The Explosion

engine

THE EXPLOSION

 In 1803 a dramatic and famous explosion tore apart a steam engine designed by Richard Trevithick. In 1993 the site in East Greenwich is a heap of rubble. What has happened there since then? What does that rubble represent? Sadly, that accident was to be the first of many on site.

Today’s Riverway in East Greenwich can be seen on the Roque Map as Marsh Lane, winding down through the marshy fields and fens towards the Thames on the east side of the Greenwich Marsh peninsula.  Around 1800 someone decided to develop the area. That someone was probably George Russell, the site’s owner, in 1801 there was a brickfield on site, indicating that building was going on, by 1805 Ceylon Place was built and one person in residence

A plaque on the contemporary public house, The Pilot, says ‘New East Greenwich.  and that may have been what Russell intended to build.  The Pilot itself was described in 1898 as ‘a good old fashioned full licensed inn’ with a ‘spacious’ bar not a description which those who remember the Pilot before its recent extensions would endorse.

Whoever built New East Greenwich intended it to be an industrial complex. Ceylon Place was built to house workers at a big tide mill.  One day in 1802 or 1803 Olinthus Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich walked down the riverside from Woolwich and talked to the site foreman about the mill, which was being built. Gregory discovered that the mill was being built by John Lloyd of brewers Green Westminster.

John Lloyd had a millwright business in Westminster and represents an interesting interface at the point at which water power was being replaced by steam.  Within two years LLoyd had moved to Nelson Square in Southwark where he was to enter a partnership as Lloyd and Ostell. The company worked on important contracts; Lloyd and Ostells were to install the equipment at Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Works. He also undertook commissions under Simon Goodrich

The work at East Greenwich was being supervised by W. Dryden, who worked for Lloyd. Gregory described the mill which was parallel to the river and forty feet wide. There was a forty-foot waterway from the river to the mill’s sluice gates.  In a plan of 1898 there is a large river inlet in front of the mill described as a ‘layby’ which is slightly offset on the downriver side.

Through this waterway the tide filled a 4 acre reservoir. The 11ft diameter water wheel was also parallel to the river, and had 32 float boards in a special arrangement in its quarters. This was intended to give a smooth motion. The wheel was in the middle of the waterway and the tide flowed into the reservoir on either side of it. When the tide was its highest the water was run out of the reservoir back into the river turning the wheel and running it in an opposite direction to when the tide was coming in.  Gregory’s drawings illustrate the process and he included a detailed description of the wheel and some of the internal workings of the mill.

It is to be regretted that eels congregated under the mill. On Thursday 8th September 1803 the apprentice, left to look after the high pressure steam engine on site, went to catch them ‘impatient to finish the work he had put a piece of timber between the top and the safety value and bent it down so that it could not rise to allow the steam to escape’. The boiler blew up killing three men on site, but not the boy. At the remote scene of the accident a wherry was called and the injured taken by river to St. Thomas’s Hospital, then in the Borough. Thomas Nailor died a few days later, his head and neck had been covered in boiling water. Another man was deafened by the blast

Boulton and Watt were quick to point out the inadequacies in Trevithick’s engines occasioned by this explosion and customers ‘would not patronise high pressure engines.. from apprehensions that the boiler might explode as that at Woolwich had done’ although fourteen years later John Taylor, also an engine builder, was quick to say that the explosion was caused by the safety catch.

Years went by, the East Greenwich mill ground corn and remained in the ownership of George Russell.  In the 1830s the miller was Thomas Patrick and the area is supposed to have been known as ‘Patrick’s Mill’

Around 1835 a house was built on the site occupied until recently by Tideway Yacht Club. The house is said to have been built to use for parties by a Mr. Hughes (or Hewes) It was called East Lodge and had seven bedrooms together with what appears to be a bow windowed frontage facing the river.  It appears to have been set back near the entrance to today’s yacht club. It is reputed to have had a ceiling painted by Sir James Thornhill (he died in 1734!) but painted on canvas rather than on the ceiling itself.

