Sunday 21 April 2013

New book about 'London's Lost Power Stations and GasWorks'

I am very torn about reviewing this book - I do think it is about time something like this came out.   London has a huge heritage (if we must describe it as that) of old structures of the power industries.. GLIAS has described most of these sites over the years but never codified them. Certainly there are several people in London's Industrial Archaeology world who could reel a list off in very great detail - but then then none of them have produced this book - so congratulations to Ben Pedroche, who has.

Having said that - I am no great expert on power stations, particularly railway power stations - and its good to see them in one place and listed out.  There is a real problem with the history of many old power generating sites in that privatisation saw a huge amount of archive material junked and I know to my cost that there are some local power stations where there really is nothing left to read up on.  So, again, congratulations to Ben for finding out some bits about Blackwall Point Power Station (which stood on the riverside near the Pilot) - I know that can't have been easy.  

I am very pleased that he has highlighted Greenwich Power Station - although he hasn't followed up the suggestion that it is the oldest operational power station in the country.  But it is a good introduction to it and explains its background - but - Ben - did you read the article on it by Peter Guillery which GLIAS published, and, by the way, it has been refitted again in the last ten years, and rumour is that it is to be refitted again for Biomass.

I am sorry that he hasn't given more information about our other remaining old power plant in the Borough - the Plumstead Generating Station at White Hart Road. This was listed at the instigation of GIHS members and GIHS has published detailed information on this interesting site, researched and written by Dave Ramsey.  It deserves a lot more.

And so we come onto what he says about the gas industry - and I am sorry if this sounds like a lot of carping.  I don't mean it - its good to see something written and I will make sure that a nice supportive review goes into the gas history press (yes there is such a thing!!).

He starts with - as ever - William Murdoch.  I just wish people who write about Murdoch and gas would take themselves up to the Birmingham Reference Library and read their way through the excellent archive which preserves the notes of the people who actually worked on developing the first coal gas making plant (James Southern and William Henry). 

And so - no mention of the site in Goswell Road (Brick Lane gas works) where gas was made from 1816 and where Transco are still on site.  Precious little about Old Kent Road - where the Livesey holder was recommended for listing (Ben - you did read Malcolm Tucker's report to English Heritage on gas holders in London, didn't you??).   There is also a big imbalance in the account of the Commercial Company - which was essentially one of South Met's puppet companies. Nothing about Livesey's political role in gas industry pricing and company structures - let alone his workplace relations (all those adjitprop plays of the early 1980s).

But I won't go on about Livesey - but I will finish by saying that one day I will tell the world about the truth of the Millennium Dome and Livesey's ghost story - which he mentions.  But not just yet.

I intend to say nice things about the book - which is why I am not picking through the gas chapters bit by bit.  Its a book we need - but its a subject where you probably need a lifetime to read all the source material.  Perhaps no one person could do it.


PS - memo to self to scan (ugh!) and upload my M.Phil thesis (on Livesey's workplace relations and political role), my BA project on the 1889 gasworkers strike and the bits I've actually written on a biography on to

Saturday 20 April 2013

Today's Naval Dockyards Conference

Once a year the Naval Dockyards Society comes to Greenwich and holds its AGM at the National Maritime Museum.  This year to celebrate 500 years of Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards history their AGM was followed by a conference on that very subject.

The Conference was opened by Deptford MP, Joan Ruddock - with a speech expressing her support for the recognition of the Deptford Yard's history while various 'regeneration' schemes are considered. She recalled how she had explained to Chinese developers that in our eyes the dockyard has the same status as the Great Wall of China has for them.  She mentioned two projects being put forward by local people - a project to restore John Evelyn's Sayes Court Garden, and the project to 'Build the Lenox' - a replica 17th century warship at Deptford. (speaker on that being booked for GIHS)

Chris Ellmers gave his paper in his usual erudite and lively style. This was on the private shipbuilding yards and ironworks which surrounded the Royal Dockyard and the interrelationships between them.  We must get Chris along to GIHS to speak on this - as well as everything else he is so knowledgeable on.

Peter Cross-Rudkin spoke about the work of John Rennie in the Royal Dockyards - which was focussed on the dockyards nationwide and not just about Deptford and Woolwich, although they were mentioned of course. He was very interesting however on Rennie and his work.

Philip McDougall spoke about the Woolwich dockyard focussing his talk around a print of the launch of the 120 gun Nelson in 1814.  This was all about the carnival atomosphere around the launch of this ship - the visitors - the flotilla coming down river from London, and so on.  He also talked about the development and eventual demise of Woolwich Dockyard.  Philip would love to come and talk to GIHS about this but it would need to be at a daytime meeting - something which perhaps we should attempt.

The next speaker, English Heritage's Mark Stephenson, has been to GIHS several times and also sends us helpful information on current work in the Borough.  He was looking at how site investigation can be planned and executed along with the developers and the planners - and how strategies for this have been developed.

Duncan Hawkins has already spoken to us - and also led site visits - on the archaeology undertaken at Deptford Dockyard in 2011 and 2012. This work is ongoing and will eventually be published.

