Volume 4, Issue 6, November 2001






19th November (N.B. a Monday!)- Michael Bussell of the Concrete Society - The History of Re-inforced Concrete in the UK

11th December - Christmas Mystery Night. Bring your mystery objects and let other members guess!

15th January - Annual General Meeting followed by:
Dennis Smith on The Life of Henry Maudslay

12th February - Clive Chambers - The development of shipping up to the Great Eastern

All meetings will take place at The Old Bakehouse in Blackheath Village at 7.30 pm.

Reinforced concrete began to be used widely in Britain in the 1890s, so that we can now look back on a century of concrete structures. Our November talk will trace the history of reinforced concrete ('warts and all'), illustrated with some notable buildings and bridges in London and elsewhere.

Michael Bussell is a structural engineer who worked for Ove Arup for three decades before becoming a free-lance adviser on the conservation and re-use of historic buildings. He has written on the history and development of structures in reinforced concrete and in iron and steel, and was the author in 1997 of the first book-length guide to the appraisal of iron and steel structures. A long time ago he was a founder member of both GLIAS and the Association for Industrial Archaeology.



By John Fox

Some time ago there appeared in the Society's Newsletter, an account of a chap's apprenticeship - he had served in the Woolwich Arsenal. I wonder if it would be of interest if I gave an account of mine, completed at Messrs. Harland and Wolfe, a ship-repairing firm in North Woolwich?

Leaving my Plumstead school on Wednesday at the age of fourteen, I knew that Mum intended to take me on Monday to the Arsenal for job nailing ammunition boxes together. However, I had a different opinion, for I didn't care what I did as long as it wasn't nailing ammunition boxes together in the Woolwich Arsenal. My father, sensing that I held a deep apathy toward ammunition boxes quietly suggested, when mother wasn't present, that engineering was a good trade and I might like to serve an apprenticeship as one, suggesting I applied at Harland & Wolfe's. So, on Friday, two days after leaving school I went on my own to the works in North Woolwich buoyed up with the thoughts of starting an apprenticeship. Presenting myself at the Gatehouse I asked the fellow in the office when they would like me to begin. My hopes nose-dived when he pointed out that I couldn't start an apprenticeship until I was sixteen. My sad look may have softened his heart, for he held out a glimmer of hope, "We do need a lad in this office, in this gatehouse, you can work here if you like. The job will mean running around the works, offices and the ships in the dock we're working on delivering messages, you can work here for the two years until you are old enough to start an apprenticeship."

To my young mind, anything was better than nailing ammunition boxes together in the Arsenal and so I eagerly said 'yes'. The next move was to be taken to the office of the timekeeper, who asked me further questions, glanced at the certificate which told the world that I had left school and being apparently satisfied, gave me a brass tag with a number stamped on it and told me to start on Monday morning. That's all it took in 1944 to get a job, a chat with whoever was in charge of the section, an interview in what then passed as the personnel department and you started work, as simple as that.

As one may imagine this all caused a hectic row at home, nevertheless on Monday I began my duties in the gatehouse of Messrs Harland and Wolfe's North Woolwich site. The job didn't require any great intelligence. Sorting and delivering the mail that had been dropped of in the office by the Royal Mail and the runners, men whose job it was 'run' around the docks. Operating a stand-by telephone switchboard before the telephone girls upstairs started their day. Given a moment of glory perhaps two or three times a week, when waving a red flag, I stopped the road traffic to let a train run into the works on the railway line from the King George V dock. My main duty, however, was cycling around the docks to deliver those messages to offices, works and the many ships, both merchant and naval we were repairing in the Royal Group of Docks. No, it didn't need the brains of Einstein to carry out my duties, but to a fourteen-year-old it was bloody fascinating and I have most certainly done a lot more borings jobs since. Why, once I even went to the Thames Iron Works, at the mouth of Bow Creek. The then largest steam warship in the British Navy, HMS Dreadnought, had been built there in the 1900's and, incidentally, West Ham United Football Club was started there. Thames Iron Works was about 3 miles in the west; the other end of my sphere of influence was Ford's at Dagenham, about 3 miles in the east. Though I think my trips to Dagenham were made up trips, for my boss, Eric Dawson, was a great womaniser and every time I had to cycle to Dagenham, on my way back, I had to go to his house and give his wife a note explaining to her that poor Eric had to work late that night. For going to these distant places I was expected to use my own bicycle, receiving a cycle allowance of 2.5p a week, thus making my take home pay to the grand sum of 92.5 p a week, (it sounds even less in new money doesn't it?). Harland's was the London division of the famous Belfast shipbuilding firm, the London branch was mainly engaged in ship repair, but there were other strings to our bow. Making large body casting for the presses at Ford's of Dagenham, maintaining the Port of London Authority's railway stock, casting the iron brake blocks used on the trains and, at the end of the war, the joiners shop putting together the wooden parts of the prefabs that were being erected all over the country.

It takes but a moments thought to realise how many different trades are employed in the building and maintaining a ship. Carpenters, upholsterers, painters, tinsmiths, electricians, shipwrights, riggers, caulkers, blacksmiths, all these with their ancillary trades moulders, boilermakers, platers, pattern makers, coppersmiths and of course, the cream of them all, the fitters. Without the fitters, the workmen of Harland and Wolfe's would be nothing more than a working class rabble. Amid all these I would roam, why even today the scent of the sail making loft still lingers. There were a lot of tarpaulin covers used then and the inviting tang of a thousand jumbled odours as you climbed up the stairs into their sail making shop is still with me, like walking into another age. Yet another relic of bygone life was the general office, there banks of clerks still sat on tall stools working on chest-high wooden sloping desks, dipping their pens into ink encrusted inkwells, (ink encrusted inkwells might not be strictly accurate, but it does sound very romantic, this was before the days of ball point pens - remember). Many of these dignified old men were badly injured when a V2 rocket fell on the lock gate of the King George Dock, 20 to 30 yards from the general office. They, and many of the draughtsmen on the top floor, were badly cut by the shards of glass that were blown in by the explosion.

