Thursday, 23 June 2011

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.


Anonymous said...

I worked in lovells wharf for Murray international threading rebar And bending for the lime house link tunnel done some work taylor wood row and stent foundations in the 1980 there used to be a traveling crane in the middle of the yard to pick rebar up and to load trailers any pics about for that time thank s

Unknown said...

My Dad, Edward (Ted) Taylor, worked at Lovell's Wharf from the 1970's up to its closure and sometimes operated the Scott Derrick Cranes. Sadly Dad passed away in Bexleyheath from Mesathilioma in January 1992 but I am writing our family history and would be glad to hear any stories about Dad from his former colleagues.
Alan Taylor (Rochester)

Anonymous said...

Comment meant for Unknown about Ted Taylor. I think your Dad joined Lovells as Assistant to my father Fred Chapman. My father had been wharf foreman, wharf superintendent, wharf supervisor. He was retiring in 1973 and I think Ted was brought in with a view to eventually taking over from him. Don't really know too much about him, seem to remember he had a rather magnificent moustache. If it was that Ted I was surprised to hear he operated the cranes as this was a pretty much controlled job even in those days, my Dad had started out with Lovells as a crane driver on the steam crane at Whiteway & Jackson next door (which Lovells took over during WW2). .