Tunnel Avenue

Tunnel Avenue as part of East Greenwich – East Greenwich
Tunnel Avenue as a road on the Peninsula – Tunnel Avenue

Tunnel Avenue Depot (Greenwich Council)

Text of booklet about Met. Borough of Greenwich Cleansing Centre

Robson’s Firework Factory

Cuttings on the accidents at the Robson and Dyer Factory – contemporary cuttings from Kentish Mercury

Gunpowder, Inspection and Death – article by Mary Mills from ByGone Kent

United Lamp Black

East Greenwich Residents’ co – cutting from Kentish Mercury about puddings

British Oxygen

British Oxygen – brief note about the company

An explosion at a Greenwich Works – cutting from Kentish Mercury about an explosion at British Oxygen


Colliery street names – misc. correspondence

The following is a collection of letters and emails with reference to street names in the East Greenwich area

Dear Mary Mills.         Thank you for your letter of 18th September. The Pelton and Waldridge collieries were both adjacent to the line of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway; however I cannot at present confirm whether Derwent refers to the name of a colliery. R.G.Braddyll was the proprietor of South Hetton Colliery, which exported coal via Seaham Harbour from the 1830s via the South Hetton Waggonway. We too are interested in the associations between the Thames and Tyne & Wear so far as the seaborne coal trade is concerned; a particular line of research at the present time is to identify to what extent the term ‘Wallsend’ (sometimes ‘Wall’s End’) was used in the London area from the late 18th century onward to market the best household coal to individual customers. I shall be in touch with the Museum of London fairly soon, but I would be glad to learn of any other leads you can suggest which may be worth following up. DIRECTOR OF TYNE AND WEAR MUSEUMS: DAVID FLEMING OBE, MA, PHD, AMA, FRSA.



Northumberland  County Or Earl of?

Longstone.  Personal name: not a place name listed in my Ordnance Survey road atlas.

Newcastle  Place or Nobleman?

Thornley.  Colliery village between Durham and Peterlee. There’s another, much smaller, Thornley up in the Pennines near Tow Law, which puts it right on the edge of the Coalfield.

Whitworth.  Probably not a colliery name, at least not in the North-East. Whitworth the place, is in Greater Manchester, and so lies on the Lancashire Coalfield. By 1856 Coal from a colliery in that place (if one existed) would be reaching London by rail, However, I think that the name may refer to Sir Joseph Whitworth, an engineer and arms manufacturer from Manchester whose name would have been quite well known in the midst of the Crimean War as an inventor of a system of rifled artillery. Whitworth is remembered today as a pioneer manufacturer of machine tools and as the progenitor of the system of British Standard screw threads which bears his name.

Paddock.  A Paddock Colliery would not be unheard of, but I think you might well find that this name is of more local origin: did this street lead to a paddock, or was apaddock there before the street was built?

I hope these thoughts are of some use to you. They may help in pursuing future researches but because it is some ten years since I last did any serious work on the Coal Trade you should not take any of this as gospel. I think that if you want to try and tie down the coal trade references exactly you will have to make a trip to the North-Fast and dig in the archives up there. Unfortunately the mining archives are spread between three record offices, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Durham, and the holdings of the record offices do not match the geographical areas they claim to cover. The best holdings of mining records (are in the Northumberland Record Office, which now holds the extensive archive of the North East institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. This contains extensive collections of ‘Views technical reports on collieries, which are all invaluable source of information on colliery ownership. From the late ISSOs, 1857 I think, there are published reports of the Government Mines Inspectors, which list collieries by owner and also give an indication of whether they are working or not. These annual reports will be available in the British Library, if nowhere else in. London, and the Science Museum Library may hold some of them, too.


From Alan Vickers, December 2000
Subject: Types of coal sold on the London market between 1852 _ 59.
Hi – I have extracted all the types of coal which were sold on the London
market which I can find in my copies of the Illustrated London News between
1852 – 59.

Acorn Close.   Bate’s West Hartley.   Bell’s Primrose . Benson,  Braddyll’s HettonCaradoc  Cassop,  Eden,  Framwellgate,  Hartlepool,  Hartley’s,  Hasting’s Hartley, Haswell Gas,  Hedley,  Hetton,  Heugh Hall,  Hilton,  Holywell,  Johnson,  Kepier Grangem  Lawson,  Nixon’s Merthyr,  Northumberland,  North Percy Hartley,  Redheugh Main,  Russell’s Seaham,  Sidney’s Hartley,  South Hetton,  South Hartlepool,  Stewart’s,  Tanfield Moor,  Backhouse,  Bell,  Belmont,  Braddyll,  Buddle’s West Hartley,  Carr’s Hartley,  Cowpen Hartley,  Eden Main,  Gosforth, Hartlepoolm  Hetton,  Harton,  Haswell,  Hebburn,  Hervey,  Hetton Hartley Main,  Hilda, HIlton Hyons,  Hunwick,  Kelloe,  Lambton,  Lyons,  North Hartlepool,  Northumberland East, Pelton Main,  Riddell,  Russell’s Hetton,  Shincliffe,  Smith’s West Hartley,  South Durham,  South Kelloe,  Stewart’s Hartley,  Tanfield Moor Butes,  Tees,  Thornley,  Towneley, Trawell Gate, Victoria Steam
Ward’s West Hartley,  West Hartley,  West Kelloe,  West Tees,  Whitworth,  Tees Eden,  Thorpe,
Tramwellgate,  Tyne Main,  Walker’s Primrose,  West Hartlepool,  West Hetton,  West Lumley, Whitwell, Wylam

Pelton Colliery .Pelton, nr, Chester le Street.  6 miles [9 km] NNW of Durham. (Sheet 88) NZ253517, 54° 51′ 34″ N, 1° 36′ 20″ W,   1898 from Reid’s Handy Colliery Guide.  1928 from Reid’s Handy Colliery Guide. 1951 from the Guide to the Coalfields (Colliery Guardian)
1835. Feb 1965. Brow Pit,: (Sheet 88) NZ251521, opened: 1867
Busty Pit.  (Sheet 88) NZ251518.  Fan Pit, opened: 1867.  North Pit, opened: 1867
1835 – Messrs. KingsCote  & Co.   ???? – James Reid & Partners  ???? – Messrs. Swabey & Co.
???? – Messrs. W. C. Curteis & Co.  1869 – Lord Dunsoney & Partners  1901 – Owners of Pelton Colliery Ltd.  Output:  1929 – Mid Durham Coal Co. Ltd.  1947 – National Coal Board (N.C.B.)
1896 – Coal: Gas.  1902 – Coal: Gas, Steam.  1930 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Household.
1940 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Household. (215000 tons)  1947 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Household. (175000 tons)  1950 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Steam  1955 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Steam.
1960 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Steam. 1964 – Coal: Coking, Gas, Steam. Seams Worked: 1894 – Maudlin, Low Main, Hutton, Busty  1930 – Hutton, Towneley, Tilley, Busty  1940 – Hutton, Towneley, Tilley, Busty, Low Main, Shield Ro  1950 – Low Main, Hutton, Towneley, Tilley, Brockwell [inv: Ne  1955 – Shield Row, Low Main, Hutton, Brockwell, Tilley, Tow  1960 – Harvey, High Main, Tilley, Hutton, Five Quarter  1964 – High Main, Hutton, Harvey, Tilley, Bottom Brockwell  1857 – A boring was put down from the hill of the Busty  Colliery, proving the Brockwell and lower seams.  1867 – The North Pit, Pelton Colliery, sunk from the surf
Seam.  1893 – A boring was put down at Pelton Colliery below the Seam, proving the Brockwell Seam too thin to work. The pumping engine is a high pressure of 80 horse power. The winding engine is also a high pressure of about 40 horse power. The coals are transmitted by the Stanhope and Tyne Railway to the drops at South Shields, a distance of about 14 miles.

This colliery is situated about 2 miles west-south-west from Chester-le-Street It was commenced by Messrs. Kingscote and Co., but is now carried on by James Reed, Esq., and Partners, who have, since they came into possession, effected many valuable improvements in the concern. The ground was broken for the air-shaft on August 12, 1835. The depth of this shaft is 64 fathoms, and that of the working shaft 52 fathoms. The seam wrought is the Hutton, which is here from 4 feet 4 inches to 4 feet 6 inches thick. The winding engine is of 25 horse power, and the pumping engine 100; but it has not yet been found necessary to exert the whole power of the latter. The coals are transmitted by the Pontop and Shields (the Stanhope and Tyne) railway, a distance of about 13 miles to the staithes–at South Shields.


From Mike Syer Subject: Re: Chester le Street Collieries date 2000
I don’t know if any of this is useful. ‘Hope it is!

1843 Deacon There was a Deacon Drift at Eden Colliery, Leadgate. This was owned in 1844 by E. Richardson. Edward Richardson & Ptnrs of  Sunderland owned Sacriston Colliery from 1839 and also Charlaw Colliery (m. Sacriston) and Medomsley Colliery. , E. Richardson owned Eden Coliery, Leadgate in 1844, and possibly Derwent Colliery, Medomsley in the 1850s  . Lord Howden, Cargills, Horsington & Richardson owned Wingate Grange Colliery in 1843. I’ve no idea whether this is the same Richardson.
1843 Lambton.Obviously too many references to mention. I’ve had a quick flick through such information as I have about the Earl of Durham’s collieries  and found no obvious link (or coincidence!) other than geographical proximity with the others you enquired about.
1843 Lime Tree It’s probably total coincidence, but there are only six streets in the old part of today’s Waldridge. One is Lime Street and the others are  all named after trees: Oak, Poplar, Pine, Olive and Cedar. I’m not sure how old these terraces are – but they certainly are’t 160 years old. Early 20th  Century, probably.
1843 PeIton Pelton Colliery was owned by Jas. Reed [or Reid?] & Co.lPtms in 1843. There were other collieries in the Pelton area but I don’t have any  other relevant information about ownership etc. at that time.
1843 Standard ??
1843 Stanley I have no special references though there were a lot of pits in the Stanley area. It was James Joicey country,
1843 Waldridge You know a bit about Waldridge Colliery already! Geo. Sowerby & Partners leased Waldridge Colliery from Joliffe & Byron in the  1830s + 1840s.  Sowerby, Philipson & Co. owned Chester Moor Colliery, which was a mile or so away from Waldridge, in the 1880s. Messrs Sowerby & Fletcher  operated Burnhope Colliery, Lanchester till 1881.
1843 Wellington There was a Wellington Pit at Edmondsley Colliery, which is a mile or so from Waldridge. It’s owners in the 1850s were Samuel  Tyzack &Co.  There was also a Wellington Pit at Usworth Pit, Washington, which is four or five miles from Waldridge.
1845 Chester (Chester le Street) I have no special references though there were obviously a lot of pits in the area, including most ofthose mentioned  here.
1846 Derwent E. Richardson was the sinker of Derwent Colliery, Medomsley, between 1853 and 1856. Derwent Iron Co. was the operator.
1849 Durham Obviously too many references to mention.
1850 Kent??
1850 Marlborough ??
1850 Trinity}?
1851 Gibson T.C. Gibson owned Sacriston Colliery in1843. He may have obtained it from Mr. Richardson, or they may have been in partnership. Sorry,  I don’t know. I think TC Gibson & Ptnrs became the South Hetton Coal Co. who, apart from South Hetton Colliery, also owned Trimdon Grange and  Murton Collieries. Another of the partners in this company was Colonel Braddyl.
Gibson’s Pit at Newfield Colliery, near Willington, was sunk in 1841, when it was operated by John Robson and partners. I did wonder, in looking into  your enquiry, whether I had confused this Newfield with the one that is near Chester-le-Street (near Pelton). But John Robson’s links with the Willington  area are clear, including collieries at Hunwick and Byers Green, all in the 1840s. There may, of comse, have been more than one John Robson and the  same goes for many of the other links I am suggesting in this note.  In the 1840s there was also a Robson involved in Whitwell [Grange] Colliery and possibly at Bowburn – and I would love more information about them …
1852 Braddyl Braddyl, Walker, M. Foster, Green, Rawsthome, and partners owned South Hetton Colliery in 1843 and Col. Braddyl was one of the  partners in the South Hetton Coal Co.  Messrs Braddyll & Co. also then owned Dalden-(i.e. Dalton?)-le-Dale Colliery.
1852 Caradoc ??
1852 Northumberland A big area …
1853 Longstone ??
1853 Newcastle A big area …
1855 Thornley Apart from Thornley Colliery, the Thornley Coal Co. also owned Ludworth at 1860 and Cassop and possibly Cassop Moor in the 1840s.  Partners in this company included Messrs. Chaytor, T. Wood, Gully & Burrell.  I’m not sure whether R.D. (or R.P.) Philipson was a partner then. Nor do I know whether that Philipson was the one associated with Waldridge’s Sowerby
(or the Philipson involved in the Herton Coal Co.). But he did at one time in the 1850s own the Cassop collieries. And his manager in 1852 was one John  Robson.
1856 Whitworth Whitworth Park was owned in 1851 by Messrs Richard S. Johnson & T. Reay [et al.?].
1864 Paddock Paddock Myers Colliery was sunk near Evenwood Park in 1845. Another coincidence, perhaps, but Messrs. Charlton were one-time  owners of Even wood and Tees Hetton Colliery, at Evenwood. And there was a Martin Charlton’s Pit at Whitworth Park.


