Friday, 26 June 2020

David Cufley on sustainable building materials

David Cufley runs North West Kent Family History Society and has been to talk to GIHS on a couple of occasions.  However he is really the local authority on bricks and building materials. So – when GIHS was asked about by Mr.P. about local sustainable materials for the built environment we put the enquirer in touch with David.

First David asked “What do you mean by sustainable?Let me know your definition of sustainability and I’ll think again of materials. As a starter:-

Include Clay used for bricks and tiles.

Sand used for mortars and other industrial purposes.

Gravels used for concrete

Chalk for plasters, mortars and Cement. Thus, cement for concrete. Chalk was also used as a fertilizer and is not therefore your built environment.

I assume for the built environment you are including roads, bridges and infrastructures.


Mr P replied. “As there are different interpretations of the term 'sustainability' I will start with that used by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP): "...building products that are low embodied carbonnatural, non-toxic, locally made and healthy in use." Another definition is "... a material that will be available for future generations and has the lowest impact on human health and the environment."

It can also include renewables such as timber, straw and wool if an equal amount is replacing the amount being used but I will focus mainly on housing stock.


All of the materials you mentioned - clay, sand, gravel, chalk - will get a mention as locally available resources, regardless of their sustainability, not least because there is some research going on into the use of existing buildings as a 'material bank' for future construction (part of a design for deconstruction idea).


Any thoughts on sources of info I could search regarding the historic use of clay, sand, gravel etc in the London/Kent/Surrey area? I want examples of historic as well as contemporary use.


Also, you mentioned the use of chalk as a fertilizer; any links you can suggest to find out more about this?


David wrote:


Thanks for the explanation of sustainable. I like the ‘building products that are natural, non-toxic, locally made and healthy in use (not always i.e. limes). Don’t like ‘low embodied carbon’ and ‘material that will be available for future generations …” Example, historically the use of timber and later coal to burn bricks means that they were known for fumes and smoke coming off the clamps and you can find newspaper references (see British Newspaper Library online) to deaths of tramps that slept on or close to the clamp for warmth and in the morning were found dead. The other example that once materials are excavated or quarried for buildings they are not available again except in their new form and not as originally manufactured. The pits once depleted may return to farmland or fishing lakes but the landscape will have changed.

I struggle with the following.The renewable element is fine but such as clay and chalk once used are no longer available, unless you apply your ‘material bank’ idea. One of my fellow MSc students did her dissertation on reclamation of building materials and this is with the Weald and Downland Living Museum (WDLM) as a York University dissertation in the museum’s library.

A problem with bricks and their reuse is their original classification as taken out of the clamp and their use depended on their burning. Bricks used originally only for internal walls and temporary works are not good for use as facings because they will quickly deteriorate when weathered and the structural quality will not accept loads that modern bricks will take. They are too soft. The use of modern mortars will also cause them problems. While they are okay with lime mortars, OPC mortars can be too strong and don’t allow them to breath.


There are other reclaimed and demolition materials that react to modern materials and it’s a case of knowing your materials and where and in what combination they can be used.


Jerry building is not a new phenomenon and can be found in 18th c references. I’ll leave it to you to research the use and misuse of building materials.


Let us consider clay, sand, gravel, chalk, timber and straw/reed in London/Kent/Surrey areas.

Clay pits used for brick, tile (roof) and chimney pots were all made on the brickfields. See my map produced for a talk to Greenwich Industrial group]. I’ve done similar maps for LB Bexley, Dartford, Swanley and at present Eynesford and Farningham for a talk in 2021. Historically brickfields served approx. 5 miles radius (one horse and cart load, out and back in a day). Until canals and railways changed the landscape. However, Greenwich was slightly different as it has the Thames, which allows heavy materials to be carried not only in larger quantities but also further. Example Vanburgh Castle on Maze Hill used bricks from the Medway towns and Fulham areas, only needing carting up to the site from the river. See history of Vanburgh Castle and its accounts.

The North Kent brick industry using clay and chalk mix to form London Stocks was killed off by the fletton brick industry from late 1800s. The threemain factors being, land values for housing becoming higher than returns on brickmaking, industrial manufacturing mechanisation and then labour shortage part of the WW1 factors.

Between the wars people like Stephenson the developer of housing in the Welling, Bexleyheath, Barnhurst, area [See Bexley Library publication]. Bought up the sites of building materials i.e. sand and gravel pits as well as brickfields. Not only did he have sources for his building materials, he could manage costs and deliveries. Not a new idea as Durtnals, builders since the late 16th c to 20th century had sons that not only followed their ancestors’ carpentry/building trade but also ran the brickfield at Sevenoaks, Otford, Kent.

Dawson family at Plumstead, East Wickham, Woolwich and previously Dartford produced not only bricks but also a wide range of clay products; i.e chimney pots, sugar moulds, tiles and drain pipes. The East Wickham brickfield that Stephenson eventually took over also had a chalk mine that extends under Rockcliffe Gardens and Alliance Road. OS Maps of this brickfield will show you they also had a lime kiln. OS maps are very good for locating and discovering the structures used on the sites. The maps are freely available from the National Library of Scotland.

Henry Ward a civil engineer did a paper with illustrations on the East Wickham brickfield (known then as the South Metropolitan Brickfield) describing its equipment and process as an article in the Institution of Civil Engineers proceedings c1890.

For chalk mines see Kent and East Sussex Underground by Kent Underground Research Group. The East Wickham mine they call Plumstead Chalk Mine. The Dartford mine was owned by C N Kidd who was also a brickmaker and a brewer. You will also discover from the historic maps details of the sites along Thames Road to Crayford and Erith area that had chalk, sand and brickfields. Stephenson owned some of these eventually.

