Granite Wharf information

The riverside area now known as Granite Wharf began as an extension of the Greenwich Wharf area developed by Coles Child. It was then let to Mowlem, and became, successively, Wimpey and Tarmac until their lease was terminated in 2000.

Pre-1838 Great Meadow & Dog Kennel Field
1838 – Coles Child signs a lease with Morden College
1844 – Coles Child leases the rest of the land
1850-1860 Edwards factory and sheds
1850-60 George Bullock – grid iron for ships
1852 Mowlem lease the wharf from Coles Child
1936 Wimpey depot on the wharf. Manufacturers of road surfacing materials.
1950s Ovenall & Nelan Ltd., barge and tug repairs
1990s TarmacWilders and Walker Moorings (cf Shrubsall)

In 2002 Groundwork reported “Granite Wharf. Safeguarded wharf, but Tarmac have ceased their aggregate deliveries and  its status is uncertain at present. The timber fencing surrounding the wharf was stained blue and green to reduce impact of graffiti, in 1999.
Sluice inlet between Granite and Badcock Wharf. An eyesore site to many eyes, this disused corner site is located directly above a drainage sluice outlet is nevertheless well colonised by plants.


Maudslay Son and Field. paper for symposium

Maudslay, Sons & Field’s Greenwich Shipyard

Dr Mary Mills


Despite the presence of the Cutty Sark in dry dock at Greenwich, it might come as a surprise to discover that big sailing ships were also built close by in the 1870s – and built by a company more usually associated with heavy engineering and the steam engine. Compared with many of the areas around it, Greenwich was never an important shipbuilding area and the name of Maudslay has never been popularly associated with sailing ships and yet they built two fast tea clippers on a site, which is now close to the Millennium Dome.

London shipbuilding had been an extremely important industry, but by the 1870s it was into its long decline. Before the 1840s there had been no important shipyard in Greenwich – although the nearby riverside areas of Rotherhithe, Deptford and Blackwall were famous for the ships they produced and, of course, there were the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich. It was not until the mid-19th century that shipbuilding companies seem to have located in Greenwich, to the east of Deptford Creek. Of these the best known are J. & G. Rennie, although we know of no sizeable craft which were built at that yard, and William Joyce, who built some vessels in the 1850s, at Kent Wharf on Deptford Creek. I have written already, for Bygone Kent, about some of the shipbuilders who came to the Greenwich Peninsula in the 1870s – another of them was Maudslay Son and Field.1

The East Greenwich Shipyard

Henry Maudslay is rightly famous as an engineer whose family origins in Woolwich are commemorated by a stained glass window in the Public Hall in Market Street. He left Woolwich for Joseph Bramah’s Soho workshops and began a career as one of the most famous engineers this country has produced. The company that he founded was to come to Greenwich, in the 1860s, when his sons and grandsons had inherited the works.

Maudslay’s engineering works had been based in Lambeth from 1810 and had provided engines for some of the earliest steam powered vessels, as well as for many other engineering projects. Shortly after Henry Maudslay’s death, in 1831, the works built a number of small iron paddle steamers, for use on the Ganges, but as Philip Banbury rightly observed:

‘Maudslay Sons and Field were not really ship-builders until 1865 so these ships
…… must have been considered as general engineering and the sections were probably
factory built’.2

Maudslay, Sons & Field had been formed as a partnership sometime around 1820 and included one of Maudslay’s sons and Joshua Field, and this arrangement changed over time as various partners died and new ones were added. In 1860 the partnership had consisted of two of Henry Maudslay’s sons, three of his grandsons, Joshua Field with two of sons, and Daniel Fitzpatrick. The structure of the partnership was to change radically over the next few years and, after that, a decision seems to have been taken to open a shipbuilding works at Greenwich. What happened was that the three eldest members of the partnership – Joseph Maudslay, Thomas Henry Maudslay, and Joshua Field – died. The potentially vacant places were not immediately taken up, but it seems clear that a younger generation was taking an interest in the company. As we will see, some of this younger generation had a keen interest in sailing ships.

By the 1860s, a variety of industries had been taking up sites on the west bank of the Greenwich Peninsula for some twenty years. These sites were owned by the Blackheath based charity, Morden College, which had taken a decision to develop the area for industry in the late-1830s. One of their tenants had been an American boat builder, who had leased part of the riverfront known as Horseshoe Breach in a blaze of publicity, in 1863. Horseshoe Breach was the old name for an area now known as Bay Wharf – where a break in the sea wall had caused an inlet with sloping banks ideal for shipbuilding and repair. The American was Nathan Thompson, and his company, the National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, intended to build thousands of small boats a year using a highly mechanised method. Within a year, however, Thompson was bankrupt and his lease was assigned to Maudslay, Sons & Field.

No correspondence appears to have survived in the Morden College archive, which might indicate the circumstances in which the company decided to take up this lease. The indications are, however, that it must have been a last minute decision – since the site had suddenly become vacant following Thompson’s bankruptcy. The assignment of the lease was dated September 1864 and it seems likely that they were already on site by then. The lease was for what was in fact the field behind the river wall, known as ‘Further Pitts’. Signatories to the lease were Henry, Charles and Thomas Henry Maudslay, Joshua and Telford Field and Daniel Fitzpatrick.3 Once on site they fitted up a ‘spacious yard with workshops of great size’.4 The keel of their first ship was laid the next May.

This first ship, the Lady Derby, was launched, in early October 1865, on what was described as a ‘great day for East Greenwich’.5 She was a ‘fine screw steamer’ – of 567 gross registered tons and a length of almost 175 feet – built for the General Iron Screw Collier Company, launched by Miss Maudslay, whose ‘skill as regarding the handling of the indispensable bottle of Marsala betokened some former practice’. The launch was, however, a sad one, since Daniel Fitzpatrick had died the previous day while in the midst of preparations for the event. His death had come too late to cancel the event – or even to circulate guests with the news. As it was, the customary launching flags were flown at half-mast, and at the following ‘sumptuous luncheon’ only one toast was allowed: ‘Success to the new ship’. Among the guests were some ‘Turkish gentlemen’ – and more will be heard of them in due course.

The yard’s first vessel was named after the wife of Lord Derby – leader of the Conservative Party in Parliament and a past, and future, Prime Minister. Lady Derby herself also gave her name to something rather better known – a pink hyacinth. The Derbys lived relatively near Greenwich in the grand mansion of Holwood, at Keston, near Bromley – but there could be other reasons for her naming after the wife of a leading politician. The name in any case would have been chosen by the new ship’s owners – the General Iron Screw Collier Company. She was thus to be a coal carrying ship, one of many hundreds servicing London. She was built to ‘Henwood’s patent dynamical principles’ – Charles Henwood being a leading naval architect.

Another ship – a barque for Scrutton & Campbell – was launched at the same period and the yard continued to have two ships under construction at once. In Greenwich, this was seen as the start of a new era of prosperity and there was considerable local rejoicing. The Star in the East public house – the remains of which still stand near the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel – was sold advertising increased prospects of trade as Maudslay’s nearby shipyard grew.

When the lease was finally conveyed to Maudslay, Sons & Field, in 1868, the signatories for the company had changed. Two of the company’s engineers were included – John Imray and Henry Warriner. Warriner in particular had an expertise in the sort of ship building contracts to which the company was now moving. He had been involved in some of the earliest screw propeller designs and had had considerable experience with other firms.

The signatory to the new lease on behalf of the Maudslay family was Herbert Charles Maudslay – another of Henry Maudslay’s grandsons. His name was to be associated with the Greenwich yard and works during its history. He has another, however, another claim to maritime fame. Herbert was a keen yachtsman – something which was to be important to Greenwich as time went on. In 1866, he had a yacht called the Sphinx built at the Greenwich yard. She was a 48 ton cutter, built with iron frames and teak planking.6 One of the rivals of the Sphinx was the Niobe, built the previous year. Both vessels used something new – a ‘balloon sail’ which was hoisted to the topmast head. As the Sphinx was popularly called ‘Spinx’ by yachtsmen and watermen, this new sail began to be known as a ‘Spinxer’ – and in due course this was generically corrupted to ‘spinnaker’.7

The next two vessels to be launched at Greenwich were naval tank vessels – Pelter in 1867 and Despatch in 1869. They were built for use at the Royal William Victualling Yard at Devonport and used for carrying fresh water to the fleet. Each could carry 150 tons of water at a time in tanks ‘constructed wholly independent of the ship’. With the hull divided into seven bulkheads, in eight watertight compartments, pumps were arranged to draw from each tank independently. Both were built under the direction of James Luke, naval surveyor and inspector of naval contract work. Despatch was built slightly differently following some suggestions from the naval officers who operated Pelter. She was launched by a Miss Lucas and handed over to the naval authorities at Woolwich.8 The two vessels were to remain in service at Devonport until 1905. Banbury also lists the steam yacht Star as having been built at the yard in 1867, as well as the steam yacht Sunbeam, whose launch date is uncertain.9

In 1869 the company was to build an experimental boat for one of their Greenwich Peninsula neighbours. Henry Bessemer had by then set up his small steel works on what is now Victoria Deep Water Wharf, next to the Maudslay shipyard, and his inventive mind was moving on to something else. Bessemer suffered greatly from sea sickness and, following a journey from Calais in 1868, determined to do something about it. His idea was to build a ship in which the passenger accommodation was independent of the hull. He therefore designed a vessel with a suspended cabin. He took these designs to Maudslay, Sons & Field and asked them to build him a ‘small steamer’. It was to cost £3061 and be delivered to Bessemer in Greenwich. As work proceeded, however, Bessemer began to think about the problems rather more deeply and decided that the work being undertaken by Maudslay was not suitable, with the result that work was stopped, and the vessel sold. Bessemer eventually built a model and then went on to found the Bessemer Saloon Ship Company – which was very far from being a success, as their only boat collided with the pier at Calais on two occasions and the company was wound up.10

Maudslay, Sons & Field have left no records as to the boats built at Greenwich – although there are lists of the Lambeth built engines which were fitted into vessels.11 It is sometimes a question of trying to guess from the engine lists which, if any, were boats which Maudslay, Sons & Field actually built themselves. Many of these vessels can be eliminated from contemporary records, but there are many whose builders have not yet been traced. They include a number of vessels built before 1870 and it seems likely that at least some were built in Greenwich by Maudslay themselves. In 1869 an engine was provided for the tug, Alert, built for Herbert Maudslay himself – was this also built in Greenwich – and what about a second tug, Tigress? In 1869, the ‘Greenwich Launch Manufactory’ was provided with an engine – surely, from her name, she must have been Greenwich built. A number of other launches were engined by Maudslay in this period – were they Greenwich built too? There were also a number of steam yachts, which were provided with engines – Hebe for Captain Phillimore and Dot for J. Sunley – no evidence has come forward to suggest they were not built at Greenwich. We are on more certain ground with the lighterage tugs, Grappler and Traveller, which are known to have been built by Maudslay, Sons & Field in 1866 and 1867 respectively.11

What were probably the two most important ships built at Greenwich do not appear in the engine lists at all – simply because they were sailing ships. Of all the things which happened in this Greenwich yard this is clearly the strangest – why should this company, renowned worldwide for its marine steam engines, suddenly enter the competitive market of fast sailing ships – an area in which they had no expertise at all?

The clipper ships, Blackadder and Halloween

Everyone – if they know just one thing about Greenwich – will know about the Cutty Sark, which sits in her dry dock, tramped over by thousands of visitors. They all know about her speed and her beautiful lines and, if they read the literature, will know she was built in 1869 in Dumbarton for the shipowner, John Willis. What very few of them will ever discover, however, is that within sight of where she is today were built her two sisters – Blackadder and Halloween – launched by Maudslay, Sons & Field at their Greenwich shipyard.

In the late 1860s there was considerable maritime competition, and fast sailing clippers competed to beat record times for journeys across the world – especially in the tea trade. It was important for owners to commission ships, which could match the best. The design of Cutty Sark is said to have been based on a ship called The Tweed. She was not originally a sailing ship, but a paddle steamer called the Punjaub, built in Bombay and launched in 1854. In 1862, she was sold to John Willis & Sons, who removed her new screw engines and converted her into a sailing ship, which he renamed The Tweed. John Willis was so impressed that he ordered her lines to be copied in his new ship, Cutty Sark – and hoped that she would beat the speeds of the current record holders. At the same time, he commissioned two more ships to be built in London, of iron.

The first of the two ships was Blackadder, which was 917 registered tons, and 216.6 x 35.2 x 20.5 feet in dimension. The story of both the Blackadder and Halloween was explored in some detail by Basil Lubbock.12 Convinced that the Blackadder was a very unlucky ship, Lubbock invoked the words of John Milton to state that she was ‘“Built i’ th’eclipse and rigged with curses dark”’. Indeed, most of what has been written about Blackadder seems to be gloom and doom laden. She did, however, survive for over thirty years and set many very fast times in her early days. Lubbock clearly got his information from a member of her first crew – probably the second mate, whose opinions on the ship and the rest of the crew he cited and quoted freely. He described ‘the first evil omen’ as the occasion on which this same second mate left his home in Limehouse to join Blackadder. He found that he had left his purse at home and went back for it. At the door was his mother, ‘a sailor’s daughter and a sailor’s wife’, who said that ‘You should never have turned back. That ship will never be lucky’. All of which might seem, today, to be remarkably superstitious for the rational 1870s – although it should be remembered that mariners and maritime communities were renowned for their traditional superstitions.

