THE RIVER AND MARSH AT EAST GREENWICH
By W. V. BARTLETT
Based on lectures given before the Society by Mr. Bartlett in January 1960 and December 1963.
ANTIQUARIANS have always been interested in the remains of ancient trades and manufacturing activities but the factories railways, docks and other constructions which since the Industrial Revolution, have gradually replaced the small craft workshops and primitive industries of earlier days have long been regarded as the curse of archaeology and the destroyers of much of beauty and without historical interest. With the passage of 200 years however the earlier examples of industrialisation have themselves acquired an historical importance and “industrial Archaeology” as a special branch of study has been born. Greenwich has preserved much of traditional antiquarian interest among its ecclesiastical secular and domestic building and this is in some measure clue to the fact that, when wide-spread industrial development took place in the lower Thames in the 19th and 20th centuries there was within the Borough a large and almost inbuilt area with a long river frontage. in which it could take place. It is the changes which have occurred in that area known as East Greenwich Marsh and its waterside which are the subject of this paper.
THE LOWER RIVER
In considering the development of the River Thames below bridges, and its trade, one must not lose sight of the fact that until a few hundred years ago the Lower River was for the most part a good deal shallower and,at high water, much wider than it is today. Its banks were generally low-lying and at each high tide the water spread itself for a considerable distance on either side thus rendering much of adjacent land unsuitable for the erection of buildings at least by methods then current except in the comparatively few places where there was a natural bank of firm ground. It was largely a marsh and so were Lambeth, part of Bermondsey, much of Rotherhithe, The Isle of Dogs, and most of what is now East Greenwich. And below down to the estuary, there were, and indeed still are, areas of unreclaimed marsh and saltings.
For the Lower Thames there are records from the 11th century onwards of Commissions appointed to survey and make repairs to the banks, but often early efforts in this direction were more or less isolated attempts by individuals to protect their property. Then in the 17th century came the importation of Dutch engineers, with plenty of experience, to carry out the building of walls and embankments at various places on the lower River and they did excellent and lasting work. Nevertheless as recently as 1770 there were no locks on the upper river and, though certain pound locks were afterwards constructed at Maidenhead and above, the large range of locks on the Thames upper reaches which we know were not built until 1815. The River’s earlier flow was thus virtually unregulated. The Thames Conservancy was not established until 1857 and up to that time, the authority over the River rested with the Crown. The setting up of the Port of London Authority to take control of the river below Teddington, where the tidal flow now ends took place only as recently as 1909. In the London area drainage of adjacent lands was for in the hands of Courts of Sewers which were annually elected. Later to form the Metropolitan Board of Sewers and this became the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. That body was the direct forerunner of the London County Council formed in 1888.
The other matter to be borne in mind when considering trade on and near the River is the nature and rate of flow of the tide. On the lower Thames the current is at certain times strong but not so as to interfere seriously with navigation. The speed varies at different localities but somewhere about four knots on the full strength of the ebb is about the maximum. The rise and fall of the tide is about 20 feet at springs and I0 feet at neap and, so far from tidal conditions being a disadvantage London watermen have for generations saved much time and effort by making intelligent use of them. Nevertheless there have been proposals from time to time to construct barrages at a variety of places on the lower Thames to convert the reaches above into a tideless waterway. The first such scheme was put forward in the latter part of the 17th century and in 1793 there was plan to cut a new channel for the River across the Isle of Dogs.
Again in 1902 a Royal Commission examined a proposal to make a cut across East Greenwich Marsh from Angerstein Wharf to Pelton Road to connect the ends of Blackwall and Bugsbys Reaches and to convert these reaches into large docks, with a barrage and bridge across to Poplar, thus turning the Marsh into an island. There have also been schemes for barrages at Woolwich and, more recently, at Gravesend but none of these proposals has materialised
OCCUPATION OF EAST GREENWICH MARSH
‘The “Marsh” was a broad tongue of low-lying land some 500 acres in extent. its southern base being approximately a mile long on the line of the present Woolwich Road and extending on the west to the eastern boundary of the old Royal Palace, and on the east to Lombard Wall, The boundary between East Greenwich and Charlton. Northward it extended about a mile and a quarter to Blackwall Point or Lea Ness as it was originally known in the 15th century.
Protection and Reclamation.
The first of a number of commissions “to overlook river walls and ditches” was set up in 1315- known to have been a year of heavy floods -and by the 15th and 16th centuries attempts -had been made to reclaim and protect some of the land by ditches and dykes furnished with sluices to draw the water away. Part of the area was thus made useable for grazing and farming. The two main drainage outlets were Bendish Sluice which discharged into the river on the west side towards the southern end and Arnold’s Sluice which was about 300 yards to the south-cast of the Point. There was another about 600 yards to the south-west of the Point and a fourth, King’s Sluice, near the eastern extremity of the Marsh, close to Horn Lane. In a document of 1375 to which incidentally Geoffrey Chaucer was a witness –this part of the Marsh is referred to as “Hornemarsh.’
A deed of Richard II (1398), which was described and illustrated by the late Mr. J. W. Kirby (Transactions Vol. IV No. 3), it records the transfer from John and Margaret Wreke to Stephen Shoreham of a rood of land in a field called “Thistle croft.’ This field covered an area of seven acres in the north- west of the Marsh between the River and a way known as “the Drove Wall.” which was probably a raised path for cattle-drovers. The “wall” was mentioned again as a boundary of the West Combe estate when John Lambarde bought the latter in 1544 and it was then referred to as “the common Droyffe way.” In a conveyance of 1567 the reference is to “the wall called the Drowall.”
William Lombard, John’s son and the antiquary, purchased Thistle croft in 1564 but exchanged it later for land further west in Greenwich where he built his almshouses. Kimball in his “Greenwich Charities” records that in the 37th year of the reign of Henry VIII (1545-6) an Act of Parliament was passed to enforce each and every land-owner of Combe Marsh in the parish of East Greenwich to pay and contribute from time to time towards the expense of repairing, maintaining and supporting the sea-wall, embankments, etc. At this period, too, there are references to the King and others hawking on the Marsh. Lambarde’s Wall (designated by that name in 1555 but now known, by a typical corruption as Lombard Wall) was an embankment constructed in the middle or the 16th century by William Lambarde, whose Manor of West Combe included some land in the east of the Marsh to prevent the flooding of his property. The “wall” may still be seen within the land belonging to G A Harvey & Co.
In 1597 Anthony Roper son of William and Margaret Roper of Well Hall, and grandson at Sir Thomas More, left land and tenements at East Greenwich for the benefit of the poor of Farningham and other places in Kent. Included in the land were 30 acres near Horn Lane, later known as the “Ashfield.” and about 12 acres near Arnolds Sluice of which a portion was reed beds outside the river wall.
At some time before 1600 the River broke its banks quite extensively at a point roughly half a mile south-westward of the Point and this is referred to in subsequent documents and maps as “The Great Breach.” or “Horse Shoe Breach.’ The bank was never repaired along its original line but a new river wall was later made in a large loop to the eastward and this is the line it follows today.
In the early 17th century a Court of Sewers for East Greenwich was set up to regulate the work of drainage or the Marsh and to apportion the liability for the work among the various owners and tenants. The minutes of this “Marsh Court” are still in existence from 1625 in the possession of the Greater London Council.
In 1620 a number of parcels of land bordering the north side of Woolwich Road between Marsh Lane and Horn Lane were left by William Hatcliffe for the benefit of the local poor and Kimball in 1816 records that the feoffees of Hatcliffe’s Charity were still subject to the payment of a rate or assessment called “the wall scot” as adjudged by the Commissioners of Sewers of Greenwich Level. The word “scot” was applied generally from very early times to a charge levied on a landowner or householder for local or national purposes and prior to the Reform Act of 1832 his payment entitled him to his vote. The origin of the saying “scot free’ can also be seen here.
Early Roads and Paths.
