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

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  • 12/30/16--03:38: Telcon - and atoms for peace
  • The following article appeared in the Telcon Magazine for Spring 1958

    ZETA and Telcon Magnetic Cores Ltd

    IT was a dull, grey morning in February, 1955 when Telmag first become involved in one of the most daring experiments ever attempted by British nuclear scientists. The telephone rang and a voice enquired casually whether we could supply cores of a size which was about ten times larger than anything we had previously produced, and which weighed about one hundred times more than our normal "large" cores.

    We asked for twenty-four hours to consider the matter and gave an affirmative answer the following morning. Subsequently, a number of meetings were held in an atmosphere of great conspiracy and mystery and, finally, to our great delight we were told to make a sample for test purposes. The sample was not really very successful but we had learnt quite a lot and the authorities, with great courage, and no doubt some misgivings, decided to proceed with the experiment.

    A period of considerable activity followed and thanks to a really good team effort by the engineers, production and planning departments and the electrical laboratory, the last component in the series was finally despatched in August 1956 just two weeks ahead of our original delivery schedule

    A general view of Zeta.
    The two banks of Telemag cores are clearly shown.
    The outer banks round the cores carry angle iron
    stiffeners welded to the bands which also serve the
    purpose of providing clamping points for securing
    Paxolin tubes for the transformer windings.
    These windings carry a current of  300,000 amps
    Then came a long silence and we wondered whether the great experiment had failed - perhaps atomising its originators in retribution for their temerity - but, at last, on Wednesday October 16th 1958 the Daily Express produced a streaming headline – ‘ The bomb is tamed for peace’ cried Mr Chapman Pincher and ‘limitless power can be derived from heavy hydrogen produced from sea water’.  No official statement was issued by the authorities, however, although various knowledgeable people, when questioned, were observed to smile mysteriously and someone went so far as to admit ‘there seems to be a chance that it might work’.  The full significance of this experiment and the outstanding success of the Harwell scientists were of course finally made known on January 24th1958 and we now take pleasure in offering our respectful congratulations to all concerned. 

    Imaginative thinking coupled with tremendous drive and enthusiasm, were undoubtedly the two vital ingredients which enabled the Harwell team to carry this exercise through to a successful conclusion.

    Telemag feel very honoured in having had the chance to play a small part in this remarkable experiment and when a letter arrived from the Deputy Director of the Establishment himself expressing satisfaction with our work we really felt that our efforts had been worthwhile.

    Every time that the phone rings now, we answer in the hope that somebody is going to ask us for some cores with dimensions in furlongs.

    the two pictures shown above are taken from the relevant Telcon Magazine. There is no attribution on either .  If eiother are someone's copywrite, apologies, and we will remove it as soon as it is brought to our attention.

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  • 01/09/17--07:48: Its quiet over Christmas
  • This is a posting with very little, if any, news and a lot of chit chat.


    Don't forget our next meeting ......... which will feature ...

    Stewart Ash speaking on Sir John Pender.  17th  7.30. at Age Exchange Old Bakehouse.
    - all welcome - learn about how Greenwich changed the world

    So -

    Richard Buchanan has drawn our attention to an article in the current LAMAS Transactions (Vol.66 2015) This is about the proof house in the Tower of London. This is where the nation's gunpowder was tested and it is an archaeological report, rather than a history (there is a difference)..  I guess from the archaeologists point of view this is all good stuff - lots of digging up of post medieval bricks and the like.
    Why are we interested in Greenwich? As Richard pointed out 'The Proof House is the predecessor of the Magazine at what became Enderby Wharf''.  So - but - here is my problem with the article - it doesn't actually mention Greenwich.   The Greenwich Magazine dated from the 1690s - the site was first investigated for it in 1694.and it is thought this was because the storage of gunpowder in the Tower was seen as dangerous. However the LAMAS article say that a proof house and charging house were built by the Ordinance Board in 1682 and that they were replaced in 1709 with larger buildings. So what was going on??  We know that Greenwich was used for proofing as well as for a store. Did the two run concurrently, or have we misunderstood the role at Greenwich?  Isn't this something that should be discussed?  But there is no mention of Greenwich - or indeed of Purfleet where the magazine was moved to in the 18th century.

    Can anyone throw a bit of light on this??

     (Anthony Mackinder.. The Proof House and later works at Tower Wharf)

    More - archaeology - thanks Elizabeth for a copy of an article in London Archaeologist (winter 2017),   'The Bronze Age landscape of the Greenwich Peninsula'.  
    Fair enough I suppose - if all you are interested in is several thousand years ago, and bother what is there since.  Illustrations show 'Early Holocene surface around the Blackwall Lane site.... to the north on what is now the Greenwich Peninsula lay a network of channels interspersed with gravel islands'.
    The article also draws heavily on the discovery of a Bronze Age trackway in Bellott Street (er - technically not on the Peninsula).  Some of the article rests on archaeological reports which are not available to the likes of you and me.

    As ever I have some problems with this sort of stuff, which seems to exist in a little cloud some distance from reality.

    For instance - can we be told what the Thames was doing at this point??  I mean, I'm not good on prehistoric dates but I do know that  the Thames has moved about a bit over the years, I also guess there have been any number of dreadful tidal surges not to mention various shoals and things in the river (one only removed in the 19th).  How did they affect what they found??

    The article is about the Bronze Age - but the questions I would like answered are about things which are more recent - who exactly do we think first embanked the Peninsula??  Do the drainage channels you have identified in any way match the late medieval drainage system?? Do we think there were other drainage systems?? Why do you think there was managed farming and settlement there when was none in 1600?  What were all those bits and pieces I used to be shown by local workers who told me they were Roman and picked up on the Dome site (I didn't believe them particularly ....but..)

    I think there are other issues - one is that it is a pity that the potentially interesting area at what was Bugsby's Causeway was built on with no investigation - were MOLA/Pre-Construct not aware of the potential there??  and - you know there are more things on the Peninsula than the medieval tide mill,
    and - also - by the way - I can point you to an excellent description of monthly plant growth there from the 1620s onwards, would be useful for comparison??

    Archaeologists will love this and it is clearly an important paper - I want to say something positive about it, but I also want to know where it takes us.  How does it help us understand the world we find ourselves in??


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  • 01/19/17--02:32: Notes and bits and pieces
  • Docklands History Group
    This is about their conference on Thames River Crossingson 13th May at the Museum in Docklands. They are now taking bookings - look at their website

    Speakers - as you will see the important papers are near the end

    Gustav Milne – Crossing the Thames in prehistoric and Roman times.
    John Scofield – Old London Bridge and the Pool of London
    Hazel Forsyth– Frost Fairs
    Chris Dodd – Thames Watermenwherries and ferries
    Professor Jerry White – Some 18th century Thames crossings and the shape of London
    Peter Cross-Rudkin – John Rennie’s Thames bridges
    Chris Everett – Waterloo Bridge: 200 years in the London Physche
    Mary Mills and Ian Blore – The story of the LCC tunnels 
    Guy Taylor – The incredible disappearing bridge mystery


    London Railway Record - article on Blackheath Station
    The current edition (January 2017) includes a really wonderful article on Blackheath Station by Peter Kay -although we note thanks to Neil Rhind and that Neil read it and provided the pictures. The article is 11 pages long and I hardly know where to start reviewing it. Most of all I would recommend people to read it! What it doesn't mention is that here in Greenwich it is now the only local station which actually has trains going somewhere useful!


    AND - while we are on the subject of Neil Rhind - many of us enjoyed his 80th birthday party at Blackheath Concert Halls on 17th January.  The cake was in the shape of Blackheath Tea Hut which Neil has been keen to demolish.


    Planning and Demolitions
    We note in the planning papers an application for the demolition of the VIP Trading Estate and VIP Industrial Estate in Anchor and Hope Lane.  This is a huge site at the end of  Anchor and Hope Lane and adjacent to the river. It is so big that it totally encloses and isolates hapless Atlas and Derrick Gardens. The plan is for flats and flats and flats (975) although it is presented with shops and cafes and the rest.  This is an area with numerous small businesses and a lot of people work there - and of course sites of historic interest.  We await more detail. Please submit!! The planning reference is 16/4008/F


    Lenox Project
    Posting from the Lenox Project urging us to be at the Evelyn Assembly on 21st January to vote for them - sorry, Lenox Project. Whatever the Evelyn Assembly is I am sure it won't want to see a vast congregation of Greenwich residents turning up - so - good luck and that, but I think that's a Lewisham local event.


    Greenwich Historical Society have their pantomime on 25th January at James Wolfe School, Royal Hill, 7.15, curtain up 7.30. Free to GHS members - guests £5.   thanks Horatio


    Last night - 18th - GLIAS - had as their lecture speaker James Hulme on Charlton - he is due  to speak to us, GIHS, on 13th June. The only review I have had so far of last nights event is 'truly wonderful' - so, what did others think, and please come and hear him in June.

    Still looking at all these Telcon newsletters - some small bits from 28 - 1957

    Cable ships which visited Enderby  - C.S.Castillio Olmedo to load cable for the Spanish Government - CS Lasso to load cable for the Admiralty - CS Stanley Angwin to discharge cable from Cable and Wireless and load cable for the South American coast - CS Edward Wilshaw - to load cable for the Indian Ocean.

    Staff Association - the speaker noted the 100th anniversary of the launch of Great Eastern - and spoke about the future for cables of all sorts with TV and business men all talking to each other round the world. He said that inter planetary travel would really open up the opportunity for cable sales.

    Sports - among the football, cricket and boxing and the like is news of the Telcon Terribles the company's marbles team. They had had a big win in the British Marbles Championship and were awaiting the arrival of a US ship whose crew were keen to take them on.

    Mumetal - one of the Greenwich works most important developments was Mumetal, widely used here, then, now and elsewhere, However an item in the newsletter talks about its use in water divining

    all good stuff

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    They advertise meetings:
    15th February  Spitalfields Silk Industry by Sue Jackson
    15th March  Crossrail Archaeology roundup - Jay Carver and Andy Shelley
    19th April - Royal Arsenal Then and Now - Ian Bull
    17th May - AGM and Andrew Smithy. The New River
    All at Alan Baxter, Ltd. 75 Cowcross Street, EC1.  6.30

    The GLIAS Bookstall will be at Bexley History Fair  5th March, SERIAC Worthing 22nd April, Nunhead Cemetery 20th May

    22nd April  SERIAC 2017 is at Worthing College Sixth Form College,  and is about '50 years of IA'.  (includes speakers on Architecture of T.H.Myres for the London to Brighton Railway,  The development of the Roadside Letter Box,  50 years of Sussex Mills, Brighton 'Atlantic' Locomotive reconstruction, 50 years of SIAS - and a keynote speech on Industrial Archaeology and Archaeology by Marilyn Palmer herself).
    (not really any info about how you get to go to it unless you have the form which is with the GLIAS newsletter - no website or anything. It says information on conference arrangements from - so hope that is some help)

    more advertised with some Greenwich interest:

    24th February Maudslay and his Circle by David Waller. Wandsworth Historical Society. Friends Meeting House, Wandsworth High Street. 8 pm

    Elsewhere in the GLIAS Newsletter - a long article on the closure of the amazingly old Whitchapel Bell Foundry  .... news that the Hornsey gas holder has been demolished  ... Markfield Beam Engine and Museum study update ... sewer vents ... 

    ----------------and ................. about Greenwich. ............. there is an article about the Royal Iris, currently derelict and stranded on the river wall in Charlton/Woolwich borders. The article reports that the ship is now registered as a floating pier - which admits she now can't be moved and its cheaper to do that.It is thought that if she is broken up on site it will cost more than her scrap value - but what else can be done!  Brought some how or other down here from Liverpool she was supposed to become a floating night club - so, what now??

    There is also a review of 'The Matchless Colliers' by Bill Cakebread which relates the history of the Collier family, Matchless and AJS in Plumstead. (£10 plys £2.50 p&p from The Paddock, High Street, Battle, TN339JR  cheques fo W.A.Cakebread). 



