Wednesday, 7 March 2018


The speaker from the PLA for next week's meeting is now unable to do the talk.

Hoping to get a replacement - watch this space

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

John Humpheries House

John Humpheries House and Leo Computer Centre

by Harry Pearman

John Humphries House in Stockwell Street was the first purpose-built computer centre in Greenwich and the site of a remarkable initiative by local government.

An early UK computer with an electronic stored memory was the EDSAC  machine developed at Cambridge University in 1949. I caught the attention of J. Lyons & Co., who were the managers of a highly successful teashop chain.   They were also innovators of management systems and found that the paperwork of stock control in all of their branches greatly inhibited efficiency. Lyons therefore set about building the first UK computer for business use. It was dubbed the LEO 1 machine; LEO standing for Lyons Electronic Office. It utilised mercury delay lines for memory storage, and ran the world's first regular office job for stock control in 1951. An offshoot company, LEO Computers Ltd., was formed in 1954 to market the technology and LE02 machines were installed in many British offices, including Ford Motor Company, British Oxygen Company and the Ministry of Pensions at Newcastle.

This success led to the invention of the LE03 machine. This machine used panels of magnetic washers to store programs and data. Memory size was limited, and programmers had to show great ingenuity in the direct manipulation of memory in order to contain data. Files were stored on magnetic tape reels and data was entered by completing batches of forms, which were punched onto paper tape. Programs were written in a wholly numeric language called Intercede, and the primitive operating system required a great deal of operator intervention. LEO'S principal benefit was the ability to print forms and tabulations at speeds of up to 1,000 lines a minute.

In 1960 these innovations caught the attention of a Greenwich Councillor named John Humphries.   He was instrumental in the creation of a Joint Committee formed from the then Metropolitan Boroughs of Greenwich, Woolwich, Deptford, Southwark, Bermondsey and Camberwell, and this in turn set about the creation of a computer centre, with the result that John Humphries house was built and officially opened. The development of systems was placed in the hands of the Metropolitan Boroughs Organisation & Methods Committee, another Joint Organisation serving the needs of 28 Metropolitan Boroughs and managed by John Dive. They created a computer division and it was based at John Humphries The first application was Rate Accounting and this was followed by Payroll, General Ledger Accounting, Job Costing, Stock Control, Creditor Payments, Miscellaneous Debtors, Transport, Housing Rents, Electoral Registration, Library Cataloguing and Land Use Registration. Subsequently The Forest and Bexley Hospitals and the Bloodstock Agency also used the services of the site.

A major change took place in 1965 when London Government was re-organised and the centre then serviced the data processing needs of the London Boroughs of Bexley, Greenwich and Southwark. As computing developed it became financially viable for each local authority to create its own computer installation. The need for a joint installation ceased and the use of John Humphries House was discontinued, LEO Computers Ltd merged with the computer interests of English Electric in 1963 to form English Electric LEO, and later, English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM). Subsequent mergers eventually found LEO incorporated into SCL in 1968. And the ICL machine range took over new production.

Friday, 9 February 2018

The Ghost in the Dome

You see this all goes back to at least 1998 and maybe further back.

I had done this M.Phil at the Poly in the early 1980s and it was about George Livesey who was the big man in the late 19th century gas  industry.  He had built East Greenwich Gas Works  and I rather thought - as the Millennium neared - well this was my big chance!

I was also researching the history of the peninsula and for a long time I had been going down there and climbing through hedges and finding things (I was younger then), chatting up security men and so on.  I got to know Kay Murch who was the last gas works employee on the site and by then she was site manager for the New Millennium Experience Company.  Kay was a local lady, who had started in the gas works as a typist, and she was all right.

So - its 1998 - one morning I open the Guardian and there is a big three page spread about the Dome, and Kay had taken a group of press men round the site. She had been asked about stories of a ghost - oh, yes, she had said - its George Livesey who built the gas works, Mary Mills knows all about it.'   There it was, in print.

So - next evening there I was on ITV - at what was then the Livesey Museum in the Old Kent Road. Telling the world about George.

And then I sort of forgot about it. But then once the Dome was opened in 2000 I got a call from their press officer - who I knew anyway. And down I went for an interview with Psychic News and Fortean Times.  'Tell us' they said 'did Mr. Livesey have any hobbies'.  'Oh yes, he liked to go to the seaside' .  'Oh' says the press officer 'there is a seaside zone in the Dome ... and its on the site of the old gas company office block'.  Ah ha.  

Next thing I was on the John Dunn show going down the river on Viceroy and telling them all about Livesey live on air - except when I mentioned Blur and Park Life in Riverway (they put music over that bit and told me off - the John Dunn show never had music recorded after 1970).   

Anyway it all pops up from time to time in ghost hunting journals. Personally I think Livesey was a committed Christian, rational and very very bright and would have had no truck with becoming a ghost.

BUT some years later I met some bloke who said to me that he was the ghost in the Dome.  He said that in the Second World War he was fire watching down in the gas company offices. He was tired so he wrapped himself up in a sheet and went to sleep on the comfy deep pile carpet in the director's offices. Then clank clank there is the cleaner in the morning, so he stood up, wrapped  in a sheet ............................ so you see that's how stories start.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Sorry - that  it has been so long since this blog appeared. It has  been a very very slow month for information coming in and newsletters only started arriving this week. There is a lot going on in the wider world of industrial Greenwich histiory - but not very much we can report on.

