Chapter 10 Bricks and Mortar

All the activity in building factories, workshops and housing used a lot of bricks and cement. After 1840 cement manufacture was to play a big part in the Peninsula’s industry. Before that there had been some brick making with several patches of brick earth under exploitation.

THOMAS TAYLOR

Thomas Taylor was the earliest recorded brickmaker on Greenwich marsh. He had been George Russell’s foreman at the brickworks on the site which preceded the Tide Mill at the end of Marsh Lane (Riverway). It was Taylor who had incited his colleague, Mr. Bignall, to throw, Philip Sharpe, the Wall Reeve, into the river in 1796. (There are also some references to him in an
independent role in the Morden College deed collection)

Thomas Taylor is listed as a landowner ‘on the Level’ from about 1800 – probably meaning ‘land in Pear Tree Marsh’.– (one of the field names, basically the area near the end of Horn Lane. In 2000 Greenwich Yacht Club moved onto a jetty previously known as ‘Pear Tree’). Six years later he was a sub-tenant of George Moore, apparently at Horseshoe Breach. The investment was made jointly with Thomas Tickner, landlord of the Noah’s Ark pub, Deptford, and they were still there in 1818. Taylor is said to be living at ‘Bank Place, Greenwich’, and this could be an unidentified building which preceded East Lodge. (Morden College Deed collection.  The Noah’s Ark still stands, albeit as a solicitor’s practice in an old rebuilt pub, at the junction of Deptford High Street and Evelyn Street).

JABEZ HOLLICK

The earliest and perhaps the longest lasting cement works came to Greenwich in 1841.

Cement manufacture had been all round Greenwich, but not actually in it, for several years. Manufacture was concentrated along the Thames and Medway and developments in the early years of the nineteenth century had transformed it into one of the leading industrial sectors. There was a wide variety of different types of artificial stone and concrete and as many manufacturers as there were patents and ideas. Most works – certainly the most famous – were down river around Swanscombe and Greenhithe although there were some cement and stone factories on the Isle of Dogs before 1840. ( much of the information given here is taken
from A.K.Francis, The Cement Industry 1796‑1914, Newton Abbott, 1977)

Hollick leased a site at Greenwich from Holcombe in 1849. (Morden College Deed collection. Additional information from Neil Rhind ‘Blackheath Village’ ). He seems to have had an earlier short lived works on part of the old Enderby site and also a works at Borstal in the Medway valley (another important area for cement manufacture). In 1849 Hollick gave his address as Warwick Cottages which then stood at the Marsh Lane end of Morden Wharf Road. He later moved somewhere grander, initially Maze Hill, and then 132 Coleraine Road.

His cement works, adjacent to Morden Wharf, had a long river frontage with a loading dock. There was a sailmakers shop, a ‘bone’ store and a ‘snowcrete house’- perhaps a storehouse or a demonstration building. The works was eventually taken over by the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers before the First World War but it was still in operation by them in 1935 and the area is still sometimes known as Hollick’s Wharf in the 1990s. (local hearsay, I’m afraid.)

Since the industry was mainly concentrated down river, what was the advantage to Hollick of coming so far upstream? Did he want to be nearer to the centres of intensive building operations? Most of the downstream works used chalk supplies from nearby pits, the vast scars of which are still a major feature of the Thameside landscape. Where did Hollick’s raw materials come from?

GEORGE CROWLEY ASHBY

The East Greenwich Portland Cement Works was set up by George Crowley Ashby. (Morden College Deed Collection.) The Ashby family were Quakers, based in Staines. George’s father, William had been involved in the family bank and had had a barge haulage business dealing in building materials. He also made Roman Cement in Staines. (Eric Butterfield, ‘They Walked this  Way’, Staines, 1996.  I would like to thank the people at the Spelthorne Museum in Staines all of whom assured me that Mr. Butterfield was the great expert on the Ashby family – sadly he died before I was able to contact him.)

Why did the Ashbys came to Greenwich to make cement? It may be relevant that George’s middle name was ‘Crowley’ – implying a link with the Quaker ironfounders who had, for a while, been based in Greenwich.

