Sunday, 15 December 2019

Greenwich Labour Party Office

Greenwich Industrial History Society picks up on lots of things about our industrial past -  and also often looks at buildings associated with them ..................................

So (post General Election) we ought to mention the great transformation and doing up of the old Greenwich Labour Party Offices at 32 Woolwich Road.  Its been a long time and the neighbours must have had some bad days next door to all that work.  We are told that as nearly 90 years of paint and paper was stripped away inside that all sorts of musty horrors emerged.

Hope to have more to come on the building soon.............

- and - of course - Congratulations to Matt Pennycook - and the next 90 years!

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Union Wharf weight from Merstham

The Union Wharf weight from Merstham

The layout of the Merstham terminus of the Croydon Merstham & Godstone Railway has puzzled historians in the past and it was not until the 1970s that evidence started to emerge which enabled a clearer picture to be built up. Recent evidence is debated in "Early Plateways and Firestone Mining in Surrey" (see references). In 1972 the Surrey Archaeological Society organised a rescue dig under the direction of Jim Shenton. The reason for the rescue dig was that the planned M23 motorway, now constructed, was destined to traverse the CMGR terminus site thus possibly obliterating any remaining evidence. During the rescue dig evidence of early plateways was unearthed and this evidence is discussed in the above mentioned publication. Of particular interest was the discovery of evidence which led to the identification of a plateway at Merstham which predated the CMGR by 10 or more years. This plateway, which was in the region of Quarry Dean Farm, led to underground stone workings via a stone barrel vault and cutting. The cutting can still be seen as a surface feature and access to the barrel vault can be gained via a nearby cavers' entrance to the underground stone workings. Quarry Dean Farm was at TQ 2982 5401.

On the line of the plateway in 1972 Jim Shenton excavated a stone-lined pit. This measured approximately 4ft cube and contained a substantial plinth measuring approximately 2ft x 2ft in the centre. The reason for this pit remains unclear, but within it were discovered a number of iron objects. These were removed from the SAS dig site and remained lost until quite recently when I located them in the possession of a local resident. Details of these finds are as follows:
    4 circular iron discs of varying sizes
    1 iron hook, possibly a coupling pin for plateway waggons
    2 plateway spikes similar to others identified as belonging to the earlier plateway
    1 large weight made of cast iron
As a result of these finds the pit was interpreted as a weighing station. It is the weight however that is particularly interesting. It weighs approximately 60lb. It is a traditional shape with a large ring on top. It is clearly marked Union Wharf and has a six or nine east in the top. Presumably the latter identified it as a 60lb weight.

The wording Union Wharf deserved further investigation and as a result I have prepared the 
following speculative hypothesis as to how the weight came to be buried at Merstham. First the name Union Wharf suggests a date in the region of 1805 when the union with Ireland took place. Further investigation identifies a Union Wharf on the River Thames, opposite the Isle of Dogs on Greenwich Reach. John Bratby's painting 'Dust before they took the lighters away' illustrates the river from Union Wharf. The wharf is adjacent to the present day Cutty Sark public house at Greenwich. Apparently this public house was originally called "The Union"; and was built in 1805-6 together with some adjacent cottages. It assumed its present name in 1954.

There are and were, certainly other wharves similarly named after the Union, however the Greenwich one is particularly interesting because the date of the development coincides with the dates when stone mining was active in the Quarry Dean Farm area of Merstham and also because of the associations with the Grand Surrey Canal. The Grand Surrey Canal was promoted by an Act of Parliament of 1801. Although intended to run from Rotherhithe to Mitcham it ended up as a dock business and only, reached Camberwell 3 1/8 miles from Rotherhithe, with a much later Peckham branch in 1826. It reached Camberwell in 1810 and eventually became part of the Surrey Docks Company in 1864. Access to the Thames was at Rotherhithe via the Surrey Commercial Docks onto Limehouse Reach which was adjacent to Greenwich Reach and in the same vicinity as the Union Wharf.