The gas holder.   As people will be aware from the local press, following the issue of an Immunity from Listing order by the Department of the Environment,  the Council was asked to agree plans to demolish it.  These were refused by the Council - we understand at officer level - and also we understand discussions are going on about its future. But we do not know any more than that.  
Enderby Group and Enderby House.   Things go apace on the Enderby site with the new housing filling up and an active bunch of new residents (see their Facebook page).  With Enderby House the Group has met the Greenwich Conservation Officer with reference to remediation work there.  We understand she, and someone from Historic England and been to inspect and are now passing on their thoughts to Barratts.  We await more information. As people will be aware part of the site has now been sold but we do not know who to. The sales office has now been demolished which means that work on the Riverside path will start in two phases and would take some time - meaning more closures and the future is still very unclear
The Group has also met with Barratts and the Council about a new sculpture to go on the riverside at Enderby Wharf.  We have been asked not to give details but we were very very impressed and like what is being put forward a lot.
Atlas and Derrick Gardens. The council is considering conservation area status for Atlas and Derrick Gardens in Anchor and Hope Lane. The consultation is now closed and and we await results Atlas and Derrick Gardens were built by Corys in the 19th century to house workers from their coal transhipment site in the River - called Atlas
Siemens. The Government has also issued an Immunity from Listing order on some of the old Siemens buildings in Bowater Road  Again we do not know the current position but there is a great deal of opposition to this both from the Council, the Siemens Engineering Society and a number of important historians who have worked on these Woolwich sites.
White Hart. We understand that the Council is intending to refurbish the old White Hart 'power station' depot building for community use. It has been in use by Crossrail for the past two or three years - so let's see what happens and what the plans are.
Hopefully more information about all of these will be available soon

We are sorry to hear of the death of Greenwich historian, Beryl Platts. Beryl was not an industrial historian but she always had something interesting to say in her work on central Greenwich and the Crooms Hill area of which she had a vast store of knowledge. Condolences to her family - and her daughter Elizabeth, a distinguished archaeologist and member of the Enderby Group
Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter
The Antiquarians current newsletter gives details of a talk by iim Marrett on buildings in Woolwich with some interesting personal details. He described how he had a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee mug with a picture of the Arsenal main gate on it and the date '1977'.   The society hopes to have installed plaque to the memory of the people who worked in the Arsenal in 1917 including Lilian Barker who was superintendent for the women workers including those in danger buildings.  He said that a monument in Plumstead cemetery commemorates 16 people killed in the Arsenal in a guncotton and Lydditte explosion in 1903.  
He also talked about the Bull Pub on Shooters Hill saying that the arms of William and Mary which were once in its tap room are now in the Courage headquarters.  He also said that the Parish boundary stone of  1812 is in his back garden
Woolwich walk  - Wonderful Woolwich
We have been told about a  series of walks arranged by the London Metropolitan Archive which includes Wonderful Woolwich on 14th March.  Tickets available through Eventbrite but we have no further details
Enderby wharf advertising for homes – we spotted the following information given on the Barratt website advertising homes on the wharf:
"The development was named after Samuel Enderby, a maritime entrepreneur and explorer who founded a shipping company in the 18th century.
His residence, Enderby House, a listed building, now forms part of the new development"
We asked the Enderby Group's Stewart Ash what he thought about this. And he says:
The development may have been named after Samuel Enderby (senior or junior) they don’t say, but that is not where the site or the house got their names from, and neither Samuel ever lived there.  Both were dead before the site was acquired!  The site gets its name from the Enderby Hemp & Rope Works, established by Messrs Enderby Brothers (Charles George & Henry) in 1830, the year after Samuel Jnr died.  Charles, George and Henry were Samuel Jnr’s sons.   Charles Enderby, member of the Royal Society for the Arts and founder member of the Geographical Society had the house built in 1845-46 and lived there from April 1846 to August 1849.
So - please Barrett’s talk to us and we will help you get the information right next time you put advertisements out.  Happy to help!
Historic England 
We have a note from Mark Stevenson at Historic England to say that archaeological work on Phase 9 Woolwich Riverside will start soon, He has sent us a document about the site and we’re happy to forward that to anybody if they get in touch
Mark also sent us details of archaeological work for the Valley House scheme area, But no more details than that work will start soon.
GLIAS Newsletter February 2018
They advertise
20th February talk on "Iron men - 19th century engineer Henry Maudslay and his circle."  People will be aware that the start of Maudslays career in Woolwich and that there is a stained glass window of him in Woolwich Town hall - so everybody should go to this 
21st March. James Brindley in London and his plans for the Thames
18 April. London’s Underground Edwardian tile patterns and some their context
16th May. AGM  Talk about the Post Office Museum and Railway
These talks are all at 75 Cowcross Street EC1M 6EL at 6.30
GLIAS also advertise
11th April.  John Pender. The Cable King. this is a talk for elite Newcomen Society by the Enderby Group's Stewart Ash. It is at 5.45 pm at the Dana Studio, Wellcome Wolfson Building, 165 Queen’s Gate,  SW7 5HD.  details 
A memorial service for Dr. Denis Smith will be held on the 9th June at Thaxted  Parish Church at 14.30
We are sorry to learn from Lewisham Local History Society of the recent death of Gordon Dennington. Gordon  edited their  Newsletter for 15 years and also came to talk to us in Greenwich on a couple of occasions. He will be missed.
Bromley Borough Local History Society
We understand that on the 6th of March they have a talk the Lubbock family. This distinguished family had a role in Greenwich as successive family members chaired Morden College. the talk is 7. 45 at Trinity United Reformed Church. Freelands Road, Bromley 
Ordnance Jetty
We note that local wildlife enthusiasts as well as the 853 blog are concerned about plans by the 02 Hotel Intercontinental and their plans to convert the  disused Ordnance Jetty into a restaurant for  river buses and hotel vistitors. Details on 853 blog.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Copperas in Greenwich and Deptford Part 4, The Final Years

Part 4


Elizabeth Pearson was the daughter of Charles Pearson, who owned copperas works up and down the Thames and Medway estuaries.  In the early nineteenth century, she kept a diary.  The first part of the diary runs from 1796 to 1804 when Elizabeth was in her early twenties, but, following a gap of sixteen years she took it up again in 1820.  Elizabeth's time was divided between three homes – the family haberdashery business in the City of London, the 'Castle' at Tankerton near the copperas works, and 'Ravensbourne House' in Greenwich.  Since this narrative is about the copperas industry in Greenwich and Deptford then what Elizabeth had to say about her life in Greenwich is very relevant.  At the same time the copperas industry itself was beginning to change and the 1820s was a period in which Charles Pearson himself, and his son, began to try new outlets and ideas.