George Crowley Ashby took over the Staines business 1850 and moved to Greenwich leasing a site from Holcombe. It was at the back of Morden Wharf but had no river access. The works comprised a chalk mill, five chalk tanks (one very large) and two sets of coke ovens.

George Ashby died in 1893 and is buried in the Friends’ Burial Ground in Staines. Like Hollick, Ashby’s cement works was long lasting and was also taken over by APCM.

EVEN MORE CEMENT WORKS

There were several other cement works in Greenwich, all smaller and more short lived than Hollick’s and Ashby’s.(Since writing the book I have discovered that Whiteway operated a cement making business at Granite Wharf. See Lovell’s Wharf articles above).  One was owned by a John Winkfield and was situated apparently on the northern part of Enderby Wharf. It was probably taken over by Hollick. Later, between 1879-1894, a phosphate manufacturer called John Winkfield lived in St.John’s Park, Blackheath, and it might be speculated that this was the same man. If so, as a Justice and Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, he was clearly someone with a political career. (Greenwich Rate books. Personal information from Neil Rhind )

A Henry Reid also had a cement works on part of Holcombe’s holding where there were kilns, a dwelling house, a garden, a boiler and engine house. It seems to have lasted less than ten years.(Greenwich Rate Books – site information taken from Ordnance Survey)

Nearby William Angerstein, the local landowner, had a short-lived cement works for a while at the same period. (Greenwich Rate books.)

COMPOSITION

Close to cement is the manufacture of ‘Composition’ – this is a vague term and can mean a number of things like ‘a new paving composition – .. pebbles in pitch’ or ‘composition for sheathing, preserving etc. ships bottoms’. The related “Compo” can mean anything from an unreliable mortar to a rubbery constituent of cricket balls. An 1826 recipe described a mixture of oil of turpentine and coal tar mixed with resin, size and ochre. More likely what was being made on the Greenwich Peninsula in the 1850s was something like James Wyatt’s 1790s invention, “compo-cement”, designed to be used for stucco.

SIR JOHN PETT LILLIE

Sir John Pett Lillie held a number of patents, including one, taken out in 1851, for road coverings. Others were for various devices in motive power and ‘elastic fluids for the working of machinery’. No doubt his Greenwich ‘composition works’ made something to do with road making materials – probably a sort of concrete in the form of paving slabs. (Greenwich rate books. Patent lists)

WILLIAM BUCKWELL

William Buckwell’s factory was yet another cement-type works on the northern part of the Enderby site. It was a ‘composition works’ but it appears on some 1860s maps as ‘old concrete works’. Buckwell held a number of patents, taken out during the 1840s, for making pipes ‘artificially in moulds’ and ‘compressing fuel’ which implies the manufacture of briquettes (usually a mixture of coal dust and tar). He also held patents for both scaffolding and steam engines.  (Greenwich rate books. OS maps, patent lists.)

There are scant details about Buckwell’s Greenwich works but rather more about his departure from the business world. He is said to have been a railway contractor as well as a manufacturer of artificial stone. Neither occupation can have been much of a success because in 1862 he disappeared. This was because he owed £90,000 – £50,000 of it to Italian creditors. He had been involved in the construction of a railway between Novara and Lake Orta – north west of Milan.

When Buckwell failed to turn up at a bankruptcy hearing in London, Mr. Haydon, of the City Detectives, went to Turin to look for him. He was found at Borgomanero, on the line of his railway, ‘concealed between the ceiling and roof of an outbuilding’. Haydon wanted to take him back to London, but, of course, his Italian creditors wanted him to stay in Italy. The Italian authorities took him to the frontier with France at the top of Mount Cenis – but Haydon was tipped off and got there first. The Italian police escort refused to hand Buckwell over to Haydon but while they were talking to him, they inadvertently crossed the frontier by a few feet (it was high in the Alps and everyone was knee deep in snow). Because he was then in France. Buckwell was arrested by French police who said they would shoot him if he tried to escape back to Italy. Meanwhile the Italian soldiers refused to leave unless they could take him back to Turin. It was a very long and very cold night and the discussions were protracted but eventually Buckwell returned to London and gaol. (This saga of police action in the Alps is contained in a report in the Kentish Mercury in December 1863. I have tried to find out more about what he was doing on Mount Cenis, without success – but I am sure that this is an episode which would repay further research)