Letter from Brian Hilsdon   –  hilsdon letter0001

An altered Greenwich roadway

Kentish Mercury
24th March 1932
When a lane has lost its real or imaginary association with dog roses, honeysuckle or other of nature’s frivolities it rapidly sinks in the public’s estimation and must be renamed. The change from Marsh Lane to Tunnel Avenue and Riverway was reasonable but you could hardly call the old Marsh Lane picturesque it was in spite of its dirt and ditches for more interesting than the deadly dull roads, which have replaced it.
At the top, on the left, Robert Govan a Scot, kept a grocery and a baker’s shop and made money. On the right was the Ship and Billet with the horse trough. Below this stretched some small houses inhabited, I should think, entirely by Irish. This little colony probably came into existence soon after the terrible potato famine of 1846-7 when many thousands of starving peasants came to England. Our charwoman, Betsy Bowen, was one of these. The ten million grant by the Government did not go far.
I collected the rents of two small houses on the right of the lane Mrs. Sheehan was a saintly old Catholic revered by all the lane. When she died her coffin lay in the little back room for some days. A calico catafalque had been erected over the coffin and tiny white tape crosses pinned thereon.
An Eviction.
The tenant next door was not a saint. He didn’t keep clean or sober. That would not have made mattered in those days but he did not pay his rent which was serious. I had to put his furniture save the mark, into the lane. In the front room upstairs there was a wash handstand. A newspaper covered it. I took up the job bottomless and basin also bottomless. In a corner of the room there was a little altar. It was rather pathetic. The goods stood in the gutter untouched for about a fortnight when the Vestry bundle the rubbish into their yard. Now had this rubbish been in an English street it was house disappeared in a day. But it belonged to an evicted tenant and no one; boy or man, in Marsh Lane would meddle with it.
Mention of the Vestry reminds me that a certain vestryman stated at a meeting that ‘Marsh Lane wasn’t fit for Presbyterian to go down’. Evidently Congregationalists were more sturdy for old Mr. Davies who lived at the end of the lane opposite the causeway tramped once or twice each Sunday to Maze Hill Chapel. Mr. Davies was the uncle of Sir Walford Davies whose aunt died in Blackheath some years ago over 100 years of age.
The Davies house with the trees around formed a pleasant little oasis in the Marshes. A few trees still remain. Opposite the house is Bugsby’s Hole whether the river is very deep here I don’t know, but many years ago an old pilot friend of mine, rather more alcoholic than usual fell out of his boat and was drowned.
In the wall of the Pilot you may see a stone ‘Ceylon Place, New East Greenwich 1802’ The inhabitants of this fag end of Greenwich were mostly watermen and pilots when I first knew it and in bad winter weather it was isolated. On Saturday, greatly daring, the wives went to Greenwich market. On other days they were generally content to deal with Mr. Chaney who had a grocery shop just before you reached Mr. Davies’ house. Mr. Chaney not only attended to their physical wants but over the shop there was a room where he did his best to meet their spiritual needs. I have sampled his goods but not his sermons – I fee, sure they were equally good
Hard winters
As all know the land was then all market garden, but there were certain huts in which gunpowder or fireworks were made. Every now and then there was a ‘blow up’ and sometimes a death occurred. Worse however was the low fever some ill-natured people called it ‘starvation fever’ that generally killed a few in the winter. Winter was a dreadful time among the garden workers.

April 29th 1932

It is pleasant to find that our father, Mr. Davies, is still remember in Greenwich, though it seems strange that he should then have been thought old, as he was only 72 when he removed to Dulwich. But as he had tramped ‘the lane’ for over 40 years he certainly was ‘an old inhabitant’.
His house was an interesting old place. It was originally built by a Mr. Hughes as a pleasure house for his parties and dances. The hall was paved with large square of black and white marble and its ceiling was painted by Sir James Thornhill after the style of his work in the Painted Hall (the whole canvas of this ceiling came down bodily in the night during our residence there). The house was built on piles and under it were brick arched cellars perfectly dry like those under the College.
Mr. Hughes was apparently rather a reprobate for the story goes that on Sunday evenings he sat on the window sill of the upstairs ballroom dangling his legs outside and blowing a horn to disturb the service held in the Thames Church Mission ship, the swan, which was moored just opposite the jetty. Between the garden and river was the right of way footpath to Woolwich and watermen using the jetty and footpath would lean over the hawthorn hedge gazing at the primroses which covered the grassy bank inside and call to us children’ don’t you pick those Missy, they are the prettiest things we ever see’.
The field beyond were then meadows with cows and buttercups and several in a line with the back of Wheatleys farm were full of cowslips. They were separated by hedges of pink and white hawthorn and the larks sang over them all day long. The market gardens were then only on the upper part of the Marsh, really the lower, for toward the river the ground rose several feet so the pilot.doc and Ceylon Place were free from the damp and the consequent fevers which were prevalent nearer Greenwich. The ditches had willow trees here and there on their banks and being tidal were never stagnant.
A Working Man’s Institute
Mr. F. C. Hills, owner of the chemical works of which Mr. Davies was manager fitted up a large room over Mr. Chaney’s shop as a working men’s institute with a library and weekly and monthly papers and magazines and the service held there on Sunday evenings was conducted by various friend’s (Mr. Thomas Hodges a deacon of Maze Hill Chapel was a frequent and welcome ‘supply’). Fortnightly ‘Penny Readings’, concerts, lectures etc were given here for several winter seasons beginning about 1867. Among the speakers were George MacDonald, Mr. Hale White (then door keeper at the House of Commons, the father of ‘Mark Rutherford’) W.C. Bennetts, the poet, The Rev Benjamin Waugh, and others.
Miss Anna Williams, the well-known soprano, made her debut there (and soon afterwards sang before Queen Victoria, who presented her with a gold bracelet). To this concert a gentleman famed for his love or practical joking, undertook to conduct a party of Greenwich friends. He led them by cart tracks over garden ground and across several ditches, telling them it was the only sway. So they reached the concert very late, very hot and very muddy.
The custom was for performers or speakers and their friends to adjourn afterwards to our house for coffee and sandwiches (and talk) before facing the lane again. I do not remember any of these gatherings being prevented by bad weather. In later years the Thames Church Mission, the ‘Swan’ being removed, used the Institute room.
A Great Snowstorm
In the great snowstorm of January 1881 the lane was impassable until a gang of men had dug a road through, making snow walls of 6ft or so in height and as we walked up it, that afternoon one man shouted ‘make way mates, and let the beauties of the valley pass’.
Fogs were worse obstacles then wind, rain or mud. One night we were all caught in an extra dense one and called at Mr. Tindley’s (the oilshop in Trafalgar Road) for links or torches. His stock was already sold out but he gave us huge candles rolled in brown paper and carrying these and with our own ‘bulls eye’ lantern held low to show the grass edge of ditch we walked slowly in single file and at the long last reached home safely (with a good supply of tallow on our gloves!)
But for the greater part of the year the walk down the old lane was pleasant as well as interesting and at its end our beautiful home with its gardens and trees and the ever changing panorama of the river made ample compensation for the times of difficulty.

