Friday, 31 January 2020

Reviews and snippets May 2004

Reviews and snippets  May 2004


On the 4th April this year an event was held to celebrate the 139th anniversary of the opening of the Southern Outfall Works at Crossness. This was a most successful occasion representing the high point of the work of the Trust over the past 18 years. It was shared by 261 members and guests including Simon Jenkins one of the Vice- Presidents. The afternoon was punctuated by three periods of steaming of Prince Consort each of which was preceded by a selection of live bag-pipe music performed from the gallery of Victoria. Following the second steaming, Peter Bazalgette, the Trust’s Chair, addressing the multitude, spoke eloquently about the history and future of the Trust and its work at Crossness. This was followed by a very generous buffet tea at 3.30pm. Some hearties also walked the newly revised Crossness Trail, which follows a route around the site.

Peter Trigg writes: Following the visit of H.R.H. Prince Charles last year for the first official running of the engine, Prince Consort, a further running took place on 4th April for the benefit of some 300 supporters. This event celebrated the 159th anniversary of the inaugural steaming on 4th April 1865. The engine had been beautifully restored together with the cast iron framework. It ran very quietly considering its size, it was fascinating to watch the operation of the valve gear. After the running was finished the Chairman of the Crossness Engines Trust, Peter Bazalagette, Great, Great Grandson of Joseph Bazalgette, the Engineer of the Project, gave a speech thanking members for their efforts in restoring the engine over a period of 19 years. He expressed the hope that the other three engines might also be restored. A large exhibition of photographs, paintings and drawings was on display. Of especial interest was a section covering the sludge boats, which were only taken out of service some two years ago when the incinerator was brought into use.


In late March, the Mercury ran a story about a CAMPAIGN launched to save Deptford's ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterfront’. This is spearheaded by William Richards and Chris Mazeika from the Shipwright's Palace. The campaign ‘aims to ensure the area's ancient buildings are saved from developers’ in response to the huge influx of development in Deptford and a fear old buildings will be knocked down to make way for new schemes.
Will Richards is quoted as saying: "Five years ago saw the loss of the buildings on the power station site and 1984 saw the destruction of the 1720s' naval storehouse and the removal of the clock to Thamesmead. We must hold on to what is left to save it from the tyranny of the bland which has taken over the north side of the river."
The Seven ‘Wonders’ are:

** Borthwick Wharf – designed by Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medallist, Sir Edwin Cooper in 1934 it is the late tribute to Deptford’s 500 year old meat industry.

** Payne’s Wharf – listed in 2002 this mid-19th century riverside building has huge Italianate arches and was built for a boiler manufacturer.

** Upper Watergate Stairs. An early river access point – believed to be where Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth

** Master Shipwright’s House. A listed 18th century building. Now restored to be used as a house, private gallery and performance space.

** The Great Double Dry Dock. This 16th century building is the first granite lined structure in the world. It is currently filled with rubble.

** The Basin – dating back to the 13th century this is mentioned in King Henry VIII indenture of 1513 as containing his second most powerful ship, the Mary Rose.

** Victualling Yard Buildings – these listed 18th buildings are currently used as houses and offices in the Pepys Estate.

Editor's note: – Why haven’t you included the ‘Penn’ bollard Upper Watergate – now the only relic of Penn’s engine builders, and, also, why not the massive covered slip from the 
1840s, now called ‘Olympia’!


At their February meeting Blackheath Scientific Society heard a talk by Trevor Williams, Chief Engineer for Transport for London of the S.E. Sector of Roads. The following is a summary, taken from the Society’s minutes, of some of the events surrounding the hole which appeared in Blackheath Hill in 2002.

On Sunday 7th April 2002, Mr. Williams was told that he had a hole in one of his roads. This is not particularly uncommon; but by the following morning, the road had already been closed with an impressive amount of fencing and cones; and four adjacent buildings had been evacuated - one remains unoccupied to this day. The hole, by the junction of Blackheath Hill and Maidenstone Hill, was large and growing. Just before it had appeared a bus had gone by and later a car driver said he had just managed to drive on as the road surface collapsed. Two large water mains had both ruptured, and flowing underground had formed a quicksand. No one will ever know whether a water leak started the hole or if ground settlement broke the water mains - the evidence was washed away. The hole eventually stabilised at about 9m long, 4m wide and 4m deep.

The history of the area is of caverns left by chalk mining over hundreds of years, though not under the road itself; although there was a tunnels under Blackheath Hill, built lower down for an early railway. Another tunnel was said to run from the Victorian church of Holy Trinity to the Horse & Groom pub but was found not to exist. That pub itself had a history of movement and was already empty, another building was moving less seriously and was still occupied. Blackheath Hill divides Lewisham on the south from Greenwich each responsible for the buildings on their side.

Physical investigation by TfL was confined to the area of the road - initially by levelling the road surface at spots around the hole marked by blue crosses. Then Microgravity measuring equipment was brought in to assess whether the ground beneath the whole length of the hill was dense or loose. Microgravity plots were then produced and they generally showed looser conditions on either side of the road, and this was confirmed by the boreholes. Chalk pits, not tunnelled caverns, were found and they had gone 20m below the land surface, except for a spine under the road itself. Even then the odd bite had been taken out and, at a low level, a tunnel had been made to connect the two sides of the workings. The chalk pits had been back filled by the mid 19th Century. This connecting tunnel was found to be satisfactory, as was the later railway tunnel.

