Thursday 9 December 2010

From Woolwich to Tripcock Point

The following account about the riverside path downriver from the Arsenal comes from the latest edition of the Woolwich Antiquarians newsletter. This is a fascinating piece of riverside whose history has been very much neglected.

Andy Brockman will be with Greenwich Industrial History Society as a speaker again on 18th January (at the Old Bakehouse m 7.30) talking about : The First Blitz: The Eaglesfield Park Anti Aircraft Gun Site and the defence of Woolwich Arsenal in WW1

however - back to the river and what the Antiquarians had to say ........... on "Thames-side Arsenal - a walk led by Andy Brockman"

The walk was along the riverside footpath from Woolwich. The footpath, is now about 10ft higher than it was when the Arsenal was at its peak so most remains l are now covered. In the 19th the Arsenal authorities had themselves raised the river bank, and much of their work is still visible in revetted stone.

At a curve in the riverbank is the Gridiron which was built as a roll-on dock for 100 ton guns to be loaded onto special 'Gog or Magog' barges After manufacture in the Arsenal the gun would be put on a railway wagon, taken to the dock, and rolled (wagon and all) directly onto one of the barges for transport to Shoeburyness or wherever. Although this dock is now overgrown it is in reasonable condition and it is hoped to restore it.

At the next curve the indentation was probably the result of a breach in the river wall. The land was boggy and had been used for a magazine; and latterly for a latrine, with an outfall drain. It was felt by the authorities that there was a need here for revetting, and thus four old boats loaded with stone were gronded here in a line with more stone piled behind. These boats are now accessible at neap tides. The southernmost of them being the only known example of a ballast barge. It had a very basic hull, for local work in calm river waters, with a large hopper in the centre and a crane to dredge ballast from the riverbed. Thames Discovery are investigating it as well as the best preserved of the other three boats.

The third indentation is an ancient breech. Arsenal closed it off with a stretch of riverwall

There are two Second World War Pill Boxes along the path, neither of a usual type. The southernmost is of rough concrete but stands well above ground level. The northern one is of fine concrete, and has a small enclosed yard at the back, open to the sky, with a pedestal base in the centre. The base is set low down but is not big enough to mount any sort of gun - was it a listening post, for a searchlight or what??

Tripcock Point is where the Princess Alice sank and nearby is a descriptive plaque pointing out the site. There is also a modern signpost giving the walking distance to Dartford and Dover eastwards; and Aberdeen westwards...

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Monuments around Woolwich with an industrial interest

The current issue of the Woolwich Antiquarians newsletter highlights Jim Marrett who opened their autumn season of talks giving the Vincent Memorial Lecture on 30th October 2010.

He concentrated on some of the Statues and Memorials around Woolwich. These are obviously very varied - here are some of the ones he mentioned which have an industrial interest:

There is the RACS building in Powys Street with its statue of Alexander McLeod with the motto "each for all and all for each".
(I hope we don't need to explain that RACS was the great Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society begun by Arsenal workers and one of the earliest co-ops in the world).

Jim next noted that 'We kept our feet dry by using the Free Ferry boats' - and that the boat names include 'Ernest Bevin' (Wartime Bevin Boys and then Labour Government Foreign Secretary - and of course someone who rose through the trade union) and John Bums (famous for trhe Dockers tanner dock strike in 1889, then a radical MP and one of the the first Labour Ministers). He reminded his audience that it was John Bums MP who used the term "liquid history" to describe the River Thames - Burns said , "The St Lawrence is mere water, the Missouri is mere muddy water, but the Thames, well the River Thames is liquid history".
(something we all need to remind the Americans)

Jim noted that insuide the soon to be demolished Woolwich Post Office is a 'a splendid First World War memorial dedicated to all Woolwich postmen who fought and eight men who died'.

At Shooters Hill near Christ Church is the covered memorial seat to Samuel Edmund Phillips, of Johnson and Phillips the Charlton electrical contractors. Over the seat and drinking fountain it records of Phillips
"Write me as one who loves his fellow men"

Labour Copartnership began in the local gas industry

The latest edition of Historic Gas Times carries on its front page an article by south London based gas historian, Brian Sturt, about one of the most important innovations carried out in the Victorian gas industry locally:

He says:

Today, bonus schemes are very much the norm, but over 120 years ago was there a choice? A 'Co-Partnership scheme' was first inaugurated by the South Metropolitan Gas Company in 1889 at a time when industrial relations were quite tense and workers had been on strike. The Governor of the South Met, Sir George Livesey introduced the scheme in an attempt to ensure that the gas supply was maintained without interruption.

This scheme gave workers a bonus on wages a percentage of the Company profits, which was held on deposit as shares and gained interest - as an alternative to joining a trade union. From this beginning, 'Co-Partnership' as it became known, developed steadily over the years and by 1908 twelve gas companies operated a similar scheme for their employees. This expanded and when nationalisation of the industry came in 1949, approximately 40 to 45% of employees in the industry were Co-Partners.

From the basic bonus payments at the start,many gas undertakings, depending on the company encouraged employees to become shareholders, elected worker-directors and provided a wide range of social and welfare facilities. The South Met also included discounted gas and formed a building society called 'Metrogas' which was in existence until 1984. Some undertakings published their Co-Partnership Journals, now a major source of information on the more social aspects of the industry for we historians.

For a period until the First World War, the South Met also sent out Christmas Cards - as shown in the illustrations. These record the number of employees in the scheme at the South Met and in 1904 this was 5,001 with over £230,000 invested - equivalent to about £12,000 per employee at today's values.
Brian Sturt
Historic Gas Times is available by subscription. please leave a message here if you would like details of how to contact the editor. (or via Institution of Gas Engineers)

PS - I also hope Brian will not object to me saying that the South Met. Co-partnership scheme was the subject of my M.Phil. Both he and I have a vast amount of material which could be made available to anyone seriously interested in the subject. However - family historians beware = this does not include personal details of participants. Please get in touch with either of us if you would like to know more

Sunday 5 December 2010

Haycrafts of Deptford

Dona Haycraft has written to us saying..

I am starting to research family history connected with the Haycrafts in Deptford (ironmongers). My interest started with the Haycraft halfpenny 1795 of which I have a couple and portraits of Joseph and Sarah Haycraft Deptford website Bonhams - the paintings did not sell to my relief!).

I wonder if there is any reference of where John Haycraft had a dock allegedly in Rotherhithe and whether there is any trace of where Thomas (he of the halfpenny) had his business in Deptford's Broadway or whether it was flattened in the bombing of the Broadway in WW2.

The GIHS Webmaster says: According to the Bonhams site, the Haycrafts were a family of shipbuilders, prior to 1700 in Torbay, then subsequently in Rotherhithe and Deptford, Joseph was part of the family business, by then a company of ironmongers fitting out ships in the Viturlline Yard in Deptford. In 1795 his brother, Thomas Haycraft famously coined his own token, the 'Haycraft Halfpenny' which bears the legend 'Payable at Tho's Haycraft's, Deptford'.

I clearly must come to Deptford. Any suggestions of the best places to start? The links between Lewisham/Deptford/Greenwich are confusing to someone in Suffolk!

best wishes, Dona Haycraft
Tel: 01379 668669

Friday 3 December 2010

Elliott Brothers Lewisham - collections

We have received the following information about documentation of Elliott Brothers Lewisham - who made electronic equipment on the site now covered by Tesco. We hope to have Mr. Bristow as a speaker some time next year.

"The history of this Company which moved to Lewisham from central London in 1900 is fairly well documented though not in a single volume. Bulletin No 36 of the Scientific Instrument Society includes articles by Dr. Gloria Clifton, Head of Royal Observatory at the National Maritime Museum and by myself. Additionally I have published articles on this Company in subsequent issues of this Bulletin. I delivered a lecture on the Company History to the 2002 Summer Conference of the Institution of Electrical Engineers at Greenwich University and to the Lewisham Local History Society, amongst other organizations.

I was employed by Elliott Brothers in technical and management positions until retiring from Rochester. After the closure of the Lewisham site I took responsibility for the Company's Historic Collection and Archive. These collections cover documents from 1795, and instruments from 1840, to the mid - 20th century. After being exposed to risks of disposal and dispersal, they were taken in by the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford where they are accessible for academic and general research.

The present collection at British Aerospace Systems plc at Rochester to which you refer consists almost entirely of aircraft electronic equipment produced by Elliott Brothers and its successor companies at Rochester. It is not open to the public. The web site uses unacknowledged historical information from the sources given above.

