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AIMS - to research, publish and promote the industrial history of the London Borough of Greenwich

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  • 03/02/13--10:37: Woolwich Memorials
  • Working through the vast pile in the GIHS pending tray - picking something out at random which should have been reviewed some time ago  - a Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter from November 2011......

    In it Jim Marrett wrote about some of the memorials, past and present, in Woolwich ... this was a two part article - and, briefly, what Jim noted included the following  .............. are they still there??

    The Royal Military Academy Woolwich Common - now a Durkan Homes housing development.  There used to be two statues there. One was of Napoleon III's son whose body was brought to Woolwich after he had been killed in the Zulu Wars. The other was a seven foot high statue of Queen Victoria.  Both of these are now at Sandhurst.

    Greenwich Heritage Centre - there is a stone plaque to Beverley Burford. Beverley was the first manager of the Heritage Centre, and had been Curator at the Plumstead Museum. Her death was sadly premature and she is greatly missed.

    Royal Arsenal Gardens - some bits and pieces in this soon to be lost little park - some pottery commemorates the Woolwich pottery industry and a piece like a red dead nettle commemorates the many convicts who died aboard the Woolwich hulks.

    Shell Foundry - nearby are the bases of three steam hammers plus a statue of the Duke of Wellington sculpted in 1848 and intended for the Tower of London.

    By the Guard Houses near the riverfront is The Assembly of iron men by Peter Burke.

    Dial Square - there is a memorial to the founding of the Arsenal Football Club, now in North London.

    Woolwich Arsenal Station - on Platform One is a wall frieze showing the manufacture of guns,.

    Beresford Square - there is a sculpture of the Great Harry Tudor warship built in Woolwich

    Falconwood Cemetery - has a sculpted set of the Woolwich Arms on the gate

    The Barracks - The Gunners Triumphal Arch??   and the Crimean War Memorial in front of the Barracks
    But a statue by James Barry for the Royal Ordnance Corps in the South African Wars is now in Camberley and the Bhurtpoor gun is now in Larkhill

    Under Tescos was the Grant Depot Barracks - which included the tomb of Arif Bey - what happened to that??

    Corner of Ha Ha Road and Woolwich Common - an obelisk to Robert John Little - a teetotaller - and it was originally a drinking fountain

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    The river is an ever-present reality around the Greenwich Peninsula. Sometimes, when floods seemed likely, that reality became a threat.  

    The Peninsula's real name is 'Greenwich Marsh' where a network of sluices was built, probably, in the Middle Ages. Flood defences along the riverbank are always referred to as the 'sea wall' – a term which reflects the potential dangers of the tides. It is difficult to know when the original embankments against the sea were built – since they are mentioned in a document dating back to 1290. In 1528 they are referred to as the banks 'which had anciently been raised'. I would be very interested if anyone reader could tell me anything about the age of the sea wall. Clearly it is a very important structure, and, as the remainder of this article will show, requires the very best of engineering expertise. Without it much of the landscape of Thameside would not exist, as we know it.

    Most of the records about the sea walls refer to times when the river had broken through. One early instance is in 1297 when there was a 'certain breach made in the bank betwixt Greenwich and Woolwich by the violence of the tides'. The problem usually was less a question of getting the breach mended than of persuading the locals to pay for the work.

    From the 1620s the marshland was managed by the 'Marsh Court' or 'Court of Sewers' consisting of landholders and other interested parties who raised the 'Wall Scot' (the local rate) and employed a small staff. . A very full set of minutes for this body exists from 1625, which detail the care that had to be taken to maintain the marsh properly and keep the river out. This article is about one instance of a breach in the sea wall.

    In October 1825 it became clear that a section of sea wall had become very unsafe and was threatening to give way. At the time two plans were made drawn but they don't give enough detail to be able to pinpoint the spot exactly. One appears to show it on the tip of the peninsula but, since the site was said to be 'opposite the Folly House at Blackwall', it may well have been on the western side of the peninsula at the southern end of the old Delta Works site. It appears that the problem was caused by a slight projection which made an irregularity in the line of the sea wall and a breach was threatened.

    The Marsh Court had immediate legal problems in dealing with this because, not only was the work urgent and expensive, but members were unsure of their powers to acquire the site and have the remedial work done. Could they go ahead and buy the three acres of land, which were affected? If so how should they raise the money? Or did they need to get a private Act of Parliament first, to give them the powers to do the work? That would be the proper way to proceed but it would take time and the work was urgent. First they looked at 'Callis'. This was Robert Callis' 'Reading upon the Statute of Sewers' originally published in 1685. It had been edited and reissued as recently as 1824 – but perhaps the Greenwich Commission did not have the new edition. They found that that authority was 'full of doubt and contradiction' and so they sought a legal opinion. Unfortunately the barrister who they consulted also gave an opinion that the matter was not clear and he told them to get another opinion. 

    The Court also began negotiations with the owners of the site – because there was an issue of land reclamation they felt it was important to acquire it. It was occupied by a Mr. Newman, a butcher who used the land for grazing, and the Commission had had the impression that he was the owner. This was not so. The land was actually owned by a Mr. Powis.
    It was decided in due course that it would be simpler and quicker for all the landowners to sign an agreement allowing the commissioners to buy the land and that they would also agree for each of the landowners to pay a sum of money. It was suggested that the actual purchaser should be Morden College, the wealthy charity that already owned a great deal of land in this area - and of course is still a major landowner here.

    An estimate for the work was sought from John Rennie. This is the younger Rennie whose more famous father had died four years previously. He was currently involved, among other things, in completing his father's work on London Bridge. In the future he was to undertake many projects involving marshland reclamation in the fens but he had already been appointed as Chief Drainage Engineer for the Eau Brink so that drainage, and perhaps embankment, was already an interest of his.

    Two months later Mr. Bicknell, solicitor to the Commissioners gave an update on information obtained to a meeting at the Green Man Pub, then at the top of Blackheath Hill. This meeting was packed with representatives of local interests. 

    Rennie reported on what he thought was the cause of the problem. Rennie felt that the great variation in tides throughout the year 'tends to carry the bank away' and that previous remedial work – 'a wooden framing consisting of poles and land ties' together with 'several hundred tons of Kentish ragstone' was making it worse. The wall would have to be rebuilt. The Court was not impressed with the cost of Rennie's estimate and asked if he could find an alternative, and cheaper, way to solve the problem. Rennie made a second site visit and reported a few days later. He said that the only other possible alternative scheme – to use piling would be even more expensive. He then sent in his bill for this second consultation.

    Meanwhile the Court had asked if a report could be obtained from Thomas Telford. He was at, the age of seventy, nearing the end of his long career. He was the 'undisputed head of the civil engineering profession in Britain'. He had considerable experience in the Fens and was soon to work with John Rennie Jnr. there. The meeting at the Green Man had, however, asked for the most prestigious engineer that they could.

    Telford too made a site visit. He to pointed out that the exposed position of the portion of bank which had caused the problem. The river narrows slightly at this point and he also drew attention to the new West India docks and the number of vessels which were 'frequently moored adjacent to their entrance' constricting the flow of water. The river thus rose with 'increased violence' and was 'continually grinding the soft matter from the bottom'. He felt that there was an imminent danger of a breach in the wall.

    Neither engineer mentioned the Blackwall Rock which had been removed from the northern side of the river about twenty years previously.  

    Telford, Rennie and the members of the Court of Sewers all thought that the activities of lightermen employed by the City of London and Trinity House were not helping. It was alleged by everyone that material was being removed from the foreshore in this area for use as ballast. The Commission duly wrote to those authorities to point this out asking if this had been going on. Replies, from the Lord Mayor and the Elder Brethren, were, predictably, non-committal.

    Telford was however asked to do the work. The archive includes his detailed specification. The work basically consisted of a new earth bank built in such a way as to make the line of the sea wall completely smooth. There was to be a drain at the bottom of the inner slope and the whole structure covered in turf. The work was to be supervised by the Commission's Wall Reeve who received an enhanced salary for the job. Two contractors tendered for the work Thomas Cotsworth of Dover Road, Southwark submitted a price of £2,100 and Simmons of Bromley, Kent, who got the job, for under £900. 

    The work was finished by the summer of 1826, apparently without problems, Telford's final inspection took place and his certificate of completion was issued in July. A dry dock was built in this part of the peninsula in the 1870s but otherwise it is likely that the line of the bank is much as Telford left it, although a very considerable amount work has been done to the wall itself in the intervening years.

    A year later in July 1827 Telford wrote to remind the Commissioners that he still had not been paid for the job. It was around the same time that Telford, in the company of Rennie; working on the Nene outfall in the Fens was to catch a severe chill, the first sign that he was beginning to fail with age.

    Telford was not alone in not having been paid his services – a series of letters had already been received from Rennie. These concerned his bill for £30 in respect of the second estimate, a sum that the Commissioners refused to pay. In October 1826 Rennie had written to say that he had been in Ireland but that his brother, George, had informed him of the outstanding bill. He wrote to them that he had 'charged only what I conceive myself entitled to' and in April 1827 that 'nothing annoys me more than disputes about money matters'. The Commissioners recorded that they 'did not find it necessary to alter their first determination'.    

    Within the next few months the Commissioners also received claims for compensation for late payment from the original landowners. This was a Mr.Richard Powis. The original owner had been his father who had just died – Powis wanted £50 as compensation for late payment. 

    There is just the suspicion that this archive might have survived because of the arguments over payment. The job must have been a relatively small one for Telford and Rennie, but very important in terms of Thames flood prevention. Few visitors to Greenwich will realise how the care and maintenance by the Marsh Court, its predecessors and successors, over many centuries has kept the land safe and made development of the area today possible.

