Saturday, 2 November 2019

Reviews and snippets from March 2000

Reviews and snippets from March 2000

Many of the books reviewed below were self published  - and some authors have died, moved or run out of stock. So, most contacts of how they can be obtained have been removed.  Sorry.  Comments, where necessary in [ square brackets and italics].

‘Open History’Journal of the OU History Society contains a rant by Mary Mills on ‘Writing about the History of the Greenwich Dome site’.. It tries to take on some impoprtant, and unpopular issues. 


Michael Rose has drawn our attention to the astonishing offer from the Woolwich Equitable Building Society which originally appeared in Greenwich Time. This is for FREE  copies of a history of the Society. The book is a proper hard backed book,  lavishly produced and packed with pictures of Greenwich, Woolwich and Bexley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - and after all the Woolwich itself must count as a local industry.


‘Under the Dome’ appeared in January 2000 edition of The Oldie about how the author, Oliver Bernard, spent his holidays charging retorts at East Greenwich gasworks.  He seems to have enjoyed it.

‘Gaslight’ is produced by the North West Gas Historical Association. In its January 2000 edition is an article about Gas Company Steam Wagons. This says that a former South Metropolitan Gas Company Sentinel wagon from East Greenwich Gas Works is now dismantled in store in Lancashire.  It was built in 1936 and the registration number was CWX13.


 ‘Rail Roots on Site of Dome’ by Peter Excell appeared in the January 2000 Railway Magazine. This outlines the background to the railway inside East Greenwich Gas Works - although in less detail than the article by Malcolm Millichip which appeared last year. It also describes a visit by the Locomotive Club of Great Britain in 1963.  They went to United Glass at Charlton and then to the gas works.  Their final comment is that the Dome is unlikely to ‘contain anything as spectacular as a gas retort and coke car’.


‘Festival Times’ the newsletter of the Festival of Britain Society has made an astounding discovery - and one which some of our members might be able to help with.  The quote a letter from a ‘lady living in Surbiton’ who claims to know what happened to the roof beams of the Dome of Discovery (well sort of, anyway).  It was demolished in 1952 when she was a 13 year old living in Kidbrooke.  Her school had been badly damaged in the war but a new semi-circular hall was built which used the beams from the Dome of Discovery .... so .. does anyone know where it was?  ......... er.. er.. it can’t be Kidbrooke School because that was new .... and Eltham Green and Crown Woods don’t semi circular halls.... and ... and ......
[it wasn't.  Kidbrook School pre-dates the Dome - and in any case we eventually heard from the site engineer on the Dome of Discovery and he said 'nonsense' and 'I've got all the sections in my attic'. 


MERIDIAN for February 2000 has an interview with Tom Taylor-Benson of English Partnerships about their plans for the Woolwich Arsenal site. It is, they say, ‘the last hidden jewel of English Military Architecture’ and that ‘whatever we bring into the site must not damage the existing shops and businesses to the west of it’.   
In the same issue is an article by Mary Mills on the Ceylon Place cottages at East Greenwich.


ALCATEL have produced a booklet on their history ‘Greenwich. Centre for Global Telecommunications from 1850’. 

Reg Barter has written to say that he and his associates have now formed the Swiftstone Trust.  Swiftstone is a Tug built by Richard Dunston at Thorne in 1952/3. She is 80 feet long, 19 feet  ins wide and 9 feet, 6 ins deep.  She is made of welded and riveted steel and has a Lister Blackstone ERS8 600 bhp@ 750rpm engine. The Trust will promote the benefit to the environment by increasing the use of the Thames and bring about a greater public understanding of the Thames as a working river through history.  There is a web site at   In June Swiftstone will go to Dunkirk as the support vessel for the little ships crossing - and it is thought this might be the last time that many of the remaining small boats will be able to make it.  On June 17th she will be involved in a Tug Push as part of the  annual barge driving race - when watermen row ‘under oars’ 30 ton barges between the palaces of Greenwich and Westminster . Swiftstone will accompany the race to Westminster  but beforehand will have battled with Touchstone head to head in a reverse tug of war.


