Friday, 27 March 2009

The Great Wimbledon "What Is It?"

I received an intriguing tip-off from a friend the other night about an 'interesting object' that he often passed in Sunnyside Road, Wimbledon. He kindly attached a photo of what looked for all the world like a strange alternative-universe variation on a Victorian post box. The black and green livery looked very smart though and it obviously required further investigation, so I paid a quick visit during my lunch break.

It wasn't too hard to find, sitting at the end of Sunnyside Road just by Sunnyside Passage. I don't know what your first thoughts are on seeing it below but, as there was a padlock on what was obviously a door, I thought it might be a way of providing access to a ladder that led down to the main sewer.
That didn't seem all that convincing though as being perched on the top of a hill at the end of a fairly isolated road didn't seem like ideal main sewer territory. Very intriguing though, especially as this picture shows double hinges allowing almost half of the object to swing open like a wardrobe door. Any thoughts yet?
As you can see from the pediment the whole object was really quite ornate with quite a spectacular point on te roof, reminding me of some sort of kiosk from Topkapi Palace in IstambulAha! Could this be another clue? Ventilation holes running underneath the lid. Could this be to help disperse any noxious fumes from the sewer below? But again a nice show of cast-iron decoration. Whatever it is there's obviously been a lot of thought gone into its design and decoration.
The locks are not new either and provided a major clue as to the actual use of the structure. Getting a bit of an inkling now??
Then when searching around the back I caught sight of a plaque.I had to photograph it from the other side and through the foliage but it really gave the game away when I read the inscription "The British Electric Transformer Co., Hayes, Middlesex".
So there it was, this attractive and unusual object was a very early electric transformer box, the sort that these days seems to consist of either a bland box up against a wall or those strange little brick buildings if they are a bit on the larger side. The padlock clue was the fact that it was stamped with the initials L.E.B. which stood for the London Electricity Board
The LEB ceased to exist in 1990 so those padlocks have been around for a few years so I hope through all the changes in ownership that no-one lost the keys! There were other clues, including these electricity covers at the base of the unit, but all in all an intriguing and interesting piece of street furniture.

A quick google found another example listed in Molesy and recorded by the local Industrial Archaeological unit Their explanation was that it was used to 'boost the flagging voltage at the end of a long supply feed' which would make sense for this site too. However I don't think their illustration is quite as ornate as the Wimbledon example, especially when it come to the pediment. Definitely the same overall design though...

If you wanted to get seriously nerdy, it could be that the kiosk originally housed a Static (Berry) Transformer 1919 if this book published by the British Electric Transformer Company can be taken as good circumstantial evidence. Anything beyond that though would be total conjecture. Anyway it's a really pleasing object and a real find!


Sebastien Ardouin said...

Yes, this is a late 19th century electricity substation, and it may well be the last one in the UK. As such it is grade II listed. It used to be painted dark blue and white (to be honest that looked nicer than the present colour scheme). A familiar sight for me as I pass by it each time I cross the Common and walk down to Wimbledon. By the way, not far from Sunnyside, on the Ridgeway there is a painted sign which will still be visible only for another couple of weeks or so. Once trees will have put their leaves it will be largely hidden for another year.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

We were on the Wimbledon Village walk (from a book) when we passed this transformer. There was no explanation in the book, so we googled it and found your explanation. Thank you.

Chas said...

Have now found two of these within a mile of my front door. One with full history:


Martin Fenge said...

So glad I found this; I passed the transformer a couple of times going uphill to Wimbledon in last few weeks from Merton Park. I thought at first it was linked to the sewer; but now it is all cleared up. Thank you.

Tim ap Hywel, LLandeilo said...

I used to pass this every day on my way to school between 1960 and 1965. It used to be painted dingy Electricity Board green then and look generally neglected. But in ?1965 my fellow-pupil Giles Oliver who lived nearby, deeming that its baroque ornamentation deserved better, in the true spirit of the sixties, repainted it very tastefully in black, gold and mauve (I think). I seem to remember there was some trouble about it because he had 'defaced' an Electricity Board installation. At school we considered it his. I was interested to note that it's still painted in a vaguely decorative manner, though not so artistically.

Technology Moves Apace said...

It is Grade II Listed, recorded as an ELECTRICITY SUBSTATION

Also on flickr here