Now you have to travel down to Faversham area to find a brickmaker trading under the old ‘Smeed Dean’ name for their London Stocks. See George Smeed book published by Meresborough books (I’ve attached my brick bibliography for the references) that tells of his business including barge building to carry bricks he made up to London. London refuse was brought back to the brickfields on the return journey to be used to temper the clay and fuel the clamps.

You might also like to read ‘Bricks and Brickies’ by F G Willmott that talks about Eastwoods and transporting bricks into London and Refuse out to the brickfields. Willmott also wrote ‘Cement, mud and muddies’ the history of APCM barges and the cement industry. The ‘Blue water’ shopping centre is built in the old chalk quarries used for cement manufacture. The prices for the clay in the 20th c are given by Willmott in this book.

Because of the link of the Medway and Thames to the brick and cement industry it was easy to transport materials into London and most of these sites are now developed as industrial sites or housing.

You might like to read Jim Preston’s book ‘Industrial Medway an historical survey’ that talks about all the industries that used the Kent materials that found their markets in London and further affield. The period covered is up to the 1940s. The same can be applied to the Thames and I expect you have seen Mary Mills book on the Peninsular down river as far as the Thames Barrier. Few of these were sustainable industries but might give you a glimpse into their products.

I’ve mentioned above sand and gravel pits on Thames Road but there was a very fine sand used for cleaning among other things in the 18th and 19th century excavated at pits on the Woolwich Road, near Marion Wilson Park.

The geological OS maps gives the head materials and some areas’ materialsthat have provided for industries. The gardeners at Hall Place, Bexley mentioned in a personal conversation some years ago they had used the spoil, which is sand and gravel, from foundation trenches mixed with cement to form the concrete of their structures and it was returned to the trenches. You can still see sand and gravel being extracted as you travel between Crayford and Sidcup by rail adjacent to Bexley, Hall Place and the Black Prince area. I’m not certain the company name but it might be ‘Bexley Sand and Gravel’.

In regard chalk as a fertilizer it was used on the fields around Wilmington, Joydons Wood and Birchwood. In fact the Birchwood Road was known at one time as fire pit lane. The chalk pits having fires in them to break up the chalk.

The book by Bexley Library publications on Dene and Swallow holes, (sorry cannot remember its author) talks about their excavation of chalk for fertiliser and other uses.

Timber as a sustainable home grown material is no longer a large part of the British Industry, now most of the woodland areas have been cleared. However, there was a resurgence of planting trees for softwoods some years ago; they are quick growing; because of the grants (EU?). I’ve got no references for this for you. Certainly nothing within 25 miles of Greenwich.

I seem to remember part of the decline of the Wealden iron industry was the lack of fuel (timber) and expense of transporting coal in addition to the decline in the iron ore quality and quantity that moved the industry into the midlands.

Thatch and the use of straw and reed was never a big part of construction in London; and Greenwich; after the Great Fire of London when building regulations required tiles, slatesand bricks in favour of replacing more combustible materials.

A discussion I had with a thatcher at the WDLM mentioned most of today’s thatch is imported from Europe although some is still produced in East Anglia. He was very busy working in Sussex and south Surrey area, but I’ve not seen many buildings closer to Greenwich that use this material. Most have been reclad with slate or tile.

Finally, I should mention ‘conservation’ and ‘Building Conservation Philosophy’ by John Earl published by Donhead. There are a couple of pages (P34 etc. ‘Guarding resources ‘Green’ issues) that you might like to read.

A quote by Michael Cope, Head of Planning, English Heritage 2002 leapt out of the page when I first read it. “If sustainability means anything at all our mentality has to change … … we need a mindset where we think carefully before we knock things down and don’t always blame the buildings for problems’.

With that thought I hope I’ve given you the information you want.

Monday, 25 May 2020

William Lindley

We are receiving a number of articles and information about engineer William Lindley - some of it is in a posting on the GIHS Facebook page. 

Lindley - when he wasn't designing public services in Europe - lived in Shooters Hill Road.  Here is an article which Blackheath historian, Neil Rhind, wrote about him in 1998:


There simply is no shortage of erudition when it comes to the research and writing of books, which also prove to have a Blackheath interest. And because of my local knowledge there is also no shortage of scholars and researchers beating a path to my door, eager to clarify a reference and seek what little information I might have on their pet subject. They then embarrass me with fulsome thanks in prefaces for very small contributions indeed.  In fact, I should thank them because without such investigation I would know very little of the importance of all sorts of unlikely things.

Take the drains for example.  There are few things more pleasing than a clean drain except the act of unblocking it and watching the water run freely away with a satisfying gurgle.  That is what was not happening in London and most European capitals in the first half of the 19th century.  The Romans knew what to do but their successors managed to forget the techniques.  As cities grew larger and larger so did the problems.

London was quite frightful with the Thames and the small rivers, which flowed into it, being used as the main sewer and, quite often, as the source of drinking water as well.  Such was the smell that even members of Parliament in the House of Commons were appalled and, on occasion, unable to continue their work.

So it was decided that the long-suffering rate- and taxpayer would meet the cost of solving London’s drainage and sewer problems.  Also, the Thames in central London would be embanked.  And embanked it was.  Under the inspiring leadership of engineer Joseph Bazelgette London was properly drained as well.  It was a massive civil engineering undertaking and created one of the, lasting wonders of the modern world, and still in use to day.  Walk the London embankments at Charing Cross and visit the giant Crossness engine house at Belvedere and you will see what I mean.

The volume under scrutiny concerns something rather similar but in Warsaw, Budapest and Prague.  These ancient capitals also suffered from drainage and water problems.  It took an Englishman (more properly Englishmen) to sort things out.  They were the Lindley family, resident of No 74 Shooters Hill Road from 1860.

I knew, from short biographical notes, that they had been up to their elbows in European drains, so to speak, but I put much down to personal hyperbole. Not so – and it took a visit from Professor Ryszard Zelichowski, of Warsaw, hot on the trail of these wondermen, to banish my ignorance.  He is the Dale Porter of the Warsaw water and drain systems and had learned that the Lindleys were Blackheath people.  You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather when he explained to me how distinguished they were.  And last year Ryszard published a special volume to mark the 110th anniversary of the Warsaw water supply works. 

