Wednesday 28 November 2012

Woolwich's big event this week - Launch of the Survey of Woolwich

The launch this week of The Survey of Woolwich was a great success - and the book itself even more so.    Various people are sending their impressions and report about the launch and the book. So - some are given below and some will be added in - first of all - here's the invite:

 ENGLISH HERITAGE invites you to a reception in WOOLWICH TOWN HALL,
in the presence of The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Councillor David Grant  to mark the publication of
Survey of London volume 48: Woolwich
for English Heritage by Yale University Press on behalf of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

So - what have people got to say? - and why is it so important?  First Mayor, David Grant, who opened the event:
"The publication of the English Heritage Survey is a very important moment for Woolwich, which is at last showing the signs of development and growth which it has long needed.  The book itself is magnificent and the borough has been fortunate in being given three copies - one for the public library in Woolwich, one for the Heritage Centre and one for the staff library in the Woolwich Centre.  It is a very worthwhile read, even though at £75 a copy it is beyond most people's reach to buy".

and now a contribution from veteran Greenwich historian (and ex-councillor) Darrell Spurgeon:

"They could have chosen Deptford, they could have chosen Greenwich. Instead English Heritage’s Survey of London chose Woolwich for their first venture into South East London. It was an inspired choice, for Woolwich has a fantastic history –military, municipal and manufacturing, retaining a fine ensemble of buildings relating to that history. Most of that history is of course industrial or has industrial associations.
Mary has written about the book launch at the Town Hall on Monday this week, so has Richard Buchanan. I too was lucky to have been invited. It was a great occasion, with good speeches from the Mayor, David Grant, and from senior English Heritage personalities - Simon Thurley, Andrew Saint, and the main author, Peter Guillery.
What a wonderful book! You would of course expect it to be, with over 500 pages, over 400 illustrations, and at a price tag of £75. But it is even better than I had expected!
Darrell Spurgeon

and - next - a much longer piece from our regular contributor Richard Buchanan
English Heritage hosted a reception at Woolwich Town Hall on 26th November 2012 to launch the Woolwich volume of the Survey of London.  The invitation itself was handsome, and featured a detail of an electrolier from the main hall of the Town Hall.
Peter Guillery is stated in the preamble of  the book to be its Editor - a term which in this case includes principal researcher and writer – he was of course at the launch.   Once the company had assembled, Andrew Saint, the General Editor of the Survey of London, opened the proceedings.  He welcomed everyone; and went on to say how they had decided some years ago that it was high time that a Survey was done south of the Thames – Battersea being in mind -  until Peter said Woolwich had a stronger case. 
For the last several years Peter Guillery has been a genial face in Woolwich, reading voraciously and talking to anyone with any knowledge of the Parish.  Many of these were present, particularly from the Council, the Heritage Centre, the Woolwich Antiquarian Society and the Royal Artillery.
Councillor David Grant, the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, gave a short but heartfelt speech.  Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of the English Heritage then spoke.  The royal connections of Woolwich, as distinct from Greenwich, were paraded.  The Woolwich Survey in draft form, without illustrations, has been on the internet since the spring, so speakers (and many present) had had time to see the text and gave it great praise.
Peter Guillery himself spoke, saying how helpful people had been, and named his principal contributors.
The publishers, Yale University Press, had a table in a corner, and were selling the book (at the wholesale price).  Notwithstanding its presence on the internet, the book, very handsomely produced, could not be resisted and many copies weere bought.
I first read an eleven page article written by Peter Guillery in the Greenwich Historical Society’s Journal Vol.2 No.3 of 2000, about the buildings on Park Vista, Greenwich - and was impressed.  The Woolwich Survey, of 446 pages (with another 70 for references & index), is to the same high standard throughout.

The Survey covers the Parish of Woolwich, which is a roughly triangular area between Woolwich Dockyard, the Arsenal and the western slope of Shooters Hill.  An exception was made to include the historic part of the Arsenal that extends over the parish boundary.  It is an impressive book intended to expound what is known, from as early as can be ascertained, to the present – who built what and when, what difficulties they faced, the social problems, who demolished what, and so on.  Many sources were consulted, though often a single reference at the end of a paragraph will list several relevant documents.  It is well illustrated with photographs and drawings, some specially commissioned.  This is one of the most significant books ever to have been published on Woolwich.
Richard Buchanan
More to follow ..........................................

