Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog

Channel Description:

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

older | 1 | .... | 3 | 4 | (Page 5) | 6 | 7 | .... | 14 | newer

    0 0

    Porthurno Research Fellow (and Enderby Group member) Allan Greene looks at the discovery and history of cable's 19th century wonder stuff and the impact it had on both economy and the environment .
    This article first appeared in Porthcurno PK News No. 26 April 2005
    In the world of submarine telegraphy we know gutta percha as the material whose discovery provided the near perfect insulating material for underwater cable applications yet there are deeper and darker sides to the exploitation of this wonderful substance.

    The felling of tens of millions of huge trees started 150 years ago in the Malay Peninsula to feed the needs of manufacturers, primarily in the UK, who were using the milky sap from the trees to make everything from ornamental and decorative goods to ear-trumpets and from shoe-soles to chamber utensils for use in mental homes.

    Building at Enderby Wharf with decoration of gutta percha leaves over the door

    This was Gutta Percha.

    Today Gutta Percha is barely known and very little used yet it was the one and only material which permitted telegraph cables to leave dry land and cross the oceans. Without Gutta Percha it is likely that workable long haul submarine cables would not have been a reality before the 20th century.


    Until around 1850 only a handful of people had heard of the tree, or rather family of trees that produced the sticky sap that became known as gutta percha. The two main species known as Isonandra Gutta and Palaquium Gutta grew only in the dense forests of, what was then known as Borneo, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.

    Although usually credited to Dr Montgomerie, a surgeon working for the East India Company, the first specimens of gutta percha were brought to England in 1843 and presented to the Royal Asiatic Society by a Portuguese engineer named Jose d' Almeida.  

    As well as some samples of the raw material he brought artefacts of Gutta Percha made by Malay natives including model animals, knives, hats, whips and piping as in the image above. Montgomerie’s samples arrived in London only a few months later and were exhibited at the Society of Arts. This was the start of several decades of 'gutta percha mania' when 1000s of tons were shipped into the UK and millions of trees were destroyed in the process. To better understand why this material generated such excitement it is necessary to look at things in more detail. The
    sticky sap did not flow easily as the tree trunks were cut or 'tapped' and each tree yielded only a small quantity. However, it was slowly collected and then boiled with water, cleaned and eventually formed into cakes of raw gutta that hardened in the sun. It was in this form that the material was shipped to England in the cakes or balls each weighing around 30 pounds. In its pure form Gutta Percha is quite light and, as was discovered during the laying of the first Dover - Calais cable in 1850, it actually floats in seawater

    When plunged into boiling water gutta percha softens into a putty-like consistency and can be moulded into any shape quite easily by hand, and when allowed to cool becomes again quite hard and durable. It was the first natural thermos plastic material and it is this characteristic that differentiates it from rubber. A number of people in Britain -were quick to appreciate the potential for this new material and within a few years an incredible range of products was being constructed. - Charles Mackintosh, the waterproof clothing manufacturer was already using rubber in his manufacturing processes and it was one of his business partners, Thomas Hancock, whose brother Charles was to be the key figure in the development of Gutta Percha business.

    Portraits of Sir William Hooker and Werner Siemens
    made from gutta percha

    There are many testimonies to the hardwearing qualities of Gutta Percha, not least one that related to its application as soles for shoes and boots. The military in particular seem to have appreciated the qualities of Gutta Percha soles and Rear-Admiral Sir John Ross R.N. was said to have issued a memo "TO SAILORS-especially those proceeding to the Arctic Regions, Gutta Percha will prove a WARM FRIEND" The applications to which Gutta Percha was to be put seemed endless and some items continued being manufactured for many years after the main Gutta Percha craze subsided. The 1855 catalogue illustrated truncheons made from Gutta Percha with a whalebone centre and these were still being made in 1926 for the Canadian 'Mounties' who found them to be a comfort when they found themselves on peace-keeping duties during the General Strike. One particularly interesting industrial application took advantage of Gutta Percha's resistance to some corrosive fluids. Bottles made from Gutta Percha continued to be manufactured well into the 20th century particularly for the storage of very dangerous hydrofluoric acid that could not be held in glass bottles.

    Gutta percha leaves
    Other items offered in the catalogue included: sheets of various thicknesses, round bands for driving machinery, tubing, buckets and bottles, hats, combs, skates (with straps complete), lifebuoys and ear comets.

    There is little or no evidence to indicate that anyone was concerned about the massive felling of trees in Malaysia to meet this incredible demand. The trees were there, the natives were willing and there was money to be made! The trees from which the sap was extracted were slow growing reaching 65 to 70 feet after around 30 years and very importantly only produced seed and worthwhile quantities of sap.

    Images show trees being tapped (as the local rubber trees were tapped) and the sap flowing from the diagonal cuts in the bark. In reality this was quite a different story. I said earlier that the sap did not flow easily and local natives quickly learned that if the tree was felled, laid horizontal and circular grooves cut all around the trunk the sap was liberated far more quickly. The 20-30 year old tree was thus destroyed for a pint or two of sap


     According to contemporary records a fully-grown tree, 30 years old would have attained a girth of around 3.5 to 4 feet at the base and was expected to yield no more than one and one third pounds weight of clean gutta percha. This would seem to be a trifling quantity for the sacrifice of a 65-foot tree?

    It's possible to get a better perspective on this devastation of the forests by looking at some larger scale statistics. In the year 1881 around 1250 tons of Gutta Percha were shipped from Borneo and a further 3600 tons from Singapore. That total of 4850 tons in the one- year represents the felling of no fewer than eight million trees and probably nearer 10 million.

    The  gutta pecha core arrives at the Greenwich works
    We can also examine the statistics relating to Gutta Percha required for cable manufacturing only and as an example the Gutta Percha used on the first two successful Atlantic telegraph cables of 1865 & 1866. The total quantity manufactured was 3960 nautical miles that were coated with 400 pounds weight of Gutta Percha per nautical mile. Using the same formulae as above this represents a minimum of 1.2 million trees, or 300 trees per nautical mile of manufactured cable.

    The biggest of the submarine telegraph cable manufacturers, Telcon claim that during the century 1850 to 1950 they (and their predecessors) had manufactured 315,000 nautical miles of telegraph cable. If, very conservatively we estimate that this mileage was coated with 200 pounds weight of Gutta Percha per nautical mile we come up with around 47 million trees.

    This was for one cable Manufacturer albeit the largest in the world, in one country, for one application only, the insulation of submarine cables. Without researching official import records of Gutta Percha resin entering in to UK ports we cannot easily estimate the TOTAL number of trees which might have been felled to support the TOTAL quantity of Gutta Percha consumed but it must certainly run into 100s of millions!

    Covering the conductor with gutta percha
    Greenwich Telcon works 1950s
    Around 1915 Telcon as the major user of Gutta Percha for cable applications had recognised a need to take action to replenish the dwindling forest supply and set up a new company to cultivate the trees in Malaysia near the town of Kuala Lipis and this was named the Selbome Plantation Co Ltd (after the Telcon Chairman Lord Selborne).  Their plans were over ambitious and the company had heavy overheads resulting in an expensive end product and the situation became worse as the depression of the 1920s and early 30s hit the actual consumption of raw Gutta Percha. Production ran at around 100 tons of pure Gutta Percha per year. One very good thing did however come out of the Selborne Plantation venture. Applying a little more science than hitherto to the extraction of sap from the trees, together with investment in special machinery, it was discovered that the twigs, small branches and leaves of the trees could be pulverised and crushed to yield the sap without resorting to tapping the main trunk: or felling the tree. So seasonal and methodical plucking of leaves and pruning of new growth could permit extraction of around one ton of Gutta Percha per 30 tons of prunings. Alas it was all too little and too late!

    After the war and into the 1950s new, mass produced (usually a by-product of the oil refining industry) and inexpensive, plastic materials were emerging to replace Gutta Percha for virtually all industrial applications. The leader was polyethylene that lCI branded 'Polythene' and which 50 years on is still the primary insulating material for submarine cables.

    Gutta Percha was the first truly thermoplastic material which allowed the telegraph to pass under the oceans of the world and while we might shrink in horror at the terrible cost in terms of the utter destruction of so many mil- lions of trees perhaps there is yet another angle on this story. The wood of the Gutta Percha family of trees was soft, fibrous and spongy and of little use for construction and today at least one of the big areas where this ravage of nature took place is totally protected as part of the Malaysian National Park.

    PS-  For the sporting ... 'Gutties' was the name given to golf balls made from gutta percha, which appeared around 1850. The Gutta Percha Company's   moulding room employed 16 men and boys in 1900 and was turning out no fewer than 100,000 balls,

    Another picture of the building at Enderby's Wharf with moulded decoration of gutta percha and cable
    This building has now been demolished as part of the new development.

    0 0
  • 01/12/15--13:19: PLUTO

  • The following text is a note taken from a talk given to Blackheath Scientific Society - with thanks to them for allowing us to reproduce it.
    Pipe Line Under the Ocean  
    by  Mr A F Cantle

    The Invasion of Normandy took place on June 6th1944 but preparations for it started way back before then.

    Early in 1942 during discussions between Lord Louis Mountbatten and Geoffrey Lloyd, who was Minister in Charge of Petroleum Warfare.  Lord Louis suggested that perhaps a pipeline could be laid across the English Channel.

    Manufacture of PLUTO BICC Erith
    This discussion was soon extended to various oil companies, and A C Hartley, Chief Engineer of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, suggested that it would be possible to manufacture a coreless lead sheath as used on power cables.  Hartley’s preliminary discussions were with Dr Wright of Siemens Brothers of Woolwich, and resulted in Siemens producing a sample length of 2² bore pipe externally armoured.  This was tested at Chatham Dockyard, and proved satisfactory.

    This pipe was referred to as “cable” in order to preserve secrecy and reduce the risk of the cable companies being targeted for air raids, especially as all of those involved would be on coastal or Thameside locations.


    It was given the name of HAIS Cable; H for Hartley, AI for Anglo Iranian, and S for Siemens.

    Various cable companies were involved: Siemens, Johnson and Phillips, Callenders, Henley, Pirelli and others.  Plant limitations in headroom and craneage meant that they manufactured their lengths of tubing, and sent them to the Thames for jointing and armouring, then storing in riverside pits until required.

    Sheds for the nanufacture of Pluto. BICC Erith
    None of the existing cable laying ships had equipment big enough to handle the pipeline envisaged.  Three merchant ships, Latimer, Sandcroft and Algerian were fitted out with large storage tanks and laying gear for the main task.

    Meanwhile another vessel, Holdfast, was converted to handle the first 35 mile long 2² bore HAIS pipe, which was laid as a full scale trial across thhhe Bristol Channel from Swansea on the Welsh coast to Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast in March 1943.  Many problems had to be overcome on this trial: connecting to the shore ends – tidal currents – joints bursting at the 750 lb/sq in internal pressure used to pump the fuel though the line.

    It was decided that the final line would be a 3² bore pipe, with double steel tape round the lead tube, armoured with galvanised steel wire, and covered in tar impregnated hessian tape – making a total diameter of about 5½².  This would be manufactured in 35 mile lengths for laying between Dungeness and the Pas de Calais; and 70 mile lengths for laying between the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg.  The 3²bore pipe had twice the capacity of the 2² pipe.

    It had been planned that pipe laying would take place about three weeks after “D” Day but the many and varied problems (the pipe wrapping itself around the ship’s propeller, etc) meant that it was not until 22nd September 1944 that fuel started to flow.  This was pumped at 750 lb/sq in and delivered 56000 gall/day.

    Eventually eleven lines of HAIS were laid from Dungeness to the Pas de Calais; and two from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg.  Once laid these gave no problems, apart from the difficulties of coupling.

    As a back up to the HAIS design a steel pipeline was also produced.  It was called HAMEL after its originators H A Hammick and B J Ellis, both of the Burmah Oil Company; and developed by J Dobbie of Stewart and Lloyds.  The pipe was manufactured in short lengths and jointed by welding into 4000 ft long sections.  These were stored beside Tilbury Docks.  Huge floating steel drums, like gigantic cotton reels, 40 ft in diameter were constructed to hold 30 mile lengths of pipe, with a total weight of 1600 tons.  These “Conundrums” were towed across the Channel by powerful tugs, unwinding the pipeline as they went.

    Initially one tug was used, but it could only achieve a speed of four knots with this load, and with a tide strength of five knot progress was impossible.  Eventually a landlubber pointed out that the wake of the tug impinging on the drum was thrusting it back in proportion to the power employed.  By using two tugs spaced so that their wakes passed outside the drum the problem was overcome.

    Six HAMEL pipelines were laid from Dungeness to the Pas de Calais; and two from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg, in addition to the HAIS pipelines mentioned above.

    The HAMEL pipelines had a limited life.  The steel tubes were cut through by movement over rocks on the seabed, particularly at the reefs near Bassure de Baas.  They lasted no more than three months.

    The major pipelines of the PLUTO project were:

    Liverpool to Avonmouth, then the Isle of Wight – then links to: Cherbourg; St Lo; Alençon; Chalons-sur-Marne; Luxembourg; and the Rhine at Mainz.

    Liverpool to the Midlands and down to Thames Haven, Isle of Grain - then links to: Boulogne; Ghent; Antwerp; Eindhoven; and the Rhine at Emmerich.

    The pipelines across England ran through fields and villages, and were often a source of annoyance to the villagers, without them realising what the pipeline was for.

    Pumping stations at the coast were built to look like bombed out seaside chalets.

    The pumping pressure was gradually increased up to 1200 lb/sq in, and as much as a million gallons per day of various fuels were pumped through.  Over the whole project a total of 173 million gallons were supplied.

    After the war the original 2² bore pipe laid across the Bristol Channel continued in use for more than a year, supplying Devon and Cornwall with petrol.  In Europe the pipelines remained in use until July 1945.  Then with the increase in shipping in the Channel the pipelines became a hazard.

    The Royal Navy was given the task of recovering the shore ends and about three miles at each end of the pipelines.  Later, in August 1946, a private salvage operation started to lift the remainder of the HAIS pipelines and coil them back into the cable ships, a reverse operation to laying them.  This was very worthwhile, due to the value of the materials involved.

    The recovery of the HAMEL pipelines was rather more difficult as the steel tube could not be coiled down but had to be cut into short lengths – which could be hazardous if any lingering petrol caught fire.


