included in the land required by the London Resort. As development has extended east along the Thames from central London, many of these industrial estates have been closed and built over with housing. They are though a much needed part of economic infrastructure.

HS1

The view from the bridge shows what appears to be grass and bushes over the northern part of the peninsula. It is not really possible to appreciate the natural diversity of the place from this viewpoint and a walk through the site is needed.

The London Resort describe one of the benefits of their proposals as the regeneration of what is largely a brownfield site. This is true, the peninsula has been the location of both industry, the infrastructure needed to support these industries and connect them to the river, along with the dumping of waste from these industries. However just describing Swanscombe Peninsula as a brownfield site does not fully appreciate the site today. A site which has been considerably reclaimed by nature, is home to many endangered species and also retains that sense of isolation that was so prevalent across much of the land along the river to the east of London.

I also like the industrial sites that are found on the east side of the peninsula. They are there because of the river, the river that has transported so many raw materials and finished products across the centuries.

The road bridge taking Galley Hill Road over HS1. This was the exception when there was no traffic. During my walk along the road there was an almost continuous line of cars and lorries.

HS1

The River Thames is always in the background around the peninsula, with shipping moored at, and travelling past Tilbury visible:

River Thames

From the bridge we can view the chalk cliffs that line part of the south western edge of the peninsula:

Swanscombe Skull

There are a number of chalk pits on the peninsula, and the wider Swanscombe area is one of Europe’s most important Paleolithic sites (500,000 BC to 125,000 BC). Finds in the area include hand axes, and what became known as the Swanscombe Skull, which was excavated in Barnfield Pit, a short distance south of the peninsula (part of the extended SSSI). The area also includes evidence from some of the temperate periods between periods of glaciation, or ice ages.

The skull was discovered in 1935 by Alvan T. Marston, one of the many archaeologists who had been working in Swanscombe. He described the discovery as follows:

“For nearly half a century, archaeologists have known the high terrace gravels at Swanscombe, Kent, and in that time have found hundreds of thousands of the early Stone Age hand axes belonging to the Chelles-Acheulean stage, but the constant hope that skeletal remains of the makers of those implements might be found did not become fact until June 1935, when I discovered a human occipital bone 24ft below the surface in the middle gravels of the Barnfield Pit. Nine months later a second bone of the same skull was found, the left parietal, in the same seam of gravel and at the same depth below the surface. The two bones were 8 yards apart, many tons of sand and gravel having to be excavated and examined to bring the second bone to light, and this work is still going on.

Swanscombe is not homo sapiens. It is, as its geological horizon shows, a pre-Neanderthal hominid.”

The Swanscombe Skull © Natural History Museum:

Swanscombe Skull

And with that diversion, I reached Swanscombe station, ready for the train back to Waterloo East:

Swanscombe Station

This is the first time I have been to Swanscombe Peninsula. No doubt the weather helped with first impressions, however it was a fascinating walk through such an interesting area.

This is a place that is incredibly unique. Fresh water marsh to the south and salt water marsh to the north has created different environments, with a wide variety of animal species populating the peninsula.

The peninsula is also very quite, I walked through on a Friday, so it is possibly busier at the weekend, however I saw five people at most, only one close up – a jogger on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Jobs are really important and are needed in north Kent, and it is always a difficult argument, however the planned resort / theme park does seem to be in the wrong place.

It does not occupy the whole of the peninsula, however it would have a dramatic impact on the remaining land. Construction work, drainage, impact on the water table, noise and light would all have an impact on the surrounding environment and animals. Many of these animals are threatened, with, for example, Swanscombe Peninsula being one of only two known places where the jumping spider Attulus distinguendus can be found.

The development would also disrupt the movement of animals between the peninsula and the wider environment.

The board of Natural England have until the 10th of December 2021 to make a decision on the SSSI extension to the peninsula. It will be interesting to see their decision and the impact this may have on plans for the London Resort and the future of Swanscombe Peninsula.

If you get a chance to visit, a walk through Swanscombe Peninsula is a really good day out.

More information on the London Resort (which includes their planning application), the Swanscombe Marshes, and those campaigning against the development can be found at the following links:

The London Resort site is here.

The Save Swanscombe Marshes site is here

And their map with their recommended walking route is here

The Kent Wildlife Trust page on the London Resort development is here.

The Bug Life page on the Swanscombe Marshes is here.

The RSPB page on the marshes is here.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs page with the SSSI documentation is here.

The Natural England page on Swanscombe is here.

A PDF of Natural England’s supporting documentation for the SSSI, including maps, can be found here.

alondoninheritance.com

Swanscombe Peninsula and the London Resort – Part 1

Before heading to the Swanscombe Peninsula, if you would like to explore the Southbank or the Barbican, there are still a few tickets left for my final walks for the year. I have also added a limited number of tickets as many walks have already sold out. Click here for details.

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you will probably be aware of my interest in the River Thames. Not just the part through the city, but the whole of the river, out to the estuary. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and has been the route for the trade that made the city so successful.

Just over a week ago, on probably the last, hot and sunny day of a late summer, I went to the Swanscombe Peninsula. A place that is currently threatened with some significant development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is a large area of land, pushing out into the river, well to the east of the city. According to the Kent Past website, the name comes from the Old English “camp” meaning a “field, an enclosed piece of land”, along with the Danish name of Swaine, so Swanscombe could have originated as describing “Swaine’s enclosure’’.

The area of the peninsula is 205 Hectares, or 506 Acres. In the following map, I have circled Swanscombe Peninsula in red (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)..

Swanscombe Peninsula

The western part of the peninsula has long been seen as a development opportunity, and in the Strategic Planning Guidance for the River Thames (1997), the area was identified as a “riverside opportunity for an urban village”. Current plans are for a very different use as a considerable part of the Swanscombe Peninsula is currently planned to be developed as the London Resort, described on the project’s website as a “world-class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort known as the ‘London Resort’, on the banks of the River Thames”.

The London Resort will also be the “first European development of its kind to be built from scratch since the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992”.

Development of the London Resort will bring considerable investment into the area and many, much needed jobs.

The London Resort has been planned for many years, in 2008 it was designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, however there have been a number of delays, and major supporters of the project have withdrawn and also rejoined over the years.

Plans for development now seem to be making progress, and the London Resort’s website claims a start date of 2022, with the first part of the resort opening in 2024, and the site being complete by 2029.

If I have understood the planning documents correctly, the core of the London Resort is shown outlined in red in the following map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The red rectangle covers pier developments as numbers of people travelling to the resort are expected to come via the river, and land on the opposite side of the river in Tilbury is being being included in this scheme.

Whilst the map shows the core of the resort, there will be considerable additional surrounding development, bath in support of the resort, and as the large number of visitors and supporting businesses draw in additional development.

The Swanscombe Peninsula is not a pristine, natural environment. It has long been surrounded by the type of dirty industrial complexes that were to be found to the east of London. Paper Milling, Cement Production and Lead Refining were some of the industries that could be found here, and their impact extended over the peninsula, for example rail tracks extending to river piers.

The site has also been used for waste disposal, gas works, a sewage works, and in recent decades provides the infrastructure for a high-voltage electricity crossing of the river, and where the HS1 railway linking St Pancras with the Channel Tunnel dives under the Thames.

