Volume 2, Issue 2, March 1999


(PART 5)



This month we run the first extract from Dr. Christopher Phillpott's assessment of Deptford Creek.
The section describes industry in the medieval period.

Industry in Medieval Deptford

The fundamental feature of the history of all the manors and parishes along the banks of the Thames below London in the mediaeval and early modern periods was the struggle to reclaim or 'inn' the marshes from the river. Earthen banks or walls were constructed along the riverside, and the land behind was drained by ditches. This was enclosed and drained in a series of parcels divided by cross-walls which were built out from the gravel uplands and ran perpendicularly to the river, advancing the riverfront over a period of time. The level of each parcel related to the date at which it was first 'inned' - the lower the level the earlier the 'inning'.

The method of constructing the river walls is not known with any certainty, but they are likely to have consisted of simple earthen banks, perhaps founded on hurdles. By the sixteenth century timber groynes probably formed the foundation, and the earth may have been mixed with reeds taken from the marshes in front of the wall. The reclaimed land behind the walls was utilised for meadow and pasture, and also for sowing corn. The unenclosed marshes in front of the walls were used for fishing and fowling. The remains of two timber revetments recently recorded on the west and east sides of the Creek bed to the south of the railway bridge may represent the lines of medieval or early modern river walls. By the end of the Middle Ages the river walls had been raised to 2.7m OD as excavated at Limehouse. They were often breached and behind them there was frequent flooding of the fields up to 1.8m OD.

By 1515 there are references to Stowage Marsh and in the late sixteenth century to the repeated repairs of the river walls here. A creek was also mentioned. The earliest spelling is the same as the modern street name, but in the sixteenth century the variants 'Stowedge', 'Stoage' and 'Stodge' appeared, and in the eighteenth century 'Stoad'. The location of the house appears to have been between Hoy Inn Stairs and the street called the Stowage. By the eighteenth century a wharf 104 feet long beside the Ravensbourne, dwelling houses, warehouses, sheds and a substantial yard area belonged to 'Stowidge House'. The name of the street therefore derives from this property and not from the later storage facilities of the East India Company, as has often been stated.

Interspersed in these strips of arable cultivation and marshland were the properties of several religious houses, including St Thomas's Hospital. The Hospital accumulated much land in the area, including a length of the Thames bank called Skinners Place between Deptford Green and Deptford Strand, on which stood a dovecote by 1414 and several tenements were built by the early sixteenth century.

The Deptford Strand area along the river walls of the Thames was certainly populated by the thirteenth century and increasingly so in the later medieval period. It was called the 'vill of Westgrenewich on the Stronde'. Walter the archer and his wife Christiana were found murdered at their house in 'West Grenewic' in 1227. A wharf had recently been made on land of Deptford Strand manor in 1463-4. Medieval pottery has been found on the Thames foreshore between Watergate Street and Deptford Green. At Deptford Bridge another wharf was added shortly before 1471. In 1381 a wharf was mentioned at Deptford, where a cargo of 4,000 short faggots of firewood called 'oventfagotes' was to be delivered, presumably for the bread ovens of the village.

In the Domesday Book survey of 1086 four mills were noted within 'Grenviz' and a further eleven in 'Levesham'. In 1157 Walkelin de Haminot granted an annual rent of ten shillings from the water mill in Deptford town to Bermondsey Abbey, probably in compensation for his father's failed gift of the manor in 1145. The Abbey collected this rent until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. This mill must have been the tide mill or 'Flodmell' known to have been established on the west bank of the Ravensbourne to the north of Deptford Bridge by at least the fourteenth century. It had a continuous existence until it was closed after a fire in 1970. In 1326 and 1342 the tidal waters to drive it were held back by a 'Flodmellware'.

Other water mills operated on the Ravensbourne, including one at Brookmill Road on the site of the Kent Waterworks established by 1586, and the Armoury Mills at Lewisham. Another tide-mill operated in Pot Mead, later the site of Deptford wharf/Borthwick Wharf.

The initial basis of the economy of the Deptford Strand settlement was probably fishing in the Thames. In 1279 there was a dispute over fishing rights in the pond on the site of the Dockyard, and in 1349 Greenwich fishermen were found guilty of using nets of too fine a mesh. There are also fourteenth and fifteenth-century references to fishermen and fisheries along the Strand shore

Indications of wider-ranging trade have been found at Greenwich in the form of an inscribed thirteenth century brass seal and a bronze steelyard weight of the thirteenth or fourteenth century. A Greenwich mariner was licensed to trade in Gascony as early as 1229. In 1326 the men of Greenwich were exempted from military service on land because they had sent ships to serve with the 'King's Admiral'.

The shipbuilding industry at Deptford Strand is known to have begun in 1420 with the rebuilding and refitting of royal ships, and the digging of a dock for one of them in a former garden belonging to William Ramessy (the precise location has not been traced). There had probably been earlier activity for which the evidence no longer survives. The Thomas had been waiting there on the stocks since 1418. The dock was retained to hold the dilapidated Katerine until March 1425, when she was sold for scrap. By the end of the fifteenth century this activity was well established at this settlement. In the 1460s Sir John Howard, Edward IV's commander at sea, laid up his ships at Deptford. In 1464 William Rose purchased timber from the Bridge House store at Southwark to build a ship at Deptford Strand. Ten years later a tenement was rented from the Bridge House estate there to repair a royal ship called the Antony Camfere. In 1487 Henry VII rented a storehouse for naval gear at Greenwich (possibly West Greenwich) and sent shipwrights and caulkers from Deptford to rig and repair his ships laid up in the Hampshire ports. A shipwright was buried at St. Nicholas church in 1494.

Other late medieval industry is known from the area. On the Bridge House lands at Deptford Strand there was tile and brick making for the London market from 1418 onwards for which a Dutch craftsman was hired to test the qualities of the local clay. A small dock was dug to assist in the transport of the products. Brickmaking continued at Deptford which supplied nearly two million bricks to Henry VIII for his new manor house at Dartford.

