Sunday 17 November 2019

Letters March 2003

Letters March 2003

From Jonathan Clarke
I stumbled across an intriguing-sounding article by Mary Mills entitled 'A mystery steel works.’ in Bygone Kent, 20 (1999), 37-42 – about Henry Bessemer’s Greenwich Steel Works.  That Bessemer might have required Thames-side works in London to better serve national and international customers, away from his competitors in the north, seems entirely plausible.
Were the Appleby Bros, also on the Greenwich Peninsula, connected with Lincolnshire firm, The Appleby Iron Company, formed in 1874 (later of Appleby-Frodingham fame)? They were involved with the manufacture of Marine Boilers.
I wonder whether you might be able to help me with another great steelmaster with Greenwich connections - German-born English engineer and inventor Sir William Siemens (1823-1883).  I want to know where his Kentish country house, ''Sherwood', near Tunbridge Wells, was exactly. It may be in institutional use or otherwise absorbed or altered, but do you know whether it survives in any form? According to his biography, he moved there c. 1877. The reason I'm interested is that it made very early use of steel. In 1880, following a discussion about the imminent use of steel in architecture he stated "I had at my house in the country a terrace, and under that terrace I had a billiard-room ... I put steel girders over this billiard-room, which was about 20-ft. span, and by filling in between each girder with cement and tiling and lead, I was able to gain 18 in. in height, and obtained a perfectly dry room, whereas before I had considerable difficulty in keeping the water out. This simply shows how, by the use of this stronger material, advantages in convenience and even in cost may be obtained".

From Dick Moy
I would firstly like to congratulate Jack Vaughan & Mary Mills on producing what I consider to be the most interesting and ongoing record of historical research in Kent and the London area.
Having read with interest Philip Binns' suggestion of saving the 1930's Merryweather factory lettering - a very difficult task I fear - I am reminded of a deal I did with that Company about 40 years ago when they demolished the older of the two buildings fronting onto Greenwich High Road. Some of you may remember the two marvellous three dimensional iron cupid masks each 22" in diameter. Both heads blowing hard at the flames. There was sadly no interest in industrial archaeology at that time and having displayed these for some weeks in my shop in Nelson Road, they ended up somewhere in the United States. Photographs of them must exist however.
As an Antique Dealer of 48 years standing, I have so many memories of buying and selling examples of our industrial and commercial heritage.  I bought virtually everything of interest from Lovibonds, the brewers, including 8 of the most marvellous thin and deep 10 ft high brass bound sherry barrels. Tools from the coopers and wheelwrights sheds. Order and sales ledgers back to the 19th.  A c.1900 painting of a loaded dray by their tame sign writer. From Woolwich the residual stock and tools from a beautiful cl800 pottery kiln, from Deptford Victualling Yard/Dockyard site numerous iron plaques from biscuit ovens and relics from the Masting Pond. I tried at that time to get the London/Guildhall Museums interested in photographically recording the last of these buildings - at least those many which unlike the rum warehouses were demolished and was told that the pressures of recording the constantly re-appearing and certainly very exciting relics of Roman London left them no time to stray beyond the City walls. Even a fascinating Roman to Medieval site in Bishopsgate was left to "treasure hunting" by tipping the building team as it was again outside the "Holy Wall". My small photographs of Deptford Dockyard during demolition are the only ones I know of- I have kept numerous smaller relics from the Barbers/Wigmakers in Stockwell Street.
All the old family and trading records of Hudsons - Greenwich's longest established business, still trading in 1975 - scientific instrument makers, opticians and art material  suppliers whose goodwill, stock and trading name I purchased and continued to trade with until 1980.
The tobacconist in Nelson Road, a smithy in Bardsley Lane, a fabulous fitted 19thc chemist shop on Shooters Hill. The beautiful Regency shopfront in Creek Road that, thank God, we did persuade the Museum of London to keep and barge builders'. shipbreakers' and other memorabilia from local land based, water borne and traveling commercial enterprises. I still have many of the smaller relics and documents in my own collection and quite a lot of other more bulky items somewhere in one or other of my stores. They were kept there waiting in vain for the Borough Museum to make some kind of appearance in the old Greenwich Town Centre rather than remain practically on the borders of Kent.

From Norman Stancel,
I need some help. I have a leather fire bucket that is red in colour with a black stripe around the top and bottom with a leather handle. On the outside it has SAND written on it. The bottom has MERRYWEATHER around the rim and below that it has LONDON. Can you help or do you know who might. Thank you   Alpharetta, Georgia, USA.

