Tuesday 28 May 2019


1947 – 1954

I will always remember January 1947 in Tunnel Avenue, East Greenwich for several reasons. One was that it was my fourth birthday which also coincided with my family moving from an upstairs single bedroom flat with no bathroom into a wonderful three-bedroom house in Tunnel Avenue. Not only did I get lovely birthday presents but I got my own room to sleep in and a bathroom rather than an old tin tub in front of the fire. Our new home also had the luxury of hot water supplied by a coke fired back boiler which leads me to another memory of the winter of 1947.

About a week after we moved into Tunnel Avenue one of the coldest winters on record hit the country resulting in freezing conditions and massive demands on all types of fuel including coke. This therefore affected the heating in our house as we needed coke to keep the boiler running. My vivid recollection of that time is standing next to my mother with my baby brother in his pram queuing in the extreme cold.We had walked the length of Tunnel Avenue from the Fire Station at the top end down to the gas works which was close to the approach to Blackwall Tunnel. When we arrived, we stood for ages in line alongside the brick wall surrounding the gas works waiting to buy the coke which we either took back on the pram or possibly had it delivered. All I mainly remember is that it was a miserable experience especially as we did not have a car to make the journey but had to walk in the extreme weather. Thank fully the winter finished and we then spent several great years in the house in Tunnel Avenue.

My father was very ingenious and provided us with a magnificent view of the Metropolitan Gas Board sports ground which was located directly behind our back garden. Shortly after we moved in he removed the old wooden fence at the bottom of the garden.  Our favourite pastime was watching the cricket matches as the wicket was right in our line of sight. Except of course when the sight screen was moved across thus blocking our view of the proceedings. Thankfully this didn’t happen very often. Many happy summer days were spent watching cricket or the exciting athletics events that also took place.

Unfortunately, when the flyover was built to improve the road connections to Blackwall Tunnel it resulted in the end of the greenery of the sports ground and beyond to be replaced by modern retail and leisure outlets. However, that happened many years after we left. My memories will always be of the wonderful view across to the river where the old Thames sailing barges would often be seen plying their trade. Their red/brown sails could regularly be seen moving majestically up and down the major thoroughfare.Sadly, this sight has gone now however I can still picture it in my mind even now.

Just opposite our house in Tunnel Avenue was the East Greenwich depot of the British Oxygen Company (BOC). There BOC kept a large supply of gas cylinders which were distributed to customers around the local area. We could hear the clanking of cylinders being shifted around the depot or loaded on and off the delivery lorries. During one night in the early 1950’s there was a massive explosion at the depot. Luckily houses in the vicinity were not badly damaged and the nearest fire station was only a matter of yards away at the top of Tunnel Avenue. Therefore, the resulting fire could be tackled very quickly.

The sound of the explosion was heard miles away and broke windows in houses at Blackheath. It made headline news at the time. Of course, my family like others were all woken up by the incident    except for me.  Even though my bedroom was at the front of the house I had slept soundly through the whole thing. Something my parents were absolutely amazed at. Not only was there the sound of the explosion but all the bells and noise from fire engines, ambulances and police cars which attended the scene. Unfortunately, I believe several people were injured in the blast and that there were some fatalities.

One of the most famous methods of transport then were London trams which had been operating since Victorian times. However, the modern needs were overtaking the ageing system as the tramcars had changed little since the service had begun.

Tram tracks were laid in the middle of roads and passengers had to walk from the pavement to get on the tram. Car production was increasing and drivers wanted to drive more freely in the cities. Instead of updating the infrastructure to cater for this it was decided to close the tram system down and replace it with diesel buses. Under ‘Operation Tramaway’ which started in 1950,trams were being phased out and the last tram in London ran on 6th July 1952. It started in Woolwich and terminated at New Cross Depot. As a young lad I stood at the bottom of Halstow Road and waved to the last passengers who were on the last tram to run in London. I can still picture that memorable sight with all the banners hanging off the sides of the tram and everyone cheering.

June 1953, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place and in November a Royal Tour commenced which continued throughout the Commonwealth. In May 1954 the new Royal Yacht Britannia sailed up the Thames bringing the Queen, Prince Philip and their children back to UK. Tunnel Glucose had built a brand-new office suite which overlooked the River Thames. To celebrate the Queen’s homecoming the company invited the staff and their families to witness this historical event. On the day my parents, my brother and I were dressed in our Sunday best and journeyed down to the factory. By that time my father had acquired his second car. This being a new Ford Popular which replaced the old 1930’s Morris.

Unlike our trips down Tunnel Avenue in the bleak winter of 1947, we travelled in comfort and style to arrive ready and waiting for the Royal Yacht. I can remember well the excellent spread of food and drink that had been laid on by the company for all the families to enjoy. The room we were in I guess was the Board Room which had a large window that gave us all an excellent view of the river. As we were on the second floor, we could look out and see the Royal family standing and waving on the deck of Britannia. The Royal Yacht passed by very slowly and everyone was waving and cheering.

Compared with the first time I had seen the Queen in person it was a much more pleasurable experince. The previous time was when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were travelling across Blackheath. All the local school children were herded up to the heath and lined the main road close to the entrance to Greenwich Park. It was a hot summers day and we waited there for what seemed like hours. Then along came the Royal procession in their large cars. Unlike the slow-moving Royal Yacht, the cars sped past at a fast speed and it was over in a flash. We had seen the Queen but only a quick glance. Therefore, the much better memory was the wonderful time we all spent watching the majestic vessel sedately carrying the Queen and the Royal Family up the Thamestowards Tower Bridge.

 Later that year we moved out of our house in Tunnel Avenue and left London for a new life in Wiltshire which saddened me very much.I will always cherish my time growing up in East Greenwich, SE10.

Graham McDougal

26th May 2019

Monday 20 May 2019

Siemens - whales - Enderby - underground - George Elliott

Apologies for not putting it out earlier but have been working flat out on the new book which we hope to get out in time for the Greenwich Book Festival.   It’s going to be a rerun of ‘Greenwich Marsh’ but with 20 years more information.  Keep in touch

We have a ‘help help’ call from a member who has been asked to do some research on the Siemens site which is currently being developed.  He says “I cannot get access to the Siemens engineering archive ……………. so if any members of the GIHS have a particular interest in Siemens Brothers during the period of the report I would be grateful for any assistance they could give me in my research’.

This is of course because the Heritage Centre and archive are closed –so much for promises of access !!


We have had a copy of the latest issue of the ‘Dockyards’ which is the newsletter of the Royal Dockyards Association. Of course this covers dockyards all round the world so it’s not all about Deptford and Woolwich.  

There is a report on a walk round Woolwich to see the remnants the Dockyard and the Arsenal. They comment that many of the older buildings are dwarfed by new blocks of flats.  They also note how disappointing it is to see the Greenwich Heritage Centre has closed and they have made representations to the Council about this – complaining that the proposed site at Anchor and Hope Lane is too remote to get to easily and will only be available for five years

There is also report of a meeting which we didn’t report on at the time – and probably should have done - which was ‘Hidden Deptford’. This was an event at St. Nicholas Church and 'Dockyards' Editor says how astonished he was to see such an amazing number of people in the audience.   The first speaker was David Davies, author of 'Pepys Ships' and also 'Kings of the Sea'.  He talked about the foundation of the Dockyards because it was easy it was to get there from Whitehall and the Tower of London as well as the Palace in Greenwich. The Thames was central for shipbuilding because in the 17th century the amount of warfare in the North Sea and how Deptford and Woolwich became research and development yards. By the 19th century the area was less accessible for large the naval ships.  He was followed by Richard Edensor talking about the women of Restoration Deptford – an iron contractor in Susan Beckford and Ann Pearson is a rat catcher/ he also talked about Deptford shipwright John Shish. There was also a series of folk songs by the South East London Folk Orchestra and then another talk about the proposed built building of the Lenox.