I should be happy to answer questions or to provide information about the Company if required.

Ronn Bristow

Monday 18 October 2010


the following is an account of a visit to the Royal Naval College Nuclear reactor by a party from GLIAS in 1989

On Tuesday 14th November 1989 a small party of members of the GLIAS Recording Group visited the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, SE10, to see the nuclear reactor Jason. The design of this reactor was developed by Hawker Siddeley from the American Argonaut reactor which first operated in 1957. After running for two years at Hawker Siddeley Jason was bought by the Admiralty and transported to Greenwich where it first ran on 6th November 1962. . ,
Jason is a ten kilowatt, water moderated and cooler graphite reflected, thermal reactor using eighty per cent enriched uranium-aluminium plate fuel elements separated by graphite wedges. Two rows of fuel elements mounted in a ninety degree sector of an annulus formed by two concentric aluminium core tanks make up a single slab core with 'a critical mass of about 2 kilograms of Uranium 235. There are four independent control mechanisms; safety, coarse and fine cadmium control rods and a moderator dump, fail-safe and each capable of shutting down the reactor.
Three flux measuring instrumentation channels ensure coverage by at least two channels throughout the power range. More independent power limit instrumentation is provided by two shutdown amplifiers and there are three radiation monitors which measure levels close to each of the main experimental areas. The fail safe magnetic logic of the safety and interlock circuits makes certain that the correct sequence of operations is followed during the start of operation. Automatic shut down commences should the likelihood of dangerous conditions arise. The reactor is inherently safe owing to the large negative void and temperature coefficients of reactivity. For removable experiments administrative control limits the reactivity available to half a per cent.
The reactor is uses by students taking nuclear courses and is a versatile critical facility. A high neutron and gamma flux environment enables many aspects of operation and control to be demonstrated and training in health and safety procedures is given. Research is carried out by staff and long term students and the reactor’s facilities are also used by outside organisations.
A pneumatic transfer system enables up to three 0.6 ml samples to be irradiates for a given time and recovered to a properly lined lead cell within 3 5 seconds. Supporting services include extensive and well equipped electronic and mechanical workshops, and extensive computing, and simulating facilities. There is a fully equipped radiological protection service.
During our visit safety arrangements were stressed and each member of the party was provided with appropriate protective clothing, including; white cotton shoe covers, and we were obliged to wash afterwards. . Visually one sees a pile of: concrete blocks and the interest is in the control arrangements. Jason is probably the only nuclear reactor housed in a buildin, dating fron 1699. The walls are about six feet thick. As the power output is small the fuel elements installed when Jason went to Greenwich are still viable so there are no problems of transporting nuclear waste. Only about one gramme of Uranium 235 has been consumed in twenty seven years of operation. We are particularly grateful to. Professor J. Head for permitting the visit, and Mr. C. Proust who acted as our host.
Bob Carr (GLIAS Newsletter 127)

Sunday 17 October 2010

Ballast pits and ballast quay

an old Blackheath resident asks for info:

"can remember as a boy with my friends riding our bikes in and around a large pit on Blackheath. This pit was situated opposite the war memorial on the southeast corner of Greenwich Park. During the war it was used by army dispatch riders I assume for training purposes, as they used to fall off quite a lot.

I recall we kids used to call this pit 'the Fuzzies; why I don't know, it was one of those names you heard as a child and never questioned.

I believe this was only one of several pits on the heath, and I would like to know why they were dug. I was told some years ago that they were ballast pits dug to supply ballast to the Royal Navy Dockyard at Deptford and to Merchant shipping in the Thames, hence Ballast Quay on which the 'Cutty Sark' public house (formerly the 'Union Tavern') now stands . I would appreciate any thing you could tell me about this.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

WW1 Ships Chart The Past Climate

Taken from an Oxford University News Release of October 12th, 2010;

The public are being asked to revisit the voyages of World War One Royal Navy warships to help scientists understand the climate of the past and unearth new historical information.

Visitors to, launched on 12 October 2010, will be able to retrace the routes taken by any of 280 Royal Navy ships including historic vessels such as HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland still afloat.

By transcribing information about weather, and any interesting events, from images of each ship’s logbook web volunteers will help scientists to build a more accurate picture of how our climate has changed over the last century, as well as adding to our knowledge of this important period of British history.

‘These naval logbooks contain an amazing treasure trove of information but because the entries are handwritten they are incredibly difficult for a computer to read,’ said Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University, one of the team behind the project. ‘By getting an army of online human volunteers to retrace these voyages and transcribe the information recorded by British sailors we can relive both the climate of the past and key moments in naval history.’

Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, said: ‘Historical weather data is vital because it allows us to test our models of the Earth's climate: if we can correctly account for what the weather was doing in the past, then we can have more confidence in our predictions of the future. Unfortunately, the historical record is full of gaps, particularly from before 1920 and at sea, so this project is invaluable.’

Dr Robert Simpson of Oxford University, one of the team, said: ‘Luckily, these observations made by Royal Navy sailors every four hours without fail – even whilst under enemy fire! – can help to fill this ‘data gap’. It’s almost like launching a weather satellite into the skies at a time when manpowered flight was still in its infancy.’ forms a key part of the International ACRE Project, which is recovering past weather and climate data from around the world and bringing them into widespread use. Met Office Hadley Centre scientist Dr Rob Allan, the ACRE project leader said: ‘By reconstructing past weather from these historical documents we will complete our knowledge of weather patterns and climatic changes.'

Most of the data about past climate comes from land-based weather monitoring stations which have been systematically recording data for over 150 years. The weather information from the ships at, which spans the period 1905-1929, effectively extends this land-based network to 280 seaborne weather stations traversing the world’s oceans.

The ‘virtual sailors’ visiting are rewarded for their efforts by a rise through the ratings from cadet to captain of a particular ship according to the number of pages they transcribe. The project is inspired by earlier Oxford University-led ‘citizen science’ projects, such as Galaxy Zoo and Moon Zoo – that have seen more than 320,000 people make over 150 million classifications – which have shown that ordinary web users can make observations that are as accurate as those made by experts.

But it isn’t just gaps in the weather records that the team hope to fill but gaps in the history books too. is teaming up with naval historians in an effort to add to our knowledge of the exploits of hundreds of Royal Navy vessels and the thousands of men who served on them.

‘Life in the trenches is well documented but the maritime struggle that took place during World War One is less well known,’ said historian Gordon Smith of Naval-History.Net, Penarth, UK. 'This was a global conflict that reached across the world’s oceans to every part of the globe and was about far more than just the Battle of Jutland. We hope these new records will give people a fresh insight into naval history and encourage people to find out more about Britain’s naval past and the role their relatives played in it.’ features a range of historically-important ships including Battle of Jutland-survivor HMS Caroline, which is still in existence in Belfast, HMS Defence and HMS Invincible, which were both blown up at Jutland with the loss of most of their crews, and HMS Valerian which foundered in a hurricane off the coast of Bermuda in 1926.

It also holds the records of less well-known ships including HMS Dwarf, which on service in the Cameroons in 1914 suffered a boat attack similar to the one mounted by Humphrey Bogart’s character in the movie The African Queen, and river gunboats such as HMS Gnat, HMS Mantis and HMS Moth which patrolled the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates in a military expedition to Iraq with echoes of the modern-day conflict there.

Dr Lintott said: ‘Rather like the Royal Navy sailors setting out on a voyage, with this new project we cannot be sure what is waiting for us over the horizon, what our volunteers find will make a significant contribution to climate science and might even rewrite the history books!’

For more information visit

Sunday 10 October 2010

General Gordon's family and convalescent home?

I wonder if any of your members can help me with information related to my family history research. It relates to Woolwich rather than Greenwich but I hope this is not too much of an obstacle.

What I am looking for is this:

Does anyone know if a member of General Gordon (of Khartoum)'s family was running a convalescent home for military patients in Woolwich around 1879?

I believe that Mrs Hawthorn, nee Dow, a member of the Enderby family, was campaigning against the neglect and ill-treatment of patients in military hospitals around that time, and I wondered if it might be her.

Any help would be very much appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Dugald Macleod

Wednesday 6 October 2010

The decline of Matchless/AJS motorcycles, Woolwich

The decline of Matchless/AJS motorcycles and the rise of Honda
by Dave Ramsey

My paternal families the Ramseys and the Terrells have lived and prospered in Woolwich and Plumstead since the early 1800s. In a blue collar sense they derived prosperity from the innovative factories of the area and lived in a variety of pleasant rented Victorian terraced houses.