    This article has been prepared from archive material in the Greenwich Commission of Sewers archive plus some material on 'imbanking and draining' in the possession of Woodlands Local History Library. Biographies of Telford and Rennie have also been consulted. It first appeared in Bygone Kent in 1998

    [1] L.T.C.Rolt, Thomas Telford. 1958

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    The following article comes from the South Metropolitan Gas Company's Co-partnership Journal and was written in June 1929.
    A few points -
    -   when this article was written East Greenwich Gas Works, was of course a world leader in gas-works terms and would of course be receiving regular shipments of coal to their jetty (now more or less the QE jetty where the river boats call).  However in 1929, the West Greenwich Works (the riverside off Norway Street) would have been a very recent memory. Two Woolwich Works and the Eltham Works would also be remembered. The Roan Street holder site and a number of small manufacturing sites would still be at work.
    - please note very carefully the paragraph about the number of boats lost during the Great War.  The article doesn't mention that one of them was brand new, torpedoed on her maiden voyage, through what the company considered to be incompetance by the Navy.  It also doesn't mention that these sailors, who navigated the treacherous north east coast on a daily basis, would have been given a white feather in local pubs because they were not in the forces.
    - the final paragraph is about co-partnership. I'm happy to explain about that - but if you insist I will print the WHOLE of my M.Phil Thesis here - so watch out!
    - remember too that the collier fleet was coming up the Thames until the early 1980s  - they went because the gas works closed, and then the mines closed, and London industry collapsed - and the boats kept going to the last.
    - I will try to load up the pictures. Blogger hates them

    " Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir

    Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

    •With a cargo of ivory and apes and peacocks,

    Sandalwood, cedar wood, and sweet white wine.

    Stately Spanish galleon coming from the isthmus,

    Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

    With a cargo of diamonds, emeralds, amethysts,

    Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

    Dirty British steamer with a salt caked smoke-stack,

    Butting through the channel in the mad March days,

    With a cargo of Tyne coal, road rails, pig lead,

    Firewood, ironware, and cheap tin trays."


    There Masefield conjures up visions, the actualities of which were centuries apart in time, and, so he would have you believe, poles asunder aesthetically. Undoubtedly, he visualises most vividly that "dirty British steamer . . . with a cargo of Tyne coal," and one can imagine the curl of his lip as he wrote it. But whilst his description of the general trader is most apposite, we would almost suggest that had he been acquainted with any of the Company's steamers, English poetry might have been the poorer by that delightful verse, for we take a peculiar pride in that we are" reproached" not infrequently by our shipping acquaintances that our ships are" not colliers." "we have no doubt that could the men who manned that quinquereme of Nineveh be resurrected to do a voyage" in, say, the Redriff, they would prefer her modern comfort to any hypothetical romance which may have attached to their former craft-not that the two are incompatible, for romance brought the Redriff to London just as surely as it "brought up the 9.15." One need only glance at the accompanying illustrations and compare an old collier brig with one of our own steamers to appreciate the truth of this; and the accommodation provided for the men, and various other features, are additional evidence that so far as is possible the conditions under which our marine personnel live and carry out their duties are ideal. Certainly, in comparison with the average pre-War collier, they are “not colliers."

    And truly the conditions under which the men work need to be ideal, for" butting" down the coast" in the mad March days" is no pleasure trip. On one occasion during the past winter one of the Company's steamers arrived in the Tyne white from stem to stern with ice, and the pilot cutter twice signalled for her name, being unable to believe the first time that it was one of our vessels from 'the south; her anchors were frozen in their hawse-pipes, and she had to manoeuvre in the river until they could be freed. This is not an isolated case, and is cited merely because it is typical of the sort of thing which may be expected in the North Sea during the bad weather in the winter months. The kind of gale described so graphically by St. Paul is the average weekly experience of the North Sea sailor.

    Now a heavy sea breaking over a ship's forecastle may make an excellent photograph for the morning newspaper, but it hardly makes the forecastle the most ideal (albeit the usual) part of the ship for the crew's accommodation, and it was because the Company realised this that when, during the War, they decided to purchase four new steamers then in course of construction, they instituted many new departures from the current practice, not the least important of which was the construction of the men's accommodation amidships. All the vessels which have been acquired subsequently have been so arranged, and in 1922 the s.s. Effra (which had, until then, her accommodation in the poop) underwent extensive reconstruction to bring her into line with the rest of the fleet.

    The Company's first venture as ship-owners was in 1915 when, owing to the Admiralty requirements, the shortage of tonnage became very acute, and the Board, therefore, decided to acquire and run their own fleet. Hitherto, the coal supplies had been conveyed in chartered vessels. As a commencement, four second hand steamers were purchased, to which others (both new and second-hand) were added later in order to increase the fleet and also to replace the ten steamers lost by enemy action. A generation is arising which has no vivid memories of the War, and it may be fitting to recall that during that period thirty-two men sacrificed their lives in the performance of what they regarded as their everyday duty, a duty so prosaic as the supply of raw material to our Works, and yet, withal, a duty as hazardous as any undertaken by those serving in the official Forces.

    At the Armistice only three of the steamers acquired during the War remained: the Effra, the old Redriff and the Lambeth, and the two latter have since been replaced by more modern steamers. The Company's fleet at the present day consists of

    s.s. Effra purchased March, 1915

                s.s. Catford built July,1919

                s.s. Old Charlton built  Dec.,1919

                s.s. Brockley built Sept., 1920

                s.s. Camberwell built August, 1924

                s.s. Redriff  built August, 1925

                s.s. Brixton  built August, 1927.

    Each of these steamers carries a cargo of approximately 2,200 tons, and makes, on an average, sixty round trips in the year, steaming in that time some 38,000 miles, or, to put it more picturesquely, one-and-a-half times round the globe.

    A further innovation, so far as steamers of our class are concerned, was made by the Company in 1927, when each ship was fitted with two extra water-tight bulkheads. The usual practice is for such ships to have only four, one between the fore-peak and the fore-hold, a second between the fore-hold and the engine-room, a third between the engine-room and the after-hold, and a fourth between the after-hold and the deep tank at the stern of the vessel.

    These. of course, divide the ship into so many water-tight compartments, and when it is borne in mind that the two holds comprise the greater portion of the ship, it will be seen that should a vessel be holed by collision in either of the holds, the risk of foundering is very great. It will be obvious, therefore, that this risk will be considerably minimised by the fitting of additional water-tight bulkheads, one dividing the fore-hold into two separate compartments, and another similarly dividing the after-hold.

    The great advantage of these extra bulkheads was demonstrated recently when the s.s. Catford was run into whilst at anchor in the Thames Estuary in foggy weather, as a result of which she was badly holed in No. 3 hold. A photograph of the damage is shown, which conveys at once an idea of the danger under which ships ply in enclosed waters. Collisions at sea are comparatively infrequent, by far the greater number taking place in river estuaries and when entering or leaving harbour, and, as is well known, the most difficult river to navigate is the Thames.

    Doubtless most of our readers think of the Company's steamers as being limited to plying between London and the north-east coast, but-it should not be overlooked that they are equipped to perform service abroad, and the wisdom of this policy was more than justified during the disastrous coal stoppage in 1926 when our steamers regularly ran to the Continent, going not only to Rotterdam and Hamburg, but as far afield as Stettin, in order that coal supplies might be fully maintained.

    No article on the Company's ships could possibly be regarded as complete without reference to the inception of Copartnership, and the application of its principles to the marine personnel. At the commencement it met with a very mixed reception, a large proportion of the crews regarding the idea with more than a little suspicion. This may seem strange to those who have been brought up in the Copartnership tradition, but it is readily understood by those who are acquainted with the roving, independent spirit of the average seaman. Gradually, however, the inherent virtue of the principle made its own appeal, and its success may be gauged by the fact that whereas in 1920 there were 264 changes in the personnel, these have become steadily less each year until in 1928 there were only 27. The ships may therefore be regarded as being manned by a permanent personnel, a state of affairs which is distinctly unusual in the shipping world and one which is to the mutual benefit of the men themselves and the Company

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    This article was written in 2000 before the many changes to the area which have taken place over the past 13 years - it is about the area of east Greenwich around the Pilot pub and speculates about the meaning of the pub's name. Until 2000 a road, Riverway, ran from the Pilot to a long causeway into the river and the Yacht Club was in buildings adjacent to the pub. On the north side of the road were gas works buildings - including the sulphate store, previously very much in use as a film and video location. All around were buildings which had been in use by the riverside power station - but all tht is a subject for future postings here.

    When the site at East Greenwich was identified as suitable for the Millennium Exhibition one of the arguments for it was that it was 'derelict'.  Over the past five or six years even those buildings with some merit had been cleared – in particular a large and interesting parabolic sulphate store.  The area comprises mainly the site of the East Greenwich Gas Works but also takes in some other parcels of land.  At one end of the site a public road runs to the river where there is a popular slipway and the Greenwich Yacht club.  There is also a row of cottages and a pub – The Pilot.

    When the first planning application for the Exhibition came before Greenwich Council local people who studied it realised that the cottages were scheduled for demolition.  Almost every community group in the area protested strongly – the cottages might not be very much but they were something of the past.  It was quite quickly agreed that they should remain.  No one knew very much about them.  They were tiny, poky with back gardens and outhouses.  They had been owned by a housing association but were now in use as short life housing.  Their one claim to recent fame was that, unnoticed by almost everyone, they had appeared on a wildly popular music video, 'ParkLife'.    The Pub was doing rather better. It had been an old fashioned downmarket affair, apparently on the verge of closure. A dynamic new landlord and extended the building, enlarged the bars and planted a pretty garden.  It was now thriving, festooned with flower baskets and boasted a busy lunch trade. On the outside is a plaque which says 'New East Greenwich 1802'.

    Cottages and pub are in fact nearly two hundred years old.   They first appear in the Greenwich rate books with occupants in 1804.   The site was owned by George Russell, whose obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine of May 1806 described as a soap maker of Old Bargehouse, Blackfriars.   Greenwich Marsh is well documented in that records exist for the Court of Sewers; marsh managers for this period, as well as for the City of London controlled Thames Conversators.  Minute books of these two bodies show that Russell had been in occupation for some time and had been using the area as a brickfield. In 1796 there had been an incident when his partner, Taylor, had pushed the wallscot bailiff off the sea wall 'Damn your eyes, sir…. .. I'll stop your eyes with mud, sir'.

    In June 1800 a William Johnson, living in Bromley, Kent, had patented a new sort of 'water wheel adjustable to tidal currents' and began to find a site where he could build a mill.  In June 1801 he approached Morden College, the major local landowner, for a site but was refused unless he could provide a 'valuable consideration'.  By September he had come to an agreement with George Russell and applied to the Commission of Sewers for 'permission to open the sea wall'.  A year later, and now living in Montpelier Row, Blackheath, he made a similar request to the Thames Conservators, telling him that he was having difficulties with the Greenwich based Commissioners.  They reacted strongly to any suggestion of a challenge and immediately gage him permission so long as he produced Russell's signature on the document.  He employed a Mr. Hollingsworth to 'open the bank'.

    Something else happened in 1801, which is only revealed by an estate agents' ' Conditions of Sale' document produced forty years later. This showed that in August 1801 a lease was granted on the site.  This lease was to 'the Right Honourable Earl of Chatham and the Right Honourable William Pitt,.. the Right Honourable Edward Crags, Lord Elliot and the Honourable John Eliot'.  Pitt was out of office in 1801 and, the Earl of Chatham mentioned is his elder brother, not his father.  The two Eliots were members of the family of Earl of St. Germans, a Blackheath landowner,  and Edward was married to the Pitt's sister, Charlotte.    For lack of information it is only possible to speculate about what was going on.  Was Johnson perhaps a of protégé of the Pitts – after all Bromley Kent is near enough to the Pitt family's base at Holwood, near Keston.    It has been said that the Pitt family were very short of money in 1801 – was this a money making speculation?  Perhaps some future discovery will give a cue.  There is however no evidence of any input by the Pitts into East Greenwich  … except for one thing.

    The name of the pub is The Pilot. This has usually been taken to mean that 'pilots' used the 'pilots causeway' at the end of the present road, Riverway.  The causeway was licensed to George Russell by the City Conservators in 1801.  It was known merely as the 'Causeway in Bugsby's Hole'.  There is no mention of any pilots, nor is there any pilot station, or equipment on this site.  Pilots may have used the causeway, but it was not an official depot.  Working on the assumption that 'The Pilot' is, or was, a person, reference should be made to any dictionary of quotations. Under George Canning you will find 'here's to the Pilot that Weathered the storm' [Song for the inauguration of the Pitt Club, 1802].  'The Pilot' is quite simply William Pitt.  It should also be noted that the song was partly to celebrate the fact that Ceylon had come under the protection of British Crown. The cottages are, of course, called 'Ceylon Place'.

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    Just back from today's whaling history conference at the Docklands Museum - thought I might as well do a brief report while its all in my mind - and it would be good if some of the other Greenwich historians there were to add comments - Rich, Andrew, Steve, Peter .... must have been others .... ???

    As one of the speakers said whaling was an important London industry and a vital part of the economy in the age of what we call the 'industrial revolution' and yet it is barely mentioned in histories of the period and there is no bank of memories are there are in some of the smaller whaling ports of the Americas.  Some of the pictures and incidents recorded were quite harrowing - and we must remember how cruel this trade was, and only recently this has been recongnised.   It was not that much to do with Greenwich - although the last two speakers spoke about Greenwich. Recently, some developers and, sadly, some historians have claimed north Greenwich as an area of the whaling industry - those last two speakers to some extent explained how this misconception has come about.

    The day started with the usual welcomes and then some background in a paper by Dr. Janet West of the Polar Research Institute - sadly labouring under a bad cold.  Janet outlined how in the 16th century ships left London for Arctic whaling. Later, when American independence limited London's supply of sperm whale oil the Southern fleet grew from around 1775. Some merchants managed to work both in London and in America - and many of them undertook heroic adventures in the Southern oceans and there were many discoveries of lands and their fauna and flora.

    Alex Werner - known to many of us as the Head of History Collections at the Museum of London spoke of the research and publications of A.G.E. Jones. Mr. Jones had over a lifetime collected assiduously an enormous archive of material on whaling ships and their crews - and published books and many articles. Mr. Jones had been known to many of the audience - and Chris Elmers recounted how he had complained to the Director of the Museum when one of the staff had suggested that some of his material might be digitised!

    Alan Pipe, who works for the Museum of London Archaeology Department gave us a brisk talk about what bits of whale bone are in the Museum's collection. The answer is - not much - although some of it is Saxon.  On the  whole they have too little to come to any real conclusions.

    Next came Chris Elmers himself - for those who don't know Chris - he was Curator of the Museum of Docklands for many many years - and through all those years when the Museum itself was an act of faith.  He knows all about London shipping, London industries and he started off as a student at Woolwich Poly (hurrah!!!).  Chris talked about some grim aspects of the trade, but also about the Rotherhithe dock we now call the Greenland Dock (it originated as the first dock of any size in the world).  This was all really really interesting - about how the poor whales were killed, about the dreadful accidents and the terrible dangers of the work out in the oceans (sometimes the whales turned, attacked the boats and killed the sailors....................). Chris spoke  about the smells, and the general foulness - and how developers were trying to built posh houses round the dock, even in the 18th century despite the nastiness of it all.

    Beatrice Behlen who is a fashion historian spoke about the use and manufacture of whalebone
    - or beleen as it is apparently properly called. This was interesting but I felt that somewhere there was a point missing.

    Stuart Frank, an American from the New Bedford Whaling Museum, spoke at length about scrimshaw - those little drawings scraped on the poor whales' teeth. They are very valuable and this was a collectors talk - he told us about the research on the pictures and the 'artists' but not about what these drawings teach us about the trade, or the lives of the sailors, or whatever.

    So to the - sort of - Greenwich talks. Charles Payton talked about the Enderby family. We all know about Enderby Wharf but the family were wealthy merchants elsewhere. The earliest traced seems to be as tanners in Staines and then at Lomond's Pond in Southwark. They began with whaling vessels in the City - and with American connections - and it was a third or fourth generation which finally built their rope and canvas works on the Greenwich riverside (the Alcatel) site.   The next generation lost all in their Auckland Islands venture.    I hope Charles can be persuaded to come and talk to GIHS and tell us more - the family lived locally as well as having the wharf and it would be good to hear what he has to say.

    The last speaker was also very much to do with Greenwich - which is about the Bay Wharf whale. We had hardly heard locally about this important find which turned up on a development site found by Pre-Construct Archaeology.  The speaker, Richard Sabin, works for the Natural History Museum and spoke a bit about their important archive on whales and whale remains.  They now have the Bay Wharf skeleton  which is being carbon dated and DNA analysed.  It appears likely that this was a poor elderly creature lost in the Thames in 1658. It was cruelly killed and left to rot on the riverside.

    That's it really - except that a bibliography was circulated and please let me know if you would like to see it.  Also circulated was the published set of papers from last years Shipbuilding Symposium - which will be reviewed here soon (and it contains my paper on Maudslay Son and Field).

    Please add your comments ..


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  • 03/24/13--10:02: A Teardrop

  • We have been sent some information on forthcoming archaeology on the 'Teardrop' site at the Arsenal.
    Briefly - 
    "Oxford Archaeology has been commissioned by Berkeley Homes to do an archaeological evaluation on part of The Royal Arsenal site, This is being done as a condition of Planning Permission.

    The site is the one immediately outside the current western boundary of the old Royal Arsenal -n east of the Woolwich ferry terminal. On the south is Warren Lane, to the east Ship and Half Moon Passage - which follows the western boundary wall of the Arsenal, and to the north by the River.
    The site was partly developed by the beginning of the 17th century with wharves, warehouses and cottages to the north of Woolwich High Street. During the Napoleonic Wars the Arsenal was expanded and built on ground raised above the River floodplain. A timber yard was on site from the 1860s plus  a gas worksfrom 1837 to 1887 and it was later a coal yard and a builders' yard. The area was taken over by the Royal Arsenal during the First World War and when the Arsenal closed in 1994 it was cleared.
    In addition to the military use of the site previous archaeology to the east of the site within the Arsenal revealed Roman burials with a significant cemetery in the area of Dial Arch. . Also found about was the 14th century kiln (the Woolwich kiln, now at the Heritage Centre). Other excavations have found more evidence of pottery manufacture, two more London Ware kilns, a Tudor kiln and a post medieval example. Medieval houses were also confirmed there. Evidence of Iron Age activity was found in the form of a ditch.

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    We  have had some queries and a request for help from Nick Catford -Sub Brit and south London's underground spaces guru, old abandoned station guru and much else.

    Nick says he has updated the following site - of which more below:

    However - once you have read it - he is asking for help....

    Can anyone help with some dates.  Do you know when the Bagnold family moved out of the house. I know they were there till at least 1943 when Colonel Arthur died but I assume they stayed on after that date?
    I know in the 1970s it housed the Warren Wood Children’s Home. Do you know when they arrived and when they left.  What happened to the house after that.  I believe it was demolished late 80s or early 90s.  Can  you be any more precise. I have been in touch with a resident there between 1970 – 1974.  The children used to play in the shelter.

    so - what's all this about??
    Nick's Sub Brit piece is about an Air Raid Shelter on Shooters Hill. It is in the grounds of what was Warren Wood House, home of the Bagnold family.  The big houses were demolished and it is now part of the Shooters Hill Woodlands and in a Local Nature Reserve.  This was part of the area investigated by Time Team in 2008 and the Team considered whether it was a military structure rather than a domestic air raid shelter.  The Time Team excavation was carried out by Wessex Archaeology and Nick includes their report and a link to their site. Nick also draws attention to an adjacent large oil tank - not noted by the Time Team - and to the nearby wartime air battery and gun site.
    - but please look at his Sub Brit article and pictures

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    (this is the first of a series of articles which originally appeared in Bygone Kent)
    Mary Mills

    I have written in the past about both Frank Hills and Joshua Beale both of whom had factories on Greenwich Marsh in the nineteenth century. Both were involved with the development of powered road transport. In the early 1840s at least two cars were made at Beale's Greenwich works at the end of today's Mauritius Road. They were the not the only experimental road transport which trundled round the roads of North Kent in the nineteenth century. From the 1820s onwards some Kentish roads were - well, almost - buzzing with newly invented vehicles. Most of them were steam powered and were developed as the same time as railway locomotives but they were lighter and smaller and, perhaps, more sophisticated.

    Greenwich became a focus for some of this activity. Several attempts to provide an omnibus service to Greenwich using steam vehicles took place at around the same time as the first railway in London - the London and Greenwich - was opened in 1836. Greenwich was somewhere to which a transport link might be profitable - local residents would want to go to London, perhaps some of them might even commute. It was also a resort to which Londoners would want to go on a day out. It was on the main Dover Road and there was a need to supplement passenger transport on the river Thames where accidents were becoming ever more frequent.

    Some steam carriages were manufactured in Greenwich by inventors or by manufacturers who working under contract to the inventor. Some other steam car experimenters owned factories north of the river but lived in Greenwich - presumably they commuted by ferry to Millwall. One such example is John Seaward who developed a steam carriage in 1859. He lived in Greenwich for a while although his factory was the City Canal Ironworks on the Isle of Dogs

    Inventors needed publicity for their carriages and it was a very good advertisement to be seen taking the new vehicle over a difficult piece of public road. Shooters Hill was a firm favourite. It was on the Dover Road, near London and notoriously difficult. Anyone who wanted to see new cars out on their first run would have been well advised to live there! It is also worth remembering Dickens's description of Shooters Hill in Tale of Two Cities - although the novel was written in 1859 and set in 1775 - 'he walked uphill in the mire by the side of the mail as the other passengers did ... with drooping heads and tremulous tails [the horses] mashed their way through the thick mud ... there was a steaming mist in all the hollows ... a clammy and intensely cold mist .... a loaded blunderbuss lay on the top of six or eight loaded horse pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlasses'.

    The idea of steam road transport had been around a long time.. One of the earliest inventors was Richard Trevithick. He came from Cornwall in 1803 bringing with him a steam locomotive which he had developed in Cambourne and which had been demonstrated there on roads. He also demonstrated railway locomotives in London. It is not known if Trevithick ever brought his vehicles south of the river but he knew Kent well and was to die in Dartford. Thus, perhaps there is some association there between Kent and one of the very earliest road vehicles..
    The first powered vehicle on a North Kent road seems to have been that built by Samuel Brown. It was, however, not a steam car. Samuel Brown was one of the most prolific inventors of the early nineteenth century. He was a Scot, from Galloway, and had had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy where he had become aware of the need for improved links in chain cables and invented a method of making chain with a bar across the link. This invention was so important in improving the safety and strength of chains that it became a requirement that any ship registered with Lloyds of London must use it. It was also widely used in suspension bridges - Brown built the Chain Pier at Brighton. To manufacture this chain he founded the firm of Brown Lennox on the Isle of Dogs - and, although partly removed to Pontypridd - some part of the works remained on Millwall until the 1970s. 

    At the end of his life Brown lived in Greenwich, first in a now demolished house at 41 Lee Road. From 1845 to his death in 1852 he lived at the White Tower South , one of the houses built by Sir John Vanburgh in 1772 in today's Vanburgh Fields, SE3. This was a very prestigious address reflecting the wealth which must have come to Sam Brown through his inventions.

    Brown's road vehicle was tested by driving up Shooters Hill on 27th May 1826 - before he moved to Greenwich. Unlike many later vehicles which climbed the hill it did not use steam but was powered either by coal gas or the vapour from commercial alcohol. The engine was known as a 'gas vacuum' and has been claimed as the forerunner of internal combustion. The car itself had four wooden wheels, a small seat for the driver and very little room for anything else on top of a gigantic engine. It climbed up Shooters Hill very slowly but 'with considerable ease'. 

    In the 1820s many people thought that Mr. Brown's carriage would never be able to go uphill because of something they called 'perpendicular resistance'. The drive up Shooters Hill was to disprove this once and for all. Mr. Brown's car went up it all right - and plenty more were to follow it.
    Brown's ride up Shooters Hill has been given very little attention although it was well reported at the time in the technical press. Historians of motor transport have tended to ignore it because it was very early and, in some ways, isolated from the later development of the internal combustion engine. It has not been described in any detail in histories of steam transport because steam was not used. Brown himself seems to have abandoned the idea of using the system for a road vehicle and adapted to be used for powering boats. The 'Canal Gas Engine Company' was formed by a group of entrepreneurs to exploit the engine for use in vessels on the Croydon Canal. This canal ran from New Cross to Croydon going on the Kent side of the Surrey border for some distance through the Sydenham area - it was to become the route of the London Bridge/Norwood Junction railway line. It was not a success and the gas engine project floundered with it.
    Brown was not the only person in Greenwich trying to put powered vehicles on the roads. At around the same time in the 1820s another inventor was working on a steam carriage. John Hill came from Greenwich, although it is not clear exactly who he was. Contemporary directories list a John Hill in Creek Street, Deptford - perhaps he thought 'Greenwich' was a politer address than 'Deptford'. 'John Hill' is, in any case, a common name. His partner in the steam carriage project was a Timothy Burstill who came from Edinburgh and was, of course, a competitor in the 1829 Rainhill Trials for an effective railway locomotive. He entered with 'Perseverance' - said to have 'no more than a glorified domestic boiler'.
    In London Burstill and Hill made a very heavy, 8 ton, road steam carriage with a very large boiler. This meant that it was very slow and could only do, at the most, three or five miles an hour. They found it difficult to get passengers as because , it emerged, people were scared of sitting close to the enormous boiler. They were quite right to be afraid because this boiler eventually exploded during a demonstration run. This explosion probably happened in Deptford although no exact spot is given. No one was hurt in the accident although twenty three people were standing nearby 'on the bank' and one man had his foot on the machine itself . Burstill and Hill claimed that the fact that no one was killed showed how safe the engine really was! No more was heard of it.

    Such steam carriages were experimental and none of them ever ran a regular public transport service. This changed in the late 1830s when new carriages came on to the roads which were designed to hold fifteen or more passengers and run an 'omnibus' service. The next article will look at them.

    This article has been compiled from a variety of sources, in particular local newspapers and the trade press of the day. There is a considerable literature about steam road carriages, I have drawn particularly on William Fletcher's Steam on Common Roads. An article about Samuel Brown's car by L.Graham Davis appeared in True's Automobile Year Book, No.2. 1953.

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    An earlier article looked at some early experimental road vehicles run in the Greenwich area in the 1820s. Future articles will look at manufacturers - particularly Joshua Beale and Frank Hills - and some more experiments.   In the early 1830s there were attempts to run omnibus services in several parts of the country - some long distance on the long haul coach routes to places like Bath, and some shorter suburban services. Greenwich was a popular destination for these - both as a stop on the Dover Road and as a town near enough London to almost count as a suburb.  Greenwich was also was handily near the premises of several engine builders and had a number engineering works in the town itself.,

    One of the most successful  builders whose carriages made long regular runs was Goldsworthy Gurney. He seems to have had no connection with Kent but some of his carriages were adapted for a proposed run to Greenwich.  He had built a carriage in 1826 which was about 20 feet long and would take six inside passengers and fifteen outside. It will be seen that these were on the same principle as a stage coach and designed for carrying passengers on service routes - not as individual private transport.

    Gurney's carriages were being used in the Gloucestershire area by Sir Charles Dance.  The service encountered a great deal of opposition from both stage coach proprietors and the Turnpike Trusts.  A Parliamentary Committee examined the subject of steam carriage services and found in favour, but a Steam Carriage Bill could not be got through the House of Lords.   It must, however, have seened likely that suburban services were a better possibility.

    In 1831 Dance went to the engineering firm of Maudslay, Sons and Field, then based at Waterloo - they  later moved a site on  Greenwich Marsh where they built ships. Dance asked Maudslay to  make Gurney's  carriage more powerful and this was done.   During the autumn of  1833 this rebuilt vehicle made a number of test runs from Maudslay's works in  Waterloo. With a party of fifteen observers on board they went to places like  Merstham on the Brighton Road and visited Beulah Spa and some other  spas in the Sydenham area .

    In October 1833 Dance's new carriage ran for a fortnight between Waterloo Bridge and Greenwich.  It was always said that it  was not intended that this should be a proper public transport service so ordinary people were deterred from using it by the price of tickets - 'half a crown for tickets each way'.    That was the end of  this brief omnibus service which did not continue and there seems to be no record of what happened to the carriage.  The service must have failed for reasons which were not made public.

    A year or so later another omnibus service ran between London to Greenwich using coaches built by John Scott Russell.  Russell was Scottish and these carriages had been designed and built by him  in  Edinburgh. They had been used for a service between Glasgow and Paisley but in the summer of 1834 one of the carriages had overturned.  It was later said that this was because the turnpike trustees in Glasgow had put extra thick layers of stone on the road to stop his carriages running. As a result five passengers were killed and the Scottish Courts forbade him to run the carriages again in Scotland.   So, unable to use them in Scotland,  Russell sent two of  the carriages by ship to London for use in  trips to Greenwich.

    For this service on these, rather compromised, carriages the fares were kept cheap. The vehicles had to haul a tender full of coke along the road behind them and pick up water at places along the way as they went.  Scott Russell himself came to London to live in 1838. He was to become an important ship builder - he designed the Great Eastern - and he eventually  lived in Sydenham.  It does not seem to have persisted with the omnibus service to Greenwich and after an attempt to sell the carriages no more was heard of them.

    There were probably several inventors trying to design steam road carriages. In 1834 Francis Maceroni - more of him later - gave a list of  steam carriage builders whose vehicles ' would not move at all'.  This is just a list of names without details and many have not yet been traced.  One who may have a Greenwich connection was  'Mr. Joyce' . William Joyce owned an engineering company at the Kent Ironworks in Greenwich where he designed and made a successful steam engine. Kent Ironworks was situated on the first site on the right after crossing today's Creek Bridge from Deptford.  Joyce probably started in work in Greenwich in 1841 when he acquired part of an old gas works site but whether he is the Mr. Joyce mentioned by Maceroni and whether this abortive steam car was made in Greenwich is not known.  Kent Ironworks would later produce a more successful steam road vehicle as we will see.

