GREENWICH INDUSTRIAL HISTORY

Volume 1, Issue 3, August 1999

ARTICLES
GIHS JULY MEETING
NEIL RHIND ON
BLACKHEATH MILLS
MEMOIRS OF AN ROF APPRENTICE
A FORGOTTEN INDUSTRY
SOAP MANUFACTURE
EAST GREENWICH GAS HOLDER
BUILDINGS AT RISK
GREENWICH GENERATING STATION
LOST JETTIES
THAMES ESTUARY
ARCHEOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK
TWO WOMEN ON A FOOTPATH
REGULAR ITEMS
MEETINGS, EVENTS & COURSES
LETTERS
BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS
VARIOUS

SOCIETY EVENTS

15th September, 7.30 pm INAUGURAL MEETING AND AGM. Opening address by Dr. Denis Smith, Chairman GLIAS and by Cllr. Bob Harris, Deputy Leader, LB Greenwich, East Greenwich Community Centre, Christchurch Way, SE10

13th October 1998, 7.30 pm INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN GREENWICH, by Prof. David Perrett (GLIAS), East Greenwich Community Centre, Christchurch Way, SE10

1st December 1998, 7.30 pm GREENWICH AND ITS INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE, by Paul Calvocoresci (English Heritage), East Greenwich Community Centre, Christchurch Way, SE10.

12th January 1999, STONES OF DEPTFORD by Peter Gurnett


SOCIETY MEETING (JULY)

Despite the attractions of another world cup match, nearly 50 people turned up to hear Rod LeGear, of the Kent Underground Research Group, talk about Underground Greenwich. Rod stuck closely to the industrial aspects of his subject - ignoring both the many natural caves and the conduit system built for Greenwich Palace. He began with talking about 'dene holes' - a subject well known to residents of north-west Kent if not elsewhere. Rod said that, despite stories about druids and Danes, these were early chalk mines, and often very old. He went on to describe the chalk mining industry in the Borough, how it had often been forgotten and the subsequent collapses when housing was built above old mine shafts. It is with considerable surprise that we learnt that the most recent mine in Greenwich was opened by the Co-op in Abbey Wood less than a century ago and that one building - Federation Hall - is still in use. Rod went on to show photographs taken by a recent party which visited the Diamond Terrace sand mine on behalf of the Society. They included graffiti giving some very unlikely dates and two elaborately carved portraits 'Shirley' and 'Mussolini'. He went on to stress how often such sites are lost and forgotten - there is considerable evidence that a much larger series of mine shafts exists in that part of Greenwich but no-one now knows where they were. Few people would think of Greenwich as once being a mining area but the evidence is there - it's just that we can't see it.

MORE UNDERGROUND GREENWICH

There are a number of organisations and publications dealing with underground exploration. Rod LeGear himself is a leading member of the Kent Underground Research Group (Sec. Mike Clinch, 01322 526425). Another - international - organisation is Subterranea Brittanica (Sec. Malcolm Tadd 01737 823 456). There have been many publications which mention underground Greenwich - Rod didn't mention his own Kent and East Sussex Underground (Meresborough Books 1991). Many of the best reports on Greenwich have, bizarrely, been published by the Chelsea Spelaeological Society - the following notes some references taken at random from their publications:

Greenwich Conduits. Other Greenwich Caverns, Blackheath Cavern, Blackheath Caves, Plumstead Chalk Mines, - Records Vol. 6.

Blackheath Denehole - CSS Records Vol. 4.

Woolwich sappers tunnels - CSS Records Vol. 13.

Turpins Cave Plumstead, Maryon Park chalk mine - CSS Records Vol. 17.

MEMORIES OF AN ROF APPRENTICE

John Day

Pre-War there were three grades of apprentices in the Royal Arsenal. Trade apprentices who, as the name suggests, were training in their chosen trade, such as fitter, turner, pattern maker, etc. After six months they had one option to change their choice. Student apprentices who spent a couple of years on practical work after a college degree. The third grade were the Engineering Apprentices who spent five years working at a number of trades and spending a fair amount of time studying for a degree.

Entry as an engineering apprentice was by examination and interview at the age of sixteen. The average intake in the thirties was about twelve from some hundred to a hundred and fifty applicants. For the first two years there was compulsory attendance of two days and two evenings a week at what was, then, the Woolwich Polytechnic. The remaining three years were spent during term time at the Poly. or, for a few, at one of the London Colleges. At the end of the five years, most of the apprentices had a degree in engineering and the necessary thirty-six months of practical training needed for membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

From here on things get personal, but they are my memories as far as they go and after something like sixty years may not be accurate. For both of these I apologise in advance. If anybody sees a mistake, please let Mary, or I, know so that it can be put right for future historians

I have no recollection of any examination. Perhaps I was exempted by having matriculated with distinction in four technical subjects, but I remember the interview. My father was a keen model engineer and had a lathe, which I was allowed to use. I had made a model of a two cylinder boiler feed pump (described in Shop Shed and Road by L.B.S.C.) and this I produced at the interview when I was asked if I knew anything about metalwork. There was a pause while the interview board thought up something else to ask me.