My father worked in the heavy gun factory at Woolwich Arsenal but my parents kept me on at grammar school, which he could ill afford, because they saw that poor management and underinvestment was leading to industrial decline. I can remember dad’s prophetic advice that the government was going to let the gun factory demise and that I should decline any job offers there. He evidenced this by showing me one of the huge lathe machines with its instruction typed into the metal in Cyrillic Russian. It had been destined for the Tsar’s Russia but the revolution changed its location to Woolwich and the piece of antiquarian interest was still the mainstay of production 45 years later. This was fairly typical of the lack of investment in riparian Woolwich factories from where 70000 jobs were lost between 1965 and 1975.

The Matchless AJS motorcycle factory was of interest to me because I passed it most days to go to school. The father of a friend worked there as a skilled project engineer and his Triumph Tiger was refurbished there during lunch breaks. The lack of management control, the boredom and lack of creative expression amongst the workforce speaks volumes about the underlying management problems that appeared in the early 1960s.

A look at the two photos below shows the differences of both of scale, industrial organisation and investment. It also shows the company director astride a motor bike touring the factory talking and smiling with the workers.

Soichiro Honda had invested time in his personal development as an engineer, taking up technical college to develop better piston rings, and also showing skill in identifying essential management talents he lacked but in appointing talent to fill the gap. His 1949 appointment of Takeo Fujisawa as managing director was one of these. Honda recognised that the collapse of the market in 1953 after the end of the Korean War. He identified that working people needed a cheap way to get to work and produced the Cub clip on engine for cycles to ensure Honda’s survival, by generating cash flow and keeping the skilled workforce together.

In 1956 the Norton Range consisted of a 500cc and 600cc dominator machines. They were designed in 1948 by Bert Hopwood, Norton MD from 1958, who recognised his signature on the production drawing in the 1956 production line. It had been stopped to allow for manufacturing improvements to the cams but they clearly had not been made. The loss of these production years represented profits forgone.

Alec Skinner, the finance director at Norton, devised a sound but simple early warning system at Norton, as a bank overdraft facility was not available to them. Skinner produced finance, production, labour and stock control figures for the Board and production unit alike. Alec’s simple little sheet of paper gave management all the necessary information to make the right decisions.

The AMC board at Woolwich introduced a complex and unsuitable cost control system, possibly similar to one used by ICI, intended to be used across the AMC company, Norton, Matchless/ AJS, James and Francis Barnet. It was data hungry, slow and unresponsive to the immediate needs of managers to control cash flow, stock and labour. Norton maintained its simpler faster system, probably leading to its continued success. Because of its simplicity, staff across the “coal face” understood it without explanation so lead to more responsive reaction to problems as they emerged, improving Norton efficiency.

Matchless hid behind import duties until the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs swept them aside in 1959. By this time Honda had well established products with excellent engineering and sold 500,000 a year of these in 1959, when it launched into the American market. The quantity and quality of Matchless machines didn’t bear comparison. Bill Cakebread and Alan Jones believe the AJS Matchless annual production to have been 20,000 PA and Bert Hopwood believed Norton to be 10,000.

Norton designed 250cc and 125cc light weight bikes with 90% commonality of parts but the AMC rejected the idea. This is sad as the maximum engine capacity for a provisional license was 250cc after 1962. This may have let Honda into the young market and this people would have progressed to Hondas larger machines rather than AMC. A similar fate befell the one piece engine design for the heavyweight 250cc.

AMC was in fact five companies striving to produce their own range of motor bikes in competition with each other. Honda was one company with superb management leadership producing one unified range of motor bikes. Attempts by AMC to introduce commonality of parts were not successful, like the decision to replace the Villiers engines in Frances Barnet and James with new inferior ones manufactured at Woolwich. The decision by AMC to create its own dealership network in the USA was a costly mistake; Norton simply used the Berliner distribution network used by Ducati to sell its machines with great success. The risk of sales but also profits was born by Berliner, so Norton made a small profit but increased production, reduced unit costs and ironed out seasonal fluctuations in the UK market.

Honda was re-investing its substantial profits in the business while Matchless took profits that didn’t really exist, without investing in modernisation. Matchless had investors, creditors and banks to satisfy, Honda didn’t. During the post war recovery period, Japanese manufacturers were typically investing 30% of profits into its industry.

AMC, with its head office at Woolwich, used profits from Norton and Francis Barnet to bolster the flagging fortunes of AJS/ Matchless. In 1961 Norton was doing well with sales, particularly in the USA. It needed to expand production so was just about to buy a nearby factory, when AMC called in the £250,000 profit to cover a financial crisis at Woolwich. The Norton expansion did not take place and the potential profits from expanded production were forgone. This may have saved the AMC organisation had the right decisions been made.

The Japanese culture of looking after the workforce and massive industrial investment supported by a caring banking sector reaped its own success. In the 60s the Wilson Government tried to encourage replication of this model in the UK but was let down by a lack of desire to bring about a co-ordination with industry by the investment sector. And industrial leaders alike. A closer relationship between bankers and the industry would have revealed that the Norton financial control mechanisms and innovative bike and production design were head and shoulders above Matchless. Appropriate remedial action could have been taken much earlier.

With the failure of the manufacturing base at Woolwich and other Thames-side quality lead to the total destruction of the working class aristocracy that had given such stability and prosperity to East and South East London. The skilled young men emigrated to the old Commonwealth and elsewhere allowing prosperity to develop in those countries.


• AMC bought Norton in 1954 because of its wining habit in TT races.
• The take over seemed to have stultified Norton machine, production and marketing innovation.
• The Norton advertising advantage wasn’t pressed home across the whole of AMC
• Profits from James mc, Francis Barnet mc, and Norton mc were used to bolster AJS/Matchless less than sparkling performance.
• The Norton subsidiary couldn’t borrow money from banks because of the AMC group’s poor credit rating.
• Norton’s innovative one piece engine designs for its 125cc and 250cc with 90% commonality of parts, reduced oil leaks and production costs.
• The Honda advertising slogan “you are never alone on a Honda” lead their marketing campaign to sell machines to non motor cyclists who simply wanted to get to work. Freedom from oil leaks allowed this as people could keep clean without specialist clothes.
• Norton survived beyond the AMC collapse, and went on to develop a 160 MPH machine loved by police forces for their speed and safety. But the investment money wasn’t there to develop it.

DR, Sunday, 04 July 2010

Kidbrooke School and the Dome of Discovery

Notes in 'Festival Times' that the original beams of the Dome of Discovery were hidden away in a Greenwich School sent me scurrying off to find out – was it true? A look through the local papers for Greenwich in 1951-3 made me pretty sure it wasn't true because there was no coverage of the story at all but there was something else. – there were stories of the enormous new school started in Kidbrooke in April 1951. Although its vast hall was actually planned before the Festival of Britain and before the Festival Hall, it has been compared with them in both style and scale – and it is easy to understand how the story of the beams began.

I am not really sure if the school is really anything to do with the Festival but I am writing to tell Festival Times about it because, apart from the story of the beams, it really has something to say to us about the early 1950s. The school was the first purpose built comprehensive school, originally for girls only. It was on a scale not seen before – for 2,000 girls and with huge range of special features (i.e. 5 gymnasia!). They hold huge scrapbooks of their press coverage over the years – and it is fascinating to read the hostile stories in the press when the school opened in 1954 and the constant barrage of critical stories in the tabloid press of the day. Nevertheless it has survived and along with the educational ideas which marked it out, it is rapidly being realised that it is a treasure of early 1950s architecture. The present management is doing the best it can to see that original features are preserved and, in some cases restored.

The school scrapbooks also contain articles from the technical press, which detail the construction methods and materials in a great deal of detail. The copper domed school hall today stands out above the surrounding suburban housing – inside it is, understandably, a bit worn, but the integrity of the underlying design shines through. The dome is, however, not really like the Dome of Discovery. A series of articles was written about the roof by B.K.Chatterjee, who was one of the engineers involved – who was he, and what happened to him? Work by an Asian engineer on such a major building must have been very unusual at the time. The architects of the building were Slater, Uren and Pike and the consulting engineers were Ove Arup.

Mary Mills

This article was originally published by the Festival of Britain Society

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Strike at United Glass, Charlton

At the September GIHS meeting we had a talk by Scott Reeve about a strike at the Charlton United Glass works in 1960. Here is an article on which his talk was based.