A lane existed prior to 1638, starting from a point opposite Conduit Lane (the present Vanbrugh Hill) and running north-eastward through the centre of the Marsh, as does its present-day successor, Blackwall Lane. It continued by a winding course to the riverside near the end of what is now River Way, where a mill later stood. From a point rather more than half way along this course a footpath, which eventually became a narrow lane, ran north-west- ward along the line of the present Dreadnought Road and then north towards the tip of the Marsh. This almost certainly followed, at least in part, the old “Drove Way.” At the end of the 17th century the southern portion of the road was referred to on Travers’ map as Green Lane and on Rocque’s map of 1746 it was shown as Marsh Lane. Indeed that name was used in a deed of the reign of Charles I. In 1789 the trustees of Hatcliffe’s Charity leased to John Andrews for 50 years two acres of “garden ground” at the corner of Marsh Lane and Woolwich Road and “two messuages standing thereon called the; Marsh House and Crooked Billet.” Later still the lane was called “Ship and Billet Lane” after the inn built, and since rebuilt, at the corner of Woolwich Road. The “Ship and Billet” tavern was, in the early part of the 19th century, a quite pretentious looking house with a tea-garden and a bowling green attached to it.
There was by the reign of James I, and no doubt earlier, about half a mile east of Marsh Lane a short track which ran northward from Woolwich Road for two or three hundred yards. It was about where Chilver Street now is and was known variously as Vicar’s Lane, Wiccars Lane or Vicarage Lane because it led to a field of glebe land called “the Vicar’s Acre.”
Rocque’s map shows a path by the River’s edge but the only other access deep into the Marsh was in the east where Horn Lane (referred to in 1555 as “Horne- wall”) ran and still runs, towards the River in a north-easterly direction from a point on Woolwich Road nearly opposite the site of the old farmhouse of East Combe.
Ownerships and Field Names.
Samuel Travers’ map of 1695 and his accompanying Survey show that at that date sixteen fields totalling 92 acres at the eastern side of the Marsh next to Lambarde’s Wall formed part of East Combe Farm and were designated by such names as “The Nineteen Acres” and “the Two Ten Acres.” Travers’ Commissioners in valuing this part of East Coomb Farm made the comment that the charges for repairing banks and sea-walls “were accounted very considerable.”
In the reign of Elizabeth I letters patent had been issued appointing a Steward of the Lordship or Manor of Pleasaunce in East Greenwich and the Manor then included eighty or more acres of “Marsh Lands.” These were on the western side of the Marsh and were part of the demesne of the Lordship, known as the Manor of Old Court, which from the time of Henry III was owned by the Crown.
In 1674 a reversionary lease of the Manor of Old Court was granted to Sir William Boreman and in 1698 his widow sold this to Sir John Morden. In the following year Sir John purchased the freehold from William and land on the Marsh still provides the Trustees with income which is devoted to the upkeep of Morden College.
A plan of 1734 described as “a particular of lands late of Sir William Boreman” still exists’,’ and it also shows some interesting and unusual field names: Pound Marsh. Foster’s Hole. Pond Meadow, Balsopps or Bishop’s Marsh, Hawk’s Marsh, Goose Pool. Dog Kennel Meadow, Crabtree Croft, Lady Marsh, The Pits and, most peculiar of all, Catt’s Brains: although this last was strictly outside the Marsh area as it was the land on which St. Alphege’s Hospital now stands. It is on a map made by Timothy Skynner in 1745 and adopted by the manuscript by the late J. M. Stone in Greenwich Borough Library and see the Library of the Drapers’ Company. In Buckinghamshire and adjoining counties where this name is common it attaches to land consisting of rough clay mixed with stones, i.e. in appearance somewhat like an animal’s brain.
The Court of Sewers in the following year shows the south-eastern portion of the area (known as Coomb Marsh) as “Singles’ and the rest of the peninsula (known as Land Marsh and New Marsh) as “Doubles.” The annual drainage rates levied on Doubles were twice those on Singles: for example in 1704, 12 shillings per acre and 6 shillings per acre respectively.
On Travers map the only buildings shown upon the Marsh are the “Watch House,” which stood in the centre of its northern part approximately equidistant from the eastern, northern and western edges, and the “New Magazine” which stood on the western shore just north of Bendish Sluice. There is a record in 1759 of a petition by the inhabitants of Greenwich concerning the state of the Powder Magazine “a quarter of a mile distant from their dwellings,” asking for its removal in view of its dangerous condition. It was however, still there in 1794 but probably not in use, as by then the practice was to store gunpowder, for greater safety, in hulks moored in the River. In 1802 the old buildings were purchased by Henry Vansittart and later demolished.
There does not seem to have been any similar protest regarding “Execution Dock” which in the 18th century was moved from Wapping to a site on the western side of the Marsh not far from the Magazine. It consisted of a gallows surrounded by an iron cage erected just below high-water mark and river pirates were hanged and their bodies hung in chains there “until three tides had passed over them.”
A part of the tideway about half-way along the eastern side of the Marsh carries tile name “Bugsby’s Hole” and the whole reach of the Thames between Blackwall Point and Charlton is known as “Bugsbys Reach.” Similarly. The adjacent part of the Marsh is found referred to as “Bugsby’s Marsh (es)” but no record seems to show who this Bugsby was. However. The term “Hole” has long been applied to a part of a tidal river or creek on the inner side of a bend where craft of moderate size could lie afloat at anchor in a sheltered position and out of the way of other traffic. There is a Church Hole at Erith and a Haven Hole at Canvey. It thus might be that the name derives from an early mariner or ship-owner who made habitual use of this part of the river to moor his vessels but who had no particular local connection otherwise. The Hole is still used to moor tiers of lighters.
Near here in River Way are what are probably the oldest buildings now existing on the Marsh, namely the “Pilot” tavern and the row of cottages beside it. A stone in the tavern wall bears the inscription “Ceylon Place. New Pier, Greenwich 1801,’ referring to the then name of the lane and probably to the replacement of some earlier landing stage. A public causeway existed here very much earlier, no doubt for the use of persons having business with vessels anchored in the “Hole.”.
The mill at the north-eastern side of the Marsh at this point, referred to above, first appears on the 1844 map but it definitely existed in 1837 and probably much earlier. It was known as Patrick’s Mill and was a windmill but it also had some kind of provision for working as a tide-mill for, on the landward side, there was a large impounding pond. Whether it was ever used as a drainage mill, as those in Holland, Norfolk and Lincolnshire is doubtful but the 1844 map shows it simply as “grinding mill.” It had disappeared by 1885.
INDUSTRY ON THE MARSH
By the early middle ages shipbuilding had become a very important industry on the Thames. Henry V is stated to have built here and in the 15th century large vessels of 500 to 1,000 tons for his Fleet but at that date almost all ships were armed for defence and were used also as trading vessels. It was not until 1513 that Henry VIII established the first Naval Dockyard at Deptford and, shortly after wards, another at Woolwich, both of which built merchant ships however as well as purely war vessels. Many of these ships carried elaborate figure-heads and an interesting ancillary industry, now quite extinct, which existed at Rotherhithe and Deptford from about 1600 for the next 250 years concerned the making, painting and gilding of these figures. Indeed there was a Guild of Carvers located at Rotherhithe who specialised in their production.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution wooden ship-building started to decline from the beginning of the 19th century, iron took its place and the trade gradually moved to the North of England nearer to the sources of material. However, in the meantime many iron ships were built and launched at Greenwich and at Deptford, Millwall and Blackwall. In the middle of last century a firm called “The National Company for Boat Building by Machinery” was building small vessels up to 100 tons at an East Greenwich yard opposite to where the Tunnel entrance now stands. This site was taken over in 1865 by Maudslay Son and Field which had been founded in 1810 by the distinguished engineer. Henry Maudslay, doing general and marine engineering at Lambeth. Maudslay’s continued building quite sizeable ships at East Greenwich until 1872. The building yard was then converted into a boiler works until rising costs in London obliged it to close down in 1900. Some general engineering was also done and parts of the original “Great Wheel” for the Earls Court Exhibition were manufactured there in the 1890s.
As sail gave way to steam, marine engine works, as well as boiler-making works were set up on Thames-side. John Penn & Co. at Deptford and Greenwich were one of these and this firm later became part of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. who in 1911 launched “Thunderer,” the last battleship built all the London River, from their yard at Bow Creek opposite Blackwall Point very close to where Scott Russell & Co. had built “Great Eastern” sixty years before.
Before we leave shipbuilding we must mention the construction of specialised craft for use on London River itself. The Thames sailing barge was without doubt one of the most interesting types of craft in the history of shipping, but now rapidly becoming ex tinct. These beautiful vessels, for so long a characteristic feature of the Greenwich river scene, ranged in size from about 75 to 150 tons –up to 300 tons for coasting work-and so cunningly rigged that they could be handled by a man and a boy, with a third hand for the larger coasters. Starting about 1750 they were built in all kinds of places on Thames-side where a small piece of firm ground was available and Henry Shrubsall, Piper and Norton, all of Greenwich were among the well-known barge-building names.
The first iron barge was an experimental affair built in the 1850’s and nicknamed “The Old Iron Pot” but they did not come into wider use until James R. Piper built a 55-tonner called “City of London” in 18S0 at Piper’s Wharf. At Greenwich, just south of Enderby’s Wharf Pipers who later absorbed T. Scholey of Dawson’s Wharf built many stay-sail river barges between the two wars and in 1949 they still had five sailing barges in commission varying from 50 to 85 tons, though now there are none.”
Shrubsall’s yard was to the south-west of the Point and on the Ordnance Survey map of 1880 a barge builder named Edmunds occupied some sheds close by, just to the south of the present Drawdock Road. On the 1894 map he was still there and a portion of the road was known as “Boat Slip Road.” The yard was later taken over by Humphrey & Grey (Lighterage) Ltd., which in turn was absorbed by Hay’s Wharf Ltd., who maintained it as a barge repairing yard until about 1945 when the business was removed to Bay Wharf half-a-mile further up river. The original property at Point Wharf is now tenanted by Thos. W. Hughan & Co. Ltd., who still use it for barge repair work.
Norton’s barge-building yard was at Pear-tree Wharf on the eastern side.
In 1894 also there was a dry-dock at Blackwall Point owned by Jn. Stewart & Co., but it has since been closed and converted into a reservoir for the South Metropolitan Gas Co. Tar Works.
Thames barges carried all kinds of bulk cargoes cheaply and effectively. They were flat bottomed and drew only a few feet of water, they could thus berth in all manner of odd places and sit upright on a beach or on the mud without harm when the tide was away. Despite their bluff bows and fiat bottoms they could make a remarkable speed-up to 12 knots in favourable conditions . In summer they frequently carried hay and straw from the Essex fields to London: they could sail up a tiny creek to load and then come majestically home with an enormous ‘Stack built up on board and the skipper steering “blind” to the instructions of his mate or boy standing on top of the stack a dozen feet above him.
At one time there were about 8.000 Thames sailing barges registered but today there is only one-‘Cambria’ re-sheathed and re-fitted and kept by Everards of Greenhithe as an example of her type. The same firms which built the sailing barges often constructed another specialised craft, indigenous to London’s tideway, dumb barges or lighters, built originally of wood but, later, of iron and carrying up to 150 or 200 tons. They are towed by small tugs per mitted by River Regulations to take not more than six at time in two tiers of three, but they can also be manoeuvred singly by one man very skilfully using a long oar called a “sweep.” There are still 800 or more in service.
Fishing and Whaling.
In mediaeval times and earlier there were great quantities of fish in the Thames and there is a story of the apprentices of London complaining because they were given too much salmon. There were still plenty of fish in the River or in most parts of it, up to perhaps 150 years ago but with development of the riverside industry the water became progressively dirtier and the fishermen had to go further downstream to find even the whitebait for which Greenwich was long famous. A paper read before the Society in 1915 mentioned large fishing fleets based at Greenwich in earlier days and quoted Domesday Book as referring to Greenwich as a fishing port. I incline to think however that these fishing fleets worked to London for their market but owing to the congested state of the River, they then dropped down stream to anchor after discharging their’ cargoes. The first place where the River widened was Greenwich where there was more room to lie and here crews made their homes. Some of the earliest deep-sea fishermen certainly did; they went out to the North Sea and particularly to the Dogger Bank in Thames-built smacks and by 1840 Greenwich men were going as far afield as Iceland and the Faroes for their catches.
Not only did local fishermen go after small fish: they also sailed in pursuit of bigger creatures –whales in fact. Whale-catching was flourishing in the 13th century in the Bay of Biscay but as the quarry got scarcer English whalers were going north as far as Spitzbergen in the I6th century and to Newfound land in the 17th. A hundred years later Thames ships were bringing whale-blubber back from the coast of Greenland to Howland Dock, Rotherhithe. Then about 1840, when northern waters were starting to become denuded of whales the Enderby brothers fitted out their ships at Enderby Wharf at the south-western side of Greenwich Marsh, for expeditions to the South Polar Seas.
This enlightened local firm employed some of the most enterprising seamen of their day and encouraged and even instructed them to pursue discovery as well as profit by whaling and scaling. Among their skippers who left their own and their employers’ names permanently in the history of Antarctic exploration were James Weddell who in 1822-4 with two ships, the 60 ton Jane and the 65 ton Beaufoy, penetrated to latitude 74° 15′ S., further south than any ship went for many years afterwards. John Biscoe also with two ships -Tula a two-masted brig of 150 tons and Lively a single-masted cutter of a mere 50 tons-crossed the Antarctic Circle on the Greenwich Meridian in 1830 and was “rewarded at last on 28th February 1831 with a view of black mountain summits standing out above the ice-covered land and called it after his employers ‘Enderby Land’. John Balleny in 1839 was the first to discover land to the south of Australia and New Zealand.
The three brothers, Charles, Henry and George Enderby had also founded a rope and canvas factory in 1834 but this was burnt out in a large fire in 1845. Rope making was a natural riverside industry to meet the cable and cordage requirements of the ship-building and ship-repairing trades and many rope-walks were set up along the waterside. Cable Street (Stepney), Ropery Street (Limehouse) and Rope Yard Rails (Woolwich) still provide evidence, and there was a very extensive one in Henry VIII’s Deptford Dockyard, stated to be “replete with all the most up-to-date devices for spinning hemp and making ropes and cables for the service of the Navy.” By 1847 iron had become available drawn into the form of wire and a Camberwell firm, Wm. Kuper & Co., established a factory at Morden Wharf, Greenwich, to make wire ropes, much stronger than those made of hemp. Kupers were bought up in 1854 by Glass, Elliott & Co., who took over Enderby’s old premises.
Making ropes led to making electric cables. By the middle of last century the electric telegraph was extensively used for land communication and in 1850 a wire, suitably insulated with gutta-percha, was laid from England to France. It did not prove strong enough and soon broke but an iron rope embodying a core of insulated wires was more successful and this was the start of a very extensive cable-making industry. A few years after the cable had been successfully laid to France came the much bigger project of laying one across the Atlantic. Much of the first cable was made at Greenwich and the Navy loaned a warship to lay it. The laying in 1857 proved a failure and another, laid successfully in the following year, broke in a few months, but in 1864 Glass, Elliott & Co., combined with the Gutta Percha Co. to form the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. and a new cable was made, also at Greenwich. This was successfully laid in 1866 by “Great Eastern,” the enormous steamship built on the opposite side of the River a dozen years earlier, which had not fulfilled its designers’ plans. Thereafter, the Telegraph Construction Co. had, over the years, a succession of cable ships at their home moorings off Greenwich opposite where the “Magazine” had formerly stood.
Arms and Explosives.
In 1867 a gun factory known as the Blakeley Ordnance Works stood at the point of the Marsh. It failed as a commercial venture and lasted only a few years but the area is still known as Ordnance Wharf. A few hundred yards to the south of their factory, however, the company erected a large block of four-storey dwellings for their work-people, together with a row of cottages for foremen and. facing the lane, a terrace of five houses for managers, all set in the form of a square. In this early example of industrial housing the five houses were cleared away during construction of the Blackwall Tunnel (1890) but Blakeley Cottages and the Buildings were demolished only in 1948.
In 1867 also there were, spread over the eastern side of the Marsh as far as Angerstein’s Wharf and Woolwich Road, a number of scattered sheds which were Robson‘s ammunition works. They remained in use until the latter part of the 19th century and there is record of an explosion in 1872 in one of the cartridge factories.
Gas and Chemicals.
From explosives we move to coal gas, the first recorded use which for lighting in London was in 1795. Soon a considerable number of small gas works, later succeeded by fewer but larger works, were set up on or near to the banks of the River. Between 1881 and 1885 the South Metropolitan Gas Co. bought a large portion of the eastern side of East Greenwich Marsh and they established vast new works where the industry grew to the enormous proportions that we know today. When the Silvertown explosion in 1917 caused widespread damage on the Marsh one of the large gas-holders in Tunnel Avenue collapsed causing a fire and other damage. The latest development is the importation from North Africa in huge tankers of liquid methane which is pumped ashore at Canvey and thence through pipe lines to East Greenwich and elsewhere, where it is blended and distributed into the domestic mains.