The following extract from a mid 1950s Ordnance Survey map shows the peninsula, with industry covering the southern boundary. Note also the split between the Broadness Salt Marsh and Swanscombe Marshes where a drain was constructed to recover the southern parts of the peninsula (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To visit the site, I took the train from Waterloo East to Greenhithe. I planned to follow the recommended route on the Save Swanscombe Marshes website, which can be found here.

Starting at Greenhithe Station, an almost circular walk would take me to Swanscombe Station to catch the train back to Waterloo East. I ended up walking almost six miles, by taking some detours and also on the eastern side of the peninsula, I carried on along a footpath rather than turn onto the road, the footpath almost took me back around the peninsula.

There is so much to be found in the area. I got distracted in Greenhithe, found where the Cutty Sark was moored, saw some wonderful electrical infrastructure, and was just stunned by the beauty of the place, and whilst much could be described as a brownfield site, it shows how nature can recover and reestablish.

I have split today’s post about the Swanscombe Peninsula into two separate posts. One at the usual time this morning, and a second post later this evening. I will also include a number of links for further information at the end of the second post.

So, for the first post, I am starting at Greenhithe Station (blue circle to left) and covering the route marked by the blue line.

Swanscombe Peninsula

To reach the western end of the peninsula, I walked through Greenhithe to get close to the river. Greenhithe is a historic, small town, where the streets alongside the river reflect the towns early relationship with the river.

The name has similarities to Queenhithe in the City, with “hithe” meaning a wharf or landing place. It seems that Green just refers to the town as being a green landing place.

There were wharves, ships were built and maintained, goods and people transferred between ships and land.

In Greenhithe High Street is the Sir John Franklin pub, named after the commander of the expedition that sailed from Greenhithe on the 19th of May 1845, in the Erebus and Terror, to try and find a north west passage across the top of Canada, between the Atlantic and Pacific. Greenhithe was the last place that the crew would set foot in England. After a final sighting on the 26th July 1845, the two ships and their crew, including Sir John Franklin, were not seen again.

Sir John Franklin

A newspaper report on the 20th May 1845 describes their departure along the Thames;

“The Erebus, Captain Sir John Franklin, and the Terror, Captain Crozier, left Woolwich on Monday, towed by the African and Myrtle steamers, for Greenhithe. The Terror having previously tried her screw-propeller, on this occasion resolved on trying it again, and made such excellent progress, that she cast off her towing steamer and proceeded down the river without any additional assistance whatever. The crews of the Erebus and Terror were paid in advance today and tomorrow (Saturday) sail for their destination, accompanied by the Monkey and Rattler steam-vessels, ordered to tow them to the Orkney islands. The Baretto Junior transport with live stores and various descriptions of preserved meats and other articles, most liberally supplied for the use of the officers and men of the discovery vessels, will be sent at the same time, and accompany them to the borders of the ice. The compasses of the vessels have been adjusted by Captain Johnson, and the most perfect arrangements made for the peculiar service in which the vessels of the Artic expedition are to be engaged.”

I have written more about the expedition, and the search for the crew in a post on the The Bellot Memorial at Greenwich.

At the back of the Sir John Franklin pub is one of the old wharfs, now a rectangular inlet, with new housing on one side and an old, decaying boat below.

Greenhithe

As well as the name of the pub, Greenhithe High Street retains other links with the previous life of the town (assuming the sign is genuine, and not a modern creation).

Greenhithe

There are some wonderful old houses in the High Street, and it is a lovely place to walk on a sunny, September day, however in the 18th century, this would not be a very safe place to be when the press gangs were roaming as this report from a number of newspapers on the 24th May 1740 indicates: “On Tuesday there was a smart Pres on the River below Bridge, that from the little Town of Greenhithe they have taken no less than 17 Men for the King’s Service”.

Greenhithe

Before the High Street takes a sharp right to turn in-land, there is another pub, this is the Pier Hotel:

Greenhithe

In the first half of the 19th century there was an attempt to turn Greenhithe into a tourist destination, perhaps trying to attract the boats passing on the river that were starting to take Londoners out of the city for a day trip to Southend or Margate.

This included the construction of a short pier, shown in the following drawing by Henry Cole, dated 1836:

Greenhithe Pier

To get back to the river, and continue on to the peninsula, I walked past the Pier Hotel, and took a quick look down to the river, where there is a rather hidden red telephone box, before taking a cut through to the river walk.

Greenhithe

From where there is a superb view of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, part of the M25 Dartford crossing:

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

And looking in the opposite direction, I could see my destination, the peninsula curving out into the river, with the electricity pylon a clear landmark of where I was heading.

Swanscombe Peninsula

This stretch of the river has a walkway with superb views across the river. In the following photo I am looking back towards Greenhithe. This stretch of the river has had a considerable amount of building over the last few decades, with a large housing estate on the left, facing onto the river:

Thames Walkway

View in the opposite direction, towards my destination:

Thames Walkway

Part of the land on which the housing in the above two photos was built, originally formed part of the Ingress Estate, an ancient manor that once belonged to the Priory of Dartford.

in 1833, an Elizabethan style house was built on the site and named Ingress Abbey, allegedly using stones from London Bridge which had been demolished in 1831. The house was surrounded by land, including land sloping down to the river. When researching the site, I found the following photo from the Britain from Above archive:

Cutty Sark

The photo is dated 1939. Ingress Abbey can be seen looking down to the river, where two ships are moored. The larger ship is HMS Worcester which at the time operated as the Thames Nautical Training College. The smaller ship is the Cutty Sark which at the time was also part of the training college, operating as an auxiliary cadet training ship. The Cutty Sark would continue in this role, before being moved to Greenwich.

Walking further towards Swanscombe Peninsula, and the walkway changes, now with a high concrete wall protecting the housing from the river.

Thames Walkway

Not sure what these rails in the base of the walkway are, possibly left over from the site’s industrial activity:

Thames Walkway

As well as the land of Ingress Abbey, the housing in the second above photo was built on a large industrial site, the Empire Paper Mills. I have highlighted the paper mills within the red oval in the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills included a large jetty projecting into the Thames. This was used to receive raw materials from cargo ships, that were then transported to the mill for processing. Completed products were then sent via the rail network, and a rail line can just be seen leaving the lower left of the mills, heading to the mainline at Greenhithe.

The following photo from Britain from Above shows the scale of the paper mills in 1927. The Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the background:

Swanscombe Peninsula

The paper mills continued into the early 1990s, but were struggling to operate and make money. They finally closed in 1992, and in the decades that followed the site was cleared and is now occupied by housing.

The following photo, also from 1927, is looking west, with the paper mills, the grounds of Ingress Abbey and at the top right of the photo, the town of Greenhithe:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the above photo, part of Swanscombe Peninsula can be seen in the lower left half of the photo. Part of the space is occupied by Cricket and Sports grounds, showing how there has long been a degree of human influence on the peninsula.

Also in the above photo, there is a triangular inlet from the river where the paper mills meets the peninsula. This inlet is still there today, and is where the river walkway ends with steps up to Swanscombe Peninsula.

Swanscombe Peninsula

Walking up the steps, and I was finally on Swanscombe Peninsula:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A raised bank protects this part of the western side of the peninsula from the river. One of the old piers from the area’s industrial past juts out into the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along this stretch there are two raised banks, with a low lying ditch between:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Windswept bushes line the river:

Swanscombe Peninsula

A good view of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. It is only from viewpoints such as this that you can appreciate the length of the central section and the two slender towers that provide support.

