Monday, 29 April 2019

Greenwich's Black 'Ole

Greenwich’s secret war time location. 
‘The Black ‘Ole’ in Tunnel Glucose.

Unless you worked at the Tunnel Glucose factory during or shortly after the Second World War you might not know what the ‘Black ‘Ole ‘was. It certainly was not a hole but it was really black as I can personally vouch. My father, who worked at Tunnel Glucose from 1935 until 1954, used to tell me anecdotes about the war time work carried out there. Even after the war finished the ‘Black ‘Ole’ continued to operate and I visited it several times with my father to see and wonder at the fantastic colours and experience the acrid smells that were being produced.

What was the ‘Black ‘Ole’ you ask. Very simple it was the location of a massive crucible that smelted down scrap metal at extremely high temperatures to produce magnesium. As this then went into the production of armour plating for armoured vehicles e.g. tanks etc. it was classified as a reserved occupation. Therefore, my father was not called up but both he and my mother became members of the Auxiliary Fire Service which helped fight the fires that resulted from bombings during and after ‘The Blitz’.

My uncle Dick worked in the ‘Black ‘Ole ‘after the war and I used to see him labouring in the filthy, baking hot environment. In the middle of this old building was the crucible full of molten meatal which was positioned over a massive furnace. The smelted metal would be poured into waiting receptacles and at that point there were sparks everywhere lighting up the dark and dismal work area which was full of black soot. So, it became commonly known as the ‘Black ‘Ole’. We often visited my uncle and aunty who lived in Dupree Road and was used to see him bathing in a tin tub in front of the fire. He was always known to my brother and I as ‘Dirty’ Dick due to the dirty condition he came home in after work. My father used to really tell us off if we referred to my uncle as anything other than Uncle Dick. As an ex-soldier my uncle joined the Corps of Commissionaire when the smelting process closed and he subsequently got a job as a security guard on the main works gate at Tunnel Glucose.

One of the other stories my late father used to tell me was about the time he had a visit from a scrap metal merchant during the war. The person trying to sell the scrap to the works manager asked my father to give his boss a box of cigars which was a gift from the supplier. My father duly took the present into his boss but before he went in, he noticed the seal on the box was broken. Being a nosy person, my father opened the lid to find that one of the cigars was missing and in its place was a roll of banknotes the same size as a cigar. He duly closed the lid and on entering his boss’s office handed the box over and left the supplier to start the negotiations with his boss on the value of the scrap metal. My father was never sure what the quality of the scrap was and what it would have yielded for the war effort.

My father was not necessarily always an innocent party during the war as confirmed by another tale he told me of an event that happened during a fire in the East End. As mentioned previously he was in the AFS and was called out to a major fire in a bonded warehouse. On arriving at the scene, he and his crew were advised by the police on duty that if they looked in the fire hydrants when fixing their hoses, they might find something of interest. Being a bonded warehouse full of alcohol I will leave the details of their finds to your imagination. Quite a few people were seen leaving the building clutching its contents!

Very fond memories and I am sure that my father had many more tales to tell .

Graham McDougal

1 May 2019

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