Wednesday 30 November 2011

Woolwich in the General Strike


In the early 1970s there was an attempt to set up a Workers Educational  Association Branch in Greenwich - as, then fashionable,  History Workshop.  To be honest the entire membership was Mary Mills, Deborah Thom, and Iris Dove.  The result of our work was a booklet - Woolwich in
the General Strike.  Deborah got the by-line and Mary did the typing.  The entire project then sunk without trace - except, that here is the text we produced.  Iris is now acting in various interesting
projects, Mary is still doing the typing - and Deborah?? Deborah if you are out there, and reading this - hope this scan is ok, and hope it was a worth while project for you.

So - this is what we published in a very very dodgy typescript.
(and there are several places I should have put "sic")

WOOLWICH in 1926 was, as its Medical Officer of Health said 'one of the suburban working class metropolitan boroughs'. It had then a population of 146,000 which was unevenly distributed throughout its three main areas; Woolwich with thirty-two people to the acre; Plumstead with
twenty-two and Eltham with only eight - this compared to a London average of sixty-two.   It was, however, a relatively prosperous borough for a working-class one and those in work earnt good wages. The Arsenal, although no longer the central force in borough life which it had been, was still the biggest employer. But, despite an extensive  campaign for alternative peace-time work - which had produced a few railway engines and milk churns – the workforce had been cut to around 8,000.  Other engineering works in the Charlton area employed large  numbers and Siemens in particular had 6,339 workers.  Unions in the Arsenal were well organised with the Engineers Union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Workers Union and the breakaway Government Workers Union.  Other engineering works were not so well organised as  they were to become in the thirties.  Public service workers, and particularly transport workers, were also unionised.

WOOLWICH had a Labour Party that was unusually well organised at the local level since 1903 when they elected their first M.P, Will Crooks.   Since 1919 they had controlled the Borough Council and had an MP, Henry Snell, after 1923. The strength of this local organisation is partly attributable to the local Labour paper, The Pioneer, which had ceased publication in 1922.  What happened in Woolwich in May 1926 was to be a reflection of the stronghold that Labour's political ideas had on the Borough.

The STRIKE was called for May 3rd 1926 by the General Council of the TUC in support of the miners, who had refused to accept a payment which  the employers wanted to make after the withdrawal of government subsidy. The General Council called out certain categories of workers only - transport ..  printing ... iron and steel .. metals and chemicals ... building (except in hospitals and housing) .. electricity and gas (except lighting) and  Central Union offices were to direct the strike.
This left a gap which in many areas was filled by Trades Councils or ad hoc councils of action, to connect strikers across union boundaries at a local level.

In WOOLWICH and ELTHAM Dick Croy records that some people had tried to set up Councils of Action but that the Labour Party would not let them "anywhere near what was going on". There was no strike bulletin, such as Greenwich and Deptford organised through their Council of Action - at least we have found no evidence of one.

The Borough Council immediately set up local machinery. The Emergency Committee under the Mayor, William  Barefoot, met on 4th May to discuss the withdrawal of labour from the Power Station.  They persuaded the power  workers to  continue to supply hospitals, street lighting,
bakeries and laundries after three days discussion.  Other municipal employees were also persuaded to stay at work - the sweepers, the scavengers, the sanitary and health officers and the Public Baths
employees.  Initially they had all come out and the street lights in Woolwich stayed on for two days as a result - making the streets very bright.  There was no sense of urgency in their deliberations. They
took time to discuss moving the statue of Queen Victoria at a cost of £150.

They were preoccupied at this time in fighting the District Auditors’ attempt to penalise Council representatives for paying wages at 10%  higher than the National Agreement - this could have resulted in each member paying a £9,000 fine – but they did eventually win.

Mayor, William Barefoot, was a founding member and leading light of the Woolwich Labour Party.  He had edited the Woolwich Pioneer throughout its existence.  He saw the General Strike as a potential threat to public order and feared what he saw as Communist attempts to subvert peace. He arranged twice daily band concerts to 'keep people off the street'. The local Labour theatrical troupe, the Thespians, put on plays. Ethel Brooks remembers .... "we used to put these things on with
the young Labour entertainers every afternoon at the Town Hall, about three evenings a week as well to give the men something to do. They brought their wives and families and so every afternoon we were full up"

Woolwich was physically dominated by two major building complexes - the Arsenal in the North on the River, and the barracks on the hill.   As with the Arsenal some of the importance as an Army centre had been lost to Woolwich, but there were still 5,000 soldiers in the barracks. During the strike though, these solders were not used much locally - The Welsh Guards were sent to Silvertown to guard the Docks.

One local resident was sent with an artillery detachment to the Rhondda. The experience put him off politics for life and when he saw the homes of the Welsh miners he felt that politicians had done that
and he wanted no more truck with them.

Mr. Crosling, who was eleven years old ....... "can remember seeing the trams and buses with a policeman or a soldier manning the tram or bus along with the driver. They was also on the horsedrawn vans, lorries and the steam Fodon wagons."

Mr. Coleman, who was distributing strike pay got caught in convoy ...."We was in this convoy of troops carrying guns. Up came an officer  and he said 'Get out' we said  'you - get us out'. We was in the middle of the convoy with TUC-NUR on the front. He didn't like that but he was more worried than we were."

Locally the troops were confined to barracks – possibly because there were worries about them striking  too. Authority appears to have been more interested in volunteers but again many of these were not used.

Jock Offord was offered 'a few shillings' to enrol as a volunteer through his London University Officers' Training Corps but he spent the whole period of the strike sitting in Holly Hedge House on Blackheath playing cards and listening to the horrifying tales told by the other volunteers - many of whom were ex-Black and Tans.

Other volunteers were organised through the Organisation for the Maintenance of  supplies. The Masonic Hall was thrown open to them - the paper said there were 3,000 in Woolwich.   The local Labour Council  had got food and fuel distribution so well organised that it seems unlikely they had much to do. The Woolwich librarian was attacked for giving two special constables a lift in his car, an indication of the unanimity of support for the strike.

Transport workers came out almost unanimously. There were very few trams or buses. Some witnesses say that there were none. Mrs. Ivy Sumner was on holiday in Torquay and had an epic journey home on one of the few trains to get through, driven by two students. She then got a
tube to Lambeth North ........ and then she had to make her way with her cases on foot. "I left my friend on Canal Bridge as she lived in Bermondsey; then I walked all the way back to Humber Road".

Mrs. Nelson's sister walked every day to the BBC at Bush House from Plumstead. Others were luckier - Mrs. Selfe travelled on a furniture van which took a small group to the City regularly.

Newspapers give conflicting accounts of the availability of public transport but most commuters certainly walked to work.

The Free Ferry which never closed except for fog or when the river froze over struck this time. It was closed for two weeks because the crews continued to strike when the two skippers were demoted to make and only went back when their jobs were returned to them. This left only the two foot tunnels for the many who crossed the river.

The trains virtually stopped. The Plumstead NUR branch was the biggest in the Woolwich area, George Coleman was the Chairman .........we had a big meeting. We're going to finish at 12.0 midnight I said, and we did. Course we had a few stragglers ... four union members, I think, two
signalmen, 1 shunter and 1 clerk in the goods department. We didn't worry too much about then because we knew they could not run the railway - they couldn’t drive the engine.  Some got through, you had  these volunteers who used to go on the engine on the Bexleyheath line from Dartford, you’re like this (steep) going up the line. No more steam. They had to wait half an hour for steam."  Some of these trains ran out completely and got stuck blocking the line.

Volunteers faced other hazards if they managed to get a train through. Mrs. Attenborough described women in Charlton attacking the drivers ....... they were.....throwing onions and potatoes and carrots and parsnips anything they could lay their hands on in the way of vegetables, at every train that passed through the crossing. "

A few trains did get through and those who had worked on them used to leave the line and sneak out to avoid the pickets. The stations were picketed daily and sucessfully. The railway men held meetings at the Radical Club, not their usual place which was the Lord Derby. ASLEF (the driver's union) and the Railway Clerks Association were solid too.

Engineering workers were not called out to start with. The problem for union branches in the Woolwich area was that the definition of who should come out was unclear. There was a genuine problem in interpreting who was and who was not a metal worker, for example. At Siemens the electricians stayed in, but others came out. The Kentish Mercury reported that strikers came in to the shops and 'persuaded some of the youngsters, girls in the shops to come out.

Mr. Selfe remembers ........ " the industrial people were out but the staff used to meet at the top of the hill road that leads to Siemens and were conducted down by the police and military and let into the
building at the bottom".

Eventually the shortage of power and supplies meant that Siemens closed and Mr. Dormer for example was locked out. At Johnson & Phillips, which was quite well organised the Convener called the workers in and out  three times, in the end they stayed out but there was confusion.
The Arsenal was the problem for unionists. There were regular meetings of strikers in Beresford Square, just outside the main gates. This had always been the area for public meetings and every Saturday night various speakers, religious, political and commercial would hold forth there. The white collar workers stayed in at the Arsenal, although many of them were organised in unions, particularly the National Union of Clerks but they were not called out, and Mr. Selfe says .... the particular establishment system which penalised a worker both in pension and in job security if he went
out, and ensured that people were not prepared to come out unofficially.