From: Joe Brierley
I am a final year student at Ravensbourne College of design and communication, majoring in environment architecture.  For my major project I am interested in the site of 28-30 Wood Wharf and proposing a sympathetic restoration of the site as part of a local historical and cultural centre.  I had chosen the site before researching recent proposals for its redevelopment, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is such an intrinsic part of the regional maritime history. As it stands, it is a unique time warp into the traditional techniques and processes of the working river.  It is this quality I wish to preserve, and as a student proposing a purely concept scheme, I do not have to worry about the revenue earning potential of the site, a factor commercial and residential developers have to consider.
The aim is to design a working museum complex, demonstrating traditional maritime craftsman techniques, and the training of these lost skills. Because the site was also the Great Greenwich Steam Ferry slipway, and was noted for its deep water and narrow beach, I am keen to link the site into a new river transport scheme. Although the "Reach 2000" site around the Deptford Creek is work in progress I intend to incorporate this into my site, and the whole scheme will be an ideal master plan of how the area could look if the history of the area was more important than its income! I have researched the site at the Woolwich Planning Office and have some information on the site, but if you could help in any way I would greatly appreciate it! 

From Andy Dickson
In researching a vessel seen in Belfast Docks, the Nord Star, I came across your page (Volume 3, Issue 5, September 2000), and a request from a Mr A Ward for photographs of any ships built by the company of Cubows Ltd between 1972 and 1982. The Nord Star that visits Belfast is a small vessel of less than 500 grt, built around 1978-1980 by Cubows Ltd of Woolwich, and apparently now owned by Shearer Shipping, Lerwick, and Shetland.  I have a rather indifferent photograph of this vessel, taken only today (in poor light), but I might be able to get a better picture in the future.  

From: Jan Snowball
I stumbled across your web site this evening. I am starting to investigate my family history, which I believe has very strong links with Bugsby's Reach. Great Great granddad had a wharf there, family run business & changed his name from Bugsby to Bigsby. Also had something to do with manufacturing paint in that area. My father Ernest Victor Bigsby's family business was in the manufacture of paints & it was his grand or great grandad who owned a business [can't think it was still in paints though - how old could the manufacture of paint be?]. Anyway, the story goes that the chap who changed is name used to be a bit of a tyrant & his workers used to call him Bugsby the bugger.... so he changed it to Bigsby. I am led to believe the business    was on this site & maybe I assumed there was a wharf there as the stretch was called Bugsby's reach. Apparently, there is a big family vault somewhere (Rotherhithe?)
Ernest Victor Bigsby was a professional chemist who finished his days at ICI (which has more recently employed my dad & elder brother). so paint is firmly in the blood!! What do you know of the land use along Bugsby's reach, any sign of manufacturing?  

From: Mike Jelliss
I am researching my family history The Jelliss Family who were mainly engineers in the Greenwich, Deptford and Erith areas. My great grandfather Charles James Jelliss. Died in 18/04/1896 aged 54. He accidentally fell to his death from the ladder of his ship the SS Racoon and drowned in the Thames off College View Isle of Dogs I have been unable to locate College View or any information on the SS Racoon. My grandfather is described in 1901 as (Stoker in Electric Lighter?). He later worked as an Electrical Engineer with Vickers Sons and Maxims where he helped develop the Maxim Flying Machine. I have been unable to find any references to electric lighters? 

From Jenny Hammerton
I am the Senior Cataloguer for British Pathe News and I have just been working on a film of the Welsbach Lighting Co factory in the 1910s. Was this in Greenwich? You might be interested in our website at where you can view any film in our collection FREE OF CHARGE thanks to lottery funding - we have films that date from 1896 - 1970 and are still adding to the site. I am sure that there would be some items of interest to your members. Best regards - 

From: Eileen & Rod Rogers
My grandfather was Charles Telford Field and he was the product of the marriage between a Miss Maudslay and a Mr Field. I have the original (I believe) model of the twin cylinder steam engine (Siamese) that was proposed to Isambard Brunel for the SS "Great Western". The consortium later decided to build their own engine when screw was preferred to paddle. The engine went on to power many warships as, I am quite sure, you know. I should be interested in disposing of the model but I believe my children do not want this.

From Paul Sturman
So the Merryweather site is going to be flattened; will they never learn? I have some recent colour photos of the site, including the lettered frontage and the original 1876 building (difficult to shoot) taken with a super wide-angle lens. These are available on CD-rom.
Just a couple of things re the January magazine Jim Arthur wrote to enquire about Merryweather photos and wanted to get in touch with anyone who had any. 

From: Emma Creasey
As a resident of Greenwich I have for a long time admired the industrial riverfront stretching from Deptford down to the Greenwich peninsular. Over the years this area has seen many changes and faces even more in the next few years. Along with many admirers of this area I have periodically photographed the buildings and shore in order to preserve my memory of them. In doing so my interest in photography increased and I am now studying BA Photography at the London College of Printing. For this term we have been asked to explore the theme of history/time; an ideal opportunity form me to further extend my knowledge of the riverfront area and also photograph it more seriously. I am looking for people or organisations, which can provide me with local history and hopefully access to some of the key buildings. Having discovered your newsletters on the Internet I thought that your society might be a good place to start. It would be incredibly useful to me if you could supply me with details regarding your organisation and details of any specialists who might be able to discuss the area with me. I look forward to hearing from you shortly and wish you all the best for the New Year. 