There was a limekiln in 'Lez Brokes' with a wharf on the east bank of the Ravensbourne by 1481. This was operated by Thomas Waller limeburner of Deptford who acquired a cottage and garden nearby in l488. The plot of land on which the limekiln stood was at the south end of 'Lez Brokes' in the former 'Flodmede', on a site now occupied by Mumford's Mill and the Booker Cash and Carry. The kiln had been removed by 1535. There were other limekilns to the east of Deptford at the west end of Blackheath, near the junction of Greenwich South Street and Blackheath Hill. These existed by 1432 and continued to operate into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This probably used raw materials derived from a chalk quarry at Blackheath Cavern. In the fifteenth century the Prior of Sheen, as lord of the manor of Greenwich, leased to John Beleham of West Greenwich 'le chalkepytte under Blakeheth with all the sand there'.

References to gravel pits along the Ravensbourne also occur from 1458 onwards, one immediately to the east of Deptford Bridge next to the road on the north side and others near the Bridge. By the beginning of the sixteenth century gravel was probably being dug to provide ballast for ships. In 1515 the river wall of 'Stowage Marsh' had been broken down by the 'transport of balysse' in a horse and cart. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries Deptford increasingly felt the influence of Greenwich Palace on its economy. This site had always been the Abbey of Ghent's manorial centre, and therefore the place to which the east bank of Deptford Creek owed its rents and suit of court. The site was granted to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1417. He enclosed and laid out Greenwich Park in 1434, and built a tower in its centre - this was later the site of the Royal Observatory. Duke Humphrey's residence passed to the Crown in 1447 was expanded by Henry VII and Henry VIII as Greenwich Palace. With the great expansion in the numbers of courtiers there, the pastures of Deptford came to be used for the maintenance of cattle to supply the royal household. Its proximity to Greenwich Palace probably also explains Henry VIII's decision to exploit Deptford's shipbuilding tradition in the expansion of his royal fleet.

This extract is published with the kind permission on the Creekside Project. It has been heavily edited to lay an emphasis on the industrial aspects of the area - something which will be less necessary with succeeding centuries!



24th March 1999, (Wednesday). Brian Strong of the Three Mills Tidal Trust on the Tide Mill and the Trust's work, plus a brief word from Mary Mills on the East Greenwich Tide Mill. Christchurch Forum.

20th April 1999 (Tuesday). Ben Van Bruggen, Riverside Co-ordinator, Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership. Ben will cover some of the issues raised by the riverside audit and by the Waterfront Development Partnership's policies. Christchurch Forum

11th May (Tuesday). Mary Mills on Steel and Big Guns on Greenwich marsh.

15th June, (Tuesday). Wesley Harry. Films on the Royal Arsenal. East Greenwich Community Centre.


All events 7.30 p.m., Both venues are at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Christchurch Way, SE10. East Greenwich Community Centre is in Christchurch Way and is the old school building. Christchurch Forum is in the Church itself on the main road.


A Greenwich Turret Clock

The church of Christchurch, now the centre of the Christchurch Forum, until the mid-nineties had in the tower a mechanical clock operating on two faces, it having stood idle for decades before the birth of the Forum, the guiding lights of that organisation decided on restoration. A campaign resulted in enough money for the work to be undertaken. The result was a new clock driving two new faces by the well known firm of John Smith & Sons of Derby.

Perhaps disappointingly the new clock proved to be electrically driven, accompanied by striking simulated by electronics.

However the Forum, having some feeling for antiquary wished to have the old mechanism on display and during a chance meeting on a bus between Mick Hayes, councillor and driving spirit of the Forum and myself Mick asked me casually if I knew anything about clocks. Having repaired some half dozen turret clocks I said 'yes' and volunteered to help. My first visit to the turret - somewhat ankle deep in pigeon droppings - convinced me that repairs were possible to the movement but arranging for the weights and wire ropes to be replaced would be very difficult. A further difficulty would be to arrange for access for the weekly winding required. The latter, plus producing people to undertake this task which involves scaling ladders to reach the turret would always be a problem.

The consequence was as already stated - an electric version.

There then shortly after appeared on my doorstep the two train movement and a massive wooden pedestal on which it sits. A closer inspection shows the movement to have been made by famous makers Thwaites and Reid of Clerkenwell in 1858, There was of course, some wear in parts. The gear teeth (brass) were in good order. One of two pinions (steel ) had been moved axially to present the unworn portion to their mating wheels, The only repair needed was to replace two teeth on the string rack. The current position is that the movement is in good working order and the wooden pedestal has been tightened up in the joints and well cleaned up. A simple superstructure has been made to support two of the original pulleys and new wire lines fitted. Remaining tasks, apart from the act of installing the whole thing, are the design and making of the necessary weights and some painting. Sadly the original bell could not be removed from the turrets - not yet, anyway.

After installation the Forum wishes that some suitable form of striking and time indication could be assessed, using as much of the original mechanism as possible.

Jack Vaughan


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)

THE HOUSE MILL, Three Mills Lane, Bromley By Bow
Now open every Sunday 2pm-4pm, May-October, 1st Sunday in the month from March-December. Groups visits - please ring William Hill 0181 472 2829


31st March. Cutty Sark, Roger McKenna, Time & Talents, Old Mortuary, St. Marychurch Street SE16. 7.30pm. (RBLHG)

7th April. The Lower Thames, Douglas Barber. DHG, Room C, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2 6.00pm

10th April. South East Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference. University of Reading. Includes Bob Carr on Docklands, Bill White on 100 years of Cinemas, Paul Sowan on the importance of geology and groundwater. etc. Details from Dennis Johnson 0118 983 2009
GIHS has booked a stall a this event. Any offers of help gratefully received. Please ring Mary on 0181 858 9482.

14th April. History of Power Semi-conductor Devices. Brian Bowers. Newcomen Society, Science Museum. 5.45pm

16th April. AGM Blackheath Scientific Society, 7.45pm Mycenae House, Mycenae Road, SE3.

21st April. Recording London's Heritage. GLIAS, Lecture Theatre 3, Science Block, St. Bartholomew's Medical School, Charterhouse Square, EC1. 6.30pm

23rd April. The Story of Bermondsey, Mary Boast LLH Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13 7.45pm

28th April. The Changing Face of the Greenwich Peninsula. Kay Murch. Greenwich Historical Assoc., Music Centre, Blackheath High School, Vanbrugh Park Road, SE3. 8.00pm

29th April. The British Fighting Sailor £25. 10.30am-4.15pm. Open Museum. Ring 0181 312 6747.