On 5th May the engineers and those in the Workers Union came out. Ethel Brooks remembers  ....... "Few people went in, of course, I went on  picket duty at the Arsenal. People thought I was mad but I did it. My husband worked in the Arsenal and he was out on strike."

Dick Croy and others travelled around the Arsenal exhorting all the workers to come out. Some did not several witnesses reported that the  Arsenal worked all through but most did.   The Arsenal authorities played it  very coolly at first, circulating the offices asking for volunteer drivers and then in collusion with Pilbrown Workers Union Official, they wielded the big stick.

On Tuesday, May 11th, they posted a notice from Walter Citrine which came from the TUC Electricity Advisory Committee ordering them to  resume work" these men do not come within the category of the first  order issued on May 1st (declaring who should strike) and took the step
without consultation with their unions, any resumption must rest with the Trade Union to which they belong".  "Therefore all Workers Union government workers are to resume work tomorrow morning May 12th."

On the  Saturday May 9th the CSOF (in control of the Arsenal) had said .. "Men who have remained at work and who return to work by Wednesday May  12th  will be given preference for employment." Essentially the Trade  Union was to accept this reward for strike breaking .... The Shop Stewards Committee told the men 'stand firm be loyal to the miners, be loyal to the working class".

On the Wednesday, 13th May when the strike was anyway called off, the Arsenal workers went back in large numbers. There was to be great bitterness aroused by the strike inside the Arsenal, partly due to the attempts by Arsenal managers to victimise strikers, partly by the lack of unity between unions.

The Printers came out. Most local papers were not published, leaving gossip as the main source of information.

The relieving committees didn't meet during the strike except in Charlton so no cash was handed out - only food. However, they did relieve the wives and children of strikers in the week ending May 7th
1,324 were relieved, the next week 3,412. Mr. Dormer argued that he was locked out at Siemens and got relief for his wife and child..... "Look, I'm not on strike, I said, I got locked out, machines shut, just like that. I got locked out and I want relief for my wife and child. After a big battle I got some, but just for the wife and child, they didn't pay me anything. " He also reported that he bought the British Worker, the TUC paper, which appears to have been quite a common experience.   The paper was obviously sold wherever large crowds could be found rather than in a systematic way through
union branches. Others bought it in Beresford Square for example.

There were no shortages of food but prices rose. Milk went up 2d. a pint and meat prices rose too.  The Council Emergency Committee gave vouchers for the distribution of coal - 1 cwt per household per week. Mrs. Longhurst remembers  " I was just a child then, my father had his own coal round in Plumstead and they were very hard times. Coal then was 1s, 2d. per cwt. My brother and I used to go to the Plumstead Town Hall and collect 100 permits, one for each household, each month, no permit, no coal.

The permit system continued because the miners went on strike for another six cruel months.

There was little breakdown of public order too. One truck driver was arrested and fined for chalking
There was a big battle in Blackwall Lane because strikers marched on the Medway Oil and Storage Company where 200,000 gallons of petrol and kerosene were stored. They stoned the twenty-five policemen sent out to dispose them, were baton charged and fought back for twenty minutes. Two men were given five months with hard labour. The newspaper report says that they planned to fire the fuel, this seems unlikely in extreme.

Ugly scenes were reported at Johnson & Phillips between pickets and blacklegs but the pickets won the day and no damage was done to persons or property.

Two men in Charlton were given a six months prison sentence for trying to stop a bus in Charlton.

In Woolwich itself although the police patrolled Beresford Square but did not intervene. Dick Croy who had often been arrested for unemployment agitation was quite surprised that he was able to speak
freely on this question,

The TUC General Council called off the strike on 11th May. In Woolwich the Arsenal had already begun to return to work. The CSOF tried to stop the pay of 1,000 men on the grounds that that they had discharged themselves without notice but eventually he restored some of them but not all and some militants found themselves permanently outside the Gates.  Siemens and Johnson & Phillips both went back and the events of the strike proved a spur to greater organisation inside the factory.

Transport workers resumed work fairly speedily except in the NUR.

Conflicting instructions came from Unity House eventually they were called out again for three days and George Coleman and two others who had been told not to come back were re-instated. In other cases the railway companies successfully victimised their strikers, but not in this one. The miners were still on strike and the Woolwich labour movement preoccupied itself with supporting them, particularly the women.