I had two years of this rather carefree life cycling around the docks at the tail end of the war, a sort of Wells Fargo of E16, I suppose. On one occasion a German buzz bomb droned overhead as I cycled peacefully up the King George V dock, without a care in the world, then the buzz bomb's engine stopped... A docker yelled at me to take cover with him under some railway wagons. All he kept saying was 'Jesus', when, the bomb having exploded some distance of, the pair of us climbed out from under the trucks and saw they were loaded with HE shells bound for France. If the same thing happened to a fourteen-year-old today, he'd be smothered by a hoard of trauma counsellors. I didn't suffer from the effects of a traumatic shock however, mainly because I don't think anybody had invented the malady then.



As a local resident, a Councillor and a historian I was particularly happy on 17th September. This was a great day for Greenwich because - at last - the Riverside Path was opened around the Dome site, and the route between Deptford Creek and Thames Barrier completed.

This section of riverside path has been closed to the public for 120 years, ever since the gas works was built in the 1880s. Before that, in the 1870s, Greenwich Vestry (Greenwich Council's predecessor) had fought a long, hard battle in the High Court to keep it open. Nothing changes - it is only because Greenwich Council went back to the High Court in the 1990s that so much of the path is open today - and thanks to hard work by English Partnerships, it is now open right round the tip of the Peninsula.

Some really exciting new vistas will be opened up to us - across the River is the whole of Blackwall Reach with tales of the days when 'Blackwall fashion' were the most important words in world shipbuilding. We will be able to see where HMS Warrior - now preserved in dry dock at Portsmouth - was built, as well as the monument to the departure of the Virginia Settlers as they went off to found America, and London's only real lighthouse - today an art gallery. The path was formally opened by the Mayor - but the real ceremony was performed by the children of the Millennium School who lined up on their bicycles to be the first through the new section. They were followed by stream of guests on foot - walking, chatting, and looking at the river. It has taken a lot of hard work to get this path open - the community groups who have kept on reminding us all about it, the council staff who have done such a lot of hard work as well as English Partnerships, who were ultimately responsible for opening it up. Thank you to everyone - the best thanks though will be to see visitors and locals using the path, seeing the river.

Mary Mills

The Woolwich Ferry - John Burns - is named after the South London politician. One of our members has pointed out that there is a talk about John Burns at the Wandsworth Borough Museum on 17th November, 2001 at 1.15pm.


Where addresses are not given, please contact through the Editor, c/o 24 Humber Road, London SE3

From Richard Cheffins

In answer to A.D.D.Jenkins query in our last issue (4 - Sept 2001) on 'Kamtulicon'. (NB not Kampultican) is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'Floor cloth composed of a mixture of India-rubber, gutta percha [the thickened juice of a Malay gum tree] and corn mounted on canvas'. According to the dictionary, the term, in mock Greek, was first used in 1844, presumably when the product was first manufactured and put on sale. It must have had a relatively short life as a product since linoleum, which largely replaced it, was patented in 1860. I have a copy of Mason's Greenwich and Blackheath shilling directory ... for 1852 (Greenwich's first street directory and not held in the Local History Library). No Kamptulicon works are listed in Bridge Street, as Creek Road, Greenwich, was then known, but in Greenwich Road (now Greenwich High Road) there is the entry 'Walter and Gouch, Kamptulicon Floorcloth Works'. Mason omits house numbers from all streets with irregular numbering (most of them) but the Kamptulicon works were two down from Mumford's Flour Mill in the direction of Greenwich town centre with a timber yard in between. There may have been other Kamptulicon works, perhaps in Creek Road, in Deptford, or perhaps later on in Bridge Street (the first large scale Ordnance Survey map for the area dates from 1869, surveyed c. 1867).

From Stuart Smith, The Trevithick Trust

I was pleased to see your display at the Cambridge Conference of the Association for Industrial Archaeology. I wondered if any of your members are interested in or have knowledge of cable making operations in or around the Greenwich area, particularly at Silvertown. This is in connection with our museum at Portcurno.

The Trevithick Trust, Chygarth, 5 Beacon Terrace, Cambourne, Cornwall. TR14 7BU.

From Paul Calvocoressi

The Great Wheel at Earl's Court

The September 2001 issue of the Newsletter mentioned the piece in the Newcomen Society Bulletin about the Great Wheel at Earl's Court whose axle and bearings were made by Maudslay, Son, and Field and for which steelwork was supplied by the Arrol Bridge and Roof Co. It asked whether I could comment on which of Maudslay's yards carried out the work and whether Arrol might have had any connection with the Appleby Works, which was next door to Maudslay's site on the East Greenwich peninsula.

My source for the information was the account in Vol.42 of the Survey of London - Southern Kensington: Kensington Square to Earl's Court, at page 335. I spoke to my colleagues in the Survey of London team, asking whether their notes for the volume, which was published in 1986, shed any light on these questions.

I am afraid that they do not. The published information was based on a piece in The Builder, but specialist engineering magazines do not seem to have been consulted.

English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, W1S 2ET

From Gail Brocklebank Smith

I came across this site via a search engine, while searching for General Steam Navigation, which I am trying to find information on. My great-great great grandfather, Thomas Brockelbank (1774-1843), was managing director of the company prior to his death in 1843. I know that the National Maritime Museum holds manuscripts of the company, but living in the United States, I do not have access to them, except to hire a researcher. Any help in locating information would be greatly appreciated, even a recommended researcher who is knowledgeable of the material.

I have a picture--actually a picture of a picture right now--of Thomas Brocklebank. My cousin in Liverpool has the original, a print; I think it is a black and white sketch. He has promised to send it to me. But the photo came out good and can email it, if you like.

Gail, Lake Linden, MI, USA

From John Sofield

Your Web site came up, while I was searching for information, and I was wondering if there is anyone in your group that would have any information on Mr and Mrs Arthur and Jessie Sofield, who lived at 181, Creek Road, Deptford. They were married on the 25th December 1910 at St. Nicholas Parish, then migrated to Western Australia.

From Mike Crutchley

Please forgive me for this intrusion, but I am looking for an expert on the history of Maudslay, Son, & Field.