Another canal given a Parliamentary Act in 1801 was the Croydon Canal. Like the Grand Surrey, Ralph Dodd was the engineer. This canal ran from Croydon for 9¼ miles to the Grand Surrey Canal at New Cross although originally intended to go to Rotherhithe, The canal closed in 1836 surviving only 27 years following its opening on October 22, 1809. The Croydon Canal linked with the Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway.
The Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway history has been well covered in a variety of publications (see references). It is sufficient to say that it connected the Surrey Iron Railway and the Croydon Canal at Croydon with the stone and lime workings at Merstham. The CMGR was opened in 1805, eventually closing in 1939. We are now in a position to speculate on how the Union Wharf weight arrived in Merstham. The Union Wharf development was carried out about 1805/6 and perhaps provided transhipment facilities for inland waterborne traffic from the Grand Surrey Canal in its early days before the dock development took place. The Grand Surrey Canal connected with the Croydon Canal from 1809, but the link was severed in 1836 when the Croydon Canal closed. The CMGR connected with the Croydon Canal throughout the life of the canal thus the weight could have been transported south to Merstham during the period by canal and waggonway.
The fact that the Union Wharf weight is 60lb is another factor which assists in establishing its age. The 120lb hundredweight was discontinued during 1823/4 and therefore establishes that this half hundredweight was made prior to this date. Later half hundredweights were of course 56lb.
The Union Wharf weight, however, was found in conjunction with a plateway that was believed to have been constructed between 1792-5. This pre-dated the CMGR by ten or more years. The dating of the weight and its journey to Merstham, lend support to the belief that this earlier plateway was still operational after 1809 in spite of the fact that the CMGR terminus had been superimposed on top of part of this earlier plateway.
Investigation of the Butterley Furnace ledgers throws up one further clue regarding the origin of the Union Wharf weight. The materials for the CMGR were produced by the Butterley Company of Derbyshire and the furnace ledgers still survive in the Matlock Record Offices. Inspection reveals the following entries:
November 12, 1805 (CMGR account) — Weighing Machine complete
March 15, 1805 Cast iron weights for own wharf (Anderson & Eades account)
Bearing in mind the volume of business that the Butterley Company were doing at this time with the Surrey Iron Railway and the CMGR, could it be that these, references were to the mechanism for the stone-lined pit at Merstham and for the Union Wharf weight for Anderson & Eades, contractors to the CMGR? We shall probably never know for sure, however articulating as the history of this weight provides a fascinating insight into the history of early industrial transport in Surrey.

Early Plateways & Firestone Mining in Surrey by B.E. Osborne, Proceedings Vol. 7, Part 3, February 1962, Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society
Official Handbook of the Port of London Authority, 1961
Canal & River Navigations, Edward Paget Tomlinson, 1977
Retracing the First Public Railway, Derek A. Baylis, 1981
I am grateful to the members of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society for their assistance in identifying numerous Union Wharves. 
Bruce Osborne

This article appeared in the September 2003 GIHS Newsletter

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Reviews and snippets September 2003


The latest issue  of The Crossness Engines  Record contains the usual information from our local steam museum along with news and entertaining articles. One - less usual record - is as follows:


In July 1908  a neatly penned note observed that the Main Drainage Committee's Chief Engineer approved an allowance of 1/- per head for refreshments for children from the Outfalls at Barking and Crossness during their excursion. This exciting day out was a journey on one of the new sludge vessels as no doubt it took its cargo out to the Barrow Deep, five miles off Clacton, Essex. A rudimentary calculation of  the number of children at the southern outfall  repeals that about fifty children would have been of an age to make such a trip. Assuming a similar number would be available from the northern outfall, the prospect of the Captain and crew being responsible for about one hundred little souls either running around or throwing-up, beggars belief.  The one hundred plus miles round trip can be very pleasant, but the excitement of the day, sandwiches and pop and maybe an on-shore breeze against an ebbing tide making for unwanted motion, could no doubt turn some of the )youngsters a shade of eau de nil. Whatever the weather conditions or minor discomforts, I am sure that many children would carry memories of that 'day out ' for many years to come.  The thought occurred to me - who was the first person to promote the idea of a sea-going trip for children of the work-force of the two outfalls and when did the practice cease '


A recent issue of 'Historic Gas Times' concerns the use of gaslight on ships in the 19'h century. After discussing its use by  such luminaries as lsambard Kingdom Brunel (on Great Eastern) the article turns to the Royal Navy. The experience of the Royal Navy was also unfavourable.  Following oil gas manufacturing trials at Woolwich in the early 1860s, the battleship HMS Resistance was equipped with an oil gas plant in 1862 and HMS Monarch in 1869.  It was reported that pressure waves from the firing of the ship's heavy guns extinguished the lamps and the prospect of gas air mixtures accumulating in the enclosed spaces of the ships did not encourage the adoption of the system in others


The August issue of Bygone Kent contains an article by Barbara Ludlow on 'Royalists, a Regicide, Paupers and Iron Masters. The colourful past of Highbridge, East Greenwich  -- and this is just part one.   Without revealing all it is perhaps fair to say that this first part is not strictly industrial since the Crowley family of ironmasters, although hinted at. Only take possession by the last paragraph by which time Barbara has only reached 1704.  The preceding two centuries had seen a number of colourful characters. posh houses. Executions for treason and the foundation of Trinity Hospital whose inmates were then not allowed out without permission. and had a weekly correction into those who might have broken some of the rules.