Monday 26 November 2012

Running the River Thames Project

A recent meeting of the Docklands History Group featured the “Running the River Thames Project”.  by Professor Sarah Palmer and Dr Vanessa Taylor, of Greenwich University..

Sarah explained that the project looks at London,and the environmental governance of the River Thames from 1960 to 2011.  This is a two year project, which stated in August 2011 by the Greenwich Maritime Institute financedby the Economic and Social Research Council.

Vanessa’s is working full time on this and her previous projects have been 1. Public policy, stakeholders and the river in the twentieth century and 2. Thames governance oral histories 1960-2010.  She had interviewed 24 people about their experience of Thames governance.

The current project covered the Thames as a whole - the watershed, the tributaries and the basin.  They had to balance the changes arising from uses which included the port and wharves, passenger and freight transport, land drainage, water supply, sewage and waste and water removal, habitats, eco system services, recreation, landscape and property development of all sorts.

The “stakeholders” involved were groups - for instance those with a geographic interest riparian, residential, houseboat, commercial property, agricultural, environmental or archaeological and also single interest groups like anglers, or sailors. 

The project asks who influences and who governs the River?  They looked at organisations like the Port of London Authority, the Environment Agency, Thames Water Authority, local authorities and the Greater London Authority.    As well as this organisations like the government, the European Union, Natural England and so on.

Some aspects of environmental governance had not been looked at before.  Over the period of the project docks had closed, there had been redevelopment and the port operatioon itself had moved down river.  This meant that In effect the governance had moved away from London institutions and into river basin management under private ownership e.g. Thames Water Authority.  Today there is a need to comply with with environmental regulations and an obligation to consult stakeholders.  They were studying how these changes related to the Thames, the impact on London and the implications for today’s governance. 
They are thus focusing on:

  1. Stakeholders and environmental governance of the port and river 1960 to 1975.
  2. Watershed democracy London and Thames Water Authority 1973 to 1989.
  3. City, port and “Ecological hinterland” 1964-1992.
  4. The Thames, Stakeholders and Democracy 1960 to 2010.

There was now consultation instead of representation.  Has it had influence?  How do stakeholders operate and make their voices heard?

Sarah stressed that as historians they had to remain neutral and take a dispassionate view and they did this by discussion and interviews with stakeholders, campaigning groups and policy makers.  In addition there was a tremendous amount of material providing direct and indirect evidence in the National Archives, although limited by the 30 year disclosure rule, and there was material in local authority archives and with local organisations, and in the Parliamentary archives.  The problem was how to select the material and draw it together.  They would be producing:

  1. Academic articles which Vanessa would produce.
  2. A guide on their website in three parts, firstly a guide to the database of organisations, secondly a guide to the accessibility of archives and thirdly a tabular guide with links.
  3. Talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences
  4. A final conference
  5. A full report.
Hopefully Greenwich Industrial History can be involved in some of this and also hope that either Sarah or Vanessa can come and talk to us about it.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Gordons and their Deptford Shipyard

The latest volume of 'Shipbuilding and Ships on the Thames' includes an excellent article by Chris Ellmers "This Great National Object - the Story of the Paddle Steamer Enterprise'.  This is an intriguing story and very much recommended to be read.  However - in the course of the paper Chris does give some details about the builders of Enterprise - which might be of specific interest to Greenwich historians - remembering that much of the Deptford riverside area was part of Greenwich until relatively recently.
So - as far as Enterprise is concerned, Chris says ''Messrs’ Gordon and Co. Deptford’ Gordon and Company are given as the builders'.   He goes on to point out that 'Surprisingly little has been written about Gordon and Company ..... Philip Banbury (in Shipbuilders of the Thames and Medway) says ‘that 'the Enterprise is the only ship known to have been built by Gordon & Co'’, and devotes much of his short discourse on the yard to her story.

Chris also gives some details about the Gordon family and their business, and they turn out to be surprisingly upmarket!

"Between 1820-1826, the principals of the Gordons' businesses were David Gordon and his sons Charles David Gordon (1790-1826) and Michael Francis Gordon (1792-18-60). Towards the end of the period they would have been supported by David Gordon's youngest son; Adam Gordon (1801-1839). ......................It is likely, however, that David Gordon himself was then no longer involved with  any of the  day-to-day activities of the business, having succeeded to the title of Gordon of Abergeldie  in December 1819' . ...................... It would appear that none of the younger Gordons had received any training as shipwrights. Indeed, Charles David Gordon, Michael Francis Gordon and Adam Gordon had all received privileged educations at Harrow School, with Charles David becoming a friend of the young Byron. It is clear that the Gordons' venture into shipbuilding represented a capitalistic investment opportunity - albeit at a time when the fortunes of London shipbuilding were still in a period of post war decline - rather than an outlet for any family training, or technical talents".

Chris continues by discussing the site of the yard - pointing out that many historians have mistakenly located it at Deptford Green  - however he says 'As the directories and Deptford rate books make clear, the Gordons' shipyard was at Grove Street Deptford. This was at the old Dudman's Dock, where major shipbuilding activities had previously been undertaken by William Barnard, William Dudman and Henry Adams, from 1763 until 1813. During the time of Gordons' occupation the yard consisted of the large wet dock that was Dudman's Dock itself, two dry  docks and five slipways. Then one of the largest facilities on the Thames, the yard would have offered maximum flexibility for both shipbuilding and ship repairing. Some idea of what the the yard was able to achieve in busy periods, is indicated by statistics relating to John Dudman’s operation of the yard, during the years 1803-1812. Across this period, the yard – 25 naval ships and 13 merchant ships, repaired 282 ships, and employed between 174 and 340 men.

And in relation to the Deptford Green site: "The Gordon family did have an operation at Deptford Green but it was a metalworking one, focusing on iron founding and anchor making. This was developed in the last quarter of the 18th century by David Gordon (1751-1831), and his then partners John Biddulph (his brother-in-law) and William Stanley - of Lime Street in the City.
View fromm Dudman's Dockyard Deptford 
John Cleveley 1774
And - in summary - "Gordons' Deptford Green works was also a very substantial operation. The various entries in the London directories state that the following trade activities were undertaken there 'millwrights"; 'engineers'; 'machinists'; anchorsmiths'; 'founders'; and 'wholesale ironmongers'. Given the Gordon family's educational and mercantile background, they must have been very dependent on skilled draughtsmen, managers and foremen for the production of both businesses. This skill base certainly helped make it a ship building business of first rank.

Chris ends the paper with a postscript about the yard "fifteen days after the launch of the second Enterprise (in 1838) much of Gordon's Deptford shipyard - including warehouses,. timber house, workshops ... were destroyed in a major fire."  and "the yard eventually closed in 1842"

If you want to read the whole story of Enterprise you will need a copy of Proceedigns of the Fourth Symposium held on 28th February 2009. This is edited by Dr J.R.Owen and obtainable from

Thursday 8 November 2012

Blackheath Caverns

Ever since last spring we have been meaning feature an article in the April edition of that wonderful publication ‘Subterrania’ – the article is  ‘Chalk Mining near Blackheath Hill, Southeast London. Including Jack Cade's Cavern’ by Anthony Durham
Ostensibly it is yet another account of the caverns known to lie under Blackheath Hill but the author does raise some interesting points and tries to examine the subject holistically.  However, to begin at the beginning – he says ‘ten years ago I had very little idea what lies under the ground near my home. But that all changed on 7 April  2002, when the A2 main road through Greenwich  collapsed into a big hole halfway up Blackheath Hill’.  Having opened up his interest he began to look further  and discovered more.

He started offering guided tours of where the holes were but met with problems because of his unqualified status.  He also contacted the authors of a local blog about Underground Greenwich and says they helped him.  He says he read Harry Pearman's important work in Vol 6 of the Chelsea Speleological Society – but doesn’t indicate that he has ever  spoken to Harry, which is a real pity (Harry has published a more recent article on the caverns in Vol.44).
Returning to the 2002 A2 collapse he says ‘Transport for London and  Thames Water were essentially gifted a get-out-of-jail- free card by a plausible story that the lime burners of three hundred years ago were a bunch of cowboys who repeatedly caused trouble to the road managers of that time’- I hope that isn’t referring to my rather shoved together talks on it – I am certain I never mentioned the word ‘cowboys’ , although I might have my doubts about the level of care and honesty exhibited by 17th quarry workers – although Anthony Durham is ’inclined to stand up for those old lime burners near Greenwich, whose engineering and managerial skills, and respect for the  local community’ should not be under-estimated.

He gives the much quoted note about the activities of the Steers family  ‘In 1677 William Steers, Limebumer, was fined £40 for "not filling up, supporting and making good, safe, and  secure the King's Highway there against his Lime Kilns leading from Deptford to Blackheath, which said highway he hath undermined by digging, taking and carrying from  thence great quantities of chalk’ and so on. He pictures the Steers family ‘earning their living for generations on a patch of hillside that nobody much cared about, selling lime for rich people to build houses’
Returning to the 2002 collapse he discussed the spring line on Blackheath and the consultants' report paid for by Transport for London which explained that ‘most subsidence events are caused by water transporting soil particles underground and opening up ever-bigger voids, which finally collapse.’  But then he says ‘Unfortunately the report did a rotten job on the specific conditions of Blackheath Hill’ and adds that ‘little is known in detail about mining techniques used around Blackheath, even as late as the 1800s’.  he says ‘While digging into a hillside without modem machinery, miners will tend to create a vertical cliff or quarry workface with a horizontal area in front that is partly the floor of the digging and partly the top of a spoil heap’ and that ‘mining tended to transform hillsides’ . He then looks at the area around the hill and the landscape of cliffs and craters  - he is quite right, go out and look at it!  He asks ‘ how far those steps are man-made’

With reference to ‘Jack Cade's Cavern’  he discusses its exact position  and how it might be located by the casual passer by – but asks not to ‘pester (residents) in search of their underground cavity.’
As he points out the Cavern ‘has led an eventful life over the centuries, having been lost, found, lost, found,  and lost’ – and gives a brief history, including the inspection of it as a potential second world war air raid shelter .... ‘They found it exactly as their Victorian forebears had left it: graffiti, old bottles and all.’

He goes on to discuss some of the Blackheath lime burners and has unearthed some interesting  material from the Morden College archives. Has found other Steers – including a Liverpudlian ‘England’s first major civil engineer’ leading him to speculate ‘that Blackheath Hill was the real  nursery of British Engineering’. It’s easy for me to say ‘ of course it was’ – but Penn’s and their followers/trainees  were really mechanical engineers –and  I am not sure where we fit Perkins and his steam guns tests into this
He says, rightly, ‘Blackheath Hill is a whole landscape of industrial archaeology’  - and it is so well hidden by modern buildings and the traffic. 

Read the article – and I would like to get Anthony Durham along to talk to GIHS sometime
Subterranean Britannica.
April 2012 issue 29 Edited by Nick Catford


Saturday 3 November 2012


By Arthur Cheeseman

The following account of life in East Greenwich - as it used to be - has been given to us by Rev. Malcolm Torry, of Holy Trinity Church, Greenwich Peninsula. He was sent it by Arthur Cheeseman, an old Greenwich resident, who now lives in the Phillipines
It was sent to him in connection with an church discussion he has organised on 11th - next Sunday - at Cafe Pura, in Oval Square - Remembering the Peninsula  by Jean and Peter Griffiths, who have lived around here all their lives, will introduce a discussion about previous residential and working  communities on the Peninsula, and particularly about the Peninsula during wartime. Plus input from Dr. Mary Mills

 Arthur says:
I’m writing this in no particular order: just as the memory works. I hope that it will help others to remember. 

