Ballard’s Report on the Lower Thames on Nuisance

Ballard’s Report on the Lower Thames 1873

At a lower level and nearer to the shore. The description given me by the Commandant at “Woolwich, and by Dr. Gordon the Principal Medical Officer of the garrison, was altogether. The- clearest and most instructive that I received, inasmuch as at the barracks and on the barrack field, about a mile from the river and • at a considerable elevation, each variety of odour is perceptible. When the wind is in the northwest or north-north-east one- variety is perceived, and when east-northeast the other variety.

Dr. Gordon states that-when travelling down the river from Woolwich to Purfleet he has recognised the odour of the one variety when passing the manure works of Messrs. Lawes at Barking Creek, and that of the other when passing the works of Messrs. Bevington and of Messrs. Brown in Erith Marshes. The odour from the last-named works he compares to that which he- has perceived in India ‘when passing to leeward of the places in which the Hindoos consume, by an imperfect cremation, the bodies of their dead. The odour is putrid as well as sickening.

A northeast wind would bring effluvia towards the barracks from Barking Creek, distant 2 miles, while a more easterly wind would bring those from Erith Marshes, distant 4 miles. In the- village of Plumstead, also, there are two varieties of odour perceived, according as the wind is in the north or in the north-east; the one wind blowing from the direction of Barking Creek, distant 2 miles, and the other from the direction of Erith Marshes, distant 3 miles.

The Manager of the Southern Outfall Pumping station also distinguishes two varieties of offensive odour, according as the- wind is in the east, bringing effluvia, which he describes as in- tolerably offensive, from the direction of the glue and manure- works of Messrs. Brown and Messrs. Bevington, about half-a-mile lower down the river; or in the west, bringing effluvia from Barking Creek, distant about 2 miles (no factory, giving rise to- offensive effluvia, intervening.)

On the other hand, at (Charlton, it appears, from the statements of the Inspector of Nuisances, that only one variety of offensive odour is the subject of complaint, that it is of an acid and sickening character, and is perceived only when the wind is in the north-west, and, therefore, blowing from the direction of a group of factories on the north shore near the- Victoria Docks, and from some factories on the opposite or south shore and situated in Greenwich Marshes.

It thus became necessary that I should inspect the several factories between Blackwall Reach to the west, and Erith Reach to- the east. I have marked upon a map, which I append to this Report, the- situation of these factories. It will be seen, on reference to the map, that. They lie in three groups.

Group 1 is situated on and near the shores of the river at Bugsby’s Reach;
group 2 about Barking Creek, about 3 miles more to the east;
and group 3 about 2 or 3 miles still further to the east, about the bend of the river between Halfway Beach and Erith Reach.

The effluvia from group 1 alone appear to be complained of by the inhabitants of Charlton. The effluvia from groups 1, 2 and 3 appear to annoy the garrison at Woolwich; while those from groups 2 and 3 annoy the inhabitants of Plumstead village and of the little colony at the Southern Outfall Pumping Station. The total number of factories in the three groups is twenty-one. Group 1 consists of ten factories of various kinds, group 2, of four, and group 3 of seven factories. All of these factories are not – equally offensive; some give issue to effluvia only perceptible at a short distance from the works, while the effluvia from others are such as experience has shown, may be carried by the wind to the distance of several miles. The observations made in my inspection of each group of factories were specially directed to ascertain the extent of the works, the duration of their existence, the character and amount of effluvia proceeding from them, and the means in use for pre- venting the escape of offensive effluvia.

Group 1 consists of the following establishments: —
On Greenwich Marshes, on the south side of the river—
(1.) Mockford’s ” Ordnance” Manure Works (No. 1 on map). —Only established about six months. No work going on at the time of my visit. There were about 250 tons of shoddy on the premises, a considerable quantity of mineral phosphates, and over- 5,000 tons of guano. It was stated that the materials intended to be used are guano, mineral phosphates, and sulphate of ammonia. It was stated further that probably oil of vitriol would also be manufactured. The arrangements for preventing the escape of offensive effluvia are very imperfect, but, inasmuch as but little work has been carried on at these premises up to the present time, the effluvia proceeding from them have probably had little to do with the complaints
(2.) Hills Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 2 on map). —These works cover about three acres. They have been established here for thirty-eight years, but manures have only been manufactured here since 1856. There are separate works adjoining the manure works for the manufacture of nitric acid, tartaric acid, and oxalic acid. (a.) The arrangements for preventing escape of acid fumes in the manufacture of oil of vitriol appear to be efficient, except at times when the denitrating chamber is being washed out, which is only occasionally. (b) The materials used in the manufacture of manures are shoddy, waste leather, dry bones, bone ash • and the refuse from sugar bakeries, coprolites, and mineral phosphates generally. Until quite lately, no means have been in use for preventing the escape of offensive effluvia into the atmosphere during the mixing of the materials, or subsequently on their discharge from the mixer. But at the time of my visit improvements were being made under the advice of Mr. Pink, the Medical Officer of Health for Greenwich, which will probably lead to a consider- able abatement of the nuisance, which these -works could scarcely have failed to occasion.
On the north side of the river— Commencing at the entrance to the docks, and extending along the shore for a distance of about a quarter of a mile, there is a tow of six establishments.

(1.) Messrs. Gibbs’ Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 3 on map). —Established here for twelve or fifteen years, (a.) The materials burned for the manufacture of oil of vitriol are crude sulphur and pyrites. The burners have not been acting well, and the escape of sulphurous acid has been made a subject of complaint to the West Ham Sanitary Authority. Under the direction of the Medical Officer of Health, Mr. Drake, alterations have been made from time to time during the last two years, and are still being made, efficiency having not yet been secured. (6.) The materials said to be used in the manufacture of manure are dry bones, guano and mineral phosphates, sulphate of ammonia being added to some kinds of manure. The best practicable means, so far as my knowledge extends, of preventing the escape of offensive effluvia into the atmosphere from the mixer and the reception-pits are in use in this establishment.” Except accidentally, I should very much doubt the extension of effluvia from these works to any considerable distance.

(3.) Odam’s Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 4 on map). —Established here in 1851. The premises cover a space of five or six acres. This is one of the largest manure establishments visited (a.) The materials burned for the manufacture of oil of vitriol are crude sulphur and pyrites. The burners act efficiently, but at the time of my visit the Gay Lussac condensing tower was not acting perfectly, and hence acid fumes were escaping from the shaft at an elevation of about 100 feet. But the manager stated that this was quite an accidental occurrence. The materials said to be used for manure making are shoddy, dry blood, guano, dry bones, coprolites, and mineral phosphates generally. A very powerful pungent odour pervaded the part of the works devoted to manure making, accompanied by an empyreumatic odour due to the heating of a heap of shoddy. From the character of the materials used, and from my experience of similar manufactories, I am satisfied that very pungent and offensive effluvia must be given off in the manufacture of manures into which these materials enter as ingredients. No means whatever are in use in this establishment to intercept these effluvia from the atmosphere, to which there are free openings at all parts of the premises.

(4.) Duncan’s Sugar Bakery (No 5 on map). —No suggestion was made that any offensive effluvia at any time proceeded from this establishment.

(5.) Farmer’s Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 6 on map). —Established about five years. The works are said to cover three acres, but the buildings do not appear to cover nearly • this space. The-works are not on a very extensive scale, (a.) Crude sulphur and pyrites are burned for the manufacture of the oil of vitriol. Some of the burners act badly, so far as the escape of sulphurous acid on opening the feeding doors is concerned. Others, which have been altered in a manner suggested by Mr. -Drake, the Medical Officer of Health for West Ham, act very efficiently in this respect: otherwise this part of the works appears unexceptional. Any acid fumes which may escape condensation in the Gay Lussac tower are discharged at an elevation of 110 feet. (b) The materials used for the manufacture of manure are said to be dry bones, coprolites, and mineral phosphates generally. Occasionally a little dried blood or sulphate of ammonia are added, but not in the mixer. Some means are in use to prevent the escape of effluvia into the premises from the mixer and receiving pit, but the object sought is to discharge them from the shaft at an elevation of 110 feet, from whence they may travel a long distance through the atmosphere. The best practicable means of preventing nuisance from the works have not been adopted.

(6.) Walmsley’s Malt Roasting Works (No. 7 on map). —An empyreumatic odour is said to proceed from these works occasionally, but this is only about twice a day, when the cylinders are emptied. The effluvia have never been made a subject of complaint, and probably do not extend to any considerable distance.

(7.) Shroeder and Company’s Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 8 on map). —These works have only quite recently been established, and indeed part of the buildings are still in course of construction. The only manure made here is prepared by the mixing of guano and oil of vitriol in an-open tank. The effluvia arising from this admixture are comparatively inconsiderable, but such as they are, no means have been adopted for preventing their escape freely into the atmosphere outside the sheds. Still it is not at all probable that these works have had any part in occasioning the nuisance complained of. The next works in the group are at the distance of half-a- mile to the eastward of those last mentioned.

