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

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    The June meeting of GIHS heard a talk by Ian Bull on the Narrow Gauge Railways of the Royal Arsenal.  The following report is by Richard Buchanan (with thanks to WADAS) with some annotations by Ian Bull.
    The Arsenal found railways to be the best way of getting about on a marshy site – they built few roads.  Its first was a plate railway in 1824, developed from the Surrey Iron Railway (of 1802) and horse drawn.  At this stage the Arsenal was about the size of what has been retained since its closure, though at its height it stretched 3¼ miles, all the way to the Crossness outfall works, and 2sq miles in area.  It then had 147 miles of track; the east of the site with its several isolated high explosive (HE) facilities being served only by rail.
    There were three fiefdoms in the Arsenal, the Royal Gun Foundry, the Royal (gun) Carriage Department and the Royal Laboratories (for ammunition).  They did not co-operate; if one had a spare wagon it would not lend it to another that might need one; if there was accidental damage to a train operated by one department, that department had to make good, even if delays ensued.

    In 1849 the North Kent Line of the South Eastern Railway reached Woolwich, and the Arsenal entered into an agreement to interwork with them, and build an internal standard gauge railway (the three departments still working separately).  The connection was at “the hole in the wall” in Plumstead. However in 1870 the Army decided that an 18 inch gauge railway would better suit their needs particularly if it were to be deployed in narrow trenches for siege warfare; and be easier to transport.  They had good experience in the Crimea with such railway - The 'Grand Crimean Central Railway' which was steam worked and standard gauge.


    So the Arsenal built an 18railway, which could manage sharper curves, and took it into buildings - anywhere where heavy loads were to be handled.  Inside buildings special cast iron track was made (by the Royal Laboratories from redundant cannon balls) with a level top surface apart from grooves for the wheel flanges.  The standard gauge railway continued in use; where necessary a third rail was laid inside standard gauge track for the 18gauge.

    The 18 railway was steam hauled from the outset (though at Chatham Dockyard, with a system whose length reached 20 miles, horses were used).  The locomotives followed normal practice with the frames inside the wheels; the first engine had the cylinders inside tharger cylinders outside, were not too wide (though side swipes between trains on adjacent lines were not uncommon.  The 18" railway at Woolwich used locomotives with *outside* frames (there were a very few exceptions). The Royal Engineers visited the London & North Western Railway's Crewe Works in the 1850s where the 18" locomotives had frames inside the wheels and cylinders inside the frames. Said cylinders could only be very small and the Military waited until the Hunslet Engine Co. developed outside frames in 1870.


    As time passed guns and ammunition got heavier, and stronger rails were laid.  And passenger trains were provided to get workers quickly from the Arsenal gates to the more distant work places.  Faster locomotives were needed for this, with larger diameter wheels.  Open knife-board bogey wagons were made, the bogeys giving some comfort - but also the ability, with the knife-board removed, to take heavy loads at other times.  First class covered carriages were also produced by the Carriage Works.

    An 18 railway was sent to Africa and laid to help in the unsuccessful relief of General Gordon at Khartoum in 1885; it was packed up put in charge of the Royal Engineers under Percy Girouard a Canadian of great promise then aged 23.  He relaid decrepit 1860s track with the heavier rails brought back from Africa, and ran it as a single railway.  He remained in charge until 1895.

    A compression-ignition engine came in 1896 – slow, but not having a fire it was much safer where high explosives  were handled; four more soon followed.  Otherwise steam continued in use, and with rapid expansion in WWI more of a “Culverin” design first purchased in 1884 were ordered; and 16 of a more powerful “Charlton” class was ordered (of which the “Woolwich” is the remaining one).

    In 1922 it was decided to scrap the 18 railway; at the time it had 3000 items of rolling stock including 1100 powder wagons.  Most of the steam engines, which had been worked hard during the war with less maintenance than they should have had, were sold off and scrapped.

    However parts of the railway lingered to 1971.  A Diesel locomotive was bought in 1932, from the Hunslet Engine Co.. The loco was called 'Albert'. and another, the “Carnegie”, in 1954 – with cab heating!  Three small Diesels were bought during WW2.

    Ian said that however it was run the Arsenal railway was always technically up-to-date.


    The “Woolwich”, the “Carnegie” and one of the small Diesels had a new lease of life at the Bicton Woodland Railway in Devon from 1960. Woolwich' went for scrap in 1959 and was purchased from the breakers by Bicton in 1962. 'Carnegie' went directly to Bicton from the Arsenal in 1966. One of the small diesels was scrapped in Greenwich, one went to Bicton where it still is, and one to the Great Bush railway via a Nursery in Littlehampton and the Isle of Wight.


    But by 2000 they were worn out, and new management got a Diesel powered ‘steam’ engine.  The “Woolwich” and “Carnegie” went to Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Mills.  The “Woolwich” was moved again, visiting Woolwich in 2011, to the Crossness Engines Trust, who are now rebuilding it.  The “Carnegie” remains at Waltham Abbey awaiting substantial repair.  The small Diesel is now at the Great Bush Railway in Sussex.
    The Crossness Engines Trust has several wagons, including the powder wagon which recently stood outside the Heritage Centre, and with the “Woolwich”, could make up a train.  Thames Water, wishing to keep the Trust’s visitors away from their sewage treatment plant, are putting in a footpath by the sewer bank to Plumstead – wide enough to also accommodate a railway track (on the route of the spur line used in building the original Outfall Works).  This would make the Trust much more accessible.


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    The following article comes from the July 1934 comes from the house magazine of Charlton metal fabrication company, Harveys


    Harvey staff in the Brighton Pavilion 7th July 1934
    On July 7th all roads led to Charlton Station, and as early as 7.30 a.m. many “Harcoites" had arrived intent on catching the first Harvey Special for Brighton. In fact, so keen was the "time-keeping spirit” that we are not aware of even one person who failed to “clock on" in time to catch one of the three special trains. Long before the first train was due the platform was thronged, and it was amid loud cheers that the 8.10 was boarded. In spite of the fact that there was ample room and to spare for everyone, we noticed that some compartments had an unusual number of people standing, and no amount of persuasion could entice them to occupy some of the empty coaches.

    Such is the spirit of comradeship which causes one pal to stand for over an hour in order to associate and look after the safety of his bosom friend. In some cases we under- stand "two friends" were the cause of this temporary sacrifice of personal comfort.

    Brighton was reached in due course, and one train after another discharged its load of passengers, all eager to find whether the tide was in or out. Having ascertained this fact, another query had to be settled. "Was Black Rock really Black," or was the privilege ticket only provided in order that hundreds of " Harcoites" might be lured out of the town to relieve the congestion caused 'by the continued arrival of one Harvey Special after another? However,' remembering the spirit of adventure which has made our Company what it is to-day, the resources of the Cliff Electric Railway were considerably strained in order that our minds might be put at rest regarding the colour of the above-mentioned rock. After a perilous trip over miniature- chasms and canyons, it was found that we had been done, and that the" rock" was just the same as in Brighton-" three for a shilling, with the name all through."

    Towards the hour of noon the tide, which for some hours past had been steadily flowing from the station, now changed its course, and a bee-line was made towards the Regent Restaurant, wherein our hopes were centred on a real "blowout." We were not disappointed in this, for the tables literally groaned under the weight of foodstuffs, ranging from salmon down to cheese and biscuits via cold meats and pies with offshoots of jellies and fruit pie, etc. It was a truly satisfying sight. After the photographer had done his worst-which, by the way, is here reproduced, Mr. Sydney Harvey, in a few well-chosen words of welcome, gave us the word to "set to." For a period the silence was most notice- able. Course after course was dispensed with until, replete unto the state of fullness, we honoured the toast of His Majesty.

    As was only fitting at this stage of the proceedings Mr. Kerridge (Chief Engineer) proposed the Health of the Company in the following words :-

    Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, - I am going to ask you to honour the toast of 'The Firm; but before doing so, I want to express on behalf of all employees our thanks for being entertained here to-day.

    “We have had outings before, but never one like this, and I can assure our Chairman that our appreciation is real and sincere.

    “Speaking of outings, I would like to call remembrance to one particular outing to Rosherville Gardens. It was to celebrate Mr. East joining the Firm. There are just a few here who went to it. We had a good time, but our number then was about thirty, including the Staff. The great progress the Firm has made is clear from the numbers here to-day. "

    We are proud of our Firm, proud. of its history, and it is a great satisfaction to all to share in its Diamond Jubilee.

    “One other thing. I am sure I am speaking for all when I say how pleased we are to see Mr. Harvey (Senior) present.

    "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Toast- The Firm - Long may it continue to grow and prosper."

    And then the stentorian voice of the .Master of Ceremonies was heard over the micro- phones: "Pray silence for Mr. James Wells! Who-why!! Someone surely has blundered! But no. Along came the most recent addition to our Company in the shape of a lad of some fourteen summers, who in the-most approved manner presented to Mrs. Sydney Harvey a magnificent bouquet.

    Mr Harvey receives the employees presentation
    from Mr Icough
    So far, all this was very nice. But the point upon which were centred the thoughts of every single person present in that huge gathering had yet to come-namely, the tribute in which every employee had taken part in order to .honour he who founded our Firm, and through whose intrepid will and spirit has been built up the organisation of which we are so 'proud to-day, and it was a moment to be remembered when Mr. B. W. Icough rose and in a speech, brief, but full of sincerity, requested Mr. George Harvey to accept a silver-gilt rose bowl as a token of the esteem and respect in which he is held by every employee. Mr. E. R. Clarke, as Senior Director, also presented on behalf of his co-directors a similar token in the form of copy of Grecian Vase.

    The applause .which followed these presentations, stupendous as it was, could not be compared with that which greeted Mr. George Harvey as heroes to reply to the sentiments which had already been so well ex- pressed by Mr. Clarke and Mr. Icough.

    It is with pleasure that we print the remarks of Mr. Harvey.

    “Ladies and Gentlemen,-I thank you. It has been a long pull, but we have pulled together, and again I thank you for your loyal help. Some have passed on. I hold in affectionate memory. Mr. A. Clarke, Mr. Brown, Mr. East, and Victor, my son.

    “I wish you all a happy day, a safe return home ':

    Greatly as I appreciate these gifts, I value even more highly the kind' thoughts which prompted you to make them."

    Even with the few words which Mr. Harvey spoke, it is safe to conjecture that the minds of many present went back to those early days, and as the eyes' of those who have not served the Company so long swept the "25 years' service and over" table, and saw all the old servants of the Company grouped around Mr. Harvey, our minds were filled with but one thought: " Well done! Thou good and faithful servants."

    For on that table, in particular, was seen Loyalty in all its fullness-Loyalty and Good Service, which requires something more than mere £ s. d. to obtain. And then we would focus our attention on the central figure of that long table, and there we found the answer: the personality of Mr. George Harvey, which has so enthused those who worked with him that, in fair weather and foul, they manned the boat, with their faith, so rightly placed, in the man at the wheel.

    Those who were fortunate enough to be present will long remember the occasion.

    As a fitting climax to this part of the proceedings, Mr. Sydney Barvey rose and. gave, in the following words, a speech which not only looked back e on success, but with the vitality which so characterises the speaker, deals with the future in a manner full of the assurance of attainment.

    After extending a hearty welcome to all Mr. Sydney Harvey said:-

    “This is a day to which we have all been looking forward for some time, and I hope one that you will thoroughly enjoy.

     “Among our guests we are very pleased to welcome Mr. B. D. Roberts, Director of Art Galleries, Museums and Libraries, and to know that we are helping in the vast improvements which are being made in Brighton, one of the most popular seaside towns in England.

    Our Day”

    One does not like, as a rule, to blow one's own trumpet, but now that we have .a Brass Band and an alternative Conductor in case of need, I suppose it is excusable. In any case, this is OUR DAY, and I am sure we want to hear something about ourselves.

    "Brighton has bedecked herself with flags and, garlands-I presume in honour of our visit;

    60 Years

    " The firm of Harvey's was started in 1874 by Mr. G. A. Harvey in a small shed at Lewisham standing on less than half an acre of ground: The whole story forms a most interesting and fascinating romance of industry, far too lengthy to relate to-day, except for a few details.

    “At Lewisham Mr. Harvey worked his first machine with the help of a boy, and that same machine is still doing work in one of our shops, and one that the Duke of York took a great interest in when he visited our Works.

    “Twenty years later, owing to the growth of the business, we moved our Tank Making and Galvanizing Works to West Greenwich. In 1912 we closed both Lewisham and West Greenwich and moved to our present works, The Greenwich Metal Works, where we have added building after building and extended department after department, until to-day the Works cover some 25 acres of ground and employing nearly 2,000 hands.

    “And without any desire to boast, I make bold to say that we hold the premier position in our particular line of business. “Our Founder, who is now in his 82nd year and has lived a very active life, still takes a keen interest in the progress of all departments, and I am sure that we are all very glad that he is able to pay an occasional visit to - our Works.

    " He views, with mingled pride and pleasure, some of his early dreams and aspirations coming true; and we are continuing to build up our organisation, step by step, on the solid foundations he laid of HONESTY, HARD WORK, ENTERPRISE and SERVICE.

    “We have a long record of which we are justly proud. People judge of what we can do by what we have done.