When the results were published I headed the list which comprised Sydney Bacon, Alfred Bennett, Eddie Hessey, Hibbert Jarvis, Norman Lindsey Maybe, Cyril Morris, Malcolm Starkey, Robert Walker. Morris died of T.B. in his second year. Lindsey after his discharge from R.E.M.E. as Lieut. Colonel at the end of the war. Walker became a civil engineer with the Port of London Authority after getting his degree at City and Guilds. Sir Sydney Bacon retired as Director General of Ordnance Factories. Starkey was one of the militia called up in 1939, being released to become manager of one of the war time ordnance factories, Fazakerly making Sten guns, and later taking a senior position with Tranco Valves.

I was no stranger to the Arsenal. In the mid-thirties my father became a shift engineer in the Central Power Station and on Sundays, when he was on days, I took in his hot lunch in a basket. Since everything was shut down, such electricity as was needed coming from the Woolwich Power Station at Warren Lane, I had the freedom to wander where I liked within the building. At that time the western end of the Arsenal was still on direct current. In the power station were two Yates and Thom 1450 H.P. inverted triple expansion engines with Corliss valve gear, direct coupled to D.C. generators some ten to twelve feet in diameter. Alongside was a totally enclosed Vickers-Howden triple with a piston valve on the high pressure cylinder and slide valves on the intermediate and low pressure cylinders. Alternating current for the eastern end came from a 6000 kilowatt Metropolitan Vickers turbo-generator and, when needed, from a pair of rotary converters. As usual, the switch board ran along a gallery on the north wall and at the west end was the engineer's office that I came to know even better in later years. The boiler house was south of the engine room and contained six water tube boilers, four Thompson and two Babcock and Wilcox, all with chain grate stoking. The ash went down into long, narrow, trucks on the 18-inch gauge railway, this being the last use for narrow gauge. On the north side of the power station was a pump house, providing hydraulic pressure for the various machines and cranes, and to the north again was the electrical repair shop.

On my first day I reported to the apprentice supervisor, in the Central Office, and was taken to the Gauge Shop for the New Fuze Factory. Actually the shop was the Fuze Poolroom and the Gauge Shop was the high accuracy part of the toolroom. The chap I was given to as apprentice was Jim Hands. He made the jigs and tools for Mechanical Time Fuze No. 207, which was a short term watch mechanism using a swinging arm in place of the usual balance wheel. The movement was made and assembled, by girls, on the first floor of the adjacent building, The New Fuze Factory. It was a long time before I cottoned on to why it was always Jim who fixed belts and bolts under the benches while I did all the work on top.

The first job I had was to scrape the faces of light alloy depth gauges true and square. These had to be frosted (an ornamental pattern left by a scraper) and be accurate to a couple of thousandths of an inch although they were only graduated in eighths. They were in light alloy because they were for use in the Danger Buildings for measuring the depth of explosive in shells

When I had finished that job, Jim suggested I made myself some tools and started with a 5 x inch engineer's square. After hacksawing the shapes from gauge plate, the parts were ground on a Brown and Sharp surface grinder, riveted together and scraped and lapped to the standard demanded by the View Room i.e. less than one ten-thousandth of an inch square and true in any direction. I still have that square, it is still true because I never dared to use it!

One of the tools Jim thought up and made was a device for burnishing the pivots of the balance arm. This comprised four dead hard and highly polished discs rotated on spindles in massive cast iron bearing blocks. My part in this was machining the bearing blocks, base plate etc, on a Butler 18-inch shaper, a lovely tool on which I enjoyed working and, as they say, could nearly make talk.

The New Fuze was near the fourth gate (Plumstead Gate) and I rode to work on my 1920 Sunbeam motorcycle, which I had bought for £2 and fully restored. One morning, in the crush, the inverted brake lever on the end of the handlebars caught in a man's pocket, tore it so that his lunch fell out on the road, he was not pleased. In the evening he came to our house and was pacified with a ten-shilling note and an old jacket of my father's. By that time my father had become foreman of the Electrical Shop and he arranged for No 4 electricity sub-station to be specially opened morning and evening for me to garage my bike safely in the dry.

This article will be continued in future issues...

FORTHCOMING EVENTS

This list of meetings and events has been culled from leaflets and notices brought to our attention.

If you want your meeting listed here please contact 24 Humber Road, SE3 7LTY (0181 858 9482)

NORTH WOOLWICH RAILWAY MUSEUM open Fridays and Sundays 2-5 pm, Saturdays 10-5pm, steam every first Sunday. 0171 474 7244.