(8.) Burt, Boulton, and Hayward’s Tar Works (No. 9 on map). —Established here three years. The works cover a space of eleven acres. The crude material dealt with is coal tar, which, as received, contains more or less admixture with it of ammoniacal liquor. The process adopted consists at first in the fractional distillation of the tar, the distillates being subsequently dealt with for the manufacture upon the premises of anthracene, carbolic acid, benzole, etc. Much care is taken to prevent the escape of offensive effluvia by the reception of the various products of the distillation while hot into covered receptacles. The only source of offensive effluvia has been the hot pitch as first run off from the stills; but means are now being adopted to prevent nuisance from this source in future; these means are of a nature which, it appears, to me are likely to be successful. It is quite possible that the vapours from the hot pitch may from time to time have reached the opposite shore of the Thames, mixed with the effluvia from manure works. But these vapours, the odour of which is peculiar, and very different from the odour proceeding from manure works, do not appear to have been distinguished by the inhabitants at Charlton.

(9.) Wood’s Oil of Vitriol Works (No. 10 on map). —-These- premises have recently changed hands, and no work was being done at the time of my visit. The Inspector of Nuisances at Charlton, however, states that. On one occasion he distinctly traced the pungent odour of sulphurous acid across the river to these works. It is intended shortly to manufacture manure here.

Group 2 consists of the following establishments, all on the Essex side, about Barking Creek.

(1.) The Beckton Gas Works (No. 11 on map). —Situated near the northern outfall sewer on the western side of the creek, not far from its mouth. They cover a space of thirty acres. The purification is effected by dry lime and by oxide of iron, and the purifiers are constructed upon the best principles. There is no; reason to believe that any effluvia from theses-works reach the places on the south side of the river where complaints have been made.

(2.) Davy’s Tar Works (No. 12 on map). —Are situated about three-quarters of a mile from the river, on the east bank of the creek. The works cover a space of two acres, and were established here in April or May, 1872. The crude material dealt with is coal tar, which, as at Burt’s works, is first subjected to fractional distillation. Crude carbolic acid and anthracene are manufactured on the premises, but the other products are sent away for rectification. The arrangements for running off the pitch are as bad as they well can be, and this part of the process is a source of nuisance to the inhabitants at Barking, -when the wind is in the direction to bring the vapours from the works. There is no reason, however, to believe that these vapours reach the places on the south side in any such manner as to occasion nuisance there.

(3.) Lawes’ Oil of Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 13 on map). —Established here eighteen or nineteen years, during which time they have undergone extension from time to time. The works cover three or four acres, and have a river frontage of continuous; buildings to the extent of 200 yards. -It is the largest manufactory of manure which I visited. Along the whole river front the pungent odour from the buildings was strongly marked, and the vapours proceeding from the sheds were irritating to the eyes as- well as offensive to the smell. The works were everywhere pervaded within by the same odour. (a.) The materials burned for the manufacture of oil of vitriol are crude sulphur, pyrites, and spent oxide from the gas works. So far as I was able to observe the burners acted well. There is no Gay Lussac tower at these- works, nor are any other means in use to intercept the waste gas passing from the leaden chambers. -These gases are discharged into a shaft which delivers them into the external atmosphere at an elevation of 110 feet. (6.) The materials used in the manufacture of manure are said to be shoddy, a little waste leather, guano, dried bones, coprolites and mineral phosphates generally, and sulphate of ammonia. Up to the present time no proper means- have been taken to prevent the escape of the irritating acid offensive effluvia given off from the mixers, reception-pits, and Accumulations of manure, into the atmosphere outside the works. But recently these works have come into the hands of a Company, and the new manager is now engaged in erecting apparatus for the prevention of nuisance. I am not satisfied, however, that the means he is adopting will prove successful. These works are much complained of by the Manager of the Beckton Gas Works, who says that on Sundays they are especially offensive. These •are the works which Dr. Gordon recognised as giving off the odours perceived at the barracks at Woolwich when the wind is northeast; nor have I any doubt that they are one of the sources •of the nuisance complained of at Plumstead village.

(4.) Crow’s Tar Works (No. 14 on map). —Established here •as a sulphate of ammonia works for sixteen years. The tar business was formerly carried on to a less extent than it is now. The tar is (as in other tar works mentioned) subjected to fractional  distillation, and no sufficient means are in use to prevent the escape into the atmosphere of offensive vapours from the distillates and from the hot pitch. Part of the ” light oil” is rectified on the premises, and anthracene is also manufactured. Otherwise all the first products are sent away from the premises in casks. It is •scarcely probable, however, that these works occasion any nuisance to the inhabitants at Plumstead. In the manufacture of sulphate of ammonia from ammoniacal liquor means are in use to prevent the escape of sulphuretted hydrogen into the atmosphere.
Group 3 consists of the following establishments: — (a.) On the south side of Erith Marshes.