Queen Elizabeth II bridge

Below the bridge, to the lower right can be seen the red and white of the Stoneness Lighthouse, a working lighthouse on a piece of land jutting out into the river. This model of the lighthouse will soon be replaced. The Port of London Authority have issued a Notice to Mariners that from the 29th September, work will begin to replace the lighthouse, and that it will be out of operation until the 9th of October.

Inter-tidal mud and grasses:

River Thames

The above photo highlights how important an area with low lying marsh is along the river, and will be in the future with expected rises in the level of the Thames on the eastern side of the Thames Barrier where water levels will rise, as the barrier protects the city.

Looking inland, and this part of the peninsula is covered with dense, tall grasses and reeds:

Industrial Archeaology

There are two, rusting towers visible in the above photo. To the south of the peninsula was a large cement works, and the towers were part of an aerial cableway that stretched from a wharf and pier on the river to the cement works and was used to transport materials between ships in the Thames and the factory. The cable operated alongside a railway between wharf and factory.

I have highlighted the route of the cableway which is marked on the following extract from the 1966 Ordnance Survey map:

Industrial Archeaology

Closer view of one of the towers, showing one of the cables that once ran along the route carrying materials to and from the cement factory:

Industrial Archeaology

As well as the factory to the south of the peninsula, and the transport system across the peninsula, the production of cement was also responsible for the legal dumping of cement kiln dust, which has raised the height of the land in some western parts of the peninsula.

Looking to the right of the above view, and there is a dense area of grass growth up to a distant tree and bush line:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Along the inland base of the second bank is a road which runs up to the location of the old wharf and pier:

Swanscombe Peninsula

An open barrier still stands as the land around is reclaimed by nature:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Track leading to the location of the old wharf and pier:

River Thames

Which unfortunately appears to have a double row of fencing restricting access:

River Thames

Getting closer to the electricity pylon:

Swanscombe Peninsula

There are a number of tracks which make it clear that parts of the peninsula are private land and that these tracks are not public footpaths:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Exploring tracks on a warm September day:

Swanscombe Peninsula

In the following photo, I am looking inland. There are a number of large areas of water, and in the distance on the left is the bridge that carries the A226, London Road, and on the right, the white chalk cliffs can be seen, highlighting that the site has been subject to extensive chalk quarrying:

Swanscombe Peninsula

Strange to come across some Network Rail infrastructure in a small, fenced compound. The reason for this will be come clear in the second post on Swanscombe Peninsula.

Network Rail

Although much of this part of the peninsula is covered with dense grasses, reeds and low bushes and trees, these can be deceiving as the area is also very wet, with water appearing in clear pools which emerge from the grass:

Swanscombe Peninsula

As well as walking, the peninsula is a place to just stop and enjoy what is a very special place. There is plenty of insect life both within and away from the water. My insect identification skills are almost non-existent, however I hope I am right in claiming the following photo is of a dragonfly, one of many that were around me in the above photo.

Dragonfly

The main landmark on the peninsula is the electricity pylon:

Electricity Pylon

The pylon is one of a pair that support cables spanning the Thames. The other pylon is on the north bank of the river, and they carry several 400,000 Volt (400kV) electricity circuits, transporting power across the country.

They were built in 1965, and are 623 feet (190 metres) in height, apparently the tallest in the country. The height was needed to ensure sufficient clearance for the cables above the River Thames so the river is clear for shipping. Not just the height of the ship, but also to provide enough distance between cable and ship, so the high voltages carried by the cables would not arc between cable and ship.

The cables running over the Thames, connect to the grid network north of the Thames that transports electricity into London. From Swanscombe, the cables run towards east Kent where there were former coal fired power stations, which have been replaced by gas, as well as undersea interconnector cables to the Netherlands and Belgium which land on the Isle of Grain and near Richborough in Kent.

The height of the tower, along with the two platforms on the tower has resulted in the tower being popular with base jumpers – people who jump with a parachute from a high structure. In March 2006, one base jumper died at Swanscombe when it appears his parachute failed to open.

That is a sport I could not imagine ever attempting, however I really do like these structures.

Following photo shows the platform at the very top of the 623 feet tower, along with some of the insulators that carry the cables. These are of some length as they need to separate the 400kV running through the cables from the metal of the tower.

Electricity Pylon

The cables from the top of the tower then run down to a smaller tower that separates and routes them off to more traditional electrical pylons.

Electricity Pylon

A sideways view of the above tower shows a work of industrial art:

Electricity Pylon

I have now reached the end of the blue line in my map of the route through the Swanscombe Peninsula. The post covering part two of my walk through this very special place, the industry on the eastern edge, HS1, the wildlife of the peninsula, the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest along with links to further sources of information will be sent out this evening.

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The Death of the London Telephone Box

Before exploring the London Telephone Box, an update on the walk exploring Islington’s place in the history of London’s water supply and some of the original buildings at New River Head, that I wrote about in a post a couple of week’s ago. I will be guiding on some of these walks and whilst most of walks have now sold out, the only walk that has tickets remaining is on Friday 10th September (PM). They can be booked here.

I cannot remember the last time I used a telephone box, or when I last saw anyone else using one. The mobile phone has effectively killed off the need to find a telephone box, yet they are still to be found across the city.

I have a number of photographic themes when walking London’s streets and for the last couple of years, London’s telephone boxes has been added to my theme list. So long a key part of the city’s street infrastructure, I wonder for how long they will survive.

The majority do not work, many have had their phone equipment removed, and many are not in a state that you would wish to stand in and make a call, even if they did work.

Some have found new uses. The most common being advertising as they are often in prime street locations, with full length advertising covering their windows.

The original red telephone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a design he entered into a Post Office competition in 1924. The model K2 telephone box was the result, which first appeared on the streets of London in 1926. He would then update the design to the K6 which first appeared in 1934 and is the traditional red telephone box we see across the streets of the city.

There have been many modifications, and significant redesigns, the majority of these coming after the Post Office / British Telecom was privatised in the 1980s.

The technology in the phone box has changed over the years. I can just remember the manual method of paying for a call when you had to Press Button A to put coins into the phone to make a call, then if the call was not answered, Press Button B to return the coins.

Having the right change for a phone call was always a problem, and hearing the dreaded pips when the money was running out and you had no more change was a challenge for calls of more than a few minutes.

There are some 2,390 telephone boxes which have been listed by Historic England. The majority are Grade II, but some Grade II*. Historic England have a spreadsheet available for download here, which details the location of all listed telephone boxes.

I have to admit to finding telephone boxes rather scary. I know exactly why. As a young teenager I watched the short 1972 Spanish horror film La Cabina, or the telephone box on TV. It is why whenever I used a telephone box I would always keep my foot in the door, to keep it slightly open. The film is on Reddit, here.

So, still never letting a door shut me in a phone box, here are a selection of photos of London telephone boxes, starting with Charterhouse Square:

Telephone Box

Grade II listed (the larger K6 models) telephone boxes at Smithfield Market:

Smithfield Market

One of the modern versions of the telephone box, also showing how so many of these are now used for advertising. This one is in Aldersgate Street:

Aldersgate Street

Advertising is a potentially profitable business for the reuse of telephone boxes. They are in locations where they are easy to be seen, and where there is a high footfall, so they originally could be found when you wanted to make a call. These original reasons for locating a phone box also apply to sites where advertising works best, and as advertised on the phone box in the photo below, at the junction of London Wall and Moorgate, there is a company (Redphonebox Advertising) that specialises in this new use.

