Friday 21 February 2020

Reviews and snippets June 2005

Reviews and snippets June 2005


Recently Mary Mills collected from Fay Gould a huge bundle of photographs of the South Met Gas Company’s Ordnance Tar Works - where the Dome is now sited. She showed them to Lewisham-based historic gas-guru Brian Sturt who sent the following article to Historic Gas Times:

These photographs show the calibration and testing of road tar sprayers when tar from the larger gaswork's own tar-plants was a major source of the raw material needed to improve roads and fix the limestone or granite chippings to the surface. The South Met Gas Co. tanker shown has been fitted at the rear with a dozen or more channels to collect the spray from the vehicle. The aim was to obtain an even spread of tar and the channels have been fitted for test purposes in order to measure this by directing the run-off into collecting cans. The test equipment appears to be homemade, but no doubt quite adequate for the needs of the day. The channels feed the spray into the cans and the contents are then measured and assessed by the lab. technician, on the right, using the weighing scale. He also has a clock to record the time taken to discharge a particular volume of tar and check and adjust the essential even dispersal to the road surface. Gas works coal tar was also sold to the public who came to the works gate, with perhaps a gallon can and this could be filled for about 2/- in the 1950's. It was used for treating fences and timber garden sheds. However, it was an impure product and as demand for tar increased for the roads, local tar distillers were established and they refined the product collected from perhaps thirty or forty small gasworks, which were too small to have their own distillation facilities. The price paid to the gas companies was about one penny a gallon!

Mary has now deposited the photographs in the Greenwich Heritage Centre at Woolwich – and any more such comments on them are very welcome.


The following is extracted from The Newsletter of the British Postal Museum and Archive. Thanks to Judith Deschamps for this info.

Our new home: the latest developments
As many of our friends will be aware, the major task for The British Postal Museum & Archive is to find a new home that allows us to be a combined museum and archive service, on one site. At present the collections are divided between The Royal Mail Archive in central London, and our Museum Store on the outskirts of the capital, in Debden, Essex. 

Our future development plans are very much based on the archive and museum collections being equally accessible to as many people as possible. Ideally, we want a unified base from which we can branch out around the country - in partnership with other museums - to ensure our collections are truly a national resource. Following an exhaustive search, we have identified a building in the Royal Woolwich Arsenal redevelopment area, which could suit our needs. Many factors steered us towards Woolwich, but this building has the potential to be a remarkable heritage centre. The building in question is Number 19 in the Royal Arsenal complex. It is nearby to Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum, and the London Borough of Greenwich Heritage Centre. Building 19 is a terrific space, but it needs a great deal of work before it could be used to house our collections. 

We have come to an agreement on cost and reconstruction with Berkeley, the Royal Arsenal developers. This gives us the information we need to make an initial bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). It must be stressed that this first bid is for funds to fully explore the practicalities of the project, by hiring architects and heritage centre designers to bring to life our plans for the building. We would then need to use these plans in applying for a far larger grant from the HLF to carry out the physical work, alongside outreach activities in the Woolwich community. As you will appreciate, developing bids of this complexity is no easy task. 

There is also no guarantee that our project will be preferred by the HLF over other worthy proposals. We are therefore looking at other options in order to keep our eyes on the main goal: to let more people than ever before enjoy the wealth of our collections. We hope this will be in Woolwich; outside forces may send us elsewhere! We will keep you informed of the latest news in the Newsletter and online at We will endeavour to keep the news limited to definitive steps forward. Your encouragement is very welcome.


We have been sent some information about Royal Iris - berthed just down from the Barrier for a couple of years.

She was built in 1950 by the famous William Denny Bros, Dumbarton as a twin screw, 
diesel electric ship for Wallasey Corporation. She was the largest and most commodious vessel ever built for the all year round service from Liverpool to Seacombe and the summer service to New Brighton. Her gross tonnage was 1,234 tons and she was 160 ft overall in length and 48 ft in breadth. Outwardly she differed from any other ship and carried the Borough coat of arms proudly on the front of her streamlined, unusual and futuristic looking superstructure. Her hull underwater was designed to facilitate instant manoeuvring and control in the often-crowded shipping lanes of the River Mersey. She was also capable of withstanding gales, which regularly sweep the Mersey Estuary, especially during the winter months. 

She had a large area for dining and drinking and a spacious dance floor. A fish and chip cafe was an integral part of original design. Her passenger accommodation had room for over 2000 under cover. The Royal Iris's most distant seaward destination from Liverpool was to the Bar Lightship, 14 miles northwest and she also traversed the Manchester Ship Canal, carrying cruise passengers. In November 1991 she was sold for use as a floating nightclub in Liverpool, and later to the Thames. Today she is laid up in a neglected and derelict condition


Earlier this year Greenwich Council turned down a planning application on the site of what is now known as the Federation Day Centre. Now we understand that, if the developer gets his way, not only will flats be built on the site, but the mines below are to be filled in.