April 1932
More Recollections
No doubt, like many other old Greenwich residents I read in your last weeks issue with great interest the article by JEW under the headline, which with your permission I should like to amplify.
The baker he mentions, Robert Govan, I knew well. A somewhat portly man noted for his hot cross buns also for the very impressive gold chain he wore so tightly stretched across his figure that he used to boast no one could steal it. One day a ragged urchin entered his shop for a penny bun and asked Mr Govan to tuck it under the back of his coat as he feared the other boys outside would steal it. Mr Govan kindly leant over the counter to do this relaxing the strain on his watch chain which the boy deftly removed with the watch. To ask Mr. Govan the time was anathema for some time after this.
The members of the Irish colony mentioned by JEW were nearly on employed upon Messrs. Sheppard’s and Messsrs Roberts’ farms and market gardens, extending from the river to Westcombe Park, most of them suffered with rheumatism, ague and low fever. No doubt owing to the dampness of their dwellings and their working on the marshes. Wakes were frequent and kept up until h departed was perforce buried. My father who employed some hundred of these Irish asked one whose daughter had died some time back whether she had been buried yet to which he replied ‘Begorrah, no Surr, she’s as sweet as a nut yet’. At one wake I recall the calico catafalque caught fire, the house was burnt ands the corpse prematurely cremated.
Spratted Eels
With all their trials and vicissitudes the Irish were as usual a very humorous and cheery set. When sprats were in season an itinerant Irish vendor of this savoury fish used to perambulate Blackwall Lane calling out what sounded like ‘Spratted eels’. As a boy I could not understand what these piscatorial freaks could be but I discovered it was his method of calling his customers attention to his wares by shouting ‘Sprats, you devils’.
Mr. Davies who lived at the end of the lane was the manager of the factory adjoining his house in the riverbank and many times have I walked to Maze Hill Chapel with him, the Rev, Benjamin Waugh being the then pastor.
With regard to the huts in the marshes – these were used for manufacturing fireworks, not gunpowder and unfortunately explosions used to occur occasionally. Loss of life was however minimised as only one, or at most, two girls were employed in each hut, Mr. Dyer was the proprietor of this business and lived in a detached house opposite Napier Villas at East Greenwich, just at the rear of this house was Mr. Wheatley’s Farm. Mr. Wheatley owned the old service of horse busses running from Greenwich to London, these were superseded by the horse trams about 80 years ago.
With regard to JEW’s remarks about the administration of the land taken over by the London County Council although not always seeing eye to eye with that august body, it appears to me that it was very wise in preventing houses for the working classes being erected in the marshes which are water logged and far from being an ideal site for dwellings. I have in several cases that at high tides water rises to within two or three feet of the ground level which cannot be very sanitary

Return to Bugsby’s Hole some background

Bugsby’s Hole. letter to the press

5th January 1923

Bugsby’s Reach, about one-mile long runs from Blackwall to the beginning of Woolwich Reach. The bearing NNW ands SSE. There was and perhaps still is a spot on the river known as Bugsby’s Hole.
It seems probable that no one can now state with certainty how this reach and hole obtained their not very euphonious names, but there is an old tradition, which is interesting even if it cannot be strongly relied upon and in a book printed about hundred years ago. The legend runs:

There was a robber of that name who had a cabin there in the midst of a bed of osiers to which he used to retire after his depredations and it being apparently impervious Bugsby remained there for a length of time but being at lest discovered to escape the vengeance of the law he cast himself into the Thames. On exploring the haunt much treasure was found and the place was ever after called ‘Bugsby’s Hole’.

12th January 1923

Sir – In regard to the article in your last issue ‘Bugsby’s Hole’ by Mr. F.W.Nunn. As an old Bugsby’s Hole boy I have always been led to believe that Bugsby’s Hole took it name from the ‘Hole’ which was the best water in the reach for ships to anchor when unable to get to their discharging wharves through tide and weather. The hole is a little to the north of the landing causeway there or abreast of the Electric Works.
There are several reaches in the Thames with ‘holes’ Limehouse hole, Ropery hole – abreast of Messrs. Hollicks Cement works East Greenwich, Church Hole Erith, almost of Erith sweep, Erith reach and Aveley Hole just above Purfleet. All having the best water for anchorage of ships in those parts of the river about 70 years ago. I am sir: H.Kennard, 7 Milton Place Gravesend.
Kentish Mercury

Return to Bugsby’s Hole some background

Social Conditions on Greenwich Marsh by Barbara Ludlow

Social Conditions on Greenwich Marsh 1837-1901


THE AREA known geographically as “Greenwich Marsh” formed in the early nineteenth century the extreme north-eastern part of the parish of St. Alfege, Greenwich. The low-lying ground, encompassed by a great northward bend of the Thames and varying from sea-level to twenty-five feet, is composed of alluvium and is separated by a strip of sand and chalk (“The Thanet Beds”) from the higher ground immediately to the south (“The Blackheath Pebble Beds”) which at that date comprised the estates of Westcombe and Woodlands. When Victoria came to the throne neither these estates nor Greenwich Marsh had been much affected by the spread of London’s suburbs. The Lower Woolwich Road separated the two areas and it was from this highway that the four principal lanes led: Conduit Lane and Combe Farm Lane went south to form the boundaries of Westcombe Park and Woodlands; Marsh Lane and Horn Lane went north towards the river.

At the meeting point of Marsh Lane and Lower Woolwich Road there was a group of cottages and small houses built around the Ship and Billet Inn. This hamlet continued eastward along Lower Woolwich Road as far as Wick Cottage, almost opposite where Annandale School now stands, and apart from Westcombe Cottages on the south side of the main road just to the west of the present Halstow Road, there were no other houses along this road until Coombe Farm, which lay on the level ground below Woodlands.

A short distance down Marsh Lane was the Rope Walk, part of Enderby’s Rope Works and eastward. Marsh Lane continued into Ceylon Place which led to the river bank at the New Pier. Greenwich Marsh had not been drained sufficiently for extensive market gardening and much land was used as pasture and Conduit Lane is now Vanbrugh Hill, Marsh Lane is Blackwall Lane and Coombe Farm Lane is Westcombe Hill. Horn Lane retains its original name.

In 1837 the market gardens were centred at the drier south end of Marsh Lane and in the fields bordering Lower Woolwich Road; this belt of cultivation corresponded with the strip of sand and chalk running through the district. In 1843 the approximate amount of land used for market gardening was fifty- six acres and that of marsh meadow and pasture was about five- hundred and twenty-five acres, and it seems, by comparing the Tithe Map of 1843 with Morris’s map of 1834, that there had been practically no change in the use of land between these years. In the years after 1843 Greenwich Marsh and Westcombe Park gradually changed and fields and country estates were replaced by factories and housing estates. The subject of this paper is the changes on the Marsh, the movement and settlement of population and the growth of those amenities essential to a community if it is to thrive—employment and housing.


Eighteen Forty-one. The extent of Greenwich Marsh was approximately 630 acres and the number of persons living in the area in 1841 was 514. There were 107 houses on and around the edge of the Marsh and of these 69, in which lived 350 men, women and children, were at the junction of Marsh Lane and Lower Woolwich Road or along the road between that point and Wick Cottage.

To the north-east by the river bank a terrace of 17 cottages had been erected in Ceylon Place in 1801. Some are still in use today; they have two rooms on the ground floor and two on the upper floor and they appear to have been well constructed. At the southern or main-road end of Marsh Lane were five houses, and a short distance down the lane was a group of twelve cottages which had been built for the rope workers.