    In the report of their December meeting the Pierhead Painters are referred to, These were, apparently, artists who painted ships going in and out of ports all over the world. There are some books about them which were referrred to. The speaker asked for information about an H.Crane who was painting before 1917 and was still painting in 1955.  Does anyone have any information??

    Their February meeting was about The Thames as a Barrier and also The early days of the London Dock Company by Derek Morris. (perhaps GIHS should get him along!!)

    Lewisham Local History Society Newsletter

    Most of the items this time are really just about Lewisham - they include:

    a review of 'Lee Memories' a book produced by Lee Fair Share Time Bank . (get info from Leefairshare ............
    ....a note about a new blue plaque to Antarctic explorer William Colbeck.............
    .............. a note about Plassy Road School ..................150th anniversary of Lee Station .... and a wartime ride on the 54 tram (this ends more or less at the Lewisham border - but is 54 tram now our 54 bus, from Woolwich to Elmers End??)

    The newsletter also gives a short obituary to much-missed ex-Southwark Local History archivist...
    ... and also announces the retirement of Lewisham Local History Society editor, Gordon Dennington.

    24th February - Sue Hayton on street furniture in South East London
    31st March - Nick Bertram on Modern Nature  - Living on the Edge
    (both at Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13 7.45)

    They also advertise
    7th March  Alan Piper 100 Years of Biggin Hill airport . Bromley Local History Society  Trinity United Reform Church, Freelands Road, Bromley,  7.45


    Greenwich Society Newsletter

    The Greenwich Society is setting up a group of people to look at the future of The Point - and we look forward to how that is going.  No mention by them that it covers a chalk mine which in the 19th century became a naughty night club.

    They have an article about James Wolfe - whose statue looks out from the space by the Royal Observatory. The author of the article is Pieter van der Mewre and he points out that 2017 will be the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. He talks about the capture of Quebec by Wolfe and the skills of James Cook who as a hydrographic surveyor helped get the army up the St.Lawrence river.

    There is also a long article about Greenwich Power station - more details elsewhere in this note

    --- and thank you to their new newsletter editor for giving GIHS a slot

    Note from Richard Buchanan to say that Ray Fordham is hoping to get two telephone cabinets in the Arsenal conserved. They are still in situ with their original wiring - and are from the Great War period.


    There has been some press coverage of a new 'Prince Philip Centre' - and clearly something is going up alongside the A2 at Kidbrooke. Presumably this is to replace the Maritime Museum store in Nelson Mandela Road - and will it also replace the Royal Brass Foundry store. It would be good to know much more about this.

    see for press story


    Gas holders

    We have a note from Steve in the Lewisham History Society who is hoping to get some sort of preservation order on the two huge gas holders at Bell Green in Sydenham. We have already seen other attempts to list gas holders failing - at Bethnal Green and Hornsey, and Bow is likely also to fail. 

    In the past week we have had two enquiries from people about the East Greenwich gas holder (biggest in Europe and with a revolutionary design). They all assume it is listed - but it is not and applications to do so have failed. Raising this in conversation last night at a meeting in East Greenwich there was a lot of shock-horror - and some anger - from locals that it might go - 'its our holder'' its our landmark'  'my little boy looks at it every day''they mustn't touch it'...... any ideas???



    Not industrial but very scientific - did you know the first Wisteria in England was planted by Charles Hampden Turner at Wood Lodge on Shooters Hill (site of the Oxleas Cafe). They had been acquired from China and brought back to England by the East India Company Inspector of Tea,


    In Touch with the Thames

    We have been sent details of Marine Management Organisation workshops on Marine Plane development. These are nation wide, but the London ones are

    7th March  9-30-16.00 Wesley Hotel, 81-103 Euston Street, NW1  for informaiton


    Charlton Society

    Talk on the History of Gardens and Growing in Charlton.  Charlton House, Grand Salon 2.30  18th February.


    Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter

    They include - sadly - obituaries to Ann Rusher, and Joan Harbottle
    An article on Woolwich Garrison Church Trust (GIHS has a speaker from them soon) .... and a long article by Jim Marrett about rescuing a boundary stone   ....



    We have had a note about the Deptford Pumping Station site and its place in the current legacy masterplan. This site is an original 19th pumping station by Bazalgette with listed buildings. It is felt that this needs some sort of histortical interpretation  - and adding in the new Tideway tunnel too. The add that this all within sight of - the first commuter railway, world beating marine steam engine factory, the first centralised generation of electricity for public use, and the UKs first successful internal combustion engine .  (er - does that cover the fire engines too??)



    As noted above there has been local concern about Greenwich Power Station and the possibility of it being upgraded. A  number of consultation meetings took place and very angry residents attended them. All this is outlined in the article by Richard Baglin in the Greenwich Society Newsletter. Currently the application has been withdrawn by London Underground, who own the power station.

    Thanks to Len Duval we got a note from Vicky from TfL - we asked what the future of the power station is?  if it is not expanded is it likely to be closed and the site sold.  Its an interesting building and probably the oldest power station in Europe still in operation. Sale would mean demolition and more 'luxury' riverside flats. All that Vicky says on this is that that option has been investigated but that, at the moment the tube cannot operate without the power station - since it provides emergency back up power. It would cost more to build a new power station on a green field site than the sale of the site would realise .................. so .............. lets see. 

    oooh - and - look at this!!!!
    now there's really posh!

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    It has been all excitement this week.  What is this all about?? In 1974 a group of eager young people volunteered to do what we now call 'community archaeology' on a site in Woolwich.  And what did they find???

    "THE EXCAVATION at the Woolwich Old Ferry Approach in 1974 recovered a sequence of kilns producing earthenware and stoneware.' The stoneware kiln is unique ....ince it represents attempts to produce a saltglazed stoneware in Britain earlier than Dwight's venture in 1672."

    So - its called 'The Woolwich Kiln '-  Next the kiln was lifted out in one piece, and it was huge - as big as a room.  It was taken off to the Council depot in Tunnel Avenue and there is stayed until the depot closed. It was then taken on a low loader to the Arsenal site. (we think there was a film made of it being moved, and possibly of the dig - does anyone know about this??).  It sat on the Arsenal site as everything was demolished around it, and - I think - around 2000 it was opened up to see if it was alright because it was thought that plant growth inside might have destroyed it.  But it was ok.  It was then moved to outside the Heritage Centre, and there it has stayed.

    This week a group of archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology with a lot of high tech equipment, not available in 1974, are all set to slice it up, take it to bits and see what it is all about.

    So - since Sunday - there has been a big exercise to contact all those keen young people - now mainly retirees, some married to those they met on the dig, many inspired to become leading lights in local archaeology, and local history groups or even eminent historians. Some, sadly are dead (a sad mention of Beverley Burford).  However a stream of people have come down to look at the kiln - and the archaeologists working on it have been making notes and keeping records of what they are told. Some of them - like me - were not involved in the original dig, but we knew about it,  Others had a particular reason - .ike Lisa, from Maze Hill Pottery who is an expert in salt glazed stone ware - and as many of those keen young people as we have been able to contact.

    Today is Thursday - we understand that be tomorrow it will be all gone.


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  • 04/03/17--03:41: Better late than never
  • This is just a few items from the ENORMOUS pile of stuff waiting to go out to you about industrial Greenwich:

    First - a letter - 
    I write to enquire whether you think members of The Greenwich Industrial History Society might be interested to know about a forthcoming exhibition by Terry Scales? The exhibition features Terry’s earliest works from when he was enrolled as a student at Camberwell School of Art at age 13 through to his early working years as a stevedore working every wharf between Tower Bridge and Woolwich. We are hoping there will also be an artist talk – details to be announced via Terry’s blogsite; .

    The details are;

    Title; Scenes from Post-War London 1946 – 1960. The Early Paintings of Terry Scales.
    Returning from an idyllic childhood as an evacuee in Devon to the trauma of war torn Bermondsey, Terry records through his teenage pen and ink drawings the chaos and energy of his surroundings, as he begins life as a 13 year old student at Camberwell School of Art and later as a young adult shows how his passion for documenting the working life of the Thames began.    
    9th May – 10th June 2017.
    West Greenwich Library, 146 Greenwich High Road, Greenwich, London, SE10 8NN.
    Opening Times; Varied - Monday: 2pm to 7pm, Tuesday: 9am to 5.30pm, Thursday: 9am to 7pm, Friday: 2pm to 5.30pm, Saturday: 9am to 5pm (Wednesday and Sunday: Closed)


    Greenwich Park History Group

    The group is advertising an open afternoon to which they are inviting people who may have memories or knowledge about the park.  Monday 5th June 2.30 at the Wildlife Centre.  


    The Thames Festival Trust and the Museum of London are looking for volunteers for a history of London's boatyards. This will involve oral history and the history of boatbuilding on the tidal Thames. email



    Lots and lots of news  - they have had a 'Grand Reopening' (while explaining they never really closed) - lots of student visits - scouts visits - walking tours for Peabody - schools STEAM programme - and they were used as a location for forthcoming 'Victor Frankenstein' and 'TV 'Jekyll and Hyde'.
    and lots more.



    Our previous posting was about the Archaeology at the Woolwich Kiln.   Work is also starting/ongoing at Callis Yard,  20 Horn Lane, and land to the west of West Parkside



    There has been a petition flying about 'Save Island Gardens' - the nice bit of green opposite the Cutty Sark on the Isle of Dogs.  It appears that this is not actually about Island Gardens as such, but about an old wharf to the west of the gardens - where there has been an ongoing land ownership dispute.

    We did wonder who owns Island Gardens itself - at one time it belonged to Greenwich Hospital Estates.  Does it still belong to them or has it been sold to someone??  I think we need to know.



    Apparently the last clutch of 28 storey tower blocks on the Peninsula have been inspired by the chimneys of the Greenwich Power Station.  The design is by Alison Brooks for Knight Dragon.



    The Enderby Group report that they still have not been able to see inside Enderby House. However Urban Explorers have been in and taken a video

    LOTS MORE BUT SAVING THAT UP FOR LATER  - among it is a very paper on Deptford Creek

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  • 06/22/17--01:34: Article 0

    Biggest gas holder in Europe - an exceptional structure built to revolutionary principles - listing now refused - and scheduled for demolition - ideas for reuse apparently not considered


    There are more links at the bottom of the page to relevant sites -including links to how they use gasholder sites in other countries and some artworks

    To start - the historical background to the holder and why it is important


    The gas industry in South London, beginning around 1820, had developed as a chaos of small competing private companies. Regulation was imposed on them by governments from the 1870s – partly following parliamentary lobbying by George Livesey.  This resulted in the area being dominated by Livesey’s South Metropolitan Company from the Old Kent Road. East Greenwich works was built in the 1880s as the out-of-town mega works which the government wanted to be built but it was also a show place for Livesey’s ideals and standards. Only perfection was good enough for South Met.!
    (More about Livesey below)


    The simplest description of a gas holder is to imagine it as a  cup sitting turned upside down in a saucer which holds a pool of water. The cup is built in a tier of sections which can lift and fall according to the internal pressure

    The East Greenwich holder is one of a series designed by George Livesey which he began at Old Kent Road at what was originally the main works of the South Metropolitan Company and where he developed his ideas.  Of this series at Old Kent Road only two holders remain.

    The holder with its companion which was demolished in 1986,
    Together they made up the largest amount of safe gas storage
    anyway - ever
    No13 Gasholder at Old Kent Road has now been listed.  Built in 1879-81 it’s frame was the first built on George Livesey's revolutionary cylindrical shell principle which treats it as a single huge cylinder. There are many other revolutionary aspects to the design and materials and while the structure appears to be simple it is in fact very complex and very different from the older, often highly decorative, holders most of which are now being demolished.

    Construction at East Greenwich was affected by the marshy subsoil which resulted in a shallower tank – the part of the holder which is normally underground.   Problems with the sub soil were discovered during excavation in September 1884 and the depth of the tank had to be reduced with 13 feet of it raised in an embankment and this raises its height.