The modern road is wider than the original, and now overlaps the chalk spine - it was the old, unconsolidated fill that had collapsed under the hole, down the north side of the spine.
The treatment was first to fill the hole with gravel. Then, to prevent a recurrence, the old fill by the sides of the spine was consolidated. A curtain of grout was created on both sides of the road. Boreholes were drilled through the fill to solid ground, then as the drill was removed high pressure grout was forced in to fill the borehole and any voids, and to compact the surrounding old fill. The grout is cement based, specially formulated to match ground conditions and avoid affecting the chalk aquifer underneath (which is used in London's water supply), or the foundations of adjacent buildings - it has to be water permeable, neutral, and stiff.

Drilling rigs are not plentiful, and Britain was scoured to get seven - six in use with one standby - another was brought on a barge from Italy.

While repairing the water pipes the opportunity was taken to line them from top to bottom of the hill with plastic tubing; which was welded into suitable lengths along the closed off road on the Heath. The retaining wall for Hollymount Close was in a poor state - it was agreed that a new sheet piled retaining wall be built further back, permitting a wider pavement. A special Japanese machine was brought in from Germany for some of this work. The Horse & Groom pub was demolished. After two years the work should be finished.

by John Day

The first article which this Newsletter ever received dealt with John Day’s memories of his apprenticeship at the Royal Arsenal. We have run this as an intermittent series ever since. Here, now, is the last episode – and with apologies to John for the length of time it has taken to get this far. Don’t let it put you off sending more stuff in!

We had our moments at the Woolwich Polytechnic where Dr. Mallet was the Principal. At the end of our second year most of us went for interviews at one or other of the London Colleges to study for degrees. Only three were successful, Hibbert, Maybe and Walker. The first two went to Kings College and Walker to City and Guilds. It was said that Mallet only agreed to the departure of those who were not likely to gain a degree, or whose parents could afford the fees for a College education. This seemed to have been borne out since nearly all who stayed at the Poly were successful.

We were joined by several non-Woolwich apprentices for the three years, among whom were Grey (a Belgian), whose engineering drawings were works of art, Eric Smith, who after a spell at British Celanese took over a wire drawing machine firm in Rochester, and TonyWeston. Tony was the butt of two practical jokes, one when we chained the rear axle of his Swift car to a bundle of girders destined for an extension to the Engineering Dept. The other on 5th November, when we rigged up a rocket pointing through a louvre in the top of the bonnet with a piece of fuse wire across the starter terminals. We began an argument about starting times and solemnly went out to the car park armed with stopwatches. It worked beautifully.I bought myself a green tweed suit and sitting one day at the controls of the tension test machine I was presented with a child's Green Line conductor’soutfit. After he had sold his Swift, Tony Weston bought an Austin Seven, which he found one day had been taken through double doors and down a flight of steps and parked in a corridor.

The staff at the Poly included Dr. Walter Scoble, chairman of the Committee on Wire Ropes, who tried to teach us metallurgy in the first hour after lunch on a Friday. "Sweater" Ashworth, a very kindly Lancastrian who instilled the basics of thermodynamics without actually telling us anything. His system was to put a problem on the board and leave us to it. After a reasonable time, he would look at our vacant faces and write his magic formula on the board - Heat lost = Heat gained - then he would ask what was lost and what was gained and the problem was solved! Sweater drove an open Humber tourer and he would pick up any tramp, lash his pram with its contents to the luggage grid and take the tramp to his next nights stop.

The lecturer that took us for structural design had designed the tall radio masts at Rugby. He was also friendly with the builders of Waterloo Bridge and we had a visit one afternoon when the centre span consisted of a couple of planks. Did you realise that the actual piers are only three feet thick and they allow the deck to move an inch or so with the movement of the traffic? We were lectured on mathematics by Lowry, a brilliant man who was so wrapped up his subject that he was oblivious of anything that happened in the room. He had a habit of apparently snatching a number out of nowhere, when queried what it was he would say, in a slightly hurt voice as if everyone knew, that's the cube root of XXXX! He also had a habit leaving out lines of a calculation.

As you will have gathered I left the Arsenal in 1939 to go to the Patent Office, I was there only a few weeks before I was seconded to the R.A.E. Farnborough. For the war years, my love of internal combustion engines was met by my being deeply involved with Rolls-Royce engines and turbines, a subject that had nothing to do with Woolwich. However, I did return to Woolwich during the war, when my office was in London, and did a spell as a leading fireman at Red Lion Lane. I also lived on Shooter's Hill until 1963. But they are stories for another day.....


The Autumn 2003 Quarterly Review...
from English Heritage’s London Region lists some archaeological work in Greenwich Borough area. Inevitably these are ‘dirt’ archaeology which takes scant interest in industrial remains. However, some highlights are:
Anchor Iron Wharf, Lassell Street, Greenwich (dig by the Museum of London Archaeology Service).

