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