5th May. The Royals: Docks, Ships and Men. George Shaw. DHG, Room C, Museum of London, EC2 6.00pm

8th May. Model Making Techniques £25. 10.30am-4.15pm Open Museum. Ring 0181 312 6747.

8-9th May. National Mills Weekend. The House Mill at Three Mills will be open 11am-4pm on both days. Includes an exhibition of pictures, (Three Mills Lane, behind Tesco on the western side of the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach, park in Tesco's car park). £2 entrance).

13th May. Words and Songs. Anthology of the River Thames. Chris Ellmers, London Canal Museum, New Wharf Rd, N1, 7.30pm

21st May. Infrared Astronomy. Dr.Emmerson, Blackheath Scientific Soc. 7.45pm. Mycenae House, Mycenae Road, SE3.

22nd May. Fear God and Dread Nought £25. 10.30am-4.15pm. Open Museum. Ring 0181 312 6747.

2nd June. The Thames Today. Alan Bennett, DHG, Room C, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. 6.00pm

19th June. Contemporary Piracy £25. 10.30am-4.15pm. Open Museum. Ring 0181 312 6747.

25th June. Wandsworth Museum Story. Pat Astley Cooper, LLH Methodist Church Hall, Albion Way, SE13. 7.45pm

7th July. Staging a Major Exhibition. London Bodies. Alex Werner, DHG, Room C, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2 6.00pm

4th August. Old and New History of Tea by the Pool. Edward Bramah. DHG, Room C, Museum of London. 6.00pm

1st September. Siemens. John Ford DHG, Room C, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2 6.00pm

3rd-5th September. TIME & TIDE CONFERENCE
NW Kent Family History Society to be held at Avery Hill Campus, University of Greenwich.

10th-16th September. Association for Industrial Archaeology Conference, Chatham.
Admissions Officer, Leicester University, Leicester LE1 7RH. Tel: 0161 252 2414.
Pre-conference seminar on current thinking in industrial archaeology.
Anyone interested in submitting a paper should get in touch with GLIAS via Tim Smith (01442 863 846).

6th October. Manuscripts at Guildhall. Stephen Freeth, DHG, Room C, Museum of London, EC2 6.00pm

3rd November. London Hydraulic Power Co. Tim Smith, DHG, Room C, Museum of London, EC2 6.00pm


Industrial Archaeology in East London. Tutor Bob Carr. Wednesday afternoons at the Old Station Museum, North Woolwich. Information from Don de Carle 0181 445 5081.

Greater London IA Fieldwork. Thursdays from 22nd April, 6.30 p.m.
Details Dept. Continuing Educ., City University, EC1V 0HB 0171 477 8268.

London's Docklands
Starts 28th April, National Maritime Museum, Open Museum. Ring 0181 312 6747
Wednesdays for 8 weeks. 10.30am-12.30p.m.
28th April, Bob Aspinal (Docklands Past & Present)
5th May, Chris Ellmers (West India Dock Co.)
12th May, Mike Seabourne (Docklands Riverscape)
19th May, Louise Brodie (People of Docklands)
26th May, Bob Aspinall (Industrial Relations)
2nd June, Eve Hostettler (Working Community on the Isle of Dogs)
9th June, Peter Street (Docklands & Victory 1945)
16th June, Field Trip to Shadwell


by John Day

I cannot remember whether working 'closed week' earned me overtime or a week off later. An apprentice's wages in the first year was twelve shillings a week, from which unemployment and friendly society contributions were deducted. I think the first was 10 or 12 pence and the second 2 or 3 pence, as a result I received just under 11 shillings. My friendly society stamped card had to be sent to the secretary every six months. I belonged to The Ancient Order of Foresters whose secretary was Bro. Moss, of Verdant Lane, Hither Green.There was a rise of two shillings at the end of the year and the wages went on up until, when I was 21, I got sixty-three shillings as a young journeyman - the union rate. (12 pence = 1 shilling = 5p).

1935 saw the beginning of the short-lived Royal Arsenal Sports Association Motor Cycle Club I began in the Electrical Shop with Bill Beresford (031 Norton), Bill Croft (Enfield twin and sidecar), Percy Harris (649 c.c. vertical twin Triumph and sidecar), Meredith Smith (o.h.v. Norton), Len Schum (o.h.v. Raleigh) Charles Day (Scott), my father (1150 c.c. Brough Superior and sidecar), Len Dent (MAC Velocette) and myself (Model 9 Sunbeam). Bill Croft ran the battery shop that charged and repaired all the dilly and other accumulators in the Arsenal. Percy Harris rewound small armatures it was said he did more private vacuum cleaners than official motors! Merry Smith was in the drawing office, as were Len Schum and Len Dent, and was responsible for the heating in the, about to be reopened, Nottingham Ordnance Factory. The club met on Sunday mornings at the Prince Imperial Monument, facing the Royal Artillery Institution, and went for a run round the Kent lanes or to a local motorcycle sporting event. They ran a road trial that entailed following a route card at a set speed, there being time checks at unknown points. I would have done quite well in this, my first motorsport event, had I not thought I knew better than the organisers in how to get from A to B! The club only lasted a couple of years, eventually joining up with the local group of the Civil Service Motoring Association.

After my spell in the western D.C. area, I was stationed at Substation No. 4 (Sub 4) presided over by Andy Clements with Syd Freeman (electricians mate) and Bill Nunn (motor cleaner). Sub 4 was east of the Sales Ground, where unwanted bits and materials were sold off by auction, and served the Danger Buildings, the F shops where all the woodwork was done, and Crossness explosives pier. The substation was divided into two areas, one held the voltage reducing transformers and associated switchgear and the other was a rest room where we made tea and waited for the next phone call to say something had gone wrong. While Syd brewed the first cup of the day, Andy pushed the newspapers off the table, produced a bit of chalk and proceeded to introduce the then resident apprentice to the deeper intricacies of electricity distribution of three-phase current. One day the phone rang and Andy told me to take Syd and sort out the trouble. I forget what the trouble was but I remember I hadn't a clue how to solve the problem. Syd suggested a course of action, I took it (after all Syd was three or four times my age) and all went well. When returned to the Sub, Andy asked me what I had done. I told him Syd had suggested a solution. Oh dear! Andy really went for me. The gist of his tirade was if you are in charge of a job, you do not follow the instructions of a subordinate and you take the responsibility. One learnt a lot more than various trades with that kind of apprenticeship. The Sub being well out of sight and out of mind of the main part of the Arsenal, Andy had acquired a garage on the other side of the road for the benefit of engineering apprentices who wanted to work on their cars, or motorcycles, particularly on Saturday mornings. I suggested that a lathe might be useful, so Andy took me on a scrounging trip on a dilly and we returned with a 4.5 inch centre lathe from a 'mothballed' shop. This was set up in the Sub, driven by a motor similarly acquired. News of the lathe reached the shop steward in the main shop and he began to raise great objections (he would, he was the shop turner) and he was soon told to be quiet, the lathe would only be used by an apprentice and it was only for 'foreigners'.