    PS  - Way back in 2005 GIHS had a speaker on PLUTO.  This was Allan Green who contributed a recent article to this blog about gutta percha.    He subsequently sent us a list of references of information about Pluto which was reproduced in our web site -

    PPS  When I was looking for illustrations for this I came across a picture of sheds where it is said the HAIS cable was made in Rainham, Essex.  It was said these sheds were still there in the 1980s and I have a vague memory of having them pointed out to me on a river trip.   I can find no mention of the existence of these anywhere other than the original reference and the picture.    Do they still exist?? and if so, where?? There are sheds very like this picture at the isolated Vioela site in Coldharbour Lane, Essex.


    0 0
  • 01/17/15--03:12: Couple of local stuff things
  • Two things in the post -

    One is from Fred Parrett and is about a concert at Greenwich University.   In 2009 Fred put on a jazz and history concert - and we helped him with industrial pictures of Greenwich.  Since then he has done other concerts about other areas - BUT he is now coming back to Greenwich and hopes we will all come and listen and watch.  It is the University of Greenwich Big Band.
    The concert is on 22nd 3.00 pm  and free tickets are available form Fred  020 8460 2116

    Can send a PDF poster to anyone interested - blogger won't accept PDFs, I'm afraid

    The other thing is from Michael Graham-Smith and Polly Carter who set up the wonderful Ballast Quay exhibition last summer.
    They have added a number of oral history contributions to their web page - please have a look

    0 0

    Lewisham Local History Society -  Newsletter - various things but not really to do with Greenwich Industry - but all very interesting. - The Cinema Museum, Kennington - Sydenham Children's Hospital - the fire at the Catford Prefab Museum - and thanks Lewisham for printing  our programme

    - their 2015 programme feature the following sort of Greenwich or industrial things.  See  - 
    30 January - The Mid Kent Line (speaker, Peter Leigh, will start at Spa Road - originally on the Greenwich Railway)
    27th February - The Hatcham Ironworks (the story of George England - great south London industrial history interest)
    27th March - AGM and Show and Tell (you never know what that will be!!)
    31st Seaside Sauce, cartoonist Donald McGill (who lived I think in the Greenwich bit of Blackheath)
    25th September, Orthodox Churchman the Metropolitan Seraphim talks about saving Catford Town Hall in 1961 (correct me if I am wrong, but I think he lives in Charlton)
    27th November, W.G.Grace, cricketer (lived in the Greenwich bit of Eltham)

    (sorry to be so parochial)

    The Redriff Chronicle (Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Local History)
    Another great newsletter - covering among other things - archaeology on the Rotherhithe Waterfront - history of Bermondsey Street - the Southwark Park Act 1864 -  etc and more etc

    Greenwich Society Newsletter
    has a great picture on the front of Greenwich Marsh from One Tree Hill - showing the gunpowder works on the Peninsula 1725, 

    LAMAS Newsletter.  This advertises, among other things:

    14th April. talk on Palace Foreshores, including Greenwich. Museum of London 6 pm

    Newcomen Links - now this is a big thing because it has an article by Allan Green on Enderby's Wharf which I hope to get permission to reproduce.
    and also a tour of the new Telecoms Museum in the Science Museum
    and an article about Titan cranes (on Tyneside)

    0 0
  • 01/25/15--01:12: Soap and Syrup - Peter Luck

  • SOAP and SYRUP

    by Peter Luck

    The paper describes the history of the riverside site on Blackwall Lane now occupied by the developer, Cathedral - but previously the Syrol/Tate and Lyle/Amylum/Tunnel Glucose works 


    This paper is an adapted version of a talk given to GIHS in 2012 and is the latest and probably still provisional product of a fascination derived from two views of the east Greenwich glucose plant most recently operated by Syral who closed it in 2009 and had demolished it by the end of 2010. They showed the view into the crowded works from Blackwall Lane, drawing one in, and the formal interest of the silos on the river front.

    The plant was located on the western shore of the Greenwich peninsula and had operated under different company names and constitutions since 1934 when it opened on a site previously occupied by the Greenwich Soap and Candle Works, itself founded by Wilkie & Soames in the middle years of the nineteenth century. Previous to that the land had been agricultural.

    My intention is to tell the story of this site. I have had to simplify in places because I have more information than I can handle in the time, and in others skate over long periods because I still have too little. 




    As often, the beginning is elsewhere. The Wilkie and Soames soap works began operations in Wheler Street, Spitalfields in 1808.  I have found nothing more about them until 1821 when Mr Wilkie died. His name lived on in the company for another 109 years. In 1846 James and Louis Soames are recorded as holding the lease of 65 Wheler Street for a soap works, counting house, stabling etc,  and James Soames owned or held leases on three other scattered premises in Spitalfields. Two were sub-let to a tailor and a greengrocer, one was noted as having stables, warehousing, sheds etc adjoining, and no subtenant.  By 1853 Arthur Soames has joined the family  partnership and Louis Soames is recorded as leaving it in that year. Shortly after, the company moved to the Greenwich site. Probable reasons for the move were the need for expansion and perhaps also the extremely unhealthy conditions of Wheler Street. The one certain reason was the imminent destruction of their premises as the north end of Commercial Street was cut through Spitalfields.


    The last record (that I have seen) of Soames in Spitalfields is in Kelly’s Post Office Directory for 1857 which is also the first year of their directory entry mentioning Greenwich. They seem to have been there a little earlier.

    Morden College were the owners of the Greenwich land, which had been used largely by butchers for fattening cattle and, at the perimeter, by basket-makers tending osier beds. In the middle of the nineteenth century Morden began to sell leases on riverside land for industrial development. The first significant move was the sale of a lease of 95 years to Charles Holcombe in 1841, followed by another to him in 1845, together forming the site of Morden Wharf and Hollick’s Wharf. Holcombe and his executors sublet the land to various users and built an access road now known as Morden Wharf Road and the pub, the Sea Witch at the shore end of the road.

    The Soames, James 2nd and Arthur took a lease on land immediately to the south in 1857 but it was back-dated to 1854 and there had been another drafted in 1855. In any event, by the time the 1857 lease was finalised, the factory was built and appears in the lease documents, together with a riverside enclave within the site occupied by an engineering works. Whether there had been an arrangement with previous leaseholders or the factory had been put up while haggling over the lease isn’t clear. The land taken was quite a large area and the factory occupied less than half of it. Much of it remained more-or-less empty into the twentieth century.

    Before getting too involved in the history of the Soames in Greenwich (what little I can find) it would be as well to comment briefly on soap production. It was a smelly business. Soap is a salt of a fatty acid. It is produced by the interaction of the fatty material with a strong alkali. The fatty material may be of vegetable origin such as olive or palm oil, or animal fat including whale oil. Whether the process is the ‘hot’ or the ‘cold’, heat is needed either to boil fats and alkali together or to raise their temperature ‘just enough’ for saponification. Various other ingredients can be added for scent or scouring power. If the cold process is used , the soap must stand and mature before it is useable.

    I have found no record of the materials used by Soames (though a Soames brother, Henry Aldwin, was a Russia merchant and may have imported Russian tallow) or which process, but I do have some knowledge of the products. An advertisement makes it clear that their soaps were generally of the heavy duty kind. Other brand names were Apron, Big Wilkie, Spry, Wonderful Washer and British Carbolic.


    Besides soap, the works did, as its name states, produce candles: Stearafine (‘They give a better and steadier light than any other candle.’); Greenwich Sperm (‘.....suitable for the best establishments in the kingdom.’) (and surely based on whale oil); Pure Parafine; and also a device for holding candles steady as they burn to the very end – the Greenwich Fix.

    I have little information on their clients. They exhibited candles at the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition, which suggests ambition and were soap maker ‘by appointment’ to the Poplar Union in 1906.


    The detailed history of the site development is an almost-closed book. There was a serious fire in 1861 and an illustration is claimed to have been published in the Illustrated London News, but I failed to find it. The Ordnance map of 1867 shows the iron works still in place, various small sheds around the site, the stables at the back (if riverside is front), a short jetty with a crane and an internal tramway system. The 1894 edition shows a larger jetty and many more buildings whose purposes appear to be identified on an undated plan in the Morden archives. This shows departments for paraffin, soap boiling and candle-making, with supporting laboratory, stables, maintenance departments, separate messes for men and women, and housing for gate-keeper and foreman. The riverside ironworks has been absorbed into the Soames site. At peak more than 140 men and boys were employed there; later, women were employed in cutting and stamping toilet soap. A licence granted to the Soames by Morden in 1915 approves their building an engine house, gas fired, next to their saw mill, but on the Morden plan the saw mill is among a group of buildings labelled as demolished. It is not clear when this south part of the site was cleared.

    Road access remained from the NE corner of the land past the paraffin refinery. Probably main deliveries were to the pier. These will have included the fats and also timber for the saw mill. I am guessing that this would have been simply cut to manageable lengths and burnt for ash as a source of the necessary alkali.


    There appears to have been no change to the site before the 1914 edition of the OS. This shows the buildings in the southern part of the site still there. If this suggests commercial stagnation, it might be the case. There was a slump in demand around 1906 which Lever Brothers attempted to counter by inviting other soap manufacturers into a combine, so saving on research and advertising costs. Soames declined to join after strong negative publicity. (Levers successfully sued the Daily Mail for libel.)


    ore is known of the role of the Soames family in Greenwich society. Among peninsula industrialists, the Soames were untypical in staying in Greenwich and putting some of their considerable profit back into the area. The elder James Soames in 1849 moved into the Red House, a large establishment on Westcombe Park Road, high on the hillside, more-or-less next door to Vanbrugh Castle and with fine views north over the peninsula. A few years on he moved to Blackheath.  James Soames 2nd followed him in 1854, buying Maze Hill House, lower on the slopes and facing Greenwich Park.This tends to support 1854 as a start date for the Works.


    James Soames 2nd was a political liberal, supporter of various political, religious and social causes in Greenwich, a member of the Board of Guardians, chairman of the Greenwich Society for the Relief of Distress, and assisting at St Alphege where his brother was the vicar. In 1890 he funded a new church for Westcombe Park, St George, and installed another Soames, Werner Henry Kolle Soames,  as vicar. Other Soames joined the company, lived in the area and married local girls. Walter Soames took over the running of the factory and stayed until the take-over in 1920. He may have been the Walter Field Soames who became Mayor of Greenwich in 1910 and 1911. (Walter Kolle and Walter Field Soames – which was which?) WHK Soames worked hard to build up his flock but the area was slow developing and he retired ill, the church being completed only in 1926 by its third vicar.


    Lever Brothers’ interest in combines mutated into a desire to take over other manufacturers and in 1919-20 they went on a campaign of acquisitions including big companies such as Gossage, Gibbs, and Knights and a number of smaller ones including Soames. By 1925 their policy with regard to certain smaller companies was to allow them to close ‘on favourable terms’ if not wanted. Although the lease on the site remained with Wilkie and Soames until at least 1937, the Thames Soap and Candle Works closed in 1930.



    It is quite striking that the 1937 LCC/OS differs hardly at all from the 1914 OS in respect of the immediate surroundings of the site. Tunnel Avenue, the approach road to the Blackwall Tunnel had entailed the demolition of some housing which was replaced by the group of Idenden Cottages in 1896 and this still stood. Housing, school and church on the opposite side of Tunnel Avenue were unchanged apart from the appearance of new terraces on the old allotment areas. To the north, the warehouses, works and yards on Morden Wharf Road were in form the same though the cement works had passed its big shed on the riverside to a packaging manufacturer. Beyond them, the extremely smelly Molassine Meal Works was busy producing mollasses-based animal feeds. The Sea Witch catered for the workers, as did the Mitre on the main road, and perhaps the Terry Dining Rooms.



    After the closure of the Soames factory, the site and buildings stood vacant for a few years gathering weeds and grime until taken over by the newly formed Tunnel Refineries in 1934. This was a newly formed company but with a parentage going back to 1873 and the founding of the company Callebaut Freres et Lejeune in Aalst, Belgium. The Callebauts had been supplying hops and sugar to some of Belgium’s 3000 or more brewers and founded their new company to manufacture glucose syrup from starch and so bypass the heavy taxation on sugar. With various changes of name and family members directing, the firm continued into the twentieth century, eventually merging with the Blieck Freres to form Glucoseries Reunies in 1926. Along the way, probably around 1880, they had instituted the first company retirement scheme in Belgium.


    In the late 1920s this family firm formed a relationship with a London firm, A Hurst & Co Ltd, to ship starch and glucose to England. By 1932 it was thought better to import only the starch and convert it to glucose here. So a scheme was devised by the Calllebauts with Henry Risner of Hurst’s to form a new company which was duly named after its location. Risner became the first Managing Director of Tunnel Refineries with Edward Ummen as Factory Director. Mr Ummen seems to have been the conduit for this venture as the Callebaut family had sat out the First World War in England as guests of friends of the Ummens.


    The Callebaut family remained dominant (or at least influential) until the year 2000.


    Having moved onto the site in 1934, apparently still as under-tenants of Wilkie and Soames, Tunnel cleared and cleaned the site and was up and running in 1935, producing its first batch of glucose syrup in August of that year. It is plain from the 1937 LCC/OS map that the premises were used more or less as found. An account by Albert Kershaw, one of the workers at that time, tells that ‘most of the work was done with a minimum of equipment and expense’. The tram lines were still in use for bringing coal ashore to the boilers but loading the trucks, moving them and fuelling the boilers was all done by manpower. The jetty and its not-very-adequate old crane was also used for off-loading starch imported from Aalst, consignments arriving irregularly and having to be man-handled ashore. A small work force meant production could cease for a few days while every hand turned to moving a shipload of 2cwt sacks. Initially the glucose produced was not particularly good but, as rare British produced glucose, it was ‘accepted on the market’.

    The internal layout at this time is not clear. Small but significant improvements were made. These included constructing a pit and fitting a mechanism to enable easier emptying of the heavy sacks of starch, installing a third boiler and mechanical stokers and digging wells to supply water to vacuum pumps  Much later, redundant, these were filled in again. Maintenance was undertaken with very little machinery. It all seems very hand-to-mouth. Perhaps it was, but clients came from all over the country, including the South Shore Rock Co of Blackpool and Bassets Licorice Co. They nearly all collected their own, few received deliveries, the company vehicle fleet being very small. Even so by 1939 Tunnel Glucose was the third largest British producer.

    The war set this back. Badly. Starch deliveries from Belgium ceased. Production objectives were set by government. Starch supplies were requisitioned. Tunnel had to take what it could get as raw material and this could be custard powder, peas, sago, tapioca, potato starch. When this was running  out, storage vats were built and liquid starch was bought from competitors. From these disparate sources a glucose was made. Mr Kershaw wrote, ‘Some horrible colours were produced, but still it was glucose.’ For a while malt was made from potatoes and barley but this closed down as supplies became unavailable.