Naval Dockyards Society has put out a call for papers for their Conference on the 4th of April, 2020 at the National Maritime Museum.  This is to be called ‘Where Empires Collide.  Dockyards and Naval Bases in and around the Indian Ocean.’  Details available from the Society and proposals should be sent before the 30th of October 2019 to Philip McDougal (details from me)


Thank you to Sue Allen for sending a copy of an article about Sir George Elliot’s - he is the man who is half of the firm of Glass Elliot who were largely responsible for setting up cable manufacture at Enderby Wharf.   The article is taken from Journal of the Gelligaer Local History Appreciation Society and is by Professor Bernard Knight. It gives details of the life and career of Sir George.  He describes how George began as the son of a collier in Newcastle and whose first job was at the age of nine working in the coal mine. A friend of the family taught and arithmetic and he later attended night classes. At the mine his engineering and financial talents led him to become a consultant and manager and he leased and eventually owned other collieries. He became a major industrialists and important politician – a close friend of the Prime Minister, Disraeli, and ended up with the sixth richest man in England.


We have a copy of ‘Subterranea’ the Journal of Subterranea Britannica

I’m sorry to see in it an obituary to Harry Pearman who has come to speak to GIHS in the past about his research of all things underground for which he was well known. The obituary, by Paul Sowan, mentions that in his professional life Harry was an IT specialist and that he worked ‘for other local authorities’. This was in fact London Online Local Authorities which was based in Greenwich in John Harrison House which was demolished for the new University of Greenwich Architects Department buildings in Stockwell Street.  This was an extremely interesting and very unusual local government body. It was a consortium of local authorities, which included Greenwich, set up at a time when most of the population had never heard of computers - in the early 1960s.  We take for granted today the use of computers for things like working out rates payments and payroll –  but in those days a lot of what they had to do was just to try and explain to suspicious and disbelieving  Council Officers what it was about.  They were remarkable for having one of the first ever business computers – a Leo – which originated with Lyons Tea Shop company. No one worldwide had thought of using computers in business until Lyons did it and they had to make their own machines. This was revolutionary albeit it used paper tape and had no random access. Harry was a leading member of the team.

While Harry was at John Harrison House he added in a considerable amount of underground research in Greenwich which was published in the Journals of the Chelsea Speleological society in the 1960s. These articles have formed a basis which other researchers on underground Greenwich have followed up on. Harry’s initial research has been crucial in understanding what lies underground in Greenwich.
And very sorry to hear he has died.


London and the Whaling Trade.  We have at last received the report on a conference held in 2013 about London and the whaling industry which includes two articles of interest to Greenwich historians.

One of them is by Charles Payton – ‘the Enderby family and their World’.  This is a very impressive article about the background of Enderby family over several generations.  It asks the question throughout of where did the family get their money from which allowed them to afford to run the very large fleet f whaling vessel and sponsor the explorers.  The article tracks three generations and their links with other businesses particularly with people in the Americas. Towards the end he also talks about their use of various chemicals and links with various chemical companies - I had also realised this and was very interested to see his comments on Kyan’s timber preservation work as well his work with naphtha on rubber for rope and cable manufacture. It’s a great article and please read it.

Another article is by Kevin Reilly and Guy Thompson about the ‘Bay Wharf whale and some early Thames strandings’.  It is about the whale skeleton found at Bay Wharf buried in the foreshore which is thought to be from the 17th century. They also established that it was killed there. I am sorry that the article doesn’t include Chris Ellmers very amusing talk - which he gave at the Conference -about 17th century pamphlets on stranded Whales. Perhaps we should be pleased to say our latest whale at Gravesend seems to have swum off unharmed.