The Anatomy of a Strike

At 11 am on Friday the 12th, February 1960 the Manager, Mr Morris, of the United Glass Bottles factory in Charlton, S.E London thought he could improve industrial relations in the factory by talking directly to the workers in one of the factory’s shops. The shop he chose was the shop whose steward, Mr Morton, was Chairman of the Shop Stewards’ Committee We do not know what he wanted to say to his employees but it must have been connected with the national engineering unions’ claim for a cut in the working week and a substantial increase in wages. The unions meeting in York on the 11th of February accepted the National employer’s offer of a cut in the working week from 44 to 42 hours but no increase in wages. The Shop Stewards Committee at UGB consequently ended the workers working to rule in support of the national claim on the morning of the 12th of February.

Walk out
We do not know what he intended to say because the men did not attend the meeting but carried on working. Again he sent instructions to the workers to come along and listen to his wise words. Again no one turned up. He then sacked with one hours notice Wally Morton the shop steward who he blamed for the workers not attending his meeting. By noon on the same day all work had stopped at the factory as practically all the firm’s 1,400 workers had walked out in support of the Chair of their shop Stewards Committee.

The Shop Stewards established a strike committee with Les Doust an AEU UGB Worker and a senior official of the South London AEU as its chairman. In addition he was a well known Communist. They organised a picket rota, called a mass meeting of strikers for Monday morning, contacted their union Officials, members of at least 6 unions were on the Shop Stewards Committee, and stewards at other UGB factories. They had factories in Glasgow, Liverpool and Yorkshire.

Time now for the strikers and management to take stock of the situation, at 11am management tried to address their employees, they tried again, and then sacked the Stewards’ Chairman and by midday practically all of the factories’ 1,400 workers had walked out on strike. This was clearly a spontaneous strike, there was little or no time for the Shop Stewards to call a strike, news of the sacking must have spread like wild fire through the workforce scattered throughout the large site and their reaction was to immediately walk out on strike. Labourers as well as the engineers, warehouse men as well as electricians all walked out. The strikers’ position was simple. No return to work until the Chair of the Shop Stewards got his job back.

The management’s position was exactly the opposite. “It can not be acceptable for any employee to countermand management’s clear instructions. Management must be able to hold a meeting with their employees, on their premises and in the firm’s time”, they sent out a letter to all 1,400 strikers making these points. The strikers view was that if management had anything to say to the workers they should do it through, the Shop Stewards Committee, the workers elected representatives. The stewards maintained that there was a local agreement covering this very point. This was the accepted practice in all factories where management recognised the unions.

The employers said they would not discuss the situation with the unions at UGB until all the strikers had returned to work.

The Strike
The strikers mass meeting on Monday morning unanimously agreed that Wally Morton’s sacking was a flagrant act of victimisation. They resolved to continue the strike until he got his job back, and organised strikers to go round other factories, depots and the docks to ask them to black UGB bottles. The factory like many other factories in the area was on the south side of the river Thames and barges delivered raw materials for the glass manufacture directly to the factory site and collected glass bottles. In addition UGB had a contract with the Co-op to supply them with the glass bottles for children attending L.C.C schools. At the mass meeting a fulltime organiser of the South London District of the AEU spoke supporting the strike saying he expected it to be made official. He also said that union officials had met management that very morning but had got nowhere with them.

If all this was not serious enough for the Management the factories’ boiler workers struck on the Monday. The significance of this was that if the furnaces are not working no glass can be produced and it would take weeks to restart the furnaces once they had stopped working. The strikers knew this and stopped the oil coming into the site to fuel the furnaces. Management managed to keep them working until the end of the week.

By the middle of the week the bottles had been blacked by Co-op workers and Thames stevedores who crewed the barges. Workers at the firm’s factory in St Helens’ had held a token strike in support of the Charlton strikers. In addition the Glasgow UGB workers had threatened an all out strike on Friday if the dispute had not been settled by then and the workers of Harveys a neighbouring factory had offered to organise collections for the strike fund.

On Thursday a mass meeting of the 1,600 strikers was told that Management had contacted the Trade unions’ full time officials begging for an end to the strike. A meeting was taking place that very day between the District officials of the AEU and UGB management at the Ministry of Labour offices in Central London. Management still refused to talk to the Shop Stewards

News Story
Meanwhile the strike had become a local and political news story. It was the front page lead in the 2 local newspapers, the Kentish Independent and the Kentish Mercury with headlines “Shop Steward sacked so 1.400 strike and “Shop Steward sacked: 1,600 strike” respectively. As Communist Party members played a leading role in the strike it was not surprising that the Daily Worker covered the strike, they gave it limited, but daily coverage, small paragraphs on page 3. They did not report the deal that ended the strike. More surprisingly the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League of Gerry Healy sent Brian Behan down to the picket line. He wrote a detailed account of the first week of the strike which made the front page of the SLL’s weekly paper “The Newsletter.” With the headline London: Bottle workers out”

The Deal
The AEU lead by their full time South London District official, Mr Parker, agreed the following with the UGB’s management:

1. Wally Morton’ sacking would be withdrawn and substituted with 3 days suspension commencing with the return to work by the strikers.
2. Management asked the AEU to examine the fitness of Wally Morton to be a shop steward
3. Representatives of the 6 trade unions at UGB would meet with management to discuss the functions of the shop stewards.

Mr Parker and another union full timer Mr Biggin then met the strike committee to inform them of the deal but they were divided on the compromise agreed with the AEU and decided not to recommend ending the strike to the mass meeting of strikers on Friday morning.

The union officials sold the deal to the strikers as a defeat for management even through the terms of the deal are not completely satisfactory from the workers point of view. A striker moved that we should not go back until our leader Wally Morton is in the front of our march back to work. This was rejected by 2 to 1 and when a resumption of work on the terms agreed by the Trade Unions was put to the meeting the Chair of the Meeting Les Doust declared the vote 50-50. He then put the vote to the strikers again, this time asking everyone to remember the gravity of the situation, the vote to end the strike was narrowly carried.

After the vote Les Doust said “The meeting whilst accepting the recommendations for a resumption of work does not regard the terms of the settlement as entirely satisfactory. Morton’s credentials are satisfactory to us”

The SLL talked to the strikers about the deal and described it as a shoddy little deal. They sold 125 copies of the Newsletter and some workers asked about joining the SLL. The Daily Worker reported that strikers bought 130 copies of the paper.

Return to Work
Next week the newsletter had a story on the return to work where they said everything seemed to indicate a resounding victory for the strikers. But instead a shabby compromise was negotiated between management and union officials.

The return to work and the deal that made it possible were factually reported in the following week’s Independent and Mercury but the Mercury had an editorial attacking the strike headed Power with out responsibility. The Editorial accused the shop stewards of flouting the agreed local agreement between unions and management and acted on impulse.

The workers would say it was management who broke the local agreement by sacking their leader and they immediately walked out without any instructions from their shop stewards. It was management who acted on impulse. By taking immediate action the workers got the job of the chairman of the shop stewards back.

On the deal that ended the strike, management revoked the dismissal of Wally Morton and suspended him for 3 days. This must be a victory for the strikers. Wally Morton was still a Shop Steward, the workers still recognised him as their chairman. Management can ask a T.U to withdraw a steward’s credentials but only ask. Management do no not veto the appointment of shop stewards. It is clear that the unions and management would have to sit down and discuss how industrial relations can be improved and come to an agreement how they would work together in the future.

This is also an example of how the communists played a positive role in industrial relations: They negotiated the deal; they sold the deal to the workers and were responsible for ending it.

Scott Reeve
28 September 2010

Sunday 5 September 2010

Glass making in Greenwich

Our July talk was a very wonderful discussion on Glass Making in London given by David Watts. Since then some of us have been able to get hold of a copy of his book "A history of Glassmaking in London"
(£25 Watts Publishing)

Part 2 of the book starts with 'Glassmaking in Greenwich' - and perhaps we need to say first of all that this should really be "Early glassmaking" - because of you look for United Glass and/or Kork 'n Seal you will not find them-nor will you find much about the glass making sand quarries in the Charlton area.

David starts his Greenwich chapter by saying that 'information about Greenwich is least satisfactory' - but what he does give us is a series of, as yet unresolved, clues.

He says that the earliest reference he has found is to a grant in 1575 to James Vasselyn to open a house for 'the manufacture of glass in Greenwich'. This is Verzelini who certainly had glasshouses in London and in Kent, but a Greenwich site is not known.

In the 1630s Jeremiah Bagg and Francis Bristow had a partnership for a Greenwich glasshouse - but where this was he doesn't know.

In 1673 John Evelyn records a visit to an 'Italian glasshouse' in Greenwich. Again, David doesn't know where this was and if it was one of those mentionedabove or something new.

David then moves on to Woolwich. This was a glasshouse for broad window glass on the riverfront between the Arsenal and the Dockyard. Sand came from Maidstone and coal from Newcastle.The works was run by members of the Henzey family and come from France, via Stourbridge, to arrive in Woolwoich in the 1620s.

Monday 30 August 2010

Payne's Wharf query

Robin Jordan writes;

I was browsing the blog to see if I could find out more about Paynes Wharf, if there are any photos/articles, how and when it might have got its name – and who were the “Payne Brothers” that were mentioned in a Times Article relating to a serious paper fire in their warehouse in 1929.

Can anyone help point me in the right direction?

Thursday 26 August 2010

Greenwich Armour

The lastest edition of Festival Times has just arrived. This is the newsletter of the Festival of Britain Society, and devotes itself to the amazing amount of material and events which emanated from the Festival in 1951. The newsletter always contains many intersting, and surprising, items.
You can contact the Society at

I note in this one a whole page about a Greenwich industry - the Tudor manufacture of upmarket . This exhibition - part of the 1951 Festival - was at the Tower of London
and was the first time this collection had been brought together.

Armour made for the Earl of Warwick c.1615

A suit of armour made for George Clifford
3rd Earl of Cumberland c1568

Armour on the left made for Henry VII
Armour on the right made for William
Herbert, The Earl of Pembroke

Armour belonging to Henry Prince of Wales c.1610 on the left
one the right armour made for George Clifford 3rd Earl of
Cumberland c.1568

Thursday 19 August 2010

Some letters

We've been sent a series of archive letters (thank you, John).

Two of them relate to railway bridges in our area

- One is about the bridge over Court Road in Eltham and is from the London General Omnibus Company of Electric Railway House, Westminster. Dating from 1934 it concerns the weight of their buses.

= The other is about the Horn Park Lane railway bridge which was being replaced. From the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich Electricity Department it describes the location of electricity cables on the bridge which the London County Council want removed.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Molassine and the Aeriel Post

First UK Aeriel Post

Mollassine was an animal food factory near the Blackwall Tunnel - it was part of the Syriol site, currently under demolition. It had a somewhat chequered start - and was the source of as very major local smell
The animal food was based on molasses mixed with various other substances. A more detailed history can be found in back numbers of the Greenwich Industrial History newsletter.

Presumably this post card is some sort of pubicity stunt - did all companies get one?? We need to hear from aeriel historians! but the thought of Molassine's dog food by air ...............................

Friday 11 June 2010

News and bits and pieces

Motorcycle exhibitions - Plumstead was a major centre of motor cycle manufacturing s0 -:
Greenwich Heritage Centre
July 3rd-September 18th AJS Motorcycle 100 - history of the works in Plumstead
and - 24th July at 2 pm Matchless Motorbikes. talk by Frances Ward.

GLIAS - Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society Newsletter notes the demolition of the Ferrier Estate, the narrow gauge railway track at Angerstein Wharf, and the closure of the Royal George in Blisset Street.

Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter recorded the demise of one of the last Woolwich Borough Electricity Junction Box - knocked over by a car. It stood at the junction of Cleanthus and Eaglesfield Roads. It was cast iron and had on it the arms of the old Borough of Woolwich. They note however that another such junction box at the junction of Burrage Road and Burrage Place has now been locally listed.

Crossness Engines Record - sadly records the death of one of their long term volunteers - John Ridley, We should send belated condolences.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Francis, tin box makers

Recently, a comment was added asking for information about Francis and Co. who made tin boxes, etc. locally. By chance we have many photographs - but little information. Here are some pix - No captions, but plenty more pictures available

Friday 26 March 2010

Avery Hill stables block - demolition

Friends of Avery Hill Park have contacted us as a matter of urgency because of their concern that Greenwich University are demolishing some of our agricultural architectural heritage.

The University have started to clear a Victorian wooden stable block ready for demolition. This demolition is scheduled to be completed by the end of next week. The Avery Hill Stud Stables are not registered on the Greenwich Borough listed buildings; neither are they on the English Heritage listed buildings register. The Greenwich Council officer concerned has already given the University permission to demolish this building. There are no other Victorian wooden agricultural buildings in our borough. Greenwich University have neglected to maintain this building gifted to them by the council.
Surely the Avery Hill Stud Stables should be listed?

Advice & help urgently needed.
The Friends are also concerned that demolition is underway with apparently no check that there are no hibernating bats present. Pippistrelle, Serotine & Noctule bats are known to be in the park but at present their hibernating and roosting places are not fully established. Emails to the university officer in charge of the project; requesting confirmation that a bat inspection has been carried, out have been non productive. Are they too late to save any hibernating group that may be present?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

More about Greenwich gasworks

The Historic Gas Times - just through my letter box - has two items on two different Greenwich gas works.

First of all - they have picked up my article on the earliest Greenwich Gas Works from the British Library web site - which had originally described it as East Greenwich works (actually 60 years later). The Library had reproduced a print, on which the steeple of St.Alfege church in the background made a location in Norway Street obvious - leading to a small and short lived gas works from the mid-1820s. Historic Gas Times's Barry Wilkinson has also questioned the Library's attribution to the artist, and done some interesting research.

The Second Article is actually about the great East Greenwich works and is 'Misspent Youth on Gasworks' by Tony Coles. This relates adventures and events in the control room of the works in the 1960s - and while a touch technical for the layperson - describes various goings on by someone who was clearly working their way up.

Historic Gas Times is a subscription newsletter but back numbers can be got from 01937 584672. (no web site advertised - sorry).

While on the subject of gas - someone rang me a couple of weeks ago about a film of Croydon Gas Works - they said they would get back in touch - but they haven't. Please - we want to hear from you!

Thursday 4 February 2010

Strike at UGB Charlton 1960

Time was, thirty years ago, when you couldn't move for articles about labour unrest - but times change, so it was a real change to see an article about a strike. This one was in Charlton (now - who remembered that the biggest glass works in Europe was in Charlton in the 1960s????). The article is in the current edition of Labour Heritage - and the following is a brief precis of it.

The article, by Scott Reeve, describes how a Manager asked to meet members of the workforce. When they did not attend an arranged meeting the Shop Steward, Wally Morton, was sacked. By lunch time all work at the factory had stopped and Les Doust, AEU Steward and Communist was chairing the strike committee. At a mass meeting it was resolved to continue the strike until Wally had his job back. Next the boiler workers struck - meaning that the glass making furnaces would go out, and oil supplies to the site were blacked. Within another two days Co-op workers (whose used UG milk bottles) had blacked the site, as had Thames Lightermen - and workers at next door factory, Harveys, were organising collections. Meeting were taking place at the Ministry of Labour.
The strike was front page news on both Kentish Independent and the Mercury - although their stories of numbers on strike differed by 200! The Daily Worker covered the strike on a daily basis. Brian Behan (brother of playwright Brendan) came to the picket line, on behalf of the Socialist Labour League and covered it for their newsheet.
Inevitably a deal was negotiated by AEU District Officials - which reinstated Wally Morton whole allowing management to examine his fitness for his role as shop steward. After some argument a vote to end the strike was narrowly carried. Socialist Labour League described it as a 'shoddy little deal'.

'For more information about Labour Heritage and articles from previous editions of the bulletin, visit You can buy a copy of the latest bulletin at £2 (incl. postage) or join Labour Heritage (£10 pa or £4 concessions) by contacting: John Grigg: 020 8743 4189,

Thursday 28 January 2010

Plumstead Reservoir

We have a communication from Plumstead about the reservoir in Heavitree Road which it is thought is under some threat. They have included the following information and some pictures.
"A plaque above the access doorway indicates a possible date of construction of 1854. The date may refer to the year when the roof was added; it is possible that the reservoir was constructed before 1840.
We believe it to be one of the oldest covered reservoirs in the UK and the longest serving brick built Victorian reservoir in London.
There are two tanks separated by a common wall. The date of the original tanks is not known. The reservoir may have originally been constructed as an open tank. Visual evidence, such as different brickwork at the top of the sidewalls indicates that the reservoir may have been later enclosed with the addition of the arched roof structure. The two tanks may not be the same age.
The tanks are divided by a N-S aligned raised walkway along the central dividing wall and linked by arched openings in the upper part of the wall. The eastern chamber is c.15.66m wide, the western chamber is c.14.9m wide. Each chamber measures c.29.8m long. The roof rises to give a fall away from the common wall which runs North-South. Cast-iron beams, spanning East-West, support brick jack arches; thebeams are supported at midspan on 8” diameter cast-iron columns. The walls are of yellow brick masonry set in a lime mortar.
The corners are curved to eliminate dirt traps. The brick floors fall to a central North-South drain in each tank. Small bridges span the channels.