1840 owned by William Miles and by 1842 the mill was owned by ‘Sir W.Towner’

At some point in the 1840s the site was bought by Frank Hills. 1847 it was part of Franks Hill marriage settlement. Frank Hills was an industrial chemist currently manufacturing a wide range of chemicals from the Deptford Chemical Works then in Copperas Street. He had acquired that site in 183? from a German chemist, Beneke. Thomas Hills, either his father or brother, had previously manufactured chemicals at the Bromley by Bow Steam mill.  A letter in the possession of Mr. Humpheries dated 1815 and written by an infant, Frank, refers to ‘Brother Thomas’ at ‘Bromley Steam Mills’.

The history of gas purification is a long a complicated one. Sufficient to say that oxide purification had become the ruling method of cleaning gas in the London gas works and that Frank Hills held the patents. After the gas has been purified using the oxide process, and the purifying mixture ‘revivified’ a number of times a large sulphur rich residue remains which can be recovered by a chemist to make sulphuric acid. It was no doubt with this in mind that Frank bought the old mill and set up chemical manufacture on the adjacent site.  Its seems very likely that corn continued to be ground there as the stones were still in situ in 1898.

Soon after Frank Hills bought the site more men were killed in an accident on the site.  In 1846 Francis Levers, Thomas Darby and Richard Middleton were suffocated by the fumes of ‘sulphuretted hydrogen’ while cleaning out a giant mixing bowl. Hills installed a manager in the works, Thomas Davies who lived with his family in East Lodge

mill ms contents0001

At some time during Hills occupancy an artesian well was dug under the mill site. Equipment in the mill included a 25 hp steam engine described as having two oscillating cylinders, an 18ft 6in fly wheel.  This engine was by Joyce of Greenwich. Other machinery included a two 30 ft long steam boilers going to a chimney, elevators with strap and buckets, separators, seven pairs of stones as well as an ‘Archimedean screw’ and a bone crusher.

In 1870 the site was visited by an inspector of industrial pollution, Edward Ballard. He described the manufacture of manure there since 1856 where previously nitric, tartaric and oxalic acid had been made.  Manure was made from shoddy, waste leather, dry bones, bone ash and the refuse from sugar bakers.  Although Ballard said that the smell from the works was not too bad he nevertheless asked Mr. Pink the local Medical officer of health, to look at the works and see what could be done.

More cottages were built in a terrace, now demolished, called River Terrace.  These were built by Frank Hills for workers at the site at some in the late 1840s. This comprised a shop occupied by ‘Thames Church Mission; in the 1898 they were on the whole larger than Ceylon Terrace.

The Mission was also used as a Working’ Men’s Institute said to have been fitted up by Frank Hills. A poster advertises a talk about the House of Commons to be given there, previously the boat had been moored in the river

Frank died in 1897 By that time he was one of the richest men in England. This is a tribute to his energy. At his death he and his family controlled an industrial empire. There were copper and pyrites mines in Spain, there was a copper work in Newcastle and connections with coppers mines Anglesey. Another family member was in Bristol.

All of this was spread between Frank’s brothers and their children. Other part of the empire, owned by other family members, may yet come to light. The jewel in the family’s crown was Thames Ironworks managed by Frank’s son Arnold. Frank himself died at Redleaf in Penshurst, the house built by John Wells the shipbuilder.

The chemical empire was sold to United Alkali in the 1890s and the old mill (now nearly a hundred years old remained). Frank’s son and heir, who inherited the site died only four years after him and before the legal problems connected with the site could be sorted out. so the sale documents reflect his name not frank’s.

By 1898 when the site was sold the block immediately adjacent to Riverway had already been acquired (built??) by the Blackheath and Greenwich Electric Light Co for a power station.  The power station began supply in 1900 and was not demolished until 1947.

A postscript this saga is the terrible accident in the power station in 1911? William Shaw and James Coombes were killed as the result of a boiler explosion. Mr. Shaw and Mr. Coombes were literally blown to pieces and could not be identified.  Mr. Shaw was an inspector from the national Boiler and General Insurance Company called in to examine a leaking drum on the boiler and was looking for the site of crack when the explosion occurred.

The main chemical works to the west of the mill, which appears to have functioned from 1869 became the Phoenix Wharf site of the East Greenwich Gas Works owned by the South Metropolitan Gas Co. on which plant was not renewed until after the Second World War and then only as the result of enemy action; the new plant was to specialise in the use of spent oxide.

Today the site of the millponds now the power station is demolished are slowly returning to Fen. Who knows if any of the dredged channel remains in the river.

(update 2014.  The site of the Millponds became a hill in 1999 thanks to the landscape team from the New Millennium Experience. They also built a wall cutting off the site of the ponds from the river.  There are now mega flats on the site of the mill – and we will never know about any remains because they were all dug up and the archaeologists employed by English Heritage forgot to mention the mill’s exsistence in their report to the Council)

Return to New East Greenwich and the Tide Mill

The Tide Mill and Frank Hills

THE TIDE MILL AND FRANK HILLS

Previous articles have described the building of the East Greenwich Tide Mill  and the terrible explosion in the boiler of a steam engine there in 1803.  The mill stood at the end of Riverway for nearly a hundred years after that. Who owned it? What happened there?

Despite the accident the mill began its work of grinding corn. At first it was  occupied by  William Johnson who had patented the process by which it worked. He had moved there from Widmore House in Bromley but within two years he had gone Why did he go so quickly – did the mill not fulfil expectations? Were there some difficulties which we now know nothing about?  He was replaced by a William Doust but the site seems to have remained in the ownership of George Russell.  It is marked on contemporary maps as ‘Russells’ and as late as 1832 Russell appears in directories as ‘mealman’ of East Greenwich.  It seems unlikely that Russell himself actually lived on site and worked the mill.  He may, in fact, have been the George Russell who lived in the grandeur of Farningham House, Farningham, Kent.   Sometimes the mill is recorded as belonging to Thomas Patrick and it is seem likely that he was the actual miller. It was, in fact, often known as ‘Patrick’s Mill’.

In the late 1830s ownership of the mill changed and it seems to have been used thereafter for an industry which was to become much more typical of Greenwich Marsh – the manufacture of chemicals.  Records show a number of short term owners in the early 1840s but it was eventually acquired by Frank Clarke Hills, financed through his marriage settlement with Ellen Rawlings. Hills was an industrial chemist, hitherto based at the Deptford Chemical Works in Copperas Street, Deptford. Other articles will describe his work  and some of his adventures.

It seems likely that corn continued to be ground at the East Greenwich mill under Hills ownership but it is not clear if the tide mill continued to work. From 1845 it was described as  ‘ a steam flour mill’ and perhaps the tide mills itself was replacd by a 25 horse power  steam engine.  This had made been  by William Joyce  whose steam engine factory was alongside Deptford Creek in  Greenwich.  Beneath the site was an artesian well.  When Frank Hills came to the tide mill  it was still almost ‘green field’ site and by developing it into a chemical works he  contributed to changes on the Greenwich peninsula which meant that increasingly it became a place for ‘bad neighbour’ industries.

On the riverbank to the north of the mill Frank Hills erected a chemical works. This was gradually extended – for instance in  1869  an ammonia plant was built. What sort of chemicals were made at East Greenwich? One very good source of information about this works are the reports of inspectors and enquiries which took place as public complaints multiplied.  A smell  of ‘an acid and sickening character’ was complained of. This could be discerned not only in Greenwich and  Charlton but ‘appeared to annoy the garrison at Woolwich’ – three or four miles away!  It seems a wide variety of chemicals were made at East Greenwich but that there was a concentration on things made from gas works wastes.

At the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in Hyde Park Frank Hills won prizes for his ammonia salts and ‘gas tar’. The tar, of course, came from one of the nearby gas works and was processed into a variety of oils, as well as pitch and asphalt. The works specialised in ammonia salts which were made from gas works ‘ammoniacal liquor’. He bought large amounts of this from almost every gas works in London.  Frank Hills held many patents and one with which he made a great deal of money was for the ‘purification’ of  newly made coal gas to make it fit to be burnt for lighting in people’s homes.  He had patented this process against fierce competition from other industrial chemists and was to defend it vigorously in interminable court cases  as he and the others sued each other , and then sued again, for infringement of their rights..  This process left a valuable waste product from which sulphuric acid could be made, and in 1865 special tanks were installed for this purpose.  Other acids were made on site- nitric, tartaric and oxalic – as well as dyes.  There is a story of a special and very profitable mauve dye. There was also a manure manufactury and for this there were  two 30 ft long steam boilers with a chimney as well as an ‘archimedean screw’ and a bone crusher. The manure was made from ‘shoddy’, waste leather, dry bones, bone ash and  refuse from sugar bakers – that is whatever organic rubbish could be bought cheaply. It was then piled up and mixed with sulphuric acid.  The smell can be imagined (perhaps better if it is not!).  In 1871 Mr. Pink, the Medical Officer of Health for Greenwich, began to give ‘advice’ designed for ‘abatement of the nuisance which these works could scarcely have failed to occasion’.