    The holder also needed a greater numbers of lifts – the tiered sections inside the frame - to raise the volume of gas which it could hold.  Thus it is far taller than would normally be expected. It has four of these ‘lifts’ and is the first holder ever built to this size. It rises to about 180 feet and holds 8.2 million cubic feet of gas.

    The great height of construction was made possible by new materials and it effected a great saving in cost which had a huge subsequent effect. Part of Livesey's success derived from his many improvements in design making it more efficient and lighter.  Costs of storage were also less in terms of landuse and labour - and workers could be encouraged to go to church on Sundays even though Sunday dinners had to be cooked.

    A press advertisement from the 1930s
    illustrates South Met's considerable
    brio - and their pride in their holders
    The holder is free of all extraneous decoration and it thus sets a new bench-mark for gasholder design of which it is a refinement in size and sophistication and an exploitation of the beauty of pure structural form. Ideas then being embodied in industrial and domestic design as the modern movement.

    Around 1980, parts of the bell and guide frame-on one side were fire damaged in an IRA bomb attack, but they were reinstated


    Some years ago English Heritage commissioned a report on London holders. The consultant recommended Old Kent Road No.13 for listing – and did not recommend EG No.1. or any others. Very recently this report has been revisited and as a result OKR13 has been listed and EG1 consigned for demolition. Others listed have been the Kings Cross holders and that at Vauxhall – basically because they have been seen on TV and are ‘loved’, whatever that means


    Livesey was an extraordinary man, brought up in the Old Kent Road gasworks where he began work at the age of 14.  He is best known for his opposition to trade unions and his dreadful fight with the Gas Workers Union in 1889.   This reputation however masks a much more complicated career – and the very original line he took on most things, frequently to strong opposition.  In the 1870s he promoted to government the idea of a sliding scale in gas company financing – only allowing private gas companies to distribute profits to shareholders if their gas prices went down. He extended this idea to the workplace in a scheme where a bonus to workers was paid linked to gas prices. This became his co-partnership scheme whereby in the 1890s some members of the Board were elected by shop floor workers and a building society set up to help them buy their homes.  He also instituted many revolutionary technical and managerial changes in the works – of which these huge holders are only one example.
    He was also a major figure in the London Temperance movement, for which he was knighted


    How gas holder sites are used in other parts of the world - an article about some of them
    There are numerous web sites about reuse of holders round the world - too many of me to list here - suggest a google search!!
    Dublin is particularly interesting

    more to come

    Note about winners at a Royal Academy Exhibition (which seem to have some connection to the Council's consultants)

    Ideas for gas holders in London

    Livesey's statue by Pomeroy - hopefully
    and disgracefully still rotting in the
    back of the closed Library which he
    donated to the people of Southwark

    Forgotten spaces competion winners (the same lot)

    Facebook page for National Association for Industrial Archaeology - follow links for  correspondence

    Facebook page of the Gas holder appreciation society 

    Web site of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society - follow internal links for articles

    Talk by George Livesey himself on how he approached the design of gasholders

    Page on my Peninsula History web site about holders on the Greenwich Peninsula

    Biographical article on George Livesey - I wrote this in 1989 and it is a bit out of date

    Just in case you wondered - the Gas Workers strike in parts one and two - I wrote this in - ooer - 1975 or something.

    A local campaign on the Bell Green Holders

    Pininterest site on holder reuse

    Finally - by chance - on Friday 30th June I am doing a talk to Lewisham Local History Society on Gas in Greenwich (lots of scandals!!!)  Methodist Hall, Albion Road. 7.30


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    Gas Holder Stuff

    The South Metropolitan Gas Works (1883-1948)

    In 1883, the Morden CollegeTrustees, then being drawn from the Aldermen of the City of London, had a shift in policy and they sold to the South Metropolitan Gas Works, the freehold of two parcels of land comprising almost 13 acres for £27,000. 

    One was in the middle of the peninsula and the other was to the northwest, close to Blakely’s Ordnance factory.  The northern area had a river frontage and was mainly wasteland.  The central area had grass-lands, two market gardens (covering 8 acres), 17 cottages, a row of unfinished buildings and a stable yard.  This was the first land the Trustees had sold since the Wricklemarsh Estate in 1708.  This decision to sell was to have a lasting impact on the development of the peninsula and on industrial relations for all the companies operating on it.

    The gas works was built under the direction of its chairman, Sir George Livesey (1834-1908).  Before construction could begin, many tons of clinker and heavy rubble were dumped onto the land in order to stabilise the marshy ground.  The gas works eventually occupied most of the east and centre of the peninsula, stretching for around 1.2 miles (2km) from Blackwall Point, southeast towards New Charlton, and covering some 240acres (0.97km2). 

    The site had two very large gas holders.  The first, built in 1886-88, had a capacity of 8,600,000 cubic feet (240,000m3) and was the world's first 'four lift' (moving section) holder.  The second, built in 1890, had six lifts and was the largest in the world at 12,200,000 cubic feet (350,000m3).  This holder was damaged by an IRA bomb in January 1979 and finally demolished in 1986.

    George Livesey was a complicated man who had followed his father Thomas Livesey (1807-71) into the company in 1848.  He was appointed General Manager, then Chief Engineer, before becoming Chairman of the Board in 1885.  Livesey prided himself on his company’s relationship with its workforce and the working conditions that were provided for them.  However, in 1889 he chose to go to war with the newly formed National Union of Gas Workers.

    The Silvertown Explosion

    The Greenwich Peninsula survived relatively unscathed during the First World War, with the notable exception of the damage caused by the Silvertown Explosion.
    Inside No.,2 holder after the explosion

    This disaster occurred at a munitions factory in Silvertown that was manufacturing explosives for the World War I military effort.  The blast occurred at 6.52pm on Friday, 19 January 1917, and was caused by the ignition of approximately 50 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT).  73 people were killed and more than 400 injured; in addition, it caused substantial damage to properties in the surrounding area.  Reports at the time indicated that the explosion blew the glass out of windows in the Savoy Hotel,and almost overturned a taxi in Pall Mall.  The fires could be seen in Maidstone and Guildford, and the blast was heard up to 100 miles (160km) away, including Sandringham in Norfolk and at a number of places along the Sussex coast.

    The TNT plant was destroyed instantly, as were many nearby buildings, including the Silvertown Fire Station.  Much of the TNT was in railway goods wagons, awaiting transport.  Debris was thrown for miles around, with red-hot chunks of rubble causing fires.  Many thousands of pounds worth of goods was destroyed in nearby warehouses.  The blast range was later estimated by the Port of London Authority to have spanned 17 acres (7 hectares).  Up to 70,000 properties were damaged, with 900 near to the centre of the blast being beyond salvage.  Estimates of the cost of the damage ranged from £250,000 to £2.5million.

    On the Greenwich Peninsula, there was some damage to the buildings on the Wilkie & Soames site, but the worst damage was reserved for the Gas Works.  The gas in the No.2 Gasholder was ignited and it was wrecked completely. No.1 Gasholder was also very seriously damaged.  This caused a massive fireball, which rose thousands of feet into the air. In addition, a large number of slates were torn from the roofs of the buildings and many windows were broken.

    Those present in the offices of the works on the eastern side of the site stated that:

    The report was terrific, the floor appeared to heave and the building rocked.  This was followed by a blinding glare seen through the Venetian sun-blinds, and lasting several seconds, during which it seemed to be as light as day outside. The glare ceased, and the north-eastern sky was suffused with the glow of a tremendous fire.’

    The gas holders were repaired and put back into operation as a priority, because gas was still the dominant form of domestic, and more importantly, industrial lighting; it was essential to maintain this for the war effort.

    Nationalisation and Closure

    A major change to industry on the peninsula was brought about by the 1948 Gas Act, under which the Labour Government nationalised all the gas companies in the British Isles and South Metropolitan became part of the South Eastern Gas Board.  The Gas Works continued to dominate the peninsula until the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea. Then the site became redundant, finally ceasing production in 1976.  The site then lay derelict until the 1990s when redevelopment began.

    Stewart Ash

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    The following piece was written in 1989 - for the anniversary of the strike - and published in the long forgotten 'South London Record'.  It was almost the first piece I ever had published and, reading it now, I realise how much the text reflects - well - reflects 1989.

    It have published it because on Friday I did a talk for Lewisham Local History Society on gas in Greenwich. Afterwards people asked questions, mentioned the strike and said that as 'everyone knew' Will Thorne set up a 'new union' for gasworkers, and struck for the 8 hour day in South London agains George Livesey and South Met. Gas..   They all got quite annoyed when I said that nothing in that statement was true.

    Reading this piece now I am not sure that among all the detail that I made that clear even then.  The 'new unions' were a concept dreamt up by 1960s academics and demonstrably rubbish.  Gasworkers had been organised for years and there had been major strikes before 1889.  It was illegal for gasworkers to strike, so what happened was a mass giving in of notices. Will Thorne was in Manchester throughout and didn't return to London until all was lost, and then gave a nonsense speech.  The South Met. workers didn't come out for the 8 hour day - which they already had - they came out for union reconition and the right to organise in the workplace. 

    The South London union members were playing by what they thought were the rules - and they expected management to behave predicatably.  But management was George Livesey who always talked conventionally and then did the exact opposite. 

    I would write this now very differently.  I think the South London workforce were basically stitched up - although I am not sure who by.  Livesey had nursed the ideas of a 'partnership scheme' with the workforce for the past 30 years and been stopped from implementing it by his Board.  He hated the idea of the union - 'outsiders' in 'his' gasworks - but he probably hated the North London Gas managers at Beckton more than that.  It also looks - between the lines - if Beckton had done a deal with Thorne of some sort.  

    Who knows!  The piece contains lots of local detail - fights in Blackwall Lane, goings on in local pubs, Birmingham roughs upsetting Rotherhithe , and much more ............

    South London in 1889 was the scene of a massive strike of gas workers. In these quiet streets workers and police battled while thousands of blacklegs worked under siege conditions until the strike was broken.  

    The gas industry was changing. Until the 1880s gas had been sold mainly for street lighting - now electricity was a competitor; traditional ways of working were being changed. London Gas Companies had been forced by government and consumer group pressure to cut prices and profits and made to amalgamate for efficiency. Companies were often owned by the local authority but in London (with no unified strong local government) they stayed in private hands. In 1889 the first London County Council had been elected with a remit to municipalise.  
    Gas workers, managers and owners all felt under threat.   
    The strike took place in the South Metropolitan Gas Company, which supplied gas to Lambeth, Greenwich and Southwark and prided themselves on a good public service; with low prices. They also prided themselves on good employee relations. Since the 1870s there were paid holidays and help with sick and superannuation schemes. They did not get on with the Chartered Company which covered most of North London.   
    Most important was South Met's remarkable Chairman, George Livesey who had helped along several revolutions in the industry. For years he had nurtured idealistic views. He intended to put  it into practice.    

    The company’s works were at Old Kent Road; South Met.'s original  works. George Livesey had been brought up in a house on site.  Opposite is the library he gave to the people of Camberwell in 1888

    These events happened in the same streets we see today, to people who lived in thesame houses, used the same shops, churches. parks and pubs.           -  

    Gas workers were not all 'stokers'. Others handled the coal worked in the streets, were tradesmen, meter readers, fitters. More stokers were employed in the winter than the summer and they were big men at the peak of their strength with more involved in the job than unremitting shovelling. Most works ran 12 hour shifts on and off seven days a week.  

    Many of these men were churchgoers - deeply respectable, involved in temperance and friendly societies, as well as political parties and trade unions. Among them George Livesey was known as a benefactor, a local Sunday School teacher, a founder of the Band of Hope, local boys and temperance clubs. Both sides laid claim to temperance - it was a sign of respectability and status. Roughs drank in pubs - respectable gas workers were abstainers.        

    People know about Will Thorne and have read how he and Eleanor Marx formed the Gas Workers Union and won the 8 hour-day. The impression that gas workers hadn't been unionised until 1889 is not so.In fact gas workers had organised together from the first days of the industry including a major strike in 1872 federated throughout London when activists were imprisoned. Laws were passed to make strikes illegal and notices hung inside gas works about this. Local union branches probably just lay low.  