The only other houses on the Marsh were four at Enderby’s Wharf on the river bank to the west of the lane, one of which was the home of Charles Enderby himself. Roughly three-quarters of the inhabitants of the Marsh were of Kentish origin and a large percentage of this group had been born in Greenwich, Deptford or Woolwich. The birth-places of the non-Kentish people included various Home Counties and there were also twelve Irish and one Scotsman. It is interesting that in 1843 the few Irish lived, without exception, in Lower Woolwich Road or in Marsh Lane and after 1851 this corner of the Marsh was to grow into a fairly large Irish colony. George Adamson, the one Scotsman, was a rope-maker who lived in one of the cottages attached to the Enderby works. It thus appears that in 1841 Greenwich Marsh was populated in the main by people from the surrounding neighbourhood and that movement from great distances had not yet affected the area. The land still held predominance over the factory at this time and more men were employed in agriculture than in any other occupation. There were four market gardeners cultivating small to medium-sized holdings, the largest of which was owned by William Miles who had four labourers “living in,” as was not uncommon with this type of small-holding during the nineteenth century. Of the thirty-five men employed on the land two were cowmen and thirty-three were agricultural labourers. As market gardening had not yet become extensive on the Marsh it is possible that some of the garden labourers worked in the surrounding districts.

At Ceylon Place, the small road which led directly from the New Pier on the east of the Marsh lived a group of people who depended on the Thames for a livelihood. In 1841 this riverside community of seventeen houses and one inn, “The Pilot,” included among its inhabitants two fishermen, five watermen, two lightermen, a river pilot and a seaman. There were in addition nine watermen living in various other places on Greenwich Marsh.

It is probable that even as early as 1841 the fishermen could no longer work off-shore at Greenwich but had to go down river in order to avoid pollution caused by sewers, estimated in the middle of the century as numbering 369 between Putney and Blackwall, all of which emptied their filth into the Thames.

Other occupations found on the Marsh in 1841 were typical of many communities and included a chair maker, a tailor, a baker, a butcher and a general chandler. Not so usual, however, was the one salesman—a person associated more with the twentieth than with the mid-nineteenth century.

Only a very few of the women were other than housewives and those who earned money followed the usual types of occupation available to working-class women at that time: in Lower Woolwich Road, where all the working women lived, were two laundresses, a charwoman and a stay-maker.

It is significant that in 1841 factory workers, although few in number, already lived on Greenwich Marsh and it appears that they did not travel out of the area to work but found employment in the few factories near their homes. The industrial workers numbered twenty-five, of whom nine were rope-makers living in cottages attached to the Enderby works. This firm also employed canvas weavers, three of whom lived in Lower Woolwich Road; these men worked mechanically-operated looms which were used in the manufacture of sail-cloth. Of the other factory workers nine were engineers—a term applied rather loosely in the nineteenth century—three were chemical factory labourers (Francis Hills had a chemical works by Bugsby’s Hole), and one a foundry worker. The coke, lime and coal works of Coles Child at River Bank on the west side of the Marsh employed six men from Lower Woolwich Road, three as lime burners, and three as coke burners—one of the former and all of the latter being of Irish extraction.

Greenwich Marsh in 1841 was very much a working-class community where most of the men were doing unskilled work, some on the land, some on the river and a few in the factories. The artisans and craftsmen had not yet arrived and the Marsh had never been a suburb from which the middle-class had moved as the workers came. The communities on the Marsh had none of the roots of an old village; it was a place to which families moved as work and houses became available.

Eighteen Fifty-one. After 1841 agriculture and industry began to expand and by 1851 the population of Greenwich Marsh had increased to approximately 820. The number of houses had risen to some 178 and growth had concentrated at the corner of Marsh Lane and Lower Woolwich Road where by 1847 a new road, Hatcliffe Street North had been created. This street, under construction as early as 1843, was built on land owned by the Hatcliffe Charity where previously there had been only cottages and gardens for several poor people.

Two new housing sites had been established on the Marsh by 1851 near to recently built factories. The larger was a group of cottages, ten in number, erected in the lane leading to a cement works at Portland Wharf on the west side. The land on which they were built being owned by Morden College, its name was given to both the lane and the cottages. Close to Bethell’s chemical factory, which was further north near to Blackwall Point, two small houses known as Bethell’s Cottages had been built and these and Morden Cottages were the first homes to be constructed on Greenwich Marsh close to the factories.

This unfortunate practice of mixing housing and industry was one of the causes of the bad living conditions which were to prevail, in the area in later years. The Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes was founded in1844 with Prince Albert as its President and its architect. Henry Roberts drew up designs for housing industrial and rural workers. It is probable that many of the dwellings built on the Marsh just before, and certainly after, 1851 were influenced by his plans for his recommendations were the basis of nearly all the later developments in housing during the nineteenth century.

Of the new-comers to the area most had been drawn from Kent while a smaller number had come in from Middlesex, Essex and Surrey. Probably advertisements concerning employment on the Marsh did not appear till after 1851 when industrial growth gathered momentum; this would explain why few people came into the district from the more distant counties. Although many Irish immigrants had settled in Deptford and Greenwich by 1851 very few of them had moved to Greenwich with the result of a small Irish population there.

Market gardeners on the Marsh did not employ many agricultural labourers until just before 1851 when Coombe Farm was developed as a large garden. At that time the factories in the area were still few and the local people needed the garden work. It is possible that it was not until later that many of the local agricultural worker left the land to go into the new factories in order to earn more money and that the Irishmen, who were used to working on the land and willing to take the lower paid occupations, were to find employment in the market gardens. Because of the increased cultivation the number of people who lived and worked on the Marsh had gone by 1851. Such developments enabled many displaced farm workers from the Home Counties to live and work in surroundings which were not too unlike their old homes.

By the middle of the nineteenth century it had become more difficult for watermen to earn a living on London’s river. Not only did the steamship take away their customers but it also made boating on the Thames hazardous. There were certainly fewer water- men living on the Marsh in 1851 than there had been ten years previously but, although men not connected with the rive/had come to live in Ceylon Place, it still had its nucleus of fishermen and other river folk.

Among the Marsh population the industrial worker was still not a dominant factor but there had been a slight increase in the number of factory workers; the engineers had been joined by two boilermakers, a pipe maker and a millwright. The number of skilled men to be found in industry during the first half of the nineteenth century was relatively small, however, and the largest single group of industrial workers on the Marsh in 1851 was still the factory labourers.

The environment of the new population was not very different from that of their former homes. Unlike many who had moved into the Metropolis or into the industrial towns of northern England, these country-bred people could still live and work in natural surroundings? However, between 1851 and 1861 another sixty-nine houses were erected on the Marsh, practically all of them around the factories on either side of Marsh Lane and Blackwall Lane. The number of houses in Marsh Lane itself increased to thirty-seven with another eighteen in Lower Marsh Lane. Bethell’s had built six more cottages and four new streets had been laid out—York Place, Providence Place, Sidmouth Place and East Place and between them they contained thirty-four new dwellings.