The final speakers - Chris Mazeika and Willi Richards - again need no local introductions. Since they bought what has become known as the Shipwrights Palace on the Deptford site they have worked unceasingly to publicise and promote this important site.   Their paper continued to analyse some aspects of the site.

These papers will all be published by the Society in due course

The Conference raised some important issues - and clearly just one day on the two dockyards is going to leave lots of holes.  The focus, rightly, was on Deptford.  However I had a conversation with members of the GLIAS Committee only last week and was reminded that they were involved with a number of local people in the 1970s on an excavation and study of Woolwich Dockyard - involving I understand supervision on the late Beverley Burford - then assistant curator at Plumstead Museum.  GLIAS holds a great deal of unpublished material on Woolwich Dockyards - as did other people involved at the time - and I was told they would welcome an opportunity to bring some of it to light.

................... ideas?????  as to how this might be achieved?

anyway - thanks for the day, and the arrangments to the Naval Dockyards Society - and to their new Chair and Committee elected earlier today.

Friday 19 April 2013

Greenwich built barges

Greenwich Peninsula was a big centre for barge building - many different vessels were built here until very recently and includeds some boats which are still very much in use on the River.  Lighters and other commercial craft were also built here. 

Of most interest were the Thames Sailing Barges - operational in the late 19th century until the mid-20th.  Some of these were very, very famous vessels and there is a huge amount of interest out there and many enthusiasts.   Just this last weekend I was in Maldon at the quayside looking at the barges moored there, and saw just how many of them were very smart and we were told how new barges are now being built.

It is important to recognise just how sophisticated and versatile these vessels were - and are.   They were built for the Thames and for all the little creeks as well as the Channel.   They could go up river - under all the bridges - and went to places like Isleworth and beyond.  They could go up tiny creeks in very shallow water.  They could, and did, cross the Channel and go into Continental rivers. They could be worked with a man and a boy.

The barge matches - which many of these vessels competed in, and won - still take place. Happy to find dates of this year's  events

I am putting below a list of those vessels built in Greenwich which I know about - and I am sure (and I hope) that all of those 100s of enthusiasts were not only read this but send in many many corrections to what I am sure are lots and lots and lots of mistakes. This is a subject people really KNOW about.

Barge builder Shrubsall -  they were based at the Northern end of the Peninsula on part of the area of what is now Peninsula quays. They were an Ipswich based company who came to Greenwich in 1901.  There are some good articles about them by proper barge enthusiast writers - I could get references.

Alderman Built 1905 for Groom of Harwich. Lost in the Second World War.
Bankside. Originally built by Wakeley Bros. and rebuilt in 1926 by Shrubsall. She ended up owners by Francis & Gilders. Mined and sunk in the Second World War,
Duchess. 55 ton barge built 1901 for for Clement Parker of Bradwell. She was lost at Dunkirk, - abandoned off St.Abb's Head and drifted.
Genesta. (this is a confused jumble of bits - not sure which bits of this - if any if it - are correct) Sjhe was nuilt in the 1900s by Shrubsall and named after a yacht which won the America's Cup.  At one time she was missing for four days off Blythe. She once sailed to Guernsey.  She was owned by APCM and won sailing matches. After being wrecked for the second time in 1939 she sold and then converted into a motor barge in the Second World War for Hammond.  In the 1950s she was in an accident at Gas House Dock, Gillingham and then wrecked off Folly Point, Hoo Fort full of beer barrels from Meux at Pimlico. She was raised and taken to Churchfields to be burnt. But she ended up as a hulked at Pipers in Greenwich and her huge main mast  was displayed there as a relic.  (I would love to know what happened to that!!) 
Imperial. Built 1902 and won races that year but worked hauling flour and cement. She eventually became a motor barge and was hulked at Temple Marsh and used as a jetty in 1957.
King. Built in 1901 as Shrubsall's first boat at Greenwich. Built for Jarvis and Daniels Bros. of Whitstable. Her rigging was removed in the Second World War and in 1957 was still at work.Verona. Built in 1905 in a slack period. She won the 1905 Medway races and was 2nd in the Thames rces in 1906.  Shrubsall kept her as the part owner with the rest belonging to Clement Parker.  Then owned by Anderson of Maidstone she was bought by by Shrubsall in the 1930s. She was converted into a yacht by Nortons and then went to the Baltic and was used as a house boat.
Pall Mall. Rebuilt in 1905 and owned by Shrubsall in the 1930s. She had an accident off London Bridge on way to Honduras Wharf and Shrubsall bought the wreck.