By 1820 travel between Greenwich and the Kent coast had suddenly become interesting and easy.  No more of the 'nine hours in a post chaise' which the family had endured previously.  One of Elizabeth's earliest diary entries in the 1820s is with the news that 'brother has come from Ramsgate.. in the Favourite Steam yacht' and a month or so later Elizabeth herself 'returned home by the London Engineer Steam Yacht .. had a delightful voyage.. brother returned home by the Majestic Steam Yacht'. 

Steam boat services on the river had revolutionised life for many travellers, but the Pearsons with their regular journeys between Tankerton and Greenwich must have been particularly grateful.  The time keeping and speed with which these vessels accomplished a hitherto uncertain voyage was revolutionary - a traveller of 1825 noted in the Maidstone Journal that 'Captain Rule of the Eclipse Steam Packet … told many of his passengers within two minutes of the time he should arrive at his destination..'

'Favourite' was originally owned in 1817 Gravesend Steam Packet Company to operate between London, Gravesend and Sheerness.  She had been built in Blackfriars by Lafort and Sons, was 160 tons with engines by Boulton and Watt. In 1820 she was taken over by the Margate Steam Packet Company in 1820 and run until 1828. 

'London Engineer' was, if anything, more famous.  She was built by Daniel Brent of Rotherhithe and said to 'mark the first major departure from the basic design'.  She was 120 ft long with a wooden hull and a draught of 5ft.  Her engines were by Maudslay Son and Field and she had paddle wheels built to a special and novel arrangement.  Elizabeth would have sat in her comfortable saloon with its upholstered settees rather than the aft cabin with wooden benches. 

I know nothing about  'Majestic' but the family also travelled by 'Eclipse' steam packet, one of the earliest such boats run by the Margate Steam Packet Co. from 1816. 

Steam was changing the lives of everybody – and the steam packets were not only for well off people like the Pearsons.  Perhaps the last word on the atmosphere around them is best described by Robert Surtees on the occasion Mr. Jorrocks left Margate in a hoy without his trousers. Passengers at Margate jostle for the rival charms of 'Royal Adelaide, fast and splendid' and 'splendid and superb Magnet'…  everyone furiously betting on which will reach the Tower first  'for the Monday steamboat race is as great an event as the Derby'.  Once out at sea 'both firemen … boil up a tremendous gallop'….until 'Royal Adelaide manages to shoot ahead for a few minutes amid the cheers and exclamations of her crew' but 'the stiller waters of the Thames favours the Magnet and she shoots ahead….'    Was this really the atmosphere for a polite middle aged lady like Elizabeth Pearson?

In Greenwich Elizabeth had developed a local friendship with the Millington family, visiting frequently and involving herself in a number of tragedies which befell them.  The Millingtons lived in a vast and opulent Jacobean house which stood on the Greenwich riverside on the roughly the present site of the Greenwich Power Station.  This house had been built by a Gregory Clement in the seventeenth century and later bought by Ambrose Crowley.  Crowley had a large ironworks at Winlaton on the Tyne and in 1703 set up a warehouse on the Greenwich riverside – where, since the area became known as Anchor Iron Wharf, it is assumed anchors were on the main branches of his trade along with 'hatchets, iron chains, chaffing dishes, hammers, hoes', and so on and including a line in shackles for the slave trade.

By the mid-eighteenth century, the Crowley family were no longer active in the business and in 1782 an Isiah Millington, had become a partner.  Millington and his family lived at Crowley House in Greenwich and became friends of the Pearsons.  Mrs. Walsh, a descendent of the Pearsons and owner of the diary, has said in her paper on the family that Charles Pearson may originally have become interested in copperas through a relationship with Isiah Millington at City Company dinners at the George and Vulture in Fleet Street.  Be that as it may the Millington family and their industrial interests in Greenwich might be the subject of a future article, since it is their relationships with the Pearson's which is of interest here.

Mrs. Walsh also suggested that the iron necessary for copperas manufacture might have come from the Millington Iron Works – and this is perfectly possible since any scrap iron would have been suitable.  I do not think that the Millingtons had an ironworks in Greenwich adjacent to the copperas works on Creekside. The indications are that they continued with the warehousing business at Anchor Iron Wharf while also branching out into other business activities in the area. 

Elizabeth Pearson often recorded visits to the Millington family – sometimes with her sister Amelia, and with other friends, like the Mr. & Mrs. Morris she mentions in November 1820.  In May 1821 she noted the sudden, and apparently scandalous death, of John Millington 'in lodgings at Sydenham … he returned from America … leaving his wife, his child is dead … his death can be considered a benefit to his family'.  What scandal is hidden there I do not know – since I have been unable to unearth anything about John Millington, except that he is not the scientist of the same name, who also went to America in this period.

In November of the same year Elizabeth recorded the death of old Mrs. Millington at Crowley house 'in her 89th year and confined to her room two years and five months'.  Mrs. Millington had been a close friend of Elizabeth's own mother and she remembered her dearly as she saw ' our dear mother's kind old friend in her coffin'.  Mrs. Millington's son, Crowley Millington, had been away at the time of his mother's death but on his return Crowley House once more became a lively riverside home – and Elizabeth records how her sister Amelia went there regularly for music lessons.

Since her mother's death Elizabeth had acquired more domestic responsibilities.  She records a visit to Woolwich in search of a servant, and again to discuss arrangements for her new employee.  Still her evenings and many days were spent in domestic work 'cutting out new shirts' but with some opportunities for more intellectual pastimes 'writing extracts from Bishop Hershey's sermons on the Sabbath'.

When she was in her early twenties Elizabeth had recorded the birth and subsequent noisy behaviour of young Tom Tilson – a child of one of her fathers' associates.  Tom was now grown and setting out on what was to become a successful legal career.  In 1820 Elizabeth went to see him 'sworn in' and later visited the Tilson family's new house at Brixton Hill.

Much of Elizabeth's life in Greenwich, and indeed in Tankerton, had little to do with the copperas works, which provided the income for her standard of living.  In September 1820 she records a visit to the Tankerton works and again in 1821 'we all walked to the Deptford Works' but most of she records some of father and brothers' business activities and they slowly reveal a move away from the manufacture of copperas alone and towards other industries.

In 1822 she recorded that 'an accident at the gas works' had kept her brother in town.  This accident appears to be unrecorded and unknown but it is in indication of the interest in the gas industry which Charles Pearson Jnr was beginning to take.  There are a number of records about this interest from the gas industry itself – but it is not always easy to distinguish between 'Charles Pearson' father or son in what is recorded, and there is also some confusion with another and different Charles Pearson who was the City of London solicitor and who also had an interest in the early gas industry. 

Charles Pearson is recorded as one of the earliest movers of the South London Gas Company, based in Bankside in the early 1820s, he was fact elected as their first auditor.  Thomas Tilson was also a member of their first board. The company had been started by a Mr. Munro and Elizabeth Pearson records that 'brother dines at Mr.Munro's in Nelson Square' in 1822.  As I have recorded in other articles about the Greenwich Gas Industry the South London Gas Company soon became the Phoenix Gas Company and began to build a works in Greenwich on the banks of the Ravensbourne – somewhat to the north of the copperas works. 

Soon the Greenwich vestry was also embroiled in a legal battle between rival companies.  In the records are thanks given to 'Mr.Pearson for his conduct in defence of Mr.Hammond' and 'Mr.Pearson' appears to represent the Greenwich vestry in negotiations with the gas company.  This might be a totally different Mr. Pearson – it seems unlikely that Charles Pearson Jnr or Snr would negotiate for the vestry in this way – however it might be noted that a still younger Charles Pearson was to embark on a legal career and eventually became a solicitor in Gravesend.  This was Charles Hill Pearson who, at fifteen in 1824 would have been too young to be the person referred to.  Once the Greenwich Works was built then the gas mains were taken through the copperas works site. 

By the early 1830s, the copperas industry was beginning to falter, overtaken by new ways of making both sulphuric acid and dyes.  Pearson was to try and diversify into a wider field in the chemical industry.  In 1833 he approached the central London based Gas Light and Coke Company with an offer on 'sal ammoniac and Prussian Blue' and later asked the prices of the gas industry waste 'ammoniacal liquor' from the north London based Imperial Gas Company.  He was sufficiently price conscious to complain about the price and the quality and was told sharply to 'try at the other works'. 

As late as 1835 it was revealed that the staircase of his Greenwich house had been treated with Mr.Kyan's very poisonous sublimate solution as an attempt to demonstrate a new method of wood preservation.  He was also clearly involved with some newcomers to Deptford –Messrs. Beneke who had come from Germany to try new ways of chemical manufacture.  Pearson was to help pay their bills with some of the London Gas Companies during 1833.

'Old' Charles Pearson died in 1828 leaving £27,000 to his children – his final days seem to have been spent in Greenwich in a new house in Maze Hill.  We know no more of what happened to Elizabeth but she would have become a wealthy woman under her fathers' will.  Young Charles set about spending the money he had been left – among other things he invested in the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway and the 'Pearson Arms' can still be found on the Whitstable seafront.  He was to die in 1870 at his daughters' home in Bloomsbury.

The Greenwich works seems to have stopped production in the 1830s but it is quite clear that chemical works continued to flourish on Deptford Creek through a number of successors – like Beneke – with whom Charles Pearson had been involved.  At around the same time a vitriol works is recorded elsewhere in Greenwich, on the Peninsula, now owned by Lewis Price and Co. it could once have been Moore's copperas works almost adjacent to a number of enterprises belonging to the Millingtons. 

By the 1840s the Greenwich works on Deptford Creek was in the hands of the 'Union Joint Stock Banking Company of Coventry' – they sound very like liquidators to me!

I would like to thank Mrs. Walsh, who originally introduced me to Elizabeth Pearson's Diary, and also Geoffrey Pike who has been kind enough to send me some photocopied extracts. Other material from archive material in the LMA and some published works including 'Royal River Highway' by Frank Dix and, of course, R.S.Surtees 'Jorrock's Jaunts and Jollities'.   I do not know the current whereabouts of any of the diary except for extracts I have in notes - enquiries at Whitstable Museum have got nowhere, and I have lost touch with Mrs. Walsh

And thanks to the inimitable Julian Watson who saw me all through these articles in 17 years ago!! and was the first person to like and share the first posting of these four articles earlier this evening.

All of them have been re-edited but the main substance appeared in Bygone Kent Vol 22. 

Greenwich & Deptford Copperas Part 3. Elizabeth Pearson as a girl

Part 3


In the late eighteenth century Charles Pearson controlled several, if not all of the, copperas works along the Thames and Medway estuaries.  