    A part of the premises was turned over to the firm Thermalloys for the smelting of Manganese from ore. This was a filthy process but it saw the premises in use. Improvisation ruled here, too. Men needed to bathe before leaving at the end of a shift, so barrels were acquired, sawn in half to give two tubs each, and these were the company baths.


    In 1941, the company sales HQ in Trinity Square was destroyed by bombing and the glucose factory was shut down, its staff sent off to other local works such as Delta Metals, Stones, Deptford Power Station. The small skeleton staff remaining were turned by the ever-inventive Mr Ummen to producing tungsten powder used in the hardening of steel. This work was under Ministry direction. Various other work went on in various parts of the factory. The manganese production increased and took over more space; an ersatz starch was produced under the guidance of Mr Grobowski, a German Jewish refugee; the London Chain Company spent two years making bicycle chains; an unused starch building was turned over to general warehousing. Among the commodities stored were graphite, raw black chocolate and cane.

    In 1943 Glenvilles -appeared (possibly displaced from Deptford) and began processing oils and fats but closed again at the end of the war. In 1944 a V1 flying bomb landed on the foreshore near to the Sea Witch. The pub was destroyed along with the company laboratory and offices and most of the riverside buildings of Morden Wharf.  The company was able to use lab facilities at the Molassine works, just north of Morden Wharf and carried on with plenty of minor blast damage to attend to.


    The war ended with the landscape changed considerably as the 1953OS shows: the riverside was largely in ruins, the terrace of houses by the site entrance demolished and areas of spare land with road access given to prefab housing. Idenden Cottages were still standing. The ownership of land at the south of the site now appears from the map to be ambiguous. Was it still Tunnel’s? If so, had they sub-leased it to the Council. This is a question still to be answered. What had not changed was the basic internal layout of the Tunnel site. Molassine continued and the housing on the other side of Tunnel Avenue also remained for the time being unchanged. Two years later, in 1955, the brick warehouse on the south side of Morden Wharf Road was built, incorporating space for a barge repair yard (or, at least, its equipment and materials storage) at the river end where the riverside path cut through the building. Also around this time the warehouse on the north side of Morden Wharf Road was rebuilt.




    With war over, the call for tungsten gone, the Ministry contract for Glenville’s fats lost, and workers coming home, there was an urgent need for the company to find something to do. The answer was to go back to producing glucose from starch. Aalst once again supplied but further supplies were needed and these were of doubtful quality, so the glucose too was of doubtful quality. The company was now in a very awkward situation with clients not accepting their quality and so leaving. Further to that the long hard winter of 1946-7 saw much frost damage to pipework. Improvisation was needed again to make good deteriorated and damaged equipment. One small modernisation was the extension of the gatekeeper’s cottage to include a bathroom.

    A second hand boiler was bought, additional to those already in use and so power made more reliable, just in time for a new venture, dextrose production for medicinal purposes. More new  equipment was installed and 24hour production begun. The demand was great.


    Then Edward Ummen died. After a brief period of senior staff filling in, Lucien Wigdor was appointed manager. His early message to the work force was bleak. Despite the success of the dextrose, the company was in a bad way and much effort was going to be needed to save it. The effort was made; Wigdor’s addresses to the company became slowly more cheerful.

    I have little information on the 1950s except that in 1951 new offices were built at the riverside (these, with extensions survived to the last) and in 1957 there were two major events. First the company abandoned importing starch and equipped itself for milling its own from maize. Secondly, the Belgians formed a liaison with the American Company, A E Staley of Decatur, Illinois. I am not sure whether that was, at this stage, just a working arrangement or a full amalgamation, but Glucoseries Reunies was renamed Amylum and the Staley recipe for a high sugar content syrup, Sweetose, was granted to Tunnel Glucose as a subsidiary of Amylum. By 1973 the Tunnel directors were two each from UK, Belgium (both Callebauts) and the USA. At this time, 1950s, too, the Glenvilles company was revived and began producing custard powder.

    At some point Lucien Wigdor rose from works manager to Managing Director and it is his time in the top job that defines the era best documented by the company magazines I have seen and the memories of Tunnel workers I have talked to.

    What has been a fairly slow evolving story up to now, speeds up a lot and the shape of the works changes constantly. The 1957 turn to milling their own maize meant that silos had to be built to store it. These first silos were on land close to the jetty. By the mid 60s suction gear had been installed and American maize was offloaded either from coasters which had picked up a cargo from big bulk carriers at Rotterdam, or from lighters trans-shipping from smaller bulk carriers docking at Tilbury. The coasters moored across the end of the L-shaped jetty and the lighters snugged in at the side. A conveying system was installed carrying grain from the silo to the steeps, themselves renewed. I am not sure whether the preference for American grain reflected the influence of Staley or whether it simply was the best. Photos taken from the house magazine show that first silo and the delivery of a new vat in the mid 1960s.

    In 1965 the site was briefly flooded. This was not due to particularly exceptional river conditions, though the tide was very high. It seems that the site had been un-troubled in 1928 and 1956 but this time building works for extending the office / laboratory block caused a weakness in the river wall and it gave way. All hands were necessarily turned to building sand bag walls, clearing up and chivalry(a photo in the house journal shows a woman being carried across the waters).The house cartoonist commented with a drawing showing an unpopular supervisor being submerged.

    A liaison with a Dutch company, Avebe, began in 1967. They produced modified potato starch for textile and paper industries, something Tunnel had only edged into and so Tunnel Avebe was born. They were perhaps a little mysterious as one interviewee is convinced they were producing junk food. What effect their presence had on the layout of the works I don’t know, though developments in the late 1960s were particularly intense across the whole site.

    It should, though be pointed out that in the late 60s the site entrance remained off Morden Wharf Road and between the works and Tunnel Avenue there remained a small enclave which may have been, earlier, the site of the manganese refinery and was now occupied by Williams, steel stock-holders. In 1969 the curved building which came to dominate the road end of the site was completed to designs by Dennis & Partners of Wimpole Street for Glenville’s. The curve which seemed so excitingly modernist was a straightforward response to the turning of lorries in at the entrance off Morden Wharf Road.     

    The production process started at the top of the building with tanks of starch and filtered under gravity down through the stages of conversion. Temporary buildings were erected at the southern end of the site, next to the river, for Glenville’s production of instant milk. During the  1970s the Williams land and the site of the newly demolished Idenden Cottages were acquired and the administration and canteen block completed to designs by the Brunton Boobyer Partnership of Greenwich, with the car park occupying the Idenden site.

    In 1970 a new Mill House was built but I am not sure where. What did have some effect was  entry into the Common Market in 1973 and the (almost certainly) consequent turn from American maize to French, which has been thought to be relatively inferior. With a new mill house and an ever-increasing number of products, the demand for maize was increasing so, at some time around now (and I still can’t get a definitive date) the great off-shore silos were built and with them new and extended suction gantries for faster off-loading. They could shift 100tons per hour. They had a dramatic effect on the wider scenery of the river frontage and the new gantries were not only effective but splendidly framed views across the river.

    The next couple of years saw a further expansion of the maize grind and the construction of a new plant for producing Isosweet, a high fructose glucose syrup, which adds to the certainty that the silos were now in use.

    At this period the plant employed around 400 people and there were nearly always additional contractors on site as there was always a new plant under construction or an old being pulled down. Despite this, the core of the old soap works survived to the end and the company retained, on the whole, a family character. There were a few small strikes at the end of the 60s both in the plant and among the grain gangs, probably due to rather clumsy management of redundancies, but these were rare. The Callebauts had, after all, pioneered works pensions in Belgium and Mr Wigdor had made good relations and mutual support an item of faith. The firm paid well, too. To some extent it probably needed to, to compensate for hostile working conditions; the heat in the plant could be ferocious, workers needing salt drinks and it being rumoured that diabetics were so at risk from atmospheric sugar that they could not be employed.

    In 1982 dual processing of maize and wheat for starch was commenced. The plant was the first of its kind in the UK. Common Market guarantees on cereal prices and increased costs of American maize pushed the company towards wheat as a source. Eventually despite the lesser purity of wheat-derived starch, maize was no longer used and the silos fell out of use as wheat was brought in by lorry from the company’s own mill in Suffolk.


    I am not sure when the company acquired a lease on the Molassine site to the north beyond Morden Wharf Road or began using the brick warehouses, which others had built in the 1950s, for their own storage, but the waste water treatment plant on the far northern edge of that site was put into operation  in 1988 and the production of grain neutral alcohol began at the new plant in the centre of that site in 1992. This was, initially, a joint venture with a Scottish distiller but became independent of them in 1994. This was the first all-new distillation plant in London since the Beefeater in 1908. Alcohol was sold on to drinks manufacturers including London’s last remaining gin distillers in Kennington. This brings the development of the site to its maximum extent, the south part being extremely crowded and the northern part more expansive. The history of land and leases acquired and their eventual clarification into one big lease for the whole operative site at its fullest extent is complex, only approaching a resolution in 1995.

    From 1957, the works has undergone several changes of ownership with effects on the nature of the local company, as it became an ever smaller and less valued part of an ever larger whole. In 1976 Tate & Lyle bought in, taking a one-third share, leaving Amylum and Staley also with one-third shares. In 1988 Tate & Lyle bought Staley, so gaining a two-thirds share in the company, but having only 50% voting rights. Pierre Callebaut remained in charge of the Amylum factories. This may account for the continued good opinion of the company held by the people I have spoken to.  Latterly, a degree of corporate indifference may have crept into staff relations but nothing to compare with T & L’s union busting activities in Illinois which caused workers to protest, strike, and get locked out. The confrontation lasted from 1992 to 1995 and the workers lost.

    In 2000 T&L took over Amylum. They seem to have been little interested in Tunnel or in the locality. Amylum had been keenly interested in the locality: in 1992 they were among the founders of the Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership (a partnership of business and community interests for area regeneration) and undertook improvements along their boundary to the river. These included two garden areas and improvements to the Primrose Pier, opened as a public amenity.


    In 2007 Syral, a subsidiary of a French conglomerate Tereos (itself with a history dating back to 1932) bought five T&L sites including both Tunnel and Aalst. In 2009 they closed Tunnel citing logistical problems associated with an inner London .location and an over-provision of starch and glucose production in the group.


    The layout of the factory at the close is given by an Amylum plan from five years earlier. Not everything is identified, only the major processing plants. From the walk round the site just before closure some other buildings could be identified particularly the admin/canteen building, laboratory and maintenance buildings and the warehouses. Buildings surviving from the soap works are heavily outlined. The oldest of them was redundant, unlit within, filled with props and with detritus scattered on the floor. It seemed advisable not to enter. For the rest the site appeared clean if a little run down in places. We were told that the effluent treatment plant had been malfunctioning for some time.




    Now the site is cleared; only the administration block and the brick warehouses on Morden Wharf Road still stand together with one of the tanks of the effluent treatment plant. The rest is flattened and compacted ground. The riverside scene is now much quieter, the drama has gone and further de-industrialisation is very likely under the Core Strategy being devised by Greenwich Council planners. The developer Cathedral Group has now taken a lease on the site and the recently published master-plan for the area suggests the, to my mind somewhat improbable, location of an open air event arena on the northern part of it. Wait and watch.




    There are relevant historic photos to be found in the Greenwich Heritage Centre and I have a number of my own taken in recent years and falling into three groups:

    -          six dating from 2007 to 2009;

    -          eleven of those taken on 24th September 2009 when, together with a small group of industrial historians and a photographer, I visited the site just before demolition commenced;

    -          and nine images of the later stages in the disappearance of the works taken from April to September 2010.

    A small selection from these is also with the Heritage Centre.

    1.   2007/01/BW/35/19    January 2007    Syral shore from IoD: Grain silos & starch plant

    2.   2008/20/BW/35/32    Sept      2008    Syral skyline from near dome

    3.   2007/16/BW/35/28    August  2007    Alcohol and effluent plants

    4.   2009/11/BW/35/28    July       2009    Grain gear and Maritime Greenwich

    5.   2008/20/BW/35/19    Sept      2008    Site entrance from Tunnel Avenue

    6.   2008/20/BW/35/22    Sept      2008    View into main site road

    7.   2009/21/BW/35/4      Sept      2009    Main site road, starch dryer, grain silos

    8.   2009/21/BW/35/17    Sept      2009    View back from starch dryer to Syrup refinery no1

    9.   2009/21/BW/35/10    Sept      2009    Old steep tank bases (1960s)

    10. 2009/24/BW/35/4      Sept      2009    South wall of ex-soap works building

    11. 2009/20/BW/XP/12   Sept      2009    The ‘back road’

    12. 2009/21/BW/35/31    Sept      2009    Open batch syrup tank

    13  2009/20/BW/XP/13   Sept      2009    Tanks and grain silos

    14. 2009/22/BW/35/15    Sept      2009    Alcohol distillation plant

    15. 2009/22/BW/35/17    Sept      2009    Distillation plant detail

    16. 2009/23/BW/XP/4     Sept      2009    Emptied enzyme tanks

    17. 2009/20/BW/XP/17    Sept       2009    Clean-up vehicle seen from above

                                                                         syrup refinery no 1 

    18. 2010/01/BW/XP/1     April     2010    Demolitions at entrance

    19. 2010/05/BW/35/27    July       2010    Sheerlegs lifting a tank

    20. 2010/05/BW/35/33    July       2010    Inspecting a tank

    21. 2010/09/BW/35/14    July       2010    Demolition equipment at entrance

    22. 2010/11/BW/35/10    August  2010    Silos from entrance

    23. 2010/12/BW/XP/11   August  2010    Silos from river path

    24. 2010/12/BW/XP/9     August  2010    Silos from foreshore

    25. 2010/14/BW/35/7      August  2010    Silos from IoD

    26. 2010/17/BW/35/26    Sept      2010    Flattening the site; Maritime Greenwich


    0 0
  • 01/31/15--00:47: Things to go to
  • Docklands History Group are advertising their annual symposium on Thames Shipbuilding for 9th May. The programme is on their web site at:

    there are still no instructions as to how you can book though (will be devastated if I miss it!)

    The programme includes Chris Ellmers on the Dudman dockyard, Ian Friel on Royal Shipbuilding on the Thames, Richard Edsor on Charles II on Shipbuilding, Andrew Lambert on the Aaron Manby,  Alex Werner on an Indian shipwright in London, Des Pawson on tools for sailmaking, Stuart Rankin and Roger Owen on the King and Queen Foundry, Brendan O'Farrell on Dudgeons, and Roy Fenton on SS Robin.

