Friday, 15 May 2015

East Greenwich Tide Mill - the GLIAS Journal

I know I have been banging on about the East Greenwich Tide Mill for years and years and years - an written about it in various places and with varying degrees of seriousness/pop reportage.

So - I am very pleased to see an article by Brian Strong in the new GLIAS Journal. 'A tidal mill at East Greenwich'.  Brian has been closely involved for many years with the tide mills at Three Mills and he is rather an expert on the subject.

Tide Mills are an interesting and rather neglected subject.  We all know about water mills with turning dripping wheels and jolly millers who in the olden days ground corn for grateful villagers in idyllic rural settings - we also know about windmills doing much the same thing but with wind. But tide mills??  They were obviously in tidal areas and they tended to be associated with something rather larger in scale than village corn.  We need to remember that mills weren't just about corn - they were about every possible industrial process that needed grinding or something similar - and tide mills tended to deal with the heavier stuff.  There were many of them round here - there was one on Deptford Creek near where the A2 crosses today at Deptford Bridge. There was what might have been a 12th century one discovered a couple of years ago on the Lovell's Wharf site and an even older one was found at Ebbsfleet when the station there was built.   More recent is Three Mills, the largest tide mill in the world,  just behind Tesco on the other side of the Tunnel Approach and which was at work until the Second World War.  Please visit and be amazed - there is a cafĂ© and they do tours, check out their Facebook page under 'House Mill'. It's open every Sunday from the beginning of May to the end of October, 11
am to 4 pm.   Also both days of Open House.   Pre-booked tours on other days can be booked with Beverley Charters on 0208 980 4626

East Greenwich was never on that scale but it did have some interesting innovations in working methods, which Brian has outlined.  While the mill was still being constructed, Olinthus Gregory walked down the river wall from Woolwich to have a look at it.  Gregory was a mathematics master at the Royal Military Academy who would soon succeed Hutton as Professor.  Interested in mill machinery he wrote a definitive work 'A Treatise on Mechanics' in which the East Greenwich Mill features prominently.  So we have a wonderful first hand description which Brian has extrapolated and explained.

The East Greenwich mill is important in Greenwich history in that it represents what must be the first developer on the Peninsula - a subject we are now all very familiar with.  It is also the site where Richard Trevithick's career as an innovative steam engine builder took a nose dive when the boiler of his engine, used to pump the mill's foundations, exploded due to negligence on site.  Its a mill we need to be aware of - and all the more because it appears that English Heritage were ignorant of its existence in their site report to the Council.   Hopefully Brian's work can help change that perspective

Finally, I am very chuffed that the cover of the Journal has used a design based on Gregory's drawings of the moving parts of various mills. And its shiny!  It looks much better than the GLIAS Journal's rather amateurish past efforts.

Please buy it. Cost through post will be £5.50 - £4 for Journal + £1.50 p&p.  Cheque made out to GLIAS.  By post from Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, Rivendell, Knockholt Road, Halstead, Kent  TN14 7ET . GIHS has some copies which we can sell at meetings - or I am happy to sell to anyone who asks me personally for it. That's £4 - please note GIHS is not making any profit.  email

Oh and - I have been so excited by the mill that I nearly forgot to mention the other really really important local article in this journal.  That is about the iron slip cover roofs at Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards. This is by archaeologist Duncan Hawkins - who has come to talk to GIHS in the past about his work at Deptford - and perhaps we should ask him again.

These roofs were revolutionary when they were installed in the Royal Dockyards between 1844 and 1857 to design briefs by the Royal Engineers.  They were built to cover over ships being built on slips in the Dockyards. Three were built at Woolwich and three at Deptford - and two of the Woolwich ones are now at Chatham Dockyard where they can be seen. The third is what is now known as Olympia Warehouse at Deptford - and at the mercy of the development process.

This is an important article describing not only an innovative construction method for spanning large areas but is also important in the history of our two Royal Dockyards and in the history of the Royal Engineers (dare I point out that they originate in Woolwich too).

Please buy it and read it for all those reasons.

- and - there is also an article about Stratford Railway Workshops - look, they used to build railway locomotives, big ones, just over the river there in Stratford. You need to know about that as well. And there is an article about Three Mills which I mentioned above although this is about Acetone production.

I think you do need to get in touch and read a copy of this..........................


Amos H Jepson said...

East Greenwich tide mill was extensively (and expensively) repaired by the engineer Bryan Donkin in about 1810. He was based in Bermondsey. There is plenty about the mill in his journal, now kept at the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock. Maureen Greenland is writing an account of Donkin which may have more information.

M said...

Amos - if you look at this could you email me direct I think Maureen has been in touch in the past but I am anxious to put together a paper on the mill. I was not aware these papers were in Matlock and I think I need to go there. More importantly in the short term I am completing a paper on Joshua Beale of Greenwich and I having looked at the Derbyshire accessions list realise there is a file on him there.