Friday, 1 March 2013

Docklands History Group

We have now received a note about the February meeting of the Docklands History Group which includes some items of interest to Greenwich

First - they included at the meeting a tribute to Paul Calvocaressi who died last year..  He worked for the GLC and went on to English Heritage where he covered the Greenwich area.  He also wrote an article on Heritage in Docklands for the 1986 'Docklands Book' and an booklet on Conservation in Docklands for Docklands Forum.  A quiet very gentle man he sometimes came to meetings by bike. 

Elliott Wragg talked about the Thames Discovery Programme.  The Programme was looking for and at nautical remains on the Thames foreshore from Brentford in the west to Tripcockness in the East.  It In the Tidal Thames Greater London area they had 370 volunteers and they undertook field work in the summer season.  The Programme ran training courses for field work and details of the courses could be found on their web site.
Major shipbuilding had taken place at Rotherhithe, Deptford and Woolwich.  There was also much ship breaking.  The timbers were used for among other things new ships, firewood, and garden furniture.  At the bottom of Anchor & Hope land at Charlton the remains of a twentieth century pleasure boat had been found.  At the Charlton Castle ship building yard the walls of the yard had been decorated with the figureheads of the ships they had broken up.  Elliott explained that they compared the dimensions of timbers from the 1860s to discover whether they were from a first rate or a second rate ship of the line.  The first class was probably the Duke of Wellington but they were not sure of the second rate although it might be the Edgar. Timber found covered with solid iron was thought to be from a Victorian ironclad.  In 1904/5 Ajax, a first class ship of the line launched in 1882, was broken up at Charlton.

At Tripcockness bulk cargo vessels had been found filled in, to reclaim land.  On examination they had no keel and a strange plank formation and were possibly built by someone who was not a boat builder.  In 1890 an Inspector of Engineering built boats for the Admiralty and these may have been the boats. 
Gus Milne then spoke about the Second World War.  As well as the well known emergency services the Thames Flood Prevention Emergency Repairs Service has been formed to protect London from flooding when the German bombs breached the embankment walls.  The London County Council replaced their Chief Engineer at that time with Sir Thomas Peirson Frank 1930-1946, who set up a rapid response unit.  Born in Yorkshire he was in the Royal engineers in the First World War and attained the rank of Major.  Preparations were made to deal with invasion, gas, bombing and flooding.  A survey of risk was undertaken and between 1940 – 1 Frank obtained the times of Spring tides from the Admiralty.  The tide tables were classified top secret and only given to a limited number of people.  He set up depots at Battersea, Southwark, the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich, so that teams could get to any wall breaches quickly to carry out emergency repairs.  A skeleton  staff was maintained at the depots and at high tide it was boosted with road gangs.  The problem was that the filling in of bomb damage to the roads was also important so the Royal Engineers were drafted in to help. The river walls were hit 121 times between 1940-1. There could be 80 strikes during one night and the Doodlebugs created 15 holes,  while the V2s created three gaps. In case any of the permanent bridges were put out of action by enemy bombs, three emergency bridges were build over the Thames, one being at Battersea.
The Metropolitan Record Books show that there were three types of repair, emergency repair, temporary repairs and permanent repair, the latter paid for by the owner.  The emergency repairs usually involved using raked up rubble to form a dam.  The temporary repairs would be the building up of a defence wall, originally with sandbags but later on with bags full of concrete which set under water.  The bags behind Dowgate Stairs survived until last year when the stairs were replaced.  The repaired sites had to be monitored.  Windows had to be filled in where, if a building was blown up, the water might gain access through the resulting hole.

The first raid breached the roof of the Greenwich foot tunnel, which was pumped out and patched with iron collars, visible today.  It was in use again within three months.  On the embankment you can see where the wall by the Victoria Embankment Gardens has been concreted.  It was holed three feet below the standard level assessed as needing to be solid wall to protect the House of Lords from flooding.  On the Isle of Dogs you can see the hole where a doodlebug landed on the concrete ramp built by Brunel to launch the Great Eastern. 
In order to avoid alerting the Germans to the risk to London, the service never received the publicity it deserved.  There is no memorial to Frank but surely he deserves one.

© Sally Mashiter 

The Docklands History Group programme for the rest of the year is:

Wednesday 6th March
Evening Talk Maritime Greenhithe Part 2 by David Challis – postponed, replacement talk to be announced.
Saturday 23 March
Whaling Symposium
Wednesday 3 April
Evening Talk Behind the Jubilee Flotilla by Martin Garside from the PLA
Wednesday 1 May
Evening Talk Thurrock’s Tales of the Riverside by Jonathan Catton Heritage & Museum Officer, Thurrock Museum
Wednesday 5 June
Meet at 6 pm at Hanover Stairs Rotherhithe, between Canon Beck Road and Isambard Place, for a walk on the foreshore led by Gus Milne and Elott Wragg.  The end point will be Fountain Stairs which are at the bottom of Wilson Grove.  (Wellington boots needed.)
Wednesday 3  July
Annual General Meeting followed by a talk by Chris Everett
Wednesday 7 August
Wednesday 4 September
Evening Talk “Improvement in the Environment of the Tidal Thames” by Nichie Jenkins or Tanya Houston
Wednesday 2  October
Evening Talk “Charles Dupin’s Writings on London’s Commercial Power, industries, port facilities and dockyards”   by Alex Werner Head of History Collections Museum of London.
Wednesday 6 November
Evening Talk The Society of East India Commanders and the Poplar Fund by Tony Fuller
Wednesday 4 December
Evening Christmas Social

They meet on the first Wednesday evening of each month, excluding January. New members and visitors are very welcome. A £2 donation is suggested from visitors. Talks are held at the Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, Hertsmere Road, London E14 4AL, starting at 5.30pm for 6pm and ending at 8pm. The Museum is in a converted West India Docks warehouse, just north of Canary Wharf. Should you arrive late and the Museum main door is closed, there is a staffed entrance called the ‘schools entrance’ at the back on Hertsmere Road, down a few steps. You will need to knock.

1 comment:

Alan Burkitt-Gray said...

How can tide tables be top secret? The data from which they're calculated are based on the phases of the moon. It's possible to predict all of it for hundreds of years ahead. It can't possibly be kept secret.