Charles had a haberdashery business in Fleet Street  -  said to be at no.169 on the corner of Red Lion Court, although a drawing of 1829 shows Pearson's 'hosiery warehouse' at 475 Strand on the corner of Lancaster Court.  Despite controlling a large part of this very valuable chemical industry the haberdashery business seems to have continued. 

In "The Story of Copperas and the Castle", Geoffrey Pike has described Charles Pearson's works in Whitstable and Tankerton and the life of his family there.  Charles had four children, Charles, Clara, Amelia and Elizabeth and at Tankerton he built a 'tower' – which has evolved into the building now known as 'Tankerton Castle' - the local commmunity centre.   

The family did not live only in Tankerton – but spent part of the time in London at the Fleet Street premises, and some time in Greenwich at Ravensbourne House.  Charles, and his son Charles, were both to become closely involved in Greenwich politics, and, to some extent in other industries in the neighbourhood.

Charles Pearson seems to have owned, and lived, at Ravensbourne House from the time he married Elizabeth Radford in 1780.  We know very little about the house then except that it was said to have been 'Tudor'.  It was somewhere in Lamb Lane – today Bardslay Lane – between Greenwich Town Centre and Deptford Creek. However, there is some confusion over through some entries in a diary kept by one of Charles Pearson's children.  

Most of what we know the family and their daily life comes from a diary kept in the early nineteenth century by Charles's daughter Elizabeth.  She had been born in 1781 in Tankerton and named after her mother. She kept a diary for a couple of years in her early twenties and began it again in her early forties. In it she detailed her life as the family moved between their various homes. Geoffrey Pike quoted a number of extracts from it to illustrate her life in Tankerton and Whitstable – perhaps one day someone will do the same for the time she spent in the City of  London.  Elizabeth spent a considerable amount of her life in Greenwich – although sometimes the entries to not always make it clear exactly which of her homes she is describing. Unfortunately as a young lady she had very little to do with copperas manufacture!

The puzzle over 'Ravensbourne House' arises through one of the earliest references in Elizabeth's Diary which describes the 'old mansion at Deptford' – on the west bank of the Creek. Mrs. Walsh, who owns the Diary, assumes that this was Ravensbourne House, which was, of course, in Greenwich on the east bank.  

It is quite clear from the records that Charles Pearson owned copperas beds on both banks of the river – hence in 1813 he was rated in Deptford for 'copperas works, land , garden, wharf and mill" and in Greenwich in 1810 for 'Dwelling house, two coal houses, copperas works'.   We must assume that Elizabeth knew what she meant by 'Deptford' and 'Greenwich'.   It is, of course, possible that there were big  houses on both sides of the Creek built for the owners or managers of the two copperas  works since they had originally been in different ownership.  The 1678 plan of the Deptford works certainly seems to show a big house on there, as does the 1777 plan of the area of the Greenwich works.  Without other evidence however this may be a problem which remains unresolved.

Elizabeth says in her Diary that the 'old mansion at Deptford' was burnt down in January 1797 and that it had only been insured a few days previously with the Phoenix Fire Insurance Company, but that 'the directors very honourably paid although the policy had not been completed'.  In correspondence Mrs. Walsh has commented to me that the Phoenix Company was a 'recent diversification' for Charles Pearson, and she adds 'are we to draw any conclusions?'.    

The house was then rebuilt.  A year later Elizabeth recorded a visit to see the 'house at Deptford' and three years later, in 1804,  she noted that the new house was almost finished and 'the eagles and lamps have been replaced and old fashioned glass put up again, not withstanding great opposition'. Sadly, she doesn't say who the opposition came from! She adds that all the painting had been done by 'Samuel Grimwade, my fathers' manager at Deptford'.  

Mrs. Walsh, in correspondence, referred to a painting of the house in possession of some members of her family and described it, from memory as 'a Jane Austin Gothic villa' – and I am not really clear where the eagles might have been on a building of that nature.  The exact location of the house is far from clear on any of the maps and plans available but it seems to have been somewhere near the Creekside – and in an increasingly industrial setting an unlikely location for pretty Georgian villa.  

On the 1741 Roque Map two buildings are shown out on the marshland  beyond Greenwich church.  This may be in the same place as the tiny building drawn on the Metcalfe Estate Plan of 1777 and again appears on the 1832 Morris Map of Greenwich but by then it is at the end of newly built Claremont Street,  The building does not appear on the Greenwich Tithe map of the mid 1840s nor on the 1861 Ordnance Survey.  By the 1860s the road pattern which exists today had been set but the road names have changed – 'Ravensbourne Street' is now 'Norman Road' and 'Pearson Street' has come 'Haddo Street'. This seems to accord with the local directories which show that Charles Pearson had moved to Maze Hill by the mid-1830s and presmably his new Ravensbourne House fell to an incoming tide of housing and industry.

In the years before 1805 the Pearson family travelled to Greenwich from Tankerton or from London in various ways – usually by public transport. Elizabeth describes how she, her two sisters, and their mother together with a Mrs.Johnson took the stage coach to Greenwich. Brother Charles, together with 'Jane the Cook and James the Porter' walked. The unfortunate James had to walk back again to London after tea!  

A few months later Elizabeth, Clara and their mother, took the 'four o'clock Bromley Stage'. This did not go all the way to Greenwich but dropped them somewhere in Deptford from whence they walked to the Creek, and down along the Deptford bank to take the ferry. This ferry ran across the Ravensbourne in the area of today's Creek Bridge and took the family across to Greenwich.   

Coming to Greenwich from Tankerton they came by 'post chaise' … 'Father, mother, Amelia, Clara, Charles and Mr.Smith and I .. nine hours in coming .. had tea… I and Amelia to bed with headache'. 

