Monday, 22 January 2018

Copperas in Greenwich and Deptford - Part II The Eighteenth Century


Copperas in Greenwich and Deptford - Part II The Eighteenth Century


The Deptford copperas works was set up by a Royalist entrepreneur called Nicholas Crispe - he was only one of several industrial innovators in Greenwich in the seventeenth century.  

By the 1670s the Deptford copperas works, at Hounds Marsh Meade on the banks of the Ravensbourne, was in full swing. Today the area of the works lies between the Ravensbourne and Copperas Street, SE8 - that  street name is only one of many place names near the Kent and Essex coastline which reveal a connection to copperas - and the older name for the copperas stone, 'gold stone', is found in Upper-and Lower Goldstones to the west of Sandwich.  

The copperas stone was found on the seashore and on the cliffs around the estuary - they were, and are, 'a bright shining silver colour'. These stones were picked up by seafront workers and sent off to the works by contractors. In 'Bygone Kent' Vol 13  No. 7 Harold Gough described the work of the
copperas pickers in the Whitstable area in some detail. In the seventeenth century much of the stone came from land owned by Sir John Hayward's Charity at Minster in Sheppey. In 1707 an agreement was made between the Trustees and Sir John and Sir Charles Crispe. This was for the carriage of copperas stones to Deptford or Blackwall. 

Crispe's Deptford agent was a Mr Bird. Sheila Judge says in her article on the Hayward Charity in 'Bygone Kent' Vol, 11m No. 3 that this was unsuccessful and that from 1723 John Crispe had to organise his own deliveries.  

Once the stones arrived at Deptford they were put into specially made trenches to the depth of about two feet - and there they stayed for five or six years to 'ripen by the sun and the rain'. Adding water, apart from rainwater, to the stones retarded the process. More rain was all right, but it made for a weaker solution in the end.  The trenches - the 'beds' were a hundred feet long, fifteen feet wide at the top and twelve feet deep but 'shelving all the way to the bottom'. The bottom of the beds was securely rammed with 'strong clay and then with rubbish of chalk' so that the liquor would not leak but be 'conveyed into a wooden shallow trough ... into a cistern under the Boyling House'. 

The stones, remaining when the liquid had been drained, formed 'a kind of Vitriolik Earth ... (which) will swell and ferment like leavened dough'. Every four years another layer of stones would be added - and, if a new bed was dug, then part of this 'ferment' would be put in the bottom of the trench for 'the old Earth never becomes useless.'

The cistern into which the liquid ran was made of 'strong oaken boards, well joyned and chalked' and held 'seven hundred Tuns of Liquor'. The liquid itself was tested for strength by seeing if an egg would float in it, or not. These eggs would always be dissolved by the liquor within a minute or so. The liquor would also burn a hole in any fabric or leather on which a drop fell.  

From the cistern, the liquor was pumped into a 'boyler of lead' in which had been put pieces of cast iron in a carefully constructed pile. As boiling continued and the liquor evaporated so more liquor and more iron would be added - and this might take three weeks to accomplish. 

At Deptford, however, Nicholas Crispe had set up a system to boil three cisterns in a week. This was accomplished by the use of a lead 'heater' placed at the end boiler and filled with water - which meant that hot, rather than cold, water could be added to the cistern as evaporation took place. 

As can be imagined this was a foul-smelling process.  The eventual liquid was taken from the boiler into a 'cooler ... made of tarras' and here the copperas crystallised - sometimes onto twigs, although not at Deptford. The resulting copperas was bright green - its more usual name in the seventeenth century was, in fact, 'green vitriol'.  

So far this article, and its predecessor, have concentrated on Nicholas Crispe's Deptford but there is good reason for thinking that by 1700 there were also copperas works in the Greenwich area. A Greenwich property list of 1695 notes that a site has been 'lately converted to a copperas works'. This was a site owned by a Sir Samuel Thompson and was at the end of Lamb Lane in Greenwich. Lamb-Lane was roughly on the line of Bardsley Street - the road from central Greenwich to the  Ravensbourne before the building of Creek Road. 

This copperas works on the Greenwich side of the Creek would thus have been roughly in the area of today's Creek Bridge 'and opposite, and slightly down-river of, the site of the' Deptford works. I have no idea at all who Sir Samuel Thompson was - and I would -be grateful for any suggestions.  

At around the same date a passage is marked on a deed from the Greenwich Vicarage  Garden to 'The Copperas House'. This passage must have gone towards the Ravensbourne to roughly the same area .. In this area was a large house called either 'Copperas House' or 'Ravensbourne House' which has been described as 'Tudor' - but the assumption is that it dates from the time the copperas works was 
started in Greenwich, presumably post-Civil War. 

By 1718 it seems likely that the house and the works was associated with a Joseph Moore. Eighty years later the copperas works in Lamb Lane is associated with a George Moore and he may be the man who held farmlands. on the Greenwich Peninsula and was probably a relation of Thomas Moore of Coombe Farm at Westcombe. It may be that around  1800 George Moore attempted to open  another copperas works on the Peninsula in the area where the Government gunpowder works had been - today the site of the Alcatel factory.  

Although the Moore family seem to have had an interest in copperas manufacture in Greenwich throughout the eighteenth century - at Deptford Creek as much as on the Peninsula, they do not seem to have owned the Copperas House on the Ravensbourne in 1800. 

