Tuesday 31 March 2015

St Mary's Flats and the - er - Autostacker

following is a scan and transcript of a booklet produced by Woolwich Council in 1961 about their new flats and new parking system  - and, look, this is a scheme produced by a supremely confident Labour Metropolitan Borough. Woolwich had done this development themselves - in other boroughs it would have been undertaken by the London County Council - but Woolwich had special consent to do it themselves.  We all know now about the wretched Autostacker - but that shouldn't be a reason to denigrate the St.Mary's scheme as a whole. We forget that this was a clearance scheme of a terrible terrible slum area - designed to propel Woolwich into the modern world.  They were using the latest and most fashionable architects - and the flats were noted by Pevsner - and they were doing it all inhouse.

Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich
Visit of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret and Mr. Antony Armstrong-Jones
On the Occasion of the Completion of The St.Mary's Tower Flats -  The Coffee House and Lounge at St. Mary's Church - The Council's Multi-Storey Garage
Thursday, 11th May, 1961

WOOLWICH is the second largest in area of the Metropolitan Boroughs and holds a unique position as far as housing is concerned. Apart from the London County Council it is, and always has been, the foremost housing authority in London. As an out- skirting south-eastern London Borough however, suffering severe war damage, it still has a serious housing problem.

Woolwich has always believed in the construction of well-appointed housing estates with suitable amenities in the way of wide roads, open spaces and community centres. Until the last few years the Woolwich Council has always avoided the construction of tall blocks of fiats on its estates, but the scarcity of land has necessitated their erection and these tower flats have been built accordingly.
The St. Mary's Area of the Borough has been the subject of a large comprehensive scheme of redevelopment during the last five years. Before the last war the area comprised small un- desirable dwellings, narrow, badly arranged streets and few, if any amenities. Suffering from heavy bombing as a result of its proximity to the Royal Arsenal, the area became semi-derelict and an eyesore.  The area is now being transformed by the Woolwich Council into a pleasant, well laid-out neighbourhood with open spaces, shopping centres and other amenities. The new buildings have been appreciated greatly by the former residents of the area and these new tower fiats, with a commanding view over the River Thames, are a further stage in the scheme. The area is one of eight areas in London included in the development plan, and the only one which is being carried out by a Metropolitan Borough Council. As approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the area comprised approximately 62 areas in which were over 1,200 families in some 1,100 dwellings, the majority of which were old and in need of replacement.

Rehousing of families from some of the most unfit dwellings commenced in January, 1952, and up to the present, 718 families have been rehoused from the area. Some 600 properties have been demolished, and a further 180 acquired and held pending demolition as and when the families in occupation are rehoused.  To date, 485 new dwellings have been erected, all by the Borough Council's direct labour organisation, and a further 89 are now under construction. A parade of shops and a number of garages also have been provided.  The present scheme in Frances Street and Samuel Street has been designed by Messrs. Norman & Dawbarn, is being constructed by Wates Ltd. and the Quantity Surveyors are Messrs. Falkner & Partners. The scheme comprises 279 dwellings, together with two shops, and garages, made up as follows :-

Four 14 storey blocks containing 159 Two Bedroom Flats 60 One Bedroom Flats
Five 4 storey blocks containing 37 Three Bedroom Maisonettes 13 Bed-sitter Flats

One 2 storey block containing 8 Bed-sitter Flats 1 Three Bedroom Maisonette

Doctor's House and Surgery
The fourteen-storey flats are equipped with electric under-floor heating to give background space heating, this being supplemented with electric panel fires in the living rooms. Each Tower block will have two lifts, and communal laundries are provided in the basements of two blocks which will serve all dwellings in the scheme. The smaller blocks are equipped with solid fuel appliances in the living rooms. Water heating is by balanced flue gas multipoint heaters. Building operations commenced in July, 1959, and the scheme is expected to be completed early in 1962. Flats have been furnished by the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society and Cuff's Ltd.

