Greenwich Gunpowder depot – identifying the site

gunpowder depot plan
The site shown on a deed in the Morden College collection

THE GREENWICH GUNPOWDER DEPOT

Peter Guillery’s recent excellent work on the Purfleet gunpowder depot contains some brief information about its predecessor at Greenwich. One point on which I was not happy was his statement that this was sited on what has since become Piper’s Wharf. The reason for my disquiet was to do with land ownership. The major landowner for that area of Greenwich is a local charity. Morden College. While Piper’s wharf was theirs, an ex-Government site would not have been in their ownership, unless there had been a reversionary clause. I do not entirely rule out that Morden College may not have reserved some rights over the site but, because the Government had been able to dispose of it in 1803, it is probable that any lease was a very long one. The main candidate was the very large site, taken over by the Enderby family in the early 1830s and which is today within the Alcatel/STC site. This identification of the gunpowder depot site with Enderby’s can be confirmed by a deed of 1839 in the Kent County Archive (Coles Child Collection), which refers to “land belonging to the Board of Ordnance, formerly the Old Magazine, and now in the use of Messrs Enderby”.

One of the most interesting features on the Greenwich riverside is Enderby House. This was built around 1840 and is said to have been a family home. It is now used as offices by Alcatel and remains as an interesting reminder of the whaling trade. In front of it and slightly up river, some cable winding machinery stands on a jetty and recalls the site’s associations with cable making

A closer identification of the exact site of the gunpowder depot can be attempted with the help of a plan dated as 1717, in the Morden College archive (see below). Walking downstream today the bulk of “Enderby’s Wharf” is passed with a large industrial building inland. The next landward building is Enderby House with another, more truncated jetty in the river. Between the two jetties a “causeway” is marked. This causeway in fact consists of a set of steps going down into the river and at low tide this extends to a (possibly concrete) ramp, which continues into a deep channel. From underneath this ramp – clearly to be seen at low water – a sluice emerges. A sluice is marked on the 1840s Tithe Map. If it is taken that the sluice has not moved, then it can be equated with the sluice on the 1717 plan. The “bridge” can then be identified with the truncated jetty – the date of which is not known but it is not shown until the 1890s OS map. It then seems that Enderby House is the site of the gunpowder depot. [The grid reference is TQ 3914 7876.] I am aware that this identification is based on guesswork. I have not consulted either the Thames Conservators nor the Sewer records and they may well throw a different light on the problem The deeds of the Enderby site have not been located and are most probably unavailable with Alcatel. It would make sense however to have put Enderby House on what was probably a good foundation in the middle of a marsh and it would have made even more sense to have used an existing jetty. The Alcatel site is “security” and it does not seem possible to get into Enderby House. It seems likely that an archaeological survey is likely to be undertaken on the foreshore here and it will be important to alert the archaeologists on this point.

The site of the Government Gunpowder depot shown on a plan from Morden College. It will be seen that the area marked ‘C’ equals the plot shown as K3 on the Skinner Plan.

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