The contract for Blackadder had been signed in June 1869 was launched on 1st February 1870 by Miss Willis and Mrs. Alexander Scrutton. An unnamed barque was launched at the yard at the same time. Following the launch, the Maudslay and Willis party went off to the Trafalgar Tavern for a celebratory dinner, while the workforce went to the next door Yacht for something rather less grand. The Blackadder and Halloween were said by Lubbock to have had their lines taken from the Tweed, but he noted that ‘in appearance above the waterline they bore very little resemblance to Cutty Sark, and had the usual iron ship’s topgallant foc’s’le and short turtle backed poop’. David MacGregor, however, has questioned the extent to which the lines of the Cutty Sark, Blackadder and Halloween were actually based on those of The Tweed.13 Lubbock also noted that Blackadder was built to the highest requirements of Lloyds for an iron ship and had a ‘complete East India outfit for a full rigged ship’. ‘Three captains’ were said to have overseen the outfitting of the ship.

Lubbock said that loading Blackadder had begun before her masts were fitted and the mate appointed. As a result, her cargo loading and rigging were supervised by the second mate. John Willis made a visit, once the masts were up, and found fault with the rigging. Willis, ‘letting loose some of the language for which he was celebrated’, then ordered the over pressed the second mate to properly manage the riggers. A row ensued, but despite extra attention, a major fault was noticed with the fitting of the trestle tree cheeks, which prevented the proper tensioning of the stays. Although this was repaired, the mast cheeks were actually a real problem with the mast fittings, which would return to haunt the vessel. The chief rigger was a Captain Campbell, who was concerned that the makeshift repairs would support the load of her large yards and sails. He warned the two mates that ‘you are both young men, be careful’.

A further problem came when Blackadder nearly sunk in her dock in London because a pipe near the waterline was not properly set in place. This episode illustrated much of what was said about Blackadder. She was supposed to be ‘unlucky’, but this seems to be mainly on account of things which ‘nearly’ happened – in fact, she was lucky enough for them usually to be put right.

Lubbock goes on to tell the story of her disastrous first voyage. Again, this appears to be based on a narrative of the second mate. It was said that she was ‘unlucky in her captain as everything else’. The captain was described as ‘senseless’ and ‘fool headed’. It does, however, seem unlikely that command of a new ship built to set record speed would be given to anyone incompetent! Soon Blackadder was into the ‘roaring forties’ and ‘the first bit of a blow showed that the trouble aloft was very serious’ and, in addition, the steering gear went wrong. Although extra chains were added, the captain pushed the ship on decided on a ‘most foolish and risky manoeuvre’, which became compounded. Lubbock argued that ‘the old man was in a hurry to fall out of the frying pan into the fire’. Luckily, according the version in Lubbock, the young second mate paid no attention to his captain, but:

‘kept his eyes glued on the Blackadder’s maintop. Then as the wind came aft
the expected happened. There was a flash of fire aloft. The chains had parted!
In a moment the cheeks fell adrift from the mast and down fell the lower rigging
…Without its support the mainmast began to heel at every roll…’

They were halfway through the voyage –2,000 miles from the Cape and 1,500 from Rio – and with no chance of help in the situation they found themselves in.

What happened next was an extremely dramatic episode. It is described in a great deal of detail by Lubbock – and those who want the technicalities of the story are advised to read his account. What comes over to the general reader however is the coolness with which the crew dealt with an extremely difficult and dangerous situation. As the rigging fell from the mast – men ran to ‘stand clear’ and then mast began to heel over more on each roll of the ship. Not being properly secured at the deck, the mainmast began to buckle below and burst up the main deck – smashing crates of glass stowed around it. The mate called for an axe ‘to nick the mast’. The mast then hung at an angle over the port side of the ship, but before it could be cut away a roller sent it across the deck and over the starboard side, tearing up more planking of the main deck. At the same time, the mizzen mast began to sway ominously. The entire crew worked to send the damaged mainmast clear of the ship and at the same time save the mizzen mast. A man trying to belay a tackle on the mizzen stay, slipped on the wet deck and the mizzen fell while the ‘rudder began to lift in an ominous manner’. By now the foremast too was ‘sagging forward’ and the sea was pouring through the holes into the deck and into the hold.

The story continues that the captain was ‘so unnerved’ that he ‘disappeared below and was not seen again until late in the day’. In the short term the situation was saved by the mate and our friend the young second mate, while the carpenter and his team secured the hole in the deck. The two mates retired for a smoke to discuss the proceedings’ and waited for daylight. What is impressive is the efficiency with which this dangerous situation was dealt with. The next job was to try and save the foremast. While this was being done, a man called Stevens was almost involved in an accident – the nearest it appears that anyone came to real injury. This was caused when the royal yard came crashing down, and he only just managed to slide down from the ‘topgallant masthead’ to the relative safety of the topmast cap deck, before the ‘mast broke 2 feet above him and by a miracle cleared him’. It might be said that the crew of Blackadder were exceptionally lucky to get through such an episode with, apparently, no injuries and only a near accident to report!

It was then decided to head for Rio, which was nearer and because the wind direction was better. Two ‘jury masts’ were erected, but by the time that was done, the wind had changed and it was decided to head for the Cape instead. In due course, she encountered the St Mungo of Glasgow which tried an approach, ‘with the intention of speaking her’, but Blackadder was so fast, even with her makeshift masts and gear, that St. Mungo was unable to catch ‘the lame duck’.

Lubbock continued with the story of how unlucky she was and went on to describe how, while she was at the Cape under repair, she was involved in three collisions, and then – once underway to Shanghai – she was hit by a French mail streamer in the China Seas. Leaving Shanghai for Penang she was involved in yet another collision. Eventually, she returned to London after 117 days out, from Penang, and the insurance met were waiting for her.

The resultant court case went on and on and on. The underwriters would not entertain the claim because Blackadder’s masts had not been properly secured, and Willis then went on to sue the builders. The court case was to cause a problem not only for Maudslay, Sons and Field, but for Blackadder’s sister ship, Halloween, whose launching became delayed. Perhaps however, it might be better to take through the story of Blackadder to the end of her sailing life – although Blackadder, as we shall see, is far from gone.

Blackadder was handed over to Captain Moore, who took her to Shanghai and then back from, Foochow in 123 days, with only one collision on the whole voyage. She was then taken over by her ex-mate, Sam Blisset, and went to Sydney. In the Pacific, she again lost her masts in a typhoon, while carrying coal to Shanghai. After leaving Shanghai, she went to Iloilo to take cargo for Boston. In October 1873, she got into a storm near Banguey Island where she anchored and later struck an uncharted reef. The crew abandoned ship, but she came off the reef and went off ‘as if steered by some demon’. With some difficulty, the crew retrieved her. Fortunately ‘owing to the extra strength of her iron plates’ the ship ‘sustained no injury from her pounding’. The bottom of her hull, however, had become fouled, with the result that she ‘made a terribly long passage to Boston’. On her next voyage she nearly killed her new master, Captain White, when her windlass broke whilst anchored off the North Foreland.

Lubbock described Blackadder throughout these episodes as a ‘mankiller’, although there is no account of anyone having actually been injured in any of these mishaps and the ship herself survived remarkably well. What Blackadder could do was to achieve fast speeds. In 1872 she made a fast voyage between Deal and Shanghai of 95 days. She never quite, however, matched the record making speeds of her sister ship, Halloween. It has to be wondered why Blackadder had such a bad reputation – Lubbock does not mention her speed, only the accidents. Blackadder stayed afloat in some terrible disasters – all of which were dealt with efficiently by her crews – and she was very, very, fast.

In 1899 Blackadder was sold to a Norwegian company, and was still a fast ship. In November 1905, she left Barry Docks with a cargo of coal and was wrecked at Bahia when entering the port. This might seem to have been the end of Blackadder and so I thought. However, I put an earlier version of my research on the internet, through the Greenwich Industrial History Society website. I then forgot about it until I received an email from someone in Bahia. Surprisingly, they stated that:

‘As a scuba diver I am taking advantage of the local warm water and diving
as often as possible. One of the sites we visit, especially if we have new divers,
is a wreck known locally as the Black Drr, a Norwegian steam/sail ship. Very
recently, a local diver has discovered that the ship is actually the Blackadder.
She lies alongside the shore line at the bottom of a rock outcrop. Two of the masts
lie pointing out to sea and there is very little of her hull left.”

Brazilian divers are proud of Blackadder and have produced a basic plan of her wreck, together with photographs which can be found on their web site.14 So this fast clipper ship, built in Greenwich, provides sport for the leisure diving fraternity – perhaps someone someday will provide a proper archaeological record of what remains of her.

The Blackadder’s sister, Halloween, was another iron clipper built for speed. She was built to exactly the same dimensions as Blackadder, with both ships being slightly longer and slimmer than Cutty Sark. She could not be delivered to Willis until the Blackadder lawsuit was settled and so she sat at Greenwich until she finally sailed in 1871. Lubbock noted that on her maiden voyage she had to turn back because of excessive water had in her well due to rubbish having been left in her limbers. Once on her maiden voyage, however, she went to Sydney in 69 says –– and she continued with record breaking trips, in particular a journey from Shanghai to London in 89 days – Cutty Sark’s best was 110. Even Lubbock had to admit that ‘her record for the China trade was truly wonderful one’, and that ‘she was considered the only vessel which could seriously rival Thermopylae and Cutty Sark in speed’.15

The Halloween remained in the tea trade long after the Suez Canal and steamers had sealed the fate of many other clippers. Her end came on the 17th January 1887, when she was returning to London from Foochow loaded with tea. She had been slowed by bad weather, and her crew was exhausted when they saw the Eddystone Light. In huge seas, she lost her course and was driven to the shore. At 7.30pm she ran into the west end of the Hamstone and crashed at Soar Mill Cove. The crew took to the rigging, and then returned to the smashed deck to send up flares. No one saw them. In the morning three men tried to swim ashore – but only two of them made it. They reached a farmhouse for help, but the lifeboat did not reach the ship until 10.00 am. All 19 of the remaining crew were saved. Within three days the ship had broken up. The cargo of tea washed into Soar Cove where it formed a twelve feet high barrier. The storms covered the wreck of the Halloween with sand and she was forgotten. The story of the wreck is told on the web site of some Devon divers.16

In February 1990, Steve Carpenter took his dog for a walk along the beach and, to his surprise, the previously sandy beach had become all rocks. Storms made diving impossible for some months and it was some time before any of this could be investigated. Eventually a diver went out, anchored looked around, and realised that he was actually above a huge wreck which had appeared in an area they had often dived before:

‘Underneath me was a huge hatch, part of a bow and a massive mast lying out
across the sand … you could see the remains of the once proud bowsprit with
wood decking all around… and a complete porthole glinting in the sunbeams.
Now I knew what heaven was going to be like!’

Most interestingly, the porthole had been made by J. Stone & Co., Deplored – clearly one of the subcontractors to Maudslay. Therefore, Halloween too is available to the divers, and another Greenwich built ship is still there to be investigated.

The Turkish Ferries

There had been a number of ‘Turkish Gentlemen’ at the launch of the Lady Derby at Maudslay, Sons & Field’s Greenwich yard. It seems that they were there to place orders. It appears from the company’s surviving engine lists that a number of paddle steamers built for the Bosphorus ferry service had been engine by them from 1851. Three more names have been unearthed by a paddle steamer enthusiast group – Azimet, Rahat and Selamet.17 These are said to have been built by Maudslay, Sons & Field in 1870. The paddle steamer enthusiasts have spotted that one of the three met its end in 1911 and the other two in 1915 and thus speculate that they had Turkish war time uses, which perhaps led to their destruction.

Two further ferries were described on a Turkish web site – and the information given here is derived from them.18 The ferry company which provided services across the Bospherus was called the Sirket-i-Hayriye, founded in 1851 as the first Ottoman joint stock company. Their earliest steam ferries were supplied by British builders: J. Samuel White, East Cowes (1854-1860); Money Wigram & Sons, Blackwall (1863-1869); Maudslay, Sons & Field, East Greenwich (1870-1872); and R. & H. Green, Blackwall (1872-1890, 1894-1896). In the late 1860s they had found the need for a different sort of ferry. Up until then the ferries had been for passengers and freight only, but there was also a demand for the carriage of horses, carts, coaches, as well as army transports. Something was needed which could be loaded at each end. Such ferry boats are common today, but in the 1860s this was a revolutionary concept which was to be worked out by Sirket in conjunction with Maudslay, Sons & Field.