The wharf alongside the works was kept very busy as all these chemicals were shipped out, and  raw materials came in.  Boats came from Spain delivering materials from the mines which Hills owned there, as well as materials from his other factories in Newcastle and Anglesey.  It was all  very profitable and Frank Hills soon became a very rich man..

Sadly there was soon  another fatal accident at the East Greenwich Mill. In 1846  Francis Levers, Thomas Darby and Richard Middleton died when they climbed into a  giant mixing bowl to clean it.. The bottom of the bowl was full of fumes which suffocated them.  They were just three more to add to the death toll on this site.

1860s os
The mill shown on an 1860s map

In the 1840s more housing was built in Riverway for Hills’ workers   It was called River Terrace and has since been demolished. These cottages were rather larger than Ceylon Place, and consisted of nine houses of six rooms ands ten of four rooms with a washhouse. One house even had six rooms and a washhouse (this must have been for the foreman!). Little is known about the daily lives of the occupants of Ceylon Place  and River Terrace.   Barbara Ludlow, who wrote about social conditions on Greenwich Marsh,  noted that in 1841 the community of  seventeen houses included ‘two fishermen, five watermen, two lightermen, a river pilot and a seaman’ and she records the dilution of riverside trades with  factory workers and she notes the increasing poverty. Living on marshland next door to a massive chemical works must have been terrible.

A very different picture however emerges from the family of girls who at the end of Riverway  at  East Lodge. This was the big house on the riverside, the site of today’s Yacht Club.  Here lived Hills’ works manager, Thomas Davies from Oswestry, with  his family.  In the late 1880s Davies’ second daughter, Mildred, produced a magazine ‘The Four Wheeler’  which was distributed throughout a large extended family. Illustrated with contributions from many family members it described family holidays and visits.  The industrial surroundings of East Lodge are hardly mentioned at all.  What we do hear about is  a very Pickwickian  sounding Christmas .. .’who will ever forget the merry parties.. the big square hall with the great bunch of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling … the merry games round the fire.. the room rang with fun and laughter’.   There were also happy memories of the riverside garden at East Lodge ‘what a place it holds in our hearts. The lovely lawn with its big flower beds  that stretched to the river banks … the shrubbery with its jolly swing … the little hillock at the further end from which one could see all up and down the river….. the kitchen garden with its fruit trees .. how the sunshine streamed in as we sat at breakfast’.  All this within fifty yards of Frank Hills chemical works!

The girls undertook some local community activities – for example they organised a children’s branch of the Band of Hope.  For ordinary people there was religion, if nothing else, in Marsh Lane. At 1/2 River Terrace was a shop occupied by  the Thames Church Mission. This had been set  to ‘promote the spiritual welfare’ of seamen.   Many of these came of colliers whcih were waiting off Greenwich Marsh  in Bugsby’s Hole for a berth in the Lower Pool but gradually , riverside mechanisation decreased their  numbers and seems to have led to less work for the Missionaries.  The Mission was called ”Iron Room’,  and had been fitted up by Frank Hills. It was  in the charge of Thomas Davies and was also used as a Working Men’s Institute. A surviving poster advertises ‘A Talk about the House of Commons by an Officer of the House’  and another advertised ‘Christmas Readings and Music’. This featured songs ‘Bay of Biscay’ and ‘The Voice of One we Love’ by Mr. Poole  as well as readings of ‘The haunted house’.  No doubt the young ladies from East Lodge took some part in this too.

phoenix wharf
The chemical works as South Met Gas’s Phoenix Wharf. The tide mill may well still be standing in this picture

From 1881 things began to change. The  South Metropolitan Gas Company’s works  was  built on the adjacent ground to the north.  Very little is heard about tide mill and Hills’ chemical works. Frank Hills was  by now a rich and elderly man. His energies had probably been transferred to Thames Iron Works, the massive ship building and engineering concern across the river at Bow Creek of which he was Chairman. He  died in 1892 leaving nearly two million pounds- a tribute to his energy. His death was closely followed by those of his two eldest sons. The chemical works was closed and  later sold to the gas company.   They were to reopen it as their Phoenix Wharf chemical plant.