22nd August. FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN FILM from London Film Archives. Greenwich Borough Museum, 232 Plumstead High Street, SE18. 2.30-4.00

4th September -11th September. Association for Industrial Archaeology, ANNUAL CONFERENCE at Newton Abbott. SAE David Alderton, 48 Quay Street, Halesworth, Suffolk

I5th September. WOOLWICH NAVAL DOCKYARD. Visit and speakers. sae Philip MacDougall, Naval Dockyards Society, 10 Harold Road, Hayling Island, Hampshire, PO11 9LT. 01705 467449

12th September. GLIAS walk, CRYSTAL PALACE, Crystal Palace Station, 2.30 p.m.

12th September. Woolwich Antiquarians VISIT TO DUXFORD, the aviation side of the Imperial War Museum (no contact details advertised)

14th September. London Rivers Association. RIVER CALLING - A Water Space Strategy for the Thames. 9.00 am - 4.45 pm Glaziers Hall, London Bridge, SE1. £140/£75. 0181 293 9275

15th September. CROSSNESS ENGINES Appointment only Tel 0181 211 3711. Tel only Tues-Sun 9am-4 pm. Adm. £2 adults, £1.50 Children.

19th September. Charlton Society, Mary Mills on IA OF THE GREENWICH PENINSULA Charlton House, 2.30 p.m.

19th-20th September. Open House. includes:

A WALK ALONG THE GREENWICH PENINSULA led by Diana Rimel. Tickets from 0181 348 3109

GREENWICH GENERATING STATION. Pre-Book on 0171 918 3542

WOOLWICH TOWN HALL, SE18 Sat 1-5 p.m.

GALA CLUB (GRANADA CINEMA) 186 Powis Street, Se18. Sat 4-5.30 Sun 11-12.30 & 4-5.30

GREENWICH DANCE AGENCY, Borough Hall, Royal Hill, Se10. Sun 10-5.

MILLENNIUM DOME, Drawdock Road, SE10. Pre-book 0181 348 3109

CROSSNESS ENGINES Sun 10-5

KIRKALDY TESTING MUSEUM Southwark Street, SE1.Sat 10-5

HOUSE MILL, Three Mill Lane, E3. 11-4


21st September - ten weeks - TOWARDS THE MILLENNIUM - DEPTFORD Mycenae House, Mycenae Road, SE3. 10.15-12.15. £60/£30 Goldsmiths Community Education. Guest Speakers on relevant subjects. 0171 919 7200 .

21st September - for 28 weeks. CERTIFICATE IN INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY. Course 1 - Materials and Applications. Birkbeck College 0171 631 6633.

23rd September, RECENT WORK IN GREENWICH BY RCHME. Peter Guillery, Greenwich Historical Society, 8.00 Music Room, Blackheath High School, Vanburgh Park, SE3 7AG.

24th September - 20 weeks. HISTORY OF THE GREENWICH MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE SITE Croydon WEA. 15.30-17.30, Coombe Cliffe Centre, Croydon. Tutor Mary Mills (Trudie Goldsmith, 34 Church Road, Warlingham, CR6 9NU, phone number 01883 623955).

27th September. CROSSNESS ENGINES

3rd October. INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE SOUTH EAST. RECENT DISCOVERIES. CBA Angel Leisure Centre, Tunbridge Wells. S. Broomfield, 8 Woodview Cresc., Hildenborough, Tonbridge, Kent. £5

13th October. CROSSNESS ENGINES

20th October. TRANSPORT TUNNELS IN KENT. Paul Sowan. Croydon NHSS, East Croydon United Reformed Church Hall, Addiscombe Grove, Croydon. 7.45 p.m.

21st October. GLIAS Lecture. 6.30. St Bartholomew's Medical School

25th October. CROSSNESS ENGINES

22nd - 25th October, Glasgow, Conference on BRITISH SHIPBUILDING, Newcomen Society, Science Museum, SW7

28th October. Lewisham Local History Society, PETER THE GREAT AND THE RUSSIAN NAVY. Peter Gurnett, Shaftesbury Centre, Frankham St., SE8 7.45 p.m.

28th October. NELSON AND THE GREENWICH CONNECTION (OR WAS IT THE OTHER WAY ROUND). Anthony Cross Greenwich Historical Society, 8.00 Music Room, Blackheath High School, Vanburgh Park, SE3 7AG.

4th November. Docklands History Group, DOCKLANDS LIGHT RAILWAY LEWISHAM EXTENSION by Ian Page, Room C, Education Dept., Museum of London, EC2 6.00 p.m.

10th November. CROSSNESS ENGINES

22nd November. CROSSNESS ENGINES

25th November. A COUNTRY SEAT FIT FOR A KING. CHARLES II & GREENWICH. Dr. Simon Thurley. Greenwich Historical Society, 8.00 Music Room, Blackheath High School, Vanburgh Park, SE3 7AG.