Being in the woodworking area (F buildings) there was a lot of high speed machinery. One interesting motor that came our way was for a vertical spindle router and it ran at 5,750 r.p.m! The trick was the use of a first rotor as the stator for an inner (output) rotor. By reversing the connections to the inner rotor, one could hold the shaft with the motor taking full current!

To be continued...



There was a Siemens W40 Magneto Electric Machine, about three feet long and two feet high, painted black and immensely heavy. It was an A.C. generator using permanent magnets for its field. It could still produce a deflection on an AVO meter when turned by hand.

The Original Swan Lamp had been the size and shape of a cigar, with a carbon filament. The original, our research showed, had been insured for £2500 but accidentally broken some years before A copy was made, said to be identical (it certainly looked exactly like the photographs we saw of the original) which was insured for £1500. The insurers made it a condition that the copy should be kept sealed in a mahogany case with heavy bevelled glass sides, not ideal for exhibition purposes. The Victoria Lamp, as we named it, was a green glass bulb, the size of a Christmas tree light, in the form of a bust of Queen Victoria. Dr Sutton had checked the filament and found it to be good. He was particularly anxious that there should be a power supply for this, for the Duke of Edinburgh to light up. He felt the Duke would be specially interested in this exhibit as he (the Duke) was related to Queen Victoria by marriage. I was set the task of determining the operating voltage, as there was nothing on the bulb to indicate this, and arrange for a suitable transformer to be built if necessary. I built a simple rig with a voltmeter and variable transformer, and, starting at zero, applied voltages increasing in steps of 0.2v to it. It was a very nerve-wracking experience. At 3.2v there was the faintest detectable glow from the filament. At 3.6v it blew. I thought it would not be astute from a career point of view to tell a Director that I had destroyed an irreplaceable historic relic on which he had so set his heart, courteous and charming though he was. I therefore told him I had tested it and found it blown, and he believed he had done it himself.

There were also a number of other carbon filament and early tungsten filament bulbs, none working, and some early thermionic valves. I remember one bulb which had two long strips of brass as terminals. Its "holder" was a piece of polished wood which fitted between the strips. The bulb was secured by a wooden nut and bolt passing through holes in the terminal strips which lined up with one in the wooden support.

The Sound Powered Telephone, built in 1893, resembled an elegant brass and mahogany mushroom. It had an elaborately turned brass base, on which was mounted a leather covered brass column which acted as a handle. This was surmounted by a tamed mahogany earpiece, which also served as a microphone. Mounted on the side of the handle was a small crank connected through a gear chain to a magneto inside. When not in use, a metal bead rested on the diaphragm, which rattled loudly when the magneto was cranked to call the other user. The bead was threaded on a bootlace, connected to the telephone, to prevent it being lost.

The Master Clock was a very accurate, wall mounted, long case instrument designed for factory use. Powered by a battery, it was driven by magnetic pulses applied to the pendulum by a solenoid. An ingenious device ensured that a pulse was applied only when the amplitude of the pendulum had dropped below a certain distance, usually once for every six or seven oscillations. Once a minute the clock would transmit an electric pulse from each of two terminals, the pulses on alternate terminals being thirty seconds apart. These pulses had been used to drive "slave" clocks around the factory, enabling a number of relatively inexpensive instruments to achieve the same accuracy as the master instrument. This instrument was not displayed in the museum.

Siemens had been associated with a number of other artefacts not exhibited but referred to in pictures reproduced from books. In the Super Regenerative Furnace, the exhaust gases, instead of being directly released into the air were passed through a honeycomb of firebricks, heating them. When the honeycomb was considered sufficiently hot, the exhaust gases were redirected by a metal door to a second honeycomb, and the air inlet to the furnace through the previously heated bricks. The brick honeycombs were then "switched" at appropriate intervals, as one cooled and the other heated. This resulted in higher temperatures and lower fuel use being achieved, by reusing heat which would otherwise run to waste.

The Super Regenerative Steam Engine invoked a similar principle. Steam exhausted from the engine was used to heat the feed water before it was pumped into the boiler, making considerable savings of energy. This was done with a simple heat exchanger, consisting of two concentric pipes.

The Siemens Engine Speed Governor was said to govern the speed of a steam engine more accurately than the traditional centrifugal engine governor. It comprised two shafts, one of which screwed into the other, and one of which could move longitudinally. One shaft was connected to the load, the other rotated at a reference speed controlled by a pendulum. If the shafts turned at the same speed, there was no longitudinal movement. If there was a difference of speed, one shaft would move along lengthways and a collar on it would operate a lever to adjust the steam inlet. I am still puzzled as to how a shaft running at constant velocity could be regulated by a pendulum.

To be continued...



- with thanks to Philip Binns

The group looked at the following items in February:

Site of Old Book Barge Moorings, Cutty Sark Gardens, SE10.
The applicant wants to moor a converted Dutch barge to mount exhibitions. There was some concern about the mechanics of this.

Greenwich Market - plan to erect signs
The group thought the proposed signs were difficult to read and would add to the general clutter.

Mumford's Mill, Greenwich High Road, SE10.
This application is in order to built flats in the silos. The group regretted the loss of the water tower and piercings in the roof.

Royal Arsenal - building 36, 37, 46, 47, 48 & 49.
This is about removing 20th century partitions and so on inside. No comment made except about the lamp post outside 46. Objections to demolition of Building 24 because it is used to store important items.

Mast Pond Wharf, Woolwich Church Street, SE18.
Erection of hotel - will comment at a future meeting.



From Ted Barr

Sand Mines - I had never heard the term before issue No.1 - thinking that sand was quarried. There were quite a few quarries in Greenwich - best known, of course, those on the Heath where material was obtained for ballasting ships. In his book The Last Grain Race Eric Newby gives an account of shovelling out hundreds of tons of ballast on reaching Australia. Quite a few other quarries are marked on old maps but they need to be sorted out and listed. One, a bit more modern, is the Charlton pit run by United Glass in the 1920s and 1930s. Charlton sand had a high iron content, so it was no good for white flint glass, but was used for amber bottles. The pit was in Maryon Park, at the bottom of Sand Street by the railway level crossing. As school children we use to go hunting for fossils there until chased out by the staff. At United Glass they used pre-printed invoice forms listing the various products - 'chalk' and 'ballast' are obvious but sand was sub-divided into various grades such as 'mild loam', 'strong loam', and 'strong black foot' and were much sought after by foundries. Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co, were regular customers and material was taken by lorry to Charlton Station sidings, loaded into open trucks and goods trained to their works in Chippenham, Wilts. I wonder if any geologists in our readership know what the terminology means?

Wheens' Soap Works - another brand name was 'Wheen's Olwin toilet soap'. It was advertised in the 1940s on the back of the No. 48 buses. There used to be an apocryphal story going round in that part of Deptford that the soap works bred its own variety of big blow flies - they tolerated local folk but woe betide strangers who would be attacked in swarms!

Greenwich Park Branch Railway Line

Philip Binns writes about the line going into a tunnel and not emerging until the Lewisham side of Blackheath Hill station. This isn't so, because it soon entered an open cutting, which extended right up to the opposite side of Blackheath Hill. You could see the rusty disused lines back in the 1920s from the top of old 'top heavy' LGO B" type 'old Bill' buses on the 48 route. An old 24" to 1-mile map shows the Blisset Street structure as a tunnel but it is only 4 chains long and the one under Blackheath Hill less than two chains using standard railway measurements terms. For many years between the wars Blackheath Hill station was occupied by the Elliott Machine Co. a light engineering outfit engaged on war work and similar activities. In more recent times an advertising sign makers was in occupation with an address in Sparta Street. Throughout World War Two the arch under the roadway and presumably what was left of the tunnel was used as a public air raid shelter.

Waterfront Audit - Has anyone ever heard of Dead Dog Bay? It was a small, almost square, inlet about 100' x 100' opposite the river end of Cadet Place. At low tide it was the area of the usual mud and stones but there was also a collection of flotsam and jetsam often including the carcasses of drowned domestic animals and sometimes sheep, washed down river from the upper reaches. A wharf, which I would hope to see included is Durham Wharf, where United Glass unloaded heavy oil for boiler and glass furnace heating.

From Jess Steele

I was interested to note the criticisms from Dick Moy and Mary Mills on the Greenwich Waterfront Audit which was lambasted from the ecological point of view at the recent Creekside Environment Open Meeting. Everyone is in agreement with the line 'I don't feel able to comment in detail - there is too much wrong with it!' However I must point out that Dick has made some serious mistakes about Deptford Dockyard. The naval victualling yard which was officially established in 1742 was further west on the site of the current Pepys Estate. The only pre-19th century survivor within the dockyard is the Shipwright's Palace or Master Shipwright's House built in 1705-08 by Joseph Allin. The last Tudor survivor was Henry VIII's storehouse (expanded in the 18th century) which was demolished in 1981 to make room for more Convoys warehousing. I agree with the conclusions about what is actually needed but, of course, it is important that comments to the Waterfront Co-ordinator are accurate to avoid any further mistakes in a improved Audit.

Ken Whittaker, of English Heritage, confirms Paul Calvocoressi's point that Prior's crane, designed by Stothard & Pitt, is the oldest working Thames crane.

Jess included in her letter an extract from a recent book headed Cranes of Deptford. This describes the Creekside crane as "a strong upstand feature marking the gateway into Deptford Creek - the intensive development proposals for the Norman Road wharves do not even consider retention and reuse of this locally-cherished and important feature". The extract also comments on a crane at Harold's Wharf and another at Pope and Bond.

A telephone call has been received from Prior's who own the Stothard and Pitt crane at Deptford Creek. They say they have no plans to get rid of the crane and are, in fact very proud of it. They are however likely to acquire another, more modern, crane in the near future.

From Hugh Lyon

I'm sending you a cutting from Kentish Mercury No. 1659 18th July 1863. Three things really struck me when I read it. First was the response time of the fire engines. Very creditable under the circumstances, I thought. The other was the Duke of Sutherland. I've always known about his interest in things technical but what WAS he doing there? More to the point why was he in the area at all? And then the altercation. Was Mr. Henderson drunk, or just naturally bad tempered, or both? Given the time of night, and on a Friday to boot, I feel the first alternative is quite likely.

To see the cutting see the back page.


From Ben van Bruggen

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you as the new Riverside Co-ordinator for Greenwich. I would also like to thank you for your comments on the recent draft of the Riverside Audit which are being considered for the next stage of the Audit. If you have any further comments please do not hesitate to contact me on 0181 853 4629.


From Mark Galloway

I am writing on behalf of Newham Local History Society. I have read with great interest all the material you have sent me. Can I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the founding of the Greenwich Industrial History Society. Yes, I think our Society would certainly be very happy to link-up with your Society. I will advertise in our next Newsletter to find out how many of our members are interested in the history of North Woolwich and I have enclosed two articles which I think may be of interest for your newsletter (these will appear in a future edition). The majority of our Committee members, are, like our membership, all over 65. We have been trying for sometime now to recruit some younger members, especially people in their late-teens to early twenties. I don't know if you have a problem, attracting younger members to join and participate? I think the problem is trying to convince younger people that history of any sort, be it local or industrial, is not stuffy and boring - but can be fun and interesting and something that they could get a lot of pleasure out of.


From David Eve

It was a pleasure to speak to your society at Greenwich in February and most gratifying that everybody seemed interested in the subject matter, despite its non-local nature!

