Wednesday 23 February 2011

Frank Sumner - Woolwich Borough Engineer and his Plumstead Home

Frank Sumner - Woolwich Borough Engineer and his Plumstead Home
by Dave Ramsay

Frank Sumner MICE - his career

Born: 17th May 1865 - Father: John Sumner of Coleshill near Birmingham, a chemist (retired by December 1904)
Died: 22 December 1914

Scientific training, at Atherstone and privately1879-1881
Pupilage under Mr.Sidney G.Gamble, Assoc. M. Inst. C. E, and under Mr. J.A Gotch, Architect, 1881-1887

Training as assistant to Mr. Gamble, Mr. Gotch, and Mr. O. Claude Robson 1887-1892 at Grantham.
At Grantham he was Resident engineer on extension to a sewage farm on Harrowby estate, laid out new roads, sewers and water main

Assistant Surveyor, Kettering Local Board. Extensions to a sewage farm laid out several miles of new roads, reconstructed several miles of new sewers and assisted with plans for an isolation hospital.

Assistant engineer to Mr. O. Claude Robson, MICE, at Willesden Local Board -constructed several miles of sewers, extended sewage farm, constructed filter beds, assisted with plans for a steel girder bridge

AMICE 9th August 1892

Chief Engineer and Surveyor, Bermondsey Vestry, - much work on sewers and paving, alterations to the Council Chamber. Controlled 200 men

Borough Engineer and Surveyor to Woolwich Borough (Previously Plumstead Vestry) 10 May 1899 -1905.
Constructed 20 miles of sewers, 8 miles of streets,
Prepared plans for and supervised the erection of a combined electric light station-and refuse destructor at Plumstead, with well and hydraulic machinery for making clinker bricks and flags.
Prepared plans for a new Library at Plumstead.
Prepared plans for Public- baths and wash houses at Plumstead, also a coroners court and mortuary.
Prepared plans for widening Well -Hall Road from Eltham to Shooters Hill to 60 feet, paving for Tramway
Street improvements
£30,000, Certifies annually general work.
Controlling 600 men,
Passes plans for 1,500 buildings per year.

MICE 2nd March 1904 MICE

(The above summary was prepared from the detailed supporting statement attached to his application for MICE. Work done between March 1904 and May 1905 was obtained from the ICE obituary of 1914 and is less detailed).

eman of the City of London, 1905.

City Engineer to City of London 1905-1914 Inaugurated central lighting of the City and largely responsible for Fleet Street widening scheme,

Frank Sumner’s Woolwich home.

Brent Road was an open field, in the 1860s, with some evidence that it had been woodland some short time before that. The rump of that woodland remains at the Eglington Road end of Cantwell Road to this day. It would appear that Brent Road was built as a serviced metalled road in the 1860s by developers who wanted to construct high quality homes to maximise the commercial opportunities of meeting the needs of Royal Artillery Officers, whose barracks were nearby on Woolwich Common.

More particularly, the Royal Military Academy in Academy Road, moved to its present site in 1806, and is only half a mile away from The Gables. The Academy was formed 'to educate young gentlemen for commissions in the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers'. It had been established in 1741, on what later became known as the Royal Arsenal, at 'The Warren' site, in Woolwich.

The 1866 Ordnance Survey shows Brent Road as being constructed with proper footways. Searches of records of the time show no evidence of requests to break into the public sewer, so it is possible that serviced plots were sold. The first evidence existing of the sale of building plots is in 1863, when the west side of Brent Road was put up for auction. No houses were shown as built on the 1866 OS. And the first constructions seem to have been on the east side. Alpine Villas, two substantial pairs of semis, uphill from "The Gables", appear to have been built first.

Local belief is that "The Gables" was the first house built in Brent Road. However the first houses occupied were Alpine Villas who were paying local rates in 1870, and appeared in the 1871 Census. "The Gables" first appeared in the rate book in December 1872. By way of comparison, the Rateable Value of each Alpine Villa was £42 and "The Gables" was £62 in 1886. The London Land Company promoted the construction of a high quality neighbourhood by insisting on a minimum build cost of £300, in a property deed covenant, when the plots were sold.

The London Land Company sold the plots on which "The Gables" stood in January 1870 and October 1872 (to Chapman). Chapman owned the house till at least 1886.

Booth's Notebooks give us a valuable insight into social conditions in Victorian times. On 21st May 1900, George Duckworth took walk number 79 in the company of PC Cline. The entry for Brent Road reads thus. “Steep hill running to the south. The social status is middle-class, well to do. Greenery, lilacs and laburnums." The south end of Eglinton Hill is described as having a similar social status. Other local streets are described as "Fairly comfortable, good ordinary earnings". Prosperity seemed to increase towards the top of Shooters Hill, which was formed into an ecclesiastical parish in 1865.

