Tuesday 10 March 2020

Reviews and snippets May2006

Reviews and snippets May2006

David Bathe
David was supposed to be coming to our May meeting to speak to us about the Woolwich Ferry. Unfortunately he suffered a very severe accident while in the course of school governor duties and is unable to be with us. Can we take this opportunity of sending our best wishes for his swift recovery?

Alan Pearsall - We regret to note the death of Alan Pearsall, one of our founder members. Alan had been the historian at the National Maritime Museum and had a wide knowledge of industrial and transport history. He had spoken to the Society on Thames Colliers and was supportive of many other subjects. He will be sadly missed. Members may not know that, along with Jack Vaughan, Alan was instrumental in saving the cast-iron plates of Maudslay’s tomb in Woolwich Churchyard.

Alan Turner - Alan was Chair of the Royal Arsenal Historical Society and a stalwart of the fight to preserve memories of the Arsenal. He had spoken at GIHS meetings and was a founder member


Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and headed by Eastside Community Heritage and the Raphael Samuel History Centre, the Working Lives project seeks to contribute to the creation of sustainable communities in the Thames Gateway region by helping to construct the (self)-identity and worth of local cultures built upon a distinct 'sense of place'. Collaborative projects, focused for the most part on oral histories of work, will be undertaken with communities to uncover memories of shared experiences.

Working Lives is concerned with the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Greenwich and Bexley. Its focus over a five year period is on the industrial and cultural heritage of the area, to address the following themes:

- Cultures and historical experiences of diverse communities. The whole area has a profound historical debt to the Thames and the experiences of development and decline.

- Patterns of migration and settlement. Development and decline has promoted massive migrations flows across the area including movements of diverse diasporic communities, many seeking refuge from persecution

- Links with the wider world, in particular the British empire.

- Contemporary legacy of industrial heritage. Starting with the collapse of the staple industries of inner East London and shipbuilding on the Thames from the mid-nineteenth century, continuing to the closure of the docks, major engineering firms, and partial closure of Fords in recent years. This decline has impacted massively on local communities, promoting the outward migration of indigenous populations and leaving a legacy of deprivation and neglect.

- Impact of the past on the potential for regeneration. Potential for success is predicated upon an awareness of the area's history, the creation of sustainable communities, and their full involvement in regeneration.

Earlier this year, we successfully applied for £50k. This is seed funding, and has enabled us to appoint a development worker to undertake educational and outreach work.

The Centre has assumed responsibility for developing educational programmes leading to postgraduate study, putting together teaching packs for use in local schools, and establishing a more academic agenda for study of the Thames Gateway. This preparatory work will form the substance of the major bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund which we hope to complete in May/June 2006. At this stage we anticipate that the bid will be for a little under £1m.

The Centre is also planning actively to bring Eastside onto the Dockland Campus of the University of East London, March 2006.


Whatever is happening to Bygone Kent?? The February issue contained an excellent article by Barbara Ludlow on Keeping Clean about the many public baths in the Greenwich and Woolwich area. (How many can you list?). So far everything was as usual. Then came letters talking about the bankruptcy of Meresborough Books. Then in April an issue turned up – a bit garish, quite honestly – from someone in Whitstable, with no sign of long time editor (and GIHS member) Pat O’Driscoll. It was very bright and cheerful – where did all those pictures come from???

This April edition has an article by Sarah Newman about Eltham at War.

Then no more until a May/June Emergency Issue showed up. Still a bit garish. Asking for another lot of subscriptions or the magazine would fold. There was nothing at all in it about Metropolitan Kent – so we don’t know what is going on. What do other people think???

Woolwich Antiquarian Society

The Society has just published its 2005 Occasional Paper No.4. This is entirely about Shopping in Woolwich - taken from an idea by the late Tony Robin and contains articles by some 30 members plus many pictures and advertisements from the past.

Iris Bryce books
The following books, signed by author, Iris Bryce, are available from;
Canals Are My Home - Adventures in a Narrow Boat
Remember Greenwich
A Tree in the Quad - Life in Woolwich 1940s-70s.

New hope for Severndroog Castle from Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage

Plans for the restoration of Severndroog Castle have taken a step forward thanks to the award of a Project Planning grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The £19,200 grant plus £15,000 from English Heritage will enable the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust to carry out detailed plans for development.

Severndroog Castle is one of London’s hidden treasures, and is a much-loved local building. It has been closed to the public for over twenty years and has fallen into disrepair. Local residents formed the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust (SCBPT), and have successfully negotiated an alternative plan for the full restoration of the Castle to return it to public use.

The Webmeister reports (2017 edit) these efforts came to a successful conclusion with its formal re-opening on July 20th, 2014.

Gasworks to Dome

Gasworks to Dome is a combination of a local history (and particularly oral history) project and a new technology project, focusing on East Greenwich (including the Peninsula) within living memory. We have made – and continue to make – a number of oral history recordings of local residents, and have also collected many images of the area, both old and recent. In addition we have taken many brand new photos, for comparison, and we’ve been holding Adobe Photoshop workshops. Then we have created a website – gasworkstodome.org.uk (please note this link no longer works and has been re-directed to another, relevant, site about Peninsula history created by Mary Mills) and loaded up all the images and interviews (there is more to come). More interestingly, we have been using the latest technology to tag clips of the interviews onto topics – streets, a landmarks, industries, activities – and we have put the photos into those categories as well. The result is a web of photos and sound clips, organised not in a hierarchy but in a variety of different ways. Do take a look at the site if you like, though bear in mind that it is still under construction. Or, if you would like to join in, on the oral history side, the photographic side, the technological side, or a bit of all three, either turn up at Independent Photography, 

The Webmeister further notes that as a consequence of the Web pages created for this project no longer being accessible, the invaluable oral history recordings are currently unavailable. As there are copies of the recorded material as well as some transcripts, the Society is looking at ways of making these recordings available once again.

Sponsor a tile at Crossness

One of the Crossness Engine Trust's objectives is to return the Beam Engine House to its original 1865 condition. To this end, they have been actively looking at the possibility of replacing an area of missing floor tiles in front of the north facing windows on the Beam floor. They feel that this colourful display of Victorian tiling would add to visitors’ enjoyment of the Engine House. It is laid with tiles of varying shape and colour (red, black and harvest blue) to form a geometric pattern. They have located a company at Burslam, Stoke on Trent, which still makes an exact match of the original tiles, in both size and colour.

The Trust is seeking help from those who would like to contribute to this restoration project. This will take the form of sponsorship and you can sponsor as few or as many tiles as you wish, up to a maximum of the 900 required, at a cost of £l per tile.

Shooters Hill Local History Group
Congratulations on their 13th anniversary exhibition and yummy anniversary dinner.

Third Symposium on Shipbuilding and Ships on the Thames

This took place in February at Greenwich University. Clearly all the papers had a great deal of local interest.

One directly local paper was given by Richard Hartree on John Penn and Sons - members will remember that Richard spoke on this subject to our 2005 AGM.

A summary of Richard’s paper is as follows:
The business was started by the author's great, great, great grandfather, John Penn in 1799, as a millwright's and agricultural engineering firm. Within twenty years it was one of the major engineering businesses in London.

John Penn II the only son, was born in 1805. In 1818 he entered the firm as an apprentice In the 1825 the firm took on its first marine engineering contract for engines for Ipswich and the Suffolk. In 1837, under John Penn II's guidance, they introduced a very successful design of oscillating engine for paddle steamers; which was still being made in the 1890s. In the 1840s they introduced their patented trunk engine for naval steam screw auxiliaries; it was manufactured into the 1870s.

The Russian (Crimean) War showed the firm's ability as an organiser of subcontractors in the manufacture of 75 gunboat engines. Screw propulsion was plagued by a serious technical problem with the stern bearing of the propeller shaft. In 1855 John Penn II patented a wood bearing. This overcame the problems and allowed screw propulsion to become practical; a major development. 

John Penn II died in 1878 and was succeeded by his son John Penn III and his brother William.

Most of the firm's orders came from the Admiralty and Thameside shipbuilders. In the 1870s and 80s business fell drastically. The site location and layout led to high costs. Technological developments favoured firms better placed to serve the growing cargo ship market. John Penn & Sons collapsed in 1899 and was bought by Thames Ironworks The Greenwich and Deptford works continued to operate until 1911.

There were also a number of queries raised:

British Shipbuilding Database – maintained by Dr. Ian Buxton, University of Newcastle. He is interested in lists of shipbuilding launches on the Thames.

Rif Winfield is looking for information on the design of Thames built naval sloops of the early 1740s (he notes Deptford built Swallow – John Buxton, 1743, Jamaica – Deptford Dockyard, 1732, Trial – Deptford Dockyard 1743, Speedwell – John Buxton 1744) tanparcau@btopenworld.com
Knut who wants to know about the copper bottoming of Naval Cutter, Alert, built Deptford Dockyard 1777.

Stuart Rankin would like information on Peter Kier. redriff2@yahoo.com


Alan Parfrey has sent us this picture of his great grandfather – a fireman. Any comments about the background are welcome. Is it a gasworks?

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