Charles Holcombe


In 1841 Morden College granted a lease on a large site – ‘Further Pitts’ – to Charles Holcombe who by then had taken over some of the land previously leased to Bryan and Howden. Like Coles Child, Holcombe acted as a developer, leasing part of the site to a network of other companies.

Holcombe’s antecedents are unclear. He was obviously at least middle aged by the time he invested in the Greenwich sites – it is likely that he had previously been the tenant of Hatcham Manor Farm at New Cross and has operated a chemical works there – but this is not entirely clear. By the time he came to Greenwich he was a rich man – only three years earlier he had taken occupation of Valentines Park, a large mansion in Ilford. His family were local benefactors in the Ilford area. A younger generation were named ‘Ingleby’. A road alongside Valentine’s House is named after him ‘Holcombe Road’. Strangely, the adjacent road is ‘Bethell Avenue’ – and this is unlikely to be a coincidence – did Holcombe have some sort of partnership with Bethell? That these two Greenwich developers of coal tar products are remembered in Ilford road names must have some undiscovered significance.

He also gave an address at Porchester Terrace in West London – and this was perhaps another business activity.

Initially his role at Greenwich seems to have been as a backer and partner of Bryan and Howden, but – leaving the partnership he took a lease on a large portion of Morden College Land . In effect he took on most of the lower part of the area known as Great and Little Pits. At the same time Morden College made it quite clear that he must spend at least £300 per acre on improvements. In 1843 a plot on the tithe map is marked ‘Chas and Thomas Holcombe – house, premises, tar factory, sheds and yard’.

Initially he applied to the Commissioner of Woods and Forests for an embankment to his wharf and Morden College comments that the permission was ‘accompanied by restrictions of a very unusual and prejudicial character’. .This is an intriguiging but unresolved mystery.

In Greenwich directories Holcombe’s works on the marsh is given as a ‘brass foundry, tar and Asfelt works’,(ref) He is also described as a ‘refiner of coal tar, spirit, pitch and varnish’. So, like many others in the 1840s, he was experimenting with gas industry tars for use in paint and varnish.

Holcombe built Morden Wharf. (ref) It is not known why he called it this – perhaps he had a special relationship with Morden College, or wanted to curry favour with them. He built a road, known as Morden Lane or Morden Wharf Road(ref) which still runs through the Amylum Works although it no longer gives access to the River. This led to a pub – the Sea Witch – also built by Holcombe. He obtained permission to build houses from Morden College who also provided designs and specifications – were the riverside cottages by the pub or one of the terraces of houses which sprang up on the borders of the area he was leasing.

Like Coles Child, Holcombe wanted to improve the property which he had leased and gave this as his reason when he asked Morden College for permission to lay asphalt on the river path. He also asked permission to build a draw dock and complained when permission had been given to someone else to deposit rubbish on the riverside. He built houses, inevitably designed by George Smith of Morden College. (ref)

These activities gradually added to the local amenities and made the area more attractive to other incoming industrialists.

Return to Morden Wharf

Holcombe himself died in ?? but the his leases on the sites at Morden Wharf and the sub-tenants who occupied them continued in the ownership of his widow and descendents.

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