The redevelopment in the St. Mary's Area is only a part of the Borough Council's housing activities. Since the war some 3,460 permanent homes have been built in other parts of the Borough, both for general housing purposes and for smaller slum clearance areas. In addition, 986 emergency factory made bungalows were provided, although a number of these have now been removed to make available land for permanent development.  Schemes are in progress on four other sites, where a total of 337 dwellings are under construction by the Council's direct labour organisation.

A further large development area in central Plumstead-the Glyndon Area-has also been undertaken by the Council and 160 families have been rehoused, the unfit vacated dwellings now being in process of demolition. The first stage of the redevelopment, comprising 252 dwellings, is expected to commence later in 1961. This post-war development, added to the extensive housing programmes of the inter-war years, has brought the total number of dwellings owned and controlled by the Council to over 10,000.

Notwithstanding its proud record of achievement in housing, the Woolwich Council will continue to provide homes for the many citizens who still need them. Whilst proceeding with slum clearance and redevelopment, the Council will do everything possible to press on with the provision of housing accommodation to satisfy the ever present demand.

Woolwich is the first outlying metropolitan borough to introduce a parking meter scheme. Unlike the few central boroughs that already have these schemes, the Woolwich Council felt that in the interests of the displaced motorists the provision of adequate off-street parking was an inherent feature of the proposal.  The multi-storey garage, therefore, with other off-street parking places, has been timed to open in conjunction with the commencement of the parking meter scheme. The garage has been constructed for the Council by Auto-Stackers Ltd. and will be operated in conjunction with Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. and Dagenham Motors Ltd. It is the first fully automatic garage of its kind to be built in this country for ownership by a local authority. The garage will accommodate 256 cars.

The Woolwich AUTOSTACKER, or multi-storey garage, represents the successful development of an idea conceived by its inventor, Colonel J. A. Stirling, and initially put into practice in the form of a working Meccano model. Recognising the ever increasing demand for improved parking facilities and the general lack of suitable sites, Colonel Stirling was prompted to design a method of garaging cars that would permit the maximum utilisation of space available for off-street parking. The AUTOSTACKER automatic principle of parking cars achieves the aim of providing high density parking for a given volume and also permits rapid parking and withdrawal of vehicles. Apart from the space occupied by the lift entry and exit bays, the ground floor of the garage is completely free for traffic circulation, or alternatively can be used for showrooms, servicing purposes, stores, and a reservoir area or for additional garaging.  Each of the eight floors of the Woolwich garage will accommodate 32 cars, or a total of 256 vehicles. Four lifts are employed, each of which are handling a section of the garage containing 64 car spaces or 8 spaces per floor. The time cycle for parking or withdrawal can be calculated at an average of 50 seconds per lift. The average overall entry or withdrawal rate is accordingly 4 cars every 50 seconds. On this basis it should be possible to clear a fully occupied Garage of this type in just over 53 minutes.  Each floor is divided into three equal galleries running the length of the building. The two outer galleries are each divided into 16 parking spaces 17 ft. 6 ins. long by 6 ft. 8 ins. wide. The central gallery contains the four lifts, one at each end and two in the centre, and also the rails for the powered transporters.

When the motorist arrives at the garage he leaves his car locked up and with the brake on in one of the entrances where it will rest on a conveyor. He then proceeds to the control kiosk. An attendant, who is in charge of a control panel bearing 256 keys, each of which corresponds to a parking bay, will then turn one of these keys and give it to the motorist as a form of receipt for his vehicle. The actual turning of the key in the control panel starts up the automatic process of parking and the reverse sequence applies for the withdrawal of vehicles. In starting up the parking cycle, the conveyor in the entrance bay moves the car on to a transporter which in turn rests on one of the lifts. This transporter also carries two conveyor belts. The lift then rises to the pre-selected floor, complete with the transporter and car. When it reaches the floor level, the transporter moves off the lift on to rails located on either side of the transverse gallery which extends the whole length of the building. When it arrives adjacent to the pre-selected parking bay, it stops and by starting up its conveyor belts, discharges the car forward into the bay where a further short run of conveyors positively completes the operation. Other advantages include complete security, elimination of exhaust fumes, a reduction in the fire risk and an absolute minimum requirement in respect of labour. The principle of operation is straightforward and involves the adoption of recognised electrical and mechanical practices that have been accepted in industry for a long time. It is the manner in which these practices have been applied rather than the introduction of an untried mechanical process, that has made this new form of automatic parking possible.

Beresford service station, fitted with the latest sales and servicing equipment, is on the ground floor of the Auto-Stacker building. here is easy access to the spacious forecourt, where two petrol pump islands are situated. The complete range of Shell motor spirits is available on both islands. Cantilever lighting is installed over the pumps for night service. A separate pump supplies derv for diesel-engined commercial vehicles. A petroiler is also available for fuelling two-stroke machines.

Servicing is carried out in the well-equipped bays on the ground level of the stacker. Two lubrication bays, fitted with modern equipment, can carry out a "while-you-wait" lubrication service. A washing bay and tuning bay are situated behind the lubrication bays.

Monday 30 March 2015

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Woolwich gas works - and they are diggin them up

Great to see on Facebook that there is a dig in Woolwich which has found bits of one of the old Woolwich gas works. Details on Chris Mansfield's page. https://www.facebook.com/historic.woolwich/posts/419236568246487
and http://www.chrismansfieldphotos.com/Local-Events/Warren-lane-archaeological-dig/

There were a number of gas works in Woolwich.  Below is a quick scan of articles written about them in the 1930s and published in Co-partnership Journal (South Met. Gas Co house journal)

South Metropolitan Gas Company

Fifty years ago, on 1 January 1885, there came into operation the amalgamation of the South Metropolitan Gas Company with the two Woolwich Companies,  known respectively as the Woolwich Equitable Gas Company and the Woolwich  Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Gas Company. The immediate result of  this was that the South Metropolitan Company's district of supply was extended  throughout Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton, and into Kent. In addition its  sales of gas increased by about 200 million cubic feet a year, and the quality of  gas to the new area was improved from fourteen and twelve to sixteen candle-  power.

The Woolwich Equitable Gas Company was established in 1832,  and incorporated ten years later, to supply a cheaper and purer  gas than that which was being received from the company that  had existed in Woolwich since 1820. It was formed with a capital  of £12,000, and the works and apparatus of the older concern were  bought. The site of these works was a small piece of ground at  the bottom of Surgeon Street, immediately east of what is now the  approach to the Woolwich Free Ferry. It is at present used by the  Borough Council as a storing-ground and distributing centre for paving and curb stones
The Company had been in existence for about two years when  charges of extravagance in the erection of works were made  against the Directors, and in 1836 a public meeting of gas consumers  was held to protest against the high price of gas. The principal  ground for complaint was that the Company was supplying the  Dockyard with gas at nine shillings per thousand cubic feet,  whereas the ordinary consumers were called upon to pay eleven  shillings. The Directors refused, however, to reduce the charge  below ten shillings, whereupon the following decision of a committee of consumers was communicated to them:-   

"We very much regret the determination that the  Directors have thought proper to come to on this occasion,  and beg to assure them we do not any longer consider them  entitled to the name of ' Equitable,' and further that we have  always supported the Company when former discontent has  taken place, solely on the ground of their charging the same  price to all classes. We therefore now consider that we are  quite at liberty to use any means in our power to procure gas  at a lower price, and if found practicable, or too expensive to  make on a small scale for our own consumption, then we shall  endeavour with other gentlemen to establish another  Company."   

To this the Company replied that, rather than allow the  conflicting interests of rival companies to inconvenience the town,  they would agree to reduce the price to nine shillings. The consumers, however, were now not content to negotiate further with  the Equitable Company, and they decided to proceed at once with  the formation of a new body and to treat for ground on which to  erect the necessary works. On 18 August 1843 the prospectus of  the Woolwich Consumers' Protective Gas Company was issued.  

The works of the Equitable Company, which consisted of four gasholders, a retort house and other buildings (including a pipe  factory), were built on the western side of the Royal Arsenal, and  were reached by way of Rodney Street, Meeting-House Lane, and  Harding’s Lane. The two latter thoroughfares have now dis appeared.  For many years after 1887, when the works were  sold, the site was occupied by Messrs. Kirk &; Randall, building  contractors, but during the war the buildings of the Royal Arsenal  were extended to include it. At a recent visit to the site a 2-ft.  length of 6-inch flanged pipe lying in lonely solitude on a piece of  vacant ground belonging to the Borough Council appeared to be  the only indication of the existence at one time of a gasworks in  the vicinity.   
At the time of the amalgamation the authorised capital of the  Equitable Company was £48,000 and the paid-up capital £22,000.  The selling price of gas was three shillings per thousand cubic feet. The Company was not controlled by the sliding scale, for which it  was seeking authority, but had fixed minimum dividends of  10 per cent., 7 1/2 per cent. and 7 per cent.   

The Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Company,  as has already been stated, originated in 1843 as The Protective   Gas Company, and were incorporated in 1855, when it entered into   serious competition with the Woolwich Equitable Company. The  initial charge for gas was eight shillings per thousand cubic feet,  which compared favourably with the eleven shillings required by  its rival. The original capital was £6,000, in 1,200 shares of £5  each. The object of the undertaking, which was constituted by  a Trust Deed limiting the liability of each shareholder to the  amount of his share, was not to offer large dividends, and the  Company did not desire to induce capitalists to invest their money  therein. It was intended, on the contrary, to make it, if possible, solely a consumers' Company, and the shares in the first instance  were offered to consumers with no prospect of a dividend greater, than 5 per cent. It took as its motto that of the Order of the  . Thistle, " Nemo me impune lacessit " (No one provokes me with  impunity), which seemed to indicate that the consumers were  “going to stand no nonsense" from anyone who should seek to  thwart them.   
The works of the Company were at the end of Hardens Lane,  Woolwich, behind the Carpenter's Arms, and adjoined the  eastern side of the Woolwich Dockyard, with a river frontage and  a jetty. The site is now occupied by Messrs. Tuff & Hoar, cartage contractors. It was formerly approached from the High Street by G lass Yard, or Short's Alley. The works wall can still be seen  on the town side, and apparently it was built largely of old pieces of firebrick and hard clinker. This wall is a relic of Old Woolwich for it runs alongside of what was known as " Forty Corners, a series of alleys and corners which run parallel to the river side of the High Street. The old convict prison next to

(sorry end of the article is missing)



In the July issue there appeared a short account of the amalgamation, in  1885, of the South Metropolitan Gas Company with the two Woolwich companies,  known respectively as the Woolwich Equitable Gas Company and the Woolwich,  Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Gas Company. This month we are pleased  to publish a letter received from Mr. J. D. C. Hunter ill which he sets forth  further interesting details relating to the Consumers' Gas Company's Works.  It is an additional pleasure to include in our pages a contribution from one who  was for many years a highly esteemed officer of the Company, and also closely  associated with the COPARTNERSHIP JOURNAL.-EDlTOR.  

The article" A Page from the Company's History," in the  COPARTNERSHIP JOURNAL for July, was read by me with intense  pleasure. It called up so many memories of old times and places  that I feel compelled to write a few lines to show my appreciation.  
I am the only survivor of the staff of either of the Woolwich Companies (the others, my old friends, Arthur Moore, Frederick  Mavity and George Randall having passed away), and what I am  writing may interest some of the few other employees who yet  remain. One, H. Chesney, was mentioned recently in the JOURNAL  when he received your congratulations on the occasion of his golden  wedding. He was employed at the Equitable Works.  

It is stated in the article that the amalgamation caused the  consumers to get gas of higher illuminating power, but perhaps you  are not aware that it also gave them gas-of greater purity. There  was not a testing station in the town (public spirit was not up to  the level of demanding one), and whatever found its way into the  mains the consumers had to accept as gas. The sulphur certainly  was not down to the Referees' limit, and what the ammonia was  I dare not venture to suggest.  
My father, after being at Thames Street, Greenwich, where my  grandfather was engineer, became engineer of the Woolwich  Consumers' Company in 1867. I was a very small boy then, and  the works were somewhat different from the plan of them given  in the JOURNAL. The plans I enclose are not drawn to scale, but  are the products of my memory. They show the extensions made  by my father's predecessor, Mr. A. Stark, between 1853 and 1867 and later in about 1874.  

The Royal Dockyard was not closed until after we had been  a year or two in Woolwich, and one of my oldest memories is that  of being taken on the Jetty to see the Ironclad Repulse launched.  I think only one more vessel, the Thalia, was built before the  yard was closed. The mast pond of the Dockyard adjoined our wharf. It was not really a pond but part of the river enclosed by  floating timbers chained to piles, or "dolphins," in such a manner  that they rose and fell with the tides. On the closing of the  Dockyard this enclosure and the foreshore past Taylor's coal wharf  were purchased by the Company and embanked to form what is now Tuff & Hoar's Wharf. This increase in the area of the works  gave space for a gasholder eighty feet in diameter (the existing  holders were thirty to forty feet), new scrubbers, and purifiers.  

What appears on the plan of 1853 as Sales' Coal Wharf was  Taylors Coal Wharf in 1867. It was owned by the Company, and  Mr John Taylor had been the tenant of it for some years. Mr Sales then had a wharf which ceased to exist when the approach  to the Free Ferry was made .  

The old millwright who worked for us could always go to Sales'  Wharf and come back with a piece of lignum-vitae, sabicu or some other uncommon wood. This generosity of Mr. Sales used to  astonish me, but in the course of time I found that it was more  apparent than real, for an arrangement existed by which, in return  for letting us have wood, he could have what tar he needed for  the maintenance of his small fleet of barges. An end came to this  state of affairs through wood becoming scarce (I think periodical  sales of old and rejected material, which ceased when the Dockyard  closed, were the cause), but a few relics of it remain in the form  of the handles of some of the old tools that I possess.  

The Waterman's Steam Packet Company amalgamated with  another company and moved their plant to larger premises where  the electric power station is now. The place they vacated in the  Glass Yard became Rose and Mellish's Flour Mill.  
Harden's Lane, referred to, I know nothing about.  It did not exist in my time, and I think there must be some  confusion with the approach to the Equitable Works.  

Short's Alley was always a source of annoyance. It was a  very dirty place, and undesirable folk were nearly always in it.  It was diverted slightly when my father found he had not quite  enough ground for the second gasholder (No. 6). A small holder  (No. I) was scrapped, and the building constructed of old firebricks  and clinkers was shortened, but a circle of the diameter  required could not be struck entirely within the boundary of the  works. The difficulty was got over by pulling down a house which  belonged to the Company and, by giving as much ground as was  taken, altering the course of the alley a few feet. By what  authority it was done I do not know, and it was a matter of  surprise that; the owners of shops in High Street did not complain.  

The engine house (I think it still stands) contained two  reciprocating exhausters driven by vertical engines of somewhat  antiquated type. This was rather poor equipment, but it was  considerably better than what the Equitable Works once had.  When the late Mr. Robert Mort on went there as engineer it had  the oscillating engines of an old paddle steamboat adapted to the  purpose
The experience of  ??ding the old tar tank must have been  unpleasant if not dangerous. It was a formidable black pit in my  early days, and one of the spots I had strict orders to avoid. I am  surprised that it was not taken out when the place was dismantled.  The plan of the Equitable Works seems to show the state of  affairs up to the time Mr. Morton left (he went to Vauxhall about   1865). The last engineer, Mr. William White, made some alterations, but the plan was not changed to any great extent.  