    Will Thorne was from Manchester and had worked at the Old Kent Road .He described vividly the hardness of gasworkers' lives. By 1889 had moved to East London and in early 1889 he began to organise and set up a union structure. Individual branches organised separately, gas workers of South London saw very little of him and  nothing at all of Eleanor Marx, although she lived in Sydenham.  

    Some activists were members of the left wing Social Democratic Federation with branches in Deptford, Peckham and Wandsworth - and a social life of brass bands, club rooms, draughts and cards.  Union activity spread to South London and on 11th May 1889 a half  mile long procession of gasworkers’ converged on Deptford Broadway  with a stevedores brass band, silk banners from local temperance  bodies and Will Thorne. They called for the eight hour shift system.  Soon branches were active in most works including Old Kent Road (with a paid secretary, Mr Heard, ordering handbills) and Greenwich (buying bills and posters). They met in Coffee Taverns in Blackwall  Lane, Peckham High Street and Woolwich; Lambs Lane Schoolroom;  St Joseph's Catholic Church or Three Cups Hall in East Greenwich.  

    Two South Met. branch representatives attended an all-London  meeting of the GWU on 20th May where it was decided to petition  management for 72 retorts per shift (the 8 hour day). This petition  was agreed to by a mass meeting at Deptford and sent to the South  Met. Board. The Manager at Rotherhithe told Mr Rowbottom, the  union representative, 'if the men acted straightforward' they would  be treated similarly.  

    They met Livesey and a week later a notice appeared in all the works. This gave possible changes and asked the men to decide which  scheme - 8 or 12 hours - they would prefer with a ballot for each works. The offer made was complex and detailed. The eight hour system involved a different pace. 

    It was not necessarily easier. The  ballot result showed that 'in all cases the 8 hour shift was preferred' but the Board minuted that after this there should be 'no more concessions'.  

    Most gas workers were now on 8 hour shifts and the GWU named  28th July as "the day of our emancipation". A celebration demonstration was held in Hyde Park. 12,000 heard Will Thorne, and John  Burns - with local leader Mark Hutchins, and MP Mark Beaufoy (the vinegar magnate whose Kennington Liberal Party branch had just  called on him to support the gasworkers).  

    Once the eight hour day had been won life returned to normal. A  benefit was held at the Deptford Liberal Club, the SDF held meetings  at 20 Frobisher Street, and at Hadleys Coffee Shop, Deptford Bridge;  their Peckham drum and fife band practised, South Met. Directors  were proud to announce a reduction in gas prices following their successful campaign to abolish coal dues and the Star Band of Hope  Drum and Fife Band played at the Athletic Club prize giving.  Throughout August South Met. fought the Chartered" Gas Company  in the House of Lords. Judgement was found against them and George Livesey was not happy. He was too busy to attend the meeting  of the Local Option Movement but went to the Workmen's Association  for Defence of British Industry in Camberwell, chaired by a  Conservative Fair Trader and a few days later he distributed prizes  at a Peckham school on behalf of the Band of Hope. At the same time  one of the most significant events of the decade was taking place -  the great dock strike - 'the match to set  the Thames  afire'.  Along the  Riverside dock workers marched, suffered and won their 'tanner'. Gas  companies and union men watched their progress.   

    The GWU concentrated on recruitment - 'a determination to  persuade, and if that failed to compel every man in the Company's  employ to join'. They were helped by the SDF with meetings like that outside Christ Church, East Greenwich, where a gas worker talked  about socialism, or at the gasworks gates in Marsh Lane where they could intercept churchgoers. A meeting on Peckham Rye called for Livesey  to be forced to recognise the union and in September the union wrote  to him saying that retort house workers should be union members.  The company replied that the union would not be recognised and that  non-union men would be protected. Men were sacked at Vauxhall and  the union said that unless they were reinstated work would cease.  'The entire body of stokers' handed in their statutory weeks’ notice.  
    Unable to cope and with preparations only partly made 'Mr Livesey  stated his willingness to recognise the union'. An agreement was  signed 'The Company agree ... that members of the Gas Stokers  Union shall not .,. be interfered with by ... the company'. The  Directors had also resolved that the union 'cannot be recognised'.   

    All over Britain GWU branches put demands to management, sometimes  - in  Bristol and Manchester - these turned to strikes. Elsewhere they  were conceded'.   The trade press wrote that a major confrontation  must soon come 'in a London works' and although John Burns was  not 'in the same berth as the anarchist of the Continent' in South  Met. 'only directors rule'.   

    At a Barking meeting the GWU agreed, with 'vigorous socialist speech', to ask for the abolition of Sunday working.  Sunday working  is a more complicated issue than it appears. Livesey had tried to get  it abolished 20 years earlier carrying out a survey with the Lords Day  Observance Society - accusations of exploiting workers on a Sunday  would provoke an angry reaction.  

    In times of industrial unrest London Gas Company managements  always set up a joint committee and such a meeting was held on 4th  November at the Cannon Street Hotel between the Union and  London Managements - including South Met. The meeting saw a  measure of agreement - both sides acknowledged the need for recreation and agreed that technical problems were the difficulty on a day  of peak demand. They adjourned for consultation and reconvened on  the 11th with much agreement - the GWU 'devoutly wished for  peaceful working so admirably put by the Chairman' and the Chair,  Mr Jones of the Commercial Co., was 'overwhelmed by the virtue of the strike committee'. South Met. management did not attend this   second meeting and union representatives reported 'overtures being  made by South Met. to the men to detach themselves from the union  for a " bonus'.  

    Livesey had declared war on the GWU. South Met. had abandoned  moves towards a formal negotiating structure. Between the two  Cannon Street meetings Livesey introduced plans to smash the  smash the union, reduce costs and implement his grand and long dreamt of  scheme for partnership of consumer, shareholder and workforce.      

    He and his wife had been in Eastbourne and on returning to the   works  he walked across Telegraph Hill. He had the idea then that it  ought to be a public park. At Old Kent Road he met Charles Tanner  head foreman who said 'the stokers are all in the union - we have  lost all  authority - unless you do something - we shall be completely   in the power.  Livesey said 'I had not thought out anything but in a  quarter of an hour on half a sheet of paper!'

    In this he was a liar. This profit sharing scheme was something he  nursed lovingly for years and had only been prevented from  using it by board members who saw it as madness. It was no straightforward scheme but something so clever" and intricately  thought out that it became an instrument by which South Met.  workers became the willing slaves of the company; happy, obedient,  property owning, non-union men. It called for hard work, conformity  and respectability . it offered security.             

    Livesey saw a partnership of company and consumer embodied in the  sliding scale by which the gas industry price and profit was calculated  and originally promoted by him. Now he was to add the workforce  into this partnership. The  bonus was directly linked to the price of  gas; rising as it fell. In order to qualify workers had to sign an agreement to work for a year. Dates of agreements would be staggered to  make strikes impossible. Many workers signed at once sending their  thanks 'to the Employers - for their generous concession'.  

    On 21st November the company held a meeting at Old Kent Road for  men who had signed (a transcript was published). Livesey told them  'the orange has been squeezed dry ... now is the time to have some-  thing more than the mere labour of workmen - we want his interest'.  Some of the workers present raised their concerns - what would  happen, for instance, if someone was victimised by a foreman?  Concessions were made in detail and a consultation structure set up.  But the clause penalising strike action, on which Livesey was  adamant, remained. A carpenter, Henry Austin, suggested that  company shares should be sold to workers under the scheme. Austin  was an eccentric amateur etymologist who became one of the first  worker directors at South Met. after share purchase was introduced  four years later.   

    Will Thorne said 'those that signed the agreements were cowards,  tyrants and curs' and he went to Manchester to stay for the next six  weeks. Union men did not sign the agreement and within a fortnight  union activists at Vauxhall had said they could not work with three  men who had signed. They said 'all the men in the South  Metropolitan Gas Works are justified in giving their notices forth-  with until the scheme be abolished'. The Board sent this on to the  daily papers commenting 'it has been the rule of the company for at  least fifty years that men who strike leave the company without hope  of return'.  

    Before noon on the 5th December 2000 notices had been handed in  and the Board set in motion their plans.  Agents had been sent round the country to obtain blacklegs; in the  Kent brickfields 'willing workers' were being offered a bonus and free  food on top of wages - 5/4 for an eight hour shift. The entire staff of  Ramsgate Gas Works was recruited - to the annoyance of Mr Valon,  its manager; agents were giving away beer in Cambridge . In Yarmouth 'scabs protected by the police were taken off by tram but  the local SDF branch saw them off 'with a warm groan'. Barclay' Brewery sent men, workhouse inmates were told to apply or lose benefit; the Prisoners Aid Society directed discharged prisoners there, Gas workers on strike from the Manchester arrived  - they said  Londoners always blacklegged on them. 'Free Labour' also came -men recruited as dedicated strike-breakers by politically motivated  agents like William Collinson, who wrote a book about it although  John Burns said Livesey 'dropped Free Labour like a hot potato' .

    Corrugated iron huts were erected inside the works. Food was  hrought in - animals, tinned meat, tapioca and bread from the  Golden Grain Bread Co. Beer from the Lion Brewery was provided _  criticised by temperance strikers who thought Livesey was on their   side in this -'this virtuous gent is one of the shining lights of the temperance platform yet he has collected numerous barrels of beer  anxious to make his blackleg crew roaring drunk.''  

    Success for the strikers would need stoppage of the coal supply. The  coal porters union had just submitted a claim to all London employers for an increase but South Met. disputed it. This parallel dispute  continued. . Another union involved was the Sailors and Firemen's  with some success in stopping cargoes arriving.  

    A strike committee, with Mark Hutchins as Chair opened' its headquarters opposite the works at 592 Old Kent Road. Picketing began  and soon men sent from Mitcham Workhouse were given breakfast  and sent home. A party from Portsmouth returned home from  Clapham Junction taking union leaflets.

    John Burns sent a postcard from Manchester 'Dear Sir, I will render the strike committee all the help I am capable of to resist this latest  demand to crush your union'. He was the local hero - at demonstrations men wore pictures of him in their hats.     

    In very cold weather 2000 people met on Peckham Rye to hear Mark  Hutchins say the bonus scheme had been set up to break the union. A  lamplighter called out 'stokers did not get such a bad wage'. He was  knocked down and dumped in a pond.  

    The incident pointed to a problem. The public did not understand  why relatively well paid gas workers should strike against something  apparently offering  financial advantages and security. 'People are   willing to help the docker because he was very poor but are not  willing to help the stoker who is reported to get 35/- a week'.  

    The strikers had given a weeks’ notice; tension mounted. On Monday  afternoon Livesey returned from an interview with Police  Commissioner Munro to find a crowd of stokers in the yard at Old Kent Road arguing with the Chief Engineer. He threatened them all  with prosecution alleging thereply was 'can't help that master we  must obey the union'. Forms for summonses had already been made  out and by late afternoon 50 policemen had marched into each works  'to relieve public fear of destruction of geometers'. On Tuesday  morning nine strangers were seen in East Greenwich and men  downed tools until they were gone.   

    On Wednesday Livesey met the Union Executive. Positions were  restated. The Union wanted the scheme withdrawn - the company  refused.   

    There were attempts at reconciliation by outside bodies. A deputation  of local MPs and local clergymen tried for an hour and a half to  persuade Livesey that the right to strike was 'sacred'. He told them to  mind their own business. Non-conformist ministers were told unionists had given in their legal notice and were leaving. Later on the  Labour Co-partnership Association which had been agitating for  years for schemes like Livesey's as a solution to industrial ills made a  major attempt at negotiating a settlement.   

    The Strike Committee issued a statement: 'the directors will not  advance one inch .... we deeply regret this step fully knowing the  inconvenience to which it will put the general public .... we hope that  all trade unions will see in this a test case as to the right of existence  of trade unions versus bonus'.   

