Thursday 23 June 2011

PIPER’S WHARF - famous racing barges on the Greenwich Riverside


Pipers Wharf is one of three main areas which cover the housing development locally known as Lovells Wharf – and is the most downriver of them.
I have been very very nervous of ever publishing anything about Pipers. Sailing barges and boat builders have been a subject covered by those who are expert in the field and there is nothing I could write which would ever be ok by them – in fact I am very intimidated. What follows are essentially a few vague and inadequate notes


James R. Piper was apprenticed to William Bromley (JP for Gravesend) a Greenwich ship owner. He later moved to work for Mowlem’s at their East Greenwich Yard. After ten years he opened a small yard next door and went on to become one of the largest barge builders on the Thames. He also producing barges for racing and worked as a marine damage surveyor. It should be stressed that Pipers specialist barges were sophisticated vessels – nothing haphazardly built up on the riverside. The design which we now think of as traditional on the River was evolving through this period – these were vessels designed to carry bulk haulage items, to go up narrow creeks, shallows and Thames mudflats, to cross the Channel and trade with Continental ports, to survive the worst the weather could do, to be crewed by a man and a boy – and to win spectacular high speed races in a flash of red sails. Barge races – which of course still take place – attracted large sums in prize money.
(Details about Piper from Yachting and Coast 17th June 1899)


Piper built many vessels – lighters and, latterly refrigerated barges, and doubtless much more. The following is a list gleaned from published sources plus notes of any information I have managed to find in such sources. It is very minimal and I stand ready to be corrected

Giralda The most famous barge ever launched – watch out for pictures of her which turn up on calendars, picture books and much else – I found myself eating off a table mat with her on it, last year! Not that those who print her picture have any idea about Giralda or that she had anything to do with Greenwich.
She was named after the tower in Seville and built for Goldsmiths of Grays for the purpose of winning the gold cup in Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee year. Jack Currell was the ‘genius of her building’ – he was Pipers foreman. Giralda cost £1,350, was 80ft long and had 3,000 ft of canvas which was all handmade at Pipers yard. It is said that everyone laughed when she was launched because she was straight and flat and ugly - but she was built to win the Gold Cup. She won the Cup under Captain Thurncard for Goldsmiths. She was then raced under Captain William Mitchell winning the Thames and Medway championships many times. She was Champion of the Thames in 1898, 1901, 1904, 1909, fifth 1902. She was Champion of the Medway 1898, 1900, 1903, 1904, etc.
After the races she was sent back to the barge yard to strengthen the boards in the bottom so she could be used for haulage. In a gale in 1901 she finished 5th only in the race and suffered a lot of damage –and there was also damage to Ramsgate harbour and so she was bought back by Piper in 1913. Pipers used her as a barge to moor other vessels from in 1928.
A half model was made and preserved by Pipers and in 1943 a piece of her timber was kept at Greenwich with an inscription on it – I would love to know what has happened to these.

Surf built for Lambert as a racing barge. She was fouled in the 1900 race by Minnehaha at Tilbury but was otherwise placed in races -3rd Medway in 1900, 2nd Thames in 1900, 7th Thames in 1901, 4th Thames in 1902, 7th Thames in 1903,

James Piper A wooden barge of 56 tons. She raced and was 3rd Champion Topsail barge on the Thames in 1894, 2nd Thames in 1895. 3rd Thames in 1896. She was broken up in the 1950s, having been used as a house boat at Cheyne Walk.

Haughty Belle. She was built for E.J.Goldsmith in wood as a Counter stern racing barge with iron leeboards. She won the 1896 race and her design is said to have been ‘astonishing’. Eventually broken up in Cubitt’s yacht basin.

Arctic. In 1978 converted by London and Rochester Trading.

Gerty Broken up at Millwall in 1933.

Ernest Piper. Owned by Goldsmiths in 1919, Metcalfe Motor Coasters in 1942, and then by S.West. Sold for conversion to a yacht in 1950 at Portsmouth. Now derelict and hulked at Shepherds Creek

Maid of Connaught . This vessel had previously been Monarch. Worked for Invicta Coal and Shipping Co. Smeed Dean, W.H.Theobald and Leigh Building Supplies. She was a motor barge by 1935 and then a yacht. She is said to be hulked on Pin Mill Hard.

Sportsman a wooden barge now hulked at Milton Creek.

Surrey, worked until 1957 when she was laid up when owned by Horlock of Mistley. Later hulked and broken up Whitewall Creek.

Edgar Scholey. Broken up after being in use at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in the 1950s as a house boat.

Surge. Surge means "Sure you are Giralda's Equal". She was 1st in Staysail races in 1937, when owned by Augustus Hills of Annandale House, Greenwich.

Brian Boru, Built of wood and owned by Piper in the 1950s. She was sunk in February 1950 off Southend and laid up. Broken up in 1988 at Brentford.

Arthur Relf. Now infilled at Whitewall Creek.

Gwynronald. Had previously been called Charles Allison. In 1957 she was owned by West of Gravesend, and used for ballast. Became a House Barge in Oare Creek. I do not think she is still there

Miranda barge yacht

Leonard Piper Owned by Piper and then Wilkes. Sold to Samuel West in 1930. Auxiliary 1934. She became house barge at Chiswick Mall. I visited this vessel when in the 1990s and have no reason to believe she is not still in Chiswick. My main memory is of the vast spaces used as living accommodation below decks – in what would have been her cargo areas. Grand pianos and double beds were dwarfed!

W.Mary. broken up Greenwich.1937. .