In 1968 these mines were noted by the Chelsea Spelaeological Society (I guess that was Harry Pearman). The author described how he entered the mines in 1960 ‘by crawling down a silted up adit close the road. There was a long slide down a broken down passage lying some 20ft above its original level'. Once in he found passages ‘average 15ft high and 10ft wide. The cross section is a well-formed Norman arch. Much of the floor was covered by several inches of scummy water’. Eight years later it was said that this entrance ‘lies under a transformer chamber’ and the grating to a 60ft shaft ‘is in the grounds of Federation Hall, owned by the London Borough of Greenwich’.

In 1987 Rod LeGear undertook a proper study of the Mine which appeared in the Kent Underground Research Newsletter.

What were the mines for? In Kent and East Sussex Underground Rod LeGear explains that in 1899 RACS began to build the Abbey Wood Housing estate. The mine was excavated to provide chalk for roads and lime for plasterwork. It was known as Bostall Estate Chalk Mine or Suffolk Place Mine. The 60ft shaft was sunk in January 1900 and the floor of the mine was at the water table, deliberately, so that mortar could be mixed with pumped-out water. The mine was abandoned in 1906 and building work ended in 1914.

On 1st February 2004 the Kent Underground Research Group (KURG) entered the Bostall Estates chalk mine to survey the condition of the mine. At the same time four surveyors from the London Bat Group (LBG) surveyed the mine for hibernating bats.

Crossness Record

The Spring 2005 edition of Crossness Record contains to two articles, which add further to our knowledge of the site.

The Crossness Wells by D.I. Dawson describes the water requirement for Crossness in the 1860's and 70's for boiler and domestic use for which the Kent Water Works Company charged £27 per day. Sources of water existed in the Crossness area - in the Arsenal, at the Manure Manufactory to the east of the site. A report in February 1865 recommended, "the sinking of a well” at an estimated cost of £1,500. 

At least two wells were sunk at Crossness. One known as the Old Well eventually did produce water, but was fraught with difficulties. Suffice to say that the cost rocketed to £6,480 by 1869. Then Joseph Bazalgette reported to the Board. He said that to carry on taking water from the Thames into the settling pond would mean that the boilers would continue to suffer "on account of the salt content” and made a number of suggestions to deal with this. In February 1877 it was decided to contract with Messrs Docwra and Son to sink a new well for a sum of £5,252 15s. A year later the contract depth had been reached "without satisfactory result." but by mid-1879 a contract was issued for the "Construction of Reservoirs, Tanks, Engine and Boiler House in connection with a Water Supply". 

By 1879 the Old Well was also producing water. After some fourteen years of struggle and expense, water had at last been found and in quantities that were going to be useful.

A second article by Ann Fairthorne describes the Ransome and Rapier Super Mobile Mk 3 Crane owned by the Trust. This Came from Turners Asbestos Cement Limited at Erith. Despite extensive searching the trust has been unable to locate any other such cranes and so assume it is a rare example. 

The motors and generator are post-1936 design and from conversations with Laurence Scott & Electromotors Limited they know it was made in Manchester pre-1955 and because of the design of the tyres assume it was built post-1938/9. The quality of the castings are not up to the standard shown on other Ransomes & Rapier mobile cranes seen nor does the crane carry the traditional Ransomes & Rapier markings at the back. It carries a mixture of Bull Motor and Laurence Scott & Electromotors motors which is unusual. So why is it different? Could it have been built during World War 2, when supplies were not always easily available? 

Research in Ransomes & Rapier records have unearthed an order from Turners Asbestos Cement Co for a 2 ton super mobile crane in November 1940. This crane had a special jib designed for it although, there are no details. We do know that Turners Asbestos Cement Co at Erith was bombed on the night of 6th October 1940 and that three buildings and some cutting machines were destroyed. Could they also have had a crane that was destroyed? However the crane has a machine number different to the one ordered in 1940 and one which would make it much later. Did it go back to Ransomes & Rapier for modification or repair and was re-numbered at this point in time?

Bygone Kent

The April 2005 Edition carries an article by GIHS member, Patricia O'Driscoll on Norton's Barge Yard at East Greenwich.

The site is now near the Ecology Park by the Millennium Village on the Peninsula. Pat says that three sizeable sailing barges were built at Norton's: the 50-ton Scout in 1905, later owned by Cory's; the 64-ton Scud of 1907, which went to Burley's and the much larger Serb, 75 registered tons, built in 1916. When she discovered the yard in 1954-5 the work was mostly repairs and the workforce shrank to Fred, who lived on-site. His quarters had a locker seat from a barge's foc'sle, a pipe cot from another. A coal range for heating and cooking (next door was a coal heap and a water tap, placed there for a steam crane). He had a kitchen table with a white enamelled top, on which stood an oil lamp. There was a 'phone - the one modern feature of the yard. Everything was done with hand tools. Fred was a character straight out of W.W. Jacobs. He had an old barrow, a kind of Super 
Soapbox on small iron wheels, which he used when sent to get paint, tar, galvanised spikes and other small items.