From 1872 to 1935 "The Gables" appears to have been occupied by people in very comfortable circumstances. In 1935 building consent was obtained and the house seems to have been converted to multiple occupation with its social status considerably reduced.

THE OCCUPANTS, 1872-1935
1872 - 1874 Captain/Lieutenant Montague Frederick Ommanney. Royal Engineers. Designer of the RE Institute Building, Chatham and promoter of railways in Western and Central Africa
1874 -o 1877 Major Ashlon Papillon. Royal Engineers. RE photographer of the Chinese Opium Wars, 1858-8-1860
1878 -1881 Lieut. Col. William D. Forster, Madras Artillery (ret.l 08 1872) Captain (retired list) Royal Artillery. On active service in India during the "Mutiny”
1882 - 1884 Captain Henry W. Penny Tailyour. Royal Engineers. In the FA Cup Final three times in the early 1870s, RE winning side 1875 MD of Guinness Dublin, 1913-1919
1885 - 1887 empty or missing entries.
1888 - 1893 Lieutenant/Captain Ernest A. Gartside-Tippinge Royal Artillery.
1894 - 1895 Captain Arthur J. Breakley Royal Artillery.
1896 - 1899 no entries in Kelly's, empty.
1900 - 1902 The Reverend Henry Richard Sugden MA Curate of St Margaret’s, Plumstead Common. Missionary, Uganda 1893-1899
1903 no entries in Kelly's, empty
1904- 1907 Frank Sumner MICE Borough Engineer, of Woolwich Borough Council. Designed Plumstead Baths, Library and combined Dust Destructor-Electricity Station
1908 Lieutenant Douglas Stewart Royal Horse Artillery.
1909 No entry in Kellys
1910-to 1913 Captain Henry Charles Whinfield regiment not known.
1914- 1916 Lieutenant John McCauland-Dickson Royal Artillery.
1917 - No entries in Kellys, war time.
1920 -1921 Major BMG Butterworth MC Royal Artillery.
1922 - 1923 Major Noel Warren Nappier- Clacering Royal Artillery.
1924 No entries
1925-1935 Major Bernard and Grace Butterworth, Royal Artillery

Thursday 17 February 2011

Woolwich Combined Dust Destructor and Electric Generator - Part 3

Brief History of the Dust Destructor/Electricity Generator at White Hart Road, Plumstead
By Dave Ramsay

Part 3.

Continuing with extracts from the Local Authority Minutes

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 9 January 1902
Various tenders for electrical plant were accepted. A much cheaper estimate for instruments, from Everett & Edgecoombe had been scrutinised for quality, and found to be very satisfactory. However, a Potentiometer was substituted to improve the quality of one item.

General Purposes, Woolwich Borough Council, 23 June 1902
The Tender for Nixon's Best Navigation Steam Coal, @ £1 2s 6dper ton, be accepted, for Woolwich baths and the Electricity Department. Enquiries -were to be made of the tenderers as to the kind of coal and pit of origin.
Because of allegations made by Cllr. W. Turner, it was recommended that Ald. Turton and Cllr. Butter should examine the quality of coal stock at Woolwich Baths, and future deliveries.
In accordance with the Council's decision of 12 06 1902, the Borough Engineer (BE) Frank Sumner, submitted revised plans for Baths and Washhouses in Plumstead, at an estimated cost not exceeding £35,000.
On the recommendation of the Library Committee, it was recommended that the BE's revised plans, (Scheme A amended) for the proposed Public Library in Plumstead High Street, be accepted.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 24 June 1902
The BE recommends, and it was accepted, that costs for the building work be apportioned, 2/3 to the Electricity Station, 1/3 to the Dust Destructor, until actual costs were known.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 6 February 1903
The Town Clerk reported that he had completed purchase of the Woolwich Company's Electricity Undertaking on 02 02 1903 for £95,180. Application had been made to the Board of Trade for commencement of the Woolwich Order.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council. 7 May 1903
That the Committee interviewed the manager of the Station Engineer of the Plumstead Electricity Works, regarding allegations that he abused applicants for employment. The Committee found his explanation entirely rebuts the charge.
The Committee considered return information from local authorities operating combined Electricity Station / Destructor Works, with a view to determining rates of pay for Stokers. It was difficult to make direct comparisons since all used the "over feed" method to load rubbish whereby rubbish is tipped direct from the cart into the furnace. Plumstead was going to hand feed the furnaces for more efficient results. This was more laborious work and it was recommended that a 1/2d per hour more than the average should be paid. Therefore the rates would be:

Leading stoker 8 1/2d per hour
Ordinary Stoker 8d. per hour
Clinker wheelers 7 1/2d per hour

And that eight hours should constitute one working shift so far as may be found practicable in the running of the station

The new Labour member the Reverend I. Jenkins Jones proposed that this should read that eight hours should constitute one working shift and that all work over eight hours should constitute overtime. This proposal was agreed.