John Keyes  is s resident of the Charlton area who has just published his biography and this is of particular interests in that it is many ways a history of the post-war labour movement.  John came originally from Ireland vice Liverpool where he worked in the Camel Laird shipyard and then the LMS railway before the war.  As a labour party activists he met and acting as agent for Bill Hamling in a by election at Wavertree.  John then became a full time Labour party employee as agent for Woolwich East and took the step of moving from Liverpool to Dallin Road in Plumstead. He was soon embroiled in a by election following the death of Ernie Bevin and a couple of years later saw Bill Hamling selected as candidate for the Woolwich West constituency.  In the early 1960s John became the Labour Party’s London regional organiser and retired in 1979.  This is a book which is likely to be of great interest to anyone even those who have only a slight knowledge of local politics.  Woolwich was of course a heavily industrialised area and it is inevitable and local politics had a close interaction with local industry and trade unions.  For those with a Labour Movement background it will be exceptionally fascinating.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

LETTERS September 2003

September 2003

From Ted Barr
I am enclosing a cutting from Engineering News Tuesday, April 30h 1963 - That was the Greenwich that was (and  I knew) Weighs  90 tons - 500 ton press built in London Works
Dished and flanged ends up to 9ft in diameter will be pressed on a 500 ton down stroking press now being built and nearing completion at the Greenwich works of G. A Harvey and  Company London Ltd. The press has a stroke of 3ft 6 ins. with daylight 8ft.  With their extensive facilities for the manufacture of heavy welded structures, Harvey’s were able to fabricate, machine and erect all parts of the press in their own workshops.  Overall height of the machine, which  weighs 90 tons is 25ft 6 ins and the clearance of columns is 11ft 10 in

From Iris Bryce   
feel I must write to  let  you know that at  last a  long time dream has come true - I have seen the inside of Enderby  House. A few weeks ago I was given a tour of Alcatel, arranged by Steve Hill, Technical Director. However the highlight of the visit was for me to once again go into my old place of work in the 1940s - the Buying Department. This was in the house by the side of Enderby House - The one described in Mary Mills Greenwich Marsh book. with the Gutta Percha Leaves and cable decor above the door and windows. As a lowly filing clerk in 1942. I was not   allowed in Enderby house - that was the Dining Room for the Directors. Managers and Heads of Departments.   My son in law accompanied me on Tuesday and has taken some photos of the hexagonal room with its wonderful glass ceiling -- we were told that a compass is somewhere in the design of it but to date no one seems to have found It. Do you know anything about this? If any of the photos are suitable would you like copies? I was given two books as a memento of my day - one is by Stewart Ash 50th Anniversary, From Elekktron - E Commerce, The 50 Years of Laying Submarine Cables. And the other one is by Steve Hill and Alan Jeal Greenwich, Centre for Global Telecommunications from 1850.  I’ve worked out that my visit was almost 60 years to the day I left the Telcon in 1943 - and found myself in the A.T.S. within the next 6 weeks.   

From Angela Smith. 
I don’t know whether this enquiry will come within the scope of Industrial History. We are trying to trace the history of George Mence Smith. He owned a chain of hardware shops in London and the South East in the mid/late 1800s. He was born in 1819 in Shadwell and died 1895, leaving a considerable fortune. We have recently found that he was resident some time after his 1st marriage in 1846 in Woolwich, possibly Beresford Square, before moving to Bexleyheath. Our interest would be to find out two things firstly where he was living in Woolwich from 1846 to possibly 1860 and also if there were any of his stores in Woolwich. Would this come within your scope?

From Lionhouse. 
I can hardly believe my eyes - a treasure trove of information on your web site. WOW. Wonderful. You say we can add to it .........well! John Bennett was baptized in St Alphage Greenwich in 1786. He was the son of George Bennett. milkman and Susanna (Wicks) who were married in St Pauls Deptford in 1781. John, somehow, became a watch and clockmaker and is recorded in Baillie & Loomis Watch and Clockmakers of the World, along with his widow. His death is recorded as St Alphage. 1828 and his Hill was proved in 1829. Elizabeth Sinnock Bennett, and sons George Weldon Bennett and William Cox Bennett were working in the Greenwich, Woolwich, Blackheath and Lee areas between 1814 and 1866.  In the 1841  Census for Stockwell Road, Elizabeth Bennett, widow, and her two sons William and John are described as Goldsmiths. In 1851 and 186  they lived in 9 Osborne Place, Blackheath I hope this qualifies me, both on an industrial scale and as a descendant of Goldsmiths. To join the society and I have sent  1 0 to Steve Dale at Shooters Hill today. Anyone who can link the above to the earlier watch and clockmaker .Bennetts of Greenwich. I.e. George working 1802 -11 or George working free of the Clockmakers Company  in London in 1702 - 22 I  would love to hear from you

From Kevin Jones. 
I am an archaeologist with the New Zealand Dept of Conservation.  I have been working on the Auckland Islands (south of NZ) where the Enderbys set up a colony under the aegis of the Southem Right Whale Fishery Company. I have been working on mapping the remains of that settlement. At a later date we would be pleased to offer a note for your newsletter. In the meantime  I would be interested to make contact with y Enderby scholars and to visit and photograph some landmarks in Greenwich.

