Great Fire in the Greenwich Marshes

February 28th 1890

Shortly before midnight on Saturday a fire of a most destructive nature was discovered to have broken out on the premises of Messrs. Forbes Abbott and Leonard manufacturing chemists and manufacturers of perforated block fuel on premises formerly known as Blakeley Ordnance Wharf Blackwall Lane near the point at about 100 yards beyond the Royalist police ship. The fire was of such a determined nature that it burned all day Saturday. The alarm of fire was given shortly after midnight and the numerous ‘calls’ at the various south London fire stations brought down a number of engines and the floats Dragon and Cormorant from Shadwell and Cherry Garden Pier, Rotherhithe, and it was then found that a large brick building and 165 ft long and 110 ft wide used for manufacturing purposes and for an engine house and stores was crammed with thousands of tone of stock of an inflammable nature and was on fire.
In a short space of time the whole structure was a mass of flames and shortly after r the fire extended to the petroleum, etc. contained in barrels lying around on the open ground around the burning building. Luckily the state of the tide served admirably for the floating engines. Fanned however by a strong wind the flames made their way through the field of petroleum with amazing swiftness and when the firemen got to work the conflagration was spreading in alarming manner in all directions and gave the directing authorities the greatest anxiety the heat and smoke being intense.
The workmen employed by the firm at first got a stationary engine at work but the supply of water from the land side was not abundant and on arrival of the firemen a hydrant was set to work but it was particularly fortunate that the tide was at full and a good supply of water was obtained from the river. At this time a large number of vessels containing sulphuric acid began to burn sending out sickening fumes.
The fire next extended to Point Wharf next the Ordnance Wharf and presently ignited some of the barges some of which was filled with reeds. The spectacle of he riverside fire at the time was awfully grand and the fire must have been seen for many miles. In the town of Greenwich the redness of the sky attracted much attention but many persons concluded that it was over the water and that it was impossible to reach it at that hour. It was apparent from the first that that great building must fall a prey to the flames and become entirely destroyed and that other part of the premises such as the laboratory and offices became involved in the conflagration. Under admirable directions in the firemen succeeded in saving several thousand tons of oil.
But so fierce was the fire that for a long time the large volume of water poured upon the fire seemed to have but little effect and all that could be done was to endeavour to prevent the flames from spreading. It was only by the most strenuous exertions of the firemen that a large tank of tar was saved. Some of the burning barrels got away from their moorings and one floated down the river but a tug went after her and succeeded in extinguishing the fire on board just as she wads getting across the bows of other barges.
Our reporter visited the scene of the fire on Monday afternoon and the ravages of the fire were apparent but although the principal building on the works was gutted the work was going on in other part of the premises. By one o’clock the steamers and manuals left but it was necessary to keep the two floats and two hydrants, four officers and about 30 men all day. The floats were sent away on Sunday evening but the hydrants and men were expected to by employed for several days. The call was received at Greenwich Station at 12.26 p.m. from the newly erected fire alarm point, Greenwich Union. We are pleased to state that no person was injured.
The following is Captain Shaw’s official report “Quarter past twelve am called to Ordnance Wharf, Blackwall Lane, East Greenwich to the premise owned and tenanted by Messrs. Forbes Abbott and Leonard, manufacturing chemists. Cause of fire unknown, contents no insured, damaged d- tow buildings, one of one and two floors about 165 by 100 feet (used as manufacture and stores) the other of three floors about 40 by 30 feet used as laboratory offices and dwellings and the contents burnt out and roofs off, about 1,000 casts of creosote and 300 carboys of sulphuric acid destroyed and still damaged by fire in yard (all adjoining and communicating) Point Wharf ditto A.R. Edmonds barge builders, front and side front of wharf damaged by fire, about 13 barges nearly destroyed and one laden with reeds seriously damaged by fire and water,.
In all 14 barges were destroyed or damaged by the fie and several were sunk in the river. Much sympathy is felt with the first from the fact that they are not insured, not from their own fault but because the insurance companies will not take the risk.

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