I am currently researching the total loss of the Neapolitan paddle steamer The ERCOLANO on 24th April 1854. Most on board were lost including Charlotte Knight and her two infant children. The Ercolano collided with the iron screw steamer SICILIA (Glasgow built) in a storm at night and went down quickly in deep water south of the Bay of Antibes, off the coast of France. Much is known about the event - but very little is known about the Ercolano. This is all I have so far:

The Mediterranean Steamship Navigation Company commissioned five new steamers from 1825, one of which was known as the ERCALANO (may be a spelling mistake). Although The Ercolano is described in 1842 by the engineer JAMES NASMYTH (who I believe worked for Maudslay) as "...a fine new steamer of the Messageries Imperiales line." Although there is no evidence of her in the M. I. records. It is more likely that she worked for the Neapolitan Line out of Naples. Her standard route was coastal from Palermo in Sicily to Marseilles via Naples, Civitavecchia, Leghorn and Genoa.

I believe she would have been designed very similar to ships such as JAMES WATT or SOPHIA JANE. Possibly 200 to 300 tons, schooner-rigged with single funnel and twin paddles. She was known to carry 50 passengers on the night, but had, in the past, carried 250 passengers on deck. What I do know is that her engine was by Maudslay, Son, & Field. This gives me hope in finding evidence of her existence.

Was Maudslay building ships at that time i.e. 1825 or 1842? Would there be any record of Maudslay supplying a marine engine to another shipbuilder either on the Thames or perhaps in Glasgow? I don't think she was built in Italy, but would Maudslay have contracted to supply engines in the construction of the five MSNC steamers, CAPRI, VESUVIO, MONGIBELLO, ERCO(A)LANO, or MARIA CHRISTINA between 1825 and 1830? To find out about her engine design and drive would be fascinating.

I am writing a detailed piece on the event for an American/Canadian family history society. Later I have to give a talk in London, Ontario (not directly on the event, but the Ercolano will play a small part). And I know little about paddle steamers and steam engines, hence my cry for help! Pictorial evidence of the Ercolano would be a positive bonus! The SICILIA had 300hp engines and I wonder whether Maudslay would have supplied them in 1854. Ironically, she later sank before her second 'maiden' voyage, north of Palermo.

Any clues?

Esher, Surrey.

From Elsa Meier

While surfing the net for an elusive relative I came across your wonderfully informative Newsletter. It was nearly as good as being there. I am chasing a ggg grandfather James Bond (I am not kidding!) Who is said to have died in 1896 at or in or on St. Olaf/Olave. He was in the Merchant Navy. Is there a person there who would look up information for me on the offchance that I might hit pay dirt as us Aussies say? If not it was still interesting to read your page.

From: Paul

Do you know of any Web-cams looking at the barrier - the search facility on 'Google' looked like you had some on your History site.

The Web-master replies:

I am not aware of any Web cams trained on the Barrier. It is pretty static most of the time and probably doesn't warrant something that requires a little, more frequent, dynamism! What the search engine must have come up with associated with the GIHS site is a set of pictures I happened to put up in the site space for a relative who lives in South Wales, but they aren't directly linked from any GIHS pages. They were taken on the day of this autumn's test closure of the Barrier back in September... and are completely untouched.. straight out of my Fuji MX-4700 digital camera! If anyone else is interested, here is one..

Copyright David Riddle, 2001

and the rest I took that day are at;

From Jane Cox

I have just come across your site, I am wondering if you may be able to help me - my gr gr grandfather Edward James Amos was at Woolwich Arsenal as a writer/painter. His father, Edward, was also painter at Royal Woolwich Arsenal. One of them had something to do with designing the statue of Florence Nightingale. I would Interested to know if you know anything about this statue. I have little to go on I would welcome any advice on books on the history of the Woolwich Arsenal or addresses I can write to.

From Liz O'Connel

A Web search landed me at your site. My mother was a Bilbe and her family were shipbuilders in your area. Is there any information on them available?

15 Avon Rd, Geneseo, NY 14454




The site now referred to as Convoys Wharf is of great historical importance. It was Henry VIII's Royal Naval Dockyard, later the Royal Naval Victualling Yard, and then the Foreign Cattle Market before its recent use for the import of newsprint for the Wapping printing works of News International

Last year, planning permission was sought for site redevelopment, predominantly as an up-market housing estate. It was opposed by Deptford residents, amenity societies, and the Mayor of London as not meeting local needs, and subsequently refused by Lewisham Council.

A new proposal, the outline description of which sounds much more appropriate, has now been submitted. Full details will be on public display at St. Nicholas Church, McMillan Street, Deptford on Friday, 24th November from 10am to 9pm, and on Saturday, 25th November from 10am to 5pm.

Lewisham Council Planning Dept, 5th Floor, Laurence House, Catford Road, London SE6 invite your comments.

Tom Sheppard


Paul Sowan has been kind enough to send us a list of references to local geological features.

They include:

Report of the Committee for the Exploration of subsidences on Blackheath, Thomas Vincent Holmes. Blackheath & Lewisham Scientific Assoc. July 1881.

Excursion to Westcombe Park, Greenwich and Loampit Hill, Lewisham, April 7th 1883. Thomas Vincent Holmes, Proceedings of the Geological Association 8 (3) 112-113

The new section in Westcombe Park, Greenwich, Thomas Vincent Holmes, Proceedings of the Geological Association 8 (1) 59-64

Excursion to Loampit Hill, Lewisham and West Coombe Park, Greenwich, July 7th 1888, Thomas Vincent Holmes, Proceedings of the Geological Association 10 (9) 501-503.

Excursion along the new railway from Blackheath to Bexley Heath, Vincent Holmes, Proceedings of the Geological Association 13 (5) 152-157

Excursion to Charlton and Plumstead, Sat. April 17th 1901, Thomas Vincent Holmes & William Whitaker, Proceedings Geological Association 17 (4) 182-184


Recently took part in an exhibition at The Forum, Greenwich (Christ Church). They have a range of publications - not industrial but interesting, nevertheless. There is a local branch but contact them via: British Deaf History Society, PO Box 93, Winsford, Cheshire, CW7 3UD.