8th December. CROSSNESS ENGINES


NEIL RHIND ON BLACKHEATH MILLS

Neil Rhind writes a regular column on local history issues for Blackheath Guide. The June issue contained a page article on Blackheath Mills. In it he gives details of three known mills on the Heath - at Holly Hedge House (the modern TA HQ), the West Mill on the site of what is now Mill House and Golf House and East Mill at 1-4 Talbot Place. He comments that there were probably once many more. Another mill once stood at Lee Green behind the Tiger's Head - moved there from the corner of Eltham and Kidbrooke Park Roads. Neil goes on to comment on water mills and in particular the Lewisham Mill described in the new Silk Mills book by Sylvia McArtney and John West.

In the August Guide Neil returned again to an industrial theme - plus a very welcome plug for our society. His article was headed Industrial Detergents but covered far more.

He mentioned a number of Blackheath-based factories - a fruit juice factory in Independents Road, Burndept the wireless factory, a toy construction kit maker in Blackheath Grove followed by a plating factory - and then on to a brief biography of Percival Moses Parsons. Parsons, says Neil 'invented manganese bronze in his back garden' and much much more (including the Central London Railway).

Thank you Neil - I think we'll have to book you as a speaker soon!

LETTERS

From Katie Jones;

Is there any mileage to investigating the history of the rather unprepossessing building at the corner of what was Deal's Gateway, on the Blackheath Road, with a facade marked 'Kentish Mercury'? This building looks in danger of being demolished, as it stands starkly against the developing DLR line through to Lewisham. There are several 'To Let' signs already on the building. Is this building well documented already, or would my involvement be helpful?

From John Day;

Does anyone know anything about this quotation from Mechanic's Magazine (Vol. 9 1828) 'Mr. Perkins continues to prosecute his plans for application of steam to warlike purposes. Last week he had another day's practice with his gun at the Limekilns, Greenwich'.

From F.G. Gilbert Bentley;

Although age (84) and serious ill health prevents my attending a meeting now this does in no way reduce my interests. My attachments to the area are wide and cover a life-time.

I listened at midnight on December 31st 1922 to a faint crackling radio on Shooters Hill (I was eight years old) to hear the sound of Big Ben chiming in the new year - for the first time on radio - and then listening to the many ships hooters in the huge docks below and beyond. I did not then know I would see them ablaze and blown apart in September 1940.

I went to the pictures in October 1940 in Woolwich and saw only half the film. It was to be 42 years before I saw the end of it because the cinema was hit (The Daily Mirror had a column on it). I was in Woolwich, Greenwich and Deptford, throughout the blitz and in a number of barracks when they were damaged.

My grandparents had a big laundry in Wilmington which served the area (James Bentley) and they had steam engines, etc. I could go on, but .....

So have a very great affection, attachment and interest in the area - not least its communications: trams, buses, ferry, subways, etc. The area has so much to offer industrial history - docks, shipyards, Arsenal, Royal Observatory, R.M. Academy, R.M. Repository, Rotunda, Palace, Royal Naval College, Royal Artillery, Grand Depot, Schools, and endless small businesses that support these things, the unmistakable bond in the river.

The whole of English (and Empire) History has at some time congregated or passed by and through. Thousands and thousands of ordinary people (like me) have contributed something to the tapestry by being there at the right (sometimes the wrong) time.

Editorial Note - What was the film, Mr. Gilbert-Bentley? In the 1960s I worked for a laundry trade journal and remember James Bentley well. Tell us more - even if it was in Dartford!


From Colin Thom. Assistant Editor, Survey of London;

Peter Guillery recently pointed out to me the note asking for information on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. I wrote the section on the history of the tunnel for Survey of London, Vols. 43-44 on Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs. I thought the list of references may help the Westcombe Society in their search for sources. Also, the research notes on the volume can be consulted in the RCHME London Office which may be of interest to the Society.

From Philip MacDougall, Naval Dockyards Society;

I enclose our own recently published newsletter. I could certainly publicise anything you might have on the Woolwich Arsenal, Deptford and Woolwich Dockyard and the victualling yards. I would also welcome any connected items from your members.

Editorial Note: the Naval Dockyards Society Newsletter includes - requests for help about Sir John Cox, Edmund Dummer, George St. Lo and John Tippetts, Coaling facilities at naval ports, Infantry Landing Craft, and penal establishments in the Andaman Islands. Information is also needed for a bibliography of books on civilian facilities of the Navy. There are details of the Society of Model Shipwrights (which meets in Orpington) and articles in Penetanguishene Dockyard in Canada, the Vasa in Stockholm, the Iron Ship Building Shop in Chatham and papers given at the Society's Conference.


From Julian Bowsher;

Congratulations on having set up the Greenwich Industrial History Society. I enjoyed the first two issues of your newsletter even though the subject matter may be a little modern for me! I am an archaeologist based at the Museum of London, but I live locally and have dug up many sites in Greenwich. A few months ago I was elected as President of the Greenwich Historical Society. As such I am keen on establishing links with like-minded societies - perhaps we could have joint lectures or something in the future. Next year I am hoping that all of our meetings will have a millennial theme!

