Monday, 11 November 2019

‘The Father of the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society Archive’
Walter John Ford (1920-2014)

John (Ben) Ford
As it has become easier to store and retain historical records, through electronic files and ‘The Cloud’, it appears that many companies seem less inclined to do so than their predecessors, and it often falls to individuals who have the vision and foresight to ensure that valuable archive material is saved for posterity.
One such valuable resource is the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society Archive, and the reason that it exists is in large part due to one man, Walter John Ford.  Because of his understanding of the importance of the company’s history, and his enthusiasm for preserving it, a collection of close to 1,800 items has been gathered together and made available for the benefit of future generations and researchers into the history of a company that, after the Woolwich Arsenal, was the second largest employer in the Greenwich area for over 100 years.  Siemens Brothers was responsible for numerous technical innovations that radically changed and improved the way we live today, as well as making a significant contribution to the Allied efforts in both world wars.
John Ford was born on 8 May 1920 and christened Walter John, although it appears that from an early age he preferred to be known as ‘John’. In March 1936 he joined Siemens Brothers Limited at Woolwich as a trainee draughtsman.  However, the manager of the drawing office decided that there were too many Johns already,so he told John that he would be called Ben, after the South African heavyweight boxer Ben Foord (1913-42), a nickname which stayed with him throughout his career.

Siemens Brothers Works 1935
In late 1936, he transferred to the Telephone Development Department, where he continued to work and study for his Higher National Certificate (HNC) in engineering until the outbreak of World War II.  Ben volunteered for ‘Fire Watch’ duties at the factory, but was quickly transferred to Staincliffe, near Dewsbury in Yorkshire, where he was part of what was called the ‘Radio Department Team,’ which was secretly working on a Radar system then known as ‘Chain Home Low’.  This was a vital technology that contributed significantly to the Allies winning the war.
Ruby's medals
In April 1944,Ben married Ruby Basham. Ruby was a good athlete and regularly won medals at the company’s sports days, and this is probably were she first caught Ben’s eye!

The couple had two daughters, Carol in 1946 and Shirley in 1950.  After the war Ben successfully completed his HNC and returned to the Woolwich factory in July 1945 as Group Leader of the Telephone Equipment Group.In September 1946, he moved to the new ‘Mechanical Division’, where in 1952 he worked with the BBC to devise switching methods for the outside broadcast of the Queen’s coronation. This transmission was a groundbreaking piece of television history!
Ruby's medals
In August 1954, Siemens Brothers had become part of the Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) Group, and by 1955Ben had been promoted to Head of the Technical Services Division, working closely with the other AEI companies.  In 1958, the company’s centenary, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Works, at which time he was presented with two ‘Centenary Neophones’, one each for Prince Charles and Princess Anne.  Ben was responsible for preparing the presentation case that they were mounted in, but it was Ruby that provided the upholstery skills.

Prince Philip's visit 1958
The following year, Ben became Personal Assistant to the Chairman of AEI, Oliver Lyttleton, 1st Viscount Chandos (1893-1972), at corporate headquarters in Grosvenor Place, central London.  During his two-year tenure he visited all 48 of the AEI sites around the country, and it is believed that this is how he obtained his vast knowledge of these companies, their products and their history.
Returning to Woolwich in 1961, he spent three years in Overseas Sales, travelling the world,before becoming Assistant Chief Engineer for Development in 1964, and in 1966 he was appointed Head of Contracts for the newly formed Electronics Division.

When the Woolwich site closed in 1968, Ben joined Standard Telephones & Cables (STC) and moved north to East Kilbride,Lanarkshire, before returning to London in 1971 to live in Hatfield and work at STC New Southgate.  Having learnt that the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society (SBES), still existed, he re-joined in April 1983, giving his first talk to the members on the ‘sticky’ topic of ‘What Ever Happened to Hot Wax’ in April 1984.Ben retired in 1984 and all too soon became his wife’s carer; Ruby died after a long illness in 1997.

Always needing a cause, as soon as he retired,Ben became involved with the Docklands History Group.  This was formed in 1986 with the mission of assembling and retaining archive material and artifacts relating to the fast-disappearing London Docks and surrounding industrial area.  Here he learnt from the archivist at the Port of London Authority Archive in Poplar, and the curator of the new Docklands Museum, being set up in the West India Dock, that as companies closed down or merged, buildings were demolished, and, all too often, past records, deeds, photographs and items of unique historical value were discarded and lost.

His work with the Docklands History Group inspired Ben to find out how much of Siemens Brothers’ history had been preserved in the local archives since the company’s closure. He was alarmed to find that very little existed, and so he determined to do something about it. In November 1991, 23 years after the Woolwich factory had closed, Ben wrote to the one hundred plus membership of the SBES, seeking Siemens Brothers Woolwich archive material suitable for inclusion in a permanent     museum.Over the next ten years Ben accumulated some 1,500 artifacts, until his house was full to overflowing with donations from SBES members. As more items continued to arrive, in 2001 he decided something had to be done with this valuable collection.  six-man committee of SBES members was formed that year, and after three and a half years, the work of this committee resulted in the production of the SBES – Archive Material Catalogue, in June 2004.

Under Ben’s leadership , the committee of David Alexander-Smith, Brian Middlemiss, Bill Philpot, Jim Taylor and John Vamplew, set out with the goal of creating an archive that could represent the achievements and history of the thousands of men and women who worked for Siemens Brothers and its successors over its 105-year tenure of the Woolwich site. In addition to the detailed listing of artifacts the Catalogue contained a brief history of the SEBS, as well as the contact details of the six new custodians of the collection that the team had agreed on.  Delivery of the artifacts to the new custodians was entrusted to Brian Middlemiss and Bill Philpot. A small number of artifacts were given to the Amberley Working Museum (delivered by John Vamplew), the Institute of Engineering & Technology, the Milton Keynes Museum, the Museum in Docklands, and Siemens UK.  However, the vast majority of items, over 80%, were donated to the Greenwich Heritage Centre, now the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust. 

The project team then disbanded but more donations continued to arrive, so a Supplement to the Catalogue was put together by Brian Middlemiss and Bill Philpot. It was issued in October 2006,adding close to 300 artifacts to the original collection.  Following this Brian Middlemiss researched and compiled a full history of the SBES from 1897 to 2008 issued in October 2009, to accompany the Catalogue and its Supplement.  Again, Ben’s extensive knowledge was invaluable.
As in many parts of Britain, the industrial history of London is rapidly disappearing. After Siemens Brothers became part of AEI and the Woolwich factory was closed in 1968, the site underwent many changes. The majority of the original buildings have been replaced by new development, and little remains to mark the many significant contributions to British industry made by the men and women who worked there.  However, the property developer,U + I, is now undertaking a regeneration project on 5 acres of the Woolwich site, called the Faraday Works,which will preserve and repurpose some of the remaining original buildings.  The redevelopment is named after Siemens Brothers’ long serving and iconic cableship,Faraday, that was designed by Sir William Siemens (1823-83) and was arguably the most import vessel of this class ever built. The U + I project will include a display of the history of the site in a permanent exhibition in the oldest building included in the plan. The material in the SBES archive is an unparallelled resource that will be used in this enterprise.
Ben and his committee wanted to assemble the archive material:‘for safe keeping and for the benefit of future generations and researchers’, and this they achieved,as their work has made secure a large part of the history of one of the most influential engineering companies in British history.  This was only possible through the vision, enthusiasm, tenacity and dedication of Walter John Ford, to whom all industrial and family historians owe a great debt of gratitude.

At the age of ninety-two, Ben moved to Cornwall to live with this daughter Carol, he passed away there on 19 August 2014, aged 94. 
Telephone presentation case

The Siemens Brothers Engineering Society, had its final meeting and dinner on 10 October 2013, hosted by Siemens UK and attended by the surviving membership. The Archive remains distributed over six locations, but the vast majority of it is now held at the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust Archive in Unit 15 at Anchorage Point off Anchor and Hope Lane, SE77SQ, and can be viewed by appointment.Brian Middlemiss remains the Guardian of the SBES Archive.
 Stewart Ash

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Harland and Wolfe


After spending 18 months with Deafy I was sent for a spell in the machine shop, here I was lucky in not going on the lathes but working with a little Geordie chap, on the shapers, milling machines and a slotters. His having a mouthful of bad teeth (perhaps, due to him, as a child, having been weaned on Newcastle Brown Ale) and always wearing brown overalls is all I can recall about the chap. I do remember that the fellow's ability wasn't highly regarded by the fitters, others in the machine shop would only leave a few thou for the fitter to work with to make the final fit whereas the closest our Geordie measurements came was 16ths. He must have taught me something however, for when a vessel built by Harland's at Belfast sunk on her maiden voyage outside Buenos Aires, I was given the task of drilling hundreds of 2inch holes running together into her now unwanted spare propeller. This done so that wedges could be driven into the slots I'd cut to split the prop into more manageable pieces for ease of transporting the valuable phosphor bronze to be melted down. I did all this on a very big boring machine, when I say big I really mean big, it was huge, a cricket pitch could have been laid out on its bed. But I will admit a fast bowler would have shorten his run up, for it would be a lie to infer that it was as large as all that.

In ship repairing mechanical drawing were very rarely used, if, for instance, a valve stem had to be made you would be given the worn out stem and told to make the new one from that. A  man's experience as a marine fitter and turner told him what clearances were needed and as a skilled man, he would not allow anyone to tell him how to do it. There was a case of a fitter working outside on one of the ships in the dock, who, on direct instructions from his charge hand, had fitted a set of unsuitable water pump rings to a boiler feed pump. The ship nearly blew up its boiler when raising steam to sail and when the cause of the fault was found the fitter was sacked. The chap’s attempt to enlist union help to get his job back failed, for it was universally thought by his fellows that he should never have obeyed instructions to do something he knew to be wrong. I can recall, when apprentice, drilling the shuttle of a Weirs shuttle valve on a pillar drill in the fitting shop. Something went wrong and another fitter, seeing I was in difficulties, told me how to put it right. This friendly help made things worse and when I pleaded to Ernie that is what I was told to do, he burst out. "You don't do everything you’re told, you wouldn't stick you head in the gas oven if I told you to would you."

The last spell of my apprenticeship was spent working outside the North Woolwich site on the ships engines of the many vessels that crammed the Royal group of docks in those days. Here again there was no suggestion that you should work on your own, even though we were on our last year, we would be put to work with a fitter and his mate to be given instruction, not as cheap labour. Many years later, I was a labour officer within a large organisation, my work took me a lot into our apprentice training school, sitting on interview panels, advising on disciplinary matters, negotiating with the trade union, selecting the next year's intake of apprentices etc. I had to listen to a continual complaint from the lads, and the unions, that the boys were being used as cheap labour. They and the union were so effective in this that eventually the school was closed down, I feel sure there is a message there somewhere. Over the negotiations for the closure of the school the dreaded hand of accountants and their mentality hang, they produced figures which proved that the school was not cost effective, based on the ground that the firm did not receive any benefit from the money spent, as the lads, when their apprenticeship was completed, left. But Messrs Harland and Wolfe gave you the sack when yours was over, go and work as a Journeyman with other firms, the apprentice expected to be told, and if, after a couple of years you want to return, we will consider re-employing you. Which to my mind is a more profound way of approaching apprentice training, they did not want a man who only knew their way of doing a job, but, quite rightly, wanted a more rounded employee.

However, to get back to my year of apprenticeship spent working on merchant ships in the Royal Docks. The organisation of the outside section was that the foremen were at H & W's number nine site, which was where City Airport's main building is now; perhaps, over a mile away, the tradesmen on the ship would be working under a charge hand. Of course, there were many other services milling around the ships engine room while it was under repair. A heavy gang who did the rigging and lifting the weighty lumps of machinery that makes up a ships engine. Scalars, whose unenviable task was to climb into the boiler to chip away at the scale that had built up on its tubes and wall. Laggers who maintained the asbestos pipe lagging, invariably small men racked with consumption, (no one had told us of the dangers carried by asbestos fibre, we apprentices regarded it as a great joke when working on a boiler to drop a lump on a fellow apprentice working below). There were the riggers, a holdover from the sailing ship days, whose once important trade now whittled down to rigging barriers around potential dangers. Boilermakers, electricians, plumbers all these adding to the confusion of a ships engine room under repair.