From Corin Mills. 
I have just finished reading Mary Mills book Greenwich and Woolwich at Work  which I found absorbing.  My   great great grandfather was born in Manchester. and eventually settled in Plumstead to work as an iron turner at the Royal Arsenal. On page 56 of your book is a photograph with a mystery. As an ex metalwork teacher I think I can answer some of the questions. I believe this is the area where small castings were broken out of the boxes of sand in which they were cast. You will note that the platform is raised off the ground and I think that the men are standing on a mesh so that the sand is sifted as it falls through. When the casting is clear of the sand the sprues, runners and risers  which carry the molten metal to the cavity in the sand are broken off and these are visible in small heaps. As anybody who has done metal casting will know small pieces of metal put into a large furnace will burn rather than melt so they will be put into a small crucible for melting down and reuse. There are a number of these crucibles at the extreme left edge of the photograph. In the extreme foreground is a pair of  crucible tongs for lifting these out of the furnace and one of the men is holding another pair. The molten metal would then be poured into ingot moulds and these are the four square boxes on the Floor. The ingots would then be added to the main furnace you can see some piles of these ingots. The wheeled implements, I think, might be used for transport of the crucibles from the furnace, but I can’t see the working ends. These might also be used for moving the ingot boxes around. A fining pot is defined as a vessel for refining metal. Fines are small pieces of waste metal and can go down in size to the microscopic  i.e. metal particles in suspension in old motor oil . I hope  you find this useful.   Picture on page 57: These cartridges are being produced by the method of  deep drawing . If  you follow the link you’ll find a fair description of the process. Even though it has been modernised the process uses the same principles that held in 1914. The machines that the men are working are obviously  hydraulic presses and not metal spinning machines. Metal spinning can produce the same shape as deep drawing. I don’t think the cylinders in the foreground are solid -  you can just make out striations along the length of them produced by the process of deep drawing. The closed end is slightly  flared or flanged, so keeping the cartridge casing in the breech of the gun when the shell is expelled. The flat pieces of metal that  you call blanks are, I think, too thick for drawing and might be a  red herring

From Roy  Kipp.  
I would like to research the tools and processes used by The UK to manufacture large ordnance from about 1880 . (i.e. the end of the RML era) into the early 1900s (pre WWl). Your organisation came to my attention when I located Your March 2001 newsletter on the Web, in which Nicholas Hall references an article he prepared for the Royal  Ordnance  Yearbook on Blakeley and  Vavasseur.  The shops associated with Vavasseur. et al in the 1880s would be particularly  interesting.  Could  you offer a recommendation on how I should proceed from across the pond in Texas.    

From Jackie Settle.  
In a previous issue you published an article about Wheen the soap manufacturers based in Deptford Creek. I am interested as Emma Wheen daughter of Richard married Samuel Berger. I am also a Berger descendant and I am researching the Berger family -- Berger were the paint manufacturers based in Hackney Wick.

From David Pitt. 
 Can  you please tell me where to find information regarding the lifts at either end of the Greenwich Foot Tunnels. I want to know how these are operated and whether the current method of propulsion is the same as when thee  were built in 1902. As circular lifts  do they use giant bearings all around

We asked the Greenwich Council Engineers about this and they replied. “The existing lifts were installed in 1992 and are similar to the original lift.  The wood panelling was re-used although the new lifts are slightly smaller, in keeping with the British Standard requirements. They operate in a similar fashion to the originals with new electric motors and wire ropes at the top of the lift shaft. The lifts run up guide rails and do not have circular bearings, the lift cars being restrained at three points. The only major change between new and old  lifts is the replacement of the sliding grille doors for solid doors. This was a safety  requirement.

From Tim  Geyer. 
I am seeking information on Appleby  Bros. What  we know is they had offices at 80 Cannon St, London and Works at Greenwich. Old Bessemer site. And may  have later become Jessop Appleby . We have the only  remaining Steam operated Beam Engine made by Appleby  Bros 1883, left in the southern hemisphere,  possibly wider, and are gathering information as part of the engine’s story . The engine is fully operational and still in its original pump house, on the banks of the Wollondilly River, Holbom NSW. Australia. The site is now a museum, run by  volunteers under the banner of Friends of the Waterworks Museum. Anything  you may be able to assist with would be very helpful

From Lynn Hampson. 
I have only just read Issue 1, Volume 4 in January  2001 where you printed a letter from Angela Pascoe who mentioned that she was related to Robert Simpson. Proprietor of the Ship Hotel. Greenwich.  I am too! My father. Stan Shore grew up in Greenwich (as did my mother Marguerite Longman) and my paternal grandmother was Ann  Simpson, daughter of Robert Simpson. My  parents, now mid 80s, know a lot about Greenwich and would no doubt be delighted to tell  you any of their stories

From Ken Smith. 
I am enquiring into the possibility  of finding any list that may exist of the names of Thames River Pilots during the middle to late 1800s and of any  pilots that may have drowned in the Thames.  

From Roger Bone. 
I read the small article by Ted Barr in the May 2001 issue 3. Volume 4 of the GIHS on the net regarding Harrison  Barbers slaughter house in Blackwall Lane and remembered that my Great Grandfather Robert James Oak was manager at the Blackwall Lane Depot in the 1890s. My Grandfather described to me when I was a boy , what it was like to live on the premises. I believe the house was called Holmesdale . My  Grandfather took me to see the old place in 1960. It was a laundry  then. Sadly  I did not lake any photos. If you have any  more information I would be very  interested

From Justin Dix.  
I have hundreds of old pictures of Woolwich rescued from a skip where my Stepfather had thrown them. One example -- a cinema - pencilled on the back is last night of the Empire Kinema in Woolwich 1st October 1960. Another is of the Woolwich Ferry  in 1961. Don’t know if these Interest you

Monday, 25 November 2019

Royal Arsenal and Napoleon's Exile on St Helena

               The Royal Arsenal and Napoleon's exile on St Helena

By Mike Neil

A comment made to the Council's 'Arsenal ' exhibition designer that 'the Arsenal built Napoleon's house on St Helena ' led the author to follow up with a brief piece of research. If true it would provide a fascinating link between the first Napoleon the son and heir of the third Napoleon and Woolwich. Perhaps disappointingly it proved to be only partly true but demonstrated again the skill and versatility of the Royal Arsenal’s workforce. Whose motto could well have been 'Whatever it is, we can make it'.  The bare facts are these: Napoleon arrived at St Helena on board HMS Northumberland on 15th October 1815 after a voyage that had started in Torbay in early August,

A few days later he visited an old 2-storey stone built farmhouse. Then called simply 'Longwood House' but later called 'Longwood Old House'. This was at the time the residence of the East India Company's Lieutenant Governor. The Nortumberand’s carpenter, at the direction of Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, added a timber framed salon de reception and the famous latticed verandah. In December 1815 after a two-month stay as the guest of a neighbouring landholder Napoleon moved into this building, where he was to remain until his death in 1821.

In 1819 the British Government started building a large single storey timber framed building called Longwood New House, intended to house Napoleon in one wing and a key retainer (probably Montholon) in the other. This building was barely completed before Napoleon's death and he was never to live in it.

The evidence for the Arsenal’s involvement (now in the PRO) starts around the middle of August 1815, when Napoleon was already on his way to St Helena.   Col. Chapman of the Office of Ordnance wrote informally to Lt. Gen. Sir H.E. Bunbury, KCB on 15th August:  

Dear Bunbury
I transmit herewith a plan which has been received from Lt General Mann of a house for Napoleon Bonaparte. Together with a letter from that officer containing his observations on the plan enclosed in your letter of the 8th instant and I request you will inform me as soon as Lord Bathurst shall decide on the subject. With respect to Barracks will you have the goodness to ascertain whether it will be necessary for this department to provide them for the detachment of artillery and also the Engineers and sappers and miners which have been ordered out to St Helena? Or whether they will be supplied in the same manner as the troops of the line?
Faithfully, Chapman

The enclosed letter from General Mann was headed from Pall Mall 10th August 1815

I have to observe that the plan enclosed in Sir H Bunbury's letter, transmitted with your note of yesterday's date, does not correspond with the general idea that has been given, namely to have the building compact, with no more openings than are indispensably necessary, and to provide accommodation for Napoleon Bonaparte, three other officers, a surgeon and twelve attendants. But if this principle is not to be adhered to, then the plan enclosed in Sir H Bunbury's letter, considered merely as an accommodation for Bonaparte and one other officer with one of the wings for the attendants will answer that purpose, bating the Inconvenience of the servants being placed at so great a distance. In regard to security, it must be looked for in a surrounding wall which will probably be required whatever the form and dimensions of the building. As soon as a plan is decided upon a table of the scantlings of timber may be made together with a list of all the other materials required.
I am Sir.  Your most obedt servant.

By mid-September 1815 a design had evidently been agreed on and Chapman had also evidently received a positive response to his query 'on whether the materials despatched by the Office of Ordnance should include those intended for their own men’.

Office of Ordinance
Dear Bunbury
I have just learnt that there will be about 2000 tons of materials for Bonaparte's house and the barracks for the Ordinance Corps.  Have not yet received this information officially, but I have no doubt on the accuracy of the information

The final piece of evidence is a letter from a Mr Slatters of the Ordnance Office to a W. Griffin Esq. on the 23rd September 1815

In reply to your letter of the 21" instance enquiring when the stores ordered for St Helena will be ready, I beg leave to acquaint you that two thirds of the Fir timber and one  third of the deals and battins have been forwarded to Woolwich and the remainder will be delivered as fast as the articles can properly be landed at the Royal Arsenal.  I have to report that 23,000 slates are now furnished and that the remaining 52.000 are expected in three weeks or thereabouts. The rest of the slates are ready except the glass, which I trust will be supplied in the course of a few days.
I am, Sir, Your very obedient Humble Servant

However, this letter does not mention whither these stores are intended for Napoleon's new home, the Ordnance Corps barracks, or both. The figures for the slates, though, may give us a clue.

British slates have traditionally come in a range of sizes from the largest (though undoubtedly politically incorrect) "wide duchesses" to the petite "narrow ladies’. Most common however are the 20" x 10" "countesses" at around 18 to The square metre and the 18" x 9" viscountesses" at around 23 to the square metre. 75.000 slates using a very rough median of 20 slates per square metre would therefore cover a roof surface of something like 3.750 m2. Logwood New House was described in 1857 as having a floor area of about 23.000 square metres, or about 2.250 m2. Given that roof pitches for this building, from contemporary engravings are not hugely steep 75.000 slates does not seem an unreasonable requirement for this building alone - but certainly not sufficient for both this building and a barracks of any size.

However it seems certain that the materials being collected at the Arsenal in the late autumn of 1815 cannot have reached St Helena until the early months of 1816 at the earliest. While we may be certain that Napoleon never lived his last exile except in a borrowed East India Company house there remain some interesting questions about the Office of Ordnance materials

If these were received during 1816 why was Longwood New House not started until 1819? Were the original materials used to build barracks for the Artillery and Engineers rather than for Bonaparte's new house? Were the materials shipped in their rough state, to be formed into buildings on the island under the supervision of Engineer Officers and local St Helena or ships' carpenters or did the Arsenal create a pre-fabricated structure?

One unhelpful evidential confusion needs to be dismissed. In the summer of 1812 Mr James Wathen Esq. of Hereford spent 'not quite 3 days' on the island of St Helena: making thirteen rather ' good drawings of views around the capital, St James, and just inland to the Governor's house. Two of these drawings were published in his "Journal of a Voyage to Madras and China" in 1821. However, in September 1821, some three or four months alter Napoleon's burial and immediately after the news had reached England of his death. Perhaps in a commendable spirit of recycling eight of the original drawings were published in a volume entitled "A Series of Views Illustrative of the Island of St Helena". Two rather crude and speculative engravings were added to provide topicality; the first of ' Bonaparte's grave’ and the second of Longwood House. Sadly it was the ignorance of Mr. Wathen and his publisher on the latter that has no doubt created some subsequent confusion.

Wathen provided the account below to accompany the engraving of Longwood House. Unfortunately, this garbled mix appeared with an inaccurate engraving of Longwood Old House with its lattice work porch by the Northumberland ‘s carpenter - leading some subsequent researchers to believe that this much older farm building was 'made ' by the Royal Arsenal.

Longwood House, which stands 162.feet above the ocean has since the end of 1815 been appropriated to the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte. For his reception, in the September of that year, His Royal Highness the Prince Regent commanded Earl Bathurst to issue Orders for the preparation of his dwelling and furniture. These were carried into execution upon the most splendid plan and a complete suite of household furniture was made up sufficient for Bonaparte and his establishment for nearly three years. Everything was constructed of British materials and the most delicate attention was paid that no ornament should be used in the decoration which might remind the exile of his former state. 'The appearance of Longwood House will be found in Plate 7 And a more particular account of its magnificent fitting up in the description. [Page 6]
The late residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, where he arrived in the latter part of 1815, and where he died on May 5th, 1821.  The situation and other particulars concerning Longwood have already been given at Page 6 and a very brief description of the building is all that remains to be added. The present erection was formed in timber framework at Woolwich, by the Architect for the Ordnance Department, to be erected at St. Helena. It is designed in the cottage style and contains 24 rooms, the general size of which is 25 feet by 18. The length of the house in front is about 20.feet; and it contains 16 windows with an open corridor. The depth of the building is 100 feet and the back is also ornamented with a corridor. It is two storeys in height And the right and wing was appropriated to Bonaparte. In the centre stands the drawing room coloured of various  shades of  green and arabesque gold panels with curtains of light silk taboret of Pomona green and velvet borders edged with gold coloured silk twist. Above them is a matted gold cornice, to conceal the rings and curtain rod and the top of the room is finished by a cream coloured ceiling. The carpet is of Brussels texture of various shades of brown olive and amber.  the furniture consists of an elegant oak central table, pier table inlaid with a slab of Verd antique Mona marble: splendid pier glass with a frame of Buhl and ebony, chairs of British oak: two Greek sofas and foot stools ornamented with Or Moulu; a pianoforte; and chandeliers and candelabra to light the apartment. The Dining room is next in the suite the fitting up for which are of a lavender tint and the curtains of' silk with a black border and gold coloured silk lace fringe.  The carpet and walls are of the same lilac hue. As well as the coverings .for the chairs. The furniture consists of fine oaken Dining table. capable of accommodating from six to fourteen persons, a side board peculiarly made for holding the Imperial plate with the wine  coolers constructed of Bronze and rich wood. Adjoining the Dining-room is the Library which is furnished in the Etruscan style. With several dwarf book cases: a Library table, with desks and drawers and curtains of a new cotton material, having the appearance of cloth. The Sitting-room is ornamented with an ethereal blue carpet shaded with black. And several ebony cabinets inlaid with brass.   In the bed-room is a high canopy bedstead enclosing a silken mosquito net and hung with furniture of lilac Persian edged with gold coloured fringe. The Bath is lined with marble and made to admit hot or cold water. The other wing of Longwood House contains spacious apartments for Bonaparte’s suite with servant's offices and store-rooms in the rear. The Kitchen is a detached building, yet convenient to the dining room. The materials for this erection, together with the elegant furniture, table services, dresses, and plate presented to Bonaparte, by the noble munificence of the British government amounted to 500 tons in weight, and were contained in 400 packages. A number of artists were also sent with them too fit out the Establishment.