    The most successful of the steam carriage builders of the 1830s was Walter Hancock who designed and made vehicles in Stratford, east London.  Hancock was one of a most interesting family - his brother, Thomas, has been called  'the foremost rubber technologist in England' and was a partner of the, better known, Mr. Charles Mackintosh.  Another brother, Charles, was responsible for the first use of gutta percha which was to revolutionise Thameside cable manufacture.  Walter Hancock was happy to advertise his brother's products by his 'flexible tubing' to suck up water for his steam road vehicles

    Walter Hancock was the only one of the early road vehicle inventors who designed a locomotive which could go through crowded London streets on busy days.  Some of his coaches were run in an omnibus service to Greenwich - but accounts of what happened are often confusing and contradictory.

    Hancock's coaches all had  identifying names - one was even called 'Autopsy'.  A coach called 'Era' is shown in illustrations, dating from 1832, and advertising a service between London and Greenwich.   Era was built by Hancock for a body called the London and  Greenwich Steam Carriage Company.  It appears that  separate companies had been set up to run omnibus routes - one of them, for instance, was the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company. These companies, ostensibly different, all seem to have had most of the same people behind them.  The London and Greenwich Steam Carriage was not a Greenwich based company but a body set up in London which wanted to run an omnibus service to Greenwich. 

    The engineer of the London and Greenwich Steam Carriage company was D. Redmund, was based in City Road, Islington and there are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened. Redmund  is said to have ordered a different bus - called Enterprise - for Greenwich from Hancock.  When Enterprise  arrived Redmund took it to pieces and noted down all the dimensions. He then began to build another bus himself -  called Alpha - which was an almost  complete copy of Enterprise.   The vehicle ran some test runs but never seems to have gone into service. 


    'Era' is not mentioned in the account of 'Enterprise' but  Hancock himself said he had made 'Era' for work in Greenwich. It may be that  the problems which Hancock had with David Redmund meant that the vehicle never actually ran a service. 'Era'anbHcarried sixteen people sitting inside and two outside. In addition there was crew of three - the driver, an engineer and a lad.  There were two engines  for the engineer to manage.  The 'lad' stoked the boiler with 'common gas coke ' - that is coke bought from the gas works. 

    Potential passengers, worried about a boiler explosion, were assured that ' the only parts of the boiler which can be dreaded are the sides - but good ties will keep them together'   and, as for the rest of the boiler 'its power of doing mischief is not worth notice'.

    The drawing of 'Era' shows a comfortable looking vehicle with a driver at the front and the engine completely shielded from the passengers. There is a grand crest on the side of the coach which perhaps meant to imply some sort of aristocratic patronage. 

    Hancock made a number of very successful steam omnibuses some which on service routes for some time. However he seems to have made little money and gave up work in the late 1830s.  It is to be hoped that 'Era' did see some service on the road to Greenwich but it is more likely that she never got beyond the stage of running trials.  In 1832 the line which was to become the London and Greenwich Railway had already been surveyed and, when complete, may well have provided competition which Era could not have met.

    By the end of the 1830s steam road transport was a reality. Kentish roads had already seen some experimental vehicles and attempts to run public services.  The first years of the next decade would see attempts to make vehicles in Greenwich and witness their first trials around Kent.

    This article has been compiled from a variety of sources, in particular local newspapers and the trade press of the day.   There is a considerable literature about steam road carriages, I have drawn particularly on William Fletcher's Steam on Common Roads.  (1891)  Walter Hancock wrote his own biography but all accounts conflict on details of events. 

    Mary Mills

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    One of the most coloourful and prolific builder of steam carriagfes in thius periud was Colonel Francis Maceroni.  He was of Sicilian origin although born and brought up in Manchester.  He had seen service in Italy. Wherever steam carriages were built Maceroni was to be found. It was said of him that since he had been an 'aide de camp to the King of Naples -- he still retains his love of quick motion'.    Maceroni designed a number of steam vehicles which were made at his own works in Paddington. However he very quickly fell into debt and was pursued by creditors so that he hardly enough money to continue with his carriages. On one trip to Windsor his watch had to be sacrificed to buy  coal to get back to London.  Maceroni was involved in other inventions. He was interested, for instance, in using tar for road surfaces and it is from him that the information comes about an early tarred surface used on Margate Pier and about the first tarred garden path in Blackheath. 

    Maceroni's involvement in steam cars made in Greenwich is only part of a long and tangled tale.  Much of the evidence is contradictory but, whatever the truth, is shows that steam vechicles made in Greenwich were tested on Kentish roads.  This saga includes two people who already had manufacutreies in Greenwcih and who I have written about elsewhere - Joshua Beale and Frank Hills.

    In 1841 Maceroni called a meeting of interested parties and a committee was set up to run what was to be called the  'Common Road Steam Conveyance Company'.  This seems to have consisted of a number of local business men - some of them publicans - although many people appear to have been involved  some  were to a very limited exent.  They eventually found out however that they would have to pick up the bills..  They employed as an engineer 'Mr. Gordon' .  Although there are several 'Mr. Gordons'  who this could have been the main candidate is  Alexander Gordon.  It is about time that he was introduced into this narrartive because he is one of the main sources for what is known about steam cars asnd will appear again. His father, David Gordon, had been one of the original pioneers in the field and Alexander wrote a book called 'Elemental Lococmotion' about his fathers work and experiences.   Although there is no record of Alexander building cars himself he was very close to most of the engine builders and during the 1830s and 1840s wrote frenquently to the trade press about developments in the field.    It is very unlikley that Alexnader Gordon had any connection with the Deptford shipbuilding company run by Adam Gordon.  Elsewhere on this blog have been some reference to Gordon's lighthouse building.

    Maceroni and his associates

    went to Joshua Beale at his East Greenwich Engineering works for vehicles to be made and which Gordon supervised.Joshua's brother Benjamin Beale helped with the drawings and together they went to Wright's carriage works in Ray Street, Clerkenwell, and selected a carriage to which they could add the steam engine.  When the carriage was tested it was discovered that the steam blew the fire out and so alterations had to be made. This extra work was done by Beale.

    There is a description of a trip on the first locomotive which Beale made. They began from the works at East Greenwich, with 23 people on board., They went to Footscray at 20 miles an hour.  


    On a Wednesday in 1840 another party went in Maceroni's carriage from East Greenwich through Lewisham to Bromley 'a distance of 8 miles, performing the journey in the (almost) incredible short time of 28 minutes'.  They finished by going up Blackheath Hill at 12 miles per hour 'with only one wheel clutched' 'in gallant style with a load of 17 passengers'   The next day they went up Shooters Hill at 14  mph with steam blown off at the top, having left.  This was done in the 'incredible time of 28 mins'.  On the way back they went up Blackheath Hill in gallant style and at thetop of Shooters Hill with they stopped at The Bull for what they said was water. 


    Inevitably, water was not all they took at the Bull - 'the men were regaled  and eulogised the scientific engineer'.  They carried on across Blackheath and on up Shooters Hill at the speed of 14 miles and hour and so back to East Greenwich,. Everyone was delighted.

    Maceroni had told the company that he would charge £800 each for the carriages but Mr. Beale's Bill to Maceroni for making it was £1,100. Thus there was a problem,. The money was not paid and Beale impounded the carriage. Maceroni found himself in dept and everything he had was seized by the bailiffs. He had no choice but to put his patent up for sale.  Following this a number of law suits took place but the hoped for steam carriage service did not run.


    I have elsewhere written at length about Frank Hills who was working as a manufacturing chemist at Deptford and East Greenwich. In 1839 Frank Hills travelled on one of Walter Hancock's coaches, Automaton, on its inaugural run to Cambridge,  and 'was doubtless taking a lesson in steam carriage construction during the journey'.   When he got back he began to design a steam coach for himself.   This included 'several improvement which .. are stated to have fully realised his most sanguine expectations;.    It was said that he had managed to reduce the weight and to make a boiler 'equal to every exigency'.  He advertised that he was not going to take 'short trips on good suburban roads' but ' roads which .. with peculiar difficulties'.

    In 1840 he went on various trips - to Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells .. and on the Brighton Road,  He could go up steep hills fully loaded at 12 miles and hour and on the level at 16.....  London Street Greenwich 100 yards in deep  gravel up   Further afield he went to Hastings and back .. 'a delightful trip'.  He travelled along the road we would now recognise as the A21, going through Tunbridge and Sevenoaks.   He could, he said, do the journey 'at half the expense and with double the speed of a stage coach' 

    One of the difficulties in making these vehicles was the problem of connection of the driving wheels and machinery while allowing the vehicle to ruin corners. Some of the vehicles - like those designed by Hancock - were in fact three wheelers. In  1833 a Mr. Roberts of Manchester had built a road steam vehicle which he had run around Manchester. It was very successful and included a compensating gear which allowed the vehicle to turn a sharp corner with no problem.   He patented this in 1832. The idea was taken up by a number of other inventors but it was Frank Hills who patented some developments of the idea in 1843.  It has been widely suggested  however that Frank Hills' patent infringed Roberts' rights. (there were many accusations on this sort of issue in other areas directed towards Frank Hills - who died one of the richest men in England).

    In his booklet on steam carriages Mr. Kidner has pointed out that there are two 'contradictory engravings' of Hills' carriages. As he says 'no single items agree..One is a sporting looking phaeton. The other a cumbersome double brougham'    A picture, drawn by an unknown artist and in the possession of the Hills family, shows the latter in action.  Mr. Kidner goes on to quote an account in Mechanics Magazine of a factory visit undertaken in 1839 and speculates that this is to wherever Hills carriages were being built. This visitor saw two carriages there - one to seat 15 and the other 20.  It is however possible that Beale's factory in Greenwich was producing steam cars for both Maceroni and Hills in this period.