May I start with a word or two of appreciation for all those members and others who have either written directly about my small contributions, or commented via the newsletter. All very pleasing and make the effort worthwhile.

An aspect of the subject which I had completely overlooked were the workshops in the gas and electricity generating stations. Taking gas first, because of the large amount of heat available from benches of retorts and processes, etc. waste heat boilers were frequently used and all the processes requiring mechanical power were steam engine driven. Obviously all this plant needed regular maintenance and overhaul. According to my History of the South Met. Their general workshops at Grenfell Street site had about 350 skilled men covering most of the recognised branches - one of my old deceased friends was a blacksmith/welder there.

Now, electricity generating - a mix of public and private.

Old Borough of Woolwich

1. White Hart Road

2. Arsenal (help - please! Chairman Jack)

3. By the Ferry

Old Borough of Greenwich

1. The Tramway Station, Old Woolwich Road

2. South Metropolitan Electricity, Blackwall Point

3. Deptford B

4. Angerstein SECR - a 'might have been'.

General Comments

1. White Hart Road. The Chamberlain inspired Act of 1882 gave private companies and public authorities powers to design, build, and operate plant to supply local networks. It appears that Woolwich was very early in the field at White Hart Road.

2. Tramway Station - built by the former London County Council to supply the trams. The only one left and operating by gas turbines remotely controlled as a booster for peak loads.

3. Deptford B. despite its' name, within the old Greenwich boundary. Built by Ferranti it was the first public supply station in the world and later supplied a wide area of Southern Electric through a row of heavy underground cables to the familiar red-brick sub-station outside Lewisham Junction.

4. Angerstein - 'might have been' had SELR pursued their electrification plans for post World War One.

All these sites would have needed back-ups. Another of my old friends was in the machine shops at Battersea all through World War Two.

5. The United Glass Works at Anchor and Hope Lane were considering having their own gas works in the mid 1930s. But dropped the idea on negotiating more favourable terms from South Metropolitan Gas.

6. Public Authorities:

Baths, wash houses and laundries - Greenwich New Baths, Trafalgar Road, had an engineering workshop driven by our old friends line-shafting, belts and pullies.

There was a similar shop at Tunnel Avenue Depot and in my days at the Town Hall the engineer in charge was named Jim Taylor who lived in Ruthin Road. I never knew what went on there.

South Metropolitan Gas had a generation plant at Ordnance Wharf by-products works, presumably because gas light wasn't suitable for plant making highly volatile inflammable products. They also ran a fleet of steam powered tankers for tar-spraying activities on the roads. These obviously had to be maintained in the general workshops.

7. The Woolwich Free Ferry vessels. No electricity was available in mid-stream and those familiar with Squire, Duncan and the rest may remember that behind the engineer in charge who stood with his controls facing the engine room telegraphs, there was a smallish generator driven by a single cylinder steam engine, running all the time the ferry was in service.

As always, corrections, comments and additions will be welcome.

Ted Barr

Avondale Vivers Place, Kirkbymoorside, YO62 6EA


by Philip Binns



Site opposite 11-15 Highbridge Wharf, SE10

Demolition of existing buildings and erection of 2 live/work units and a dwelling. Welcome the relation of the height to Trinity Hospital - but concerned at amount of unrelieved glazing proposed. Regret that timber cladding has not been considered.

Land bounded by Creek Road, Creekside, Copperas Street, Deptford Creek

Demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment from 4 to 15 storeys. 174 homes plus restaurants, offices, etc.

Buildings 20, 21, 36, 45 46 Royal Arsenal

Changes to elevations were again being considered. Welcome the retention of the stone band between first and second floors on Building 45. The group was less happy with other proposals for the building. They were also unhappy about a number of issues concerning Building 20 or the rise in the number of bed spaces from 497 to 519 and that the proposed insertion of a balcony is insensitive.

Woolwich Transmitting Site, Church Manor Way, SE18

Installation of equipment cabin, etc, Group is worried about additional antennae being installed.

Building 17, Royal Arsenal

Use of existing paved area as an external seating area for the existing museum café. Group do not object.


Anchor Iron Wharf, Lassell Street, SE10.

This is a revised application for this Thames-side site next to the Cutty Sark pub. It is to provide 86 homes, a restaurant, ground floor open space, and parking for 77 cars. The group welcomed the reduction in the number of homes and simplification of the car parking. Continued concern about the height of the block in relation to the river and needs more work. The block with the restaurant, now bow windowed, is well handled and sympathetic but the group is disturbed by the blandness of the elevations facing the power station. They feel that the use of traditional ship boarded cladding is cosmetic and would like the development to use materials salvaged from the site and for interpretation panels to be provided on the walkway.

Meridian Gateway - land bounded by Creek Road, Creekside, Copperas Street and Deptford Creek

This development is to provide 714 homes, 32,748 square feet of offices, a restaurant, health and leisure facilities, shops, - as well as work to the Creek wall, open space, landscaping, footpath, cycle links and parking for 584 cars. The group welcomes the principle of overall development spanning the Greenwich and Lewisham borders - but finds it is at variance with previous planning framework documents in that up until now the balance has been towards jobs rather than homes. Only 10% of the planned homes are for families. The group feels that the height of the proposed buildings is too dominant and dwarfs other around the Creek - and is detrimental to views from surrounding housing estates. They welcome the Creekside public walk but are not happy with the relationship to the Laban Centre. They are worried about traffic from the development at the junction with Creek Road. They would like the established tree barrier on the south side of Creek Road to be kept.

Brewery Wharf, Norman Road, SE10

The application is for the demolition of existing structures and redevelopment as a hotel or homes. The group feels that they need more information than what was provided to them. Such a development would mean the relocation of Priors river based business, together with their historic crane - still in use. The group would like the crane to be kept, either where it is, or in use elsewhere. The situation at Lovell's Wharf must not be repeated. It is understood that Priors could move to Saxon Wharf and/or Lion Wharf and the application should only be supported if these wharves are given protected status.

Saxon Wharf & Lion Wharf, Norman Road, SE10

Demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment for office use. The group thinks that this can only be considered together with the Brewery Wharf and Meridian Gateway applications. A second application is for development for the production of ready mix concrete, distribution and wharf. The submission needs to be more detailed.

