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