Harland and Wolfe had built many of the ships of the Union Castle Line, whose run was carrying passengers and mail to and from South Africa, most of these ships had Burmister Wain diesel engines, made under licence in Belfast, and the bulk of my remaining time was working in the docks on these 'Castle' boats. A ship’s diesel engine is not to be confused with the engine of your motor car, it is a lot bigger for one thing, an eight cylinder B&W would be about 20 feet high and 45 feet long and many Union Castle liners had two of these. I found working on a ships engine was a hard, dirty, uninteresting job, the memory of perhaps 40 men queuing up to wash their oily hands in a solitary grease encrusted bucket of hot water is still with me. On one occasion, an old fitter was vigorously rubbing at the dirt and grease that covered his hands when I, to be friendly, said. "That's right, Ted, have a good wash now, it'll save you having another one in the morning." Old Ted went spare; it took him ten minutes at least to splutter out his procedure for cleaning up when he got home, leaving me with the impression that Ted had no sense of humour.

A while ago, I was on a conducted tour of the Tower at Canary Wharf and the guide enthused about the new vitality brought to the deserted dockland areas of London and gestured to the derelict buildings below. I think we both saw different scenes below us, in his mind was the exhilarating prospect of money being made. In my mind though, those building were teeming with the ghosts of the many characters with whom we worked. How sad is the scene to anyone who had worked in London docks in their heyday, now the sheds and wharfs are empty, a lifeless shell, like the remains of a crab cast aside when its meat has been extracted.

These were the days of national service and as an apprentice you would not be called up for your turn until you had completed your 'time', but a matter of two months before mine ended I re- ceived notice to go before a medical board at Blackheath Drill Hall. In almost a blind panic I enlisted the full cooperation of Harland's management and to avoid doing National Service I ended my apprenticeship at sea, as a Junior Engineering Officer on the MV Trevelyan, one of the Haines Steamship Company ships, on a trip to Australia.

Letters July 2902


From Jeremy Bacon
 I have a steam car engine. The plate on it says Steamobile built 1962 by N.C. Gregory.  I have been told that he was possibly Apprentice foreman/teacher at J.Stone & Co.(Deptford). Can you help at all?

From Pat O’Driscoll
In the May issue a letter from Paul Harcombe mentions some 'old maps’ at the Land Registry showing a building called the Magnetic Office close to the Rotunda, Woolwich. Unfortunately he does not give the dates of the maps.,
In 1844 the newly created Admiralty Compass Department acquired a house on Maryon Road,  Charlton for testing compasses for the Royal Navy. It  had a large garden in which a wooden observatory was built. The official address of the establishment was ‘The Compass Observatory, Woolwich’.  In 1869 as the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich was closed, the Compass Department moved to Deptford Yard where they remained until 1917.
Could the Magnetic Office have any connection with the time when the Compass Department was at Charlton. I hoped to find an answer in ‘Steady as She Goes: A History of the Compass Department of the Admiralty' by A.E.Fanning., published in 1986 but could find no reference to the Magnetic Office in the area described by Mr. Harcombe. This is not to say that there was no connection. I think that this is a good place in which to begin further investigation.

From Nick Martin
I have just come across the above website and your email address. I wonder  if you have any information on the following.  I am trying to trace details of my great great grandfathers company "Martin  & Co". It was started by Robert Martin with his two sons Alfred and Albert.  Albert left it to his son Ernest, in 1932. They were manufacturers of Horse Hair clippers, later becoming hairdressers clippers, from about 1875 until  at least 1927. Robert Martin lived at No 1, The Village, Old Charlton,  Woolwich from 1881 until 1906 and with his sons, had several business  addresses over the years, including:
1861 - 4 Upper Market Street, Woolwich
1873 - Old Charlton, Kent
1881 - 15 Rectory Place, Woolwich, Kent
1890 - Charles St, Plumstead, Kent (from Patents)
1891-1900 - 229 Burrage Road, Plumstead, Kent
1893 - North Kent Works, Charles Street, Plumstead, Kent (from Patents)
1910-1928 - 4 Nightingale Place, Woolwich Common, Woolwich (business address? - printed on hair clipper sales pamphlet and from patents)
1913 - Owned factory and adjacent land in Woolwich Dockyard. Owned freehold property, address 9, Gildersome Street, Woolwich (from Will)

From Bill Burns
My friend in Australia, Julian Holland, Curator of Scientific Instruments at the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, is looking for material on S.H. Silver.  

From P.Mumford

I was very interested to see from your website (which I have only just discovered )that someone from English Heritage recently gave a talk on the Mumford mill. My name is Peter J.G. Mumford and the mill was owned by my family . I was taken around the mill just before my family sold it in the early sixties when it was an empty shell having been stripped of its contents by Rank Hovis when their lease ended . I  have many old photographs  of the mill and indeed some original plans (I think) . I will have to dig.  I lived in London for many years and often used to pass the mill but I hav'nt seen it for about fifteen years . I would be very interested in knowing what info you have about the mill, and indeed if you could advise me of the current ownership. I long to see inside it again and would very much like to show my sons what their grand parents and great grandparents and great great grandparents achieved . Does the mill now have a preservation on it.

From Bruce Peebles

I'm from Laverton in Western Australia. I recently acquired a set of old rigging and sail plans for the Cutty Sark  but after many hours of close examination am unable to verify them as correct or to date them in any ways There appears to be no authors name or period on them. They do appear to be of some age due to the discolouring of the paper and hand drawn. Are you able to assist me in the dating and authentication of these plans.