M.Piper, Sunk in March 1951 off Grain Spit and raised but not refitted. Eventually she was broken up for scrap at Bloors Wharf in 1954, used for ballast.

Squeak. A Hoy barge originally called Dorcas running from Sandwich and Dover with general cargoes. She had originally been built in 1898 in Rochester and called Hokey Pokey because of her painted hull. She was burnt out after a petrol drum cargo caught light off Woolwich and killed the skipper. She was sold to Pipers for £60 and had good enough timber to justify rebuilding. She was then rebuilt by and renamed Squeak as a staysail barge. She was dismantled in 1948 after nearly sinking in Sea Reach – she was by then notorious for fires. In November 1943 she arrived at Sheppey Gas Works wharf, Sheerness, with 160 tons coal and made fast in 9ft of water. In the morning the cabin floor had been pushed up of mound of earth 56ft high. The Gas Company denied responsibility but judgement went against them. She was then hulked and burnt out at Bedlam's Bottom.

Pip. Built for London and Rochester Trading and in 1954 her name was changed to Pine. She was run down at Purfleet by a steam boat and her crew drowned. She was dismantled but lay as a hulk at Greenwich and was owned by T.Scholey. She eventually became a motor barge for London and Rochester Trading who changed her name to MV Pinup

Q craft, resident barges for ballast, shallow draught, cabin with bunks and things.

Canada. A motor vessel

J.R.Piper. motor barge

Peter Piper motor barge

Piper II motor barge

Wilfred sold to London and Rochester Trading in 1954. She is now at the Embankment – and has had a number of names there as restaurants of various sorts. When built she was the last word in modern sail barges. She was used as a motor barge for ballast work and sand from Brightlingsea. Owned by T.Scholey & Co. (Thames) Ltd. Was sold in 1954 to R.Deards at Hoo.

Kiora. Built for Westray in four months. Cabins, smoking room, saloon, seven state rooms bathroom and captain’s cabin

- And many many more.
- Please correct the many items displaying sheer ignorance~

Lovells - John Mowlem and Granite Wharf


This article is one of a series originally written for Bygone Kent. Since then everything has changed. Up until 2001 or so boats were still calling at what was a working wharf - but then Tarmac sold up. The wharf site now has planning consent for housing, which has not yet been built, and the site has flooded. During preparation for building an early medieval tide mill has been found on site - something which looks likely to change the whole history of what we understand as 'Greenwich'.

Since then I have also visited Watchet and seen the replica of 'our' wall as a display on the station.

When I was seven we went on holiday to Bournemouth. I remember the long coach journey all the way from home in Gravesend, and the peach melbas and the long walks up the chines – but most of all I remember the visit to the Great Globe at Swanage. I still have the photograph my dad took of me and my mum at the globe – and, because he was a keen amateur photographer, there is a lot more of the globe in the picture than of us! I was to return to the globe fifty years later as part of my research on the Greenwich riverside.

In a previous article I have described how Coles Child leased land on the Greenwich riverside –Dog Kennel Field – and used it to build houses and factories. The houses still stand in Pelton Road and the surrounding streets – and some of his wharves still remain. One of these wharves has been known as ‘Granite Wharf’ and, until the past few months, has been in use by Tarmac for road building materials. Records show that Granite Wharf was leased by Coles Child to Mowlem, Burt and Freeman in 1852.

The original John Mowlem had been a worker in the Dorset stone quarries who came to London to find work with a sculptor and then founded what was to become the famous contracting firm in 1823. He began with some paving contracts and a wharf at Paddington. By 1852 John Mowlem himself had retired back to Swanage and the firm was then managed by his nephew, George Burt. He too made his home in Swanage and between them Mowlem and Burt managed to take back to Dorset an extraordinary collection of bits and pieces from the London streets. It appears that anything interesting that turned up in the course of demolition and renovation was simply removed and found a place in Swanage – visitors to that town can followed guides and tours to see these monuments and part monuments in some surprising situations.

Mowlem’s main yard was at Millbank on the site of what is now Millbank Tower. The Greenwich wharf is sometimes described as their ‘stone yard’ and no doubt many of the items now in Swanage were taken to Greenwich before being shipped out. ( Maps from the early 1860s show little or nothing on the site – but the records tell us that ‘Mowlem are building substantial buildings on their site’. A roadway, on the line of today’s Cadet Place, goes from what was then Chester Street (now Banning Street) to the river and marks, then as now, the boundary between Greenwich (Lovell’s) Wharf and Granite Wharf. Another pathway turns north east towards the river – there is nothing else. The 1869 Ordnance map tells a different story. The site is now marked as ‘Stone yard’ and two tracks of rails appear to cross the site towards the river edge. There is a slip marked as well as ‘mooring posts’ and a crane. Twenty years later the wharf is much the same although some more substantial buildings have appeared and ‘dolphins’ are marked in the river. The pathway, now ‘Cadet Place’ is called ‘Paddock Place’.

We would know almost nothing about Granite Wharf if it were not for one picture. This picture is today sold at The Durleston Country Park near Swanage as a postcard – but few people in Greenwich would know what it was. I do not know how researchers in Swanage have identified the picture as Greenwich – David Lewer and Bernard Calkin who wrote Curiosities of Swanage had access to an unpublished history of John Mowlem which I have not seen. The picture shows the Great Globe, now at Durlston Head, under construction in Greenwich. Two stone carvers site on top, behind it is a great crane – perhaps the one shown on the map – and in front three figures. That on the right has been named as John Mowlem Burt,George Burt’s son.

