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Guest Post.
London Historians Member, Walter Jahn, writes about our walking tour of the industrial Lea valley, Saturday 19 July.

Who would have thought a walk from Stratford through the industrial area around the river Lea would be enticing to anyone on a hot and sunny Saturday? Thanks to our guide Rob Smith, it was. Did you know, for instance, that there is an impressive cathedral to be seen in this area?

London Historians

Starting off at Stratford Railway Station we turned into Burford Road passing the grand building of the former “Great Eastern Railway Print Works”. The railway works and depot in Stratford was a major industry since 1840, manufacturing over 1600 locomotives until the 1920s.

Walking along, or rather on top of the old Victorian main sewage pipes we gazed with awe at the “Cathedral of Sewage”, more precisely, the Byzantine style “Abbey Mills Pumping Station”. A rather spectacular building for pumping sewage to a higher level!

Abbey Mills pumping station

Crossing the Three Mills Wall River we reached the 18th century House Mill, the world’s largest tidal mill. We were welcomed by the volunteers of the The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust and first had a good rest at the Miller’s House Café.

Although the present mill was built in 1776, the Domesday Book of 1086 already records eight mills in the area. In medieval times it was known as Three Mills, providing flour for bakeries supplying bread to the City of London.
The guided tour showed us the timber framed House Mill building from top to bottom and how it operated. The heart of the mill is four water wheels, driven by the tidal water flow, originating from the Thames estuary. The water wheels set in motion a well-engineered 18th century grain milling process. Gear wheels and a transmission belt operate a hoist for transporting the grain sacks up to the top floor and to run the millstones. The solid timber work of the building and structures for the milling process is impressive. The milled grain was mainly sent to the adjacent distillery for making gin, which was hugely popular with Londoners, reaching a pinnacle with the Gin Craze during early 18th century followed by the Victorian-era Gin Palaces. The Mill ceased milling after bombing of the site in 1941 during WWII.
The Trust is doing a formidable job in maintaining the site and aspires to get the machinery working again and produce hydroelectricity.

Three Mills, House Mill

Three Mills, House Mill

Our walk continued passing the classical cast-iron columns of the Imperial Gas Company’s gas holders built in the 1870’s. The gas works are at the site of the former and early 19th century rocket factory of William Congreve. Did you know, that rockets were deployed in the Napoleonic Wars?

Beckton Gas Works

One of the reasons why industries settled on “the other side” of the river Lea was the higher tolerance for industrial pollution in Essex.

Finally, we reached Bow Creek at the Lea estuary, the site of the former Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company known for building the first iron-clad battleship, the HMS Warrior, launched in 1856 and now at Portsmouth.

River Lea

 

London Historians

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bow police stationWeekend engineering works on the Eastern stretch of the District Line gave me the opportunity to mooch around Bow yesterday. Every cloud and all that. I noticed that Bow Police Station has been closed less than a month. Note the alternatives listed on the notice. A thin gruel. The crims of East London must be delighted.

This particular building was designed by John Dixon Butler (1861–1920) and completed in 1903. A collaborator of Norman Shaw, as Surveyor and Architect to the Metropolitan Police he designed over 200 public buildings. As a near-complete survivor of his work, Bow Police Station was Grade II listed in 2009.

It’s astounding  how many public buildings were constructed in the Edwardian Era. Libraries, hospitals, police stations, museums, archives, etc. A century later, many have succumbed; many more are in constant danger.

Excellent further information on this building and its architect here.

bow police station

bow police station

bow police station

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the trebor storyDoncaster Butterscotch. Treacle Jacks. Licorice Flaps. Grannies Chest Tablets. Fudge Fancy Boxes. These are some of the names which decorate the end papers of this handsome book. Okay, to our 21C ears I’ve chosen some slightly risqué examples, but they represent a handful of the 400-plus product lines produced by London confectionery company Trebor in the 1930s, when it was at the height of its powers. Today, just seven remain. They are market-leaders, it must be said, which is probably why they were hoovered up by Kraft* in the 2010 takeover of Cadbury which in its turn had swallowed Trebor itself in 1989.

The Trebor Story, by Matthew Crampton relates the 82 year history of this independent British sweet giant which was founded by four East London small-business entrepreneurs in 1907. Two were grocers, one a sweet salesman and one a sugar boiler: a perfect commercial pick n mix, if you will.

And so it proved. We learn how from these humble beginnings in London’s East End, Trebor grew to several plants in the area and then nationwide, employing thousands of staff and a huge fleet of brightly liveried trucks and vans (Trebor got motorised very early). Trebor spread its wings, opening factories in all around the Empire and Commonwealth, winning myriad export awards along the way. We share the vicissitudes of two World Wars, the Depression and perhaps most challenging of all – sweet rationing!

By mid-Century, the founders had retired and the next generation – notably John and Ian Marks, sons of one of the founders, chain-smoking Sydney Marks. But we also meet a remarkable group of talented businessmen and women whose expertise in sales, production, export and finance fuelled Trebor’s upward trajectory. These include the formidable Hilda Clark, who joined the company’s Forest Gate plant as a teenager in 1918, opened and ran the new Chesterfield manufacturing and distribution operation during the war and right up until her retirement in 1963, when the company gave her a car as a leaving present, an unheard of gesture hitherto.

This book has dozens of wonderful anecdotes such as these. Matthew Crampton has assembled a massively rich variety of pictures, photographs and documents. He has interviewed many employees and former employees going back many years. He has done much research. And remarkably, in best Ben Schott fashion, he has not only laid out the whole book himself, but done it with panache and skill that most large established publishers would struggle to match.

So. A lovely story, steeped in the most powerful nostalgia, with a sad ending. But an absolute  joy to read.

the trebor story

A typical spread. Lots of images, text and graphics beautifully laid out and balanced.

And finally. Trebor stands for Robert backwards, after founding partner Robert Robertson, right? Well, not quite. While the company was quite happy to perpetuate this myth, Trebor was named after the premises they moved into, Trebor Terrace, after the row’s builder, one Robert Cooper. So just a coincidence. Robertson & Woodcock, as the company was officially known, took on the moniker Trebor almost by a process of osmosis.

* Kraft has now decided to call its international snack division Mondelez. No kidding. With a crappy logo to match. On a par with Diageo, but better than Consignia, I suppose.

The Trebor Story (146 pp)  by Matthew Crampton is published by Muddler Books, officially priced at £18 but available for less. The author tweets as @Trebor_Story and has a nice try-before-you-buy web site here.

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