Friday 29 August 2014

The Chemical Laboratories in the Royal Arsenal

The following is a scan of the synopsis of a series of papers from a Conference held in 2002 between the Royal Society of Chemistry and the (now defunct) Gunpowder and Explosives History Group.   The synopsis below are those given which are relevant to Woolwich - although the first paper, by Wayne Cocroft describes work at the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills, but includes some information on the role of the  Royal Arsenal.

It should be noted - for those who visit Woolwich - that one of the pavilions of the Royal Chemical Laboratories has now been repaired and done up - it would be interesting to know exactly how this has been done, what relevance remains to its earlier role, what is to happen to it now, what will it be used for, and will there be any interpretation of its earlier importance - and who will write that???    Information would be wonderful  - it has been claimed that they are the earliest purpose built industrial buildings remaining in Britain.

Everyone is urged to visit the very excellent gunpowder mills exhibition site at Waltham Abbey and to learn more about this important national industry and have a great day out.

 I am publishing these here in order to further local, Borough of Greenwich, knowledge about the importance of work at the Arsenal and that it was not only a place where guns were made.  If these synopses are seen as someone's copyright please email and they will be removed.

Sir Frederick Abel (1827-1902)
The autumn meeting of the Historical Group was held at Waltham Abbey, Royal Gunpowder Mills on Friday 8 November 2002 to commemorate the centenary of the death of Sir Frederick Abel. The meeting started with the first Wheeler Lecture by Professor Sy Mauskopf (Duke University) on Long Delayed Dream: Sir Frederick Abel and the Development of Cordite. This is reproduced in full in Occasional Paper No 3 produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Chemical Archaeology of Explosives
Wayne Cocroft from English Heritage talked on the history of the Royal Gunpowder Mill and the surviving buildings and artefacts. He explained that archaeologically it is a complex site with buildings from many phases. Apart from redevelopment and adaption to changing requirements others were lost from explosions. The first production of gunpowder probably dates to about 1665. The site is well documented from 1787 when the government took over the site. Major William Congreve was the Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory and was largely responsible for the success of this government enterprise. He greatly improved the quality and reliability of the black powder produced by rigorous control of the consistency and purity of the ingredients. Many innovations in production methods were introduced; ideas which then filtered down to the private gunpowder industry. The gunpowder mills were worked by waterwheels until 1857 when steam powdered incorporation mills were introduced...
Guncotton was first prepared in about 1846. In 1863 Frederick Abel developed a process for its production using cotton waste that was used at Waltham Abbey. Later nitro-glycerine was developed which, when combined with guncotton and a mineral jelly, were blended to form the propellant cordite; patented by Abel in 1889. Some buildings involved in these processes survive although the nitrating plant was demolished in the 1990s. After an explosion in 1894 a new nitro-glycerine plant was built. By the early 20th century a third of the cordite produced in this country was made at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. Later most of this production moved to Gretna. Cordite needs a solvent in its production. During the First World War supplies of acetone were lost so Woolwich developed cordite production using ether. Later Chaim Weizmann developed a fermentation method for the production of acetone at Holton Heath. The Quinan stove built in 1935 for drying guncotton used an innovative form of concrete construction.
The Royal Gunpowder Mills were also involved in the production of other explosives; tetryl (N-mthyl-N, 2, 4, 6-tetranitroaniline) from 1910, picrite (Nitroguanidine) in the 1920s and RDX (cyclonite, hexahydro-1, 3, 5-trinitro- 1, 3, 5-triazine) in the 1930s. RDX was used in the bouncing bomb of the Dam buster’s raid. Gunpowder production at Waltham Abbey finally ceased in 1940-41 and the whole factory closed in 1945. The site then became a Research and Development Establishment, finally closing in 1991. The site was opened to the public in 2001.
Sir Charles Frederick (1709-1785), FRS FSA, Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, 1746-1782