The Globe seems to have been the idea of George Burt who, a few years earlier, had commissioned a smaller granite globe which is now on display in Beaulieu. The Great Globe is made of 15 pieces of Portland stone – held together with granite dowels. It was taken from Greenwich to Swanage in sections on one of Mowlem’s sailing vessles and erected at Durlston by a Dorset builder. Whether the stone was taken originally from Swanage to Greenwich for carving is not known – but the expense of carting 40 tons of stone between the two must have been considerable. (ref)

Durlston Country Park, the Globe and the various other things which surround it are well worth a visit. The whole experience is extremely bizarre. Above it is a strange mock castle and all around are bollards, stone tables, boundary stones, etc. from the streets of London. The Globe is carved with a map of the world and various astronomical statements about The Sub, Moon and Earth appear. There are also stone tablets carved with homilies on the subject of Temperence, Prudence and so on as well as ‘clock times of the world’ , ‘convexity of the ocean’ and much else.

Cadet Place – once called Paddock Place – runs along the south east boundary of Granite Wharf. The wall of the wharf here is simply extraordinary, consisting of what appears to be pieces of random stone, some of it set up as a sort of blocked up gateway. Geologists have begun to take an interest in this wall – dubbing it ‘Cyclopean’. The stone has been identified as part of the stockpile of stone which Mowlem’s had in the yard. It is thought that stone quarried in Dorset was shipped to Greenwich to be held here until it was needed elsewhere. It would then be shipped out by Thames Barge. It includes, says geologist, Eric Robinson: ‘White Portland Stone, some of it dressed with the stone pick, pink and red sandstone – not necessarily as hard as the Coal Measures York Stone - - they are joined by ‘Bluestone’ (Diorite) .. at either side the blocks sit at unusual angles with an infill of angular pieces of dark bluestone – this dark stone came from Guernsey in the Channel Islands and was much used in kerbs and cobbles’. It is pointed out this miscellany of stone pieces might serve as a museum of the sort of stones which made up the stone cartage trade in the English Channel – ‘just add some granites’. He continues ‘look at the cobbles and smaller cube setts in the entrance to the yard and you see all of these granitic rocks polished by cart wheels and cars’.

Elsewhere Eric Robinson has provided guides for school children (and indeed adults too) who want to explore the world of stone around them and analyse the history of a site from the stones which used to build it. I was not so lucky as a small child. When we visited the Globe at Swanage in 1947 I had no idea what it was – but, gosh, I was impressed!

Orinoco - sailing barge built on the Greenwich Riverside


This article originally appeared in an issue of Bygone Kent.

The site of Hughes Barge Yard is now covered - or soon will be - by housing on the development now known as 'Lovell's Wharf'. Orinoco too is under different ownership and I have not seen her for a long time - information is always welcome.

Jim Hughes was a friend of mine who lived in Blackheath. I knew him as a tenant activist, a teacher, a Labour Party member, a historian but most of all as a sailing barge enthusiast and a lover of London's river. When it was announced that the Millennium Dome was to be built in Greenwich Jim tried his best – but in vain - to persuade the New Millennium Experience Company that they should take an interest in the many famous sailing barges built in Greenwich.

Jim died before the Dome was built but in his last weeks he contacted me and I understood that he wanted me to find the last Greenwich barge still sailing – the Orinoco. I went to Hoo Marina and met her skipper – but she never made it to the Dome despite all our efforts.

I asked Jim's widow, Elsie, if I could look at the books and papers he had left. 'Yes' she said 'but take them afterwards to the Docklands Museum, as Jim wanted'. As I went through the piles of pictures, which were Jim's lifetime collection, I found some manuscript – Jim's notes on the Orinoco and her builders. I felt that the best I could do was to write these notes up into a coherent article and get it published. So, this article is for Jim – and most of it is by him.

Perhaps I should start with what Jim himself had written in a letter to a friend in 1990.
'… a few months it ago it came to my knowledge that the sailing barge 'Orinoco' was built at East Greenwich by a barge builder of the name of HUGHES. From the local history library I discovered that Frederick Augustus Hughes & Co, had been in business as a barge builder at Providence Wharf, River Bank, East Greenwich from 1887 until 1905.'

Jim knew, as I do, that there must have been many barge builders in Greenwich over the centuries. We tend to know about Pipers and Shrubsall – both recent and well documented. Almost all the others have vanished, without record. Their sites probably consisted of a length of foreshore – abandoned once the barge was built – and the barges themselves are long gone. To research one, hitherto otherwise unknown, barge builder was a real challenge.

Perhaps because his name was the same as theirs, Jim spent a lot of time trying to unearth Hughes the bargebuilder.

He found first of all a Frederick Augustus Hughes, a lighterman living in Florence Road, New Cross in the 1850s and born in 1811. Frederick later became a Custom House Agent and his four sons, Frederick, Augustus, Edmund and Walker all went into the lighterage trade. It appeared that his son Frederick was apprenticed to an Augustus Edmunds in 1863. Edmunds lived at Carisbrooke Villa in Westcombe Hill, Blackheath, between 1864 and 1900. He had a barge building business on the Greenwich peninsula and it must have been a large and prosperous business for him to afford such a grand house. Carisbrooke Villa was on the site of what is now Broadbridge Close near Blackheath Standard. No doubt young Hughes was well taught.
By 1887 – F.A.Hughes was registered as a barge builder at Greenwich and ihe signed the lease for the site which seems to have been acquired from Coles Child whose interests he appears to have bought out Coles on the Morden College owned site.

