Monday 4 November 2019

White Hart Depot and Frank Sumner


by Dave Ramsey

White Hart Road depot - which has featured in this newsletter on several occasions recently - was built and designed by Frank Sumner, MICE. The following gives some details of his career:

Frank Sumner, MICE, lived at ‘The Gables’, Brent Road,  Plumstead. 1904-1907

Born 17th May 1865. Son of John Sumner of Coleshill nr. Birmingham (a chemist)

Education: Received a scientific training at Atherstone, and privately between 1879-1881. Pupilage under Mr. Sidney G.Gamble, Assoc. M.Inst.C.E. and under Mr. J.A.Gotch, Architect, 1881-1887. Trained as assistant to Mr.Gamble, Mr. Gotch and Mr. O.Claude Robson, 1887-1892 at Grantham.

Professional. Assoc. Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 9th August 1892,  Member ICE 2nd March 1904.

Career: At Grantham - resident engineer on extension to sewage works, and laid out new roads, sewers, and water mains  on the Harrowby Estate.  At Kettering - Assistant Surveyor to the Local Board - extensions to sewage farm. laid out several miles of new roads, reconstructed several miles of new sewers, and assisted with plans for an isolation hospital.  Willisden - Assistant Engineer to Mr.O.Claude Robson, MICE - constructed several miles of sewers, extended the sewage farm, constructed filter beds, assisted with plans for a steel girder bridge.  Bermondsey Vestry - Chief  Engineer and Surveyor - work on sewers and paving, alterations to the Council Chamber, controlled 200 Men.

Career in Woolwich and Plumstead
Appointed Borough Engineer and Surveyor at Plumstead Vestry (later amalgamated with Woolwich) 10th May 1899. Left in 1905.  At Woolwich he constructed 20 miles of sewers, 8 miles of streets. Prepared plans for and supervised the erection of the combined electric light station and refuse destructor at Plumstead, White Hart Road, - this cost £6,000 with a well, and hydraulic machinery for making clinker bricks and flags. He prepared plans for a new library at Plumstead and plans for public baths and wash houses at Plumstead. Late he also drew up the plans for a coroner’s court and a mortuary. He planned the widening of Well Hall Road between Eltham and Shooters Hill to 60 feet and paving for the tramway at a cost of £27,000.  He designed street improvements to £30,000. Certified annually general works to the cost of £80,000. Controlled 600 men and passed plans for 1,500 buildings per year.

Later Career. City Engineer to the City of London 1905-1914. Inaugurated central lighting in the City, and was responsible for the Fleet Street widening scheme.

Died 22nd December 1914



The Woolwich and Plumstead areas had a history of radical thinking, self help and questioning officialdom. The Woolwich Building Society was founded in 1847, the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) was founded in 1868 and the Woolwich Polytechnic in 1890. It was against this background  that a period of imaginative municipal construction and acquisition took place in the early 1900s.

Attempts by Queen’s College Oxford in 1871 to enclose Plumstead Common, extinguish free access and grazing rights, led to the establishment of the ‘Commons Protection League’. In 1876 fences on the Common were torn down in what was described as the ‘Plumstead Common Riots’ and the  leader was imprisoned. An Act of Parliament in 1877 authorised the purchase of Plumstead Common, Bostall Heath and Shoulder of Mutton Green, by the Metropolitan Board of Works.
Workers from the Royal Arsenal set up their own buyer’s co-operative in 1868, operating at first from members houses in Plumstead and then as RACS from 147 Powis Street.

There was therefore a solid record of local achievement for radical thinkers.  In the election for Woolwich Council in November 1900, of the 36 Councillors, just 11 members of the Woolwich and Plumstead Progressive Association represented radical thinking on the Council.  The area was thought to be a bastion of support for the Conservative Party.  In July 1901 the Labour Representation Committee’s candidate defeated the sitting MP in a by-election for the Borough Council, St.Mary’s Ward. In another Council by-election the following year the Rev.Jenkins Jones won St.Margaret’s Ward for Labour and in a Parliamentary by-election in March 1903 Will Crooks became the Labour MP for Woolwich - the fourth Labour MP to be elected.  In November 1903 Labour won a majority on Woolwich Borough Council, which it held until 1906.  During this period the vexed issue of a public baths for Plumstead was settled with a decision to build. During the period also Labour built the first council houses, in North Woolwich.

The Events

Local Government in the Metropolis was to be reorganised. Eltham, Plumstead and Woolwich were to be amalgamated into the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, Civic Pride would have dictated that Plumstead vestry would have wanted to hand over an administration with good civic amenity.

The problems of disposing of urban waste were difficult and getting worse as urban building continued apace. Gas street lighting was expensive to run and out of the control of the Vestry, as the gas had to be bought from a private gas company.  Civic buildings needed bricks and paviours were needed for highway work.

It was in this context that Plumstead Vestry investigated the possibilities of building its own power station to supply electricity. Visits were organised to electricity station in Leyton, Shoreditch, St.Pancras and Brighton.  It was decided to proceed with a Station at Plumstead.

It was felt that the most important action to be taken was the appointment of really able professional staff. It was decided to appoint an Engineer-Surveyor and an Electrical Engineer.  These staff could advise on issues of best practice from around the country.  The Committee wanted to investigate the benefits of building a combined refuse destructor and electricity station. Professor Robson recommended that the waste heat from the burning of rubbish could be used to supplement that produced by the coal burning electricity station. Frank Sumner was appointed Engineer-Surveyor and Arthur Wright, Surveyor-Electrical Engineer.  

In May  1900 the Committee looked at Sumner’s draft plans. Technical details were discussed as was the need to cater for future expansion in demands.  In late May of that years four other stations were visited, two at Liverpool, one at St. Helens and one at Darwen. The Committee thanked Sumner for his careful planning of the visit.  The main conclusion was that the combined station was as good idea as they wanted to maximise the energy capture,. To this end it was decided to load the refuse boiler manually, rather than the cheaper top loading by tipping. This method was more labour intensive and slightly m,ore costly, but gave much better rates of burn efficiency. All of the boilers were to be of a compatible type.

Once the plans had been adopted specifications were to be printed so that the tendering progress could begin. Plumstead Vestry Rules insisted that a ‘schedule of hours of labour and rates of wages’ should be included in all tender documents.  The new Woolwich Borough council moved diligently to give effect to the plans it inherited from Plumstead.

This article appeared in the September 2000 GIHS Newsletter

No comments: