Sunday, 26 July 2015


SOME BITS OF PIECES FROM MY IN TRAY.......................................


The Enderby Group is happy to provide a speaker for meetings of all sorts - to tell you about Enderby Wharf and Enderby House and how Greenwich began the telecoms revolution.  Email me for details


Its not good - we still have no idea if the gasholder has been bought by a developer, bent on demolition, who that developer might be, and if there is any support at all for keeping it for whatever use.  We can give lots of ideas for re-use - like is done by people all round the world, except here!!!

However - many people out there are interested in our holder.  A photograph of it has just been exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition.  A limited edition of this photograph was for sale at £150 each (!!) and has now sold out

Neil Sharman has asked us to advertise 'Do you remember the Pleasaunce in World War Two??' please email   This is East Greenwich Pleasaunce - not the park with a similar name in Eltham.  They know there was a public shelter for 150 people, and that two high explosive bombs were dropped - but they want to know where these were and if there were also allotments (and I want to know how the avoided digging on the area where all the mass graves are).

Nicola has an exhibition of, among other things, messages in bottles, "Waves from the Water" is at the Made in Greenwich Gallery 324 Creek Road 1st-12th August. 11am-6pm

The Department of Architecture at Greenwich University has produced a rather important book about students work on the Greenwich Peninsula and Thamesmead.  There is too much of it to put much here - it will be the subject of a separate posting.  But in the meanwhile Ian Worley has put a posting on Facebook about his contribution to it.  This is via a link to Making is Thinking  Please read

Future meetings in their new home:

23rd September - 2000 years of Greenwich. A potted history. Linda Cunningham et al
28th October - Munitions Lasses - Frances Ward
25th November - 50 Years of the London Borough of Greenwich. Julian Watson
27th January - The GHS Pantomime
24th February - Greenwich History Online. Rob Powell
23rd March - F.W.Simms Map - The Parish of Greenwich in the County of Kent 1838. Anthony Cross
27th April - Greenwich. A Photographic Memoir
25th May - possible visit to Chiswick

All at James Wolfe Primary School, Royal Hill.
They also make a note of the DORA Project - another project looking at Second World War bomb sites - they have a presentation on 12th September in St. Alfege Church Hall.

I know this isn't in Greenwich, and it is also the other side of the River - but this is an SOS from a really great group - the East End Waterway Group   Fish Island is the little bit of Hackney Wick full of old industrial buildings - for example the buildings where the first plastic was developed and made, and much else. It escaped being pulled down for the Olympics, but now the developers are sliding in. Swan Wharf is on the Old Ford Lock on the River Lea - and until relatively recently was still in use and a whole load of exotic substances were imported through it.  Now someone wants to build flats  - of course - but this is not just an interesting old building, it is a wharf which could potentially be used for handing goods taken by canal and not by lorry.
The group is also trying to secure retention of a number of east end gasholders - the dramatically sited Bethnal Green holders and Leven Road (just the other side of the tunnel)
There is a lot more -

For those of you who do not get the many twitter postings from @EastLondonGroup  we would recommend it.  There are many postings about Greenwich , and, because the artists were working before the Second World War, there are often queries asking where people think the site is.  Oh - yes - and lots of 1930s paintings of the Bethnal Green holders.

GIHS members will remember Rich's great talk on the history of the Greenwich Square/GDH site. Well - if you walk up Vanburgh Hill as far as the Health Centre, which is being demolished, you will find a whole exhibition about Rich's work posted on the hoardings.  Go see!

I note the headline on their newsletter says 'Our heritage our future' and the front page is all about speakers they have had on Magna Carta.  Hopefully they will move forward and fast!!
Inside is 'News from Royal Museums'  'Magna Carta Celebrations' (ho hum)  and a note about the new venue for Greenwich Historical Society (fair enough, see below).   Must tell them that GIHS always happy to provide info and speakers.

We see their new history group is now up and running with Chocolate Biscuits (must go along!!). Next meeting is 7th September 11 am in the Wildlife Centre.  Please keep us informed - happy to post up info, or whatever.

Lewisham are beginning a project on the history of the Borough and people with info are urged to get in touch. 
They have future meetings  all at 7.45 Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way
31st July Seaside Sauce by Alan Payne -about Greenwich resident Donald McGill
25th September - they have Charlton resident His Eminience The Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury talking about his campaign to save Catford's 19th century Town Hall.
30th October - Martin Costello on Catford Broadway Theatre

they also advertise
6th October Windmills of North West Kent and Kentish London. Bromley Borough Local History Society, Trinity United Reformed Church, Freelands Road, Bromley, 7.45

People round the world are interested in our gasholders and desperate to see them before they are all pulled down.  Recently a marathon tour was conducted round London by GLIAS members to take in as many as possible in one day for foreign journalists..  The didn't get to East Greenwich until late afternoon - they had started at 9am!! - and still had five more sites to go. Happy to give details of what you can see and where you can see it.

The Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society has a walk round the Greenwich Peninsula  3rd October Sat GREENWICH PENINSULA: THIS USED TO BE... Led by Dan Hayton. You have to book to go on this:, and GLIAS limits numbers - so  the whole of East Greenwich can't turn up to tell it like it was/is, however much we might like to.   Hopefully they will spend a lot of time at Enderby's and lots with the gasholder.

The Group has been very busy, albeit, still not sure what will happen to Enderby House. The developers are obliged under the planning consent to repair and reconstruct it - but, since we began making a fuss, a number of organisaitons and individuals have come forward with ideas for it. We will report in duecourse

In the meantime we have produced quite a lot of written material which will be published  in due course. Two of these are on Bill Burns's Atlantic Cable web site - - this site is vast and contains everything you could ever want to know. The two papers produced by the Enderby Group's Stewart Ash are:

Another paper - by me - about the site's non-Enderby and non-cable related industries will appear somewhere or other (probably here, if no one else interested)  and most of it is about the Government Gunpowder Depot and a rather interesting father and son engineeers, the Beales.

We also understand that the Royal Academy summer exhibition (see above)  had an exhibit on 'Enderby Place' -

- the other thing of note is that the Enderby cruise liner terminal planning consent has gone through the system and now has consent - local people are pretty angry about that and about the pollution aspects of the proposed liners. The issue is - biazarrely - something called 'cold ironing'.  We need to know more - could one of you experts please explain......

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

New Woolwich High Level Bridge

New Woolwich High Level Bridge -
I think these are mid-1930s and far from sure where the drawing has come from - and clearly it would be difficult to have loaded it up as one long strip.
Who knows more about this??

Monday, 6 July 2015

The night Tower Bridge melted

I don't think I should put personal reminisences here - but its hot - and people are moaning about the buses.

In the late '60s - I was working in Stamford Street, and I could get a number 70 bus from outside my office to the Cutty Sark.  So - it was a very, very hot evening and I set off for Greenwich.

The traffic was terrible and the bus was hot - even up the front in an RT with the windows open.  We got slower and slower - by the time we got to Tooley Street there were buses and cars which had boiled, all over the pavements. Buses were pulled over with the driver and conductor sitting on the platform, looking miserable.  Vast great queues at bus stops. Terrible. And it kept getting hotter.  Eventually people began to pass round a story - someone had got on the bus who had told them that Tower Bridge had melted and that the road had fallen into the river.

Well you never know, do you?

I have looked in vain on the net for this incident - although one US newspaper clipping says it was in July 1968..   I know Tower Bridge has stuck again recently but none of the reports of that seem to mention it at all. 

So what was going on??

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Dodging the Column - how the company saw it!

Going through the park
Dodging the Column  - recently I have taken to showing at talks on Greenwich industry the 1950s British Transport film - 'Dodging the Column'.  This shows equipment from the Charlton based manufacturer, Harveys, being taken to Scotland.  The article below comes from Harvey's house magazine (December 1951) and shows their view of things -

If you haven't seen 'Dodging the Column' - it is on Youtube.  One of the earliest shots shows a chap climbing the bus stop in Woolwich Road, outside the prefabs which predated Phipps House - and he has a hammer in his hand, clearly with intent.....  It sort of goes on from there - you'll enjoy it. 

AT 8 am. on Sunday morning the 28th October, 1951 there emerged from the Heavy Construction Department the biggest distillation column yet.

Round the Marble arch

This column, which was manufactured for the ·Forth Chemicals, Ltd., measured 130 ft. 6 in. in length and had an inside diameter of 8 ft. It  weighed 40 tons. No light job this to convey to Grangemouth on the shores of the Firth of Forth, Scotland. Transport was in the capable hands of E. W. Rudd, Heavy Haulage Service, Special Traffic (Pickford) Division, British Road Services, who have now acquired a bit of experience in handling Harvey's " tall orders."

Traction was provided by two 45-ton 100 h.p. Scammell tractors and the column was carried 0n two trailers approximately 60 ft. apa-t.

Great credit is due to the two drivers, Bert Burns and George Bird, who completed the 417 mile journey two days ahead of schedule. Only one snag was encountered: at. Eamont Bridge, Penrith, where the end of the column became wedged on the road at a dip. After some time it was hoisted clear.