From Andrew Turner

Despite your note in the GIHS newsletter, much of the Redpath Brown jetty was still standing last week (Andrew's email dated 23rd February). It looks like the contractor may be concerned mainly with getting on with the shoreline work and demolition of the rest of the jetty can take place at a a more leisurely pace. A barge mounted crane was in action by the jetty.

The Greenwich Yacht Club expect to remain on their site until August. The only building left is the former Redpath Brown canteen and kitchens - the buildings closer to the river have been demolished and this area is now used for access and materials storage for the shoreline work It looks like some of the Thames Barrier Yacht Club boats (and the crane) are at the east end of the Greenwich Yacht Club site. A new fenced off dinghy area has been created in what was the main R-B entrance. Work on the Blackwall Power Station jetty might be refurbishment rather than demolition. Along Mudlarks Way at Angerstein Wharf, the footpath has a wire fence either side with steel section supports. The steel appears to have come from at least seven different rolling mills, so presumably is second hand or off-cuts (mainly pre nationalisation and probably not from Redpath Brown). Round the corner (in Lombard Wall?), most of the supports are stamped BSC and therefore later.

P.S. from David Riddle, Web Master

I visited the area by bike on the very windy afternoon of March 1st 1999. I have to say I don't envy the idea of living in the new Village with that degree of exposure to the elements! At that time, the remains of the entire R-B jetty was heaped on top of the last remaining section closest to the shore. I couldn't see any sign of Greenwich Yacht Club buildings on the shore. Their new site at Pear Tree Wharf had fitted with standard sheet steel piling with concrete tops, and although I couldn't get that close, it would seem that some, at least, of the gravel beach has succumbed to the work.

The approach to the Pilot Inn has totally changed with a temporary, but reasonably-sized car-park behind, and to the right of the frontage we used to know.

The Greenwich Council Industrial Estate buildings were in the process of being 'dismantled' rather than being torn down. It was my understanding from the Redpath Brown talk last year that some of these buildings may have been the last erected by Redpath's, so it is possible that they are being moved to the new site for the Estate, which I believe is on the old Stone's site in Charlton.

From Peter Wright (received via e-mail and our web site)

I have recently become interested in researching my family history and this has led me in your direction. Both my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather were employed at the Arsenal and I would greatly appreciate you including a reference to them in your newsletter.

Edward Eric WRIGHT (1918 - 1992) - served his apprenticeship and became a Toolmaker departing the Arsenal during the war to move north to the ROF site in Blackburn, Lancs, where he worked till retirement. He received the Imperial Service Medal for his long service.

George Edward WRIGHT (1878 - 1938) - worked as a Tool Hardener at the Arsenal and lived in Woolwich his entire life.

I would be very happy to hear from anyone who has any recollections of either of the aforementioned.

My Gt-Gt-Grandfather Charles John WRIGHT (1839) was noted in the 1881 census as being an Inspector of Gas Works. Living in Woolwich at the time, this was probably the South Met Gas Co. If anyone has any information on possible sources of records or just details of what this job may be, I would be very interested to hear.

From Simon Payne (received via e-mail and our web site)

I wonder if you or other members of the Greenwich Industrial History Society may be able to assist me to locate details of my great grandfather and other relatives who worked at the Royal Arsenal. In particular I am wondering if staff records of the Arsenal have been preserved anywhere. My great grandfather was Charles Stanley Allsopp. The only records I have of him are an entry on my grandfathers birth certificate which records Charles' occupation as Arsenal Labourer. On my Grandfather's marriage certificate Charles is listed as deceased seaman. The family also owned a general store in the Woolwich High Street next to the bus depot. I was wondering if there is anyway to check if financing of the shop may have come from the Woolwich Co-op and whether Co-op records exist that would shed light on my ancestors.There are at least two other Allsop(p) researchers who have traced family back to the Arsenal. It looks as though in the late 1800s the Arsenal was a major employer of unskilled labour which attracted them to move into the area. I would appreciate any leads you are able to provide.



A group of people have got together to stage a community play in Greenwich Park in the summer of 2000. They have held a series of public meetings to get recruits for this - and members of Greenwich Industrial History Society have spoken at these in order to convince people that the eventual script should reflect the widest possible spectrum of Greenwich life. Help is needed in every way possible and teams are already at work fund-raising, script writing and so on.

Contact John Townsend, 1 Montpelier Row, SE3 0RL Tel: 0181 852 8293


This explosion occurred at about 3.52 p.m. on Friday Jan. 19th. 1917, and the shock experienced at the East Greenwich Gasworks was very severe causing No.2 Gasholder to be completely wrecked, and No.1 to be very seriously damaged; while large numbers of slates were torn from the roofs windows broken in all directions and the works generally severely shaken.

Before saying more about the No.2 Gasholder, which sustained the most serious damage, the extent of which only became known upon close examination after the occurrence, it might be interesting to narrate the effect the explosion had upon the Works generally and upon those present at the time. At the offices of the works which are close to the riverside, and some 700 yards away from the gasholder the report was terrific; the floor appeared to heave and the building rocked. This was followed by a blinding glare seen through the Venetian sunblinds, and lasting a very few seconds, during which it seemed to be as light as day outside. The glare ceased, an the north-eastern sky was suffused with the glow of a tremendous fire. The source of the shock and the report was at once apparent. Those in charge immediately rushed to see whether any damage had been done to the carbonising plant more especially on the vacuum side of the exhauster. The boiler attendants and engine drivers, however, said that all was well with their plant but somebody said, "No.2 Gas holder has gone up." It was evident however that a supply of gas was being maintained, for though some lights had been blown out, many were still burning.

The damage sustained by buildings was found to be practically confined to windows and doors. The windows of the offices engine rooms, and shops were extensively smashed, window frames were dislodged, and one or two heavy doors blown off their hinges. The floor of the engineer's office was thickly strewn with small pieces of plate glass from end to end of a long narrow room, and a 4.5 inch partition between it and the stores had been severely shaken. The roofs of buildings, apart from the stripping of slates which was not extensive, escaped uninjured, as did the retort house shafts. No.7 coal store, however sustained some damage. Here the roof principals are carried on columns placed about 30ft apart on the coal-store wall and the spaces between them are filled in with corrugated sheeting having a timber stiffener (3 in. by 4 in. by 16 in.) in the middle of each bay. Eleven of these, out of a total of fourteen, were broken.

