A Breach in the sea wall


The river is an ever-present reality around the Greenwich Peninsula. Sometimes, when floods seemed likely, that reality became a threat.

The Greenwich Peninsula’s real name is ‘Greenwich Marsh’ where a network of sluices was built, probably, in the Middle Ages. Flood defences along the riverbank are always referred to as the ‘sea wall’ – a term which reflects the potential dangers of the tides. It is difficult to know when the original embankments against the sea were built – since they are mentioned in a document dating back to 1290. In 1528 they are referred to as the banks ‘which had anciently been raised’. I would be very interested if any Bygone Kent reader could tell me anything about the age of the sea wall. Clearly it is a very important structure, and, as the remainder of this article will show, requires the very best of engineering expertise. Without it much of the landscape of Thameside would not exist, as we know it.

Most of the records about the sea walls refer to times when the river had broken through. One early instance is in 1297 when there was a ‘certain breach made in the bank betwixt Greenwich and Woolwich by the violence of the tides’. The problem usually was less a question of getting the breach mended than of persuading the locals to pay for the work.

From the 1620s the marshland was managed by the ‘Marsh Court’ or ‘Court of Sewers’ consisting of landholders and other interested parties who raised the ‘Wall Scot’ (the local rate) and employed a small staff.  A very full set of minutes for this body exists from 1625, which detail the care that had to be taken to maintain the marsh properly and keep the river out. This article is about one instance of a breach in the sea wall.

In October 1825 it became clear that a section of sea wall had become very unsafe and was threatening to give way. At the time two plans were drawn but they don’t give enough detail to be able to pinpoint the spot exactly. One appears to show it on the tip of the peninsula but, since the site was said to be ‘opposite the Folly House at Blackwall’, it may well have been on the western side of the peninsula at the southern end of the old Delta Works site. . It appears that the problem was caused by a slight projection which made an irregularity in the line of the sea wall and a breach was threatened.

The Marsh Court had immediate legal problems in dealing with this because, not only was the work urgent and expensive, but members were unsure of their powers to acquire the site and have the remedial work done. Could they go ahead and buy the three acres of land, which were affected? If so how should they raise the money? Or did they need to get a private Act of Parliament first, to give them the powers to do the work? That would be the proper way to proceed but it would take time and the work was urgent. First they looked at ‘Callis’. This was Robert Callis’ ‘Reading upon the Statute of Sewers’ originally published in 1685. It had been edited and reissued as recently as 1824 – but perhaps the Greenwich Commission did not have the new edition. They found that that authority was ‘full of doubt and contradiction’ and so they sought a legal opinion. Unfortunately the barrister who they consulted also gave an opinion that the matter was not clear and he told them to get another opinion.

The Court also began negotiations with the owners of the site – because there was an issue of land reclamation they felt it was important to acquire it. It was occupied by a Mr. Newman, a butcher who used the land for grazing, and the Commission had had the impression that he was the owner. This was not so. The land was actually owned by a Mr. Powis.

It was decided in due course that it would be simpler and quicker for all the landowners to sign an agreement allowing the commissioners to buy the land and that they would also agree for each of the landowners to pay a sum of money. It was suggested that the actual purchaser should be Morden College, the wealthy charity that already owned a great deal of land in this area.

An estimate for the work was sought from John Rennie. This is the younger Rennie whose more famous father had died four years previously. He was currently involved, among other things, in completing his father’s work on London Bridge. In the future he was to undertake many projects involving marshland reclamation in the fens but he had already been appointed as Chief Drainage Engineer for the Eau Brink so that drainage, and perhaps embankment, was already an interest of his.

Two months later Mr. Bicknell, solicitor to the Commissioners gave an update on information obtained to a meeting at the Green Man at the top of Blackheath Hill. This meeting was packed with representatives of local interests.

Rennie reported on what he thought was the cause of the problem. Rennie felt that the great variation in tides throughout the year ‘tends to carry the bank away’ and that previous remedial work – ‘a wooden framing consisting of poles and land ties’ together with ‘several hundred tons of Kentish ragstone’ was making it worse. The wall would have to be rebuilt. The Court was not impressed with the cost of Rennie’s estimate and asked if he could find an alternative, and cheaper, way to solve the problem. Rennie made a second site visit and reported a few days later. He said that the only other possible alternative scheme – to use piling would be even more expensive. He then sent in his bill for this second consultation.

Meanwhile the Court had asked if a report could be obtained from Thomas Telford. He was at, the age of seventy, nearing the end of his long career. He was the ‘undisputed head of the civil engineering profession in Britain’. He had considerable experience in the Fens and was soon to work with John Rennie Jnr. there. The meeting at the Green Man had, however, asked for the most prestigious engineer that they could.

Telford too made a site visit. He to pointed out that the exposed position of the portion of bank which had caused the problem. The river narrows slightly at this point and he also drew attention to the new West India docks and the number of vessels which were ‘frequently moored adjacent to their entrance’ constricting the flow of water. The river thus rose with ‘increased violence’ and was ‘continually grinding the soft matter from the bottom’. He felt that there was an imminent danger of a breach in the wall.