The tide mill remained, for the time being at least.  It was soon to be demolished by the purveyors of a new sort of power – electricity was coming to East Greenwich. The accidents still kept happening but that is, still another story.

The above article was compiled from archive sources at London Borough of Greenwich, Woodlands Local History Library and elsewhere.  Particular reference is made to Barbara Ludlow’s Social Conditions on Greenwich Marsh published in Transactions of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society 1968, VII\3, pp.130-141.  Documents on the Davies family were kindly shown to me by Mrs. Wagstaff and on the winding up of the Hills’ estate by Mr. Humpheries. 

Return to Hills Chemical Works

Damn your eyes Mr. Sharp

CEYLON PLACE COTTAGES

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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The Georgian Cottages on the Millennium site

THE GEORGIAN COTTAGES ON THE MILLENNIUM SITE

When the New Millennium Experience site is finished only a few original buildings will remain. These are The Pilot pub and the short row of Georgian cottages, called Ceylon Place.  The pub is rightly popular and has recently been extended but, alongside it, the small, dilapidated cottages are rarely given a second look.  They are currently in use as pilotshort life housing and their downmarket barely reveal their origins as part of what was once an exciting new development at the end of what is now Riverway.

The cottages date from about 1801.  They were built in the lane behind a ‘big’ house and a huge corn mill which stood on the on the riverfront.  In the eighteenth century the site was owned by George Russell, a London soap manufacturer whose works were near Blackfriars Bridge but who lived at Longlands House near Sidcup.  In 1801 he was approached by a William Johnson, from Bromley, Kent, who had patented a new design of tide mill.  A tide mill is a watermill worked by the power of the tides – a good example can be seen today at Three Mills, behind the Tesco on the northern Blackwall Tunnel approach.    Russell agreed to the project and construction went ahead on the mill – the cottages and the house were included as the start of ‘New East Greenwich’.  At the same time Russell got a licence from the City of London to build a causeway down into the river at what was then called ‘Bugsby’s Hole’.  This causeway is still in use today.

The site – and perhaps George Russell – had some unexplained connections with national politics.  In 1801 some of the site was leased to a group of out of office politicians – William Pitt, the recently resigned Prime Minister, his elder brother, the Earl of Chatham, and their associates the  Hon.Edward Crags and the Hon. John Eliot.   Their role in the development is not clear but it might explain the name of the pub.  ‘The Pilot’ is almost certainly named after William Pitt who was described in a contemporary song as ‘The Pilot who weathered the storm’. Ceylon, after which the cottages were named, had recently come under the protection of the British Crown.

“Ten days from the day of sale, the vendor will deliver to the purchaser, or his solicitor, an abstract  of his title, commencing as to ten acres  of land, with indentures of lease and re-lease, dated the 10th and  12th of June, 1793, between Richard Taylor, Esq. and others of the one part, and George Russell, Soap  Maker, of the other part; and as to 4 acres, 2 roods, 21 perches, the residue of the land, with indentures  of lease, appointment, and re-lease, dated   19th and 20th’ of August, 1801, the latter made between. the  Right  Honourable John Earl of Chatham, and the Right Honourable William Pitt, of the first part, the Right Honourable Edward Crags for John EIliot, for the second part, the said George Russell of the third part, and Samuel Welchman of the fourth part, and by which indentures respectively the fee simple inheritance  of title said premises Was conveyed to or in trust for the said George Russell and his heirs, the purchaser shall not require the production of any title prior to the above deeds.”

Two hundred years ago the site must have looked marvellous and romantic.  The big mill moving slowly, the big house with gardens going down to the river.  Behind it were the cottages and pub overlooking some six acres of millponds with meadows beyond.  Nearby was a thatched barn and all around were grazing cows and sheep.