    See you all there.

    Peter Luck writes about the Swanscombe Project
    Exhibition at Blake Gallery, Gravesend
    13 photographers: one post-industrial landscape.
    10th  –- 22nd  February 2015
    9.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Saturday; 10.00am – 2.00pm Sunday
    Swanscombe marshes comprise a rough triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Thames and on the third, south, side by low hills cut into by quarrying for chalk for the cement industry.
    Now that this industry is closed down and the cement works are gone, the quarry sites have been occupied by industries which have formed a barrier to the marshes and allow the area as a whole to be spoken of as an unattractive waste land.
    This is not quite the truth. The area has certainly been formed in large part by its industrial past and bears the traces, some enigmatic, but it is now a landscape of very varied form and biological diversity, often of quiet beauty and it is a zone of leisure free of both charge and regulation. For these reasons it is a zone of the imagination and enquiry. Capturing this has been a main part of our purpose in nearly two years of photography on the marshes.
    The proposals for the Paramount London Entertainment Resort, occupying the central landward parts of the marsh are now well known. At the edges some marsh areas will remain open including the Black Duck Marsh, the Botany Marsh, still used as summer grazing, and the foreland, were shipping sight-lines cross the bend in the river. This much is known but not yet details of land-modelling, architecture and the means to preserve industrial remains and ecological diversity, or the quiet which we have found valued by those who know the marshes,
    Alongside our photography, we present a brief statement of the history of the marshes – how this edgeland is also  the site of a rich and significant industrial history. Swanscombe marshes can be read as a document of our recent past, one which has survived through neglect. Will it continue to be readable through the future developments? And will the unregulated imagination still have a territory?
    Photographers: Lesley Brew, Chris Burke, Trevor Crone, Keith Ellis, Denis Galvin,
          John Levett, Peter Luck, Ingrid Newton, Anthony Palmer, Jennifer Roberts, Mike Seaborne,
         Sabes Sugunasabesan, John Whitfield.
    The group is formed from members and associates of Crossing Lines, a photo-forum based at Goldsmiths, University of London.

    0 0

    The following article appeared in Newcomen Links (no 232 December 2014) with thanks to the Newcomen Society.

    The last monument to Britain's Subsea Cables Industry
    by Allan Green

    Since presenting my paper at a London Meeting three years ago (150 years of Industry & Enterprise at Enderby's Wharf, NewcomenLinks 220 Dec. 2011 pl0) much Thames water has flowed past that site at Greenwich. It had been rumoured over several years that communications giant Alcatel-Lucent, who own the site, would be selling most of it for redevelopment. We now know that this had already taken place in 2008. However, it was only in the summer of 2013, after a number of false starts, that development of the major part of the riverside site, including Enderby House, had been taken up by Barratt, a property development company. This is in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley principally to build 616 apartments in several large blocks. Alcatel-Lucent continues manufacturing on the remaining part of the site.

    Because of its listed status, Enderby House must be maintained within conservation guidelines, but Barratt has not yet defined its future use. That is why interested individuals, including some from the submarine cable industry, have set up the Enderby Group, to find a secure, relevant and long-term use for the property that recognises and honours its role in the telecommunications revolution which started at this location over 150 years ago.

    In the past few years the building has been vandalised but is currently being conserved and protected by Barratt. Their architect's site model shows a pristine and extended Enderby House alongside the proposed Greenwich Cruise Liner Terminal and jetty. To the rear and overshadowing all are the proposed multi-storey apartment blocks which are already being marketed.

    Enderby House before it was vandalised
    Enderby House in 2014 - the only building on
    the riverfront that has survived redevelopment
    The Enderby Wharf site was the Greenwich home of the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co (Telcon), who built most of the world's submarine cables and is the oldest continuously operating telecommunications factory in the world. In 1864 that factory manufactured the first successful Atlantic telegraph cables. From then until the 1975 the factory continued to make subsea telecoms cable, which were loaded onto cable-laying ships via cable-handling gear that still survives on the riverside jetty. In its first hundred years the factory made over 400,000 miles (no less than 82%) of the world's subsea cables. When cable making was transferred to other factories Enderby Wharf turned to the manufacture of subsea repeaters and other systems components under new owners ST&C who took over the site in 1970. In 1994 they in turn were taken over by Alcatel.

    The factory continued to make subsea telecoms
    cable, which were loaded onto cable ships via
    cable handling gear
    The Enderby Group seeks to preserve Enderby House and the riverside cable-handling gear as the birthplace of the international communications revolution. Named after the shipping family that originally owned the site, the house was built on the riverside in the early 1840s. Though it is not an architectural masterpiece, it is of significant historical importance, it became Grade II listed in June 1973 and is the only building on the riverfront site that has survived the re- development.

    The Alcatel-Lucent site behind the new development remains the oldest subsea telecommunications manufacturing site in the world and the last in the UK. This industry has been British dominated for over 130 years. Today, the economies of many countries around the world quite literally depend upon access to the internet and its highways of fibre optic subsea cable.

    The Barratt architect's site model shows a pristine
    and extended Endery House alongside the
    proposed Greenwich Cruise Liner terminal
    and jetty
    This history and heritage is worthy of recognition and preservation. With this in mind, the Enderby Group has been formed to save Enderby House and its environs for posterity and provide it with a sustainable future. A business plan is currently being developed for presentation to Barratt and Morgan Stanley and to attract investors and other potential sources of funding. Historic archive material and artefacts relating to the site were transferred to the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum almost 10 years ago and an already promising collaboration with them has been sought by the Enderby Group.

    Porthcurno Telegraph Museum:
    The Enderby Group:



    0 0

    Back on 19th December we published a page about the history of the Atlantic Cable - it was the second half of an article which had appeared in Part 46 of Wonders of World Engineering in 1938.   BUT NOW Part 45 has emerged (with thanks) - so here is the first half of the article ..................


    The pioneers of submarine telegraphy had to contend with unprecedented conditions, and it was only after repeated failures that cable communications were established between the Old World and the New.

    The experiments which led to the laying of the first submarine cables and the trials and accidents which beset those responsible for them form one of the finest chapters in the history of engineering. The early telegraph engineers had to work in the dark. There had been nobody whose previous experience could teach them, and when they made mistakes they were faced with inevitable and often unmitigated failure.

    Cooke and Wheatstone in 1837 built thefirst practical electric telegraph beside the Great Western Railway from London to West Drayton (Middlesex). They extended it later to Slough, in Buckinghamshire. The simple wire suspended from porcelain insulators was useless for underwater purposes, and for many years electricians had been experimenting with means to convey electric current along a sub aqueous cable. As far back as 1811, Schilling and Sommering had made a trial with a wire cable which was sheathed in rubber.

    In 1838 Dr. William O'Shaughnessy (afterwards Sir William O'Shaughnessy Brooke, F.R.S.) conducted an interesting experiment for the East India Company, laying an underwater cable across the River Hooghly at Calcutta. Against the action of the water, he covered his wire with pitch; then he enclosed it within a split cane, finally wrapping tarred yarn roundthe outside. This system was reinvented, independently, by Wheatstone, sometime later, and he described it in the course of a proposal for a Dover-Calais telegraph, made before the House of Commons.

    In 1842 Professor Morse succeeded in transmitting electric current beneath and across New York Harbour. He surrounded his wire with tarred hemp and gave it an outer sheathing of rubber. Three years later came another interesting American experiment. Ezra Cornell laid an electric cable across the Hudson River between New York and Fort Lee. He used two copper wires, enclosed in cotton and insulated with rubber, the whole being contained in a lead pipe. As an experiment, it worked well for a while, but in the following year the cable was damaged beyond repair by drifting ice. In that year, 1846, Charles West succeeded in transmitting telegraph messages to a ship in Portsmouth Harbour through a rubber insulated wire which he paid out by hand. These beginnings may be said to represent the genesis of underwater telegraphy.

    The late 'forties saw an important contribution to the science of submarine telegraphy, namely, the application of gutta-percha as an insulating material. Werner von Siemens invented a machine for applying gutta-percha to wire. In 1849 mines were fired in the harbour at Kiel, Germany, by detonators connected with an electric cable enclosed in gutta-percha. Almost at the same time, C. V. Walker, then Electrical Engineer to the South Eastern Railway, laid a two-milegutta-percha-covered wire through the English Channel to Folkestone, the seaward extremity being on board the cable ship Princess Clementine. The shoreward end was connected up with the railway telegraph, and telegrams were exchanged between Walker in the ship and the telegraph office in London, eighty-three miles away.

    A decided fillip to submarine telegraphy was given during 1850-51 by T. R. Crampton's completion of the Dover-Calais cable. Crampton was primarily a railway engineer, being the originator of the Crampton type of locomotive, extensively built in the 'forties and 'fifties. In electrical engineering, too, Crampton was equally resourceful and enterprising. The necessary capital amounted to £15,000, and of this, Crampton himself raised half. In the early 'fifties such an enterprise as thiswas a speculation of speculations.

    Wild-Cat Schemes

    THE Crampton cable consisted of four copper wires, each covered with a double layer of gutta-percha, the interstices between the'four being filled up with tarred Russian hemp. These four insulated wires formed the core of the cable. They were armoured on the outside by ten No. 1 gauge galvanized wires wound round the central bundle in a spiral. This was a great advance on previous cables, and became a prototype that stood the test of years. It was one thing to lay a telegraph cable across a harbour or a river, or even across the English Channel. To bridge the ocean in the same way was quite another matter. Yet it is a continual peculiarity of modern engineering that the first successful applications of anything on a small scale are almost immediately followed by similar applications on a large scale.

    The steamship was yet quite young when the first Atlantic crossings took place. Trunk railways were being built over long distances only ten years after Stephenson had built the Rocket. Ten years again separated the first flight across the Channel and the first flight across the Atlantic.

    The shortest distance between the British Isles and Newfoundland is rather less than 2,000 miles. Soundings and surveys had been taking place over some time, and connecting lines had already been laid on land at both ends of the potential Atlantic cable, when in 1856 the Atlantic Telegraph Company was formed.

    Charles Bright was appointed Engineer-in-Chief, with Wildman White- house as Electrician. Bright was almost at once made the target for all the wild and wonderful theories concocted by wiseacres on both sides of the Atlantic. Everybody gave him advice, most of which was bad and even fantastic. Self- styled inventors and "experts" were present in great force. Charles Bright, however, was proof against any wild-cat schemes, though their promoters must have worried him and wasted his time a good deal. He plotted the course of the cable between Valentia Harbour, in the south-west of Ireland, and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. The distance between these two points is 1,640 sea miles, and Bright 'reckoned that 2,500 miles of cable would be sufficient to cover this gap, allowing for all inequalities of the sea floor. The bed of the Atlantic abounds in banks and huge deeps, beginning, in a westerly direction, with an enormous submarine cliff some distance beyond the west of Ireland.

    The far-sighted engineer urged the adoption of a heavy cable, weighing 392 lb. per sea mile, with insulation of the same weight. The company, however, was in a hurry to get the work done and overruled him, so that he had to content himself with a 107 lb. per mile cable with 261 lb. gutta-percha insulation. In the course of ............

    The rest of this article is a few pages back on the blog on 19th December entitled 'How it was achieved - information between Europe and America

    0 0

    Enderby Wharf and Rope

    The Enderby family are known for their rope walk on the Greenwich Peninsula - the line of which could be seen until obliterated by current development. It lay at right angles to the Thames and parallel to Bendish Sluice - also now obliterated by the Barratt development.

    The rope walk on the site however was in existence before the Enderby family came to the site and dated from some time after 1800.  It was in the hands of a James Littlewood by 1808, and this was described as a “rope house, rope walk, houses and wharf’. 

    The following is extracts from a court case heard in the Court of Exchquer in the June 1824 and is taken from an account in the morning Chronicle.  It concerns 'The King v. Robert Binns" Binns was the landlord of a the Seven Stars in Whitechapel and he had received a quantity of spirits without a permit and in cans or bladders.

    Thomas Phipps, a Surveyor of Excise, gave evidence that he had discovered a private still in Kentish Town managed by 'a person who gave his name as Smith.  He was taken to the Magistrates Court and fined 30/-.

    The next witness was James Littlewood  was admitted that he also used the name of Smith and within the past three or four months had manufactured three or four hundred gallons of spirits.
    Littlewood went on "he had been rather unfortunate in business; he became a bankrupt in 1817, ..... having borrowed of his friends £40 he took the rope walk which had occasioned his bankruptcy and where he should have succeeded, had not a conspiracy been formed to take it out of his hands". he went on that he has "made over the rope-walk to a person named Young, but received nothing for it, only a promise of his situation as foreman, with a salary of £250 per annum".

    It then emerged that he had later been charged with stealing some hemp  from Mr. Young, but he sais this was not so. He was however sacked because of it and took out a charge against Mr. Young to recover the possession of property.   This was tried at Maidstone, but was defeated because there was no written agreement.  However during the proceedings he ended up in the Horsemonger Lane Jail for running an illicit still, and for selling spirits in the prison.

    Once out of gaol he "turned his attention to a private still in Kentish-town, and passed by the name of Smith". Since that had been discovered by the Excise he set up another still at Leytonstone, and then one at Camberwell, changing his name again to Cross, and when this was discovered he opened yet another still in Bethnal-Green.

    Since then he had been in the Fleet Prison because of debts contracted at the Greenwich ropeworks.
    Following evidence from some other parties  - the Foreman of the Jury stood up and said, “My Lord, we are unanimous"  and said, about Littlewood "we cannot believe such a wretch on his oath.”
    -  the case ended with no verdict.

    0 0

    Last week's GIHS meeting was entertained by the speaker, John Kennedy Melling, on the Noakesoscope.  That, it turns out, was an ingenious sort of magic lantern, showing moving pictures, invented by one of the Noakes, Greenwich based forage merchants.

    One of the mysteries is what happened to the machine - which Mr. Melling had hoped to acquire on the death of the last Noakes, but which went to a descendant and hasn't been seen since 1961!  Where is it??

