FROM BALLAST QUAY TO ORDNANCE DRAW DOCK
The Port of London Wharf as part of a mid-nineteenth century scheme for monitoring coal supply ships from North East England. In this part of the river, and downstream, were ‘collier stands’ where the coal ships had to wait for a berth in the collier docks across the river or at special berths up river. The delivery of coal to this area is of supreme importance – coal, was the fuel which made industry function. The shipping which delivered it was a massive industry in itself.
At the end of Ballast Quay the path meets a junction with Pelton Road. Down the road can be seen Victorian cottages built for local workers by a developer, Coles Child, for the estate owners, Morden College. A few yards down the street can be seen the Pelton Arms pub. The street names in this area were originally taken from collieries in the Durham coalfield. The names of Pelton Road and the Pelton Arms relate to Pelton Main and Pelton West Collieries near Chester le Street, County Durham.
Pelton Road, follows the line of a watercourse. Willow Dyke, and latterly the road was a route for ballast brought from chalk and gravel pits to the south. Nearer the river note the granite setts in the road surface and the double kerb on the pavement.
Lovell’s Wharf was built for coal transhipment but from 1920s -1980s it handled the transhipment of metal by Shaw Lovell and Co. The ‘Scotch Derrick’ cranes which were a local landmark here were removed in 2001 by the site owners to the dismay of many local people. Redevelopment of this wharf is expected soon.
In Pelton Road note, on the long wall of the wharf a ‘Customs and Excise’ letter box. Look up on the buildings to see an unusual clock and the name ‘Lovell’s Wharf’ painted to be seen from the river. On the wall along the riverside ‘Lovell’s Wharf’ has been painted again.
From Ballast Quay continue along the riverside. From this point there is only one remaining way off the path – and there are absolutely no facilities! To return to Greenwich from here go up Pelton Road to the shops in Trafalgar Road where you can get a bus back to the Cutty Sark area.
Continue along the riverside path.
At the next corner note large concrete blocks used as bases for cranes which have now been removed.
The path turns sharp left around an inlet known locally as ‘Dead Dog Bay’ – perhaps it was where animals which had escaped from the Foreign Cattle Market at Deptford were washed up, drowned.
A pathway leads off the riverside path to local estates. It is called Cadet Place and it is the last chance to leave teh riverside and return to Greenwich.
The next wharf, Granite Wharf, was owned and operated by Tarmac until mid-2001 for the transhipment of aggregate. In the 1840s is was let to John Mowlem, the Victorian road building contractor. In the wall of Cadet Place is a jumble of random and miscellaneous stone – ‘the cyclopean wall’ – and it is a matter of speculation that some of this stone must have come from Mowlem’s Yard – there is Portland Stone, Bath Stone and some dressed granite..
Another Greenwich artefact can be found on a headland at Swanage, in Dorset. This is the The Great Globe – an enormous map of the world made of Portland Stone. It was made in Mowlem’s yard here and then taken to Swanage, where Mowlem lived. Perhaps some of the stone in the wall of Cadet Place are ‘offcuts’ of the Globe itself.
Since the spring of 2001 boats no longer call at this wharf and redevelopment is expected soon.
The next wharf is a jumble of boats. This is Pipers Wharf and is, in late 2001, still a working boatyard although no longer run by a Mr. Piper. You can still see all sorts of boats waiting for repair here – sometimes even large replica sailing ships used by film and TV companies can be seen. Remember that this is a working site and does not welcome visitors. It is however expected that the boat yard will close soon and the site be redeveloped.
James Piper rented this wharf in the late 1890s and soon began to build sailing barges here. One of the earlies was his prize winning racing barge ‘the famous’ Giralda’ – and many others including Surge, James Piper, Leonard Piper, Haughty Belle. Greenwich barges regularly won prizes. The barge races are still held today but no Greenwich built barge is still in sail to take part.
Sailing barges may look romantic but they were the heavy haulage carriers of London river – no different to any heavy lorry. They were built at a time when most vessels were steam driven because they were cheap to run with a crew of only two, could go inshore across shallows and up muddy creeks because of their flat bottoms but at the same time many of them could regularly cross the channel and go into European inland waters.
In later years all sorts of craft were built and repaired here by the Piper family. Inside the inland section of the wharf the name ‘J.R.Piper’ can be seen on the wall – but the site is busy and does not welcome visitors.
Note the jumble of disused equipment on the foreshore past the wharf.