    Newspaper Cutting

    “Pasted on the wall of Mr. Harvey's office at Lewisham was a newspaper cutting, as follows:-

    Nothing that is can pause or stand still.'

    “The meaning is clear; no one can mark time for long-one must either go forward or backward. Our way has always been along the progressive path-the pathway called, Straight '-and I sincerely hope it always will.

    Familiar Faces

    "One sees many familiar faces here this morning - men who have been with the firm since their boyhood days (we have over 40 employees who have been with the firm more than 25 years-a fine record), some who are now past work and are enjoying a well-earned leisure. And we think of those who are no longer with us, and who did their part in helping to build the success of the firm. I should like to mention Mr, East, Mr. A. Clarke, Mr. Brown and my brother.

    "Their work lives on and forms part of our tradition.

    Iron and Steel Exchange '.

    "The other day I was the guest of Sir William Firth at a luncheon given by the Iron and Steel Exchange, and Dr. E. L. Burgin, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade, was advocating that the members should use more steel and suggested ways and means. He then turned to me and said:  'There's Mr. Harvey, one of our largest manufacturers, who can make up anything in steel.' A splendid tribute!

    Copy of Postcard received Last Week

    “Listen to this: 'Forty or fifty years ago I had a tank from you. I shall probably want a replace next week-one about 60 or 80 gallons. Will you please send me a price list? '

    Employees with 25 or more service
    “I am not surprised at receiving this testimony to our workmanship, but I hope that ALL our tanks are not going to last as long as that one.

    Youngest Firm

    “Many interesting stories could be told, but time will not permit on such an occasion as this, except perhaps one or two.

    "In the early days, a firm of competitors added as a recommendation to their goods that they .were the' oldest firm in the trade.” We immediately got out an advertisement styling ourselves 'the youngest and most up-to-date firm in the trade,' and although we cannot claim to be the youngest to-day, we still try to "be the most up-to-date. The same spirit exists, and there has been no abatement of our energy or enterprise.

    Fashions are fickle things for both men and women. At one time beards were fashionable. Then the fashion changed, and Mr. Harvey turned up to the office one day minus his beard. When he went to his safe he was rudely accosted byone or two members of the staff who failed to recognise him in his new guise. First aid was not necessary.

     As some of you may be thinking of going fishing, the following story, told to me by Mr. Harvey, may help you in sizing up your catch, (if any) to your chums afterwards.

    " One man: said to the other (probably an American), 'Where did you go for your holiday? ",' Fishing.''Did you catch any- thing. ''A fine large fish, I guess.''How big?''Oh, ever so big.''As big as a cod? ‘‘Oh, bigger than that.''Well, as big as a shark?''Oh, much bigger than that.''Well, as big as a whale?''No! I used that for bait! '


    “It so often happens in a large concern that the personal touch is either neglected or forgotten. We are very proud of our Welfare Section, and, like one huge family, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles and aunts (though I am not sure if we have any grandfathers), all WORKING WELL and PLAYING WELL.

    " Welfare work includes not only sport and social activities of all kinds, but safety of work, canteen facilities, practical sympathy with the sick and convalescent, training of youths, interesting wives and families, and many other things. And if I were asked a question as to which is the most important department in the concern, I am not sure that I should not say'WELFARE 'but Iam quite sure what my wife's answer would be; and we all owe her a debt of gratitude for what she has done, and the great interest taken in our womenfolk.

    “Welfare has to do with human material- the best of material-but sometimes the most difficult to handle.

    Benevolent Fund

    "I should like to mention here that our Founder has started a HARVEY BENEVOLENT FUND with a gift of £10,000, and the fund has already been of great help.”

    A rumour has been circulating that we have bought land in the district. On this occasion Dame Rumour has not lied, and we hope shortly to be starting a block of "Harco" houses, which will meet a long-felt want in the district.


    Some of the party at lunch
    " I do not wish to talk about trade to-day, as the factory gates are shut; the telephone bell may be ringing, but no one .is there to answer it; the machinery is quiet and the mail unopened; but I must mention how pleased I am to see that the clouds of depression are passing and we are getting busy.

    "We are continually adding to our numbers, and piles are now being driven for further building extensions. Such is our confidence and preparation for the future.

    “Let me again just briefly extend to. you all a very hearty welcome and to thank you one and all for the splendid co-operation, goodwill and loyalty which have meant so much to the success of the firm; and thank all those responsible for making the arrangements for today, which have been exceedingly well planned and thought out in typical ' Harco' fashion."

    When all was finished so far as the" Regent" was concerned, we dispersed to wherever our fancy led-some to bathe, some to obtain forty winks, others to the speed boats or skee ball.

    All too soon came the time to return to Charlton, and for over an hour platform No. 7 rang with the exultant shouts of hundreds of " Harcoites" who had enjoyed to the full every minute of a glorious day.


    And our sincere thanks are due to the Company for their kindness in not only bearing the entire cost of the whole day, but also arranging that employees attending the outing suffered no financial loss in respect of wages.



    - glad they didn't dock their wages

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    We have received the following information about Ralph Lucas, the Greenwich-based car designer referenced recently in this Blog, from Barbara Holland. Many thanks to her for the information.

    Ralph Lucas (1876-1955)

    Ralph Lucas, born in Greenwich in 1876, indeed has an interesting place in the early history of motoring as a designer and builder of motor cars. He had a small workshop on Westcombe Hill, Blackheath in the early years of the 20thcentury. His family also boasts a number of notable or local connections, particularly his son, Colin, as well as his father and grandfather.

    Ralph was one of 3 children, with the 1881 Census shows him residing at Park Lodge, Hervey Road, Blackheath with his father Francis R. Lucas, a telegraph engineer and his mother Katherine M. Lucas.  He went to St. Christopher’s School in Blackheath (1887-90), followed by Cheltenham College (1890-95) and Jesus College, Cambridge (1895-97).  In 1897 he began working as a draughtsman at Johnson & Phillips, Victoria Way, Charlton, moving up to sub-manager in 1899. 

    It is at this time that his interest in motor car design and manufacturing was beginning, with the first Motor Show exhibition at the Agricultural Hall in Islington.  His premises were located at 191A Westcombe Hill, a workshop at the rear of the houses there. The access to it still exists and is now the site of Capital Roofing.  The 1901 Census shows him boarding at 9 Eastcombe Villas, Charlton Road, with his occupation recorded as a mechanical engineer and an employer. 

    He became a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1903, with his record describing him as a motor car manufacturer and patentee.  In fact, he registered 15 UK and 3 US patents between 1899 and 1910 for a range of different engine parts.

    His place in motoring history comes as a result of the ‘Valveless’ car, developed at his Westcombe Hill workshop and exhibited at various motor shows from 1899 to 1908.  Although described at the 1907 Motor Show at Olympia as ‘an ingenious engine’, by 1908 it seems that he had abandoned many of the distinctive features for commercial production by David Brown of Huddersfield.  It would appear that very few models were actually made.

    An interesting insight into this period of Ralph’s life comes from a letter published in the Motor Sport Magazine for July 1957 from C. Berner.  This was Correze Aage Oscar Berner, who co- lodged with Ralph at 18 Charlton Road in 1901.  Correze Berner worked for a short period at Johnson & Phillips with Ralph Lucas and helped him in the development of his first motor car. In his letter he describes Ralph as someone ‘who spent all his days and most of nights at his small works nearby making has Valveless cars, with a truly valveless engine, a two-stroke. The engine was a close relation of an American pump engine his father had installed in his house in Forest Row in the Ashdown Forest.  As a budding engineer I was glad of … the opportunity to work on a real car’.  He also describes taking the Valveless on test runs down to Forest Row. They soon became close friends and he spent most of his free time at the Valveless works as an unofficial draughtsman.  He went on to work for more than 30 years at the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. (Telcon) at Enderby’s Wharf, Greenwich under Ralph’s father Francis R. Lucas.

    Details of Ralph’s career after this are sketchy.  He married his wife Mary Anderson Juler, a pianist and composer in 1903, and lived at 18 Charlton Road and then 7 Craigerne Road between 1903 and 1911. They had 2 sons, Anthony Ralph Lucas (b.1905) and Colin Anderson Lucas (b.1906).  In the 1911 Census the family is recorded at Redcliffe Farm, Wareham, Dorset with Ralph’s occupation described as a consulting engineer (motor cars).  At some point he moved back to London to live at 10 St.Germans Place, Blackheath where he lived until c.1939.

    During the First World War (1914-1919) he served as a Lieutenant with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve at an Admiralty Experimental Station.  Which one is not clear – there were a number of secret establishments set up all over the country to develop the technology used to fight the war, such as new fuels, submarine technology etc.. However, his engineering skills would have been put to good use.

    His next recorded foray into motor manufacturing was the development of the North-Lucas Radial in 1922 with Oliver North at the Robin Hood Engineering Works, Putney Vale.  This car was seen as a ‘revolutionary design’, although apparently only one was built – by the Chelsea Motor Building Co.  A letter from Eric Riddle (a close relative) in the May 1991 edition of Motor Sport magazine, states that Ralph drove the North-Lucas Radial as his only car between 1922 and 1928, covering 65,000 miles in it.

    The North Lucas

    After this, his career appears to have changed direction.  The next reference for Ralph is in connection with his son Colin Anderson Lucas, a renowned Modernist architect.  Colin’s biography describes him joining his father’s building firm – Lucas, Lloyd & Co. - in 1929.  Colin’s first house design was built for his father in c. 1930. This was Noah’s House and Boat House, Spade Oak Reach at Cookham, Berkshire, the first reinforced concrete building in the Modernist style in the country and now a Grade II* listed building.  

    Ralph’s father, Francis, died on 28th November 1931, leaving him a share of his estate worth £75,697 15s 4d, with his brother Dallyn Lucas.

    Ralph lived at Noah’s House with his first wife, Mary who died in 1952, and then with his second wife, Lillian Knight.  Ralph died on 7th May 1955, leaving £19,403 16s 01p to Lillian Lucas.

    Ralph Lucas’s Family Connections

    Grandfather: Ralph Willett Lucas (1796-1874)

    Ralph Lucas’s grandfather was born in North America – censuses vary, saying both Canada and the US – and was a landscape painter of minor fame.  Some of his work has been sold through Bonham’s and Christie’s in recent years, including this one of Croom’s Hill:

    Croom’s Hill, Greenwich

    It is not clear when he came to this country, but he is listed in Pigot’s 1840 Directory as a teacher or professor of drawing, living in Royal Hill. He married Charlotte Clarke at St. Alphege’s in 1844 and is shown as a widower and an artist, living at Royal Place in the marriage entry.  Other directory and census entries show that he lived at 3 Glen Mohr Terrace, Hyde Vale from at least 1851 until his death in 1874.  The 1871 census entry records his occupation as ‘retired ordnance officer’.  An obituary for Ralph’s brother Keith Lucas, a physiologist, records him as having been a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery who fought in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

    Father: Francis Robert Lucas (1849-1931)

    Ralph’s father, Francis Robert Lucas, also has a place in local engineering history.  He was a telegraph engineer, working from 1856 at the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co. (Telcon) at Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich. He was involved in laying submarine cable, succeeding Henry Clifford as Chief Engineer in 1893, and becoming Managing Director in 1906 until his retirement in 1925. He participated in the cable laying voyages of SS 'Great Eastern' in 1878;  invented a wire-sounding machine which was first used on the cable laying ship the 'Alert' in1887; invented a type of oceanographic sounding machine in1891;  patented a scoop sounder, an instrument also known as the 'snapper' which was used when cable laying.  

    Son: Colin Anderson Lucas (1906-1984)

    His son, Colin found a degree of fame as a pioneering International Modernist Architect, credited with designing a number of private houses in the 1930’s, the first one for his father.  He joined the London CountyCouncil’s Architects’ Department after WW2, and was responsible for the design of a number of large housing estates, the most notable being the le Corbusier-influenced Alton Estate West at Roehampton.  His third major project was the recently demolished Ferrier Estate, Kidbrooke completed in 1972, the year he was awarded his OBE.

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    Harland and Wolff were once one of Britain’s largest ship building companies. At their highest point they had a workforce of 35,000 and shipyards in Belfast, Glasgow, Southampton, Liverpool and London. Eastside Community Heritage are currently researching a project looking at H&W’s North Woolwich Shipyard. We are looking for participants who would be willing to tell us their stories in regards to Harland and Wolff. Did you or your family work for H&W? Maybe your school watched one of their ships being launched? Tell us your H&W story! Contact Eastside Community Heritage at: or visit: or call: 02085533116 

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  • 08/15/14--01:54: Lovells Path

  • Lovells Path
    by Fred Mason
    This may be of interest to residents who live near to Lovells Wharf.
    Along the new river path there is a small inlet opposite a new reconstructed stone wall.There is a plaque telling us that this is part of a wall left over from Stone Wharf? Perhaps I can spread some light on this inlet. It is in fact the top of a large ramp, 130 ft wide. To see it in its present state no one could guess what it was in the past. As a boy in 1948/50 I had helped my father do some repairs to a boat he owned on this ramp. You could bring a boat up to the river path at the top of Cadet Place that had previously been called Paddock Street. I remember at the time my father telling me that this ramp was a public ramp. My father and is father were sailing barge skippers for Pipers, a yard close by so he would have had local knowledge. Being close to Ballast Quay I should think fisherman from Ballast Quay and Peter boats etc would have used this ramp being so close by.
    In the state is now it is just a mess. It has been steel piled, had concrete added more than once prior to the Woolwich Barrier being built, for flood protection, and had been dumped on by various contractors. The big stone ramp that went from high water mark, down to the low water mark at a constant angle has been dredged up to allow ships to get onto their berth at Wimpeys Wharf. The wharf is not there now and it was adjacent down the river. The ramp could best be seen from Lovells path at low water.
    Putting two and two together, I don't think think this ramp was for locals to mend boats as it was big and cost a lot of money. The ramp lined up with Cadet Place and the remains of an old stone wall, which on a map dated 1695 tells us here was a Magazine (this is a naval term for a room on a ship to hold gunpowder). I think this ramp must have been built to facilitate the building of this magazine. A great deal of materials would have been needed. As on a map it is quite large going from the river down to Banning Street and from Cadet Place to the end of what is now Babcocks.
    Peeping out from the eastern end of Babcocks corrugated iron fence is a stone pier, about 5ft high, the path you are standing on has been built up 4/5 ft, so the pier would have originally been 9/10 ft high. Is this the eastern end of the magazine compound? If you want to see it, be quick, as it won't be there long.