From Myles Dove;

Thankyou for all the contacts and information about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Recently I was phoned by someone in Greenwich Council's EPM Section about the revised Sunday opening of the lifts, which they are extending to 7 p.m. from now until mid-September 1998. He also mentioned Greenwich Council's proposals to put up some display material about the foot-tunnel and other riverside works in the lift lobbies as part of the Cutty Sark Gardens improvements. As they didn't seem to have details of the Steam Ferry, shown in issue 2, of your Newsletter, I suggested they use that as well.

From Philip Binns;

I was particularly interested in the article about Wood Wharf and the adjacent slipway and engine chamber associated with the Great Greenwich Steam Ferry. Its potential future as a conservation centre, dynamic historical museum and visitor facility sounds very attractive. Until I retired a couple of years ago I was an architect specialising in exhibition and museum design. If there is any assistance I can give in that area on an informal basis, please feel free to call on me.

From Malcom Shirley;

I have just found your Web pages during my search for information on a book I am researching called The Royal Docks, surrounds and shipping. I would be very grateful if you could advise of any members that would have particular interest in the Royal Docks during the mid to late 1960's. I am also covering the areas of Gallions, Woolwich and Bugsby Reaches, but not in so much detail. Most of the book will be about the shipping in the area during the 1960s together with my photos taken of these ships as a teenager. I would also be very interested in making contact with anyone who would have any such similar photos.

EVEN MORE LETTERS

From Julian Wells;

A couple of years ago I wrote to English Heritage asking them to spot-list the great gas holder at Greenwich. Although my letter was acknowledged I have never heard what has happened. Has anyone any information? The following is a copy of my letter of submission;


The East Greenwich gas holder is a very large one - visible to the thousands who use the A102(M), Blackwall Tunnel Approach. Indeed, it dominates the sky line for much of the area. The impact it makes is remarkable - this was once even more so. It used to be accompanied by a larger, but sadly demolished, partner.

It was built by the South Metropolitan Gas Company as storage for town gas at their East Greenwich works. This works was planned in the 1880s as a large 'out of town' gas factory to fulfil the growing needs of south London. South Metropolitan, at that time, had claims to be the pre-eminent gas company in the country. It was led by a charismatic chairman, George Livesey - whose statue has recently been moved to the Livesey Museum in the Old Kent Road. Livesey had a remarkable career in the gas industry and East Greenwich was built to embody, not only what was seen as best practice in gas manufacture, but also as a pace setter in British industrial practice. The company was proud of the record of the works, and its high reputation continued after nationalisation. East Greenwich gas works appears in many articles, films, text books and so on ,about efficient and progressive town gas manufacture. In the 1990s gas works sites have acquired a reputation for pollution and dirt - it is perhaps worth remembering that this works in particular was seen as a symbol of a power plant which could provide a first class public service. The giant gas holder was meant to remind the public of that ideal - and of a workforce dedicated to the highest standards in every endeavour..

The holder was built, not without some difficulty, on marshy sub-soil. It was the first holder at the new East Greenwich works begun in 1883. It was designed following considerable thought by Livesey on the rationale and economics of storing gas in single large containers. He described the savings to be achieved not only in construction costs but in gas storage over a very long period.

It was constructed between 1886 and 1888 and when built was the largest in the world (in capacity it was soon overtaken by its larger, and demolished, partner - a very few larger holders were later built but whether they still exist now is not known). It was the first four-lift gas holder. The tank, beneath the holder, is 250' in diameter. The guide framing is c.190' high - with the highest point of the crown over 200' above ground level. It was built by the Isle of Dogs based, Samuel Cutler, and it is likely that some of the design features are his. The contractor was probably Docwra, who were on site and constructed most of the original works. The basic conception, however, is that of George Livesey who undertook considerable research on the behaviour of such structures in gale conditions and his findings were embodied in the holder. The basic engineering of the holder, however, was probably done by George's younger brother, Frank Livesey. In terms of gas holder design it is a development of that first used in the large gasholder 'No.13' still standing at Old Kent Road.

The guide framing - which is what most people can see of the holder - is constructed of rolled steel sections. It is designed, like the holder at Old Kent Road and the demolished East Greenwich No.2., to be very plain. This embodies Livesey's ideas both on economy and on needless ostentation. This ethos was also part of his ideas on 'partnership' - taken from followers of the Italian patriot, Mazzini, and his own work in the local temperance and Christian movements. Partnership was between the capitalist classes of 'owners', the consumers or customers for the gas, and the workforce. The size and austerity of the holder to some extent represent his ideas of 'brotherhood in business'. A plaque on the holder commemorates a fatal accident of 1909.

The holder is overwhelming important, because of its size, the engineering principles on which it was built, the philosophies behind its design. It was built for sound economic reasons but also to show the world that South London gas was made to the highest standards and in absolute accord with the needs of both consumers and the workforce. As such it is a crucial symbol of our industrial past and its' retention on the site a fitting exemplar for the next millennium.

