Riverway must have been very pretty before the gas works was built in the 1880s – despite the chemical works. Indeed there are descriptions of ‘hedges of pink ands whitehawthorn .. and the larks sang all day long’. Even after the gas works filled the fields in front of the houses the land at the back was open and rural – perhaps it was its marshy nature which meant it remained undeveloped.

In the 1890s the Blackwall Tunnel was built and the spoil from the work was dumped there – in much the same way as Jubillee Line spoil has been put on it a hundred years later This spoil made the land more stable – athough work still needed to be done. In 1902 the Scottish structural steel company, Redpath Brown decided to use it for their London works.

Although this works was called, after nationalisation, the Riverside Steel works, steel was not actually made here, It was a factory in which steel was shaped and cut to the pieces needed for specific buildings.

John Redpath and John Brown had set up as ironmongers in Edinburgh in 1804. They had moved on to building small bridges, they had branched out, taken partners and become big business. The firm erected the first steel framed building in Britain in 1900 and doubtless already thought that London would provide major market.

An office had been opened in central London in 1900 and they soon took over the large site south of Riverway – to considerable opposition from the gas company who thought they should have it. Difficulties continued with the foundations – solid land proved to be twenty ie feet downunder the marsh, and it was not until 1903 that production began.

Early photographs show a dramatic range of buildings … and a steam engine. Like some other of the East Greenwich factories whole families worked there – Rick Tisdell remembered in the 1990s how ‘I worked there from 19760 to 1971 where I completed my apprenticeship. My father worked there for 49 years. My mother worked in the office – she was the daughter of the Template Shop Foreman. His brother worked in the drawing office. My mother went on to become secretary to the Managing Director in London. Her great uncle had been General Foreman during the First World War’.

Redpath Brown was the name which stuck in most peoples mind and the works continiued to be known as that although the company was taken over by the Middlesborough based steel firm, Dorman Long, in 1922. As the Greenwich works expanded so the back part of the site became known as ‘Dorman Long’s’.

The works was nationalised along with the rest of the steel industry in ??? and became known as their Riverside Works. It eventually closed in 1971.

Redpath’s continued to be remembered – not least by those who had worked there. Their canteen building remained in use as the hall belonging to Greenwich Yacht Club. Many people remembered the big steam crane which worked on their jetty and that jetty too remained in an increasingly ramshackle state in the hands of a rival yacht club.

The site sprang again into public awareness in the mid-1980s when the Metropolitan Police used it as a training ground for action against rioting. They had given no notice of this to anyone locally and angry residents were soon expressing their concerns about noise and disturbance to Greenwich Council but the press were quick to accuse Greenwich of being ‘loony left’ when they tried to sort things out. The police went as quickly and quietly as they had come.

Return to Greenwich Millennium Village

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