The Wharf was called Providence Wharf and was on the site downriver of what is now Piper's Wharf with an entrance at the end of Banning Street. It is part of the complex of wharves owned by Morden College and developed by Coles Child from the 1840s – a process partly described in my recent articles on Lovell's Wharf for Bygone Kent. Jim discovered that the site is marked as 'Hughes Barge Builders' on maps of the 1880s and on some deeds from Morden College.

Although the business was thus owned by the father, it seems that the sons were in fact in charge. Frederick, who had been apprenticed just down the road with Edmunds, lived nearest to the new barge yard's site in Greenwich - just round the corner in Commerel Street, SE10 – an address which could never be described as up-market. When he later moved it was just along the road to 1 Glenister Road – another address difficult to describe as anything other than in a working class area. Also closely involved in the business was the second son, Augustus George who, in 1886, was living at 'Garnet' 21 Glenluce Road, Blackheath - a much more 'middle class' address than that of brother Frederick. At that time, Jim reckoned, he would be about 35 years old.

Thus the Hughes family ran their barge yard at from the mid-1880s Providence Wharf, taking over Dawsons Wharf next door in September 1890. The works at must have been larger and more diverse than is implied by barge building since it was described in a letter of 1905 as an 'Engineering Works'. – however a feature of the site plan was a 'Launching Way'. Jim found a record that in 1889 Sailing Barge Wyvenhoe was built for Hughes by Forrest. I am assuming that that is the same Wyvenhoe which is up and down the river all the time these days. If she was originally built for Hughes it makes his company seem rather larger than it appears at first sight and that they intended to be a trading company rather than merely builders.

The founder of the works, F.A.Hughes, was around throughout the lifetime of the business and it is a surprise to find him still alive in 1905, aged 94 when he signed a lease which is still in the Morden College archives. However from that date the works seemed to fail. By 1907, Augustus had died, the firm had closed and the wharf was in the possession of Tilbury Contracting and Dredging.

It is possible that an 'Edmund Hughes' continued to work at Providence Wharf. Jim quoted 'The Lure and Lore of London River', dated 1932, which said that a 'small lightering business' was carried on at Providence Wharf by a 'freeman, Edmund Hughes' and that he had gone into business as the first Managing Director of London and Tilbury Lighterage at 'far larger Dreadnought Wharf' – which London and Tilbury had acquired from the Rennies. Pictures published in the 1920s show London and Tilbury's vessel Tilburnia, described as fitted with a 'Hughes rotary cutter' – was this device perhaps developed by Edmund.

Edmund Hughes had moved by then to 1 Priory Park in Blackheath – a much more upmarket address and a house which still exists today. I don't know who Edmund was – Jim seems to have left no record. Was he a son of Augustus – or his brother?

The family however did seem to prosper. In January 1924 an Arthur Mumford Hughes was listed by the Freemen and Apprentices of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and described as the son of Edmund Hughes of Blackheath. In 1946 he was admitted to the Court of Assistants. Does the middle name Mumford imply that he had some relationship - perhaps through his mother - with the owners of the flour mill in Greenwich? His son Arthur Mumford Hughes was admitted to the Livery in 1924 – he had an even posher address at Mayfield, Chiselhurst, Kent.

Jim had therefore traced the history of a barge building family – from their origins as Deptford lightermen to an engineering/boat building business, meanwhile moving personally ever more into a middle class environment. What has happened to them? Will their family historians discover this saga and take it up? Did they in fact go on to become a much large business under another name.

Jim had started to research the Hughes because of Orinoco and he had found a bit about her. According to him, Hughes built Orinoco in 1895, commissioned by Masons cement fleet based at Waldringfield on the Deben, although she was eventually owned by Cranfield Brothers. The records day she was sunk in collision in the Thames in the 1950s and raised and bought by Tester Laurie Tester of Greenhithe Lighterage co and restored and then rerigged at Faversham. Since then she been in a number of hands as a leisure vessel.

After Jim died I went down to Hoo Marina and found Orinoco and her skipper. I understand that she has now been sold again and would be glad to know what has happened to her and if her new owners know any more about her than I do. Research on her has suffered since Hughes has been confused with the later Greenwich barge builders, Hughan – who were, in any case, on a different site. I would also like to know more about the Hughes family and what other craft they might have built in Greenwich.

Most of this article has been compiled from the notes left by Jim Hughes, and lent to me thanks to Elsie Hughes with some extra research by me at Morden College and at London Borough of Greenwich.

Lovells Wharf - Greenwich Riverside


By Mary Mills

This article was written this riverside area was still a wharf -which could potentially have been worked - and riverside cranes which remained in situ were a much treasured local feature. Now the cranes have gone, the riverside has been disrupted and the site is all housing. 'Lovells' itself was bounded by Pelton Road/Banning Street and Cadet Place. Cadet Place is gone and its site only marked by the boundary of a block of flats.

The article below is made up of a series of articles originally published in Bygone Kent. Photographs of working on the wharf in the 1980s fron PLA Journal by kind permission Derek Rowe.

For many years people in Greenwich have enjoyed the riverside walk from the town out into the marshes. It is a pathway which has become famous and many tourists already find their way onto it. In the year 2000 it will be the easiest and nicest way for those who want to walk from Greenwich, proper, to the Millennium Dome. They will go along what is still a working riverside past a busy boat repair yard and several large factories.

The industry is now, of course, much depleted. Many people will remember that until about ten years ago there was a real bustle with many working wharves and a forest of cranes. There are still a few cranes at work shifting the ubiquitous aggregate but they are small and few. However, visitors walking on from the Cutty Sark pub will be confronted with just two giant cranes – two of what are believed to be only four 'Scotch derricks' left on London's wharves. In August 1999 local people discovered that the wharf on which they stand is might become the site of a hotel. By the time this article appears a Greenwich Council will have decided whether or not it will go ahead.

The two cranes stand on what is known now as 'Lovells wharf' - but it has had other names in the past. It was built in the nineteenth century when activity on the Greenwich riverside was at its height and was worked successfully until the early 1980s when the need for a deeper berth seems to have meant it was abandoned. It's history is very similar to many other wharves up and down the river Thames.

Greenwich Marsh covered the area which today is known as the 'Greenwich Peninsula'. The Marsh had clear boundaries and at one time there were gates to go through to get onto the marsh. On the riverside the marsh boundary was here between 'Ballast Quay' – and 'Lovells Wharf'. At this point the riverside path leaves the metalled road and becomes a footpath only. Today it eventually reaches the mouth of the Blackwall Tunnel but it once meandered on along the sea wall right round and back to Charlton. Lovells Wharf is at the start of the path through the marsh. The name 'Lovells' in large white lettering can be seen from the river on the wharf wall, above the path, and again on the gable of the buildings.

On the walls of houses in Ballast Quay are little 'Invicta' plaques which tourists often mistake for fire insurance signs. In fact they denote ownership by Morden College. The College, which still stands on the far side of Blackheath, was set up by Sir John Morden in the late seventeenth century to provide an almshouse for 'decayed Turkey merchants'. The whole area of riverside – Lovells and the sites either side, and behind it – are owned by them. They have had an enormous influence on the whole area – and without their archive this article could not have been written

The last wharf before Lovells is 'Ballast Quay' – where the Cutty Sark pub is today. The name 'Ballast Quay' goes back to at least the early seventeenth century and the wharf has had a varied history. In the early nineteenth century it was the site of industrial buildings associated with the Crowley family. Ambrose Crowley was a seventeenth century ironmaster who set up warehousing here and lived in a big house where the Power Station now stands. His family, and their successors, leased the land in this stretch of riverside from Morden College until the mid-nineteenth century when Ballast Quay was developed for riverside housing by Morden College to be known, for a while, as Union Wharf.

In the late seventeenth century the Government had built a gunpowder testing depot down river of Greenwich - a subject which I covered earlier for Bygone Kent. The gunpowder site was sold and by the early nineteenth century seems to have become a ropewalk. Between this and Ballast Quay was a belt of meadowland on which the Crowleys retained their leases until the 1840s. This includes Lovells Wharf.

Although the wharf was not built before the 1840s it is very likely the riverside here was well used by watermen - fishermen, boat builders and the like. Inland was a field known as the 'Great Meadow'. To the south of this meadow was 'Willow Walk' – a path which ran along a dyke. In the 1840s a housing estate was built here and Willow Walk became 'Pelton Road' and it still forms the main road to the river in East Greenwich.


Morden College leased the Great Meadow to the Crowleys but it seems to have been used as meadowland - grazing of horses and cattle and, along the riverside, the growing of osiers for basket making.

By the 1840s Morden College wanted to develop the area in the same way that they had just developed Ballast Quay. In 1830 they had appointed George Smith as their Surveyor. He was an architect who held appointments with some other institutions with interests in the area - he was also Surveyor to the Cator estates and to the Mercer's Company. In 1838 he prepared a survey of Greenwich Marsh and after that the riverside land was leased systematically to developers.


The Great Meadow was one of the earliest sites to be allocated by Morden College. It went to William Coles Child. He was a young man, in his early twenties, who had taken over his family's coal trade business based at Belvedere Wharf in London - on the site of today's Festival Hall. They were described 'Coal Merchants, Coke Burners and Wharfingers' and later added the trade of 'Russian Cement manufacturer'. The coal was brought into London in collier ships from ports on the North East coast - Newcastle, Blyth, South Shields, Seaham. It was a massive industry and one which expanded enormously in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Coles Child was clearly well off and in the 1840s was to buy the Bishop's Palace in Bromley (now Bromley Civic Centre) where he became a local figure of some importance. He had multiple interests including building materials, railways and hop growing.

Coles Child owned gravel pits, and a brick works in Bromley and also grew hops near where Theatre now stands. He was proud that his hops were the first to arrive each year at the Hop Exchange in the Borough – something facilitated by the closeness of the railway of which he was also a director. Coles Child was also on the board of the South Eastern Railway and was responsible for a number of extensions to the line – all of them dressed up as independent companies in Kent. In this way he was involved in the promotion of a dock scheme in Greenwich. He must have come into frequent contact with Sir John Lubbock, Chairman of Morden College. Lubbock lived just south of Bromley at High Elms in Farnborough and, like Coles Child, he was involved in philanthropic work in the area. For example, in 1866, Coles Child donated the land for a Working Men's club in Bromley which was later opened by Sir John Lubbock.

In Greenwich Coles Child's worked with Morden College to build the housing estate which still stands between Woolwich Road and the river – the area around William Dyke/Pelton Road.


The wharf which Coles Child built on the riverside near his housing was not then called 'Lovells', it was known as 'Greenwich Wharf''.

On 5th July 1838 Child signed an 80-year lease with Morden College for six acres of the Great Meadow to 'form wharves and erect manufactories'. For this he paid £8 an acre but Morden College said that he must spend at least £3,000 on 'substantial buildings'. They were quite clear that what ever development took place on Greenwich riverside that it was to be of a high standard and something which would last. A year later Coles Child signed a lease for more land and took on the remainder of the area in 1844.

In January 1839 Morden College gave Coles Child permission to build a new road to the river along the line of the north side of Willow Walk and thus Pelton Road came into being. One feature of the road is that the houses on only one side have front gardens and it has been speculated that this is because originally the dyke was not covered over. Coles Child also applied to built a tramway – a light railway – along the road so that he could transport his coal and gravel more easily, but he wanted Morden College to pay for it and this they refused to do.

Coles Child strengthened and partly rebuilt the sea wall and a new pier was built at the end of Ballast Quay. By 1840 coke ovens, a limekiln, storehouse and stable and been built and were in operation. Lovells Wharf'' – Greenwich Wharf - then became an industrial site for processing coal and cement from the mid 1840s. It was to continue in this role for the next fifty years.

The limekilns on Greenwich Wharf were initially let to a Mr. Walker. There were numerous people of that name operating in the surrounding chemical and coal trades in the areas and he does seem to have been a success. Another proposed lessee was a soapboiler - a suggestion that drew complaints from the tenants of Ballast Quay. By March 1841 Coles Child was running the limeburning operations himself. the site himself. 'Grey Stone and other limes' were produced there and were, in effect, the start of a cement manufacturing business which carried on into the 1920s.

Coles Child's main activity at Greenwich wharf was as a coal dealer. By June 1840 he advertised that the wharf and premises had been completed and that he could now supply coal and coke 'at a considerable reduction in price' compared to other suppliers. He boasted of facilities for the discharge of coal from ships 'of any tonnage' at Greenwich Wharf 'such as are enjoyed by no other house'. It meant that coal could be loaded 'direct from the hold of the ship into wagons'.

This coal seems to have come from the Durham coal field. The streets which Coles Child built behind the wharf were originally all named after areas connected to pits in Durham. Pelton Road is a very good example because Pelton Main and West Pelton collieries were immediately north of Chester le Street, the Durham mining town. Banning Street which today runs parallel with the river was originally called 'Chester Street'. It seems quite clear that Coles Child had extensive business connections with Durham.

Coke burning was another activity and in 1840 Coles Child also advertised that he was the 'largest manufacturer of Oven Coke in England' - and tha he could offer a service to 'Directors of Railways, Maltsters, Ironfounders and Consumers’. Some of the Great Meadow was used digging brick earth - and leaving pools and ponds which later had to be filled in. Where there had once been cattle grazing and osier along the river was now an area of intense industrial activity. Local people seem to have been glad to see this development – bring jobs and prosperity to the area.


In 1852 the wharf was divided and a portion to the west was leased to Mowlem, the road building contractor. It became known, as it is still known today, as Granite Wharf.

This long running leasehold on Granite Wharf provided a permanent eastward boundary to Greenwich Wharf. Further east of the Mowlem site a number of other wharves were sublet – but are really outside the remit of this article.


Coles Child clearly did not intend to continue managing his wharfage business in Greenwich personally and he passed into the hands of two managers - William Whiteway and Frederick (Constantine) Rowton. It became known as Whiteway's Wharf. William Whiteway was a local man who had worked in the Greenwich coal trade since he was seventeen.

Rowton announced that he had come to an arrangement with a different Durham colliery 'Caradoc and Usworth'. This was in order to meet the competition from coal which was by then being brought into London by rail. Rowton advertised that he was the sole London agent for 'Caradoc and Usorth' - collieries which were owned by the Rt.Hon. Lord Howden and Messrs. D. Jonassohn and Co. These were two newly sunk pits in the north east of what is now Washington New Town in Co. Durham – the area is now all new housing but the pit sites remain as fenced off rough ground. 'Caradoc' was the family name of Lord Howden, a career diplomat and soldier. Two sorts of coal from the pits were sold in Greenwich - 'Caradoc's Wallsend' and Jonasshon's Wallsend'. 'Wallsend', is a mining area north of the Tyne in Newcastle but by the 1840s the use of the word 'Wallsend' did not mean that the coal came from there – it was a generic term to describe good quality domestic coal.

Rowton and Whiteway also operated a cement works on the eastern part of Greenwich Wharf where there were lime kilns. Bricks were made on site and an area to the rear of the wharf was dug for brick earth. The coal delivery business seems to have been failing and Rowton applied to build a Portland Cement Works with the river frontage let separately. However, some larger Portland Cement Works were currently being built further down river in Greenwich and it is possible that they provided more competition than Whiteway and Rowton could stand. Very little is heard of cement manufacture at Greenwich Wharf.

Both Whiteway and Rowton lived locally in Blackheath In 1871 Whiteway moved into the newly built No.11 Westcombe Park Road called Teign Villa – and he also owned no.9, Gatcombe Lodge. Both of these are big grand houses and no doubt he had a hand in their building and influenced the design. The Teign Valley in Devon is an area in which Whiteway is a very common name and it is thought that the family originates from that area – although William Whiteway himself was said to come from Greenwich. In the Teign Valley there are also a number of chalk and clay pits of which at least one, Great Closes clay pit, was owned by William Whiteway. This might, of course, be merely a coincidence.

Frederick Rowton too lived locally in Blackheath although he moved round the area rather more than Whiteway. At one time he lived at 5 Westcombe Park Road, Meadowbank – which was, of course, next door but one to his partner, Whiteway and the house was later occupied by another Greenwich cement manufacturer, Hollick.