    Mr. Melling told us a lot about some of the family - there was a famous conjurer who lived in my road in Blackheath. He told us how a boat used to tour the canals giving shows by various similar bits of equipment   -  and  --  

    We have been pointed in the direction of the following item from the Greater London Archaeology Society's Newsletter No.75 - please see


    On the evening of 20th February [1981] last a party of 29 GLIAS people attended the Magic Lantern Theatre aboard the narrow boat "Phantasmagoria", then moored on the Regent's Canal at Delamere Terrace. 22 people were packed into the rather cramped auditorium, whilst seven were accommodated behind the screen and able to witness some of the "Showman's Magic". Hand painted glass slides depicting scenes 3" in diameter were back-projected onto a screen 4' in diameter located amidships, the slides being magnified 15 times, compared with the 50 times magnification of the original Victorian shows. The action varied from the simple two position 'flips' of an acrobatic circus equestrian and a 'skipping' child, through dissolving scenes such as 'Day and Night' and the 'Four Seasons', to the very impressive 'Storm at Sea' accompanied by the crash of thunder and the flash of lightning. This sequence depicts an old favourite of mines Eddystone Lighthouse (Smeaton's of course). Then followed a mesmerising sequence of chromotropes turning and twisting, coming and going and changing colour. The show ended with Anita hand cranking a 1905 Moliere cinematograph and showing an especially printed reel of the first films of the Lumière brothers. (The original films were all of one minute's duration.)

    Doug and Anita Dean, who run this marvellous theatre, are at present on their summer holiday tour, but will be back in September, I believe, to prepare for their next season at Delamere Terrace (October to May). I look forward to seeing their 'second show' which includes a Victorian 'Journey into Outer Space'.

    NB I'd never heard of chromotropes either!
    Tom Smith

    Let us know if you were among the party??

    Author of the piece Tom Smith was a GLIAS member for several years and was GLIAS Sales Officer. He was a Widnes man who spent much of his life in the Royal Artillery, and after leaving the Army he settled in Woolwich. Before he retired he worked as a clerical officer with the Post Office

    0 0
  • 03/24/15--03:13: Ballast Quay news

  • We would like to let you know that there are now three new recordings on our Oral History Pages which can be accessed on the Ballast Quay website under:

    We have a further two reminiscences planned to record in  April/May  and we will let you know when they are published.  

    In the meantime we wish you happy listening!

    0 0

    Great to see on Facebook that there is a dig in Woolwich which has found bits of one of the old Woolwich gas works. Details on Chris Mansfield's page.

    There were a number of gas works in Woolwich.  Below is a quick scan of articles written about them in the 1930s and published in Co-partnership Journal (South Met. Gas Co house journal)

    South Metropolitan Gas Company


    Fifty years ago, on 1 January 1885, there came into operation the amalgamation of the South Metropolitan Gas Company with the two Woolwich Companies,  known respectively as the Woolwich Equitable Gas Company and the Woolwich  Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Gas Company. The immediate result of  this was that the South Metropolitan Company's district of supply was extended  throughout Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton, and into Kent. In addition its  sales of gas increased by about 200 million cubic feet a year, and the quality of  gas to the new area was improved from fourteen and twelve to sixteen candle-  power.

    The Woolwich Equitable Gas Company was established in 1832,  and incorporated ten years later, to supply a cheaper and purer  gas than that which was being received from the company that  had existed in Woolwich since 1820. It was formed with a capital  of £12,000, and the works and apparatus of the older concern were  bought. The site of these works was a small piece of ground at  the bottom of Surgeon Street, immediately east of what is now the  approach to the Woolwich Free Ferry. It is at present used by the  Borough Council as a storing-ground and distributing centre for paving and curb stones
    The Company had been in existence for about two years when  charges of extravagance in the erection of works were made  against the Directors, and in 1836 a public meeting of gas consumers  was held to protest against the high price of gas. The principal  ground for complaint was that the Company was supplying the  Dockyard with gas at nine shillings per thousand cubic feet,  whereas the ordinary consumers were called upon to pay eleven  shillings. The Directors refused, however, to reduce the charge  below ten shillings, whereupon the following decision of a committee of consumers was communicated to them:-   

    "We very much regret the determination that the  Directors have thought proper to come to on this occasion,  and beg to assure them we do not any longer consider them  entitled to the name of ' Equitable,' and further that we have  always supported the Company when former discontent has  taken place, solely on the ground of their charging the same  price to all classes. We therefore now consider that we are  quite at liberty to use any means in our power to procure gas  at a lower price, and if found practicable, or too expensive to  make on a small scale for our own consumption, then we shall  endeavour with other gentlemen to establish another  Company."   

    To this the Company replied that, rather than allow the  conflicting interests of rival companies to inconvenience the town,  they would agree to reduce the price to nine shillings. The consumers, however, were now not content to negotiate further with  the Equitable Company, and they decided to proceed at once with  the formation of a new body and to treat for ground on which to  erect the necessary works. On 18 August 1843 the prospectus of  the Woolwich Consumers' Protective Gas Company was issued.  

    The works of the Equitable Company, which consisted of four gasholders, a retort house and other buildings (including a pipe  factory), were built on the western side of the Royal Arsenal, and  were reached by way of Rodney Street, Meeting-House Lane, and  Harding’s Lane. The two latter thoroughfares have now dis appeared.  For many years after 1887, when the works were  sold, the site was occupied by Messrs. Kirk &; Randall, building  contractors, but during the war the buildings of the Royal Arsenal  were extended to include it. At a recent visit to the site a 2-ft.  length of 6-inch flanged pipe lying in lonely solitude on a piece of  vacant ground belonging to the Borough Council appeared to be  the only indication of the existence at one time of a gasworks in  the vicinity.   

    At the time of the amalgamation the authorised capital of the  Equitable Company was £48,000 and the paid-up capital £22,000.  The selling price of gas was three shillings per thousand cubic feet. The Company was not controlled by the sliding scale, for which it  was seeking authority, but had fixed minimum dividends of  10 per cent., 7 1/2 per cent. and 7 per cent.   

    The Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Company,  as has already been stated, originated in 1843 as The Protective   Gas Company, and were incorporated in 1855, when it entered into   serious competition with the Woolwich Equitable Company. The  initial charge for gas was eight shillings per thousand cubic feet,  which compared favourably with the eleven shillings required by  its rival. The original capital was £6,000, in 1,200 shares of £5  each. The object of the undertaking, which was constituted by  a Trust Deed limiting the liability of each shareholder to the  amount of his share, was not to offer large dividends, and the  Company did not desire to induce capitalists to invest their money  therein. It was intended, on the contrary, to make it, if possible, solely a consumers' Company, and the shares in the first instance  were offered to consumers with no prospect of a dividend greater, than 5 per cent. It took as its motto that of the Order of the  . Thistle, " Nemo me impune lacessit " (No one provokes me with  impunity), which seemed to indicate that the consumers were  “going to stand no nonsense" from anyone who should seek to  thwart them.   

    The works of the Company were at the end of Hardens Lane,  Woolwich, behind the Carpenter's Arms, and adjoined the  eastern side of the Woolwich Dockyard, with a river frontage and  a jetty. The site is now occupied by Messrs. Tuff & Hoar, cartage contractors. It was formerly approached from the High Street by G lass Yard, or Short's Alley. The works wall can still be seen  on the town side, and apparently it was built largely of old pieces of firebrick and hard clinker. This wall is a relic of Old Woolwich for it runs alongside of what was known as " Forty Corners, a series of alleys and corners which run parallel to the river side of the High Street. The old convict prison next to

    (sorry end of the article is missing)



    In the July issue there appeared a short account of the amalgamation, in  1885, of the South Metropolitan Gas Company with the two Woolwich companies,  known respectively as the Woolwich Equitable Gas Company and the Woolwich,  Plumstead and Charlton Consumers' Gas Company. This month we are pleased  to publish a letter received from Mr. J. D. C. Hunter ill which he sets forth  further interesting details relating to the Consumers' Gas Company's Works.  It is an additional pleasure to include in our pages a contribution from one who  was for many years a highly esteemed officer of the Company, and also closely  associated with the COPARTNERSHIP JOURNAL.-EDlTOR.  

    The article" A Page from the Company's History," in the  COPARTNERSHIP JOURNAL for July, was read by me with intense  pleasure. It called up so many memories of old times and places  that I feel compelled to write a few lines to show my appreciation.  

    I am the only survivor of the staff of either of the Woolwich Companies (the others, my old friends, Arthur Moore, Frederick  Mavity and George Randall having passed away), and what I am  writing may interest some of the few other employees who yet  remain. One, H. Chesney, was mentioned recently in the JOURNAL  when he received your congratulations on the occasion of his golden  wedding. He was employed at the Equitable Works.  

    It is stated in the article that the amalgamation caused the  consumers to get gas of higher illuminating power, but perhaps you  are not aware that it also gave them gas-of greater purity. There  was not a testing station in the town (public spirit was not up to  the level of demanding one), and whatever found its way into the  mains the consumers had to accept as gas. The sulphur certainly  was not down to the Referees' limit, and what the ammonia was  I dare not venture to suggest.  

    My father, after being at Thames Street, Greenwich, where my  grandfather was engineer, became engineer of the Woolwich  Consumers' Company in 1867. I was a very small boy then, and  the works were somewhat different from the plan of them given  in the JOURNAL. The plans I enclose are not drawn to scale, but  are the products of my memory. They show the extensions made  by my father's predecessor, Mr. A. Stark, between 1853 and 1867 and later in about 1874.  

    The Royal Dockyard was not closed until after we had been  a year or two in Woolwich, and one of my oldest memories is that  of being taken on the Jetty to see the Ironclad Repulse launched.  I think only one more vessel, the Thalia, was built before the  yard was closed. The mast pond of the Dockyard adjoined our wharf. It was not really a pond but part of the river enclosed by  floating timbers chained to piles, or "dolphins," in such a manner  that they rose and fell with the tides. On the closing of the  Dockyard this enclosure and the foreshore past Taylor's coal wharf  were purchased by the Company and embanked to form what is now Tuff & Hoar's Wharf. This increase in the area of the works  gave space for a gasholder eighty feet in diameter (the existing  holders were thirty to forty feet), new scrubbers, and purifiers.  

    What appears on the plan of 1853 as Sales' Coal Wharf was  Taylors Coal Wharf in 1867. It was owned by the Company, and  Mr John Taylor had been the tenant of it for some years. Mr Sales then had a wharf which ceased to exist when the approach  to the Free Ferry was made .  

    The old millwright who worked for us could always go to Sales' Wharf and come back with a piece of lignum-vitae, sabicu or some other uncommon wood. This generosity of Mr. Sales used to  astonish me, but in the course of time I found that it was more  apparent than real, for an arrangement existed by which, in return  for letting us have wood, he could have what tar he needed for  the maintenance of his small fleet of barges. An end came to this  state of affairs through wood becoming scarce (I think periodical  sales of old and rejected material, which ceased when the Dockyard  closed, were the cause), but a few relics of it remain in the form  of the handles of some of the old tools that I possess.  

    The Waterman's Steam Packet Company amalgamated with  another company and moved their plant to larger premises where  the electric power station is now. The place they vacated in the  Glass Yard became Rose and Mellish's Flour Mill.  

    Harden's Lane, referred to, I know nothing about.  It did not exist in my time, and I think there must be some  confusion with the approach to the Equitable Works.  

    Short's Alley was always a source of annoyance. It was a  very dirty place, and undesirable folk were nearly always in it.  It was diverted slightly when my father found he had not quite  enough ground for the second gasholder (No. 6). A small holder  (No. I) was scrapped, and the building constructed of old firebricks  and clinkers was shortened, but a circle of the diameter  required could not be struck entirely within the boundary of the  works. The difficulty was got over by pulling down a house which  belonged to the Company and, by giving as much ground as was  taken, altering the course of the alley a few feet. By what  authority it was done I do not know, and it was a matter of  surprise that; the owners of shops in High Street did not complain.  

    The engine house (I think it still stands) contained two  reciprocating exhausters driven by vertical engines of somewhat  antiquated type. This was rather poor equipment, but it was  considerably better than what the Equitable Works once had.  When the late Mr. Robert Mort on went there as engineer it had  the oscillating engines of an old paddle steamboat adapted to the  purpose

    The experience of  ??ding the old tar tank must have been  unpleasant if not dangerous. It was a formidable black pit in my  early days, and one of the spots I had strict orders to avoid. I am  surprised that it was not taken out when the place was dismantled.  The plan of the Equitable Works seems to show the state of  affairs up to the time Mr. Morton left (he went to Vauxhall about   1865). The last engineer, Mr. William White, made some alterations, but the plan was not changed to any great extent.  

    Other memories could be written, but, I will not bother you  with them. Old men who can look back on nearly seventy years  often make the mistake of assuming that others are as greatly rested in the past as they are themselves, and perhaps I have  made that mistake with you. The future cannot hold many years  for the old ones, but, few as those years may be, they cause serious  thought-what is beyond them causes thought more serious.  

    ( Footnote There were no Gas Works in Woolwich for nearly twenty years before  the prejudice against the' new-fangled light' was overcome. The first gas factory was a very small concern at the bottom of Surgeon Street on the  site of Edgar's coal wharf, and belonged to one of the Livesey family, the  first manager being .MIr. Sanderson, who had previously exhibited the light  in his shop window in Richard Street (the upper part of Hare Street)." Vincent , Records of the Woolwich District)

    SO  - in addition  to the two articles above I have added something I wrote many years ago which was published in Bygone Kent and (a shorter version) in the GLIAS Newsletter


    This, I am afraid, is going to be another tale of a gas works which didn't work very well.  This is not a story of one of the really scandalous London gas works. Just a little local matter down in Woolwich.


    In the early days of the gas industry, between 1810 and 1820, a number of entrepreneurs began to look round for towns in need of a gas works.  In 1815, or thereabouts, a prime candidate must have been Woolwich – a flourishing centre with a number of big industrial sites, which surely must have needed a good source of lighting.  It is no surprise therefore to find a speculative gas works built there.

    Previous articles in this series, about Greenwich, have introduced a number of men who built and sold ready made gas works to local authorities and private individuals.  In Greenwich the first approaches had been made to the local authority in the early 1820s by a Mr. Hedley, followed by a Mr. Gostling. In the 1830s a works had been built in Deptford by a Mr. Barlow.  Some of these, and others we will meet again.

    In 1817, or thereabouts, a Mr. Livesey and a Mr. Hardy built a gas works in Woolwich.  If the name Livesey is familiar, it is because he was George Livesey's great-uncle, Thomas.  After 1870 George Livesey became the leading figure in the gas industry in London and has recently been notorious following a press story about 'the ghost in the Dome'.   To some extent however George had inherited the mantle of great uncle Thomas.  Thomas Livesey was a hosier based in the City of London. In 1812 he had been one of forty men who had bought a block of shares in the first ever gas company, in London, with a view to changing the way it was being run.  In 1813 he had been elected to the Court of Governors as the candidate of this group and, quite literally, set about finding out how a gas company should be set up and managed. A great deal has been written about the invention of the technology of gas manufacture but it is rarely mentioned that Thomas Livesey designed gas company management – in many ways just as important.  Busy as he was with this role he clearly had time for other things, and like many others, an eye for a profit on the side.