Old Seager Distillery Site, Brookmill Road, SE8.

Provision of offices and homes, DLR bridge access and car parking. The group is not clear about this application.

Deals Gateway, 6-14 Blackheath Road, SE8

Provision of Stephen Lawrence Technocentre for education, starter businesses, exhibition space, etc. No drawings were provided so the group cannot comment.

Former Water Works, and DLR, 6-42 Blackheath Road, SE8

Construction of vehicle access. The group does not object.

Railtrack footbridge between Straightsmouth and Greenwich Church Street. SE10

File not provided, so cannot comment.

ALACATEL - Greenwich, cable & telecommunications

by David Riddle

It struck me recently that there are aspects of our 'Industrial History' that remain active even today. I am referring to the fact that at least one of the London Borough of Greenwich's main employers has roots going back a very long way, with the achievements of its predecessors, both company-wise and personnel-wise frequently the subject of discussion in this Newsletter. The particular organisation I am thinking of is Alcatel.

Alcatel took space to run quite a large corporate stand at October's Crown Wood's School Vintage Car Fair, which this year incorporated an Industrial Heritage Fair and an event called Sci'Tech 2001. Alcatel have an active education unit that supports the teaching of science in schools, and their stand incorporated large-scale maps of their current cable network as well as computer systems demonstrating cable manufacture. Heat-sensitive cameras provided instant colour print-outs of all the hot-spots in your brain or other parts of one's anatomy that you thought were properly out of sight and out of reach!

In the same week, Alcatel, a French-owned multi-national, had announced significant job losses at its Christchurch Way plant, previously known as STC Submarine Systems. This was surprising as, indeed, has been the recent apparent general downturn in the telecommunications market, so I took the opportunity to ask one of the staff on duty for some inside information on his views of the reason for the current problems. What I learnt was quite an eye-opener.

One might think from all the hype that the vast majority of telephone and data traffic these days, especially Internet traffic, goes by satellite? This is not the case. Some 85% of all inter-continental traffic uses cable, not satellite. One of the reasons for this can be witnessed on the current nightly TV News videophone links from inland Afghanistan. There is a significant, and sometimes very annoying, delay in the reception of data when transmitted by satellite. In contrast there is no such delay with cable. Voice data takes a mere 0.003 sec. to travel from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Satellite is a much more important and significant carrier from locations within continents, but even this dominance is being challenged by huge investment in terrestrial cable.

An interesting fact revealed by Alcatel's maps was that submarine cables no longer just link continent 'A' to continent 'B'. There is now a major infrastructure of cables that circumnavigate the major continental landmasses. As examples, cable now go right around Africa and South America, with nodal points offshore that provide links to the major cities around the coast.

When the first long-distance cables were manufactured and laid in the mid-19th century, there were numerous problems to be overcome. The cables themselves were made of copper and extremely heavy. The ships that carried them were still often made of wood and subject to severe weather conditions for which they were much less well equipped to deal with than their iron and steel successors. Cables were often lost overboard in storms, involving huge project delays and weeks of painstaking work with grappling irons to find the lost 'end' in thousands of feet of water, work that was not always successful.

Also, remember what's down there on the seabed. It's an exact equivalent of what there is above water level. Plateaus, hills, huge mountain ranges, everything in fact that you can think of terrain-wise. Where do the cables get laid? Do they always follow exactly the same path, or does each one follow a well-surveyed route? It seems that similar, but not identical paths are followed, but it is neither technically possible, nor advisable to lay one cable exactly parallel to another. Most modern systems are actually designed as loops. Two shore base stations on either continent are linked by a continuous loop of cable that also links the shore stations. The sections of submarine cable may be separated by several hundred kilometres. If some kind of disturbance of either a man-made or natural variety were to affect one cable it would not affect the other arm of the loop, so services would only suffer a break of a few tens of milli-seconds while switching of traffic to the undamaged cable occurs. Cables apparently also end up following the lie of the land. If one were to imagine trying to lay a fairly rigid chunk of cable over even a modest set of mountains such as in the Lake District, it should be obvious that this cannot always occur, so there will always be short lengths of 'suspension', although the geologists involved aim to keep these to a minimum, otherwise they would thrash around too much in the underground currents and possibly snap.

Cables have always required insulation to avoid the nasty effects of the potential mix of salt water and signal-carrying metal. One of the first innovations to come out of the Enderby Works was that of the use of a material called gutta-percha, a far superior insulator to anything that had gone before it. Nowadays this has been superseded by the use of polythene, which is virtually non-degradable. Furthermore, you will no longer find data cables made of copper manufactured for the long-distance transmission of voice and data traffic.

All cables laid prior to 1988 were copper co-axial and carried analogue signals. In that year the first trans-Atlantic digital optical fibre cable, called TAT-8, came into operation. This cable consisted of a pair of optical fibres, one for transmission in each direction, along which signal-carrying beams of light travel. These light beams carry the voice/data 'channels'. Early cables required powered 'regenerating repeaters' at regular intervals along their length. As much as 10KVolts was needed to supply a constant 1 amp of current to the 100 or so repeaters on a typical 7500km trans-Atlantic cable. This power was carried along a copper sheath which lay outside the fibres and inside any protective armour that may have been required to provide additional protection for the cable in the particular environment it was designed for. These repeaters convert weak incoming optical signals to electrical signals, amplify that signal, and then convert it back into optical form for transmission along the next section of cable. It was not until 1996 that the first systems using full optical amplification came in to use.

However, whereas with copper, it was fundamentally only possible for a single strand of copper to carry a single voice channel, although this could be improved by a process called multiplexing, with optical fibres the same fibre can be made to carry multiple channels through the use of different laser light wavelengths. This results in a huge increase in the overall capacity of the cable. Only five years ago the standard number of wavelengths in use in submarine cables was 4, with 40 being deployed on some terrestrial cable systems. Today it is 16 with 100 coming on stream, and at higher transmission speeds, another developing factor. The result is that the same original cable can potentially carry at least 100 times more data. Some estimates are that it may be possible to increase this number to 1000 within the next few years, and there are also options to increase the number of fibre pairs from the common standard of only 4 in trans-Atlantic cables to 16. This would require a consequent increase in the size of optical repeaters, and this might in turn require prohibitively expensive modifications to the 30 or so cable-laying ships that currently provide the laying and repair capability for the world's submarine cable network.