(1.) Bevington’s Manure Works, (No. 15 on map). —Situated about half a mile from the Southern Outfall Pumping Station. These works are small, but have been established several years. The material used is ” scutch,” -which is the refuse matter left in “the pans in which glue is made. This material is heated in closed pans by steam, with the addition of oil of vitriol, and there is an Arrangement for condensing the vapours which proceed from the pans. Fat is first skimmed off, and the residue, after boiling about three hours, is run off into “delves” or trenches about four feet •deep dug into the earth outside the works: these ‘ delves ” are worked alternately. Up to about twelve months ago the pans •employed were open. The manure which runs as a semi-liquid material into the “delves ” solidifies in them after a time, partly by evaporation and partly by soakage of the more watery parts into the earth. When sufficiently firm the manure is dug out and dried by spreading it on heated plates, or by heaping it over semi- circular brick flues. The effluvia from these stoves or flues are very offensive indeed, and escape freely into the external atmosphere. The odour, which resembles-that of cheese when very much decomposed, pervades the works and their neighbourhood.
2.) Brown’s Glue and Manure Works (No. 16 on map) are carried on  in premises adjoining Bevington’s. These works have been established a great many years, during which they have been a constant source of nuisance to persons passing up and down the river. Two manufactures are carried on here. One is that of glue from the clippings of hides used “by tanners, horses’ hoofs, &c, These matters arrive at the works in a more or less putrid condition, and no means whatever are in use to prevent the escape of the highly offensive vapour from the pans in which they are boiled into the atmosphere outside the works. The offensiveness of the vapour would naturally vary with the degree of decomposition of .the material boiled. The “scutch,” which remains after the making of the glue, is dealt with as at Bevington’s Works, the only difference being that no means are in use here to condense the vapour proceeding from the pans in which the ” scutch ” is heated with acid. These works are the most offensive upon the river, and the putrid sickening odour from them -travels for many miles. It has been distinctly recognized by the Manager of the Beckton Gas Works at his residence, a distance of three miles, and also by Dr. Gordon at the Woolwich Barracks, a distance of about four miles.
(3.) Price’s Oil Refinery Works- (17 on map). —Established here nine years. The premises altogether cover ten acres, but ‘only a portion of this space is covered by the building’s. Various oils are refined here, such as fish oil, rape oil, Rangoon oil and American oil. The odour from these works only extends to a short distance from them. Bi-sulphide of carbon is also made here, but no offensive smell is recognizable in or about the part of the works devoted to this manufacture.

On the north side.

(4.) Miller and Johnson’s Oil of Vitriol ‘and Manure Works (No. 21 on map). —Established in March 1872. They cover an extent of one and a-half acres, (a) Pyrites alone used to burn as a source of sulphurous acid. The waste gases from the leaden chamber pass into a condensing apparatus supplied with steam. This is not the best method of condensation, (b) The materials used for the manufacture of manure are dry blood, bones, shoddy, 10 •coprolites, and mineral phosphates generally. The mixers and receiving pits are simply ventilated by a pips, which conducts the vapours through the roof into the external air. As those works extend they will certainly become a source of nuisance, are not so now, unless proper means be adopted to intercept the offensive vapours necessarily generated in the process.

(5.) Wilson’s Oil of. Vitriol and Manure Works (No. 20 on map). —Established about four years, (a) Pyrites are used as the source of sulphur. The waste gases from the leaden chamber •escape at once into the external atmosphere, no condensing apparatus whatever being in use. (V) The materials used for •manure making are fish, shoddy, guano, coprolites, and mineral phosphates generally. No means are in use to prevent the free escape of the offensive vapours generated into the external atmosphere. (6.) Newman and Company’s Candle Works (No. 19 on map). No work was going on at these premises at the time of my visit. I was informed by the Manager that the materials used are palm dl, tallow, and bone fat. Some of these fats are distilled, and the products of the distillation condensed. A strong empyreumatic odour pervaded the works, but I have no means of knowing how far it would travel-

(6.) Borell and Hagan’s Manure Works (No. 18 on map). — adjoin the works last mentioned. There was no one on the premises at the time of my visit, but from what I observed it was evident that ” scutch” manure was made, and that no means were in use to prevent the escape of offensive effluvia.

To sum up the inferences I draw from the observation made during my inspection of the above works, I may say that— (1.) It is tolerably certain that the offensive effluvia complained of by the inhabitants of Charlton and its vicinity have proceeded from the manure works upon Greenwich Marshes, and from the other manure works in group 1. Perhaps at various limes, or occasionally, other effluvia from other works than the manure works have assisted to create the nuisance complained of. Probably also the principal sources of nuisance have been Hill’s works on Greenwich Marshes, and Odam’s works on the opposite shore of the river. (2.) It is tolerably certain that the effluvia complained of as proceeding from the direction of Barking Creek, have issued mainly from the manure works of Messrs. Lawes. (3.) It is absolutely certain that the putrid sickening odour proceeding from the direction of group 3 have issued mainly from the glue and manure works of Messrs. Brown and Messrs. Bevington on Erith Marshes. Perhaps, from time to time, other effluvia have been added from the manure works on the opposite shore of the river.
With respect to the influence exerted -upon the health of the persons who have been exposed to these offensive effluvia, and who complain of them as nuisances, little can be said of a very definite nature. Neither Dr. Finch nor Dr. Wise, both of whom stated it as their opinion that the effluvia were injurious to health, could furnish me with any specific information upon this subject. I am aware of no evidence that the workmen employed in artificial manure works suffer in any way from disease referable to the nature of their occupation. Nevertheless, delicate persons, and even some healthy persons, are very susceptible to the influence of sickening odours, such as those given off from the works complained of. Such persons are “upset’ by them, made sick or nauseated, and, to such an extent as this, may be said to have their health disturbed. Dr. Gordon stated to me in conversation that, in the event of any severe epidemic occurring, evil would, in his opinion, probably result from these nuisances, on the principle that any- thing which “upsets” the nervous system predisposes an individual to suffer. This is, perhaps, as much as can be said upon the subject, except that it may be added that, during the prevalence of winds which carry foul odours with them, householders prefer to keep their doors and windows closed at the cost of insufficient ventilation of their dwellings. The Local Sanitary Authority in Greenwich Marshes is the District Board of Works of Greenwich; -which appears to have been taking proper steps to cause the abatement of the nuisances arising from the works upon the Marshes.

The Sanitary Authority on the opposite side of the river, where the other works in group 1 are situated, is the Local Board of West Ham, which should be called upon to exercise its functions in respect of the trade nuisances pointed out in this Report. It has dealt with some of them more or less satisfactorily but not with all. The Sanitary Authority on Barking Creek is the Rural Sanitary Authority of Romford Union, which also, I believe, has jurisdiction over the trade nuisances of group 3 on the northern shore of the river. At present this Authority has taken no steps to cause the abatement of the nuisances arising from factories.

The Sanitary Authority in Erith Marshes is the Rural Sanitary Authority of Dartford Union. This Authority should be called upon to proceed -without delay to cause the abatement of the intolerable nuisances proceeding -from the works of Messrs- Brown and Bevington.
EDWARD BALLARD. Medical Department of the Local Government Board, December 8, 1873

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New East Greenwich


New East Greenwich

By Mary Mills

‘When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?

No! – here’s to the Pilot that weathered the storm’

So wrote George Canning about William Pitt in 1802. The Treaty of Amiens had just been signed with the French, one of its clauses handed the colony of Ceylon to  Britain.

Anyone who walks down to take a look at the future Millennium exhibition site on Greenwich Marsh may well find themselves looking for a pub. There is only one, The Pilot, in River Way, which is a fine, recently modernised, hostelry. Those who look closely will see a plaque on the wall of The Pilot which reads ‘New East Greenwich, 1804’. This seems to imply that The Pilot and Ceylon Place, the row of adjacent cottages, were some sort of new development away from the main industrial town of Greenwich. If a developer came to Greenwich Marsh two hundred years ago, who was he? And why did he think this piece of unpropitious marshland was somewhere suitable to build?ceylon place pilot plaque

Entries in the Greenwich rate books show that Ceylon Place and The Pilot were indeed built in 1804 and, in addition, that the site’s owner was George Russell. Russell continued to be listed in both rate books and directories as the owner of New East Greenwich for many years after. In 1830 a directory lists him there under ‘nobility and gentry’, but where did he live? The unpretentious cottages in Ceylon Place are hardly residences for a gentleman! In 1832 he is listed there as a ‘miller and mealman’ – but this is to run on. Who was George Russell?

In 1792 a Mr Russell, who lived in Greenwich, was burgled. He must have lived close to the river because the criminals  escaped in a boat. Is this George Russell, and did he live at or near ‘New East Greenwich’? There is no record of a house there so early. Later in the century there was a big house on the river front, up past The Pilot, at the end of the cottages. Its site was where Greenwich Yacht Club now have their premises and it was called East Lodge. From pictures it looks to be early Victorian, rather later than the 1790s. All that is known about its origins comes from an account, written in 1932 by Anne Askew Davies, who lived there as a child, and little of what she says makes dating it any easier. She said the house was built by a Mr Hughes as ‘a pleasure house for his parties’ and a ‘Jamet Hewes’ is first men- tioned in records in the 1830s. Anne also said that a canvas ceiling in the house was painted by Sir James Thornhill – but he died in 1734! Then she said something else,  very strange indeed – ‘under the house were brick arched cellars, perfectly dry, like those under the College’. These dry cellars were on the river-front of sodden Greenwich Marsh! Is it possible that East Lodge was built, in the 1830s, on the site of something far older?