Coles Child died at his home in Bromley in 1872 and the Greenwich Wharf business remained in the hands of Whiteway and Rowton. Whiteway left the wharf ten years later in order to enjoy his retirement. He became an activist in local politics as a staunch member of the Conservative Party and died in 1894 aged 68. Rowton had died in 1888 at No.4. Humber Road., Carlisle House – a large house but not as grand as his previous residence in Westcombe Park Road.


Whiteway's cement business continued in operation on Greenwich Wharf but the area in use qreatly diminished and confined to the area along Cadet Place. The easterly section of the wharf became known as Waddell's Wharf.

John Waddell and Co. took on a lease for part of the wharf area. It was later said that Waddell had built a 'dock' and it seems likely that this refers to an improved wharf frontage since there is no sign of dock on the river wall – unless this refers to the inlet at the end of Cadet Place once known as 'Dead Dog Bay'. This is not clearly shown on maps before the early 1990s and could, thus, be Waddell's dock. Although the sea wall and campshedding there is modern at very low water there are signs of earlier brickwork, and, perhaps, a curving masonry entrance. The term 'Dead Dog Bay' comes from the sight of dead animals washed up there and left to rot – sometimes sheep which could have been escapees from the foreign cattle market up river.

Waddell was another coal merchant, supplying them many domestic grates of the area. He had a local office in a prestigious area where his customers in the nicer parts of Blackheath could be received. Presumably the hapless inhabitants of Pelton Road took themselves straight down to the wharf for their purchases. From 1896 Waddell maintained an office this was at 14 Royal Parade in Blackheath. This was a premier position in what are still prestige shop fronts facing across Blackheath. Later, and throughout the First World War, Waddell had a different site in Blackheath - at 7 Blackheath Vale. Although this is a posh address today before the1920s it was an enclave of mill sites and semi-industrial uses and probably more suited to a coal merchant. It may show a downward drift in the Waddell fortunes.

For a short time in the 1880s an ice merchant, John Ashby, rented part of the site. An Ashby cement works was already in business on a site a short distance down river, started by a member of the Staines based Ashby banking family. While it is not known if the ice merchant was one of them or not it is worth noting that in 1880 the main family member in Staines was a John Ashby. On deeds from the 1890s onwards an ice well is shown marked towards the south east portion of the site underneath some buildings. Details of it appear in some later dilapidation reports. People who worked on the wharf in the 1970s have told me that it was still there then and may be still there now. Commercial ice suppliers were fairly common before the days of the domestic refrigerator - there were several others in Greenwich. Ice was, happily, not taken from the Thames but brought from Norway by boat, stored and sold to provide domestic and commercial refrigeration.

This then was the wharf around the start of the First World War. Whiteway's cement and coal business was still in place in some form or another while other parts of the site were in use by wharfage contractors and others. Coles Child's head lease on the whole site expired soon after the First World War and Morden College began a period of re-evaluation of the site.

By 1918 the river along this frontage was silting up rapidly. An inventory of the period describes a wharf with a 1,290 feet frontage to the river and a 245 ft frontage to Pelton Road. There was a gateway into the road way at the back which had by then been renamed 'Banning Street'. All round the wharf on the Banning and Pelton Road sides were houses and shops fronting onto the road and backing onto the wharf. Inside the wharf were brick buildings with slate roofs. This included a stable for fourteen horses, alongside Pelton Road, and above it a loft with living rooms fvor the stable man. On the wharf itself was a travelling crane. The eastern part of the wharf, once Whiteway's section, had a 90-foot river frontage with more brick buildings and a stable for six horses. There was an entrance in to the alley way now renamed as Cadet Place.

On the main part of the wharf was a tenant called Yarmouth Carriers which was based in Hull. It is likely that they were general river haulage operators. .Another sub-tenant were Davis Morgan and Sons and there may have been other short term leases. Yarmouth Carriers left the site in the early 1920s, following some prevarication as to whether they would renew their lease or not. They left behind a crane which - a forerunner of today's discussions on the cranes left by Shaw Lovell - became a problem for the landlords. It was a 'Grafton crane' and repair work was needed on it. A local firm, Flavell and Churchill of Bellott Street, were called in to do the work.


Shaw Lovell took on a lease for most of the site in the late 1920s. Shaw Lovell (now Bristol ICO Ltd.) were a family business dating from 1869. They originally came from Bristol having grown out of a nineteenth century company known as 'Bristol Steam Navigation Co.Ltd.' This company had early on connections and interests in London and Ireland and employed as their General Traffic Agent, Charles Shaw Lovell who was already in business as a shipping agent. A history of the company 'The story of Lovell's Shipping' was written by Eric Jorden in 1992 and details the complex history of the company, its multifarious activiies and complex structure.

Charles Shaw Lovell had a City of London office in Fenchurch Street in 1871 for his work as a 'Shipping and Forwarding Agent' and by the 1890s had taken his sons into partnership with him and moved to St.Benet's House in Gracechurch Street, an address he shared with the Bristol Steam Navigation Co. There were also offices in Liverpool, Manchester, Hull and Birmingham. The two younger Lovells were soon in effective charge of the Bristol Navigation Company. In 1908 the business was incorporated as 'C.Shaw Lovell & Sons Ltd.' and they moved again to 38 Eastcheap where they remained until bombed out in the Second World War. Changes had however come after the First World War with expansion and a even younger generation of Lovells.

Eric Jorden describes how the company had used the wharf at Greenwich before the First World War and how in, 1911, they took up shares in the then 'owners' Joseph Guy Ltd. and eventually bought the wharf from Guy in 1922 for £3,850. Jorden was writing from Lovell's own sources, and in fact Guy did not own the site but held a sub-lease from Morden College through the Coles Child interests. Lovell's were to sub-let from them, took the lease this over and eventually became head lessees in the early 1920s.