    The other partner in the Woolwich gas works was a Mr. Hardy, a coal merchant and a friend of Thomas Livesey.  He was also at that time a partner of Mr.Hedley who was later to tender, unsuccessfully, to build the first Greenwich gas works.  Hardy and Hedley operated a gas equipment and ironmongers business out of an office in Kings Arms Yard off Cheapside in the City of London.  Thomas Livesey also used this address sometimes although his hosiery business was round the corner in Wood Street.

    Livesey and Hardy built their gas works in Woolwich on a site known as 'Roff's Compound' or 'Edgar's Coal Wharf'. This was on the river in the area of today's Bell Watergate and next to the Waterfront Leisure Centre – then in the midst of small streets and wharves. Roff was a well-known wharfinger in Woolwich for many years and his wharf was still marked on a map nearly forty years later in 1853 – by which time there was also a 'steamboat' pier on site.  I am not aware of any contemporary map or plan of the works or even exactly where the site was but it is very likely that it had good riverside access.

    It is likely that it had some local support since it has been said that the first Manager was a Mr.Sanderson who had a business in Richard Street Woolwich where he exhibited gas lights before the works was opened.  Perhaps he was the same Mr. Sanderson who later had a paint and glazing business in Powis Street.

    Whatever the plans for the works were it seems that it was not successful and after only six or seven years Livesey and his friends set about trying to dispose of it.  In 1824 they tried to sell the works to the South London Gas Company. When this approach failed they tried to sell it to the Bankside and Greenwich based Phoenix Company. They asked Phoenix in February 1825, and then in November 1827 and in December 1828 when they offered it to them for £6,500. Phoenix turned it down.

    One of the reasons Livesey and Hardy were so keen to get rid of the Woolwich Gas Works was that as Thomas Livesey was Deputy Governor of the Westminster based Chartered Gas Light and Coke Co. he was not supposed to have an interest in another gas company. In fact the Chartered took a very dim view of his extra-curricular activities and in May 1827 he had to make a sworn statement to the effect that he had disposed of his interest in the Woolwich Gas Company.  This, as it turns out, was not really true.  In what follows Livesey is always described and treated as the owner of this works.

    It seems that he had transferred the legal ownership and the Woolwich gas works was actually owned by a corporate body of which a Mr. Ainger was a trustee.  Ainger was yet another coal and iron merchant  - this time based on Bankside.  Livesey must have known him well since he had been selling coal to the Chartered Company from its inception. 
    The years went by. It was offered around to other gas companies, like the Phoenix at Bankside. They could have had for £6,500, but neither they, nor apparently anyone else wanted it. 

    Previous articles about the gas industry in Greenwich have described the dissatisfaction of local businessmen with the existing private gas companies and their efforts to set up one which would be more responsive to their wish for cheaper gas. In 1832 in Woolwich another gas company was set up, the Woolwich Equitable.  Ten years later another company was set up to rival it – The Woolwich Consumers Protective Gas Company. There was to be talk of  'serious defalcations' at the Woolwich Equitable and the rows between the two rivals fill many pages of the Kentish Mercury.  Neither of these situations will be dealt with in this article.

    The Woolwich Equitable advertised that it would sell 'cheaper and purer' gas and set about trying to buy up the old works in order to supplant them.  They began to negotiate with Mr. Livesey and Mr. Ainger. This should have been no problem since they had been trying to get rid of it for at least the previous ten years.  A valuation was commissioned from Mr. John Barlow.

    Barlow, who was the builder of the Greenwich Railway Gas Works at Deptford, and many others, was in many ways an interested party and, in the interests of honesty and fair play, another valuer was brought in. This was a Mr. Robert Brown of Royal Hill. I assume that this is the Robert Brown, Architect of Royal Place in 1839 not Mr. Robert Brown, Plumber, of Blackheath Hill also extant in 1839 (or perhaps they were the same person).

    The valuation report was very long and very damning – the works was 'very dilapidated' to say the least.  In negotiations Ainger and Livesey began frantically to talk the equipment up – they explained that the wooden tanks were after all, only fifteen years old and the pipework would last at least a hundred years. The report apparently didn't agree with them.  Ainger then accused the Woolwich Equitable Board of trying to cheat him.  

    The new gas company decided that it was desperate to 'buy up the competition' and continued negotiations regardless.  Livesey began to talk about problems with an Act of Parliament and the Board of the Equitable brought their solicitor along to see him.  A settlement was reached in July 1832 at a meeting between both sides and their lawyers. In the following January a list was produced of Messrs. Livesey and Ainger's various misdeeds and Woolwich Equitable Directors were perhaps most annoyed that £245 of the purchase money was to find its way into Mr. Livesey's pocket.
    The old Woolwich works was taken over, run for a while, and closed down. While negotiations had been going on with Livesey and Ainger other arrangements were taking place for a new works to be built specially for the new gas company. It's nice to know that the contract to build the new works went to Mr. Barlow – who lost the contract to survey the old works.

    This story in some ways echoes that in Greenwich in the same period – and probably many other places as well. An early works built by speculators which was inefficient and soon became ruinous. After all you would expect things to improve as people had more experience of the technology.  It is perhaps ironic that Thomas Livesey, so successful in his management of the first and largest company then in existence – should get in such a mess at Woolwich.  It also throws considerable light on the standards of honesty not only of Livesey but also of others of the time and to the lack of statutory regulation.

    The Woolwich works went on to be racked with scandals until taken over by South Met. in the 1880s.

    This article has been compiled from archive sources at London Metropolitan Archives and supplementary material including an article in Co-partnership Journal

    Mary Mills


    PS - there was of course yet another Woolwich gas works inside the Arsenal

    0 0

    LATEST STORY FIRST - Yesterday we put on this site stuff about an archaeological dig in Woolwich which had found an old gas holder. Well - later that day photographer Chris Mansfield told us, through Facebook, that he has been thrown off the site for publishing his pictures on line!!!

    There has been a 'consultation' by Transport for London on plans to upgrade Greenwich (possibly oldest working) power station.  This seems to be to put more generation equipment into the long unused easterly hall so as to provide extra potential capacity for the tube while joining local power networks to provide energy for locals. Details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment but local groups are reporting on this and planning to find out more.  See East Greenwich Residents on http://  and the current Greenwich Society Newsletter   

    This is a big big subject - it appears that it has either been sold to a developer, or not, as the case may be. It is likely that the site is being snapped up so it can be demolished for housing.   In many parts of the world redundant gas holders are being turned into all sorts of facilities - including blocks of flats built inside them.  Our holder - East Greenwich No.1 - was the biggest in the world when it was built, and built to revolutionary principles, probably with advice from leading modern movement designers. 

    Meanwhile the club in Blackwall Lane is doing light shows on it

    A group of architects have produced a model of what they think should be done with the holder. Their work seems to have had little, or no, local publicity although it was shown at the Royal Academy and elsewhere. It was done by Patrick Judd and Ash Bonham as a project by the Royal Institution of British Architects and the Architects Journal and the worked received a commendation.   They are trying to get the holder listed - but, quite honestly, we've been there and back already!!

    Barbara Ludlow tells us that a book by Conan Fraser (who apparently died last year) has been published in New Zealand - The Enderby Settlement - Britain's Whaling Venture on the Sub-Antarctic Island 1849-1852'  Published by Otago University Press. Price not known.

    Meanwhile the Enderby Group is busy busy busy - hope to do a detailed article soon

    Photographer Peter Marshall has now got a page on Facebook about his new book which is largely about pictures on the Greenwich riverside. Here's what he says: "Here's the final volume in my London Docklands series of books with pictures taken before 1985. The book is published as a PDF (ISBN 978-1-909363-13-7) and can be downloaded from Blurb for a fiver and you can print any pages you wish for personal use. If you want a printout of the whole book, this is available from Blurb, but copies are cheaper direct from me at £25 + £2 p/p for UK customers. 90 pages,82 b/w photographs'

    This group campaigns on a number of issues on the other side of the river.  They have been actively involved in trying to prevent the demolition of a number of gas holders - and have just lost the fight with the great and dramatically sited holder in Bethnal Green.   Nearer to us is the campaign - and on line petition - on the holders at Levan Road - which you can see immediately to your right as you emerge from the Blackwall Tunnel.
    They are also actively involved in trying to stop demolitions of some wonderful 19th century industrial buildings at Hackney Wick (where the first plastic - Zylonite - was developed, and much else).

    We have their 150th anniversary newsletter - that 150 years of the engines, not of the Trust.  They have a full report of the opening in the newsletter with lots of congratulations to Mr. Bazalgette.   The newsletter also includes a tribute to Michael Dunmow - one of their most prominent activists and also a assiduous researcher on industrial Bexley. He will be missed.   There is an item on the various bands which have recorded videos and so on among the engines.

    We also have news of the demolition of the old Maybloom Working Men's Club in Plumstead. This interesting building - a purpose built club from 1928 - was almost impossible to see from the road, which why its end seems to be unnoticed. (thanks to Chris Mansfield for the info).

    We have been sitting on an interesting article in the Institution of Civil Engineers Newsletter about a visit to the Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnels. This is a great interest as it involves issues which could be taken up in our Greenwich and Woolwich Tunnels.  Requests to reproduce the article have been ignored (sigh!!)

    Always interesting.   Would recommend article in their February issue on Lord Marks of Woolwich 'The forgotten engineer'.  (hopefully we could reproduce this).

    We have been asked to remind people about the AGM of the Naval Dockyards Society  on 25th April at the Maritime Museum. This is followed by a conference on 'The Royal Dockyards and the Pressures of Global War 1793-1815' . Details

    0 0

    0 0

    following is a scan and transcript of a booklet produced by Woolwich Council in 1961 about their new flats and new parking system  - and, look, this is a scheme produced by a supremely confident Labour Metropolitan Borough. Woolwich had done this development themselves - in other boroughs it would have been undertaken by the London County Council - but Woolwich had special consent to do it themselves.  We all know now about the wretched Autostacker - but that shouldn't be a reason to denigrate the St.Mary's scheme as a whole. We forget that this was a clearance scheme of a terrible terrible slum area - designed to propel Woolwich into the modern world.  They were using the latest and most fashionable architects - and the flats were noted by Pevsner - and they were doing it all inhouse.

    Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich


    Visit of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret and Mr. Antony Armstrong-Jones

    On the Occasion of the Completion of The St.Mary's Tower Flats - 


    The Coffee House and Lounge at St. Mary's Church - The Council's Multi-Storey Garage

    Thursday, 11th May, 1961


    WOOLWICH is the second largest in area of the Metropolitan Boroughs and holds a unique position as far as housing is concerned. Apart from the London County Council it is, and always has been, the foremost housing authority in London. As an out- skirting south-eastern London Borough however, suffering severe war damage, it still has a serious housing problem.

    Woolwich has always believed in the construction of well-appointed housing estates with suitable amenities in the way of wide roads, open spaces and community centres. Until the last few years the Woolwich Council has always avoided the construction of tall blocks of fiats on its estates, but the scarcity of land has necessitated their erection and these tower flats have been built accordingly.

    The St. Mary's Area of the Borough has been the subject of a large comprehensive scheme of redevelopment during the last five years. Before the last war the area comprised small un- desirable dwellings, narrow, badly arranged streets and few, if any amenities. Suffering from heavy bombing as a result of its proximity to the Royal Arsenal, the area became semi-derelict and an eyesore.  The area is now being transformed by the Woolwich Council into a pleasant, well laid-out neighbourhood with open spaces, shopping centres and other amenities. The new buildings have been appreciated greatly by the former residents of the area and these new tower fiats, with a commanding view over the River Thames, are a further stage in the scheme. The area is one of eight areas in London included in the development plan, and the only one which is being carried out by a Metropolitan Borough Council. As approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the area comprised approximately 62 areas in which were over 1,200 families in some 1,100 dwellings, the majority of which were old and in need of replacement.

    Rehousing of families from some of the most unfit dwellings commenced in January, 1952, and up to the present, 718 families have been rehoused from the area. Some 600 properties have been demolished, and a further 180 acquired and held pending demolition as and when the families in occupation are rehoused.  To date, 485 new dwellings have been erected, all by the Borough Council's direct labour organisation, and a further 89 are now under construction. A parade of shops and a number of garages also have been provided.  The present scheme in Frances Street and Samuel Street has been designed by Messrs. Norman & Dawbarn, is being constructed by Wates Ltd. and the Quantity Surveyors are Messrs. Falkner & Partners. The scheme comprises 279 dwellings, together with two shops, and garages, made up as follows :-

    Four 14 storey blocks containing 159 Two Bedroom Flats 60 One Bedroom Flats

    Five 4 storey blocks containing 37 Three Bedroom Maisonettes 13 Bed-sitter Flats

    One 2 storey block containing 8 Bed-sitter Flats 1 Three Bedroom Maisonette

    Doctor's House and Surgery

    The fourteen-storey flats are equipped with electric under-floor heating to give background space heating, this being supplemented with electric panel fires in the living rooms. Each Tower block will have two lifts, and communal laundries are provided in the basements of two blocks which will serve all dwellings in the scheme. The smaller blocks are equipped with solid fuel appliances in the living rooms. Water heating is by balanced flue gas multipoint heaters. Building operations commenced in July, 1959, and the scheme is expected to be completed early in 1962. Flats have been furnished by the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society and Cuff's Ltd.

    The redevelopment in the St. Mary's Area is only a part of the Borough Council's housing activities. Since the war some 3,460 permanent homes have been built in other parts of the Borough, both for general housing purposes and for smaller slum clearance areas. In addition, 986 emergency factory made bungalows were provided, although a number of these have now been removed to make available land for permanent development.  Schemes are in progress on four other sites, where a total of 337 dwellings are under construction by the Council's direct labour organisation.

    A further large development area in central Plumstead-the Glyndon Area-has also been undertaken by the Council and 160 families have been rehoused, the unfit vacated dwellings now being in process of demolition. The first stage of the redevelopment, comprising 252 dwellings, is expected to commence later in 1961. This post-war development, added to the extensive housing programmes of the inter-war years, has brought the total number of dwellings owned and controlled by the Council to over 10,000.

    Notwithstanding its proud record of achievement in housing, the Woolwich Council will continue to provide homes for the many citizens who still need them. Whilst proceeding with slum clearance and redevelopment, the Council will do everything possible to press on with the provision of housing accommodation to satisfy the ever present demand.


    Woolwich is the first outlying metropolitan borough to introduce a parking meter scheme. Unlike the few central boroughs that already have these schemes, the Woolwich Council felt that in the interests of the displaced motorists the provision of adequate off-street parking was an inherent feature of the proposal.  The multi-storey garage, therefore, with other off-street parking places, has been timed to open in conjunction with the commencement of the parking meter scheme. The garage has been constructed for the Council by Auto-Stackers Ltd. and will be operated in conjunction with Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. and Dagenham Motors Ltd. It is the first fully automatic garage of its kind to be built in this country for ownership by a local authority. The garage will accommodate 256 cars.

    The Woolwich AUTOSTACKER, or multi-storey garage, represents the successful development of an idea conceived by its inventor, Colonel J. A. Stirling, and initially put into practice in the form of a working Meccano model. Recognising the ever increasing demand for improved parking facilities and the general lack of suitable sites, Colonel Stirling was prompted to design a method of garaging cars that would permit the maximum utilisation of space available for off-street parking. The AUTOSTACKER automatic principle of parking cars achieves the aim of providing high density parking for a given volume and also permits rapid parking and withdrawal of vehicles. Apart from the space occupied by the lift entry and exit bays, the ground floor of the garage is completely free for traffic circulation, or alternatively can be used for showrooms, servicing purposes, stores, and a reservoir area or for additional garaging.  Each of the eight floors of the Woolwich garage will accommodate 32 cars, or a total of 256 vehicles. Four lifts are employed, each of which are handling a section of the garage containing 64 car spaces or 8 spaces per floor. The time cycle for parking or withdrawal can be calculated at an average of 50 seconds per lift. The average overall entry or withdrawal rate is accordingly 4 cars every 50 seconds. On this basis it should be possible to clear a fully occupied Garage of this type in just over 53 minutes.  Each floor is divided into three equal galleries running the length of the building. The two outer galleries are each divided into 16 parking spaces 17 ft. 6 ins. long by 6 ft. 8 ins. wide. The central gallery contains the four lifts, one at each end and two in the centre, and also the rails for the powered transporters.

    When the motorist arrives at the garage he leaves his car locked up and with the brake on in one of the entrances where it will rest on a conveyor. He then proceeds to the control kiosk. An attendant, who is in charge of a control panel bearing 256 keys, each of which corresponds to a parking bay, will then turn one of these keys and give it to the motorist as a form of receipt for his vehicle. The actual turning of the key in the control panel starts up the automatic process of parking and the reverse sequence applies for the withdrawal of vehicles. In starting up the parking cycle, the conveyor in the entrance bay moves the car on to a transporter which in turn rests on one of the lifts. This transporter also carries two conveyor belts. The lift then rises to the pre-selected floor, complete with the transporter and car. When it reaches the floor level, the transporter moves off the lift on to rails located on either side of the transverse gallery which extends the whole length of the building. When it arrives adjacent to the pre-selected parking bay, it stops and by starting up its conveyor belts, discharges the car forward into the bay where a further short run of conveyors positively completes the operation. Other advantages include complete security, elimination of exhaust fumes, a reduction in the fire risk and an absolute minimum requirement in respect of labour. The principle of operation is straightforward and involves the adoption of recognised electrical and mechanical practices that have been accepted in industry for a long time. It is the manner in which these practices have been applied rather than the introduction of an untried mechanical process, that has made this new form of automatic parking possible.

    Beresford service station, fitted with the latest sales and servicing equipment, is on the ground floor of the Auto-Stacker building. here is easy access to the spacious forecourt, where two petrol pump islands are situated. The complete range of Shell motor spirits is available on both islands. Cantilever lighting is installed over the pumps for night service. A separate pump supplies derv for diesel-engined commercial vehicles. A petroiler is also available for fuelling two-stroke machines.

    Servicing is carried out in the well-equipped bays on the ground level of the stacker. Two lubrication bays, fitted with modern equipment, can carry out a "while-you-wait" lubrication service. A washing bay and tuning bay are situated behind the lubrication bays.

    0 0
  • 04/01/15--03:18: GREENWICH POWER STATION

  • GREENWICH POWER STATION – this venerable Greenwich installation is apparently due for another upgrade and Transport for London have been consulting locals on it.  Below are a three articles about it and its past –detailed descriptions from the 1970s, telling us what it was like then

    FIRST – some lecture notes from Diana Rimel

    Greenwich Power station (Old Woolwich Road)  This is on the site used from 1704 to 1860 for the massive Jacobean mansion of the Crowley family, who had the largest iron manufacturing business in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and married into the Ashburnham family.   Land was then bought by Trinity Hospital, and presumably leased or sold to the London County Council who had horses on it (possibly for trams) here.   The power station was built (1902-10) by former LCC's Architects Department, General and Highways Sections, for the LCC tramways.  The dates are outside on the rainwater heads high up.  There are a Few remains of tram tracks left. but it is mostly simple stock brickwork on a monumental scale. The four tapering octagonal chimneys were truncated at two-thirds height, destroying the original proportions. On the riverside is a massive disused coal jetty, built to take weight of cranes. Coal ships from north-east coast came here till the 1970s, and the coal bunkers are still there.  It changed when gas turbine came in – and diesel oil was delivered by tanker. It is now part of London Underground Limited, General Division and provides emergency power to London Underground, remotely controlled from Lots Road, Chelsea.  The Building considered rather fine by industrial architecture buffs (except for the truncated chimneys). The 'Cottage' on the corner of Hoskins street was lived in by the piermaster.

    Then a handout written for a 1970s Open House day:

    OPEN HOUSE - Greenwich Generating Station

    Welcome to Greenwich Generating Station, one of three buildings where guided tours are being arranged as London Transport's contribution to London Open House Day's 1998 programme.

    Greenwich Generating Station was built on the site of an existing horse tram depot between 1902 and 1910 by the London County Council (LCC) to provide the power for its growing network of electric tramcar routes. The largest building which at that time had been erected by the LCC, the Station was opened in two stages, the northern half in May 1906, and its southern counterpart in 1910. The riverside location offered the joint advantages of direct delivery by boat of coal to fuel the boilers for the steam engines and a supply of water for condensing the steam.

    The main building comprised a Boiler House with four chimneys, and an Engine Room from where current was transmitted at 6 600 volts to substations (including one on site) which supplied direct current to the trams at 550 volts. The capacity was 34 megawatts, which was sufficient to power the entire LCC tram system. The two chimneys in the first section to be opened, at the north (River Thames) end of the site, were originally 76 metres high but because the Station is almost on the Greenwich Meridian, the Royal Observatory complained that smoke from the chimneys obscured their observations. The two later chimneys at the south end of \ ... the site further from the river were built only 55 metres high, and the original taller chimneys were shortened to 55 metres during the modernisation work in the 1970s.

    The development of the Station
    By 1910, steam turbine technology had proved superior to the piston engines installed four years earlier, and four steam turbines were installed for the second stage opening that year. By 1922 the original engines had been removed and replaced with turbines. In 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board took over all road and Underground services in Greater London, including the power stations at Greenwich, Lots Road in Chelsea and Neasden.


    The London Transport Conversions to oil and gas firing
    In 1967 it was decided to replace the steam turbines with gas turbine plant burning oil delivered, as the coal had been, by river. The changeover from coal made possible a reduction in the staffing level by almost 90 per cent. The most visible evidence of coal firing is the 50 massive steel bunkers, each with a capacity of 270 tons, which occupy the upper part of the Boiler House. The gas turbines were modified in 1975-77 to burn either natural gas or oil, with gas as the main fuel and oil as a back-up. With post-war power stations like Bankside in Southwark already closed and being converted for other uses, London Underground's two remaining generating stations (Greenwich and Lots Road, Chelsea) are rare survivors from early this century.

    The operation of the Generating Station today
    All London Transport's electric vehicles (trams, trolleybuses and Underground trains) have been supplied by power generated at Greenwich during its 92-year history. Today, the role of the Station is to supplement the output of the London Underground's principal generating station at Lots Road during peak periods, and to provide emergency supply at other times if required. Full power can be delivered to the system in about three minutes.

    The gas turbine plant is housed in the original Boiler House and is driven by an industrial version of the Rolls Royce "Avon" jet aircraft engine. The high temperature, high velocity exhaust gases from the Avon engine drive a power turbine which in turn drives an alternator. The operation is fully automatic, and a minimum of staff supervision is needed. The installed capacity now is 103 megawatts.

    The future of Greenwich Generating Station

    Negotiations were concluded last month for SEEBOARD Powerlink, a private sector consortium, to take over responsibility for London Underground's high-voltage power distribution network. It is planned that Lots Road will be de-commissioned within two years, and that part of the Greenwich plant will be refurbished and retained for emergency back-up use only. London Underground's power requirements will then be purchased from private electricity suppliers for delivery to the system via the Powerlink network.

    William Edward Riley
    Greenwich Generating Station was designed in consultation with the London County Council's own architect, W E Riley, and the Council used its own labour force for much of the construction work. Other buildings which Riley designed for the LCC include the Central School of Art and Crafts, Southampton Row; the Sessions House in Newington Causeway; and several large LCC housing estates notably the Old Oak Estate in Ducane Road, Hammersmith, and the Totterdown Estate (1 229 cottages) in Tooting.

    The architectural design of the station

    a) External features. Ocupying a 3.75 acre site next to the Trinity Almshouses, Greenwich Generating Station is, with its London Underground counterpart at Lots Road (1902-04), an early example in London of a steel-framed building. The dimensions are 114 m by 59 m, with a maximum roof height of 24 m. For non-industrial buildings, the Ritz Hotel of 1904-05 is generally considered to be London's first major steel-framed structure. The walls are of stock brick set off by Portland stone decorations, notably on the south and north elevations. The original slate roof has been replaced by corrugated sheeting, but decorated rainwater heads dated 1903 (on the north side) and 1908 (on the south side) survive. The twin-naved main block comprises the original Boiler House on the west (upstream) side and the Engine Room on the east (downstream) side. Linking the Boiler House to the river is the coaling pier separately designed and constructed by the LCC's Chief Engineer, Maurice Fitzmaurice. Attractive features are the large end windows and the tapering chimneys, although when the two north chimneys were shortened elegant decorated bands near the top were lost. The west side of the Station has been somewhat disfigured by the addition around 1927 of large concrete coal bunkers.

    b) Internal features - the west nave.   The lower level of the west nave - originally the Boiler House, with 48 boilers in groups of six - is now the Gas Turbine Hall where seven units (one has been taken out of commission) generate the power output. Air is drawn in through filters on the upper floor and the exhaust passes through ducts to the chimneys. The former coal bunkers in this upper section were filled from above, originally by a bucket conveyor but later by a belt conveyor which entered the Boiler House through the north window. The coal passed by gravity through chutes to the mechanical stokers of the boilers below. The ash from the boilers was similarly removed by conveyor in the basement to bunkers under the pier from where it could be removed by barge or by road.

    c) Internal features - the east nave. The east nave, now largely unused, was the former Engine Room where four steam reciprocating engines made by John Musgrave and Sons of Bolton were the last slow-speed engines to be installed in a British power station. The first steam turbines were installed in 1910 at the south end of the Engine Room, and by 1922 the remaining engines had been replaced by turbines. The walls are faced with white and brown glazed bricks, and along the roof of the Engine Room are gantries for a travelling crane.

    Ancillary buildings  - On the eastern side of the main building were offices, the original control room and a substation which converted the electricity to 550 volts direct current for the trams. The control room occupied the central section at an upper level. The two- storey offices at ground floor and gallery level are panelled rooms with simple neo-Georgian fireplaces, and include an early telephone switchboard.

    On the western side of the building are the 11 massive white reinforced concrete reserve coal bunkers added over the yard around 1927. Conveyors were used to transfer coal into and from these bunkers to the boilers, in the latter case on a circuitous route via the pier!

    In the south east corner of the site is the former Pier Foreman's house (10 Hoskins Street) which provides a picturesque, domestic scale, contrast to the Generating Station.

    The riverside structures

    The Coaling Pier (1903-05) extends some 36 metres into the Thames, and is 60 m in length and 12 m in width. The pier is supported by 16 concrete-filled cast-iron Doric columns. The steel-girder superstructure of the pier originally had a timber platform on which cranes unloaded the coal (1 000 tons a day) from the colliers, initially into trucks which delivered the coal to the Station's external bunker, but subsequently on to conveyor belts which carried the coal directly to the upper levels of the Boiler House.

    The area above the 1 900-ton capacity steel bunker on the riverside was converted in 1969-72 to accommodate 12 fuel-oil tanks, fed from five 112 500 gallon fuel-oil storage tanks into which the oil was pumped formerly from tanker barges and which were installed at the same period. These larger tanks are on the site of the pump house which supplied water for condensing the steam from the original engines. Now that the station is gas fired, oil deliveries are by road and the pier is not used.

    The Generating Station's railway

    On the quayside there are rails which passed through a gateway, now bricked up, into the site. The rails carried a 30-ton swan-necked crane which was used to unload barges. and inside the site there was a railway around the perimeter for moving heavy components.

    Sources: September 1998 Greenwich Generating Station (Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1995) Temples of Power (Gavin Stamp. 1979) J                



    Introduction. Greenwich Generating Station was built by the London County Council to supply the growing electric tramway system, and was opened in two stages in 1906 and 1910. The main building comprised the Boiler House, with four chimneys, and the Engine Room which, in the first stage, housed four vertical/horizontal compound reciprocating steam engines driving flywheel type alternators, operating at 6,600 volts, 25 Hz. By 1910, the superiority of steam turbines, compared with piston engines, had been realised, and four steam turbine alternators were installed for the second stage. Because the generating station is almost on the Greenwich Meridian, objections were received from the Royal Observatory that smoke from the chimneys was interfering with their sightings, so the second (southern) pair of chimneys was limited to 182 ft. in height, compared with 250 ft. for the first pair.

    By 1922, the original reciprocating engines had been removed and replaced with steam turbines, and various modernisation works were carried out during the following thirty-five years, including adoption of the national frequency of 50 Hz. The L.C.C. Tramways were absorbed into the L.P.T.B. in 1933 and it was planned to generate at Greenwich the power required for the railway extensions in North-East London and for the Trolleybus system which was to replace the trams in east and south London. The programme was deferred by the War but, until the trolleybuses were scrapped in 1961, the station served both the road services and railway operations.

    Following the complete modernisation of Lots Road Generating Station in 1963-68, it was decided to replace the old steam-driven plant at Greenwich by installing gas turbine generators, which enabled the staff to be reduced by nearly 90 per cent. The main requirement for Greenwich is to supplement the output of Lots Road during peak load periods and to provide a standby supply to the system as quickly as possible if required. The Greenwich sets can reach normal full load in about 3 minutes after pressing the 'Start' button, which can be done either at Lots Road or Greenwich.