Electricity Committee Woolwich Borough Council 28 May 1903

A letter was read from HM Inspector of Factories (HMEIF). He found safety arrangements at the new Plumstead Station deficient in a number of respects. The committee resolved that the HMEIF recommendations be carried out as expeditiously as possible.

Electricity Committee Woolwich Borough Council 10 September 1903
The Town Clerk reported that its “Power for Assisted Wiring Act” had received Royal Assent on 11 the August 1903. Section Two of this act gave the Council power to sell electricity to neighbouring Footscray Ccouncil. Section Three gave it powers to install and repair electric installations and levy charges for this. Defaulters could be taken to the Police Court

Clearly the promotion of an Act of Parliament by Woolwich was a source of great civic pride.

The BE reported site values at White Hart Road as follows

Disinfector station - 278 Square yards £14.7s. 2d
Brick and flag making plant - 512 Square yards £26 8s 11d
Destructor station - 3,272 Square yards £169 0s 2d.
Highways - 2,368 Square yards £122 6S 4d

Electricity Committee , Woolwich Borough Council 18th November 1903
The BE reported that considerable savings could be made to the cost of producing bricks at the combined works, by converting the window at the eastern end of the hardening chambers into a doorway. This would facilitate bogeys packed with bricks being taken directly to the stacking ground, saving handling and cartage. It would also obviate the necessity of taking off the western heads of the hardening chambers, which is a lengthy operation, involving the breaking of joints on each occasion. The Committee resolved to carry out the alterations, at a cost of £20.
The BE reported on ongoing negotiations with SE Railway Co. (SERC), respecting the proposed siding for the combined station. The Railway Co. wanted the Council to reduce the cost of a necessary strip of land on the west side of White Hart Road and a 15-fcot strip alongside the railway. A modified offer would need to be made to SERC if progress was to be made. The Committee so resolved.

Various WBC Meetings at which sick pay was discussed

Sick pay appears to have been paid to members of staff on the advice of officers, but at the discretion of the councillors. In particular it seems to relate to accidents at work although not exclusively. The following are examples of payments granted after sickness had ended

date on - 5th November 1903 date off 16th November 1903 - for 15 days - Ricked shoulder Alfred Gosling, Stoker - Full pay

date off 26th July 1904 - Burns to foot - R. Weeks, Trimmer - Half pay

date off 14 July 1904 - Injured hand - E. Brennan, Labourer - Half pay

date off 8th March 1904 - 9 days off - F.Adley, Stoker - Full pay

date off 8th March 1904 - 8 days off - F.Richards, Stoker - Full pay

date off 16th February 1904 - T. Reeves, Trimmer - Full pay

date off 16th February 1904 - J.Lill, Stoker - Full pay

date off 16th February 1904 - A. Williams, Labourer - Full pay

date off 20th September 1904 - Poisoned thumb - G. Munsey, Cleaner - Full pay

Thursday 10 February 2011

Woolwich's 19th century CHP - The Council decides

Brief history of the combined Dust Destructor / Electric Light Generating Plant. White Hart Road, Plumstead Marshes
By Dave Ramsay

Part 2 – further extracts from the minutes of Plumstead Vestry and Woolwich Borough Council about the White Hart Road Project

Lighting Committee. Plumstead Vestry, 1O May 1900

The purchase of three 300 1HP boilers would be required, but these would need to be modified if the Committee went ahead with proposals for a Dust Destructor to work in tandem with conventional generating plant. A set of 192 pipe "Economisers” were to be provided also.
A visit to St Helens and Darwin, of Members, Surveyor and Electrical Engineer, was proposed to view the operation of Dust Destructors worked jointly with Electricity Stations. The estimated cost of installing an electric street lighting scheme, including street cabling and lights (£l 6,250), but excluding buildings (£17,294), was £40,432.

Lighting Committee, Plumstead Vestry, 31 May 1900

To receive a report of the Electrical Installations Visits Committee.
Frank Sumner the Surveyor, and John B. Mitchell, the Electrical Engineer ' accompanied the Committee. The Deputation took the 1200 train from Euston to Liverpool on 25th May 1900.

1. Liverpool, St. Domingo Road, Station. This plant burnt only refuse to generate electricity, and had 4 boilers and 8 cells. The plant burnt 100 tons of rubbish per day; the steam generated was 1 Ib. per 1 Ib. of refuse. The low efficiency rate was attributed to the amount of waste gases not used in the flue, and the lack of sufficient heating surface in the boiler. The station was to power tramways and street lighting
2. Liverpool, Smithdown Park Station. This unit is similar to the other with 8 cells. The throughput is 80 tons per day; the steam generated was 1 lb. per 1 lb. of refuse. The reason for the poor performance was similar to above, but their engineer felt that more electricity could be generated if there was more boiler power. Service costs were £50 pa.