Sirket-I-Hayriye was managed by Huseyin Haki Efendi, from Crete. He made a rough sketch of the sort of craft, which he needed to resolve his problems of the carriage of vehicles across the Bosphorus. He discussed these plans with Iskender Efendi, who had previously worked for the Turkish Government as an inspector, and Mehmed Usta, the chief naval architect at the Haskoy Shipyard, used by Sirket-I-Hayriye for repair work. Usta developed the sketch into detailed designs and took them to Maudslay in Greenwich.

Maudslay built two ferries to the Mehmed Usta’s plans. The first of them cost £8000, and was 275 tons, with a length of 149 feet and a beam of 28 feet. She was equipped with a single cylinder 400 hp engine to provide seven knots. It was finished in 1872 and then had to be transported to Turkey. This was not easy since it had to travel under its own steam from London via the Atlantic, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean and was, of course, built for relatively sheltered waters. Conditions were difficult and dangerous and on several occasions the ship was in danger of being lost. In due course she arrived in Istanbul in good order and was named Suhulet which means ‘to be easy’ and this name was said to be given as a consolation for the difficulties of the journey. She was numbered 26 in the ferry fleet.

Suhulet had been designed to carry vehicles and when she was put into service the Bosphorus boatmen protested because they feared they would lose trade. They intended to stop her first voyage from Uskudar to Kabatas, but this protest was effectively stopped by the actions of Huseyin Haki Effendi who arranged that the first passengers should be an artillery battery. For this, and for her first voyage, he received a commemorative medal from Sultan Abdulaziz.

The Turkish authorities were so pleased with Suhulet that they returned to Maudslay, Sons & Field for a second double ended ferry. This was identical except for a more powerful engine. She was to be called Sahilbent, which means ‘linking two shores’ and was named by the Turkish poet, Nakik Kemal. The two ferries continued to work across the Bosphorus from Uskudar to Kabitas. They proved useful in 1911 when, in a war between Turkey and Italy, Suhulet carried four gun batteries to Canakkale taking four hours to cross the Dardanelles. Previously the journey would have taken four days.

The years went by. In 1945 Sirket-i-Hayriye was taken into state control and became part of the Turkish Maritime Lines. Suhulet had already been fitted with a diesel engine in 1930 and had lost her tall funnel. In 1952 she was given yet another new engine and some more modifications were made. Six years later, after 86 years of work, she was withdrawn from service and broken up for scrap in 1961. Sahilbent however continued.

Sahilbent was first overhauled in 1927 and was taken out of ferry service in 1959, after 87 years of work. She was still seaworthy and so was sold. In 1967 she was renamed the Kaptan Sukru. At her sale it was finally noticed that this was a very old working vessel and a magazine article appeared naming her as the ‘oldest ship still in service in the world’.19 Sahilbent, however, was far from finished and was fitted with a new engine and still appeared in the shipping registers in 1996.

It has not proved possible, as yet, to discover the current whereabouts of Sahilbent. In 1998 a news agency in Anatolia released a story which was later repeated on the Turkish Pilots service web site.20 This told how a small cargo ship had caught fire offshore in Pazar county Rize Province, and had then ran aground on the Ardasen Coast. She had left Rize Port with a load of heavy logs to take to a mine at Hopa. The seven member crew were taken off and the ship left to burn. So, is this Sahilbent and, if so, where is she now? Neither the Turkish pilot service nor the Anatolian News Agency answer email enquiries. Is she a burnt out hulk somewhere on the Ardasen coast? Has she been broken up? Might she have even been refitted and refloated and is there – somewhere in Turkey – a working vessel, which was built 130 years ago in Greenwich? Hopefully, one day, it might be possible to answer these questions.

The Greenwich Vestry and the Riverside Path

Maudslay, Sons & Field had taken formally over the lease for the Bay Wharf site in 1868, but had been building up the site since 1864. Contemporary photographs show that they had taken over the buildings use by their predecessors, the National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, but they also began to make changes themselves. As early as January 1865 they began to build new slips on site.21 Within the next few years, however, a row developed between themselves and the Greenwich Vestry which was to end in the High court.

In 1999 the London Borough of Greenwich was in the High Court to defend the public right of way along the Greenwich Peninsula riverside. The same question – and almost the same stretch of riverside – had taken their predecessor to court before. The right of way along the river has taken up a great deal of the local authorities’ time over the past 150 years – and no doubt will do so for a long time yet to come. In the mid-19th century new factories opened along the riverfront and wanted close the riverside path in order to build slipways and ships, undertake other industrial activities and load cargo – while today their successors want to close the riverside for private housing schemes.

In the 1860s the Greenwich Vestry was becoming increasingly concerned about the path. In September 1867 their Surveyor reported that Messrs. Bessemer, steel manufacturers, had stopped up the footway on the north side of their premises and that Messrs. Maudslay had erected a doorway on the public footpath. At the same time a petition was presented to the Board from ‘certain inhabitants of East Greenwich’ complaining about the obstructions on the riverbank. At a subsequent meeting, Mr. Soames, the soap manufacturer whose works was also adjacent to the East Greenwich riverside, said that ‘no one required to go along the footpath’ leading to cries of ‘Oh! Oh!’ from members of the public present at the meeting. Soames went on to say that if the footpath remained open, the factories would also have to be closed down, and that it would cost too much to build a new road. This was echoed by other speakers, who wondered what would be the use if all the waterside premises in London had a footpath running in front of them!’ It was, however, felt that the right of way was important and a sub-committee was set up under the Greenwich Board of Works. This was eventually to lead to court action.

In October 1868 the Greenwich Vestry discussed the application of Lewis and Stockwell, shipbuilders, to build a dry dock on the Greenwich Peninsula at Blackwall Point. This would have meant the diversion of the footpath. Although the Vestry was keen to promote new employment and manufacturers in the area, the view was expressed that it was not a good idea to ‘give up these old rights in a hurry’ and the Vestry set off on a tour of inspection, which, sadly, is not reported. By then, however, the Vestry was awaiting the judgement on their case against Maudslay, Sons & Field and Messrs. Bessemer.

The case, taken against Maudslay, Sons & Field by the Greenwich Vestry came before the Court of Queen’s Bench, in Maidstone, on 21st May 1867. The right of way in question was that which stretched from Ballast Quay to Lombard Wall in Charlton. It is perhaps remarkable that it was only in December 2001 – 134 years after this court case – that the path was open to be walked throughout this whole length. At the hearing, it was agreed that it could not be shown when the river wall had been built, but that it was there at the time of the Norman Conquest, that it had been under the care of the Commissioners of Sewers between the 37th year of Henry VIII’s reign and 1855 – and so as long as the memory of man could be expected to go back it had been a public footpath.22 The case of Mr. Bracegirdle, in 1843, whose fences had been broken down the parish officers, was cited.23 The opposition said that the path went along the sea wall and that this was an artificial construction, and could not, therefore, have become a public right of way. Lord Chief Justice Cockburn concluded that this was not so – the public had used the path, for all they knew, since Roman times and declared in favour of the right of way.

The Greenwich Vestry had won their point – but as more recent events have shown, vigilance is needed if the path is to remain open for the public use. Despite the gloomy predictions of Mr. Soames, Maudslay, Sons & Field did not go out of business because they were forced to open the path – in fact, they seem to have flourished for some years to come.

Later shipbuilding, engineering and boiler making

For the period after 1871, it becomes much more difficult to find out what ships exactly were built at Maudslay, Sons & Field’s Greenwich yard. We are partly in the realm of guesswork. Certainly; the days of innovative shipbuilding seem to have passed – and we are left with only a few vessel names. In 1872 the yard launched a screw steamer, SS Legislator, of 2126 gross registered tons, for the Liverpool based Harrison Line. Another tank vessel, Elizabeth, was built in 1873 for use at Devonport.24

It is also possible that Maudslay, Sons and Field built yachts. There is some suggestion that Telford Field had his own yacht, Marama, built at Greenwich. As engines were provided for a number of yachts after 1870, it is also possible that the yachts themselves were built by the company. Interestingly, Maudslay, Sons & Field was amongst the very earliest British builders of torpedo boats, in the late 1870s. Unfortunately, only one such vessel, TB 13, was built at Greenwich, in 1879, and production became dominated by market leaders J. I. Thornycroft & Co., of Chiswick, and Yarrow & Co., of Cubitt Town.25 She was recorded as having a brass hull and was described ‘a very bad seaboat with good engines’.26 It may be that this comment in fact sums up the Maudslay’s yard at Greenwich – the company made magnificent engines, but the ships never quite reached the same standard. She was broken up in 1896.

What exactly was undertaken at the yard in the 1870s is far from clear. As we have already seen, only a few ships built in the 1870s have been identified. No building has been discovered after the launch of TB 13. It known that the yard became a boiler works, although exactly when was this transition was made, and why, is still something of an unknown. Banbury stated that the boiler works was transferred there, from Lambeth, in 1872.27 Unfortunately, Banbury gave no contemporary source to support his statement. What does seem clear is that the main boiler works were actually moved to Greenwich in 1881. Writing in October of that year, of his visit to the Lambeth works, a journalist reported that:

‘The works are undergoing considerable alteration, and it may be mentioned that
Messrs. Maudslay…have decided upon removing the boilermaking department
entirely to their extensive premises at Greenwich…The old boiler shop is now being
converted into another erecting shop, which will have every modern facility for
erecting heavy machinery. Owing to the transitory state of the works, there are not
many engines or boilers being finished’.28

Whilst the need to relocate the boilermaking department was caused by the loss of a lease on part of the frontage of the Lambeth works, which had housed an erecting shop, it must have also reflected spare capacity at the East Greenwich works.

From 1881 the East Greenwich works would have been kept busy making boilers for Maudslay, Sons & Field made marine engines. Other manufacturing projects, however, were also undertaken there. In 1886 the company had a British naval contract to build ‘torpedo tubes and gear’.29 Early in 1894, the East Greenwich works made the axle and bearing for the giant wheel at Earl’s Court.30 In the same year an even more momentous event occurred, which was to secure the site’s future for the next five years, or so. This had its origins with the French Belleville boilermaking company, which had developed one of the earliest water tube boilers. Following a trial fitting of Bellville boilers to the gunboat, HMS
Sharpshooter, the Admiralty became converts and instructed that they should be fitted to all new naval ships. Here was an opportunity for Maudslay, Sons & Field and their Greenwich Yard:

‘The new cruisers Terrible and Powerful are to be fitted with boilers of the
Bellville type, which will be made in England. Messrs. Maudslay, Sons and Field
are the agents and manufacturers of the Bellville boiler in this country’.31

An extensive re-fit is said to have taken place at the yard to facilitate the building of the Bellville boilers.32 Initial contracts for these boilers must have kept the yard very busy, especially as warships were fitted with large numbers of them and the company also provided them for some foreign navies. As examples of the former, HMS Terrible (built by J. & G. Thompson, Clydebank) and HMS Powerful (built by Vickers Ltd., Barrow) each had 48 Maudslay made Bellville boilers. Unfortunately, however, Maudslay, Son & Field’s effective monopoly became a matter of strong contention and sparked the so-called ‘battle of the boilers’. Whilst some strongly supported the Bellville boiler, others criticised them and championed the water tube boilers being developed by Yarrow, Thorneycroft, Laird and Babcock & Wilcox.33 In the face of stiff opposition, the Admiralty gave way and by 1904 the navy was replacing them with Babcock & Wilcox equipment. Maudslay had clearly not backed a winner and this, as we shall see, was one of the reasons behind the final demise of the yard.

The site and the Blackwall Tunnel

In May 1896, the company wrote to Morden College, the ground landlords, saying that they wanted to extend the lease, which would otherwise expire in 1898.34 Presumably, this reflected their optimism regarding the manufacture of the Bellville boilers. They also informed Morden College that they wanted to move their Lambeth works to East Greenwich and – once again – to extinguish the right of way on the riverside path. Negotiations were with Herbert Maudslay, but he appears to have been somewhat less than keen, since he cancelled a meeting with the Morden College trustees on the grounds that he had to go to Cowes. This ‘urgent business’ might explain a lot about the way in which the family, and the company, was going. Herbert Maudslay’s main interest was in fact yachting. Thirty years previously he had been the owner of Sphinx, said to be the originator of the spinnaker sail, and in 1893 he had been a founder of the Sea View Sailing Club, near Ryde, on the Isle of Wight – a sort of sailing co-operative venture where members were encouraged to make donations into a central fund in order to purchase club boats. By 1895, it was the Sea View Yacht Club and a village had begun to grow up around it and to take its name. Herbert was Hon. Secretary of the Club for eight years, and by 1908, there were eight other Maudslay family members in the club. Herbert remained as Commodore of the Club until his death in 1926.

It is likely, however, that the imminent expiry of the lease was not the only thing which drove them to consider the yard and its future. Throughout the 1890s the Blackwall Tunnel was being built almost underneath Maudslay, Sons & Field’s Greenwich works. The Prince of Wales was down to open it and, clearly, Maudslay would have wanted the works to have look nice for the royal event. They submitted a drawing to Morden College of a proposed new gatehouse to their works. On the gate was to be written ‘Maudslay Sons and Field Ltd. Belleville Boiler Works’ – then still seen to hold the future for the site.