Around 1900, when the cottages were a century old, someone built extensions on the backs of them – making them marginally bigger but eating in to what had been pretty gardens.  The ‘big house’, East Lodge, was demolished then and its’ site is now used by the Yacht Club.  What happened to the  summerhouse lookout over the river? Are any of the trees those planted by the Davies sisters who lived there in the nineteenth century?

The little cottages have gone on for two two hundred years  serving as housing for local workers – fishermen, mill workers, and barge builders.  All around things have changed.  The great mill became a chemical works and was replaced by a power station. On the fields behind a steel works was built and soon more cottages, a mission room and a café were built in Riverway.  All of this has now gone, leaving the old cottages and the pub.   The only thing not to have changed seems to be the supply of thirsty workers who drink in The Pilot!

These cottages were part of an industrial site and they should not be treated as quaint and countrified. Let us hope that English Partnerships and the New Millennium Experience treat them kindly – and take due regard to their age and context.

Dr.Mary Mills

Return to The Pilot

The Cottages at Ceylon Place

THE COTTAGES AT CEYLON PLACE

Article written for Docklands Forum 1998  – Riverway and the causeway, and the trees are all long gone. The Yacht Club is now at Peartree Wharf – and the Pilot has a planning application in for BIG changes.

When the New Millennium Experience site is finished only a few original buildings will remain. These are The Pilot pub and the short row of Georgian cottages, called Ceylon Place.  The pub is rightly popular and has recently been extended but, alongside it, the small, dilapidated cottages are rarely given a second look.  They are currently in use as short life housing and their downmarket barely reveal their origins as part of what was once an exciting new development at the end of what is now Riverway.

The cottages date from about 1801.  They were built in the lane behind a ‘big’ house and a huge corn mill which stood on the on the riverfront.  In the eighteenth century the site was owned by George Russell, a London soap manufacturer whose works were near Blackfriars Bridge but who lived at Longlands House near Sidcup.  In 1801 he was approached by a William Johnson, from Bromley, Kent, who had patented a new design of tide mill.  A tide mill is a watermill worked by the power of the tides – a good example can be seen today at Three Mills, behind the Tesco on the northern Blackwall Tunnel approach.    Russell agreed to the project and construction went ahead on the mill – the cottages and the house were included as the start of ‘New East Greenwich’.  At the same time Russell got a licence from the City of London to build a causeway down into the river at what was then called ‘Bugsby’s Hole’.  This causeway is still in use today.

The site – and perhaps George Russell – had some unexplained connections with national politics.  In 1801 some of the site was leased to a group of out of office politicians – William Pitt, the recently resigned Prime Minister, his elder brother, the Earl of Chatham, and their associates the  Hon.Edward Crags and the Hon. John Eliot.   Their role in the development is not clear but it might explain the name of the pub.  ‘The Pilot’ is almost certainly named after William Pitt who was described in a contemporary song as ‘The Pilot who weathered the storm’. Ceylon, after which the cottages were named, had recently come under the protection of the British Crown.ceylon place

Two hundred years ago the site must have looked marvellous and romantic.  The big mill moving slowly, the big house with gardens going down to the river.  Behind it were the cottages and pub overlooking some six acres of millponds with meadows beyond.  Nearby was a thatched barn and all around were grazing cows and sheep.

Around 1900, when the cottages were a century old, someone built extensions on the backs of them – making them marginally bigger but eating in to what had been pretty gardens.  The ‘big house’, East Lodge, was demolished then and its’ site is now used by the Yacht Club.  What happened to the  summerhouse lookout over the river? Are any of the trees those planted by the Davies sisters who lived there in the nineteenth century?

The little cottages have gone on for two two hundred years  serving as housing for local workers – fishermen, mill workers, and barge builders.  All around things have changed.  The great mill became a chemical works and was replaced by a power station. On the fields behind a steel works was built and soon more cottages, a mission room and a café were built in Riverway.  All of this has now gone, leaving the old cottages and the pub.   The only thing not to have changed seems to be the supply of thirsty workers who drink in The Pilot!

These cottages were part of an industrial site and they should not be treated as quaint and count

rified. Let us hope that English Partnerships and the New Millennium Experience treat them kindly – and take due regard to their age and context.