Sadly it seems that the rush of questionable accurate semi-biographical trivia that hits the book-stands following each notable death in our own time is nothing new to British publishing. Two reasonable good engravings exist of Longwood New House:

Mellis (1857) describes the house thus:

A view of Longwood New House (built for Napoleon, but never occupied by him). This building is at the foot of the lawn of the Old House, about one hundred yards distant from it. It is a one-storied building and covers an area of about 23,000 superficial feet. !t contains in all fifty -six rooms of various sizes. The centre contains a billiard- room, library, and dining-room. &c. The right wing, as seen in the view was intended for the Emperor and the left for Montholon and family. In the rear of these are extensive premises, provided for the accommodation of the rest of his suite. The house is pleasantly situated in the Eastern division of the island at an elevation above the sea of about 1760 feet, with a good carriage-road from James Town, near five miles in length.

The products, technology ' and craft skills of Woolwich were instrumental in securing Napoleon ' s final defeat; that he died within sight of a house that came from the same Arsenal is, perhaps, a fitting irony

Bibliography. `Views of St Helena; illustrative of its Scenery and Historical Associations. From Photographs by G.W. Melliss. Esq. Surveyor General of the Island. G.W. Melliss; London, 1857
Extracts from the St Helena Records. H. R. Janisch St Helena. 1 885
A Series of Views illustrative of the Island of St Helena. J Wathen; Clay, London. 1821
A few ' notes on St Helena. B. Grant; St. Helena, 1881
Public Record Office Files:
PRO W0 1/796 - Office of Ordnance letter book
PRO W0 78/2507 Roll of plans containing 2 different Longwood plans amongst others
PRO C0 247/15 St Helena Governor's Letter book (Hudson Lowe)
PRO WO - 60/40. 60/4], 60/42 Accounts relating to the Establishment at Longwood
PRO MPG 1/251 Plan of the House and Grounds at Longwood. 1821

This article appeared in the September 2003 GIHS Newsletter

200th anniversary of an industrial accident on the Greenwich Peninsula

200th Anniversary of an industrial accident on the Greenwich Peninsula

By Mary Mills

On 8th September 2003 is the 200th anniversary of an industrial accident on the Greenwich riverside. There were lots of those but this one had consequences beyond the immediate ones, and it involved one of the heroes of steam technology, Richard Trevithick.

A plaque on the wall of the public house on the Peninsula, reads 'New East Greenwich’ and that may have been what was intended in 1803 -a new development away from the main industrial town of Greenwich. Development on the Peninsula is not something new - in 1800 the developer was George Russell, the site's owner. Russell had made a fortune from soap manufacture, founding the old Barge House Soap works on the west side of Blackfriars Bridge and he died at his home at Longlands, Sidcup,  in 1804. Since developments, including the landscaping of the area, as part of the Dome site it is very difficult to find the area where this incident took place. Most people will remember that the courtyard now in front of the Pilot used to extend to the riverside as Riverway. On the northern side stood the Blackwall Point Potter Station -- and this is roughly the site of the tide mill under construction in 1803. Ceylon Place. The cottages alongside the Pilot were built to house the workers.
This mill was constructed by the leading millwrighting business of John Lloyd. Lloyd was based at Brewers Green in Westminster but within two years had moved to Nelson Square in Southwark as a partner in Lloyd and Ostell. The company were government contractors and were to install the equipment at Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Works and a number of other important sites. They represent a point at which water powered mill wrighting was at a peak; a few years later such a big industrial installation would have chosen steam power with little consideration of any alternative
The mill was apparently also the work of a little known engineer, William Johnson. Johnson seems to have come from Bromley, where he gave his address as Widmore House. He had approached Morden College several times during the previous couple of ' years for a site where he could construct a 'water corn mill ' but exactly what his relationship was with George Russell and John Lloyd is not clear. By 1802 he had moved to Montpelier Row in Blackheath and was asking the City of London Thames Conservators for permission to open the river bank for the mill race and following a visit from their inspector a Mr. Hollingsworth was employed do the work. At the same time George Russell received a licence for the causeway into the river, which people will remember was used by the yacht club until riverbank reconstruction by English Partnerships.