Eighteen Sixty-one. The Marsh population had by 1861 reached approximately 1,020 and although this was still a comparatively small number for the size of the district, the composition and occupations of the community were quite different from those of twenty years earlier. Easier travelling conditions, as well as the expansion of industry and housing, had brought people to the Marsh from counties far away from London and in 1861 the number of new families from the west and north of England almost equalled the number that had arrived from the areas round London.

The English migrants, however, accounted for only one half of the increase in the population for by 1861 one-hundred and eighty-seven persons of Irish origin were living on Greenwich Marsh. They were not spread over the whole area but lived almost without exception in Marsh Lane, Hatcliffe Street and Lower Woolwich Road, forming an Irish colony at the south-west corner. Many of these people had not come straight from Ireland to Greenwich for a large number of their children had been born in England. Many had been born in Greenwich and the proportion between seven and nine years of age indicated that these Irish families were not altogether strangers to the area.

As with other Irish immigrants the men who came to the Marsh formed a pool of unskilled labour and in 1861 most of them were absorbed on the market gardens or in the factories, the majority in the former occupation to which they were accustomed. By the nature of their work there were times when unemployment was inevitable and no doubt many were very poor. It was said that in 1863 there were a large number of Irish catholic inmates each week in the Union workhouse in Lower Woolwich Road, though these would not have come from the Marsh alone as the workhouse served Woolwich, Deptford and Greenwich.

In 1861 the Marsh itself had not lost its rural aspect but the occupations of a large number of men who lived there were connected with industry and building rather than with agriculture. The number of agricultural workers did increase very slightly between 1851 and 1861 but the upsurge in factory and building workers and in general labourers left the garden labourers in the minority. The decline of the Thames boatman was carried into the 1860’s and by 1861 only two watermen remained among the population on Greenwich Marsh. The fishermen had not disappeared completely—one still lived by the river at Ceylon Place and another in Hatcliffe Street. While the watermen and boat-builders of earlier centuries had practically gone, the river workers of the industrial era had arrived: boilermakers and dock-labourers began to make their appearance. The number of engineers had increased and individual tradesmen such as a lathe operator, a gas fitter, a hammer-man and a well-sinker had settled on the Marsh. There were more factory labourers still than skilled men. The increase in building construction is reflected in the number of bricklayers, painters and plumbers who were living in groups around the factory sites. These men, numbering about thirty, were probably employed on the construction of factories and of houses for the factory workers. However, general labourers were the largest single group of workers: possibly many of them had left market gardening for the higher paid jobs of trench-digging and excavating.

A number of shops had opened by 1861 and, apart from one butchers, they fell into the categories of grocer or greengrocer. No separate bakery seems to have existed but one of the grocers also sold bread. Perhaps many of the women still baked their own! A grocer and tea-dealer lived in Sidmouth Place but, due to its relatively high price, the amount of tea sold to the lower- paid workers was probably small. Beer, table ale and porter appeared in most household budgets around the middle of the century and the four inns and two beer-houses on the Marsh helped to provide the population with their traditional drink.

The years between 1851 and 1861 brought changes to the marsh community. In 1851 the inhabitants had for neighbours people who lived much in the same way as themselves but by 1861 immigrants from Ireland had introduced a standard of living often lower than that of the Englishman. The other important change was that older crafts were being replaced by occupations demanding technical ability.

In the 1851 census the buildings in Lower Woolwich Road were not shown with individual names but in 1861 various groups were called Hatcliffe Buildings, Talbot Buildings, another Providence Place—which must have proved confusing at times—Bassett’s Place and Brewster’s Buildings. A Hatcliffe Street East was also under construction in 1861 with only one house occupied at that time. The average number of people living in one unit of housing in 1841-1851 was between four and five and, even if the majority of dwellings had only two bedrooms, overcrowding does not seem to have been a problem during those years. Also, housing development seems to have kept pace with the new settlers as in 1851 no temporary housing for squatters is recorded on Greenwich Marsh. However, in 1861 Hatcliffe Street, Marsh Lane and Lower Woolwich Road, streets in which nearly all the Irish immigrants had settled, had an average of between six and eight persons in a house and lodgers were much more common than in earlier years. Perhaps accommodation was more difficult to acquire as one man and wife lived in a van by the river and two agricultural labourers. One from Hertfordshire and one from Middlesex, were to be found in a hut near Bethell’s chemical factory. As the main drainage system was not laid until 1863 the sanitary provisions on the Marsh must have been very inadequate in 1861.

Eighteen Seventy-five. Between 1861 and 1875 the Marsh population increased to about 1,875, the main settlement area during these years being on land near Blackwall Point. A compact housing estate was built in 1866 by the Blakeley Ordnance Company at the north end of Blackwall Lane. The company provided four-storey buildings for their workers, cottages for the foremen and houses for several managers. By 1875 an area south of Blakeley Buildings had been developed, not however by the Ordnance Company, and Wheaton Street, Ordnance Road and various “terraces” and “places” in Blackwall Lane had come into being. As time passed more Irish people arrived in Marsh Lane and in 1875 families called Murphy, Mahoney, Sheen, Hassett, Breen, Donovan, Sullivan, Riley, Gooney, Hurley, Hennessey, McGuire, McCarthy, Ryle, Moriarty and Gollogly lived practically next door to each other.

Eighteen Eighty—Eighteen Ninety-eight. The population seems to have remained roughly the same from 1875 until after 1880 when a new housing estate was built immediately north of Lower Woolwich Road. Hitherto this area had not been built upon but gradually streets leading out of the main road were constructed and between 1879 and 1898 houses for many thousands of people were erected. In 1880 the first houses were completed in Armitage Road, Collerston Road, Denford Street, Glenister Road and Selcroft Road—all new streets on the Hatcliffe estate. With these four streets added to the original group by 1898 this southern part of Greenwich Marsh became thickly populated. Many of the people who came to live there were from the older and over- crowded districts of Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich. By 1880 there were five public houses in the northern area of Greenwich Marsh: the Sea Witch Inn on the river bank to the west and The Mechanic’s Arms, The Star in the East, the Ordnance Arms and The Kenilworth Castle, all in Blackwall Lane. Market gardening was by now on the decline, much of the cultivated land having been taken for building, and the number of men employed on the land had decreased. Most of the men worked in the factories on the Marsh and in surrounding districts, or as general labourers. By 1891 when nearly all the nineteenth-century house building on the Marsh had been completed the population numbered approximately 7,300. Between 1890 and 1892 Teddington, Margaret, Spencer and Cromwell Terraces in Blackwall Lane, with the Ordnance Arms and the Kenilworth Castle public houses had to be demolished to make way for the Blackwall Tunnel approach road. In 1890 Marsh Lane was renamed Blackwall Lane and in 1897 the original Blackwall Lane became Tunnel Avenue and Dreadnought Street. By 1892 four more streets—Grenfell Street, Boord Street (named after Thomas Boord, M.P. for Greenwich from 1875 to 1880), Idenden Terrace and Sigismund Street had been constructed in this northern area of the Marsh. The pattern established by 1841 of working-class people settling in the district continued all through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth and by 1901 the population was about 8,600. After the opening of the Blackwall Tunnel in 1897 poor people displaced from Poplar came to live on Greenwich Marsh with the result that rents rose as accommodation became very difficult to find. By the end of the century the rent of a six-roomed house was about ten shillings and sixpence a week; lodgers paid between three shillings and five shillings and sixpence for one room. The railway between Greenwich and Charlton, completed in 1878, acted as a dividing line between the wealthy and middle-class families of Westcombe Park and the working-class families to the north. Many of the servants who worked in the houses of the former were drawn from the Marsh people. The day started early in the factories with the men arriving at about 6 a.m. Later, wives or children would often carry the mid-day meal in “dinner bundles” to the gates. By the end of the century there was comparatively little left on Greenwich Marsh to remind the people that it had once been a large expanse of meadow and pasture land. Much of the river-front had been taken up by factories and various unpleasant smells filled the air. However, some open space did remain and a market garden owned jointly by the Mason brothers was still in existence between the southern end of Tunnel Avenue and the Thames. The people of the Marsh could still walk in the countryside at Charlton and Kidbrooke but they were an industrial community living in overcrowded streets.