Princess. Built in 1908 she won the 1909 Medway races and then, owned by Everard, the 1936 & 1937 Thames matches and the 1937 Medway match
Southwark. She was hauling 'London Mixture' (rubbish and - er - other detritus) to farms. She a became 'roads barge' - disused in 1942
Valdora, Built for J M Walker of Dover in 1904. The name is that of a potted geranium and she was called 'flower pot ship'. She was burnt out on the Norfolk Broads
Valonia. Built 1912 was eventually has an engine. She was built for Middleton of  Harwich but then came back to Greenwich where she was owned Horace Shrubsall in the 1930s but then used by Battershall to trade to Portland.  In 1937 she was damaged off Emsworth, and  later at Dartmouth and then she hit Wandsworth Bridge and in 1938 hit the coaster Bain off the Yantlet, and then hit Gertrude. She was lost at Dunkirk in 1940. She was in Dunkirk Harbour with a load of pitch from Aylesford when the evacuation began, but, as the Skipper said, 'Jerry got there first'.  While leaving she hit the tanker Limousin and sank and was thus a  total loss.  It has been said she was the 'best earner' - she was a big barge which was economical with fuel. The name is a sort of algae used in cellulose.
Varuna. Built 'on spec' in 1907. There was no buyer so Shrubsall used her himself before eventually selling her on. She sank down channel when in use as a yacht but in 1957 was still hauling , timber to the Surrey Docks.
Venta. Previously called Jachin; she had been smashed on Newhaven beach and Shrubsall bought the wreck and rebuilt her. She became barge yacht in in 1948 for Judge Blagden and sailed to Sweden in 1964
Veravia. Had been called Alarm previously and was rebuilt. She had been built in 1898 in Sittingbourne for Lloyds paper mills. She had caught fire with a load of paper and had to be helped into Dungeness. Shrubsall altered her drastically and she was changed again in 1938 in Greenwich by Humphery and Grey. In 1960, owned by Hayling Coal and Transportation Co. she sank when loaded with 140 tons of spent oxide from Portsmouth Gas Works going to the glassworks at Rouen. Gales has kept her windbound in the Camber - she sailed but turned back because of a heavy swell and freshening wind off the Nab Tower. She anchored off Chichester where she remained 5 days and then left but after 8 hours the wind shifted and she sank in a huge sea.  In 1961 she was converted to diesel at Prior's Yard Burnham on Crouch. As a working barge she went to the Continent with Belgian roofing tiles, and up the Rhine with Appolinaris water packed in straw. She carried Portland stone used for the Cenotaph. Before 1930 she took coal from Goole to Mill Rythe, and cullet to Antwerp and back with bricks from Boom. In the 1960s she took meal to Ipswich from Tilbury; scrap iron from Deptford to Goole, coal from Keadby to Wapping, and meal from Hull to Faversham; Wheat from Hull to Peterborough. She took flour from Guernsey amd returend with granite road chippings to London. . 'Vera via' is the 'true path'.
Veronica. Built 1906. she eventually became a house barge and her remains are at Bedlam's Bottom. Her name boards and some other items were at the Dolphin Barge Museum in Sittingbourne. But that too has now closed.
Victa. Rebuilt in 1913 she became a house barge at Strood,
Vicunia. Built 1912 for , for Middleton of Harwich and was still at work in 1957. The name is a place in Chile.
Vidora. Name is a place in Canada.
Vimosa. Built in 1908
Virona.  built in 1903


Barge Builder Pipers - one of the leading barge builders. Based adjacent to the existing boat builder on what is now Lovells - the works there is essentially Pipers under different ownership.
Arthur Relf  - built 1908 as a 68 ton wooden barge. Her remains lie in Whitewall Creek,
Brian Boru - built 1906 in  wood. Broken up 1988 in Brentford
Edgar Scholey. Built 1904. She was broken up 1950s having been a house boat at Cheyne Walk,
Ernest Piper. Built 1898 in wood. Rerigged for Goldsmiths in 1928. Her remains lie in Shepherds Creek
Gerty. Built 1897.  Broken up in 1933 at Millwall
Giralda. Built 1897 - the fastest barge ever built. counter springy floor. A half model was made pf her and preserved. (and where is that?) She was designed by Piper's Foreman, Jack Gurrell commssioned by Goldsmiths of Grays and designed in order to win the Diamond Jubilee gold cup. She was flat and ugly and too light to keep her shape and so had to be strengthend. She cost £1,350 to build; was 80ft long and had 3,000 ft of canvas.   She was Champion of the Thames in 1898, 1900, 1904, and 1909. She was Champion of the Medway 1898, 1900, 1903, and 1904. She became a mooring barge in 1928 and then was damaged in Ramsgate Harbour. Piper bought her back in 1943 and hulked her - left her unused and unusable off their wharf.  Some remains of her were kept by the Piper family - and her picture turns up all over the place, I have seen it on table mats!!
Gwynronald - previously called Charles Allison. Built in 1908 and owned by Samuel West of Gravesend and used for Ballast. Her remains have been in Oare Creek since 1957
Haughty Belle. Built 1895 to the specifications of E.J.Goldsmith. She was a wooden racing barge with iron leeboards. She was eventually broken up in Cubitt's yacht basin, Royal Docks.
James Piper. Built 1894 and was a successful racing bargef. She was broken up 1950s having been a house boat at Cheyne Walk.
Leonard Piper. Built in 1910. She is a house boat at Chiswick Mall.
Maid of Connaught. Built 1899 in wood and at one time called The Monarch. She was owned by the Leigh Building Supply Co. She was hulked on Pin Mill hard in 1957
Miranda. Built 1909
Pip. Built in 1921 as a steel motor barge. Later called Pinup and in the 1950s called Pine. She was run down off Purfleet by a steamer and her crew were drowned. She was dismantled and then hulked at Greenwich.
Sportsman. Built Pipers 1901, ger remains lie in Milton Creek.
Squeak,  Had been previously called Dorcas Also called 'Hokey Pokey' because she had a painted hull. She had been based at Sandwich trader and off Woolwich petrol drums on board caught fire and the skipper was killed and she was sold to Pipers for £60 who rebuilt her as a larger vessel. She was the subject of a lawsuit because of damage in 1943 off Sheerness Gas works jetty. She was eventually dismantled in 1948 after nearly sinking in Sea Reach. Her remains lie at Funton.
Surf. Built in 1899 as a racing barge.  She was fouled by Minnehaha at Tilbury in 1900
Surge. Built in 1905 the name means Sure you are Giralda's Equal
Surrey. Built 1901.  Her remains lie at Whitewall Creek
M Piper. Built 1914. She was broken up for scrap at Bloor's Wharf in 1954

W Mary. Built 1914. Broken up Greenwich in 1937,
Wilfred. Built 1926 and called Stargate as the 'last word in modern staysail barges'. As a working barge she took Ballast and sand from Brightlingsea and became a motor barge in the 1930sl She is now a wine bar/restaurant on the Victoria Embankment and has had a variety of names.
Hughes - Hughes were a family firm based on what is now part of the Lovells site. They became Tilbury Lighterage and Dredging.
Orinoco. Built in 1895 She sank in the Thames in 1952 but was refloated and remained at work into the 1950s. She is the only Greenwich built barge still in sail - she was at Hoo Marina, don't know if she is still there.
Norton - there were a number of Norton brothers with barge yards adjacent to each other in the area of foreshore near the Ecology Centre
Serb. Repaired by Shrubsall. She was at Dunkirk having been sent there while loaded coal for drifters at Tilbury. Sge was  then towed to Ramsgate and set out for Dunkirk, but was told to go back so she was towed back to Ramsgate and laid up at Ipswich. She became a yacht owned by R.Green and was sunk off North Foreland in 1954


Sunday 14 April 2013

UK Kebab Industry

Coming to me from such an unlikely source of the Councillor's weekly mailing has been a booklet 'UK Kebab Industry.  I am entirely unsure why this has been distributed to Greenwich Councillors since most of the action seems to take place in the further flung reaches of Stoke Newington .... but still .... it would seem ungrateful not to mention it.

The booklet claims that there are perhaps 17,000 kebab shows in Britain run by Turks, Kurds, Asian and Greeks - and that they produce 2,000 tonnes of lamb doner and 700 tonnes of chicken every week.

They claim that the first kebab shop in Britain opened in 1966 in Newington Green, followed by another in Upper Street. The booklet talks a bit about the spread of kebabs round Britain and pictures the largest kebab ever weighing 2,000 kg. and ends with the social impact of the kebab and its economical impacts - and then a young entrepreneur.

Monday 8 April 2013

Steam Cars in Greenwich - final puffs

One of the last steam cars to run experimentally on Kent roads was that built by the man who  became the torpedo manufacturer,  Sir Alfred Yarrow.   Yarrow was born in Islington and trained as an engineer.  As a young man, together with a friend, James Hilditch, he experimented with a whole range of inventions. One of these was a steam car and in 1861 this was taken up and made  by T.W.Cowan of Greenwich.   Cowan was at  the Kent Iron Works earlier owned by William Joyce. Perhaps Cowan worked for or with Joyce.

Yarrow's vehicle was driven from Greenwich to Bromley once a week. This was to demonstrate the machine to possible purchasers. In Bromley the party would stop for 'some refreshment' before returning to Greenwich.

A number of stories are told about these journey's in Yarrow's biography.  People along the route were clearly disturbed by the noise of the engine. It is said that one old lady seeing it go past, ran to her window.  Seeing the flames and smoke she thought the devil was there.  It has not proved easy to discover the truth of this of this story  Many of the early road vehicles are supposed to have led to stories of how people thought  they were 'the devil' .  One good example of this is the first steam car of all - built by William Murdoch built in  1780s .  It was said that the local  Vicar who thought Murdoch's car was the devil but in Samuel Smiles's interview with the Vicar's daughter and it is quite clear that it was part of a casual, jokey,  interchange. It is hard to believe that by 1862 there could have been any old ladies left on the roads around Bromley who did not know what a steam vehicle looked like!  She probably had good reason for disliking the smoke and noise - perhaps 'the devil' is the term she was using for Yarrow and his noisy friends!

Yarrow's biographer goes on to say that on another occasion the carriage met a mounted policeman whose horse took fright and threw him, breaking his leg.   This is said to be the incident which led to the infamous 'red flag act by which all steam vehicles had to proceed at the pace of man who had to walk in front of them holding a red flag.   This would be a wonderful story and I would love to be able to say that this Act originated in Kent but  I must again admit to some doubt about this statement.   There is no obvious sign of the story in local papers - although an incident like this could be easily missed. particularly as the date isn't given. However  if the incident was so important as to change the law surely it would have been headlined!

