Early in 2016 the Museum of London contacted the IET Archives in relation to its Rationalisation Project. This project aimed to transfer items, which are no longer relevant to them, to other institutions such as museums, universities and charities, which would then be able to benefit from them. The Museum of London conducted a full review of its stored Social and Working History collections where over 100,000 objects were looked at and a number selected for rationalisation in accordance with the Museum’s Associations guidelines.  The criteria for selection included having no relevance to the museum’s collecting policy, or an item being one of many duplicates within their collection. Benefits of the project included enriching other institutions’ collections and an expectation of uncovering hidden gems within its own collections along the way.

The museum sent us a list of items that might be of interest to the IET Archives which we then considered and assessed against our own collecting policy. Further information such as date range, extent of the collection, provenance (where the items had come from) and any conservation requirements was requested by the IET Archives so we could have a better understanding of the items on offer. This led us to identifying two collections of interest; the Nine Elms Gas Works gas retort plans and Royal Arsenal, Woolwich plans.

The Gas retort plans at Nine Elms dated from 1956 and consisted of two colour drawings in modern glass frames. As there is no ‘natural gas engineering archive’ and the gas supply industry falls within one of the IET’s five main sectors (energy) they were considered a good addition to the IET Archives’ collections. Similarly, the blueprints for Woolwich Arsenal which dated 1952-1971 gave a visual overview of how a major armaments manufacturing site had developed post World War II.

Once a decision had been made to accept these items we went to the museum’s archive in Hackney and personally transported the items back to the IET Archives Centre at Savoy Hill House. The large framed drawings were removed from the frames for cataloguing before being repackaged without the frames. They had also suffered slight water damage at some point in the past.

As part of the cataloguing process the history behind the item was investigated, the provenance recorded and the item described so that future researchers can identify the material quickly and easily. Descriptions of the collections, which have the reference numbers NAEST 240 and 241, can be found via the IET Archives online catalogue.

NAEST 240 Nine Elms Gas Works gas retort plans, 1956.

Nine Elms Gas Works were built in 1858 by the London Gas Light Company on the site of a former tidal mill on the south bank of the River Thames. The company was taken over by the GLCC (Greater London County Council) in 1883.The works were damaged in WWII air raids. After the works were rebuilt, a new jetty and coal handling plant were added in 1952. Nine Elms Gas Works closed in 1970.

The two colour drawings are titled ‘key type retorts in units of four – vertical sections of setting’ and ‘key type retorts in units of four – a section through producer side wall’. They were produced by West’s Gas Improvement Company Ltd, Manchester. Both dated from March 1956.

NAEST 240 02 - Nine Elms Gas Works - gas retorts vertical section through producer side wall

Above: One of the drawings depicting the gas retorts vertical section through producer side wall.

NAEST 241 Royal Arsenal, Woolwich plans, 1952 to 1971.

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, carried out armaments manufacture; ammunition proofing and explosives research for the British armed forces at a site on the south bank of the River Thames in Woolwich in south-east London. The Board of Ordnance purchased the site in the late 17th century in order to expand an earlier base at Gun Wharf in Woolwich Dockyard. Over the next two centuries the site greatly expanded and at the time of WWI the Arsenal covered 1,285 acres and employed almost 80,000. Afterwards operations were scaled down and it closed as a factory in 1967. The Ministry of Defence finally moved out in 1994 and the site redeveloped for housing.

One plan, ‘D45’, was very badly affected by mould and dirt. A decision was taken to make a surrogate photograph of this single plan, then destroy the original as it would have been excessively expensive to remove the contamination and restore. The plans were not arranged in any particular order when delivered to the IET Archives. The arrangement that has been applied is by the Royal Arsenal plan number which was marked in red on the reverse of the plans. There were plan series A to F.

By looking at the titles of individual plans and at the detail of the names of the buildings an overview of the type of works carried out there during the 1950s-1970s can be deduced. For example in 1971 the ARP shelter was converted to a chemical store. New lines of fencing and gates for an explosives area was proposed in 1968 and a building was altered for occupation by RAF MT Flight, date unknown. Other buildings were used as static firing lab supports for torpedo netting (1957), a grenade hut (1956), an explosive workroom (1970), and a new gun house (1956). There were 58 plans in total and they covered building alterations, extensions, proposed buildings, staff facilities, offices and workshops. Anyone living on this site now might be interested to learn what history went on here before their property was built.

NAEST 241 06 01 - Plan F74A 35 - proposed new gun house detail crop

Above: detail from one of the plans showing the proposed new gun house.

A history of collaboration

This was not the first time the IET has been given collections by the Museum of London. A look through our accessions register showed that in 1973 a large collection of plans, log books, charts and correspondence from Croydon ‘A’, Stepney and Battersea power stations were deposited with us from the Central Electricity Generating board via the Museum of London who acted as an intermediary.

A second deposit came a few years later in 1977 when 199 blue prints and plans of Battersea Central Electricity Generating Station, the building at Lombard Road, came to us from the Museum of London.

Therefore we have a history of working with the Museum of London and accepting key deposits that form an important part of our collections and record the history and development of engineering and technology in London.