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