With regard to No.2 Gasholder, this was built in 1891, and had a working capacity of approximately 12 million cu.ft. when fully extended. The holder comprised six lifts of which the first and second were 'flying lifts'. The outer lift being 300 ft. in diameter. The depth of the lift to the rest stones is 31 feet, and the rise of the crown is 25 ft.. The stock of gas in this holder at 6 o'clock being only 7,865,000 cu.ft proves that the top lift was well within the guide-columns at the moment of the catastrophe. In other words, so far as the working conditions are concerned the holder, at the moment of the shock, was probably in the very best position to resist any unusual or special strain such as a gale of wind or drifting snow, provision for which had been foreseen and was duly provided against. The holder however had not been built to stand up against the shock of an explosion of a large quantity of T.N.T occurring at a distance of 1.5 miles as the crow flies.

It would appear to be clear that the holder was wrecked either by the pressure produced in the atmosphere by the explosion or to the vacuum immediately succeeding it. That a tremendous shock resulted from the explosion is shown by the fact that windows and doors were blown outward or inwards many miles from the scene of the explosion and at the Old Kent Road Works which is some four miles distant as the crow flies, a holder of 5.5 million cu ft. capacity was seen to rise and fall from 1 ft. to 3 ft, according to the testimony of eye witnesses. The extent of this disturbance is borne out by the chart registering the distinct pressure, which oscillated between 46-10ths and 55-l0ths settling down to its normal pressure of 50-l0ths in the space of from five to eight minutes so far as can be ascertained by the state of the chart. It must be mentioned that the blinding glare which was observed throughout the whole of London at 6.52 p.m. on that January evening, the lightness of which has been compared to that of a summer day, was undoubtedly due to the burning in a few seconds of 8 million cu.ft. of gas contained in this holder.

From: Some Wartime Experiences of British Gas Undertakings - H Townsend M.Inst.C.E - proceedings of the Institution of Gas Engineers 29th May 1919 pages 477-9.

This extract has been submitted to us by Brian Sturt.


Jack Vaughan reports on the project to save Woolwich's weigh-bridges - can any one enlighten us on the legal requirements for weigh-bridges in London Boroughs?

Jack also draws attention to cast iron railings and gates now in store at White Hart Road Depot. What will happen to these, and other items, when White Hart Depot closes?

An item has been shown to us about the demolition of "most of Britain historic gasholders" except "those campaigned for by local groups". Does this mean that the East Greenwich holder will go? Attempts to get it listed seem to have failed!

Time Out a couple of weeks ago included a cartoon of it captioned 'gasholder at Blackwall'!


To anyone with information with regard to the history of British Rail/Southern Railway/Rail Track at Angerstein Works Depot, Bramshot Avenue, Charlton, SE7. Especially interested in period 1947-1949. Site History/Information required by Fort Knight Group Plc, Telephone 01322 277335

TOM SHEPPARD has alerted us to the possible removal of machinery from Laurie Road Baths in New Cross - please contact for or with information.

CRANES ON LOVELL'S WHARF - anyone with information please contact us.



Some years ago I was asked by the then Curator of the Plumstead Museum to inspect a 'mechanical object' which was lurking in an obscure corner of the museum. The 'object' transpired to be a steam engine of a type known sometimes as a 'table engine', from the form of the construction. The feature of that name derives from the vertical cylinder being mounted on a base in the shape of a four legged cast iron table which supports the various assemblies, horizontal crank shaft, steam valve, Watt type governor, etc. The type was first introduced by Woolwich born Henry Maudslay. I was asked to overhaul the engine and make it respectable to form an exhibit, which I was delighted to do. It eventually formed part of a special exhibition at the Plumstead Museum where is was spotted by a couple of research enthusiasts who resolved to study the engine in some depth. Two puzzles emerge:

1. The dimensions raise the question, is it a model of a large engine, or is it a 'real' engine which has been used to drive 'real' machinery? Those dimensions are:-

Height overall - 28"

Table 10.5" square x 10"high

Piston diameter 2" (one split brass ring)

Piston stroke 5"

Working pressure unknown but could be estimated by a real expert. The steam valve is cylindrical, as distinct from the old 'flat' type, which suggest a fairly high pressure value, as does the general thickness of cylinder and valve walls.

2. The base carries a small brass plate engraved

J (or I) Chandler, Maker, Woolwich,

The two industrial detectives have traced the various locations where the engine has been and possible Chandlers (which appear to be legion!). The search continues and comments and criticisms would be welcome!

Jack Vaughan.


PENINSULA IMAGES - The Independent Photography Project is undertaking a photography and reminiscence-based theatre project concentrating on the Greenwich Peninsula. Volunteers and suitable contacts for reminiscences are needed. Contact Isabel Lilly or Rib Davis at TIPP 0181 858 2825



We have received notice of a new book about the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society - An Arsenal for Labour by Rita Rhodes. This is a study of a consumer co-operative society and its involvement in British politics over a hundred years.

Available from Holyoake Books, Co-operative Union Ltd., Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS, £10. £12 by post.

The Newsletter of the Gunpowder Mills Study Group includes an item on an agreement of 1786 between the Principal Officers of the Ordnance and Walkers, Yorkshire gunfounders. This includes deliveries to Woolwich of 1,000 tons of iron ordnance and gives details of what this includes. The Newsletter is available from Alan Crocker, 6 Burwood Close, Guildford, Surrey, GU12SB

Bygone Kent for February 1998 includes an article by John Hilton on Mr. Angerstein's Railway and an article by Hugh Perks on The Barge Builder - Horace Shrubsall of East Greenwich, Meresborough Books, Station Road, Rainham, Kent.

GLIAS Newsletter, No.180. Feb.1999. Includes article on Woolwich Arsenal and railways by Bob Carr, Lighthouses by Stephen Croad, and an interminable article by Mary Mills on Greenwich Railway Gas Works.

By the time this goes to press the new Creekside Environment Project book - Deptford Creek. Surviving Regeneration will be available. This identifies the diversity of the life of Deptford Creek and covers the whole range of historical and ecological aspects. It will cost £20 (unless you live in the Creekside area - £10 then) from local bookshops or ring 0181 692 7115.