    Arrangements were made for the day when men would leave. All  workers contributed 3d a week to a superannuation scheme and  would withdraw their 'lump sums' - they would have to live on some-  thing. The 'old men' would leave the works by 6am - the 'new men' would come in two hours later. Men at, West Greenwich threw  blankets into Deptford Creek. The last gangs at Greenwich and Old  Kent Road, set fire to washrooms. An effigy of Livesey was burnt  outside the Pilot in Riverway, and a black fog hung over London.   

    Men began to leave on 13th December, played out by the SDF brass band. A procession of sympathisers was turned back by police who,  many mounted, lined the streets - others were in reserve in railway  waiting rooms. A train from Spalding arrived at Victoria and replacement workers marched across Vauxhall Bridge. A train from Margate  came into Cannon Street at 10 am with new workers for Bankside.  Men were brought to the West Greenwich works wharf in 'two strange steamers' having embarked at Woolwich from trains at  Arsenal station.   

    The ‘'new men' needed to be big and strong to do the work. Reporters  hurl noted the 'old men' had an 'average height of at least  5'10" and  wore all of powerful build'. Now the 'new men' were evaluated, 'there  were  many of Herculean build - there were seamen, navvies 'and raw  youths.

    1000 stokers' wives lined the streets to see the shift out watched by  the police under Inspector Munro. The press reported men leaving 'in  dejected state'. The 'new men' left the station and walked two by  two down the middle of the road between 'two compact lines of constables on foot' to gates where the pickets had been withdrawn. In  the Old Kent Road there was a fight at Canal Bridge gate - the' Strike  Committee wanted Livesey to come and witness police behaviour.  

    There had been a fight at Rotherhithe. Out of a crowd of 100 Fred  Cook from Wapping was arrested for striking a policeman on the  back. He said the policeman had cut his lip and he had a witness to it  - William Causton, secretary of the Rotherhithe Strike Committee.  Causton took the policeman's number to the police station - from  where he was ejected with force. Jim Bright of Peckham was arrested  for kicking policemen in the legs while drunk - Jim Beaton had tried  to rescue him until he too was arrested with Sarah Manor and Edith  Calvert for throwing stones at the police.   

    In  Blackwall Lane 50 mounted police escorted blacklegs from  Westcombe Park Station to East Greenwich works when 'a lively  scrimmage' broke out. Police said that striker's stones had concussed  one sergeant - a stone was produced in court. Another had his helmet  knocked off - also produced, muddy and dented. One striker had been  snatched from custody by pickets. Despite a local clergyman's testimony to the good character of James Parker, age 20, he and three  others all living around Blackwall Lane were sentenced to hard  labour.  

    Picketing was more successful at Vauxhall where 160 from  Birmingham agreed to return. Reports circulated that police would  not let blacklegs out even if they wanted - they were pushed back  over the wall when they tried to climb out.  

    The blacklegs were now in the works and the only question left was -  can they make the gas? It was mid-December-freezing and foggy.  Local people watched the great gasholders at Old Kent Road, Oval  and East Greenwich all landmarks in their districts, to try to gauge' the success of the strike by 
    the amount of gas in them. Rumour said  that the holder at Old Kent Road was really full of air. By morning  the fog had begun to disperse. Gas was made - the company was coping.   

    The 'loyal workforce' produced an ecstatic memorial of thanks but the people showed sympathy for their striking neighbours. The local papers thought the strike committee 'a fine body of men' and the local vestrys would not co-operate with Livesey's requests for help. Mr  Stockbridge, Vice-Chairman of the Lambeth Guardians spoke on strike platforms. Dulwich and Penge Liberal Party passed a resolution against police violence and collected for the strike fund. The  George Livesey Lodge of the Old Comrades and Sons of Phoenix  changed its name to the John Bums Lodge. At Bermondsey vestry  Harry Quelch, SDF activist; complained the street lighting wasn't  safe and proposed they sue the company - it was referred to the LCC.   Kennington Liberal and Radical Club passed a resolution against the  use of police in labour disputes.  

    Support came from other unions, the Dockers' Hydraulic Branch  would not lift coal, the Bakers' Union would not bake bread inside the  Works. The Sailors and Firemen were 'still pegging away' to prevent  coal  arriving. 50 men watched from Creek Bridge as a screw collier   unloaded. By Tuesday two ships were ready - one at the jetty  And one in the Commercial Docks. Fifty men were sent under police  escort to unload them.  

    Conditions were bad inside the works. Blacklegs complained of  drunkenness. A foreman left because of the dirt. Men were ill. There  special sanitary arrangements with unpleasant disinfectant  - blacklegs were re 'wallowing in filth'. The Medical Officer of Health at  Lambeth Vestry inspected 
    works at the striker's request. There was  ale in zinc buckets, and clay pipes. Between the gasholders at Old   Kent Road was a marquee with a piano and an old retort bench for  heating. The work was unfamiliar and more skilled 'than many recognised.  Men were injured - 150 were burnt and one was killed moving  a coal truck. Military ambulances were requisitioned for injuries.  

    William Derry a striking stoker, got into a fight at the Dover Castle  Deptford. He had taken a 'pint of ale' there together with two   herrings ands a haddock from a blackleg's pocket. The police found  them all in the Rose and Crown unable to walk and buying hot rum.   

    “Free Labour” meant Birmingham teenagers. 'Not worth the expense  of bringing them down' said the Company. Thomas Cooper and John  Henny both 16 from Birmingham were arrested drunk and disorderly  in Rotherhithe.  Disgusted strikers said they were 'a rough lot who did  not mean to work and were busy dodging the foremen'. They said  blacklegs smoked through church services held in the works.  Mr  Cady complained bitterly - Birmingham roughs, too young to work.   

    Union representatives met Livesey to find he would make no concessions . He would take men back when there were vacancies _ he could  not discharge new hands to whom he had a legal obligation. The  union stated 'We went out on strike with no object of gaining an  increase we cannot forget the attachment that we feel to our old  employers and nothing would give us greater satisfaction than a  return to our previous good relations.'  

    Two strikers entered the West Greenwich works on Saturday night -  Tom Elliot (31 Bellot Street) and Tom Jevons (21 Coleraine Road).  They spoke to the blacklegs in the canteen 'why don't. you act as men   it's through you our wives and children are starving', They were  arrested.   

    Striker's families were feeling the pinch. Money collected at demonstrations was the main source of income and men were advised to  find other work if they could. Strikes in Manchester and Woolwich Arsenal had to be financed too. Parades as morale builders continued  every day and funds collected. R. Smith of Deptford raised  money  through publishing a book of poems. Deptford SDF held a grand dioramic and vocal entertainment', and at Trinity Hall, Deptford the  brass band of the Greenwich branch of the gas stokers played selections. Strikers marched from East Greenwich to the concert where  there were speeches.   

    Despite very bad weather, Greenwich gasworkers marched all the  way to Hyde Park with an effigy of Livesey to hear Edward Aveling  and Ben Tillet. They were overshadowed by Mr Weir, a compositor  who said that Livesey should not be allowed 'to live 24 hours - he  ought to be got rid of.' There was a furore in the press and Weir ~as  tried for incitement to murder. Livesey also received threatening  letters 'Note Mr Livesey as you won't give in and my family is  starving for a bit of bread beware o'dynamite your place will be blown  up a bit before Christmas'.   

    On Christmas Eve the holders were full of gas and the strike in  Manchester had collapsed. Xmas brought extra strike pay, beer and  tobacco at Vauxhall Working Men's Club thanks to Reverend Morris.  Blacklegs got extra food, tobacco, pay and amusements. Street fighting continued in Rotherhithe.   

    800 met on Peckham Rye, 'in the middle of a dense fog upon till I  Cr "I. n as hard as iron and white with hoar frost'. What they needed  was support from North London gasworkers who had stayed resolutely in work.  An unsavoury incident involving the leader of the Coal  Porters Union who offered the North London Chartered Company a  110 strike deal if they would persuade their workers to leave the GWU  and join the Coal Porters.

    By New Year 1890 the 'new men' were hardly 'new anymore and  afraid they would be discharged if the strike was settled - they were  aII reassured but 'old men' were returning to work - coal porters at West  Greenwich with promises of future good behaviour. Those still out  described them as 'sneaking rats, double dyed traitors - the ordinary  blackleg is white in comparison with such miserable curs'.   
    Rumours  of fever at Rotherhithe led to notices of denial on entrances  although five men were in Guys with 'Russian influenza'. Worse were  rumours of lice. Anxious to end the siege conditions the company got  local ‘reverend gentlemen of the State superstition' from Greenwich  to find lodgings through a door to door canvass by their Sunday School teachers

    On the 8th January the strike committee were thrown out of their  offices. The police came in the morning and without knocking broke   down the shutters and windows. Furniture, books, papers and  musical instruments were all thrown into the street. They went to a  coffee house at  87 Old Kent Road and put up a poster 'The Battering Ram Brigade of London'. Meanwhile Greenwich branch had a new  banner with “two figures standing in the road, one a gas worker about to   enter the gas house and in the other a capitalist dressed in the usual  Mother Grundy fashion'.   

    By the end of the next week the press were claiming the strike was  over. A meeting was held at Mile End Assembly Rooms - 2000 men  were still out and it was costing £1000 a week, while weather was  improving and the chance of casual work lessening. They said they  would call on Parliament, people and trade unionists for help for unity and freedom and, and for progress and right. They must appeal to  trade union movement Livesey could not hold out against the  miners and coal trimmers
    There was a promise of a weekly levy from 800 hatters and £5 a week  from the glassblower but the press claimed that Will Thorne was  being paid £2.5s a week and Mark Hutchins was getting nothing.  T.Bailey of the Southern Counties Labour League said from the   window of the Rose and Crown in Lambeth that the union was not  bankrupt. Thorne had told West Southwark Radical Club that there was only £800 left.  

    Thorne spoke on 17th January: 'they had come out for eight hours  and they would go back for eight hours,' continuing with more drama  'they were not going to creep and crawl to Livesey for work, they  would become revolutionists - a revolt of every working man in  England to overwhelm the 
    country'. Mark Hutchins said he had  hoped to be able to announce the end of the strike. They had been to  Livesey with an offer but while they were talking the Secretary  pulled him away. The London Trades Council had been asked to find  a solution and on 4th February it was announced that an agreement  had been reached at a mass meeting at the Hatcham Liberal Club.  

    'That, except where mutually agreed to the contrary the company  reverts to the eight hour system - that in the event of any vacancies  arising the directors will give their former workmen the opportunity  of returning to their employment in preference to strangers.' 

    The strike headquarters became an agency co-ordinating help for  hard-pressed families and an appeal was issued. They were soon to  be visited by Livesey with a donation.  


    Telegraph Hill was dedicated as a memorial to the strike.  Livesey's bonus scheme flourished. It became 'co-partnership' and all  workers became shareholders.  

    They were encouraged to put bonus payments into property - the  company formed a building society. A consultation process was set up  with elected representatives to discuss workplace problems and  policy. Three company directorships were elected by the shareholding  workforce - with the same rights and powers as directors appointed  by capitalist shareholders. Livesey fought long and hard to get legislation for these changes through a hostile board and House of  Commons. By the 1920s most gas companies still in private hand  had schemes like it - but without the worker directors.  

    Following a speech by Will Thorne in 1892 GWU membership was banned at South Met. There are stories of workers victimised when  their union membership was discovered. Although GWU maintained  branches in the area membership was often from other trades.  

    The South Met. gas workers' dispute has been described as an  episode in new unionism. This is only partly true - it is about something more complicated. New unionism is about the casual unskilled previously unorganised joining together. Gas workers in 1889  probably didn't see themselves as casual and unskilled but as  workers whose status as respectable people with steady jobs was  under l threat. The union offered them a means of maintaining their  deputy and achieving some control over it.  
    George Livesey responded by offering his workforce a means of  achieving both identity and control. The union spoke of liberty of the  individual Livesey offered them the chance to become Company men.  His success can be measured in the hundreds of gas industry employees who still in 1989 see themselves and their families as something  special   because they work in gas in South London. To quote one 'I am a socialist and I know it was all wrong - but it was a very good  scheme.

