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.