Sunday, February 07, 2010

Kender Triangle and the New Cross Gas Lamp

I went to the exhibition at Kender Primary School last week about Transport for London's plans to change the traffic flows around the Kender triangle area. Essentially it is planned to scrap the one way system at that end of New Cross, so that New Cross Road and Queens Road become two way roads. Good news for people living in Kender Street and Besson Street, in that the traffic will no longer be diverted through them.

Rather sadly, the works will more or less eradicate our beloved Island opposite the White Hart pub on the junction of New Cross Road and Queens Road, with the railings and remains of the underground toilets disappearing. The Gas Lamp will survive however, being moved on to an extended pavement by the pub. It was saved from destruction before thanks to a campaign by local historian Jess Steele and others in the 1990s, and is now a Grade II listed building. This time around it has found another local advocate in the form of Adrian Bradbury, who has not only researched its history but secured agreement from TfL and NXG NDC to pay for it to be turned back into a working gas-lamp, lit automatically every night.

Adrian has kindly agreed for Transpontine to feature extracts from his article, which has been published in full by the Telegraph Hill Society as 'The Gas Lamp at New Cross Gate (No. 7 in an occasional series of historical notes on the local area)':

'The Gas Lamp in the centre of the island at New Cross Gate is perhaps one of the Gate’s most instantly recognisable features, but, as local historian Jess Steele revealed in her brilliant and successful campaign to save it from destruction in the 1990s, this is no ordinary lamp-post.

Not only is it of some interest to engineers: it doubles up as a ventilation pipe for the (now
derelict) toilets below ground; it is also of great interest to historians: it is Grade II listed for embodying the only design of Scottish architect Alexander Thomson’s work to survive south of the border... Alexander “Greek” Thomson (1817–75), is described by historian Gavin Stamp as “Scotland’s greatest Victorian architect”. He brought Greek, Egyptian and Levantine influences to bear on his design of buildings throughout Glasgow the Firth of Clyde.

Incredibly much of his work was demolished in the 1950s and 60s in the name of progress, though still standing today are his Egyptian Halls in Union Street, which is where the story of our lampstandard begins. The Egyptian Halls were built in 1870-72 and six lamp-standards with complementary Egyptian pattern were erected on the pavement outside. These lamp-standards were manufactured by the Saracen Foundry of Walter Macfarlane & Co.

[The Glasgow lamp-standards were removed soon after, apparently because they did not have planning permission]

...So how come residents of New Cross Gate now have a lamp-standard identical to those pulled down in Union Street, Glasgow? We can only guess that George Jennings, Sanitary Engineer for the Greenwich District Board of Works, had a copy of Macfarlane’s catalogue on his shelf when he commissioned public conveniences to be built on our site in 1897, and chose that very same design. He needed a ventilation pipe, but presumably wanted to disguise it as a lampstandard, as was common architectural practice in those times....



Incidentally, the only other example of Thomson’s work to survive outside Scotland is an identical lamp to ours which was commissioned for a similar set of public conveniences in
the triangular road junction where New Cross Road meets Lewisham Way. These toilets
were destroyed but the lamp-standard was saved and replanted a few yards away in Clifton Rise, opposite the New Cross Inn

The New Cross Gate lamp-standard, the original ornamental iron-work around the toilets and the cannon bollards marking out the edge of the original pedestrian island, which were cast in the same Saracen Foundry as the lamp-standard, have all survived to the current day, although the toilets themselves are now closed and derelict'.

1850 - the turnpike that put the gate in New Cross Gate, before the lamp



Artist's impression of the future, with lamp moved and a small pedestrian island replacing the current structure (click to enlarge)

Work is due to start this month on changing the roads around and will take the best part of a year. My only concern, other than largely aesthetic considerations about the loss of island railings and toilets, is about the pedestrian crossing. It looks like people would need to cross from the south side of New Cross Road onto a small island, then cross Queens Road at the junction, then cross New Cross Road from outside the White Hart. This would be three stages instead of the current two, and not a straight line either. The result could be that people could be tempted to take a short cut across a very busy road. Why not have a proper pedestrian crossing straight across the road just a bit further up past the junction towards the bus garage?



And wot about the toilets! Vintage!

. said...

Yeah, you're right, it's not just the loss of the toilet signs, why aren't the public toilets (closed for some years) being saved or at least reprovided somewhere nearby. Wonder if there's any chance of getting to take some photos down the old toilets before they are destroyed for good?


I always fancied a squat gig in the abandoned toilets, here or others elsewhere. Clean 'em up and have some acoustic music and a small bar. Marvellous!

Deptford Dag said...

Pity, I quite like the old railings and lavatorial iron work, it's good vintage street furniture - maybe it could be saved as a protected area of the rare Deptford Dung Beetle.

Here's the planning doc