    Today workers are being offered property ownership, respectability,  in return for membership of the institutions of labour -which  is why what happened in South London in 1889 is something we should, take heed of 

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  • 07/03/17--02:16: Bits of news
  • The big thing of course is the Council's consultation about building housing on the site of the gasholder. Info about the gas holder itself below The Council will exhibit the plans for the housing on the site (with no sign of the holder) tomorrow at The Forum  St Mary Magdalene School, 105 Millennium Way, London, SE10 0NF on Wednesday 5 July between 3.30pm and 7.30pm  

    - and something else - there has apparently been a decision to name the new Woolwich Ferries - Ben Woolacott (after a crew member killed in an accident) and Vera Lynn.  Apparently they chose Vera Lynn because she lived in East Ham - but North Woolwich was not historically part of East Ham - although both are in  Newham now.  Past names have had a Woolwich or a Labour connection and been fairly serious - not light entertainers.  Can't we think of someone better - there must be women who have had a serious Woolwich connection.   There were several women members of the London County Council and later of the Greater London Council for both Woolwich and Greenwich. For a woman poltician I would like to press for Barbara Castle - although she had nothing to do with Woolwich and most under-40s won't have heard of her.    Suggestions????

    Crossness - the current Crossness Engines Record has arrived with much in the way of interesting news. Of interest to all of us who would like to get to Crossness more easily is the  news that their new railway has been helped by the delivery of seven tons of rails - and things are going ahead
    There is also news of a new boiler, of improvements to their cafe and - of work with young people and children.

    GLIAS EVENTS - These include
    1st August - Visit to Morden College (this is an amazing privilege and such visits are almost unknown!!)  book d.perrett647@btinternet,com
    2nd September a visit to the Arsenal  led by Ian Bull. book via
    7th October - Did Hiram Maxim do anything for Crayford? book via

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    Winter gardens

    There is a hidden gem at Avery Hill, Eltham SE9.

    In the late 1890’s Colonel North, the nitrate billionaire, built himself a mansion to rival Walpole’s Strawberry Hill!
    The Mansion was a “Party Palace”; lit by electricity, centrally heated throughout right down to the stables!  It boasts the first ever plumbed in H & C wash basins (now grade 2 listed!)   Also listed are the portrait gallery and the ball room with their fine marble walls. Many of these fine Victorian buildings still stand; including the electricity generating engine room & tower, also the Stud stables. These stables are probably Greenwich’s last remaining unaltered agricultural buildings.

    Lastly the “Jewel in the Crown”; the Winter Gardens (2nd largest in the UK after Kew

    You may remember the Winter Gardens being sold by Greenwich Council for £1 to the University of Greenwich in the mid-1990s. Since then there has been a sorry decline. The central heating failed and rain water entered. A Heritage Lottery Fund bid was prepared but this was withdrawn by the University when they decided to sell the Mansion site (incl. the Winter Gardens) in 2015. They intend leaving by the end of next year

    The Friends of Avery Hill Park are understandably concerned about the deterioration of the Winter Gardens and lack of progress by the University or Greenwich Council in protecting its future. I think you would all be concerned with the danger to one of Eltham’s important historical and environmental sites and wish to join the Friends in seeking to save this jewel of Eltham for permanent use and public access.

    The Friends have set up a petition that you may sign at:

    A hard copy petition book is at the café in Avery Hill Park

    A public meeting has been organised for Thursday 27th July at 7.30pm in Christ Church hall

    Bee Twidale

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  • 07/05/17--22:41: Jo's idea for the gas holder

  • Jo's fabulous idea of what to do with the gas holder

    Jo originally put this on her Facebook page - but we just had to copy it here. 

    Other ideas very welcome. Send us your jpegs! (pdfs not ok on this system, sorry)

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    Sir John Pender GCMG
    And his Association with All Saints Church Foots Cray

    John Pender leased the Foots Cray estate from Coleraine Robert Vansittart (1833-86), for a period of 21 years, on 16 May 1876.  For the next twenty years he divided his time between Foots Cray Place and his London residence 18 Arlington Street.  He died at Foots Cray Place on 7 July 1896.

    The grave of  Sir John Pender  (1816-1896)

    The Funeral of Sir John Pender took place on Friday 17 July 1896.  He was buried in the family tomb, alongside his second eldest son Henry (Harry) Denison Pender (1852-1881) and his second wife Emma (1816-1890).

    Harry, who died from typhoid at Foots Cray Place on13 January 1881, was the first Pender to be buried at All Saints Graveyard.  The funeral took place on 19 January 1881 and he was laid to rest in a simple grave behind the church to the east, close to the boundary fence.  Harry was an accomplished organist and the Penders donated a hand pumped bellows organ to All Saints Church in his memory.  It was made, at a cost of £120, by Henry Jones of 135 Fulham Road in London and installed by G B Wallaston of Chislehurst.  On 13 August 1882 a service of dedication took place, attended by John and Emma.A plaque was placed above the keyboard which reads:

    ‘Dedicated in memory of Henry Denison Pender who died at Foots Cray Place .January 13 1881, art 28, by his parents John Pender Esq. M.P. and Emma, his wife.’

    Although it has been repaired on several occasions and the bellows has been replaced by an electric pump, the organ and plaque are still there.

    The Henry Denison Memorial Organ

    A 16 foot (4.88m) Celtic cross was erected over Harry’s grave on 6 September 1882, witnessed by Emma Pender.

    Emma Pender died at the Pender’s London home of 18 Arlington Street on 8 July 1890.  Her funeral took place at All Saints on Saturday 12 July and she was buried, as was her dying wish, alongside her eldest son and so John Pender arranged for a family vault to be excavated.The Celtic cross was mounted on a frustum and epitaphs engraved on three sides.

    The first photograph above, taken at the funeral of John Pender shows,behind the tomb, the south-east boundary fenceand large trees surrounding the grave.  The OS map of 1897 makes it clear thatshortly after John Pender’s funeral, the graveyard was extended a significant distance to the east and,in so doing, the boundary fence was moved and the trees surrounding the tomb were cut down.

    On 18 April 1902, Anne Denison Denison-Pender, the eldest daughter of John Pender,died at the London home of her younger brother John Denison Denison-Pender.  Her funeral took place at All Saints on Wednesday 23 April and she was buried in the family tomb.  An additional epitaph was then added to the north facing trapezoid of the frustum.

    The picture below was probably taken in the 1950’s andshows the Memorial with the Celtic cross, looking back towards the Church from the extended graveyard.

    The original Pender memorial

    On 15-16 October 1987, the Celtic cross was toppled by an ancient Elm tree that was blown down in ‘The Great Storm’,andthe cross was broken just below the circular top.  The cost of repairing the Memorial wastoo high for the Pender family to contemplate, so nothing was done until 1992 when Cable & Wireless plc, the successor of the company that John Pender founded in 1872, agreed to pay for the cross to be repaired,to make and engrave a new frustum, replace the original engraving and add additional engraving to the skirt of the frustum as well ascreatinga new gravel garden surround to cover the tomb.  On 6 July 1993, the refurbished Memorial was re-dedicated in a short service attended by the late Baron Pender, John Willoughby Denison-Pender (1933-2016), and directors of C&W.

    The refurbished Memorial in 1993

    The original frustum below the Celtic cross was engraved in all four trapezoids and all these engravings have been transferred to the new frustum   The side facing away from the church is engraved ‘This Memorial was Erected by Sir John Pender K.C.M.G.’ on the opposite side facing the church is ‘In Memory of Emma the Beloved Wife of Sir John Pender K.C.M.G.  Born 19th Oct 1816 Died at Arlington St 8th July’.  On the south facing side of four is the original dedication to ‘Henry Denison Pender Born October 8th 1852 Died at Foots Cray Place January 13th 1881’.  John Pender was not knighted KCMG until 1888 and so the frustum and all this engraving was commissioned by Sir John Pender after the death of his wife Emma in 1890, when the family tomb was excavated.

    When Sir John Pender died the following citation was added under Emma’s epitaph; ‘Also of Sir John Pender G.C.M.G Born 19th September 1816 Died at Foots Cray Place July 7th 1896’.
    When the new frustum was made two additional epitaphs were added to the skirt.

    Under Emma and John:
    Sir John Denison Pender G.B.E., K.C.M.G. Born 10th October 1855, Died 6th March 1929, and his Wife Beatrice Catherine Denison Pender Married 2nd August 1879 Died 11th November 1920.  Both Interred at Slaugham, Sussex’

    And below Henry:
    ‘Sir James Pender Baronet Born 28th September 1841, Died 20th May 1921, Interred at Dunhead Salisbury’

    The Memorial Frustrum May 2017

    Celtic Cross May 2017
    Stewart Ash 1017

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    Plumstead and the Origins of Dolcis Shoes

    by Barbara Holland

    Plumstead does indeed have a place in the history of the Dolcis shoe company. Readers of a certain age – and I’m one of them – will remember the names of the different shoe shops which used to dominate the high street. As well as Dolcis, there was Barratts, Bata, Curtess, Freeman, Hardy & Willis, Lilley & Skinner, Ravel, Saxone, Timpsons …....and many more.

    A good history of Dolcis shoes can be found here, but there is little detail of the early days in Plumstead.  The founder of the company was John Upson, who was born in 1823 in Saxmundham, Suffolk.  In the 1841 Census he is recorded as an apprentice shoemaker to a William Gardener in Market Hill, Framlingham in Suffolk.

    He married Hannah Hearn in Suffolk in 1843 and by 1851 they had moved to Newington, Surrey, which was in the centre of London’s leather industry. They lived at 20 Union Row with 3 children, and by this time John Upson was recorded in the census as a Wholesale Boot Manufacturer.

    Soon after, they moved to the Bexley area where 4 of their 9 children were born between 1852 and 1857.  During this period in Bexley, John suffered 2 pieces of bad fortune. First, in 1853, his brother-in-law James Hearn(e), who was working for him as a cordwainer (shoemaker), was accused of embezzlement by John, and sent for trial. Despite a trawl through local newspapers, I haven’t been able to find out whether he was found guilty.  Second, in 1854, John was made bankrupt.  He may have moved back to Framlingham at some point after this, as one of his sons was born there in 1858, and there is a record of another insolvency involving a John Upson, a bootmaker, in Framlingham in 1859.

    However, by the time of the 1861 Census, we find John Upson now aged 37, his wife and 8 children and his brother, living at 19½ Sussex Place, Plumstead Road.  His occupation is shown as a Bootmaker.  Sussex Place was the name given to a terrace of properties – mostly shops – on the south side of Plumstead Road between Maxey Road and Invermore Place.  This image of the Sussex Armsshows the western end of the terrace.  The Glyndon Estate now occupies this area.

    In 1862, the Post Office Directory lists John Upson as a boot and shoe maker at 17 Burrage Road Plumstead as well as at 19½ Sussex Place.  In the 1861 Census, there is a shoemaker named Alfred B. Mitchell living at 17a Burrage Road, with the premises described as a shoe shop.It is at this time that Johnis said to be selling his wares on a stall or barrow in Woolwich Market.

    In 1871, the family are recorded in the Census at 70 Plumstead Road (probably the same address as in 1861 but re-numbered), with John Upson now a boot & shoe salesman and 3 of his children employed as assistants.

    The 1874 Post Office Directory lists him as a bootmaker still at 70 Plumstead Road, but with shops at 127 High Street Chatham, 15 High Street Dartford, and 5 Week Street Maidstone.

    By 1881, John had clearly made enough money to have retired by the age of 58. He was living at a house named ‘Clydesdale’, Lee Road ,Kidbrooke, with one of his daughters and 2 servants.  (His wife was not listed on the census return but was lodging in Ramsgate at 7 Codrington Villas. In 1891 she was a boarder at 10 Lewisham High Street, living ‘on her own means’. Possibly she separated from her husband?  She died on 16th January 1895 in Woolwich).

    The 1882 Kent Post Office Directory shows that the family now had a boot and shoe warehouse at 87 Calverley Road Tunbridge Wells, and further shops at 32 New Road Greenhithe and 3 & 4 Hare Street and 108 & 109 Powis Street in Woolwich.  By 1891, the shops were named John Upson & Co.  

