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


Unknown said...

hi. my family come from greenwich. my grandad worked for christies in the 1920's and 30's. i will ask about it and get back to you.

Bunty said...

I have been fascinated to read the
Industrial History of Greenwich
particularly in relation to timber importation, specifically Christie´s Wharf. My grandfather William
Christie had his major timber yards
in Glasgow and lived in Ardrossan.
There is a report in one of the major Glasgow newspapers in 1913
(?) of the burning down of the yard
- suffagettes suspected but cannot imagine why.
As a child I can remember hearing ot the very much unwelcome entrance of Vesey into the business, possibly necessary due to the loss, as reported, of 20 to 30,000 pounds - a large sum at that time. I did have a copy of a newspaper picture of the two vessels which plied between Scandinavia and the Wharf in London - unfortunately lost and lack the names which I wish I could discover.
I do have a picture of Wm Christie with some of his work force loading an LNER railway truck.
Look forward to reading anything else which arises.
Jean Christie Williams in Spain

Unknown said...

I have a large photo of the SS Wye Tempest berthed at Christies Wharf Charlton if of interest

M said...

Yes please

Unknown said...

OK give me an email address and I will send

M said...


Alfred said...

Please could you send it to me too? I am likewise interested in Greenwich's industrial history


John David king said...

My wife and I have lived in Christie’s house in Warningcamp ( one word) since 1997. It was built by the Constable family ( local brewers) around the 1860s as a lodge to their bigger house. In 1929 they sold it to Christie for around £4000 (perhaps because of the Wall st crash) and Christie then built on it and completely refurbished what had been a classic Victorian house into a Gothic/ Arts and crafts style with old and new timber panelling and strap plasterwork. He installed electricity and built a generator house in the village to power it.
We have kept the interiors as they were and their detail is a constant source of joy.
When he died the refurbishment had barely been finished and it was sold at auction in Queen Victoria St, London with the comment in the advert “ you couldn’t build it for the price”. It was bought back by the Constable family ( for a similar price they had sold it for) who used it as their main home till we bought it from them in 1997.
We stopped opening the gardens some years ago but if anyone is interested we would welcome their visit and show them Christie’s work.