The other description of George Russell as a ‘miller’ is to reveal a lot of the story of New East Greenwich. Along with The Pilot and the cottages was built a very large and important tide mill – across the road from The Pilot, on the riverside site where Blackwall Point power station stood until a few years ago. A tide mill is technically a water mill but on a very large scale. This one was built to harness the power of the River Thames and its tides. Only a few miles to the north of East Greenwich is Three Mills, at Bromley- by-Bow, where the House Mill is now open to visitors on some Sundays. To visit Three Mills is to understand that a mill like this is a big operation on an industrial scale with nothing rural or ‘olde worlde’ about it. The House Mill means business and East Greenwich, although not nearly so large, was built to maximise the power of the river to shift a lot of grain. One account of the mill says that it was built to grind flour for the London Flour Company which had been set up to provide cheap bread for the metropolis. We know a lot about the East Greenwich mill because one afternoon, in 1802, Olinthus Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, went for a riverside walk. When he got to where the mill was being built he was very interested, and stopped to chat to the foreman. The foreman, in the way that foremen do, told him in a lot of detail how he would have built it differently, himself, given his way. Gregory did some drawings and later wrote a technical description of the mill.

The mill stood parallel to the Thames with a channel under it which allowed water to come in and out from the river. Behind the mill was a four-acre reservoir which filled with water on the incoming tide. In the channel was the mill wheel, which worked as the tide came in, and was then reversed as the water was let out of the mill pond on the ebb. Thus the mill could be worked all the time. It was built by a millwright called John Lloyd. There was nothing rural or ‘olde worlde’ about Lloyd either. Among other things he was currently building the Government armaments complex at Waltham Abbey. We read a great deal about the steam engine builders of this period because what they were doing is seen as ‘revolutionary’ and exciting, but at the same time millwrights, like John Lloyd, were at their peak. They were undertaking some very important installations – but, because they are seen as ‘old tech’ we never hear of them. John Lloyd was building the Waltham Abbey Works, as a matter of Government policy, with no steam, but he knew about steam engines and used them where they would be useful. At East Greenwich a steam engine was used to build the mill – but that is another story. New East Greenwich, then, consisted of a big mill, cottages for the workers, a pub, perhaps a big house. Who was George Russell? To find a clue we need to go to Sidcup, to Longlands, a big house, now gone. Records say that the owner’s son, a George Russell, lived at ‘Mill Place, Greenwich’. Well, we have at Greenwich a mill, if no ‘Mill Place’!

George Russell’s father, the owner of Longlands, died in 1804, and his name too was George. He was a very rich man and had made his money out of soap. Nowa- days we do not associate soap works with London, but, in the last century, the largest soap factory in England was at Old Barge House, on the south bank of the Thames alongside Blackfriars Bridge. It was a famous factory and was painted by Turner. At that time it was owned by Benjamin Hawes whose son, Benjamin Jnr, became a government minister and married a Miss Brunei. Benjamin Hawes Snr had bought Old Bargehouse Soap Works as a going concern from its founder, George Russell, at some time at the beginning of the century. It may be significant that Hawes became a member of the Tallow Chandlers’ Company in 1804. George Russell Snr’s father had been a Clerkenwell ‘soft’ soap maker in a small way. The son discovered a way of making hard soap and built, himself with his own hands, a soap works on the site of Queen Elizabeth’s old bargehouse. It has been said that he became the leading soap maker in England and was able to set prices which all others had to follow. At his death, in 1804, he left £150,000. It cannot be a coincidence that his death is in the same year as his son seems to have finished the East Greenwich Tide Mill and the soap works was sold. George Russell Jnr had clearly decided to invest his father’s fortune in this massive mill while abandoning the family soap business.