Sir Charles Frederick became Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich and Surveyor General to the Board of Ordnance in the mid- eighteenth century, at a time when gunpowder making was still a craft industry, and the government was reliant on private contractors. In the  theoretical vacuum that then existed he had to undertake a process of self-  education, serving what may be described as an apprenticeship with the  learned societies of London, and presenting a dramatic 'masterpiece' in the  form of the great firework display of 1749 in celebration of peace and  victory, before becoming an acknowledged master of his subject. Portraits of Sir Charles illustrate these three stages of his career. Plans and paintings of the Royal Laboratory also shown in the presentation of this paper raise questions about the work undertaken there. This is especially the case with  the production line of workmen filling round shot of varying diameter with  powder, and sealing the shell with a plug that was presumably to be replaced  by a fuse before firing. Proof testing was also carried out here, but this was notoriously unreliable and it seems likely that the standardization of formula and of grain size was used as a way of setting the minimum qualities required. The central pavilions of the old Royal Laboratory still survive at Woolwich, but these once fine buildings of the late seventeenth century have fallen into a sad state of dereliction.
When Sir Charles retired in the early 1780s he had nudged the industry towards the more consciously scientific approach of the last decades of the eighteenth century, through his close attention to the processes of manufacture and his encouragement of experimentation. But today he is not so much underrated as unknown, perhaps because the end of his career was marked by the political difficulties associated with the loss of the American colonies and the criticisms then being voiced of the powerful and independent Board of Ordnance, and because his successors were able to benefit from insights not available to him. Historians too have not served him well, being generally more interested in weapons and campaigns than in the critical matter of the supply of gunpowder. Sir Charles's contemporaries  however had no doubts about its significance, for as a distinguished military  man at the Board of Ordnance wrote to him in 1757, with campaigns  'underway in Europe, North America, India and at sea, 'all...Hope of  Success .. Is gone for nothing without this material'.
It is to Sir Charles's credit and a matter of historical record rather than triumphalism, that in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, despite difficulties of supply and a lack of understanding of the problems of internal ballistics, gunpowder was produced in Britain on a scale and of a quality that enabled the country to emerge on the world stage as a naval, colonial, and trading power.
Brenda J. Buchanan (Chairman Gunpowder and Explosives History Group)
Oswald Silberrad, superintendent of research, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, 1901-1906
The paper resulted from the speaker's work at the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, Bath, on the archive of this little-known industrial consulting chemist and the research laboratory that he founded. The paper highlighted some of Silberrad's important contributions to munitions research at the Royal Arsenal while he was still in his early twenties. An experimenter of rare ability, Silberrad discovered a new means of detonating high explosive shells by using a substance known as 'tetryl'.  He also demonstrated that TNT worked well as a high explosive shell filling, possessing advantages over the lyddite then in use, and successfully developed and tested a 'flameless' artillery propellant for small calibre guns.  The archive contains part of Silberrad's unpublished memoirs, which document this period of his career, in particular his difficult relations with the War Office which resulted in his resignation as Superintendent of  Research. The paper sought to show the value of an archival cataloguing project such as this in 'rescuing' a scientist and his work from relative obscurity. The Silberrad Papers are held by the Science Museum- Library".
Simon Coleman  National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (University of Bath)
The Chemical Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich
Wesley Harry, historian of the Royal Arsenal Woolwich, talked about the Chemical Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich. Sometime after 1665 the proof of ordnance moved from Moorfields to Woolwich. By 1695 many new buildings had been erected including a laboratory originally attached to the Tilt Yard at Greenwich. Various aspects of the manufacture and testing of ordnance were concentrated onto the Woolwich site in the 18th century. Frederick Abel was a professor of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy and was appointed in 1854 Ordnance Chemist at the Royal Laboratories at Woolwich. Another notable name there was James Marsh who developed the Marsh test for arsenic. The chemical laboratories built in 1864 were the first custom built chemical laboratory at the Arsenal.  The room on the west side was the full height of the two storey building. It was designed like this to disperse fumes and gases produced at the benches.  From the gallery, off which were the offices, Frederick Abel would lower a wicker basket containing samples and instructions to the Assistant Chemist.  The east wing contained a photographic department and library. In addition to the ordnance work the laboratory was also concerned with forensic science.