Past Pipers there are a number of disused wharves – they include a site used by Joshua Taylor Beale and where the ‘exhauster’ was developed. This important piece of equipment was subsequently manufactured by Donkin in Chesterfield. Beale also made steam road locomotives on this site in the 1840s.
Eventually arrive at Enderby’s Wharf. This is an important and complex area with lot to see.
The first jetty – on which stands a large iron structure – is Enderby’s and a sign above the entrance marks it. There is then a gap, and another, shorter jetty. Inland is a large factory, now operated by Alcatel. There are some large double gates into the site, and, behind the fence, some riverside buildings including an old house.
Between the two jetties there is a causeway into the river – from underneath it a pipe emerges. This is Bendish Sluice – a Tudor drain which drew waterfrom the surrounding marshland. Until recently on the inland side of the path was some disused sluice gear.
At low tide, on the steps to the sluice can be seen a design recently undertaken by a group of artists – this illustrates some of the history of the Enderby’s wharf.
In 1680 this was the site of the Government Powder Depot where all gun powder for the forces was tested and distributed. The two jetties mark the sites of two massive seventeenth century two massive jetties where hundreds of ships laden with gunpowder called.
The gunpowder depot was closed in 1770 and a factory to make rope built here. Rope was made in long thin buildings called ‘rope walks’. The line of this can still be seen by peering through the double gates going into the Alcatel factory. Look right down the vista through the factory.
In the 1830s the factory was bought by the Enderby family. The Enderbys had whaling ships and fished in the Southern Oceans. ‘Enderby Land’ in the Antarctic is named after them.
The white painted old house behind fence is ‘Enderby House’ – built as a riverside home in the 1840s and now used as offices by Alcatel. The Enderbys built a large factory for rope and canvas manufacture here which was burnt down in the 1840s.
Before the Enderby family left Greenwich they were asked make the first telegraph cable which was laid as an experiment between Euston and Camden Town stations.
The site was eventually taken over by cable makers Glass Elliott. Many important international telegraph cables have been made on site here. See the office block inside the fence – on the door are carved gutta percha leaves (the plant which provided insulation material for early cables. Over the lintels are carved lengths of cable.
The first Atlantic Cable was made here int he 1860s and loaded onto Brunel’s Great Eastern via a ferry. All around the two jetties are the remains of structures which allowed the cable to pass safely into cable laying ships. On the large jetty is an iron structure for loading cable and some wooden gantries remain in the river.
Ever since the days of Glass Elliott and the Atlantic Cable cables has been made here. For a long time the factory was owned by the Telegraph Construction Co. – Telcon. Now Alacatel make repeaters for today’s submarine cables here.
The next section of the walk is dominated by Amylum’s Glucose refininery. Amylum make specialist sugars in a wheat derived process and much of their plant can be seen behind the wall of the path.
After Enderby Wharf the first jetty was built as rubbish tipping plant by the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. Here dustcarts would tip Greenwich’s rubbish into barges for transhipment. It was closed in the late 1950s and is now owned by Amylum and is sometimes used.
Next are disused silos belonging to Amylum. Until recently this wharf was used for the delivery by ship of maize – which was stored in these silos. Recently, to cut down on smell, Amylum have begun to use wheat which arrives by road.
Up until the 1930s the Amylum site was used by Thames Soap and Candle Works who made – for instance – British Carbolic Soap. Inside the Amylum factory some buildings from the soap works remain. It was owned by the local Soames family – one of whose daughters was to become Olave Baden-Powell, the first Chief Guide.
Before the path bends to the left we pass the laboratory buildings of Amylum. This was the site of the Sea Witch Pub – probably named after an ‘opium clipper’ ship. The locked gate on the corner was once a road back to Blackwall Lane called ‘Morden Wharf Road’. ‘Morden’ of course reflecting the landowners of these sites, Morden College in Blackheath.
Follow the path round as it turns left, then right.
This area is known as Morden Wharf – named for the landowners, Morden College.
As the path turns it is easy to look back at the banks and the river walls. These walls are easily the most important structures in the area since they keep out the tidal force of the river. It is not known when they were first built – probably in medaevial times but they could be older. There nothing very old to see because, obviously, the wall is repaired and replaced continuously – any break would be a disaster!
It is here that Kuper, and then Glass Elliott, made the first telegraph cables – the start of the Thames cable making industry. The wharf was also the site of Hollick’s Cement Works and it is sometimes known as Hollick’s Wharf. There were a number of cement and artificial stone works along this stretch of the river.
At the end of Morden Wharf is Primrose Pier. This pier was opened to the public by Amylum some years ago. In 1999 it has been the subject of a resurfacing and partial restructuring by the Groundwork team.