    Gas Turbine Alternators

    Eight gas turbine alternator units were installed in the former Boiler House with two units exhausting to each of the four chimneys, but more recently one has been taken out of service. They were built by Stal-Laval Ltd. which later became part of the ASEA- Stal Group and is now in the ABB organisation. Each unit has five main components: a gas generator, a power turbine, an alternator, a transformer and an automatic control and monitoring system.

    The gas generator is a Rolls Royce 'Avon' Type 1533 and is essentially an industrial version of the 'Avon' jet aircraft engine which was used in many civil and military aircraft. This comprises a 17-stage axial flow compressor, eight combustion chambers, a 3-stage turbine which drives the compressor, and a fuel control system. A transition duct channels the hot gases exhausting from the gas generator to the power turbine inlet. There is no mechanical drive between the gas generator and the power turbine.
    The power turbine is of the 3-stage axial-flow design and is mechanically coupled, by a drive shaft, to the alternator. The alternator generates 3 phase, 50 Hz electric power at 11,000 volts and has a maximum continuous output of 14,700kW. . although they are normally loaded at the economic rating of 11 ,000kW. The output is fed to the 22,000 volt switchgear via the associated step-up transformer.

    The run-up, loading and shut-down of the gas turbine alternators is fully automatic following the operation of a single push button, and is controlled by equipment located in the two Plant Instrument Rooms which were constructed between each pair of chimneys. Full monitoring instrumentation has been provided to facilitate minimum supervision by staff. If the gas turbine alternator malfunctions, the fault will be registered on the associated control cubicle and, if necessary, the set shuts down.

    Principle of Operation of the Gas Turbine units.

    Air for the gas generator is drawn through roller blind type impregnated filters situated on the upper floor of the gas turbine hall. These extract dust before the air reaches the inlet to the gas generator to reduce fouling of the compressor blades and to protect the engine from damage. The air is drawn through ducting, which contains a silencer, downwards into a sealed chamber from which it passes into the compressor inlet. The air pressure is raised about ten times before it passes into the eight combustion chambers. Fuel is forced at high pressure through the burners into the combustion chambers where it burns in the compressed air.

    The 'Avon' units were originally designed to burn Light Distillate Oil (i.e. Gas Oil) but were modified from 1975 to bum either natural gas or gas oil. The oil is held in storage and service tanks with a total capacity of over 3~000 tons and so is immediately available. Gas is obtained from the British Gas (Transco) system and must be raised to a pressure of 20 Bar. before it passes through control valves to reach the burners.

    The high velocity, high temperature, gas stream issuing from the combustion chambers is directed through nozzles onto the 3-stage turbine, still within the gas generator, which drives the compressor. The gases emerging from this turbine are at a lower pressure but still at a high temperature, and pass through the transition duct to the inlet to the power turbine. "

    The hot gases expand through the power turbine where the energy is extracted in driving the turbine and the alternator rotor which is coupled to it. The output of the alternator is governed by the temperature of the gas stream which in turn is governed by controlling the supply of fuel to the gas generator by the automatic control system. The exhaust gases from the power turbine pass through ducting containing a silencer to one of the chimneys. Thus, the force of the gas jet, which would be used to propel an aircraft, is here utilised in driving the power turbine and alternator. The gas generator is started by a motor housed in the nose cone at the compressor inlet, powered by batteries.

    Fuel system. When the gas turbines were installed, they burned gas oil which was delivered by river tanker to the pier, originally provided for coal deliveries. Storage tanks for 2,500 tons and Service tanks for a further 500 tons were provided. The oil passes through fine strainers and is held in the Service tanks to ensure the removal of any particles which could block the burners. However, since the engines were converted for dual-fuel operation (gas or oil) the quantity of oil required is so reduced that deliveries by road tankers are adequate and the pier has been taken out of use.

    Gas enters the premises at a pressure of about 6 Bar. and passes to the Gas Compressor House constructed in the former Steam Turbine House. Three 4-cylinder two-stage reciprocating compressors are installed which raise the pressure to 20 Bar. A common main on the roof of the gas turbine house delivers the gas to a Gas Control cubicle adjacent to each G- T unit.

    Cooling Water system. Cooling for the alternator, the transformer, the power turbine lubricating oil and the gas compressors is by a two part circulating water system. The primary system pumps water from the River Thames through heat exchangers and back to the river. The secondary system is a closed circuit; water from storage tanks on the upper floor flows by gravity through the various coolers to low-level tanks in the basement and is then pumped through the heat exchangers, where it is cooled, and returned to the storage tanks.

    High Voltage Switchgear. The main switchgear is housed in a switchroom situated on the east side of the building.

    The power generated by each gas turbine alternator is fed via 22,000 volt cables to individual circuit breakers. From the switchroom, the power is connected to the Underground's electrical system through cables to Lots Road, Mile End, Aldgate (Mansell St.) and Stockwell.

    Office of the Generation Manager, 55, Lots Road, Chelsea, SWIO OQG JMB/Jan.97

    The two handouts have pictures with them but these are not included because of the low quality of the photocopied originals and the high probability of them being copyright.

    0 0
  • 04/22/15--00:37: AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT
  • A lot of things have happened - will report later - but in the short term we are looking to draw up a list of items of industrial heritage interest from all round the Borough.

    Clearly there are some BIG things - the gasholder and so on 

    but there are also lots of little things  - street furniture and so on.

    A lot of things have disappeared and many were 'tidied up' for the Olympics - a good example was the tram telephone box in Blackwall Lane which no doubt ended up a skip somewhere - and the Blackheath Electricity Co. junction box on the A2 traffic island - removed for the sake of tidiness!!

    If you know of anything - BIG - small - let us know.  Either append it as a comment here - or send to

    0 0
  • 04/23/15--04:39: Stuff
  • Various newsletters have turned up - for instance

    Woolwich Antiquarians Newsletter
    Forthcoming meetings include:  2nd May Richard Buchanan on the Atlantic Telegraph.   Charlton House. 2.15 pm

    Friends of Greenwich Park Newsletter
    The Friends are announcing an inaugural meeting for a Greenwich Park History Group.  22nd May 11 am Wildlife Centre.    Info

    Greenwich Society Newsletter
    Includes a great picture of Greenwich Marsh in the early 19th with accompanying text.  It is thought the site shown is part of what is now the building site on the riverside at Enderbys.    Thanks to Roger Marshall for the picture and the interpretation.
    The newsletter also includes details of the new - Creek Swing Bridge - Westcombe Woodlands project - Low Carbon plans for East Greenwich Power Station - Planning at Marsh Wall Isle of Dogs - Creekside East Development.

    Lewisham Local History Society Newsletter
    Among articles (of Lewisham interest obviously) one on some of the work of Margaret MacMillan, nursery pioneer, in the Greenwich bit of Deptford.
    26th  June Pioneers of Photography. Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13. 7.45

    Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. Newsletter
    19th May. AGM and talk on the Importance of Technological Developments in the History of
    Brewing in London.  18.15.-18.30  Swedenborg Lecture Theatre, Barter Street, WC1
    David Wood - sadly an obituary to this great expert on sailing barges - full of info on Greenwich barges and of great help and support on the subject
    Crossness Engines - brief note on their 150th anniversary
    Sainsburys Peartree Way - a brief note to regret the imminent demolition of this prize winning building and its inclusion in '100 buildings 100 years' as the best British building of 1999

    Thames and Medway Canal Association
    OK - not in Greenwich - but just down the road, a group of enthusiasts working on restoration and promotion of a canal which doesn't actually go anywhere!  It went through the Higham tunnel - now used for trains between Gravesend and Strood.  Its a great tunnel too!!

    AND - perhaps most importantly  - Greenwich Power Station,   Local residents around the power station have been consulted on this BUT - only the locals immediately adjacent. Because I live up the hill a bit, I and my neighbours heard nothing.  I went to the consultation and as a result they have sent me a handout. Some of which is scanned below (sorry this programme doesn't accept PDFs).   This is a very important local industrial building - we all need to know about it.

    TFL says:

    "As part of our strategy to reduce the impact of transport operations on the environment, we have developed a proposal to install up to six new gas engines in  Greenwich-Power Station's Old Turbine-Hall. This will provide a steady-source of cheap, reliable, low carbon power for London's Tube. We are also developing plans with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Greater London Authority to use surplus heat from the Power Station to supply hot water and heating for nearby schools and homes. This will reduce utility bills for residents and Improve local air quality, by eliminating the need for gas fired domestic boilers. The scheme directly contributes to the Mayor of London's target to produce a quarter of London's energy demand from local sources by 2024, as set out in his Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Strategy.

    The proposal is still at a very early stage. We will shortly commence concept design work for the installation of the first two engines. This will include emissions modelling as part of our emissions permit application to the Environment Agency. It is anticipated that physical works for the first two engines will not start before late 2016/early 2017. The installation of the remaining four engines is expected to be staggered over the next 20 years.

    The new engines will be made using the latest technology and will be highly efficient. They will run on natural gas, and create no smoke or smells. Additionally, with Greenwich being an Air Quality Management Area, emissions will be further reduced through the use of emissions abatement equipment.


    Greenwich Power Station was built in 1902 to power the Capital's tramways and Tube railways, which were being electrified at that time. It is currently an operational power station and functions as an emergency electricity source for the Tube network in the event of a major power supply failure from the National Grid. It currently operates 400
    hours per year on average, with no noise disruption to the local community.

    While Greenwich Power Station is not currently listed, it is a building of significant heritage. The current proposals preserve this historic building through avoiding any changes to its external appearance, therefore it is anticipated that no planning application will be required. The change from traditional gas and oil powered electricity generation to combined heat and power generation will preserve the use of this important asset well into the future.


    and ps - Other events which might be interesting:

    9th May, Trevithick Day.  Dartford Park
    Various East London canal towpath walks

    0 0



    This will be the sixth symposium on thisubject and the second to be hosted by the
    Docklands History Group. It will cover all aspects of shipbuilding on the Thames from all
    periods. The programme for the conference which will take place at the Museum of
    London Docklands, is as set out below:
    Unfortunate in Business' - John Dudman and the Grove Street Dockyard, Deptford, 1790-1813 - Chris
    Royal Shipbuilding on the Thames, 1509-1547 - Dr. Ian Friel
    Charles II and Shipbuilding at Deptford - Richard Endsor
    JM W Turner, Charles Napier, and the 'Aaron Manby'; the Iron Steam Boat and the Making of the British
    - Professor Andrew Lambert
    Cultural and Industrial Transfer - Visiting Indian Shipwrights in Early Victorian London - Alex Werner
    The London Men and Women who made the Tools that made the Sails - Des Pawson
    Thomas Howard (1796-1872) and the King and Queen Foundry (Rotherhithe Foundry) - Stuart Rankin and
    Dr. Roger Owen
    Dudgeons, Millwall Shipbuilders, 1860-1877 - Dr. Brendan O'Farrell
    The SS 'Robin' and her Bow Creek Builders - Dr. Roy Fenton

    People attending will be able to enter the Museum 9:45 when tea and coffee will be provided. The
    nference will commence at 10:30 and end at 5:30. There will be a break for coffee and tea in the
    fternoon. There will also be a break for lunch but no lunch will be provided by the organisers although
    ere are several cafes and other places selling food nearby.


    The conference will take place at the Museum of London Docklands, No.1 Warehouse, West India Quay,
    ertsmere Road, Canary Wharf, London E14 41L. The nearest stations are West Ferry and West India
    y (DLR) and Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line)


    The conference fee is £35 but there is a reduced rate of £30 for Docklands History Group members. A
    booking form is appended. However, if you would like to make an electronic booking, please visit the
    s History Group website - where there are further details of
    e conference and other activities organised by the Group.


    0 0

    Until the developers and their tower blocks finally close in - I can still see a tiny snitch of the River, off Enderbys, from my bedroom window.  A couple of days ago I was watching a group of tugs bringing Ocean round before taking her further up river.  This morning, very early, I saw her depart.

    By chance, just now, I was looking at 'A Hundred Years of Towage' - a history of Watkins Tugs.  This was written in the 1930s when the River was the River and Watkins would never have dreamt it could ever be possible that it would ever be deserted and the fuss we make now about just one boat coming up to Greenwich. 

    Anyway - he does say something about Greenwich which might be interesting "On the Kentish side of the River are the Greenwich buoys used by the big ships which have to turn round below Greenwich Pier in order to take up their position satisfactorily and are moored fore and aft with their head downstream. A strong tide setting straight to their position adds to the usual difficulties of putting ships on to buoys and it is a particularly ticklish job to get the inside ship out without disturbing the outside one.  These buoys are mostly used by tankers and sugar ships but latterly with Polish and German cruising liners, acting as floating hotels while their passengers have the chance of seeing London and when they are so occupied Watkins tugs with passenger licences have been employed as tenders to them, taking their passengers ashore and bringing them off again."

    So there you -nothing new at all in cruise liners, or turning big boats. And, note, the boats then were stacked alongside their berths - one, two or three.  

    So, why was I looking at the history of Watkins?? Well, on Saturday I went to a conference on London shipbuilding and heard Professor Andrew Lambert speak on JM W Turner, Charles Napier, and the 'Aaron Manby'; the Iron Steam Boat and the Making of the British Century. This was a really, really great lecture - but, like everyone else, Andrew showed a slide of the 'Fighting Temeraire' - and he talked a bit about the ideas behind the painting.  Now I knew that Watkins had something to say about this - and - back to the History of Towage - and Monarch - she was Watkin's first steam tug and they were very, very proud of her

    "In the 1830s the Navy had very much more interest in the Thames than it has today ..... and the Monarch was constantly being chartered by the Navy for odd jobs.  She was towing Nelson's famous line-of-battleship Termeraire up the river to be broken up at Rotherhithe when Turner, the painter, who was one of a picnic party on the riverbank, saw her and made a sketch which developed into his famous painting ..... In kindness one must understand that the famous line-of-battleship was of far more interest to him than the tug which was ahead of her and while he took considerable pains over her technical detail, embellishing it a little it is true, he could not spare much time on the Monarch and his picture must not be taken as an accurate portrait of her."

    Only tugmen understand about tugs - as Watkins makes quite clear - and I am not going to go on quoting from the book - particularly the views on the Navy and its officers.

    Well, I might, by request


older | 1 | .... | 3 | 4 | (Page 5) | 6 | 7 | .... | 14 | newer