PATENT STONE AND HENRY BESSEMER

In 1866 Frederick Ransome came from Ipswich to take over a site roughly on the area of today’s Victoria Wharf for a ‘patent stone works’. He described this as an ‘immense factory…on an ugly and pestiferous marsh’.It is perhaps noteworthy that the site was partly owned by Henry Bessemer, the steel magnate.

By 1868 Ransome was in business with a counting house, chimney, wharf, jetty and so on. The stone making process was somewhat complicated but in essence the idea was to ‘dissolve common flint’ and turn it into ‘glue’. This was used to bind pure sandstone with cement of silicate of lime. The result could be worked in a plastic state and later with a chisel like natural stone. It was said to produce ‘carvings like the best Portland stone’.31 Some of Ransome’s concrete can be seen at St.Thomas’s Hospital in London.

The factory manager was Ernest Leslie Ransome who lived in Royal Hill Place with his wife, Mary, and two children. One of the agricultural implement making family, he had been Ipswich since 1844 and become interested in making artificial stoneware. This was an important Suffolk industry and a number of leading manufacturers came from there. Several of the Greenwich factory workers had come from Suffolk with Ransome and some lived near the works – including the publican of the Star in the East who came from Walton-on-the-Naze and whose brother in law, William Brooks from Mistley, was an architectural draughtsman in the stone works.

John Felgate the gatekeeper came from Suffolk. Some of the stonework made in the Greenwich factory still survives. Anyone who travels to Chester Station will find the company’s identification plaque embedded in the ground in front of the Exit Staircase. In Greenwich some of the company’s nameplates can be seen in the pavement of St.John’s Park. It is probable that a great deal more remains to be discovered.

The Ransome factory was only short-lived. By 1878 it had been taken over by Hodges and Butler. Ernest Leslie Ransome went to America in 1872 where he founded the Ransome Concrete Co. – famous for wire rope in a cable car system which withstood the 1906 earthquake.(there is a Wikipedia page on Ernest Leslie describing him as having ‘devised the most sophisticated concrete structures in the United States at the time’ . It lists his achievements and his buildings including several which have the US equivalent as listed status and which are preserved – and it is a pity that Greenwich appears to know nothing of this very important inventor and builder who began his career here)

Frederick Ransome himself died in Dulwich, 20 years later. (There is a Wikipedia page on him with references).

(Due to my neglect I have not followed up this most interesting story and I would like to thank those who have given me leads on this to be found in the Ipswich archive department.  I am aware that the Ransome business had a relationship with Henry Bessemer which needs to be explored to put this Greenwich works in context. The information given here comes almost entirely from material in the Greenwich Heritage Centre ‘Ransome’ file. This includes census material, letters and photocopies from J.P.S.Davis, and extracts from the Dictionary of Business History.  Details of the Greenwich works come from a report in the Kentish Mercury of August 1868.)

HODGES, BUTLER AND DALE

imperial strone plawue
Plate from the platform at Chester Station. Photo Tim Smith, with thanks

Hodges, Butler and Dale, took over the stone works from Ransome and it is intriguing that after this date the rates were paid in the name of Henry Bessemer, himself as owner. In the future the factory was variously known as ‘Thames Silicated Stone’ or ‘Imperial Stone’ and the area became known as ‘Imperial Wharf’.(Greenwich Rate Books)

The company was owned by a James William Butler who lived in Montpelier Vale, Blackheath  (information from Neil Rhind)  and John Anderson, a cement manufacturer from Faversham, who was also involved in a works at Upnor.

PAVING SLABS

A number of works were opened after the Second World War, which specialised in the manufacture of paving slabs. These included The London Phosphate Syndicate, concrete slab manufacturer, W. Rees, concrete slab manufacturer and the Rheocrete Paving Stone Slab Co. (info. from local directories at Woodlands)

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