Sunday 21 April 2013

New book about 'London's Lost Power Stations and GasWorks'

I am very torn about reviewing this book - I do think it is about time something like this came out.   London has a huge heritage (if we must describe it as that) of old structures of the power industries.. GLIAS has described most of these sites over the years but never codified them. Certainly there are several people in London's Industrial Archaeology world who could reel a list off in very great detail - but then then none of them have produced this book - so congratulations to Ben Pedroche, who has.

Having said that - I am no great expert on power stations, particularly railway power stations - and its good to see them in one place and listed out.  There is a real problem with the history of many old power generating sites in that privatisation saw a huge amount of archive material junked and I know to my cost that there are some local power stations where there really is nothing left to read up on.  So, again, congratulations to Ben for finding out some bits about Blackwall Point Power Station (which stood on the riverside near the Pilot) - I know that can't have been easy.  

I am very pleased that he has highlighted Greenwich Power Station - although he hasn't followed up the suggestion that it is the oldest operational power station in the country.  But it is a good introduction to it and explains its background - but - Ben - did you read the article on it by Peter Guillery which GLIAS published, and, by the way, it has been refitted again in the last ten years, and rumour is that it is to be refitted again for Biomass.

I am sorry that he hasn't given more information about our other remaining old power plant in the Borough - the Plumstead Generating Station at White Hart Road. This was listed at the instigation of GIHS members and GIHS has published detailed information on this interesting site, researched and written by Dave Ramsey.  It deserves a lot more.

And so we come onto what he says about the gas industry - and I am sorry if this sounds like a lot of carping.  I don't mean it - its good to see something written and I will make sure that a nice supportive review goes into the gas history press (yes there is such a thing!!).

He starts with - as ever - William Murdoch.  I just wish people who write about Murdoch and gas would take themselves up to the Birmingham Reference Library and read their way through the excellent archive which preserves the notes of the people who actually worked on developing the first coal gas making plant (James Southern and William Henry). 

And so - no mention of the site in Goswell Road (Brick Lane gas works) where gas was made from 1816 and where Transco are still on site.  Precious little about Old Kent Road - where the Livesey holder was recommended for listing (Ben - you did read Malcolm Tucker's report to English Heritage on gas holders in London, didn't you??).   There is also a big imbalance in the account of the Commercial Company - which was essentially one of South Met's puppet companies. Nothing about Livesey's political role in gas industry pricing and company structures - let alone his workplace relations (all those adjitprop plays of the early 1980s).

But I won't go on about Livesey - but I will finish by saying that one day I will tell the world about the truth of the Millennium Dome and Livesey's ghost story - which he mentions.  But not just yet.

I intend to say nice things about the book - which is why I am not picking through the gas chapters bit by bit.  Its a book we need - but its a subject where you probably need a lifetime to read all the source material.  Perhaps no one person could do it.


PS - memo to self to scan (ugh!) and upload my M.Phil thesis (on Livesey's workplace relations and political role), my BA project on the 1889 gasworkers strike and the bits I've actually written on a biography on to

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