    The picture here  shows theWoolwich shop under the name ‘The London Boot Company’, and this oneof Upson & Company from the late 1890s.  In 1902 the shop is listed at 65 & 67 Powis Street and had a manager by the name of George H. Tanner.

    At some point prior to his retirement, John handed over the running of the company to his eldest son, Frederick William Upson. In 1881 Frederick was the manager of the shop in Powis Street, Woolwich with his brother Charles as an assistant.  In 1901 his occupation was recorded as a Boot Factor, employing staff.

    John Upson moved again, first to Herne Hill (1891 Census) and finally to St.Leonards, Sussex (1901 Census). He died on 21st October 1909, a wealthy man, leaving over £96,000 in his will to his son Frederick William.

    When John Upson moved to St. Leonards in about 1891, he built himself a grand house called Val Mascal in Hollington Park.  According to local historians, this house has a very interesting connection to the well-known socialist novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ by Robert Tressell, the nom de plume of the painter and decorator, Robert Noonan.  It is thought that the property which features in the story – ‘The Cave’ – is largely based on Val Mascal.  More about this can be found here.  Robert Noonan would have been working in St. Leonards for the building firm Burton & Co., who did some work on Val Mascal in 1903 and 1904, at a time when John Upson was living there.

    John’s son, Frederick William, inherited Val Mascal and was living there at the time of the 1911 Census with his wife, Agnes, 3 of his 11 surviving children, a son-in law and his 2 children. They had 6 live-in servants and a gardener and coachman living in cottages.   Frederick died at the age of 80 in 1930 and left the shoe business and other assets worth over £195,000 to his son John ‘Jack’ Randolph Upson, aged 45.

    John Randolph Upson was born in Camberwell in 1884. In the 1911 Census he was living at 38 Breakspeares Road in Lewisham (with 3 servants), working as a boot and shoe factor.  He attested for the Army Reserve in the First World War in 1916 and was mobilised for the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps in 1918. He then served as a Sergeant in the 5th Cavalry Reserve Regiment until the end of the war. His service papers show that he was the Managing Director of Upson  & Co by this time. Although there is no record of a marriage in this country, his service record indicates that he had a wife, with a change of address shown for her from 5 Oakcroft Road Blackheath to ‘The Cottage’ Thruxton, Hampshire.

    Jack Upson, seems to have lived the high life after the war, sailing First Class to New York on a number of occasions in the 1920s and 1930s, with addresses in St. James Square W1 or at The Albany in Piccadilly. It was during this period, in 1927, that Upsons & Co. became a public company, and expanded through the 1920s to own 135 shops in London and the Home Counties. He also founded the Monseigneur Restaurant, home to some of the best music in the England, in Jermyn Street in 1930, allegedly to entertain his ‘lady friends’. It closed only a few years later in 1934, after Jack began to lose interest in the venture and amid mounting costs.

    He died in a nursing home, Rushey Court, Wallington, Berkshire in 1941, leaving more than £280,000 to his married sister Queenie Norah Keliher and Graham Charles Grundy, his warehouse manager.  His will shows him as being Chairman and Managing Director of Upsons Ltd (The Dolcis Shoe Co.).

    Upson’s/Dolcis was absorbed by the British Shoe Corporation in 1956.

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  • 07/16/17--07:11: Who's heard of Cody Dock?
  • Ok - Greenwich - which among you has heard of Cody Dock?? Has anyone actually been there?

    Its not far away .............

    Do any of you actually, ever, cross the river??

    So?? -it is part of a riverside walk ..... it has preserved gas holders at either end .................  last year part of it was a finalist in a 'Grow Wild England' competition has a sculpture trail which includes some of our own riverside path fact it starts on our riverside path -with the first bit of art (which isn't a bit of art which is on our Greenwich lists) .............and you end up at the very very wonderful Three Mills (which has been open for years and years and years) having walked through lots of interesting areas including two gas works and all sorts of other industrial sites.

    So???  Are you all going to tell me you have all Walked the Line?? and that it is all actually and really on piles of leaflets distributed round Greenwich,

    More to come on this. Please add your comments/experiences

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  • 07/17/17--02:23: Pipers reference

  • Thanks Mary Jane for this photo a paper from Pipers barge builders - their site was on the Peninsula between Lovells (now Riverside Gardens) and Enderbys - in fact mostly the site recently vacated by Deverills boat repair business.  Pipers were famous for their spirtsail barges - and particularly those who won many races

    Here is a photo of the letter signed by James R. Piper that was sent to my Grandad in 1913. My Grandad went on to be in charge of the rigging on the Cutty Sark when it was put in dry dock in Greenwich. His son became a sailmaker and was involved with the TV series called the Ondenin Line. Also his Grandson became a sailmaker as well. We are very proud of them all. I have lots of papers to do with the work he was involved with. I hope this paper is of interest to you. .

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  • 07/20/17--08:50: News and stuff

  • Dreadnought School - the council has been consulting about the gasholder site - but also on that site is Dreadnought School which is currently in use by the Horniman Museum as a store.  The school was built by the London School Board and was probably opened in 1893.  Other information seems to be very elusive. Around London these Board Schools are being listed and are becoming very famous - the earlier ones were designed by Edward Robson and then, later, by T.J.Bailey.  We don't now who designed Dreadnought but probably neither of these two leading architects. Does anyone have any information. The schools seems to have later been called Riverway School - and we also don't know what information Horniman has and what their response to the consultation is.  We understand Horniman sometimes offer tours of the building - starting from their site in Forest Hill.


    2018 will be European Cultural Year and EFAITH are planning on industrial development having a major role in this. they have already held two conferences on this and hope to:
    --- have an industrial heritage theme for each month
    --- feature young people and industrial heritage
    ----motivate and train volunteers
    ----help to save endangered industrial sites

    EFAITH - is European Industrial and Technical Heritage volunteers and voluntary associations.
    check this out at:
    or email your ideas to


    Tidal Thames - their newsletter features the day when two cruise liners passed each other in Blackwall Reach a month or so ago. These were Silver Wind and Silver Cloud and they passed to sounds of horns and cheering passengers.  And showed there is much more room in the river than some people think.  (I was brought up in 1950s Gravesend when we thought nothing of three or four big P&O liners all moored in the river and at Tilbury landing - people should have seen the river when we had lots of real boats up and down all the time).


    Tidal Thames also celebrates the arrival of Mercury Clipper - built on the Isle of Wight - and no doubt soon to be seen on Greenwich Reach.


    - and Tidal Thames is pushing For Fish's Sake which is about litter in the Thames and around the Thames. Details are available along with a video,


    Note from Historic England that archaeological investigation is about to start at Greenwich Pumping Station Thames Tideway site


    Naval Dockyard Society - this is a call for papers on Dockyards - the End of the First World War and interwar retrenchment.  This is for a conference to be held on 24th March 2018  at the Maritime Museum. Details from Dr Ann Coats and Richard Holme


    George Burtt - have been sent a lot of info about George Burtt who was born in Greenwich in 1871. He went on to become a great railway photographer.  Any info??


    We have had an email about a project which is recording oral histories of boatyards along the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the Barrier, They have already interviewed men from Thamescraft Dry Dock Services, Cory's and the Yacht Club.  Is there anyone else out there who would be interested.  Please get in touch with GIHS.


    GIHS hopes to have a meeting on October 10th where we can discuss industrial heritage in Greenwich. We are putting together a programme of people who can put their views forward and get the ball rolling. If you have something you would like to say and can say it in five minutes please get in touch asap


    The gasholder and its site.  We have so much stuff this is going to have to be a separate postings. Great response, thanks everyone!!

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    On 10th October Greenwich Industrial History Society wants to host a discussion on the current state of Greenwich's Industrial Heritage - and what we should be trying to achieve.  If you have ideas and would like to join in - please come along (Age Exchange Bakehouse 7.30).  BUT - perhaps more importantly - if you feel strongly please volunteer to do a couple of minutes presentation on your views. Please get in touch so we can arrange the programme.

    AND NOW - what is being said and where:

    The July/August issue is full of stuff about our local industrial history (even if  some of them were written by me, Mary)  there is:
    ** report on the Greenwich Revealed proposed works in Greenwich Park.  Not strictly industrial of course - but involve the history of works on a massive scale to create what was fundamentally a leisure complex.  **more on this below**  If you have more info on these works let us know.
    **an article on the discovery of an 18th Hawksmoor drawing of St. Alfege church - again not industrial but part of a whole lot of works currently being done on the history of the church.  We would like to know more about these finds - please get in touch.
    ** an article by Pieter Van Der Merwe on Erebus and Terror, the Franklin Expedition's ships.  Of great interest is that the engines in Franklin's ships were recycled from Greenwich Railway locomotives.  *** more about this below***
    ** an article which draws attention to the 120th birthday of the Blackwall Tunnel and talks about the history of the publicly funded free river crossings in the late 19th and early 20th.
    ** attention is drawn to Enderby House in an article on local 'buildings at risk' and talks about the current restoration.
    ** a 'newsflash' about consultation on the gasholder site.

    the newsletter also advertises:
    ** The Society's Annual Lecture on 26th November with two speakers on the Armarda Portrait of Elizabeth. Tickets £10 from
    ** meetings of the Decorative and Fine Arts Society.


    Labour Heritage Newsletter.
    The current edition has a long article by Stan Newens on the history of the Co-operative Party - and Greenwich has a large and active branch.  Stan points out that when, in 1927, the Labour Party tried to get Co-operative Parties to affiliate to it, only the Woolwich based Royal Arsenal Society did so. What he doesn't say is that Woolwich and the Royal Arsenal Co-op then went its own way with its Political Purposes Committee and the Greenwich Branch of the Co-op Party only dates from the demise of RACS, relatively recently.   
    This needs pointing out to Labour Heritage - which also doesn't mention the Woolwich based co-ops which pre-date the Rochdale Pioneers, or Woolwich Labour Party which pre-dates the national Party by many years.
    None the less this is an important article on the Co-op Party, everywhere other than Woolwich!
    (Its good to be different)


    The Temple of the Storms
    If you walk down the Greenwich Peninsula on the west side and look across the river - and its this view which justify this item - you will see a strange Egyptianesqe building on the other side.  This is actually a storm water pumping station and it has just been listed. It was built under the London Docklands Development Corporation which generally didn't support public buildings and certainly not eccentric ones! It was designed by John Outram and is seen as the first post modern building to be listed.  Go and see it - it is totally extraordinary with many clever and esoteric features.  Really - go and look!!


    Old Flames
    Great to hear from a local group of ex-gasworkers. They say they are putting together a history of British Gas.  Happy to pass any info or contacts on.


    The current newsletter has a long article by Malcolm Tucker about the listing of gas holders. Not too much about our great holder in Greenwich - its all, sadly, by Old  Kent Road and Vauxhall. Malcolm does say however "George Livesey and his brother Frank continued to develop gasholder design. A larger and more spectacular  version, East Greenwich No1 was constructed in 1884-8 and still stands prominently on the riverside . Like all gasholders it is now disused.  ................. the Livesey's ultimate development .. was the 'flying lift' ... in 1890-92 they built East Greenwich No.2. to an unprecedented capacity of 12 million cubic feet using six telescopic lifts of which two were flying.  That holder no longer survives.  (note - GIHS thinks the tank of no. 2 survives - can anyone confirm that??)

    More about gasholders to come in a separate blog

    GLIAS draws attention in an article by Bob Carr about the Ashburnham Triangle activists who have drawn attention to the first motor vehicle in Britain which was built in Greenwich.  This was Edward Butlers velocycle built by Merryweathers. 
    GIHS will has asked Mick Delap to come and talk to about this and other issues in the Spring.