Meanwhile as far as the Greenwich works was concerned, the company concentrated on the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales. In 1896, the London County Council (LCC) altered the line of the frontage of the Blackwall premises – hence the need for the new gatehouse. Agreement on this could not be reached with the LCC and correspondence between them and Maudslay, Sons & Fields’ solicitors became increasingly angry. The new line of the frontage had suddenly become a problem. The LCC erected a fence on their version of the line and the company took it down and handed the pieces to the LCC foreman. Things were beginning to deteriorate rapidly.35

In January 1898 there was a fire in Blackwall Lane and some of the yard’s structures were damaged and by March the company had been summoned by the LCC on account of a dangerous structure on their site. However, responsibility for this had now devolved to Morden College, as the ground landlord, as Maudslay had ceased to pay them any rent and Morden College’s insurers were now involved.

Closure of the yard

By the time of the problems with Morden College, plans were apparently underway to move the company’s operations – especially the Lambeth Works – to Ipswich. In October 1899, however, actions by debenture holders meant that receivers were appointed. The contents of the Lambeth marine engine works were auctioned from 23rd April to the 3rd June 1900.36 It was at this sale that the Science Museum acquired Henry Maudslay’s early machine tools and the company’s collection of marine engines.

The Greenwich yard kept going for a couple of more years, finishing work on their last Bellville boiler contracts. The auction sale of the works was held on 3rd June 1902.37 The sale catalogue makes for poignant reading. From the sale catalogue and from the advertisements for the sale of the lease we can begin to get an idea of what the works was like – at least in its final years as a boiler works. It stood on nine and half acres with a 750 ft frontage to the Thames with a substantially deep water jetty. There was a wet dock, which could take barges up to 200 tons. There was a gate with a keeper’s lodge, timekeeper’s office and urinals. There was a three bay erecting shop, a galvanising shop, store shed, boiler house engine house and chimney, as well as many other offices and outbuildings. The site also included a foundry, a machine shop and stores, offices and designing room. There was a stable, a clerks’ office, a typewriting room, and a strong room. It is to the sale catalogue that we must go for the detail – and not just for the Massey patent steam hammer and radial drilling machine by Whitworth. The catalogue, which ran to 76 pages, listed all the machinery on site. On the fourth day the auction turned to the offices with their lino, the stools covered in ‘faulty American cloth’, the square of blue Axminister carpet and a ‘japanned tin purdonium’. There were books, including ‘Bourne on the Screw Propeller’, and coloured prints of the ‘Great Western Steamship’. In addition, there were 14 photographs of machinery. The firm had always taken photographs of everything – where are those photographs now? Second on the auction list, after Henry Maudslay’s own equipment, came ‘Camera with Wray Lens’ – which was what they considered their second most valuable piece of equipment. Wray’s lens works still stands by the Ravensbourne in Ashgrove Road, Bellingham. Mary can you please confirm that this definitely all relates to the Greenwich sale

Interestingly, the sale notice advertised the fact that the site was suitable ‘for the construction of a shipbuilding yard, engineering or manufacturing premises’. This attempt to reinvent the wheel, however, was not a success. The site appears not to have been sold and it was again put up for auction sale on the 30th June 1903.38 Morden College later assigned the lease to a new occupier, Segar Emery, an American mahogany importer and Maudslay’s were largely forgotten in Greenwich, but the family continued with their engineering and business interests. In 1901, the Maudslay Motor Company was set up under W. H. Maudslay and at the same time the Standard Motor Company was opened with the intention of standardising motor parts. This is not a history of the British motor industry, but Maudslays clearly went on to play an important part in its development. Perhaps it should also be noted that Delauney- Belleville, in France, ceased to be boilermakers and too became involved with early Renault cars.


1. Mary can you please provide a full reference for this.
2. Banbury, P., Shipbuilders of the Thames and Medway (Newton Abbot), 199.
3. Morden College Archive Mary can you please provide a full reference for this.
4. Mary can you please provide a full reference for this quote
5. Kentish Mercury, 14 October 1865.
6. Ward, A. R., The Chronicles of the Royal Thames Yacht Club (Arundel, 1999), 32; Banbury, op.cit., also includes the Sphinx in his yard ship list, 205.
7. Ward, ibid., 55.
8. Kentish Mercury, 1869 Mary can you please provide a full reference for this.
9. Banbury, op.cit., 205. The Star was built for Lord Otho Fitzgerald.
10. Bessemer, Sir Henry, Sir Henry Bessemer: An Autobiography (London, 1905) Mary can you provide a page reference for this.
10. Science Museum Library, Maud: Arch 10/4;22/1;22/3.
12. Lubbock, B., The China Clippers (Glasgow, 1946, second edition), 202-213, has been the main printed source used for the Blackadder and Halloween. Useful material on the two ships can also be found in MacGregor, D. R., The Tea Clippers (London, 1972 edition).
13. MacGregor, D. R., Fast Sailing Ships – Their Design and Construction, 1775-1875 (London, 1988 edition), 254, 258.
15. Lubbock, op.cit., 240.
18. Although the story of Suhulet and Sahilbent is mentioned elsewhere, a detailed version appeared on a web site belonging to Turkish airlines. This site has now disappeared – and, in any case, did not respond to emails or any attempt at communication. It referred to an article in Time magazine as its source, but this article cannot be traced. I have been told that the author of the article, Esel Tutel, has written a book ‘History of the Sirket-I-Hayriya ferry company’ published Iletisim Yayincilik, 1994. This is in Turkish and I have not been able to trace a copy.
19. Sadly, it has not been possible to trace this article.
20. Wysiwyg://11//
21. Museum of London Docklands/Port of London Authority Collection, Thames Conservators Minutes, 16 January 1865.
22. Mary do you have a reference for this.
23. Mary can you provide the full reference for your Bygone Kent piece
24. Banbury, op.cit., 205.
25. Winfield and Lyon, to come
26. Mary do you have a reference for this.
27. Banbury, op.cit., 203.
28. The Engineer, 7 October 1881, 253.
29. Hansard, 7 June 1886.
30. Survey of London – Southern Kensington: Kensington Square to Earl’s Court (London, 1986), 335.
31. Brassey, T. A., The Naval Annual 1894 (Portsmouth, 1894), p.9.
32. Graham, I., Alfred Maudslay and the Maya (London, 2002), p. 237.
33. Technical details of the Bellville boiler, and other contemporary marine boilers can be found in , Sptatt, H. P., Science Museum: Handbook of the Collections Illustrating Marine Engineering (London, n.d.), 84-88
34. Morden College Archive. Mary do you have a full reference for this.
35. Morden College Archive. Mary do you have a full reference for this.
36. Science Museum Library, Maud: Arch 14/1, auction sale notice.
37. Science Museum Library, Maud: Arch 14/2, auction sale notice.
38. The London Gazette, 17 July 1903, 4549.

Return to Maudslay Son and Field

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.



Based on lectures given before the Society by Mr. Bartlett in January 1960 and December 1963.

ANTIQUARIANS have always been interested in the remains of ancient trades and manufacturing activities but the factories railways, docks and other constructions which since the Industrial Revolution, have gradually replaced the small craft workshops and primitive industries of earlier days have long been regarded as the curse of archaeology and the destroyers of much of beauty and without historical interest. With the passage of 200 years however the earlier examples of industrialisation have themselves acquired an historical importance and “industrial Archaeology” as a special branch of study has been born. Greenwich has preserved much of traditional antiquarian interest among its ecclesiastical secular and domestic building and this is in some measure clue to the fact that, when wide-spread industrial development took place in the lower Thames in the 19th and 20th centuries there was within the Borough a large and almost inbuilt area with a long river frontage. in which it could take place. It is the changes which have occurred in that area known as East Greenwich Marsh and its waterside which are the subject of this paper.

In considering the development of the River Thames below bridges, and its trade, one must not lose sight of the fact that until a few hundred years ago the Lower River was for the most part a good deal shallower and,at high water, much wider than it is today. Its banks were generally low-lying and at each high tide the water spread itself for a considerable distance on either side thus rendering much of adjacent land unsuitable for the erection of buildings at least by methods then current except in the comparatively few places where there was a natural bank of firm ground. It was largely a marsh and so were Lambeth, part of Bermondsey, much of Rotherhithe, The Isle of Dogs, and most of what is now East Greenwich. And below down to the estuary, there were, and indeed still are, areas of unreclaimed marsh and saltings.

For the Lower Thames there are records from the 11th century onwards of Commissions appointed to survey and make repairs to the banks, but often early efforts in this direction were more or less isolated attempts by individuals to protect their property. Then in the 17th century came the importation of Dutch engineers, with plenty of experience, to carry out the building of walls and embankments at various places on the lower River and they did excellent and lasting work. Nevertheless as recently as 1770 there were no locks on the upper river and, though certain pound locks were afterwards constructed at Maidenhead and above, the large range of locks on the Thames upper reaches which we know were not built until 1815. The River’s earlier flow was thus virtually unregulated. The Thames Conservancy was not established until 1857 and up to that time, the authority over the River rested with the Crown. The setting up of the Port of London Authority to take control of the river below Teddington, where the tidal flow now ends took place only as recently as 1909. In the London area drainage of adjacent lands was for in the hands of Courts of Sewers which were annually elected. Later to form the Metropolitan Board of Sewers and this became the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. That body was the direct forerunner of the London County Council formed in 1888.

The other matter to be borne in mind when considering trade on and near the River is the nature and rate of flow of the tide. On the lower Thames the current is at certain times strong but not so as to interfere seriously with navigation. The speed varies at different localities but somewhere about four knots on the full strength of the ebb is about the maximum. The rise and fall of the tide is about 20 feet at springs and I0 feet at neap and, so far from tidal conditions being a disadvantage London watermen have for generations saved much time and effort by making intelligent use of them. Nevertheless there have been proposals from time to time to construct barrages at a variety of places on the lower Thames to convert the reaches above into a tideless waterway. The first such scheme was put forward in the latter part of the 17th century and in 1793 there was plan to cut a new channel for the River across the Isle of Dogs.

Again in 1902 a Royal Commission examined a proposal to make a cut across East Greenwich Marsh from Angerstein Wharf to Pelton Road to connect the ends of Blackwall and Bugsbys Reaches and to convert these reaches into large docks, with a barrage and bridge across to Poplar, thus turning the Marsh into an island. There have also been schemes for barrages at Woolwich and, more recently, at Gravesend but none of these proposals has materialised


‘The “Marsh” was a broad tongue of low-lying land some 500 acres in extent. its southern base being approximately a mile long on the line of the present Woolwich Road and extending on the west to the eastern boundary of the old Royal Palace, and on the east to Lombard Wall, The boundary between East Greenwich and Charlton. Northward it extended about a mile and a quarter to Blackwall Point or Lea Ness as it was originally known in the 15th century.

Protection and Reclamation.
The first of a number of commissions “to overlook river walls and ditches” was set up in 1315- known to have been a year of heavy floods -and by the 15th and 16th centuries attempts -had been made to reclaim and protect some of the land by ditches and dykes furnished with sluices to draw the water away. Part of the area was thus made useable for grazing and farming. The two main drainage outlets were Bendish Sluice which discharged into the river on the west side towards the southern end and Arnold’s Sluice which was about 300 yards to the south-cast of the Point. There was another about 600 yards to the south-west of the Point and a fourth, King’s Sluice, near the eastern extremity of the Marsh, close to Horn Lane. In a document of 1375 to which incidentally Geoffrey Chaucer was a witness –this part of the Marsh is referred to as “Hornemarsh.’

A deed of Richard II (1398), which was described and illustrated by the late Mr. J. W. Kirby (Transactions Vol. IV No. 3), it records the transfer from John and Margaret Wreke to Stephen Shoreham of a rood of land in a field called “Thistle croft.’ This field covered an area of seven acres in the north- west of the Marsh between the River and a way known as “the Drove Wall.” which was probably a raised path for cattle-drovers. The “wall” was mentioned again as a boundary of the West Combe estate when John Lambarde bought the latter in 1544 and it was then referred to as “the common Droyffe way.” In a conveyance of 1567 the reference is to “the wall called the Drowall.”

William Lombard, John’s son and the antiquary, purchased Thistle croft in 1564 but exchanged it later for land further west in Greenwich where he built his almshouses. Kimball in his “Greenwich Charities” records that in the 37th year of the reign of Henry VIII (1545-6) an Act of Parliament was passed to enforce each and every land-owner of Combe Marsh in the parish of East Greenwich to pay and contribute from time to time towards the expense of repairing, maintaining and supporting the sea-wall, embankments, etc. At this period, too, there are references to the King and others hawking on the Marsh. Lambarde’s Wall (designated by that name in 1555 but now known, by a typical corruption as Lombard Wall) was an embankment constructed in the middle or the 16th century by William Lambarde, whose Manor of West Combe included some land in the east of the Marsh to prevent the flooding of his property. The “wall” may still be seen within the land belonging to G A Harvey & Co.

