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 firstname.lastname@example.org