Sunday, 4 September 2011

A quick historical look at the Greenwich Peninsula

Docklands History Group Talk 3 August 2011
(the following is a set of notes taken by a member of the Docklands History Group during Mary's talk. It reflects their perception of what she said.)


Greenwich Peninsula by Mary Mills

The subject was so immense Mary said that she had decided to talk about the industrial area, the gas works, now the dome site, and recent changes.

In the 1690s the government had a site which it used as a facility for gun powder testing before the gun powder was exported, using a specially built jetty. Later Enderby’s Wharf, ‘the home of communications’, developed on that site although Enderbys, who had a rope making factory there, left in the 1840s. In the 1840/1860s underwater cables were developed there. The fourth underwater cable to be laid across the Atlantic, and which then worked, was made there. In fact about 97 per cent of underwater cables laid round the world before 1927 were made as well as special alloys and later optical fibres. The site was subsequently used by a series of telecommunications companies – and continues there under Alcatel. She regretted that the historic significance of the site was not better known.

Enderby House, built in the 1840s, was listed but had recently been badly vandalised. There was now to be a cruise liner terminal at the site. The river here was wide enough and deep enough for cruise liners to turn.

Mary then talked of Morden College, a charity, which ran almshouses and had been set up by John Morden of the East India Company and the City of London in 1680. For centuries the College had owned much of West Greenwich and the Peninsula and income from the land funded the charity. It owned the land on either side of Enderby’s Wharf. In the 1840/50s Morden College had parcelled up its riverside land on the Peninsula and encouraged developers to come in to found good quality industries on the sites.

In 1856 there was coal available plus tar and other chemicals from the gas industry and so manufacturing using these developed – a coal based manufacturing economy.

One works was Soames soap works later taken over by Unilever (coal tar soap!). The site later became a glucose factory. This was recently sold by Tate and Lyle to a French company who have demolished the works and the riverside silos leaving it currently empty.

Morden College is still the freehold land owner of much of the west bank area, still letting sites for development albeit now for housing.

At Bay Wharf slips were put in by Nathan Thompson and were later Maudsley Son & Field who had a ship building business there in the 1870s. They built the Halloween and Blackadder, fast sister ships to Cutty Sark, and in 1871 they built a Bospherous roll-on roll-off ferry among other vessels. It is known that this ferry was in use as a cargo ship until the 1990s. It is planned that the current operator of the dry dock on Piper's Wharf, which has to move from its present site, will move to Bay Wharf, which has planning permission for a boat building facility.

In the 1920s Lovells’ Wharf was let to a coal merchant Coles Child (it later became Lovells). Tarmac was on an adjacent site, Granite Wharf, originally Mowlems, where the Swanage Great Globe was made.

At Granite Wharf an early medieval tide mill has been discovered. There would have been mill ponds to impound the water needed by the tide mill. This was believed to be a site owned by the Abbey of Ghent and nearby at Ballast Quay was the Court House for old East Greenwich. The present centre of Greenwich grew up later round the Palace.

The Pelton Arms and roads around it, were named after Durham collieries.

On the east bank George Russell developed “New East Greenwich” in 1801. There were cottages and the Pilot Inn and a large tide mill where Richard Trevithick’s boiler exploded changing the history of the steam engine.

Angerstein had a railway from Charlton to the river, which is still use but much cut back. Also on the peninsula was a power station, Frank Hill’s chemical works and Redpath Brown's steel works. All that is left now from the past is a pub and listed cottages. The old East Greenwich power station coaling jetty remains, by a tower block. It is hoped that this jetty will be used by the Massey Shaw and maybe by other historic vessels.

One of the tower blocks has been named Bessemer Place to recall one of the former industries of the area.

There used to be a huge lino factory, which became Nairns of Kirkcaldy, which manufactured patterned lino to Victorian designs by an automatic process.

One interesting new development is the new Greenwich Yacht Club, which has been rebuilt on a wharf as a platform over the river.

The Millennium Village is still only half built. It has an ecology park, health centre, and shops. During the Olympics a Dutch man is proposing to use the open ground for a campsite.

The gas works was built by George Livesey, quite late but was extensive – and it aspired to the highest standards of quality. It had two gas holders one of which is still in use and one of the largest ever built. The works closed gradually after 1980.

The Peninsula has been re-developed by Greenwich Council rather than by a development corporation. Greenwich Council was party to the Joint Dockland Committee, but the land at Greenwich was left out of the development sites which passed to the London Docklands Development Corporation for urban regeneration. In the mid 1990s the site of the Millennium Dome, built on the gas works site and Ordnance Wharf, was a catalyst for development of the Peninsula. Now the only memory of the gas works, apart from gas holder No. 1, is the war memorial. On the jetty adjacent to where the gas works stood, there is a sculpture, “Quantum Cloud”, by Anthony Gormley. It is planned that there will be a walkway over the Dome by the time of the Olympics. The Architect who designed the Dome was Mike Davies from the Richard Rogers Partnership.

The Beckham Football Academy has become the Greenwich Football Academy and the new Ravensbourne College describes itself as an ‘arts factory’ teaching with an emphasis on digitisation. Their server is used by BT for its training.

There is still a safeguarded route for a new tunnel on the Peninsula to Newham. There is a plan for a cable car across to the Royal Docks and a new Siemens facility.

British Gas had bought up much of the land as other industries failed and this was taken over by the Govenment through their agency English Partnerships. Today the Home and Communities Agency own the remainder of the land and lease it out.

(with thanks to Sally Mashiter)

1 comment:

Alan Burkitt-Gray said...

Pedantic point: the telecommunications works is owned by Alcatel-Lucent, not Alcatel.

Alcatel-Lucent, based in Paris, is one of the three or four biggest makers of telecoms equipment in the world. It, like most telecoms equipment companies, is the result of a series of mergers.

Standard Telecommunications & Cables, once the UK arm of a US company, ITT, owned the Greenwich operation for many years until the company collapsed in 1991 and was taken over by Nortel, a Canadian company.

Alcatel bought the business from Nortel in 1993, and Alcatel, a French company, merged with Lucent, a US company, in 2006.