"I've always been active in the Labour Party since I joined. It was also organised all over the country to sell little brass miners lamps at a shilling a time. It as very difficult to sell them as a shilling
was a lot of money and I had the job of organising the sale and visiting managers of cinemas to get permission to take collections. We raised quite a bit of money but it wasn’t as much as we would have
liked to have done."

The RACS based on Woolwich and covering all of South-East London had supported the strike from the first. Dick Croy argued for a donation of  £10,000 from RACS to the miners and won his case. Lily Paine, who was a  strong supporter of  the Women's Co-operative Guild said ......... "During the 1926 strike we went out with our collecting boxes. Our Co-op nationally provided the necessities of life for the Miners' families. we were given permission to sell miners' lamps outside the local branches and, in some cases, children of miners were taken in until the strike was over."

Winifred Foley in her book "A Child in the Forest" records how she was taken to Plumstead from the Forest of Dean because her father was on strike, she put on weight and was given clothes, and in general treated very kindly. Plumstead seemed very prosperous to her.                  

The General Strike was fairly general in Woolwich.  It was also fairly peaceful and such bitterness as was aroused was between unions rather than between classes. Labour had held the people from the borough together and ensured that the tiny Communist party had little effect on the strike.  Sympathy for the miners was manifest in everyone we spoke to although two people were not convinced that the General Strike helped them very much.   The labour organisations locally threw themselves perhaps more wholeheartedly into the support of the miners than they did into creating alternative working class organisations to run the strike.

This outline account was prepared by Greenwich Workers  Educational Association.  It was written up by Deborah Thom, typed by Mary Mills and printed by her and Iris Dove.
We hope to interview more people and reproduced this as a book with all the normal academic details.
Information comes from:-
Cole & Postgate The Common People, 1746-1946
Report of Woolwich in Medical Officer of Health's Report 1926.
Kentish Mercury.
Kentish Independent
Blackheath Local Guide
Woolwich Herald
Plumstead Gazette
Eltham Times.
O.F. Hogg A History of the Royal Arsenal Vol. II
R. Hyman The Worker's Union.
S. Jeffries  A History of the Engineers.

We would like to thank the following people who wrote to us, gave interviews or helped in some way : -
Mr. & Mrs. C. Selfe
Mrs. Grace Attenborough
Mrs. M. Nelson
Mr. G. Offord
Mr. G. Crosling
Mr. & Mrs. George Coleman
Mrs. Longhurst
Mrs. Ivy Sumner
Alice & Jack Loveman
Mrs. Lily Paine
Mrs. Ethel Brookes.
Will Fancy (for the loan of his interview with Dick Croy)
and the staff of the Local History Library at Woodlands, Mycenae Road, Blackheath.

We are aware that we have not stuck strictly to Woolwich but strayed over into neighbouring Greenwich since so many people lived in one and worked in the other we hope this is forgiven.
We are well aware that there are probably many errors and certain many omissions in this draft - if you can help us deal with any of them please contact: Greenwich WEA c/o Kidbrooke House  or Deborah Thom,BA

Tuesday 29 November 2011

A major timber importer on the Charlton riverside

So – back to the industrial railways book. I'm flicking through at random for one of the many, many Greenwich and Woolwich industries mentioned.  Let’s start with Christie & Vesey Ltd of ‘Riverside Greenwich’. The book says they were earlier “Christie's Wharf Ltd - (incorporated 3/5/1929”).

It gives a map reference – but of course Vesey’s Wharf is a block of houses jutting out into the river at the end of Anchor and Hope Lane. So that’s where they were??  Or is it?

Articles from railway magazines of the 1920s and 1950s featured the Angerstein railway – still running between the Blackheath rail tunnel and the river.  They tell us that the freehold of 16 acres of the wharf area was acquired in 1912 by “William Christie and Sand Gravel.Co., Ltd,” who were “large sleeper importers and creosoters.”  They built a “large creosoting works and sawmills” and thus “the district has become a very important timber centre”.

They describe Christie's Wharf as “adjoining Angerstein Wharf”- which means it must be one of the two wharves still in use by the aggregate firms which operate on the Angerstein Railway today. 

 They say it was completed just after the war – so in the early 1920s– and is “one of the finest ferro-concrete piers of its type on the Thames”. They say it can take larger steamers than any other wharf in the reach with 26 ft. 6 in. of water at high tide spring tides, and 6 ft. at low water with a “proper chalk bed where steamers may lay in safety”. It is “equipped on the most up-to-date lines, 15 400 ft. in length” and is “a very good example of what might be done on the Thames banks” and the wharf handles “over 30,000 tons of sleepers and 30,000 tons of timber, deals and telegraph poles” and this is done with “steam travelling cranes, which run on 4 ft. 8in. roads from the wharf back into the works”. Christie's Wharf they say can “give steamers loaded with timber quicker despatch than any other place in the Port of London”. They also describe the railway tracks on the works, and nine steam travelling cranes are employed in the handling of the sleepers and timber – and this is where our directory of London industrial railways comes in and 1953 Ordnance Survey map shows “an internal narrow gauge tramway - Ten steam cranes operated on the standard gauge lines”

The 1920s railway magazine finally notes that “60,000 tons of timber....  annually… passes over the Southern Railway Company's …. and during the Baltic season it is no uncommon sight to see train after train leave the wharf composed entirely of timber traffic”.

What else can we find? Turning to the ever helpful net Google finds, bizarrely copies of the Straits Times – and  a list of wills from the 1930s with the headline “Timber Importer Leaves £69,059.”   This refers to an. Andrew Charles Christie who has died at the age of 54 and which gives two addresses “Warning Camp House, Warning, Arundel, Sussex" and “5, Royal Crescent, Brighton”.  He was apparently the chairman of Christie's Wharf – and yes there really is a place called Warning Camp just outside Arundel, and you can visit the gardens in the summer.  Family history sites reveal he was Scottish, and came from Stirling where his father was a timber importer – and according to the ancestor hunters so were other family members.

So – this was clearly a large and important industry which employed a lot of people.  Yet we seem to know very little about it. It is very likely that there are some remains of it in the shape of one of the two aggregate wharves.  In fact I understand that the Greenwich planners still call it ‘Christie’s Wharf’ although Christies and their timber are long gone. I am far from clear about Vesey – since what we now know as Vesey’s wharf is some distance from the Angerstein railway and must have been a different site.  Has anyone any knowledge – ideas??  When did Christie’s cease work? What were their Scottish connections?? Has anyone the time and inclination to sort all this out??

Angerstein Wharf. Southern Railway Magazine Dec 1925 & Nov. 1951.
 “Industrial Railways and Locomotives of the County of London” (Industrial Railway Society 2008 compiled by Robin Waywell and Frank Jux)
Pix to come - sorry I am not so silly as to reproduce the OS extract, interesting though it is

Monday 28 November 2011

Assassination of the Prime Minister

Not at all sure that this is industrial history  - but anyway - the Woolwich Antiquarian's Newsletter is reminding us that 2012 is important as the bicentennial of the Assassination of Spencer Percival, Prime Minister, who is buried in St.Luke's Church, Charlton.

Spencer Perceval is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated while in office. He was shot dead on 11 May 1812 in the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham.  Bellingham was a business man who blamed him for some failings in government compensation incurred in Russia. Bellingham had worked in Russia for some years and had just returned to England a day or so before - and went to carry out this murder before he had even travelled to be reunited with his family. He was tried and executed within a couple of days.

A detailed account of all this can be found in Mollie Gillen's book "Assassination of the Prime Minister. The Shocking Death of Spencer Percival" (Sidgewick and Jackson 1972)

Percival seems to have been buried in St.Luke's through his wife who was a member of the Maryon -Wilson family of Charlton House and Percival is in the family vault. There is also a bust of him in the church.

We understand that St Luke's is planning to mark the bicentenary with a civic service in May next year to be followed with pageant in Charlton Park (and we wait to see what that will involve) 

Friday 25 November 2011

What has Southwark Council done with George Livesey's statue??

What has happened to Sir George Livesey’s Statue?

I didn’t ought to go on about George Livesey at length – although I could do so since he was the subject of my M.Phil and I might be a bit obsessive.

George Livesey was a local gas works manager –and in Greenwich he founded and largely designed the world class East Greenwich Gas Works. He also revolutionised the 19th century gas industry and was a great man generally– he was also a national figure in the temperance movement.

He was also more than a bit of a trouble maker …. he wasn’t particularly posh, had no formal education, and was very, very clever. He has become known as a strike breaker (true) but he also had a lot of ideas about society and property ownership which were unusual, to say the least, for a Victorian industrialist.  He was a very long way from the top hatted Victorian capitalist he became in so many 1980s agitprop plays.

His statue stood outside his beloved Old Kent Road gas works – and a couple of years ago was craned over the road to the Livesey Museum – which has now closed – and since then everything has gone very, very quiet.

The Livesey Museum was originally a library which George gave to the people of Camberwell.  Southwark Council closed the Library some years ago and turned it into a children’s museum, which they recently stopped funding. It turns out that our George had foreseen possible sales of property and library closures when he gave it to the council 110 years ago, so he tangled up the ownership in such a way that Southwark don’t actually own it. A users campaign was started about the museum closure - but they have proved difficult to talk to, to put it mildly.