    Fred  - you know I disagree with you about the site of the Government Magazine - because 1). the site of the magazine was owned by the Government and these other riverside sites were (and are) all owned by Morden College  and 2) because plans of the Magazine show it alongside Tudor Bendish Sluice which could still be seen emerging out of the Enderby site underneath the steps into the river alongside the Enderby jetty - it has just been extinguished and removed by the current builders on the Enderby site (one of the last remains of Tudor Greenwich). 3) neither the plans of the Magazine nor the one picture of it, nor the records of it, mention a ramp.

    I think what you say about the ramp is very interesting. And I am writing this from memory so I may be wrong. If you look at the 1880 Ordnance Survey map you will see that a site near where you mention between Pipers Wharf and Granite Wharf is marked as the 'District Board of Works' - the local authority before Greenwich Council was invented.  Marked on it and heading towards the river is a ramp - in fact if you go into the same yard now you can see the remains of this ramp inland.  My guess - and this is a guess - that the District Board of Works built the ramp for the dust carts so that they could take them to the river and tip the rubbish into barges to be taken off down river. Later they moved this whole operation down river to Tunnel Avenue Depot - and you can see the big new E shaped jetty still there near where the Amylum silos used to be.    So your Dad could have been right - if it was owned by the Council it was a 'public' ramp.

    Hope you don't mind me saying all this

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    Prentiss Court is now an estate of Council owned housing standing at the bottom of Charlton Lane, just south of the level crossing.  It was originally company housing built for the employees of Harveys, metal fabrication company, based in the Woolwich Road. 
    Here is the report of its opening taken from Harvey's Company magazine December 1952


    ON Friday 3rd October, Prentiss Court, an extension to our Harvey Gardens Housing Estate, was opened by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, The Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan, M.P.

    Mr. H. T. Eatwell, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, opened the proceedings by welcoming the guests, and mentioning the Company's appreciation of the fact that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had come to perform the opening ceremony.

    “It has long been the policy of our Chairman, Mr. Sydney Harvey, and the Directors," said Mr. Eat well, "to take a practical interest in the well-being of our employees. We already have some hundreds of houses and this extension provides for another 32 employees and their families. This is an example of what private enterprise can do. It is, of course, paid for in full by the Company.

    The project has only been made possible by the help and co-operation of the Minister's Department, the Local Authority, the Architects, the Surveyors, and the Contractors and their workers, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them and congratulate them on the results of their united efforts. One of the most notable facts about this estate is that by the efficiency and enterprise of the Con- tractors and the willing production of the workers, these dwellings have been completed at an average rate of one every ten days.

    You will all like to know why this Estate has been called Prentiss Court. During the war, Dr. Howard Prentiss came to us after a distinguished career, as our first Medical Officer. Not only did he give magnificent medical attention to our employees, but by his cheerful example and Christian charity, became a firm friend and mentor to us all. I am sorry to say that after a brief retirement, Dr. Prentiss passed on in 1951. All who knew him feel that these fine fiats and houses are a fitting memorial to such a wise counsellor and good friend."

     In concluding, Mr. Eatwell mentioned that in the piping days of peace and plenty it was the custom to present a gold key to the person officiating at a ceremony such as this. It was felt, however, that as the main material used in our Works is steel, it is fitting that this key is also made of Good British Steel. The Minister was then asked to accept the key for the purpose of opening Prentiss Court.

    In his reply the Minister said-" This is a very unique occasion and one which it is a great honour to me to be asked to attend. It is unique because it represents a very special effort over a long period of years by the great and well-known firm who have built these flats and houses. G. A. Harvey are known the world over. They represent all the best of the old and the new; they are an old family business still conducted' by the family of the founder and they have all the new modern outlook that we connect with the most go ahead methods. Perhaps I may be allowed to share a little in the sense of honour that is done to a family business, because I have myself the honour of being the third generation of my own family business, founded by my grandfather and now carried on by my son. There is, I think, something that the special relationships of family business still have to give in the daily life of industry; they have a sense of comradeship and partners together in a great enterprise, and certainly Harvey's have shown that, not only now but for many years.

    As you said, Mr Chairman, this new effort is only an extension of a long tradition of the Company of providing homes - for their employees, in addition to the several hundred homes which you have already provided his makes a new departure and a new effort.

    I was interested to hear of the long traditions surrounding this site. I had been an ecclesiastical property, passed to a railway and then became a pumping station, but anyway it is, now revived and restored to a very fine purpose, and I do not think you can find anywhere anything more beautifully designed or better adapted than these buildings which we are to open today.

    I am very glad that you have introduced the variation. I open a great number of flats, a certain number of houses, but I always like to have a mixture of houses, maisonettes and flats which breaks the rather tedious character when you get too much the same, and 1 am sure in our modern planning the more variation we can get the better it is. Here on this fine site you have provided in the most modern wav a very remarkable series of dwellings.

    These 32 dwellings are the last addition to what you have already done. I am sure that everybody concerned, Mr. Chairman, shares in the thanks and gratitude which we owe to your great Company, and I am sure everybody concerned feels that it is this kind of development, closely associated with industry, which has a great part to play in the housing drive. Everyone has a part to play. There is a great work to be done. Much has to be done and perhaps the greater part must for a long time fall on the direct efforts of the local authority, but much has to be done also by private effort and private enterprise. There is in my view no conflict between these two conceptions. Hand in hand, each has a part to play in the fulfilment of this housing drive, with which we must press forward so long as we have the power and solvency to do it. In so doing we make by far the greatest contribution to the people as a whole.

    There are many things we would like to have in our lives and many pleasures and benefits we hope to obtain. I think the home is always the first and most vital of all things. It is the very basis of life itself in any State; it is the basis of the family, just as the family itself is the basis of the nation, and it is by this joint effort by the local authority, by go ahead firms, by private enterprise, by individual effort by individual people that we shall in due course get on top of this great problem.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Chairman, it is my privilege to take this key with which to open the dwelling which is to be the symbolic opening to-day, and to join with you and pray that all who live now and in the future in these 32 dwellings may have happy and useful lives; that all who live there may be happy themselves and spread happiness among all with whom they work, and may God's blessings rest upon Prentiss Court and upon all those who dwell therein."

    After the Minister's speech Mr. Eatwell called upon the Vicar of the Parish, within which the Estate lays, The Reverend G. E. Saville, to offer a prayer.

    The Mayor of Greenwich (Councillor Harry Ingle, J .P.), with whom was the Mayoress, expressed his pleasure at being associated with a scheme aimed at improving the housing schemes of the borough. The difficulty to-day was that there were too many housing applicants chasing too few dwellings, and a second difficulty was that the' council had to see that its energies were devoted to providing accommodation for those in urgent need, sometimes to the exclusion of those who by reason of their employment desired to live in close proximity to their work, and for that reason the council appreciated the efforts of Messrs. Harvey.

    Following the opening of the front door or Flat No. 16, the Guests inspected the flat and made a tour of the rest of the Estate, paying particular attention to the Communal Laundry where a demonstrator was able to point out the facilities available.

    The whole party then adjourned to the Works for tea.

    Among the guests were: Mrs. Howard Prentiss ; Miss Marguerite Harvey; Mr. and Mrs. A. S. Charlton, Director of Housing-The Ministry of Housing and Local Government; Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Jennings, Borough Engineer and Surveyor for Greenwich; Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Dore, Housing Manager-Borough of Greenwich; Col. and Mrs. S. M. Roberts, Chairman, "Local Housing Association"; Chief Supt. H. N. Arber and Mrs. Arber, Chief Supt., "R" Division, Metropolitan Police; Mr. H. W. H. Icough, Leader of Greenwich Borough Council; Mr. and Mrs. Peter J ones; Mrs. Bushell ; Mr. H. B. Fergusson, Senior Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Harvey, Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. H. E. Cooper, Director, G.A.H.; Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Howes, Architect; Mr. and Mrs. F. L. Jackman, Architect; Mr. W. T. Watson, London Manager-Sir Robert Me Alpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr. and Mrs. Stewart W. Cox, Chief Engineer-Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr. and Mrs. W. Pitcher, Engineer Agent- Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd.; Mr.A. E. J ones, Site Foreman-Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, Ltd. Miss Morley and Mr. Garland, representing the Staff ; Mr. Robbins, representing the Foremen; and Mr. Heale and Mr. Stevens, Chairman and Secretary (respectively) of the Shop Stewards.



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    Local Greenwich readers may be aware of a planning application to demolish The Old Loyal Briton's Pub in Thames Street.  We have been given permission to reproduce a submission by The Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group to the Council for its inclusion in the Council's Local List of buildings of interest.   This submission includes interesting historical research on the pub and its setting.


    The Old Loyal Britons, 62 Thames Street, Greenwich, SE10

    The following represents a joint request from the Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group to the Royal Borough of Greenwich that the above premises - in their present form - be considered for inclusion in the Council’s List of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest.


    The Group became aware of the intention, should planning permission be granted, to demolish the present building on the site through the notification by letter, site notice and public notice (in the 5 August 2014 edition of Royal Greenwich Time) of application 14/1636/F. This as part of a proposal by Buzzgrade Ltd to build in its place a 6 storey block over a basement level providing A3 (Restaurant) use and/or A4 (Pub/Bar) use at ground floor and basement levels with 9 flats in the five floors above.The Group appreciates that, in the past, applications have been submitted and approved for extension works to the present building on the site - namely application 03/2594/F (approved June 2005) and a renewal application 10/0027/F (approved February 2010/now lapsed) - but, since both these applications retained and built on the existing structure, it was not thought relevant, at the time, to make a case for local listing.With the threat of demolition, this is no longer the case.


    The present building sits at the western end of Thames Street close to its junction with Horseferry Place (formerly Horseferry Road). The site is in the West Greenwich Conservation Area and is in close proximity to the western boundary of the Buffer Zone of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and can be seen from the World Heritage Site itself in the long view from the Greenwich Church Street approach to Cutty Sark Gardens


    Thames Street lies at the heart of what was, in Victorian times, an intensively developed riverine area bounded to the north by the River Thames, to the south by Bridge Street (now Creek Road), to the west by Norway Street and, to the east, by Church Street (now Greenwich Church Street) and the former Billingsgate Street, the line of which presently forms the western boundary to Cutty Sark Gardens.
    The area was home to wharves and jetties on the river frontage and, in the immediate hinterland, there was a wide range of industrial uses such as a coal merchants, a hay and straw yard, a brewery, the base for the town’s fishing fleet and, in a myriad of closely packed streets, the homes of families associated with these industries - not least that of the fishing fleet.
    Public houses featured prominently with some 10 in the back streets and a further half a dozen or so in the main thoroughfares of Bridge Street and Church Street - a list of those known to exist in mid-Victorian times is below. 
    In the mid 20th century the area was cleared to allow for the construction of the Meridian Estate, a series of municipal housing blocks, starting in the east, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and to the west, after the cessation of hostilities when building restrictions were lifted. Some of the blocks were given the names of streets which originally filled the area - for example Coltman House and Rockfield House,

    At present only three of the mid-Victorian buildings remain.  These are -
    the former St Peter’s Church and Schools (now


    St Alfege with St Peter’s Primary School)

    the former Thames public house (previously Rose & Crown) in Norway Street 

    and the building which is the subject of this request

    Further images can be found of this building and the surrounding Meridian Estate blocks on page 117 of the West Greenwich Conservation Area Appraisal document.