Dr.Mary Mills

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Blackwall Point Power Station – notes and sources

RIVER WAY

BLACKWALL POINT POWER STATION

Summary Report

The first Blackwall Point Power Station was built in 1900 and extended in 1906 for the South Metropolitan Electric Light and Power Company Ltd. The site adjoined to the south the South Metropolitan Gas Company’s East Greenwich Gasworks. The power station was blackwall point power station sales planevidently a small facility generating at 3000 volts alternating current. It was replaced in 1947-52, the work planned and commenced by the South Metropolitan Company, but completed after nationalization under the British Electricity Authority. The site was cleared c1987.

powernstation derelict gatge
Derelict remains in the 1990s of an entrance gate to the power station

The later station was a small and compact power station on a 3.5-acre site. Its main buildings were steel framed with brick and glass cladding. There was a tall box-like boiler house with a low engine room on its south side, a switch house to the west, and a single tall reinforced-concrete chimney. Architecturally it was an early if pedestrian manifestation of an anti-monumental functionalist approach whereby the layout of plant dictated the external form of the building. There were three pulverised-coal fired boilers and three 30 MW turbo- altemators made by English Electric.

Sources

D K Cross, ‘London Power Stations, 1979’, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society Newsletter, no. 67, 1979.

Greater London Record Office, LCC/MIN/12,701, London County Council Special Committee on Electricity Supply, Committee Papers, 1912.

National Power Picture Library, photographs 1952-1985.

H V Pugh, ‘The Generation of Electricity in the London Area’, Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, cv, 1957, pp. 484-502.

Report by Peter Guillery

May 1995

THE POWER STATIONS OF THE LOWER THAMES

September 1995

Crown Copyright

National Monuments Record Centre, Kemble Drive, Swindon SN2 2GZ

Tel: 01793 414700 fax: 01793 414707

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Blackwall Point Power Station – official handout

BLACKWALL POINT GENERATING STATION

HISTORICAL

last buildings
The last buildings remaining standing of the power station in the late 1990s

The use of the site for a generating station dates back to 1900 when a supply was commenced by the Blackheath and Greenwich District Electric Light Company Limited.

The original station went through many stages of development until its demolition as time-expired plant in l947.  At the time of closing down the old station housed some l5,0000 KW of generating plant.

The new station, built on the existing site, is of 90,000 KW capacity.  Demolition of the old station commenced on the lst April l947, and the first unit ( l x 30 MW turbo-alternator and l x 365 K.lb/hr. boiler) was commissioned on the 28th June,l95l.

An indication of the advance in design of generating plant may be given from the records of the old station for l904, which show that 7.6 lbs., of coal were consumed to generate l unit, whilst the corresponding figure for the new station in l952 was l.ll4 lbs.

GENERAL LAYOUT

The general layout of the station was very largely influenced by the restricted site available (3.47 acres). The turbo-alternators are placed longitudinally in the tune house, and the boilers arranged in a single row parallel to the machines, with no dividing wall between turbine and boiler house. The electrostatic precipitators and fans are stationed on the boiler house roof.

The canteen and stores building is in line with the turbine and boiler houses, and the administrative block – including main switchgear and control room – is situated on the opposite side of River Way with an interconnecting bridge to the turbine house.

COKE HANDLING

jetty
The remains of the jetty still extant in 2013

All coal is sea-borne to the station, the jetty being designed to accommodate ships up to 3,000 tons at the outer berth. Provision is made at the inner berth for discharge of ash and dust to barges. Two jetty cranes, each capable of handling up to 200 tons per hour,. are installed for discharging ships

Official publicity handout 1960s.

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Blackwall Point Power Station – GIHS article

Extract from Greenwich Industrial History Newsletter

 

Dear Editor

I understand from a previous issue that all the records relating to the Blackwall Point Power station had been destroyed.  I presumed that this meant that not too much was known about the power station and therefore I decided to have a look at the literature.  I could only find a few mentions of Blackwall Point and I have attempted to put some words on these facts ……

                                                Keith Doyle

 

Blackwall Point Power Station was equipped with three 30 mw turbo alternators supplied by the English Electric Company.  The steam conditions at the turbine stop valves were 60 psig and 850o F (454oC). Condenser cooling water was taken from the River. Steam was supplied by three coal-fired Babcock and Wilcox boilers, each of 365 klb/hr capacity and the main high pressure pipework was also manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox.

