Sunday 17 November 2019

Penn's Works remains


On page 9 Readers will see a letter from the Greenwich Conservation Group about remnants of the walls of the Penn’s Engienering Works on Blackheath Hill (now the Wickes site).   Following this the Group was told that more remains were to be found there – and were recommend to talk to George Arthur. Here is what he has to say:

I am sorry to have to disappoint you about the house on the John Penn site. On further checking I have found that no.10 Lewisham Road was not part of the works. I am attaching a plan of the works from Robert Smiles’ ‘Model Establishments’ with a description of the offices. No.10 is a house with a central entrance similar to that described in Smiles; article, however on checking the site again recently I find there is a gap between No.10 and John Penn Street of about 20 ft (6m) wide which I considered not wide enough to have housed a building as described even though Smiles says ‘This entrance is only a few yards wide’. This is now a car park and unloading bay for the DIY store on the site of the erection shop.
There is a developer’s sign on the area marked Smiths shop. If this area is developed soon, will they retain the existing wall?

Extracts from Great Industries of Great Britain c.1880. Model Establishments, by Robert Smiles -

“A list of the vessels fitted with engines by Messrs. John Penn and Son would occupy more space than can be spared, and would be only dry reading; but the starting-point in their career as renowned engine builders demands a word of reference. In 1836, a number of boats, built on very fine lines by Mr. Ditchbum, were put upon the Thames to ply between London, Greenwich, and Woolwich.  These were- fitted by Messrs. Penn with oscillating engines, that proved themselves in all respects greatly superior to those on the side- lever principle. The royal yacht-tender Fairy was built on the same pattern; by engines, of the same type, were fitted by Messrs. Penn, who also applied the screw propeller to the Fairy, which was one of the finest vessels in Her Majesty's navy fitted with this kind of machinery. Among .the first of the ships of the navy fitted with their improved oscillating engines, by Messrs. Penn, were —the Black Eagle, the Sphynx, the Banshee, and the royal yacht Victoria and Albert; also the renowned Australian liner Great Britain, and many other ships for the navies and mercantile marine of various countries.
The entrance used by the heads of the firm, managers, clerks, draughtsmen, foremen. etc., is at the junction of John Penn Street with Lewisham Road. This entrance only a few yards wide; from it the natural contour of the ground dips by a rather steep incline. Passing through the outer door and down it a few steps a hall is reached, with on each side a range of well-lit Offices, and counting, model, waiting and other rooms.' Over all these, on a first floor, is large drawing office, admirably lit, partly from the roof.  In this part of the premises, marked o o o o in our sketch, the initiatory steps are taken in connection with every engine or boiler produced by the firm. On the ground floor, the "interviewing" and the correspondence, of a polyglot character, that precede orders or contracts, are conducted. Preliminaries settled, the work is passed upstairs, where complete drawings and specifications are prepared by chiefs of departments, in concert with the heads of the firm. From the finished designs working drawings are made, showing in exact pro- portions the minutest details, down to rivet and bolt holes. These drawings are passed to the head foremen in the different shops, who are responsible for the production of the numerous and varied parts that are to be brought into harmonious combination in a vast and complex machine. With the distribution of the working drawings among the foremen, the actual manufacture of the engine may be said to begin, and will give full scope to watchful over- sight and skilled work. On the inner edge of the office hall other doors and a flight of steps give access to the erecting shop and heavy turnery, and from it to all other parts of the works.
Reverting to our sketch, it should be mentioned that the entrance for the workmen is by a wide gateway (G') in John Penn Street, where the timekeeper has a lodge (6). This is also the principal entrance and exit for raw materials, and for finished work. . A powerful weighing machine (a) is placed within the gate, upon which the loads are weighed when necessary. The gateway referred to, it will be seen, affords ready access for pig iron to the foundry, malleable iron to the smiths' shop, timber to the carpenters', and materials for the different departments.

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