Neither engineer mentioned the Blackwall Rock which had been removed from the northern side of the river about twenty years previously.

Telford, Rennie and the members of the Court of Sewers all thought that the activities of lightermen employed by the City of London and Trinity House were not helping. It was alleged by everyone that material was being removed from the foreshore in this area for use as ballast. The Commission duly wrote to those authorities to point this out asking if this had been going on. Replies, from the Lord Mayor and the Elder Brethren, were, predictably, non-committal.

Telford was however asked to do the work. The archive includes his detailed specification. The work basically consisted of a new earth bank built in such a way as to make the line of the sea wall completely smooth. There was to be a drain at the bottom of the inner slope and the whole structure covered in turf. The work was to be supervised by the Commission’s Wall Reeve who received an enhanced salary for the job. Two contractors tendered for the work Thomas Cotsworth of Dover Road, Southwark submitted a price of £2,100 and Simmons of Bromley, Kent, who got the job, for under £900.

The work was finished by the summer of 1826, apparently without problems, Telford’s final inspection took place and his certificate of completion was issued in July. A dry dock was built in this part of the peninsula in the 1870s but otherwise it is likely that the line of the bank is much as Telford left it, although a considerable amount work must have been done to the wall itself in the intervening years.

A year later in July 1827 Telford wrote to remind the Commissioners that he still had not been paid for the job. It was around the same time that Telford, in the company of Rennie; working on the Nene outfall in the Fens was to catch a severe chill, the first sign that he was beginning to fail with age.

Telford was not alone in not having been paid his services – a series of letters had already been received from Rennie. These concerned his bill for £30 in respect of the second estimate, a sum that the Commissioners refused to pay. In October 1826 Rennie had written to say that he had been in Ireland but that his brother, George, had informed him of the outstanding bill. He wrote to them that he had ‘charged only what I conceive myself entitled to’ and in April 1827 that ‘nothing annoys me more than disputes about money matters’. The Commissioners recorded that they ‘did not find it necessary to alter their first determination’.

Within the next few months the Commissioners also received claims for compensation for late payment from the original landowners. This was a Mr.Richard Powis. The original owner had been his father who had just died – Powis wanted £50 as compensation for late payment.

There is just the suspicion that this archive might have survived because of the arguments over payment. The job must have been a relatively small one for Telford and Rennie, but very important in terms of Thames flood prevention. Few visitors to Greenwich will realise how the care and maintenance by the Marsh Court, its predecessors and successors, over many centuries has kept the land safe and made development of the area today possible.

This article has been prepared from archive material in the Greenwich Commission of Sewers archive plus some material on ‘imbanking and draining’ in the possession of Woodlands Local History Library. Biographies of Telford and Rennie have also been consulted.

Delta Metal in Wartime

The Non-Ferrous Industry
Tunnel Avenue, East Greenwich, S.E.IO.