As early as 1844 there was, just north of the “grinding mill” mentioned earlier a chemical works with a small jetty, the occupier being named in the Tithe List as Francis Hills. The nucleus of his factory was an 18th century house which survived until the last war. This area was eventually incorporated in the gas works but it still carries the name of Phoenix Wharf and continues to be used for the manufacture of chemicals. Nearby the Government established in 1917 the Fuel Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The Gas Company also took over the adjacent Tar Works previously owned by the firm of Forbes, Abbott & Lennard who then moved to Sussex Wharf, next to Bethell’s Wharf. They continued there for some year, making phenol and other chemicals and later became “The Standard Ammonia Co.” The site now houses a distribution depot of the National Benzol Co,
An industry once flourishing on Thames- side which has virtually ceased was brick-making. From the early middle ages it thrived in localities where there were suitable supplies of day and there were numerous brickfields on both sides of the River. Most of these have been long since worked out and one of the last was on the western side of East Greenwich Marsh which was reputedly still operating in the latter part of last century. There was another sited near Pelton Road.
In the ’80’s of last century also a cement works was established at Hollick’s Wharf at the end of Morden Wharf Road. which was then called “Sea Witch Lane” from a riverside tavern, the “Sea Witch” which formerly stood at the river-ward end of it but was demolished about 1920. Hollicks Wharf is still used as a depot by the Cement Marketing Co.
There was also at East Greenwich for many years a factory making the creosoted wood blocks which formerly paved many London streets. Bethell’s Timber Preserving Works later became The Improved Wood Pavement Co., but, as new methods of road construction came, this business ceased. There is still a timber yard on the site however and it is still known as “Bethell’s Wharf.”
On the other side of the marsh, east of Angerstein Wharf, Christie & Co. have had a timber creosoting works for 70 or 80 years.
A firm making another form of construction material, The Improved Silicate Stone Company, made artificial stone at the beginning of the present century on land near Sussex Wharf which is now the timber yard of Greenwich Saw Mills.
Redpath Brown & Co. established a wharf and a riverside yard at the end of River Way in 1903 for the fabrication of structural steelwork and, incidentally, the Greenwich Yacht Club has also had moorings here since the turn of the century.
Another old established industry on the Thames was oil-seed crushing and oil refining, Mills on the river edge dealt with water-borne cargoes of foreign oil-bearing seed: they were at first wind-driven and later powered by steam or electricity. One such mill was shown on the 1867 map at Greigs Wharf near Blackwall Point. This was held in 1880 by the London Seed Crushing Co. and was in production until about 1900.
Oil leads thoughts to linoleum and the well-known Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. operated from 1900 to 1935 on the site of Maudslay’s ship yard. It was then bought by Michael Nairn and Co. and manufacture transferred to Scotland, leaving only a store at Greenwich.
Soap and candles. oxygen and animal foodstuffs have all been manufactured on the Marsh at different periods, but perhaps our last reference like our first should be lo a metal industry. In 1905 Delta Metal Co. moved from New Cross and built their brass extrusion mill on the Marsh on a site which had been a market garden on the 1867 map and near which in 1894 there was a Thames Police Station on a floating pier.
The Delta Metal Co. now occupies a considerable area between the site of “Blakeley Cottages” and the River to the west. During its expansion this firm look over a site to the north-east on which an Ice Factory had operated during the first two decades of this century until refrigerators put it out of business, and also Shrubsall’s barge building yard and Greigs Wharf. With the incorporation of the ice factory its short approach road known as Fashoda Street was also extinguished.
It will be seen that until about the middle of last century the Marsh was devoted almost entirely to agriculture and grazing except for the small residential development at Ceylon Place and a few wharves on the riverside elsewhere. On the western approach. from Greenwich, however, building had gradually spread eastward along Woolwich Road to the end of the Ship and Billet Lane and this area was known for a time as “Tyler’s New Town” and there is still a Tyler Street in the vicinity.