They found 17th and 18th century deposits and structural remains of the 16th to 20th centuries. The earliest remains are likely to be associated with the 'Hobby Stables' of 1532-1533.

Safeway Store Extension, Thamesmead (dig by MOLAS).
They found fragmentary remains of a wide stone wall across the site made of hard ragstone rough hewn blocks on the north side, and facing the Thames. A second wall built of rough-hewn chalk blocks might be associated with Tripcott House. It is thought that proximity to a vertically faced river wall would allow small craft to offload here.

White Hart Triangle, Thamesmead (dig by MOLAS)

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (dig by Oxford Archaeology)
As well as remains from the Military/Industrial period, they uncovered evidence of Roman and late Medieval activity. They found part of an extensive late Roman cemetery containing c.140 graves. There was also structural and landscape evidence of Tower Place, a mansion house with extensive grounds on the eastern limits of the Arsenal site. Adjacent to the site of Tower Place, was a tile-built double-flued pottery kiln with associated waste dumps, and clay storage pits. Work on the Thames foreshore showed preserved timber posts and plank revetments. Other timbers at the western end of the site could be from a wharf and the cranes that operated there. The main excavations centered on the historic core of the site where the Royal Laboratories, built in 1696-7 for ammunition and 'fireworks' production, and the Great Pile or Dial Arch Complex, a cannon boring workshop and storehouses of 1717-20 attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor, are located. Both areas revealed evidence of their original layout amid a vast array of structural evidence which had been added over their c.300 year operational existence. Structural remains included foundations, walls and floors, machine bases, coal cellars, iron and bronze furnaces, a casting house, engine house, boiler houses and complex flue systems. Other investigations at the site found a large amount of below ground structural evidence from demolished buildings, spanning the entire period of the site's military role, including details of a range of officer's quarters known as the New Barracks (1739), lost ranges of the Grand Store (1806-13), early 19th century magazines, the Rifled Shot and Shell Foundry (1855-6) and the 'Old Forge' (1856-8) used in the production of Armstrong-type guns and the Central Power Station (1895). In addition, historic road surfaces often with inset rail-track, and their underlying service runs were recorded. In addition, building recording was done on New Laboratory Square (1783?-c1890) and the pair of Riverside Guard Houses (1814-15). Finds ranged from Roman pottery, glass and jewellery, to the late medieval-early post medieval kiln furniture and clay pipes, to post medieval and modern small arms ammunition such as musket shot and bullets to cannons and cannon balls.

A second piece of work on a different site uncovered a series of small scale, timber stake and wattle structures inland from the current line of the Thames River Wall and dating from the medieval period. They are thought to be part of former fence lines, possibly fish traps, plus the foundations of an earthen River Wall. Two ditches, running E-W were thought to be part of the network of drainage ditches to allow Plumstead Marshes to provide agricultural land. This drainage system is apparent on maps dating to 1670, 1701, 1717, 1725 and 1749 and may have their origins from the 'inning' of the marshes in the medieval period. In 1779, this area was incorporated into the Arsenal. The well-preserved brick built remains of the Proof House, late to become the Proof Offices (built pre-1780) survived. There were other brick buildings, which related to the Proofing Workshops (built 1780-1802) sited south of the still extant E-W drained channel. There was no evidence for the contemporary Convict Sheds built to the north of this channel, although these may have been totally removed to make way for the north range of the Grand Stores east Quad constructed in the same position. A substantial cut in the northern-most part of the trench may be associated with the new River Wall begun in 1802. This allowed for a new river frontage before the construction of the Grand Stores 1806-15. In the second decade of the 19th century, the area was completely remodeled with the construction of the East Quadrangle of the Stores Department. The drainage channel was infilled, and brick culverts were constructed to drain the area. These culverts were then buried under a massive land raising exercise prior to the timber piling alignments upon which are constructed the substantial brick foundations of the Grand Stores. At the East Quad the remains of this piling pattern were recovered and correspond to the SE corner of the northern range of this quad. Documentary sources reveal that this range suffered dramatic subsidence and was demolished in 1831. Most of the remains from the late 19th and 20th centuries were removed during remediation work as part of the recent infrastructure works.

In the Woolwich Antiquarians current newsletter, Tony Robin writes:
Does anybody have memories of Thomas and Edge the builders who had their office at Station Chambers, Cross Street, and their works at Royal Dockyard Wharf? The firm was established in 1895 by the formation of a partnership between Edwin Thomas and John Edge. Many of the buildings in Powis Street and Hare Street which date from the turn of the last century, were built by them. They carried out many contracts for the Government in World War I, including extensions to the Royal Herbert Hospital on Shooters Hill. When peace was restored they built numerous local housing estates and sewer and drainage projects.

Editor’s Note – no memories Tony, but I’ve got a copy of their company history!

THE GLIAS JOURNAL is now available:

Nothing about Greenwich in it this time but lots of other fascinating material (Victorian Street paving, Barratt & Co. sweet manufacturer, and the Camden Hydraulic Accumulator). More details to come!

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