Wednesday 11 June 2008

Industrial heritage in the Lea Valley

The Society's meeting last night featured Lindsay Collier (and a helper whose name I don't know!). Below is a summary of what Lindsay had to say - and also 'thank you very much Lindsay, and sorry you got so held up in the traffic in the Blackwall Tunnel).
anyway -

Heritage museum for London’s Lea Valley. By Lindsay Collier MA

For a number of years now the Lea Valley Corridor has been known as a small area of Britain with a huge industrial past, it is a place where over one hundred industrial firsts have taken place, with half of these being in transportation. This achievement alone is a world record. For the last fourteen years the concept for a museum to celebrate this unique heritage called the Lea Valley Experience has been slowly simmering away in Walthamstow. With the coming of the Olympic Games to the valley in 2012, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase Britain’s largest and forgotten industrial past that has most certainly changed the world
as we know it today.
Our journey down the River Lea starts in Luton, home of the Vauxhall Car Company and London Luton international airport. before this Luton’s main employment came from many hat manufacturers - Luton Town’s Football Club is nicknamed the hatters. An area of Luton called Leagrave is the home of Electrolux, produced a variety of electrical household appliances. Part of their site was once occupied by Hewlett and Brondeau Ltd who built aircraft – they were founded in 1914 and managed by Hilda Hewlett, the first British woman to receive a pilot’s licence. In 1937 the Percival Aircraft Company moved here from Gravesend. The river then slowly twists its way to Hatfield, home of the de Havilland Aviation company, and the world’s first passenger jet airliner, the Comet.
down river at Chadwell and Amwell are the two main sources of the man made New
River constructed to carry water directly to the thirsty Jacobean residents of London.
Ware, once a Roman inland port is the home of Wickhams, manufacturers of plant and railway vehicles, and Warerite, laminated plastic railway carriage interiors. Ware also has malt houses and McMullen’s brewery. At Colliers End the first British balloon flight finally came to rest in September 1784.
Availability of so much water in the Lea meant it was a great place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables, all in huge quantities. During the 1930s the Valley had the world’s largest
concentration of greenhouses. At one time it produced two thirds of Britain’s total horticultural output.
The world’s first passenger carrying monorail was constructed in 1825 at Cheshunt
to the design of Henry Robinson Palmer who also invented corrugated iron sheets. Today in Cheshunt, is Tesco’s head office and was once the home of Colin Chapman’s Lotus car company
down river at Waltham Abbey are the Royal Gun Powder Mills which opened in 1787 and produced a wide range of explosives and chemical until 1991.
At Enfield the electric light bulb, was first demonstrated twenty years before Edison by Sir Joseph Swan, and started the Ediswan Company in Ponders End. In 1904 the
diode was invented at the company’s works by Ambrose Fleming. the thermos flask,
was also developed at the work’s laboratories by Sir James Dewar in the 1870s.
Belling, MK and Thorn all set up companies in Enfield. we must not also forget the
famous Lee Enfield Rifle invented there by James Paris Lee.
Edmonton was once the home of Straker Squires who produced cars, lorries, buses and steam vehicles. British Oxygen also had a large factory there. In Tottenham the JAP Company produced speedway bikes and motorcycle engines. Gestetner who made duplicating equipment and the Lebus Furniture Company were also there.
Walthamstow is the home of the first British built car and is where many of the first buses that London Transport used in service were built by the Associated Equipment Company. In 1909 Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe became the first Briton to fly an all British built plane on Walthamstow Marshes – a centenary celebration of this is planned for 2009. also forget Bovince Ltd whose company invented the first method of screen printing
Many toy and sweet companies set up home in the valley: Matchbox, Britain’s, Brimtoys, Lines Bros, Trebor, Maynard’s and Bonds being just a few of them.
Hackney, is the home of petrol, as it was here that Carless Capel & Leonard invented the mixture and patented the name.
Stratford, was once the home of the largest railway works in the country. The London Cooperative was also founded there by its workers. Today the site is being prepared for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Bow, was famous for the matchbox girls strike, rockets, railway works, and the first improved horse omnibus and we finally end our journey at Bow Creek, once the home of the Thames Iron Works which constructed Britain’s first ironclad warship, the Warrior, along with much else including West Ham United Football Club.
In this brief trip down the River Lea I have only touched on some of its many interesting stories. I have tried to give you a taste of why the industrial heritage of the Lea Valley is so important. I hope by reading this it will inspire you to learn more about it and support the development of the Lea Valley Experience museum to celebrate the regions unique past. For more information visit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its all very well for Lindsay to go on about all this - but what about Hackney Wick and the chemical industry based there in the mid-nineteenth century. Its unbelievable that he doesn't mention the first plastic in the world - Xylonite - first made in Hackney and then moving to Hale End as Halex. And then there are all the early coal tar based dyes which were developed there - and lots of other things (like Bronco Lavatory paper, and ultimately Percy Dalton's peanut factory)