Other memories could be written, but, I will not bother you  with them. Old men who can look back on nearly seventy years  often make the mistake of assuming that others are as greatly rested in the past as they are themselves, and perhaps I have  made that mistake with you. The future cannot hold many years  for the old ones, but, few as those years may be, they cause serious  thought-what is beyond them causes thought more serious.  
( Footnote There were no Gas Works in Woolwich for nearly twenty years before  the prejudice against the' new-fangled light' was overcome. The first gas factory was a very small concern at the bottom of Surgeon Street on the  site of Edgar's coal wharf, and belonged to one of the Livesey family, the  first manager being .MIr. Sanderson, who had previously exhibited the light  in his shop window in Richard Street (the upper part of Hare Street)."  Vincent , Records of the Woolwich District)

SO  - in addition  to the two articles above I have added something I wrote many years ago which was published in Bygone Kent and (a shorter version) in the GLIAS Newsletter


This, I am afraid, is going to be another tale of a gas works which didn't work very well.  This is not a story of one of the really scandalous London gas works. Just a little local matter down in Woolwich.


In the early days of the gas industry, between 1810 and 1820, a number of entrepreneurs began to look round for towns in need of a gas works.  In 1815, or thereabouts, a prime candidate must have been Woolwich – a flourishing centre with a number of big industrial sites, which surely must have needed a good source of lighting.  It is no surprise therefore to find a speculative gas works built there.

Previous articles in this series, about Greenwich, have introduced a number of men who built and sold ready made gas works to local authorities and private individuals.  In Greenwich the first approaches had been made to the local authority in the early 1820s by a Mr. Hedley, followed by a Mr. Gostling. In the 1830s a works had been built in Deptford by a Mr. Barlow.  Some of these, and others we will meet again.

In 1817, or thereabouts, a Mr. Livesey and a Mr. Hardy built a gas works in Woolwich.  If the name Livesey is familiar, it is because he was George Livesey's great-uncle, Thomas.  After 1870 George Livesey became the leading figure in the gas industry in London and has recently been notorious following a press story about 'the ghost in the Dome'.   To some extent however George had inherited the mantle of great uncle Thomas.  Thomas Livesey was a hosier based in the City of London. In 1812 he had been one of forty men who had bought a block of shares in the first ever gas company, in London, with a view to changing the way it was being run.  In 1813 he had been elected to the Court of Governors as the candidate of this group and, quite literally, set about finding out how a gas company should be set up and managed. A great deal has been written about the invention of the technology of gas manufacture but it is rarely mentioned that Thomas Livesey designed gas company management – in many ways just as important.  Busy as he was with this role he clearly had time for other things, and like many others, an eye for a profit on the side.

The other partner in the Woolwich gas works was a Mr. Hardy, a coal merchant and a friend of Thomas Livesey.  He was also at that time a partner of Mr.Hedley who was later to tender, unsuccessfully, to build the first Greenwich gas works.  Hardy and Hedley operated a gas equipment and ironmongers business out of an office in Kings Arms Yard off Cheapside in the City of London.  Thomas Livesey also used this address sometimes although his hosiery business was round the corner in Wood Street.

Livesey and Hardy built their gas works in Woolwich on a site known as 'Roff's Compound' or 'Edgar's Coal Wharf'. This was on the river in the area of today's Bell Watergate and next to the Waterfront Leisure Centre – then in the midst of small streets and wharves. Roff was a well-known wharfinger in Woolwich for many years and his wharf was still marked on a map nearly forty years later in 1853 – by which time there was also a 'steamboat' pier on site.  I am not aware of any contemporary map or plan of the works or even exactly where the site was but it is very likely that it had good riverside access.

It is likely that it had some local support since it has been said that the first Manager was a Mr.Sanderson who had a business in Richard Street Woolwich where he exhibited gas lights before the works was opened.  Perhaps he was the same Mr. Sanderson who later had a paint and glazing business in Powis Street.

Whatever the plans for the works were it seems that it was not successful and after only six or seven years Livesey and his friends set about trying to dispose of it.  In 1824 they tried to sell the works to the South London Gas Company. When this approach failed they tried to sell it to the Bankside and Greenwich based Phoenix Company. They asked Phoenix in February 1825, and then in November 1827 and in December 1828 when they offered it to them for £6,500. Phoenix turned it down.

One of the reasons Livesey and Hardy were so keen to get rid of the Woolwich Gas Works was that as Thomas Livesey was Deputy Governor of the Westminster based Chartered Gas Light and Coke Co. he was not supposed to have an interest in another gas company. In fact the Chartered took a very dim view of his extra-curricular activities and in May 1827 he had to make a sworn statement to the effect that he had disposed of his interest in the Woolwich Gas Company.  This, as it turns out, was not really true.  In what follows Livesey is always described and treated as the owner of this works.

It seems that he had transferred the legal ownership and the Woolwich gas works was actually owned by a corporate body of which a Mr. Ainger was a trustee.  Ainger was yet another coal and iron merchant  - this time based on Bankside.  Livesey must have known him well since he had been selling coal to the Chartered Company from its inception. 
The years went by. It was offered around to other gas companies, like the Phoenix at Bankside. They could have had for £6,500, but neither they, nor apparently anyone else wanted it. 

Previous articles about the gas industry in Greenwich have described the dissatisfaction of local businessmen with the existing private gas companies and their efforts to set up one which would be more responsive to their wish for cheaper gas. In 1832 in Woolwich another gas company was set up, the Woolwich Equitable.  Ten years later another company was set up to rival it – The Woolwich Consumers Protective Gas Company. There was to be talk of  'serious defalcations' at the Woolwich Equitable and the rows between the two rivals fill many pages of the Kentish Mercury.  Neither of these situations will be dealt with in this article.

The Woolwich Equitable advertised that it would sell 'cheaper and purer' gas and set about trying to buy up the old works in order to supplant them.  They began to negotiate with Mr. Livesey and Mr. Ainger. This should have been no problem since they had been trying to get rid of it for at least the previous ten years.  A valuation was commissioned from Mr. John Barlow.

Barlow, who was the builder of the Greenwich Railway Gas Works at Deptford, and many others, was in many ways an interested party and, in the interests of honesty and fair play, another valuer was brought in. This was a Mr. Robert Brown of Royal Hill. I assume that this is the Robert Brown, Architect of Royal Place in 1839 not Mr. Robert Brown, Plumber, of Blackheath Hill also extant in 1839 (or perhaps they were the same person).

The valuation report was very long and very damning – the works was 'very dilapidated' to say the least.  In negotiations Ainger and Livesey began frantically to talk the equipment up – they explained that the wooden tanks were after all, only fifteen years old and the pipework would last at least a hundred years. The report apparently didn't agree with them.  Ainger then accused the Woolwich Equitable Board of trying to cheat him.  

The new gas company decided that it was desperate to 'buy up the competition' and continued negotiations regardless.  Livesey began to talk about problems with an Act of Parliament and the Board of the Equitable brought their solicitor along to see him.  A settlement was reached in July 1832 at a meeting between both sides and their lawyers. In the following January a list was produced of Messrs. Livesey and Ainger's various misdeeds and Woolwich Equitable Directors were perhaps most annoyed that £245 of the purchase money was to find its way into Mr. Livesey's pocket.
The old Woolwich works was taken over, run for a while, and closed down. While negotiations had been going on with Livesey and Ainger other arrangements were taking place for a new works to be built specially for the new gas company. It's nice to know that the contract to build the new works went to Mr. Barlow – who lost the contract to survey the old works.

This story in some ways echoes that in Greenwich in the same period – and probably many other places as well. An early works built by speculators which was inefficient and soon became ruinous. After all you would expect things to improve as people had more experience of the technology.  It is perhaps ironic that Thomas Livesey, so successful in his management of the first and largest company then in existence – should get in such a mess at Woolwich.  It also throws considerable light on the standards of honesty not only of Livesey but also of others of the time and to the lack of statutory regulation.

The Woolwich works went on to be racked with scandals until taken over by South Met. in the 1880s.

This article has been compiled from archive sources at London Metropolitan Archives and supplementary material including an article in Co-partnership Journal

Mary Mills


PS - there was of course yet another Woolwich gas works inside the Arsenal