    GLIAS advertises: 

    Walk round the Arsenal site by Ian Bull 2nd September, book via
    Walk - Did Hiram Maxim do anything for Crayford. 7th October book via
    Talk - an Archivists Eye View of Morden College. Elizabeth Wiggans speaking to the Docklands History Group  5.30 Museum of London Docklands



    This draws attention to a project for research on the Royal Parks in the Great War. They also have a 'war garden' and some heritage veg in what is now called the Queen's Orchard (aka the Dwarf Orchard)

    They are also organising a trip to the Heritage Centre to see a panorama of a trip to Greenwich in 1836. This is for members of their history group which meets for reminiscence and research in the Wildlife Centre with tea and cakes (which is more than you get from GIHS!).  Best thing if you are interested is to join the group - details on the website

    The newsletter also gives more details of Greenwich Park Revealed. Work will include restoration of the trees  particularly the historic avenues; reinstatement work on the 'Giant Steps'escarpment; a learning centre for schools programme, a training  base and an events centre; better signage, digital media and paper-based material; a ha ha along the deer enclosure to replace fencing; improvements to the Boating Lake and the Pavilion cafe 

    A long email from Elizabeth Blanchet describes current activity. As people may remember a prototype museum was set up on the historic Excalibar Estate in Catford - and was burnt down, maybe deliberately.  Elizabeth describes the work down with the Association Memoire de Soye in France and the close work undertaken with the association. However some prefabs are to be exhibited at the Museum of Rural Life in Surrey and it is hoped to house the archive there.
    Locally they will hold a 'celebration' event at St.John's Community Centre  on the Isle of Dogs on 2nd December  1-5 



    Historic England tells us that work is to start on:
    Building 11 Royal Arsenal 
    10 Orangery Lane. Eltham
    (thank you Mark)



    We have been shown a blog page 'The Franklin Expedition and London Bridge Station' by Patrick Sweeney.  This is of course from the perspective of London Bridge Station.  It also refers to another blog by Peter Carney (no link to this ??). This apparently argues that the engines actually came from the London and Croydon Railway - which also ran to London Bridge. He also has some interesting things to say about how and why the engines were run, the plumbing arrangements on the ship and - lead poisoning.  The engines were expected to aid the passage through ice and also provide hot water for a number of applications.
    We have also been referred to learned papers in Newcomen Society archives - I.J. Vol.81 No.2. 2011  by William Battersby and Peter Carney.  We also understand that it is hoped the sites can be dived for more information on these engines.

    We also think there was a link to Enderby exploration in the Antarctic - again, let us know.



    We are interested to know more about Dreadnought School in Blackwall Lane which, like the gasholder, is on a site recently consulted on by the Council. It is a London School Board School from around 1893 - and sadly not of a quality which suggests a design by one of their star (and very listable) architects.  It has been used as a store by the Forest Hill based Horniman Museum since 1969 and we understand they own the freehold. It has never been owned by Greenwich Council.  Please get in touch if you can tell us anything


    A recent holiday in Broadstairs alerted us to the entry point for many undersea cables - hopefully those made in Greenwich. We were particularly interests in a little building on the cliff edge at the end of Dumpton Gap Drive corner of Western Esplanade.  We understand it has been recently sold - but - again - any info?? gratefully received.

    the building at Dumpton Gap 

    Sign to the rear of the building
    (thanks Dick)



    Rob Powell has put up a posting on his blog with some fascinating cuttings about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
    He points out that the 4th of August was the annivesary of the opening of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902.  He had found cuttings from the Coventry Free Press 'it must be seen by the eye of imagination through the lens of knowledge' and much more.



    Richard Buchanon has kindly sent us a history of conservation areas - and do you know what!!  I quote:

    " Now - London’s first conservation areas.  There were two, both designated on 17th January 1968 and both by the London Borough of Greenwich. ......these two covered the old Greenwich town centre and Blackheath; the area which was mainly in Crown ownership was added later."
    (sorry no link for this - perhaps Richard can help with that) 


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    - so - what happened when we heard about the consultation on the gas holder site?

    It is now a couple of months since Greenwich Council announced a consultation on a site on the Greenwich Peninsula  which turned out to be the one which has our iconic gas holder on it.  You wouldn't have known that from the consultation document which assumed that the holder would be gone and that the site would be developed for housing.  This post is intending to describe some of the reactions - those reactions we are aware of - to this consultation

    All over the country gas holders are being demolished following a decision by the owners to decommission them.  In many areas campaigns have sprung up to save and to find a way of reusing the frame of their local gas holder.  There are already a number of interesting projects around the world where holders are used for housing, and for leisure facilities.   In the last few days we have learnt that the prestigious Architects' Journal has launched a competition for proposals for reuse of gas holder bases but not the guide frames.

    We also understand that developers have suddenly woken up to the potential of these sites and that one major company has set up a division to find interesting ways of using them.  It is ironic that this news comes from the one community which has petitioned for their holder to be pulled down, Oxted in Surrey.

    So what reaction was there in Greenwich?  We must remember that our local holder - East Greenwich No 1 - is very special.  Built in the 1890s by the South Metropolitan Gas Company it was then the largest in the world and built to revolutionary engineering and design criteria.  Very plain it is a very early modern movement industrial building - built at a  time which such design was at the cutting edge of artistic thought.  It stands dramatically on the flat marshland near the river and is an iconic landmark for much of surrounding area.

    There have been several ideas put forward for our local holder in recent years. As long ago as the 1990s a local architects practice published a booklet called 'Eyesore' which was partially influenced by the light show which was then being played onto it from a local pub.  In 2013 ideas were put forward by two architects from BDP and was the result of a project by the Royal Institution of British Architects from whom it received a commendation.   Later, in 2015, Cuan Hawker exhibited a prizewinning photograph of the holder at the Royal Academy summer exhibition

    But, locally, once the consultation began, one of the first things which happened was that someone set up an online petition to register people's views on retention or demolition of the holder.  A facebook page and a twitter account were also set up. We understand a massive 76% of respondents wanted the holder frame saved and reused in some way.

    This was followed by tweets, facebook comments and linked in comments - from locals, and from people in the gas history, and gas enthusiast world - and copied on to all sorts of facebook sites and blogs, locally, London wide, nationally and internationally.

    And also - this includes only stuff which was copied to us, there was doubtless much more - 

    What the press - locally - said - 

    Greenwich Visitor put the story on their front page with a picture splashed across with 'Save it' and headed 'Symbol of Greenwich's proud past faces demolition' . Inside that issue was another story about reuse of holders around the world, with pictures and the strap line 'Beauties in the eye of the gas holder. They have followed this up with a front page note in their current issue.

    The Mercury also front paged it with the heading 'Save Exceptional Gas Holder' and a detailed story.

    Westcombe News included a short front page item, commenting that it was unfortunate that that consultation had been timed for the summer months

    Greenwich Society Newsletter - included an item on the holder as a late news flash.

    (and thank you to all of them)

    There were submissions from national and London wide bodies - for example the national Association for Industrial Archaeology.  The London based Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society also made a submission.  Their expert described in detail the background to the construction of the holder and also said  'it is inexcusable that it is virtually unmentioned in the draft planning brief.... and yet it has considerable potential in place making in the new development...  the plans are remarkably lacking in vision'.  The submission also describes ways in which the frame could be used in a safe and practical way.

    There was reaction from gas holder enthusiasts abroad.  Someone in Munich wrote " British engineers did pioneer work on designing and developing the gas holder and........  it was to the merits of George Livesey to invent the so called shell principle that enforce the structure of the guide framing and facilitated very tall gas holders with a large storage capacity....  with East Greenwich Livesey crowned this sublime structure with a very eyeable pattern that added a third cross. Thus the tall guide framing has a very elegant appearance". She also published a photograph of the Greenwich Visitor article.

    this shows the holder in the snow
    A local archaeologist wrote to say that one of the listing criteria should be that this is the last survivor of a significant local industry and reminded us of links to experiments on Shooters Hill.

    An East Greenwich resident wrote " it would make such a great public space and is one of the only civic scale monuments to the industrial history of  East Greenwich.  It appears to rotate and spiral out as one drives past it on the bus'.

    A correspondent from North London wrote to say how he was appalled at the 'lifeless and boring indicative development scenarios' described in the consultation documents and he also described in detail work done on the gas holders at Kings Cross

    Several people have put forward ideas for reuse. One suggested "use of the lower third as a sports arena, middle third as industrial museum and the top third as housing with huge numbers of tall trees surrounding". 

    Another respondent made a detailed submission to the consultation including drawings for its use for "what could be achieved" given the vast amount of space inside it and asks if it could be used as an extension to the entertainment area at the Dome - citing several sites around the world where old holder space has been adapted in this way. He also cited its dramatic site and suggested this should be maximised as a landmark and icon for the whole area.

    Finally - this blog has featured histories of the holder - scroll down the entries to find them, and also additional fantastic ideas for reuse (see the one by Jo, for instance). We are also aware that submissions have been made by important local groups - The Greenwich Society, the East Greenwich Residents Association and the borough wide Greenwich Conservation Group.  As well as lots of residents.

    Listing - why isn't the holder listed??

    There have been several attempts to get listed status for this holder going back many years.  We are aware of an application for spot listing as long ago as the 1990s. This, along with many other attempts, was refused.  We understand that Historic England commented earlier this year that they had little intention of listing all holders but said that this holder "remains a monumental industrial landmark in this part of London a clear marker on the skyline".

    However as a result of the consultation we have heard of several people who have asked for the listing to be reconsidered - for example some members of the Enderby Group have sent in a long and detailed submission covering the history and architectural potential.  They are not alone.

    And -
    only one person has written to say that they think  the holder  is ugly and shall be pulled down - and they will not be alone in this view.

    and also - ps - something else on the consultation site which Greenwich Council didn't mention was the old school building now used by the Horniman Museum - or some of the rumoured plans for adjacent sites.

    thanks for pix to R.J.M.Carr & Rob Powell

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  • 08/29/17--01:24: News Items

    THE LENOX PROJECT  - their newsletter reminds us of Open House Day on 16th/17th September when they, and others, will be at Deptford Master Shipwright's House - with info and stalls and hoping for your support (with cakes and 'merchandise').
    They are also advertising for a Volunteer Finance Officer and an Administrator.


    Industrial Archaeology News.
    The Autumn 2017 edition includes an article on the Woolwich Stoneware Kiln:
    "In 1974 a group of archaeologists excavated several pottery kilns near the Riverside in Woolwich. These dated from the seventeenth century and one of the kilns discovered proved to be a stoneware kiln of particular interest. It was thought likely that this might be the first kiln of its type in Britain. In 1978 a report of the 1974 excavation by Sylvia Ptyor and Kevin Brockley was published in Post-Mediaeval Archaeology. This report describes the results of the excavation of two adjacent kilns at Woolwich, one producing earthenware and one producing stoneware. The stoneware kiln had a single stoke hole and produced Bellarmine jugs with other stoneware vessels, and is the only stoneware kiln of this period yet discovered in Britain.
    It was decided that as this kiln was rather special it should be retained. The site was required for redevelopment and so in 1975 a remarkable piece of engineering took place. The whole kiln was encased in a wooden box and truncated beneath. The box containing the kiln, some twenty feet
    square, has resided at various places about the Woolwich Arsenal since 1975. However, the site
    where it was this year was needed and, moreover, after more than 40 years the box containing the
    kiln was rotten and the structure failing. This was a crisis situation.
    The solution has been to call in Oxford Archaeology to carry out a very thorough investigation of the stoneware kiln using the latest digital techniques. Once this investigation was started the kiln itself was to be destroyed so on the 28 and 29 March appropriate visitors were invited to view the kiln before its destruction. On 30 March the kiln was sliced and sectioned with a detailed digital record being kept. On Friday 31 March the demolition men came in and by the end of the week everything was cleared away."

    We have been handed a brief history of Express Lifts - and note that it says that in 1903 the Easton Lift Co. was installing the first lifts in the Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels under the Thames and their faceplate controllers were not to be replaced until 1933 to the then modern camshaft systems.   These lifts had 64 brake horsepower motors rack driven on 5ft pulleys carrying 60 and 40 persons
    (something wrong with their dates there, but never mind)

    We have a request for info aout T.W.Thompson engineering works at 25 Deptford Bridge moving to
    Endyne Works, Blisset Streeetin 1914. They made engines and dynamoes.

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