    The General Steam Carriage Company was formed to exploit Frank Hills' patents - although how much this has in common with the 'Common Steam Carriage Company' mentioned above is a mater for speculation.   The new company claimed that Hills design was 'the most perfect now known in England'  The vehicle was taken out on more trips - this time on more dangerous and difficult roads.   He went to Hastings, and back, 128 miles in a day - half the time it took a stage coach.   They went 'up and down the hills about Blackheath, Bromley and neighbour..... on the Hastings Road as far as Tunbridge band back ' Hills boasted of difficult hills he went up 'Quarry Hill rises 1 in 13, River Hill - said by coachmen to be the worst hill in the county, rises 1 in 12.   Hills claimed to do them all.  He claimed that passengers COULD BE Conveyed in this way at half the cost and double the speed of stage coaches.


    lexander Gordon said that this was not all strictly true. He said that there had been collisions on bad roads . Frank Hills protested that the only problem was with taking in muddy water .  Gordon went on to point out that if these vehicles were to undertake regular and reliable services then they needed to demonstrate that they could do it. Why they publicise, he asked, when ever they' 'ascended a hill' or went over a 'newly gravelled road' or met with one of the 'collisions so natural on common roads'. This might have perhaps been remarkable when Samuel Brown  went up over Shooters Hill but 15 years later in 1840 vehicles should be able to cope.   If Mr. Beale and Mr. Hills had these wonderful cars - then, asked Alexander Gordon, were they not running regular services in them?  

    Frank Hills replied that he had met with no problems or 'derangement's' on his trips around Kent - well only once, there had been some problem with muddy water, but that had only stopped them a few times  ... missing Alexander Gordon's point, that he had been up all the hills in Seveoaks and Tunbridge Wells with no problems at all.     Beale also protested at what Alexander Gordon had said - he had been that day to Footscray at 20 miles and hour and in London Street, Greenwich they had been over a hundred yards in 'deep loose gravel.,. all up hill'  It is difficult to imagine this because London Street, Greenwich' - today's Greenwich High road is completely flat. Were there hills on it a hundred and fifty years ago?

    this article originally appeared in By Gone Kent


    Mary Mills

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    One of the last steam cars to run experimentally on Kent roads was that built by the man who  became the torpedo manufacturer,  Sir Alfred Yarrow.   Yarrow was born in Islington and trained as an engineer.  As a young man, together with a friend, James Hilditch, he experimented with a whole range of inventions. One of these was a steam car and in 1861 this was taken up and made  by T.W.Cowan of Greenwich.   Cowan was at  the Kent Iron Works earlier owned by William Joyce. Perhaps Cowan worked for or with Joyce.

    Yarrow's vehicle was driven from Greenwich to Bromley once a week. This was to demonstrate the machine to possible purchasers. In Bromley the party would stop for 'some refreshment' before returning to Greenwich.

    A number of stories are told about these journey's in Yarrow's biography.  People along the route were clearly disturbed by the noise of the engine. It is said that one old lady seeing it go past, ran to her window.  Seeing the flames and smoke she thought the devil was there.  It has not proved easy to discover the truth of this of this story  Many of the early road vehicles are supposed to have led to stories of how people thought  they were 'the devil' .  One good example of this is the first steam car of all - built by William Murdoch built in  1780s .  It was said that the local  Vicar who thought Murdoch's car was the devil but in Samuel Smiles's interview with the Vicar's daughter and it is quite clear that it was part of a casual, jokey,  interchange. It is hard to believe that by 1862 there could have been any old ladies left on the roads around Bromley who did not know what a steam vehicle looked like!  She probably had good reason for disliking the smoke and noise - perhaps 'the devil' is the term she was using for Yarrow and his noisy friends!

    Yarrow's biographer goes on to say that on another occasion the carriage met a mounted policeman whose horse took fright and threw him, breaking his leg.   This is said to be the incident which led to the infamous 'red flag act by which all steam vehicles had to proceed at the pace of man who had to walk in front of them holding a red flag.   This would be a wonderful story and I would love to be able to say that this Act originated in Kent but  I must again admit to some doubt about this statement.   There is no obvious sign of the story in local papers - although an incident like this could be easily missed. particularly as the date isn't given. However  if the incident was so important as to change the law surely it would have been headlined!

    There was a series of Acts of Parliament and amendments to do with road transport in the early 1860s and the red flag requirement (which was only sometimes in force) was part of one of them. Before each Act was passed  there was some discussion in Parliament and a couple of  Parliamentary Committees were also held.  I have not able to find in any of these mention of this incident. In their discussions Members of Parliament were more  concerned about road surfaces and the damage done to them by increasingly heavy road vehicles. They also wanted to give power to various local authorities to control where these vehicles were allowed to go and where not (perhaps the old lady had got on to her MP!).   Many Members were at pains to say that although horses might be frightened by noisy mechanical contraptions they soon got used to them and anyway sensible grooms held the horse's head as the steam vehicle went past.

    In the back of Parliament's mind must also have been the dangers involved in these very young men (Yarrow was only 20 driving heavy vehicles over ordinary roads at night while fuelled with drink from the numerous 'entertainment' stops.

    Yarrow went on to found the shipbuilding company for which he became famous. He  lived for a while in Blackheath, at 113 Blackheath Park, and later at Woodlands - when this article was first written it was the Greenwich Local History Library where much of the research for it was done.  It has been said that Woodlands has survived because of Yarrow's involvement with the building.

    After the 1860s the use of steam vehicles on Kentish roads was very limited and the glamorous and exciting experimental runs stopped.  Development of steam road vehicles turned to heavy haulage. It was this period that Kent became famous for steam traction vehicles.  The development of firms like Aveling and Porter is outside the subject area of this article but we can all be proud to see the Kentish 'Invicta' badge today on so many preserved traction engines.   At Crockenhill I remember an exciting visit to the Foundry Garage's workshops and see engines hidden away under covers at the back - it was from Bygone Kent that I first learnt they were there. 

    Steam vehicles were still made in Greenwich the twentieth century -  by Frank Hill's son.   In the 1870s Frank Hills took control of one of the most important shipbuilding yards in London - Thames Ironworks. This was based on the banks of Bow Creek in Essex.  When Frank died control of Thames Ironworks passed to his son, Arnold.   Arnold Hills would make the subject of another long article. Most of his working life was spent in Essex and elsewhere  but although he was eventually to retire to Kent. He bought Hammerfield near Penshurst and  he is buried in St.Luke's Church Chiddingstone. He was a militant vegetarian and teetotaller who bravely fought to save London shipbuilding despite almost complete paralysis.

    In 1899 Thames Ironworks took over the old established Greenwich engineering firm of John Penn, based on Blackheath Hill and on the Deptford riverfront..  Marine engineering, which both Penn and Thames Ironworks  had specialised in, was beginning to fail in London. Arnold Hills looked round for other things which could be profitably made.  It is clear from the company's house journal that the newly emergent motor industry was of great interest to them and in the early part of the new century Thames Ironworks began to make vehicles.

    Steam driven lorries were certainly made in Greenwich under the trade name of 'Thames'.   In particular there was a five ton wagon.   It is interesting to note that its first test run was on Frank Hills' old route from Blackheath Hill to Bromley. It did this as 5 mph using 79 gallons of water and 3 qtrs. of coke.

    Thames Ironworks made a variety of  vehicles. although it not clear  if they were actually made in Greenwich or elsewhere. Steam lorries were a natural progression from the sort of things Penn's already had in production.  This was not so of the racing cars which Thames demonstrated at Brooklands Racetrack , where they also maintained workshops.  They also made a luxury car called 'Conqueror' and a smaller car called the 'Cynosure'.  The Hills family have pictures of these vehicles although  I am not aware if any preserved vehicles remain. The only relic I know of is in the Beaulieu Motor Museum. This is a coach made in June 1911 as the first of a fleet ordered by a West End distributor. It is a large and impressive vehicle - very reminiscent of what we imagine the earlier steam cars looked like. The notes provided by the Beaulieu Museum have avoided saying where it was made. 

    There were no successors, The story of the end of Thames Ironworks is dramatic and sad - because it signalled the end of ship building on the Thames. Penn's closed in 1912 and with them went car manufacture in Greenwich.    There were, of course, other manufactures of motor cars and steam vehicles in Kent but this article has attempted to tell the story of the days when Shooters Hill and the road between Bromley and Greenwich were test tracks for what was hoped to be a new breed of locomotive transport.

    Mary Mills

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    There will be an illustrated talk on The Rise and Fall of the Pool of London on Sunday 12th May, 3 – 4pm. The venue is Made in Greenwich Gallery, 324 Creek Road, Greenwich, SE10 9SW. Entry is free.

    Local artist Terry Scales, will share his early experiences as a stevedore in the once mighty Surrey Docks, and of life on the river when London was the greatest port in the world and was then known as ‘the larder of England’. 

    Terry will illustrate the function of the many wharves from Tower Bridge to Woolwich, and question the accepted view of why the Pool of London declined so rapidly to the astonishment of many, who for generations had earned their living handling the rich assortment of cargos, and also of the thousands of office workers, who would pause on London Bridge to watch the cranes dip and sway.

    After the talk there will be an opportunity to purchase signed prints depicting the last working wharves before the developers moved in.

    Please visit Terry’s website for more details;

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  • 04/14/13--02:40: UK Kebab Industry

  • Coming to me from such an unlikely source of the Councillor's weekly mailing has been a booklet 'UK Kebab Industry.  I am entirely unsure why this has been distributed to Greenwich Councillors since most of the action seems to take place in the further flung reaches of Stoke Newington .... but still .... it would seem ungrateful not to mention it.

    The booklet claims that there are perhaps 17,000 kebab shows in Britain run by Turks, Kurds, Asian and Greeks - and that they produce 2,000 tonnes of lamb doner and 700 tonnes of chicken every week.

    They claim that the first kebab shop in Britain opened in 1966 in Newington Green, followed by another in Upper Street. The booklet talks a bit about the spread of kebabs round Britain and pictures the largest kebab ever weighing 2,000 kg. and ends with the social impact of the kebab and its economical impacts - and then a young entrepreneur.

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  • 04/19/13--04:13: Greenwich built barges

  • Greenwich Peninsula was a big centre for barge building - many different vessels were built here until very recently and includeds some boats which are still very much in use on the River.  Lighters and other commercial craft were also built here. 

    Of most interest were the Thames Sailing Barges - operational in the late 19th century until the mid-20th.  Some of these were very, very famous vessels and there is a huge amount of interest out there and many enthusiasts.   Just this last weekend I was in Maldon at the quayside looking at the barges moored there, and saw just how many of them were very smart and we were told how new barges are now being built.