The tanks are in good condition, and we submit that the building, as a Victorian brick-built reservoir has intrinsic architectural and historic interest and rarity, in both national and local terms. The design, plan and materials make this building a valuable part of the nation’s industrial architectural heritage

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Greenwich Sand Mine

A new Greenwich blog site - covers all things underground in Greenwich. But, perhaps its me doesn't understand - but I can't see anywhere to leave comments on the blog. Their latest post is, interestingly, about the west Greenwich sand mine.
Now- I was going to point out that Greenwich Industrial History Society covered this in the very first edition of our newsletter back in 1998 - I could reproduce the article - following a survey done by Nick Catford for Kent Underground Research and Sub.Brit. We even had a speaker on it.
Would be nice to liaise ........................ and would be nice to invite them to come and speak to us,

Tuesday 26 January 2010

'Walk London' Event - Historic Charlton and Woolwich

Meet at Charlton Station - Saturday 30th January 2010, 11.00am

Walk through the backstreets of Charlton, possibly with Police escort(!), over the level crossing and then into Maryon Park. Chance to go up to the viewing area for those who are feeling fit. Then into Gilberts Pit for the famous geological strata. Thanks to lack of foliage we should be able to see it.

In to Maryon Wilson Park for the animal enclosures and then up the slope into Maryon Park. Maybe a short diversion in here if anyone wants to see where the early scenes from Antonionis 'Blow Up' were filmed. Out of Maryon Park, across the dual carriageway, and into Barrier Park for a look around the Thames Barrier.

Barrier Café for lunch and WCs. They'll know we're coming so should have some food for sale.

Back through Barrier Park to the dual carriageway and along the road/Thames Path to the roundabout. Past the roundabout to the Co-Op funeral services garage which is actually a very old building from the Tudor Royal Naval Dockyard. Now into the Dockyard site to see more old buildings (lots of photos to explain it all) and down to the river. Along the river for half a mile where we go back inland to see more very old and attractive dockyard buildings. Re-trace steps to the river and continue towards Woolwich seeing Ye Olde slipways and dry docks.

Past the Woolwich Ferry and into the Royal Arsenal. Half of group goes into Greenwich Heritage Centre to see Arsenal exhibition. Other half get guided tour around Building 40, also known as Tower Place/The Royal Military Academy/The Model Room. Magnificent interior and usually only open on some 'London Open House' weekends. Other half of group then has their turn whilst first half looks around the Heritage Centre.

Woolwich Arsenal Walk Detail

Walk beside river past the 'Grand Stores'. At end of Stores turn away from river to see the 'Armstrong Gun Factory'. Externally the most original building in the RA - still smoke blackened. Turn right towards the RAs Central Offices alongside south side of the Grand Stores and past both to walk around the old Laboratory building. Back to North side of Central Offices and turn right to see ornamental gates of the Shell Foundry. Continue to south end of Central Offices and turn right to see former Royal Carriage Department on left (now flats) and building 19 'Gun Mounting Shed' on right.

Enter B19 Gun Mounting Shed for the first public visit in NINETY SIX YEARS! Possibly the finest surviving Victorian factory building in London. Half the size of a football pitch and unchanged since

construction in 1887. An wonderful building and a possibly unrepeatable visit. **Highlight of the walk**.

Leave B19 and walk towards former main gates seeing the grade one listed 'Royal Brass Foundry', Verbruggens House and, Dial Square, birthplace of Arsenal Football club. Across dual carriageway to former main Gatehouse. Walk concludes here, within sight of bus stands and railway staions.

You can see the route on the web at...>

Saturday 23 January 2010

Greenwich built lighthouse in Cape Town

Maggie Jones writes:

"the purpose of this mail is to send a photo to you. We've just comeback from a trip to South Africa (which included the wedding of a cousin,who went out there when I wouldn't even buy the oranges). At the lighthousenear the Cape of Good Hope we found a mention of Greenwich industry, and here it is".

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Crossness Engines - amazing progress towards a great future

Crossness Engines is our local industrial museum – but by an accident of 100 yards or so of boundary has ended up in Bexley Borough. The result is we hear very little about them. Last night at the Greenwich Industrial History meeting we were privileged to have an update on progress at the museum from Mike Jones – and thank you very much Mike.
And what amazing progress it is!! Even those of us who read their newsletter and hope we keep in touch can have very little idea of how near we are to having another very major ‘heritage’ site on our doorsteps – and one that will interpret the great municipal work of main drainage in the 19th century.
The site is currently closed whilst a major programme of work is completed but, for those who have not seen the great beam engines at Crossness – go as soon as it opens again! Prince Consort, which is now regularly ‘steamed’ – is a very genuinely awe inspiring sight. The four engines – the biggest concentration of steam power of their type in the world – were last used in the 1953 floods and were then junked and left to rust. In the 1980s a small group of volunteers began work to save one of the engines, Prince Consort, and hopefully get back to work. Over the next 20 years or so they struggled on with very little help, and great deal of ignorance in official circles.
So –now – they have shown what they can do – and the money and support has become available. What Mike told of us of their plans are really amazing. There is going to be a proper road into the site, which will be publicly maintained, visitors will be able to go, through a Victorian garden, to the original front door – and pass through a replica sewer into a vast exhibition space which will describe the main drainage system of London – and many aspects of sewage treatment as well as its affect on the river and so on. They will then be able to pass through and see the four great engines – Prince Consort in steam, Victoria now being worked on – one day she too will move.
Elsewhere on site they hope to show other engines – and hopefully also put them in steam. They have engines locally made and it would be good to show how south east London was in the forefront of steam power manufacture. A longer term aspiration is to create a a workshop with steam powered line shafting. They are also building links with local wild life groups – clearly the site is of great ecological interest and there are many many birds. They are also involved with walking groups – the Thames Path goes past their site, and the Ridgeway (the Southern Outfall sewer path) comes to them directly from Plumstead Station.
The remaining problem is of course access – it is a long walk from Plumstead or Abbey Wood station and despite efforts, it has not been possible to put the site on a regular bus route. Discussions with many bodies are underway to try and address this.
Greenwich people should take a lot more notice of what is going on so near to our boundary. Current plans will make this one of the most important industrial sites in the country – I probably shouldn’t say, given the subject matter, that it is right under our noses! But it is a site which will celebrate inventiveness and ingenuity in solving a major problem in urban development and how this was achieved through local government action.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Soap and Soames

Arrived two minutes ago - The Greenwich Historical Association Programme. Their next meeting will be of particular interest to students of Greenwich industry. It is:

Wednesday 27th January 2010
The Soames Family of Blackheath
NEIL RHIND will talk about The Soames Family in Greenwich and Blackheath, who were wealthy merchants living in Blackheath from the 1840s to the 1930s. One member was James Soames, an industrialist and owner of the famous Thames Steam Soap and Candle Mills; his brother was the Rev William Aldwyn Soames, Vicar of Greenwich. Among their many mansions were the Red House next to Vanbrugh Castle, Maze Hill House, and 27 Vanbrugh Park.

Thames Soap Works was on the site currently being demolished with the Syriol Glucose refinery on it. They made all sorts of soaps for the hard working and hard pressed = "coal tar" soaps made in the days when the most important thing was to kill the germs NOW!!!

This picture was taken inside the site when it was owned by Amylum. It shows a wall which had survived from the soap works and on which underneath the scaffolding was written 'Thames Soap Works'.

Later meetings are:

Wednesday 24th February 2010
Greenwich Park: Trysts and Intrigues
ROSIE HAYLES reminds us of the Hanoverian neglect of Greenwich Park which gave rise to a wide range of ideas for its exploitation. Prostitutes eyed its seclusion, park-keepers and water boards its natural resources, sculptors and railway companies its position; Greenwich Hospital hoped to build houses in it and Queen Caroline demanded a large corner for her private use. The public began to take the park to their hearts and many hopefuls were seen off by force of public opinion. The ball of protest was set rolling by an abused under-keeper called Cawthorne.