It all started with engineer/architect Joseph Lindley (1806-1880) who moved to Blackheath in 1860.  His brother William (1808-1890), in the same profession, “rebuilt” Hamburg after the fire in 1842 and then earned an international reputation as a water and sewage engineer, sorting out Warsaw in the 1870s.   His sons, William Heerlein and Robert Searles carried on the good work, ensuring happy healthy populations across the Continent, designing and supervising water and drainage schemes in Prague, Bucharest, Frankfurt, Petrograd, and so on. They were rarely at home. William snr’s daughter, Julia, lived on at No 74, keeping house for the family, until her death in 1937.  It is also extraordinary, in the local context, that old Joseph had married the daughter of Michael Searles (1752-1813) the architect, inter alia, of the Paragon.  William Heerlein Lindley was knighted in 1911 and lived at No 17 Kidbrooke Park Road for a short while during the Great War.

Of course, I would like to say more but, alas, my Polish is scant. Nevertheless, Prof. Zelichowski tells me that the volume he sent to me is the shorter popular version and that he is working on an extended version, which he hopes will be published in English in due course.  At least I think I know what the szluzmajster did and the word filtro, cisnien and pomp seem to have a familiar ring about them.

You will have to send to Warsaw for Ryszard Zelichowski’s volume and I am not sure how many zlotys you will need but I can make enquiries.  Professor Porter’s definitive tome will be issued here in due course and for those details I must wait.  The publisher is the University of Akron Press, Ohio.  Enquiries to its web site:

the article is Neil's copyright and must not be reproduced.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Charlton's other waterworks.

So - this is the second episode following yesterdays post, and facebook page mystery picture, about Charlton's water works  - first - back to John Smith's History of Charlton.

After the Woolwich Road well was found to be contaminated the Kent Water Company needed to find another site.  In 1864 they leased a site in an old chalk quarry.  This was on the south side of the railway line, and the west side of Charlton Lane. Today it is the site of Prentis Court housing.

Once again they got a Cornish pumping engine from Harvey's of Hayle and began pumping water in 1865.  This did no better than the previous site and after nine years it was closed.  The well is described " Yielded 1,500,000 gallons per diem and although the water is not considered sufficiently reliable for domestic use it would be suitable for street watering or other non domestic purposes.

"The engines and boilers were removed for reuse to Farnborough in 1879"  by Farnborough they mean Orpington.  And I have to thank Richard Albanese for details of the engines and pictures of Orpington.  He says: dates for the engines don't match as they are given as 1880 and 1885.... Its likely that these are the installation dates at Orpington even though secondhand. I suspect also that the engines were probably heavily rebuilt and modernised at the same time to operate on higher pressure steam with new pumpworks to suit new well depth and delivery to alternative reservoir and head of supply.

and, Richard says..  in 1948 ......

...... at Orpington ,.. electric pumps were installed in the wells and proposals were underway to discontinue the use of steam engines ... and (surprisingly) retain engines 1 & 2 for historical interest in terms of any parts inside the engine house. I had not heard of this before but it did happen as the photos show attached around 1950. The engines were fully broken up though later and i'm fairly certain that the buildings were demolished soon after c'1958-60?

and sent us these pictures:

Boilers at Orpington 

View showing Engine in motion.

Closer view, piston near the bottom of its stroke.

                            Piston higher up the cylinder.

In 1881 the site was leased to the Plumstead District Waterworks Company and they put a small pump there but the water could only be used for non-domestic things, like dust laying in the roads. Around 1900 the well was sealed but the engine house remained on site until 1910.  The site became allottments but was bought by Harveys in 1936 and Prentis Court was built as company housing.  We posted on this blog in 2014 a report of the opening of the estate in 1952 by future Tory Prime Minister,Harold Macmillan.

Finally  .... Richard says - All material to be credited to Thames Water Collection and London Museum of Water & Steam please.  (Thames water have an online historic photo collection now - which we at Kew gave a lot of help with. Lots of Kent and London water supply pics to explore!)
Its very likely that parts of one of the engines valve gear are preserved in store at London Museum of Water & Steam - see pics 261-3. Ive often wondered where we got them from as there are no records as they were brought in by MWB.
Also: London Metropolitan Archives hold the Thames Water historic records collection. Theres a big chance that drawings and contracts for both engines and buildings are there.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Charlton's Water Works

Now - I put this picture on the GIHS Facebook page and asked people to tell me where it was

Now only one person got it right - Congratulations Peter Luck - it's Woolwich Road looking east towards the bottom of Charlton Lane.   Here's another picture from some years later

Now, none of you, not even Peter twigged why I thought the picture was interesting.  Well its the big building centre left.  Its a water works building - and this is just the first one - you never knew Charlton had two water works, did you?

The next bit comes from the estimable History of Charlton by the late John Smith.  He says that in 1857 the Kent Water Company dug a deep well at Charlton.  Its actually marked on the 1867 Ordnance Survey Map.  They built this pumping station and installed a pumping engine from Harvey & Co. of Hayle in Cornwall.  But within six years it was taken out of use because the well was becoming contaminated with river water - and a nearby new sewer didn't help. So it was shut down and the engine was sent to the Cold Bath Well at Deptford - that's one of the wells at the Brookmill Site which also was originally built by the Kent Water Co.  The engine seems to have ended up however at the Crayford Water Works, which was rebuilt in 1954.  A history of Crayford says that two statues of Sir Walter Scott were removed from the decorative metalwork on the engine and preserved. Has anyone got them??