In 1597 Anthony Roper son of William and Margaret Roper of Well Hall, and grandson at Sir Thomas More, left land and tenements at East Greenwich for the benefit of the poor of Farningham and other places in Kent. Included in the land were 30 acres near Horn Lane, later known as the “Ashfield.” and about 12 acres near Arnolds Sluice of which a portion was reed beds outside the river wall.

At some time before 1600 the River broke its banks quite extensively at a point roughly half a mile south-westward of the Point and this is referred to in subsequent documents and maps as “The Great Breach.” or “Horse Shoe Breach.’ The bank was never repaired along its original line but a new river wall was later made in a large loop to the eastward and this is the line it follows today.

In the early 17th century a Court of Sewers for East Greenwich was set up to regulate the work of drainage or the Marsh and to apportion the liability for the work among the various owners and tenants. The minutes of this “Marsh Court” are still in existence from 1625 in the possession of the Greater London Council.

In 1620 a number of parcels of land bordering the north side of Woolwich Road between Marsh Lane and Horn Lane were left by William Hatcliffe for the benefit of the local poor and Kimball in 1816 records that the feoffees of Hatcliffe’s Charity were still subject to the payment of a rate or assessment called “the wall scot” as adjudged by the Commissioners of Sewers of Greenwich Level. The word “scot” was applied generally from very early times to a charge levied on a landowner or householder for local or national purposes and prior to the Reform Act of 1832 his payment entitled him to his vote. The origin of the saying “scot free’ can also be seen here.

Early Roads and Paths.
A lane existed prior to 1638, starting from a point opposite Conduit Lane (the present Vanbrugh Hill) and running north-eastward through the centre of the Marsh, as does its present-day successor, Blackwall Lane. It continued by a winding course to the riverside near the end of what is now River Way, where a mill later stood. From a point rather more than half way along this course a footpath, which eventually became a narrow lane, ran north-west- ward along the line of the present Dreadnought Road and then north towards the tip of the Marsh. This almost certainly followed, at least in part, the old “Drove Way.” At the end of the 17th century the southern portion of the road was referred to on Travers’ map as Green Lane and on Rocque’s map of 1746 it was shown as Marsh Lane. Indeed that name was used in a deed of the reign of Charles I. In 1789 the trustees of Hatcliffe’s Charity leased to John Andrews for 50 years two acres of “garden ground” at the corner of Marsh Lane and Woolwich Road and “two messuages standing thereon called the; Marsh House and Crooked Billet.” Later still the lane was called “Ship and Billet Lane” after the inn built, and since rebuilt, at the corner of Woolwich Road. The “Ship and Billet” tavern was, in the early part of the 19th century, a quite pretentious looking house with a tea-garden and a bowling green attached to it.

There was by the reign of James I, and no doubt earlier, about half a mile east of Marsh Lane a short track which ran northward from Woolwich Road for two or three hundred yards. It was about where Chilver Street now is and was known variously as Vicar’s Lane, Wiccars Lane or Vicarage Lane because it led to a field of glebe land called “the Vicar’s Acre.”

Rocque’s map shows a path by the River’s edge but the only other access deep into the Marsh was in the east where Horn Lane (referred to in 1555 as “Horne- wall”) ran and still runs, towards the River in a north-easterly direction from a point on Woolwich Road nearly opposite the site of the old farmhouse of East Combe.

Ownerships and Field Names.
Samuel Travers’ map of 1695 and his accompanying Survey show that at that date sixteen fields totalling 92 acres at the eastern side of the Marsh next to Lambarde’s Wall formed part of East Combe Farm and were designated by such names as “The Nineteen Acres” and “the Two Ten Acres.” Travers’ Commissioners in valuing this part of East Coomb Farm made the comment that the charges for repairing banks and sea-walls “were accounted very considerable.”

In the reign of Elizabeth I letters patent had been issued appointing a Steward of the Lordship or Manor of Pleasaunce in East Greenwich and the Manor then included eighty or more acres of “Marsh Lands.” These were on the western side of the Marsh and were part of the demesne of the Lordship, known as the Manor of Old Court, which from the time of Henry III was owned by the Crown.

In 1674 a reversionary lease of the Manor of Old Court was granted to Sir William Boreman and in 1698 his widow sold this to Sir John Morden. In the following year Sir John purchased the freehold from William and land on the Marsh still provides the Trustees with income which is devoted to the upkeep of Morden College.

A plan of 1734 described as “a particular of lands late of Sir William Boreman” still exists’,’ and it also shows some interesting and unusual field names: Pound Marsh. Foster’s Hole. Pond Meadow, Balsopps or Bishop’s Marsh, Hawk’s Marsh, Goose Pool. Dog Kennel Meadow, Crabtree Croft, Lady Marsh, The Pits and, most peculiar of all, Catt’s Brains: although this last was strictly outside the Marsh area as it was the land on which St. Alphege’s Hospital now stands. It is on a map made by Timothy Skynner in 1745 and adopted by the manuscript by the late J. M. Stone in Greenwich Borough Library and see the Library of the Drapers’ Company. In Buckinghamshire and adjoining counties where this name is common it attaches to land consisting of rough clay mixed with stones, i.e. in appearance somewhat like an animal’s brain.

The Court of Sewers in the following year shows the south-eastern portion of the area (known as Coomb Marsh) as “Singles’ and the rest of the peninsula (known as Land Marsh and New Marsh) as “Doubles.” The annual drainage rates levied on Doubles were twice those on Singles: for example in 1704, 12 shillings per acre and 6 shillings per acre respectively.

First Developments.
On Travers map the only buildings shown upon the Marsh are the “Watch House,” which stood in the centre of its northern part approximately equidistant from the eastern, northern and western edges, and the “New Magazine” which stood on the western shore just north of Bendish Sluice. There is a record in 1759 of a petition by the inhabitants of Greenwich concerning the state of the Powder Magazine “a quarter of a mile distant from their dwellings,” asking for its removal in view of its dangerous condition. It was however, still there in 1794 but probably not in use, as by then the practice was to store gunpowder, for greater safety, in hulks moored in the River. In 1802 the old buildings were purchased by Henry Vansittart and later demolished.

There does not seem to have been any similar protest regarding “Execution Dock” which in the 18th century was moved from Wapping to a site on the western side of the Marsh not far from the Magazine. It consisted of a gallows surrounded by an iron cage erected just below high-water mark and river pirates were hanged and their bodies hung in chains there “until three tides had passed over them.”

A part of the tideway about half-way along the eastern side of the Marsh carries tile name “Bugsby’s Hole” and the whole reach of the Thames between Blackwall Point and Charlton is known as “Bugsbys Reach.” Similarly. The adjacent part of the Marsh is found referred to as “Bugsby’s Marsh (es)” but no record seems to show who this Bugsby was. However. The term “Hole” has long been applied to a part of a tidal river or creek on the inner side of a bend where craft of moderate size could lie afloat at anchor in a sheltered position and out of the way of other traffic. There is a Church Hole at Erith and a Haven Hole at Canvey. It thus might be that the name derives from an early mariner or ship-owner who made habitual use of this part of the river to moor his vessels but who had no particular local connection otherwise. The Hole is still used to moor tiers of lighters.

Near here in River Way are what are probably the oldest buildings now existing on the Marsh, namely the “Pilot” tavern and the row of cottages beside it. A stone in the tavern wall bears the inscription “Ceylon Place. New Pier, Greenwich 1801,’ referring to the then name of the lane and probably to the replacement of some earlier landing stage. A public causeway existed here very much earlier, no doubt for the use of persons having business with vessels anchored in the “Hole.”.

The mill at the north-eastern side of the Marsh at this point, referred to above, first appears on the 1844 map but it definitely existed in 1837 and probably much earlier. It was known as Patrick’s Mill and was a windmill but it also had some kind of provision for working as a tide-mill for, on the landward side, there was a large impounding pond. Whether it was ever used as a drainage mill, as those in Holland, Norfolk and Lincolnshire is doubtful but the 1844 map shows it simply as “grinding mill.” It had disappeared by 1885.


By the early middle ages shipbuilding had become a very important industry on the Thames. Henry V is stated to have built here and in the 15th century large vessels of 500 to 1,000 tons for his Fleet but at that date almost all ships were armed for defence and were used also as trading vessels. It was not until 1513 that Henry VIII established the first Naval Dockyard at Deptford and, shortly after wards, another at Woolwich, both of which built merchant ships however as well as purely war vessels. Many of these ships carried elaborate figure-heads and an interesting ancillary industry, now quite extinct, which existed at Rotherhithe and Deptford from about 1600 for the next 250 years concerned the making, painting and gilding of these figures. Indeed there was a Guild of Carvers located at Rotherhithe who specialised in their production.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution wooden ship-building started to decline from the beginning of the 19th century, iron took its place and the trade gradually moved to the North of England nearer to the sources of material. However, in the meantime many iron ships were built and launched at Greenwich and at Deptford, Millwall and Blackwall. In the middle of last century a firm called “The National Company for Boat Building by Machinery” was building small vessels up to 100 tons at an East Greenwich yard opposite to where the Tunnel entrance now stands. This site was taken over in 1865 by Maudslay Son and Field which had been founded in 1810 by the distinguished engineer. Henry Maudslay, doing general and marine engineering at Lambeth. Maudslay’s continued building quite sizeable ships at East Greenwich until 1872. The building yard was then converted into a boiler works until rising costs in London obliged it to close down in 1900. Some general engineering was also done and parts of the original “Great Wheel” for the Earls Court Exhibition were manufactured there in the 1890s.

As sail gave way to steam, marine engine works, as well as boiler-making works were set up on Thames-side. John Penn & Co. at Deptford and Greenwich were one of these and this firm later became part of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. who in 1911 launched “Thunderer,” the last battleship built all the London River, from their yard at Bow Creek opposite Blackwall Point very close to where Scott Russell & Co. had built “Great Eastern” sixty years before.

Before we leave shipbuilding we must mention the construction of specialised craft for use on London River itself. The Thames sailing barge was without doubt one of the most interesting types of craft in the history of shipping, but now rapidly becoming ex tinct. These beautiful vessels, for so long a characteristic feature of the Greenwich river scene, ranged in size from about 75 to 150 tons –up to 300 tons for coasting work-and so cunningly rigged that they could be handled by a man and a boy, with a third hand for the larger coasters. Starting about 1750 they were built in all kinds of places on Thames-side where a small piece of firm ground was available and Henry Shrubsall, Piper and Norton, all of Greenwich were among the well-known barge-building names.

The first iron barge was an experimental affair built in the 1850’s and nicknamed “The Old Iron Pot” but they did not come into wider use until James R. Piper built a 55-tonner called “City of London” in 18S0 at Piper’s Wharf. At Greenwich, just south of Enderby’s Wharf Pipers who later absorbed T. Scholey of Dawson’s Wharf built many stay-sail river barges between the two wars and in 1949 they still had five sailing barges in commission varying from 50 to 85 tons, though now there are none.”

Shrubsall’s yard was to the south-west of the Point and on the Ordnance Survey map of 1880 a barge builder named Edmunds occupied some sheds close by, just to the south of the present Drawdock Road. On the 1894 map he was still there and a portion of the road was known as “Boat Slip Road.” The yard was later taken over by Humphrey & Grey (Lighterage) Ltd., which in turn was absorbed by Hay’s Wharf Ltd., who maintained it as a barge repairing yard until about 1945 when the business was removed to Bay Wharf half-a-mile further up river. The original property at Point Wharf is now tenanted by Thos. W. Hughan & Co. Ltd., who still use it for barge repair work.

Norton’s barge-building yard was at Pear-tree Wharf on the eastern side.

In 1894 also there was a dry-dock at Blackwall Point owned by Jn. Stewart & Co., but it has since been closed and converted into a reservoir for the South Metropolitan Gas Co. Tar Works.

Thames barges carried all kinds of bulk cargoes cheaply and effectively. They were flat bottomed and drew only a few feet of water, they could thus berth in all manner of odd places and sit upright on a beach or on the mud without harm when the tide was away. Despite their bluff bows and fiat bottoms they could make a remarkable speed-up to 12 knots in favourable conditions . In summer they frequently carried hay and straw from the Essex fields to London: they could sail up a tiny creek to load and then come majestically home with an enormous ‘Stack built up on board and the skipper steering “blind” to the instructions of his mate or boy standing on top of the stack a dozen feet above him.

At one time there were about 8.000 Thames sailing barges registered but today there is only one-‘Cambria’ re-sheathed and re-fitted and kept by Everards of Greenhithe as an example of her type. The same firms which built the sailing barges often constructed another specialised craft, indigenous to London’s tideway, dumb barges or lighters, built originally of wood but, later, of iron and carrying up to 150 or 200 tons. They are towed by small tugs per mitted by River Regulations to take not more than six at time in two tiers of three, but they can also be manoeuvred singly by one man very skilfully using a long oar called a “sweep.” There are still 800 or more in service.

