Friday, 29 August 2008

Open House

News in the post of the next London Open House weekend 20-21st September. Lots of things in 'royal' Greenwich, but precious little industrial - lets see - Greenwich Yacht Club (well, maybe) ...Slice of Reality (well, almost nearly).... Thames Barrier (yesish) ... Woolwich Town Hall (well people do work there)
So what can we recommend in neighbouring boroughs -
In Tower Hamlets - Limehouse Accumulator Tower (*** ) ..... Museum in Docklands (**** ), Trinity Buoy Wharf (****)
In Southwark - Brad Street Railway Arches (?) ..... Brunel Museum (****) ..... Kirkaldy Testing Works (****) .... Lavender Pond Pumphouse (****) .... Sands Film Studio (***) ..... Hop Exchange (**) ....
In Newham ... House Mill (*******) ......
In Lewisham ..... Art inn Perpetuity Trust (**), Manor House Ice House (*),
In Bexley - Crossness Engines (*****),
In Bromley - Biggin Hill Airfield (**), Keston windmill (**)

Oh dear - what is wrong with us in Greenwich - is there nothing in the Arsenal, for instance, worth showing to the world?

Sub Brit

In the post - I wonderful new edition of Subterranea - As ever there is nothing in it about Greenwich - but most of what is in this edition is by one of our (ex?) members, the indefatigable Nick Catford. Most of what he is writing about here - but not all - concerns the London Underground and defunct railways generally. People will remember his recent work on the Blackheath Hill railway tunnel. I have asked Nick time and again to come and speak to us about his work - but he always says 'no' - so - everyone - all together 'Nick PLEASE PLEASE ........................'

off to Wiltshire

Just got back from annual conference of the Association for Industrial Archaeology in Wiltshire. This is held in a different part of the country every year and 2008 has been just outside Chippenham at the Lackham Agricultural Centre. Naturally there was, as ever, scant attention to industrial remains in London, let alone Greenwich. The focus of the special study day was military remains and the keynote lecture about cold war remains - not even the Arsenal got a look in there. However we learnt a lot about engineering in places like Chippenham (Westinghouse for instance) and about the canals, railways and military sites which abound in the area - and also that farming students live on pie and chips.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Bowater family in Woolwich

In volume 3 issue 6 of this newsletter (November 2000) Russell Martin wrote about the Bowater family and its landholdings in Woolwich, referring to a map of the Warspite Industrial Estate in his possession, and an 1895 survey of the estate with 38 more maps. The Survey of London, currently working towards a volume on Woolwich, is piecing together a history of the Bowater Estate, and would very much like to make contact with Mr Martin, or anyone else who might know his whereabouts. Please write to Peter Guillery at or Survey of London, English Heritage, 1 Waterhouse Square, 138-142 Holborn, London EC1N 2ST, or telephone (020) 7973 3634

Friday, 22 August 2008

Clive Chambers

Dr. Mary Mills has asked me to post on behalf of the Society that it is very sorry to have to report that Clive Chambers, who Members were recently informed was due to talk to the Society on 10th February 2009 about ‘Gun Boats of the Crimea’ very sadly passed away this week.

We would like to offer our condolences to his partner and to the rest of Clive's family at this sad time.

It is hoped that a replacement speaker can be found for the February meeting.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Local meetings for various local local history societies

A whole raft of autumn programmes in the post - some which might be interesting to those with an interest in Greenwich and/or Industrial history are:

From Greenwich Historical Association:
WEDNESDAY 24th SEPTEMBER 2008 - The Centenary of Greenwich Yacht Club - GRAHAM BAKER
WEDNESDAY 22nd OCTOBER 2008 - Discover Greenwich - DUNCAN WILSON OBE Chief Executive Officer of The Greenwich Foundation
WEDNESDAY 26th NOVEMBER 2008 - All the Fun of the Fair - HORATIO BLOOD looks back at the Greenwich Fair
- at Blackheath High School, Vanburgh Park, SE3 7.30

Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society
10th February - Industries of Southwark, Bermondsey and Rotherhythe -Stephen Humphrey
14th April - Excavations at a Greenwich Tide mill - Simon Davis/Andy Daykin
Housing Co-op Hall, The Cuty, SE1. 7.30

Greenwich Heritage Centre
27th September - Earning a living in the Arsenal - Chris Foord (you need to ring them and book a place)

Woolwich Antiquarians
11 October - Vincent memorial Lecture - Sue Bullevant
7th March - Woolwich Town Hall - Jim Marrett
Charlton house. 2 pm.

Merryweather clock - was it at the Royal Observatory

Neil Bennet writes:

My recent Merryweather & Sons interest is in the Electric Clock claimed to have been built by, or associated with the company, before 1901. another blog ( suggested this could be one of a network of 'master' and 'slave' electric clocks made by Charles Shepherd of 53 Leadenhall Street for the Royal Greenwich Observatory and elsewhere, or could even be the Gate Clock fixed outside the gate of the nearby Royal Observatory in 1852, in which case it is a very important clock indeed. In today's world a company manufacturing an electric clock does not exactly raise an eyebrow, but it was changing the world then!
I have written to the Royal Observatory but I'd be grateful to anyone who can confirm a link between Merryweather and Shepherd, the Greenwich Observatory or the then Astronomer Royal, George Airy, or indeed what the Merryweather electric clock really was.
I'm making progress finding out about such obscure Merryweather products as the Dulier smoke absorption system and John Gordon's electric tram system, but 'Tanks for camel transport' still draws a blank!
Anyone interested in the firm's history can find some excellent information on a Greenwich-made steam fire engine exported to Australia, and on the company, at
....Industrial history is the new rock 'n' roll...(?)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

GLIAS Newsletter

GLIAS Newsletter for August 2008 seems very light on Greenwich issues this month. They do however carry the following review of Richard Hartree's new book on John Penn:

"This book, written by a descendant of John Penn I, tells the story of this famous marine engineering firm and of three generations of the Penn family through the 1800s. The Epilogue tells of the family’s service in The Royal Household in the 1900s. When John Penn II died in 1878 the Kentish Mercury and Greenwich Gazette wrote of him as ‘Greenwich’s greatest son’.
In 1799 his father, John Penn I, had started an agricultural engineering business on the site at the junction of Blackheath and Lewisham Roads which in twenty years grew to be one of the major engineering works in the London area. Although he lived in Lewisham he stood as a reformist candidate for Greenwich in the December 1832 parliamentary election.
John II apprenticed in the firm and became a partner in the early 1830s. His design of oscillating engine for paddle steamers and his patented trunk engine for naval screw propelled ships coupled with the quality and reliability of the firm’s products led it to become the major engine supplier to the Royal Navy in the transition from sail to steam. His patented design of a wood propeller shaft stern bearing was vital to the worldwide use of steam-powered ships. The firm was a major local employer with, at its peak, 1800 employed at its Greenwich and Deptford works. In addition to achieving success for the firm John II also became a leading figure in the engineering profession.
He was succeeded by his two elder sons. John Penn III became MP for Lewisham in 1891 and served until his death in 1903.
In Greenwich today we can see John Penn Street which ran down one side of the works site and the Penn Almshouses in South Street which were built in 1884 in memory of John Penn II. In Deptford we can see the arched riverfront of the boiler works and a cast iron bollard set into the wall at the corner of Watergate Street and Borthwick Street . In Blackheath we can see John Penn II’s grand house ‘The Cedars’, now converted into flats, and in the Lewisham the Riverdale Mill which was on John Penn I’s property.
The book is available at the Greenwich Heritage Centre, The Greenwich Tourist Information Centre, Maritime Books at 66 Royal Hill, and from the author on 01295 788215 or

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Naval dockyards walk round Deptford

