Severndroog Castle on Shooters Hill is to appear as one of the entries in this summer's BBC’s Restoration Programme.
Strictly speaking Severndroog isn’t industrial history - basically it is a folly - but follies were, after all, only built because people had made a lot of money out of industry. The campaign to save the castle in public use has been largely spearheaded by members of the GIHS Committee - so here is a short piece by Susan Bullivant, originally written for the Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter.
Visit the BBC Restoration website and follow the progress of the campaign to restore Severndroog Castle. Visit also the National Maritime Museum website which shows three pages dedicated to the seafaring exploits of Sir William James, the monument that is Severndroog Castle, built in his memory, and the many images from the Museum's collections."
Severndroog Castle was built in 1784 by Lady James of Park Place Farm, Eltham as a memorial to her husband. Sir William James of the East India Company. Sir William, a former welsh ploughboy, achieved success at sea, and fought the Malabar Pirates off the Goan coast of India - near the island of Severndroog - thus ensuring a safe trade route for merchant ships. He became a director of the East India Company, after his retirement from the sea, and later on a Member of Parliament. Sir William died at Eltham, whilst at his daughter's wedding and was buried in the parish churchyard at Eltham in the family tomb. Lady James leased the land at Shooters Hill to build the castle, which she could see from her home, and she would drive over to it daily. The rooms in the castle contained his swords, and relics of his life at sea. In the 1920's the London County Council bought the Shooters Hill woodlands to preserve them from being built over - seven London Boroughs contributed money towards this project. Many people still remember, when in the care of the L.C.C., and later the G.L.C., the Castle was open to the public, and access was available to the top of the tower. There was also a small cafe on the ground floor, with seats outside in the summertime, but since being transferred to the London Borough of Greenwich, it has been closed to the public and neglected.
The Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust is campaigning for the building to be preserved, and once again opened for the public. The Castle featured in the BBC-2 programme, Restoration, on Saturday 8th May 2004 and featured again on 18th July as one of the three selections for S.E. England when viewers voted for the building they wish to see restored.
The Webmeister says (2017): "Although unsuccessful in obtaining funding via this route, Severndroog is now fully restored and open to the public.Their Web site provides details of the restoration and current opening hours. Strangely, their restoration time-line is not up-to-date! Severndroog Castle
I was lucky enough to tag along with the team from the Department of the Environment who had an interest in the remains of the ferry. We kept one step ahead of the excavators and used the contractor’s facilities to clear parts of the site before destruction. The Department recorded meticulous drawings of the remains although I was more interested in the overall working of the machinery. After cleaning the floor of the boiler room and the engine space we discovered that my earlier theories about the engines appear to be wrong. The markings and remains of fixings in the floor indicate there was one large engine that carried out several functions. However, evidence of fixing bolts indicate two other smaller engines - perhaps vertical like a motorcar - one might have hauled the semi- buoyant landing platform and the other might have been an electricity generator. There are plenty of other unexplained details. For instance, one of the shafts was enclosed in another shaft! I shall continue research. Then, just as we were ready to pack up, the excavator hit more metal about 18 feet below the floor level of the engine room. After scrambling about in the pit we came to the conclusion the two huge pipes that were revealed were nothing to do with the ferry but from an earlier construction. My view is that the pipes were part of a sewer overflow system that released water (and sewage!) into the river when the sewers were overloaded with rainwater after a heavy storm. The pipes still had debris in them but, after all this time it was quite nice smelling! I was hoping I might have a chance to crawl down a pipe but they were both nearly filled with water. This system became obsolete before the ferry was built and I have documentary evidence of the overflow system back as far 1870 - 18 years before the ferry was built
WOOLWICH FERRY VISIT
Members of the Blackheath Scientific Society met at the Ferry approach on the south of the Thames at 2pm. The following notes are what I remember (I hope correctly) of what we were told. All books about Woolwich have articles about its ferry, but a look behind the scenes adds fascinating detail - taken for granted by the staff - not otherwise known. The party was met by Mr. Paul Beareman, the Workshop Manager, who took us past the contemporary Ambulance Station to the Workshop beyond, telling us that they had been built in the early 1960s by the GLC, when the present ferry was built. Then the GLC had responsibility for various piers, sewage boats, etc. as well as the ferry, and had built a substantial workshop. There are about 110 ferry staff, most of whom are ferry and terminal crew who work in a rota of five shifts running two boats on weekdays and one at weekends (there is no night service) - 30 are employed in the workshop.