The first turbo-alternator set was commissioned in the summer of 1951, the second was due to be completed by the end of that year and the third by the spring of 1952.

Blackwall Point was originally in the London Division of the British Electricity Authority (BEA). This later became the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to avoid confusion with the other BEA  – British European Airways.  A further name change to the Central Electricity Generating Board followed and Blackwall Point power station was put into its South Thames Division.

To benefit the production of turbines and generators BEA had a policy of standardising on a selected range of turbo-alternator sizes each with associated steam conditions. 30 mw was one of these sizes and was built.  Blackwall Point was stated in the technical press to have an output of 90 mw (33mw). However in a British power station plant performance schedule published in the Electrical Review of 1st June 1962, the installed capacity of Blackwall Point was given as 100.5 mw i.e. 33.5 mw per set. Presumably the original figure of 30 mw per set was nominal.

Incidentally, in the performance review Blackwall Point was quoted as having generated for a total of 6,567 hours in 1961 with an overall thermal efficiency of 26.66 per cent.

Keith has included with his article a number of photocopies from Electrical Review with brief mentions of the power station and some of the statistics quoted above. They include a picture, in the issue of 12th July 1953, showing ‘the first of three turbo-alternators .. installed at Blackwall Point Power Station which will undergo a test run in the next few weeks.  The three 30 mw generators made by English Electric Co. will have a combined output equal to 120,000 hp and the one installed is hoped to be in operation before the winter. The second is expected to be completed by the end of the year and the final set by next spring. Over 2,000 gallons of lubricating oil has been pumped into the generators’ storage tank by the Wakefield Co. The illustration shows work in progress’.

Evidence for a a pre-18th century building at Bugsby’s Hole

Why do we think there might have been something worth investigating on the riverside at Bugsby’s Hole?

1. 1802  – House on site.

A house existed on the site from c.1802.  It is assumed that this is part of the estate built with the Tide Mill, Ceylon Place and The Pilot.

These buildings are all included in a Chancery property assessment of 1807.  Note. This assessment implies that there may have been another house – i.e. ambivalent at one point whether ‘house’ means pub or not.   The assessment gives no construction date but it is known the Tide Mill and cottages were on site by 1801-3.

BUT

before that –

The estate was owned by George Russell. There is a 1796 newspaper report, which describes a robbery at Mr. Russell’s house in which the thieves escaped by boat.

Russell’s workforce had been digging brick earth on the site and nearby for some years before 1800.

The Bugsby’s Hole causeway was licensed to Russell in 1801.

Or was there another building?

east lodge drawing
East Lodge – the riverside house which once stood at the end of Riverway (now under CPL – the Bellway block). The drawing probably dates from c.1890 the work of one of the Davies sisters.

It is also worth noting that this is the area in which pirates were said to have been gibbeted.  There were often attempts to recover gibbeted bodies – would these have therefore been guarded?  There are reports of the military guard from the gunpowder depot ‘tramping about all over the place’.

Was there an older house – and the one which was later pictured was built in the 1840s.?

The house is said to have been let to a Mr. Hewes (or Hughes) who acted very strangely. There is both contemporary and reminiscence evidence for this.  The house was later said to have been built by him as a ‘pleasure house’.  Therefore  it is  possible that the house in the 1802 assessment was older and that there was some rebuilding later.

The style of the house in pictures is more 1840s than 1800s

Why is it called ‘East Lodge’ – i.e. was there a West Lodge?

2. After the 1840s

The whole estate was bought for Frank Hills in the early 1840s.  In due course his manager, Thomas Davies, moved into the house with his family.   There are some Davies family reminiscences in the form of a contemporary family newsletter and later newspaper interviews.

In the 1880s  Davies’ daughters described: … ‘the little hillock at the further end (of the garden) from which one could see all up and down the river.’.. ‘the little hillock of which George Macdonald said that it was an ideal place to write a story. The summer house… the old kitchen with its arched window .. ‘ the big square hall.. The staircase leading to the upper hall.. The massive front door’

In  1932 one of the sisters recalled:

“The hall was paved with large squares of black and white marble ands its ceiling was painted by Sir James Thornhill (he whole canvas of this ceiling came down bodily.) The house was built on piles, and under it were brick arched cellars perfectly dry like those in the College’

 

Return to Bugsby’s Hole some background