Did he succeed? Who knows. The Hawes’ were to make a fortune and gain massive influence through the soap business they bought from him. It is unlikely that, as a rich man, he worked the mill himself. He had a miller, by the 1830s, Mr Patrick. What did George Russell do with his fortune? Did the mill swallow it all up? Did he go and invest in something else? New East Greenwich never seems to have been the thriving community he probably hoped for. In the 1840s the mill was sold to Frank Hills, who made an even larger fortune out of the site. More houses were built, there was a mission hall, and then the gas works came. In the 1890s the mill was demolished and a power station built on the site, not Blackwall Point Power Station but its predecessor. The 1990s have seen great plans for housing on the Greenwich Peninsula. Ceylon Place and The Pilot will become the only old buildings in a great sea of newness. George Russell probably thought he was founding a new community here, and perhaps that will now come about, although we can be sure that the area will not be called ‘New East Greenwich’.

Author’s Note

This article is based on a wide range of archive and written sources in collections owned by the London Boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and elsewhere. Particular attention is drawn to the chapter on the mill in Olinthus Gregory, Mechanics (London, 1806). Some material used in this article forms part of a longer history of the mill to be published in a forthcoming Journal of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. Illustrations by kind permission of London Borough of Greenwich Local History Library unless otherwise credited.

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Damn your eyes Mr. Sharp


At the back end of the car park at the Millennium Dome stand the ‘Ceylon Place’ cottages, next to the Pilot pub, and the only old buildings in a great sea of new structures.  The Dome is dedicated to the future and when it was originally planned they intended to demolish the old  cottages along with everything else. Local people didn’t feel quite the same about the demolition of everything old and protests from local community groups meant that the cottages were saved.  Since then English Heritage has listed them and, in the course of their research, have discovered that they are among the oldest buildings of their type in London.

tide mill pix better
The only known picture of the Greenwich tide mill from the river

They date from around 1802, and so are ‘Georgian’. They were built to house the families of workers in Mr.George Russell’s large riverside ‘tide’ mill – that is a watermill which was driven by the incoming tides.  Anyone who wants to see a tide mill can do so by making a short trip through the Blackwall Tunnel. The House Mill at Three Mills – just behind Tesco on the 102M – is open to the public on the first Sunday of each month. Prepare to be surprised at the enormous scale on which was it was built and operated!  The Greenwich one was rather smaller – but not much.

In 1802 the area on which the Dome is now built was marshland and there were cattle grazing in muddy fields which were interspersed with a network of drainage ditches and ponds.  No-one lived there and it was probably a very lonely place. A few lanes meandered down through the marsh from Greenwich to the riverside. The river itself however would have been very busy and full of great ships – East Indiamen calling into their Company’s depot at Blackwall and many others coming to and from the new West India docks.

peninsula 1808
This picture, blown up from a picture of the East India Docks, 1808, shows the flat and featureless Greenwich Peninsula apart from a small strip of buildings on the left hand side, showing the mill and cottages – New East Greenwich!

The Mr. Russell, who built the cottages and the mill, had made his money out of soap. His factory, alongside Blackfriars Bridge, was the biggest soap works in the country. By the 1790s could afford to retire, and he had bought a big house at Longlands, near Sidcup. He intended to invest his money in property so he bought a piece of  riverside land around 1795. His two ships, Nymph and Russell, would have passed Greenwich marsh on their way up river and he no doubt thought it was an area ripe for development..

Russell’s workmen, under his foreman Thomas Taylor, began to make bricks on the site – this involved digging up the ‘brick earth’ which was then moulded and baked. The dirty, smelly,  activity began to worry the marsh bailiff – the ‘wall reeve’ – who managed the marshland area on behalf of local landowners.  His name was Philip Sharpe and one day in April 1796 he walked down to the site to see for himself.  At the brickworks he met Thomas Taylor and an argument developed. Taylor said  ‘Damn your eyes Mr Sharp, if you come here I will polish your teeth and stop your eyes with mud, Sir!’. He followed this up by ordering John Bicknell,  who was standing nearby, to push Sharp off the river wall. Bicknell, the future Greenwich Town Clerk, did as he was told. Sharp made a hasty retreat, no doubt well covered in Thames mud!

Nothing very much seems to have happened as the result of this violent encounter and  a couple of years later they were working amicably together as the new buildings went up on the riverside.  The only problem being that as building progressed the workmen were reported for throwing ‘rubbish’ into neighbouring fields. Son after Mr. Russell applied for official permission to build a wharf and causeway into the river. This causeway was until recently used by Greenwich Yacht Club.

In 1800 the new development was called ‘New East Greenwich’ and consisted of the mill, cottages, some tenements, the pub and a big house. The mill and the house survived for about a hundred years but now, after two hundred years, only the cottages and pub remain. When they were built they were called ‘Ceylon Place’? What does this name mean?

