Former Siemens Cable Factory, 37 Bowater Road

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1468474
Date first listed:
25-Feb-2020
Statutory Address:
37 Bowater Road, London, SE18 5TF

Map

Ordnance survey map of Former Siemens Cable Factory, 37 Bowater Road
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Location

Statutory Address:
37 Bowater Road, London, SE18 5TF

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
Greenwich (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ4175079182

Summary

Rubber-coated copper-wire cable factory built in 1910-1911 for Siemens Brothers to designs by Siemens works manager, W Dieselhorst and in-house architects, Herbert and Helland using the Kahn reinforced concrete system. A five-storey extension was added in 1942.

Reasons for Designation

37 Bowater Road, Woolwich, built in 1910-1911 by Siemens Brothers as a factory for making rubber-coated copper-wire cables, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its technical interest as a particularly early example of the use in an English factory building employing the American Kahn system, one of the most important patented reinforced concrete systems introduced at the start of the C20, demonstrating Edwardian self-confidence in technological advancement; * for its impressive massing and spare, functional design, looking forward to later C20 industrial design; * as a particularly well-surviving example of an early-C20 factory building.

Historical interest:

*     as an important reminder of the role of Siemens Brothers in the history of telecommunications, with particular regional relevance to south-east London as a major location in the early history of trans-continental telegraph cables ; * for its involvement in the production of military communication and logistical infrastructure during both World Wars, especially for the production of the PLUTO under-sea fuel pipe.

History

The Siemens works at Woolwich was founded in 1863 to produce submarine telegraph cables for the German electrical engineering company Siemens and Halske, later Siemens Brothers. Karl Wilhelm Siemens (1823-1883) came to England from Prussia in 1843. His elder brother Werner (1816-1892) had founded the company of Siemens and Halske in Berlin in 1847 to develop a number of inventions by the brothers including a method of insulating telegraph wires with gutta-percha (a natural latex similar to rubber). Karl Wilhelm, who became a naturalized British citizen in 1859 and changed his name to William, formed an independent English subsidiary of the Berlin operation. Siemens cables were used in some of the earliest transcontinental cable systems including the first direct cable from England to the USA (1874), the first between Paris and New York (1876) and from London to Nova Scotia in 1881-1882.

From 1863 the works buildings developed in a piecemeal fashion. The original single-storey range fronting onto a landing stage on the river (now demolished) was augmented, between 1871 and 1874 as a result of the major contracts, by an extension of the original block, another block directly to the east along the river front, and a range directly to the south (a building on this site was rebuilt in 1947). East of this building, between Harrington and Bowater Roads, was another large block. The southern range of this block (with a range extending northwards at the western end and a later addition at the eastern end dating from the 1890s) survives as 18-32 Bowater Road. Between 1881, when the company took a new 99-year lease on the site, and 1889, a series of buildings were added to the east, completing development north of Bowater Road. These buildings originally included offices and showrooms and a workshop range housing dynamo shops and milling machinery but by 1908 had been converted for the production of paper-insulated cable.

In 1910-1911 development of the works site was extended to the south of Bowater Road on land that had previously contained wooden storage sheds. This included a large five-storey, L-plan, building for making rubber-coated copper-wire cables (now 37 Bowater Road). When built this was one of the London’s largest factory buildings and employed the Kahn system of a reinforced-concrete frame with a flat roof covered with three-ply Rubberoid and almost fifty-percent of the wall surfaces occupied with metal-framed windows. It was designed by the company’s works manager, W Dieselhorst, with in-house architects, Herbert and Helland, probably working with F Southey, a civil engineer who later became the company’s architect. The contractors were Holland and Hannen with external staircases being made by the Lion Foundry Company of Kirkintilloch. The ground floor featured five-ton capacity electric travelling cranes and the building included a full sprinkler system.

At the same date, to the east of the new factory building, a five-storey, flat-roofed office block (now 17-21 Bowater Road) was built, probably with the same parties involved.

To the south of these buildings in 1911-1912 a five-storey telephone-equipment factory was constructed (now demolished). During the First World War field telephone equipment and cabling became the predominant product of the Siemens works and telephone apparatus remained so after the war. In 1925-1926 a five-storey junction-box factory was erected to the north-east of 37 Bowater Road (now 23-25 Bowater Road) and using the same construction methods. This was built by J Humphreys of Knightsbridge but the architect is currently unknown. A number of other buildings were added to the site in 1937 including a two-storey cable-shop to the east of the office block which still remains.