So – about the statue.

The statue is unveiled at Old Kent Road
The Sculptor was Frederick William Pomeroy – who also did that cracking statue of QueenVictoria in Woolwich Town Hall. He was the major sculptor of his day and anything by him is pretty important. It was cast in bronze – which I suppose means we should watch out that it doesn’t go the same way as the recent dreadful fate of Rotherhithe’s Dr. Salter (although for all we know it has already gone!!)

It was cast at the foundry of J.W. Singer and Sons at Thames Ditton –and there is lots of information about them around. They were also pretty important.

George stands on a granite pedestal and it says

On the front: GEORGE LIVESEY 1834-1908

On the rear:- 
Statue in situ
Both this photo and the
one above by R.J.M.Carr


Signed and dated, P. W. POMEROY. A.R.A.SC1- 1909
Unveiled: Friday 8 December 1911, by Earl Grey
Exhibited: 1910, London, Royal Academy of Arts

I am very happy to explain stuff from that inscription – the sliding scale, co-partnership and also Earl Grey, In fact I would be delighted to do so. Also please note that George started work in Old Kent Road Gas Works at the age of 14.

The unveiling at Old Kent Road
The official unveiling was not until 8 December 1911 – and another mystery which has haunted me for years is that a film was apparently made of the occasion. If so it is one very valuable bit of early film and gas industry history– I have asked and asked and asked about it. It must have been kept at Old Kent Road –what happened to it?

I feel very strongly that we need to keep making a fuss about this. Livesey was a great man – albeit one with a besmirched record. He spent most of his life in the Old Kent Road – moving there when he was 5 and working there for the rest of his life. However – he doesn’t just belong to Southwark - he was born in Islington – and he created an industrial empire for all of South London.

Built on the Greenwich Peninsula his revolutionary East Greenwich gas works is now much derided – ‘polluted, nasty’- but, if we stand back more objectively, we should realise it was also a great achievement in terms of technology, management planning, public service and workforce involvement. In its day it was a major showpiece – something to aspire to. We have here the largest remaining of his monumental and revolutionary gasholders – but there is no mention anywhere on the Peninsula of George and his work.

When the Dome was first built there were lots of stories around about it being haunted by Livesey's ghost - fanned, I am sorry to say, by various people and some press officers.   I did a number of TV and radio interviews about him at the time.

So – what has London Borough of Southwark done with George Livesey’s Statue – and (if it still exists) what do they intend to do with it?


PS - By the way – I am more than happy to give talks on George Livesey, his work, his ideas – and the strike breaking. I have lots of pictures and much other stuff –including cut out and build paper gasholders. I deposited a lot of papers –including a half written biography – at Southwark’s John Harvard Library some years ago.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Dirty work below Crossness

A recent article in the Crossness Record newsletter describes the last days of the ‘sludge ships’which ran from the south London sewage works until 1999.

This was the second part of a story the first half of which appeared in 2009 and which described how the ‘sludge fleet’ developed under the London County Council and its history until the mid-1950s. It told how the Victorian Metropolitan Boardof Works decided how to the sludge left over from sewage treatment process should be disposed of – they took it down river into the estuary and dumped in the Barrow Deep.

The vessels they used – were a fine sight – and kept up to standards expected of a major public authority. The original boats –described in the first article were steam powered but they were followed by a generation which was diesel powered and of larger capacity - 2,000 tons instead of 1,500.  The old original vessel, suitably named "Bazalgette", was scrapped in 1934 after 46 years in service.

A new "Bazalgette" was launched in 1963 and was the first of the diesel powered boats. It remained in service until 1985 when it was sold to an Irish buyer.  Crossness Record says that this new "Bazalgette", “heralded the arrival of the modem fleet of sludge vessels”.
Sir Joseph Rawlinson post collison

The GreaterLondon Council was formed and took over the functions of the London County Council in 1964 and a new vessel "Sir Joseph Rawlinson" was brought into service. The name is that of the then chairman of the Fire Brigade and Main Drainage Committee. Sadly, a year later, it was in a collision and sank. The boat was raised but the cost of repair was prohibitive and a new vessel was ordered.

Two vessels were already under construction by the Caledon Shipbuilding & EngineeringCompany of Dundee and a thus a third was added. The three vessels were the "Bexley", in service 1965, "Newham" in service 1966 and "Hounslow” in service 1968. They were diesels of 2,300 ton capacity.  In 1977 a fourth vessel was added to the fleet- "Thames" in 1977. By then ThamesWater had taken over the responsibility for sewage disposal. “Thames” was built by Ferguson Bros, of Paisley and was 2,700 tons.