    62 Thames Street is, above ground, a two storey building filling on plan virtually the whole of the 0.02 hectare plot with a frontage occupying, save for a side access area, the full width of the site while, deeper into the site, the massing steps back to provide a reduced width rear extension, also of two storeys.
    As viewed from the street, the south facade of the building consists of 2 no. ground floor storey height semi-circular headed openings behind which is a traditional pub frontage screen consisting of timber framed windows and doors. At first floor level, there are 2 no. six over six pattern vertical sliding timber sash windows. The facade terminates in a shallow arched parapet masking a series of flat roofs behind. Between the ground and first floor levels is a traditional painted timber fascia with lettering indicating the current pub use.
    The original stock brick facings at both levels have, at some time in the past, been either over-painted or rendered. The ground floor front facade is faced in render. The side elevations have no especially distinguishing features but are typical of mid to late- Victorian construction.
    The interior has been much altered so that, at the front of the building, many spaces which would have been separate rooms have, over time, been opened up to create larger spaces better suited to the building’s more recent uses.
    The external and internal fabric is in a reasonable state of repair.
    There are suggestions that the tall arched openings on the front facade relate back to a time when the building was used as a home for one of the town’s early fire stations, perhaps as an appliance house. Since research into this suggestion is ongoing, certainty in this regard cannot be established.
    What can be established is that beer retailing operations existed on the site as far back as at  least the early 1850s and the building operated as licensed premises up until the early 1990s.
    Since that time the building was used variously as a restaurant and as a short-lived Chinese takeaway and gambling den. From October 2013, the premises have been trading as The Old Loyal Britons as a base for the East Wickham Brewery where it continues to trade - on a relatively short lease - brewing and serving cask ales, serving meals using locally sourced produce and offering a wide range of community activities.

    Historical Associations    

    It is said that the pub was given, for a time, the temporary name of The Lone Sailor in recognition of Francis Chichester who, in 1966, in his yacht Gypsy Moth IV single-handedly circumnavigated the globe. In 1967 Chichester was knighted in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College for his exploits and, subsequently, Gypsy Moth IV was berthed, until 2003, close to the site of the pub at the extreme western end of Cutty Sark Gardens adjacent to the Thames Path.

    Planning Policy

    Core Strategy policy EA(b) Pubs - supporting paragraph 4.2.30 to this policy acknowledges that “The architecture of a pub is often distinctive and over time these buildings have become important local landmarks and heritage assets”. It goes on to say that “Many of the buildings are statutorily or locally-listed for their architectural and historic value”.
    Regrettably, The Old Loyal Britons public house has, to date, not been recognised as such.
    Hence this request for consideration of a local listing.    


    In the light of the foregoing and in the knowledge that the future of the building is the subject of a live application which proposes its demolition, the Greenwich Conservation Group requests that urgent consideration be given to the inclusion of the Old Loyal Britons public house at 62 Thames Street on the Council’s List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest. While recognising that the building is modest in scale and appearance, it is a vernacular building typical of its period and it is a remnant of the many domestic buildings which would have occupied the area. It does not deserve to be lost and a local listing would go some way to offering a degree of protection. 

    Prepared by Philip Binns on behalf of the Greenwich Society and the Greenwich Conservation Group - 18 August 2014

    List of pubs in the immediate area of The Old Loyal Britons in mid-Victorian times

    Bee Hive - 22 Bridge Street
    British Queen - 67 Church Street
    Dover Castle - 53 Church Street
    Fubbs Yacht - 9 Brewhouse Lane * 
    Lord Hood - Bridge Street
    Loyal Briton - 18 Horseferry Road (now Place) * date at least 1861 (
    Masons Arms - 57 Church Street
    Old Loyal Briton - 62 Thames Street * date at least 1852 (Masons Greenwich Street Directory)
    Retreat - 1 Horseferry Road *
    Ship & Sailor - 71 Church Street
    Steam Ferry - 45 Horseferry Road *
    Sugar Loaf - 6 Billingsgate Street *
    Sun - 17 Wood Wharf *
    Thames (formerly Rose & Crown) - Norway Street/Thames Street *
    Unicorn - Horseferry Road *
    Victoria - 51 Thames Street *

    * - denotes pubs within the riverine area

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    The Newsletter of the Association for Industrial Archaeology for  Autumn 2014 has arrived - and in it are two items of relevance to Greenwich.

    One of them is an appeal for information about a steam engine which is being restored.  The article doesn't mention Greenwich but it is here that the engine was built - well aware, I suppose, of the fathomnless depths of the Boroughs ignorance of the technological achievements of its past. 

    This is about the Museum of Western Australia who restoring an engine from the SS Xantho originally installed in a Crimean War era gunboat.   They are trying to produce a virtual copy of this engine which they say is of 'considerable significance in the history of manufacturing technology' and that it is the 'only example of a John Penn and Sons trunk engine which was the most common type of Royal Navy warship engines 1870-75'.

    They are asking for some help with details of construction.  I am including this because the factory was here, on Blackheath Hill, and because anywhere else in the world you would expect some local knowledge about it - but sadly, while they care about  these things in Western Australia, we clearly don't.

    If anyone thinks they can help, please let us know and we can forward it to the correct person.

    IKEA - AND SAINSBURYS.  The newsletter contains a detailed article about the possible demise of the 'tellytubby' Sainsburys.   This is largely about the attempt to get it listed - and points out that claims that it would be the first listed purpose built supermarket are not strictly true since the whole of Milton Keynes shopping centre is listed.  However it points out that the supermarket is said to 'represent a paradigm shift in public building'.  It uses half the energy of a conventional supermarket and is surrounded by earth banks and the toilets are flushed with rain water filtered by a reed bed in the adjacent nature reserve. 
    It was shortlisted for the Stirling prize in 2000 and won a RIBA sustainability award. The author points out that it won first place - with 5,000 voters - in the People's Choice section of the Stirling Prize but that 'this popular vote may count against the building - popular taste does not find favour in high minded architectural circles'. 

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    There is a whole ragbag here - hope that's ok

    a.  Their AGM is on 21st September at the Engine House at 2:00.  You have to be a member to go though.    Not sure how many of the members of their Committee are involved with Greenwich's industrial history - would be good to know.
    b. Public Steaming Day  31st August 10.30-4 pm  £6
    c. Steampunk Convivial (whatever that is ) and Guided Walk. 28th September 10-30-18.00 and you have to book  via https/ (hope that's right - if not access via the Crossness Engines web site above - that's how I did it!)
    d.. Public Steaming Day  12th October. as above.

    2. OVER TIME PROJECT.  This is a new arts project working with the Old Royal Naval College.
    They have on:
    a. Drawing workshops with local people about their memories of Greenwich and the Riverside and about 'time passing'. These are at the Age Exchange building in Blackheath Village  and dates will be arranged.  Free of charge.  contact Alex 002083189105
    b. They hope to repeat these either at the University of Greenwich or at The Forum@Greenwich 
    c.  ENDERBY WHARF.    They have events on Enderby Wharf  on the foreshore on 13th and 14th September  11-4 and 7.45-10 ALSO events  at the Old Royal Naval College (26th) and Stephen Lawrence Gallery (18th) .   There are no details (meeting was cancelled)  but there are ten artists and each will  spend a specific amount of time at Enderbys doing whatever.  There will be an exhibition at the University and a day of performance and film at NMM.

    a.  Their annual conference will be at the National Maritime Museum 18th April 2015 and will be on The Dockyards' Waterloo?  The Royal Dockyards and the Pressures of Global War 1793-1815.   They are calling for papers for this and anyone interested should send the title and a 300 word synopsis before 30th October to Peter Goodwin, Secretary NDS, 26 Duncan Road, Southsea, PO5 2QU  023 9229 5949
    b. Not in Greenwich BUT  (sort of localish - well, its in Kent) Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust free lunch to celebrate a lottery fund grant for the derelict Dockyard Church - and see inside it.  17th September  Garrison Road, Blue Town, Sheerness  3.30-6.00

    4. WAVES OF WOOLWICH.  This is an audio project and they currently are working on a project about the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

    5 PREFAB MUSEUM. (this is in Lewisham, but never mind)  The Museum has now got support from Lewisham Council (gosh!!) and the museum will remain in place until at least 2017.  They have set up a fund raising web site
    Please remember GIHS has Elizabeth Blanchet, from the museum coming to speak to us about it in the Spring.

    6. GREENWICH SQUARE - (THE OLD GDH SITE).  The developers on the site have commissioned Rich Sylvester to undertake a historical project on the site.  Rich is running a series of talks about the site with an opportunity to view the work so far. These are on 10th September 4 pm and 6 pm, 11th September 4 pm, 14th September 4 pm 25th September 4 pm and 6pm.  and to book a place you need to email

    7. TALL SHIPS.  Its all in the press. Would have been good to have had a presence about the industrial history of the area, and the Enderby site in particular.  Was given a contact - no one ever replied to requests for a bit of space.  Hey-ho

    8. EASTSIDE PROJECT.   They have put out an appeal for people with memories of the Harland and Woolf ship yard in North Woolwich to contact them - they have a project on the subject.  02085533116

    9. DOCTOR HOO.  It is understood that a 'spotters' special train will be visiting Angerstein Wharf, among other places on a day trip on 8th November.  This is run by UK Railtours  leaves Waterloo at 8.15 - of course you have to book.

    10. GLIAS August Newsletter. Nothing about Greenwich ( they have been sent stuff about FOGWOFT and Enderby - but never mind!).  Thank you though for a nice review of my little Lovell's Wharf booklet.  Very grateful. They advertise the following which might be of interest:
    a. GASHOLDER conference. (I'm going, of course).  Institution of Gas Engineers (you have to join to book), British Library Conference Centre,  9-4.30 16th September  £50 0844 375 4436  (I don't give our great gasholder long - might find out - since no one else will tell us)
    b. 500 Years of Thames Watermen by Bob Crouch  Rotherhithe and Bermonsey Local History Society. Time and Talents Centre. 24th September 7.45
    c. Lighterage on the Thames. by Barbara and Alun Thomas. London Canal Museum  7.30  2nd October .

    11. CHARLTON SOCIETY. Dates - all meetings Charlton House 2.30 (that's what they say but when I did a talk last month it was at the Assembly Rooms.
    a. 13th September Charlton Pet Cemetery by Liz MacDermott
    b. 15th November  The Gunners in Woolwich (that's by Brigadier Timbers himself)
    c.  13th December. Major John Little's Memorial on Woolwich Common (that's by Carol Kenna, who, of course, is herself too!!)

    12.  THE BOY WHO CLIMBED OUT OF HIS FACE.   This theatrical production by North London BASED Shunt has had great critical acclaim.  It is on the 'old coaling jetty' which is the old jetty for the Blackwall Point power station and is on the riverside up from John Harrison Way.  It is promoted by the developer and has had little local publicity - it is rumoured they are hoping to attract well off North Londoners to their tiny new flats. However the show is very good (tickets via the Barbican office)  and you can buy drink and food at any time there (its a Hoxtonesque menu though).

    We reviewed an article in the national archaeology press about the proposed demise of the Teletubby Sainsburys.   We now understand that listing has been refused. But this has all been rather overshadowed by the news that the architect of the building  - Paul Hinkin - has died suddenly. We don't know any details - but he was a relatively young man with strong credentials and a 'green' architect who believed in sustainability.  The Sainsburys shop was his major work and his great award winning  building. Dreadful.
    (I am struggling here - there is a lot more I could say)

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    The following is a scan of the synopsis of a series of papers from a Conference held in 2002 between the Royal Society of Chemistry and the (now defunct) Gunpowder and Explosives History Group.   The synopsis below are those given which are relevant to Woolwich - although the first paper, by Wayne Cocroft describes work at the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills, but includes some information on the role of the  Royal Arsenal.

    It should be noted - for those who visit Woolwich - that one of the pavilions of the Royal Chemical Laboratories has now been repaired and done up - it would be interesting to know exactly how this has been done, what relevance remains to its earlier role, what is to happen to it now, what will it be used for, and will there be any interpretation of its earlier importance - and who will write that???    Information would be wonderful  - it has been claimed that they are the earliest purpose built industrial buildings remaining in Britain.

    Everyone is urged to visit the very excellent gunpowder mills exhibition site at Waltham Abbey and to learn more about this important national industry and have a great day out.

     I am publishing these here in order to further local, Borough of Greenwich, knowledge about the importance of work at the Arsenal and that it was not only a place where guns were made.  If these synopses are seen as someone's copyright please email and they will be removed.

    Sir Frederick Abel (1827-1902)

    The autumn meeting of the Historical Group was held at Waltham Abbey, Royal Gunpowder Mills on Friday 8 November 2002 to commemorate the centenary of the death of Sir Frederick Abel. The meeting started with the first Wheeler Lecture by Professor Sy Mauskopf (Duke University) on Long Delayed Dream: Sir Frederick Abel and the Development of Cordite. This is reproduced in full in Occasional Paper No 3 produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
    Chemical Archaeology of Explosives

    Wayne Cocroft from English Heritage talked on the history of the Royal Gunpowder Mill and the surviving buildings and artefacts. He explained that archaeologically it is a complex site with buildings from many phases. Apart from redevelopment and adaption to changing requirements others were lost from explosions. The first production of gunpowder probably dates to about 1665. The site is well documented from 1787 when the government took over the site. Major William Congreve was the Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory and was largely responsible for the success of this government enterprise. He greatly improved the quality and reliability of the black powder produced by rigorous control of the consistency and purity of the ingredients. Many innovations in production methods were introduced; ideas which then filtered down to the private gunpowder industry. The gunpowder mills were worked by waterwheels until 1857 when steam powdered incorporation mills were introduced...