Fishing and Whaling.

In mediaeval times and earlier there were great quantities of fish in the Thames and there is a story of the apprentices of London complaining because they were given too much salmon. There were still plenty of fish in the River or in most parts of it, up to perhaps 150 years ago but with development of the riverside industry the water became progressively dirtier and the fishermen had to go further downstream to find even the whitebait for which Greenwich was long famous. A paper read before the Society in 1915 mentioned large fishing fleets based at Greenwich in earlier days and quoted Domesday Book as referring to Greenwich as a fishing port. I incline to think however that these fishing fleets worked to London for their market but owing to the congested state of the River, they then dropped down stream to anchor after discharging their’ cargoes. The first place where the River widened was Greenwich where there was more room to lie and here crews made their homes. Some of the earliest deep-sea fishermen certainly did; they went out to the North Sea and particularly to the Dogger Bank in Thames-built smacks and by 1840 Greenwich men were going as far afield as Iceland and the Faroes for their catches.

Not only did local fishermen go after small fish: they also sailed in pursuit of bigger creatures –whales in fact. Whale-catching was flourishing in the 13th century in the Bay of Biscay but as the quarry got scarcer English whalers were going north as far as Spitzbergen in the I6th century and to Newfound land in the 17th. A hundred years later Thames ships were bringing whale-blubber back from the coast of Greenland to Howland Dock, Rotherhithe. Then about 1840, when northern waters were starting to become denuded of whales the Enderby brothers fitted out their ships at Enderby Wharf at the south-western side of Greenwich Marsh, for expeditions to the South Polar Seas.

This enlightened local firm employed some of the most enterprising seamen of their day and encouraged and even instructed them to pursue discovery as well as profit by whaling and scaling. Among their skippers who left their own and their employers’ names permanently in the history of Antarctic exploration were James Weddell who in 1822-4 with two ships, the 60 ton Jane and the 65 ton Beaufoy, penetrated to latitude 74° 15′ S., further south than any ship went for many years afterwards. John Biscoe also with two ships -Tula a two-masted brig of 150 tons and Lively a single-masted cutter of a mere 50 tons-crossed the Antarctic Circle on the Greenwich Meridian in 1830 and was “rewarded at last on 28th February 1831 with a view of black mountain summits standing out above the ice-covered land and called it after his employers ‘Enderby Land’. John Balleny in 1839 was the first to discover land to the south of Australia and New Zealand.

The three brothers, Charles, Henry and George Enderby had also founded a rope and canvas factory in 1834 but this was burnt out in a large fire in 1845. Rope making was a natural riverside industry to meet the cable and cordage requirements of the ship-building and ship-repairing trades and many rope-walks were set up along the waterside. Cable Street (Stepney), Ropery Street (Limehouse) and Rope Yard Rails (Woolwich) still provide evidence, and there was a very extensive one in Henry VIII’s Deptford Dockyard, stated to be “replete with all the most up-to-date devices for spinning hemp and making ropes and cables for the service of the Navy.” By 1847 iron had become available drawn into the form of wire and a Camberwell firm, Wm. Kuper & Co., established a factory at Morden Wharf, Greenwich, to make wire ropes, much stronger than those made of hemp. Kupers were bought up in 1854 by Glass, Elliott & Co., who took over Enderby’s old premises.

Electric-cable making.
Making ropes led to making electric cables. By the middle of last century the electric telegraph was extensively used for land communication and in 1850 a wire, suitably insulated with gutta-percha, was laid from England to France. It did not prove strong enough and soon broke but an iron rope embodying a core of insulated wires was more successful and this was the start of a very extensive cable-making industry. A few years after the cable had been successfully laid to France came the much bigger project of laying one across the Atlantic. Much of the first cable was made at Greenwich and the Navy loaned a warship to lay it. The laying in 1857 proved a failure and another, laid successfully in the following year, broke in a few months, but in 1864 Glass, Elliott & Co., combined with the Gutta Percha Co. to form the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. and a new cable was made, also at Greenwich. This was successfully laid in 1866 by “Great Eastern,” the enormous steamship built on the opposite side of the River a dozen years earlier, which had not fulfilled its designers’ plans. Thereafter, the Telegraph Construction Co. had, over the years, a succession of cable ships at their home moorings off Greenwich opposite where the “Magazine” had formerly stood.

Arms and Explosives.
In 1867 a gun factory known as the Blakeley Ordnance Works stood at the point of the Marsh. It failed as a commercial venture and lasted only a few years but the area is still known as Ordnance Wharf. A few hundred yards to the south of their factory, however, the company erected a large block of four-storey dwellings for their work-people, together with a row of cottages for foremen and. facing the lane, a terrace of five houses for managers, all set in the form of a square. In this early example of industrial housing the five houses were cleared away during construction of the Blackwall Tunnel (1890) but Blakeley Cottages and the Buildings were demolished only in 1948.

In 1867 also there were, spread over the eastern side of the Marsh as far as Angerstein’s Wharf and Woolwich Road, a number of scattered sheds which were Robson‘s ammunition works. They remained in use until the latter part of the 19th century and there is record of an explosion in 1872 in one of the cartridge factories.

Gas and Chemicals.
From explosives we move to coal gas, the first recorded use which for lighting in London was in 1795. Soon a considerable number of small gas works, later succeeded by fewer but larger works, were set up on or near to the banks of the River. Between 1881 and 1885 the South Metropolitan Gas Co. bought a large portion of the eastern side of East Greenwich Marsh and they established vast new works where the industry grew to the enormous proportions that we know today. When the Silvertown explosion in 1917 caused widespread damage on the Marsh one of the large gas-holders in Tunnel Avenue collapsed causing a fire and other damage. The latest development is the importation from North Africa in huge tankers of liquid methane which is pumped ashore at Canvey and thence through pipe lines to East Greenwich and elsewhere, where it is blended and distributed into the domestic mains.

As early as 1844 there was, just north of the “grinding mill” mentioned earlier a chemical works with a small jetty, the occupier being named in the Tithe List as Francis Hills. The nucleus of his factory was an 18th century house which survived until the last war. This area was eventually incorporated in the gas works but it still carries the name of Phoenix Wharf and continues to be used for the manufacture of chemicals. Nearby the Government established in 1917 the Fuel Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The Gas Company also took over the adjacent Tar Works previously owned by the firm of Forbes, Abbott & Lennard who then moved to Sussex Wharf, next to Bethell’s Wharf. They continued there for some year, making phenol and other chemicals and later became “The Standard Ammonia Co.” The site now houses a distribution depot of the National Benzol Co,

Building Materials.
An industry once flourishing on Thames- side which has virtually ceased was brick-making. From the early middle ages it thrived in localities where there were suitable supplies of day and there were numerous brickfields on both sides of the River. Most of these have been long since worked out and one of the last was on the western side of East Greenwich Marsh which was reputedly still operating in the latter part of last century. There was another sited near Pelton Road.

In the ’80’s of last century also a cement works was established at Hollick’s Wharf at the end of Morden Wharf Road. which was then called “Sea Witch Lane” from a riverside tavern, the “Sea Witch” which formerly stood at the river-ward end of it but was demolished about 1920. Hollicks Wharf is still used as a depot by the Cement Marketing Co.

There was also at East Greenwich for many years a factory making the creosoted wood blocks which formerly paved many London streets. Bethell’s Timber Preserving Works later became The Improved Wood Pavement Co., but, as new methods of road construction came, this business ceased. There is still a timber yard on the site however and it is still known as “Bethell’s Wharf.”

On the other side of the marsh, east of Angerstein Wharf, Christie & Co. have had a timber creosoting works for 70 or 80 years.

A firm making another form of construction material, The Improved Silicate Stone Company, made artificial stone at the beginning of the present century on land near Sussex Wharf which is now the timber yard of Greenwich Saw Mills.

Redpath Brown & Co. established a wharf and a riverside yard at the end of River Way in 1903 for the fabrication of structural steelwork and, incidentally, the Greenwich Yacht Club has also had moorings here since the turn of the century.

Other industries.
Another old established industry on the Thames was oil-seed crushing and oil refining, Mills on the river edge dealt with water-borne cargoes of foreign oil-bearing seed: they were at first wind-driven and later powered by steam or electricity. One such mill was shown on the 1867 map at Greigs Wharf near Blackwall Point. This was held in 1880 by the London Seed Crushing Co. and was in production until about 1900.

Oil leads thoughts to linoleum and the well-known Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. operated from 1900 to 1935 on the site of Maudslay’s ship yard. It was then bought by Michael Nairn and Co. and manufacture transferred to Scotland, leaving only a store at Greenwich.

Soap and candles. oxygen and animal foodstuffs have all been manufactured on the Marsh at different periods, but perhaps our last reference like our first should be lo a metal industry. In 1905 Delta Metal Co. moved from New Cross and built their brass extrusion mill on the Marsh on a site which had been a market garden on the 1867 map and near which in 1894 there was a Thames Police Station on a floating pier.

The Delta Metal Co. now occupies a considerable area between the site of “Blakeley Cottages” and the River to the west. During its expansion this firm look over a site to the north-east on which an Ice Factory had operated during the first two decades of this century until refrigerators put it out of business, and also Shrubsall’s barge building yard and Greigs Wharf. With the incorporation of the ice factory its short approach road known as Fashoda Street was also extinguished.

It will be seen that until about the middle of last century the Marsh was devoted almost entirely to agriculture and grazing except for the small residential development at Ceylon Place and a few wharves on the riverside elsewhere. On the western approach. from Greenwich, however, building had gradually spread eastward along Woolwich Road to the end of the Ship and Billet Lane and this area was known for a time as “Tyler’s New Town” and there is still a Tyler Street in the vicinity.

In 1851 the first railway came to the Marsh. The North Kent Line was extended from New Cross to Woolwich by tunnelling between Blackheath and Charlton and the material excavated was used to construct an embankment running north over Woolwich Road to the riverside. The embankment, which was parallel with Lombard Wall and about a quarter mile to the west, carried a railway line to Angerstein Wharf. This was named after the owner of the land, John Angerstein, son of the builder of Woodlands and with part of the proceeds of its sale he built St John’s Church, Blackheath. The Wharf was intended originally for general goods traffic but has long been used almost exclusively for transhipping oil from lighters and to storage depots in Horn Lane. Part of it is now used as a scrap-iron yard and an asphalt company occupies adjacent land to the west of it. In the early 1900s a branch railway was built parallel with the River westward to serve the Gas Works.

The biggest development of the Marsh came with the construction of Blackwall Tunnel, built by S. Pearson & Son for the LCC in 1890-97. 1n the line of the Tunnel South Approach there originally stood a row of houses facing west known as Cornwall Terrace, Margaret Terrace, Spencer Terrace and Teddington Terrace. al! being part of Blackwall Lane. At the junction with Ordnance Road stood a public house called the “Ordnance Arms.” and another called the “Kenilworth Castle” was at the junction of the Lane with the southern end of Ordnance Road which was known as Teddington Place. All these buildings were demolished to make way for the approach cutting.

Up to 1890 an open watercourse. the third of the drainage channels mentioned earlier, rail northward along the western side of Blackwall Lane, past the factory frontages and the market garden. It turned sharply westward and discharged into the river just south of Greigs Wharf. When the riverside footpath, which originally ran as far as the draw dock, was diverted about 1938 it was brought out to join Blackwall Lane alongside the lower end of this ditch, the last trace of which was culverted in 1946.

When the Blackwall Tunnel was completed, the new road built to carry its traffic south-eastward was named “Tunnel Avenue” and the northern portion from its junction with the original “Marsh Lane” was incorporated with it and extended to Blackwall Point. At the same time Ship and Billet Lane (the old Marsh Lane) was renamed Blackwall Lane. A service of pair-horse omnibuses started soon afterwards. running from the “Noah’s Ark” at the northern end of Deptford High Street through the Tunnel to Poplar. This was the only public transport across the Marsh until 1906 when the LCC extended the electric tramway from Trafalgar Road to the Southern entrance of the Tunnel. The horse buses were replaced by single- decker motors about 1912 and later by modified double-deckers and the tram service ceased in 1953.

Plans for the duplication of Blackwall Tunnel was made and surveys begun before 1937 but work has started only recently. The second approach road will make necessary further demolition near Tunnel Avenue and will bring thousands more cars hurtling across the Marsh-a very different scene from the pastoral peace of little more than a century ago.

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance he has received from many sources in preparing this paper and particularly from the Borough of Greenwich Libraries who have been especially helpful. Also some of the information of early land ownership and field names on the Marsh is from the Presidential address by the late Mr. A. E. Greene to the Society in February 1938 which has never been printed.

