Thursday 8 December 2011

Bad smells in south London 1871

The mid-19th century was a great time for a lot of not particularly well regulated industry.  In 1871 Dr. Ballard, the Medical Officer of Health for Islington investigated some Thameside complaints of smells.  Who had been complaining??

One person was the Military Commandant at Woolwich, and Dr. Gordon, the Principal Medical Officer of the Garrison. Ballard reported that their evidence was “the clearest and most instructive that I received” and pointed out that the barracks and the barrack field were “about a mile from the river and at a considerable elevation” but that nevertheless “each variety of odour is perceptible … when the wind is in the northwest or north-north-east one variety is perceived, and when east-northeast the other variety”.

Dr. Gordon told him that when he travelled on the river between Woolwich and Purfleet that he recognized the smell of Lawes Manure Works at Barking Creek as distinct from that from Bevington and Brown in Erith Marshes.  That smell, said Dr. Gordon, was like that “which he has perceived in India when passing the places in which the Hindus consume, by cremation, the bodies of their dead”.

Thus they concluded “A northeast wind would bring effluvia towards the barracks from Barking Creek, distant 2 miles” and on a different day “a more easterly wind would bring those from Erith Marshes, distant 4 miles”.

To the Manager of the Southern Outfall Pumping station at Crossness complaints about smells must have been a subject of some sensitivity.  He told Dr.Ballard that he could “distinguish two varieties of offensive odour”. One of these which “he describes as in tolerably offensive” was from the, previously mentions, glue and manure works of Brown and Bevington, at Erith.

However at Charlton complaints were not so bad – Ballard was told this by the local Inspector of Nuisances. There was “only one variety of offensive odour …….that is of an acid and sickening character”.  That smell came from factories on the north shore of the river near the Victoria Docks, and – (oh dear) “from some factories … Greenwich Marshes”.

Ballard therefore set out to inspect “the several factories between Blackwall Reach to the west, and Erith Reach to the east”. He sorted them out into three groups:

Group 1 - on the river bank near Bugsby's Reach – and this in response to complaints from Charlton, and from the army in Woolwich. Ballard reckoned there were 10 factories here to be looked at.

Group 2 on Barking Creek. Which annoyed the army in Woolwich, the inhabitants of Plumstead village and of the “little colony at the Southern Outfall Pumping Station”. There were four factories in this group

Group 3 downriver “between Halfway Reach and Erith – which annoyed the same people as Group 2.  There were seven factories here

Ballard points out “All of these factories are not equally offensive” ….  “Some effluvia is only perceptible at a short distance … while the effluvia from others are such as experience has shown, may be carried by the wind to the distance of several miles”.

Forthcoming episodes will reveal which factories smelt of what ……………with exciting details of exactly what Bevington and Brown were doing …………..and which factories Ballard found it difficult to remain near, and which were completely deserted apart from the smell.

…………….More to come.

Monday 5 December 2011

A voyage in a collier

One of the most dangerous - and largely ignored - industries was that of the collier ships which brought the coal from north east England down to the Thames.  This was a massive industry and its history would take many volumes. In the 19th and 20th centuries part of the trade was coal coming in to the various London gas works. Gas companies had their own collier fleets - with boats undertaking a rapid shuttle service down the perilous and treacherous east coast from Tyne and Wear ports down to London, and back.

The various gas company house magazine published regular accounts from young men who had cadged a voyage on a collier - and returned to write up their experiences.  The account below, from the South Metropolitan Gas's Copartnership Journal  in the early 1900s.  The author clearly had a pleasant trip - not always the case, the east coast could  be a terrifying place!!


 'I ain't no sailor bold, and I never was upon the sea' .  I can no longer sing this with truth. I am one of those newspaper fellows  …. who was tremendously rocked in the cradle of the deep off the Yorkshire coast.

It was suggested that we should take a trip, a free trip. As a newspaperman I accepted the offer, and did not flinch.  I made the stipulation, however; that I must be back within a week and when we left Greenwich our destination was South Shields.

It was three o'clock in this afternoon of August 22 that we went Deptford Pier, and there was shown our vessel, the Canto. 'This is Captain Kennett,' said the old foreman of the wharf, 'and these are the two gentlemen who are anxious to accompany you back to South Shields.' We shook hands and I shall never forget the grip of the captain's, hand shake and within the space of half an hour we were at the Naval College, Greenwich. We made the acquaintance of other members of the crew - as well the pilot, who was generally admitted to be ‘one of the best' on the river. We were privileged to go on the foc'astle, and I heard the pilot say once that ‘that was a near squeak’ and he told the captain of a barge what he thought of him.

We soon got to Gravesend, where our pilot left us. The evening shades were closing when we got to Southend, with information as to how, amid  the multitude of  light vessels, a route  could be safely navigated.

Again ascending the bridge, I was in time to join my friend in witnessing the lights of Clacton, Walton on the Naze, and to see the huge passenger vessels leave Harwich for Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp. The mate then suggested forty winks - and these were about all we had that night.

Come out, you fellows, if you want to see the sun come out of the ocean,' said Talbot, the mate when we were just off Yarmouth.  That was breakfast the first morning aboard.  We were passing Cromer and on our way to the Wash a breeze rose up, and for a long period we had had plenty of knocking about.  No more need be said, with the exception that it was a little rough.

I thoroughly enjoyed  the next hours, for the most part out of sight of land, the going in to Flamborough Head, where the sea has formed caves; on to Filey, Scarborough, Whitby, Middlesborough - which is always full of smoke - thence on to Sunderland.

It had been my first experience of seeing whales, but at the mouth of the Tees they were rising and 'blowing' around us in all directions. 

 It was nearly eleven o'clock when we got alongside Tyne dock, but still Captain Kennett had to pay his men, who were all anxious to get home to their wives and families living in or around Shields. 

The next day my companion and myself went to Newcastle by train. We spent an enjoyable day in that city, returning to Tyne dock about six o'clock, only to find our good ship away from her berth. Captain Kennet had, however, told us that this might be so, and reminded us that the funnel was streaked red and black.  I spotted her a long way out in the dock, alongside other vessels nearly half a mile away. Alongside the quay was a brigantine with firs, and I told one of the crew our trouble. 'Canto ahoy!' shouted he, and immediately one of the crew poked his face over the side of the ship and spotted us. He got into a boat and came to the quayside and we had to climb up a ladder with bars of iron let into the side of the quay, sloped inwards.  How I got down that ladder I know not.

We left Shields just before nine o'clock on Thursday night, and we were on tide at Deptford at half-past seven o'clock on Saturday morning, having made two very quick journeys. We had a rough journey all the way back - off Yarmouth, where we witnessed the London boat going into the Yar. The sea broke right over us and water came into our cabin, and once or twice it came down in such torrents and made such a row - but Captain Kennet assured us that it was nothing.

Friday 2 December 2011

New GLIAS Newsletter - bits, bobs and the ferry

The December 2011 edition of the GLIAS Newsletter is out – so – our regular trawl and the most important question – What does it have to say this month about the industrial history of Greenwich and/or Woolwich??
In fact – it’s largely the usual stories embellished. But never mind that.

First of all – a ‘thank you’ to Editor Robert (and Sue) for advertising all the next GIHS talks at the Old Bakehouse (7.30 all Welcome)
17th January     Jeremy Hodgkinson on Iron Founding in the Weald
21st February   John Yeardley on Ropemaking in London
13th  March      David Cufley on Bricks and brickmaking locally
17th April         Peter Luck on Sugar & Soap – (site recently known as Amylum)
15th May          Diana Rimel on Bazalgette

And then there are some GLIAS events – reciprocally advertised below:
18th January – 300 Years of the Newcomen Engine by Prof. Dave Perrett. Willoughby Theatre, Charterhouse Square, 6.30

And a leaflet is enclosed for SERIAC 28th April 2012. At Newbury. Details
SERIAC is the South East Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference – and the programme, as ever, is all rural industries with a bit of military stuff. 

Back to the newsletter:
There is a long long list of items from the London Archaeologist’s Annual Fieldwork Round-up.  This includes:
Eaglesfield Park, Shooters Hill – excavation of First World War anti-aircraft gun platform Deptford Green, Lower School – rice mill established around 1700 replaced by warehouse 1875
Convoys Wharf Deptford – 52 trenches excavated, identified area of c19th Great Dock. Outline of Grade II listed c19 Olympia building and area of Tudor storehouse. Other walls and surfaces.

Next comes some bits from News in Brief
Deptford Dockyard – they report about the surviving important remains.  And point out ‘the two listed shipbuilding sheds are at present likely to be surrounded and obscured by high rise buildings. These listed slipway covers are the only extant shipbuilding structures above ground in Greater London (Ref. R.J.M.Surtherland Trans Necomen Society, vol 60 pps 107-126)

Then there is a lot of information about a Deptford built warship HMS Pandora and her wreck, referring us to a Queensland Museum website.   She was built in Deptford by Adams, Barnard and Dudman in 1778-9
Enderby Wharf - they report 'bad news'.... ‘Security is no longer being maintained at the property next door and squatters have got into Enderby House. The interior is now so badly damaged that the house’s continued status as a listed building is under threat.  The developers have decided that the Enderbys were ’unkind to whales’ so it is bad to perpetuate their memory. The name 'Enderby Wharf' will probably be changed’. They also refer to the cable gear on the jetty and refer us to Dockland (NELP/GLC 1986 p255)

And then – we come to more on the Woolwich Ferry.  And can I repeat the plea that all these ferry enthusiasts PLEASE get in touch with us – or could the GLILAS newsletter ask them to??
First there is a long piece by David Dawson about the connections between the ferry and Crossness sludge vessels.   This concerns a grid iron build at Crossness for boat repair recommended to be installed in 1894.  And it is added that there was a suggestion that the ‘Woolwich Ferry boats could be serviced on the gridiron at Crossness and with a little alteration in the levels of the blocks the gridiron can be used for the Fire Brigade boat’. This gridiron was 230 feet long, 50 ft. wide and built of fir timber, most 12 inch square.  Timbers were driven vertically into the river bed and cross members use to support the vessels.  This structure apparently survived into the 1940s, but its subsequent fate isn’t recorded
David Dawson point to the remains of a similar structure at Woolwich just down from the ferry, known as the Woolwich barge blocks.

And - finally – someone called Bob ‘sewerpipe’ Rogers has been ‘prompted to put pen to paper’ because of the item in the last GLIAS newsletter which said there was ‘little justification for the taxpayer funding the ferry'.  Bob Sewerpipe says ‘The Woolwich Ferry is living heritage and many of the foot passengers would not be able to use the foot tunnel. As such it is a lifeline’.
(And can I add – it is also extremely busy and many many vehicles use which are not heavy transports)