In the post today - Dockyards - the newsletter of the Naval Dockyards Society - in it is an account of the Society's walk round Deptford - or rather, a lot of nice things being said about Chris and Will at the Master Shipwright's House. The walk took place after the Society's Annual Meeting in April and included a visit to St.Nicholas' Church to see the Gibbons carvings. It then describes their visit to the Shipwright's House and the - er - 'superb repast' and 'relaxed conversation' - and the accompanying picture which is captioned 'members discuss whether or not the strangely shaped light and the plastic chairs are original features from 1708.". (well, at least they seem to have had a good time. More seriously elsewhere in the newsletter is a photograph of GIHS member Malcolm Tucker trying in his hand at ropemaking in the coderie royale at La Rochelle.

Friday, 1 August 2008


Jack Vaughan - first Chair of Greenwich Industrial History Society - died on Monday 14th July 2008 at the age of 91. His had three sons and two daughters by Florence his first wife; she died in 1973. He married again but was again left bereft when Jean died.
This obituary is about his life in the world of Greenwich's local history - but he had many many other interests. At this funeral we heard about his record in the army in the Second World War, how he fought at El Alamein and met Field Marshall Montgomery. We also heard about his lifetimes enthusiasm for Charlton Football Club.
At a first meeting he could seem rather gruff, but one soon found how kind a man he was – there was no one who did not like Jack, even if they did not fully share his views.
He had been an apprentice at the Arsenal (writing about his experiences in Woolwich Antiquarian Proceedings Vol XLII) then worked there until he retired - again we heard at his funeral how he was respected for his engineering ability and knowledge and how he later went on to teach his skills at Woolwich Polytechnic School.
From this arose a love of clocks and his ability to repair them. The future of the clock on Building 10 at the Arsenal particularly worried him – Berkeley Homes say they will restore it. He always championed the Arsenal, giving talks on its history. He was also well versed in the Woolwich Dockyard, and a connoisseur of local pubs…
Many societies benefitted from his energy: on Shooters Hill where he lived for 54 years, he was Chairman of the Shooters Hill Society; he wrote articles for the Shooters Hill Local History Group, published in its series of ‘Aspects’. He was the inaugural chairman of the Greenwich Industrial History Society eventually becoming Honorary President. He was also involved in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, history group. But his longest association was with the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society; for many years on its council, latterly as a Vice President; he was chairman of the Conservation Sub-Committee.
Jack was a fierce defender of Woolwich’s heritage in his dealings with the Borough’s Planners, particularly in respect of his beloved Arsenal. He was a frequent attendee at Planning Committees and made sure they heard his views. However, they listened to him with more respect than he would ever acknowledge and changes were often made. One locally famous exploit was his saving the tomb of the world famous engineer, Henry Maudslay, when the Council cleared St Mary’s Churchyard – all but one of its cast iron plates were retrieved, and taken to the Maritime Museum store in the Brass Foundry - they are now in the care of the Greenwich Heritage Centre. Jack was well known and respected by the London-wide community of industrial archaeologists, particularly in the Greater London Industrial Archaeological Society. In 2001 a special seminar on Maudslay was held at Kew Bridge Engines Trust - special mention was made of Jack’s role in rescuing the plaque and a small ceremony was held.
Recently he became frail and although he went into a well run nursing home, he was only his old self with visitors who shared his interests. Six weeks before he died he had a fall, requiring two operations.
His funeral was at Eltham Crematorium, Falconwood at on Wednesday 23rd July at 2.45pm. This was followed by a do at the Red Lion Pub on Shooters Hill - one of his favourite locals.
Donations in his memory may be made to one of two charities: Cancer Research or The Alzheimer's Society. A cheque made out to the one of your choice should be sent to:
W Uden & Sons Ltd, Funeral Directors, 64 High Street, Sidcup, Kent, DA14 6DS
Jack was a one off - to quote a friend - 'well Jack - Jack's Jack, isn't he!'.