The Artisans and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 gave the Metropolitan Board of Works power to force owners of insanitary property to improve their houses; at the same time the Act ensured that all future buildings had at least an adequate water supply and sanitation. From 1875 until it ceased to exist the Greenwich Division of the Board of Works issued many notices to the owners of houses on Greenwich Marsh “to provide a fit and proper water supply and water pipes, cisterns and apparatus to water closets.” Orders for the cleansing, lime washing and purifying of houses were also frequent and one householder in Glenister Road in 1889 was served with a notice to “abate the nuisance of keeping a horse on the premises.” Houses which proved to be beyond repair and those which were in the way of redevelopment schemes were demolished. Many of the houses built on Greenwich Marsh, especially those in the Lower Woolwich Road area, were of poor construction and unattractive design; these rows of terrace houses with no front gardens to relieve the monotony of bricks and mortar, were also liable to be flooded if there were a heavy rain- storm. Overcrowding certainly existed on the Marsh in the latter years of the nineteenth century, larger families being one of the causes. However, C. Hartt, Medical Officer of Health in Greenwich from 1883 to 1900, expressed the opinion that much of the lack of housing was caused by the large numbers of artisans and labourers who had come into Greenwich through Blackwall Tunnel after its opening in 1897 but C. Booth in his “Life and Labour of the London Poor” was more inclined to blame the bad conditions on the unsatisfactory character of the houses and the evils of a low marshy situation which he supposed it would be the work of years to redeem.

The above paper, which formed the basis of a lecture given by Mrs. Ludlow to members of the Society in November 1965, derives from a study which she carried out of the Census reports for East Greenwich for 1841, 1851 and 1861, the East Greenwich rate books for 1837 to 1900 and the Board of Works Greenwich Committee minute books 1857 to 1900. Other sources which the author wishes to acknowledge are the Schedule of Tithes of the Parish of Greenwich 1843, W. Morris’s Map of the Parish of Greenwich 1834 and Bags haw’s Directory of Kent 1837. The paper forms a natural sequel to that by W. V. Bartlett on the industrial development of Greenwich Marsh published in “Transactions” 1966.

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Who was Bugsby??

Who Was Bugsby?

E.W.Green From Port of London. April 1948

WHEN I find that the antiquarians of London’s River have failed to find Mr. Bugsby I am encouraged to expound my views on the origin of the name “Bugsby.” It might be conjectured that Mr. Bugsby should be sought for in the title deeds of the landowners of the district still called in Bartholomew’s Atlas of London “Bugsby Marshes, Greenwich, S.E.10.”  That is where the name originated. But I do not think they will find Mr. Bugsby there.

I once asked the late A. G. Linney who Bugsby was, and he gave me the seemingly obvious answer that he was a man, but I do not think he was right. I see that on p. 62 of “The Lure and Lore of London’s River “he suggests that he was a market gardener. I do not think that is right, either.” His marsh would be the poorest place for market gardening, and it is not shown as such on any map.

But let us get back to ancient history. I give a table of the names of the reaches in 1588 set against those of the present day. You will notice that several reaches have changed their names and Bugsby’s was then Podd’s Elmes. Podd’s Elms were a group of trees to the west of Woolwich; as they must have been well grown in 1588 they could not have lasted much longer, and it is unlikely that they survived the great storm of 1703.

I wonder if people in the 18th century used to ask ‘Who was Mr. Podd and where are his podds elms etcelms? “Now Bugsby’s Marshes is the land to the south of Blackwall Point where executed criminals were formerly hung in chains. I am going to suggest that this marsh was once called “Bugs Marsh.” This is a pure guess on my part but might be confirmed by more extensive records than I possess. This word ” bug ” is a good British (ancient Welsh) word and, therefore, a word of the common people; it is used by Shakespeare two or three times—even by a queen in one of his plays. It meant “spook”. It is the origin of “bogey” and “boggart” and is still preserved in the compound “bugbear.” Coverdale uses it in his Bible Psalm XCI-5 “eny bugge by night,” where the authorised version has “the terror by night.” The funny old litany ” From all ghostliest and bogles and things that go whoof in the night, Good Lord deliver us,” may be a forgery, but its sentiment is very real. The bogle is a diminutive of our “bug.”

The common people of the 16th century lived in a holy terror of bugs, i.e., spooks, and where were they more likely to meet them than on that bleak marsh fringed around with corpses on Blackwall Point? Therefore, I think they called it “Bugs Marsh,” but they were illiterate and were unable to write it. In the 17th century a new bug made its  appearance. It originally meant beetle, and still exists with that meaning m the compound maybug, cockchafer. It had quite a different origin than the bug meaning spook; it is generally supposed to be derived from an Anglo-Saxon word. It was used by entomologists for various insects and their larva, and nearly found its Waterloo when it was adopted as a euphemism for louse. It was banned by polite society, but those being less so continued.

In the early years of the 19th century people, other than the sailor folk and the tough fellows going to the Colonies to seek their fortune were using the lower reaches. There were ladies going to join their husbands in India and many were going only as far as the Kent Coast to spend a summer holiday.  These people would naturally be interested in the history and names of places they passed on their journey. As proof of this we have guide books and a panorama that were published at the time. I have a small sketch of Blackwall Point published in one of these guide books in 1831. The corpses have gone, but not very long since; for the gibbets are still there- and they would not last long in that sodden ground. The gibbets would naturally excite the Interest of these passengers. The map-makers were the first to realise that they could not call the marsh ‘Bugs Marsh’ so they made it into a surname by adding “by”. There are plenty of surnames which end in “by” many of them originally nicknames. I used to think that Mrs Humby, who challenged Theodore Hook to find a rhyme to her name and lost her bet, was an invention, but I found three “Humbys” in the directory. Saxby is a genuine place name. “By” was a Scandinavian farm. There are plenty of English ‘bys’ – Darby, Nobby, Libby, Bugby – all these from the directory, and many more. So why not Bugsby?  Bugsby’s Marsh first appears on any map I have from 1822. In the guide book of 1831 previously mentioned it makes its first appearance on the River as Bugsby’s Hole. Linney seems to think that Bugsby’s Hole and Bugsby’s Reach were two  different things; but they were not – thev were the same. Bugsby’s Reach does not appear before 1815.  Raife Walker’s Map of 1796 makes the reach an extension of Woolwich Reach and: several other undated maps do the same. But why Hole? I have done my full share of guessing. I leave this riddle to someone else.