Thus it was only from the 1920s that 'Greenwich Wharf ' became known as 'Lovells Wharf'. Under Lovells the wharf was soon thriving with a business based on the handling of non-ferrous metals cfor which the wharf was ideal at a time when transhipment into barges was common place. In the 1920s the company had played a major part in dealing with scrap metal from First World War battlefields and, since much of this military hardware had doubtless been made in Woolwich and Erith, it is ironic that it should come back to Greenwich as scrap. Eric Jorden considered that it was this trade which encouraged Lovell's to actually buy the site. Srap was collected from the battlefields and stored on the wharf awaiting disposal. The odd unexploded shell was, no doubt, only one of the hazards. There was also a sideline in the export of stone for war grave headstones.

In the 1920s Lovell's purchased ships of their own to carry on the metal trade. These included Innisulva, Innishannan, Tower Bridge and Eiffel Tower. Eric Jorden considered that Tower Bridge was used on the London/Paris service since it could go under low bridges. They also owned a tug and two lighters. The Greenwich Wharf continued in busy use mainly handling metals. On site there was a London Metal's Exchange approved warehouse for the storage of copper, zinc and lead.

In the 1960s Lovell House was built at the southern end of the wharf area as the head office for Lovell's Sea Container Trade. A large computer system was installed there. In 1975 when economies were needed much of the work undertaken in these offices was moved to Bristol. In due course Lovell House was taken over by the Greater London Council and is today used by the local authority for their education social work service.


This article began with a description of a walk along the riverside and the two remaining derelict cranes. In the 1970s a great deal of expansion had taken place at Lovell's Wharf with the arrival of the 'Butters' Crane from Bristol Seaway at Custom House Quay, Dublin – and this is one of the cranes which is still there. Butters are the manufacturers of the crane based in Glasgow. In due course the container revolution diminished the amount of work available. The company continued to retreat to their Bristol base. In the early 1980s another expansion programme was entered into. The 20-ton 'Butters' crane was moved to a central position on the wharf. Shed space was increased and a special lorry entrance created working with the GLC in order to cut down lorry movements in local roads.

In 1982 the wharf handled 118,000 tons of cargo - steel, aluminium, galvanised sheeting and gas pipes as well as timber and some other items. Much of this was modern 'high tech' products, Lovell's did not consider itself old-fashioned and they were proud of their experience and the techniques developed to handle specialist cargoes. In all this work the two cranes played a key role.

The two cranes are a dramatic local feature - much photographed and the subject of many paintings and drawings. They not really 'cranes' at all but 'Scotch Derricks' - that is a stationery piece of equipment of a type often made in Scotland. Such equipment was once very common around the Port of London but has now almost completely disappeared - we think there may be examples left at Rotherhithe and another on the Lea. Derricks in a permanent position are most practical for the sort of wharfage operations carried out at Lovells. The problems with them were that they took up space and could slew through less than 3/4 of a circle.

It proved surprisingly difficult to find anything very much out about the cranes themselves. Shaw Lovell's records did not reveal when they were first acquired. The lattice-framed style of the derricks was characteristic of such equipment in the first half of the twentieth century and date them probably to before 1950. They are both electrically powered.

The down river crane is the 'Butters' crane brought from Dublin Custom House in the mid-1970s. £30,000 was spent on refurbishment in 1986 when it was moved. It was then capable of handling 20 tons. 'Butters' were been taken over by Morris Cranes but investigations to locate any archive information with Morris proved impossible. The upriver crane was manufactured by Anderson Grice but very little is known about it . Information from Bristol ICO suggests that it was capable of handling 5 tons only but contacts who worked on site say that it could handle 10. It seems amazing that there should be so little information available about two such relatively modern pieces of equipment

In 1999 the wharf had been empty for many years. Lovells appear to have surrendered their lease and it is now managed by Morden College's agents who have been looking for a tenant for a long time. In the last ten years, despite its apparent dereliction, it has occasionally been used for the storage and transhipment of building materials. In mid-1990s it became obvious that wharfage facilities on the Thames were disappearing but that a need still existed - if only for emergency and specialist use. The Government therefore decided to designate some wharves as 'safeguarded' - which should have ensured the future of the wharf as an industrial site.

In 2000 the cranes were removed by Morden College.

Help has also been received from numerous people - in particular Tim Smith (industrial archaeologist), Mr Gale (ex Managing Director of Shaw Lovell), Bristol ICO Ltd, Morris Cranes, and to the ever helpful internet, in particular pages maintained by the Peak District Mining Research Association.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Woolwich award for engineering excellence

The latest plaque on a Greenwich building was unveiled at a ceremony on Wednesday. This is on the Firepower building on the Arsenal site and was installed as an award by the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Institution established the Engineering Heritage Awards in 1984 to recognise the value of our national engineering excellence. They have so far awarded 60 of them .

It is is instructive to read through the list of past awards and see the many local connections - Crossness Engines, The Thames Barrier, the Jubilee Line, etc etc.

Although in the view of many local people the Royal Arsenal should have been No.1. - it is a shame we have had to wait so long. It is instructive also to note that, apart from Mayor Jim Gillman, that guests at the ceremony were almost entirely from national academic engineering societies - no sign of any locals at all. (I had crept in under the wing of someone else's invitation - Thanks John!) There was also no sign of any press and I will almost guarantee that apart from this effort of mine that there will be no way the general public is told about this award.

Anyway - please go down and look at the plaque