So - the earliest of the Charlton Water Works closed down and was let to a building contractor. From the earlier photograph above it appears to be the sort of building you expect of a 19th century waterworks.  In the lower picture it has lost most of its decoration but has had an extension built.  It was then in use by the Grafton Engineering Co.  There seem to be many Grafton Engineering Cos around and this is described as being 'a general engineers and cabinet makers'.

so - what happened to Charlton and its water supply. More to come later..................

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Midgie Dolphin - the girl who trained with Merryweather's

Neil Bennett has sent us these notes on Midgie Dolphin  ....................  read on ...................

Miss Midgie or Midge Dolphin (once given confusingly as Dolphni) appears to have been ‘trained’ for appearances in films involving ‘stunt’ or ‘action’ sequences at Merryweather& Sons.

She would have met the famous and flamboyant company boss, James Compton Merryweather. In 1912 he was aged 72 (and had five years to live). JCM, as well as a fire-fighter, engineer and businessman was a considerable publicist for his fire-fighting equipment and fire engine company Merryweather& Sons. Known as ‘The Fire King’ he placed thousands upon thousands of newspaper adverts, wrote signed letters to newspapers and almost certainly, with editors’ approval, placed many newspaper articles he had written himself, to keep the company name in the public eye world-wide.

As for Midgie/Midge Dolphin, the ‘training’, rehearsals and the photos and publicity, would have kept her, and the company, in the news. Did she initiate the visit(s) to Merryweather’s (in Greenwich, London), or her father or someone with a view to her career, or James Merryweather himself? Was she accompanied in the visit? JCM and his staff were accustomed to training provincial private fire brigades, including ones for schools and ones exclusively women. But he would surely have taken a decently reserved pleasure in the company of a 13-year old ‘film actress’.

Here are the newspaper clippings I found, all related to stage appearances..…can we find what film(s) Midgie appeared in, beforehand, or later (benefitting from her Merryweather training)? Did her career lead anywhere?

The clippings and other sources indicate that she danced at the Aldwych in Jan 1912 in five small plays collectively known as ‘The Golden Land of Fairy Tales’, and in the same year 1912 she was the fairy Mustardseed in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the play revived by Sir Herbert Tree at the Gaiety, Manchester. (Stage Yearbook)

She appeared in ‘Theodore and Co’ aged 16 in 1916. She was the daughter of the stage manager of ‘Daly’s’, whose name I don’t know [see below], although there was a chap called Wilfred H Dolphin, an actor, who may have been relevant.

Daly’s was a Leicester Square theatre where ‘Vue West End’ now stands, at no.2 Cranbourn Street. It was the last theatre in the Square to be demolished, in 1937, in favour of the oncoming ‘picture houses’.

…see cuttings below, from ‘British Newspaper Archive’I seem to have exhausted the information on Wikipedia and the Internet….

Also no trace of her in ‘Encyclopedia of British Film’. At that time actors were not highly paid and considered on a par with electricians and mechanics. Films, which would of course have been silent and black & white, were often destroyed and recycled for their silver content.

Daily Mirror 6 Feb 1914
(Please note the precise wording – do we trust the Daily Mirror?) So far no luck (speaking as an engineer) in identifying the crane, or whether it belonged to Merryweather’s.


Further looking finds references to her in The Stage 20 Apr 1911 p.19 as Mustardseed; The Tatler 8 Nov 1916 with photo and her drawings, Sunday Pictorial 26 Nov 1916 with pics and Daily Mirror 11 Oct 1917, with pics, where aged 18 she married Major Edwards RGA (Royal Garrison Artillery). Maybe she then gave up her acting career…?

George A M Dyson writes

I can tell you a little more about Midge. She was Margaret Flora Stuart Dolphin, daughter of a couple from Manchester, Walter and Matilda Dolphin, who had evidently moved south shortly before Midge was born at Catford in 1900. Her father was a musician, and he was obviously keen to put his whole family on the stage, not just Midge.

The Dolphins evidently moved around. They were in Fulham by the time the 1901 Census, and in a boarding house in Lambeth in 1911, and, though she was a south-east London girl by birth, I don’t know where Midge would have been living when she used
Merryweather’s premises to practice her stunts. But with JCM keen to make sales in the theatre world it looks like a smart move on his part. (Around the time of 1914there were few if any new installations of Merryweather theatre safety curtains, perhaps as a result of the oncoming cinemas, until the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford, in 1932).

As for what became of her later, all that I know is that she married a second time, in 1938. Sydney Burnet Edwards had served in the South African Horse Artillery before transferring to the RGA, and incidentally at some point he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), though I’ve not found any report of how he earned that award. So, if he was South African, it may be that they spent the 1920s and 30s in S Africa, and as far as I know S African historical records aren’t easily available anywhere. If she did maintain her career there ought to be some kind of press records of that, but I haven’t looked and I wouldn’t know the best way to do it.

What is clear enough is that in Islington in 1938 Margaret F S Edwards or Dolphin married Charles H Cartwright. No reason to assume she was a divorcee – I assume Sydney had died. And I notice that at Crosby in Lancashire in 1940 the birth of a child Michael Y Cartwright was registered with the mother’s name given as Dolphin; I can’t find a newspaper notice of that birth (nor of the 1938 marriage), and there’s no proof that’s Midge and Charles, but I think it’s more likely to have been them than another couple with the same names.

I hope all that is interesting. It would have been nice to round off the record for you by finding an obituary for Margaret F S Cartwright, but I haven’t found anything.

Five index entries, which record (in chronological order) -

Midge’s birth; we learn later that she was actually born in Nov 1899, but a bit of a delay in registering a birth isn’t unusual.
Her marriage to Maj Edwards.
Her marriage – under the two surnames – to Charles Cartwright – in 1917 and 1938 the index gives all three initials, and that’s how I’ve been able to identify her in the birth registers and the 1901 and 1911 censuses too; but with three forenames myself I’m not surprised to see the third one went missing in later records!
The entry from the national population Register taken in England & Wales in September 1939, for 152 Widdenham Road, Islington; it’s hard to know which of them is being described as incapacitated.
An entry from the National Probate Index; the matching entry in the death register index for the Colchester registration district tells us that this Margaret Flora Cartwright was 62 years old, which fits with what we know of Midge.