3. St Helens, Cropper Hill Station. This unit was a Dust Destructor run in tandem with a dedicated Electricity Works. This plant had been the subject of a learned lecture, by Sir William Preece, and had the most advanced aids to efficiency: Tower Water Coolers, Economisers, Condensers &c. The Dust Destructor apparatus was built by Meldrum Bros. The throughput is 30 tons per day; the steam generated was 1 1/2 lb. per 1 lb. of refuse. It was felt that this rate could not be sustained because of the labour requirements, and because of the increased rate of depreciation it would cause. 9 1/2 tons had to be burnt at night to maintain throughput, but this had to be put in batteries because of low demand.
There was no problem associated with tandem working. The Destructor portion is quite distinct from the Engine and Dynamo Rooms, and no inconvenience was caused by the dust. The labour costs per ton were not known at the visit, so Frank Sumner, the Surveyor, added a footnote to the agenda, saying that he had found out that the costs was 1s 1 ¾ d. per ton.
The Electrical Engineer observed that efficiency could be significantly improved by providing extra boilers so that valuable heat wasted in the flues could be captured. He also strongly urged the deputation to obtain the tram traction loadings for St Helens Trams. This being of the utmost importance because of the emerging LCC tram network that would also require power.
4. Darwen Station. This unit was fuelled solely with refuse, and serves only street lighting, not trams. The refuse was received at a high level, in an enclosed shed, so that there was no paper and rubbish flying about. The rubbish goes down enclosed shoots to the floor below, where it is loaded by labourers into the furnace. This produced steam generated of 1 2/3/4 lb. per 1 lb. of refuse burnt. This was said to be a little more costly at 1s 1d to 1s 2d per ton, but allowed the most efficient generation of heat, at 200 lbs. per square inch.
The Engine Room was attractive with, walls lined in Opalite, window dressings and the arches inside were of Leeds faience, the floor being mosaic. The important point for the Deputation was, that without any other fuel than refuse, it was doing all that the Plumstead Engineer's scheme expected to do for the first 12 months, but without the use of a single ounce of coal.
The Darwen Station processed 32.5 tons of refuse a day, and at efficiency of 1.5 lbs. f steam per 1 lb. of rubbish, the generating capacity of electricity exceeded demand, and steam was being wasted

The deputation was then treated to an excellent high tea in the town Hall.

At the meeting of the 31st May, thanks were given to Mr. Sumner for his careful planning of the tour that enabled so much to be seen in such a short time.

The Committee recommended that the Dust Destructor be erected in conjunction with the Electricity Works.

Lighting Committee, Plumstead Vestry, 28 June 1900

It was recommended that "The type of boilers for the Electric Light Station were to be the same as those adopted for the Dust Destructor".
It was recommended that the National Boiler and General Insurance Company, (NBIC) be engaged to check the boilers and ancillaries came up to specifications.
It was recommended that six companies be invited to tender for the construction of the Refuse Destructor, to the Surveyor Frank Sumner's design and specification, and the boilers to the Engineer's (& NBIC) specification.
It was recommended that application be made to the LCC for sanction of a preliminary loan £20,000 , for the Electric Light Station and Dust Destructor, on the annuity system, spread over as long a period as possible.
It was recommended that apartments be constructed over the offices of the Electrical Engineer's Office, for a caretaker or foreman.

Lighting Committee, Plumstead Vestry, 19 July 1900
It was recommended that the Electrical Engineer's specifications for Boiler House Plant; Engine-House Plant; Street Work, be printed, and that invitations to tender be placed in, "Engineer"; "Engineering"; "Electrical Review"; and "Lighting".

Lighting Committee. Plumstead Vestry, 6 September 1900
Many companies submitting tenders had problems with the "Schedule of hours of labour and rates of wages" contained in the invitation to tender. The schedule specified hourly rates, and many companies wanted to pay workers by piecework rates. The Vestry would not vary its Conditions of Tender.
The Committee was considering the question of acquiring the site for a wharf on the River Bank. They wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for War, because of his interest in the Woolwich Arsenal land between the two sites. A plan was attached showing the proposals for a tramway connecting these sites across War Department land.

Lighting Committee, Plumstead Vestry. 8 October 1900
That the tender of Babcock & Wilcox Ltd., be accepted.
1 Water Tube Boiler 300LH.P. for the electricity works, @ £675
3 Sets of Boiler Fittings and Mountings for Refuse Destructor Boilers @ £145 each
1 Set of Boiler Fittings and Mountings for Electricity Boiler @ £145
1 Economiser @ £435

Lighting Committee, Plumstead Vestry. 12 October 1900

It was recommended that the tender of Wheeler Condenser Company, be accepted.
Horizontal Surface Condenser with 9 inch centrifugal pump and Cooling Tower
(Barnard Steel Tower with forced draught) @ 2,313

Lighting Committee Plumstead Vestry 20 October 1900

Recommended that the tenders for the following plant and equipment be accepted:
Steam and other piping, auxiliary tanks, steam traps, and oil separators @ £3109
Heater detartiser and well pumps, Wm Boby, @£1300
Feed pumps, Worthington Pumping Engine Company, @ £440
Steam Dynamos (2 @ 300 IHP; 2 @ 150 IHP; 1 @ 100 IHP), booster etc @ £8800
Switch board, connections, etc @£1237
Storage batteries @ £863
Plate Girder Travelling Crane, Carrick & Richards, @ £640
Underground mains supply (streets) and installation, Callender Cable, @ £13,078
100 Meters, Shattners of Norwich, @ £317
Containing boxes, demand indicators (100), etc @ £597
Arc lamps and posts, Johnson & Phillips, @ £2100
October's Total £36,816

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 15 November 1900
It was reported that the Dust Destructor / Electricity Station was a project in an advanced stage of development, for which the London County Council, (LCC) had agreed loans.

Electricity Committee. Woolwich Borough. 6 December 1900
Part "A" The Borough Accountant reported on particulars of LCC Electric Lighting Loans:
The present practice of the London County Council is to sanction Loans and make advances for Plant, Machinery and Buildings for the generating and supply of electric light and energy for a period of 42 years, repayable on either the Annuity System or the Installment System.
For land, buildings, culverts, bare copper mains, and royalty licenses, they can advance loans for 50 years on the Installment System and for boilers and all other purposes for 20 years.
No loans for renewals are allowed under the 42 years' system of repayment whatever, either Annuity or Installment, but they have been granted for renewals if the amount is take up on the 50 years' or 20 years' basis.
The Dust Destructor portion of the Loan must be repaid in the ordinary way within the lift of the work, as certified by the London County Council's Engineer, and the equated periods of 42 years and 50 and 20 years do not apply, nor is any deferred payment of principal allowed.
The Committee directed that enquiries be made of three quantity surveyors, for their terms for taking out the quantities of the Dust Destructor / Electricity station and reporting back prior to the next Council meeting.
Part "B" The acceptance of the tender by Wm. Body for the Heater Detartiser and Well Pumps assumed acceptance of "rates of pay and Hours ". A revised estimate was received increasing this by £100, to £1,356 to include these matters. This was still the cheapest quote and was accepted.
A similar problem arose with the "labour conditions" element of the tender for the Steam Dynamos, Booster etc. British Westinghouse accepted the conditions, but the sub-contractor for the engine, Willans, would not on principle. Their engine was judged to be the best. Therefore they were allowed to accept similar clauses as those used by the Battersea Vestry.
Similarly James White would only accept the "labour conditions” for work carried out at Plumstead. They were the only manufacturers of the required "switchboard, connections etc” and the condition was waived for that work done in Scotland. Johnson & Phillips tender for Arc Lamps and Posts at £845 was accepted. However, once accepted realised that the original Vestry tender document contained "labour conditions" and asked to increase their tender price by £300. This proposal was not entertained.
In all 17 items of expenditure for plant in the Dust destructor / Electricity Station, totalling £20,000 were accepted, 15 of which fully embodied the "labour conditions".

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 2 May 1901

The Council made an offer of £80,000 for the Woolwich Electric Supply Co., so that supply would be under public control.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 17 May 1901

Letters had been received from the following:
29 04 1901 Board of Trade. Additional regulations for ensuring the proper and sufficient supply of electrical energy.
02 05 1901 Local Government Board. Approval of site for Electricity works.
6 & 1005 1901 London County Council. Loan for free wiring purposes.
11 & 14 05 1901 Woolwich & District Lighting Co. Directors will recommend shareholders to accept the Council's offer for the undertaking.

The Borough Electrical Engineer (BE) reported various satisfactory tests on newly installed plant. The Borough Engineer reported alterations to the chimneystack that would save between £600 & £700. Smith & Sons, contractor for the buildings, asked to increase their tender price by £200 because they had forgotten to allow for Portland Stone, the BE refused this, The BE has engaged Mr. W.Martin as Clerk of Works for £4.10s a week.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 6 June 1901

Mr. W. Martin was appointed Clerk of Works, for the combined Dust Destructor / Electricity Station.

