Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Deptford Dockyard (Convoys site)

We have a request for contacts of anyone interested in this extremely important site. Please let us know who you are???????

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Lungley's Yard pictures

Merv has now sent the following two pictures of Lungley's Deptford Green shipbuilding yard. Comments on them would be very welcome

He has also sent an accessions list to the Southampton Archives showing that Lungley also had a works in that area

Merv has given no information as to where these pictues have come from or how we know they are of Lungley in Deptford. So, if they are someone's copyright - then our apologies and please let us know and we will remove them or give a credit.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

More about Deptford shipbuilder, Lungley, and some of his ships

More information from Merv in Australia


Lungley's yard was at Deptford Green, and had one of the first dry docks on the Thames. It has been described as "the most complete yard on the Thames". The yard was in existence in 1814. They also built marine engines, but closed down in 1866, when Lungley became manager of C. J. Mare's yard at Millwall.

Some of the ships built in Deptford by Lungley

NORSEMAN (1) was built in 1866 with a tonnage of 1386grt, a length of 262ft 9in, a beam of 32ft 2in and a service speed of 9 knots. In July 1866 she joined the mail service with a red funnel but in 1873 was sold to J. Heugh and in 1874 was converted into a cable repair ship by the Telegraph & Maintenance Co and employed by the Cia Telegrafica Platino-Brasilera on Siemens cables from Rio de Janeiro to Montevideo. She was re-engined in 1880 and, by fitting a circular tank in the no. 2 hold, was given cable laying capability. In 1888, assisted by the Viking, she laid the up-river River Plate cable. Badly damaged during a storm in 1892 she was replaced by Norseman (2) put up for sale being acquired by A.C.S. Springer of London. She was finally broken up in November 1898.

CELT (2) was built in 1866 with a tonnage of 1439grt, a length of 262ft 9in, a beam of 32ft 2in and a service speed of 9 knots. Sister of the Norseman she joined the mail service in August 1866 and in 1874 she was lengthen to 293ft with an increase in tonnage to 2112grt. In February 1875 she was wrecked at the mouth of the River Ratel between Cape Agulhas and Danger Point, all 98 persons aboard being saved by the Zulu.

CAMBRIAN was built in 1860 with a tonnage of 1055grt, a length of 245ft, a beam of 33ft 7in and a service speed of 8 knots. Costing £25,000 she was launched on 23rd April 1860 by Mrs Saxon the wife of Capt. Saxon of Anderson, Saxon & Co, the Union Lines agent at Cape Town. She was the first mail ship built for the company to exceed 1000grt. Sold to French owners in 1872 her subsequent career is unknown.

BRITON (2) was built in 1861 with a tonnage of 1164grt, a length of 264ft, a beam of 33ft 7in and a service speed of 9.5 knots. Due to her hull being subdivided both horizontally and vertically she was described by her owners as being 'unsinkable and unburnable'. In 1873 she was sold to the Admiralty, converted into a troopship and renamed HMS Dromedary. Placed in reserve during 1880 she was finally disposed of in 1884.

SAXON (2) was built in 1863 with a tonnage of 1142grt, a length of 290ft 10in, a beam of 32ft 10in and a service speed of 10.5 knots. She began service on the mail run on 13th February 1863 and reduced the time to 31 days. In 1876 she was sold to Bailey & Leetham of Hull who were known as the 'Tombstone Line' because of their black funnel with a broad white vertical line and a rounded top. She was sold on again in 1885 to Empreza Insulana de Navegaçao of Ponte Delgado, Azores and renamed Benguella for their Lisbon-Azores service. On 24th June 1890 she sprang a leak in the Atlantic and abandoned with all the passengers and crew being rescued by the Spanish barque Marianna.

ROMAN (1) was built in 1863 with a tonnage of 1282grt, a length of 290ft 10in, a beam of 32ft 10in and a service speed of 10.5 knots. She started her career as a red funneled mail steamer in November 1863 but, as larger ships were built and joined the fleet, was transferred to the Intermediate service in 1869. She was lengthened and re-engined in 1872 and, at the same time, was given a black funnel. In 1880 she was deployed on the Zanzibar service until 1888 when she was transferred to the Southampton-Bremen-Hamburg feeder service. She was sold ot Essayan Oondjian of Constantinople (Istanbul) and renamed Adana in 1889 and was scrapped in 1910 at Smyrna after grounding.

ANGLIAN (1) was built in 1864 with a tonnage of 661grt, a length of 204ft 10in, a beam of 26ft 4in and a service speed of 8 knots. Built with a shallow draft to facilitate the sand bar at Durban she was delivered in March 1864 for the Intercolonial service between Cape Town, Durban and Mauritius. When the Intercolonial service was discontinued in 1868 she became surplus to requirements and was sold to Palgrave, Murphy & Co. of Dublin in the following year, retaining her name. In 1882 her owners renamed her City of Lisbon so that all their ships bore a 'City of ...' name. She ended her career in 1903 when she sank off New Brighton in the River Mersey after being in collision with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co's Douglas.

MAURITIUS was built in 1865 with a tonnage of 587grt, a length of 210ft, a beam of 26ft 5in and a service speed of 9 knots. Similar in design to the Anglian she joined her sister on the Intercolonial service in 1865. When the service was discontinued in 1868 she was put up for sale at Southampton and acquired in the following year by Palgrave, Murphy & Co. of Dublin but then sold on to J. P. Hutchinson of Glasgow. She had new boilers fitted in 1872 and a compound engine in 1876. In 1901 she was sold to Sociadade 'La Mediterranea', of Barcelona with T. Fernandez as manager and renamed Industria. She sank after a collision in 1910.

DANE (1) was built in 1854 with a tonnage of 530grt, a length of 195ft, a beam of 25ft 1in and a service speed of 9 knots. Sister of the Briton she was, on completion, immediately chartered to the French Government for use in the Crimean War. In 1856, due to a surplus of coal, she was laid up at Southampton with the intention of using her for the November sailing to South America but this voyage never materialised. On December 1856 her owners were re-styled Union Steamship Company. In 1857 she followed the Union and the Norman onto the Rio de Janeiro service and on 15th September of the same year and under the command of Capt Strutt she undertook the first voyage to the Cape Colony with the mails. For this purpose she was given a red funnel with a broad black top, a livery that was applied to all the Cape Colony mail ships. In 1863 she was placed on the new coastal service followed, in 1864, by the Mauritius service. On 17th May 1865, whilst at anchor and during the 'Great Gale', she was holed by a drifting sailing ship. In the same year she was chartered by the British Government to carry troops to Zanzibar where they were used to suppress slave trading. On 28th November 1865 she went ashore whilst approaching Port Elizabeth on a voyage from Simonstown and on 4th December became a total loss.

NORMAN (1) was built in 1854 in London with a tonnage of 530grt, a length of 195ft, a beam of 25ft 1in and a service speed of 9 knots. Identical to the Dane she was immediately chartered to the British Government for Crimean War service and completed her maiden voyage from Southampton to Constantinople and Balaklava with a cargo of wooden huts for troops wintering in the freezing Crimea. In late 1855 she was laid up at Southampton but on 29th September 1856 inaugurated the Union Steam Collier Co's Southampton - Rio de Janeiro service quickly followed by the Union and the Dane. On 21st January 1857, under Union Steam Ship Co. ownership, she replaced the Celt on her ill-fated December sailing and in the following November completed the run to the Cape in 39 days. In 1863 she replaced the Roman on the South African coastal service returning to Southampton in the following year. She was sold to Charles Lungley in 1865 as part payment for three new ships he was building for the company. Lungley then sold the ship to Bremner, Bennett & Bremner of London with the same name and for their Mediterranean trade and thereafter all trace of her was lost.

