Sunday 15 December 2019

Greenwich Labour Party Office

Greenwich Industrial History Society picks up on lots of things about our industrial past -  and also often looks at buildings associated with them ..................................

So (post General Election) we ought to mention the great transformation and doing up of the old Greenwich Labour Party Offices at 32 Woolwich Road.  Its been a long time and the neighbours must have had some bad days next door to all that work.  We are told that as nearly 90 years of paint and paper was stripped away inside that all sorts of musty horrors emerged.

Hope to have more to come on the building soon.............

- and - of course - Congratulations to Matt Pennycook - and the next 90 years!

Friday 6 December 2019

The Union Wharf weight from Merstham

The Union Wharf weight from Merstham

The layout of the Merstham terminus of the Croydon Merstham & Godstone Railway has puzzled historians in the past and it was not until the 1970s that evidence started to emerge which enabled a clearer picture to be built up. Recent evidence is debated in "Early Plateways and Firestone Mining in Surrey" (see references). In 1972 the Surrey Archaeological Society organised a rescue dig under the direction of Jim Shenton. The reason for the rescue dig was that the planned M23 motorway, now constructed, was destined to traverse the CMGR terminus site thus possibly obliterating any remaining evidence. During the rescue dig evidence of early plateways was unearthed and this evidence is discussed in the above mentioned publication. Of particular interest was the discovery of evidence which led to the identification of a plateway at Merstham which predated the CMGR by 10 or more years. This plateway, which was in the region of Quarry Dean Farm, led to underground stone workings via a stone barrel vault and cutting. The cutting can still be seen as a surface feature and access to the barrel vault can be gained via a nearby cavers' entrance to the underground stone workings. Quarry Dean Farm was at TQ 2982 5401.

On the line of the plateway in 1972 Jim Shenton excavated a stone-lined pit. This measured approximately 4ft cube and contained a substantial plinth measuring approximately 2ft x 2ft in the centre. The reason for this pit remains unclear, but within it were discovered a number of iron objects. These were removed from the SAS dig site and remained lost until quite recently when I located them in the possession of a local resident. Details of these finds are as follows:
    4 circular iron discs of varying sizes
    1 iron hook, possibly a coupling pin for plateway waggons
    2 plateway spikes similar to others identified as belonging to the earlier plateway
    1 large weight made of cast iron
As a result of these finds the pit was interpreted as a weighing station. It is the weight however that is particularly interesting. It weighs approximately 60lb. It is a traditional shape with a large ring on top. It is clearly marked Union Wharf and has a six or nine east in the top. Presumably the latter identified it as a 60lb weight.

The wording Union Wharf deserved further investigation and as a result I have prepared the 
following speculative hypothesis as to how the weight came to be buried at Merstham. First the name Union Wharf suggests a date in the region of 1805 when the union with Ireland took place. Further investigation identifies a Union Wharf on the River Thames, opposite the Isle of Dogs on Greenwich Reach. John Bratby's painting 'Dust before they took the lighters away' illustrates the river from Union Wharf. The wharf is adjacent to the present day Cutty Sark public house at Greenwich. Apparently this public house was originally called "The Union"; and was built in 1805-6 together with some adjacent cottages. It assumed its present name in 1954.

There are and were, certainly other wharves similarly named after the Union, however the Greenwich one is particularly interesting because the date of the development coincides with the dates when stone mining was active in the Quarry Dean Farm area of Merstham and also because of the associations with the Grand Surrey Canal. The Grand Surrey Canal was promoted by an Act of Parliament of 1801. Although intended to run from Rotherhithe to Mitcham it ended up as a dock business and only, reached Camberwell 3 1/8 miles from Rotherhithe, with a much later Peckham branch in 1826. It reached Camberwell in 1810 and eventually became part of the Surrey Docks Company in 1864. Access to the Thames was at Rotherhithe via the Surrey Commercial Docks onto Limehouse Reach which was adjacent to Greenwich Reach and in the same vicinity as the Union Wharf.

Another canal given a Parliamentary Act in 1801 was the Croydon Canal. Like the Grand Surrey, Ralph Dodd was the engineer. This canal ran from Croydon for 9¼ miles to the Grand Surrey Canal at New Cross although originally intended to go to Rotherhithe, The canal closed in 1836 surviving only 27 years following its opening on October 22, 1809. The Croydon Canal linked with the Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway.
The Croydon Merstham and Godstone Railway history has been well covered in a variety of publications (see references). It is sufficient to say that it connected the Surrey Iron Railway and the Croydon Canal at Croydon with the stone and lime workings at Merstham. The CMGR was opened in 1805, eventually closing in 1939. We are now in a position to speculate on how the Union Wharf weight arrived in Merstham. The Union Wharf development was carried out about 1805/6 and perhaps provided transhipment facilities for inland waterborne traffic from the Grand Surrey Canal in its early days before the dock development took place. The Grand Surrey Canal connected with the Croydon Canal from 1809, but the link was severed in 1836 when the Croydon Canal closed. The CMGR connected with the Croydon Canal throughout the life of the canal thus the weight could have been transported south to Merstham during the period by canal and waggonway.
The fact that the Union Wharf weight is 60lb is another factor which assists in establishing its age. The 120lb hundredweight was discontinued during 1823/4 and therefore establishes that this half hundredweight was made prior to this date. Later half hundredweights were of course 56lb.
The Union Wharf weight, however, was found in conjunction with a plateway that was believed to have been constructed between 1792-5. This pre-dated the CMGR by ten or more years. The dating of the weight and its journey to Merstham, lend support to the belief that this earlier plateway was still operational after 1809 in spite of the fact that the CMGR terminus had been superimposed on top of part of this earlier plateway.
Investigation of the Butterley Furnace ledgers throws up one further clue regarding the origin of the Union Wharf weight. The materials for the CMGR were produced by the Butterley Company of Derbyshire and the furnace ledgers still survive in the Matlock Record Offices. Inspection reveals the following entries:
November 12, 1805 (CMGR account) — Weighing Machine complete
March 15, 1805 Cast iron weights for own wharf (Anderson & Eades account)
Bearing in mind the volume of business that the Butterley Company were doing at this time with the Surrey Iron Railway and the CMGR, could it be that these, references were to the mechanism for the stone-lined pit at Merstham and for the Union Wharf weight for Anderson & Eades, contractors to the CMGR? We shall probably never know for sure, however articulating as the history of this weight provides a fascinating insight into the history of early industrial transport in Surrey.

Early Plateways & Firestone Mining in Surrey by B.E. Osborne, Proceedings Vol. 7, Part 3, February 1962, Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society
Official Handbook of the Port of London Authority, 1961
Canal & River Navigations, Edward Paget Tomlinson, 1977
Retracing the First Public Railway, Derek A. Baylis, 1981
I am grateful to the members of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society for their assistance in identifying numerous Union Wharves. 
Bruce Osborne

This article appeared in the September 2003 GIHS Newsletter