There was a series of Acts of Parliament and amendments to do with road transport in the early 1860s and the red flag requirement (which was only sometimes in force) was part of one of them. Before each Act was passed  there was some discussion in Parliament and a couple of  Parliamentary Committees were also held.  I have not able to find in any of these mention of this incident. In their discussions Members of Parliament were more  concerned about road surfaces and the damage done to them by increasingly heavy road vehicles. They also wanted to give power to various local authorities to control where these vehicles were allowed to go and where not (perhaps the old lady had got on to her MP!).   Many Members were at pains to say that although horses might be frightened by noisy mechanical contraptions they soon got used to them and anyway sensible grooms held the horse's head as the steam vehicle went past.

In the back of Parliament's mind must also have been the dangers involved in these very young men (Yarrow was only 20 driving heavy vehicles over ordinary roads at night while fuelled with drink from the numerous 'entertainment' stops.

Yarrow went on to found the shipbuilding company for which he became famous. He  lived for a while in Blackheath, at 113 Blackheath Park, and later at Woodlands - when this article was first written it was the Greenwich Local History Library where much of the research for it was done.  It has been said that Woodlands has survived because of Yarrow's involvement with the building.

After the 1860s the use of steam vehicles on Kentish roads was very limited and the glamorous and exciting experimental runs stopped.  Development of steam road vehicles turned to heavy haulage. It was this period that Kent became famous for steam traction vehicles.  The development of firms like Aveling and Porter is outside the subject area of this article but we can all be proud to see the Kentish 'Invicta' badge today on so many preserved traction engines.   At Crockenhill I remember an exciting visit to the Foundry Garage's workshops and see engines hidden away under covers at the back - it was from Bygone Kent that I first learnt they were there. 

Steam vehicles were still made in Greenwich the twentieth century -  by Frank Hill's son.   In the 1870s Frank Hills took control of one of the most important shipbuilding yards in London - Thames Ironworks. This was based on the banks of Bow Creek in Essex.  When Frank died control of Thames Ironworks passed to his son, Arnold.   Arnold Hills would make the subject of another long article. Most of his working life was spent in Essex and elsewhere  but although he was eventually to retire to Kent. He bought Hammerfield near Penshurst and  he is buried in St.Luke's Church Chiddingstone. He was a militant vegetarian and teetotaller who bravely fought to save London shipbuilding despite almost complete paralysis.

In 1899 Thames Ironworks took over the old established Greenwich engineering firm of John Penn, based on Blackheath Hill and on the Deptford riverfront..  Marine engineering, which both Penn and Thames Ironworks  had specialised in, was beginning to fail in London. Arnold Hills looked round for other things which could be profitably made.  It is clear from the company's house journal that the newly emergent motor industry was of great interest to them and in the early part of the new century Thames Ironworks began to make vehicles.

Steam driven lorries were certainly made in Greenwich under the trade name of 'Thames'.   In particular there was a five ton wagon.   It is interesting to note that its first test run was on Frank Hills' old route from Blackheath Hill to Bromley. It did this as 5 mph using 79 gallons of water and 3 qtrs. of coke.

Thames Ironworks made a variety of  vehicles. although it not clear  if they were actually made in Greenwich or elsewhere. Steam lorries were a natural progression from the sort of things Penn's already had in production.  This was not so of the racing cars which Thames demonstrated at Brooklands Racetrack , where they also maintained workshops.  They also made a luxury car called 'Conqueror' and a smaller car called the 'Cynosure'.  The Hills family have pictures of these vehicles although  I am not aware if any preserved vehicles remain. The only relic I know of is in the Beaulieu Motor Museum. This is a coach made in June 1911 as the first of a fleet ordered by a West End distributor. It is a large and impressive vehicle - very reminiscent of what we imagine the earlier steam cars looked like. The notes provided by the Beaulieu Museum have avoided saying where it was made. 

There were no successors, The story of the end of Thames Ironworks is dramatic and sad - because it signalled the end of ship building on the Thames. Penn's closed in 1912 and with them went car manufacture in Greenwich.    There were, of course, other manufactures of motor cars and steam vehicles in Kent but this article has attempted to tell the story of the days when Shooters Hill and the road between Bromley and Greenwich were test tracks for what was hoped to be a new breed of locomotive transport.

Mary Mills

Thursday 4 April 2013

Steam cars on the road in Greenwich

One of the most coloourful and prolific builder of steam carriagfes in thius periud was Colonel Francis Maceroni.  He was of Sicilian origin although born and brought up in Manchester.  He had seen service in Italy. Wherever steam carriages were built Maceroni was to be found. It was said of him that since he had been an 'aide de camp to the King of Naples -- he still retains his love of quick motion'.    Maceroni designed a number of steam vehicles which were made at his own works in Paddington. However he very quickly fell into debt and was pursued by creditors so that he hardly enough money to continue with his carriages. On one trip to Windsor his watch had to be sacrificed to buy  coal to get back to London.  Maceroni was involved in other inventions. He was interested, for instance, in using tar for road surfaces and it is from him that the information comes about an early tarred surface used on Margate Pier and about the first tarred garden path in Blackheath. 

Maceroni's involvement in steam cars made in Greenwich is only part of a long and tangled tale.  Much of the evidence is contradictory but, whatever the truth, is shows that steam vechicles made in Greenwich were tested on Kentish roads.  This saga includes two people who already had manufacutreies in Greenwcih and who I have written about elsewhere - Joshua Beale and Frank Hills.

In 1841 Maceroni called a meeting of interested parties and a committee was set up to run what was to be called the  'Common Road Steam Conveyance Company'.  This seems to have consisted of a number of local business men - some of them publicans - although many people appear to have been involved  some  were to a very limited exent.  They eventually found out however that they would have to pick up the bills..  They employed as an engineer 'Mr. Gordon' .  Although there are several 'Mr. Gordons'  who this could have been the main candidate is  Alexander Gordon.  It is about time that he was introduced into this narrartive because he is one of the main sources for what is known about steam cars asnd will appear again. His father, David Gordon, had been one of the original pioneers in the field and Alexander wrote a book called 'Elemental Lococmotion' about his fathers work and experiences.   Although there is no record of Alexander building cars himself he was very close to most of the engine builders and during the 1830s and 1840s wrote frenquently to the trade press about developments in the field.    It is very unlikley that Alexnader Gordon had any connection with the Deptford shipbuilding company run by Adam Gordon.  Elsewhere on this blog have been some reference to Gordon's lighthouse building.

Maceroni and his associates went to Joshua Beale at his East Greenwich Engineering works for vehicles to be made and which Gordon supervised. Joshua's brother Benjamin Beale helped with the drawings and together they went to Wright's carriage works in Ray Street, Clerkenwell, and selected a carriage to which they could add the steam engine.  When the carriage was tested it was discovered that the steam blew the fire out and so alterations had to be made. This extra work was done by Beale.

There is a description of a trip on the first locomotive which Beale made. They began from the works at East Greenwich, with 23 people on board., They went to Footscray at 20 miles an hour.   On a Wednesday in 1840 another party went in Maceroni's carriage from East Greenwich through Lewisham to Bromley 'a distance of 8 miles, performing the journey in the (almost) incredible short time of 28 minutes'.  They finished by going up Blackheath Hill at 12 miles per hour 'with only one wheel clutched' 'in gallant style with a load of 17 passengers'   The next day they went up Shooters Hill at 14  mph with steam blown off at the top, having left.  This was done in the 'incredible time of 28 mins'.  On the way back they went up Blackheath Hill in gallant style and at the top of Shooters Hill with they stopped at The Bull for what they said was water. 

 Inevitably, water was not all they took at the Bull - 'the men were regaled  and eulogised the scientific engineer'.  They carried on across Blackheath and on up Shooters Hill at the speed of 14 miles and hour and so back to East Greenwich,. Everyone was delighted.

Maceroni had told the company that he would charge £800 each for the carriages but Mr. Beale's Bill to Maceroni for making it was £1,100. Thus there was a problem,. The money was not paid and Beale impounded the carriage. Maceroni found himself in dept and everything he had was seized by the bailiffs. He had no choice but to put his patent up for sale.  Following this a number of law suits took place but the hoped for steam carriage service did not run.
I have elsewhere written at length about Frank Hills who was working as a manufacturing chemist at Deptford and East Greenwich. In 1839 Frank Hills travelled on one of Walter Hancock's coaches, Automaton, on its inaugural run to Cambridge,  and 'was doubtless taking a lesson in steam carriage construction during the journey'.   When he got back he began to design a steam coach for himself.   This included 'several improvement which .. are stated to have fully realised his most sanguine expectations;.    It was said that he had managed to reduce the weight and to make a boiler 'equal to every exigency'.  He advertised that he was not going to take 'short trips on good suburban roads' but ' roads which .. with peculiar difficulties'.

In 1840 he went on various trips - to Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells .. and on the Brighton Road,  He could go up steep hills fully loaded at 12 miles and hour and on the level at 16.....  London Street Greenwich 100 yards in deep  gravel up   Further afield he went to Hastings and back .. 'a delightful trip'.  He travelled along the road we would now recognise as the A21, going through Tunbridge and Sevenoaks.   He could, he said, do the journey 'at half the expense and with double the speed of a stage coach' 

One of the difficulties in making these vehicles was the problem of connection of the driving wheels and machinery while allowing the vehicle to ruin corners. Some of the vehicles - like those designed by Hancock - were in fact three wheelers. In  1833 a Mr. Roberts of Manchester had built a road steam vehicle which he had run around Manchester. It was very successful and included a compensating gear which allowed the vehicle to turn a sharp corner with no problem.   He patented this in 1832. The idea was taken up by a number of other inventors but it was Frank Hills who patented some developments of the idea in 1843.  It has been widely suggested  however that Frank Hills' patent infringed Roberts' rights. (there were many accusations on this sort of issue in other areas directed towards Frank Hills - who died one of the richest men in England).