Telephone Box

Perhaps the most photographed telephone box in London is this one in Great George Street / Parliament Square:

Parliament Square

Before Covid, there would frequently be queues of tourists waiting to get their photo taken in a London red phone box with the Elizabeth Tower, or more probably Big Ben to those taking photos, in the background.

With the lack of tourists this phone box is now much quieter, and looking inside, even in such a prominent position, the telephone does not work, with the front panel being pulled away from the rear.

Telephone Box

The following telephone boxes in Parliament Street are also a frequent destination for those wanting a photo with a phone box.

Parliament Street

The following phone box is by the side of Grosvenor Road:

Telephone Box

Internally, whilst the phone still has power, and the display reads BT Payphones, there is no chance of talking to anyone with the vandalised handset:

Telephone Box

This view of the telephone box shows changing street furniture. The old, unused telephone box alongside a TfL cycle dock:

Telephone Box

The above telephone box was made by Walter Macfarlane & Co, at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. It seems the company took on the manufacture of phone boxes in the late 1940s after their traditional markets started to disappear. The foundry closed, and the site demolished in 1967, however the company has left their mark on multiple telephone boxes across London:

Telephone Box

Outside Pimlico Station:

Pimlico Station

Duncannon Street, looking towards Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery:

Telephone Box

St Martins Lane, opposite the Duke of York’s theatre:

Telephone Box

Great Newport Street:

Telephone Box

The large blue plaque in the above photo records that the artist Joshua Reynolds lived there between 1753 and 1761.

Charing Cross Road, looking up towards the junction with Shaftsbury Avenue:

Charing Cross Road

The telephone box in the following photo is in St Giles High Street with the church of St Giles in the Fields in the background. The door was left open, and at the time, it was not a phone box you would want to make a call from, even if it was working.

St Giles high Street

Shaftesbury Avenue:

Telephone Box

Bloomsbury Street, opposite the Bloomsbury Street Hotel:

Telephone Box

As with many telephone boxes across London, despite being in Bloomsbury Street, the phone box is used as a litter bin. The telephone equipment has been removed.

Telephone Box

Outside the British Museum:

British Museum

Telephone boxes have been converted to other uses. In Russell Square, two have been converted to a take away coffee shop:

Italian Tiranisu and Coffee Shop

Known as the Italian Tiramisu and Coffee Shop:

Russell Square Gardens

Walking further around Russell Square Gardens and there are another three, which according to the Historic England spreadsheet are Grade II listed:

Russell Square Gardens

At the entrance to Regent Square Gardens on Regent Square:

Regent Square

Looking inside the Regent Square Garden’s telephone box:

Regent Square

At the junction of Euston Road and North Gower Street:

Euston Road

Upper Street, Islington:

Upper Street

Across the road from the above phone box is the following:

Islington

Waterloo Place, looking up towards Piccadilly Circus:

Waterloo Place

The Strand, close to Charing Cross Station:

Charing Cross Station

Opposite Charing Cross Station are these four telephone boxes:

Charing Cross station

They are usually more obvious, however the black hoardings to their right are slightly obscuring them.

Hard to imagine seeing a row of four, empty telephone boxes, however they were sited together in an area of frequent use. In a high footfall area, between the Strand, Charing Cross Station, Trafalgar Square and the theatres of the West End, they would have attracted a considerable number of users.

When I commuted into and out of London during the 1980s, train distruption would always lead to long queues at the phone boxes as the only means of communicating with those at home, or who you were to meet, that you would be late.

Later conversions of telephone boxes have tried to keep them relevant, however Internet access on a mobile phone renders WiFi from a phone box a failed model for their continued use.

Telephone Box

These two telephone boxes are Grade II listed, so even if there are no customers who have an urgent need to make a telephone call from in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, they will probably be here long into the future:

St Paul's cathedral

In the triangle of land where St Martin’s le Grand meets Cheapside:

Telephone Box

Telephone boxes advertising the time when cards as well as coins could be used to pay for a call:

Telephone Box

Euston Road:

Euston Road

Outside St Pancras Station, with the sex work adverts that were once common across central London telephone boxes:

St Pancras

I titled this post the Death of the London Telephone Box, however that is not quite true. Many of them are listed so presumably will be around for years to come, and they are valuable assets as an advertising platform, however what they will not be used for is their original purpose of making telephone calls.

What is clear is that many are not maintained or cleaned. I have found very few that actually work. Many have had their equipment removed, others have been vandalised and many of the remainder are just dead.

I suspect the majority of people under the age of thirty have never used a telephone box, and find the concept of a fixed, wired phone rather antiquated.

They are a left over from a time when the only way to make a call when out on the streets was from a telephone box. When you needed to call for a lift home late at night, meet with friends, change an appointment, check on a place to meet, or just simply calling someone for a chat, the red telephone box was an essential part of street infrastructure.

One of my other photographic themes is information panels, intended to show the passerby what can be seen in the area. I walked by this one a couple of weeks ago, close to the Bank junction:

Bank junction

The plaque was unveiled by the Queen in October 2002, and shows the City’s skyline as it was, just 19 years ago,

Thr highlighted buildings include the London Stock Exchange, Tower 42 (the old NatWest Tower), 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) and the Lloyds of London building.

it is a strange location as none of these buildings can be seen from the location of the plaque. I cannot remember if it has been moved from a different location. The “You Are Here” label on the map implies it is in its original location.

Bank junction

Walking further into the Bank junction and only Tower 42 remains visible, although now partly obscured.

Bank junction

London’s streets will continuously change, as technologies change as do the buildings lining the streets.

As with the transition from telephone boxes to mobile phones, there seems to be another transition gradually underway with the introduction of low traffic neighbourhoods, closure of many city streets to vehicles, cycle lanes etc.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the city’s recovery from the pandemic, Does it enhance the city, or restrict its viability as a place to work.

In future, will the car in a city be seen the same as a telephone box today, an essential in the past, irrelevant in the future?

alondoninheritance.com

Churchill Gardens and Battersea Power Station

If you travel along Grosvenor Road, the road that runs along the Thames embankment in Pimlico, opposite Battersea Power Station, you may catch a glimpse of a tall, round tower between the blocks of flats that form the Churchill Gardens estate.

It looks rather out of place. An industrial construction within an area dedicated for residential housing. It is now 70 years old, and is the remains of an innovative solution to make use of waste heat from Battersea Power Station to warm the homes of those living on the opposite bank.

Churchill Gardens

The tower is the most visible part of a highly complex system, that took hot water from Battersea Power Station, pumped it under the Thames through specially constructed pipes, stored water in the tower, then distributed it across both the Churchill Gardens and Dolphin Square estates for heating and hot water.

The system is described in considerable detail in a book published in 1951 for the Festival of Britain by the Association of Consulting Engineers. A large book that celebrates the work of civil engineering and construction across a wide range of projects.

The introductory paragraph to the section on the Churchill Gardens project provides an excellent description:

“In the ancient City of Westminster, almost within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, so severely damaged by German bombers in 1942, great blocks of new flats are rising to meet the needs of London’s teeming millions, thousands of whom are still living in bomb-shattered houses built a century ago.