CELT (1) was built in 1855 with a tonnage of 531grt, a length of 176ft 4in, a beam of 25ft 1in and a service speed of 9 knots. Built with the intention of replacing the Union on the coal trade she was, on completion, requisitioned for use during the Crimean War. On 24th December 1856 she sailed from Southampton bound for Rio de Janeiro but was forced to return to Cowes Roads with engine trouble. She set out again on 31st December but had to return to Southampton on 3rd January 1857 when she sprang a leak and the voyage was consequently cancelled. On 17th May she sailed from Liverpool, the new departure port, for South America and made two round voyages before, in the October, she made the second sailing to the Cape with the mails, completing the voyage in 43 days. In 1862 she was sold to Charles Lungley as part payment for the larger mail ships he was building and subsequently sold to Balnerre of Rotterdam and renamed Gothenburg. She was purchased by J. Meek of Newcastle in 1875, reverted to her original name of Celt and had compound engines and new boilers installed. In 1885 she was under the ownership of Thames & Bristol Trading Co. Ltd of London and in 1891 she was owned by McDowall & Barbour of Piraeus, restyled Hellenic Steam Navigation Co. in 1908, with the name Poseidon. Without a change of name she was acquired by J.Potomianos of Istanbul in 1910 and in 1933 her name was deleted from the Register of Shipping.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Lungley - Deptford shipwright

Merv in Australia has written with a lot of information about a Deptford shipwright. Basically he is after info on family history - and locating anyone who can help. But he has some interesting things to say about Lungley

Merv says:
I have been trying to establish Charles Lungley's date of birth - was it 1816 - in Hatfield, Essex. He died Jun 1871 in Greenwich aged 55 years. He married Mary Ann Burchell.

Ships Built in Deptford.
Dane - Norman - Celt 1 & 2 - Cambrian - Briton - Saxon - Roman - Anglian - Mauritius - Norseman - Pevensey [Well known in the USA Wars] - Florence Irving - Agnes Irving -Kaioura [Aust NZ run] -and others were built for the Crimean Wars.

His addresses and the places of his children's birth show how his career as a shipbuilder moved around the lower Thamesside area.

In 1851 his children were:
Mary Ann born Greenwich Kent
Frances born Northfleet Kent
Ellen born Northfleet Kent
Margaret born Poplar Mdx
Janet born Poplar Mdx
Kate born Poplar Mdx
and later
Reete born Poplar Mdx
Charles Frederick born Greenwich Kent

His addresses were
High Street, Poplar Mdx
Dock Row Northfleet
Aylesford North Kent
High Street, St Mary, Maldon, Essex
182 Ramsden Road, Clapham, Surrey

He also says
One of the ships of his was 'Florence Irving' which arrived in Australia in -1868 with a relation of mine on board. This was Capt G S Rowling who was born in Scilly and settled in Swansea later became a Master Mariner.He had a number of voyages out as well as to USA so he must have travelled quite a lot in those days.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

GLIAS Newsletter 245

The latest GLIAS newsletter has arrived with some items of Greenwich interest - although our programme of talks seems not have made it to their events list!

The first article in the newsletter is about Dave Perrett's visit to Convoy's Wharf on one of their recent open days before a planning application for housing is submitted to Lewisham Council. Dave gives a brief outline of the history of the site and draws particular attention to the 1840s ship sheds built on the site. Convoys was, of course, the earliest of the Royal Dockyards and where much naval research and development was carried out. It seems that current plans for the vast ship sheds is as community space - they are currently in use to store wheeley bins. The developers apparently claim to intend Deptford to become the Camden of south-east London!
This is an interesting subject and can we encourage any one else who has an interest in Convoys to get in touch and perhaps add to our information.

GLIAS also lists excavations in London listed in the London Fieldwork Publications round up. In Greenwich they note:
43-81 Greenwich High Road - tanning pits and structures associated with Merryweathers (more info please!!)
Greenwich Wharf (no detail given, this is what we know as Lovells)
Old Brewery, Royal Naval College (no detail in GLIAS - but information can be found back in the blog)

'News in brief' notes the current demolition of the Syrol site - more information would be welcome here.

- and, finally, there is more notes about that ever-embarrassing subject, the Woolwich Autostacker. One item is from Len Fiddler who was a pupil at Woolwich Polytechnic School when the autostacker was built. He watched it being built and the boys were given a holiday on opening day. He says that the problem was that the cables were too elastic and that when cars were lifted they had one set of wheels in the car park and one set in the lift, and became stuck. He says it was too expensive to replace the cables. (although personally I would have thought replacing the cables was cheaper than leaving the building to rot unused for years and years - and anyway, surely the cost would have been down to the contractor?)

Book sale

A few copies of 'Greenwich and Woolwich at Work' by Mary Mills have suddenly become available. £10 each - but all proceeds will go to charity. Free delivery locally. Email orders to indhistgreenwich@aol.com.

Father of the Cycle Industry

Thanks to Richard Hartree who has sent a copy of notes about the early days of the cycle industry in Coventry. The article concerns the early days of three pioneers of this - Starley, Hillman and Singer. Of interest to us are their south London origins.

James Starley came from Sussex but moved to London to become a gardener to John Penn, the eminent Greenwich 19th century engineer. Starley became very skilled with mechanical devices and was able to mend and improve a sewing machine bought for Mrs.Penn. Penn knew Josiah Turner, who had made the machine, and he was able to get Starley a job in his works. Turner and Starley moved to Coventry and started a sewing machine works there, attracting workers from the defunct watch making trade. Starley went on to perfect many devices particularly in the field of bicycles - and is described as 'one of our great inventors'.

William Hillman lived near to Starley in Lewisham and was apprenticed at the Penn works. In 1871 he too went to Coventry and entered into a partnership with Starley. Hillman left to set up his business initially with bicycles and then moving into early motor manufacturing.

George Singer, was another apprentice at Penns - and a bell ringer in Lewisham along with Hillman. He too moved to Coventry to share lodgings with Hillman. He too became pre-eminent, and very rich, in the field of bicycle manufacture and also became Mayor of Coventry.

It makes me wonder - perhaps someone should trace the lives of many more of Penn's apprentices and see how much of British manufacturing industry can be tracked back to the works on Blackheath Hill!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Reminisence day for ex-gas works staff

Search for former employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Company

Reminiscence Event

Where: Greenwich Heritage Centre, Artillery Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, SE18 4DX
When: 10.30 am, Friday 8th January 2010
Who to contact: Judith Garfield, (office@ech.org.uk, 0208 553 4343) or Claire Days (claire@ech.org.uk, 0208 553 4343)

A search is on for former employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Company to help uncover the hidden stories of the people who made the company what it was. Eastside Community Heritage is looking for people who worked at the Company to share their memories at a reunion to take place at Greenwich Heritage Centre on Friday 8th January 2010.

The South Metropolitan Gas Works was the last gas works to be built in London, the brainchild of George Livesey. He received parliamentary permission to build the works on 140 acres of Greenwich Marshes (now called Greenwich Peninsula) in the December of 1880. In keeping with Livesey’s religious ideals, frivolous decorative features were not a part of his grand design for the works; however the two gas holders were the biggest in Europe. The works were grand, but plain. Livesey later introduced a profit sharing scheme with the workers, although this was a move unpopular with the union as it included a clause preventing the workers from striking.
Despite several problems faced in the early years of the South Metropolitan Gas Works, the works expanded over following years, providing not only employment but a plethora of social activities and venues which the workers could take advantage of.
The event to be held at the Greenwich Heritage Centre will be an opportunity for former employees of the Gas Works to get together and talk about old times. Participants are invited to bring along any old photographs, papers and artefacts to show to others, if they have any.

This is a part of the Working Lives of the Thames Gateway project that aims to record the experiences of working in industry in Havering, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich and Bexley. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Eastside Community Heritage is an independent charity founded in 1993 to record and celebrate the histories of the people of east and south east London.

In 1999 Eastside established the People’s Archive, which is located at the University of East London and holds over 1000 oral histories as well as a large collection of films and photographs.

To find about more about Eastside Community Heritage, please visit our website, www.hidden-histories.org.uk.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Johnsen & Jorgensen question

I came across your web site whilst browsing this evening and wondered if you or any of your members may be able to help me...

My late grandfather, Harry, worked for a company called Johnsen and Jorgensen for many years. They manufactured medical and laboratory glass. I believe their main factory was in the Charlton/Woolwich area. During the war a temporary factory was set up in Hildenborough, Kent (Oakfield Works) due to the bombing and he moved there with the company. The business later transferred to South Wales (Cardiff area) and he again moved with the company.

I would like to find out more information about the factory in Charlton/Woolwich, where it was located, and if there is anything left to see today. If anyone knows anything about the set up in Hildenborough that would be a bonus.

A bit of a long shot I suppose but you never know.

