Saturday 20 December 2008

A rather late obituary

Sorry to pick up from Historic Gas Times that Sir Denis Rooke died in September. Sir Denis lived in Coleraine Road in Blackheath and was 'one of the outstanding personalities produced by the gas industry in the 20th century'. The list of his achievements in the industry was outstanding - and he was Chairman of British Gas 1976-1986. Of course - he went to school locally at Addey and Stanhope and started his career at East Greenwich Gas Works. Its very difficult to summarise 'one of Britains greatest industrial leaders of the twentieth century'
--- he was always sympathetic to local gas historians - and I had talked to him about the plight of our great gas holder back in the summer!

Friday 12 December 2008

Tide Mill Mystery

I have been sent some information by George Mathieson taken from records of the Bryan Donkin Company. Donkins were a ground breaking engineering company based in The Blue at Bermondsey in the early 19th - they subsequently moved to Chesterfield where they flourished until quite recently.

George wrote to say that in 1809 Donkin "acted as a consultant to the executors of the Greenwich Tide Mill and persuaded them to bring in Mr. Hall as contractor. His approach to hydraulics was logical and showed considerable technical skill".
- "Mr. Hall' is probably John Hall of J.E.Hall the Dartford engineering company.

George later wrote " Donkin spent a lot of time in 1811 and 1812 working out how to drive in the piles to support the wharf, sinking a cylinder of brickwork, and supervising the building of a pier, brick walls and gates, and adjusting the flow of water".

The thing is - which mill is he referring to? We have two candidates - one is the tide mill at Deptford Bridge and other the Tide Mill which stood in East Greenwich at the end of what used to be Riverway but which is now a difficult-to-work-out bit of riverside.


Deptford Bridge Mill - was an ancient mill washed away by a flood in 1824 and rebuilt when it was taken over by Robinsons. So whatever Donkin did would have to have been work on the old mill - which was probably pretty creaky by then and needing work - but would a mill on the Ravensbourne had a pier and a wharf?

The East Greenwich Mill - was built in 1802. So it was new in 1812 and why would it have needed work? It had been built by Lloyd and Ostell who were the leading millwrights of their day. The only evidence that it might not have been structurally wonderful is that in the early 1840s it was described as a 'heap of wood' and throughout its history it does seem to have not worked very well. However it would have had a wharf on the Thames - and it could have had a pier too, a 'causeway' is shown on old maps. However - the note about Hall being 'consultant to the executors' is interesting - the mill was subject to a Chancery case for many years, although it should have been cleared up by 1812.

Comment on this would be welcomed.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Greenwich Time takes an interest in industrial history!!!!!

The December 9th column of Greenwich Time includes, as ever, Tony Lord's article - but this time it actually has some industrial history interest!!!!!!!Tony is writing about the plaque on the house by Our Lady of Grace Church in Charlton Road - which tells us it was the home of William Henry Barlow. Of course Tony focusses the article about this distinguished engineer on the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879 which Barlow reported on. There is a great deal about waters lashed into a fury and stuff like that (has he ever read 'Hatters Castle?). He does say a bit more about Barlow and St.Pancras Station and so on - so good for you Tony! are we going to get any more of the same?

another town hall another plaque

Some of us were lucky enough to get an invite to see the Mayor unveil a plaque on what has been known for many years as West Greenwich House. It is, of course, yet another of the old Met. Borough of Greenwich's neglected and abandoned Town Halls. Thank you Cllr. Maureen O'Mara for making a fuss until the plaque was put up.The building was originally the Greenwich District Board of Works Offices and built in 1876. It was opened by Thomas Norfolk, the local brewer and Chair of the Board. It cost £1,500 for the land, £6,190 for the building and £1,500 for the fixtures and furniture. In 1900 the Board became the Metropolitan Borough and interdepartmental communication within the Town Hall was effected by speaking tubes and whistles. It was a much grander building then - with a Dome and a portico. In the late 1930s the Borough replaced it with the architecturally important building down the road (sold off in the 1970s after amalgamation with Woolwich!). In the Second World War it was used by the Local Defence Volunteers and bombed - hence the changes to the original. On 12th July 1944 a V1 hit the site next door which is why there is a garage there and not posh Georgian houses. In 1948 it was used as the Housing Department and the Food Office and in 1954 it became a community centre - which it remains. Inside several rooms are named after Greenwich Borough dignatories - Harold Gibbons (founder of Greenwich Labour Party and Mayor through much of the war), Ada Kennedy (another war time Mayor), Harry Icough (Mayor when the Town Hall moved down the road), William Mills (local Tory leader and motor bike enthusiast)

Saturday 6 December 2008

Industrial Archaeology Review and Penns

In the post another learned journal - Industrial Archaeology Review - and as ever very short on anything about London - although I did enjoy the article about industrial housing in Essex.
Greenwich does however get a mention in Bob Carr's review of Richard Hartree's book on 'John Penn and Son of Greenwich'.
PLEASE REMEMBER Richard is coming to speak to GIHS on 20th January (not 11th as much of the press has been saying).
Bob begins by pointing out the importance of Penns as a major builder or marine steam engines at a time when the Thames was Britain's great shipbuilding river. In the 1830s Penns built seven oscillating engines for Thames paddle steamers - achieving success where others had had difficulty - which became standard propulsion in this field for many years. Penn's engine in the Elbe steamer John Penn built 1864 was in use until 1966, and we have already in this blog noted the engine on the Diesbar, still in use and designated an ASME landmark this summer. The Penn engine used in Empress and used in Bournemouth until 1955 is now in a museum in Southampton. Penns were the preferred contractors for the supply of large steam engines to the Navy and played a central role in the transition from sail to steam. In 1854 John Penn's lignum vitae propeller shaft bearing was a crucial contribution to the development of screw propulsion. A replica of a Penn trunk engine of c.1860 has been built and fitted into, Thames built, Warrior in her berth at Portsmouth.
As shipbuilding was moved away from the Thames Penn's began gradually to decline and were sold to Thames Ironworks in 1899. There is now nothing to see on their Blackheath Hill site - not even a plaque or any sort of sign - but some elements of their boiler works at Payne's Wharf remains, although also without any sort of mark.
Bob also points to the family history elements of the book - and that Richard's ancestry also includes Blackheath based moralist author, Samuel Smiles. But most of all it is 'an educational book explaining in simple terms the development of marine propulsion in the 19th century'

Remember to come to the meeting on 20th to hear Richard - and there are details of how to get the book further down in the blog.

Wednesday 3 December 2008


Richard Buchanan has written that our member Dot Lawrence had died - She was well into her 80s.
Dot was interested in many aspects of Greenwich history - and had been active in saving an archive of electrical engineers and cable makers, Johnson andPhillips.
At least she will be spared a twilight life, something an active person like herself would have hated.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Kent Ironworks

We have a request for information about Kent Ironworks. This seems to have been based at Dreadnought Wharf in Thames Street, Greenwich and also at a site about half way up Norway Street which was known as Victoria Foundry.

I've raked the following info out of my notes on the area - and everyone would be grateful to know more.

I think the Norway Street site was the original Greenwich gas works site. I wrote this site up in Bygone Kent - (The first Greenwich Gasworks and how it fell down. BGK 20 No.6. June 1999)

By 1841 the Norway Street site had been let to a I then got interested in the steam engine builder William Joyce, who, I assume also had Dreadnought Wharf. He seems to have died very young in 1856 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery. He lived in Diamond Terrace. He seems to have built many steam engines and notes about them often turn up in histories of local works. I also have a note that he built steam flour mills for Symrna in 1850 but more importantly a ship called the City of Paris – presumably this was built at Dreadnought Wharf. He also may have built a steam yacht for the Pasha of Egypt. He was also probably involved in some of the early steam cars which were made locally.

After Joyce died the works was taken over by Cowan - and there is a photograph in the

the biography of the torpedo manufacturer Alfred Yarrow which and shows him as a very young man in a steam car built for him by Cowans which is clearly marked 'Kent Iron works'.

Always grateful for more info

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Crossness today

I went today to the press launch of the succeful Heritage Lottery bid at Crossness Engines Trust. Useless of me to say anything other than it went very well. I'm putting below their press release:

‘The Great Stink’ - over £1.5 million of Lottery money allocated for Crossness Pumping Station restoration. Featuring - Wesley Kerr, Chair of HLF Committee for London - Peter Bazalgette, President of Crossness Engines Trust and great-great grandson of Sir Joseph Bazalgette.

In the 150th year since the “Great Stink” of 1858, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is delighted to announce over £1.5 million in funding to help restore the Grade 1 listed Crossness Pumping Station in Bexley - the solution and product of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vision to save London from what 19th Century Prime Minister Disraeli called “a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror”.

Wesley Kerr, Chair of the HLF Committee for London, said:

"The London Committee is thrilled that this unique part of our city's heritage, including some of the finest and largest steam engines in existence, housed in cathedral-sized buildings on an inspiring Thameside site, is to be fully restored and opened to all. The volunteers have done sterling work already. This vital part of London's past will become a cherished local community asset and an exhilarating destination for future generations."

A triumph of Victorian engineering, Crossness Pumping Station was opened in 1865 attended by the Prince of Wales and dignitaries of the time. Housing the four largest rotary beam engines in the world and currently in a dilapidated state, the Grade 1 listed Beam Engine House and Boiler House are both on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register.

The restoration, part of a project costing £2.7 million, is due to start in early 2009. As well as conserving the buildings there will be a new exhibition exploring the social history of the site which will take in public health, pollution and the environment, encouraging visitors to celebrate the engineering triumph on their doorstep. A new cafĂ©, car parking, education room and archive and an updated website will also be developed.

Peter Bazalgette, President of the Crossness Engines Trust and great-great-grandson of Sir Joseph adds:

“The Trust’s volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore one of the magnificent engines and to create an experience which visitor’s already enjoy. This project will allow us to improve on that experience, safeguard the fabric of the buildings and make possible new community ventures that will allow this monument to Victorian engineering to take on a new lease of life.”

Malcolm Woods, Historic Buildings and Areas Advisor for English Heritage, who have also provided grants and long term advice and support to the Trust, said:

‘“Crossness Pumping Station is a spectacular example of the boundless ambition, vision, and commitment of the Victorians in transforming the public health of the capital. English Heritage is delighted to be able to support the work of the Crossness Engines Trust and can today announce a grant of £150,000 towards the repair of these fantastic buildings. The grant will go towards restoring the fabric of the buildings that house the magnificent pumping engines and secure the long-term and active future of the buildings. The announcement today of this vital funding from both English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund is a major step towards removing the buildings from our Heritage at Risk Register”.

The Pumping Station when restored will be run almost entirely by volunteers, who will lead a range of activities for schools and other visitors including workshops, talks, and guided tours, to help bring the past to life and celebrate this triumph of Victorian engineering. Beyond that there are plans to use the site for a range of community and leisure activities.

It will open for three days a week from Spring to Autumn and two days a week through the Winter. As well as exploring past achievements, it will encourage visitors to see how the past, present and future are connected, on a site where Thames Water continues the work of Bazalgette’s vision in the 21st Century.

Very significant support (both financial and otherwise) has also been forthcoming from the Department of Communities and Local Government, Thames Water, Tilfen Land, the London Borough of Bexley and the City Bridge Trust. All of this has allowed the Trust to proceed with the work that will convert the vision into reality.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Cricket too

Following on from the previous post about Football fixtures in 1952 - its also instructive to look at what the cfricket teams were doing in 1951. Harveys had four teams -
Saturday First XI - played Northern Poly, Erith Tech, City of London College, Old Shootershillians, Blackheath Wanderers - and while none of these are industrial they also played J.&E.Hall of Dartford - and who were Beehive, and Armcross?
The Saturday Second XI were also playing educational establishments - but also the Southern Railway and Lyles Sports (must be the golden syrup division!), - and also Plumstead Radical which must mean the Plumstead based drinking club!
Sunday First XI list gives little indication of industrial fixtures, entirely made up of local town sides - Catford Wanderers and the like, but the Sunday Second XI played the Kentish Mercury, and Maybloom Sports (another Plumstead drinking club!), and - finally - Barrow Blackman (who were they?)

Sports fixtures

Like most works house magazines much of the ones produced by Harvey's are about the firm's sports club. Something absolutely fascinating is to look at the list of fixtures which the various sporting teams undertook - it is of course a list of other local firms at the time.
So - in 1952 who was Harvey's football club playing - and they seem to have had a number of teams operating out of their Hervey Road ground. Their 1st XI played in the Premier Division of the London Business Houses and 1952 fixtures were mostly not local - some are easy to identify - J.& Phillips (local of course), S.T.C. (also local), Tottenham Gas, May and Baker (in Barking), Lampson Paragon - but who were Gothic, Tamber, Sam Jones, B.D.V., and LT (LER)
Their second team played in the South London Alliance - and in 1952 they also played May and Baker, Slades Green (must be the railway depot), Stones (local of course), Woolwich Borough Council, R.A.C.S., Erith Council, Henleys (North Woolwich or Gravesend), Metro Gas (thats East Greenwich Gas Works), - but who were West Kent, Old Selts, Hendon Strollers, Old Heathians, Mobeka S.C.??
Finally their third team playing in the South East London Amateur League - they played Spicers, Molins (then in Deptford), Elliots (our local computer manufacturer!!), Peek Freans (in Spa Road), - but who were County Gate, Charles Page, Clifton Villa, Welling Meth, Dewrance, G.Park Res (did Greenwich Park staff have their own team??).

In 1951 Harvey's First team had played and one by one goal against Metrogas. The long write up of the match can be very instructive. Most of all that they had played at the Valley to a crowd of 2,000. What local company team today can match that!

Saturday 1 November 2008

More about Harvey's

Perhaps I should start off by finding something from the magazines which explains about Harvey's and who they are. There is an article which explains a bit about their background and written for their Diamond Jubilee celebrations on July 7th 1934. 'Sixty years of industrial progress'. At that time the firm's founder, G.A.Harvey was still alive and still Chairman, although day to day control was in the hands of his son, Sydney. G.A.Harvey was to die in 1937. He had begun in 'the most inauspicious way possible' in an 'old forge in Lewisham' and turning it into a workshop where, with one boy, he worked in zinc - cisterns, guttering, for local builders. Within ten years he was supplying all round the country and began to move into the area for which the firm was best known - metal perforation. This began with making perforated zinc for meat safes and by 1894 he could expand with a second works at Iron Wharf in Greenwich which was set up for galvanizing and tank making. In 1913 he bought the site in Woolwich Road where the firm was to remain. This was near the river and also the railway - from which a branch line went into the works. In 1934 some of the work was described - fine wire cloth, thicker woven wire articles, all kinds of metal perforation, manufacture of dustbins and similar domestic equipment up to major pressure vessels, fractionating towers, reaction vessels and so on for industry. They also moved into metal office furniture and similar items - for which they became famous.
I am treating Harvey's here as a historical entity - but I believe that the firm still exists and that the office furniture department is alive and well and located in Margate. If anyone from Margate picks this article up I would be grateful to know more about Harvey's work today - and of course since 1934.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Lots about Harvey's -thank you Geoff

Thanks to Geoff Brighty who has given us a pile of Harvey's house magazines. All will be revealed from them in installments as I work my way through them.

Harvey's were a metal working business sited for most of their existence in the Woolwich Road -the new fire station is on part of their site and there are some bits of their wall left. Inevitably, like most such factory house magazines most of the news is about the sport's club plus endless pictures of dinners, dances and people being presented with their gold watch! So for a start I have put in a picture which mixes the social and the workplace -Christmas 1958 in the wire weaving department!

