What Has Happened to Bendish Marsh?
The first known document recording ownership of land on the Greenwich Peninsula dates back to 918 and sets out the gift of land known as Old Court Manor, to the Abbey of St Peter, in Ghent by Alfred the Great’s youngest daughter, Ælfthryth (877-929). This land comprised 276 acres and included a large area on the Greenwich Peninsula,
Over the next 800 years this land was owned by various kings, queens, monasteries and noblemen. In 1698, the land was Crown property and a lease for a large part of Old Court Manor was acquired by Sir John Morden (1623-1708), from Margaret Boreman,the widow of Sir William Boreman (c.1617-1686),for £9,000. A year later, Sir John obtained the freehold of this land from the Crown. On his death, the land passed to his widow, Susan née Brand (1638-1721) and as they had no issue, on her death the land came under the control of the ‘Trustees’ of Sir John’s charity ‘Morden College’.
The first published map showing the lands comprising Old Court Manor was made by John (Jean) Rocque (c.1709-62). He was the son of French Huguenot immigrant parents, who became a surveyor and cartographer. Rocque is best known and remembered for his detailed map of London. He began work on this in 1737 and the map was published in 24 printed sheets in 1747. The lands comprising Old Court Manor are shown on the sheet above, in the top right corner, the Gunpowder Magazine can be seen but no field names are included.
In 1771, the College Trustees commissioned their surveyor, Michael Searles (1722-99), to conduct a further survey of the land on the peninsula. A map of this survey is also held in the College Archive and it identifies the field named Bendish Marsh.
At the beginning of the 19thcentury a rope works was established on the land where the Gunpowder Magazine had stood. It is possible that Henry Vansittart (1777-1843), who purchased the land from the Crown in 1802, was the first person to permit the manufacture of hemp ropes on this site. In 1808, the rope works was in the hands of James Littlewood but he became bankrupt in 1817, and the rope works was made over to a Mr Young, who operated it until 1828. Horwood’s map of London, dated 1819, is the first to show a ‘rope walk’ on the site. The ‘rope walk’ also appears on the later Greenwood map of 1827.This ‘rope walk’ ran parallel to and just behind the line of houses that now stand on the north side of Mauritius Road. Since the 25th July 1815, Morden College had leased virtually all of its land to the north of the rope manufactory, including the field known as Bendish Marsh, to John Field, a Greenwich farmer.
At that time Bendish Marsh comprised 4 acres, 0 roods and 11 perches. It is shown in the plan above, along with other Morden College land in Red. It is bounded to the south and west by the Enderbys land (white) and to the east by Blackwall Lane (then known as Ship and Billet Lane). The light blue area is land belonging to Norfolk College and the puce land was in the hands of the Calvert Clark family.
The building of Charles Enderby’s house was completed in April 1846 when Charles took up residence. He had wanted the Bendish Marsh land to provide direct access to his new residence from Ship and Billet Land, by-passing the rope works site. The lease, that was to run until Michaelmas 1854, was executed on 24th December 1846 in the names of all three brothers and shortly afterwards,it was reported to the Trustees that the Enderbys had culverted the dyke,running alongside Bendish Marsh and had built a coach road to the new house.
Charles Enderby lived in the house for three years, during which time he hosted several dinners in the ‘Octagon Room’ for representatives of the Geographic Society, of which he was a founder member, and the Royal Society, of which he had become a fellow in 1841.
In August 1855, William Coles Child (1814-73) approached the Trustees about leasing Bendish Marsh. The Trustees offered him a lease with 3 months’ notice at £42 per annum. In early October, Coles Child turned down this offer as he had been unable to acquire the adjacent Enderby property at a reasonable price. On the 8th October 1855, John Smith gave notice to quit Bendish Marsh. Then on 26th January 1856, a Mr McKenzie took up a year by year lease, on Bendish Marsh at an annual rent of £10. This lower rent was agreed due to the fact that Mr McKenzie already leasing other lands from the College on the peninsula.
The area of Bendish Marsh is defined by a flooded dyke on the top half of the western side. On the northern edge to the western side it is defined by a flooded dyke for just under half the length, then by a dry ditch running south and then east to Ship and Billet Lane (Blackwall Lane). The southern edge is roughly along the line of the rope walk and associated buildings. The southern and lower western boundaries are shown on the plan by a broken line ‘- ____ - ___’. The 1907 plan of the site is very similar in this area and includes the same ‘boundary line’ denoting the southern and lower western edge of Bendish Marsh.The 1958 site plan and the 1970 plan, drawn up at the time of the STC takeover of Submarine Cables Ltd, both have thisbroken line ‘- ____ - ___’, showing the boundaries of the Bendish Marsh land.
The Telcon lease of Bendish Marsh was due for renewal in 1945, but there are no records in the College Archive to indicate that it was renewed at any time up to the present day or that the land was sold to Telcon. However, in 2003, just prior to selling the river frontage, Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN), commissioned a land registry search into the ownership of the site lands. The author is grateful to ASN for allowing access to this report.
The report indicates that Telcon acquired the small parcel of land owned by Norfolk College, at a time when the rest of the property was held under a single title 276267. On the 7th April 1928, Bendish Marsh and the Norfolk College land were separated from the main holding under a separate title 354883. Then, on the 16th April 1928, title 354883 was subdivided into Bendish Marsh; title TGL94231 and the Norfolk College land; title TLG12330. Why Telcon should have done this is unclear. It may have had something to do with possible sale of land due to the impact of the ‘Great Depression’ on business,or perhaps separating the land into parcels was done to align them with the different business units that would appear on the site during the 1930s. In 1935, Siemens Brothers and Telcon merged their submarine cable interests as Submarine Cables Ltd (SCL). The submarine cable manufacturing facilities of SCL were then centred on the title 276267 land.
The above indicates that Telcon had possession of the freehold of Bendish Marsh prior to 1928. While no records have been found to date to show when this purchase occurred the most likely explanation is that it happened about the same time that Telcon gave up its lease on Morden Wharf. Telcon’s predecessor W Küper& Co first came to Greenwich in 1851 taking up an underlease from Charles Holcombe (1792-1870), the primary lease holder of Morden College land, at what Holcombe named Morden Wharf. In 1854, W Küper& Co became Glass, Elliot & Co and when that company secured the first Atlantic Telegraph contract it need more space, so Glass, Elliot acquired the derelict Enderby Hemp & Rope Works in 1857. For the next 38 years both sites were utilised, but according to ‘The Telcon Story’ published in 1950, Telcon gave up the lease of Morden Wharf and consolidated its manufacturing facilities on the Enderby Wharf site in 1895. It seems likely that at that time, Telcon could have arranged to acquire from Morden College, the freehold of this 4 acres that was right in the heart of its factory site.
Stewart Ash 2016