    It is important to recognise just how sophisticated and versatile these vessels were - and are.   They were built for the Thames and for all the little creeks as well as the Channel.   They could go up river - under all the bridges - and went to places like Isleworth and beyond.  They could go up tiny creeks in very shallow water.  They could, and did, cross the Channel and go into Continental rivers. They could be worked with a man and a boy.

    The barge matches - which many of these vessels competed in, and won - still take place. Happy to find dates of this year's  events

    I am putting below a list of those vessels built in Greenwich which I know about - and I am sure (and I hope) that all of those 100s of enthusiasts were not only read this but send in many many corrections to what I am sure are lots and lots and lots of mistakes. This is a subject people really KNOW about.

    Barge builder Shrubsall -  they were based at the Northern end of the Peninsula on part of the area of what is now Peninsula quays. They were an Ipswich based company who came to Greenwich in 1901.  There are some good articles about them by proper barge enthusiast writers - I could get references.

    Alderman Built 1905 for Groom of Harwich. Lost in the Second World War.
    Bankside. Originally built by Wakeley Bros. and rebuilt in 1926 by Shrubsall. She ended up owners by Francis & Gilders. Mined and sunk in the Second World War,

    Duchess. 55 ton barge built 1901 for for Clement Parker of Bradwell. She was lost at Dunkirk, - abandoned off St.Abb's Head and drifted.

    Genesta. (this is a confused jumble of bits - not sure which bits of this - if any if it - are correct) Sjhe was nuilt in the 1900s by Shrubsall and named after a yacht which won the America's Cup.  At one time she was missing for four days off Blythe. She once sailed to Guernsey.  She was owned by APCM and won sailing matches. After being wrecked for the second time in 1939 she sold and then converted into a motor barge in the Second World War for Hammond.  In the 1950s she was in an accident at Gas House Dock, Gillingham and then wrecked off Folly Point, Hoo Fort full of beer barrels from Meux at Pimlico. She was raised and taken to Churchfields to be burnt. But she ended up as a hulked at Pipers in Greenwich and her huge main mast  was displayed there as a relic.  (I would love to know what happened to that!!) 

    Imperial. Built 1902 and won races that year but worked hauling flour and cement. She eventually became a motor barge and was hulked at Temple Marsh and used as a jetty in 1957.
    King. Built in 1901 as Shrubsall's first boat at Greenwich. Built for Jarvis and Daniels Bros. of Whitstable. Her rigging was removed in the Second World War and in 1957 was still at work.Verona. Built in 1905 in a slack period. She won the 1905 Medway races and was 2nd in the Thames rces in 1906.  Shrubsall kept her as the part owner with the rest belonging to Clement Parker.  Then owned by Anderson of Maidstone she was bought by by Shrubsall in the 1930s. She was converted into a yacht by Nortons and then went to the Baltic and was used as a house boat.
    Pall Mall. Rebuilt in 1905 and owned by Shrubsall in the 1930s. She had an accident off London Bridge on way to Honduras Wharf and Shrubsall bought the wreck.

    Princess. Built in 1908 she won the 1909 Medway races and then, owned by Everard, the 1936 & 1937 Thames matches and the 1937 Medway match

    Southwark. She was hauling 'London Mixture' (rubbish and - er - other detritus) to farms. She a became 'roads barge' - disused in 1942
    Valdora, Built for J M Walker of Dover in 1904. The name is that of a potted geranium and she was called 'flower pot ship'. She was burnt out on the Norfolk Broads

    Valonia. Built 1912 was eventually has an engine. She was built for Middleton of  Harwich but then came back to Greenwich where she was owned Horace Shrubsall in the 1930s but then used by Battershall to trade to Portland.  In 1937 she was damaged off Emsworth, and  later at Dartmouth and then she hit Wandsworth Bridge and in 1938 hit the coaster Bain off the Yantlet, and then hit Gertrude. She was lost at Dunkirk in 1940. She was in Dunkirk Harbour with a load of pitch from Aylesford when the evacuation began, but, as the Skipper said, 'Jerry got there first'.  While leaving she hit the tanker Limousin and sank and was thus a  total loss.  It has been said she was the 'best earner' - she was a big barge which was economical with fuel. The name is a sort of algae used in cellulose.

    Varuna. Built 'on spec' in 1907. There was no buyer so Shrubsall used her himself before eventually selling her on. She sank down channel when in use as a yacht but in 1957 was still hauling , timber to the Surrey Docks.
    Venta. Previously called Jachin; she had been smashed on Newhaven beach and Shrubsall bought the wreck and rebuilt her. She became barge yacht in in 1948 for Judge Blagden and sailed to Sweden in 1964

    Veravia. Had been called Alarm previously and was rebuilt. She had been built in 1898 in Sittingbourne for Lloyds paper mills. She had caught fire with a load of paper and had to be helped into Dungeness. Shrubsall altered her drastically and she was changed again in 1938 in Greenwich by Humphery and Grey. In 1960, owned by Hayling Coal and Transportation Co. she sank when loaded with 140 tons of spent oxide from Portsmouth Gas Works going to the glassworks at Rouen. Gales has kept her windbound in the Camber - she sailed but turned back because of a heavy swell and freshening wind off the Nab Tower. She anchored off Chichester where she remained 5 days and then left but after 8 hours the wind shifted and she sank in a huge sea.  In 1961 she was converted to diesel at Prior's Yard Burnham on Crouch. As a working barge she went to the Continent with Belgian roofing tiles, and up the Rhine with Appolinaris water packed in straw. She carried Portland stone used for the Cenotaph. Before 1930 she took coal from Goole to Mill Rythe, and cullet to Antwerp and back with bricks from Boom. In the 1960s she took meal to Ipswich from Tilbury; scrap iron from Deptford to Goole, coal from Keadby to Wapping, and meal from Hull to Faversham; Wheat from Hull to Peterborough. She took flour from Guernsey amd returend with granite road chippings to London. . 'Vera via' is the 'true path'.

    Veronica. Built 1906. she eventually became a house barge and her remains are at Bedlam's Bottom. Her name boards and some other items were at the Dolphin Barge Museum in Sittingbourne. But that too has now closed.

    Victa. Rebuilt in 1913 she became a house barge at Strood,
    Vicunia. Built 1912 for , for Middleton of Harwich and was still at work in 1957. The name is a place in Chile.

    Vidora. Name is a place in Canada.

    Vimosa. Built in 1908
    Virona.  built in 1903



    Barge Builder Pipers - one of the leading barge builders. Based adjacent to the existing boat builder on what is now Lovells - the works there is essentially Pipers under different ownership.

    Arthur Relf  - built 1908 as a 68 ton wooden barge. Her remains lie in Whitewall Creek,

    Brian Boru - built 1906 in  wood. Broken up 1988 in Brentford

    Edgar Scholey. Built 1904. She was broken up 1950s having been a house boat at Cheyne Walk,

    Ernest Piper. Built 1898 in wood. Rerigged for Goldsmiths in 1928. Her remains lie in Shepherds Creek

    Gerty. Built 1897.  Broken up in 1933 at Millwall

    Giralda. Built 1897 - the fastest barge ever built. counter springy floor. A half model was made pf her and preserved. (and where is that?) She was designed by Piper's Foreman, Jack Gurrell commssioned by Goldsmiths of Grays and designed in order to win the Diamond Jubilee gold cup. She was flat and ugly and too light to keep her shape and so had to be strengthend. She cost £1,350 to build; was 80ft long and had 3,000 ft of canvas.   She was Champion of the Thames in 1898, 1900, 1904, and 1909. She was Champion of the Medway 1898, 1900, 1903, and 1904. She became a mooring barge in 1928 and then was damaged in Ramsgate Harbour. Piper bought her back in 1943 and hulked her - left her unused and unusable off their wharf.  Some remains of her were kept by the Piper family - and her picture turns up all over the place, I have seen it on table mats!!
    Gwynronald- previously called Charles Allison. Built in 1908 and owned by Samuel West of Gravesend and used for Ballast. Her remains have been in Oare Creek since 1957
    Haughty Belle. Built 1895 to the specifications of E.J.Goldsmith. She was a wooden racing barge with iron leeboards. She was eventually broken up in Cubitt's yacht basin, Royal Docks.
    James Piper. Built 1894 and was a successful racing bargef. She was broken up 1950s having been a house boat at Cheyne Walk.
    Leonard Piper. Built in 1910. She is a house boat at Chiswick Mall.
    Maid of Connaught. Built 1899 in wood and at one time called The Monarch. She was owned by the Leigh Building Supply Co. She was hulked on Pin Mill hard in 1957
    Miranda. Built 1909


    ip. Built in 1921 as a steel motor barge. Later called Pinup and in the 1950s called Pine. She was run down off Purfleet by a steamer and her crew were drowned. She was dismantled and then hulked at Greenwich.
    Sportsman. Built Pipers 1901, ger remains lie in Milton Creek.

    Squeak,  Had been previously called Dorcas Also called 'Hokey Pokey' because she had a painted hull. She had been based at Sandwich trader and off Woolwich petrol drums on board caught fire and the skipper was killed and she was sold to Pipers for £60 who rebuilt her as a larger vessel. She was the subject of a lawsuit because of damage in 1943 off Sheerness Gas works jetty. She was eventually dismantled in 1948 after nearly sinking in Sea Reach. Her remains lie at Funton.
    Surf. Built in 1899 as a racing barge.  She was fouled by Minnehaha at Tilbury in 1900

    Surge. Built in 1905 the name means Sure you are Giralda's Equal

    Surrey. Built 1901.  Her remains lie at Whitewall Creek
    M Piper. Built 1914. She was broken up for scrap at Bloor's Wharf in 1954

    W Mary. Built 1914. Broken up Greenwich in 1937,
    Wilfred. Built 1926 and called Stargate as the 'last word in modern staysail barges'. As a working barge she took Ballast and sand from Brightlingsea and became a motor barge in the 1930sl She is now a wine bar/restaurant on the Victoria Embankment and has had a variety of names.