In 1851 the first railway came to the Marsh. The North Kent Line was extended from New Cross to Woolwich by tunnelling between Blackheath and Charlton and the material excavated was used to construct an embankment running north over Woolwich Road to the riverside. The embankment, which was parallel with Lombard Wall and about a quarter mile to the west, carried a railway line to Angerstein Wharf. This was named after the owner of the land, John Angerstein, son of the builder of Woodlands and with part of the proceeds of its sale he built St John’s Church, Blackheath. The Wharf was intended originally for general goods traffic but has long been used almost exclusively for transhipping oil from lighters and to storage depots in Horn Lane. Part of it is now used as a scrap-iron yard and an asphalt company occupies adjacent land to the west of it. In the early 1900s a branch railway was built parallel with the River westward to serve the Gas Works.
The biggest development of the Marsh came with the construction of Blackwall Tunnel, built by S. Pearson & Son for the LCC in 1890-97. 1n the line of the Tunnel South Approach there originally stood a row of houses facing west known as Cornwall Terrace, Margaret Terrace, Spencer Terrace and Teddington Terrace. al! being part of Blackwall Lane. At the junction with Ordnance Road stood a public house called the “Ordnance Arms.” and another called the “Kenilworth Castle” was at the junction of the Lane with the southern end of Ordnance Road which was known as Teddington Place. All these buildings were demolished to make way for the approach cutting.
Up to 1890 an open watercourse. the third of the drainage channels mentioned earlier, rail northward along the western side of Blackwall Lane, past the factory frontages and the market garden. It turned sharply westward and discharged into the river just south of Greigs Wharf. When the riverside footpath, which originally ran as far as the draw dock, was diverted about 1938 it was brought out to join Blackwall Lane alongside the lower end of this ditch, the last trace of which was culverted in 1946.
When the Blackwall Tunnel was completed, the new road built to carry its traffic south-eastward was named “Tunnel Avenue” and the northern portion from its junction with the original “Marsh Lane” was incorporated with it and extended to Blackwall Point. At the same time Ship and Billet Lane (the old Marsh Lane) was renamed Blackwall Lane. A service of pair-horse omnibuses started soon afterwards. running from the “Noah’s Ark” at the northern end of Deptford High Street through the Tunnel to Poplar. This was the only public transport across the Marsh until 1906 when the LCC extended the electric tramway from Trafalgar Road to the Southern entrance of the Tunnel. The horse buses were replaced by single- decker motors about 1912 and later by modified double-deckers and the tram service ceased in 1953.
Plans for the duplication of Blackwall Tunnel was made and surveys begun before 1937 but work has started only recently. The second approach road will make necessary further demolition near Tunnel Avenue and will bring thousands more cars hurtling across the Marsh-a very different scene from the pastoral peace of little more than a century ago.
The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance he has received from many sources in preparing this paper and particularly from the Borough of Greenwich Libraries who have been especially helpful. Also some of the information of early land ownership and field names on the Marsh is from the Presidential address by the late Mr. A. E. Greene to the Society in February 1938 which has never been printed.
NOTES ON MAPS
The map of East Greenwich Marsh at the end of the 17th. century is re-drawn from Samuel Travers’ map of 1695 with details from the Timothy Skinner’s map of 1745. Field names were mentioned in Travers’ Survey of the Manor of East Greenwich but were not shown in his map. The positions were identified by the late Mr. A 5. Greene with the aid of the Tithe maps. H appears that the only such name which has survived is Pear tree Field now transferred to a nearby wharf. The mid-20th century map of the Marsh is based on the 25 inch OS sheets. A comparison of the two maps, which are reproduced on the same scale, shows that in some places the shore-line has advanced riverwards, probably as a result of the reclamation of reed beds and mud flats and the extension of wharves. The road’ system of the 17th. century and earlier is still clearly to be seen in the roughly Y shaped pattern made by Blackwall Lane, River Way. Dreadnought Street and the north-western end of Tunnel Avenue. More modern roads sometimes follow the boundaries of earlier fields: for example Pelton Road along the line which divided The Great Meadow from Dog Kennel Meadow and Rayle Meadow. The modern map will soon be further altered by the works connected with the new Black wall Tunnel Approach.
The above paper is the first published by the Society in a relatively new field of historical survey and concerning a locality which has received scant attention in the past. It is hoped that this will create interest in further and more detailed study in this area
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