    Guncotton was first prepared in about 1846. In 1863 Frederick Abel developed a process for its production using cotton waste that was used at Waltham Abbey. Later nitro-glycerine was developed which, when combined with guncotton and a mineral jelly, were blended to form the propellant cordite; patented by Abel in 1889. Some buildings involved in these processes survive although the nitrating plant was demolished in the 1990s. After an explosion in 1894 a new nitro-glycerine plant was built. By the early 20th century a third of the cordite produced in this country was made at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. Later most of this production moved to Gretna. Cordite needs a solvent in its production. During the First World War supplies of acetone were lost so Woolwich developed cordite production using ether. Later Chaim Weizmann developed a fermentation method for the production of acetone at Holton Heath. The Quinan stove built in 1935 for drying guncotton used an innovative form of concrete construction.

    The Royal Gunpowder Mills were also involved in the production of other explosives; tetryl (N-mthyl-N, 2, 4, 6-tetranitroaniline) from 1910, picrite (Nitroguanidine) in the 1920s and RDX (cyclonite, hexahydro-1, 3, 5-trinitro- 1, 3, 5-triazine) in the 1930s. RDX was used in the bouncing bomb of the Dam buster’s raid. Gunpowder production at Waltham Abbey finally ceased in 1940-41 and the whole factory closed in 1945. The site then became a Research and Development Establishment, finally closing in 1991. The site was opened to the public in 2001.

    Sir Charles Frederick (1709-1785), FRS FSA, Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, 1746-1782

    Sir Charles Frederick became Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich and Surveyor General to the Board of Ordnance in the mid- eighteenth century, at a time when gunpowder making was still a craft industry, and the government was reliant on private contractors. In the  theoretical vacuum that then existed he had to undertake a process of self-  education, serving what may be described as an apprenticeship with the  learned societies of London, and presenting a dramatic 'masterpiece' in the  form of the great firework display of 1749 in celebration of peace and  victory, before becoming an acknowledged master of his subject. Portraits of Sir Charles illustrate these three stages of his career. Plans and paintings of the Royal Laboratory also shown in the presentation of this paper raise questions about the work undertaken there. This is especially the case with  the production line of workmen filling round shot of varying diameter with  powder, and sealing the shell with a plug that was presumably to be replaced  by a fuse before firing. Proof testing was also carried out here, but this was notoriously unreliable and it seems likely that the standardization of formula and of grain size was used as a way of setting the minimum qualities required. The central pavilions of the old Royal Laboratory still survive at Woolwich, but these once fine buildings of the late seventeenth century have fallen into a sad state of dereliction.

    When Sir Charles retired in the early 1780s he had nudged the industry towards the more consciously scientific approach of the last decades of the eighteenth century, through his close attention to the processes of manufacture and his encouragement of experimentation. But today he is not so much underrated as unknown, perhaps because the end of his career was marked by the political difficulties associated with the loss of the American colonies and the criticisms then being voiced of the powerful and independent Board of Ordnance, and because his successors were able to benefit from insights not available to him. Historians too have not served him well, being generally more interested in weapons and campaigns than in the critical matter of the supply of gunpowder. Sir Charles's contemporaries  however had no doubts about its significance, for as a distinguished military  man at the Board of Ordnance wrote to him in 1757, with campaigns  'underway in Europe, North America, India and at sea, 'all...Hope of  Success .. Is gone for nothing without this material'.

    It is to Sir Charles's credit and a matter of historical record rather than triumphalism, that in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, despite difficulties of supply and a lack of understanding of the problems of internal ballistics, gunpowder was produced in Britain on a scale and of a quality that enabled the country to emerge on the world stage as a naval, colonial, and trading power.

    Brenda J. Buchanan (Chairman Gunpowder and Explosives History Group)

    Oswald Silberrad, superintendent of research, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, 1901-1906

    The paper resulted from the speaker's work at the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, Bath, on the archive of this little-known industrial consulting chemist and the research laboratory that he founded. The paper highlighted some of Silberrad's important contributions to munitions research at the Royal Arsenal while he was still in his early twenties. An experimenter of rare ability, Silberrad discovered a new means of detonating high explosive shells by using a substance known as 'tetryl'.  He also demonstrated that TNT worked well as a high explosive shell filling, possessing advantages over the lyddite then in use, and successfully developed and tested a 'flameless' artillery propellant for small calibre guns.  The archive contains part of Silberrad's unpublished memoirs, which document this period of his career, in particular his difficult relations with the War Office which resulted in his resignation as Superintendent of  Research. The paper sought to show the value of an archival cataloguing project such as this in 'rescuing' a scientist and his work from relative obscurity. The Silberrad Papers are held by the Science Museum- Library".

    Simon Coleman  National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (University of Bath)

    The Chemical Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich

    Wesley Harry, historian of the Royal Arsenal Woolwich, talked about the Chemical Laboratories at the Royal Arsenal Woolwich. Sometime after 1665 the proof of ordnance moved from Moorfields to Woolwich. By 1695 many new buildings had been erected including a laboratory originally attached to the Tilt Yard at Greenwich. Various aspects of the manufacture and testing of ordnance were concentrated onto the Woolwich site in the 18th century. Frederick Abel was a professor of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy and was appointed in 1854 Ordnance Chemist at the Royal Laboratories at Woolwich. Another notable name there was James Marsh who developed the Marsh test for arsenic. The chemical laboratories built in 1864 were the first custom built chemical laboratory at the Arsenal.  The room on the west side was the full height of the two storey building. It was designed like this to disperse fumes and gases produced at the benches.  From the gallery, off which were the offices, Frederick Abel would lower a wicker basket containing samples and instructions to the Assistant Chemist.  The east wing contained a photographic department and library. In addition to the ordnance work the laboratory was also concerned with forensic science.


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    FOGWOFT has passed to GIHS a number of cuttings about a proposed tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich in the 1870s.  Strangely these are all press reports from the North of England.  GIHS would be glad to hear from anyone who has more information on this tunnel - which was hitherto unknown to us.

    The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (25thAugust 1876) says that the tunnel was started at 4 am ‘on Wednesday morning’.   It says the contractors are Messrs Sharpe of Cannon Street under the superintendence of Mr. Gilbert, engineer.   It says nine men were drowned in the fog.

    The Sheffield Dally Telegraph (1st September 1876) says in a short report that it is quoting a report in La Revue Nouvelle de l’Architecture et ses Travaux Publique. It says work has already started on the north bank and will take 8-9 months. It says the soil is ‘calcareous’ and this suitable for a tunnel. It says that the reason this ‘subway’ is being started is because of an accident on the Thames in the fog when the ferry was unable to run and eight people were drowned when they tried to cross ‘in a boat’.

    Daily Gazette, Middlesborough (13th January 1877). This is a very long and very detailed piece on a very dodgy photocopy – and I am quoting the bare bones of it here. It is headed ‘Engineering Enterprise at Middlesborough’.    Basically it says the work is being done by Messrs. Collins and Thompson (of Middlesborough, of course). It says the machinery is the invention of Mr. Greathead – and it describes the workings of the Greathead Shield – which is well known and the principles behind the method are still those by which underwater tunnels have been built since.

    Northampton Mercury (9th June 1977). This point out the need for workers at the Arsenal who live north of the river to have an alternative crossing to the steam ferries.  It will only cost £75,000.  People will be charged 1d. to cross.

    Essex Newsman (23rd June 1877) and Chelmsford Chronicle (22nd June 1877).   This says the tunnel is ‘actively proceeding’ . At North Woolwich it is ‘immediately adjoining the station of the Great Eastern Railway Company’ and will terminate at The High Street, Woolwich. It will be 1,800 ft long and will be accessed via ‘an enclosed road’ with an ‘unusually steep gradient’   (1:8) and will be 444 ft long.  The tunnel will lie 25ft-35ft below the river bed and is made up of a circular tube of iron 9 ft in diameter and about 12ft in height.  It should take four people walking abreast.   They add that it will be very useful to take troops and artillery guns across the river.

    Portsmouth Evening News (18th March 1879) they say that the work has ‘been in abeyance but has now started. The contract is with Mr. Walker and it will be open for foot traffic


    So – your ideas and information very welcome.  Are there any remains of it under the river somewhere??



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    Preserved Gas holders

    This post has evolved from one I did a couple of days ago on   This was about the gasholder conference organised by the Institution of Gas Engineers last week. As a result a number of people have asked about gasholders around the world which have been converted to this and that - and so I have prepared this posting solely on that subject.  Thank you to all the people who have sent links and information - some of which are replicated below.

    One of the papers at the Conference was on gas holder conversions (and I will come to Kings Cross later).  Russell described conversions at: 

    Gasometer City, Vienna - shopping malls, flats and offices
    Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam - used for creative industries.
    Gaswerks, Augsberg - museum
    Gaswerks Shoneberg, Berlin - event space and a structure resembling the Reichstag Dome
    Leipzeig - commercial exhibition space and panoramas
    Tauchrevier Gasometer, Duisberg  -indoor diving centre
    Hobro Gasworks, Denmark - museum
    Stockholm Gasworks, Sweden -  cultural venues
    Turku, Finland - public spaces and music events
    Museo del Gas, Barcelona - museum
    Suvilahti, Helskini, Finland - cultural events and a circus school
    Technopolis, Athens - industrial museum and cultural centre
    MAN Gasholder, Oberhausen - cultural venue and landmark
    The Gas Works, Dublin - now contains 240 flats
    Newstead Gas Works Plaza, Australia - now a 'public plaza'
    Kallang Gas Works, Singapore  - now an arena in a park
    Oestre Gasveark Teater, Copenhagen  - now a theatre
    Gefle Gasverks, Sweden    -  now a theatre

    and did it with great slides and detail.  I am not sure of the status of his report and if a link through to it would be acceptable to IGE,

    I did a brief article on gas holder reuse in a GIHS Newsletter over ten years ago - none of the web links I quoted work any more.  But I have put what information I have below. 

    The links below gives information on holders in Continental Europe and America.  They are usually brick built structures - for the simple reason that in areas with very, very cold winters the water sealed holders used in Britain are just not practical. They are described on one site as "giant masonry round towers with several narrow windows and covered by metallic cupolas." - and those in St.Petersburg as "40 meters in diameter and stands 20 meters tall" They were built in 1872 and the same architect designed permanent circus buildings.  . However look and see what is being done with them:


    Vienna - Simmering - One of the most famous examples of re-use of gas holders has been 'gasometer city' at Simmering. Read about it here - and much more than one holder is involved  and here are some reviews of their use as a shopping mall, albeit each with a different designer  and here's their web site

    Brisbane.  A holder of the British type is a feature in a new park - and here is one of their bloggers on the subject


    Oberhausen - easily the most famous gasholder conversion is at Oberhausen.  again it is in a type of holder not that familiar in England, although some do exist.    It is a museum and cultural centre and it is described as "the landmark of the city of Oberhausen and, beyond that, it has become an entire region's identification sign that cannot be overlooked".  /

    Liepzeig - A link to a picture of the gas holder in Leipzeig can be found at and there is more about its conversion into a panometer in the America industrial archaeology magazine, below, which also describes the one in Dresden.


    - the following link is to an article about a reinforced concrete gas holder in Dresden which has been turned into a art gallery for a panorama - and has renamed the holder as a 'panometer'.



    Amsterdam - where a gasholder - one more of type we would recognise is now a feature in a park. Read a wildlife based web site on it and here's the whole story on their web site 
    Milan - Bovisa.  What is happening here is more confused - and not helped by the way that some web sites seem to translate 'gas works' as 'gasometer'.  An old holder - of the type we would recognise - seems to be still standing on a site which has now been redeveloped as a Polytechnic.   There seem to have been a number of plans for the holder but the current state is unclear, to me at least.  There seems to be a plan to build a new library which looks like it.  Perhaps someone could clarify this for me.

    Florence While I am entirely unsure what at sceneographic nucleus is, and sure its very nice and here is something about the holder there - again one we would recognise

    Dublin - this is a bit nearer home, and a holder of a type we would recognise. This is a housing project.

    St Petersburg -  a site with several holders is under consideration - information at  and here is another picture

    Stockholm - and a plan for data storage centres.

    SO - Here we have a ground breaking scheme at Kings Cross where one holder has recently been re-erected and the landmark 'triplets' are to become - well landmarks, and housing. We had a very good presentation from a developer and I wonder if a link to the paper would be possible??
    Meanwhile I have been kindly sent the following link to the architects web site

    Also - I have been sent information on a campaign in Hornsey to save the gasholder there from destruction, and also something from Edinburgh.

    After all - we only invented the things.

    PS  My attention has been drawn to the latest edition of the Newcomen Society's 'Links' (9/14).   This describes a Society visit to  Moravia and Silesia - from which the following is an extract:

    "the full impact of the Vitkovice Ironworks became clear. Steel-making finished in 1998 on this fully integrated site, with its own coal mine, coke ovens, four blast furnaces, steel-making furnaces and rolling mills. In 1994, nearly 35,000 people worked here and .... it has applied for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.  ............................ The gas-holder has been turned into a concert hall and a reception area for the tour of No 1 blast furnace – the smallest of the four.


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  • 10/16/14--02:01: NORWAY WHARF

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    WITH work on the Enderby Wharf project in our minds we hope to publish here various items about the history of telecommunications in Greenwich.   BUT to start with, as a bit of general background, here is a timeline of transatlantic telecommunications generally.  You will have to wait to find out where Greenwich fits into all this ......................