By the late 1990 with changing ideas on sewage disposal the sludge vessels were no longer needed and gradually the remaining vessels were scrapped or sold to new owners."Newham" was sold in 1990, "Thames" ended service in 1998, "Bexley"went to India in December 1999 and "Hounslow" ended the service in 1999.

Crossness Record doesn’t say so – but the sludgeboats did a dirty job while maintaining high standards of public service –and they were something to be proud of  - real proper boats.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Greenwich Power Station, industrial railways and stuff

Over the past week or so GIHS has had several enquiries from Greenwich University students who saythey are researching the background and architecture of Greenwich Power Station.

First of all I always ask ‘do you mean the one on Crowley’s Wharf’ which is still in use?? But –poor things – they are unlikely to know anything about Blackwall Point power station on the Peninsula  or the great series of power stations at Deptford – and to the first power station of allto which there is, scandalously, no memorial. Not to mention those in Woolwich – including – the still standing depot at White Hart Road.

Anyway – I refer them to Peter Guillery’s seminal article “Greenwich Generating Station” in London’sIndustrial Archaeology No.7. (and take pains to point out what an important architectural historian Peter is). I refer them to the GLIAS website but I am aware that it doesn’t have a link for book sales – and I will get on to the editor myself and try and sort that out. I can, I suppose, provide a photocopy – and –as I actually edited that edition of the journal I might have a digital copy of it somewhere on an old CD.
Drawing of Greenwich Power Station taken
 from the booklet produced by LCC on its opening

The other question we need answered about Greenwich Power Station is “is it the oldest power station left fulfilling its original function?? It opened in 1906 to supply power for the London County Council tramways – and still performs the same function, albei tto the London Underground..

Anyway – this note is also to introduce items from another book which has recently come our way. “Industrial Railways and Locomotives of the County of London” (Industrial Railway Society 2008 compiled by Robin Waywell and Frank Jux)

This is an exhaustive list of all the industrial locomotives which ran at some time or other in London. I haven’t done any counting but it is my guess that Greenwich and Woolwich easily top the list of boroughs as far as numbers are concerned – and also as far as sites where locomotives ran. There is hardly a page where a Greenwich industrial site isn’t mentioned – and the two largest sites are ours (the Arsenal with 8 pages, and William Jones with 10 pages). It includes some remarkably obscure firms –and it is a gold mine for us and we should be able to feature many of the companies in the future.
Locos on the power station jetty
So – back to Greenwich Power Station – and, yes, it features as a site for an industrial railway. The book tells us that electric locos built on tramcar trucks were used to haul coal from the jetty but in the early 1920s a system of conveyor belts was used and the locos “relegated to spare”. You will have to look at the book itself for all the details of the locos and the gauges and stuff like that.


Tuesday 22 November 2011

Eltham Road

Roads and their uses have always been a subject of interest to industrial historians - they all exist to fulfil a need of some sort and are of all ages from estate roads built in the past few weeks to serve a new development to ancient trackways whose origins can only be speculated on. We tend to take them all for granted.

In a recent edition of the Woolwich Antiquarians newsletter Richard Buchanan has looked at Eltham Road. He takes as his starting point an old Ordnance Survey map of Blackheath and comments that it which shows what we know as 'Hare& Billet Road' marked as "Eltham Road".

Of course, as he points out, what we know today as Eltham Road runs from the Old Tiger's Head Pub at Lee Green to Eltham Green and then up a road called Eltham Hill into Eltham itself. Thus he points that changes in modern road patterns have disguised the medieval direct route from the Dover Road at the top of Blackheath Hill to Eltham.

He says "Using present road names, the route diverges from the Dover Road at Dartmouth Hill then runs to Hare & Billet Road, Tranquil Vale, Blackheath Village, Lee Road, Eltham Road and Eltham Hill".
"The medieval Eltham Road is just under four miles long" and on its route had to cross the Kid Brook "which it did where the railway bridge in Blackheath Village is now" and it also had to cross the River Quaggy "which is bridged in Lee Road just before the Old Tiger's Head Pub".

The destination - Eltham Palace

Eltham Road begins at the point at which the road from Greenwich coming via Croom's Hill meets the Dover Road. He notes that "There were, ofcourse Royal Palaces at both Greenwich and Eltham and domestic supplies normally went by road between them and the Tower of London, as the Court progressed from one to another".