It is perhaps indicative of Britain’s will to survive and to surmount her economic troubles, that this great new housing estate, together with, it is expected an existing group of flats – probably the largest in Europe – is to have complete space heating and water heating by means of a district heating plan, thus banishing the dust and drudgery of the open coal fire, and the nuisance caused by the delivery and removal of fuel and ash for each block of flats. This plant is unique in two respects: it’s the first public heat supply in London, and it is also London’s first district heating plant wherein the heat is the byproduct of electricity generation. By this means the thermal efficiency of electric generating stations may be raised from its present figure of 25 per cent, to a figure approaching 75 per cent, for stations generating both electricity and heat.”

The section in the book is titled “District Heating Scheme, Pimlico Housing Estate and Dolphin Square”, as at the time the book was put together, the estate had not yet been given the name of Churchill Gardens.

The book includes diagrams and photos of the project.

In the following diagram, we can see Battersea Power Station at lower left, pipes leading under the river to the Churchill Gardens estate which is bounded by Lupus Street, Claverton Street, Grosvenor Road, and Westmoreland Terrace on the western boundary (now an extension of Lupus Street).

Churchill Gardens District Heating System

In the lower centre of the estate is the tower, labelled as the “Hot Water Accumulator”. Dolphin Square, which also received hot water from the scheme is to the right.

The pipes under the Thames were installed in a pre-existing Metropolitan Water Board tunnel, and they consisted of 12 inch bore pipes for feeding water from Battersea and pipes for the return of water. They were insulated by being covered in 2 inches of compressed cork.

The water sent from Battersea Power Station was up to a maximum of 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius) and was stored in the tower, or to use its correct name, the “Hot Water Accumulator” before being distributed across the estate.

Hot water was fed directly to radiators for heating and to a calorifier for hot tap water (a calorifier is basically a coil of pipe inside a tank of water allowing heat to be transferred between the two, so water from the mains supply was delivered at the tap, rather than water from the power station).

The purpose of the tower was to store a sufficient supply of hot water to balance demand, for example when there was higher demand than could be provided immediately through the pipes under the river.

Water temperature was regulated by the injection of the cooler return water to the hot water as by the time water had been used to heat the estate and it was being pumped back to Battersea, it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit cooler then originally sent.

The following diagram shows the supply chain from power station to flats:

District Heating System

The hot water accumulator tower, along with the rest of the heating system was constructed at the same time as the rest of the Churchill Gardens estate:

Churchill Gardens

The system had a number of safeguards built in as the Ministry of Health required assurance that the system would prevent the release of water at 200 degrees onto anyone who was working on the system. This included measures such as automatic stop valves which would operate when a fall in pressure was detected.

The outer surface of the tower consists of a steel framework with translucent glass panels.

Within the tower was the accumulator vessel which was 126 feet in height, and 29 feet in diameter. Constructed of mild steel plates and with a 3 inch layer of cork to provide insulation.

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The project would save a considerable amount of coal, with the text in the book calculating a total of 10,000 tons of coal saved each year by taking the waste hot water from Battersea Power Station.

The amount of heat supplied to the individual flats across the estate was not measured, and a standard charge was applied to all residents for the service. For other buildings, the charge was based on the surface area of the installed radiators.

The hot water accumulator tower, and the first blocks of flats on the estate on the day of the official opening in 1951:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

The following map shows the area today, with the Churchill Gardens estate within the red box, Dolphin Square with the blue box, and the hot water accumulator tower marked by the orange circle. Battersea Power Station is across the river marked by the light blue box (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Churchill Gardens

I went for a walk through the Churchill Gardens estate to find the accumulator tower and to take a look at the estate. Starting at the eastern side of the estate, I walked through the road that runs through the centre of the estate – Churchill Garden Road.

This is the view looking into the estate from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Map of the estate at the entrance from Claverton Street:

Churchill Gardens

Along with an early speed limit sign:

Churchill Gardens

The A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk mentioned on the speed limit sign was Sir Alan Dawtry, who was town clerk, then chief executive of Westminster City Council from 1956 to 1977. He lived for 61 years in the nearby Dolphin Square complex and was instrumental in saving the building when in the 1960s the company that owned Dolphin Square was going through financial problems, and there was a risk that the buildings would be sold off and converted to a hotel.

The above sign probably dates from the later part of the 1950s, as the estate was being completed.

Pre-war, the area occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate had consisted of industrial buildings and terrace houses. Bomb damage during the war, and the slum conditions of the housing meant that the area was ideal for redevelopment.

The 1943 County of London plan had proposed the development of large, well planned estates, and at the end of the war, Westminster City Council launched a competition for the design of a new estate.

The competition was won by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, who were also responsible for the design of the Skylon for the Festival of Britain, the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster and the Museum of London building at London Wall.

The winning design by Powell and Moya included buildings with a variety of heights, consisting of eleven storey blocks to three and four storey houses and maisonettes. This was intended to break up any monotony across the estate, and to attract a broad cross section of residents.

Gardens and playgrounds would be provided between the buildings, and to address the urgent need for post war housing, the estate was designed to accommodate a high density of 200 people per acre, which was the maximum allowed at the time.

The first part of the estate that we reach from Claverton Street was the last finished. Built in the early 1960s, this part of the estate makes more use of glass than the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

One of these 1960 to 1962 blocks crosses Churchill Garden Road, almost creating the impression of a gateway to the rest of the estate:

Churchill Gardens

Looking along Churchill Garden Road, we can see the main blocks of flats:

Churchill Gardens

The road curves as it runs through the estate, so the main blocks of flats do not form a continuous wall along the road. They are also aligned north – south so as to maximise the amount of day light that would fall on their main east – west facing windows.

The blocks that were built during the first phase of construction, from 1946 up to 1951 have large, glazed stairways protruding from the sides of the blocks. Later blocks would have galleries running along the length of the blocks.

Churchill Gardens

Well kept gardens between the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

Shelley House with a glimpse of the hot water accumulator tower to the right:

Churchill Gardens

In the above photo, a blue plaque can be seen on the wall.

Shelley House was one of the first four blocks completed by 1950 and the blue plaque is a Festival of Britain Award for Merit granted to these first blocks. These four blocks (Chaucer House, Coleridge House, Shelley House and Keats House) along with Gilbert House and Sullivan House on the western edge of estate, and the accumulator tower are also Grade II listed, and indeed the whole estate has been designated as a conservation area.

The Festival of Britain Award for Merit:

Festival of Britain

Looking back along Churchill Garden Road, and the block on the left has another plaque:

Churchill Gardens

This plaque marks the official opening of the estate on the 24th July 1951 when the first phase of the estate, including the hot water accumulator tower, had been completed:

Churchill Gardens

In the 1951 book by the Association of Consulting Engineers, the estate was called the “Pimlico Housing Estate”, as the estate had not yet been given an official name. A newspaper article in the Westminster and Pimlico News dated the 23rd March 1951 provides the sources of the name:

“It was disclosed at Westminster Council meeting that the name ‘Churchill Gardens’ was the brainwave of Housing Committee chairman, Councilor Miss Paton Walsh.

Mrs. Winston Churchill has agreed to perform the opening ceremony of the estate and of the district heating undertaking on Thursday, July 19.