Throughout the eighteenth century the site at the end of Lamb Lane, and possibly Copperas House too, seems to have been in other ownership, or occupation. In 1695 a Mr Vanderwar is listed as living in Lamb Lane, and as late as 1743 'Vanderwall' seems to be living there in a large house. By 1761 'Samuel Vanderwall' had died, leaving a widow, Martha, who then married a John Williams of Panthowell near Carmarthen. On an estate plan of 1777 the land at the end of Lamb Lane is marked as having belonged to 'Vanderville Esq' but that it is now 'Neat Esq' and 'Neat' is shown on a slightly later plan, which also shows land at the back of the churchyard sold to Pearson. 

None of these people have been traced, or shown to have an interest in copperas elsewhere - except for Mr Pearson, of whom more later.  

Another nearby copperas works, although not in Kent, was that at East India Dock on the north bank of the river. This works seems to have been started in the seventeenth century by Thomas Middleton, an ex-Lord Mayor of London and the brother of Sir Hugh Middleton who built the New River. He was married to a sister of  Nicholas Crispe, and it was eventually inherited by the same members of the Crisp' family who owned the Deptford copperas works. From the 1760s it was managed by Ephraim Rinhold Seehl. 

Seehl wrote a number of works on copperas manufacture. The manuscript of an unpublished book, dated 1768, by Seehl on copperas manufacture describes his thirty years in the business and compares manufacturing methods in 'Germany, Sweden and Italy' with that in Britain. He clearly considered himself an expert saying that he had been offered large sums of money for his knowledge which he was now writing down for the benefit of his wife. His second book 'on the art of making the true Volatile Spirit of Sulphur' describes the chemical processes to which the copperas crystals could be put.  The manufacture of what was in effect sulphuric acid from copperas was becoming more important and chemical factories were established near to these works. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Moore's 1800 works on Greenwich Peninsula where the rate books list George Moore as the owner of a 'vitriol works' in 1800 and, what is presumably the same works, owned by a Lewis Price in 1832 'near Bendish Sluice'.  

To return to the Deptford Works. For the century after the second Nicholas Crispe died until 1800 they passed through a fragmented ownership. The younger Nicholas Crisp had inherited only a third share of the works. The other partners were his uncles, Thomas and John Crisp, and John Knapp, a London drysalter, or chemical merchant. When this younger Nicholas Crispe died in 1698 his portion of the copperas works passed to his sons Charles and John - and the works were usually ascribed to their ownership, although they were only in fact part-owners. 

Both Charles and John lived outside London. It appears likely that the works must have been in the care of professional managers. One interested party was a John Rice who, in the mid-1740s, seems to have tried to modernise the works - since he offered Ephraim Seehl a large amount of money in return for expertise - which was not forthcoming. Rice must have had a close - but as yet unexplained - relationship. with the remaining Crisp family members, since his son's name was 'Charles Crisp
Rice'.  

When Charles Crisp died in 1740 the estate was further split between three sisters and soon some portions of this were sold to, pay debts. By the mid-eighteenth century a substantial portion was in the ownership of a Iacob Hagen, a Quaker stave merchant from Bermondsey. He was involved in a partnership on a copperas works in Walton, Essex, together with Ephraim Seehl and a John Twyman. 

Much of this account so far has rested on the evidence of parcels of deeds, inherited by various County Record Offices. Robert H. Goodsall analysed the ownership of the various Whitstable and Tankerton works from such material in his article on the 'Whitstable Copperas Industry' published in 'Archaeologia Cantiana'. More recently, work has been done on the Queenborough copperas works by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. 

So far as the Deptford works is concerned the evidence is very patchy - most of the material available is that which concerns that portion of the ownership held by the Hagen family.  

What is, however, clear from Robert Goodsall's article is that in the late eighteenth century all of these works were consolidated into one ownership by one, ambitious.young man. Goodsall describes how gradually the Whitstable and  Tankerton works were acquired by Charles Pearson or by a young lady called Elizabeth Radford. When Charles and Elizabeth married in 1780 Charles gave his 
address as 'Ravensbourne House, Greenwich'. 

The Hagen papers give no indication of a sale of the Deptford works to Charles Pearson. Mrs Walsh, a descendent of the Pearsons, indicated in a memorandum given to the Whitstable Museum, that he
had negotiated for the works there about four years previously.  There is no apparent reason why this young man from Northampton should have  taken an interest in copperas. He was a glover by trade with a haberdashery business in the City of London - and by setting up this business he had already
done very well. Why did he in effect take over the majority of the copperas industry on the Thames Estuary? 

It must have seemed like a new beginning for an industry which had been profitable for nearly two hundred years. It was, in fact, the beginning of the end. In the meantime, however, it is from Charles' and Elizabeth's daughter that we know most about what was happening in the Deptford copperas
works in the early nineteenth century - but her perspectives on it will have to wait for another article. 

Acknowledgements       
This article is based on material in Kent County and Surrey County archives, and in the London Borough of Greenwich.  Material in Tower Hamlets archive was also used and also the Whitstable Museum.  Some articles on the subject are noted in the text  and I would also like to thank Mrs Walsh for additional information.  

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