Friday 22 August 2014

IKEA and a Greenwich built engine

The Newsletter of the Association for Industrial Archaeology for  Autumn 2014 has arrived - and in it are two items of relevance to Greenwich.

One of them is an appeal for information about a steam engine which is being restored.  The article doesn't mention Greenwich but it is here that the engine was built - well aware, I suppose, of the fathomnless depths of the Boroughs ignorance of the technological achievements of its past. 

This is about the Museum of Western Australia who restoring an engine from the SS Xantho originally installed in a Crimean War era gunboat.   They are trying to produce a virtual copy of this engine which they say is of 'considerable significance in the history of manufacturing technology' and that it is the 'only example of a John Penn and Sons trunk engine which was the most common type of Royal Navy warship engines 1870-75'.

They are asking for some help with details of construction.  I am including this because the factory was here, on Blackheath Hill, and because anywhere else in the world you would expect some local knowledge about it - but sadly, while they care about  these things in Western Australia, we clearly don't.

If anyone thinks they can help, please let us know and we can forward it to the correct person.

IKEA - AND SAINSBURYS.  The newsletter contains a detailed article about the possible demise of the 'tellytubby' Sainsburys.   This is largely about the attempt to get it listed - and points out that claims that it would be the first listed purpose built supermarket are not strictly true since the whole of Milton Keynes shopping centre is listed.  However it points out that the supermarket is said to 'represent a paradigm shift in public building'.  It uses half the energy of a conventional supermarket and is surrounded by earth banks and the toilets are flushed with rain water filtered by a reed bed in the adjacent nature reserve. 
It was shortlisted for the Stirling prize in 2000 and won a RIBA sustainability award. The author points out that it won first place - with 5,000 voters - in the People's Choice section of the Stirling Prize but that 'this popular vote may count against the building - popular taste does not find favour in high minded architectural circles'. 

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Old Loyal Britons - request for listing

Local Greenwich readers may be aware of a planning application to demolish The Old Loyal Briton's Pub in Thames Street.  We have been given permission to reproduce a submission by The Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group to the Council for its inclusion in the Council's Local List of buildings of interest.   This submission includes interesting historical research on the pub and its setting.


The Old Loyal Britons, 62 Thames Street, Greenwich, SE10

The following represents a joint request from the Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group to the Royal Borough of Greenwich that the above premises - in their present form - be considered for inclusion in the Council’s List of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest.


The Group became aware of the intention, should planning permission be granted, to demolish the present building on the site through the notification by letter, site notice and public notice (in the 5 August 2014 edition of Royal Greenwich Time) of application 14/1636/F. This as part of a proposal by Buzzgrade Ltd to build in its place a 6 storey block over a basement level providing A3 (Restaurant) use and/or A4 (Pub/Bar) use at ground floor and basement levels with 9 flats in the five floors above.The Group appreciates that, in the past, applications have been submitted and approved for extension works to the present building on the site - namely application 03/2594/F (approved June 2005) and a renewal application 10/0027/F (approved February 2010/now lapsed) - but, since both these applications retained and built on the existing structure, it was not thought relevant, at the time, to make a case for local listing.With the threat of demolition, this is no longer the case.