Miss Paton Walsh pointed out that Mr. Churchill had many connections with Westminster in that he had lived and worked there and he was also their first honorary freeman of the city.”

The official opening covered the first phase of the estate and construction would continue into the 1960s. The 1950s were a difficult time for construction as there were so many competing demands for workers and materials as post war reconstruction gathered pace. This was also having an impact on Churchill Gardens as this article from the 3rd of August, 1951 edition of the Westminster and Pimlico News reported:

“Heartbreaking – It will be heartbreaking for home-seekers if flats at Churchill Gardens are held up while huge Government buildings started in the city are favoured and supplied with all the steel they need.

Sir Harold Webbe, Westminster’s MP attended the opening of Churchill Gardens. He is fully acquainted with the position. If there is a grave delay in the building of these flats he will undoubtedly use his influence in an effort to get things moving.”

Although the streets and houses that Churchill Gardens replaced had suffered bomb damage, with many regarded as slums, they were still occupied, and people were only moved when building had reached their part of the future estate. In 1959, contractors were preparing for demolition of the houses on the eastern edge of the estate ready for construction of the blocks that would be built in the early 1960s, however as the Westminster and Pimlico News reported on the 31st July 1959, there could still be delays:

“Demolition of houses in Claverton Street and Ranelagh Road, Pimlico on the site of Section IV of Churchill Gardens housing estate depends on rehousing the families still there.

Ald. C.P. Russell, chairman of the housing committee, said this at the Westminster Council meeting in a reply to a question put by Cllr. O.M. Boyd.

If rehousing proceeded at the anticipated rate, he expected demolition to start in the sprint of 1960.”

Another plaque from A.G. Dawtry. Town Clerk, this time banning Hawkers, Canvassers and Street Musicians, along with cycling on paths, throwing stones or other missiles, and that exercising dogs on the paths and lawns is not allowed.

Churchill Gardens

It is at this point in the estate that we meet the hot water accumulator tower:

Hot Water Accumulator Tower

At the base of the accumulator tower are buildings that house equipment for the heating system.

The supply of hot water from Battersea Power Station ended in 1983, when the final generators at the power station closed.

The system supplying heat to Churchill Gardens was then converted to what we would now call as District Heat and Power system. In the buildings at the base of the accumulator tower are boilers along with heat and electricity generating systems which produce heat for distribution across the estate, along with electricity which is fed into the National Grid, which provides revenue to help subsidise the costs of the system.

A poor view through the fence into the equipment rooms at the base of the tower, along with a graphic of the tower on the glass:

Churchill Gardens

The range of the system has extended from the original 1951 installation. As well as Churchill Gardens, the system now provides heating for Abbots Manor, Russell House and Lillington Gardens, with 5km of underground pipes serving 3,250 homes along with schools and commercial premises.

Another view of the equipment rooms, with the brick base of the hot water accumulator tower in the right:

Churchill Gardens

When you get up close, you can see that the tower is built within a deep pit, the following photo shows part of the side walls to this pit:

Belgrave Dock

These walls look as if they have some age, older than the Churchill Gardens estate, and their original purpose is rather surprising.

Before the war, there was a considerable amount of industry in the area now occupied by the Churchill Gardens estate. A distillery, saw mills, engine works and a furniture stores. There were also a number of wharves and docks, including one long dock called Belgrave Dock. This can be seen in the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’:

Churchill Gardens

In the map, I have outlined the area occupied by Churchill Gardens in red and Dolphin Square in green. Note the difference in street layout between the area to the south of Lupus Street and the area to the north, which still remains much the same.

In the centre of the map is a long stretch of water – this is Belgrave Dock. I have marked the location of the hot water accumulator tower with the orange circle, and you can see that it stands in the middle of the dock.

The brick walls that can be seen in the pit next to the tower are the original surviving walls of Belgrave Dock. Rather amazing that these reminders of the areas industrial past survive.

Belgrave Dock seems to date from the early 19th century. The first written reference I can find is from the 26th February 1832 when the London News reported on a number of accidents during some of the very thick fogs that were covering parts of London at the time. As well as the Belgrave Dock, the report mentions the Grosvenor Canal, which was just to the left of the railway tracks on the left of the above map:

“FATAL ACCIDENTS DURING THE LATE FOG – Between eight and nine o’clock on Friday evening, a police constable discovered a woman in the Grosvenor-canal, Pimlico, quite dead: with assistance he got the body out, and conveyed it to the station-house, in Elizabeth street. The body was owned yesterday, and proved to be Mrs. Ann Hart, aged 72 years, residing in St George’s-row, near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico. There is no doubt that the poor old woman had, during the intense fog, walked into the Canal, which is very dangerous from its unguarded state, as she had her clogs on and a basket in her hand when found. She had merely gone out on an errand.

On Friday morning, john Dillon, a police-constable of the B. division, discovered the bodies of two men at the entrance of Belgrave Dock. They proved to be the bodies of Mr. Wilson, of No. 22, Prince-street, Lambeth, a wadding manufacturer, and his son-in-law, Mr. York; who it is supposed walked into the water during the fog.

The place is in a most dangerous state, particularly in foggy weather; and the only wonder is, that more accidents have not occurred. The place belongs to the Marquis of Westminster; and it is to be hoped that his Lordship will give immediate orders to have the evil remedied. We have heard that another female was brought out of the Canal yesterday morning.”

The report provides an impression of what the area was like in the early 19th century, and I like the address for poor Ann Hart as “near the wooden-bridge, Pimlico”.

Walking down the side road to the tower, and this is the view of the tower from the south:

Accumulator Tower

In the above photo, and in the photo below there is a large building completely covered in scaffolding, including scaffolding stretching across the road, presumably to provide some buttressing support to the building.

Balmoral Castle

Buried underneath the scaffolding is a closed pub – the Balmoral Castle. A painted sign can just be seen on the side of the pub.

Balmoral Castle

The Balmoral Castle dates from the mid 19th century and was part of the original development of the area. It can be seen in the 1894 Ordnance Survey extract above under the dark blue circle.

The pub seems to have been the focus for a number of sporting clubs, with the Metropolitan Cabdrivers Rowing Regatta and Mechanics’ United Rowing Club, along with the Pimlico Athletic Club all using the Balmoral Castle as their meeting place.

It was retained during the development of Churchill Gardens as the intention was to include community facilities for the residents. The pub closed in 2004, and the scaffolding was erected in 2014.

There have been plans to redevelop the area occupied by the pub and nearby Darwin House, but these do seem to be progressing rather slowly. In the meantime, part of the pub also seems to be supported by an incredible growth of what looks from a distance like a form of ivy.

Balmoral Castle

Continuing along Churchill Garden Road, and we can see blocks built during later phases. These do not have the multiple external stairs, but have galleries along each floor.

Churchill Gardens

There are design features such as concrete canopies over the entrances to the blocks:

Churchill Gardens

As well as the Balmoral Castle pub, a school was retained during the construction of the estate. This is St. Gabriel’s Church of England Primary School.

Churchill Gardens

The block of flats behind the school has the distinctive white rendered, rooftop drums for water tanks and lift equipment found on the top of the blocks across the estate.