On another occasion Elizabeth and her mother left Greenwich in order to visit friends at Stamford Hill in north London by a 'hackney coach'.  

At the same Charles Pearson, his son Charles, and Thomas Tilson went off to Walton on the Naze in Essex in a 'post chaise'.   Walton was of course another place from which copperas stones could be obtained.  Five years later in 1810 John Basley White, the cement manufacturer, recorded that he had made agreement with a 'Mr.Pearson who has a large copperas works and lives his Greenwich.. . and his steward Mr. Tilson'.   Charles Pearson had in fact also acquired the manor of Walton, in the same way that he had Tankerton – a couple of years before this he had been taken ill there 'with the ague' and been brought home 'in a chaise' by his teenage son.

The Tilson family were close to the Pearsons and were to remain so.  One of the first entries which Elizabeth made in her diary was a reference to 'Aunt Tilson' of Islington.   In 1804 she had visited young Mrs. Tilson, looking 'prettier than ever' in bed after the birth of little Tom. A year or so later they were visited by 'the maid with little Tom Tilson, who roared all the time'.  

Tom Tilson was to grow up and, like his father, provide many useful services to the growing Pearson business - and to the south London gas industry.

In these years Charles Pearson was mixing with a wide and influential body of society.  Elizabeth recorded what she could, but very much from the sidelines.  In 1801 she notes the proclamation of peace and the large party which she attended, full of people that she hardly knew – Barclays, Grevilles, Charringtons, Pepins  - many of them names to be associated with  the Whigs, with the Quakers and anti-slavery movement.  Many of them extremely wealthy families.  

One of the people present was  'a little old woman, introduced as Buonaparte's aunt from Sir William Scott's'.  Whoever the old woman might have been, Sir William Scott was a very important man – a maritime lawyer, privy councillor and brother to the Lord Chancellor – which shows the sort of society into which Charles Pearson was moving.

Much of what Elizabeth noted was however going on at some distance from her. She rubbed shoulders with  society, and with events, but mostly at second hand.  She met John Russell, RA, in Greenwich and heard him describe his pictures. On another occasion she saw Lt.Col. George Landmann, at church in Greenwich, and she noted Col.Despard's trial for High Treason.

There were family outings   - twice, in 1801 and in 1804, Elizabeth was taken with her sisters to see the newly built West India Docks.  They regularly visited Greenwich Park  and not only for their regular afternoon walks. 

In 1804 they went to see a display of 'pikemen' undertaking exercises and a few months later noted 'there has been a great deal of music in the Park all day, I think we were foolish in not going to see it'.   

On many occasions Elizabeth recorded walks around Greenwich – walks which are still easily followed today and indeed are along routes along which local people might well still take on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. On her twenty-third birthday she, together with friends and her brother and sisters, went for a  'walk.. through the Park and Vanburgh Fields and down Crooms Hill to home'.    A few months later they ventured further afield to go 'through the Park to the ruins of Sir Gregory Page's'  - that is to the ruins of the vast and opulent Wricklemarsh House which had been sold and stripped bare some twenty years earlier. It had stood on the site of today's Cator Estate in Blackheath – and a considerable walk from Elizabeth's home at Creekside.  

Nearer and more typical of her excursions was 'through the Park, Heath, Maize Hill and Hospital'.  By the Hospital she meant, of course, the buildings which were until recently the Royal Naval College and perhaps we should also note that she always spells 'Maze Hill' with an 'i' – as 'Maize Hill'. 

Such walks were of course also of a social nature. Elizabeth might describe a  'pleasant walk .. through the Hospital, up Maize Hill by Woodlands.…. met Mr. Edmeades and Mrs. Johnson'   - Woodlands most likely being the farmland and quarries covering today's Restell Close, rather than Woodlands House, further on. On another occasion 'upon the Heath went over a house late in the occupation of Lady Stewart' – which goes to show there is nothing so interesting as poking about in someone else's remains.

One day Elizabeth noted that her brother Charles had gone to London to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – but nothing so interesting for her. That same day she was to go to tea with 'Mr. Holmes of Westcombe Park'. I know nothing about Mr.Holmes except that for some years he was tenant of Westcombe House on the corner of what is Westcombe Park Road and Vanburgh Hill – my own home is built on what was the gardens.  

Some visitors to the house were clearly other young people. One regular visitor in 1804 was Philip Horn. Who was he? She gives no details.  Elizabeth never married,  but it would be sad to think that she never had a suitor, that there never was man in her life.  There was also a 'Mr.Platt' who came 'both Sunday and Monday' – and on other occasions to see 'Eamy' – fourteen year old sister Amelia.  Once again there are no details given,  he could as well have been the doctor on a medical visit as much as follower.  There was also a young man, Joseph Fabian, who seems to spent a suspiciously large amount of time with the girls.

Philip Horn's visits to the family however seem purely domestic and  very relaxed, almost as if he was accepted as a family.  In March 1804  they breakfasted,  he came back again 'for tea and read. .. mother ironed and pleated frills … supped'. A few days later Philip went for a walk with brother Charles ..  and then 'Philip and Charles went to see the play' . The next day a . 'very pleasant walk through the Park, Maize Hill, Hospital … worked, dined'. Philip was eventually seen off on his way to Plymouth – perhaps he was to become a sailor and left Elizabeth's life for good.  Future references were no longer to visits from Philip but from a Frances Horn and her father, clearly a friend with whom Elizabeth corresponded.

Much of Elizabeth's life was spent in purely domestic tasks .. 'mended stockings' … broke sugar'. .. 'went to the butchers'. .. 'altered sleeves of black gown' .  In evenings it was 'whist with Mrs. Hines against father and mother' .. or 'whist with Mrs. Johnson against father and mother .. lost nine pence'.  