Sunday 26 October 2008

Thanks to Janet Macdonald-and the Deptford Victualling Yard

The October meeting of GIHS featured an amazing and very popular talk by Janet Macdonald on the diet provided to the 18th century Navy with particular reference to the Deptford Victualling Yard. Janet has promised us a version of this to put out - but also reminded us that of following article which we have never put out -sorry Janet, and please come back and talk to us again soon - so - anyway -here it is:


In February 1809, the Victualling Board wrote to the Navy Board to inform them that they were having problems with the wall of the victualling wharf at Deptford. Water was seeping through the wall into the wine cellar, which was likely to cause the iron hoops of thecasks to rot. The inspector of repairs, SamuelHobbs, had reported that the wall had sunk and split, leaving chasms' through which the water entered at high tide and retreated at low tide, taking with it the soil behind the wall and causingthe pavement above to sink. This was likely to worsen if not attended to; he recommended excavating down to the base of the wall and refilling with clay or puddle (a mixture of clay and sand) and also adding piles to secure the land ties and relieve the pressure on them.
Remarking that the wharf had already been repaired several times under the direction of the Inspector General of Naval Works, he suggested the architect at the Navy Office, Mr Holt, should be asked to advise.'
Two days later, the Victualling Board wrote again to report that Henry Garrett, the agent victualler at Deptford, who had checked at high tide, reported that the water was now damaging the boundary wall between the victualling and dock yards, this being exacerbated by rat runs to the pea store and flesh cellars and between the seasoning house and the old cooperage, the water rising over the floor sufficiently to stop the coopers working. The Navy Board's response, which did not come until two weeks later, was to the effect that the problem was caused by broken drains from the settling of the ground, and that these would have to be replaced.
This presumably was done, as there is no more correspondence in the Victualling Board records until October 1811, when the Victualling Board reported to the Navy Board that the ground on the wharf between two of the cranes had 'fell in very much' and that the mudsills had been forced off the foundations, causing the wall to split. This in turn had caused cracks in the groined [sic] arches of the cellars and the party walls of the new storehouses.
A month later, they wrote again to the Navy Board to pass on the agent victualler's report that at low tide 'the ground at the back of the wall [had] sunk down with a great crash' which broke the land ties. The Inspector of Repairs urged immediate action and the Victualling Board asked for the Civil Architect and Engineer to give his opinion.
Initial attempts to solve the problem seemto have been restricted to trying to press the wall down into a more solid foundation, the Victualling Board asking the Navy Board to borrow 600 tons of iron ballast for this purpose, then returning this three months later. Another three months passed, then the Victualling Board asked for cinder ashes from the smitheries in the dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich to mix with ground lime and ballast for repair work, but none of this seems to have worked, as in March 1813 the Victualling Board asked for the Navy Board's surveyor of buildings to make an inspection and give his opinion on the necessary repairs.
Nothing seems to have been done, as in October the Victualling Board reported that the previous day's high tide had made one end of the wharf shift and settle, and requesting an inspection and recommendation that they would create temporary versions above the coffer dam.
However, in November 1817, the Victualling Board wrote once more to the Admiralty secretary, atating that the repairs needed to be extended. They said that Mr Rennie had reported That it appears, from an examination of that part of the Old Wharf Wall which lies between the landing stairs and Eastern end of the Victualling jard, and which, including the return, is Three hundred'feet [92.3 metres] in length and that the whole bottom is silt [which] having sunk away from the planking on which the Wall stands, its weight may therefore be said to be supported by the Piles only, That these piles are all driven perpendicularly, and are kept in that position by the great body of Mud, and Silt, which lies in front of them, so that if this mud was to be removed the piles would fall forward, unless the land ties by which theWall is sustained were sufficiently strong to prevent them;that these land ties are ... very much decayed, and consequently no great dependence can be had on them; that therefore, if this Wall is to be preserved, it must undergo a considerable repair, which with the Tender Piles in front [of] the decayed brickwork will cost at least £2,000 and when done, the great Mud bank in front of it will prevent the full advantage being taken of the deep water along the new Wall, as it will check the current of the Tide and occasion a settlement of mud infront of the new Wharf, the foundation of which lies Seven feet deeper than the Old Wall; that the expense of a Wall of 300 feet in length, with the materials of theCoffer dam now in use, will be about £16,000; whereas if this Wall were to stand over to a future period, it would cost about £25,000, ... that it would not be advisable to leave it in its present state... and that [Mr Rennie] cannot therefore help advising us that the new Wall be extended to the Eastern extremity of the Yards.'
This letter is endorsed as approving the work as detailed.
The final letter in the sequence, in May 1821, reports that the work had been completed 'in a manner which we conceive [is] highly creditableto the professional skill and ability of Mr Rennie ... assisted by the unremitting attention and indefatigability of Mr Hobbs, our inspector of Works...' and goes on to recommend what appears to be a bonus for Hobbs ('such remuneration for his services as [their lordships] may appear to meet').
No record of the finalcost of this work has been found. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with the workings of the Admiralty andits subordinate boards that this saga should have gone on for so long, but it is, if not surprising, intriguing that there is no record of the Navy Board having responded to most the VictuallingBoard's pleas for help in this matter. Perhaps, in due course, the Navy Board letters project will turn up the other side of this story.
Janet Macdonald

Gaslight and Brian Donkin

"Gaslight' has just turned up - the Newsletter of the North West Gas Historical Society. In it is an article about the (latterly) Chesterfield based firm of Brian Donkin & Company - and the article is partly to record the passing of the Chesterfield Works. However, as the article records this was originally a south London company with an important works based near The Blue in Bermondsey. It was there that Donkin secured many first - paper making machinery, canned food, to name just two. Some years ago I had an article published in the GLIAS Newsletter (154 Oct.1994) which drew attention to Donkin's family links with both the gas-industry magnates, the Hawes family.
The current article in 'Gaslight' draws attention to Donkin's relationship with the instrument maker Edward Troughton - after whom Troughton Road in Charlton is named. Troughton's site was, I understand, on the west side of the Woolwich Road junction with Victoria Way. They are not company who has ever featured in GIHS's newsletter or talks and we would be very interested to hear from anyone who could make a contribution on that.
There is still another episode to go on Donkin's in a future 'Gaslight' and hopefully it will record an even more important link with a Greenwich inventor and industry.
Gaslight is obtainable from Diane Smith, 13 Private Drive, Barnston, Wirral, CH61 1DF at £5 a year. And, incidentally, they are looking for a new editor!

Saturday 25 October 2008

Bessemer's saloon

Most people - including his biographers - don't seem to know anything about the works that this famous inventor had on the Greenwich Peninsula (please leave a message here if you want to know more!).
Working with another Peninsula based company, Maudslay Son and Field, Bessemer, who suffered a lot from sea sickness, developed a saloon to go in ships which wouldn't sway about. This was kept at his house in Denmark Hill but then ended up as a room in the Horticultural College at Hextable (down the road from Sidcup!). It is thought that after the college was demolished that some people took bits home - and I have a message from someone who is trying to find out if this is so, and if the bits are still around! He has also sent some pictures of young ladies in the saloon at Hextable which he found in an album in an Edinburgh Bookshop. If you know anything about any of this please leave a message.

Friday 10 October 2008

Butler Tricycle

Note from John Day in response to back postings about Merryweather's. He notes mention of a Butler's Tricycle made by them and says Butler lived in Newbury and gave his occupation as an Engineer and Draughtsman - which John says makes him think he was working for a company local to that area. Butler was well known in automobile history for his advanced thinking - he invented the float feed, variable choke and spray carburettor and a time when others were using surface vaporisation (Butler's Patent Nos 15589/87, and 9203/89). In a patent court action it was held that Butler anticipated Maybach. However John says that Butlers was not the world's first car - he cites Knight of Farnham as the first British one.

Monday 6 October 2008

Info on Bonney wanted

We have a request for information about George Bonney who was a boat builder in 1860 perhaps in Woolwich. Can anyone give us any information.

Tuesday 30 September 2008


A request from Malta from the Government Inspector of Ships for information on Cubow shipyard - active on the earliest part of the Woolwich Dockyard site, now the site for tower blocks of flats. In Malta is a fishing boat called 'Golden Dawn' built by Cubow in 1975. Malta Maritime Authority would like to know more and will pay for research. They would also like to contact Downtown Marine who were later on the site.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Boat builder Harding

We have been asked for information about the boat builder Richard Henry Harding who was at work at Wood Wharf in the 1800s. It is known that Harding married into the Corbett family who had previously owned the yard, and took it over in due course

Early iron working

More about Gilbert’s Pit and Maryon Park. A correspondent tells us that when walking the site recently he saw what is though to be a piece of primary iron slag protruding from the chalk face about 1 m below the top. This indicates a major iron works on the site which is possibly pre-Roman

Changes at Gilbert's Pit

We have been sent a pre-copy of the Archaeological desktop study on Maryon Park in Charlton – and clearly this is with special reference to Gilbert’s pit. As ever with these things it’s all about archaeology not industrial archaeology – nevertheless past industry could hardly fail to get a mention here. Very early on the authors note ‘throughout history these sand and gravel deposits have been exploited. Some mineral deposits may have been quarried as early as the Roman period and after the establishment of Woolwich Dockyard in 1512 sand was used for ships ballast .. in the 18th century major digging began to obliterate the site … demand for moulding sand, glass sand ….. The lowermost layers of the Thanet sands, black-foot or strong loam, were excavated for brass casting moulds while above them beds of larger grained and less cohesive mild loam were used for iron castings. They note limekilns in Blackheath Hill and Charlton Church Lane. (Much of this quotes Paul Sowan and attributed him, wrongly, to GIHS rather than is actual base in Croydon.
The study moves on to sites of prehistoric occupation and notes signs of flint workings – maybe our earliest industry! Later evidence is found of iron and copper slag and baked clay as well as loom weights from Roman times.
The authors note a sand quarry in the area mentioned by Hasted in 1797 and sand pits and quarries shown on maps of the early 19th century. In the 1830s two lime burners are listed in 1839 at New Charlton. This document has been produced in conjunction with works planned here by the Council and we look forward to more detail on this.