Primrose Pier was used by Molassine – an animal foods manufacturer whose products were based on molasses stored in predecessors of the giant tanks seen inland. Molassine were the company most responsible for the smell which haunted this area for many years.
From Primrose Pier it is possible to look at a wide panorama on the other side of the river.
Look on the far bank of the river – this was the area in which in the nineteenth century many major ship builders had their yards – Dugeon, Samuda, Yarrow and Stewart. At that time this was the major shipbuilding area of the country – probably in the world.
Up river can be seen the area we have left – the Cutty Sark, Greenwich University and the Power Station – down river is the bend at the point of the Peninsula and Blackwall Reach.
After Primrose Pier the path continues a short distance before going inland. It is possible to follow this path to the Blackwall Tunnel approach – traffic pollution, and bus stops. Before leaving the riverside the path skirts an inlet with white stones on the foreshore:
This inlet is Horseshoe Breach which marks a point at which the river had broken through the sea wall at some time before 1626 – when the detailed records start.
The breach was developed in the early 1860s by the National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, founded by an American, Nathan Thompson, who aimed to make 5,000 identical boats a year – and was quickly bankrupted. It was taken over as a shipbuilding site by Maudslay Son and Field in the late 1860s. Their first ship was the Lady Derby and they subsequently built a number of ships including two iron hulled sailing vessels, Halloween and Blackadder – sister ships to Cutty Sark.
The derelict white buildings which remain on site are disused barge repair slips built by Humphrey and Grey.
Follow the path round.
Ahead, dominating the view, is the East Greenwich No.2. Gas Holder – the last remains of the East Greenwich Gas Works. The Works was opened in the early 1880s as a super efficient green field works for south London by the South Metropolitan Gas Company under its charismatic Chairman, George Livesey. The gas holder, which dates from 1886 was, and may now be again, the largest in the world and built to revolutionary engineering designs.
If you continue along the path towards the motorway at the end, before reaching the Tunnel Approach is the red stone office block of Molassine and, once on the motorway, to the left is the Art Nouveau gatehouse of the Blackwall Tunnel from the 1890s.
To continue along the river path – once you have left the river bank in the direction of the gas holder and the motorway, turn left through a gap in the fence to continue round the back of a group of the derelict concrete barge slips. The path is well signposted and continues round the building to return to the river on the far side.
At the riverside we are on the area of Victoria Deep Water Wharf.
This was until recently ‘Victoria Deep Water Wharf’ where two large derricks were situated. Previous users Henry Bessemer who had a small steel works here operated by his sons in the 1860s, and subsequently some of the site was used by an artificial stone works owned partly by Bessemer and partly by one of the Ransome engineering family from Ipswich. Some other parts of this site and the adjacent one were taken up by Appleby Engineers – who made a wide variety of engineering items, including marine engines, locomotives, etc. but probably concentrated on cranes and transporters. From the 1890s it was one of the sites used by Walton’s Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Works – a revolutionary process for mosaic linoleum subsequently transferred to Nairn’s Works in Kirkaldy, Fifeshire.
Continue to walk along the riverfront
Further on a large site was large occupied from the 1830s by Bethel’s tar and chemical works. In due course this became a specialist factory for the production of tarred blocks for road paving. By the mid-twentieth century a very large area of these wharves was covered by Delta Metal’s bronze and brass foundry.
Further on was barge building and repair trade. This included Horace Shrubsall’s barge building works which expanded here from Ipswich and Limehouse and where many famous sailing barges, including Veronica were built.
In this area Hughan built Orinoco – the last Greenwich built sailing barge still active.
The Millennium Dome site starts at Ordnance Draw Dock – built by the Gas Company in the 1880s as compensation for closure of other traditional plying places. This is a public right of way despite its apparent closure. To north of here – inside the Dome area were a number of interesting sites.
In the late 1860s Blakeley’s gun foundry was built here, financed by Dent’s Chinese opium business, to build heavy ordnance for foreign customers. Blakeley had designed a new sort of ordnance and historians are currently discussing the relationship of his patents to the later ones of William Armstrong. Many Blakeley guns were used by the confederates in the American Civil War. Blakeley was bankrupted by Dent’s failure and died in mysterious circumstances in Peru.
Subsequently part of the site was taken over by Stockwell and Lewis who built a dry dock here – now under part of the Dome (no archaeological investigation was carried out!). One of Stockwell and Lewis’s ships, the Bulli, remains as a wreck in Tasmania. Another ship builder in this area was John Stewart,