Friday, 7 February 2020

Reviews and snippets September 2004

Reviews and snippets September 2004


News about preserved tug Swiftstone - and pictures of her work as a support vessel in aid of a sponsored row on 9th August last year for the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital. More recently, on 30th July this year, Swiftstone led the Beating the Bounds ceremony on the river with the Bishop of Southwark.


It really is a pity, given that we have sites of two naval dockyards locally, that this Portsmouth-based newsletter can say so little about them - apart from notices of Society AGMs held at the Maritime Museum, and some cataloguing work done by David Worrell there, they maintain a complete silence on the subject. Can we encourage people to get in touch with them?


A glossy produced by Paul Yunnie of Andrews Water Heaters for CIBSE, this gives a page each to a number of remarkable heating systems in historic buildings. One of these is the Courtauld House (Eltham Palace to us). There are some nice pictures of the central vacuum cleaner system and details of the hot water panels embedded in the walls, synchronous clocks throughout the house, a loudspeaker system to relay music and a private internal telephone exchange by Siemens.


The current Guide contains another of Neil Rhind's dynamic articles on Blackheath. This one, The busy life of Tranquil Val, features pictures of Blackheath Windmills. The area began as a sand pit in the 1740s but following flooding and subsequent drying out, windmills were built there. West Mill dated from 1760 and was demolished in 1835. East Mill remained as a stump into the 1850s. Both were replaced with posh houses. The Vale was also home to the National School for Industry (for girls!) and nearby was a brewery from 1825. By 1850 it was owned by James Peacock brewing 'Peacock's Swipes'. His ale cost 1/6d. a gallon in 1861 and was brewed with the help of his wife and 10 children.


On 18th August were offering a prize for the reader who could guess the weight on one of the steam hammer bases being moved in the Arsenal site. They are going to be placed in the entrance to the Shell Foundry as a visitor attraction. 


The front page has a remarkable photograph by Bob Carr of the decorated and beflagged ironwork at Crossness on the occasion of the 'first steaming' on 4th April this year.


The August 2004 edition contains Further observations on Henry Bessemer by Mary Mills. This is in response to a write-up of Dennis Smith's GLIAS AGM talk on Bessemer and points out Dennis' omission of Bessemer's Greenwich steel works on the Greenwich Peninsula.


One of the problems which faced Crossness in the past few months was the sudden cancellation of their Open Day on 10th May. This was to be the first public steaming of Prince Consort and people were coming from all over the country. Thames Water are in dispute with Bexley Council on issues of smell from the works and therefore seem to have decided that the public steaming was a likely security risk - and so the Open Day had to be cancelled.

Another item in the Newsletter is - What is under the Valve House? So - 'D.I.D' explains "The Valve House has not had much of a mention in any history of Crossness to date. It lies to the western end of the site and today it houses the Trust's collection of steam items awaiting restoration and display."

D.I.D. goes on "The story starts when the Trust took delivery of an Easton & Anderson Beam engine which had been used to pump fresh water at Addington... Easton & Anderson were a local firm in Erith and it was decided it would be appropriate if it were exhibited at Crossness..... the Valve House was selected as a suitable place to set up the engine. Now that "Prince Consort" is back in steam the restoration of the Easton & Anderson engine has begun! It has an 18ft diameter flywheel and must have a pit which goes below floor level".

However - investigations have led to exciting discoveries. D.I.D. explains: " A survey has recently been carried out in the "cable tunnel" situated at the south-western comer of the Boiler House which is home to electric cables. This tunnel ends abruptly and some of the cables leave the tunnel by turning south. Martin Wilson wanted to know where these cables went when they plunged underground. He lifted up an inspection hatch on the southern side of the garden and found they crossed the garden through an underground chamber attached to the vaulted brick roof. Further investigation revealed a chamber some 13ft wide by 23ft long and quite deep! Further work is needed.


The 2004 edition of this review, produced by English Heritage, contains information about archaeological work on the Arsenal site. They point out that "The Royal Arsenal in Woolwich is a site of national importance in terms of its history, architecture and archaeological remains.... the site contains a large number of listed (and unlisted - but historic) buildings ranging widely in date, function, scale and architectural style".

They describe how "In the past year the main focus has been the on-going programme of works to record some of the main historic buildings in advance of their conversion to new uses. These reflect the variety of structures at the site ranging from the imposing grandeur of the Napoleonic-period Grand Store and the early 18th- century Royal Military Academy to the Crimean-period Shot and Shell Foundry Gatehouse, the later 19th century chemical laboratory and the vast early 20th-century Central Offices. Other buildings recorded include the Paper Cartridge Factory, a pair of very large late 19th century storehouses and the relatively small telephone exchange (originally Naval Offices).

The most recent site recording is the Grand Store complex built between 1806-13 and listed Grade II*. Of three quadrangles only the central survives in anything like its original form. Due to severe subsidence, the ranges are in a poor condition - for instance the north bay had had its original stone and brick construction taken down and rebuilt in timber framing and the original stone cornices were replaced with timber replicas, clearly work to make the construction lighter and less susceptible to subsidence. It is known from historical documentation that the ranges started sinking soon after their initial construction. Several hydraulic lifts were also installed in the 19th century to move heavy equipment between floors. There is possible evidence of a series of small freestanding stoves throughout the ranges but now entirely removed.

Excavations on the south boring mill site showed the development of buildings from 1808, starting with what contemporary plans label as a 'Dipping Square', which was used for making fuses. This brick-built structure was part of the Royal Laboratory division of the Royal Arsenal, primarily charged with the invention and development of weapons. A range of gun carriage timbers, described below, were used as a foundation raft as the structure was built on marshy ground. Later buildings included the South Forge, from which the base for the 35 ton steam hammer and its anvil (which remains in situ).

A total of ninety-two timbers from gun carriages designed and built at the time of Nelson offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the constructional techniques and use of gun carriages. The Arsenal produced weapons and accoutrements for land campaigns and the timbers contained block trails from land carriages and siege guns, and blocks for mounting Cohorn mortar guns. These were invented by the Dutch military engineer Menno van Coehoorn (1641 - 1704). The majority of the collection though was from naval carriages. It included side-pieces (cheeks), wheels (trucks), cross-pieces (transoms) and axles (axle-trees). The majority of the timbers are to be transported to Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower at Gosport, where they will be used as a study collection for artillery experts and educational groups.


The current edition of English Heritage's Historic City for a Modern World contains a short article by Paul Calvocoressi highlighting the important of Convoy's Wharf, Deptford 'key to naval supremacy and Naval Power'. He points out that the Dockyards as 'major state-capitalised undertakings'.. 'were also a key element in the country's development as a leading industrial power'.

We would also like to wish Paul a happy an profitable retirement - hope it will mean his continued and increasing involvement with GIHS - and thank him for his work in East and South East London over the years.


This substantial book has been produced by Dr. Dennis Smith for The Institution of Civil Engineers and consists of a gazetteer or interesting historic engineering sites in the London area. Greenwich sites listed are: Woolwich Ferry and Foot Tunnel, Thames Flood Barrier, Blackwall Tunnels, Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Deptford Pumping Station, Southern Outfall, Deptford and Woolwich Royal Naval Dockyards, London and Greenwich Railway, Docklands Light Railway, Jubilee Line Extension, Deptford Power Station, Greenwich Power Station, Royal Arsenal Woolwich, Enderby's Wharf Greenwich, Millennium Dome and the Royal Military Academy. It's difficult to chose which of those to highlight as an extract - so, let's look at what he has to say about what is probably the least well known in this list:

Deptford Pumping Station - This lift station, on the Southern Main Drainage, was the first to be completed in May 1864. The original plant comprised four beam engines totaling 500 hp and ten Cornish boilers by Slaughter, Gruning & Co. of Bristol. The pumps lifted 123 million gallons per day through 18ft. It is a stock brick building, with round-headed windows, a slate roof and a square brick chimney. Coal was delivered from Deptford Creek and stored in a cast-iron arcaded, covered coal store, which still exists. The building contractors were Aird and Son. The steam engines were replaced by reciprocating oil engines and subsequently by electric motors. It is still an operational station maintained by Thames Water.


This is the latest edition of a Community Vision for the Port of Deptford. Everyone who is interested in the fate of this wharf, the site of the earliest Royal Naval Dockyard.

They say: "When it became apparent that Convoys was likely to be redeveloped, a clear aspiration was to maximise employment. Out of that desire came the idea of locating London's long wished-for cruise liner terminal on the 25 acres - just over half of the site protected as wharfage.

A mix of marine industries on the wharf would re-connect Deptford with the river, whilst leaving enough space for other forms of employment. Although the cruise liner terminal remains at the heart of the community's vision for Convoys Wharf, this revision additionally seeks to address some of the wider challenges presented, and opportunities afforded, by such a large site. Since the earlier editions of this document were published, the Port of London Authority (PLA) have taken the lead in progressing plans to develop a permanent cruise liner facility at Convoys Wharf. In addition to the work directly related to Convoys Wharf, they have recently published the results of an Economic Impact Study, which shows that some twelve thousand jobs within Greater London are directly related to Port activity. Over and above this, London's international shipping concerns (ship brokers, owners, underwriters, surveyors and specialist legal firms) employ nearly fourteen thousand people within Greater London.

A cruise liner terminal would give both the Port and the international shipping business a visible focus within London that is currently lacking .

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