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.

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