The map of East Greenwich Marsh at the end of the 17th. century is re-drawn from Samuel Travers’ map of 1695 with details from the Timothy Skinner’s map of 1745. Field names were mentioned in Travers’ Survey of the Manor of East Greenwich but were not shown in his map. The positions were identified by the late Mr. A 5. Greene with the aid of the Tithe maps. H appears that the only such name which has survived is Pear tree Field now transferred to a nearby wharf. The mid-20th century map of the Marsh is based on the 25 inch OS sheets. A comparison of the two maps, which are reproduced on the same scale, shows that in some places the shore-line has advanced riverwards, probably as a result of the reclamation of reed beds and mud flats and the extension of wharves. The road’ system of the 17th. century and earlier is still clearly to be seen in the roughly Y shaped pattern made by Blackwall Lane, River Way. Dreadnought Street and the north-western end of Tunnel Avenue. More modern roads sometimes follow the boundaries of earlier fields: for example Pelton Road along the line which divided The Great Meadow from Dog Kennel Meadow and Rayle Meadow. The modern map will soon be further altered by the works connected with the new Black wall Tunnel Approach.

The above paper is the first published by the Society in a relatively new field of historical survey and concerning a locality which has received scant attention in the past. It is hoped that this will create interest in further and more detailed study in this area

Return to Peninsula



In 1904 the Maudslay site was assigned, in whole or part, to Segar Emery from the state of Maine in the United States. The assignment was in respect of George D. Emery who, it is assumed, was part of the Emery Lumber Company of Maine. The other signatgory was Samuel Segar, timber merchant, with an office at Ethelburga House, Bishopsgate
They appear to have been involved in the importation of tropical hardwoods. The following letter on this has been received from a Canadian researcher:

“Jeremy Mouat
Athabasca University
Alberta, CANADA
30 August 1998

I am doing some research on a mahogany business active in the 1890s and early 1900s. It was based in Boston in the US, importing logs from Nicaragua. However, as you see in the following quotation
“it was also active in East Greenwich for a time. in January 1904 in connection with Samuel Segar. Mr. Emery’s house established a foreign branch at East Greenwich. London, where it had a mahogany saw mill plant, six acres of yard room and a fine dock on the bank of the Thames known as the Emery Company and distributes its products to the English and continental trade.
American Lumbermen: The Personal Profit and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen Of the United states; The America” Lumberman, 1905 Vol 1, p. 21 (entry on George D. Emery)

Associate Professor, History J. Mouat”

Great and Little Pits


The area which became known as Morden Wharf is shown on Skinner ‘s plan of 1745. This is described plot by plot as it was before industrialisation – after that the layout of the area changed radically.

Part of the area is also known as Bay Wharf – and this includes ‘Horseshoe Breach’ or ‘the Great Breach’ – a break in the sea wall which took place before 1622.

1. The area marked on Skinner as ‘MC7’ – the riverside strip. On Skinner this includes the area to the north described as Bay Wharf.

1745 Owned by Morden College. Occupier Thomas Jeffrey
By the time of the Morden College survey c.1827 the area has already been partly subdivided and is described as ‘part of great and little pits’ and by the 1843 and the tithe map industrial interests were already moving in. In 1843 only the lower part of the area – immediately to the north of the old gunpowder depot site – was meadow land, called ‘the pits’ and occupied by John Field. John Field’s occupation was a ‘carman’ and presumably the land was used as grazing for the horses he used for cartage. He appears occasionally in the Morden College minutes – complaining

2. Plot marked ‘TW1’ on the Skinner map. In 1745 it was owned by a Thomas Ward and occupied William Willbec. A hundred years later in 1843 it was owned by Lt. Col. Clark, John Frederick Sales and Sarah Margaretta Terry – and occupied by the carman, John Field. A small enclave within this is marked as consisting of ‘marsh, meadow, reeds’ and is also rented by John Field.

3. Plot marked TF&SWS3’ on Skinner map. In 1845 owned by Captain Thomas Farrington and Sir W. Sanderson – Sanderson held other local lands, in particular the mansion at Eastcombe. The plot was, like the adjacent plot, occupied by Thomas Jeffrey like the adjacent plot. C.1800 the ownership is indicated as ‘Calvert Clark’ on a Morden College deed.

4. Plot marked ‘SW2’ on Skinner. In 1845 this was owned by Thomas Ward and occupied by N.Barnes with the (rather strange) In Keiling. A Morden College deed c.1800 identifies the owner as ‘Mrs Suttenstall’ – 1843 this is Mary Susannah Saltonstall and the occupier was carman John Field.

5. Plot marked MC6’ on Skinner was clearly owned by Morden College and occupied by the ubiquitous Thomas Jeffrey.. This was called Lady Marsh. By 1843 it was occupied by Anthony Russell, a local speculative builder.

6. Strip marked TF&SW5 on Skinner – was owned by Thomas Farrington and Sir W. Sanderson and occupied by Thomas Jeffrey. By 1800 a building is shown on site and ownership had changed to Calvert Clark. In 1843 it was occupied by builder Anthony Russell and it was owned by Lt. Col Clark, John Frederick Sales and Sarah Margaretta Terry

7. Plot ’MB’ on Skinner was owned by Mary Bradford and occupied by William Land. Mary Bradford who lived in Maze Hill was sister of Isaac Pyke, Governor of Bencoolen, Sumatra. By 1843 it was owned and occupied by Richard Newman, marsh and meadow

8.Plot ‘SWS1’ on Skinner. Owned by William Sanderson and occupied by Peter Huck. By 1842 it was owned by Lt. Col Clark, John Frederick Sales and Sarah Margaretta Terry and occupied by local cab owner Thomas Wheatley – presumably used for grazing.

Return to Morden Wharf

Morden College

Morden College
Morden College still own land on the Greenwich Peninsula, although not these plots. The charity was set up in 1680 by Sir John Morden endowing it with land, most of which had originally derived from Crown grants after the Civil War. Income from this land was used to fund the care of elderly and retired ‘Turkey Merchants’. Today the College continues to house the elderly in its eighteenth century almshouse on the far side of Blackheath, and in other, more modern accommodation. The Charity’s trustees are all ex-Lord Mayors of London.

They Owned:

Great Meadow and Dog Kennel Field

Part of Enderby Wharf. Site marked K1 on Skinner.  Acquired it as part of a land swap when the gunpowder magazine was built in the seventeenth century.  In the 1840s it was described as a paddock and meadow.  Some cottages had been built fronting on to Blackwall Lane.  Their lease expired in 1854 and it was then leased to a George Smith, and then to a Mr. Keiser.

Great and Little Pits

Sites Marked on Skinner in Morden College Ownership


MC1 – area to the immediate west of Pelton Road. No occupier listed.

MC2 – south of above, Occupied by Ambrose and John Crowley

MC3 – east of above. Same occupiers

MC4 – Great Meadow etc.  Same occupiers

MC5 – L  shaped plot south of Bendish Sluice, fronting on Marsh Lane. Occupied Thomas Jeffrey

MC 6 –

MC 7 – large riverside plot going from gunpowder works boundary to present Victoria Deep Water boundary.  Occupied Thomas Jeffrey

MC8 – plot north of Marsh Lane. Occupied as above.

MC9 – inland plot south of Blackwall Point. Part of Ordnance Wharf area. Occupied Thomas Moor,

MC10 – Inland plot east side of Arnold Sluice. Occupied Thomas Jeffrey

MC11 – Inalnd plot west side of Arnold Sluice.  Occupied as above

MC12 – small strip on site of today’s Victoria Deep Water Wharf. Occupied  as above.

MC13 – riverside west bank – Delta Wharf area,. Occupied Peter Huck

MC14-  south of  MC9. Occupied Thomas Moor.

MC15 – large riverside plot on the Point. Ordnance Wharf included. Occupied Peter Huck

MC16 – Plot south of Riverway  – occupied Peter Huck


Inland plot – rough steelworks area. Occupied Thomas Moor.


Script for riverside walk in the year 2000


The Port of London Wharf as part of a mid-nineteenth century scheme for monitoring coal supply ships from North East England. In this part of the river, and downstream, were ‘collier stands’ where the coal ships had to wait for a berth in the collier docks across the river or at special berths up river. The delivery of coal to this area is of supreme importance – coal, was the fuel which made industry function. The shipping which delivered it was a massive industry in itself.

At the end of Ballast Quay the path meets a junction with Pelton Road. Down the road can be seen Victorian cottages built for local workers by a developer, Coles Child, for the estate owners, Morden College. A few yards down the street can be seen the Pelton Arms pub. The street names in this area were originally taken from collieries in the Durham coalfield. The names of Pelton Road and the Pelton Arms relate to Pelton Main and Pelton West Collieries near Chester le Street, County Durham.

Pelton Road, follows the line of a watercourse. Willow Dyke, and latterly the road was a route for ballast brought from chalk and gravel pits to the south. Nearer the river note the granite setts in the road surface and the double kerb on the pavement.

Lovell’s Wharf was built for coal transhipment but from 1920s -1980s it handled the transhipment of metal by Shaw Lovell and Co. The ‘Scotch Derrick’ cranes which were a local landmark here were removed in 2001 by the site owners to the dismay of many local people. Redevelopment of this wharf is expected soon.

In Pelton Road note, on the long wall of the wharf a ‘Customs and Excise’ letter box. Look up on the buildings to see an unusual clock and the name ‘Lovell’s Wharf’ painted to be seen from the river. On the wall along the riverside ‘Lovell’s Wharf’ has been painted again.

From Ballast Quay continue along the riverside. From this point there is only one remaining way off the path – and there are absolutely no facilities! To return to Greenwich from here go up Pelton Road to the shops in Trafalgar Road where you can get a bus back to the Cutty Sark area.

Continue along the riverside path.

At the next corner note large concrete blocks used as bases for cranes which have now been removed.

The path turns sharp left around an inlet known locally as ‘Dead Dog Bay’ – perhaps it was where animals which had escaped from the Foreign Cattle Market at Deptford were washed up, drowned.

A pathway leads off the riverside path to local estates. It is called Cadet Place and it is the last chance to leave teh riverside and return to Greenwich.

The next wharf, Granite Wharf, was owned and operated by Tarmac until mid-2001 for the transhipment of aggregate. In the 1840s is was let to John Mowlem, the Victorian road building contractor. In the wall of Cadet Place is a jumble of random and miscellaneous stone – ‘the cyclopean wall’ – and it is a matter of speculation that some of this stone must have come from Mowlem’s Yard – there is Portland Stone, Bath Stone and some dressed granite..

Another Greenwich artefact can be found on a headland at Swanage, in Dorset. This is the The Great Globe – an enormous map of the world made of Portland Stone. It was made in Mowlem’s yard here and then taken to Swanage, where Mowlem lived. Perhaps some of the stone in the wall of Cadet Place are ‘offcuts’ of the Globe itself.

Since the spring of 2001 boats no longer call at this wharf and redevelopment is expected soon.

The next wharf is a jumble of boats. This is Pipers Wharf and is, in late 2001, still a working boatyard although no longer run by a Mr. Piper. You can still see all sorts of boats waiting for repair here – sometimes even large replica sailing ships used by film and TV companies can be seen. Remember that this is a working site and does not welcome visitors. It is however expected that the boat yard will close soon and the site be redeveloped.

James Piper rented this wharf in the late 1890s and soon began to build sailing barges here. One of the earlies was his prize winning racing barge ‘the famous’ Giralda’ – and many others including Surge, James Piper, Leonard Piper, Haughty Belle. Greenwich barges regularly won prizes. The barge races are still held today but no Greenwich built barge is still in sail to take part.

Sailing barges may look romantic but they were the heavy haulage carriers of London river – no different to any heavy lorry. They were built at a time when most vessels were steam driven because they were cheap to run with a crew of only two, could go inshore across shallows and up muddy creeks because of their flat bottoms but at the same time many of them could regularly cross the channel and go into European inland waters.

In later years all sorts of craft were built and repaired here by the Piper family. Inside the inland section of the wharf the name ‘J.R.Piper’ can be seen on the wall – but the site is busy and does not welcome visitors.

Note the jumble of disused equipment on the foreshore past the wharf.

Past Pipers there are a number of disused wharves – they include a site used by Joshua Taylor Beale and where the ‘exhauster’ was developed. This important piece of equipment was subsequently manufactured by Donkin in Chesterfield. Beale also made steam road locomotives on this site in the 1840s.

Eventually arrive at Enderby’s Wharf. This is an important and complex area with lot to see.

The first jetty – on which stands a large iron structure – is Enderby’s and a sign above the entrance marks it. There is then a gap, and another, shorter jetty. Inland is a large factory, now operated by Alcatel. There are some large double gates into the site, and, behind the fence, some riverside buildings including an old house.

Between the two jetties there is a causeway into the river – from underneath it a pipe emerges. This is Bendish Sluice – a Tudor drain which drew waterfrom the surrounding marshland. Until recently on the inland side of the path was some disused sluice gear.

At low tide, on the steps to the sluice can be seen a design recently undertaken by a group of artists – this illustrates some of the history of the Enderby’s wharf.

In 1680 this was the site of the Government Powder Depot where all gun powder for the forces was tested and distributed. The two jetties mark the sites of two massive seventeenth century two massive jetties where hundreds of ships laden with gunpowder called.