    Timeline of Transatlantic Telecommunications

    1600 William Gilbert publishes De Maqnete (On Magnets)

    1794 Visual semaphore telegraph established between Paris and Lille

    1796 First visual semaphore telegraphs established in the UK

    1820 Hans Oersted discovers electromagnetic field due to electric current

    1821 Andre Ampere establishes the elementary laws of electrodynamics

    1826 Georg Ohm defines basic electrical law V=IR

    1831 Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction

    1837 Cooke and Wheatstone patent the 5 needle electric telegraph

    1838 Alphabetic code of dots and dashes developed by Alfred Vail for Samuel Morse

    1839 5 needle electric telegraph established between London Paddinqton and West Drayton

    1842 Joseph Henry discovers oscillatory nature of a suddeelectrical discharge

    1843 William Montgomerie introduces Malayan gutta-percha to the UK ( used as insulation for submarine cables)

    1850 - Lord Kelvin defines relationship between resistance, inductance and capacitance of an oscillatory circuit  

    Pierre Guitard observes 'coherence'of dust particles in air when electrified

    Proposal that a telegraph cable could run between St Johns Newfoundland and Ireland to connect old and new world

    1851 - submarine telegraph cable laid between Dover and Cap Gris Nez

    Heinrich Ruhmkorff invents the induction coil

    1852 -Michael Faraday announces theory of electric and magnetic 'lines of force'- submarine cable laid between Portpatrick (Scotland) and Donaghadee (Ireland)

    1853 Lt Maury USN surveys sea bed from Newfoundland to Ireland finding a plateau suitable for laying submarine cable

    1854 The American entrepreneur Cyrus Field initiates the project to lay a telegraph cable from USA to Ireland

    1855 -Lord Kelvin calculates that speed of signalling through a cable is inversely proportional to the square of the cable length

    Charles Bright surveys Irish coast and selects Valentia Bay as cable landing point for a submarine cable

    1856 Cyrus Field forms the Atlantic Telegraph Company

    1857  HMS Cyclops surveys the great circle line Newfoundland to Ireland and confirms Lt Maury's findings 

    8 August USS Niagara and HMS Agammemnon attempt initial cable lay Ireland to USA but cable breaks on 11 August after 400 miles laid in depths up to 2.5 miles

    1858  First transatlantic telegraph cable completed (but fails after 3 weeks due to insulation breakdown) Lord Kelvin develops the mirror galvanometer

    1864 Maxwell publishes paper 'A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field' detailing mathematical formulas for the propagation of electromagnetic waves

    1866-First successful transatlantic telegraph cable laid by the 'Great Eastern'supervised by Lord Kelvin - American dentist Mahlon Loomis discovers elementary radio telegraphy by sending on-off signals 22km across Blue Ridge mountains using a kite to pick up static electricity as energy source

    1872 Loomis awarded US Patent 129971 for his 'aerial telegraph system'but fails to turn his discovery into commercial success.

    1873 Maxwell formulates theory that electromagnetic waves are of the same nature as light with similar characteristics

    1874 Emile Baudot develops the 5 unit telegraph code

    1876 Alexander Graham Bell submits telephone patents.

    1888  Heinrich Hertz experiments prove existence of electromagnetic waves as predicted by Maxwell. Oliver Lodge identifies importance of 'resonance'between oscillatory circuits to optimise energy transfer leading to the principle of selective tuning which he called syntony

    1891 Eduard Branly constructs the 'coherer'for detecting electromagnetic waves (cohesion of iron filings contained in a glass tube when exposed to electromagnetic waves, and hence their decrease in resistance to a current flowing through them from Latin 'cohaere'= stick together

    1892 William Crookes predicts 'telegraphy without wires'

    First Strowger automatic telephone exchange operates in Indiana USA

    1894 Oliver Lodge transmits 'Hertzian'waves over 60m during lecture to British Association for Advancement of Science using a modified Branly coherer

    1895 In Italy Marconi transmits 'Hertzian' waves some 2-3km using elevated aerial and an earth connection

    In Russia Aleksandr Popov demonstrates reception of signals over 60m using lightening conductor as an aerial and a Branly -Lodge coherer.

    1896 Marconi obtains patent for wireless telegraph

    1897 -Marconi demonstrates radio link from Lavernock Point near Cardiff 14km across Bristol Channel

    Marconi establishes the 'Wireless and Signal Company Ltd' later to become the 'Marconi Company

    1899 Michael Pupin proposes adding induction (loading) coils to cables to extend transmission distances

    1901 Marconi transmits Morse letter 'S'across Atlantic from Poldhu Cornwall to Signal Hill, Newfoundland
    Canadian Reginald Fessenden patents radiotelephony

    1902 Oliver Heaviside and Arthur Kennely predict ionised layer in upper atmosphere

    1903 Marconi Poldhu - Cape Cod radio link provides limited commercial telegraphy (mainly used by newspapers)

    Fessenden transmits speech using modulated arc over 20km

    1904 John Ambrose Fleming invents the thermionic diode
    Fessenden demonstrates radiotelephony over 40km in USA


    1905 Fessenden invents the superheterodyne circuit

    1906  -Lee de Forest adds third electrode to the diode to create the 'audion'(triode) thermionic valve

    Fessenden broadcasts gramophone records to ships over distance of 80km probably the worlds first radio broadcast

    1907 Marconi establishes limited public radio telegraph service between UK and USA via Canada

    1912 Alexander Meissner develop s the electronic HF generator

    1914 Marconi experiments with valve transmitters for British navy


    915  New York-San Francisco cable uses telephone amplifiers

    first transatlantic radio broadcast Arlington Virginia to Paris usin 3kW transmitter with over 300 thermionic valves

    1922 Regular sound broadcasting commences in the UK

    1924 Edward Appleton demonstrates existence of the ionosphere

    Marconi and Franklin exploit skywave transmission via  ionosphere over distance of 4000km

    1926 Canada-UK radiotelephone service commences

    1927 USA - UK radiotelephone service commences

    1935 Armstrong demonstrates frequency modulated system

    1937 Alec Reeves invents pulse code modulation

    1943 Submarine coaxial telephone cable using submerged valve amplifiers laid between Anglesey and Isle of Man

    1944 Werner von Braun develops V2 rocket at Peenemunde Germany- forerunner of USA launch vehicles for their space programme

    1945 Arthur C. Clarke publishes article in Wireless World proposing placing man-made satellites in geostationary orbit to act as extraterrestrial relay stations to provide worldwide radio coverage

    1947 Transistor invented at Bell Labs by Bardeen, Shockley and Brattain

    1950 Key  West-Havana submarine coaxial telephone cable laid

    1954 US Navy reflects voice messages off the moon

    1956 TAT 1 the first UK-USA/Canada transatlantic telephony coaxial cable with submerged repeaters completed


    957 USSR launches first man-made satellite (Sputnik 1) with a 96 minute, 229/946km elliptical orbit

    1958 -USA satellite Explorer 1 confirms existence of the Van Allen belts

    US Air Force satellite SCORE tested as active repeater recording incoming messages on tape then retransmitting them

    1959 Laser is invented

    1960 -Aluminized plastic balloon ECHO 1 launched by USA at altitude of 1600m to act as passive reflector of radio signal - ECHO 2 tests reflected transmission between USA and France

    1962 -Telstar active satellite is launched by USA - telephony and TV tests between USA and UK France commence

    Joseph Licklider of MIT suggests a network of interconnected computers to provide rapid data access ( origin of the INTERNET

    1964 SYNCOM satellite is launched into geostationary orbit

    1965 INTELSAT 1 geostationary satellite commences commercial satellite communications

    1966 Kao and Hockham of STC Laboratories propose optical telecommunications through pure glass fibres

    1969 US Defense Department creates ARPANET (advanced research projects agency network) using packet transmission and switching (routing) which eventually develops into the INTERNET

    1979 Analogue cellular mobile radio telephony commences in Japan

    1980 Commercial optical fibre link Brownhills-Walsall in UK goes into service

    1987 First long distance submarine optical fibre links Corsica and French mainland

    1988 TAT 8 first transatlantic optical fibre cable completed


    1990 Tim Berners-Lee working at CERN devises the World Wide Web operating over the INTERNET

    1991 Digital mobile cellular radio GSM commences in Finland

    2000 Transatlantic optical fibre cable 360 Atlantic with capacity of nearly 2 Terabits/s commences operation (1 terabit = 1012bits/s )
    This list was given to us and it is understood it was part of a conference pack in 2007 - we do not have details..  If that is not so, and if it is your list, and your copyright, then please email ( and it will be removed from this site, with an apology - or remain with a note from you.


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    AND ALSO - more about submarine cables.   Here is the front cover of Stewart Ash's book on submarine cables - where there will be a lots about Greenwich

    -- read the book   ----------------------------  theres more to come -------------

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    So -  the Mercury isn't happy with the state of Greenwich - it says

    "For some years past the town of Greenwich, although the central one of the three which constitutes this great Borough, has been steadily sinking into a state of decay.  The depression has, at length, become so manifest, in the form of empty houses and diminished trade that everybody who has an interest of any kind in the place is anxiously enquiring whether something cannot be done towards a recovery of its lost position and a restoration of its former prosperity.   Deptford, which ten  or twelve years ago used to excite the sympathy of the people of Greenwich by its impoverished  state, its heavy taxes, its silent wharves and its deserted streets, is now thronged with a bustling, cheerful, thriving population while poor Greenwich  half the day long is as stirless in its scenes as Salisbury plain. 
    The silence in it is only broken at intervals by the sepulchral sound of the wheels of an empty omnibus wending its solitary way to Deptford and the Kent Road  to pick up  a few passengers for the West end.   Even if you see some active pedestrian approaching the public baths for having nothing else to do, his melancholy countenance renders it doubtful whether he is about to enter for the purposes of ablution or to drown himself, in consequence of the dullness that reigns in the town. 
    Woolwich, it seems, is equally prosperous with Deptford and from a like cause- the activity in its government establishments. Scarcely a house in either town is empty; while on many streets in East Greenwich there are more houses to be let than there are houses occupied.

    Kentish and Surrey Mercury  27th November 1858

    The reason behind the article can be found in diagram below:

    Drawing thanks to Chris Grabham

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    LOTS OF BITS AND PIECES - things which have just come out and things I should have listed down a long time ago - so

    Industrial Archaeology News - this (national) publication normally has very little about South East London BUT the Winter 2014 edition has major items on Greenwich  - an article by  Alan Burkitt Gray on 'Campaign to save Enderby House, the Birthplace of International Telecommunications'  and also an article by - er - me - 'Restoring the Greenwich Foot Tunnel'.  The website is  I have been unable to get any offprints - but they have agreed I can do a PDF of the articles. So if you want a copy I am

    Vickery - were a firm based in Norman Road which made a paper cutting device.  I do intend to put a few notes here soon, but if you know anything about the firm, please get in touch

    Gutta Percha Works in Crooms Hill - any info out there about this??

    London's Industrial Archaeology No.11.  (should have put this info out years ago).  This is a journal article and very substantial about 'The Kings Yard: Archaeological Investigations at Convoy's Wharf Deptford 2000-2012'by Duncan Hawkins.  The GLIAS web site should give details about how you can buy copies of this.

    Lewisham History Journal.  no.20 2012 has an article on the Macmillan Sisters and the 'Deptford Welfare Experiment'

    New book 'The Windmills of North West Kent and Kentish London'- which of course includes Blackheath and Greenwich. published by Stenlake and Co and by Rob Cumming.

    That's all - but here's a little non-industrial snippet.  In 1916 a German Zeppelin was shot down at Cuffley in Hertfordshire.  It was a big thing at the time - the only tourist attraction Cuffley has ever had - and there is a memorial to it there.  The commander of the Zeppelin was Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm - and now while he was clearly very German you might be interested to know that he was born in Charlton and lived there until he was 15 (his Dad worked for Siemens).
    Oh well.

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  • 12/13/14--03:35: Cable ship Faraday.
  • A tweeter has put out today a picture of Cable Ship Faraday off Charlton

    I promised to put out more information - and I am sorry - this is direct quotations from books rather than something original written. 

    First of all - Stewart says:
    "There were two cable ships named Faraday both owned by Siemens Brothers, the picture shows this vessel moored off the Siemens Brothers factory in Charlton.  This two funnelled ship is Faraday (1), Faraday (2) only had one funnel. Your enthusiast’s picture must be pre 1924
    There is quite a bit about her in Haigh pages 67-69  (K.R.Haigh  Cableships and Submarine Cables. STC 1968)   This says
    Built in 1874 by C Mitchell and Company Ltd, Newcastle.  Length = 360ft Breadth = 52ft Height Overall = 40ft Gross tonnage = 5,052.  She was one of the first vessels to be fitted with  twin screws driven by a compound steam engine.  She also had a fairly unique bow rudder for increase manoeuvrability at slow speed.  Both of this innovations were conceived by William Siemens.  She had 3 cable tanks that could carry  400 + 800 + 800nm of cable, a total lift capability of 2,000nm (3,710km). n 1909 she underwent major reconstruction work and in 1924 she was sold for scrap but her one inch iron plates proved too tough for the breakers to deal with and she was sold on as a coal hulk in Algiers where she was known as Analcoal and owned by the Anglo-Algiers Coaling Company.  In 1931 she was towed to Gibraltar to continue her role as a coal hulk and in 1941 she was moved to Sierra Leone where she did service as a naval stores ship.  Finally she was towed back to a South Wales breakers in 1950".