The Workshop has a large central working area, with rooms around it for Plumbers, Fitters, Electricians, etc - still used today for those separate trades. Many non-standard parts (including many which once were standard) are made on site for maintenance of the three ferries, the ferry terminals and associated plant. The workshop is equipped with overhead hoists of various ratings, lathes, grinders, milling machines. etc.. At the time of the visit a Voith propeller unit was set up for maintenance. Mr Beareman described the design of the ferry’s propulsion system. Voith propeller units with five vertical blades beneath are fitted at each end: with the blades set tangentially (like the blades of one part of a kitchen whisk) a propeller will turn without developing any thrust; set them at an angle, however and thrust is developed, in a direction determined by the angle. The ferry can be steered backwards, forwards, sideways, or to spin with equal ease (it has a twin set of navigation lights, used according to its direction of travel).
Each ferry has a draft of about five feet and has a flat bottom - except at the ends where it is raised so that the three-foot long propeller blades do not protrude - it can sit on a flat bed without harm. The propeller units are fitted in twelve foot diameter vertical tubes rising just above the fore and aft decks, easily visible to ferry passengers. After unbolting the cover, the units can be withdrawn with the ferry afloat. Each Unit operates at 600rpm, driven by its own diesel engine; originally 7 cylinder Mirlees-Blackstone, they have been replaced with 6 cylinder engines by the same company (though now part of a German group). Control of the thrust angle was originally manual, controlled through universal-jointed shafting from the bridge to each propeller unit. Eventually wear made the system unworkable, even with maintenance involving rebushing, etc.. a setting in one direction giving thrust to another. About three years ago it was decided to computerise the controls which set the desired ferry direction, the computer then deciding the two propeller unit settings - it works well.
The party then moved to the quayside, where one of the ferries was moored for maintenance. It sat on a wooden platform, over which it can float at high tide. This sets the top deck of the ferry below the present level of the flood defences, so a large steel gate has been provided for access, which is via a ramp using an original side gate (when first produced the ferries used the side loading piers of the previous paddle ferries). One could then appreciate the means of removing a propeller unit and taking it into the workshop on its special trailer.
Mr. Beareman then took the party on the riverside to the south terminal, through a gate and a walkway to the tower, and up to its first floor. Here we saw the counterweight mechanism for the two 100 ton spans. A level-compensating mechanism is incorporated for changes due to changing load as the traffic drives off and on for the tide - significant at mid-tide even for the few minutes the ferry is docked - and watched it in action as the ferry docked. We then went up to the second floor, which has windows giving a good view of the Thames. We saw the main winding gear, and the large chains (like enormous bicycle chains) - they have stretched a little over their life, but only two have needed replacement.
We then travelled on the James Newman across the River and back. The ferry is of steel construction, but the top deck is wooden, with 3" pitch pine planking covered by 2" deal - something else that needs maintenance. One could see the top covers of the propeller units, but little else of the machinery; the two diesel engines are either side of a central walkway on the passenger (lower) deck, with a shaft diagonally under the floor to each of the propeller units. Unfortunately a car dropped its exhaust while boarding at the north terminal, delaying the return crossing. Mr. Beareman, who had already attended on our slow-walking party, had another appointment, so we promptly thanked him for a most interesting visit and let him go.
Reported on Brian Sturt’s visit to Manchester to tell the North about the South London gas industry.
What they thought is as follows:
"Phew! What a relief! After Brian Sturt had struggled up 200 miles of the nation's finest highways, Northern Gas History members showed their appreciation and turned out in force to greet him.
A record audience listened to his fascinating tale of the growth and development of the country's second largest gas undertaking. Lavishly illustrated with a series of slides culled from sources that most present did not even know existed, Brian traced the appearance, and disappearance, of gas companies, and gasworks, on the south bank of the Thames. Bankside, Phoenix, Surrey Consumers, Croll, Ordnance Wharf and George Livesey - the names, and information, at times threatened to overwhelm the poor northerners but Brian is too good a storyteller and his tale too interesting to allow this to happen. The many disparate strands soon came together as the South Metropolitan Gas Company (or the South Met. to its familiars). Under the guiding hand of its formidable Chairman, George Livesey, the company set standards for others, both within the gas industry and without) to follow - Sick Pay, Pensions, Co-partnership, Worker Directors, Gas Showrooms - even its own Building Society. Little wonder that when, at last, Livesey shuffled off his mortal coil, over 7,000 mourners followed his coffin to his final rest."