The gunpowder depot was closed in 1770 and a factory to make rope built here. Rope was made in long thin buildings called ‘rope walks’. The line of this can still be seen by peering through the double gates going into the Alcatel factory. Look right down the vista through the factory.

In the 1830s the factory was bought by the Enderby family. The Enderbys had whaling ships and fished in the Southern Oceans. ‘Enderby Land’ in the Antarctic is named after them.

The white painted old house behind fence is ‘Enderby House’ – built as a riverside home in the 1840s and now used as offices by Alcatel. The Enderbys built a large factory for rope and canvas manufacture here which was burnt down in the 1840s.

Before the Enderby family left Greenwich they were asked make the first telegraph cable which was laid as an experiment between Euston and Camden Town stations.

The site was eventually taken over by cable makers Glass Elliott. Many important international telegraph cables have been made on site here. See the office block inside the fence – on the door are carved gutta percha leaves (the plant which provided insulation material for early cables. Over the lintels are carved lengths of cable.

The first Atlantic Cable was made here int he 1860s and loaded onto Brunel’s Great Eastern via a ferry. All around the two jetties are the remains of structures which allowed the cable to pass safely into cable laying ships. On the large jetty is an iron structure for loading cable and some wooden gantries remain in the river.

Ever since the days of Glass Elliott and the Atlantic Cable cables has been made here. For a long time the factory was owned by the Telegraph Construction Co. – Telcon. Now Alacatel make repeaters for today’s submarine cables here.

The next section of the walk is dominated by Amylum’s Glucose refininery. Amylum make specialist sugars in a wheat derived process and much of their plant can be seen behind the wall of the path.

After Enderby Wharf the first jetty was built as rubbish tipping plant by the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. Here dustcarts would tip Greenwich’s rubbish into barges for transhipment. It was closed in the late 1950s and is now owned by Amylum and is sometimes used.

Next are disused silos belonging to Amylum. Until recently this wharf was used for the delivery by ship of maize – which was stored in these silos. Recently, to cut down on smell, Amylum have begun to use wheat which arrives by road.

Up until the 1930s the Amylum site was used by Thames Soap and Candle Works who made – for instance – British Carbolic Soap. Inside the Amylum factory some buildings from the soap works remain. It was owned by the local Soames family – one of whose daughters was to become Olave Baden-Powell, the first Chief Guide.

Before the path bends to the left we pass the laboratory buildings of Amylum. This was the site of the Sea Witch Pub – probably named after an ‘opium clipper’ ship. The locked gate on the corner was once a road back to Blackwall Lane called ‘Morden Wharf Road’. ‘Morden’ of course reflecting the landowners of these sites, Morden College in Blackheath.

Follow the path round as it turns left, then right.

This area is known as Morden Wharf – named for the landowners, Morden College.

As the path turns it is easy to look back at the banks and the river walls. These walls are easily the most important structures in the area since they keep out the tidal force of the river. It is not known when they were first built – probably in medaevial times but they could be older. There nothing very old to see because, obviously, the wall is repaired and replaced continuously – any break would be a disaster!

It is here that Kuper, and then Glass Elliott, made the first telegraph cables – the start of the Thames cable making industry. The wharf was also the site of Hollick’s Cement Works and it is sometimes known as Hollick’s Wharf. There were a number of cement and artificial stone works along this stretch of the river.

At the end of Morden Wharf is Primrose Pier. This pier was opened to the public by Amylum some years ago. In 1999 it has been the subject of a resurfacing and partial restructuring by the Groundwork team.

Primrose Pier was used by Molassine – an animal foods manufacturer whose products were based on molasses stored in predecessors of the giant tanks seen inland. Molassine were the company most responsible for the smell which haunted this area for many years.

From Primrose Pier it is possible to look at a wide panorama on the other side of the river.

Look on the far bank of the river – this was the area in which in the nineteenth century many major ship builders had their yards – Dugeon, Samuda, Yarrow and Stewart. At that time this was the major shipbuilding area of the country – probably in the world.

Up river can be seen the area we have left – the Cutty Sark, Greenwich University and the Power Station – down river is the bend at the point of the Peninsula and Blackwall Reach.

After Primrose Pier the path continues a short distance before going inland. It is possible to follow this path to the Blackwall Tunnel approach – traffic pollution, and bus stops. Before leaving the riverside the path skirts an inlet with white stones on the foreshore:

This inlet is Horseshoe Breach which marks a point at which the river had broken through the sea wall at some time before 1626 – when the detailed records start.

The breach was developed in the early 1860s by the National Company for Boat Building by Machinery, founded by an American, Nathan Thompson, who aimed to make 5,000 identical boats a year – and was quickly bankrupted. It was taken over as a shipbuilding site by Maudslay Son and Field in the late 1860s. Their first ship was the Lady Derby and they subsequently built a number of ships including two iron hulled sailing vessels, Halloween and Blackadder – sister ships to Cutty Sark.

The derelict white buildings which remain on site are disused barge repair slips built by Humphrey and Grey.

Follow the path round.

Ahead, dominating the view, is the East Greenwich No.2. Gas Holder – the last remains of the East Greenwich Gas Works. The Works was opened in the early 1880s as a super efficient green field works for south London by the South Metropolitan Gas Company under its charismatic Chairman, George Livesey. The gas holder, which dates from 1886 was, and may now be again, the largest in the world and built to revolutionary engineering designs.

If you continue along the path towards the motorway at the end, before reaching the Tunnel Approach is the red stone office block of Molassine and, once on the motorway, to the left is the Art Nouveau gatehouse of the Blackwall Tunnel from the 1890s.

To continue along the river path – once you have left the river bank in the direction of the gas holder and the motorway, turn left through a gap in the fence to continue round the back of a group of the derelict concrete barge slips. The path is well signposted and continues round the building to return to the river on the far side.

At the riverside we are on the area of Victoria Deep Water Wharf.

This was until recently ‘Victoria Deep Water Wharf’ where two large derricks were situated. Previous users Henry Bessemer who had a small steel works here operated by his sons in the 1860s, and subsequently some of the site was used by an artificial stone works owned partly by Bessemer and partly by one of the Ransome engineering family from Ipswich. Some other parts of this site and the adjacent one were taken up by Appleby Engineers – who made a wide variety of engineering items, including marine engines, locomotives, etc. but probably concentrated on cranes and transporters. From the 1890s it was one of the sites used by Walton’s Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Works – a revolutionary process for mosaic linoleum subsequently transferred to Nairn’s Works in Kirkaldy, Fifeshire.
Continue to walk along the riverfront

Further on a large site was large occupied from the 1830s by Bethel’s tar and chemical works. In due course this became a specialist factory for the production of tarred blocks for road paving. By the mid-twentieth century a very large area of these wharves was covered by Delta Metal’s bronze and brass foundry.

Further on was barge building and repair trade. This included Horace Shrubsall’s barge building works which expanded here from Ipswich and Limehouse and where many famous sailing barges, including Veronica were built.
In this area Hughan built Orinoco – the last Greenwich built sailing barge still active.

The Millennium Dome site starts at Ordnance Draw Dock – built by the Gas Company in the 1880s as compensation for closure of other traditional plying places. This is a public right of way despite its apparent closure. To north of here – inside the Dome area were a number of interesting sites.

In the late 1860s Blakeley’s gun foundry was built here, financed by Dent’s Chinese opium business, to build heavy ordnance for foreign customers. Blakeley had designed a new sort of ordnance and historians are currently discussing the relationship of his patents to the later ones of William Armstrong. Many Blakeley guns were used by the confederates in the American Civil War. Blakeley was bankrupted by Dent’s failure and died in mysterious circumstances in Peru.

Subsequently part of the site was taken over by Stockwell and Lewis who built a dry dock here – now under part of the Dome (no archaeological investigation was carried out!). One of Stockwell and Lewis’s ships, the Bulli, remains as a wreck in Tasmania. Another ship builder in this area was John Stewart,

Shipbuilding at East Greenwich

Shipbuilding at East Greenwich
Dr. Mary Mills

Greenwich, although surrounded by major shipbuilders on the Thames, was not in itself an area of shipyards. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, when Rennie and Joyce began work, no major shipbuilding sites have been traced between Deptford Creek and the Charlton borders. From the 1860s a number of shipbuilders were based on the Greenwich Peninsula. The most important of these was a new site for an established shipbuilder, Maudslay, Son, and Field.

Henry Maudslay had begun his career in Woolwich but had gone on to found his engineering works in central London, with a shipbuilding site known for innovation. By the mid-1860s, however, control of the company had moved to younger generations of the Maudslay family. In the mid-1860s a decision was taken, to open a shipbuilding works at East Greenwich on a site known as Horseshoe Breach, today Bay Wharf.

The site was owned by the Blackheath based charity Morden College. In 1864 Horseshoe Breach had been vacated by the bankrupt National Company for Boat Building by Machinery. Maudslay’s moved in right away – so that the decision to take the site on must have been a very quick one. It is clear from contemporary pictures that they used the buildings and slips left behind by the National Company and they also set about building more themselves. At the same time they began a long dispute with the Greenwich Vestry about rights on the riverside path.

Tracing the ships built by Maudslay’s in Greenwich has not been easy and much has been guess work. It is clear that a number of them were yachts, tugs and other smaller craft. In 1866 Herbert Maudslay’s yacht Sphinx was fitted with the first jib headed sail – later known as a ‘Sphinxer’ or ‘Spinnaker’ – and it is possible she was built in Greenwich. The Lady Derby, a screw collier was launched in 1864, – indicating how quickly the company had moved onto the site. She was launched, in the presence of the Sultan of Turkey, to ‘Henwood’s dynamical principles’.

They continued to build a variety of vessels at East Greenwich. It is, however, a surprise to discover that the two best-known ocean-going craft built by Maudslay in the early 1870s at Greenwich were fast sailing ships. These were Blackadder and Halloween ordered by Willis as sister ships to Cutty Sark – and like her broke speed records. It seems inexplicable why a company noted for its important engine building but with little experience of ship construction – and none of sail – should have been given this contract.

Blackadder has been described in sailing literature as ‘cursed’ since she was dismasted on her maiden voyage and suffered a number of subsequent accidents. Following the dismasting she was subject to an insurance claim and a long law suit. In 1900 she was bought by a Norwegian cargo carrier. She was wrecked in 1905 and today lies off the Brazilian coast at Bahia – in use by leisure divers. Halloween had as shorter career being wrecked in 1887 off the Devon coast – her wreck has sometimes appeared since in storm conditions.

Suhulet and Sahilbent were built for Kirket-I-Hayriye to revolutionary designs as transport carriers across the Bospherous. Both were paddle steamers and shipped to Turkey with great difficulty. Both gave many years service. Suhulet was dismantled for scrap in 1961. Sahilbent was taken out of service and renamed Kaptan Sukru in 1967 and was the subject of a fire on the Pazar Coast in 1998. The fate of her hulk is not known.

Other craft built at Greenwich include a 1,375 ton steamer for Harrison’s of Liverpool, a cross channel steamer, two Thames ferry boats, and two naval ‘transports’ for fresh water. The last vessel built at Greenwich, which has traced was an unsuccessful torpedo boat in 1878. It is clear however that many other vessels were built at the yard.

Maudslay’s Greenwich site eventually became known as the Belleville Boiler works and it appears that boiler construction was their main task after the late 1870s. It has been suggested recently that the Big Wheel at Earl’s Court was built on site but – recent correspondence in Newcomen Society Transactions indicates otherwise.

In the late 1890s Maudslay Son and Field considered a move of their entire works to Greenwich and the proposed some new buildings for the site – including a new gatehouse to impress the Prince of Wales when he opened the Blackwall Tunnel. Appointments with their landlord were sometimes cancelled because ‘Mr.Maudslay has urgent business at Cowes’. A quarrel developed with the London County Council over boundaries. By 1898, with 39 years of their lease left, they had ceased to pay rent and the company was declared bankrupt shortly after.

One of the most interesting documents is the catalogue for their auction sale in June 1902. At this sale Henry Maudslay’s original screw lathe was offered among hundreds of other lots. In three days a vast amount of machinery and domestic items were disposed of.

Greenwich was not an important centre for ship construction. However, it produced many of the small vessels which serviced industry on the Thames, and for a few brief years, in the period of high Victorian capitalism, produced a few interesting vessels and some interesting shipbuilders. It was part of the web of Thameside industry, some of which served the interests of the City of London and international trade and a series of interrelationships between men, money and trade, which will only emerge through detailed and painstaking research.

The main source of information for this paper has been the archive at Morden College and material in the National Maritime Museum and Science Museum.

Greenwich Marsh – The 300 years Before the Dome. M. Wright, 1999.
Philip Banbury, Shipbuilders of the Thames and Medway, David & Charles, 1971
D.R.MacGregor, The Tea Clippers. An account of the China tea trade and of some of the British sailing ships engaged in it from 1849 to 1869. Percival Marshall & Co.: London, 1952. .
Basil Lubbock The China clippers. 1984