At a quarter to ten on Friday night a fire was discovered to have broken out in the hemp loft of Mrs Eliza Ayles, ship chandler and rope manufacturer Charlton Wharf.

The mains from the Kent Water Works being 1,000 yards distant, the resources for extinguishing the fire were confined to a ditch at the back of the premises, and the Thames in front; which happened to be at low tide at the time. Engines were telegraphed for from London and messengers despatched to the Royal Arsenal Dockyard and police station, Woolwich. The flames burst forth and extended with fearful rapidity, attacking the machine room, dwelling house attached to the ropery, and also the Crown and Anchor public house; occupied by Mr. E.T. Phillips.

A few minutes after eleven the Dockyard arrived at the scene of conflagration, with Superintendent Mark, Inspectors Gill and Payne, and 25 constables, followed at a quarter past eleven; by the Royal Arsenal engine drawn by 20 men; who traversed the distance of, nearly three miles in a little more than 20 minutes. Inspector Williamson had the charge of the Arsenal engine and brought with him 30 sergeants and constables.

The Thames police boat, in charge of Inspector Hathaway, and a body of police was also in attendance. At two o'clock the steam, floating fire engine made its welcome appearance stationed in the middle of the river, where it communicated with the fire through 24 lengths of hose, each being 42 feet long. This engine was of considerably more service than any or all of the others.

Great credit is due to the Marine boys, who, with good earnestness, worked with buckets from the ditch in a most laborious manner. In an inconceivable space of time after the telegraphic message had left Charlton for London the Duke of Sutherland in the uniform of a London fireman, arrived at the scene of the fire, and with courage and spirit unparalleled ascended to the top of the building as the flames continued to burst out.

An altercation took place on the arrival of Mr. Henderson with the London Brigade engines between that gentleman and Mr. Phillips, Mr. Henderson ordering the latter into custody. Inspector Linvell however, feeling able to make allowances for Mr. Phillips, whilst witnessing his property burning before his eyes, did not take him into custody, upon which Mr. Henderson turned the hose on Mr. Phillips and his son.

The London engines were placed in the mud of the beach, and every available suction appliance used; but little or nothing but mud could be had, and it took the united strength of 80 men to bring the vessels again on terra firma.

The spirits which fed the taps of the public house were entirely destroyed; while the chief efforts of the fire float and bucket men were directed to saving about £300 worth of spirits which were in the cellar, which was happily accomplished. Several casks of ale were destroyed, together with the greater part of the furniture. Russian hemp valued at £42 per ton, were entirely consumed, which had only been delivered a few hours before the fire broke out.

The heat to which the steam boiler was subjected necessitated letting off the steam to prevent an explosion otherwise water might have been pumped up by an engine. The engine house was saved in consequence of the wind blowing from it, as also a cottage occupied by Mr. Marchant, a lighterman, which was close to the ropery and built of wood.Two cottages occupied respectively by Mr. Mounser employed at the dockyard. and Mr. Page a waterman partly took fire, the furniture being got out, and laid in boats or on the beach.

Out of a large quantity of tar only four barrels were destroyed. A number of fowls were burnt to death, and Mrs. Ayles carman named W. Harris was much injured by a beam falling upon him whilst attempting to save the pigs. Several acts of dishonesty were as usual on such occasions committed. Mrs. Ayles garden being thoroughly stripped of all the fruit and vegetables, four men were found in one of Mr. Phillips rooms apparently with no other object than pillage.

The ropewalk 170 fathoms in length was threatened with total destruction but the greater part was saved by a portion being pulled down to prevent the flames spreading. The fire continued burning from a quarter to ten until five the next morning, the entire damage being estimated at £l5,000.

On Sunday the scene of the ruins was literally besieged with visitors and curious spectators whilst Mr. Phillips did a busy trade by converting the skittle alley into a bar. Mrs. Ayles' premises have been a ropery from time immemorial, and were occupied by her late husband over a period of 50 years and were held by his father before him. The cause of the fire is unknown; but it is supposed to have originated in the spontaneous combustion of the newly housed Russian hemp, which might have been damp, the hot weather causing it to overheat.

From Kentish Mercury 18th July 1863. Cutting thanks to Hugh Lyon.



At a meeting of the Greenwich Area Planning Committee (02.03.99) outline approval was given to a submission by the developers responsible for Greenwich Reach East to link its development to the existing river path in front of the Meridian Estate with a 6 metre wide timber boardwalk. This is a significant change from the boardwalk as proposed when the development as a whole was given outline approval back in December 1997; then the intention was to link the Greenwich Reach East site direct to Cutty Sark Gardens and independent of the existing river path.

The reason for the change appears to be that the Environment Agency has revised its encroachment policy to resist any form of non-river dependent works riverwards of the flood defences where these would have an ecologically detrimental effect on the foreshore. The resulting application is therefore a compromise solution to satisfy the Environment Agency.

Consultants acting for the various new owners of the Wood Wharf premises raised objections to the proposals as did Barewoods Ltd, Massey Shaw and Reg Barter (who had collected the names of 28 people associated with riverside activities who were protesting at the implications of the scheme). The Greenwich Society, the Greenwich Conservation Group, English Heritage and the Royal Fine Arts Commission also raised similar concerns.

The Royal Fine Art Commission made the point that there is an alternative route along the riverbank between the Greenwich Reach East site and Cutty Sark Gardens, which, if explored could make the proposed boardwalk superfluous. The advantages of this approach would be that the river frontage to the Wood Wharf site would be unaffected as would the slipway to the old Greenwich Steam Ferry allowing, in any future development of the Wood Wharf site for a revival of the boat building and repair activities long associated with this site.

It is to be hoped that discussions can be held between the Greenwich Reach East developers and those acting for the Wood Wharf owners to bring about the land-side solution; one which has already featured in the study undertaken by the University of the South Bank for the Deptford Discovery team where visitors using the Greenwich Reach East site were encouraged to gain access to the existing river path leading to Cutty Sark Gardens by passing through the ground floor of the premises at Wood Wharf.

This newsletter is produced by Mary Mills for the Greenwich Industrial History Society. Opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of individual authors or the editor and not those of the Society as a whole.




The Web version has been created by;

.... David Riddle, Goldsmiths College

Space courtesy of Goldsmiths College, University of London