One day in 1802 0linthus Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, he walked along the riverside from Woolwich. and chatted to the foreman and recorded what he found on site. It is from him that we have most of the details of this important mill.
 Steam power was available on site: a high-pressure engine built by Richard Trevithick was in use, apparently for building work. Trevithick had recently come to London to advertise his work -- this had included the previous bear the demonstrations of his locomotive on a circular track at Euston.
It had an 8-inch cylinder and worked without an expansive cock. Trevithick himself said that it was 'too light a load to do good dull and 'of a bad construction .. The flywheel was loaded on one side. So as to divide the power of ' The double engine '. It was reported that the fire 'in contact with the cast iron ' had heated the boiler red hot and burnt all the joints. Eels congregated under the mill and on Thursday ', 8th September 1803. an apprentice. left to look after the steam engine. went to catch them. 'Impatient to finish the work he had put a piece of Limber between the top and the safety value and bent it down so that it could not rise to allow the steam 10 escape the boiler blew- up, killing three men on site. At the remote riverside a wherry was called and the injured taken b} river to St. Thomas's Hospital which was there at London Bridge. Despite the efforts of the surgeon. N'lr. Bingham, one man. Thomas Nailor. died a few days later: his head and neck had been covered in boiling water interestingly Nailor had not been a Greenwich resident, but had lived north of the river in Poplar. Another man was deafened. but the boy who was the cause of the trouble. although injured. recovered.

Trevithick feared that Boulton and Watt, as rival engine manufactures. would be quick 10 point out the dangers involved. The Times in reporting the incident said that Mr. Walt's engines would not explode in this way ' and that the accident 'should be a warning to engineers to construct their safety valves so that common workmen cannot stop them at their pleasure. It seems that there was some sort of enquiry after the accident - it is the sort of thing which ought to have happened The only clue to this is found in a register of expenses submitted to the Court of ' Chancery after George Russell's death. One item concerns expenses to 'Daniel Vaux and Mr. Johnson for attending as a witness in a case respecting the steam engine in Greenwich' - what was this case? Was it about insurance? I have been totally ' unable to find out and some knowledge of this case and its proceedings might throw a whole new light on the matter The mill lived on -- it had a number of operators and became part of Frank Hills' chemical works in the 1840s and was still there in 1890. After his death some of the site was used for Blackmail Point Power Station and the rest, including the mill, became The Phoenix Chemical works attached to the gas works. In 1927 the insurance based Goad plan for the area still shows some of the mill ponds with a causeway leading to them from the area of the tidal intake - is there anyone who still remembers those ponds What were they used forte When were they drained? It is almost impossible now, given the landscaping undertaken by English Partnerships to trace the site of the mill or the ponds   

This appeared in the GIHS Newsletter for September 2003

Thursday, 21 November 2019

First factory - Greenwich or Woolwich


By Professor Ray Riley

There is a case for early naval dockyards to be included among some of the first factories.

What is a factory? If it is a building specifically dedicated to the production of a good, then domestic manufacture - the weaver's cottage for example - must be excluded, although some regard such premises as proto-factories. But clearly mills are factories; they contain power machinery which transforms material into a product, and their architecture is entirely functional. That these examples might have employed only a handful of workers is irrelevant - there are small factories just as there are large ones. It is the characteristics of the enterprise which is the issue.

Roger Shelley justifiably suggests that naval dockyards may be contenders for the title but advances the caveat that the fortunes of the dockyards were determined by war; this is true, but in the search for the date of establishment this is unimportant.  Despite the copious literature on foreign policy, maritime battles, the heroics of naval officers, naval strategies, warships, and to some extent on the dockyards themselves, economic historians and others seem to have focused on textile mills to provide examples of early factories. They have overlooked the dockyards as loci of production and repair of naval vessels from the sixteenth century onwards. It might be argued that a dry dock or building slip is not a factory, but both are buildings specifically dedicated to the production of a good, as I say above.  Furthermore, the docks and slips were always accompanied by adjacent storehouses, smithies, sail lofts, mast houses, seasoning sheds, and sometimes rope houses, all of which are buildings in the conventional sense.

May I offer some chapter and verse?
The first dry dock and associated facilities to be established in a naval dockyard was at Portsmouth in 1495. This was followed by yards at Woolwich in 1505, Deptford in 1515, Chatham in 1575, Harwich and Sheerness in 1665, and Plymouth in 1690. At some yards there was specialisation of the kind at Woolwich where gunfounding was added in 1557, gunpowder manufacturing in 1662 and gun carriage production in 1680. Arguably each of these activities itself constituted an individual factory. Ropehouses at Woolwich (1612), Chatham (1621), Portsmouth (1663 and 1695) and Plymouth (1690) were gigantic structures by the standards of the day and must have been the largest factories ever built in Britain. 

The scale of operations in the yards may be judged from criteria such as the number of ships launched: 18 vessels left the slips at Portsmouth between 1660 and 1674, and by the volume of repairs: no less than 98 warships were worked on at Portsmouth in 1702 alone. At Chatham 259 shipwrights and tradesmen were employed in 1611, a figure which had risen to 1,000 by 1697, when 1,271 were on the payroll at Portsmouth. At the latter yard some 2,100 were employed in 1711. The sophisticated division of labour, the organization of flow-line production, and, often forgotten, of material supplies, and the management of these huge numbers of workers all on one site (apart from material supplies the dockyards were self- sufficient), lend great weight to the proposition  that the industrial revolution began not on the rivers and coalfields, but in naval dockyards