Wednesday 24th March 2010
President's Address: Greenwich Lost and Found
ANTHONY CROSS of Warwick Leadlay Gallery, Greenwich, using the visual means of his archive, will seek to re-discover aspects of everyday Greenwich which have otherwise been lost to the present-day observer. This will be given after our traditionally short AGM.

Wednesday 28th April 2010
Memories of Growing Up in 1930s – 40s Blackheath and Greenwich
SYLVIA WHITE was born and brought up in Blackheath, and grew up in the 1930’s and 40’s when poverty was rife. She was one of five children who were given freedom to roam. This meant that the Heath and the Park were their playgrounds and they came in contact with children from different classes. Blessed with a vivid memory she has written two books about growing up in this area and her talk will be about those times. Now an active member of the University of the Third Age, she runs groups encouraging people to preserve their memories.

Friday 8 January 2010

More pictures of Redpath Brown

Redpath Brown's structural steel works stood on the Greenwich Peninsula in what was then Riverway which ran from near the Pilot to the river. They were a Scottish based firm which came to Greenwich in 1911.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Royal Dockyard Deptford

Proposal to List Features of King’s Yard (Convoy’s Wharf) at Deptford
December 2009


In 1999, Alan Howarth, then Culture Secretary, announced comprehensive statutory protection for Britain’s maritime heritage, principally covering the Royal Dockyards as a result of the Defences of Britain Study. Subsequently Engllish Heritage has published its Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide in 2007.

The King’s Yard, established by Henry VIII in 1513 at Deptford, did not form part of this survey, however, archaeological surveys since carried out by CgMs and Pre-Construct Archaeology in 2000 (Hawkins) 2000 (Lowe), 2001 (Divers), at the former Royal Dockyard at Deptford established, “by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures filled in intact between 1869 and 1950.”
The structures of the yard proper, the docks, slips, basins, mast ponds landing places and stairs, constitute a substantial architectural fabric that is currently extant, though largely invisible, being covered by superficial accretion or infill. (David Divers. Jan 2001:12/ 3.5.14).
Docks are recognised as being the most significant structures in the operation of the yard as well as a dockyard’s defining characteristics.


Based on the new information established from the archaeological surveys and further archive based and site survey based research, the opportunity now exists to ensure that the historic cultural assets of the earliest Royal Naval Dockyard of 1513 benefits from the same statutory protection deployed and enjoyed elsewhere (Defences of Britain Study) and to comply with several English Heritage guideline and policy documents that have been delivered in the intervening period, namely, Sustaining the Historic Environment 1997, An Archaeological Research Framework for the Greater Thames Estuary 1999, Heritage Dividend 2002, A Sense of Place for a New Thames Gateway 2004, Naval Heritage: Managing Change in the Royal Dockyards. Conservation Bulletin 2005 Issue 48, Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide Heritage Protection Department March 2007 and The Tidal Thames Habitat Action Plan (TTHAP).

The opportunity now exists to consider the dockyard landscape with its definitive historic components within the above guidelines and policy. Deptford dockyard is an internationally significant historic site and deserves the opportunity for comparable assessment for listing that has been applied to dockyards elsewhere in the country. Indeed, not to apply such a comprehensive approach would constitute a form of social exclusion from such statutory protection deployed and enjoyed elsewhere.

“We cannot expect these important sites to remain unchanged, but we can expect change and development to occur within the context of informed conservation.”
Maritime and Coastal Heritage. Conservation Bulletin Issue 48, Spring 2005.

The case for listing

The yard at Deptford witnessed the labours of Henry VIII’s Master Shipwrights Matthew and James Baker, laid up Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, put out ships for the Armada as well as Cook’s, Frobisher’s and Vancouver’s voyages of discovery, as well as for Nelson’s battles including Trafalgar and also served as a military base into the twentieth century as Army Supply Reserve Depot in WWI and WWII and served as U.S. Advance Amphibious Vehicle Base and married quarters in WWII. (PRO WORKS 43/614-6) The area of land in question, far from being a mere brown field site, has served the Nation as a military installation over a period of five centuries.

New evidence and amendments

There are four important re-assessments and amendments to be made to the archaeological assessments carried out to date which impact on the heritage assessment of the value of Deptford’s historic cultural assets and therefore impact on the proposal to list.

1. The Great Georgian Dock

The Double Dry Building Dock, in use as early as 1517 and featured in the John Evelyn map of Deptford of 1623, underwent remodelling in the intermediate period between Samuel Bentham and John Rennie. (see new information, PRO ADM 1/3501-3503 May 18th 1815 and NMM ADM Q/3320-3323 9th Oct 1802, 23 Aug 1805) This work pre-dates work by John Rennie to the listed docks in Chatham, for example and may constitute some of Rennie’s earliest works in Royal dockyards. Recent EH test site excavations have established that the walls are three metres thick, and coped in granite with articulated works in limestone. It is now widely acknowledged that docks from the earliest date, and the Double Dry Building Dock at Deptford may be one of, if not the earliest surviving dock, subsequently rebuilt, express advancements in the technology of shipbuilding and that these developments enhance rather than detract from the historic merit. In Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide, works by Bentham and Rennie are signalled for special consideration. Under subheading, Special Interest, it states, “Docks and harbour walls pre-dating 1840 generally form the most impressive engineering structures of their date and even where they have received alteration, as nearly all have, will normally merit designation, with those displaying technical innovation or association with major developments in shipbuilding, warranting a high grade. Examples would be key developments in modern dock construction such as those pioneered by Smeaton and Rennie or Samuel Bentham’s development c.1800 of caisson gates.” (2007:05) Also mentioned for special consideration is the use of Roman cement. Divers, writing on the Georgian Great Dock at Deptford, states, “Waterproof ‘Roman’ cement (patented 1796) was used towards the front of the wall. (Divers, 2000:58/7.17.2 Trench 17 fig.29) For the reasons stated above, further investigation may bring to light that, as the sole surviving double dry building dock from the Tudor period, reworked by Rennie to proposals by Bentham, the structure is unique. These works are unlikely to have undergone alteration due to the closure of the yard in 1869. Indeed the outline of the Great Dock in George Ledwell-Taylor’s plan of 1820 is commensurate with that of 1868.

2. The Great Basin
The Great Basin was also an early resource of the King’s Yard, mentioned in an Indenture of 1517 (BL Add.6555), as holding amongst other ships the Mary Rose. The Basin was also the site of testing early diving bells by John Evelyn, (Diary 19 July, 1661). In Charnock's "History of Marine Architecture" it is given "A note how many ships the King's Majesty (Henry VIII.) hath in harbour, on the 18th day of September, in the 13th year of his reign (1521); what portage they be of; what estate they be in the same day; also where they ride and be bestowed." From this we are enabled to see what use was made of Deptford as a naval station at that time:—"The Mary Rose, being of the portage of 600 tons, lying in the pond at Deptford beside the storehouse there, &c. The John Baptist, and Barbara, every of them being of the portage of 400 tons, do ryde together in a creke of Deptford Parish, &c. The Great Nicholas, being of portage 400 tons, lyeth in the east end of Deptford Strond, &c. … The Great Barke, being of portage 250 tons, lyeth in the pond at Deptford, &c. The Less Barke, being of the portage of 180 tons, lyeth in the same pond, &c. The twayne Row Barges, every of them of the portage of 60 tons, lye in the said pond, &c. The Great Galley, being of portage 800 tons, lyeth in the said pond, &c." (

Originally a naturally occurring pond in the 14th century, the Basin underwent several periods of re-modelling. New archive-based assessment has established that the final designs were by John Rennie, and re-workings of earlier proposals by Samuel Bentham. The works were carried out by Jolliffe and Banks. Banks was knighted in 1822 for his works to Southwark and Waterloo bridges on the Thames. Rennie was paid a sum of £4,500 to widen and deepen the Basin and move the Basin mouth to the east. In the Abstract of Contracts, related to works to the Basin, Rennie specifies coping the Basin with Craigie or Dundee stone. The mouth to the Basin is shown as open with an extant Swing bridge in the Thames Flood Defence Survey of 1898. (Metropolitan Archives, MBW 2787)
However no outline of Rennie’s 1814 modification is given in the recent archaeological surveys. It is possible therefore that the archaeological site survey placed its trenches, no.s 7 and 9, outside of the final Rennie works to the Basin, thereby determining that no upstanding remains could be found. (See Buro Happold, Summary of the Main Dock Features and Archaeological Trench Results 001.) The photograph, Plate 9, printed in the archaeological survey of 2000 (Hawkins), said to depict the Basin mouth, is also incorrect as it shows instead a blocked slipway. These errors are critical to the forming of an accurate assessment in line with URB20 point A. To properly assess..”
The Basin contributed to the earliest period of the dockyard and remained open until the advent of the twentieth century. Its final layout is commensurate with works proposed by Samuel Bentham as Inspector General of Naval Works and carried out by Joliffe and Banks under the direction of John Rennie. Listing of the Basin as a Group Value consideration even, offers the opportunity for further archaeological investigations in order to re-assess the outline of the Rennie, Joliffe and Banks works.

3. River wall
There was some discrepancy between the archaeological surveys regarding the age of the river wall, with one archaeological survey of 2000 stating that the river wall is post the life of the dockyard. Statement 0.6.4 “The bulk of the river wall appears to have been constructed in the period 1869 to 1916.” This claim has been subjected to a further detailed site and archive-based assessment. It can now be stated that Lowe (2000) was correct in stating, “The bulk of the river wall thought to date to the final re-modelling of the Dockyard during the 1830’s.” Lowe (2000:/3.2.4)
Moving west along the wall, we encounter the survival of George Ledwell-Taylor’s 1828 work creating the canal to the mid-eighteenth century mast pond (NMM ADM Y/D/11-D8 1828). Jonathan Coad refers to Ledwell-Taylor as one of the finest dockyard architects. Further west, to the left and right of the Basin mouth, already established as work by Rennie 1813-17, the presence of 150ft length of Craigie stone specified by Rennie during his works to the Basin mouth is extant and clearly visible. (PRO ADM 106/3185 WORK 41/594 signed John Rennie. NMM ADM Y/D/11-D7 16 Nov 1813. See also, A.W. Skempton A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. 2002 and CgMs 3.2.4 / 3.2.1)
The Landing Place and Stairs, that feature in John Cleveley’s eighteenth century paintings of the launching of ship, blocked post-1930, formed the ceremonial and Royal entrance to the yard for more than two hundred years. (See Metropolitan Archives, Thames Flood Defence Survey MBW) The granite quoins to these Royal Stairs align with the granite quoins to the Double Dry Building Dock, as shown on George Ledwell-Taylor’s 1820 plan of the yard and correspond to the 1868 O.S. map. It is therefore established beyond doubt, through on site and archive based study that the harbour wall to the King’s yard is early to mid nineteenth century expressing the work of George Ledwell-Taylor and John Rennie following proposals by Samuel Bentham. (NMM ADM Q/3320-3323 9th Oct 1802, 23rd Aug 1805) Knight’s Mechanical Encyclopaedia of the nineteenth century states that cast-iron piling has been successfully used in quay walls at Deptford. accessed 22/12/09.

4. Small seventeenth century mast pond
The early small mast pond, c.1660, does not form part of the archaeological survey carried out in 2000. The mast pond featured in the surveys and referred to is that from the 1760’s only. This is a serious omission as the early small mast pond expresses the first departure from the extent of the Tudor and Stuart dockyard and marks a expansion of the dockyard into the Hanoverian period. This mast pond may be the earliest extant mast pond in a Royal Dockyard and was constructed in the seventeenth century on land purchased from Sir Denis Gauden, Victualler to the Navy. An early draught design of the mast pond is held in the Evelyn Papers at the British Library. It was in this early mast pond, during the tenure of Master Shipwright Joseph Allin, in the early eighteenth century, that the boat used to bring Charles II back from exile was discovered, refurbished and renamed the Royal Escape, eventually finding its way to Heligoland.

“by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures”

The scope of Lowe’s preliminary archeological assessment in 2000 of surviving historic fabric only covered the following; standing buildings, river wall, perimeter walls and ground surface sections. However, given the evidence established in the surveys carried out by Hawkins and Divers, and further newly uncovered evidence from archive and site based surveys, the comprehensive indication of the majority survival of the dockyard’s distinctive characteristics merits a comprehensive listing to ensure that Deptford’s historic cultural assets of local, national and international significance are not excluded from the statutory protection applied in all other cases of listing of the Royal Dockyards.

Extracts from the recent archaeological surveys carried out at Deptford Dockyard affirm, that “major dockyard features survive across much of the site and that later activities on the site have had relatively little impact on these remains.” (Divers 2001:69/9.1.4)
“The large features targeted by the evaluation trenches have been found in their anticipated locations, often at relatively shallow depths beyond the present ground surface.” (Divers 2001:70/9.1.6)
“The N.E wall of the Georgian Mast Pond was found to survive immediately below the modern concrete ground slab.” (Divers 2001:26/7.2 Trench 2, fig.9)
“The N.W. wall of the Georgian Dock was found just immediately below the modern tarmac surface.” (Divers 2001:58/7.17.1)
Divers concludes, “the evaluation has established that the major features of the dockyard have survived in their predicted locations with little evidence for widespread truncation by later activities on the site.” (Divers 2001:71/9.4.2)

Deptford was the Cape Canaveral of its day, leading the technology of shipbuilding. The position of Master Shipwright at Deptford was the highest and therefore most sought after of the Royal Dockyards. Deptford’s proximity to the Navy Board and Admiralty ensured that advancements in the technology of shipbuilding tended to be carried out there. Due to its closure in 1869 Deptford was not subject to the later remodelling that occurred in other Royal Dockyards. As such, The King’s Yard at Deptford, expresses the early Tudor plan comprising, Master Shipwright’s House and Offices (Grade II), Double Dry Building Dock (proposed) Storehouse (Undercroft, Scheduled Ancient Monument) Great Basin (proposed).
Following the guideline statement in the Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide 2007:05, it is requested that “A holistic approach should be taken where several original or near contemporary associated structures survive together or where a group of structures displays the evolution of port facilities in one significant place.” Statutory recognition of these early manifestations of works by Bentham and Rennie, perhaps expressing some of their earliest works in Royal Dockyards further enhances the Group Value listing of the Master Shipwright’s House and Offices (overlooking the Double Dry Building Dock), the listed perimeter walls and the covered slipways of 1846 (Olympia Sheds).
This early Tudor Dockyard plan, expressed in Evelyn’s annotated map of Deptford of 1623, is altered little by the expansion and developments of the Hanoverian period. The King’s Yard at Deptford remains the sole Royal Dockyard to express its original Tudor and its subsequent expansion into the Hanoverian period. The earliest Master Shipwright’s House and the earliest purpose built naval office building in the country, with additions expressing Bentham’s centric organisational Panopticon principles (Pro Work 41585-6, NMM ADM/ Q 3323 28th Feb 1805), would be further enhanced by statutory protection of the Double Dry Building Dock, The Great Basin and Harbour Wall, mast ponds and slipways, thus bringing Deptford’s historic maritime heritage in alignment with every other Royal Dockyard in the country.

The Royal Dockyards are amongst the most long-lived, extensive and coherent monuments to the history of the United Kingdom. Many of the industrial, technological, military and social changes that occurred in the post-modern and modern periods are embedded within their surviving fabric. Anthony Firth, Wessex Archaeology 2004.

“The Royal Dock, or "King's Yard," as it was locally called in former times, was esteemed one of the most complete repositories for naval stores in Europe. It covered not less than thirty acres of ground, and contained every convenience for building, repairing, and fitting out ships-of-the-line—those veritable "wooden walls of Old England" with which we were familiar before the introduction of armour-plated vessels. Artificers in wood and in iron had here large ranges of workshops and storehouses; and here the hammer and the axe were scarcely ever idle, even in times of peace; but where, during the prevalence of war, they were plied incessantly "in the construction of those floating bulwarks for which England is, or rather was, renowned, and which carry a hundred and twenty guns and a thousand men to guard her shores from the invader, or to bear her fame with her victories to the remotest seas of the ocean”

Royal Dockyard at Deptford circa 1739 showing the Great Basin in the foreground. accessed 22/12/09

Publications Consulted
Hawkins, Duncan. BA MIFA. April 2000. CgMs Consulting. Archaeological Desk Based Assessment
Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford SE8
Divers, David. January 2001. CgMs Ltd.Archaeological Evaluation of Land at Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford.
Lowe, Jon. BA. June 2000. Preliminary Assessment of Surviving Historic Fabric Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford.

Archives Consulted
National Archives
National Maritime Museum
British Library
Metropolitan Archives Corporation of London

(and posted with the author's consent)