    ................ and Bill (in America) says:

    I see Stewart has provided some good information while I was asleep!
    But it's always worth checking my site if you need a quick answer:

    The search box at the top of the main page and the bottom of most other
    pages is the fastest way to find anything.
    .................... I also found a history of Siemens with quite a bit in it about Faraday 1 (J.D.Scott  Siemens Brothers 1856-1958 Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1958).
    "In 1874 there was launched the firms own cable laying ship, the Faraday, a vessel especially designed for cable laying by William Siemens himself in collaboration with his friend William Froude, the great pioneer in design of ships' hulls.The Faraday was a vessel with a gross tonnage of 4,908 a length of 360 feet, a beam of 52 feet  and a depth of 35 feet. She was built upon the principle of a whale boat; that is to say that she had bows at each end, and was thus particularly well adapted for the close manoaeuvering required in laying cables. Also, in aid oc manoeuvrability she had twin screws, a very early example of a ship so built. She was in fact 'built round the cable' in every way.  In order to give a large deck space her two funnels were abreast of one another and in order to cut down rolloing, 'Mr Froude suggested that there should be two enormous bilge keels instead of an ordinary keel  ... in fact she was remarkably successful ..throughout her long life she had the reputation of being a lucky ship.  The Faraday excited great interest and there are many descriptions of her. See Trans.Inst. Nav. Arch. Vo XVII 1876 Bright C. op cit pp 162-3 and the newspapers of the period.
    can probably find more.

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    The following extract from an account of the very exciting story of the laying of the, Greenwich made, Atlantic cable, comes from "Wonders of World Engineering" Part 46 1938.  The first part of the article is missing (I don't have Part 45!) - but the story picks up when it has been decided to make the cable and to lay it across the Atlantic Ocean ----   read on ------
    Bitter experience was to prove the correctness of the engineer's original estimate. The cable, as it was built, had a central core made up of seven strands of copper wire, having a combined thickness equal to No. 14 gauge. Manufacture of the cable began in February 1857. The copper core with its insulation of gutta-percha was surrounded by hemp saturated with pitch, tar, wax and linseed oil, and finally armoured on the outside with eighteen strands of iron wire rope, each strand containing seven wires and having a diameter equal to No. 14 gauge.

    This cable was then drawn, finally, through a fresh mixture of tar. Thus finished, it weighed 1 ton per sea mile in air, and no more than 134 cwt per sea mile in salt water. The shoreward ends of the cable were much more  heavily armoured than the main section,  the sheathing consisting of twelve  No. 0 gauge wires, giving it a weight of  9 tons per mile. This heavy sheathing was adopted for ten miles at the Irish end and for fifteen miles at the Newfoundland end. Even so, it was found in the light of subsequent practice that this was barely half the amount of armouring needed over these sections. 

    The contract allowed only four months for the spinning and assembly of the entire cable, which was to be ready by June 1857. About 20,500 miles of copper wire were needed for the 2,500 miles of cable, all but 300 tons of gutta-percha, and for the sheathing 367,000 miles of wire had to be drawn from 1,687 tons of charcoal iron, this being laid up into 50,000 miles of strand. The contract price for the whole cable came to £225,000, the core costing £40 and the armoured sheathing £50 a mile. 

    Cable Snaps in Mid-Ocean 


    As the cable was manufactured, each finished length was coiled and stowed in a huge circular tank, in readiness for shipment. Bright and Whitehouse were much harassed by the absurdly short time allowed them, the result of an unlucky arrangement with business interests on the other side of the Atlantic. Within that short while they had also to devise apparatus for paying out the cable, and to choose cable ships.  The Admiralty and the United States Government each offered a ship for cable-laying, the British ship being the warship Agamemnon, and the American the steam frigate Niagara. 

    H.M.S. Agamemnon was a screw steamer of what was then the latest design. She had spacious hold space, essential for a cable ship. As auxiliaries,  the U.S. Navy provided the paddle frigate, Susquehanna, and the Admiralty,  H.M.S. Leopard and H.M.S. Cyclops  - the latter a sounding vessel. Paying-out machines were fitted to the Agamemnon and the Niagara, and to prevent  the screws from damaging the cable  should it come in contact with them by  accident, the screws were shielded by  strange looking external guards, which  the men promptly nicknamed "crinolines," after the items of feminine  equipment then in fashion. 

    Loading of the two cable ships-the Agamemnon in the Thames and the Niagara in the Mersey took place during the first three weeks of July 1857, and its completion was signalized by great celebrations on the part of all concerned. The two vessels, with their precious freight, met at Queenstown (now Cobh) on July 30. The ends of their respective coiled cables were temporarily joined and messages were flashed through the entire length of the Atlantic cable. 

    The story of how the Agamemnon and the Niagara tried, and tried again, and eventually did lay the cable, is one of the greatest in the annals of shipping.  The European end was landed on August 5, 1857. Bright wanted the two ships to meet in mid-ocean, where the two ends of the cable were to be spliced. The vessels were then to steam away from each other, the Agamemnon towards Ireland and the Niagara towards Newfoundland. Once again his better judgment was set aside. The directors decreed that the Niagara should lay the cable from Valentia to a point in the middle of the Atlantic, whence the Agamemnon should continue the work until she reached the American side. 

    After one false start, the ships got away properly, telegraphing back to the shore messages of their progress. The start was made on August 6. Day after day, in beautiful weather, the laying went on. By 3.45 p.m. on August 11, Niagara had laid 380 miles of cable, transmission of signals through it being perfect all the time. Then, on that fateful afternoon, the cable, now going down into depths sounded at 2,000 fathoms (12,000 feet), suddenly snapped. The work of the Niagara, inaugurated with such rejoicings, had suddenly finished in an anti-climax. 

    The disconsolate "Wire Squadron” steamed to Plymouth. Later Bright went to Valentia Harbour with a little paddle steamer, and succeeded in recovering about fifty miles of the lost cable. New capital had to be raised,  under great difficulties, for the public  was fighting shyer than ever of this  admittedly risky enterprise, and Bright  resolutely set himself to devise some  better means for paying out the cable.    


    The existing apparatus had been the same as that used for laying short-distance sections, to which the peculiar difficulties entailed by the vast depths and distances of the Atlantic did not apply. Bright fitted a brake in which a lever exercised a constant holding power that remained in perfect proportion to the weight attached to it. He also rigged a dynamometer which controlled and indicated the strain entailed by paying out. Moreover, experiments were conducted by Professor Thomson to test the conductivity of the copper strands, so that all copper wire below a certain standard of conductivity was rejected. This was the first example of organized conductor testing to be carried out in a cable factory. 

    Another Set-Back 

    By the end of May 1858, 3,000 miles of cable were coiled- in the two ships.  This time Bright's' original plan for  splicing the two ends and allowing the  two ships to steam away from each  other was adopted, and successful  trials of this arrangement took place in the Bay of Biscay on May 31, 1858.  On June 3 the ships set sail for a mid- ocean rendezvous. There followed an appalling storm, in which the Agamemnon nearly capsized. As it was, part of her precious cargo shifted, as did a     large proportion of her coal. Many of her crew were injured, and timbers were started all over the vessel, so that her cabins were swimming in water for days on end. It was only by a series of fortunate events that the battered Agamemnon, on June 25, was able to rejoin the Niagara and the assistant vessels, which were this time the Gorgon and the Valourous. 


    On the following morning, the Niagara’s cable was conveyed on board the Aqamemnon and the splice was made.  After all the disappointments which had gone before, a gloom seemed to have settled over everyone, and there was no celebration beyond the binding of a lucky sixpence into the cable.  The cable broke when the two ships had each paid out three miles of it. 

    The vessels joined each other again and a fresh splice was made. ‘Once again they steamed slowly apart.  Everything worked beautifully until 3.40 a.m. on June 27, when Professor Thomson reported that current had  ceased to flow in the cable, "A gunand a blue light," reported a newspaper,  "warned the Valourous of what had  happened ... and that the' first part  of the Atlantic Cable had been laid  and effectually lost." 

    Each vessel carried a considerable spare mileage of cable, against accidents of this kind. The arrangement was that they should continue operations until 250 miles of cable had been lost, after which both were to return to Ireland. Once  again the Agamemnon and  the Niagara returned to the  rendezvous, and once again the wearisome and by now quite unceremonial business  of splicing the two ends was gone through. That was on June 28. There had been no fault on either vessel. The cable had parted mysteriously and completely somewhere down in the pitch darkness of the miles-deep Atlantic disheartening to think of Nature being the enemy. There was something beyond soft and harmless ooze down there in the black Atlantic deeps. 

    The two ships headed away from each other, and, as before, everything went as smoothly as possible. Yet nobody yet dared to dream of success. Sure enough, when the Agamemnon had laid 146 miles of cable, another break took place. She returned to the rendezvous, but the master of the Niagara had decided that the limit had been reached.  The Niagara reached Ireland on July 5, and on July 12 the disconsolate company of the Agamemnon also reached port. 

    The fate of the Atlantic cable now hung in the balance. The chairman of the company advised abandonment of the whole enterprise. Only the original projectors still kept faith. On July 17, 1858, the squadron once again left Valentia Harbour. Their move was described as “a mad freak of stubborn ignorance,” among other epithets, and was" regarded with mixed feelings of derision and pity."  Yet this time they succeeded.  On July 29, the splice was made, and for the last time the cable sank into the depths, weighted with a 32 lb shot. This significant act was watched without enthusiasm by the dejected company. Cautiously the two ships steamed away, one eastward and the other westwards, with their companion vessels in attendance. In the afternoon, a large whale, making straight for the cable, passed the Agamemnon. Every one held his breath, while the huge animal swam under the stern, just grazing the cable, but doing no damage.  There was one bad scare - through a sudden cessation of electrical continuity, but this was later found to have been due to a defect in the apparatus on the Niagara. 

    Ireland and Newfoundland United 

    ON July 31 a gale blew up, and for three days it was expected that the cable would part as the stern of the labouring vessel pitched upwards. On  August 2, the Agamemnon narrowly  missed collision with an American  schooner, the Chieftain, which bore right  down on her with no other object than  to see what she was doing., One other accident was narrowly avoided through  similar ignorance on the part of another  vessel. On the morning of August 5, the mountains of Kerry rose high before the Agamemnon, and at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of that day, Bright himself brought the cable ashore. 
    At the other end, the Niagara met with no storms, whales or mismanaged schooners, but a certain amount of anxiety was caused by large icebergs on the Grand Banks. She dropped anchor in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, on August 5, and the cable was carried ashore. 

    Great enthusiasm greeted the long- last completion of the arduous and doubtful task. Engineers and navigators alike were feted on both sides of the Atlantic, though what they all felt they needed was a complete rest over an indefinitely long period. A few days later, Bright was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in the absence of Queen Victoria. Bright was just twenty- six years of age at the time. 

    Now came the second tragedy. Wildman Whitehouse used currents at a high tension and the simple insulation was insufficient to bear the strain. Signals grew weaker, and to strengthen them the voltage was increased, thereby hastening the end of the cable which had cost so much pain and time to lie.  For a brief period, the cable showed the world how man's communications could make nothing of distance. Then the signals began to fade. They grew fainter and fainter. They became so weak as to be unintelligible. The great Atlantic cable was dead. 

    Tests suggested that the main leak in the cable was situated about 300 miles west of Ireland at a depth of about two miles. There appeared to be no fracture of the cable, as it was still possible to pass weak currents through it. Whitehouse's huge 5-feet induction coils had wrecked the cable. Sir Charles Bright compared the usage it had received to getting up high-pressure steam in a low-pressure boiler. 

    It was the year 1865 that saw the laying of the first successful Atlantic cable. The type of cable adopted, on  the recommendation of Sir Charles  Bright and others who were called into  consultation, consisted of an armoured  copper core, the armour consisting of  iron wire, each separate strand being  encased in hemp.  The weight of conductor and insulator came to 300 lb and 400 lb. per mile respectively. 

    As for the laying of this cable, it was decided that one vessel should accomplish it throughout. In all the world there was only one ship large enough to carry the whole cable. That ship was Brunei’s premature giant, the Great Eastern, of 27,384 tons displacement. Cable-laying activities came to provide the one bright chapter in her undeservedly sad history. She was the perfect cable ship, at least by contemporary standards. The cable was shipped on board the Great Eastern at Greenwich, and on July 23, 1865, she left for the south of Ireland. At the point where the shore cable had already been laid by the steamer Caroline, the Great Eastern effected a connexion.  Then, accompanied by H.M.S. Terrible and H.M.S. Sphinx, she turned her head towards the open sea. A fault in the cable was discovered when the greatship had paid out about eighty-four miles. After about ten and a half miles had been hauled in again the faulty section was cut out. The cable was spliced again and paying out was resumed. The defect consisted of an iron wire perforating the cable through from one side to the other.  When 716 miles had been laid, the same thing occurred again, and the fault was the same also. This happened a third time when the ship was two-thirds of the way across, having laid 1,186 miles of cable. 

    Average Depth of 1,400 Fathoms 

    A FAR more serious mishap occurred one day. There was a heavy swell and, to add to, existing troubles, a breakdown took place on board. The cable was damaged by the movement of the steamer and, before this additional trouble could be remedied, the cable had parted and disappeared into the depths. 

