The Riverside Sand & Ballast Company working from 1924 to 1937 at Riverside Lands
"Invasion of the Orchards" article from B & C Times April 1970
At the bottom of photo you can see the flooded gravel pit workings at Riverside Lands.
The factory is Cherry Blossoms, Chertsey Road factory on Dukes Meadows Chiswick
Whenever ground is opened for extraction of gravel there are cries of dismay from those who think that the land will be spoilt for all time. But this is not necessarily so. Driving down the Great Chertsey Road towards Chiswick Bridge, it is difficult to imagine the extensive playing fields between the loop line and the river in any other state than their present level greenness.
And yet, between the wars, the greater part of this portion of the Riverside Lands was a series of lagoons, formed from flooded workings and separated by heaps of spoil. It was a scene of intense activity and clanking machinery, often by night as well as day.
When the ground had given all it could in the way of sand, ballast, aggregates and shingles for many of London's finest buildings, the pits were filled in and the topsoil, which had been carefully piled along side the railway, was returned for grassing. Today there is not a trace of the industry, which flourished here for 13 years.
Before the coming of the pits this was a quiet unvisited place of orchards and market gardens on parcels of land with drowsy names like Buggs Field, Upper Slip and Poyntons. There might lie the origin of "Sleepy Valley" the affectionate nickname for the Alexandra estate just beyond the railway. Small gravel pits were not unknown in this part of Chiswick. Nearby Cubbits yacht basin was formed out of an old flooded pit. The first barge to call there for gravel was the Trafalgar - and the earlier name for the basin was Trafalgar Dock.
The first inkling Chiswick people had of the coming invasion of the orchards came when they opened their Chiswick Times on August 31st 1923. Proclaimed the headlines "£50,000 present for the ratepayers: Romantic story of councils wonderful bargain: sand from Riverside Lands: Terms of the agreement: A glance into the future" And a month later "The sandpits bargain: Sanctioned by the Ministry of Health"
It was a bargain indeed! The agreement between the Riverside Sand and Ballast Company and the then Urban District Council of Chiswick provided for the excavation of at least 5 acres annually at £1,500 an acre with reinstatement of land after operations ceased. The new road leading to the site - now part of the Great Chertsey Road - was then called Alexandra Avenue and only went as far as the junction with Hartington Road. The concrete bridge carrying it over the railway was opened in November 1923, known as the Alexandra Bridge it was rigorously tested with the combined weight of four steam rollers, a petrol roller, and 10 petrol vehicles, 156 tonnes in all.
After a dozen bore holes had shown in May 1924, that the finest aggregate could be expected, huts for offices and workmen began to appear on the eastern side of the new road, together with a wide-gauge tramway for big travelling cranes. Characteristic structures for processing the products from the pits reared above the orchards, substantial timbered hoppers were built and soon the horizon was a diagonal pattern of crane jibs.
The job of clawing out the raw materials was performed by huge dragline excavators, driven by steam, which crawled on caterpillar tracks to what seemed to be perilously near the edge of their handiwork.
With their vertical boilers the glare from fireboxes, and tall chimneys above, these machines were a constants fascination and demanded a closer inspection from young trespassers, but they were gradually replaced by diesel power after 1926. The entire works presented a picture of well-remembered industrial smells and noises. The aroma was of rich black coal smoke, hot iron steam and oil, sharp rattling and dull thudding which echoed across the river into Mortlake accompanied work.
Steam held sway in more ways than one. As the large lagoons grew ever larger, the problem of transporting the materials to the processing machinery was met by laying a winding light railway of 2ft gauge, with little steam locomotives to haul the trains of tip-up wagons up to half a mile. The engines were Kerr Stuart saddle-tank 0-4-0s, with tall stovepipe chimneys, handsome domes and pipes running here and there. The locomotive Wren had worked on the Calshot RAF railway in Hampshire before eventually coming to Chiswick in 1925. By 1929 it was working as a gravel pit in Wansford, Hunts, where it was broken up in 1939.
Regrettably there are no known pictures of these engines at work at Chiswick. They were later replaced by Simplex petrol engines and these in turn by Simplex Diesels. The road transport consisted of powerful six wheeled Sentinel steam wagons with the words "Concrete Aggregates Ltd" Phone Chiswick 4344" painted in large letters across the front, and a fleet of aggressive looking Leyland trucks on solid tyres, Most vehicles left a continuous trail of water along the roads from their wet loads.
Meanwhile a few miles from Chiswick, the materials which had been won from The Riverside Lands were entering the construction of the new Bank of England, the Port of London Authority, the Carreras factory and Bush House amongst others. Altogether two million cubic yards of material, including sand, all in ballast and all grades of washed shingle were sold from the works.
At the height of production there was a 16 to 20 hour day in two shifts. Electric power was supplied by 220 volt d.c. generators driven by diesel engines in the works powerhouse. Darkness was not allowed to disrupt production and even the jibs of the cranes were fitted with electric lights.
Excavation began in 1924 and finished around 1937. During this time the works was one of the largest of its kind and expanded to the other side of the Great Chertsey Road, where there were smaller workings between Hartington Road and the river. The operating company was known as the Thames Grit and Aggregates Ltd, by 1929. It merged with Hall and Company in 1931 to form Hall and Ham River Ltd.
The infillings for the exhausted pits were brought from demolition sites. For a long period the site of the workings was a happy hunting ground for beachcombers who could find such things as fine glazed and ornamental tiles here in profusion.
Another Report from Brentford & Chiswick Times July 1971
Did you know that the extensive sports grounds at Dukes Meadows, Chiswick were once a gravel pit?
A reminder of this little known fact came recently with the announcement of an award by the Sand Gravel association for imaginative uses of old workings. A special plaque is being erected on the site to mark the award, one of 18 throughout the country.
A special booklet has been published to commemorate the awards, and contains some interesting facts about the grounds. Gravel extraction started in 1924 and before that time the area had been given over to cherry orchards and rough water meadows. Filling in was carried out immediately after extraction and was done mainly with demolition material from the slums of inner London. Working ended in 1937 but the land was not returned to the local authority until 1948. Dukes Meadows is described as "one of the earliest and most impressive examples of restoration"
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