I’ve no idea who the woman who administered her estate was. It doesn’t look as though her life after marrying Maj Edwards was as glamorous as we might have hoped – but you never know, ‘dresses etc’ might have been haute couture, and she might have bestowed a fortune on her nearest and dearest before she died. But I suspect not.

b   10 Nov 1899
d    7 Feb 1962 age 62 as Margaret Flora Cartwright, then of Frinton, – effects  £130/16/0

Neil also add 19th June 2020

Billed as 'Madge Dolphin' and starring with Warwick Buckland, she was in 'Prop's Angel', made in 1913. The film, of shorter length than we are used to today, was made by Cecil Hepworth and written and directed by Edward Hay-Plumb. 

Midge's other film, referred to in the Daily Mirror piece, was 'Detective Daring and the Thames Coiners' made in 1914 by the Daring Films company, where she starred with Harry Lorraine. It was directed by Sidney Northcote.

Cecil M Hepworth's film company became bankrupt and his remaining film negatives were melted down for their silver content to pay the receiver, in 1924. Midge's earlier film did not survive either.

Thank you to Melanie Williams, Lawrence Napper, Tony of Celluloidtapestry and especially Janice Healey and again to George Dyson for guidance and information.

Regarding Midgie's ‘training’ at Merryweather's, it would have had to be very superficial and supervised. Some girls’ schools of the time had ‘jumping sheets’ and practised with them in case of fire. But jumping sheets are no longer used by British or European fire brigades as they are dangerous and waste fire-fighters’ time in vital seconds. ‘Hook ladders’ were very dangerous even to trained firemen when used for their intended purpose and are no longer used. A Merryweather motor fire engine of 1914, which the Mirror claims she practised on, would have been difficult and potentially dangerous to start, and likewise to drive, even if only round the works yard. Only six years earlier one of the company’s motor fire engines was in a fatal accident while being tested on the road.

But long live Midgie's memory, and do visit the cafe in Connaught Avenue, Frinton where she lived in later life!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Message to all Members and Friends

Dear GIHS Members

This is to let you know that the meeting scheduled for Tuesday 14 April WILL NOT TAKE PLACE. Because of Coronavirus we have cancelled ALL MEETINGS until after the summer. 

Your GIHS committee will continue to monitor -- as far as we can -- the industrial heritage of Greenwich. We will be grateful for any input you can offer. We will remain concerned about and alert to planning applications on industrial sites, the demolition of the gas holder, the Charlton and Woolwich sites with recent planning enquiries, the Arsenal, Deptford Creek and so on.  We appreciate any assistance you can give in these difficult times. Please keep your eyes open and let us know about anything we should know about. 

Because we have had to cancel the programme for the beginning of 2020, we are going to waive all subscription fees until the end of 2021.

In the autumn of 2020, so long as the pandemic is over, we plan to come back with an exciting programme of talks, running through until summer 2021. 

Meanwhile we have been thinking about the venue for our events, but we'd welcome your views. The Old Bakehouse benefits from easy access by public transport, but is limited in size. Do you have any suggestions of alternative locations? Would anyone enjoy afternoon sessions? Would anyone like us to record sessions or even transmit them live by YouTube, Facebook or some other medium?

"While we are not having meetings we are still very busy on-line and are always happy to publish items of news on our Facebook page - and look forward to comments and discussion on items which appear there.  Longer articles are more than welcome for the GIHS blog.  You will also be glad to see that we also now have an Instagram and a Twitter account'.  Please send items to

We shall continue to be in touch with as many of you as possible via email. We know there are some of you who do not use the internet and therefore may not see this email. If you know of anyone like this, please let them -- and us -- know. 

Alan Burkitt-Gray
Mary Mills
Elizabeth Pearcey

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Greenwich Materials Recycling Facility

By Richard Buchanan

The Blackheath Scientific Society had a visit to the Greenwich Materials Recycling Facility on 16 Jan 2007. Numbers were limited to ten. Unlike other Councils, the Greenwich philosophy is to ask people to put all dry waste in one blue top bin, and to collect it with a single lorry. They then separate it at a mixed, dry, recycling plant. 

The plant occupies a big grey building at the far end of Nathan Way, Plumstead. Mr Peter Dalley, the manager, took us round, on a first floor walkway, and showed us the various machines which are linked by rising conveyor belts. The day we went there was much rubbish on the floor under the conveyors, and paper/plastic separation did not seem as good as it might have been, though presumably acceptable.

The first process is bag splitting, so any pre-sorting one might have done is nullified. Then oversized items are removed with a Trommel Screen, to be manually sorted. This is followed by a Ballistic Separator (a large spinning drum) which does an initial sort of containers from paper. Containers are separated into iron, aluminium and glass: a Magnet (people with pacemakers are not let on the visit) takes out iron cans etc; an Eddy Current separator removes aluminium; leaving glass. Plastic bags, paper and a residue remain. An infra-red lamp detects Plastic and drives a puffer machine to separate it from paper. Paper is sorted first automatically, and then manually - it is important that no glass gets into it, though small wispy pieces of plastic are tolerated. The last piece of equipment is a Baler. Some incoming waste, such as bulk paper from a business, can go straight to the baler. 

Depending on market prices, particularly for plastics, extra manual sorting can be done. Manual Sorters work two or three to a room about 6 m (20 ft) square, for seven hour days, no shift lasting more them four hours. The plant is run with a staff of about 20 per shift.

Mr Dalley took questions afterwards and outlined future plans. He gave various prices: Paper for newsprint earns £250 per ton; Cleanaway, who take the baled waste, put up £6m towards the cost of the plant; National Land Fill permits come with a fine of £150/ton for excess; and an EU fine of F/Wday; a waste disposal lorry costs £125,000; wheelie bins for 120, 240 & 330 litre capacity cost £25, £18 & £40. 