ALTHOUGH the Delta Metal Co., Ltd., has been established in Greenwich since as far-back as the year 1905, little is seen or heard locally by the general public of its activities as its Works are situated rather off the beaten track at the extreme end of Tunnel Avenue on Blackwall Point, and well beyond the tunnel entrance, and its products are mainly raw materials for succeeding industries and so do not of themselves offer much of direct interest to the man in the street. Nevertheless, so important to the war effort were materials such as bronze, brass and copper that the Non-Ferrous Metal Industry was one of the very first to be reserved exclusively for such purposes.
The metal manufactured at East Greenwich found its way into literally thousands of other works up and down the country, ranging from large firms whose names are household words in the engineering trade, and who have been for many years users of Delta Alloys, to new organisations set up in all sorts of unlikely places, or to others turned over from their ordinary peace-time occupations to the job of machining components of innumerable types from rod stock for Service requirements. Indeed, it can truthfully be said that by the end of the war there was hardly even a repair garage of any size in the land which did not eventually have lathes, drilling and milling machines installed and working day and night turning out metal parts for war uses. The parts that were produced from Delta extruded bars entered into the make-up ‘of articles of every conceivable description, including as they did fuzes and primers for shells, parts and fittings of guns and torpedoes, of searchlights, and, of course, of Radar apparatus, and all the other innumerable scientific instruments brought into service or specially developed for war uses; telephone parts to, aircraft fittings-both of engines and of fuselages-ship constructional angles, tee and channel bars, and other sections for ships’ fittings used in craft of all kinds from the largest battleships to the smallest launches; components of vehicles from tanks to lorries, of speedometers, lighting equipment and so on. Indeed, though a great part of the whole range -of supply needed by the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, there was sure to be found, without going very far, some component large or small that had its origin in a brass or bronze bar made at East Greenwich.
Production went on day and night throughout the war years, and the number of those employed went up to close upon 1,250. Many women came into the factory and performed valiant work handling the heavy metal rods and bars in course of manufacture, looking after the straightening machines, sorting and despatching the metal, driving trucks and lorries, and performing all kinds of other duties.
The Works had its share of enemy attention, starting with the very first heavy raid on the dock and river-side areas in September 1940, when incendiaries fell thickly in the vicinity igniting the office block, which quickly burned out. Accommodation for the staff was hastily arranged in corners of near-by buildings while the .Managing Director continued to conduct the affairs of the Company from a partially wrecked canteen dining room-and the cook produced much appreciated meals over fires built in the open near-by. A few weeks’ later H.E. bombs fell in the despatch yard, destroying a couple of lorries and doing other damage, but there was no loss of life and no one was seriously hurt. Another providential escape took place early in the following spring, when a parachute mine descended squarely upon the extensive building housing the small rod department, demolishing it completely. This took place on a Saturday night on which it had been arranged to close down the department to give some of the employees a well-earned rest, and again there was no loss of life… Practically all the specialised and irreplaceable machinery was dug out of the ruins, repaired, patched and welded, and was re-established in temporary sheds on the site and in other parts of the factory and running again within a fortnight. Thereafter, although upon sundry occasions many more bombs and incendiaries landed all around, no more serious damage occurred, other than occasional blast, and production continued more or less unhampered, running as it did into many hundreds of tons of metal weekly, throughout the war years.
The Delta Metal Company’s experience as originators of the extrusion process was always at the service of the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft’ Production, particularly when in difficulty regarding the production of any particular alloy, and the desired .end was usually attained, and that with the minimum of delay. The metal which went into the ships, tanks, guns and aircraft and into the fabrication of parts for” Mulberry,” ” Pluto ” and” Fido ” is now going into the manufacture of articles for domestic uses-gas, water and electrical fittings, metal window parts, refrigerators, electric clocks, radios, motor car fittings shop fronts, balustrades and hand railing, just to mention a few of the thousand and one peace-time uses-which have been relegated to the background for so long, but which will benefit by the accumulated experience gained, and improvements made during the war years.

From a local authority brochure about local Greenwich firms during the Second World War.

Return to Delta Metal

Ballard’s Report on the Lower Thames on Nuisance

Ballard’s Report on the Lower Thames 1873

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the north side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to Ordnance Wharf

Return to Hills Chemical Works


A  number of cement works were set up on the Morden College sites on the west bank of the Peninsula. These were in addition to other works makes artificial stone and ‘composition’.

AT ENDERBY WHARF – A confused situation exists on the remaining section of the old gunpowder site – K3 on the Skinner plan. On earlier Morden College plans it is shown in the ownership of ‘Calvert Clark’.. In 1838 Enderbys acquired some land from Calvert Clark – and it was, perhaps, this area.

In 1843 the tithe map shows the area in the ownership of Enderby with a cottage and garden on some of the site, but no industrial development.

By 1855 a cement works had been built on this site by a company called Winkfield Bell and by William Buckwell who had opened his ‘patent composition stone works’as well. Buckwell’s works was to last only a year, since by 1861 he was in gaol. In 1863 a James Pomeroy is shown with a cement works – and although from the listings in the rate books this appears to be to the south on Beale’s site, it may be that he had taken over Buckwell’s works. It is unlikely that he lasted very long since there no is further mention of him.

Winkfield’s works is said to have been purchased in 1866 by Jabez Hollick. Hollick was already operating a cement works to the north of this site and it maybe that he never operated the Winkfield works since by 1869 the site is shown on the Ordnance Survey map as ‘Old Concrete Works’

Even more mysteriously a map of 1867 shows ‘Greenwich Flax Works’ on site, with no sign at all of massive adjoining rope walk or cable works.

It seems likely that the cement works site was taken over by the cable company since all subsequent maps their works is shown to cover this area. However, it might noted that in all the intervening years that the works have really been extended over this part of the site – it appears to have been used for tanks and storage only.

Return to Enderby Wharf

AT MORDEN WHARF – The earliest and perhaps the longest lasting cement works came to Greenwich in 1841.  Hollick leased a site at Greenwich from Holcombe in 1849. In 1849 Hollick gave his address as Warwick Cottages which then stood at the Marsh Lane end of Morden Wharf Road. His cement works was adjacent to Morden Wharf. The works was eventually taken over by the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers before the First World War but it was still in operation by them in 1935 and the area is still sometimes known as Hollick’s Wharf in the 1990s.

Also at Morden Wharf was a cement works owned by the Staines based industrialist George Crowley Ashby. This was to the rear of Morden Wharf with no river access.

There was also a composition works belonging to Sir John Pett Lillie who erected a jetty at Morden Wharf in 1859 – since he had an agreement with Willis and Wright it seems likely that this was in fact part of the area described under Bay Wharf.

AT LOVELL’S WHARF – Cement manufacture also took place on Lovells Wharf by Rowton and Whiteway