Notes and snippets from August 1998k
Despite the attractions of another World Cup match nearly 50 people turned up to hear Rod Le Gear of the Kent Underground Research Group talk about ‘Underground Greenwich’.
Rod stuck closely to the industrial aspects of his subject, ignoring both the many natural caves and the conduit system built for Greenwich Palace. He began by talking about ‘Dene holes’- a subject well known to residents of North West Kent, if not elsewhere. Rob said that despite stories about druids and Danes these are early chalk mines, and often very old.
He went on to describe the chalk mining industry in the Borough how it had often been forgotten and the subsequent collapses when housing old was built about old mine shafts. It was with considerable surprise that we learnt that the most recent mine in Greenwich was opened by the co-op in Abbey Wood less than a century ago and that one building, Federation Hall, is stilling in use.
Rod went on to show photographs taken by a recent party which visited the Diamond Terrace sand mine on behalf of the society. They included graffiti giving some very unlikely dates and two elaborately carved portraits of ‘Shirley’ and ‘Mussolini’. He went on to stress how often such sites are lost and forgotten. there is considerable evidence that a much largrr series of mineshafts exists in that part of Greenwich but no one now knows where they were. Few people would think of Greenwich as being a mining area but thr evidence is there we just can’t see it.
More Underground Greenwch
There are a number of organisations and publications dealing with underground exploration. Rod Le Gear himself is a leading member of the Kent Underground Research Group. Another almost nternational organisation is Subterranea Britannica. There have been many publications which mention underground Greenwich. Rod didn’t mention his own ‘Kent and East Sussex underground’ .Many of the best reports on Greenwich have bizarrely been published by the Chelsea Speleological Society - some references taken at random from their publications include - Greenwich conduits - other Greenwich caverns – Blackheath cavern - Blackheath Caves – Plumstead chalk mines – Blackheath dene holes – Woolwich sappers' tunnels - Turpin's Cave in Plumstead, Maryon Park chalk mine.
Neil Rhind on Blackheath Mills
Neil Rhind writes a regular column on local history issues for the Blackheath Guide, the June issue contained a page article on Blackheath Mills. In it he gives details of three known mills on the heath - at Hollyhedge House – the modern TA headquarters - the West Mill on the site of what is now Mill House and Golf House; and East Mill at 1-4 Talbot Place. He comments that there were probably many more. Another mill once stood at Lee Green behind the Tigers Head, moved there from the corner of Eltham and Kidbrooke Park Roads. Neil goes on to comment on water mills and in particular the Lewisham mill described in the new Silk Mills book by Sylvia McCartney and John West.
In the August Guide Neil returns to an industrial theme - plus a very welcome plug for our Society. His article was headed ‘industrial detergents’ but covered far more. He mentioned a number of Blackheath based factories, a fruit juice factory in Independents Road, Burndept the wireless factory, a toy construction kit maker in Blackheath Grove followed by a plating factory. He then onto a brief biography of Percival Moses Parsons. Parsons says Neil ‘invented manganese bronze in his back garden’ and much more (including the Central London Railway).
Thank you Neil and I think we’ll have to book you as a speaker soon
The destruction of so many jetties and piers along the river side is causing great concern. The rapid disappearance of the huge gasworks jetty on the Dome site has been the cause of some remark and we hope to write an article about it shortly. Further along the bank is the old Redpath Brown jetty – itself of a considerable historical interest. The jetty had been occupied to some time by the Greenwich Meridian Yacht Marina, although it was on the riverbank in area due to the closed as part the Dome site. Greenwich Yacht Club on an adjacent site is going to be relocated but the Greenwich Meridian club wished to remain independent. Following protracted negotiations the jetty has been compulsory purchased and a dangerous structures notice put on it. The club is looking at a number of other jetties including massive ones on the Arsenal site which are currently unused. The whole saga throws up a number of questions about the riverbank and what it should look like and what it should be used for
Aspects of the Arsenal - the Royal Arsenal Woolwich. Edited by Beverly Burford and Julian Watson
Lewisham Silk Mills and the History of an Ancient Site. The story of armour, small arms, silk and gold and silver wire drawing. By John West and Sylvia McCartney
Millennium Domesday. London Wildlife Trust have brought out a booklet about wildlife under threat along the Greenwich waterfront. Although this has been publicised as being about threats to wild life posed by the Dome it is far more than that. It also notes problems at sites on Deptford Creek, Woolwich Arsenal and other places like Falconwood Field. It also highlights the case of the black redstart which is known to haunt derelict industrial buildings
Thames Estuary Archaeological Framework
The Thames estuary may seem a long way from Greenwich, but Greenwich is included in the ‘archaeological research framework’ for the Greater Thames Estuary. A draft of whose consultation document is now available. They define the estuary as stretching upstream as far as Tower Bridge
The report comes from a working group comprising Kent and Essex County Councils and a variety of other organisations. It is a long document and it’s almost impossible to do justice to it in the space available here, so apologies for the summary and some, probably misplaced, highlights.
Although it is ostensibly to do with ‘dirt’ archaeology the majority of items in fact concern industrial activity a fact which raises the question as to why such important topics as industrial history of the Thames estuary it relegated to a relatively minor role in a document which says that it is about something else.
The document says something should be done in a co-ordinated way and provides an action list - who could disagree with such an approach
The following are some of the areas they find of interest
- prehistoric marine activity - the Roman port - Thames shipbuilding - major pre-Norman buildings, - shipping - barge wrecks - other wrecks -, track ways - fish traps and ponds, -oyster pits - salt works, - sea walls (eg Greenwich peninsula) - fishing - fish processing remains - hospitals - industrial housing (they give Thamesmead as an example) - military activity (i.e. Woolwich) - civil defence etc, - military architecture - ordnance storage
The items which they note and describe as industrial include:
Salt - copperas - glass - boat building and repair - hydraulic power and steam - electric power = armour - gunpowder - chalk - brick earth - gasworks - telegraph cables (eg at Greenwich) - water disposal (eg at Crossness) - food-processing - specialist metals and chemicals - papermaking- inshore fishing - canals - railways - docks - wharves - military dockyards - storage piers.
The action plan comes complete with the recommended framework and specific objectives. These include:
o investigate the role of shipbuilding in the area and undertake research on cargoes and movements - to develop an understanding of the historical context of sea defenses and an understanding of construction methods of sea walls - to research the relationship between leisure resorts and industrial communities - to assess urban growth and industry - to establish a basic inventory of defence sites - with a detailed study of those which illustrate technical development - to establish an inventory of industrial sites and identify industries to be targeted for detailed research - to undertake research as a basis for comparative studies and develop a methodology