At present 72% of residents voluntarily use blue top bins, and produce high grade waste. It is proposed to revise the use of bins so that all residents use blue-top bins for dry waste and green-top bins for kitchen and garden waste – with weekly collection for both. Other waste would be put in a bag and collected fortnightly. Biodegradble Cornstarch bags would be used for kitchen waste - fitting in a kitchen container, tied off when full and put in the green-top bin. 

It is proposed to build an anaerobic digester for green waste so that methane given off as it rots can be fed to a Combined Heat and Power plant (better than a garden compost bin venting to the atmosphere). If restaurant waste were properly sorted this too would be taken and would improve digester efficiency. Other by-products would be a good quality top soil and liquid fertiliser, both useable by the Council. In the future it might be worthwhile to adapt the digester to produce hydrogen

Reviews and Snippets from April 2007

Reviews and Snippets from April 2007

The Sustainable Historic Arsenals Regeneration Partnership (SHARP) was formed between the EU nations of England, Malta, Estonia and Spain to share lessons learned while seeking new futures for these culturally important but neglected former military sites. As lead partner in the part EU-funded project, English Heritage reviewed the story of the rescue, conservation and re-use of the former Royal Arsenal, Woolwich - an example of the contribution that heritage can make to social, economic and cultural regeneration. This was followed by investigation of the challenges and opportunities presented by comparable sites in Malta, Spain and Estonia. In Malta, the aim is to revitalise a succession of military sites adjoining the Grand Harbour; at Cadiz it is to bring back into public view the fortifications that repulsed Napoleon's army; while at Tallinn it is to help the citizens of the young Republic of Estonia to understand their complex past under Russian Imperial, Soviet and Nazi rule. Each of these projects is providing fascinating lessons and outcomes.

A recent conference on SHARP centred on the launch of a book Regeneration from Heritage. This glossy and lavishly illustrated publication outlines the Historical background to the sites involved in the scheme (Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, Battery Tallinin, Grand Harbour Malta and the Real Carenero Arsenal). It described a number of themes in relation to the sites – Masterplanning, Partnerships, Heritage, Tourism, Education and Sustainable Regeneration. It is published by English Heritage (no price or details given on it).

The Severndroog Castle Campaign has heard from Awards for All England that the application for funding has been successful! And they have been awarded £6,035 for their "Audience Development Project". This will pay for: a laptop and accessories (like bag/ remote for presentations / cordless mouse), software, multimedia projector, display boards, promotional materials (bookmarks/ business cards) to advertise our new website, a year's membership to Volunteering England, digital camera and web design and development training.

The Winter 2007 edition of Industrial Heritage contains an article by Mary Mills on ‘An explosion Two Hundred Years Ago’. This is about the Tide Mill which once stood near the Pilot Pub on the Greenwich Peninsula and the explosion in the boiler of a steam engine supplied by Richard Trevithick there. Industrial Heritage published by Hudson History,

The preceding issue of Industrial Heritage ran an article ‘Crossness Engines to the Rescue’ by Peter Skilton.This is about the Stewart & Co. steam engine which was at the David Evans silk works in Crayford and its subsequent rescue and removal to Crossness when Evans closed.

Woodlands Farm are about to reach their tenth anniversary and we must all congratulate them. They are appealing for any old photographs of the Farm which can be used in an anniversary exhibition. They are about to launch a sustainable food growing scheme on the 341 Shooters Hill site – the area once occupied by the Blackheath donkeys.

Crossness DVD. Crossness Engines have now produced a DVD of the first public steaming of Prince Consort on 4th April 2004. This is £8 from their shop on visitors’ days or by post (plus £1.50 p&p) from Crossness Engines Trust, The Old Works, Thames Water STW, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, SE2 9AQ.

Crossness are also advertising for people to help with gardening at the site – lots and lots of fresh air (and not too smelly either).

Dockyards – we have recently received both the newsletter and the Journal of the Naval Dockyards Society. Clearly our area had two of the most important of the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich. Strange then that these two publications – once again – make no mention of either while they go on and on and on about Portsmouth and so on. Is this our fault for not sending stuff to them? Or do they really want to ignore us? Is there a nasty suspicion that the Deptford site, arguably that of the foremost of the Royal Dockyards, will be redeveloped with hardly a mention of its illustrious past?

We have been sent a copy of the latest publication by the South East London Industrial Archaeology group. Bizarrely this is about the Sherburn and South Milford Gas Company – but that shouldn’t take away from the many merits of this interesting little book. It is by SELIA’s Chris Rule and is available for £3.75 from SEILA Ltd. , 35 Grange Grove, London, N1 2NP and is worth every penny of it. Highly recommended.

Greenwich Historical Society have published their latest Journal now edited by Julian Watson. It contains articles by several people who are also members of GIHS – but in particular it is dedicated to, and contains eulogies to, the late Alan Pearsall. Alan was of course a GIHS member and gave a number of talks to us but one of his major tasks in Greenwich historical circles was as editor of GHS’s Journal. There are articles about him by Professor Roger Knight, Pieter van der Merwe (actually a poem) and Julian Watson.

Other articles are about the theft of Nelson’s replicas from the Painted Hall by Anthony Cross, and Richard Cheffins' work on Greenwich in Parliament.

Labour Party Staff. A Century of Serving 1906-2006. We have been sent a copy of this book by Labour Party Regional Organiser Terry Ashton. Woolwich was of course the home of the earliest organised Labour Party in Britain and the first mini-biography in the book is about William Barefoot. He is described as having built in Woolwich "a strong local party, a model for the whole country"… he was “the organizing genius who made it all happen”.