From: John P. Dawson
I am researching a steamer that was built in the mid 1800's with a Penn engine. Do you know if any records of that Greenwich builder are extant? 

From Diana Rimel
Dear Editor
Christopher Phillpott otherwise excellent study of the Creek has reiterated the myth that Captain Cook's old ship the Discovery was moored in the Thames as a convict hulk.   The following is part of a project I put together last year on  ‘Convict Ships and Prison Hulks’
“Old disused ships declared unfit for sea were considered acceptable for housing prisoners and sick and disabled sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Several of these were moored in the Creek or off it in Greenwich Reach.   In 1824, Discovery, the ship of the explorer, George Vancouver, who had served under Captain James Cook, was used as a convict hulk. Vancouver had charted and sailed to the North-West American coast, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia and New Zealand, and from 1791-95 circumnavigated the world in the converted collier Discovery.    In 1833 Discovery was broken up and replaced by the frigate Thames.  The Seamen’s Hospital Society in Greenwich established a hospital on the hulk of the ship Grampus in 1821. This proved too small so the Society fitted up the Dreadnought with 200 beds in 1831.  It was moored near the east side of the Creek mouth.  The former Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital was named after this ship. Conditions on board these vessels were very bad. The hulks were broken up for their timber when they were no longer of any use.  The practice of using them for prisoners ceased by the 1860s.”

From John Day
Sorry to disagree with Jim Arthur, but the muzzle loading rifled bore goes back to 1498 when Gaspard Zollner used straight rifling in a hand gun to overcome fouling caused by poor powder. A couple of  years later Augustus Kutter used helical rifling and a gun having six  grooves with a helix of one in twenty six was made in Hungary in 1547.  This gun used to be in the Rotunda years ago, but has long disappeared.  R.M.L.s (Rifled Muzzle Loader) were still in use in the earlier part of the last (20th.) century. The early breech loading rifled guns (R.B.L.) were so unreliable that a return was made to R.M.L.s for some years. The Russians used "shunt" rifling having a double groove, a deep groove allowing the studs to slide freely during loading and a groove decreasing towards the muzzle, with which the studs engaged to provide rotation on firing. There is a paper on 'The History of Rifling' in Vol. 12 of the Journal of the Ordnance Society.  The official title of the device shown pages 50 & 51 is ‘Apparatus Lifting Guns, Hurst Pattern, Mk.I L for R.M.L. 38 Tons'  

From Gordon Broughton
I was born in 1915 in Eastcombe Avenue, Charlton, and my wife was born off Blackwall Lane, Greenwich, in 1917.  I was educated at Fossdene Road School and Roan School for Boys, initially in Eastney Street, Greenwich, and then Maze Hill. In 1931 I started my career of 45 years as a Laboratory Attendant in the Research Department in the Arsenal, which at that time was under the War Office.  Eventually, after several name changes, the complex of laboratories became the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, from where I retired in 1976 as a Senior Scientific Officer. Mary Mills’ Book Greenwich and Woolwich at Work, makes brief reference to the Research Department, which, although within the Arsenal Walls off Griffin Manor Way, was not a component of the Royal Arsenal per se which had its own Metallurgical Laboratory. I began and ended my career in the Metallurgical Research Branch, which particularly in the 1930s had several eminent scientists whose basic research papers were published by the Institute of Metals and the Iron and Steel Institute.
One memorable experience of my early days was the firing of 18-inch Naval guns at the proof butts in the Arsenal on Fridays. Residents of Plumstead would have feared for their windows on Fridays. Quite often I was performing the menial task of taking a barrow load of rifle barrels to another proofing range and had to pass very close to the Proof Butts.
I was surprised to see Mary Mills linking the Royal Arsenal in the same chapter with the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. Their Commonwealth Buildings were of course in the old Royal Dockyard established by Henry VIII. The cobbler shown on page 31 of her book may well be an uncle of mine!  Before leaving Orpington for Cirencester in 2000 I visited the Crossness pumping station where an amazing restoration is being done by keen volunteers.  It was also featured a few months ago in Channel 5 TV’s The great Stink a tribute to the great engineer Bazalgette.  The site is perhaps just outside the Woolwich boundary. 

From John Barratt
I am building a model railway of the old Greenwich Park station that stood where the hotel and cinema now stand. The main station building stood in Stockwell Street and ran between Burney Street and London Street (now Greenwich High Road) and under Royal Hill.
My problem is relatively simple. Whilst I have a plan of the station building and a lot of pictures, I have nothing that has a scale to it. I therefore can not model the station building with any accuracy. I have been everywhere, to Mycenae Road (who were very helpful), bought various books over the years, been to the track mob at Waterloo (who sent me the unsealed station plan) and even to the National Railway Museum (who have station building plans, but apparently not one of Greenwich Park).
Even the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Society, to which I belong, can not think of anything more to do to try to get scaled plans.
So I wondered whether, with your contacts, you could either send me scaled elevation plans of the station or point me in the direction of someone who can. I would, of course, pay reasonable costs. Thanks.

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