Since this letter was written some evidence has emerged that the holder may have been influenced in design by early 'modern' architectural ideas. George Livesey mentioned input by 'Major Dresser' who advised that 'ornament had no place on a gasholder'. Does this refer to Christopher Dresser, a well known contemporary designer who lived in South London at Sutton and Barnes? He is best known for his work in ceramics and textiles - but he also had an enormous influence on industrial designers of the early twentieth century. Livesey is known to have had used design ideas which were ahead of their times - for example his own house was furnished by Ambrose Heal. A book about Dresser's life was published in 1993 by Stuart Durant of Kingston University and has since been reproduced as a CD-ROM by the State University of San Francisco as The Father of Industrial Design. If this link could be proved the - much derided - gasholder embodies in its very plainness some important design principles and is in fact an extremely early 'modern' industrial building.


East Greenwich Gas Holder 1996. Photo R.J.M.Carr
Courtesy of Edward Hill

A FORGOTTEN INDUSTRY

Pat O'Driscoll

Wheen's soap works in Copperas Street has been neglected in published histories of Deptford. It was founded in 1769 and faded-out just after the end of the Second World War. There may (or may not) have been a connection with Lever's

In the early 1950s I was introduced to the last foreman there, Jack McAuliffe, who lived a short distance away. His wife had been head of the 'girls' who worked in one section of the Soapery and who earned nine shillings a week (the other girls got seven bob).

Jack said that a lot of fat was used in soap making and it came from the nearby Foreign Cattle Market (opened by the City Corporation in 1871) where cattle were slaughtered. Fat was taken to the Soapery by horse and cart. Copperas Street was then an unmade lane, and in bad weather you had to jump from stone to stone to keep your feet dry. When a cart got caught in ruts a gang of men with crowbars would be sent to free the wheels.

Jack told me two other things that I should have asked him more about but unaccountably failed to do so. One was about the bell, set on a tall post, which signalled the beginning and end of the working day. It had been a ship's bell from quite a well-known ship, and Mr Wheen had caused a plaque with the name and details of the ship to be fixed to the base of the post. Can anyone remember the wording?

Factories in those days used steam power rather than electricity. The steam engine at Wheen's is said to have come from the Great Eastern built on the opposite side of the river in the late 1853 and broken-up in 1889. This was not the enormous main engine but one of the various auxiliaries that she had. It is only in quite recent times that people have become interested it industrial history, so I fear that this engine ended-up in a scrapyard after the firm closed. Today it would be preserved. When I first started going around the waterfront in the mid-1950s I more or less working in isolation, sharing the interest with a couple of others. What a pity GLIAS and the Docklands History Group did not exist then. This short article may be seen by somebody who knows more about Wheen's. Perhaps somebody who worked there and who may be able to enlarge upon what I have said?

BUILDINGS AT RISK

The latest English Heritage list of 'buildings at risk' has been published together with new guidelines. Inevitably the list includes a number of industrial buildings in Greenwich - although finding where to draw the line between 'military' and 'industrial' is sometimes difficult. Here, together with their comments, is some extracts from the list:

Mumford's Grain Silo - Priority 'D' - Slow decay, solution agreed but not yet implemented. Listed Grade II. Condition - poor, part occupied. Ownership - a company. 'Warehouse range and grain silo built in 1897 to the design of Aston Webb'. Empty for some years. Consents for refurbishment for mixed use granted. Negotiations for Single Regeneration Bid funding still in progress.

Gateway to Royal Arsenal Rifle Shell Factory - Priory 'C' - Slow decay, no solution agreed. Listed Grade II, Conservation Area. Poor Condition, vacant. In ownership of a Quango. Gateway to Royal Arsenal's shell factory, 1856.

Royal Arsenal Grand Store, east range building 49, west and south west range buildings 36, 37, 46. Priory 'C' - Slow decay, no solution agreed. Listed Grade II*, Conservation Area. Poor Condition, vacant. In ownership of a Quango. 'Royal Arsenal storehouse 1806-13'.

Royal Laboratory to Royal Arsenal Priory 'C' - Slow decay, no solution agreed. Listed Grade II, Conservation Area. Poor Condition, vacant. In ownership of a Quango. 'Royal Arsenal's laboratory, originally built in 1696, reconstructed 1802 after a fire.

 

GREENWICH GENERATING STATION

Peter Guillery has been kind enough to write from the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England to draw attention to the Historic Building Report produced in May 1995 on Greenwich Power Station. It is hoped that the contents of this report can be made available to our readers. In the meantime the following is a brief summary taken from the report - with thanks to Peter and the Commission.