At the end of Churchill Garden Road, I reached the western end of Lupus Street which forms the western boundary of the estate. The following photo is looking back through the estate:

Churchill Gardens

We then walked along Grosvenor Road, along the Thames for another view of the hot water accumulator tower, with the scaffolding surrounding the Balmoral Castle to the left:

Accumulator Tower

Part of the Churchill Gardens estate faces directly onto Grosvenor Road, however there are some original buildings that have survived:

King William IV

One of which was another pub that has recently closed and is now being redeveloped. This was the King William IV, originally from the mid 19th century and rebuilt in 1880:

King William IV

The future of the old pub seems to be some form of housing. The Health and Safety Executive Notification of Construction Project taped to one of the windows states that the address is now “Travel Joy Hostels Ltd” and the project will consist of 6 new apartments being designed and built, an extra floor added, and a basement to be constructed to the rear.

The old doors to the pub, with a gutted interior behind:

King William IV

A short distance along Grosvenor Road is Dolphin Square. This large estate was also provided with heating from the original Battersea Power Station / Churchill Gardens system:

Dolphin Square

My original reason for exploring Churchill Gardens was to find the hot water accumulator tower, and there was one final part of the original system that I had to visit, and this was Battersea Power Station, which supplied the waste hot water across the river to heat the estate.

Battersea Power Station seen from across the river:

Battersea Power Station

I also wanted to see how development of the old power station and the surrounding area was progressing. In the above photo, the large, glass apartment block that now sits between the power station and railway bridge can be seen on the right.

In the following photo, the additional building on top, and to the side of the power station can be seen:

Battersea Power Station

Crossing the river on Chelsea Bridge, and the apparently random jumble of towers that are spreading along the side of the Thames in Vauxhall can be seen:

Vauxhall

Battersea Power Station closed in 1983, and for many years the building was empty, roofless and derelict. After many false starts, much of the old building has been redeveloped. This included the complete reconstruction of the chimneys as the originals were structurally unsafe.

One of the chimneys is planned to included the Battersea Power Station Chimney Lift, which will lift visitors to the top of the tower to get a view from above. It is planned to open in 2022.

The redevelopment of the area follows the standard plan for any London developments – glass and steel apartments above, restaurants, cafes, shops and entertainment venues at ground level.

Alongside one of the new apartment blocks, restaurants, bars and a cinema have been built into the arches that line the railway viaduct:

Battersea Power Station

From the Battersea side of the river, we can look across the river to the blocks of Churchill Gardens, and the hot water accumulator tower that was once supplied by the power station:

Battersea Power Station

The new apartment block on the right closes in on the power station. There are restaurants on the ground floor and a small area of landscaping up to the river:

Battersea Power Station

Looking between the power station and apartment building. A similar glass and steel building has yet to be built on the opposite side of the power station as the area links up with the tower blocks currently being built along Vauxhall.

Battersea Power Station

The area behind and to the east of the power station is still blocked off for construction work, so there is not that much to see, apart from the area in front and around the new apartment building.

On a sunny Sunday, the cafes and restaurants seemed to be doing reasonably well.

The district heating system for the Churchill Gardens estate was the first of its type in London, and probably in the country. There have been a number of systems built since, the latest is the Bunhill 2 Energy Centre, built at the location of the long closed City Road underground station. Rather than waste heat from a power station, Bunhill 2 is unusual in that it takes heat from the Northern line tunnels below.

Bunhill 2 is an addition to the existing Bunhill energy centre built in 2012, which makes use of the more traditional gas powered engine to produce heat and generate electricity. The energy centre is open during this years Open House London event.

That was a rather long post, so thank you if you made it this far.

As usual there is so much to explore and discover. I find the combination of the hot water accumulator tower, built into the old Belgrave Dock, with the original side walls fascinating – relics of two very different industrial activities in Pimlico.

Churchill Gardens does have its problems, but is an estate that shows what can be done to provide housing with innovative design, well chosen materials, and importantly continuous maintenance of the buildings and landscape.

It was a fascinating walk.

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Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration and New River Head

House of Illustration is a small arts and education charity dedicated to the art of illustration – an art form that can be found on almost every aspect of modern life. Originally based in King’s Cross, the charity is moving to a very historic location and transforming into the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake has been one of the most prolific and high profile illustrators of the 20th and early 21st centuries, with his work across many forms of illustration, including illustrating the works of the author Roald Dahl.

The new location for the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will be at New River Head in north Clerkenwell / Islington, the site of the reservoir that terminated the first man made river bringing supplies of water to the city of London in the early 17th century.

Having been empty for many years, the base of the early 18th century windmill, the engine house and coal store at New River Head will be sensitively transformed over the coming year into the new centre. This transformation will ensure that these buildings are preserved and after being hidden away for so many years, will be given a new life hosting one of London’s small, but so important charities and exhibition spaces. The centre will also eventually be the home for Quentin Blake’s archive.

So why is this the subject of this week’s blog post? A while ago, a colleague from the Clerkenwell and Islington Guide (CIGA) Course was offered the opportunity to visit the site and create a walk that would illustrate how water has been key to the area’s development, and to visit the interior of the windmill and coal stores and the exterior of the engine house before work begins to create the new centre. 

Offered the opportunity to be involved, it took about a second to say yes, and for one week only there is a series of walks exploring the Fluid History of Islington, which, with the support of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, includes access to the base of the early 18th century windmill, the coal stores and around the outside of the engine house at New River Head. I will be guiding on some of these walks, and colleagues from CIGA will be guiding the rest.

This is a unique opportunity to explore how water has influenced the development of the area, see these historic buildings up close, and learn about their future use.

The full set of walks are available to book here

As an introduction to the walk, the following illustration is the proposed plan of the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects

In the above plan, the round building to the lower left is the base of the early windmill. I took the following photo of the building on a recent visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The large building to the right is the old engine house. The interior will not be open for the visit as it is currently difficult to navigate, however we will walk around the outside of the building and talk about the part the engine house played in the development of New River Head and London’s water supply, along with the future of the site.

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

The old coal store forms the longer building to the right, and will be open during the visit:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

As can be seen from the following illustration, when transformed to a new exhibition area, the fabric of the building will retain its industrial heritage:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, Tim Ronalds Architects, Prospective Gallery

The location for the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration is at a place that played a key part in the supply of clean water for London’s growing population for a considerable period of time.

The New River and reservoirs at New River Head were the first serious attempt at bringing significant volumes of water into London from a distance, and avoiding the need to draw water from the Thames, which by the end of the 16th century was not exactly a healthy source of drinking water.

The New River dates to the start of the 17th century, a time when there was a desperate need for supplies of clean water to a rapidly expanding city. Numerous schemes were being proposed, and the build of the New River tells the story of how the City of London, Parliament, the Crown and private enterprise all tried to gain an advantage and ownership of significant new infrastructural services, the power they would have over the city, and the expected profits.

The New River proposal was for a man-made channel, bringing water in from springs around Ware in Hertfordshire (Amwell and Chadwell springs) to the city. A location was needed outside the city where water from the New River could be stored, treated and then distributed to consumers across the city.

The site chosen, called New River Head, was located between what is now Rosebery Avenue and Amwell Street. The red rectangle on the following map shows the area occupied by New River Head (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The story of the New River dates back to 1602 when a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst who had served in Ireland, proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

As a reward for his military service, he was granted letters patent from King James I, to construct a channel, six feet wide, to bring water from Hertfordshire to the city.

