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. 

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