The strange thing about the whole area is that it seems to be linked to national politics and William Pitt, the younger, who was Prime Minister before 1801.  Some documents have survived which show that the mill and some of the buildings were leased to a consortium of politicians – all of them at some time cabinet ministers . Some of them were local landowners from Blackheath but William Pitt and his elder brother, Lord North, are also included. There is no apparent link between these politicians and George Russell, and it is a matter of speculation as to the nature of their interest in the mill and cottages on this remote part of the Greenwich riverside.

The name ‘Ceylon Place’ can be explained by contemporary national events .   In 1802 Ceylon was ceded to the British Crown as part of the Treaty of Amiens. This treaty was associated with William Pitt and was thought at the time to represent the end of the wars with France.  We now know that this was not the case, but at the time it was cause for great national rejoicing, and the name of the cottages must be a commemoration of the treaty. Perhaps it was also intended to mark Pitt’s association with the area.

In the two hundred years since the cottages were built there have been many changes in the area around them. Until a few years ago their neighbours included a gas works, a power station and a structural steel business. All of them have now gone – to be replaced by the Dome and all its works.  The people who have lived in the cottages were ordinary local people – fishermen, watermen, gas workers, and so on.  For a while they made up  a small  community with a mission hall, shops and a café. Many local people still treasure memories of a childhood in Riverway and I have been shown photographs of, for instance, races held there for the 1937 coronation celebrations.

The cottages were built as homes for the workers at George Russell’s mill and it is understood that they will now be used to house workers from the Dome site.  When Mr. Sharp and Mr. Taylor quarrelled on the river bank two hundred years ago they could hardly have imagined all the changes that were to come. Perhaps, however, they would have been proud that the small, and, to them no doubt, unremarkable cottages which   they built have survived to see in a new millennium and at the same time to have gained official ‘listed’ recognition.


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Ballast Quay – a brief overview

view upriver 1662
View of Ballast Quay 1662

Ballast Quay is technically not part of the Peninsula – which begins at the corner of Pelton Road and the riverside – but it is an interesting area and one which has a strong relationship to the development of the western end of the Peninsula’s riverside as well as the streets behind it. Indeed it appears that a stile or gate marked the boundary – described in 1792 as a ‘wicket with lock and key’.  Indeed this can be seen on a seventeenth century print.

The area is owned by Morden College, and has been since the 1660s.  It has been known as ‘Ballast Quay’ since at least the 17th century, it marked as such on Travers’ map of 1695 and seems to refer to the transfer of ballast – perhaps gravel or chalk– into vessels.  Such ballast was commonly put into collier ships which was brought coal to London from North-eastern ports and needed a return load.  Although Morden College owned many such pits – both in the area of Blackheath Hill and in Chiselhurst – the date of the Travers’ plan which identifies the quay’s name is close to the time of Sir John Morden’s acquisition of the area  – and this may mean that it pre-dates him.

In 1695 the grounds of a building stretched between Ballast Quay and Crowley House, with its outbuildings on the site of what is now Greenwich Power Station. In later years the area seems to have become part of the complex of warehousing owned by the Crowleys. Ambrose Crowley had bought property in Greenwich in 1704 using it as a warehouse for his iron founding business based on the Tyne.  Some of this activity doubtless moved on to the Ballast Quay area.cutty sark and houses pk

The Roque plan of 1747 shows an undeveloped river bank between Anchor Iron Wharf and the gunpowder magazine  By 1792 maps appended to deeds show Anchor Iron Wharf itself heavily built out into the river.  ‘Houses’ shown on the western side of the Quay include the Green Man public house, and ‘Green Man Yard’ is marked inland. Near the riverfront is a another – identified as ‘Thames Cottage’ and to the east of that sluices on the line of Pelton Road.   The area is shown by Morden College as being leased to ‘Millington’ – Crowley’s Manager and associate.  Further research in the Morden College archives might reveal more about the history and use of the quay before 1818.

In 1818 Morden College’s Surveyor, B.Biggs, undertook a survey and drew a plan of the Quay, which shows little more than a line of trees and some sluices. It was nevertheless the start of a great deal of work by Biggs on this area.  It was, however, not until 1829 that a proposal for ‘a new wharf and improvements’ was made  – this shows a ‘proposed new road’ and a ‘proposed terrace’ roughly on the line of the current houses.  It is however not until 1838 that another survey by Biggs shows the Union Tavern (now the Cutty Sark) marked and the distinctive line of the houses.

Julie Tadman’s ‘A Fisherman of Greenwich’ describes the subsequent history of the quay and the pier built there, as well as the fate of ‘Thames Cottage’ and the article by Mr. Linney the use of the Harbour Master’s House which replaced it.  The Union Tavern was renamed the ‘Cutty Sark’ in the early 1950s when the Cutty Sark Ship herself was berthed at Greenwich.

For detail please go to

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