Wednesday 30 September 2009

Computer manufacture in Greenwich

Those who can remember the computer manufacturers of the 1960s - when Britain was still a major player - will know that one of the most important of them was Elliott Brothers, based on the Lewisham/Greenwich borders.

A member has drawn our attention to an article - "Elliott Brothers to BAE Systems" by C T Bartlett which appeared in the Summer 2009 Newsletter of the History Technical and Professional Network of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. This can be found at
Through many mergers Elliott Brothers via Marcom-Elliott Avionic Systems Ltd and then Marconi Avionics, became part of BAE Systems. C.T.Bartlett, worked for Marconi Avionics and when he retired set up a museum called Rochester Avionic Archives on the Rochester site of BAE Systems - carries a different version of the Elliott article and a description of the collection. Unfortunately there is no information about how or even whether the public can visit.

The website says "Welcome to Rochester Avionic Archives - a large collection of avionic hardware items together with an archive of films, documents, videos,brochures and newspapers. The oldest item is a Slide Rule from 1894 but the majority of the items are of mid to late20th century origin. The emphasis is on equipment made or relevant to the Rochester site and the work of Elliott Bros, Marconi and BAE Systems The Rochester Avionic Archives (RAA), is located within BAE System Rochester, and aims to preserve a record of the products and generate pride in the people who helped create the company.

Up to 1998, a unique collection of equipment and documents was stored in the Flying School under the care of one of the previous Directors of the company. This collection included the 'Elliott Collection' which is a valuable archive relating to the work of Elliott Brothers in the 19th century. This collection has historic scientific instruments and documents but in addition there were some more modem items concerned with the avionics business of the Company and in particular at Rochester.

- So - what do we know about their work in South London?

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Walk London - The Royal Arsenal to Greenwich

Members of the Greenwich Industrial History Society (and others) might be interested in a walk on Sunday, 27th September at 11am.

Ian Bull, a walk leader for 'Walk London' is hosting. Please meet outside Woolwich Arsenal station for a historical walk along the Thames Path from The Royal Arsenal to Greenwich. The walk is just over 7.5 miles long and has no set finish time although it is expected to last about four to five hours. Photographs to illustrate the route over the past 50 years or so will be on hand. These have been provided by The Greenwich Heritage Centre. A packed lunch may be advisable but a visit to the Thames Barrier's café en route is an option.

This cannot be an in depth investigation into local history but the weather forecast is excellent and the walk might make a pleasant if familiar stroll. The walk is free and there's no need to to pre-book. All are very welcome to contact Ian in advance for further information.

Unfortunately it will not be possible to have a close look at the Royal Arsenal's buildings due to an event on the site.

OBO Ian Bull
Tel: 020 7223 3572

The walk appears on Walk London's website at...


Walk London is a partnership of all the London Boroughs. Financed by Transport for London it is led by The Corporation of the City of London.

Keskerdh Kernow 500

We've been sent a copy of this wonderful book about Cornwall - a lot of it is about the March to Blackheath - isn't there a plaque up on the wall of Greenwich park? At the end of the March the marchers made the Blackheath Declaration - which was basically about Cornish rights (they wanted a Development Agency and stuff like that). Anyway its a great book with lots of interesting stuff in it - happy to lend it out but it would be important to get it back.

Now - why were we sent it? One of the most important people in the great history of Cornish industry, mining technology and engineering was Richard Trevithick. He pioneered much steam engine technology and designed one of the earliest Locomotives (there are great accounts of his first steaming through the streets of Cambourne). He has very tangible links with south east London, since he ended his days working for J.&E.Hall and is buried in Dartford.

One of the most important things which happened to his work on steam engine design - and something which can claim to be a milestone in steam engine technology - was the explosion of a boiler in one of his new high pressure engines in 1803. Where did this take place?? Why, on the Greenwich Peninsula just down near the river from the Pilot.

I wrote this up, to a somewhat cool reception, for the bi-centenary of this event - and I had also found the inquest report for one of the victims who died in St.Thomas's hospital. Anyway, two weeks ago I met a Cornish industrial historian and sent him a copy of my article. He has replied with multiple thanks - very very keen to know where it was that it happened and - as a thank you has sent this wonderful book.

So - who remembers the march?

Friday 11 September 2009

Open House at the Arsenal site

A press release from firepower - ROYAL ARSENAL PREPARES TO OPEN ITS DOORS

On Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September, the Royal Arsenal's historic Old Royal Military Academy where history was both taught and made - a Grade II (star) listed building built 1716-20 - will be open free of charge as part of the London Open House Weekend. The building is attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor and was commissioned by the Government’s Board of Ordnance. It was the birthplace of the Royal Artillery, and was one of the first military academies of Europe. The British army officer training system now based at Sandhurst, was first established here. The Academy took in the first cadets in 1721 then in 1805, they were moved into a converted workshop nearby, and the RMA Woolwich became known to generations of officers as "The Shop". The traditions begun and standards set here in the 18th Century are carried through to today as the core values of military education and standards in Britain and in many other countries. The building is now used by Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum.

- and - what they don't say in this press release (which comes from Firepower and thus is only interested in the Royal Artillery) that it had a formative role in the Royal Engineers - and - perhaps more importantly was the place where many scientists undertook research. I have always felt that it is about time someone took seriously Woolwich's role in the scientific community of the 18th and 19th centuries - and the role of the Royal Military Academy in being one of the earliest institutions to provide a scientific education in this country.
I did edit that press release down a lot too!