At one point she admits 'whist almost every night till I'm tired of it .. reading my only pleasure'.  Her reading was, however,  hardly any more lively 'Newton on the Prophecies' .. 'Prideaux's Connection' .. 'Grecian History'  or, at the best 'Peregrine Pickle". 

It is only to easy to reach the obvious conclusion that it was the men of the family who had all excitements. Elizabeth's life of idleness seems so boring at times that, despite her comfortable circumstances, it is easy to feel sorry for her.

When Elizabeth's diary resumed in the 1820s, although her life had not changed materially, she was clearly more independent and living in a world of exciting changes.  Her father's business in Greenwich was changing too and as the copperas industry began to lose its momentum he began to diversify. These changes were to reflect strongly on the area around Deptford Creek.  

This draws strongly on material from Elizabeth Pearson's diary. I would of course like to thank Mrs. Walsh - with whom I have now lost touch and the whereabouts of which I do not know.  A photocopy of the MS was deposited in Whitstable but can now not be found. I would like to thank both Barbara Ludlow and  Geoffrey Pike for copies of their notes taken from the MS.

Mary Mills

Copperas in Greenwich and Deptford - Part II The Eighteenth Century

Copperas in Greenwich and Deptford - Part II The Eighteenth Century

The Deptford copperas works was set up by a Royalist entrepreneur called Nicholas Crispe - he was only one of several industrial innovators in Greenwich in the seventeenth century.  

By the 1670s the Deptford copperas works, at Hounds Marsh Meade on the banks of the Ravensbourne, was in full swing. Today the area of the works lies between the Ravensbourne and Copperas Street, SE8 - that  street name is only one of many place names near the Kent and Essex coastline which reveal a connection to copperas - and the older name for the copperas stone, 'gold stone', is found in Upper-and Lower Goldstones to the west of Sandwich.  

The copperas stone was found on the seashore and on the cliffs around the estuary - they were, and are, 'a bright shining silver colour'. These stones were picked up by seafront workers and sent off to the works by contractors. In 'Bygone Kent' Vol 13  No. 7 Harold Gough described the work of the
copperas pickers in the Whitstable area in some detail. In the seventeenth century much of the stone came from land owned by Sir John Hayward's Charity at Minster in Sheppey. In 1707 an agreement was made between the Trustees and Sir John and Sir Charles Crispe. This was for the carriage of copperas stones to Deptford or Blackwall. 

Crispe's Deptford agent was a Mr Bird. Sheila Judge says in her article on the Hayward Charity in 'Bygone Kent' Vol, 11m No. 3 that this was unsuccessful and that from 1723 John Crispe had to organise his own deliveries.  

Once the stones arrived at Deptford they were put into specially made trenches to the depth of about two feet - and there they stayed for five or six years to 'ripen by the sun and the rain'. Adding water, apart from rainwater, to the stones retarded the process. More rain was all right, but it made for a weaker solution in the end.  The trenches - the 'beds' were a hundred feet long, fifteen feet wide at the top and twelve feet deep but 'shelving all the way to the bottom'. The bottom of the beds was securely rammed with 'strong clay and then with rubbish of chalk' so that the liquor would not leak but be 'conveyed into a wooden shallow trough ... into a cistern under the Boyling House'. 

The stones, remaining when the liquid had been drained, formed 'a kind of Vitriolik Earth ... (which) will swell and ferment like leavened dough'. Every four years another layer of stones would be added - and, if a new bed was dug, then part of this 'ferment' would be put in the bottom of the trench for 'the old Earth never becomes useless.'

The cistern into which the liquid ran was made of 'strong oaken boards, well joyned and chalked' and held 'seven hundred Tuns of Liquor'. The liquid itself was tested for strength by seeing if an egg would float in it, or not. These eggs would always be dissolved by the liquor within a minute or so. The liquor would also burn a hole in any fabric or leather on which a drop fell.  

From the cistern, the liquor was pumped into a 'boyler of lead' in which had been put pieces of cast iron in a carefully constructed pile. As boiling continued and the liquor evaporated so more liquor and more iron would be added - and this might take three weeks to accomplish. 

At Deptford, however, Nicholas Crispe had set up a system to boil three cisterns in a week. This was accomplished by the use of a lead 'heater' placed at the end boiler and filled with water - which meant that hot, rather than cold, water could be added to the cistern as evaporation took place. 

As can be imagined this was a foul-smelling process.  The eventual liquid was taken from the boiler into a 'cooler ... made of tarras' and here the copperas crystallised - sometimes onto twigs, although not at Deptford. The resulting copperas was bright green - its more usual name in the seventeenth century was, in fact, 'green vitriol'.  

So far this article, and its predecessor, have concentrated on Nicholas Crispe's Deptford but there is good reason for thinking that by 1700 there were also copperas works in the Greenwich area. A Greenwich property list of 1695 notes that a site has been 'lately converted to a copperas works'. This was a site owned by a Sir Samuel Thompson and was at the end of Lamb Lane in Greenwich. Lamb-Lane was roughly on the line of Bardsley Street - the road from central Greenwich to the  Ravensbourne before the building of Creek Road. 

This copperas works on the Greenwich side of the Creek would thus have been roughly in the area of today's Creek Bridge 'and opposite, and slightly down-river of, the site of the' Deptford works. I have no idea at all who Sir Samuel Thompson was - and I would -be grateful for any suggestions.  

At around the same date a passage is marked on a deed from the Greenwich Vicarage  Garden to 'The Copperas House'. This passage must have gone towards the Ravensbourne to roughly the same area .. In this area was a large house called either 'Copperas House' or 'Ravensbourne House' which has been described as 'Tudor' - but the assumption is that it dates from the time the copperas works was 
started in Greenwich, presumably post-Civil War. 