Police protection
'Rarin' to go' - the column still in the factory

Holding up the traffic

Hyde Park Corner
Worm's eye view

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Coal tar and Coal tar dyes

Today coal tar is seen as a menacing cancer-giving substance. This of course wasn't always the case and careers in the gas industry were built on knowledge of tars and how they could be used.  The following article describes its application in the development of dyes.  It was written in the 1920s-or 1930s and comes from Copartnership Herald - which was the house journal of the east London based Commercial Gas Company.
It is worth noting - what the article doesn't say - that most of the research described here took place in east London. largely in Hackney Wick.  Perkin himself, very much the hero of tar based dye stuffs - was brought up in Stepney and did much of his lonely research as a lad in a room above his father's shop.
We shouldn't put down the achievements of these researchers because of our subsequent knowledge. Arguably we wouldn't know of the dangers had people like them not looked at new substances and analysed them - and the development of these coal tar dyes led to other research, as well as leading to major industries and consumer goods, which we still buy.
It is of historical interest that the first English patent, referring to the destructive distillation of coal, was granted in the year 1681 to .J .J. Becher and Henry Serle for "a new way of making pitch and tarre out of pit- coale never before found out or used by any other." At first the industry was of very small proportions, and. not until the beginning of the nineteenth century was the distillation of coal carried out extensively, and then 110t for the purpose of producing tar and pitch, but for the making of coal gas. The tar thus formed forced itself upon the notice of the gas manufacturer since it could ·not be thrown away without causing a nuisance. As it was impossible to get rid of it by running it into the streams and rivers, the problem was solved to some extent by burning the tar as a fuel. About the year 1830, tar was used at the Glasgow Gas Works for heating the retorts by pouring it over the coke. Some relief was also brought about by its use as a paint for wood and metal work, and for this purpose the more volatile portions of the tar were removed by distillation, the spirit so obtained being used either as a substitute or turpentine or as a solvent for rubber in the manufacture of a waterproof material, which is still known by the name of the original Glasgow manufacturer, Mackintosh. Some of the residue from the distillation was burned for the production of lampblack, and this was used in the making of blacking and printers' ink.
The demand for tar still lagged behind the supply until the year 1838, when .John Bethel introduced a process for preserving or •• pickling" timber, thus starting an industry which has now attained enormous proportions, and still forms at the present day one of the most important outlets for coal tar oils.
During the year 1845 there was founded ill London the Royal College of Chemistry, where A. VV. Hofmann and his students interested themselves in the nature and composition of coal tar. One of the 'earliest results to be obtained was the isolation from it of the hydrocarbon benzene. These investigations not only led to the isolation of some of the main constitucnts of coal tar, but were the beginning from which the vast modern industry of coal tar dyes, drugs, and explosives has grown. As early as in the year 1831 it was known that when benzene is treated with concentrated nitric acid it is converted into an oily liquid nitro-benzene, which was manufactured in small quantities, 'and used under the name of essence of mirbane for scenting soap. Nitro-benzene in its turn, as was found by Bechamp in 1854, could be converted into aniline by the action of a mixture of acetic acid and finely divided iron upon the nitro-benzene. It was with this compound, aniline, that W H. Perkin made his important discovery of the first coal tar dye. Whilst engaged in an attempt to produce quinine from simpler substances, he treated a solution of aniline in dilute sulphuric acid with potassium dichromate. As a result there separated out dark-coloured resinous mass, and from this material Pcrkin obtained the first known aniline dye, which was manufactured and sold under the name of aniline purple or mauve, the name given to it by the French dyers. The success which attended the introduction of mauve, the vogue of which among the women became so common that Punch referred to it as " The mauve measles," naturally led chemists to try the action of other substances on aniline, and although they did not succeed in making mauve, their efforts led to the discovery of a new dye, aniline red, magenta or fuchsine. The formation of this dye had been observed as early as 1856, but the success of its manufacture was not achieved until the year l860, when two English chemists, Medlock and Nicholson prepared it by the action of arsenic acid on commercial aniline. Just as aniline formed the basis of manufacture for mauve and of magenta, so magenta in its turn became the starting-point for the preparation of a series of new dyes, the number of which began rapidly to increase. In 186l aniline blue was prepared by heating magenta with aniline in the presence of benzoic acid, and by treating this dye with concentrated sulphuric acid Nicholson produced the more valuable blue which possessed the advantage of being soluble in water. This dye was more suitable for dyeing wool than the dyes previously prepared.
Although the preparation of new dyes and the perfecting of their industrial production was carried on with much vigour along the lines opened up by W. H. Pcrkin, chemists were not unmindful or the need of more theoretical investigations for the purpose of determining the composition and constitution of these new substances. In this work Hofmann took a leading part, and in 1862 confirmed what had already been discovered by Nicholson, that magenta could not be obtained from the pure aniline but only from the commercial aniline which contained the two substances, ortho- and para-toluidine, as impurities. Owing to these developments, a demand was created for the more volatile portions of the coal tar which had to be rejected by the timber "pickling" industry.
Although, in the past, crude coal tar was employed not only as a fuel but also for the manufacture of roofing felt, the tarring of roads and other purposes, the water or ammoniacal liquor present in the tar was found to be detrimental, so that now only a small amount is used in the crude static
Tar is a complex mixture of substances, and these vary considerably, their relative amounts depending upon the kind of coal distilled, and the conditions under which the distillation is carried out. The temperature, shape of retort, and the time during which the volatile products remain in contact with the red hot walls of the retort, influence to a wide extent its chemical and physical properties. "Then the distillation is carried out at a low temperature the tar contains a large percentage of hydrocarbons of the paraffin and olefine series, and a small' amount of naphthalene and “free carbon." If the distillation is carried out at a high temperature, as in the case when coal is distilled for illuminating gas or hard coke, the tar contains only traces of paraffinoid hydrocarbons, the predominating hydrocarbons being those of the benzene, naphthalene, and anthracene series (aromatic hydro- carbons). The "free carbon" content of this tar is generally high. In practice the tar obtained from heavily charged retorts is of a superior quality to that produced from those lightly charged, and contains less" free carbon" and a higher percentage of light oils.
Of the total quantity of tar produced in produced in gas works, about 60 per cent. is deposited in the hydraulic main, the remainder being carried forward with this gas to the condensers and tar extractors.