In his booklet on steam carriages Mr. Kidner has pointed out that there are two 'contradictory engravings' of Hills' carriages. As he says 'no single items agree.. One is a sporting looking phaeton. The other a cumbersome double brougham'    A picture, drawn by an unknown artist and in the possession of the Hills family, shows the latter in action.  Mr. Kidner goes on to quote an account in Mechanics Magazine of a factory visit undertaken in 1839 and speculates that this is to wherever Hills carriages were being built. This visitor saw two carriages there - one to seat 15 and the other 20.  It is however possible that Beale's factory in Greenwich was producing steam cars for both Maceroni and Hills in this period.

The General Steam Carriage Company was formed to exploit Frank Hills' patents - although how much this has in common with the 'Common Steam Carriage Company' mentioned above is a mater for speculation.   The new company claimed that Hills design was 'the most perfect now known in England'  The vehicle was taken out on more trips - this time on more dangerous and difficult roads.   He went to Hastings, and back, 128 miles in a day - half the time it took a stage coach.   They went 'up and down the hills about Blackheath, Bromley and neighbour..... on the Hastings Road as far as Tunbridge band back ' Hills boasted of difficult hills he went up 'Quarry Hill rises 1 in 13, River Hill - said by coachmen to be the worst hill in the county, rises 1 in 12.   Hills claimed to do them all.  He claimed that passengers COULD BE Conveyed in this way at half the cost and double the speed of stage coaches.

Alexander Gordon said that this was not all strictly true. He said that there had been collisions on bad roads . Frank Hills protested that the only problem was with taking in muddy water .  Gordon went on to point out that if these vehicles were to undertake regular and reliable services then they needed to demonstrate that they could do it. Why they publicise, he asked, when ever they' 'ascended a hill' or went over a 'newly gravelled road' or met with one of the 'collisions so natural on common roads'. This might have perhaps been remarkable when Samuel Brown  went up over Shooters Hill but 15 years later in 1840 vehicles should be able to cope.   If Mr. Beale and Mr. Hills had these wonderful cars - then, asked Alexander Gordon, were they not running regular services in them?  

Frank Hills replied that he had met with no problems or 'derangement's' on his trips around Kent - well only once, there had been some problem with muddy water, but that had only stopped them a few times  ... missing Alexander Gordon's point, that he had been up all the hills in Seveoaks and Tunbridge Wells with no problems at all.     Beale also protested at what Alexander Gordon had said - he had been that day to Footscray at 20 miles and hour and in London Street, Greenwich they had been over a hundred yards in 'deep loose gravel.,. all up hill'  It is difficult to imagine this because London Street, Greenwich' - today's Greenwich High road is completely flat. Were there hills on it a hundred and fifty years ago?
this article originally appeared in By Gone Kent
Mary Mills

Tuesday 2 April 2013



An earlier article looked at some early experimental road vehicles run in the Greenwich area in the 1820s. Future articles will look at manufacturers - particularly Joshua Beale and Frank Hills - and some more experiments.   In the early 1830s there were attempts to run omnibus services in several parts of the country - some long distance on the long haul coach routes to places like Bath, and some shorter suburban services. Greenwich was a popular destination for these - both as a stop on the Dover Road and as a town near enough London to almost count as a suburb.  Greenwich was also was handily near the premises of several engine builders and had a number engineering works in the town itself.,

One of the most successful  builders whose carriages made long regular runs was Goldsworthy Gurney. He seems to have had no connection with Kent but some of his carriages were adapted for a proposed run to Greenwich.  He had built a carriage in 1826 which was about 20 feet long and would take six inside passengers and fifteen outside. It will be seen that these were on the same principle as a stage coach and designed for carrying passengers on service routes - not as individual private transport.

Gurney's carriages were being used in the Gloucestershire area by Sir Charles Dance.  The service encountered a great deal of opposition from both stage coach proprietors and the Turnpike Trusts.  A Parliamentary Committee examined the subject of steam carriage services and found in favour, but a Steam Carriage Bill could not be got through the House of Lords.   It must, however, have seened likely that suburban services were a better possibility.

In 1831 Dance went to the engineering firm of Maudslay, Sons and Field, then based at Waterloo - they  later moved a site on  Greenwich Marsh where they built ships. Dance asked Maudslay to  make Gurney's  carriage more powerful and this was done.   During the autumn of  1833 this rebuilt vehicle made a number of test runs from Maudslay's works in  Waterloo. With a party of fifteen observers on board they went to places like  Merstham on the Brighton Road and visited Beulah Spa and some other  spas in the Sydenham area .

In October 1833 Dance's new carriage ran for a fortnight between Waterloo Bridge and Greenwich.  It was always said that it  was not intended that this should be a proper public transport service so ordinary people were deterred from using it by the price of tickets - 'half a crown for tickets each way'.    That was the end of  this brief omnibus service which did not continue and there seems to be no record of what happened to the carriage.  The service must have failed for reasons which were not made public.

A year or so later another omnibus service ran between London to Greenwich using coaches built by John Scott Russell.  Russell was Scottish and these carriages had been designed and built by him  in  Edinburgh. They had been used for a service between Glasgow and Paisley but in the summer of 1834 one of the carriages had overturned.  It was later said that this was because the turnpike trustees in Glasgow had put extra thick layers of stone on the road to stop his carriages running. As a result five passengers were killed and the Scottish Courts forbade him to run the carriages again in Scotland.   So, unable to use them in Scotland,  Russell sent two of  the carriages by ship to London for use in  trips to Greenwich.

For this service on these, rather compromised, carriages the fares were kept cheap. The vehicles had to haul a tender full of coke along the road behind them and pick up water at places along the way as they went.  Scott Russell himself came to London to live in 1838. He was to become an important ship builder - he designed the Great Eastern - and he eventually  lived in Sydenham.  It does not seem to have persisted with the omnibus service to Greenwich and after an attempt to sell the carriages no more was heard of them.

There were probably several inventors trying to design steam road carriages. In 1834 Francis Maceroni - more of him later - gave a list of  steam carriage builders whose vehicles ' would not move at all'.  This is just a list of names without details and many have not yet been traced.  One who may have a Greenwich connection was  'Mr. Joyce' . William Joyce owned an engineering company at the Kent Ironworks in Greenwich where he designed and made a successful steam engine. Kent Ironworks was situated on the first site on the right after crossing today's Creek Bridge from Deptford.  Joyce probably started in work in Greenwich in 1841 when he acquired part of an old gas works site but whether he is the Mr. Joyce mentioned by Maceroni and whether this abortive steam car was made in Greenwich is not known.  Kent Ironworks would later produce a more successful steam road vehicle as we will see.

The most successful of the steam carriage builders of the 1830s was Walter Hancock who designed and made vehicles in Stratford, east London.  Hancock was one of a most interesting family - his brother, Thomas, has been called  'the foremost rubber technologist in England' and was a partner of the, better known, Mr. Charles Mackintosh.  Another brother, Charles, was responsible for the first use of gutta percha which was to revolutionise Thameside cable manufacture.  Walter Hancock was happy to advertise his brother's products by his 'flexible tubing' to suck up water for his steam road vehicles

Walter Hancock was the only one of the early road vehicle inventors who designed a locomotive which could go through crowded London streets on busy days.  Some of his coaches were run in an omnibus service to Greenwich - but accounts of what happened are often confusing and contradictory.

Hancock's coaches all had  identifying names - one was even called 'Autopsy'.  A coach called 'Era' is shown in illustrations, dating from 1832, and advertising a service between London and Greenwich.   Era was built by Hancock for a body called the London and  Greenwich Steam Carriage Company.  It appears that  separate companies had been set up to run omnibus routes - one of them, for instance, was the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company. These companies, ostensibly different, all seem to have had most of the same people behind them.  The London and Greenwich Steam Carriage was not a Greenwich based company but a body set up in London which wanted to run an omnibus service to Greenwich. 

The engineer of the London and Greenwich Steam Carriage company was D. Redmund, was based in City Road, Islington and there are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened. Redmund  is said to have ordered a different bus - called Enterprise - for Greenwich from Hancock.  When Enterprise  arrived Redmund took it to pieces and noted down all the dimensions. He then began to build another bus himself -  called Alpha - which was an almost  complete copy of Enterprise.   The vehicle ran some test runs but never seems to have gone into service. 

 'Era' is not mentioned in the account of 'Enterprise' but  Hancock himself said he had made 'Era' for work in Greenwich. It may be that  the problems which Hancock had with David Redmund meant that the vehicle never actually ran a service. 'Era'anbH carried sixteen people sitting inside and two outside. In addition there was crew of three - the driver, an engineer and a lad.  There were two engines  for the engineer to manage.  The 'lad' stoked the boiler with 'common gas coke ' - that is coke bought from the gas works. 

Potential passengers, worried about a boiler explosion, were assured that ' the only parts of the boiler which can be dreaded are the sides - but good ties will keep them together'   and, as for the rest of the boiler 'its power of doing mischief is not worth notice'.

The drawing of 'Era' shows a comfortable looking vehicle with a driver at the front and the engine completely shielded from the passengers. There is a grand crest on the side of the coach which perhaps meant to imply some sort of aristocratic patronage. 

Hancock made a number of very successful steam omnibuses some which on service routes for some time. However he seems to have made little money and gave up work in the late 1830s.  It is to be hoped that 'Era' did see some service on the road to Greenwich but it is more likely that she never got beyond the stage of running trials.  In 1832 the line which was to become the London and Greenwich Railway had already been surveyed and, when complete, may well have provided competition which Era could not have met.

By the end of the 1830s steam road transport was a reality. Kentish roads had already seen some experimental vehicles and attempts to run public services.  The first years of the next decade would see attempts to make vehicles in Greenwich and witness their first trials around Kent.

This article has been compiled from a variety of sources, in particular local newspapers and the trade press of the day.   There is a considerable literature about steam road carriages, I have drawn particularly on William Fletcher's Steam on Common Roads.  (1891)  Walter Hancock wrote his own biography but all accounts conflict on details of events. 

Mary Mills