During the Second World War the works were converted to war work and enemy bombing inflicted serious damage on 27 occasions. A number of special wartime projects were undertaken at the factory, the most notable being the design and production of PLUTO, the undersea pipeline which was laid across the Channel in August 1944, following D-Day. For this work the rubber-cable factory (37 Bowater Road) was enlarged in 1942 with a five-storey north-east wing added.

Following the Second World War, although new buildings continued to be erected on the site, production began to be relocated to other parts of the country. Following various corporate changes and amalgamations with Associated Electrical Industries Group (AEI) and then, in 1967, General Electric Company (GEC), the Siemens Woolwich works closed in 1968 with a loss of around 6,000 jobs. The site was purchased in 1971 by the Greater London Council (GLC) and leased to the Co-operative Insurance Society with a view to the regeneration of the site as a trading estate. A number of buildings were subsequently demolished particularly on the southern part of the site and replaced with standardised single-storey commercial sheds.

Details

Rubber-coated copper-wire cable factory built in 1910-1911 for Siemens Brothers to designs by Siemens works manager, W Dieselhorst and in-house architects, Herbert and Helland using the Kahn reinforced concrete system. A five-storey extension was added in 1942.

MATERIALS: reinforced-concrete frame and roof using the Kahn System with brick walling panels and structural piers laid in English bond and concrete detailing. Fenestration is a mix of original multi-pane, metal-framed, windows and replacement six-pane metal-framed windows. Metal fire-escapes and a tubular steel guard rail to the roof.

PLAN: factory building of five-storeys plus basement with a flat roof. Originally L-shaped in plan with an east-west range of 29 bays length with, at its western end, a north-south range of 14 bays length. An additional north-south range towards the eastern end of the principal range, added in 1942, is of eight bays giving an F-plan. This range was added to a two-bay stair tower present on the original building, giving 10 bays in total. There is a later five-storey fire-escape on the south elevation of the principal range with additional fire escapes on the east elevations of the two wings. That to the west wing is one of the original external staircases made by the Lion Foundry of Kirkintilloch. The interior consists of long, largely open-plan factory floors divided longitudinally by a central row of concrete pillars. Access to the upper floors is provided via staircases and lift shafts located at the angle of the main and cross ranges (extended into flat- roofed brick buildings at roof level). There is some later subdivision with concrete blockwork partitions.

EXTERIOR: the elevations are largely uniform with large factory windows on each of the five floors set on panels of brickwork and framed by the structural brick piers which define the bays. The piers are expressed as buttresses with concrete capping up to second-floor level . The ground floor is set on a black-painted brick plinth with top mouldings, and has white-painted brickwork. The window openings have concrete lintels and sills and have multi-pane, metal-framed windows, most of which are original but with a significant number of later replacements, principally on the fourth and fifth floors of the two original ranges (on the fifth floor only on the north elevation and east elevation of the west wing). Some of the original windows retain their external latches to one of the lower casements in alternating windows to enable external opening as a fire precaution. The first two bays of the eastern elevations of the two cross wings have staggered multi-pane fenestration lighting the internal staircase. The eastern range also has an arched entrance with a fanlight. Windows on the central section of the ground floor of the north elevation of the principal range and on all floors of two bays of the south elevation have been infilled (these mark the position of the lost original fire-escape on this side of the building). A number of goods entrances, some original, some in added openings, are located around the building. Most of these have metal roller shutters. The timber panelled and half-glazed doors to the fire escape on the eastern elevation of the west range survive on some floors. These have fixed multi-pane glazing above.

The eastern elevation of the principal range is blind. The concrete frame is exposed on the short northern elevations of the two cross wings.

The later range of 1942 differs in the design of the metal-framed windows and on the western elevation the brick piers have been omitted at ground-floor level with just the concrete columns visible, suggesting that there was originally an outshut along this wall.

INTERIOR: the reinforced-concrete slab floors are supported on a reinforced concrete frame with a central row of pillars clasping the lateral beams. There are no spine beams apart from in the 1940s range, where they are present, at least on the ground floor. The columns have narrow chamfered corners. The lower edge of the lateral beams have rolled steel joists (RSJs) embedded in them, for attaching factory machinery. The concrete stairs retain the ironwork balustrade and handrails. A water sprinkler system survives in some parts of the building. From comparison with historic photographs, this is likely to be original. No factory machinery remains.

Sources

Books and journals
Saint, Andrew (General Editor), Guillery, Peter (Editor), Survey of London: Volume 48 - Woolwich, (2012), 119-125
'Extension of the works of Siemens Bros. and Co., Woolwich' in The Engineer, (28 September 1912), 328-9
'A New Thames-side Factory' in Architects and Builders Journal, (4 December 1912), 612-3

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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