Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Recollections of East Greenwich - the gasworks that is

The account below is taken from the South Met. Gas Company House magazine - Co-partnership Journal.  As you will see it is about someone who started work as East Greenwich Gas Works was being built - followed by some stories of the 1889 gas workers strike.  I have put some notes at the end about some of the things described


When I started work at East Greenwich, in the first week in 1884, various works had been built on the river bank and a road made for the convenience of people travelling to and fro. On the eastern side of this road were market gardens of poor quality, divided and drained by numerous ditches. It was this ground which the Company bought for the erection of their new works.  
Ordnance drawdock in the 1980s

Towards the end of 1883 John Stradling was sent as foreman to direct the operations.  A footpath which skirted the whole of the river bank and had been used by the public for generations, had to be diverted and from the "Pilot" public-house to the "Ferry Arms" a short new road was made by us on the Company's land. A draw-dock (near where the station meters now are) was cleared away, and a new dock made by us near Ordnance Wharf (1) also a boundary wall was commenced.
Our chief difficulty at that time was caused by waterside people insisting on a right-of-way over the old paths which we had not yet removed so we placed a man to divert this traffic; but it was necessary on several occasions to send a gang of men to his assistance. The difficulty, however, was removed as time went on.  

Jioseph Tysoe
The first engineer was Mr. Ridings, who had an office in Blakeley Buildings (2); but when the first retort house neared completion, and retort settings were to be erected, Mr. Tysoe came and took charge. In August, 1887 gas was first made.  

George Livesey
We had many trials and troubles at the start, but these were gradually surmounted.  In 1889 came the trouble with the Gas Workers' Union, and in the second week of December the strike began.(3)  An efficient force of police was present, and the strikers were escorted from the works, after having piled chairs and seats in the centre of No. 1 Retort House lobby and set fire to them. The fire was soon extinguished. Outside the works on a small mound near the “Pilot “public-house an effigy of Mr. George Livesey (4)  was burnt by the strikers.   

We fed and housed the new men, many of whom were unaccustomed to the work, and some of whom were unsuited to it. In a very short time we had them graded, and began to make headway. When the gasholder began to rise it was  rumoured by the strikers that we were filling it up with air. They  tried to increase the demand for gas by turning on the street  lamps during the day.  
A church service in the works for the blacklegs - replacement workers

An incident which remains fresh in my memory after many  years is our first gasholder mishap.  The temperature was below freezing point, and a keen north wind was blowing. The  water in the tank slowed no signs of freezing ; but evidently  the water in the cups on the northern, side of the holdcr had  frozen so rapidly that it escaped notice. As the holder uncuppcd  the lift canted towards the south, and with a jerk the other side  released itself, parting a scam in so doing. Half an hour after-  wards a strong smell of gas was reported on the southern side  of the holder, and about the same time it was noticed that the  holder was descending at a greater rate than the normal consumption would account for. There being no other holder, very  little could be done, and it grounded. The lesson of the mishap  was so well learned that a second has never occurred.  

The nature of the work and the hours of working have changed  considerably since those early days. At that time one of the most  important figures on the works was the scoop driver, who needed  strength, skill and endurance in a high degree.  Although the chief business of the works has been the manufacture of gas, it has been necessary to employ men of many  trades, and the works have been beneficial to the town of Greenwich  by finding employment for so many men. Many things have  happened since I started at East Greenwich. Many old friends  have gone, and but few remain. It is good to look back over the  years, and to feel satisfaction at having done a man's work among  good men.  I should like to record my grateful thanks to my old friends, both in the office and the works, for the help      


(1) This new drawdock - essentially planning gain because it had been insisted on by the local authority - is now Ordnance Drawdock, at the far end of Blackwall Lane by the hotel, and still a public right of way despite scary notices from the hotel telling you the area is private.

(2) Blakeley Buildings were at the end of Blackwall Lane - people might remember two 1940s houses on the same site, demolished a couple of years ago. The Buildings, which they replaced, was an apartment block built in the 1860s for employees of the Blakeley Ordnance works and never finished. I gas company eventually finished the building and used them for staff accommodation.

(3) The 1889 gas workers strike . See my articles: http://marysgasbook.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/south-met-gas-1889-strike-part-1.html  and http://marysgasbook.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/south-met-gas-exciting-bit-of-strike.html

(4) George Livesey - where do I start?  The evil genius of the gas workers strike and the man who changed, regulated and modernised the gas industry.  Livesey was brought up in the Old Kent Road Gas Works, started work there at the age 14 and remained to become Company Chairman as well as becoming a national figure in the temperence movement..  A clever maverick - he was never ever what people thought he was.  Lots of entries about him - look at the index or search - in  http://marysgasbook.blogspot.co.uk

Holders in Blackwall Lane early 20th century

No comments: