LETTERS MARCH 2004
From: Roy Tindle
I represent a small group of people who share several concerns about the proposed development of Mast Pond Wharf. We are trying to raise consciousness about this site - between the Dockyard Estate and the Woolwich Ferry and currently lying derelict.
That this site dates back at least to the Royal Naval Dockyard of King Henry VIII, indeed the wool exporting business on which Woolwich was founded probably used this land for many centuries prior to this. Mast Pond Wharf is, with Convoys, all that remains of a very significant part of Britain's history. The two Royal Naval Dockyards can be a said to be part of the heritage of much of the 'New World' too. Local heritage-driven tourism has an important role to play in inner city regeneration; that much of this heritage lies close to the river suggests greatly increased river passenger transit as the tourism aspect is developed. I probably do not need to observe that the most dramatic views of many major cities are obtained from the rivers that bisect them.
There is planning consent to build a hotel on the site but this permission is about to expire without any construction having taken place. I understand that there will soon be another application, this time seeking permission to build flats. Their choice has been limited by both the Thames Pathway and the intention to use the southern margin of the land to build a rapid transit roadway as part of a wider Greenwich transport plan. We should not permit this major piece of heritage to vanish under flats. I really don't think that the size of the place makes much difference in housing terms but it could play an invaluable role in civic pride.
Our most serious concern is the further loss of riparian land: this, the ferry terminal and the slipway to the east of the Waterfront Centre are the sole remaining road/river access points in Woolwich. The remainder of the south bank of this reach of the Thames has only limited river access: for example, the new Woolwich pier ends on an elevated walkway to which vehicular access is very limited. Furthermore, the increasing housing density along the Thames is going to exacerbate an already labouring transport infrastructure. The sensible, low cost and environmentally sound transport route with a huge capacity surplus is the Thames but the same housing development is seriously depleting access to the river. There is a further anomalous component in this equation and that is that housing is being primarily sited along the river frontage while new industrial premises are being situated inland, away from river access, thus increasing the burden on road and rail.
This site offers the potential for specialist historic small ship restoration that could run in parallel with the functions of a normal riverside boatyard. Further, we are aware of two historic vessels that have indicated a desire to use the site as a home mooring and repair facility. The updated PLA Economic Impact report shows 482 direct jobs and £14.8M gross value added to Greenwich but that is peanuts when compared to the value of riverside housing land. Long term that added value keeps coming in and all that new housing that's going up for miles along the river will require new transport.
The fate of the Woolwich Free Ferry is another issue but is linked to the local wharves. The south terminal is adjacent to a large car park, which could be sold for housing development thus losing the remaining vehicular access to the river. We will be proposing alternative economically viable passenger uses for the ferry vessels in due course.
Finally, the Woolwich Community Website Project, which I chair, is working with Cory Environmental to establish a digital photographic record of the Thames banks from Cory's depots in Wandsworth to Mucking. This will consist of a series of relatively high-resolution images (6 megapixel) taken in overlapping sequence.
I understand too that both the Massey Shaw and the Swiftstone are looking for permanent moorings and Mast Pond would be very convenient.
From: Glynis Turner
I write from Australia as I hope you might help me with regard to the industry in the Deptford area circa 1800- 1820s. In 1801 Elizabeth Wibrow was baptised at St. Paul's Deptford, father Thomas Wibrow, coachmaker of Copperas Lane. Do you know of any coach building in the lane? Or could I have misread it for Soapmaker? Elizabeth married in 1816 Francis John King. They came to Sydney Australia in 1827. Francis was a soap maker who initially superintended Aspinall's Soap Manufactory and later built a soap making business, which included rendering fat by boiling down livestock in a number of locations in New South Wales and Queensland. One of their sons was involved in exporting beef to California (during 1850s gold rush) and England canned and/or refrigerated in the 1870s - I am yet to determine the details. There certainly was a shipment of frozen meat to England in 1877.
From: Sylvia Snipp
On the WW2 Memorial of S.E. Met Gas workers - has anyone a list of the names on the memorial? Was there any such list of WW1 S.E. Met Gas workers? I have a Long Service Certificate of my husband's grandfather - Henry Snipp. Whilst he had worked 25 years in 1936, he stayed until his retirement and lived for many years afterwards. He was born in Greenwich in 1884. I'm not sure how the SMGC accounted for long service if someone fought in the war. Would you happen to know if the '25 years' excluded war service? If someone wanted to find out more about a relative who worked for SMGC where would you advise they look? Are there any lists of employees on the internet somewhere?