Thanks in advance for any assistance.

By the way, you may be interested to know that I write a blog called Kent Today and Yesterday. I have just written a post which includes pictures of the now derelict W T Henley/AEI Cables site in Northfleet which is currently being demolished.


Best regards,
Glen Humble

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Various notes from various sources - Naval Dockyards Society

The latest edition of the Transactions of the Naval Dockyards Society has arrived. It includes an article by Philip Macdougall on three fires in Naval Dockyards in 1840 -'Blame it on the Chartists'. One of these fires was at Woolwich.

This was the third fire - the first two were at Sheerness and Plymouth - and it took place on 6th October. Sadly there is much less recorded about the Woolwich fire than the others - but they were seen as the possible result of some sort of suberversion. A contemporary comment on the Woolwich fire is quoted - 'two foreigners were seen by Royal Arsenal artificers to be wandering at their leisure in the open face of daylight, about that vast emporium of war'.

- but what people walking about in the Arsenal were to do with fires in the Dockyard is far from clear to me!

This is a fascinating article and there are many more in this edition giving all sorts of information and insights into Naval Dockyards.
See www.hants.org.uk/navaldockyard

Various Newsletters and stuff - 2. Woolwich Antiquarians

The WADAS newsletter has some interesting notes about Woolwich Ferry and why it is only running on one boat. Apparently John Burns has had a loss of hydraulic oil in a hard to trace place. It has now been sorted out - and the spare part is now being overhauled. These (now very old) vessels are all being overhauled and repaired

John Burns - was the leader of the 1889 Dock Strike and was the first Labour leader to become a Cabinet Minister

James Newman - was leader of Woolwich Council from 1941.

Ernest Bevin - was the Docker's trade union leader and later Minister of Labour. He was MP for East Woolwich in 1950.

The newsletter also has news of the Olympic events on Woolwich Common, a lecture on Woolwich Town Hall and various local lectures and events - AND the Severndroog Castle By a Brick Scheme.

Various newsletters and stuff - No. 1 SLAS walks round Greenwich

A number of things have cascaded through the door:

SLAS newsletter - the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society record their walk round Historic Greenwich led by ineffable Richard Buchanan. I must say they saw all sorts of obscure bits and pieces - and thank you Richard, wish you had asked us to come! (and I daresay you will annotate this)
- they saw -
London and Greenwich Railway and Greenwich Station
Park Vista with a reminder that it was once the main road - plus the Park Wall 1619 and East Lane Conduit 1515 with Henry VIII's arms (1973)
House 1808 for the Auditor of the Royal Naval Asylum - which merged into the Greenwich Hospital School. Next house 1829 for the Commissioner of the Hospital - the two houses were done up Samuel Teulon (famous architect and local resident) as the St.Alfege's Vicarage. They were done up in 1951-1973 and are now the Vicarage and The Chantry.
Cistern in the Park. done up in 1707 for the Royal Hospital
115 Maze Hill with a plaque to Helena Mott designed by Rex Whistler
Vanburgh Castle - with plaque put up by the RAF Benevolent Fund
Westcombe Park Road on the line of the Roman Road from Shooters Hill.
Roman Temple remains in the Park.
Bandstand 1880.
General Wolfe statue - gift from Canada plus bullet holes
Royal Observatory and Greenwich Fair - with a telescope so that people could see the 'corpses of pirates hanging on gibbets'.
Queens House and the Royal Hospital.
Clive Chamber's Tree (see previous blog entries)
McCartney House with plaque to General James Wolfe. built by Andrew Snape. Sgt Farrier to Charles II. 1676.extended by Soane 1802 and called after the owner's mother. Horse hitching column outside.
Princess Caroline's Bath in the Wilderness
Ranger's House.
Crooms Hill - probably pre-Roman - with lots of interesting houses. The rear wing of the Grange might be Paternoster Croft held by the Abbey of Ghent form 918. Main house was built by Sir William Hooker in 1665. Gazebo is by THE Robert Hooke.
Gloucester Circus - with lockable coal hole covers.
Greenwich Town Hall - art deco by Culpin, 1939
and St.Alfege Church.

--------------- and lots more really interesting stuff.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Manchesters Trucks

Kindly supplied by Graham Manchester, here is a photo of one of the Manchester trucks from Charlton.

Interestingly, Corgi have made a model of this truck.

Graham also reports;

'We were the first ones onto the site after the closure of the Gas Works and took up residence in 1976! That was interesting! We were told we had to be off not later than 1996 as the Millennium building was going to be built there (so much for bidding from Birmingham and Manchester!)

Hottest year for years and mutant ladybirds about 1" diameter each which used to dive bomb us and bite us! (among many other stories!)'

Friday, 13 November 2009

Advert from 1930s Mercury

The above advertisement for South Metropolitan Gas Company appeared in the 100th anniversary of the Mercury. It is one of many illustrations to be used in a forthcoming book about the Greenwich Peninsula.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


I am not sure that this is actually straight forward industrial history but I thought it was so interesting people should know more about it. This is about Gilbert's Pit - a site of scientific interest in Charlton. I understand that a recent event was held in the Pit for the local great and good (and that's not me!) by the London Geodiversity Partnership and to show new plans which the council has for the area.
They say Gilbert's Pit as one of the most important geological sites in Britain. The industrial link to it is that the rock face has been revealed because it was a quarry connected to the local glass industry (and Charlton had the biggest glass works in Europe in the 1960s).
The new plans hope to connect the area round Gilbert's Pit with other local parks and open spaces - and to manage it in a way to show its geological importance and to give people access and information about this important site.
There is much of interest there - above the pit is the site of a Romano-British fort and there have been finds of pottery there. In the 18th century it was a semaphore station and later a Home Guard look out. The sand in the pit was used for brass mouldings in the Arsenal and later in the glass works.
The rock formations in the pit show older rocks on top of newer rocks - and this is a puzzle and one of the reasons it is interesting to geologists. The pit is described as a 'reference locality for geologists' giving insights to change in climate over 55 million years.
I realise this is a very brief outline of an important, and rather obscure, subject. There have been reports published on the site - and generally on geodiversity by Government and London Government sources and I am happy to put some references here if people ask for them.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


The latest edition of English Heritage's 'Current Archaeology' mentions something we ought to have known about earlier. This is the Teardrop site in Woolwich, and adjacent to the ferry.

They describe how 'one of the largest sections in London' was cut through a ditch and discovered that the ditch was probably Iron Age in origin and is thought to have enclosed a trading area (I think that means some sort of wharf). They also discovered five pottery kilns - does this also link with the well known kiln now languishing outside the Heritage Centre in its box?? Two of the kilns were 13th/14th century and used for London Ware production - the only such site ever found.
I have written to the team and hope to get more information.

Elsewhere in this edition is a note about Seager's Distillery at Deptford Bridge - which of course was described at the last GIHS meeting by Duncan Hawkins (thank you Duncan). They describe however, for those of you who weren't there, the remains of an 18th century sugar refinery, stonemasons cottages and of course the 19th century gin distillery and a late 19th century iron works.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Allan Burnett

Diana Rimel writes:

There will be a Memorial Service for Allan (who died in July of this year) on Saturday 7 November at 2pm, the Welling Baptist Church, Axminster Crescent, Kent - www.wellingbaptist.co.uk

Allan was for many years a Customs Officer with the PLA, hence his love for and knowledge of the River Thames and the City. After he retired he became a qualified City of London Guide Lecturer. He gave talks and guided tours both round these areas and also Highgate (his former home area). Many of us in Greenwich, the river boroughs and Kent have heard his well-researched, humorous and fascinating studies of the places he loved.

I have a list of books in good condition, mostly of London and some of Greenwich, which he left which I can send to anyone interested. Also a screen, stand, 8 carousel drums of slides (City of London and Highgate areas) and slide boxes. Proceeds to Allan's named charity, the Mildmay Hospital Mission. Anyone interested please contact me on diana@historytalk.fsnet.co.uk

Friday, 16 October 2009

Just arrived today - history of Siemens Engineering Society

First I should explain to any readers under 60 that Siemens was a large factory near where the barrier is today. Like so much of Greenwich and Woolwich industry it was a world leader in expertise and innovation in its field of electrical engineering - much of what we take for granted in telecommunications today was pioneered there. After the factory closed in the 1960s the group of young apprentices continued with a programme of lectures and technical visits - and now, all OAPs, have published a history of their Society.

The book is fascinating - but I am just going to quote some of the letter that comes with it from Secretary, Brian Middlemiss.

"The Engineering Society was founded in October 1897, its first President being Alexander Siemens. The Society flourished until 1968 when the Company was taken over by GEC and closed. The feelings of loyalty, memories and fellowship were such that reunion meetings began in 1969. The 40th Anniversary of this reformed Society has provided the spur to produce this history.
Ever since the Society embarked on this project our object has been to recored, as far as has been possible, the pioneering research, development, engineering and manufacture of Electrical Cables, Telegraph, Telephone, Signalling, and Measuring Apparatus, Wireless Equipment, Lamps, Lights and Batteries undertraken by Siemens Brothers and Co., Ltd for over 100 years.
The age profile of the members of the Society suggests we will not be undertaking any more major projects.
I hope you find reading our history informative and enjoyable."

The history is indeed amazing - and it is very very touching to find the devotion they have to the achievements of an employer which went out of business over forty years ago! The book will be on display at the GIHS meeting next week - and would be available to loan to anyone who promised to bring it back. And the Heritage Centre has a copy. I do not think copies are to go on general sale - but we are happy to pass contact details on if anyone asks for them.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Current archaeology - Sub Brit

On the last page of the current Current Archaeology is a note about Subterranea Brittanica. This is headed 'Odd Socs' - which suits Sub Brit - I remember a meeting when the Chair announced himself as 'an odd sort of chap - aren't we all' - to general approval.

It also notes that Sub Brit contains many women - and was founded by Sylvia Beamon - who I once heard describe how she persuaded the NHS to let her take her chronic bronchitis to a hospital in a Polish salt mine where the main treatment was a lot of energetic communal singing.

Several Greenwich blogs have referred to underground features locally - and we would love some of their protagonists to come and talk to GIHS. Paul Sowan - for many years Sub Brit Chair - has been to talk about Gilbert's Pit. Their web site is www.subbrit.org.uk

Water power in Medieval Greenwich

We have just been sent a copy of "Current Archaeology" (Nov 2009 Issue 236 www.archaeology.co.uk). This has in it an article by Simon Davis on the tide mill remains found last year on the Lovell's site. This has lots of previously unused pictures as well as a diagram and many fascinating facts about the site. To quote some of the captions "It is a nationally unique discovery the only example of an Early Medieval waterwheel known" ... "Massive in scale the Greenwich Tide Mill must have served a major estate" .....

Simon is to give a presentation on the find to Greenwich Historical Society on 25th November (7.30 Theatre, Blackheath High School, Mycenae Road entrance, SE3)

also Archaeology 2010, British Museum 27-28 February in a session on Old Technology


This is our programme for the next year or so:

Please note NEXT TUESDAY

20th October Duncan Hawkins on Waterfront Archaeology of Greenwich and Lewisham


17th November: Edward Sargent on The Grand Surrey Canal

19th January: Mike Jones on current work at Crossness Engines.

23rd February: Peter Guillery & Joanna Smith on The Survey of Woolwich – a progress report and a case study: Woolwich Polytechnic.

16th March: Ken Mcgovern on Pitcher’s Northfleet Dockyard

13th April Diana Rimel: The Ashburnham Triangle - a Reappraisal.

18th May: Jonathan Clarke on The Survey of Woolwich – some new light on Woolwich Dockyard.

22nd June: Jim Lewis on London's Lea Valley, Britain's Best Kept Secret

20th July: David Watts on The glass industry in South London

All meetings at The Old Bakehouse, Bennett Park, SE3 7.30

Monday, 12 October 2009

Glass in South London

David Watts writes:

I thought that you might like to know that I have just self-published a book entitle A History of Glassmaking in London and its development on the Thames South Bank. It covers some 17 or so of the early glasshouses between Woolwich and Vauxhall (of a total of about 34) as well as a summary account of the Southwark glasspainters and how the early glass industry came under the control of Sir Robert Mansell etc.

You will find an account of my book on The Glass Circle web site www.glasscircle.org in the Book Reviews section. It has 180 pages A4 full colour and costs £25 inc p+P from me. Or if you are interested in selling it I can supply them at £20 per copy for a number of not less than five leaving you to retail them at what price you wish.

At the moment I have 3 or perhaps 4 Southwark sites for more recent glasshouses that are not included in my book including the UGB in Charlton.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A Thames Painter Talks.. and exhibits

A talk by Terry Scales entitled;

The Thames: A Painter's Paradise

will be held at 'The Theatre', Blackheath High School on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 7.30pm. Donation £2.00. Entrance in Mycenae Road, Blackheath, London SE3. For more information contact 020 8854 1716 or visit the Greenwich Historical Society website. Non-members welcome.

Terry will show and discuss slides of his Thames paintings, observed and painted over the three decades, from the busiest times to the present. With its spacious vistas and contrasts, it always has, and always will, hold an immense appeal to those painters who specialise in landscape art. At the end of his presentation Terry will be signing copies of his book, Visions of Greenwich Reach. Terry Scales trained at Camberwell School of Art in its finest post-war period. He has had a distinguished career ever since, exhibiting throughout in both public and private galleries. His works are in many collections in Britain and abroad.

Follow–up Christmas Exhibition

Terry Scales and Cristiana Angelini present;

A Christmas Exhibition of Small Paintings; landscapes, still lifes, Thames scenes and flower pieces.

Dates: November 2nd - 14th, 2009


The Paul McPherson Gallery
77 Lassell Street
East Greenwich
SE10 9PJ
Tel: 020 8269 2990

Open: Monday – Friday, 11.00am – 5.30pm. Saturday, 11.00am – 2.30pm. Entry is free.

Special event

There will be an artist day on Saturday, November 7th, 2009.

Further Information;

Terry is an ex-docker and has spent most of his life painting the working Thames. This exhibition will include Thames scenes but also some rarely-seen other subjects.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


People who venture north of the river may be aware of Valentine's House, north of Ilford. The house has recently been renovated with a lottery grant and was the subject of a talk at Walthamstow Local History Society on Thursday evening.

Why should Greenwich historians be interested in a house in Ilford? Well, Valentines House was the home of a Greenwich industrialist, Charles Holcome.

In 1841 Morden College granted a lease on a large site on the Peninsula - 'Further Pitts' - to Charles Holcombe. He acted as a developer, leasing part of the site to a network of other companies.

Holcombe was obviously at least middle aged by the time he invested in the Greenwich sites – it is likely that he had previously been the tenant of Hatcham Manor Farm at New Cross and had operated a chemical works there. By the time he came to Greenwich he had already taken occupation of Valentines Park and his family were local benefactors in the Ilford area. A road alongside Valentine's House is named after him 'Holcombe Road'. Strangely, the adjacent road is 'Bethell Avenue' - and this is unlikely to be a coincidence – does this reflect a connection with Bethell, the most famous of the coal tar distillers of his generation? .

The Greenwich site is shown on the 1843 Greenwich Tithe map as that of Charles Holcombe ‘ house, premises, tar factory, sheds and yard’. When he took over Great and Little Pits Morden College made it quite clear that he must spend at least £300 per acre on improvements.

Initially he applied to the Commissioner of Woods and Forests for an embankment to his wharf and Morden College comments that the permission was ‘accompanied by restrictions of a very unusual and prejudicial character’. What ever that means!

In Greenwich directories his Greenwich works is listed as a 'brass foundry, tar and Asfelt works'. He is also described as a 'refiner of coal tar, spirit, pitch and varnish'.

A footpath is shown from Blackwall Lane to the river – this was soon to be diverted and changed to become Morden Wharf Lane, or Sea Witch Lane, which for many years has been a private road through the glucose refinery. Holcombe then built Morden Wharf - the area which today juts out into the river downstream of the silos. It is not known why he named it this - perhaps he had a special relationship with Morden College, or wanted to curry favour with them. Morden Wharf Road led to a pub – the Sea Witch – also built by Holcombe. He obtained permission to build houses from Morden College who also provided designs and specifications – and riverside cottages by the pub and terraces of houses sprang up on the borders of the area he was leasing. The houses were, inevitably, designed by George Smith the Morden College surveyor.

He later asked Morden College for permission to lay asphalt on the river path. He also asked permission to build a draw dock and complained when permission had been given to someone else to deposit rubbish on the riverside. These activities gradually added to the local amenities and made the area more attractive to other incoming industrialists.

After his death Holcombe's leases on the sites at Morden Wharf and the sub-tenants who occupied them continued in the ownership of his widow and descendents. They were members of the Ingleby family - and it is them are best remembered at Valentine's House.

A web site for the Friends of Valentine's House can be found at http://www.valentines.org.uk/ where there is also a great deal of information about the house and its owners over the centuries. It is a place well worth a visit - a beautiful house in a sensational park.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Woolwich educated Nobel Prize winner - for research done on Greenwich Peninsula

Newspaper reports outline the Nobel prize won by Charles Kuen Kao's for his work on fibre optics - which had paved the way for the current broadband. The papers report on his education at Woolwich Polytechnic. We note that the Times includes a quote from Baroness Blackstone because they say 'the University of Greenwich includes the former Woolwich Polytechnic".
(of course the Times should note that the University of Greenwich IS Woolwich Polytechnic but stripped of those departments which educated Dr. Kao and made it so prestigious).

However, the newspaper report also points out that Dr.Kao's research was done at STC. Was therefore their work done in Greenwich at what is now the Alcatel works? We would be grateful for information. In 2000 Alcatel published a book - in an attempt to show that the technology driving the internet was developed only a short distance from the Dome, where it had been decided to ignore local industries. The booklet includes a photograph of Dr.Kao and makes a strong case for much of the optical fibre technology being developed here. They also say that in 1986 the Greenwich factory secured the first order for an international fibre optic cable.

So - anyone who has any information please add it here

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

New Ashburnham Triangle book out

Diana Rimel has now published the update of her Ashburnham Triangle book - and this is a real tour de force. It lovingly charts the general history of the area and then lists street by street houses, pubs and other buildings. Of course, we are an industrial history society and would like to see a lot more about the industry of the area - but it has not been neglected. .

Even the name of 'Ashburnham' is industrial - it reflects the great Ashburnham furnace of the Wealden iron industry - and their later alliance with the Crowley ironmasters whose 18th century warehouses stood on Ballast Quay.

There is a chapter on the industrial buildings along this part of Deptford Creek - with a (much too short) section on Merryweathers and another on the LESC building, by Richard Cheffins (and first published by GIHS). Other information about Greenwich industry turns up in the description of many residential streets. For instance an item chosen at random is a note about Thomas Pottle's pottery in Blackheath Road under 'personalities'. However, I looked in vain for mention of the London and Greenwich Railway under both 'Blue Stile' and 'North Pole' - perhaps their first entry into Greenwich it is hidden somewhere else.

The book was launched at an event at Davy's Wine Bar by Cllr. Maureen O'Mara. In introducing it she said " Local history is one of my own great interests so I was very pleased and flattered to be asked by the Association to introduce Diana. As a Triangle resident now for over sixteen years I have always been fascinated by its history and I congratulate Diana on this new edition of her book"

In his introduction to the book Mick Delap, Chair of the Ashburnham Triangle Association, talks about the vanishing industrial landscape and points in particular to the demolition of the Merryweather buildings.

This is a an important book which records the past of this key area and at the same time allows us to see it at a time of great transition. And whether you know the Triangle or not the book is still a good read.

Copies and info available from Richard Cheffins, richardcheffins@aol.com. Cheques payable to the Ashburnham Triangle Association - £5 - not sure if that includes post and packing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Computer manufacture in Greenwich

Those who can remember the computer manufacturers of the 1960s - when Britain was still a major player - will know that one of the most important of them was Elliott Brothers, based on the Lewisham/Greenwich borders.

A member has drawn our attention to an article - "Elliott Brothers to BAE Systems" by C T Bartlett which appeared in the Summer 2009 Newsletter of the History Technical and Professional Network of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. This can be found at http://www.theiet.org/.
Through many mergers Elliott Brothers via Marcom-Elliott Avionic Systems Ltd and then Marconi Avionics, became part of BAE Systems. C.T.Bartlett, worked for Marconi Avionics and when he retired set up a museum called Rochester Avionic Archives on the Rochester site of BAE Systems - http://rochesteravionicarchives.co.uk/ carries a different version of the Elliott article and a description of the collection. Unfortunately there is no information about how or even whether the public can visit.

The website says "Welcome to Rochester Avionic Archives - a large collection of avionic hardware items together with an archive of films, documents, videos,brochures and newspapers. The oldest item is a Slide Rule from 1894 but the majority of the items are of mid to late20th century origin. The emphasis is on equipment made or relevant to the Rochester site and the work of Elliott Bros, Marconi and BAE Systems The Rochester Avionic Archives (RAA), is located within BAE System Rochester, and aims to preserve a record of the products and generate pride in the people who helped create the company.

Up to 1998, a unique collection of equipment and documents was stored in the Flying School under the care of one of the previous Directors of the company. This collection included the 'Elliott Collection' which is a valuable archive relating to the work of Elliott Brothers in the 19th century. This collection has historic scientific instruments and documents but in addition there were some more modem items concerned with the avionics business of the Company and in particular at Rochester.

- So - what do we know about their work in South London?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Lewisham claim Greenwich Penns tomorrow

Constant readers and members will know we have been pushing very hard to publicise the work down by Richard Hartree on the great Penn works in Blackheath Hill. And Richard has been to speak to us twice about it.

He is doing it again at Lewisham Local History Society - 'The Penns of Lewisham' 7.45 Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Walk London - The Royal Arsenal to Greenwich

Members of the Greenwich Industrial History Society (and others) might be interested in a walk on Sunday, 27th September at 11am.

Ian Bull, a walk leader for 'Walk London' is hosting. Please meet outside Woolwich Arsenal station for a historical walk along the Thames Path from The Royal Arsenal to Greenwich. The walk is just over 7.5 miles long and has no set finish time although it is expected to last about four to five hours. Photographs to illustrate the route over the past 50 years or so will be on hand. These have been provided by The Greenwich Heritage Centre. A packed lunch may be advisable but a visit to the Thames Barrier's café en route is an option.

This cannot be an in depth investigation into local history but the weather forecast is excellent and the walk might make a pleasant if familiar stroll. The walk is free and there's no need to to pre-book. All are very welcome to contact Ian in advance for further information.

Unfortunately it will not be possible to have a close look at the Royal Arsenal's buildings due to an event on the site.

OBO Ian Bull
Tel: 020 7223 3572
eMail: ianbull@btinternet.com

The walk appears on Walk London's website at...


Walk London is a partnership of all the London Boroughs. Financed by Transport for London it is led by The Corporation of the City of London.

Keskerdh Kernow 500

We've been sent a copy of this wonderful book about Cornwall - a lot of it is about the March to Blackheath - isn't there a plaque up on the wall of Greenwich park? At the end of the March the marchers made the Blackheath Declaration - which was basically about Cornish rights (they wanted a Development Agency and stuff like that). Anyway its a great book with lots of interesting stuff in it - happy to lend it out but it would be important to get it back.

Now - why were we sent it? One of the most important people in the great history of Cornish industry, mining technology and engineering was Richard Trevithick. He pioneered much steam engine technology and designed one of the earliest Locomotives (there are great accounts of his first steaming through the streets of Cambourne). He has very tangible links with south east London, since he ended his days working for J.&E.Hall and is buried in Dartford.

One of the most important things which happened to his work on steam engine design - and something which can claim to be a milestone in steam engine technology - was the explosion of a boiler in one of his new high pressure engines in 1803. Where did this take place?? Why, on the Greenwich Peninsula just down near the river from the Pilot.

I wrote this up, to a somewhat cool reception, for the bi-centenary of this event - and I had also found the inquest report for one of the victims who died in St.Thomas's hospital. Anyway, two weeks ago I met a Cornish industrial historian and sent him a copy of my article. He has replied with multiple thanks - very very keen to know where it was that it happened and - as a thank you has sent this wonderful book.

So - who remembers the march?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Stench pipes in Lambeth

According to the current SLAS newsletter Lambeth Council are to preserve two stench pipes in Norwood. I am not sure what and if we have any in Greenwich. Perhaps we should all look and see - such things are only too easily lost.