    Repeated efforts were made to fish for it with grapnels, but without avail.  The grapnels had succeeded in hooking the cable, however; it was the rope that broke. All was not lost, however. The Atlantic Telegraph Company, which had sponsored this first attempt, was absorbed into a new concern, the Anglo- American Telegraph Company. 

    For the purpose of grappling the lost cable, twenty miles of rope, composed of forty-nine hemp-covered iron wires, were provided. The Great Eastern had her single screw covered by a "crinoline" (she had both paddle and screw, propulsion), and the hauling-in machinery consisted of two drums driven by a pair of 70 horse-power steam engines. On June 30, 1866, the Great Eastern, followed by the auxiliaries Medway and Albany, arrived at Valentia Harbour, where the ships were met by H.M.S. Terrible and by H.M.S. Racoon. The Great Eastern took the shore cable on board on July 13 and headed for the open sea.  Fourteen days later, the great steamer arrived off Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, having laid 1,852 sea miles of cable, at an average depth of 1,400 fathoms. 

    On August 13 the, Great Eastern, once more in mid-Atlantic, began dragging operations for the lost 1865 cable.  Several times it was hooked, only to be lost before it could be shipped. Yet on August 31 the cable was successfully brought on board, when the grapnel had been lowered for the thirtieth time. The cable had been hooked at a depth of two miles. This message was shortly after flashed through the previously lost cable to the listening operators in Ireland, who had almost given up hope “ship to shore. I have much pleasure, in speaking to you through the 1865 cable. Just going to make splice.”

    Such was the beginning 'of the history of inter-continental communications.  The Atlantic cable pioneers, in the face of so much that was discouraging, even heart-breaking, persevered to bring about one of the most revolutionary innovations of modern times. It is a story in which all concerned acquitted themselves brilliantly. 

    ... and just remember all this as you routinely receive almost instant web site information and much else from America  - it is still passing through cables to reach you. 

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    The North and South Woolwich Subway.

    On 11th September 2014, GIHS published some information about a proposal, previously unknown to the Society, in the 1870s to tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich. I was intrigued by this, and have found some additional material, which together with the information originally posted by GIHS, tells the story of the first attempt to construct a pedestrian subway under the Thames at Woolwich.  While researching this project I found reference to two other unfulfilled schemes to tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich and I have included some brief information about these as a postscript.

    Tunnels under the Thames

    The Woolwich foot tunnel was built by the London County Council  and opened in 1912, but more than a quarter of a century earlier, an attempt was made to create a foot tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich.   If it had been completed, it would have been only the 3rd tunnel constructed under the Thames, following Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe (1843) and Peter Barlow’s Tower Subway (1869).

    Growing Need for a Thames Crossing at Woolwich

    Cross section. (Courtesy Kent County Archive)
    Eastern Counties Railway  opened a railway from Stratford to North Woolwich  in 1846. In 1847 the company began running a steam ferry service from near their North Woolwich station  to Woolwich. However, the service did not run in foggy weather. In the mid nineteenth century there was a growing need for a reliable way for people to cross the Thames at Woolwich; employment in manufacturing industries  grew on both sides of the river, employment in the Woolwich Arsenal expanded, and new housing was built at North Woolwich.  There are newspaper reports of people drowning when attempting the crossing in boats when the ferry was unable to run.

    Plans For A Pedestrian Tunnel: 1873

    In 1873 the North and South Woolwich Subway Company was formed.  Plans for the a pedestrian tunnel  between Woolwich and North Woolwich were prepared and deposited  with the Clerk of the Peace for Kent.  Copies of these are held by Kent County Archives (1) and the London Metropolitan Archives (2).  They show the tunnel starting just to the east of the old North Woolwich Station and terminating near the junction of Bell Water Gate and the High Street in Woolwich (just east of where the Leisure centre is now).  The proposed alignment was therefore about 25 metres east of tunnel completed by the LCC in 1912.  The profile of the proposed tunnel was also similar to the 1912 tunnel, with the footway sloping down from both ends towards a flat section about a third of the way through the tunnel.  It was designed for pedestrian only; contemporary newspapers describe it as being 12 feet high and 9 feet wide (3).The original plan was to dig the tunnel through the water saturated sand and gravel which forms the bed of the Thames. The company proposed to levy a penny toll for each crossing.


    In 1874 parliament approved the North and South Woolwich Subway Bill which permitted construction of the tunnel.  Parliamentary papers report that the North and South Woolwich Subway Company Ltd had been incorporated and proposed to fund construction through issue of company shares for £60,000 and raising loans for £20,000.

    The plans name F. Gilbert and J. Greathead as the Engineers for the project.  James Greathead had been a pupil of Peter Barlow, the engineer for the Tower Subway.  Barlow was the chief engineer for the Tower Subway and Greathead   the civil engineering contractor. Barlow had developed and patented Brunel’s “tunnelling shield” apparatus for tunnelling through saturated strata.   James Greathead further developed the shield tunnelling methodology while working on the Tower Subway, and was granted a patent for these improvements.  Many of Greathead’s innovations remain standard features of modern tunnelling through soft of saturated strata, for example in the recently completed Cross Rail tunnels.

    The tunnelling shield that Greathead and Gilbert commissioned for the Woolwich Subway, provided space for four men to work simultaneously at the tunnel face. The shield supported the newly excavated tunnel walls. Air locks and use of compressed air prevented water seeping through newly dug walls.  Hydraulic powered screw jacks were to be used to move the shield forward. Immediately behind the advancing tunnelling shield, hydraulic powered lifting apparatus was to be used to line the tunnel with cast iron segments. Messrs. Collins and Thompson of Middlesbrough were commissioned to build the shield (4).  James Greathead records that the shield, air locks, lifting apparatus and large quantities of cast iron tunnel lining segments were constructed (5).

    (Courtesy Kent County Archive)

    Construction and  Failure 1876 – 1884

    The contract for construction was let to Messrs Sharpe of Cannon Street in 1876, and construction started in August 1876 (6). However it appears that both the contractor and the North and South Woolwich Subway Company faced financial difficulties. Newspapers report the company was involved in a dispute in the High Court with the National Deposit Bank in 1877 (7), and with Mr Pym, a former  Director of the company,  in 1878 (8)about his financial liabilities for  the company’s debts.

    In 1887 there was a new Bill in Parliament to extend the time limits for construction granted in the 1874 Act. This was passed unopposed in 1879, and in 1881, a third Act was approved to extend permission for construction until 1884.

    James Greathead wrote  that Sharpe, the contractor, abandoned the contract “due to difficulties elsewhere”  , but does not give a date for this nor say what these difficulties were .  Another contractor, Mr T. A. Walker offered to undertake the work. Greathead says that Walker “did not believe in the shield method and expressed his willingness to work in his own way, driving the tunnel deeper through the chalk strata” (9)  .  Greathead says that the company accepted Walker’s offer to construct the tunnel because of “absence of financial strength” . Walker started work in 1879 (10) . An entrance shaft at North Woolwich was dug, but Walker found it impossible to proceed far with the tunnel even though compressed air, without a shield, was tried and the undertaking was subsequently abandoned. (11)

    In June 1883 there was a fire in the wooded staging over the entrance shaft at North Woolwich.  Lloyds Weekly Newspaper reported that Henry Wilson aged 22 was killed during the fire falling down the shaft.  (12)  I think it is likely that this is when construction was abandoned. The North and South Woolwich Subway Company was wound up in June 1884 (13) and parliamentary approval for the tunnel also expired that year.

    Why did the project fail ?

    We cannot be certain of the reasons for the abandonment of the project, but  a number of possibilities are worth considering.

    North Woolwich (Courtesy Kent County Archive)
    1) Was the original civil engineering design inadequate ?.

    Prior to designing  the Woolwich Subway project James Greathead had successfully completed the Tower Subway using the methods . Greathead went on to have a very successful career as a civil engineer , particularly in tunnelling for railways including  the Waterloo and City Line and the City and South London railway (now part of the Northern Line). His credentials for this project are excellent. The foot tunnel built by the LCC in 1912 used methods very similar to Gilbert and Greathead’s plan. So, I think it is unlikely that the original plans the reasons for the failure of the project.

    2) Was Mr T.A. Walker to blame ?

    Reading Greathead’s account, its tempting to imagine Mr Walker as some kind of nineteenth century cowboy builder who offered to do construct the tunnel cheaply but failed. However Thomas A Walker (1828 – 1889) was a very successful civil engineering contractor ; his later works included construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. In 1879 (around the time of his involvement with the Woolwich Subway) he was appointed to undertake most of the construction of the Severn Rail Tunnel. Work on the Severn Tunnel by an earlier contractor had resulted in catastrophic flooding. Walker successfully completed the 4 mile Severn Tunnel. This was a much bigger and more complex project than the ¾ mile Woolwich subway. However the Severn Tunnel  was through hard rock strata, and used a tunnelling method which did not require Greathead’s shield methodology.  Walker  was a very accomplished civil engineer, but its worth considering whether:

    ·         work on the Severn Tunnel distracted Walker from the smaller project at Woolwich ?

    ·         he not understand to difficulties of tunnelling through saturated soft strata, and wrongly reject Greathead and Gilberts methods ?

    ·          he under estimated the cost of the construction and subsequently abandoned the contract ?

    3) Did the project fail for financial reasons ?

     The High Court cases in 1876 and 1877 suggest that the company had money problems, and Greathead says that Walker’s offer to take over construction was accepted “because of absence of financial strength”(14) .  James Greathead was not only  a civil engineer, but also a civil engineering contractor who had successfully completed the Tower Subway construction. I think that it is significant that he did not take on the construction contract when Sharpe abandoned work. Perhaps Greathead could see the financial weakness of the company.  There may be more information about the finances of the company in the reports of the High Court cases.

    Parliamentary  papers report that the company had raised £80,000 through shares and loans. The Woolwich foot tunnel built by the LCC is reported to have cost £78,860 to construct (15). So it appears that the company initially may have  had adequate capital for the project . However we do not know how much money was wasted  when Sharpe abandoned construction and Walker restarted using a different method of construction.

    Woolwich Terminus (Courtesy Kent County Archive)
    4) Was the project undermined by the public sector ?

    In 1880 the Woolwich Board of Health promoted the idea that there should be a publically run free ferry river crossing at Woolwich. By 1883 this idea had been taken up by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and in 1884 parliament passed legislation for this.  New piers were constructed by  the MBA  opened the free ferry service in 1889 replacing the toll ferry services. The free ferry did not overcome the problems of an unreliability during foggy weather, but  would have undermined fee income from a  toll foot tunnel and made further investment in the subway project unattractive.

    Post Script: two more uncompleted tunnel projects at Woolwich

    In his book “London’s Lost Tube Schemes” (16), Anthony Badsy-Ellis identified two more failed projects to tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich.

    In 1904 parliament considered legislation for the North and South Woolwich Electric Railway. This was to be a short line passing under the river, with a stations at Beresford Square and at the junction of Albert Road and High Street . The proposal was supported by both Woolwich and West Ham Councils. The London County Council supported the scheme, but asked for clauses in the enabling legislation. These would have prohibited the Railway Company from objecting to any subsequent council proposals for a tunnel, and would have disqualified the company from receiving compensation if a council tunnel opened.  These conditions were unacceptable to the scheme’s promoters, so the legislation was withdrawn and the scheme forgotten. Only eight years later in 1912 the LCC opened to Woolwich foot tunnel.

    Badsey-Ellis has also discovered a proposal in 1919 for a tunnelled electric monorail service between Beresford Square and North Woolwich station.  It was the idea of the splendidly named Elfric Wells Chambers Kearney, who through the first half of the 20th century promoted the “Kearney High Speed Railway” as a solution to mass transport problems in cities around the world.

    His patented railway was unusual in that it would run on a single rail with four double-flanged wheels under each carriage; wheels mounted on the roof would run along an upper guide rail above the train. He claimed that the upper guide rail, along with the carriages' low centre of gravity, would stabilise the train on the lower rail thus preventing derailments and allowing greater speeds.

    In the first decade of the twentieth century, Kearney promoted his plans for tube railways linking Cricklewood, and the Strand with Crystal Palace.  Later he promoted many more schemes deploying his patent system ,including for Boston, Sydney, Moscow, and Venice, Sheffield, Leeds, Monte Carlo,  and South Shields. Correspondence in the National Archives suggests that he continued to promote his schemes until his death in 1966. His proposal for Woolwich is mentioned in the Railway Magazine, but seems to have been one of his more fleeting ideas.  I have not found anything which suggests backing of any public body. None of his schemes were ever built. 

    Peter Bone


    (1) Kent County Archives, Q/Rum 631A

    (2) London Metropolitan Archives, MBW/2632/17/15

    (3)Chelmsford Chronicle 22 June 1877

    (4)Daily Gazette, Middlesbrough, 1 Sept 1876

    (5)  J. H. Greathead. The City and South London Railway. London.  1896

    (6) Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. 25 Aug 1876

    (7) Morning Post. 20 Sept 1877

    (8) Standard (London) . 5 Nov 1878

    (9) Greathead. Op cit

    (10) Portsmouth Evening News . 18th March 1879

    (11) Greathead. Op cit

    (12) Lloyds Weekly Newspaper. 3 June 1883

    (13) House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.  1888

    (14) Greathead. Op cit


    (16) A Badsey-Ellis. London’s Lost Tube Schemes. Middlesex. 2005.



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