Greenfell Street and the gasworks entrance
As a child I remember this area well. My grandparents (Father’s parents: he was born in number 28) lived on the Peninsula, and we had a lot of our relatives living in Greenfell and Boord Street, which were next to the gas works which where my grandfather used to work on the retorts. I remember that he always carried his shovel home and used to wear his belt with the buckle done up at the back so that he did not injure his arm on the buckle when shovelling.
Greenfell Street had terraced houses with the front doors in pairs. Most had two families living in them. At the top of the street was a post office and a fish and chip shop. I was too small to see over the counter, but there was always someone willing to lift me up for my two pence of chips.

St. Andrews - this is now O'Keefe's offices
The Mitre public house was next door. It laid back a little from the main road and had a road down the left hand side leading to the rear gardens.
On the other side between Greenfell and Boord Street was a transport cafĂ©, the Terry Arms. One of my father’s aunts used to run it, “Flo” I think her name was.
To one side of Boord Street was St Andrew’s Church where my parents got married in 1942

A tram alongside prefabs in Blackwall Lane
The trams used to run from Blackwall tunnel to, I believe, Greenwich market. The only bus that went through the tunnel was a 108a: it had one side of the roof lowered so that it did not hit the roof. The lighting for the road was gas, strung across on wires to the centre.

Next to the church, and it still there, is Dreadnought School. To the rear of the school used to be allotments . I have no idea what was there before the allotments.

Dreadnought School - now the Horniman Museum store

Blackwall Lane used to be cobbled stones (not kind to bike riders). Blackwall Lane was cut in half by Tunnel Avenue where it ran north to the river and the gas works, the generating station, and Redpath Brown steel works. This is where the Pilot public house is next to about 6 terraced houses.

The Pilot pub and cottages

Where Blackwall Lane meets Tunnel Avenue there was a small cafe (forgotten the name, it may have been The Cabin) and a horse trough made from grey granite, and it used to have water in it. Next to the cafe was either the Dutch boy or Blue boy bag wash laundry. Many a time I had to help my brother Ted to push the pram full of wet washing home ( - the fight we had about who would push and who would ride).
On the other side of the road was a firm that made housing block/bricks (hollow block or breeze blocks). They used to use the ash from the gas works (coke works). This is where I saw my first black man in the early 1950s. 
Before they were bombed out my mother and my grandparents used to live in Ordnance Crescent which used to run round one side of the tunnel entrance. There were a few shops, but all I can remember is a cafe that smelt of damp tea. On the other side of the tunnel was yet another pub called the Star. It closed before I had a chance to drink in it.
I can remember walking down the steel steps of the ventilation shaft of the tunnel and walking back on the half pavement to the arch at the start of the tunnel. If my mother had known what I had been up to I would not have sat down for a week.

advertisements for soap made on the
Greenwich Peninsula.
The riverside walk was a wonderful playground when I was young. It had a mini marina with small boats, mostly DIY type or made up from ww2 MTB craft. There was a tar barrel quay, and wood by the acre. I did not venture down that way because they had a large dog.
There used to be a train that ran down to the quay once a week to be loaded with timber and the tar barrels, which were very flimsy. It’s lucky that the tar was hard. That was part of my Saturday morning walk: down Horn lane, which had allotments to the rear of the gas works sports field, round the river down to Blackwall Lane, up Tunnel Avenue and home: that was until my mum got me a paper round at the ripe old age of eleven: 5 shillings a week - I was rich.
I forgot - there was a petrol station between Tunnel Avenue and Blackwall Lane, and on the other side of the road was the Telcon cable works and the council yard. This was on the left hand side of Tunnel Avenue after the  Blackwall Lane intersection.

There was a very large cement cistern left over from the war for emergency water supply. There was a group of about 20 prefabs, and just past the cistern was a row of cottages in a horse shoe shape. It may have been called Identerden cottages - followed by even more prefabs. There was a factory that made soap: the smell was nasty.
Well, that’s all for now - brain getting hot. Could someone let me know if I made too many errors?  Love and prayers to all,
A celebration in Riverway - the bit of road which ran between
The Pilot and the river - now disappeared
Arthur Cheeseman.