This is taken from the current edition of the excellent newsletter of the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society. It also contains an article about the Greenwich Tide Mill recently discovered at Lovells Wharf. We would be happy to scan this and reproduce it here if SLAS wouldn't object.

SLAS meetings are held at 106 The Cut, 7.30 and future events include:
October 13th - Recent Excavations at Merton Priory
10th November - work on Syon House and its Brigintine Monastry
8th December - Music and Musicians in Southwark and Lambeth
9th February - The Elephant Entertains

They also note
5th October - Malcolm Tucker and Tim Smith speaking about Kings Cross Railway Goods Yard at the Rugby Tavern, Rugby Street, W1. 8.00 - both Tim and Malcolm have spoken to GIHS and this is an amazing subject. Highly recommended

Friday, 18 September 2009

First Master Founder

The new Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter comes with news of the launch of a new book = "Andreas Schalch, First Master Founder of the Royal Brass Foundry, Woolwich.'. This is by {at and Tony Fawcett and can be obtained from them at 86 St.Mary Street, SE18 for $6.50 plus £2 post and packing.
It would be really good if someone would like to review it and submit to this blog.

The newsletter lists forthcoming Woolwich Antiquarian meetings - the next is on October 10th and features Jim Marriot in a Celebration of Woolwich Town Hall. 2.15 Charlton House.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

members notice

the next meeting of Greenwich Industrial History Society is on Tuesday 15th at the Old Bakehouse, Bennet Park, as usual and will feature Mary Mills on The Hills of Greenwich - this is really about how Frank Hills became a 19th century multi-millionaire by a number of means - gas works, battleships, patents........

It seems very likely that the Syriol site (Tunnel Glucose, Tate and Lyle, Amylum, or whatever) is being cleared and that the silos are to be demolished. It would be good to think we could get in and have a look before it goes. If you think you could help email me back - and I will see if anything is possible.

Anyway - last week Barbara Ludlow, who has contributed so much to Greenwich history celebrated her 80th birthday - I'm happy to pass any good wishes on.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Sub Brit

Subterranea has arrived - the journal of Subterranea Brittanica.

Align LeftNothing local to us (again) but lots of interesting things. Plate Rails in the Godstone Quarries, Camden Town's Railway Heritage, Coombe Conduit House - and much more.,

Open House at the Arsenal site

A press release from firepower - ROYAL ARSENAL PREPARES TO OPEN ITS DOORS

On Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September, the Royal Arsenal's historic Old Royal Military Academy where history was both taught and made - a Grade II (star) listed building built 1716-20 - will be open free of charge as part of the London Open House Weekend. The building is attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor and was commissioned by the Government’s Board of Ordnance. It was the birthplace of the Royal Artillery, and was one of the first military academies of Europe. The British army officer training system now based at Sandhurst, was first established here. The Academy took in the first cadets in 1721 then in 1805, they were moved into a converted workshop nearby, and the RMA Woolwich became known to generations of officers as "The Shop". The traditions begun and standards set here in the 18th Century are carried through to today as the core values of military education and standards in Britain and in many other countries. The building is now used by Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum.

- and - what they don't say in this press release (which comes from Firepower and thus is only interested in the Royal Artillery) that it had a formative role in the Royal Engineers - and - perhaps more importantly was the place where many scientists undertook research. I have always felt that it is about time someone took seriously Woolwich's role in the scientific community of the 18th and 19th centuries - and the role of the Royal Military Academy in being one of the earliest institutions to provide a scientific education in this country.
I did edit that press release down a lot too!

Brunel Museum

Richard Buchanan writes.......

I went to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe today, and was told that on the Open House Days they will be opening the shaft from which the Thames Tunnel was built. It now has a concrete floor above the running tracks of the railway, and a concrete roof supporting a garden, but the inside is as last used. A temporary stairway will be put in for the occasion.

Future plans depend on successful grant application; they envisage a gallery on the concrete floor and another at ground level in a superstructure similar to what Brunel had.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Next GIHS meeting

The Hills of Greenwich - Mary Mills 15th September Old Bakehouse

This is not about the steeper bits of Greenwich but about the Hills family - and mainly Frank Clarke Hills who made a fortune out of gas works waste - and much else beside - ending up building battleships. It is also about his very numerous brothers and various others.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Crossness Engines Steaming Day Images

Here are some stills I took at the August 23rd 2009 Steaming Day at Crossness compiled as a short video.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

some meetings

Some meetings around London which might interest our members:

Early Roman Quarrying and Building Stone use in London and South England - Kevin Hayward. LAMAS 10th November 6.30 Museum of London, London Wall.

Surrey Archaeological Society Conference 10th October, Leatherhead. Includes an item by Prof Alan Crocker on Monastic Mills

Searching for Trevithick's London Railway of 1808. John Liffen. 29th September. Surrey Industrial History Group University of Surrey, Guildford 7.30

Wapping Foreshore Troubles in Stuart Times. Sally Maschiter. Docklands History Group. 3rd September 5.30 Museum in Docklands

The 1872 Dock Strike and the West India Dock. Chris Elmers Docklands History Group 5th November.

A.V.Roe and the First Flight over Walthamstow Marshes Neil Houghton. Hornsey Historical Society 14th October 8 pm Union Church Hall, Ferme Park Road/Weston Road

John Burns and the Town Planning Act 1909 Lester Hillman. Islington History Society 8 pm Islington Town Hall 16th December

The Penns of Lewisham. Ricahrd Hartree Lewisham Local History Society 7.45 Methodist Hall, Albion Way 25th September

The Promised Lane and the lure of South London. Len Reilly. Lewisham, as above 30th October

Industries of Southwark, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. Stephen Humphrey Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Local History Society 7.45 Time and Talents, St.Marychurch Street 25th November

A short journey down the Thames. Magic Lantern Show. Aileen Butler. Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, as above. 16th December

Valentines Mansion and its owners. Georgina Green. Walthamstow Historical Society. 7.30 Greenleaf Baptist Church, Hoe Street area. 8th October
(I am very seriously thinking of going to this Valentines was owned by Holcombe family who had an extensive tar works on Greenwich Marsh)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Woolwich Foot Tunnel tiles

a correspondent says:

I came across the following in papers for the Newellite Glass Tile Company formed in 1898 and based at 19 Shenton Street, Old Kent Road.October 1912 - "The loss shewn is almost entirely attributable to a contract undertaken by the Company for Tiling the Woolwich Tunnel under the engineers to the LCC."My grandfather held shares in the company and one of the owners, John Tyrrell Newell was a relative of his. The company eventually folded and was dissolved in 1921.I would be interested to know if any record of the contract would be in any archives or if you could point me in any direction to find out more.

Crossness Engines Steaming Day

As mentioned in an earlier post, Sunday August 23rd saw the last of the 2009 Steaming Days.

Crossness was extremely busy on a beautifully hot and sunny day. Helpers there were suggesting a possible record attendance. Apparently, a certain Mr. Gryff Rhys Jones had mentioned Crossness in his 'World's Greatest Cities' program on London the previous Sunday, so that must have helped.

Since I have yet to find any videos of these 'steaming' events posted on the Web, I thought members of the GIHS and others might be interested in seeing a video I took with a little Flip video camera. I have spent almost no time on this. They are raw clips, unedited, in the same sequence that I took them and with a piece of electronic music chosen totally random that seems to just work with the motions.

Prince Consort is certainly an impressive beast, and a huge credit to the team of volunteers that have restored her to working order. What surprised me more than anything was how quiet it was, with a whole load of weird creaks, groans, squeaks and whistles being the dominant sounds rather than any crashing and banging.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Elliott of Lewisham

I knew Elliotts as Elliott Automation - our local computer manufacturer. We have an enquiry from a reader about an Elliott engineers - is this the same firm? can anyone tell us more? the reader says:

"Messrs Elliotts, the well known engineers."Quote from newspaper report of the inquest on my great grandfather HenryPilbeam Cox of Bolden Street Deptford who worked here in 1904/5. He shot himself in 1906. Can you tell me what this firm was, please? He was an electrical instrument maker. My grandfather Thomas Cox may have been an apprentice there about the same time".

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Crossness event - 23rd August

Back to the Future and into the 21st Century
at the Victorian Crossness on the Bexley – Greenwich border for the last steam day of 2009!

Crossness Engines is having a special day to look ahead into its future on Sunday 23rd August. With the successful restoration by volunteers of one steam pump and with the renovation of part of the pumping hall, the Crossness team have proved themselves. Crossness Engines Trust has received sizeable donations from, among others, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the Homes and Communities Agency totalling some £3 million. Some of work has already been completed, with the roofs of all the buildings being replaced or repaired, which is why there have been fewer open days this year. This last public steam day of 2009 is an opportunity to see and comment on what is being planned. Expect BIG changes!

The giant Victorian pumps at Crossness on the Greenwich-Bexley border literally saved the heart of the Britain's Empire from the 'Great Stink'.
the restoration at Crossness is not just of value of those in Greenwich and Bexley but generates interest both nationally and internationally.

The day runs from 10.30am to 5.00pm with last admission at 4:00pm. Tickets £5, Children under 16 FREE. There is a large car park, light refreshments and a museum shop, all at the Crossness site, Thames Water, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood.

We hope that everyone will make the most of this last steam day of 2009.

two requests for info

From Anna - how can she arrange a visit to Greenwich Power Station:
"Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, good day ...... Would you know of anopportunity to have an individual/ group visit to the amazing GreenwichPower Station accompanied by a guide? Or you think EDF is my onlychance? Thank you very much for advice.

From Janet in Canada
Has your society any information on the early schools of Greenwich?
The 1841 census reveals that William Blagrove, worked as a gardener at Maize Buildings, Croom's Hill, Greenwich. Maize Buildings appears to be a girls' school; however, I cannot find any other information on it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Morris Walk

System Building on the Morris Walk Estate by Lorna Coventry on 23 June 2009

Lorna Coventry works for English Heritage, and is a colleague of Peter Guillery (who has featured previously in the Newsletter). They are currently working on the Survey of London, vol. 48, Woolwich.
She spoke about the Morris Walk Estate, the first to be ‘system’ built in London. The Estate is east of Maryon Park and runs down to Woolwich Church Street, the railway running through it. Morris Walk was the name of the road in the middle of the area, though that and all other previous features were obliterated. The redevelopment was done for slum clearance, though some good houses were included (for which market prices had to be paid) to make up the area for the development to be viable – just over 500 units were provided in 3 and 10-12 storey blocks.
The ‘system’ was Danish and had been used successfully for ten years in the Netherlands before it was taken up by the LCC. It comprised a set of interlocking load bearing wall and floor panels which could be arranged into housing units. These could be stacked to make multi-storey blocks. The LCC did not take the design as it was, but modified it to be able make taller blocks.
They were proud of its aesthetics. The outer faces of the panels were finished with stone chippings, and are still as good as when they were put up over forty years ago. However, the Estate had some serious drawbacks. There was a standard kitchen and bathroom design – fine for a two bedroom unit, but cramped for a four bedroom unit. Balconies were deemed too expensive and omitted – so there was nowhere suitable to put the washing - making condensation a problem; ventilators were provided to cope with it, but were drafty and often blocked up. Heating was by electric radiators, and was always inadequate even after an upgrade. Noise insulation between Units was very poor.
Various communal activities were planned, but not provided because money ran out… Open areas between the blocks, intended for family activities, have not been used very much, and many children are kept safely indoors, looking at TV.
Later buildings built with this system included the notorious Ronan Point where a domestic gas explosion caused the collapse of all floors at one corner, though Ms Coventry said the Morris Walk Estate did not have this design fault.
The Estate is now slated for redevelopment, though again money is tight. A forty year life is rather poor, many buildings around the Estate being much older, and still going strong – indeed, structurally, the Estate is still in good fettle, but no one wants it kept.

The embarrasing thing we must never mention

Colin Long mentions in IA Memories, in GLIAS News 243, an automatic Car Park that never worked. The following notes add some detail (though it may not be wholly accurate):

This was called an Autostacker, and was designed for 256 cars to be parked 16 on either side the building on eight floors. A car would be driven onto a pallet at the entrance, then taken by lift and conveyor to a free bay within; drivers would be saved the difficulty of manoeuvring and less space was needed as cars could be packed more tightly. (One would hope it would all still work on ones return.)

Automation was by Standard Telephones & Cables (STC), not from their nearby works at North Woolwich but at Footscray. This used relay circuitry and worked. However, the building suffered from settlement, preventing the conveyor system, by John Brown, from operating - they tried to get part of it going for the opening by Princess Margaret in 1962. But settlement continued and eventually the building was demolished.

Woolwich is one of those few places along the Thames where high ground reaches through the marshes that existed before the river was embanked. Woolwich has two pieces of high ground, the one to the west with St Mary's Church on it, overlooking the site of Woolwich Dockyard, and the easterly one where the Woolwich Power Station was. Archaeological investigations, when Power Station was built, and more recently when the adjacent area between Warren Lane & Beresford Road was cleared for development, showed that the Romans had a settlement on the eastern eminence, around which they dug an enormous ditch (about half the size of the moat at the Tower of London).
I think the Autostacker was built partially over the ditch.
Richard Buchanan

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Bessemer in Greenwich

Steel production, together with Henry Bessemer and the Bessemer converter are usually associated with the north of England, and Sheffield in particular. It comes as a surprise to learn that Bessemer himself lived for many years in South London and that he built a steel works at Greenwich. Of course, Kent has a steel works today in Sheerness and, naturally, the arms industry at Woolwich Arsenal and elsewhere used steel in huge quantities. It is still however, remarkable that so little is known about Bessemer's Greenwich works which lay close to where the Millennium Dome is being built today. It has proved very difficult to find anything very much out about this works and there is some conflict about what really went on there.

Henry Bessemer came from a French background and an ingenious inventor who took out numerous patents on all sorts of devices and processes, from which he made a lot of money. One of the earliest was 'bronze powder', which he made in a factory in the St. Pancras area. He described some of the lengths he went to in order to keep the process secret and his, unfinished, autobiography sometimes seems much the same – it is often very difficult to disentangle from the narrative exactly what he said and did at any one time. Recently historians have suggested that his steel making process arose out of his interest in making guns, something that, of course, would draw him to Woolwich and the Arsenal.

Bessemer had been in France working, at the suggestion of Louis Napoleon, with the French military authorities when he came to the conclusion that a new sort of metal was needed. In due course he developed a process and a works was opened in Sheffield in the late 1850s. To cut a very long story very short indeed he eventually became involved with Col. Eardley Wilmot at the Royal Arsenal and plans began to be made to build a plant for the manufacture of Bessemer's steel in Woolwich. It soon became clear that Col. Willmot's support for Bessemer was not shared by the Minister of War and the plans were abandoned. At around the same time Bessemer steel was rejected for use in the Arsenal. Bessemer was very bitter 'it was quite clear that neither I, nor my steel, was wanted at Woolwich, and I made up my mind to leave the place severely alone in future.'

The position at Woolwich was further complicated by the appointment in 1859 of William Armstrong, the Newcastle based arms manufacturer, to the position of Director of Rifled Ordnance at Woolwich. In a previous article I described how Alexander Theophilus Blakeley, who built an abortive gun foundry on the Greenwich peninsula, had lost out to Armstrong and gone out of business. Bessemer had discovered Blakeley and his patented process for making guns at around the same time as he began to develop his steel making process. No doubt both of them had good cause to feel aggrieved at the appointment of Armstrong and their failure to sell arms to the British government.

Bessemer's biography is not a particular easy book to read. By the time he wrote it he was an old man, Blakeley was long dead and many of the differences with other people had been patched up or forgotten. He died before the biography was completed and a final chapter was added by his son. In a short paragraph, Henry Bessemer Jnr, mentions that a steel works was built at Greenwich in the mid-1860s. Very little is known about this works and my attempts to find out the views on it of historians with a knowledge of Bessemer it has found got very little in the way of a response.

There is no doubt that Bessemer had a works of some sort at Greenwich. It was on the site now known as Victoria Wharf (lately the Victoria Deep Water Wharf) and dated from around 1865. Victoria Wharf. is one of the few sites on the Greenwich riverside which is in not owned by Morden College. This means that detailed archives are not available nor has it proved possible to contact the site's new owners. The first reference in the public archives is an application to the Thames Conservators in June 1865 from 'Bessemer Brothers' for permission to build a jetty. He is also listed in the Greenwich Commission of Sewers rate books of 1865 which also note that the owners of the land are Clark and Terry from whom Bessemer held a lease - he later bought the freehold. In 1865 an advertisement in the Kentish Mercury mentions the closeness of the Bessemer works and its thirsty steel workers to the Star in the East pub – the pub's successor is now Ranburn's alongside the Blackwall Tunnel entrance.

Bessemer Jnr. says very little about this Greenwich works but he says it was very small and that his father intended it for his sons. "It had", says Bessemer Jnr., "two 2½ ton converters and all the plant necessary. Including one 2½-ton steam hammer and another the size of which is not given. The buildings were carefully designed, with the intention that the establishment should be in all respects be a model one". It was, he says never opened because of the down turn in Thames shipbuilding.

The Blakeley gun foundry at Ordnance Wharf was built at about the same time as the Bessemer Works and, since they knew each other and both had lost to Armstrong, maybe the two works had some connection with each other. Perhaps, when he came to write his biography, and some scores had been settled, Bessemer found it expedient not to mention this.

Some of the proprietors of neighbouring industries seem to have had connections with Bessemer. There were the cable works of Glass Elliott – and Bessemer had showed an interest in telegraph cables. Next door, to the south, was Horseshoe Breach which had recently been upgraded by the 'wooden nutmeg', Nathan Thompson, in his bid to build and sell 5,000 identical boats each year. Following his demise it had been taken over by Maudslay Son and Field. It was there that Bessemer's prototype anti-sea sickness boat was to be built. On Victoria Wharf itself was an artificial stone works owned by Frederick and Ernest Ransome, from the Ipswich family, who Bessemer knew. To the north was John Bethel's specialist tar distillery - Bessemer himself mentions 'Bethel's patent coke' in connection with steel making and I do not doubt that there were coke ovens at Bethel's Greenwich works.

What happened to the works? Bessemer Jnr. says that it was never used but that they kept the lease and later bought the freehold. Both works and plant were let to London Steel and Ordnance – 'London Steel and Iron Works' are shown on site on the Ordnance Survey dated 1869. What is quite clear from the archives is that the authorities thought that Bessemer had remained on site; London Steel and Ordnance are not mentioned. In 1872 there was a complaint from Morden College that the 'Bessemer Steel Co.' had encroached on their land and discussions later began for the company to lease 'a small field in the marshes adjoining this property for 21 years' and went on to say that Bessemer were offering more than the market value – hardly the action of company which does not want a site. As late as 1891 Morden College's surveyor was still dealing with Bessemer Brothers.

I would be very interested to know if anyone has found another reference to London Steel and Ordinance – a body about which I have been unable to discover anything at all about.

Bessemer Jnr. said that Steel and Ordnance 'did not achieve much success' and that the works was then let to Messrs. Appleby Bros. The tenancy can be confirmed from the Morden College records from about 1878. When they left, almost twenty years later, the site was let to a linoleum manufacturer, who later bought the freehold from the Bessemers.

Perhaps the most important thing is what the linoleum manufacturer had to say about the site. His name was Frederick Walton and it is perhaps possible that he knew Henry Bessemer – another of Bessemer's interests was linoleum. Walton said how pleased he was to get the site because it was 'where Bessemer proved his widely known steel process'. Did Walton know something about the site that Bessemer wanted kept quiet?

Bessemer himself, or his sons, had the site from about 1865 and they or, London Steel and Iron, or Steel and Ordnance' had it until it was let to Appleby thirteen years later. Probably initially the works was built to supply Blakeley with steel with perhaps the sub-text of upsetting the authorities at Woolwich. Bessemer himself had moved to South London – to a very very grand mansion in Denmark Hill – in the early 1860s. At that time a direct train service from Denmark Hill to Greenwich was being planned. Perhaps he also thought that a steel works near his home would be useful. It would be tucked away from the prying eyes of his licensees and those at his works in the north of England.

We may probably never know what Bessemer actually did at Greenwich but it is thought that had Blakeley been more lucky in his backers, and had stayed in business, that he and Henry Bessemer might have turned Greenwich into a great steel town – Sheffield on Thames.

Mary Mills


The summer GLIAS newsletter starts with an item about the wrecking of their web site by an east European hacker and its subsquent banning by Google ,..... oh ooer and help!!

An article by Colin Long describes his visits to London, including Woolwich - and he remembers Princess Margaret and the Autostacker (oh dear!). He also remembers a gun being dismantled at the Arsenal which also dismantled a canteen (oh dear) - and some other local legends.

otherwise .... nothing about our Borough - they do advertise meetings

- 5th September - a walk in Acton

- 26th September - Treasure Hunt in Soho
- for both contact walks@glias.org.uk for details

Newsletters and things

A number of newsletters in the post - some with stuff about Greenwich, some not.
Sadly, nothing from the Kent Underground lot.

Thank you to Woolwich Antiquarians for some nice write ups of our meetings - a good thing about Lorna Coventry and System Building on the Morris Walk Estate and also about the ship breaking yard, Castles, in Charlton.

Their future meetings are:

October 10th - Celebration of Woolwich Town Hall - this is the Vincent Memorial Lecture and be by Jim Marrett
November 14th - London Statues of the Famous and Forgotten - by our own Sue Bullevant
December 12th - Sir Christopher Wren - Ian Bevan
January 9th - Aviation in North Kent - by Jim Preston
February 6th A History of the National Trust by Peter Jones
March 6th AGM with the Women's Land Army by C arol Harris

all at Charlton House at 2.15

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Amazing finds on the Charlton foreshore

Thanks to Elliott and Lorna from the Thames Discovery Team for an amazing meeting for GIHS on Tuesday.

We have the following report from Richard Buchanan - and see further down for details of when they will be on site again - and looking for volunteers

“Thames Discovery” is following on from the 1990s ‘Foreshore’ study, with small staff on a three year scheme to establish a continuing archaeological study of the Thames foreshore, which can change from tide to tide, eroding in some places or building up elsewhere. To do this they are training volunteers, both in the classroom and on sites – one of which is by the Anchor & Hope pub in Charlton.
There was a ship breakers yard there, where a square platform was built from scrap material. This was for boats to sit on between high tides for repair work. Map and pictorial evidence suggests it was built in 1904, a time when the yard broke up four warships built in mid-19C.
The 19C was a time of rapid change in warship design, going from: wooden sailing ships; through designs with wrought iron armour and steam engines driving screw propellers (though still with sails as early steam engines needed too much coal); iron ships, which could be made larger; to steel battleships such as the Dreadnaught. Warships could already be obsolete when they were launched. So few of a particular design would have been built – and the wood and iron used to make the boat platform is therefore of interest.
The Duke of Wellington, built at Pembroke in 1852 as the world’s largest and most powerful ship, probably contributed the timbers in the platform. The Hannibal, Deptford 1854; Edgar, Woolwich 1858; and Anson, Woolwich 1860, could also have contributed to the platform, which contains iron beams and some large lumps.

- Elliott says

These are the times for our fieldwork at Charlton: 27/7 0915-1315 28/7 0945-1345 29/7 1030-1430 30/7 1100-1500 31/7 1200-1600
If it is at all possible, it would be helpful for us if those who wanted to come down could come together as a group (or two groups on two different days?) as we will be training volunteers for most of the time, and it would be nice to devote some time to give your members a good tour of the site. If not, nevertheless, I will try to show everyone round as best I can.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Greenwich Historical Society

Here is there new programme

All meetings at 7.30 The Theatre, Blackheath High School Mycenae Road,

23rd September - Queen Caroline in Greenwich - Frances Ward

28th October - A Painters Paradise - Terry Scales

25th November - The Thames Tidal Mill by Simon Davis and Damien Goodburn

Maritime History

Info from the Centre for Maritime History - The following courses are available:

Themes in British Maritime History since the late 18th century The Royal Navy - 12 weeks Thurdays 10--12 from 1st October

Themes in British Maritime History since the late 18th century The Merchant Navy - 12 weeks Thurdays 1--3 from 1st October

20th Century International Naval History 15 weeks Thursdays 3.30 pm from 14th January

20th Century International Maritime History Thursdays 10 am from 14th January

This all costs £425 per course (gulp!!)

www.gre.ac.uk/gmi +44 20 8331 7688