Blackheath and Greenwich Guide
Published a really excellent article by Neil Rhind on the Blackheath radio manufacturers, Burndept. It tells how one of the first directors of the BBC was W H (Witt) Burnham, who was put on the Board to represent the smaller companies with an interest in broadcasting. He was one third of the board of Burndept founded in 1919. The original premises were in Deptford. Burnham's partners were electrical engineer Charles Frank Phillips and a Mr. C Duveen. They were housed behind Grotes Buildings in Tilling’s abandoned horse bus station and in 1921 it was called it Aerial Works.
Burndept operated in Blackheath from 1921 to 1931, producing some of the finest quality early radios, from small crystal sets to powerful four-valve loudspeaker-linked receivers. The brand name was Ethophone. They were the first to put domestic radio receivers into cars, aeroplanes, houseboats, yachts and even in punts. The company made a delivery van in the form of a giant Ethophone V model, and placed a receiver on a hand cart with an aerial and loudspeakers. Unfortunately, like many pioneering organisations, Burndept saw the large market going to manufacturers less interested in novelty and more in cheapness and mass production. By 1927 the firm was in deep financial difficulty and was placed into receivership. In 1934 the old name was resurrected when it was bought by a Thomas Cole, a battery maker, who opened a factory at Erith and took on those Burndept staff who wanted to join him. His new trading name was Vidor. Aerial Works remained a factory, passing through the ownership of various electrical manufacturers including Siemens and GEC, but it was demolished in December 1995.
THE SMALL HOUSE IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY LONDON by Peter Guillery.
London's modest 18th century houses, those inhabited by artisans and labourers, can tell us much about the culture of that period. This fascinating book examines largely forgotten small houses that survive from the 18th century and sheds new light on both the era's urban architecture and the lives of a culturally distinctive metropolitan population. Peter Guillery discusses how and where, by and for whom the houses were built, stressing vernacular continuity and local variability. He investigates the effects of creeping industrialisation (both on house building and on the occupants), and considers the nature of speculative suburban growth. Providing rich and evocative illustrations, he compares these houses to urban domestic architecture elsewhere, as in North America, and suggests that the 18th century vernacular metropolis has enduring influence.
ISBN 0300 102380 price: £40.00 (Review taken from GLAA Review)
Post-Medieval Archaeology. Vol. 38 Part 1 2004
Excavations at Deptford on the site of the East India Company dockyards and the Trinity House almshouses, London - (David Divers et al)
An archaeological excavation was conducted on the site of the Deptford power stations prior to the redevelopment of the site. The excavations followed an evaluation that identified two areas where significant archaeological remains survived. The first of these excavation areas, on the site of the Trinity House almshouses, revealed three major phases of building. The earliest structural remains correspond to the documented 16th century origins of the complex, while subsequent buildings date to the 17th and 18th centuries. The second area revealed the structural remains of a dockyard, founded by the East India Company in the early 17th century. Excavation exposed slipways and wharves of the dockyard, and waste products associated with shipbuilding activities were recovered. Evidence for the medieval river embankment pre-dating the dockyard was also recorded. The manufacture of pottery is another known activity on the site during the 18th century. No structural remains of any pottery were found, although a large quantity of pottery wasters and kiln waste was retrieved from land reclamation dumps.
Review taken from GLAA Review
Extracts from Greater London Archeology Advisory Service Quarterly
THE ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH, RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT, PHASE 2- Oxford Archaeology
Found two systems dating from 1800-1860 as well as floors, flues, concrete tanks, concrete foundations and a possible engine or stanchion mount, associated with a Shot and Shell Factory or later works (1860-1960).
ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH (BUILDING 48) - Oxford Archaeology.
This is unlisted but is within the Royal Arsenal Conservation Area - buildings at the site which are of national significance in terms of their military and industrial history. The building was constructed in c.1889-90 and has typical late 19th century stone walls, regular fenestration with cast iron glazing bars, cast iron columns and joists and an iron truss roof. Its structure is illustrative of the technological advances made in the construction industry during the 19th century which allowed larger, uninterrupted spaces and a much more open plan form to that of the adjacent, early 19th century ranges of the Grand Store. It also represents an important later phase in the history of the Arsenal as the site expanded and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries before it reached its peak during the Great War.