Perhaps you are beginning to understand the nature of Alcatel's current problem? Although demand for more and more capacity in optical cables has been existence for many years, there come points in time when demand is temporarily met, yet the technology marches on. This is driven by business competition which, ironically, starts to become contrary to the interests of those same businesses. Optical cable doesn't need replacing as frequently as copper, so once laid, a cable will function quite happily for its planned operational life of 25 years. Capacity is met, cable become ever more capable, and sales start to drop off. This is the problem Alcatel currently face.

As the man said, the telecomms industry is a bit like a roller coaster. At this point in time Alcatel appear to have simply become almost too good at their own game! If you are interested to learn more at a fairly high, but still remarkably readable level, try;

An Oversimplified Overview of Undersea Cable Systems
David O. Williams
Information Technology Division
European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN)



We receive a great many newsletters and booklets - thank you, and keep them coming - however, what is listed here are only those which have something of Greenwich interest in the current edition. Reviews of any publications of Greenwich interest are always welcome.

Crossness Record

(Autumn 2001 Vol.7. No.5.)

More News from the Octagon - our local steam museum. Prince Consort now has most of his 'topworks' finished and work is now concentrated around the cylinder. All six sets of valves are being refitted to the ports - having been refurbished at Crossness's own workshop.

The barring engine is undergoing its second restoration. The chimney erection is now completed and much of the ancillary equipment in the new boiler room, has been installed and steel pipework fitted. The concrete bunded area to the east of the Triple Expansion House will be the cooling pond for the new steam system. The final section of engine house arcade next to Prince Consort is almost finished and the cast iron floor panels and been returned. Some windows to the west have been unboarded and there is now much more light coming in. The old steam and machine tools display space has now been converted to a new lecture theatre - to a very high standard and looks magnificent. The whole Visitor Centre is now undergoing reorganisation.

Woolwich Antiquarian Society Newsletter

October 2001 gives details of a ceremony to mark the opening of the newly refurbished gatehouse of the Cambridge Barracks in Francis Street. Views from it are said to be 'glorious' and the rooms are to be for community use.

Henry Maudslay 1771-1831 & Maudslay Sons and Field Ltd.

We have been very kindly sent a copy of this booklet published by the Maudslay Society in 1949 to mark the establishment of the Maudslay Scholarship. This gives so much information it is difficult to know where to start - extracts will be included in future editions of this work.

Bygone Kent

Vol. 22, No.9. Contains an article by Mary Mills on Greenwich and Deptford Copperas -The Final Years. This concerns extracts from the diary of Elizabeth Pearson, sister of the works owner. It speculates on relationships with the Millington family in Greenwich and goes on to describe the eventual failure of the Deptford copperas works after 200 years in production.

Vol. 22. No.10. has a letter asking for details about Ye Olde Sheer Hulk pub which was opposite the main gate of the Royal Dockyard in Woolwich. The writer is a Mrs. Lingham from Ashford who says that she was brought up next door to this pub and it was believed that it was built of timbers taken from the old prison hulks.


Ted Barr has been kind enough to send us a photocopy of a Merryweather's Catalogue from the 1880s - over 100 pages and its difficult to know where to start. It describes many of their fire and steam engines, who bought them and what they were used for - this is going to have to be another serial! Must be careful too since on the front it says 'Proceedings will be taken against any person pirating this catalogue'.

Merryweather's were fire engine manufacturers based in Greenwich High Road - the factory is still there, used as a trading estate - behind an art deco frontage. It is likely soon to be the subject of a planning application for demolition. The Company had originally been in business in Long Acre in London - and claimed in the 1880s to have been established 'upwards of 200 years '. Clearly they didn't start with making steam fire engines! So - leaving the formalities for now - let us take an engine at random.

On page 18 is illustrated The Conqueror, Admiralty Pattern Patent, Double Cylinder Steam Fire Engine.

The Conqueror

The first of this class of engine won first prize at Crystal Palace in 1863. One such engine was the largest Steam Fire Engine in the world 'La Belle France' purchased by the Austro Hungarian Government in 1878 along with another. Conquerors were also bought by the Dockyards at Portsmouth (3), Gosport, Woolwich, Deptford, Devonport (4), Keyham, Chatham (2), Kiel, Wilmershaven, Don Pedro, Rio de Janiero and Dantzig. Wigan Corporation bought 'Le Empereur' in 1868, and others went to Dacca Twist Mills, Tomsk, Valparaiso, and to a Russian Mill.

And what did these magnificent engines cost? The smallest which pumped 900 gallons per minute, to a height of 200 feet would set you back £990.50 but should you want 2,000 gallons a minute to 300 feet you would have to find £2,000. Plus, of course, in both cases numerous extras.

What was thrown in for the price included the feed pumps, lamps, water bags, engine hose, oil cans and - oh yes - sway bars for the horses. You pumped your water by steam power, but you took the equipment to the fire by more traditional methods!



To the south of Copperas Lane were potteries operated by Thomas Slade and Isaac Parry in 1770 and to the east another pottery on the Creek shore. This had been established in 1701, run by the Willsons until 1751, and taken over by the Parrys in 1755. It became their 'Lower Pottery' and appears on drawings of 1841 as 'Deptford Stone Pottery' and 'Lime Kilns' . In the eighteenth century it made Deptford Ware including crucibles, and later chemical and sanitary wares, and moulded spirit flasks. It was empty by 1862.

Two small potteries operated at the former Slaughterhouse site on Harold's Wharf until 1761 and 1800. One was probably run by John Hall in 1680. There were other potteries in Deptford to the west of Church Street c.1730-1800, on Tanners' Hill 1804-40 and on Counter Hill c.1810-49. There was also a clay pipe factory on the west side of Watergate Street - and excavation of its dumps of wasters found mostly nineteenth century material, but also some pipes from 1650-1750.