Electricity Committee, Woolwich Borough Council, 13 June 1901

The "trial bore "for the plant's well. This was sunk to a depth of 49 foot 6 inches.
feet inches core sample of strata
1 3 top spit
4 6 brown clay
3 6 peat
0 3 silty sands
3 9 grey ballast
3 3 sand and ballast
2 10 rich ballast
2 6 sharp sand
9 6 grey sand
The report concluded that if the well depth was limited to 45 feet, then the water would not have penetrated the chalk strata, and the water would be much less hard, and would cause less scaling of the boilers and pipes.
When the water from the actual well was tested late in 1903, the water was found to be hard and this caused much distress, because of the need for remedial measures.
A sub-committee was appointed to deal with deviation of contract price.

Electricity Committee (special), Woolwich Borough Council. 19 December 1901

To consider a BE report on the need to anticipate substantial increases in future demand. It was stated that the engine room would need to be extended eastwards within three years. A temporary stop end would cost £266. To build the proposed extension now in advance of need would cost £1,350. There would be an overall saving of £467 by building as part of the present contract. The Committee agreed to the proposal to build in advance of need in anticipation of future demand.

Sunday 6 February 2011

White Hart Road - Woolwich Council's late 19th century CHP

Brief history of the combined Dust Destructor / Electric Light Generating Plant.
White Hart Road, Plumstead Marshes
by Dave Ramsay

This is the first part of an account of Woolwich's first CHP system in the late 19th century. Dave Ramsay has spent many years resarching this and Woolwich's engineer and architect, Frank Sumner.
The White Hart depot was used for many years by the Council as a store and is now part of a trading estate. See it from the train between Plumstead and Abbey Wood stations - Greenwich's most obscure listed building.


The Woolwich and Plumstead areas had a history of radical thinking, self help and questioning officialdom. The Woolwich Building Society was founded in 1847; the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) was founded in 1868; and the Woolwich Polytechnic in 1890. It was against this background that a period of imaginative municipal construction and acquisition took place in the area, during the early 1900s.

Attempts by Queen's College, Oxford, in 1871, to enclose Plumstead Common, extinguish free access and grazing rights, led to the establishment of the "Commons Protection League". In 1876 fences on the Common were torn down in what was described as the "Plumstead Common Riots", and the leader was imprisoned. The resolve and support of the populace was strengthened by this and after further unrest a face saving device had to be found to release him. An Act of Parliament in 1877 authorised the purchase of Plumstead Common, Bostall Heath, and Shoulder Mutton Green, by the Metropolitan Board of Works, (2)"Discover Woolwich", D.Spurgeon).

Workers from the Royal Arsenal fed up with high prices and adulterated food set up their own buyer's co-operative in 1868, operating at first from members houses in Plumstead, and then as the RACS from 147 Powis Street. The ethic of members self help, produced a thriving network of shops and some food production units in the area by 1900. The RACS had a broader ethical remit and provided education and libraries for members. From 1900 onwards the RACS built hundreds of fine terraced houses, some of which were rented out to members and some sold on 99 year leases.

There was therefore a solid record of local achievement for radical thinkers. The issue of an eight hour day for Arsenal Workers occupied trade union activity. However, in the election for Woolwich Council in November 1900, of the 36 councillors, just 11 members of the Woolwich and Plumstead Progressive Association represented radical thinking on the Council. The area was thought to be a bastion of support for the Conservative Party, (1) "The Woolwich Labour Party, 1903-1953".

These were formative years for the Labour Representation Committee. In July 1901 its candidate defeated the sitting Conservative MP in a by election for the Borough Council's, St. Mary's Ward. In another Council by election in the following year, the Rev. Jenkins Jones won St. Margaret’s Ward for Labour. In a Parliamentary by election in March 1903, Will Crooks became the Labour MP for Woolwich. He was the fourth Labour be elected. In November 1903 Labour won a majority on Woolwich Borough Council, which it held to 1906.

During this period the vexed issue of a public baths for Plumstead was settled when Labour decided to build the Baths. During this period also Labour built the first council houses, in North Woolwich. The rise of a reforming Labour Party reflected the needs of urban people who wanted progress in their lives. The minimum wage of 30 shillings a week set by the Council in these years was followed by a similar increase in Arsenal Labourers' wages. The provision of decent public amenity for all had long been popular. Any successful local politician would have had to reflect this when forming electoral policy.

The Events

Local Government in the Metropolis was to be reorganised. Eltham Plumstead and Woolwich were to be amalgamated into the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich. Civic pride would have dictated that Plumstead Vestry would have wanted to hand over an administration with good civic amenity. Vigorous but prudent pursuit of the interests of Plumstead people would not harm the electoral chances of the scheme's promoters

The logistical problems of disposing of urban waste were difficult and getting worse, as urban building continued apace. Gas street lighting was expensive to run and out of the control of the Vestry, as the gas had to be bought off of the Gas Company. Civic building required bricks and paviors particularly for highway work. It was in this context that Plumstead Vestry investigated the possibilities of building its own power station to supply electricity.

