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.