Mind out for the boundaries

GIHS regularly receives copies of The Local Historian published by the Journal of the British Association for Local History. As ever there is little about London and its industries, however an article in the August 2008 edition on parish boundary markers has caught my eye. The article mentions parish outings which used to take place to ‘beat the bounds’ and some of the antics mentioned reminded me of an article in an old Greenwich Antiquarians Transactions (Vol. IX No 4 1982) where there is a description of beating the Greenwich boundaries in 1844 - which includes, for the industrial bits of Greenwich, a description of the civic procession Vicar, churchwardens, local school kids etc etc – who started off down Church Street to Garden Stairs, thence through Brewhouse Lane, the Gallery, Wood Wharf (having a waterman passing up the centre of the river at the same time). Through Mr. Tuckwell’s premises, through Mr. Martyr’s yard, passing over planks to the river wall at the back of the Gasworks, thence on to the edge of the wharfing, over barges and planks into Mr. Burford’s premises. Thence through Mr.Walton’s to the centre of Creek Bridge where three cheers are given for the Queen and the parish of Greenwich. …….. then on across planks and boats to Deptford Bridge where the Hundredth psalm was sung. At the Waterworks a man swam the river to the marker post in Shepherd’s garden. Having continued through the Silk Mill.. . and so on. They stopped for lunch at The Sun in the Sands on Blackheath and after that entered the Countess of Buckingham’s brew house passing out of her laundry window into a large oak tree where the parish treasurer had the honour to be bumped against a stone – and so on right round the parish until they got back to the River at Lombard’s Wall at Charlton, where they continued by boat. The whole thing took eight hours.
Does anyone know of any parish markers in the Borough? Is this something we should be looking out for?

Friday 12 September 2008

The Pioneers

- and now - this wonderful picture from Barbara. Not sure its industrial history - but!! Barbara who are this daring young couple on their amazing machine! and is that Pelton Road.
(any help on enlarging this picture without distortion from a techie somewhere would be welcome)

Thursday 11 September 2008

Where are these

More of Barbara's pictures - where are they of? what's the date?

Siemens vehicle

Barabara from Charlton has sent the following picture. Any comments please??

Monday 8 September 2008

Trouble with Butane

The Historic Gas Times comes out four times a year and always features something about the great (and recently much maligned EAST GREENWICH GASWORKS. The current issue features an article by Tony Coles on his work in the 1960s as an Engineering Assistant there. The article describes pressure storage of butane on site and about preparation for its delivery by rail from Grain refinery and includes some 'amusing' episodes which required emergency action!. Enquiries about Historic Gas Times to Bob Winn, 91 Caroline Terrace, Edinburgh, EH12 8QX

Saturday 6 September 2008

Royal Hill

Query from a resident:

Does anyone in your society know the original purpose of the building nowoccupied by the Greenwich Natural Health Centre at the back of 70 RoyalHill? It is a most curious structure hidden away behind Royal Hill andabutting the allotments on what used to be the other railway line coming into Greenwich.

Monday 18 August 2008

Merryweather clock - was it at the Royal Observatory

Neil Bennet writes:

My recent Merryweather & Sons interest is in the Electric Clock claimed to have been built by, or associated with the company, before 1901. another blog ( suggested this could be one of a network of 'master' and 'slave' electric clocks made by Charles Shepherd of 53 Leadenhall Street for the Royal Greenwich Observatory and elsewhere, or could even be the Gate Clock fixed outside the gate of the nearby Royal Observatory in 1852, in which case it is a very important clock indeed. In today's world a company manufacturing an electric clock does not exactly raise an eyebrow, but it was changing the world then!
I have written to the Royal Observatory but I'd be grateful to anyone who can confirm a link between Merryweather and Shepherd, the Greenwich Observatory or the then Astronomer Royal, George Airy, or indeed what the Merryweather electric clock really was.
I'm making progress finding out about such obscure Merryweather products as the Dulier smoke absorption system and John Gordon's electric tram system, but 'Tanks for camel transport' still draws a blank!
Anyone interested in the firm's history can find some excellent information on a Greenwich-made steam fire engine exported to Australia, and on the company, at
....Industrial history is the new rock 'n' roll...(?)

Wednesday 6 August 2008

GLIAS Newsletter

GLIAS Newsletter for August 2008 seems very light on Greenwich issues this month. They do however carry the following review of Richard Hartree's new book on John Penn:

"This book, written by a descendant of John Penn I, tells the story of this famous marine engineering firm and of three generations of the Penn family through the 1800s. The Epilogue tells of the family’s service in The Royal Household in the 1900s. When John Penn II died in 1878 the Kentish Mercury and Greenwich Gazette wrote of him as ‘Greenwich’s greatest son’.
In 1799 his father, John Penn I, had started an agricultural engineering business on the site at the junction of Blackheath and Lewisham Roads which in twenty years grew to be one of the major engineering works in the London area. Although he lived in Lewisham he stood as a reformist candidate for Greenwich in the December 1832 parliamentary election.
John II apprenticed in the firm and became a partner in the early 1830s. His design of oscillating engine for paddle steamers and his patented trunk engine for naval screw propelled ships coupled with the quality and reliability of the firm’s products led it to become the major engine supplier to the Royal Navy in the transition from sail to steam. His patented design of a wood propeller shaft stern bearing was vital to the worldwide use of steam-powered ships. The firm was a major local employer with, at its peak, 1800 employed at its Greenwich and Deptford works. In addition to achieving success for the firm John II also became a leading figure in the engineering profession.
He was succeeded by his two elder sons. John Penn III became MP for Lewisham in 1891 and served until his death in 1903.
In Greenwich today we can see John Penn Street which ran down one side of the works site and the Penn Almshouses in South Street which were built in 1884 in memory of John Penn II. In Deptford we can see the arched riverfront of the boiler works and a cast iron bollard set into the wall at the corner of Watergate Street and Borthwick Street . In Blackheath we can see John Penn II’s grand house ‘The Cedars’, now converted into flats, and in the Lewisham the Riverdale Mill which was on John Penn I’s property.
The book is available at the Greenwich Heritage Centre, The Greenwich Tourist Information Centre, Maritime Books at 66 Royal Hill, and from the author on 01295 788215 or

Friday 1 August 2008


Jack Vaughan - first Chair of Greenwich Industrial History Society - died on Monday 14th July 2008 at the age of 91. His had three sons and two daughters by Florence his first wife; she died in 1973. He married again but was again left bereft when Jean died.
This obituary is about his life in the world of Greenwich's local history - but he had many many other interests. At this funeral we heard about his record in the army in the Second World War, how he fought at El Alamein and met Field Marshall Montgomery. We also heard about his lifetimes enthusiasm for Charlton Football Club.
At a first meeting he could seem rather gruff, but one soon found how kind a man he was – there was no one who did not like Jack, even if they did not fully share his views.
He had been an apprentice at the Arsenal (writing about his experiences in Woolwich Antiquarian Proceedings Vol XLII) then worked there until he retired - again we heard at his funeral how he was respected for his engineering ability and knowledge and how he later went on to teach his skills at Woolwich Polytechnic School.
From this arose a love of clocks and his ability to repair them. The future of the clock on Building 10 at the Arsenal particularly worried him – Berkeley Homes say they will restore it. He always championed the Arsenal, giving talks on its history. He was also well versed in the Woolwich Dockyard, and a connoisseur of local pubs…
Many societies benefitted from his energy: on Shooters Hill where he lived for 54 years, he was Chairman of the Shooters Hill Society; he wrote articles for the Shooters Hill Local History Group, published in its series of ‘Aspects’. He was the inaugural chairman of the Greenwich Industrial History Society eventually becoming Honorary President. He was also involved in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, history group. But his longest association was with the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society; for many years on its council, latterly as a Vice President; he was chairman of the Conservation Sub-Committee.
Jack was a fierce defender of Woolwich’s heritage in his dealings with the Borough’s Planners, particularly in respect of his beloved Arsenal. He was a frequent attendee at Planning Committees and made sure they heard his views. However, they listened to him with more respect than he would ever acknowledge and changes were often made. One locally famous exploit was his saving the tomb of the world famous engineer, Henry Maudslay, when the Council cleared St Mary’s Churchyard – all but one of its cast iron plates were retrieved, and taken to the Maritime Museum store in the Brass Foundry - they are now in the care of the Greenwich Heritage Centre. Jack was well known and respected by the London-wide community of industrial archaeologists, particularly in the Greater London Industrial Archaeological Society. In 2001 a special seminar on Maudslay was held at Kew Bridge Engines Trust - special mention was made of Jack’s role in rescuing the plaque and a small ceremony was held.
Recently he became frail and although he went into a well run nursing home, he was only his old self with visitors who shared his interests. Six weeks before he died he had a fall, requiring two operations.
His funeral was at Eltham Crematorium, Falconwood at on Wednesday 23rd July at 2.45pm. This was followed by a do at the Red Lion Pub on Shooters Hill - one of his favourite locals.
Donations in his memory may be made to one of two charities: Cancer Research or The Alzheimer's Society. A cheque made out to the one of your choice should be sent to:
W Uden & Sons Ltd, Funeral Directors, 64 High Street, Sidcup, Kent, DA14 6DS
Jack was a one off - to quote a friend - 'well Jack - Jack's Jack, isn't he!'.

Thursday 31 July 2008

last year we gave some information, sent by a correspondent in South Africa, about Greenwich made lighthouses in the Cape. He now writes with further information:

"The British first occupied the Cape Peninsula in 1795, and from 1814 to 1957 Simon’s Town was the Headquarters for the Royal Navy. The legacy from this period is a very significant infrastructure, that has unique heritage characteristics originating mainly from Victorian England – and many connections with London in particular. I have already been in correspondence concerning two local lighthouses (Cape Point and Roman Rock) that are constructed of cast iron, supplied from the Victoria Foundry in Greenwich. There is a wealth of artefacts that originated from Woolwich – a 9 inch rifled muzzle loading gun manufactured in 1865 at the Royal Gun Factory, still sitting complete on its slide and carriage as produced from the Royal Carriage Department, and a very recent discovery of four 500 lb sea mines of circa 1888 from the Royal Laboratory (two of these were opened up with some trepidation – fortunately they were only filled with sand), all of which are intended for conservation and public display.

Saturday 19 July 2008

The Tide Mill

I had been asked by the archaeologists not to publicise this – but everyone else has - so, why not!!! What has happened is that down on the Lovell’s Wharf development site in Banning Street, is that the Museum of London archaeology team have found what they think is a 13th Tide Mill. Tide Mill’s are basically water mills which work by the power of the tides, rather than by a river or stream, and they tend to be associated with busy industrial sites rather than with a bit of local corn milling. Once it is dated it may turn out to be the oldest so far discovered on the Thames. In the early mediaeval period much of Greenwich – and big chunks of Kent associated with it – were owned by St.Peter’s Abbey in Ghent. Large religious organisations at that period were very much into exploiting the resources of the lands they owned. It could be that this mill was owned by them – and if so it implies an industrial community in the Ballast Quay area in a period when not very much is known about Greenwich. But this is still a lot of ifs, and buts, and maybes - and we need to find out what it is that they have really found before we all get too excited.

Friday 18 July 2008

Early Steam Ships and the City Canal

Our talk in July was from Roger Owen - on the subject of the City Canal on the Isle of Dogs. Here's what he had to say:

A canal across the Isle of Dogs from Blackwall to Limehouse was built by the Corporation of London as an intended bypass of the peninsula for ships proceeding to the upper reaches of the Thames, which became known as the City Canal. It was a development sanctioned by the West India Docks Act of 1799 and funded by a loan from the Consolidated Fund. Canals were not a new idea, a network around London having been proposed in 1799 and one from Blackwall to Wapping was part of the original proposal for the rival London Docks. Construction, under the supervision of the canal-builder, William Jessop, started in January 1800, and it was completed and opened to ships, barges and lighters in December 1805. Whilst it was toll-free for the first three years of its operation, the City Canal was not a commercial success, as with the concurrent building of the London, West India, East India and later the Commercial Docks it was not to be used to a significant extent for transit purposes. Along with the privately owned docks the canal was used for laying up ships that were in seasonable employment, such as South Sea whalers, ships up for sale and those under repair or fitting-out. Enclosed waters such as the docks and canals had advantages for laying up ships, as there was virtually no tidal movement so that moorings did not need to be continuously tended and consequently the manning on board could be reduced to a minimum.

Steamships first started to use the City Canal for laying-up, repairs and fitting-out from the end of 1814 with the arrival of “Margery”, a ship built on the Clyde that was to operate the first passenger service on the Thames from Wapping to Gravesend for a few months before she was sold and crossed the Channel to undertake similar duties on the Seine. The firm of Boulton, Watt & Co., having their factory at Soho in the Smethwick area of Birmingham, had a sheer hulk, “Pallas”, which was a former American merchant ship that had been seized and condemned as a prize during the War of 1812. This was converted and moored at the Blackwall end of the canal in 1826 for use as a heavy-lift facility for removing and installing boilers and as a workshop. Ships built at shipyards on the Thames and elsewhere, such as Harwich in the east and Holyhead in the west, came to the City Canal to have their machinery installed. BWC had even considered having a factory at Pitcher’s Canal Dockyard for manufacturing boilers, but decided against it with the intention of the Admiralty to develop what became the Woolwich Steam Factory for the maintenance of the expanding Steam Navy.

After several attempts the canal was finally sold to the West India Dock Company in August 1829, when it was renamed the West India South Dock and transit passages came to an end. An adjoining Timber Pond was built in the 1840s and this and the former canal were reconstructed in the 1860s – 70s into the South Dock as it is in its present form, except that the former Limehouse end entrance was subsequently closed. With the ending of their monopolies the dock companies sought other areas of business, the East India Dock Company building the Brunswick Steam Wharf in 1834. The latter company also opened up their docks to steamships and allowed the use of the landmark Masting House for removing and installing boilers. This activity at the East India Docks came to an end in the 1860s with the demolishing of the Masting House and with the depression in Thames shipbuilding following the collapse of the Overend Gurney bank in 1866. By then most steamships were using the Victoria Docks, which were to be used by the last of the Thameside shipbuilders, Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Company, for fitting-out ships, until they ceased business in 1912.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Memories of Anchor Iron Wharf

We have had a note from someone who worked at Anchor Iron Wharf - thats where the posh flats are down by Ballast Quay, it used to be a scrap yard - Robinson's Scrap Metal.
This is from David who says he used to drive the Grafton Crane on the rails there, beside the river and overlooked by Robinson's office. He describes a 'man in white' bringing down cast iron valves from the power station. He was white because he was covered in asbestos dust and was leaving a cloud of it wherever he went. Under the hydraulic press room, under tons of scrap, an old man was living 'he had an angelic face you would never forget'. David remembers clearing thousands of cartridges - he thought they might be live so he left them, and covered them up with empty scrap bins.
That all sounds pretty dreadful!

Amazing scenes at Crossness

The latest edition of the Crossness Engines Record is full of all sorts of amazing things - suddenly the old sewage works and its steam engines are being used as a backdrop for drama - Hamlet no less! They have also seen choral and orchestral concerts - what's next? As usual the Record gives lots of information about the work on the engines and all sorts of other things (mostly about sewage!). Check them out on Note their next open day - Sunday 27th July 10.30 - 4.30. Adults £5 Children free. Free Minibus from Abbey Wood Station.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Ceremony for the Penn Engine on the Diesbar

The ceremony designating the John Penn engine on the Diesbar as a Historic Engineering Landmark took place on 2nd July aboard the steamer. A photo of the plaque is attached. We have also been sent a copy of the booklet which was produced for the occasion - this gives lots of historical information.

The paddle steamer is one of a fleet which works on the River Elbe in Saxony and has done so since the mid-19th. The Penn engine is in the steamer Diesbar built in 1884, and the only coal fired Dresden steamer. The Penn engine however dates from 1841 and was originally installed in the wooden paddle steamer Bohemia. A new crankshaft was fitted to the engine in 1853 by Krupp of Essen and the engine was then transferred to the Statd Meissen and then in the Diesbar in 1884.

The engine was built at the world famous Penn works on Blackheath Hill. John Penn had been making steam engines for marine purposes since 1825 and by the 1840s, under John Penn Jnr., was the leading manufacturer supplying engines for Admiralty and Royal Mail contracts. One notable advance was the development of the oscillating engine of the type which is on the Diesbar. By 1878 the company had supplied 735 ships with engines and the firm continued until 1899 when it merged with Thames Ironworks, which eventually closed in 1914.

Thursday 3 July 2008

More about Blackheath Hill

Nick Catford has written more about the railway tunnel under Blackheath Hill in this month's London Railway Record - perhaps what is most interesting about it is the use of the tunnel after the railway had closed. He thinks that in the 1930s the tunnel was used to store breeze blocks and in the Second World War was leased to the Council as an air raid shelter. After the war it was used by the Heliot Machine Tool Company and later in the 1950s by R.Taylor & Co. Machine Tools and then latterly by Maganal Plastics (Alan and Margaret Storey). He records that they made road signs for local authorities and that they were the first to standardise road signs and produce a proper catalogue. Alan Storey pioneered the use of the reflective clip which was made under Blackheath Hill - another example of innovation by a Greenwich based industry.
London Railway Record is published by Connor & Butler, PO Box 9561 Colchester, Essex.

Saturday 28 June 2008


Residents of Bradyll Street in East Greenwich may be interested in the following item from the Yorkshire Post:

"Railway museum rescues historic engine"
ONE of the earliest industrial locomotives in the world has been acquired by the National Railway Museum in York. Bradyll, which dates back to the 1840s, is believed to be the oldest surviving locomotive with six-driving wheels. It has survived in the North East largely by chance.The museum's vehicle collections manager, Jim Rees, said: "the locomotive is of more than mere local or regional importance."The lack of restoration or later rebuilding means that Bradyll remains an incredibly valid piece of railway archaeology, from a period which remains understudied and undervalued by railway historians." no other working machines of this kind have stood the test of time. The locomotive has since been placed in the National Railway Museum's sister attraction at Shildon in County Durham, although the public has only limited access to it.Bradyll's historical importance has now been deemed so great that it has been placed in the national collection, which is overseen by the NRM in York.

Street names in East Greenwich relate, of course, to the Durham coal field - and this is just one survivor.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Council Resolution

Last night Greenwich Council resolved the following:

That this Council notes:
1. The Borough of Greenwich has a uniquely rich heritage, having played a role at the centre of British and world history for at least a thousand years.
2. Our claim to national and international significance has been reinforced over the centuries by our proud Royal, maritime, military and industrial links.
3. We have an outstanding Royal heritage as the birthplace of King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary I; the site of two Royal Palaces, a Royal Park and the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, and many other such sites.
4. Next year, 2009, marks the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s accession to the throne, and 2012 marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Dockyard.
This Council believes that:
1. Celebrating our shared heritage can do much to enhance civic pride and to bind together the many people from diverse backgrounds who call this Borough their home.
2. Learning about the great history on our doorstep is a huge benefit of which the Borough’s schoolchildren should be able to take full advantage.
3. The coming years present unique opportunities to showcase our heritage and enhance the prestige of the Borough, which we should fully grasp.
This Council resolves:
1. To embrace and celebrate our heritage as an integral part of our shared vision for the Borough and its future.
2. To devise specific plans to highlight our status as a significant Royal borough, using the opportunities presented by the 500th Anniversaries of the accession of King Henry VIII, and of the founding of the Woolwich Royal Dockyard.
3. To seek further ways in which our maritime, industrial and local heritage can also be championed alongside such plans.
4. To ensure that our hosting of the Olympics in 2012 is used as an opportunity to strengthen and promote our heritage offer, and does not harm it.
5. To re-affirm our support for the restoration of the Cutty Sark, the iconic flagship of our Borough.
6. To support the ‘Discovery Greenwich’ project currently being undertaken by the Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, which will help bring the history of the World Heritage Site to a wider audience.

Monday 23 June 2008

100 years of the Yacht Club

On Sunday Greenwich Yacht Club held a celebration to mark their hundredth anniversary. The club was founded in 1908 originally at the Yacht Tavern in Crane Street. Residents might remember when they were in a series of huts along the riverside - the area is now the pathway downriver of the Dome near the ecology centre but then it was between the Power Station Jetty and Horn Lane. They eventually found a home in the old canteen of the Redpath Brown steel works and there they stayed until 1999 when their buildings were the last to be cleared before the Dome opened.
Sunday's event was a lot of fun with all sorts of coming and goings and endless plaques and so on being dedicated by the Mayor and the Director of the Maritime Museum.
Details about the history of the Club can be found in Paul Woodhead's book 'The Yacht Club. Greenwich 1908-2000' - written and published for the club and available from them.
Drawing by Peter Kent

Saturday 21 June 2008

The Last Wharves of Greenwich

Local riverside scenes are currently being shown at the Paul McPherson Gallery at 77 Lassell Street, in Greenwich. These are the wonderful pictures of Terry Scales which show five decades of the riverside - the recent past which is rapidly becoming unrecognisable. Terry had made presentations of his work at Greenwich Industrial History Society meetings on a couple of occasions and we hope to see him again soon. In the meantime he will be signing his book 'Homage to the working Thames' at the gallery on 28th and 5th July 11.30-2.30 pm.

Monday 16 June 2008

An American honour for Greenwich

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) plans to designate a John Penn oscillating steam engine (vintage 1841) as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. The designation will take place at a ceremony in Dresden, Germany this July. The engine is currently installed and operational in the paddle steamer Diesbar. Further information about ASME’s Landmark program is available at Since the program began in 1971, they have designated some 250 landmarks worldwide - While the majority of these are in the US, there are five in the UK.
This means of course that while most of Greenwich ignores its engineering past that at least it is on the map as far as the Americans are concerned.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Industrial heritage in the Lea Valley

The Society's meeting last night featured Lindsay Collier (and a helper whose name I don't know!). Below is a summary of what Lindsay had to say - and also 'thank you very much Lindsay, and sorry you got so held up in the traffic in the Blackwall Tunnel).
anyway -

Heritage museum for London’s Lea Valley. By Lindsay Collier MA

For a number of years now the Lea Valley Corridor has been known as a small area of Britain with a huge industrial past, it is a place where over one hundred industrial firsts have taken place, with half of these being in transportation. This achievement alone is a world record. For the last fourteen years the concept for a museum to celebrate this unique heritage called the Lea Valley Experience has been slowly simmering away in Walthamstow. With the coming of the Olympic Games to the valley in 2012, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase Britain’s largest and forgotten industrial past that has most certainly changed the world
as we know it today.
Our journey down the River Lea starts in Luton, home of the Vauxhall Car Company and London Luton international airport. before this Luton’s main employment came from many hat manufacturers - Luton Town’s Football Club is nicknamed the hatters. An area of Luton called Leagrave is the home of Electrolux, produced a variety of electrical household appliances. Part of their site was once occupied by Hewlett and Brondeau Ltd who built aircraft – they were founded in 1914 and managed by Hilda Hewlett, the first British woman to receive a pilot’s licence. In 1937 the Percival Aircraft Company moved here from Gravesend. The river then slowly twists its way to Hatfield, home of the de Havilland Aviation company, and the world’s first passenger jet airliner, the Comet.
down river at Chadwell and Amwell are the two main sources of the man made New
River constructed to carry water directly to the thirsty Jacobean residents of London.
Ware, once a Roman inland port is the home of Wickhams, manufacturers of plant and railway vehicles, and Warerite, laminated plastic railway carriage interiors. Ware also has malt houses and McMullen’s brewery. At Colliers End the first British balloon flight finally came to rest in September 1784.
Availability of so much water in the Lea meant it was a great place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables, all in huge quantities. During the 1930s the Valley had the world’s largest
concentration of greenhouses. At one time it produced two thirds of Britain’s total horticultural output.
The world’s first passenger carrying monorail was constructed in 1825 at Cheshunt
to the design of Henry Robinson Palmer who also invented corrugated iron sheets. Today in Cheshunt, is Tesco’s head office and was once the home of Colin Chapman’s Lotus car company
down river at Waltham Abbey are the Royal Gun Powder Mills which opened in 1787 and produced a wide range of explosives and chemical until 1991.
At Enfield the electric light bulb, was first demonstrated twenty years before Edison by Sir Joseph Swan, and started the Ediswan Company in Ponders End. In 1904 the
diode was invented at the company’s works by Ambrose Fleming. the thermos flask,
was also developed at the work’s laboratories by Sir James Dewar in the 1870s.
Belling, MK and Thorn all set up companies in Enfield. we must not also forget the
famous Lee Enfield Rifle invented there by James Paris Lee.
Edmonton was once the home of Straker Squires who produced cars, lorries, buses and steam vehicles. British Oxygen also had a large factory there. In Tottenham the JAP Company produced speedway bikes and motorcycle engines. Gestetner who made duplicating equipment and the Lebus Furniture Company were also there.
Walthamstow is the home of the first British built car and is where many of the first buses that London Transport used in service were built by the Associated Equipment Company. In 1909 Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe became the first Briton to fly an all British built plane on Walthamstow Marshes – a centenary celebration of this is planned for 2009. also forget Bovince Ltd whose company invented the first method of screen printing
Many toy and sweet companies set up home in the valley: Matchbox, Britain’s, Brimtoys, Lines Bros, Trebor, Maynard’s and Bonds being just a few of them.
Hackney, is the home of petrol, as it was here that Carless Capel & Leonard invented the mixture and patented the name.
Stratford, was once the home of the largest railway works in the country. The London Cooperative was also founded there by its workers. Today the site is being prepared for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Bow, was famous for the matchbox girls strike, rockets, railway works, and the first improved horse omnibus and we finally end our journey at Bow Creek, once the home of the Thames Iron Works which constructed Britain’s first ironclad warship, the Warrior, along with much else including West Ham United Football Club.
In this brief trip down the River Lea I have only touched on some of its many interesting stories. I have tried to give you a taste of why the industrial heritage of the Lea Valley is so important. I hope by reading this it will inspire you to learn more about it and support the development of the Lea Valley Experience museum to celebrate the regions unique past. For more information visit

Tuesday 10 June 2008


Can anyone tell us anything about brick works sites in Plumstead

Saturday 7 June 2008

Co-partnership Journal

Thank you Clive Price for the June 1929 copy of Co-partnership Journal - it covers all the gas industry of South East London - but what does it report about the various gas works in Greenwich? - in those days there was also a small gas works on the Ravensbourne at the end of Thames Street, called West Greenwich, as well various chemical works and depots.

  • ** Mr. Frederick Latham has been elected to the Company's Co-partnership Committee from the Greenwich Depot.
    ** the Provident Society includes 2,063 members (91.5% of the workforce) from East Greenwich, 16 (94.1%) from West Greenwich, 186 (83.4%) from Ordnance Wharf (tar works on the Peninsula), 258 (99.6) at Phoenix Wharf (chemical works on the Peninsula).
    ** Mr. W.J.Gill, Plater at East Greenwich, age 62 has retired after 28 years service
    ** one of the Company's fleet of ships is called 'Old Charlton'; built in December 1919.
    *** the First Aid Trophy - oh dear! Woolwich District only in 6th place, East Greenwich Works in 7th, Phoenix Wharf, in 9th, Ordnance Wharf in 11th, Norman Road depot in 13th and the East Greenwich Laboratory in 16th. It was won by the Slot Meter Department.
    *** The East Greenwich Works staff club had had a whist drive plus a Carnival Dance with novelty hats! There was also an outing to Penshurst, and a dance which included an exhibition of the minuet in costume by the ladies of the Physical Culture Section.
    **** clocks were presented to Mr.W.King retiring works foreman at West Greenwich and to Mr.J.Ryall who had also retired. Mr. Belben who had retired as Employee Director at West Greenwich got a mahogany clock
    ** the East Greenwich Football Club had won the 'Metro' Challenge Cup and were runners up in the 'Metro League' (the 'office' team won). Sadly there is little detail on the Cricket, Swimming and Badminton Clubs but the Motor Cycling Club did have a Treasure Hunt starting at Hayes Station and intend to hold a Ladies Day and a Mystery Trial. The Photography Club had had a very pleasant tea at Bromley and - apart from finding a dead stag, and a grey hound with a dead rabbit had had a lovely walk in the spring sunshine.

    - is this the 'world we have lost'? or something?

Friday 6 June 2008

Gas on the Greenwich Peninsula

I've been sent a complimentary copy (thank you, thank you) of the Summer 2008 edition of the London Society Journal. Their featured front page article is 'Energy and Motion. Part 1. Marsh Gas' by Clive Price. This is an excellent four page summary of industry on the Greenwich Peninsula drawing particular attention to the East Greenwich Gas Works, and its great importance. A second article is promised.

The London Society, Mortimer Wheeler House, 46 Eagle Wharf Road, N1 7ED 020 7253 9400

I have also had a nice letter from the author of the article, Clive Price, sending as copy of the gas works house journal 'Co-partnership Journal' - enthusing in particular over an article in it on Scottish Dyes. Clive also recalls that he first began work at AEC Ltd. in Southall where chassis were made for Merryweather's using special engine governors to ensure that there was a smooth extension of the escape ladder when it was operated from a power take off driven by the vehicle engine.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Sub Brit and Greenwich

Subterranea Brittanica is an organisation wholly concerned with things underground. When GIHS was set up we were very grateful to Nick Catford who helped with a report on the Diamond Terrace sandmine and recently he has had local publicity on his research on the Blackheath Hill rail tunnel. Its therefore good to see that a major article in their journal is his work on the tunnel, including a report of his visit their in March this year.
This issue also includes other items of local (underground) interest: a report on the underground WW2 Field Hospital in Erith, and an article on Chiselhurst Caves in WW1.
check out sub-brit at
ps - Nick Catford is amazingly busy. I have just come back from a holiday in the Scottish borders. Looking for info on the (defunct) Rothbury Railway Station, I find the main source on the net is written by Nick. (thanks!)

Merryweather talk - report

The May meeting of GIHS featured Neil Bennet on the Greenwich High Road based fire engine manufacturer (the factory has been demolished in the last few weeks). Here is a report on his talk:
Neil Bennett has been interested in the Merryweather company since his childhood ownership of toy and model Merryweather fire engines. At University he explored ancient bound journals of ENGINEERING journal and found that the company goes back to the year 1692 and has a diverse and rich engineering heritage. He was looking for work in 1983 and finding that Merryweather had moved to South Wales, he got a position as Draughtsperson with the company - which he kept until the 'moonlight flit' of the company on Friday 13th April 1984.
The company had started about 25 years after the Fire of London, on the corner of Bow Street and Long Acre. In 1738 a Nathaniel Hadley joined, followed by Simpkin who was a master plumber. Henry Lott joined in 1791. Fire squirts, like large hypodermic needles were made, along with leather buckets and more ambitious pumps. Henry Lott and Braidwood of the London Fire Engine Establishment did not see eye to eye, perhaps having backgrounds from different ends of the social spectrum. Lott was the son of a rich landowner, Braidwood was a 'man of the people'. Moses Merryweather was taken on as an apprentice in 1807 and in 1836 he married Lott's daughter. They had three sons, Richard Merryweather, James Compton Merryweather and Henry Merryweather. Edward Field was a consulting engineer who designed the boiler used in most Merryweather pumps and tram engines.
The Merryweather Sutherland large steam-powered horse-drawn fire engine won first prize at an international fire engine competition at Crystal Palace in 1836. It can be seen at the London Science Museum.
James Compton Merryweather was head of the firm from 1871. In 1873 the Long Acre factory was burnt down, to be replaced. The company manufactured such a range of products that it might not even be appropriate to call them a fire equipment company. Products included all kinds of water supply equipment, ice boats, safety rafts, tanks for camel transport, dye extractors, steam dredging apparatus, compressors, an electric clock and a petrol-cycle. The petrol cycle was described by Neil as the first British car and arguably the world's first car. It was designed by Edward Butler and initially built in the Greenwich High Road factory. Neil requested help in regard to 'tanks for camel transport' - were these something the camel carried on its back, or did you put the camel inside it? A letter to London Zoo had produced no enlightenment.
The steam tram engines, like the petrol cycle, were hampered by the Locomotive Acts. The trams were quite sophisticated, requiring to condense their own smoke and steam and being forbidden to produce noise or visibly moving parts or to exceed a strict speed limit.
The company took Limited Liability status from 1892 (Merryweather & Sons LIMITED). Mr C J W Jakeman was a director, and his name appears along with 'Merryweather' cast into some of the company's boilers. He was the manager of the Greenwich factory when it opened in 1876. A factory in York Street, Lambeth had opened in 1862. Charles Dickens refers to the fire engine makers in Long Acre in his book The Uncommercial Traveller.
Mr Bennett recalled a storeman named Mitchell, described in a book by James Merryweather. Mitchell would give out cash to local residents when the factory's testing of water jets and smoky machinery had spoilt the ladies' washing as the washing was hung out to dry. This was quite evocative and paints a clear picture of the times, which in some ways haven't changed much.
Neil described the fitting of 100-foot ladders to DUKW vehicles for scaling the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc in the D-Day landings. He also recalled some of the later events when the company, under its parent company Siebe Gorman, disappeared overnight from Ebbw Vale to Plymouth. The name Stuart Le Gassic comes up in reference to the company's recent history, but today it is run for the import of hand fire extinguishers by Jeff Wright at Tuesnoad Grange, Bethersden, Kent. I think Mr Wright would be interested to learn of new aspects of the company's past, or to buy old Merryweather catalogues, but he probably cannot help much with historical research or with spare parts for old machinery!
Neil received a round of applause despite not feeling very well prepared, and the fact that the projector and Powerpoint could not be made to work. On Steve Daly's suggestion he promised to come back again when the issues with the visual display had been resolved. Neil would be interested in talking to anyone who can do research at the South London Press offices, SW16.
Neil made some useful contacts and will be working on his book 'Sustained by Extinction' on the history of Merryweather.