Swiftstone Trust. We have the latest newsletter of the Trust which cares for the Swiftstone tug and it describes work on the tug and the difficulties encountered since the redevelopment of Wood Wharf. They are hopeful for donations, so don’t disappoint them if you write.
Matchless and AMC - celebration of Woolwich-made machines at Firepower. AMC Event - Sunday 9th September 2007. In total, some 53,400 Matchless machines were contracted for supply throughout the conflict of WWII and many stayed in use during the 1950's with the final machines being disposed through public auction in the 1960's. Examples of these and many more from both the pre- and post-war models from AJS, Matchless and all those other manufacturers within or associated with the AMC Group will be on display and ridden at the event on 9th September.

Wartime memories of Shooters Hill and Woolwich Common. Shooters Hill was of great strategic importance during World War Two forming part of an Anti Invasion Stop Line as well as hosting elements of the defences of London such as Anti-Aircraft Guns and Barrage Balloons. As part of a research and education project, local archaeologist Andy Brockman is recording the military archaeology of the Shooters Hill/Woolwich Common area. This includes both structures such as Pill Boxes, trenches and other sites used by the Army, RAF and Home Guard as well as buildings and sites used by the civilian services such as the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services and the ARP Service. If you or members of your family have any memories of wartime Shooters Hill or you have photographs or memorabilia such as documents please contact

A degree in Maritime History? The Greenwich Maritime Institute is right on our doorsteps on the University site. They are currently inviting applicants for September this year to their various postgraduate courses: MA in Maritime Policy, MA in Maritime History, MBA in Maritime Management. Entry needs either a good honours degree or maritime experience.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Letters sent to GIHS in April 2007

Letters sent to GIHS in April 2007

From: Len Williams
Robert Pakenham Williams was a Baptist minister and was associated with the Seamen’s Mission on Creek Street, (now Creek Road). We have a bible presented to him, which is inlaid with a message of goodwill form the members of the mission. The mission building still exists, and is now the "Up the Creek" comedy club and I have been trying to find out more about the building's history but currently have drawn a blank. The management company tell me that the building is listed, although clearly that listing doesn't go as far as stopping them painting it purple. Do you have any information relating to the history of the building, or can you point me in a direction that might solve my problem.

From: Pamela Smith
I would like to find out about some artifacts that I have; a scarlet coat, silver badge inscribed and dated 1869,back board from a boat inscribed and dated 1875, and a door knocker inscribed. “All to do with Greenwich”.

From: John Ricks
I have a pair of very large pictures (27 inches square and 23 x16 inches)taken from the Illustrated London News of the 30th. Sept. 1876 and before, showing the gun being shipped at Woolwich and being fired at Shoeburyness. If you know of anyone who might be interested in having them, please reply to my message. As I live in Tralee, Ireland it might be a little awkward to show them but I have enclosed a couple of pictures as attachments to give you a clue (they are not very high resolution but I could take proper pictures if required).

From: Keith Dawson
It is that man from down under, about the Enderby's. Can you give me the Lat & long of where Coom or Croom House used to be? George Enderby Ist's will says he was of Coome House. Sam Enderby III wrote a letter from Cooms House 18/9/1803, although they used Paul’s Wharfe as an address on other business letters till at least 1809. one authority says they did not move to Great St. Helens until the 1840's. Morden College has told me that Coome House was demolished and flats erected by the Beaver Trust in 1830's or 1930's The Australian Agricultural Company was set up in the 1830's and the first manager was a Robert Dawson, He is said to be a horse dealer from Essex. My father's ancestors came from Essex and had the same occupation. Robert got on the wrong side of the MacArthurs, he was sacked & came to live in Greenwich (at Morden College? he would fit the criteria) he is buried in Greenwich I believe St. Luke’s?

From: Bob Hawker
Is it possible to ask for information on Thomas William Cowan's activitieswith the Kent Ironworks, 1860 - 1890ish? Anything that any of your members might have on Kent Ironworks, Greenwich, would be much appreciated. For example when did the business cease trading, did it mutate into the North Kent Ironworks Ltd. ? The information I have in brief it is: -

Patents: -
Cowan. Air compressed hammer.
Cowan and Winton. High and low pressure double cylinder hammer.
Burgh and Cowan. Trunk engine.
GB809, 1861. John Grieve Winton and Cowan, both of 42 Bridge St. Blackfriars, London. Improvements in the means for actuating machine hammers, which said improvements, are also applicable to pile-driving and other such like machines and purposes. Use of compressed air to aid steam hammers.
GB2306, 1861. Cowan. Improvements in the construction of breech-loading ordnance. Revolving firing-chambers for artillery. A large six shooter!
GB2525, 1862. Cowan. Improvements in the construction of portable or fixed pumps. A double barrelled pump with four valves or pistons. The same or variation on the trunk engine above.
Yarrow and Hilditch of Barnsbury, steam carriage made by Cowan for Ex. 1862. Details of construction in "Steam on Common Roads", William Fletcher, p 161.

North Kent Ironworks Ltd. March 1891. Shareholders of the Co. file for voluntary liquidation following an action against the company by one of the first mortgage debenture holders on 20th Feb. 1891. There was only £3,750 for distribution to the second debenture holders. The company was finally wound up on 25th March.

There appears to have been a change in Cowan's circumstances ~ late 1889, he moved from Sussex into London, became even more active in bee-keeping and travelled extensively - cross Atlantic six times (both ways) in the next 15 years, and numerous European visits.

From: Richard Blackbourn
I have an oilpainting which has been in the family forever. It shows a gentleman sitting in an office with a large number of fishing boats visible out of the window over his shoulder.
I have now found out that the picture is of a fishing fleet, is located at Greenwich and that members of the family were fishermen in Greenwich around 1816-1870 and before that at Wandsworth.