    Hughes - Hughes were a family firm based on what is now part of the Lovells site. They became Tilbury Lighterage and Dredging.
    Orinoco. Built in 1895 She sank in the Thames in 1952 but was refloated and remained at work into the 1950s. She is the only Greenwich built barge still in sail - she was at Hoo Marina, don't know if she is still there.


    Norton - there were a number of Norton brothers with barge yards adjacent to each other in the area of foreshore near the Ecology Centre

    Serb. Repaired by Shrubsall. She was at Dunkirk having been sent there while loaded coal for drifters at Tilbury. Sge was  then towed to Ramsgate and set out for Dunkirk, but was told to go back so she was towed back to Ramsgate and laid up at Ipswich. She became a yacht owned by R.Green and was sunk off North Foreland in 1954


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    Once a year the Naval Dockyards Society comes to Greenwich and holds its AGM at the National Maritime Museum.  This year to celebrate 500 years of Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards history their AGM was followed by a conference on that very subject.

    The Conference was opened by Deptford MP, Joan Ruddock - with a speech expressing her support for the recognition of the Deptford Yard's history while various 'regeneration' schemes are considered. She recalled how she had explained to Chinese developers that in our eyes the dockyard has the same status as the Great Wall of China has for them.  She mentioned two projects being put forward by local people - a project to restore John Evelyn's Sayes Court Garden, and the project to 'Build the Lenox' - a replica 17th century warship at Deptford. (speaker on that being booked for GIHS)

    Chris Ellmers gave his paper in his usual erudite and lively style. This was on the private shipbuilding yards and ironworks which surrounded the Royal Dockyard and the interrelationships between them.  We must get Chris along to GIHS to speak on this - as well as everything else he is so knowledgeable on.

    Peter Cross-Rudkin spoke about the work of John Rennie in the Royal Dockyards - which was focussed on the dockyards nationwide and not just about Deptford and Woolwich, although they were mentioned of course. He was very interesting however on Rennie and his work.

    Philip McDougall spoke about the Woolwich dockyard focussing his talk around a print of the launch of the 120 gun Nelson in 1814.  This was all about the carnival atomosphere around the launch of this ship - the visitors - the flotilla coming down river from London, and so on.  He also talked about the development and eventual demise of Woolwich Dockyard.  Philip would love to come and talk to GIHS about this but it would need to be at a daytime meeting - something which perhaps we should attempt.

    The next speaker, English Heritage's Mark Stephenson, has been to GIHS several times and also sends us helpful information on current work in the Borough.  He was looking at how site investigation can be planned and executed along with the developers and the planners - and how strategies for this have been developed.

    Duncan Hawkins has already spoken to us - and also led site visits - on the archaeology undertaken at Deptford Dockyard in 2011 and 2012. This work is ongoing and will eventually be published.

    The final speakers - Chris Mazeika and Willi Richards - again need no local introductions. Since they bought what has become known as the Shipwrights Palace on the Deptford site they have worked unceasingly to publicise and promote this important site.   Their paper continued to analyse some aspects of the site.

    These papers will all be published by the Society in due course

    The Conference raised some important issues - and clearly just one day on the two dockyards is going to leave lots of holes.  The focus, rightly, was on Deptford.  However I had a conversation with members of the GLIAS Committee only last week and was reminded that they were involved with a number of local people in the 1970s on an excavation and study of Woolwich Dockyard - involving I understand supervision on the late Beverley Burford - then assistant curator at Plumstead Museum.  GLIAS holds a great deal of unpublished material on Woolwich Dockyards - as did other people involved at the time - and I was told they would welcome an opportunity to bring some of it to light.

    ................... ideas?????  as to how this might be achieved?

    anyway - thanks for the day, and the arrangments to the Naval Dockyards Society - and to their new Chair and Committee elected earlier today.

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    I am very torn about reviewing this book - I do think it is about time something like this came out.   London has a huge heritage (if we must describe it as that) of old structures of the power industries.. GLIAS has described most of these sites over the years but never codified them. Certainly there are several people in London's Industrial Archaeology world who could reel a list off in very great detail - but then then none of them have produced this book - so congratulations to Ben Pedroche, who has.

    Having said that - I am no great expert on power stations, particularly railway power stations - and its good to see them in one place and listed out.  There is a real problem with the history of many old power generating sites in that privatisation saw a huge amount of archive material junked and I know to my cost that there are some local power stations where there really is nothing left to read up on.  So, again, congratulations to Ben for finding out some bits about Blackwall Point Power Station (which stood on the riverside near the Pilot) - I know that can't have been easy.  

    I am very pleased that he has highlighted Greenwich Power Station - although he hasn't followed up the suggestion that it is the oldest operational power station in the country.  But it is a good introduction to it and explains its background - but - Ben - did you read the article on it by Peter Guillery which GLIAS published, and, by the way, it has been refitted again in the last ten years, and rumour is that it is to be refitted again for Biomass.

    I am sorry that he hasn't given more information about our other remaining old power plant in the Borough - the Plumstead Generating Station at White Hart Road. This was listed at the instigation of GIHS members and GIHS has published detailed information on this interesting site, researched and written by Dave Ramsey.  It deserves a lot more.

    And so we come onto what he says about the gas industry - and I am sorry if this sounds like a lot of carping.  I don't mean it - its good to see something written and I will make sure that a nice supportive review goes into the gas history press (yes there is such a thing!!).

    He starts with - as ever - William Murdoch.  I just wish people who write about Murdoch and gas would take themselves up to the Birmingham Reference Library and read their way through the excellent archive which preserves the notes of the people who actually worked on developing the first coal gas making plant (James Southern and William Henry). 

    And so - no mention of the site in Goswell Road (Brick Lane gas works) where gas was made from 1816 and where Transco are still on site.  Precious little about Old Kent Road - where the Livesey holder was recommended for listing (Ben - you did read Malcolm Tucker's report to English Heritage on gas holders in London, didn't you??).   There is also a big imbalance in the account of the Commercial Company - which was essentially one of South Met's puppet companies. Nothing about Livesey's political role in gas industry pricing and company structures - let alone his workplace relations (all those adjitprop plays of the early 1980s).

    But I won't go on about Livesey - but I will finish by saying that one day I will tell the world about the truth of the Millennium Dome and Livesey's ghost story - which he mentions.  But not just yet.

    I intend to say nice things about the book - which is why I am not picking through the gas chapters bit by bit.  Its a book we need - but its a subject where you probably need a lifetime to read all the source material.  Perhaps no one person could do it.


    PS - memo to self to scan (ugh!) and upload my M.Phil thesis (on Livesey's workplace relations and political role), my BA project on the 1889 gasworkers strike and the bits I've actually written on a biography on to

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    GLIAS Newsletter

    The April 2013 GLIAS Newsletter has some bits and pieces of interest to Greenwich historians:

    23rd June Crossness Engines Steaming Day plus Model Engineering Fair.  10.30-5 with last admission 4.  £5

    Peter Butt - writing about London Gateway - says " As a school teacher in the 1970s I regularly took classes of 12-year old pupils for a walk along the south side of the Thames from Greenwich to the Blackwall Tunnel and which passed through a working container dock.  That part of the public footpath was between the rails that the front and rear pairs of the legs of the cranes ran on, the path being marked out by white lines.  My pupils did find the experience 'interesting'!

    Bob Carr writes " The small industrial building in Blackwall Lane at TQ 394 783 roughly opposite Greenwich Town Social Club has been demolished. Until a few years ago it accommodated a form of Italian bakers and confectioners. Apparently they moved north of the river because traffic congestion in the Blackwall Tunnel was becoming insufferable'.

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  • 05/02/13--02:53: Article 7

    The Naval Dockyards Society is looking for papers on British Dockyards in the First World War.
    This is for a conference on 29th March 2014 to be held at the National Maritime Museum.

    They say:

    "To commemorate its 100th anniversary, papers are invited on all dockyards and naval bases, Scapa Flow, dreadnoughts, Zeppelin raids, the role of women & dilutees, etc. NOS invites you to offer an original paper

    If it is accepted by the committee we shall pay reasonable travel expenses and your conference fee, give you lunch, publish it in our annual Transactions and give you five free copies. The delivered presentation will be around 40 minutes. The paper when published will be 6-10K words. Your paper will be required six months later for editing.

    Please send your title and 300 word synopsis by 20 October 2013 to:

    Peter Goodwin, Secretary, Naval Dockyards Society, 26 Duncan Road, Southsea, P05 2QU, 023 9229 5949

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    The latest issue of Subterranea reports a visit by three of their members - Stewart Wild, Paul Sowan and John Lill - to the Crossrail 'almost completed sub-surface station box'.

    They report on the surrounding area where new 'apartment blocks are interspersed between retained Arsenal buildings, some of which have new uses' - and they also note the Dial Arch pub (which, of course, acted as a sort of 'waiting room' while the box was open to view). 

    They also note that excavation uncovered 'the foundations of former buildings and three abandoned old cannon barrels' and, in addition, 'Thanet Sand, vast quantities of which were excavated andfound a ready sale as an eminently marketable commodity, with uses including golf course bunkers". As geologists and historians they note 'the occurrence of this sand at Woolwich, an ideal moulding-sand for casting bronze on, has been said to be the reason why the Royal Laboratory was relocated here from Moorfields in 1715'. They also noted that 'the water table in this part of Woolwich lies just beloground surface level, so the station box had to be made watertight, and measures taken to prevent it from floating like a boat'!

    However - they are Sub Brit after all - descended to 'admire the huge space which, when the railway is completed, will house escalators, a very wide central platform and running lines either side'.... and then 'beyond the new station the two tunnels will slope downwards into waterlogged flinty chalk below the Thanet Sand and pass below the Thames en route to join the Essex branch of Crossrail, then on westwards to the western portals beyond Paddington.'

    For more see Subterranea  April 2013 Issue 32

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  • 05/10/13--22:43: Some sad news
  • Hugh Lyon - we have been contacted to say that Hugh Lyon died suddenly in late April.  Hugh was a founder member of GIHS and was for some time our Vice-Chair.  He was a diligent researcher on shipping and the Thames and gave several papers and talks to GIHS on river related subjects.  He lived in Victoria Way Charlton - but moved to Worcester a couple of years ago.  He is a great loss. GIHS has a family contact number.


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