There were tan houses and tan yards on the west side of the Creek in 1589-90. These were probably associated with the King's Slaughterhouse, making use of its by-products and waste products. This is like the tanneries, with their distinctive pits lined with horn-cones, clustered around the slaughter yards of the Naval Victualling Yard on Tower Hill. In the nineteenth century there were tanneries on the east side of the Creek extending from the south part of the Pumping Station site to the Skillion Business Centre and the adjacent van hire yard.

Other early industries in the area include brick, tile, and lime manufacture. There were brickfields in Deptford in the 1570s and a bricklayers' premises lay to the west of Deptford Green in 1716. There was a tile factory on both sides of Copperas Lane in c.1733-70. In 1753 it consisted of a mill house and a plain tile house on the north side of the lane and a tile kiln house, a pantile house and a lathing house on the south side. Other eighteenth century tile kilns lay on the west side of Church Street. Limekilns were attached to Parry's Lower Pottery by 1840.

There was a brewhouse attached to the White Lion in Deptford in 1565 and two brewhouses in Deptford Town (ie. the Broadway area) in 1608. One of these was attached to the George Inn There were small brewhouses on the west side of Deptford Green in 1751 and on the Stowage in 1756-1760. Norfolk's Deptford Brewery was first established at the end of the eighteenth century on the east corner of Brookmill Road and the Broadway on the site of a former timber yard, and continued until 1905. Some original foundations are thought to survive beneath the present building. There was also a Gloucester Brewery at Deptford Bridge from 1823-1914. Between the Norfolk Brewery and Deptford Bridge, adjacent to the Ravensbourne was the distillery of Holland and Company. This was established in 1779 and extended c.1880. This was one of the great gin factories of London, The lower central blocks built of brick and tile with an archway is listed grade 2. It is also possible that there was distilling on the (Deptford) Power Station site - by a Joseph Hales, identified as a distiller and who held land in that vicinity.

The tide mill was acquired by Christ's Hospital in 1576 by the terms of the will of Roger Knot. In the 1570s-1590s the mill pond caused continual problems of flooding over 11 or 12 acres of meadow land, because the millers kept raising the height of the flood gates. It was especially dangerous when there was a strong flow of water down the Ravensbourne and it was necessary to co-ordinate the opening of the sluices with the Brook Mill further upstream to avoid flooding. The mill continued to operate on the same site until it was destroyed by flooding in 1824. It was re-built and taken over by J.H.Robinson who turned it into a steam-powered flour mill. In 1855 it took over the business of making ships' biscuits from the Steam Bakery in Brookmill Road. The floodgates were still causing flooding in the late 1850s when they were described as 'miserably deficient'. Later the mill buildings expanded towards Deptford Bridge and also covered the former osier ground on the east side (the Skillion site). The mill closed in the 1960s and was demolished after a fire in 1970. To its east Mumford's Mill was founded in 1790. The present building was erected in 1897 and is grade 2 listed. There was also a windmill on the east side of the Creek until at least 1840 - approximately on the site of the Skillion Business Centre.

Brook Mill on the west bank of the Ravensbourne is documented from at least 1586. It was purchased from the Beecher family by John Evelyn in 1668. It was later taken over by the Kent Waterworks and rebuilt both to grind corn and to raise water from wells. It was demolished in the 1850s.

A large part of Deptford, however, remained pastoral or was used for market gardening from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. There were still market gardens in the Norman Road area and along the banks of the Creek were meadows.


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 7LR (020 8858 9482)

Every Sunday (Foot & Mouth restrictions permitting!)

People required to do real work at Woodlands Farm.
Hot drinks provided. Ring Iain 020 8691 8979 or the Office 020 8319 8900


6th November, Crossness Engines Visitor Day. Thames Water, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, SE2. Adults £3. Visits start at 1.45pm and must be booked in advance 020 8311 3711 (Tues or Sun)

7th November, Pilotage on the Thames, Mike Battrick DHG, Room C. Interpretation Dept. Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. 5.30p.m.

14th November, P.W.King, Sir Clement Clerke and the adoption of coal in metallurgy. Newcomen Society. Fellows' Room, Science Museum, SW1 5.45p.m.

15th November, Picture Restoration. 10-30-16.15. £35. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

17th November, Underwater Archaeology. 10.30-16.15. £28. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

18th November, Crossness Engines Visitor Day. Thames Water, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, SE2. Adults £3. Visits start at 1.45 and must be booked in advance 020 8311 3711 (Tues or Sun)

21st November, Michael Bussell. A History of Concrete Structures. GLIAS, Lecture Theatre 2, Medical School, Barts, Charterhouse Square, E1. 6.30p.m.

22/23/24th November, Don Austen 'Stalking George Best'. Actor and ex-Mayor of Greenwich in a one man show. Age Exchange, Bakehouse Theatre. 7.30p.m. £5 & £3.

24th November, Charities of Deptford and Lewisham by Jean Wait. 7.45p.m., LLHS, Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13

24th November, George Simner, The Festival of Britain - the 50th Anniversary, Woolwich Antiq. Charlton House 2.00

27th November, SLAS AGM and Rosemary Weinstein on The Mystery of the Pewter Plates. (details above) 28th November,.

28th November, John Burns 1858-1943. Lunch time talk at Wandsworth Borough Museum, 1.15pm. The Courthouse, Garratt Lane, SW18 020 8871 7074

28th November, Excavations at Bermondsey Abbey. Alison Steele, R&BLHG, Time and Talents, SE16

28th November, Shipwrights and Shopkeepers. Deptford's Early Houses. Peter Guillery, Greenwich Historical Society. Music Centre, Blackheath High School, Vanbrugh Park, SE3, £2. 7.30p.m.

29th November, Historic Buildings. Lewisham Environmental Trust. Paul Calvocressi (English Heritage), Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, Lewisham. AGM. 6.45p.m.


5th December, Christmas Quiz. DHG, Room C. Interpretation Dept. Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. 5.30p.m.