By 1718 it seems likely that the house and the works was associated with a Joseph Moore. Eighty years later the copperas works in Lamb Lane is associated with a George Moore and he may be the man who held farmlands. on the Greenwich Peninsula and was probably a relation of Thomas Moore of Coombe Farm at Westcombe. It may be that around  1800 George Moore attempted to open  another copperas works on the Peninsula in the area where the Government gunpowder works had been - today the site of the Alcatel factory.  

Although the Moore family seem to have had an interest in copperas manufacture in Greenwich throughout the eighteenth century - at Deptford Creek as much as on the Peninsula, they do not seem to have owned the Copperas House on the Ravensbourne in 1800. 

Throughout the eighteenth century the site at the end of Lamb Lane, and possibly Copperas House too, seems to have been in other ownership, or occupation. In 1695 a Mr Vanderwar is listed as living in Lamb Lane, and as late as 1743 'Vanderwall' seems to be living there in a large house. By 1761 'Samuel Vanderwall' had died, leaving a widow, Martha, who then married a John Williams of Panthowell near Carmarthen. On an estate plan of 1777 the land at the end of Lamb Lane is marked as having belonged to 'Vanderville Esq' but that it is now 'Neat Esq' and 'Neat' is shown on a slightly later plan, which also shows land at the back of the churchyard sold to Pearson. 

None of these people have been traced, or shown to have an interest in copperas elsewhere - except for Mr Pearson, of whom more later.  

Another nearby copperas works, although not in Kent, was that at East India Dock on the north bank of the river. This works seems to have been started in the seventeenth century by Thomas Middleton, an ex-Lord Mayor of London and the brother of Sir Hugh Middleton who built the New River. He was married to a sister of  Nicholas Crispe, and it was eventually inherited by the same members of the Crisp' family who owned the Deptford copperas works. From the 1760s it was managed by Ephraim Rinhold Seehl. 

Seehl wrote a number of works on copperas manufacture. The manuscript of an unpublished book, dated 1768, by Seehl on copperas manufacture describes his thirty years in the business and compares manufacturing methods in 'Germany, Sweden and Italy' with that in Britain. He clearly considered himself an expert saying that he had been offered large sums of money for his knowledge which he was now writing down for the benefit of his wife. His second book 'on the art of making the true Volatile Spirit of Sulphur' describes the chemical processes to which the copperas crystals could be put.  The manufacture of what was in effect sulphuric acid from copperas was becoming more important and chemical factories were established near to these works. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Moore's 1800 works on Greenwich Peninsula where the rate books list George Moore as the owner of a 'vitriol works' in 1800 and, what is presumably the same works, owned by a Lewis Price in 1832 'near Bendish Sluice'.  

To return to the Deptford Works. For the century after the second Nicholas Crispe died until 1800 they passed through a fragmented ownership. The younger Nicholas Crisp had inherited only a third share of the works. The other partners were his uncles, Thomas and John Crisp, and John Knapp, a London drysalter, or chemical merchant. When this younger Nicholas Crispe died in 1698 his portion of the copperas works passed to his sons Charles and John - and the works were usually ascribed to their ownership, although they were only in fact part-owners. 

Both Charles and John lived outside London. It appears likely that the works must have been in the care of professional managers. One interested party was a John Rice who, in the mid-1740s, seems to have tried to modernise the works - since he offered Ephraim Seehl a large amount of money in return for expertise - which was not forthcoming. Rice must have had a close - but as yet unexplained - relationship. with the remaining Crisp family members, since his son's name was 'Charles Crisp

When Charles Crisp died in 1740 the estate was further split between three sisters and soon some portions of this were sold to, pay debts. By the mid-eighteenth century a substantial portion was in the ownership of a Iacob Hagen, a Quaker stave merchant from Bermondsey. He was involved in a partnership on a copperas works in Walton, Essex, together with Ephraim Seehl and a John Twyman. 

Much of this account so far has rested on the evidence of parcels of deeds, inherited by various County Record Offices. Robert H. Goodsall analysed the ownership of the various Whitstable and Tankerton works from such material in his article on the 'Whitstable Copperas Industry' published in 'Archaeologia Cantiana'. More recently, work has been done on the Queenborough copperas works by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. 

So far as the Deptford works is concerned the evidence is very patchy - most of the material available is that which concerns that portion of the ownership held by the Hagen family.  

What is, however, clear from Robert Goodsall's article is that in the late eighteenth century all of these works were consolidated into one ownership by one, ambitious.young man. Goodsall describes how gradually the Whitstable and  Tankerton works were acquired by Charles Pearson or by a young lady called Elizabeth Radford. When Charles and Elizabeth married in 1780 Charles gave his 
address as 'Ravensbourne House, Greenwich'. 

The Hagen papers give no indication of a sale of the Deptford works to Charles Pearson. Mrs Walsh, a descendent of the Pearsons, indicated in a memorandum given to the Whitstable Museum, that he
had negotiated for the works there about four years previously.  There is no apparent reason why this young man from Northampton should have  taken an interest in copperas. He was a glover by trade with a haberdashery business in the City of London - and by setting up this business he had already
done very well. Why did he in effect take over the majority of the copperas industry on the Thames Estuary? 

It must have seemed like a new beginning for an industry which had been profitable for nearly two hundred years. It was, in fact, the beginning of the end. In the meantime, however, it is from Charles' and Elizabeth's daughter that we know most about what was happening in the Deptford copperas
works in the early nineteenth century - but her perspectives on it will have to wait for another article. 

This article is based on material in Kent County and Surrey County archives, and in the London Borough of Greenwich.  Material in Tower Hamlets archive was also used and also the Whitstable Museum.  Some articles on the subject are noted in the text  and I would also like to thank Mrs Walsh for additional information.