Greenwich Generating Station was built in 1902-10 for the London County Council to provide electric power to the capital's tramways. A powerful manifestation of early LCC municipalisation it continues in use as a backup electricity source for London's underground railways. The station is one of few early power stations to continue in operation. It is also notable as an early example of a steel framed building in Britain and, in its stone dressed stockbrick skin, it has considerable architectural distinction. This quality is most evident in the north and south gable-end elevations and in the stone detailing. There are four chimneys; the pair to the north were once taller and ornamentally detailed. Originally coal fired, the station generated current at 6,600 volts with a capacity of 34 MW when complete. Its first section, opened in 1906, incorporated a late example of the use of reciprocating steam engines; thereafter steam turbines were installed. All early plant has been removed and since 1972 the station has been equipped with eight gas turbine alternators, originally burning oil, but later conveted to oil/gas dual-firing. These are housed in what was formerly the boiler house, and have a total capacity of 1l7.6 MW, generated at 11,000 volts but stepped up to 22,000 volts for connection to the London underground distribution system. The massive coal bunkers forming the upper part of the boiler house survive. Amongst a number of ancillary structures the most notable is the coaling pier in the River Thames which stands on 16 huge cast-iron columns.

JETTIES

The destruction of so many jetties and piers along the riverside is causing great concern. The rapid disappearance of the huge gas works jetty on the Dome site has been cause for some remark - we hope to run an article about it shortly. Further along the riverbank was the old Redpath Brown jetty - itself of considerable historical interest and it too will be the subject of a forthcoming article. This jetty had been occupied for some time by the Greenwich Meridian Yacht Marina although it was on the area of riverbank due to be closed as part of the Dome site. Greenwich Yacht Club, on an adjacent site, are to be relocated but the Greenwich Meridian Club wished to remain independent. Following protracted negotiations the jetty has been compulsory purchased and a dangerous structures notice put on it. The club is looking at a number of other jetties - including massive ones on the Arsenal site which are currently unused.

The whole saga throws up a number of questions about the riverbank and what it should look like and what it should be used for. Club members have sent us the following letter:

From K. Hilbrown, Greenwich Meridian Yacht Marina

I am requesting your assistance with a view to acquiring the Thamesmead Jetty, and with your backing, do all in our power to prevent them from ever being demolished. Do you consider there is a possibility of having a preservation order placed on it, to ensure that yet another part of our heritage is not lost forever? I can foresee the time when all the jetties are lost to developers, unless drastic action is taken before it is too late.

It would seem your society are the only people who understand the important part these jetties have played in the development of trade from all corners of the globe. Are future generations only going to know how mportant the river was to London from reading history books? What German bombers could not do in five years, developers could do overnight, if we do nothing to stop them.

THAMES ESTUARY ARCHEOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK

The Thames estuary may seem a long way from Greenwich, but Greenwich is included in the 'archaeological research framework' for the Greater Thames Estuary - a draft of whose consultation document is now available. They define the estuary as stretching upstream as far as Tower Bridge.

The report comes from a working group comprising Kent and Essex County Councils and a variety of other organisations. It is a long document and it is almost impossible to do it justice in the space available here - so apologies for a summary and some, probably, misplaced highlights. Although most of it is ostensibly to do with 'dirt' archaeology the majority of items, in fact, concern industrial activity - a fact which raises the question of why such important topic as the industrial history of the Thames estuary is relegated to a relatively minor role in a document which says that it is about something else.

The document says that something should be done, in a co-ordinated way, and provides an action list - who could disagree with such an approach!

The following are some of the areas which they find of interest:

prehistoric marine activity, the Roman port, Thames shipbuilding, major pre-Norman buildings, shipping, barge wrecks, other wrecks, trackways, fish traps and ponds, oyster pits, salt works, sea walls (eg. Greenwich Peninsula) fishing and fish processing remains, hospitals, industrial housing (they giveThamesmead as an example!), military activity (e.g. Woolwich), forts, civil defence etc., military architecture ordnance storage.

The items which they note and describe as industrial include:

salt, copperas, glass, boat building, and repair, hydraulic power and steam, electric power, armour, gunpowder, chalk, brick earth, gas works, telegraph cables (eg. at Greenwich), water disposal (eg. Crossness), food processing, specialist metals and chemicals, paper making, shoes, fishing, inshore fishing, canals, railways, docks, wharves, military dockyards and storage, piers.

The action plan given in the report comes complete with a recommended framework and specific objectives. These include:

to investigate the role of ship building in the area and undertake research on cargoes and movements, to develop an understanding of the historical context of sea defences and an understanding of construction methods of sea walls, to research the relationship between leisure resorts and industrial communities, to assess urban growth and industry, to establish a basic inventory of defence sites with a detailed study of those which illustrate technical development, to establish an inventory of industrial sites and identify industries to be targeted for detailed research, to undertake research as a basis for comparative studies and develop a methodology.

A copy of the report could be made available if anyone is interested.

TWO WOMEN ON A FOOTPATH

The old footpath which winds its way along the Greenwich riverside to the end of the peninsula - and the Dome - has recently been the subject of some attention. Shortly before the Dome was thought of it had been designated as part of a nation-wide network of signposted cycle through routes - and was to be upgraded to meet the requirements of fast cyclists. Since then it has been suggested that it ought to be a pleasant walk for people who want to travel by foot from 'historic' Greenwich to the Dome. It is a raggedy old path which has, no doubt, seen a lot in its time - and so Greenwich Council commissioned the consulting engineers, Ove Arup, to look at it with a view to turning it into a cycle and foot path to the Dome.

Ove Arup reported to the Council late in 1997 - they said they project could not possibly be completed in time given the requirements. There are a number of legal problems concerning access and land ownership and there were engineering difficulties of providing the fast cycle track - which might also meet with considerable opposition on what were often very reasonable grounds.

In August 1998 Mary Mills and Ursula Bowyer set off along the path to see what they could find - they noted down what they saw and tried to think of ways in which things could be improved very cheaply. They talked to people they met - all tourists walking the path on a rainy summerís day - and asked what they would like to see there. One aspect was more information about the industrial heritage.

The following are some of the suggestions which Mary and Ursula made for heritage signing - and in each case they added a suggestion for payment through sponsorship. They noted the following sites and the information needed:

BOOKS... BOOKS... BOOKS...

ASPECTS OF THE ARSENAL -THE ROYAL ARSENAL WOOLWICH ed. Beverley Burford and Julian Watson. £11.99 from Greenwich Borough Museum, W.H.Smith, Woolwich, or Greenwich University Bookshop.

PARIS: A PRELIMINARY INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY SITE GUIDE by Susan J. Hayton. £5. inc. p&p. cheques payable to D.W.Hayton. Available from 32 The High Street, Farnborough, Orpington, Kent. BR6 7BQ.

[Volume on Flanders will be ready in September]

LEWISHAM SILK MILLS AND THE HISTORY OF AN ANCIENT SITE. THE STORY OF ARMOUR, SMALL ARMS, SILK AND GOLD AND SILVER WIRE DRAWING by John West and Sylvia McCartney. £6.45 from LLHS Pubs, 2 Bennett Park, Blackheath Village, SE3 9RB.

CHIMNEYS

GLIAS's Recording Group wants to list all industrial chimneys in Greater London. They cover a multitude of types from tall power stations to forges and bakeries. People are asked to send details of chimneys to: Danny Hayton, 31 The High Street, Farnborough Village, Orpington, Kent, BR6 7BQ. Please include the following information, if possible, together with your name and that of the person who saw the chimney.

The Material the chimney is made of.

The Height - or at least if it is 'tall' or 'short' or 'in-between'.

The Location - with, if possible a road name, or the address or a grid reference.

What it is, or was, used for - if known.

When it was built - or for about how long it has been noticed.

The last time it was seen.

The name and address of the person sending the note in.

Eastside Community Heritage has been set up in West Ham Old Town Hall but aims to cover all of East and South East London. They currently have a new web site;

www.eastside.ndirect.co.uk

which is aimed at everyone interested in the 'fascinating heritage of East London'. It will have an official launch in the autumn - call Lorna or Rita on 0181 557 8609 or email at lorna@eastside.ndirect.co.uk. They have news of exhibitions and projects throughout the area.

OLD STATION MUSEUM, NORTH WOOLWICH, could really do with lots of help - they need - painters, carpenters, electricians, typists, salesmen, graphic designers, cleaners, gardeners, mechanics, chimney sweeps, printers, writers, and lots of others. Contact Charlie on 0171 474 7244 with your skills.



MILLENNIUM DOMESDAY

London Wildlife Trust have brought out a booklet about Wildlife Under Threat along the Greenwich Waterfront. Although this has been publicised as being about threats to wildlife posed by the Dome - it is far more than that. It also notes problems at sites on Deptford Creek, Woolwich Arsenal and other places like Falconwood Field. It particularly highlights the case of the black redstart which is known to haunt derelict industrial buildings (has it been signed up by GLIAS?).

It ought to be possible to compile a similar booklet about heritage under threat in Greenwich - any suggestions?

DON'T FORGET THE AGM ON 15TH SEPTEMBER 1998

AND... DON'T FORGET TO FILL IN YOUR MEMBERSHIP FORM

This newsletter is produced by Mary Mills for the Greenwich Industrial History Society and printed (thanks) to Docklands Forum, 192 Hanbury Street, E14. Opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of individual authors or the editor and not those of the society as a whole.

ANY NEWSLETTER IS ONLY AS GOOD AS IT'S CONTENTS MAKE IT.
IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO TO CONTRIBUTE - ARTICLES, REPORTS, LETTERS - ANYTHING:

.... OR PLEASE CONTACT MARY MILLS, 24 HUMBER ROAD, SE3 7LR. 0181 858 9482

And......  DON'T FORGET TO ASK US FOR A MEMBERSHIP FORM



The Web version has been created by;

.... David Riddle, Goldsmiths College

Space courtesy of Goldsmiths College, University of London