7th December, The Medway. Bob Ratcliffe. 7.45p.m., LLHS, Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13

7th/8th December, Science and the Sea. Breathtaking advances since the Second World War. 10.30-16.15. £45. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

12th December, Anthony Constable. Marconi's Transatlantic Wireless Message, 1901. Newcomen Society, Royal Entomological Society, 41 Queens Gate, SW1. 5.45

15th December, Peter Street Popping into Uncles. History of Pawnbroking, Woolwich Antiq. Charlton House. 2.00pm

19th December, Magic Lantern Entertainment. Rosemary Gill. R&BLHG, Time and Talents, SE16



2nd January, Jim Packman & Alan Cartwright, The Port of London Authority, Past Present and Future. DHG, Room C. Interpretation Dept. Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. 5.30p.m.

8th January, Crossness Visitor Day. (You must book see details for access)

9th January, E.F.Clark. Metallurgical Evaluation of the Tyre of the Lion Locomotive. Newcomen Society. Fellows Room, Science Museum, SW1 5.45p.m.

12th January, Mike Brown Evacuation in World War II, Woolwich Antiq. 2.00 Charlton House.

16th January, Stephen Halliday. The Great Stink. Bazalgette and the Cleansing of Victorian London. GLIAS, Lecture Theatre 2, Medical School, Barts, Charterhouse Square, E1. 6.30p.m.

20th January, Crossness Visitor Day. (You must book. See details for access)

30th January, Museum in Docklands. Chris Ellmers. R&BLHG, Time and Talents, SE16


27th February. Frost Fairs on the Thames. Jeremy Smith. R&BLHG, Time and Talents, SE16


Industrial Greenwich. Tuesdays, 5 weeks from 12th February. Greenwich Borough Museum. 2.15-4.15 p.m. £26. Goldsmith's PACE course. Ring 0800 092 0659

Historic Architecture in London and Local Boroughs. Mondays from 7th January, 10.15am-12.15pm £32. Goldsmith's PACE course. Ring 0800 092 0659

Deptford Past and Present. Lewisham Library. 15th January - 19th February 10.30-12.30 £19. Goldsmith's PACE course. Ring 0800 092 0659

Know London will run from spring 2002 and be run by two blue badge guides. Wednesdays from 7th January 11.00-1.00 £40. Goldsmith's PACE course. Ring 0800 092 0659

Details of all courses from PACE

Lewisham and its Surrounds. Thursdays from 7th January 2-4. Lewisham Library. £13. Community Education Lewisham. 020 8694 8445

Master of Science (MSc) and Diploma in Industrial Archaeology at the University of Bath in Swindon.
Post-graduate course of 12 months full time or 28 months part time. Details from;
Mrs. Emma Greeley, University of Bath, Dept. of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Bath BA2 7AY.
01225 826908

Submarines. Tuesdays 10.30am-12.30pm, 8 weeks from 29th January. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

Seapower in the Age of Nelson. Wednesdays 10.30-12.30 from 30th January. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

A History of the Royal Navy. Tuesdays 8 weeks from 23rd April. 10.30-12.30. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

The Beach - history of its role in the seaside. Wednesdays 10.30-12.30 8 weeks from 24th April. National Maritime Museum (details as above)

MA in Maritime History and MA in Maritime Policy, For details contact Dean Surtees, GMI, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, SE10 9LS. 020 8331 7688


By Jack Vaughan

On October 14th, the annual exhibition of vintage vehicles at Crown Woods School was expanded to include a miscellaneous collection of sub-exhibitions. From our point of view the most important of these was advertised as an Industrial Fair. Since this could offer an opportunity to raise the profile of Industrial History in our area, we undertook to offer a small display.

We chose a relevant theme based on famous engineers who had some connection with our district. The space allocation imposed a limit on the number that could be included and this meant that some worthy individuals could not be used.

I shall not give details here other than the names - as I may offer a series of talks on them in small groups.

The names:

Henry Maudslay, James Nasmyth, William Armstrong, William Fairbairn, Joseph Bramah, Marc Brunel, Joseph Whitworth, the Collier family [Matchless Motor Cycles], Charles (General) Gordon, Frederick Abel, John Rennie, & Michael Faraday.

On the whole, it was a worthwhile undertaking although it took two months to set up from first to last.


We really should thank Jack for the time and effort he put in to setting this exhibition up - we should also thank his long-suffering daughter who provided a vast amount of help and support.

** Jack has provided a list of 13 scientists and engineers who were associated with Greenwich industry and scientific advance. Clearly there were many more - for example, the Greenwich-based engineer, John Penn, and all the astronomers at the Royal Observatory, for a start. Please send in names of others - and if you can provide mini-biographies so much the better. Let's see how many names we can get, and amaze everyone! We might even be able to publish a book .... or a series of books.


The Society's officers are curently as follows:

Chair - Jack Vaughan

Vice-Chair - Sue Bullevent

Secretary - Mary Mills

Treasurer - Steve Daly

Committee - Alan Parfrey, Andrew Bullevant

Auditor - Juliet Cairns

Members are reminded that subscription renewals fell due in October 2000.
Subscriptions remain at £10 and should be sent to:

Steve Daly, 5 Pankhurst House, Garrison Close, Shooters Hill, SE18 4JE

The AGM also sent its best wishes - and concern - to Jack Vaughan who has been immobile and housebound since early December. Please come back Jack - we all miss you!

This newsletter was produced for Greenwich Industrial History Society, Chair, Jack Vaughan, 35 Eaglesfield Road, SE18. Views expressed in it are those of the authors and not of the Society.

Contributions (within reason) are always welcome.


Please send to Mary Mills (address below).


Meetings as advertised at the head of this newsletter will be held at;

The Old Bakehouse, (at back of the) Age Exchange Reminiscence Centre, 11 Blackheath Village, London, SE23 9LA.

Do not go to the Reminiscence Centre itself - The Old Bakehouse is at the back, in Bennett Park. Walk into Bennett Park and turn left into a yard. The Old Bakehouse is the building on your right. The entrance is straight ahead. By the way - there is an urn and cups - have we a volunteer who could make tea/coffee for members?



The Web version has been created by;

.... David Riddle, Goldsmiths College

Space courtesy of Goldsmiths College, University of London