From John Grieg
My cousin from the Hawaiian branch of the family has come up with some interesting papers that might be relevant to the oil milling trade at Griegs’ Wharf in Greenwich. Firstly, it is likely that there could have been considerable changes around 1903 - my great-grandfather was then in financial difficulties and might have had to make economies. Secondly, the estate in Trinidad was  more diversified than just sugar cane, there was land under coconuts and also, certainly in later years, some was used for cocoa cultivation. The coconuts might account for the oil milling and you mentioned a fire in the cocoa store at the wharf in 1895. Thirdly, there was a connection with a line of steamers - this was probably the Trinidad Shipping and Trading Company Limited.  However, this may only have run between Trinidad, New York and Glasgow.
In addition, I have been in touch with the oil milling trade association and they have put me in contact with three people with a knowledge of the history of the trade.  One of them has said that most of the linseed came in from the Baltic rather than from other areas

Reviews and snippets July 2002

FIREPOWER – have a Royal Salute in the Arsenal on 5th August 2002 at 12 pm.   They have tours of the Arsenal in July and August on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays 11.30 am and 2.30pm.  They advertise Paintball activities at £1 for 10 shots. On the 190th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca, BBC Newsnight’s Mark Urban lecture will be based on his book The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes: The Story of George Scovell, - Scovell cracked Napoleon’s Grande Chiffre, leading to Wellington’s finest victory in the Peninsula. Mark Urban is diplomatic editor of the BBC’s Newsnight. The lecture will be held in Firepower’s Breech Cinema 

Papers include: William Evans, shipbuilder of Rotherhithe Stuart Rankin. Thames built ships of the Orient Line & Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. - Peter Newall. The General Steam Navigation Company Yard at Deptford - Peter Gurnett. Early steamship machinery installation and repairs on the City Canal, Isle of Dogs - Roger Owen. Coastal shipping and the Thames - John Armstrong. Convicts to Australia. HMS Glatton and HMS Calcutta - Brian Swann. An aspect of warship 

Mary Mills

GLIAS has been given two photographs by Simon Bass. One of them shows what appears to be a factory yard, taken from above, the other shows a crowd of people standing in the road. In both the ground appears to be covered with something black, and shiny.  The crowd are standing in Blackwall Lane in Greenwich – since the distinctive frontage of the Inlaid Lino Works and an advertisement for them can be seen in the background. 
I have a fair idea what is being shown in the pictures – since an account of it appears in ‘A History of the United Molasses Company Ltd.’ (W.A,Meneight 1977).  3,000 tons of molasses had escaped from a tank and was making ‘its ponderous and inexorable way into Tunnel Avenue’. As Mr.Meneight pointed out this was not useful in an area where ‘trams were served by a conductor rail running in a gully between the lines’.   Try as I can in the local papers I cannot find the date of this incident which must have taken place in the late 1920s.
The molasses was used by the Molassine Company which had a riverside factory on the Greenwich peninsula on part of the site now largely covered by Hays and Amylum. In October 1999 we published an article about them in the Greenwich Industrial History Newsletter. This described how the company was founded in 1907 to exploit a Balkan secret formula for animal food – and the company made a number of well known brands including Vims which ‘all dogs love’ and a sphagnum moss and molasses based feed for horses (also used as a plaster by First World War soldiers).  The article included some memories of the works contributed by John Needs and he remembered how Vims was frequently mentioned in Norman Wisdom films and how the yard sweepings were sold as a garden fertiliser ‘RITO’. The company eventually became part of Tate and Lyle. Today there is a large red stone office block in Blackwall Lane which is said to have been built by Molassine – although I have never seen any actual details of this. Behind it are a number of large tanks. I cannot believe that these are the same tanks which stood there in the 1920s and which leaked so dramatically into Blackwall Lane and which Molassine’s publicity department described as a landmark on the river, although it might be a good story to say so.  To local people the most notable thing about the factory was the smell!

This edition is the 200th Newsletter and contains a great deal of congratulation and a number of  commissioned articles (no mention of GIHS however much we might consider ourselves a daughter organisation!) .  The issue contains news from all over London – and includes three paragraphs on the Deptford Dockyard (Convoy’s site)  by David and Olwyn Perrett giving some  details of the site’s past history – and a review of the play ‘The Gut Girls’ which has been going the rounds in Lewisham.  There is also a short mention of the Blackheath Hole.


GIHS has now signed up with the British Association for Local History and now receive ‘Local History News’ . .  No mention of Greenwich in the current issue- but that’s something we can work on!

The Vol.28 Spring 2002 edition contains an article on ‘The Porthcurno Story; this tells above the site of the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy near Lands End, in Cornwall – and a bit about the Museum set up there.  It ends by saying that next time the ‘intend to turn the pages back still further and visit Greenwich on the river Thames where it all began’ – we wait with interest!

This excellent publication – which first appeared in the 1960s – details everything you could want to know about underground research in the past year.
Nothing in Greenwich borough appears this time – but there are numerous dene holes and chalk wells in the surrounding area of  North West Kent and some fascinating World War Two sites, some of which are only ‘somewhere in England’

This twice-yearly journal features in its May 2002 edition Jonathan Clarke’s article on Mumford’s Mill in Greenwich. Members might remember when Jonathan came to lecture to us about the mill and his researches into it.  This is a most important article in a prestige journal – hopefully the start of many Greenwich based articles in such places!      

The Guide
The May edition of the Blackheath based freebie magazine ‘The Guide’ featured an article on The Shipwrights Palace in Deptford. This important house – in Lewisham, but right on the boundary and in the bit that used to be in Greenwich – has been extensively renovated over the past few years.  This was the office block and Shipwrights’ house for Deptford Dockyard – on the riverside ands worth a fortune. However two Deptford residents – Chris persuaded Convoys to sell it to them and have begun to restore it.  

John McLean

My grandfather, William Luckett, lived in Palmerston Road, now a crescent, in a terraced house. This had a side entrance to the back garden where he had a ramshackle workshop from which he ran a one-man business manufacturing clay pipes. These were predominantly for the beer industry and later for tobacconists.
I was told that the pipes were given to customers who bought a pint of ‘porter’ in the pubs.  Granddad received four pence a gross for his pipes – from which you will understand that he was unlikely to be a rich man.  He ran the business totally on his own and I can remember seeing rack after rack of pipes of varying shapes and sizes in the roof space above his workshop. 
There was an all pervading smell in the workshop, not at all unpleasant. Presumably this came from the china clay, which he procured from Cornwall and was delivered by rail to Woolwich Arsenal Station.  How on earth he managed to transport such heavy loads I don’t know – I believe he had a pony and trap at one stage but in my time he used ‘shank’s pony’.
As far as I can recall – and  I apologise for my lack of memory – the process involved a mixing system to acquire the correct consistency, a moulding process using cast moulds (iron) with inserts for forming the bowl and a needle to form the airway. Incidentally, I have one of granddad’s moulds with ‘Merry Christmas’ embossed on it.  Whether he had multiple moulds I cannot say, but as a production engineer I would have thought it an obvious way to go.
The final process after ‘fettling;’ or cleaning up the clay that exuded through the joints in the mould, was to fire them in a high temperature open furnace.  Granddad had built this himself and it was a bit like Dante’s Inferno. It had a chain lifted cast iron bucket full of pipes which was lowered into a coke fire. But it all worked and beautiful little and large clay pipes emerged. The chimney of the furnace was incredible. Granddad used anything available to construct it – bricks, bits of glass, rock, porcelain, - you name it, Granddad used it.  How it ever resisted the ravages of nature I do not know but it did.  The only mementoes I have is the mould and two small pots made from 'Arsenal clay’ and ‘Plumstead' clay,
Granddad’s brother, Fred Luckett, was financially much more successful and he became a well known builder in the Plumstead area living in Griffin Road and having a works close to Plumstead High Street. I believe there is a garage in the High Street with the Luckett name above it to this day

By Jack Vaughan

There was a recent planning application for changes to the water tower of the ex-Brook Hospital at Shooters Hill Road plus a possible threat to an adjacent stone building known as Headway House, which fronts onto the road.  Study of Ordnance maps for 1869 and 1890 show the building to be the former ‘Kent Water Company’ pumping station.
The base of the tower itself has coupled with it a massive collection of hydraulic apparatus, probably connected to Headway House, although the tower post-dates the maps mentioned.
We are trying to determine if the House is threatened. We are also taking an interest in the hydraulic arrangements mentioned above. The applicants have refused to leave this apparatus in situ but will offer no objection to them being removed and taken away for possible restoration and exhibition elsewhere.
The pumping station supplied water to the Barracks, the Royal Arsenal, both Royal Dockyards (Woolwich and Deptford) and the Royal Military Academy and is therefore a very significant industrial monument in Woolwich history ….
…… more of this later.


Mike Neill is extremely keen that all members look – and approve or criticise his work on the Royal Arsenal which will be used as part of the display in the new Greenwich Heritage Centre. At the moment this is in the shape of a web site and members are urged to look at it. Mike also says that he will try and produce this as a CDRom for this who do not have web access – or contact him via Greenwich Council.

NO NEWS – we still have no news of the event to mark the centenary of Greenwich Foot Tunnel – last mention from Barry Mason was a note – saying ‘I took today off work and went down to  Redhill to see Binnie, Black and Veatch. The firm founded by the FT engineer, Alexander Binnie. Now a multi-national.  The company is excited about the FT 100th birthday on Sunday 4 August and today confirmed their budget of around £5,000 on the event. Our meeting laid down the ground-rules and outlined who does what. We meet again, on site, in about 1.5 weeks. If you've got time to help with all this, please let me know direct. If, for example, you work at Canary Wharf and tunnel commute, can you firm help too? Tower Hamlets. Are you in? More soon.

WHAT A PITY – there is to be no celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Last LCC Tram which was driven to the Tramatorium in the Woolwich Road, by Alf Jago, Mayor of Woolwich – amongst scenes of great distress from the general public.  David Riddle points out that Lewisham are to celebrate their ‘last tram’ (but Greenwich’s really was the very last one).

Deptford Dockyard - oldest remains discovered


On 13th May the Times, no less,  announced in an article by Marcus Binney that  ‘Two Deptford  residents with a passion for history have discovered  the foundation stone of one of the first buildings erected by the Royal Navy’ and went on to describe ‘the stone, bearing the date 1513 and the initials of Henry VIII set in an elaborate flame-headed Gothic Arch formed of the finest moulded Tudor brickwork.  This ‘originally stood over the entrance to a magnificent 140ft long storehouse that formed the showpiece of a new Royal shipbuilding yard built by Henry VIII at Deptford just upriver 
from his palace at Greenwich. 

Our readers will know the story of the shipwrights’ palace on the Deptford Dockyard site and how it was taken over and is being restored by Chris Mazeika and William Richards. As part of their researches on the Dockyard they began to look at the naval architect Samuel Bentham, since he had connections with the Shipwrights’ Palace. Samuel’s brother, Jeremy, was the famous economist whose corpse is preserved in a cupboard at University College – not, as it turns out, the only relic kept there. Chris Mazieka was astonished one day, while on his way to lunch, to bump straight into some bits of Deptford Dockyard, itself! 

In the Second World War bombing on the dockyard site had brought to light the old Tudor storehouse within a Georgian storehouse which had been built round it in the 1720s. In 1951 it was decided to clear the whole site for commercial use. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings reported that at least 80% of the Tudor brickwork remained as did several original roof trusses together with a mullioned window, Tudor fireplaces and loophole windows.  The London County Council tried to persuade the Admiralty to preserve these remains and the building inspectors advised that it had ‘an outstanding place in naval history as one of the earliest buildings of its class and as one of the starting points of the growth of the Tudor navy,.’  Deptford Council took a tablet which commemorated Peter the Great's visit to Deptford and 20,000 Tudor bricks went to repair Hampton Court.   Photographs existed of the arch and date stone but – as anyone who has attended local history lectures on the subject in Greenwich will know – they had gone into the care of the LCC and then completely disappeared. Until, of course they were found by Chris Mazeika at University College.