Visits were organised to electricity stations in Leyton, Shoreditch, St Pancras and Brighton. The station at Brighton was thought to be most valuable, particularly in terms of charging mechanisms. It was decided to proceed with a station at Plumstead.

It was felt that the most important action to be taken was the appointment of really able, professional staff. It was decided to appoint an Engineer-Surveyor and an Electrical Engineer. These staff could advise on issues of best practice from around the country. The Committee wanted to investigate the benefits of building a combined refuse destructor and electricity station. In this way, Professor Robson recommended that the waste heat from the burning of rubbish could be used to supplement that produced by the coal burning electricity station. Frank Sumner was appointed Engineer-Surveyor and Arthur Wright Surveyor-Electrical Engineer.

In May 1900 the Committee looked at Frank Sumner's draft plans. Technical details were discussed, as was the need to cater for future expansion in demand. In order to pursue the "combined station” concept visits were to be arranged to inspect working examples of these plants.

In late May of that year four such stations were visited, two at Liverpool, one at St Helens, and one at Darwen. The Committee thanked Mr. Sumner for his careful planning of the visit. The main conclusion was that the combined station was a good idea, as they wanted to maximise the energy capture. To this end it was decided to load the refuse boiler manually, rather than the cheaper top loading by tipping. This method was more labour intensive and slightly more costly, but gave much better rates of burn efficiency. All of the boilers were to be of a compatible type.

Once the plans had been adopted, specifications were to be printed so that the tendering process could begin. It is interesting that Plumstead Vestry Rules insisted that a "schedule of hours of labour and rates of wages" should be included in all tender documents. Plumstead appears to have been an authority prominent improving working conditions prior to the formation of the Labour Party. It could be in that the Labour Party developed so rapidly in Woolwich and Plumstead because its ideals struck a chord with an established radical tradition that was seeking a vehicle to move forwards.

The new Woolwich Borough Council moved diligently to give effect to the plans it inherited from Plumstead. To ensure the public control of electricity supply in the Borough, Woolwich Borough offered £80,000 for the outright purchase of the Woolwich Electric Company. This fell within its powers that were recently given to local government. An application for a preliminary "Electric Lighting Loan" of £20,000 was made by the Vestry to the London County Council. Their sense of urgency of committing the Authority contractually to the scheme, prior to its absorption into the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich some two months later.

The sense of civic and professional pride in the project is communicated from the Committee minutes. The tenders for boilers and water cooling tower equipment were accepted just days before Plumstead Vestry ceased to exist as an authority.

Woolwich Borough Council did accept the scheme and it was pursued with similar vigour. Tenders were accepted very often on the basis of engineering excellence, rather than lowest bid. The "Labour Condition" clauses were adhered to save for the generators, where the unique engineering qualities of this Glasgow product received ascendance. Local companies like Johnson & Phillips, were prominent in the list of successful tenderers. The plant and street cabling made up about £40,000 of the £60,000 cost of the overall cost of the project. Council Officers arid Councillors checked the progress of the construction and installation of the Station.

Plans for a tramway giving direct access for coal from a Thameside Wharf via a tramway to the power station, had to be objections from the MOD, the intermediate land owner. It was decided to source boiler water supply by sinking a well. The depth was surveyed carefully to ensure that "soft" water could be obtained at 45 feet. Sadly in the years between the 1900 survey and opening in 1903 circumstances seem to have altered so that the water obtained was found to be "hard" which shortened the life of the boilers. It may well be that at that time many people sunk similar wells and this reduced the level of the water table in London.

During the three year building period the flexible design had to be extended to cope with increases in demand for electricity. The Co-op and Footscray UDC wanted to buy electricity. Rates of pay for employees were fixed at 1/2 pence above the average at 8 pence for stokers. The two Labour members were able to insist that all hours worked over eight hours would be paid as overtime. There must have already been a radical element on Woolwich Council since Labour did not have a majority until the October 1903 election, by which time the Plumstead Combined Station was due to open.

Notes from Council Minutes

Electric Supply Committee. Plumstead Vestry, Saturday 14 January 1899
Reports were given on previous Committee visits to installations at Leyton; Shoreditch; St. Pancras; and Brighton, in late 1898. The purpose was to establish the kind of installation most suitable to Plumstead. The Brighton operation was thought to be the best.
Electricity was cheaper than gas, its Id against 15s 9d, for street lighting. The Committee was mindful of the advice of Prof. Robinson that steam produced from burning the rubbish, could be used to supplement that produced in the dedicated boilers of the electric generation plant. The Committee was mindful to establish a joint dust destructor/electric generator.

Electric Supply Committee, Plumstead Vestry, 10 May 1899
Frank Sumner, AMICE, was chosen from six candidates as Engineer-Surveyor to the Vestry.
Electric Supply Committee, Plumstead Vestry. 12 May 1899
Arthur Wright was appointed as consultant Surveyor and Electrical Engineer to the Vestry, for a salary of £600 pa, on a five-year contract.

Electric Supply Committee, Plumstead Vestry, 8 March 1900
The Surveyor-Engineer & the Electrical Engineer were given joint powers to appoint an assistant
Lighting Committee. Plumstead Vestry, 10 May 1900
In connection with the Electric Light Provisional Order obtained by the Vestry, the Committee considered the Electrical Engineer's report. The only alteration to the report was to increase the generating capacity of the plant, so that more electricity could be produced, to meet future demand. It was felt that this would eventually prove to be the most economical course.
The Committee required that the plant be "readily adaptable to future extensions". The designs prepared by Frank Sumner, the Surveyor and Engineer had to reflect this. The Surveyor also recommended that the walls of the engine room be faced with white glazed bricks, to eliminate the need for periodic lime washing of the walls. This would be safer for the operatives and the machinery
More to come

Woolwich Antiquarians -The Ferry and more

The Woolwich Antiquarians current newsletter has a report of the talk by Andy Griffiths on the Woolwich Free Ferry starting with -

1308 William de Wicton sold the ferry and house for £10
(was this a free ferry - must say I have my doubts!)

1850 first talk of a free ferry - at the time it was just a horse raft
1880 Woolwich Parish had a public meeting- but couldn't afford a ferry - so applied to the Metropolitan Board of Works pointing out that west Londoners could cross the river for nothing
(what's new?)
1885 an enabling act of Parliament
1887 Mowlem appointed to build the terminals and pontoons
1889 the ferry was opened by Lord Rosebery - three days after the inception of the London County Council. The first boat was Gordon, then Duncan and then Hutton. They were side wheel paddle steam boats.
1922 - there were new ferries - Squires, Gordon and in 1930 Will Crooks and John Benn. Everyone loved them.
In the Second World War they did lots of evacuation work from bomb sites, particularly from Silvertown.
1963 the present boats came into service. James Newman, Ernest Bevin and John Burns.
1966 new terminals were built.
The ferry can take bigger and heavier lorries than the Blackwall Tunnel and HGVs are 11% of its users. Most cars use it on weekends. All users are logged. The morning peak is northbound and south bound in the evening. They were designed to take 500 passengers, but are licenced for 350 - usually it is 25. In July they do a charity run for disadvantaged children.
There are five crews each with seven members - and also staff at the terminals.
Maintenance is a problem as the vehicles are getting quite old. John Burns is now waiting for a small spare part which is no longer made. There are no longer any dry docks on the Thames which can take them and they have to go to Hull for major repairs. They do have their own maintenance department - one ferry has recently had its decking replaced there.

The newsletter also has a long write up of a seminar on the Localism Bill

There is also a copy of an obituary to Jeremy Cotton - our local wildlife expert who died over Christmas. Jeremy was also a member of GIHS. The obituary is one which appeared on a sister blog

Thursday 3 February 2011

GLIAS Newsletter and Greenwich

The February GLIAS Newsletter has quite a few mentions of Greenwich in it:

- converted water towers - Darrell Spurgeon has written to note the water tower at the Hollies in Sidcup - not in Greenwich actually, but near enough. He points out that it was designed by local architect Thomas Dinwiddy and been converted for housing. Ron Bingham has added in a bit about the Brook Hospital tower and that it is now occupied.

Bob Carr has noted that at DLR Cutty Sark station is the top half of the cutting head of the tunnel boring machine on display and also said a few things about the rebuilding of the Cutty Sark itself.
He goes on to note system built flats at Morris Walk Estate - readers might remember we had a speaker on this at GIHS last year - but Bob gives many details.

Bob also reviews a new book by David Carpenter 'Below the Waterline'. David came from Plumstead and describes his life as a marine engineer.

The following talks with an interest to Greenwich industry are also advertised:

A day in the life of a Thames Tug by Richard Thomas - at Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society, 7.30 8th February Northaw Village Hall, 5 Northaw Road West, EN6 4NW

The Tragic loss of HMS Albion - film at NFT3 - 11-4 19th February needs to be booked via their box office

Thames Fishing Fleets 1780s-1820s at Barking and Greenwich by Hugh Lyon. at Docklands History Group 5.30 2nd March Museum in Docklands, Hertsmere Road, E14

Evening Walk round Blackheath by Richard Buchanan on 14th June. No details as yet.

Greenwich Peninsula by Mary Mills Docklands History Group 5.30 3rd August Museum in Docklands, Hertsmere Road, E14