The names were:
Thomas Blackbourn - Fisherman - Stable Yard Street, Greenwich - 1820 - 1841, 7, Church St,Greenwich – 1851.
Thomas Blackbourn - Fisherman - Hog Lane, Greenwich – 1841 Frederick St – 1851 Thames Street - 1861
William Blackbourn - Fisherman - High Bridge, Greenwich - 1841
George Blackbourn - apprentice vintner - Crown & Sceptre, High Bridge, Greenwich - 1841

I was wondering if any records existed regarding the fishing fleet. i.e. : boat owners, crews, fleet managers/owners etc. or any other records regarding fishing in Greenwich around this time.

From: Len Metzner
The Society for the Acquisition and Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. I have today learned of this organisation and its lecture rooms in Royal Hill, Greenwich. In the course of reading about this and its formation circa 1840's, and its organiser H.S. Richardson. It also mentions the 9,000 books in their collection. Wondered if you have any knowledge as to where any of these books have ended up, if the halls are still Lecture Rooms for Greenwich University, Maybe?

William Lloyd Metzner opened the first local library in his home in Stockwell Street and established and held meetings of the Literary and Scientific Institution, later to move onto a larger hall. The picture I have of the meeting of this Society has all the appearance of being the same as that shown as a meeting of the Greenwich Acquisition of Knowledge in their new hall, now known to be on Royal Hill. 

From: Iris Bryce
Does anyone remember the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers at the Telcon in the 1940's? These were the forerunners of The Home Guard. I worked in the Buying Office of the Telcon, aged 16 and along with Glenys, the filing clerk joined the LDV. We were given rather large badges made of some lightweight wood I think and painted to resemble gold. I joined three other girls and we went to learn map reading in a very cold, dirty building just outside the entrance to Blackwall Tunnel -1 think it was a Martello Tower. Glenys went to learn how to ride a MOTOR BIKE! We lasted about three weeks. I wasn't too happy to be left alone with the retired Major!! And Glenys rode the bike into a wall. The reason I'm enquiring is that over Christmas we were given a copy of the Home Guard Manual and although it mentions the LDV there is no mention of women joining up. Unfortunately I lost the badge when our house in Woodland Walk suffered blast from the time bomb in Woodland Grove and we were evacuated out of the street for two weeks or more. 

Thanks for mention of The Hill Folk. Could you let me know how to contact Mel Wright, as Owen and I are very interested to see he is lecturing on Jazz in the 40's. Owen of course was the founder member of the Geo.Webb Dixielanders in 1943 and lived in Thomas Street. We started the first Jazz Club in Woolwich in the 40's and many of the well known jazz musicians from all over England stayed at our flat in Thomas Street when they first came to make their name in London.

From: Neil Bennett
After leaving Greenwich, Merryweather moved to the Rassau Industrial Estate, Ebbw Vale, Gwent, S. Wales, NP3 5SD and in 1984 to Belliver Industrial Estate, Roborough, Plymouth (as TGE Merryweather - stands for Tecalemit Garage Equipment). They were also at Commercial Brow, Godley, Hyde, Manchester, Cheshire, SK14 2JN, along with the historic John Morris fire engineering company. Contrary to common belief the name still survives, although the company is (by its own admission) "A shadow of its former self". 

At Tuesnoad Grange, Bethersden, Kent they make or supply only fire extinguishers, owned and run by Mr Jeffrey J Wright. One of their clients is the Sandringham royal household. Mr Wright is interested to learn of the company's past and in particular is willing to purchase or see old Merryweather sales brochures. I am researching the company's past with a view to writing a book.

From: John Grigg
Labour Heritage. In 2005 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Labour's 1945 election victory. 2006 was the 100th anniversary of the 1906 general election when Labour first became established in Parliament. 2007 is the 60th anniversary of Indian independence. We recently found a supply of one of Labour Heritage's early bulletins produced in 1986 by the Women’s Research Committee. The Editor, Christine Collette, is still a member of Labour Heritage and lives in France. Of particular interest is Irene Wagner's account of her early life in Germany until she left the Naziregime to come to Britain in 1938. Irene was Labour Heritage's first treasurer until she handed the job over to me in 2004 and is still a member of our National Committee.

From: David Dowd
I was pleased to see a report on a lecture given by John Ford on Siemens Brothers. This must be the very same John Ford who ran a scheme for apprenticing young hopefuls to Siemens as draughtsmen in the middle 1950s. I was one such and I owe him my subsequent lucrative career as a product designer. However, my reason for writing is that in his lecture he did not mention that, in the days when British merchant ships had British crews, Siemens trained so many wireless operators that Siemens-trained were in the majority. This was gleaned from the very readable Siemens company magazine. Another item which more closely concerned me at the time was that Siemens designed the first PCB .

From: John Bowles
Woolwich Arsenal Tramway Plates
The article in the latest GIHS Newsletter on the rescue of the Borough of Woolwich electricity junction box has reminded me that I had forgotten to let you know that we now hold at Waltham Abbey the surviving 18" gauge cast-iron tramway plates salvaged by the Oxford Archaeological Unit and held in Building 1° at Woolwich Arsenal. The plates reached us on 6th December. Basically the archaeologists had recovered an example of the various types used at Woolwich, nine in all, so we are very pleased to have them where they can be displayed and on which we can run our 18" gauge rolling stock. The main collection of the plates is at Chatham, where most are sadly currently used as ballast for WS Gannet - a matter which has not found favour with the narrow-gauge railway fraternity. I am glad that we were able to prevent them from going for scrap, as they were separate from the two plates used under the wagon returned from North Woolwich. The long-term future of the plates at Chatham is unclear, so the position there is being watched closely, as their use as ballast must be unacceptable except in the very short-term - just to get HMS Gannet afloat.
I am told that they were cast at Woolwich.

From: Mike Harnett
I am looking for any information on a firm based in the Greenwich area in the late 1800s called Moser, West and Bateman. Their business was the making of emery wheels which may have been used in the production of armaments at Woolwich Arsenal.