A barge coming on to Norton's for repairs would first lie alongside the end of Dorman Long's Jetty to wait for enough water to put her 'on the blocks'. When the tide ebbed, men could get at her bottom. The yard operated on the foreshore between Dorman Long's Jetty and Pear Tree Wharf. Pat was told how, before the war, craft were also berthed between Greenwich Yacht Club and Redpath Brown's Jetty where there was a steam crane. Dorman's had a steam crane, which moved out to the jetty along rails when needed. 

Dick Norton retired in 1966 but he still went down regularly to bring Fred a newspaper. It was good luck for Fred that he did; otherwise he would have been completely alone at the deserted yard. One day he had a fall, breaking a leg and had to be taken to hospital. He never returned to the riverside as, with nowhere else to go to, he was admitted to an old people's home. Now, walking along the riverbank, there is no sign that the yard ever existed.

In our last edition we highlighted an article in the Rambler’s Association Newsletter of a riverside walk from the Barrier to Erith. This has now been published jointly by Greenwich and Bexley Councils. Copies from the Tourist Information Centre, Cutty Sark Gardens, SE10

Several members have drawn attention to a local press story about a project at EastSide in Newham, to record lost industries throughout lower Thameside. This is managed by Dr. John Marriott at the University of East London and we hope John will contribute to future Newsletter and, also, attend a meeting to tell us about the Project.

In May a meeting was held at the National Maritime Museum between some of their community staff and representatives of the various local history societies – and the membership of GIHS was very well represented. Museum staff wanted to know who we saw as ‘local heroes’ and how we should be working to promote them through walks around the area. Inevitably everyone had their list – which included far more than (non-local) Nelson and Napoleon. All sorts of men and women were mentioned – including politicians like Will Crooks - the hero of Greenwich’s Mayor, Paul Tyler – as well as many inventors, community leaders and others who had contributed in many ways. The museum staff seemed totally amazed – and clearly this is not a subject which will go away. Watch this space!


In the rooms next to the Greenwich Tourist Information Shop is a small museum and cafĂ©. These are not part of the Greenwich TIC but are owned and managed by the landlord, The Greenwich Foundation for the Royal Naval College. The Foundation would like to expand this section to tell the story of the World Heritage Site and the area around it. The idea is to offer something about the area, which is more detailed and aimed to encourage local people to attend – not just tourists. They intend to consult groups and societies as widely as possible to ascertain what they would like to see there.


The Oxleas NHS Trust now has the Greenwich Memorial Hospital (originally the Woolwich & District War Memorial Hospital) within its remit. After many years of minimal maintenance, money is now being spent to refurbish it, restoring many of its original features, and sympathetically inserting modern facilities. 

GIHS Chair, Susan Bullivant, with members Andrew Bullivant and Richard Buchanan were invited to see the Hospital on 7th April 2005 by Martin Lee, the man entrusted with the refurbishment. He showed us around the main building, pointing out many original surviving details: handsome doorways; fenestration (though some woodwork is rotting and away from the frontage there is u-PVC double glazing); good quality flooring, now under carpeting. Some 1930s features, such as asbestos lagging, are going; the plumbing needs updating; more electric sockets are wanted - for which hidden wiring is not always possible; Fire Regulations are tighter now. Lighting improvements saw the universal introduction of fluorescent tubes - though modern lamps make it possible to revert to art deco fittings more in keeping with the building. He also showed us the strong room where artifacts relating to the Hospital are stored, and spoke of the need to make an inventory of them - Susan Bullivant thought Woolwich Antiquarians. There we saw records showing that the War Memorial Hospital was often abbreviated to Memorial Hospital from its inception. The original Laundry, and many of the wards added in the grounds since its foundation, are being demolished, and two new H-shaped ward blocks are being built at the rear.

Deptford Dockyard (Convoys) goes to Lewisham Planning Committee

Lewisham Strategic Planning Committee resolved in late May to approve the current application for the site of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Deptford by 7 votes to 2. They did so despite eloquent representations by William Richards, Julian Kingston and Bill Ellson - local activists concerned at the fate of this most important of local historic sites.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has 14 days from the date of the Committee meeting in which to direct refusal of the proposal. It is unlikely he will do this. He has already indicated he will not oppose the scheme, even though breaches his own London Plan by eliminating most of the safeguarded wharf.

The ultimate guardian of the wharf's protected status is Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. His approval is required for any "reconfiguration" (to use the planners' euphemism). Given his recent support for a new publicly-funded cruise liner terminal in Liverpool we are hopeful we can persuade him to "call in" the Convoys application. It will then be the subject of a public planning enquiry.
Meanwhile the sale of Convoys to a joint venture between two Hong Kong companies, Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa, is presumably going ahead, though it's not clear at what point the sale will be finalised. Both companies are owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Last night's vote was not the end of the matter, just the end of the beginning. With thanks for your interest and support.

No comments: