A UNIQUE SITE AT CHARLTON
Nichols's Lime Kilns, later the Crown Fuel Company
and Greenwich Pottery
by Barbara Ludlow
For hundreds of years, chalk was dug at Greenwich, Charlton, and Woolwich to be burnt in lime kilns. There were many kilns on the lower slopes of Blackheath Hill and until the beginning of the nineteenth century Greenwich South Street was known as Limekiln Lane. Two other notable sites were Charlton Church Lane and the part of Woolwich, which was later to become Frances Street.
Lime was essential to the brick and tile making industries. It was also used when making mortar and manure, however, when Thomas Nichols left Dartmouth, Devon to settle in New Charlton in the late 1840s much of the local chalk was built over or worked out. Even so he established himself as a carpenter and lime merchant in Hardens Manorway. Nichols' business prospered and in the mid-1860s, he moved to a site between the North Kent Railway line and Woolwich Road.
Here, on the eastern side of Charlton Church Lane and close to the fairly new Charlton Station he concentrated on lime burning. Thomas moved his family into 444 Woolwich Road, promptly named the house 'Lime Villa' and had two Staffordshire style bottle kilns built. The Business could not rely on local quarries so he brought in limestone from Riddlesdown Quarry, near Whyteleafe in Surrey. The 1871 Census shows Nichols employed thirteen men and that they also lived close to the works.
Eventually the business passed to Fred Nichols, and in the early 1920s, the then owner Eric Nichols sold the premises. Lime burning was finished in Charlton but the buildings and bottle kilns, with a chalk capital 'N' set in the neck of both, were purchased by the Crown Fuel Company to produce heating elements for gas fires. In 1950, the Festival of Britain seems to have inspired the Company to branch out into pottery and use the kilns for making decorated ware and small figures of animals, mostly dogs. These goods marked 'Greenwich Pottery' were for export only but they were advertised in the 1951 Greenwich Festival Guide.
Towards the end of the 1950s production ceased but a bottle kiln of c1868 and buildings of about the same date were left. Everything was demolished in 1965 and Barney Close, Charlton, was built over the site. Before the buildings were demolished an Industrial Archaeologist surveyed the site and a photograph of c1872 was discovered. Nichols is seated and behind him stand five of his workers. A photograph was taken of the attractive mid-Victorian bottle kiln before it was demolished.
This article appeared in the May 2001 GIHS Newslettre