THE ROYAL ARSENAL, WOOLWICH (AREA OF FORMER BUILDING 50) - Oxford Archaeology
A possible east-west timber revetment, 15341, may relate to this period. A channel located within the north-east of the site probably relates to drainage works instigated in the late 18th century. A centrally located underlay proofing workshops shown on maps of 1802-8, and other culverts within the east of the site probably relate to the same period. Ranges of timber pilings found to the north, east and west relate to the construction of the Grand Store's Eastern and Northern Ranges and 'Central structure', which started in 1805. Much of the remains of this phase had been removed during previous remediation works, although fragmentary remains of the former power station building were in evidence, particularly within the west of the watching brief area.
LAND BETWEEN 25-29 POINT HILL, S.E.10 - Compass Archaeology
It had been thought that the site might be crossed by a post-medieval conduit, one of a number which supplied water from natural springs to Greenwich Palace. The subsequent route of the conduit is unknown, although this close to the head it would probably be fairly small taking the form of a lead pipe or small brick drain. Quarrying activities in the area disturbed some of the conduits, and resulted in the diversion and serious reduction of the water supply. Observation of the redevelopment works revealed later post-medieval work at the northern part of the site, filling what may have been a small quarry pit.
173-185 GREENWICH HIGH ROAD, GREENWICH, S.E.10 - Museum of London Archaeology Service
Despite extensive truncation, brick footings associated with the Greenwich Railway Terminus, built in 1840 were identified in the north part of the site. The remains of cellars associated with other 19th century buildings were also identified.
The June 2004 article includes an article by Barbara Ludlow on John de Morgan and the Battle for Plumstead Common. Not, strictly speaking, industrial history - but a good dramatic local story with a few remaining mysteries.
The June Meridian contains another of Peter Kent’s excellent articles in his Riverwatch series. Entitled Greenwich Grit this explores the remains of the old industries along the riverside path downstream from the ‘grandeur of the World Heritage Site’. From there on there is the Trafalgar Tavern 'down an ancient alleyway where Tudor houses once jostled with each other between the warehouses bordering the Thames. …. this firm shoreline bristled with every type of ship imaginable from all across the world'. He himself remembers when 'the wharves were still bustling with lighters, colliers and coasters; even Thames spritsail barges graced Ballast Quay'. But 'when the colliers ceased supplying the great Greenwich Power Station and Robinson's scrap yard at Anchor Iron Wharf closed, this really changed the atmosphere' at Ballast Quay. As we pass down river we arrive at Ballast Quay and the Harbour Master's Office ‘from here the fleets of incoming colliers were controlled …… because 'King Coal' ruled the Capital and each tide brought in the fuel source’. He points out that ‘the great generating station here at Greenwich is the last remaining power station still to be working. The great coal hauling landing stage is, however, no longer used. The enormous coal bunkers towering over neighbouring Trinity Hospital still remain… it evolved from a smaller plant which was built to supply the local trams and trolley buses. ….. it grew and grew with its four very tall chimneys and two generating halls the size of cathedrals. Nowadays only part of the building is used to accommodate a series of gas-fired jet engines which spring into life when needed to supplement the national grid for London Underground. It was built on the site of ‘Crowley House ….. where anchors were shipped in from the north-east foundries……the variety of types and sizes of anchors is mind boggling and there's a good collection still to be seen close by at the National Maritime Museum.
Peter says that ‘Bob Aynge, our friendly foreshore man, says the river is still littered with abandoned anchors. No doubt fortunes were also made here when Anchor Iron Wharf was a clearing house for the detritus of south east London's disintegrating industry’ He remembers the ‘many trucks and totters' carts waited to get their scrap valued and off-loaded prior to being shipped to some far off steelworks’.
All of this is gone and now there is a new development by Berkeley Homes on Anchor Iron Wharf. ‘Pedestrians will be pleased that the developers here have dedicated much of the old riverside wharf to public use, once again changing the scale and revealing a view not seen before of this once busy river port’.
We have been sent a page from the Times (6th February 2004). This is an obituary of Frank Stone, a lead-burning specialist who died this January. Stone was an expert in producing indestructible joints for great lengths of steel piping and played a crucial role in the development of PLUTO. Together with his brothers, Albert and Ron, Frank was part of a Brockley-based lead business and in 1942 were asked by Siemens of Woolwich to design suitable jointing methods for PLUTO - which they did with great success. PLUTO was made by Siemens in Woolwich, and Callender’s in Erith - the three Stone brothers working with both firms.
After the war Frank Stone specialized in submarine cable work, and also in medical physics for hospitals and radiation protection in the nuclear industry. After retiring he remained a consultant to the cable industry.