Colthurst’s was not the only scheme for supplying water to the city. There were a number of other private companies, and the City of London Corporation was looking at similar schemes to bring in water from the River Lea and Hertfordshire springs.

Whilst Colthurst’s project was underway, the City of London petitioned parliament, requesting that the City be granted the rights to the water sources and for the construction of a channel to bring the water to the city.

In 1606 the City of London was successful when parliament granted the City access rights to the Hertfordshire water, a decision which effectively destroyed Colthurst’s scheme, which collapsed after the construction of 3 miles of the river channel.

It was an interesting situation, as Colthurst had the support of the King, through the letters patent he had been granted, whilst the City of London had the support of parliament.

The City of London took a few years deciding what to do with the water rights granted by parliament, and in 1609 granted these rights to a wealthy City Goldsmith, Hugh Myddelton. He was a member of the Goldsmiths Company, an MP (for Denbigh in Wales), and one of his brothers, Thomas Myddelton was a City alderman and would later become Lord Mayor of the City of London, so Myddelton probably had all the right connections, which Colthurst lacked.

Colthurst obviously could see how he had been outflanked by the City, so agreed to join the new scheme, and was granted shares in the project. Colthurst joining the City of London’s scheme thereby uniting the rights granted by James I and parliament.

Work commenced on the New River in 1609, but swiftly ran into problems with owners of land through which the New River would pass, objecting to the work, and the loss of land. A number of land owners petitioned Parliament to repeal the original acts which had granted the rights to the City, however when James I dissolved Parliament in 1611, the scheme was given three years to complete construction and find a way to overcome land owners objections, as Parliament would not be recalled until 1614.

There were originally 36 shares in the New River Company. Myddleton had decided to enlist the support of James I to address the land owners objections, and created an additional 36 new shares and granted these to James I who would effectively own half the company.

in return, James I granted the New River Company the right to build on his land, he covered half the costs, and Royal support influenced the other land owners along the route, removing their objections, as any further attempts to hinder the work would result in the king’s “high displeasure”.

The New River was completed in 1613. It was a significant engineering achievement. Although the straight line distance between the springs around Ware and New River Head was around 20 miles, the actual route was just over 40 miles, as the route followed the 100 foot height contour to provide a smooth flow of water, resulting in only an 18 foot drop from source to end.

The New River Head location was chosen for a number of reasons. A location north of the city was needed to act as a holding location, from where multiple streams of water could then be distributed through pipes across the wider city.

The location sat on London Clay, rather than the free draining gravel found further south in Clerkenwell, and it was also a high point, with roughly a 31 meter drop down to the River Thames, thereby allowing gravity to transport water down towards consumers in the city.

The site already had a number of ponds, confirming the suitability of the land to hold water.

By the end of the 17th century, London had been expanding to the west and developement was taking place around the area now called Soho, including Soho Square.

The challenge the New Rver Company had with supplying water to London’s expanding population was down to having sufficient volumes of water available, and with maintaining water pressure.

The City of London was much lower than New River Head, and water pressure was generally good, however further to the west of the city, the land was higher, and the difference in height between places such as Soho and New River Head was insufficient to provide a good supply to new developments.

This is when the windmill appeared. The New River Company built a new reservoir at Claremont Square, towards Pentonville Road. This new reservoir provided extra storage capacity, and was also higher than New River Head, thereby able to deliver water at greater pressure.

A method was needed to pump water to the new reservoir and the method chosen was a windmill. This was in operation by 1709, but was never very efficient and the top of the windmill was severely damaged by a storm in 1720. Newspaper reports of the storm refer to “the upper part, quite to the brickwork, was blown of the Windmill at New River Head”

The storm also damaged large numbers of ships anchored in the Thames, and: “The Horse-Ferry boat, that passed to and fro from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs was lost and is not yet found, and the Storm was so violent as to lay the Isle of Dogs under Water by the beating of Water over the Banks”

The following print shows the windmill in the 1740s with the sails and top section missing after the storm  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

By 1775, the top of the windmill appears to have been castellated. The first engine house is in operation to the left. The engine house replaced the windmill and later horse power by providing the power for the pumps.  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

The following print from 1752 shows the New River Head complex with the remains of the windmill after the 1720 storms  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

To the lower left of the windmill is a small building that would have housed the horse-gin, used between the storm and the installation of the steam engine to power the pumps, pumping water to the reservoir which can be seen in the lower part of the view.

If you look closely between the reservoir and the windmill, you can see what appears to be a couple of pipes running between the windmill and a building on the edge of the reservoir from where water is pouring into the reservoir.

Although now reduced to just the base, it is remarkable that part of the windmill has survived over 300 years, and it is the base of the windmill that we will see inside during the walk.

After the storm, a “horse gin” was employed which consisted of a small building adjacent to the windmill that provided room for a horse to walk in a circle whilst harnessed to a wheel. The rotation of the wheel was transferred to the pumps to provide the power to move water from New River Head to the higher reservoir.

Later in the 18th century, this was replaced by a steam engine. Whilst we will not be able to go into the engine house, we will walk alongside to explore the history of the building:

Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration

Credit: New River Head © Justin Piperger

Behind the engine house is a coal store used to store the fuel for the steam engines in the engine house. The following photo shows the coal store buildings on the left, with a storage area marked with dimensions on the right:

New River Head

Some photos of the interior of the engine house:

New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head
New River Head

New River Head would continue to play a part in the supply of water into the 20th century.

Reservoirs eventually built at Stoke Newington were of the size needed for London’s ever growing population, and the New River would come to terminate at these reservoirs rather than continuing on to New River Head.

The central Round Pond was drained in 1913. The remaining filter beds had disappeared by 1946, and New River Head became the head offices of the Metropolitan Water Board, along with supporting functions including a large laboratory building.

New River Head continues to be a key part of London’s water supply with one of the shafts to the London Ring Main on the site. The shaft is one of the 12 main pump out shafts across the ring main where water is taken out and distributed locally.

New River Head appeared in a 1748 print with astronomical drawings describing an eclipse of the sun. New River Head is at the bottom of the print, then fields and with the City in the distance  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

New River Head

One of the two characters at bottom right is using a telescope, presumably to observe the eclipse which took place on the 14th July 1748.

The above print is the type of find that sends me searching for something that is not really related to the subject of the post, however as New River Head is in the view, there is a tenuous link.

The 1748 eclipse was an event well publicised in advance, and numerous papers published recommendations on how to view the eclipse, which sound very similar to what we would do today (apart from the candle).

1. Make a pin-hole in a piece of paper, and look through it at the eclipse. Or,

2. Hold a piece of glass so long over the flame of a candle, till it is equally blackened; and then the eclipse may be viewed through it, either with the naked eye, or through a telescope. Or,

3. Let the sun’s rays through a small hole into a darkened room, and so view the picture of the eclipse, upon a wall, or upon paper. Or,

4. Transmit the image of the sun through a telescope, either inverted, as usual on a circle of paper or pasteboard.

In London the eclipse would start at four minutes past nine in the morning and end at ten minutes past twelve. The eclipse was partly visible, however for much of the time it was obscured due to what were described as “flying clouds”.

I can guarantee that there will not be an eclipse at New River Head during the week of the walks, however the walks will provide a unique opportunity to view some of the buildings that contributed to the development of London’s water supply, learn about their future use, and to hear how water has influenced the development of Islington.

The walks can be booked here.

alondoninheritance.com