The Times article left the mystery there – but a few days later a letter appeared from Negley Harte, Senior Lecturer in Economic History at University College, who said ‘ I can shed light on how the Deptford Dockyard founding stonework and brickwork of 1513 came to University College’..  The hero who rescued it was Sir Albert Richardson the ‘wonderfully eccentric architect’ who was professor of architecture at UCL.  He was given the pieces by the LCC and they were put in what was then the Bartlett School of Architecture – now the Department of Computer Science.

- The only thing the article doesn’t say is how you get in if you want to see these pieces! UCL is not the most accessible of buildings for the general public

Friday, 8 November 2019

John Hujmpheries House and the LEO 3 Computer

John Humphries House and the LEO  3 computer

By Harry Pearman

John Humphries House in Stockwell Street was the first purpose-built computer centre in Greenwich and the site of a remarkable initiative by local government. 

An early UK computer with an electronic stored memory was the EDSAC machine developed at Cambridge University in 1949. I caught the attention of J. Lyons & Co., who were the managers of a highly successful teashop chain.   They were also innovators of management systems and found that the paperwork of stock control in all of their branches greatly inhibited efficiency. Lyons therefore set about building the first UK computer for business use. It was dubbed the LEO 1 machine; LEO standing for Lyons Electronic Office. It utilised mercury delay lines for memory storage, and ran the world's first regular office job for stock control in 1951. An offshoot company, LEO Computers Ltd., was formed in 1954 to market the technology and LE02 machines were installed in many British offices, including Ford Motor Company, British Oxygen Company and the Ministry of Pensions at Newcastle. 

This success led to the invention of the LEO3 machine. This machine used panels of magnetic washers to store programs and data. Memory size was limited, and programmers had to show great ingenuity in the direct manipulation of memory in order to contain data. Files were stored on magnetic tape reels and data was entered by completing batches of forms, which were punched onto paper tape. Programs were written in a wholly numeric language called Intercede, and the primitive operating system required a great deal of operator intervention. LEO'S principal benefit was the ability to print forms and tabulations at speeds of up to 1,000 lines a minute.

In 1960 these innovations caught the attention of a Greenwich Councillor named John Humphries.  He was instrumental in the creation of a Joint Committee formed from the then Metropolitan Boroughs of Greenwich, Woolwich, Deptford, Southwark, Bermondsey and Camberwell, and this in turn set about the creation of a computer centre, with the result that John Humphries house was built and officially opened. The development of systems was placed in the hands of the Metropolitan Boroughs Organisation & Methods Committee, another Joint Organisation serving the needs of 28 Metropolitan Boroughs and managed by John Dive. 

They created a computer division and it was based at John Humphries The first application was Rate Accounting and this was followed by Payroll, General Ledger Accounting, Job Costing, Stock Control, Creditor Payments, Miscellaneous Debtors, Transport, Housing Rents, Electoral Registration, Library Cataloguing and Land Use Registration. Subsequently The Forest and Bexley Hospitals and the Bloodstock Agency also used the services of the site.

A major change took place in 1965 when London Government was re-organised and the centre then serviced the data processing needs of the London Boroughs of Bexley, Greenwich and Southwark. As computing developed it became financially viable for each local authority to create its own computer installation. The need for a joint installation ceased and the use of John Humphries House was discontinued.

LEO Computers Ltd merged with the computer interests of English Electric in 1963 to form English Electric LEO, and later, English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM). Subsequent mergers eventually found LEO incorporated into SCL in 1968. And the ICL machine range took over new production.

This article appeared in the May 2002 GIHS Newsletter

Lowne Instruments

Some members may have seen the announcement in the GLIAS Newsletter of the closure of Lowne Instruments in Boone Street in Lee and the sale of its machinery.

GLIAS member, George Arthur, who has worked for the company for nearly 30 years alerted the GLIAS Recording Groupcto the closure of the works at the end of February 2002 after 147 years in business, in Finchiey, Lewisham and finally in Lee. 

The Recording Group, with the permission of the owner. Bob Barnard, and with the help of George, was able to make a video, shot by Dan Hayton, of the works before it closed. The video record also showed many of the machines in operation as well as later shots of a nearly empty works. Dave Perrett, ably assisted with the tape measure by his son, Martin, was able to make a measured drawing using a computer design program and in addition Chris Grabham spent two full days photographing the works.

I spent some time in the Local History Library in Lewisham trying to find out any information about the two Lowne sites in the Borough. I was also able to look through what remained of the company's records from the 19th and early 20th century, a random rag bag selection!

Robert Mann Lowne was the son of a doctor, Benjamin Thompson Lowne, who moved to London to train at Baits Medical College in 1842. He later moved to the Farringdon Dispensary in Bartletts Passage in Holborn, now New Fetter Lane. Robert was the second son, bom in 1844. His elder brother, also Benjamin Thompson Lowne, became a noted surgeon and lecturer at the Middlesex Hospital, but iittle is known about Robert's early life. His first patent, taken out in 1865, was for a spirometer, sliowing his knowledge of things medical. From then on a great number of patents were taken out by Robert Mann Lowne and from 1872 he and his family lived in East End, Finchiey where he became known as an inventor and scientific instrument maker. He and his wife, Emily, had four children, two of  whom, Robert James Mann Lowne and Benjamin Thomson Lowne (yes, another one!), joined him in the business.

By 1894 the family moved to Lewisharn where they occupied a large house, Ravenscroft, at 108 Bromley Road. All the work was carried out by the three family members which is quite surprising considering the volume of work undertaken by the company in the early years of the 20th century. The Lowne Electric Clock and Appliance Company was set up in 1904 as company to exploit the patents for electric clocks taken out by the company. Contracts were undertaken to provide the Arsenal with an electric master clock system, with 46 slave clocks needing 6 '/a miles
of cabling and run from Leclanche batteries, as well as the South Metropolitan Gas Works in the Old Kent Road. Both systems are sadly no longer in existence. 

A new workshop in the garden was built in 1905 to be able to fulfil these orders.   