In our last issue we drew attention to the Woolwich kiln with reference to a note about Richard Buchanan who had been involved in the founding of the London Kiln Study Group which was triggered by the discovery of the Woolwich kiln. This had been found at Woolwich Ferry Approach  and was ‘the earliest stoneware on in England’ . We asked if anyone could tell us where it was now ...  happily Greenwich Borough Museum knows all about it. Curator, Beverley Burford has written to say

“ The Woolwich kiln is stored at the Royal Arsenal Site. It is encased and measures in length 18ft, width 14ft, and height 10 ft, weighing in at over 20 tons!  The kiln was moved (necessitating a low loader and a police escort) to its present location from the Tunnel Avenue depot in 1990.”

Visit to White Hart Depot. In February a party from the Society and from GLIAS visited the Council’s White Hart Road depot. The Council have recently vacated this site which was originally occupied by municipal industries set up in the 1890s by what was then Woolwich Metropolitan Borough. It contains an important and dramatic complex of buildings which housed the original, and very early, Woolwich power station which generated electricity from local rubbish.  A report on this visit will appear in a future issue. In the meantime we have written to ask the Council the following questions:-

· What are the future plans for the site?
· What is the current listing status of the buildings?
· If there is any question of demolition or radical alterations, will a proper researched recording, or at least a photographic survey be carried out?
· The gates of the Red Barracks  and two iron plaques – marked with a monogram VR - which we think are part of the gates of the Cambridge Barracks  - were  lying in the open rotting unprotected. Can they be taken indoors?
· We were unable to see - some railings missing from the site of the Red Barracks in Francis Street  or the foundation stone of the Woolwich coffee tavern. We understood they were stored at White Hart - where are they? 
· We saw several piles of stone, bricks tiles, etc. lying around. If these were stored because they were of historic interest does the borough know what they are? Is there some record of them and  how they should be reassembled. If the site is cleared will they be safely stored elsewhere?
· We only saw a tiny fraction of the depot. There are probably  many  things of interest hidden in holes and corners – one of our members noticed a 1/- in the slot meter still in its bag carefully stored away for future use by a tenant!    Will local museums and archives have the chance to take items for store?

Greenwich and Woolwich have lots of important buildings. If this one was anywhere else everyone would be something we all raved about - but here it is overlooked.  We ought to take some notice of it. Thanks to Mo and Ian for showing us round.

PS. Ian told us about a ghost there too .........


Ghosts in the Arsenal  ..... don’t tell English Partnerships but ....... David Riddle has found a note from the Fortean Times concerning ghosts in the Arsenal where ‘one gets a distinct feeling of being watched’.  

There is, he says an archway where the Duke of Wellington used to ‘spike the heads’ of ‘recalcitrant prisoners’ - this is now ‘close to freezing even on the hottest days’. The building was used by the Royal Navy in WWII and an old lady working at her desk heard the air raid sirens as a labourer put coal on the fire - she fell dead - and it was discovered that a cartridge case accidentally left in the coal had discharged and shot her in the neck.!!! Also you can hear a young girl coughing in the main building .. they say its atmospheric pressure ..... but .... a young secretary died of consumption there.... And a servant committed suicide by hanging himself from the balcony when he was accused of theft after 25 years service. .. And you can hear marching footsteps.........and .. in building 11 was a WW1 major with ‘eyes glowing softly’  who checked out the models stored there...... and he tore all the light fittings out of their sockets after a search ....... and in Building 2 is an elderly lady who keeps walking down the stairs, and again, and again, and again. .... and the First World War there was a 19 year old soldier who shot himself rather than go to Ypres and when his country is threatened he stands outside the Guard House ................. and ......... .... and   ......  and .......


...... horse power .... surely the arrival of shire horses Merlin and Thomas at Woodlands Farm, count as industry....

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