Royal necessities could have course come from London by river via Greenwich, or "possibly with smaller boats along the Ravensbourne &. Quaggy to Lee" and in all cases "needing the Eltham Road for the last stretch to Eltham" and "ordinary trade to London would have followed the same route." Post also used the Eltham Road since "postal services developed from Royal message carrying arrangements" and "the Eltham Road continued to be used in the 17th century as an early route for theRoyal Mail.

Richard finishes with an note about how changes in the functions of an area change the sort of routes we need. "Nowadays to go to Eltham from Blackheath Hill one would take theShooters Hill Road across the Heath before turning right, perhaps not until reaching the South Circular road from Woolwich" and concludes that "The Woolwich connection became the main one as industry developed" - and of course, although he does not say so, the demise of Eltham Palace as a place of Royal importance

A local gas works tar spraying vehicle on Blackheath at the junction of Eltham Road in the 1950s

(Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society. October 2011 Editor Richard Buchanan)

Monday 21 November 2011

The Woolwich Ferry - views of GLIAS members

Over the past years GLIAS's Newsletter has contained several contributions about the Woolwich ferry.  As a London wide organisation concerned with industrial history clearly GLIAS members come from all over and are not usually local to Greenwich and Woolwich - having said that I do wish some of these contributors would get in touch with us -
anyway - the October newsletter has another article "WOOLWICH FREE FERRY - MEMORIES OF THE PADDLE BOATS"

The author begins by telling us his memories of the old paddle steamers which were replaced by the current boats in 1963.  He says that from 1958 he lived in Woolwich and worked in the Royal Docks "so had many free rides with or without bicycle on the ferry".

He describes the boats as doing the "300 metre river crossing in a strange semi-circular course during which the boat seemed to spend quite  bit of the time going sideways or backwards."(they still do that - don't they? I guess there is a good reason for it)

He then comments (something we all know!) that "compared to today the river was busy with commercial activity from all sorts of ships and from barges and lighters and the ferry's crossing would often be delayed awaiting the passage of a vessel going fast with a strong tide. So coupled with poor visibility from fog the crossing appeared, at times, fraught with danger".

He goes on: "The paddlers were coke-fired so perhaps the London County Council" who ran the ferry, were setting an example to their citizens on the importance of smokeless fuels if pea soupers were to be eliminated".   ...... and  ...."Normally, the ferries were berthed at the pontoons with the bow into the current, but when the tide changed the ferry had to be docked at the end of one crossing the other way round causing confusion on the vehicle deck as the cars had to leave the way they came aboard rather than being able to drive through. At busy times three paddlers were in use requiring a mid-stream dawdle until the berth cleared.

But - as he says  "for an observer with an engineering bent"  it was the engines which were the main attraction.   "The paddlers had two independent engines, single expansion I think, twin-cylinder arranged as an inverted 'V driving, big ends side by side, onto a single crank which was coupled to one of the paddles. This meant that in theory at least, the ship could rotate about a central vertical axis if equal power was applied in opposite directions. On most paddle steamers it suffices to have a single engine with the paddle wheels permanently coupled to opposite ends of the crankshaft but the ferry duties in Woolwich Reach demanded greater manoeuvrability.

And, interestingly, he says: "each engine required its own driver who took his instructions by way of the traditional chain-operated telegraph from the bridge. Every command was accompanied by a bell code and was displayed on a heavily built brass indicator with  last-forever vitreous enamel face on it. The order had to be acknowledged to the bridge by the driver (more bells') so there was always a certain theatrical excitement in the voyage.

And - of course "Added to this was the sort of smell only present in the engine rooms of steam ships, a pleasant warmth and an aroma of hot oil and damp steam  - the most relaxing feature was the lack of noise with only minor hissing and muffled thumping as the engines got to work pushing the boat against the strong tides.

A view of the old and new ferries together
(and is that the autostaker in the background???)

So far so good - however he then goes on, more politically  - "The future of the Woolwich Ferry is interesting to contemplate ....................with the demands of motor traffic now being what they are the ferry is an anachronism  ....pedestrians have the fool tunnel available (unpleasant as it is) and since the DLR was opened to the centre of Woolwich rapid and frequent access to the southern side of the now commercially silent Royal Docks ......................Further, this redundant and expensive to run mode is sponsored by the taxpayer .............and the main traffic that needs to use it are lorries .... Meanwhile the existing three, now elderly, ferries must continue to demand heavy repair bills as they rust away and wear out ...................there seems to be little justification for a ferry with its limited capacity especially as it is paid for by the taxpayer rather than the user.

Oh dear!!   What do we think about that then??!!