The present building sits at the western end of Thames Street close to its junction with Horseferry Place (formerly Horseferry Road). The site is in the West Greenwich Conservation Area and is in close proximity to the western boundary of the Buffer Zone of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and can be seen from the World Heritage Site itself in the long view from the Greenwich Church Street approach to Cutty Sark Gardens


Thames Street lies at the heart of what was, in Victorian times, an intensively developed riverine area bounded to the north by the River Thames, to the south by Bridge Street (now Creek Road), to the west by Norway Street and, to the east, by Church Street (now Greenwich Church Street) and the former Billingsgate Street, the line of which presently forms the western boundary to Cutty Sark Gardens.
The area was home to wharves and jetties on the river frontage and, in the immediate hinterland, there was a wide range of industrial uses such as a coal merchants, a hay and straw yard, a brewery, the base for the town’s fishing fleet and, in a myriad of closely packed streets, the homes of families associated with these industries - not least that of the fishing fleet.
Public houses featured prominently with some 10 in the back streets and a further half a dozen or so in the main thoroughfares of Bridge Street and Church Street - a list of those known to exist in mid-Victorian times is below. 
In the mid 20th century the area was cleared to allow for the construction of the Meridian Estate, a series of municipal housing blocks, starting in the east, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and to the west, after the cessation of hostilities when building restrictions were lifted. Some of the blocks were given the names of streets which originally filled the area - for example Coltman House and Rockfield House,

At present only three of the mid-Victorian buildings remain.  These are -
the former St Peter’s Church and Schools (now


St Alfege with St Peter’s Primary School)

the former Thames public house (previously Rose & Crown) in Norway Street 

and the building which is the subject of this request

Further images can be found of this building and the surrounding Meridian Estate blocks on page 117 of the West Greenwich Conservation Area Appraisal document.


62 Thames Street is, above ground, a two storey building filling on plan virtually the whole of the 0.02 hectare plot with a frontage occupying, save for a side access area, the full width of the site while, deeper into the site, the massing steps back to provide a reduced width rear extension, also of two storeys.
As viewed from the street, the south facade of the building consists of 2 no. ground floor storey height semi-circular headed openings behind which is a traditional pub frontage screen consisting of timber framed windows and doors. At first floor level, there are 2 no. six over six pattern vertical sliding timber sash windows. The facade terminates in a shallow arched parapet masking a series of flat roofs behind. Between the ground and first floor levels is a traditional painted timber fascia with lettering indicating the current pub use.
The original stock brick facings at both levels have, at some time in the past, been either over-painted or rendered. The ground floor front facade is faced in render. The side elevations have no especially distinguishing features but are typical of mid to late- Victorian construction.
The interior has been much altered so that, at the front of the building, many spaces which would have been separate rooms have, over time, been opened up to create larger spaces better suited to the building’s more recent uses.
The external and internal fabric is in a reasonable state of repair.
There are suggestions that the tall arched openings on the front facade relate back to a time when the building was used as a home for one of the town’s early fire stations, perhaps as an appliance house. Since research into this suggestion is ongoing, certainty in this regard cannot be established.
What can be established is that beer retailing operations existed on the site as far back as at  least the early 1850s and the building operated as licensed premises up until the early 1990s.
Since that time the building was used variously as a restaurant and as a short-lived Chinese takeaway and gambling den. From October 2013, the premises have been trading as The Old Loyal Britons as a base for the East Wickham Brewery where it continues to trade - on a relatively short lease - brewing and serving cask ales, serving meals using locally sourced produce and offering a wide range of community activities.

Historical Associations    

It is said that the pub was given, for a time, the temporary name of The Lone Sailor in recognition of Francis Chichester who, in 1966, in his yacht Gypsy Moth IV single-handedly circumnavigated the globe. In 1967 Chichester was knighted in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College for his exploits and, subsequently, Gypsy Moth IV was berthed, until 2003, close to the site of the pub at the extreme western end of Cutty Sark Gardens adjacent to the Thames Path.

Planning Policy

Core Strategy policy EA(b) Pubs - supporting paragraph 4.2.30 to this policy acknowledges that “The architecture of a pub is often distinctive and over time these buildings have become important local landmarks and heritage assets”. It goes on to say that “Many of the buildings are statutorily or locally-listed for their architectural and historic value”.
Regrettably, The Old Loyal Britons public house has, to date, not been recognised as such.
Hence this request for consideration of a local listing.    


In the light of the foregoing and in the knowledge that the future of the building is the subject of a live application which proposes its demolition, the Greenwich Conservation Group requests that urgent consideration be given to the inclusion of the Old Loyal Britons public house at 62 Thames Street on the Council’s List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest. While recognising that the building is modest in scale and appearance, it is a vernacular building typical of its period and it is a remnant of the many domestic buildings which would have occupied the area. It does not deserve to be lost and a local listing would go some way to offering a degree of protection. 

Prepared by Philip Binns on behalf of the Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group - 18 August 2014

List of pubs in the immediate area of The Old Loyal Britons in mid-Victorian times

Bee Hive - 22 Bridge Street
British Queen - 67 Church Street
Dover Castle - 53 Church Street
Fubbs Yacht - 9 Brewhouse Lane * 
Lord Hood - Bridge Street
Loyal Briton - 18 Horseferry Road (now Place) * date at least 1861 (
Masons Arms - 57 Church Street
Old Loyal Briton - 62 Thames Street * date at least 1852 (Masons Greenwich Street Directory)
Retreat - 1 Horseferry Road *
Ship & Sailor - 71 Church Street
Steam Ferry - 45 Horseferry Road *
Sugar Loaf - 6 Billingsgate Street *
Sun - 17 Wood Wharf *
Thames (formerly Rose & Crown) - Norway Street/Thames Street *
Unicorn - Horseferry Road *
Victoria - 51 Thames Street *

* - denotes pubs within the riverine area

Monday 18 August 2014

Tory Prime Minister opens Greenwich Housing Estate

Prentiss Court is now an estate of Council owned housing standing at the bottom of Charlton Lane, just south of the level crossing.  It was originally company housing built for the employees of Harveys, metal fabrication company, based in the Woolwich Road. 
Here is the report of its opening taken from Harvey's Company magazine December 1952

ON Friday 3rd October, Prentiss Court, an extension to our Harvey Gardens Housing Estate, was opened by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, The Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan, M.P.
Mr. H. T. Eatwell, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, opened the proceedings by welcoming the guests, and mentioning the Company's appreciation of the fact that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had come to perform the opening ceremony.
“It has long been the policy of our Chairman, Mr. Sydney Harvey, and the Directors," said Mr. Eat well, "to take a practical interest in the well-being of our employees. We already have some hundreds of houses and this extension provides for another 32 employees and their families. This is an example of what private enterprise can do. It is, of course, paid for in full by the Company.
The project has only been made possible by the help and co-operation of the Minister's Department, the Local Authority, the Architects, the Surveyors, and the Contractors and their workers, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them and congratulate them on the results of their united efforts. One of the most notable facts about this estate is that by the efficiency and enterprise of the Con- tractors and the willing production of the workers, these dwellings have been completed at an average rate of one every ten days.
You will all like to know why this Estate has been called Prentiss Court. During the war, Dr. Howard Prentiss came to us after a distinguished career, as our first Medical Officer. Not only did he give magnificent medical attention to our employees, but by his cheerful example and Christian charity, became a firm friend and mentor to us all. I am sorry to say that after a brief retirement, Dr. Prentiss passed on in 1951. All who knew him feel that these fine fiats and houses are a fitting memorial to such a wise counsellor and good friend."
 In concluding, Mr. Eatwell mentioned that in the piping days of peace and plenty it was the custom to present a gold key to the person officiating at a ceremony such as this. It was felt, however, that as the main material used in our Works is steel, it is fitting that this key is also made of Good British Steel. The Minister was then asked to accept the key for the purpose of opening Prentiss Court.
In his reply the Minister said-" This is a very unique occasion and one which it is a great honour to me to be asked to attend. It is unique because it represents a very special effort over a long period of years by the great and well-known firm who have built these flats and houses. G. A. Harvey are known the world over. They represent all the best of the old and the new; they are an old family business still conducted' by the family of the founder and they have all the new modern outlook that we connect with the most go ahead methods. Perhaps I may be allowed to share a little in the sense of honour that is done to a family business, because I have myself the honour of being the third generation of my own family business, founded by my grandfather and now carried on by my son. There is, I think, something that the special relationships of family business still have to give in the daily life of industry; they have a sense of comradeship and partners together in a great enterprise, and certainly Harvey's have shown that, not only now but for many years.
As you said, Mr Chairman, this new effort is only an extension of a long tradition of the Company of providing homes - for their employees, in addition to the several hundred homes which you have already provided his makes a new departure and a new effort.
I was interested to hear of the long traditions surrounding this site. I had been an ecclesiastical property, passed to a railway and then became a pumping station, but anyway it is, now revived and restored to a very fine purpose, and I do not think you can find anywhere anything more beautifully designed or better adapted than these buildings which we are to open today.
I am very glad that you have introduced the variation. I open a great number of flats, a certain number of houses, but I always like to have a mixture of houses, maisonettes and flats which breaks the rather tedious character when you get too much the same, and 1 am sure in our modern planning the more variation we can get the better it is. Here on this fine site you have provided in the most modern wav a very remarkable series of dwellings.
These 32 dwellings are the last addition to what you have already done. I am sure that everybody concerned, Mr. Chairman, shares in the thanks and gratitude which we owe to your great Company, and I am sure everybody concerned feels that it is this kind of development, closely associated with industry, which has a great part to play in the housing drive. Everyone has a part to play. There is a great work to be done. Much has to be done and perhaps the greater part must for a long time fall on the direct efforts of the local authority, but much has to be done also by private effort and private enterprise. There is in my view no conflict between these two conceptions. Hand in hand, each has a part to play in the fulfilment of this housing drive, with which we must press forward so long as we have the power and solvency to do it. In so doing we make by far the greatest contribution to the people as a whole.
There are many things we would like to have in our lives and many pleasures and benefits we hope to obtain. I think the home is always the first and most vital of all things. It is the very basis of life itself in any State; it is the basis of the family, just as the family itself is the basis of the nation, and it is by this joint effort by the local authority, by go ahead firms, by private enterprise, by individual effort by individual people that we shall in due course get on top of this great problem.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chairman, it is my privilege to take this key with which to open the dwelling which is to be the symbolic opening to-day, and to join with you and pray that all who live now and in the future in these 32 dwellings may have happy and useful lives; that all who live there may be happy themselves and spread happiness among all with whom they work, and may God's blessings rest upon Prentiss Court and upon all those who dwell therein."
After the Minister's speech Mr. Eatwell called upon the Vicar of the Parish, within which the Estate lays, The Reverend G. E. Saville, to offer a prayer.
The Mayor of Greenwich (Councillor Harry Ingle, J .P.), with whom was the Mayoress, expressed his pleasure at being associated with a scheme aimed at improving the housing schemes of the borough. The difficulty to-day was that there were too many housing applicants chasing too few dwellings, and a second difficulty was that the' council had to see that its energies were devoted to providing accommodation for those in urgent need, sometimes to the exclusion of those who by reason of their employment desired to live in close proximity to their work, and for that reason the council appreciated the efforts of Messrs. Harvey.
Following the opening of the front door or Flat No. 16, the Guests inspected the flat and made a tour of the rest of the Estate, paying particular attention to the Communal Laundry where a demonstrator was able to point out the facilities available.
The whole party then adjourned to the Works for tea.
Among the guests were: Mrs. Howard Prentiss ; Miss Marguerite Harvey; Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Charlton, Director of Housing-The Ministry of Housing and Local Government; Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Jennings, Borough Engineer and Surveyor for Greenwich; Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Dore, Housing Manager-Borough of Greenwich; Col. and Mrs. S. M. Roberts, Chairman, "Local Housing Association"; Chief Supt. H. N. Arber and Mrs. Arber, Chief Supt., "R" Division, Metropolitan Police; Mr. H. W. H. Icough, Leader of Greenwich Borough Council; Mr. and Mrs. Peter J ones; Mrs. Bushell ; Mr. H. B. Fergusson, Senior Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Harvey, Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. H. E. Cooper, Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Howes, Architect; Mr. and Mrs. F. L. Jackman, Architect; Mr. W. T. Watson, London Manager-Sir Robert Me Alpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr. and Mrs. Stewart W. Cox, Chief Engineer-Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr. and Mrs. W. Pitcher, Engineer Agent- Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr.A. E. J ones, Site Foreman-Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd. Miss Morley and Mr. Garland, representing the Staff ; Mr. Robbins, representing the Foremen; and Mr. Heale and Mr. Stevens, Chairman and Secretary (respectively) of the Shop Stewards.

Friday 15 August 2014

Lovells Path

Lovells Path
by Fred Mason
This may be of interest to residents who live near to Lovells Wharf.
Along the new river path there is a small inlet opposite a new reconstructed stone wall.There is a plaque telling us that this is part of a wall left over from Stone Wharf? Perhaps I can spread some light on this inlet. It is in fact the top of a large ramp, 130 ft wide. To see it in its present state no one could guess what it was in the past. As a boy in 1948/50 I had helped my father do some repairs to a boat he owned on this ramp. You could bring a boat up to the river path at the top of Cadet Place that had previously been called Paddock Street. I remember at the time my father telling me that this ramp was a public ramp. My father and is father were sailing barge skippers for Pipers, a yard close by so he would have had local knowledge. Being close to Ballast Quay I should think fisherman from Ballast Quay and Peter boats etc would have used this ramp being so close by.
In the state is now it is just a mess. It has been steel piled, had concrete added more than once prior to the Woolwich Barrier being built, for flood protection, and had been dumped on by various contractors. The big stone ramp that went from high water mark, down to the low water mark at a constant angle has been dredged up to allow ships to get onto their berth at Wimpeys Wharf. The wharf is not there now and it was adjacent down the river. The ramp could best be seen from Lovells path at low water.
Putting two and two together, I don't think think this ramp was for locals to mend boats as it was big and cost a lot of money. The ramp lined up with Cadet Place and the remains of an old stone wall, which on a map dated 1695 tells us here was a Magazine (this is a naval term for a room on a ship to hold gunpowder). I think this ramp must have been built to facilitate the building of this magazine. A great deal of materials would have been needed. As on a map it is quite large going from the river down to Banning Street and from Cadet Place to the end of what is now Babcocks.
Peeping out from the eastern end of Babcocks corrugated iron fence is a stone pier, about 5ft high, the path you are standing on has been built up 4/5 ft, so the pier would have originally been 9/10 ft high. Is this the eastern end of the magazine compound? If you want to see it, be quick, as it won't be there long.

Fred  - you know I disagree with you about the site of the Government Magazine - because 1). the site of the magazine was owned by the Government and these other riverside sites were (and are) all owned by Morden College  and 2) because plans of the Magazine show it alongside Tudor Bendish Sluice which could still be seen emerging out of the Enderby site underneath the steps into the river alongside the Enderby jetty - it has just been extinguished and removed by the current builders on the Enderby site (one of the last remains of Tudor Greenwich). 3) neither the plans of the Magazine nor the one picture of it, nor the records of it, mention a ramp.

I think what you say about the ramp is very interesting. And I am writing this from memory so I may be wrong. If you look at the 1880 Ordnance Survey map you will see that a site near where you mention between Pipers Wharf and Granite Wharf is marked as the 'District Board of Works' - the local authority before Greenwich Council was invented.  Marked on it and heading towards the river is a ramp - in fact if you go into the same yard now you can see the remains of this ramp inland.  My guess - and this is a guess - that the District Board of Works built the ramp for the dust carts so that they could take them to the river and tip the rubbish into barges to be taken off down river. Later they moved this whole operation down river to Tunnel Avenue Depot - and you can see the big new E shaped jetty still there near where the Amylum silos used to be.    So your Dad could have been right - if it was owned by the Council it was a 'public' ramp.

Hope you don't mind me saying all this