IN 1558                                             PRESENT DAY

The poole                                            The Pool

Ratcliffe Reache                                 Lower Pool

Limehouse Reache                            Limehouse Reach

Greenwich Reache                             Greenwich Reach

Blackwall Reache                                Blackwall Reach

Cockpull Reache

(Cockpull Reache is only the very short stretch of the River past Blackwall Point).

Podd’s Elmes Reache                           Bugsbys Reach

Woolwich Reache                                Woolwich Reach

Gallion Reache                                      Gallions Reach

Tripcott Reache                                    Barking Reach

Cross Nesse Reache                             Halfway Reach

Erithe Reache                                        Erith Reach

Erith Rands

Longe Reache                                          Long Reach

St. Clement Reache                               St. Clement Reach

Northfeete Hope                                   Northfleet Hope

Gravesend Reache                                Gravesend Reach

Tilbury Hope                                          Lower Hope

Sea Reach

• From the map of ihe Thames by Robert Adams, 1588

Return to Bugsby’s Hole some background

Letter from Pat O’Driscoll (includes description of the yard)

Forest Hill,

London, SE25  5TF.


Dear Mary,

On Monday I went down to Greenwich and walked along the river bank (I refuse to call it Mudlarks Way – ridiculous name) end took photos before Greenwich Council makes any more changes.  I took Redpath’s Jetty, a container ship passing, the Amasco Jetty, the edge of Pear Tree Wharf and the flagstaff and weather vane still remaining from when the Greenwich Yacht Club had its buildings there.  The I returned to River Way and took a photo of the Pilot and the row of cottages (now all boarded-up) but there were lots of cars there so  I fear it isn’t a good picture.  The pub still busy.  At Redpath’s several men were  making heavy weather of moving an old Cory lighter into the corner by the downstream side of the jetty.  The wind was ‘on’ but they were having a lot of difficulty pulling the craft in, so I suspected an off mooring still secured.  As usual, nobody around who knew the past of the area.  While waiting to cross Blackwall Lane on my way to the ‘bus stop I got into conversation with a middle-aged man who had just parked a small truck.  He came from the other side of the river and he said ‘do you know the woman  bushes in the bushes?’  Apparently there is a woman living rough in the waste ground just off Blackwall Lane.  He said he had seen her once.  This is the first I’ve heard, of it so I thought I’d ask you if you had heard of her, whoever she is.  while sitting on a seat near where Norton’s used to be I was looking downstream through the Barrier and saw a sailing barge alongside, just through the Barrier think she must be on Sargent’s.  Have you heard of a sailing barge there?  have yet to discover how you get at Sargent’s now that they have moved to jus below the Barrier.  There must be a way onto the river bank there but so far have not been able to find it.

I  had also heard of a pirate in connection with Bugsby’s Hole.  Bugsby is rather a mystery.  In the April 1988 issue of “P.L.A. Monthly” it says that the name  Bugsby is first seen on a map of 1822.  In an 1851 Guide, Bugsby’s Hole is listed, but Bugsby’s Reach not seen on pap until 1845. One reason why the Hole was occupied by colliers was because they could ‘ at anchor  float there, awaiting a discharging berth further upstream.  In the 19th century the river was so silted-up for lack of dredging that ships above a certain size could only move a couple of hours before High Water, so they had to come up-river in stages.  The City Corporation had jurisdiction over the river then and neglected dredging, which is why the Thames Conservancy was established  in 1856-7, so that such things were actually done and not just talked about.  City had representation on this body, together with the Board of Trade and Trinity House and (I think) the Admiralty.  The P.L.A. took over the river below Teddington from the TG in 10^8.  After 1856-7 the Lord Mayor’s Show no longer had par its procession on the Thames and the City Barge and similar barges belonging other livery companies which had taken part in the water procession were dropped, but watermen did have a part in the land procession so that the rive: link was not entirely broken.  More information available if needed.

Norton always had a barge up on the blocks and often there would be a trading barge lying off the yard in Bugsby’s Hole, so that the yard became a favourite haunt of enthusiasts who would come down to the old shed, built against Redpath’s wall, just to talk barges. The origin of Bugsby’s Hole is said to lie in a pirate of that name who was executed here in the 18th century.

I used to visit Norton’s yard often, either to chat with him and his Workmen or to take photographs of the craft. Like myself Mr Norton had been a member of the Surrey Athletic Club – in his time he was a noted athlete – so we were able to speak on common ground. He told me that his father and uncles first started the barge repair yard on this site, and that they had later built barges also: the ‘Scout’, ‘Scud’, and Serb.

I have drunk many a mug of stewed tea in the tumbledown shed-cum-office-cum-workshop where the key was always hung up on the outside! He kept a number of old photographs of himself in his running gear and other photos of launchings etc.,’ but he would never permit them to be re-photographed.

In the shed there were bins containing small pieces of ironwork – bolts, spikes and rings – and of course trunnels (treenails). Mr Norton still had his original ‘trunnel plate’ which he had used since he was a boy for making these oak pegs. He told me what he had earned banging oak sticks through to make the wooden’ nails – it was not very much per 100 nails! Blocks, leeboard hangings, chain by the fathom, iron round rod and square rod, some chaff cutter wheels in fact a good supply of items for barge repair work hunt from the walls and besides all this was his workshop tools and forge, complete with anvils and masses of tools propped up against the quenching bath and of course his wood working section which included all manner of tools – common, uncommon and peculiar to this local trade.

The shed was a wonderful little place full of atmosphere with walls which were hung with old sails to keep out the weather. Most of his bits and pieces had some story attached to them and yet Mr. Norton and old Fred seemed to know exactly where each piece had come from.

Outside the shed by the bankside lay the remains of the sailing barges ‘Royal George’ which was cut down in the River and beached and ‘Iverna‘ the Sandwich coaster, pieces of old leeboards Masts heaps of old chain, anchors and so forth. Latterly skippers used to take their barges onto the blocks and do their own minor repairs. I took some photographs of Captain Harold Smy and ‘Beatrice Maud’ here about 14 years ago. Horlicks auxiliary barge ‘Repertor’ was lying off the yard at the time.Finally in the last few years when trading barges were few and far between Norton just used to walk down more from habit than need, I think. and open the shed up

All for now,



Return to Riverway


Return to Bugsby’s Hole some background

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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