Gradidge's Sports Equipment Factory

I have had an email asking for information on Tim Gradidge - and enthusiastic local cricketer - who died in 1925. His firm made sports equipment in Woolwich and was eventually taken over by Slazengers (of tennis raquet fame!). The factory 'made everything from cricket bats to shuttlecocks!

More questions on Penn's

I have had a request from the Coventry Transport Museum for more information on John Penn - I will of course put them in touch with Richard Hartree and tell them about his new book. He is looking for employee records and any information about William Hillman who went made a fortune from cycle manufacture and started the Hillman Motor Company after - of course - being an apprentice at Penn's in Greenwich. They also point out both James Starley (father of the cycle industry) and George Singer (of Singer Cycles and Cars) started their working lives at Penns.
Everything starts from Greenwich - I always said so!

Sea Sunday

Greenwich is always called 'maritime' and many many local men went to sea both in the navy, and many more in the merchant marine. 22nd June this year will be Sea Sunday when the Greenwich Royal Naval Association will be holding a service for Seafarers at Christchurch East Greenwich at at 4.44 when they will lay wreaths on the Knuckle at Park Row (that’s the river front next to the statue of Nelson outside the Trafalgar Tavern) in remembrance of those who lost their lives on the waters.
And - while we're talking about Greenwich and the sea perhaps I should mention the Docklands History Group which meets at the Museum in Docklands. Their newsletter has just come with a long report on a talk about 'The Life of a Ships' Pilot' - a history of the men who take the ships from the river into the open seas. Their next meeting is on 5th June at 5.30 and features Chris Ellmers on 'Early Cargo handling and labour management in the West India Docks 1802-1840' and they are also advertising an all day seminar on 'The Docks, Empire and Slavery' on 14th June. This needs to be booked in advance and costs £12. 0870 444 3855

Friday 23 May 2008

Soap and the Chief Guide

Last night's TV on Scouting for Boys reminded me of something - with all the speculation on BP on sex (or lack of it) they only had a tiny mention of his wife, Olave - who was of course a local girl, coming, I think, from Westcombe Park Road.

Olave Soames was a member of the family who owned Thames Soap Works factory which was on the site of the Seriol sugar works on the Peninsula. Soames made some terrifyingly ungentle soaps in the days when disease and dirt stalked the area and tar was seen as an essential antiseptic rather than a threat - British Carbolic was one of theirs.

It all seems to go together somehow!

Saturday 17 May 2008


Please remember out next meeting - 20th May - that's Tuesday

Neil Bennett on Merryweather Fire Engine Manufacturers of Greenwich

I am really really pleased to have got Neil to do this as Merryweather were a most important local company whose products went world wide - every local museum in the world has their old Fire Engine on show. Try putting 'Merryweather Greenwich' into the net and you will come up with 100s of proudly preserved engines and sites. Something locally preserved are the pumps on London Fire Brigade Float Massey Shaw - hopefully soon to find a permanent site on the Greenwich riverside.
The meeting is as ever at Old BakeHouse (back of Age Exchange building in Blackheath Village) 7.30 just turn up.

Other future meetings
10th June Lindsay Collier on The Industrial Museum of the Lee Valley
15th July Roger Owen on Early Steam Ships and the City Canal
23rd September Hugh Lyon on The impact of railway building on Greenwich
21st October Janet MacDonald on The Royal Victualling Yard Deptford
11th November James Trimmer on The Work of the Port of London Authority, with special reference to Greenwich
11th January Richard Hartree. on John Penn the work of the Greenwich based engineering company and its founders
17th March John King on Lullingstone . The Airport that never was.

Royal Gunpowder Mills

Through my door from a neighbour has come the latest leaflet from the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey - OF COURSE this is to do with Greenwich's Industrial History since the factory at Waltham Abbey was very much part of the diaspora of government weapon's establishments that spread out from Henry VIII's Greenwich, partly via Woolwich, from Tudor times to the mid-20th century.
Today the chemical weapons establishment at Waltham Abbey is a fascinating and beautiful parkland site which can still evidence strong links with Woolwich and the Arsenal - very visibly through Locomotive Woolwich standing centrally on display. Everyone should go there - they are open every weekend and bankholiday from the end of April to the end of September. Check them out and their events programme at

Perseverance Pays!

Someone has just shown me a page from the Magazine 'Model Engineer' for 1946 and drawn my attention to an advertisement. This is for the Alpha Engineering Company - 'Specialists in the Manufacture of Special Purpose Cutting Tools', Perseverance Works, Woolwich Road, London, SE10. Phone:GREENWICH 1838.
So - any one any ideas? where was the Perseverance Works and does anyone know anything about Alpha?

Friday 16 May 2008

Discover Greenwich

Big event last night in the Painted Hall where the great and good were all asked to take part in the launch of a a new ‘Learning and Interpretation Centre’, planned for the Cutty Sark area by the Greenwich Foundation. This is to ‘create a new permanent exhibition in the main hall of the Pepys Building with a learning suite, and temporary exhibition space on the mezzanine level. It will be called ‘Discover Greenwich’ and explore themes in the evolution of the town and the Old Royal Naval College site - Greenwich Palace – Royal Hospital for Seamen – Royal Naval College – Architecture – Craftmanship – Greenwich World Heritage site today – The River – Greenwich, London and the World. They are looking for volunteers for the Foundation, and/or participate in an oral history programme and/or make a donation.
So - what about industrial history here - well it has just managed to creep under the door and get a little bit noticed. Part of this was the investigation of the old brewery area - but also keeping in the minds of the people setting all this up that all of what we know as 'Royal' and 'Maritime' Greenwich had to be backed up by a large and highly skilled workforce - and that those skills were also transferred into a wider world of economic activity and endeavour - and just as important!

Thursday 15 May 2008


-and here is a picture of the Arsenal - at the place where you said your desk was:

Saturday 10 May 2008

Up the Farm

I have been very fond of saying that if you want to do 'real work' these days locally you need to volunteer at Woodlands Farm. The Farm is on the site of the old Co-op Farm and Abbatoir (back issues of Greenwich Industrial History will tell you about work there and their two records, one for the fastest beef gang in Europe and the other the number of people shot by the police). Anyway - all that aside - please support the Spring Show at the Farm on 18th May 10-30-4.30 with stalls and so on. They say 'Meet the Wood Bodger' - that must be industrial! and Greenwich Industrial History Society will certainly have a presence there, as will the Severndroog Trust and many others.

100 Cauliflowers

Not really sure if this is industrial history or not - but it's certainly inspired by it. This is the 100 Cauliflowers Project, where cauliflowers have been growing all winter alongside the river by the old Power Station jetty on the Peninsula. Why? They say that 'up until the 1960s cauliflowers were grown here - so local residents worked to plant and grow 100 cauliflowers in the shadow of the Dome. There is a harvest festival on 17th May in a local school where children and their parents will prepare the cauliflowers helped by 'Hand Made Food' and then eat them!