From: Caroly Howe
There is a Naval Dockyard Society site, which provides a Database & Information on Dockyard History. One was called "Deptford Shipbuilding". My husband's ancestors were Shipwrights in Deptford from 1720's through to the early 1800s. We are anxious to find out more about the Deptford Shipbuilding industry.
Do you know of the "Deptford Shipbuilding" and where I may find the site?
From: Karl Von Rensberg
I have been trying to find the foundry where the propellers for the Queen Mary were cast. My interest in this is that I have some really dated pictures of this. When my grandmother was alive she explained that her father was the foundry man who cast them. His name was John Hall.
From: John Hanman
I collect old drinking glasses etched with pub or brewery names mainly from the Kent area. I have obtained a spirit glass which is etched. Property of 'The Bunker', Greenwich. This is within fancy scroll work which leads me to think it dates from 1900-30's ish and is similar to others I have. I have searched the internet but can find no mention of 'The Bunker' Greenwich and I wonder if you have a record of it. I thought it might have something to do with the Navy buildings if not a pub. Hope you can help me shed some light on this little glass.
From: Leslie Morris
I read with interest the article about the visit to Greenwich Power Station. According to records in the RIBA the architect responsible for the design, presumably working for the LCC department, was Vincent Emanuel Harris later to become famous as designer of Public Buildings - the Round House Library at Manchester civic centre. The Board of Trade Building in Whitehall and numerous Town Halls and Civic Buildings around the country. His own house designed in 1932/4 and lived in by Mr Harris, is situated in the road I live in, Fitzroy Park, Highgate, N6. We successfully persuaded English Heritage to recommend it for listing (Grade 11) when it seemed in danger of redevelopment. Mr Harris received the RIBA Gold Medal in the 1950's.
From: Pat O'Driscoll
Re: The Woolwich Navy, as mentioned on the back page of the January GIHS Newsletter. A book, 'The Unknown Fleet' by Reg Cooley was issued by Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, in I993. One of the appendices describes the uniform laid down for officers. It was a proper uniform despite Mr. Bowen's comments.
When I worked afloat (1959-70) H.R. Mitchell's of Woolwich Arsenal still operated several motor craft carrying ammunition and Government stores. I remember Katherine Mitchell (the largest) and the Vawdrey and Geoffrey Stanley. They also had a tug, the Legde. Mitchell's replaced A.R.Sales at the Arsenal. By then nobody wore uniform.
Before the war they had two wooden dumb towed craft, Gog and Magog fitted with lowering ramps. These took'big guns' to and from Shoeburyness. The guns were secured on railway tracks in the craft's hold and when the ramp was lowered the guns could be pulled forward by a steam hauler, to connect with a light railway ashore.
Magog (the second of this name) was built in 1900. She measured 90 ft x 30 ft x 7 ft. To my personal knowledge she still existed, in 1966, when she was being used as a sort of small dry dock at Piper's yard. I would have photographed her had it been possible, but small craft were generally moored alongside so that one could not get a clear view of her. We were then on Piper's with Olive May, having a number of job's done.
Another old-stager in the War Dept. Fleet was the Marquess of Partington. I knew someone who served in her during the war. A contemporary photo shows her name plainly displayed on her bow - perhaps a wartime identification measure.
From: Patsy Beech
I was wondering if you could help me with the history of Deptford Gas Works? My Great, Great Grandfather, Walter Farmer not only worked at Deptford Gas Works in 1881, but also lived there with his wife and family. On the 1881 census his address was Cottage at Gas Works, Creek Street, Deptford, and his occupation is given as Gate Keeper, in 1890 on my Great Grandmother's wedding certificate it is recorded as Gas Works Manager.
Walter Farmer died in 1895, but his son George Farmer took over the job, and was still living there with his mother (Mary A. Farmer) at the time of the 1901 census. My Dad can remember being taken there as a young boy in the late 1920's. His memories include playing in the large garden, picking tomatoes in the big greenhouse, being fascinated by George adjusting the weights to alter the levels of the gas, the stream at the end of the garden (Deptford Creek!), and of a large hole where a gas holder had once stood, and which filled with water so was great for throwing stones into. My Dad will be 83 in a few days time, but his memories are quite clear if rather scant.
Deptford Gas Works is the site of what is now the Creekside Centre - they are very interested in the history of their site and the surrounding area.
From: Bill Ellison
Would George Orwell have been referring to the Gas Works on the site of the Creekside Centre, Phoenix Site, now Greenwich Reach East when he said:
Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London. I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent.
George Orwell: 1946 Some Thoughts on the Common Toad