Sadly the company did not prosper and was for a while taken over in the 1920s by the Magneta Company whose head office was in Carterel Street. The Lownes continued to work at home for Magneta until 1926 when the company reverted to the Lowne family. New premises had to be found as Ravenscroft had been sold to the Magneta Company and the site had been redeveloped.
The company moved to Boone Street off Lee High Road, where a former wheelwright's premises was to be their home until 2002. Robert Mann Lowne died in 1928 and his two sons with R.J.M Lowne's son, Frederick James Mann Lowne, continuing the business. With the advent of the National Grid, mains clocks were possible and so the Lownes made synchronous clocks both for the home and for industry. Daniel remembers a large Lowne clock near the Angel in the 1970s - does anyone else know of one?
After the difficulties of the 1930s, perhaps their most profitable years were in the 1940s when war work kept them occupied, despite the damage caused in 1942 by a nearby bomb. After the retirement of his father and uncle, 'Mr Fred' ran the works and developed new products, in particular, air meters, needed in particular in mines. In turn Fred's step son. Bob Barnard, took over until the decision was made to close.
Sadly Bob died at the beginning of February, only a few days after the sale of the machinery. We were much indebted to him and his family for allowing GLIAS so much access for recording. We were particularly delighted to have the chance of finding more records, including the Minute Books and some accounts, in the office and even in the garage. 
Lewisham Local History Museum has had a number of items donated to it including synchronous clocks, stools and work benches, as well as advertising material. We look forward to a Lowne exhibition from them in due course. Many original photographs and glass negatives have. been rescued along with advertisements from the early days and the original Minute Books. The family again has been generous in allowing me to look through them to compile both this article as well as a fuller record for the Recording Group. 
Who knows where Lowne instruments are to be found. I know of several in the Science Museum, master and slave clocks as well as spirometers. Are there any others, particularly air meters, in other coUectkms?. And finally does anyone have a Lowne electric clock at home, apparently they are collectable now?

PS The works in Boone Street is to be demolished and a new housing development, 'Lowne Court' will replace it. Apparently no one objected to the demolition of the old building, perhaps because it really has outlived its usefulness'.
Sue Hayton
    This article appeared in the May 2002 GIHS Newsletter and was reproduced from the GLIAS Newsletter

New engine at Crossness


The following article describes the removal of a steam engine to a new home at Crossness Engines Trust.  The article appears in the Spring 2002 edition of Crossness Engines Record and in the April 2002 edition of the GLIAS Newsletter (from which this version is scanned)
Crossness Engines has recently earned out a rescue mission on a Stewart engine from David Evans of Crayford, Kent.  I doubt whether many of the staff of David Evans were aware of the existence of the small steam engine tucked away in one of their smaller print shops. When I made enquiries whilst on a conducted tour of the silk printing works some years ago, the official guide had to seek advice from an older member of staff before the engine was located and I was allowed to see it. 

When members of the Crossness Engines Trust (CET) learnt of the intention of David Evans and Co. to close their works at Crayford we were of course concerned for the fate of the engine. Mike Dunmow, Executive Secretary of the Trust, wrote to 'Evans' enquiring as to the disposal of the engine and if there was no better home for it, might Crossness Engines recover it for conservation. 

An agreement was reached and an advance party from CET went along to the silk printing works at. Bourne Road, Crayford to assess the work involved in recovery. The team, including Colin Bowden, arrived on 15th November 2001 and photographed and measured the engine and its location within the works. Preliminary marking and engine stripping was then carried out, removing the steam and exhaust pipes and loosening various nuts in preparation for the next visit. 

An assessment was also made at this time as to the amount, of lifting tackle and scaffolding required to safely dis-assemble the engine. The next visit was on 23rd November 2.003, when the main cam con-rods and valve con-rods were 'pop marked' and removed from the engine. It was deemed prudent to bring these items back to 'Crossness' for safekeeping. Lack of heavy transport meant that the scaffolding and lifting tackle could not be taken to the works on this visit. On the 8th November 200! The cylinders, valve-boxes and crosshead sliders were removed ready for collection. With heavier transport we arrived at the now closed works on the 20th December 2001 and erected a scaffold frame and lifting tackle. It must be said that although the engine is quite small it was close to a wall and hemmed in by a rather-large tentering machine. With the chain hoist securely slung and web slings attached the camshaft, flywheel and belt-wheel were lifted   clear of the 'A' frame and 'tarzaned' to one end of the engine base. The engine’s 'A' frame was then lifted clear of its retaining studs and loaded onto a suitable trolley and removed to  the front of the building ready for collection at a later date. 

On this visit the smaller parts were removed to 'Crossness', leaving only the heaviest two pieces, the 'A' frame and   flywheel, camshaft and belt wheel to   collected. On 4th January 2002 the   team arrived with. a low truck with a HIAB and the remaining two pieces   of engine-were loaded and taken back   to Crossness Engines Museum. It is the intention, of the Trust that the engine will eventually be cleaned, conserved and re-assembled and mounted on a mobile base to become a static display.

ENGINE DATA: The engine was built by Stewart of Glasgow and is a diagonal duplex with the cylinders located one on each leg of an 'A' frame. The cam, flywheel and drive-wheel are mounted in hearings at the apex of the frame. The cylinders are five-inch diameter with a ten-inch throw, the piston-rods work through guide-blocks mounted on each leg of the 'A' frame and up to the cranks on the main shaft. The overall size of the engine is fifty-nine inches high by thirty-two inches wide; the 'A' frame is forty inches high, sixty inches long and sixteen inches wide. The flywheel is thirty-six inches diameter by four inches wide. The supplier: T Mitchell & Sons, Bolton, Lancs. Serial No. 9326

THE PROJECT WORK TEAM: Mike Dunmow, Alan Boakes, Harry Collinson, David Dawson, Laurie Dunmow, John Ridley, Peter J. Skilton, David Wilkinson and Martin Wilson.
Research continues about Stewarts of Glasgow and our engine in particular. 

Letters May 2002


From Dennis Grubb
I am related to the Grubb families who ran the Cemetery Brickyard next to the Woolwich Cemetery and the Wickham Lane Brickyard and lived at Southland Road, Plumstead.  I am wondering if you know of a publication, articles or source which can give me more information on the manufacturing process of bricks at the yards form about 1850 to early 1900s.  My family of brickmakers were first at Crayford (Barnes Cray) then /Deptford and then Plumstead,

From Denise
I am trying to gather some information on the Royal Ordnance Factory in Woolwich.  I need to do a local history assignment for my course work and the title I have been given is ‘Cause and Effect’ which I need to tie in with how the ROF came into being and what it did for Woolwich as a whole (need to base this project on a 50 year period – up to the First World War).

From China Hamilton
I am most interested in all the material I can find on Crossness Pumping Station there is no mention of the Architect of the building, Charles Henry Driver. Driver was a major Victorian architect, especially in the area of railway stations, his work on the Thames Embankment and one wing of the Crystal Palace etc. You will find his design contribution to the Crossness pumping station in the listed buildings details.

From Mark Landergan
I see you refer on your web site to an article written by my father titled ‘Eltham Park. The Story of A station’. Can I get a copy of this?
[Sorry Mark, the article was actually in Bygone Kent! – editor]

From John Grieg
I would like some information about Grieg’s Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula.  James Robert Greig, with his brother, inherited an estate in the south of Trinidad that was mainly concerned with sugar production in the early days. On various certificates he is described as a sugar merchant or retired ditto.   However, those of his children who took on the estate [incorporated in Trinidad as: Greig (Cedros) Estates Limited] are variously described, with 'planter' being one designation (my grandfather was in Trinidad but died young and my father was born there).
Various family tales suggest that there was a search for alternative products and indeed, in the 1891 census James Robert is described as 'West India Merchant (Oil Miller)' whereas he had just been 'West India Merchant' in the 1881 census). At his death in 1915 he had shares in Cedros Oil Company Limited, though, since I learnt this from the inventory, S have no idea whether it referred to vegetable or mineral oils (with Trinidad both are possible). I will be trying to trace down this Cedros Oil Company but am not at the moment able to be more specific about the nature e of his trade at Greenwich. Much will depend on when he took over the lease of the wharf, I assume from the wording of the inventory that it was not necessarily at the start of the 80- year lease.
With regard to this, the start of the lease was about a fortnight before he was married to a Jessie Rodger in Belfast. Jessie's father James was a sea captain (as was James Robert's father) and there is a family tale, which I have not yet been able to confirm but for which there is quite good circumstantial evidence, that one of Jessie's uncles was Alexander Rodger the owner of several tea clippers including the Taeping. This may all turn out to be coincidence but I will have to keep it in mind.

From Dan Byrnes
I have just placed on the internet a new website book titled 'The Business of Slavery' which is actually to be a predecessor to the main production 'The Blackheath Connection' already on the net and getting a regular 370 hits on average per week.
It presents a new theory ranged around four main themes. Attention is also given to successive expressions of interest that England had, or thought it had, in what we now call Australia. I have some facts, which have not been seen in print before so I’ll be glad to have any reactions people think I should have at this stage of writing.   

From June Baker-Dobson
I am interested in the Thames Soap Works, Greenwich, situated on the peninsula during the 1800s and hope that you may be able to help me. My husband’s father was born at the works, but we have been unable to find out anything.

From Stuart Rankin
I have been asked if anyone might have more information on the Joyce Greenwich Ironworks – can you suggest someone.

From Judy Jenkins
I am wondering if any of your members are at all knowledgeable about tenants of Charlton House in the 1970s.  I understand that Charles Davies Cortoys leased part of Charlton House from the Maryon Wilson family and also leased part of Shooters Hill Road. I would be stunned if anyone can help me with information on this man.

From Catherine Brigden
My great-grandfather Charles Brigden was from Woolwich and was a gunner with the Royal Horse Artillery, serving during the Crimean War. I have come across a reference stating that he was among several men presented with a cannon by Queen Victoria and that these cannons were placed on Woolwich Common. I am wondering if there are any remaining on the common.

From Paul Harcombe
I am wondering if you could possibly help me. I lived in married quarters with my parents (my dad with in the Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team) for three years up to 1979 at which point history and military history in particular became of great interest.   My dad always encouraged this especially as being in Woolwich he was really proud of being at Regimental HQ, as it were.  These days I work in HM Land Registry and as a result have access to the up to date map of the UK and some computerised versions of old maps. This point of all this meandering is that I noted on the old maps of the Royal Artillery buildings in Woolwich, a building called the Magnetic Office, just south of the Rotunda.  I couldn’t find out what it was – and it has been bugging us as to what it might have been for. If you could possibly help me I would be very grateful.

From Chris Mansfield

It’s Chris, from Readysnacks cafe.... I was just having a look at your web site and spotted the link to my own (re Tom Cribb)

The site address has now changed and fairly soon this link will not find me.
Also, if you are interested, you got his date of birth listed
Incorrectly.. He was born on the 2nd July 1781 and Christened on the 8th. I have got copies of both his birth cert' and christening cert'. A lot of Tom Cribb devotees got this bit wrong. How goes it with your book of people at work??
Byeeee Chris 

From David Riddle
Do you have, or do you know anyone who is interested in Joseph Paxton? The guy who contacted me about the Dome and Wellcome's plan has just set up a Society to celebrate his bicentennial... Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) is probably the unsung hero of the Victorian age - but in many ways he is a remarkably contemporary figure. In 1851 (the year of the Great Exhibition) he was quite well known, a reputation equivalent to that of Stephenson or Brunei. He was first and foremost a 'horticulturist' - head gardener to the 6th Duke of Devonshire. His contributions to horticulture are many, from his groundbreaking publications to the giant 'Victoria Regia' lily and the 'Cavendish' banana. He was also a railway entrepreneur. He is probably best' known for his pioneering work in Iron and Glass structures – the exposition buildings and greenhouses of the age.  Similar techniques in steel led to skyscrapers. The 'Crystal Palace' was widely imitated, and it was the world's first 'International Exposition' building. Sydenham was probably the World's first Theme Park'. And, as many have observed, the 'Dome' owes part of its existence to this legacy- so marking his Bicentennial in the Dome seems particularly apt.