Chapter 13 Small Industries

The housing around Pelton Road, built throughout the nineteenth century, was infilled with small workshops. On the area to the south of the marsh industries moved into two main areas – along the riverside in Banning and Derwent Streets and at the top of Blackwall Lane in Bellot Street and the area around it. Other industries spread down Blackwall Lane to form a small enclave in the centre of the Peninsula – soon to be sandwiched between riverside industry on the west bank and the great gas works.

One of the longest lasting of East Greenwich industries was among these small sites at the back of the riverside wharves in Derwent Street. James Ashbridge had a forge and smith’s shop there before 1870 and a hundred years later his successors, by now ‘motor body builders’, were still on site.

BANNING STREET AND DERWENT STREET

There were all sorts of ‘back street’ industries in among the houses. In 1900 there was a sign writer in Banning Street and inevitably the scrap trade, in the shape of George Bischlager, metal dealer and later, as Ernest R. Birdseye, General Dealer. There is just the suspicion that the Greenwich Iron Works of 1900 could have been just another rag and bone man.

The Greenwich Iron Works were joined by another metal trade – the grander sounding Saeculonia Bronze Co. in Derwent Street.

PELTON ROAD

Some small industries seem to have operated from people’s homes – an example was ‘Walter Cooper, patentee of Steam Traps’. Did he manufacture the traps in Pelton Road or was this just an advertisement for his office and his business was elsewhere?

In the area at the far west of Pelton Road at its junction with Bellott Street, George Brown had a ‘Mustard Mill’ in the 1870s. Small mills that undertook small scale grinding of spices were not unknown in quite ordinary streets – in the 1970s a small mill of this nature was still operating in what looked like a residential front room just off the Walworth Road near the Elephant and Castle. (Brenda Innes Edge runners in Walworth, London’s Industrial Archaeology, No.3.  GLIAS)By the 1900s this had become the Kent Forage Mills – a title implying a far grander establishment than Pelton Road can ever have supported. Another such grand sounding works was Richard Gubbins’ India Rubber Works; later known as the ‘Hammac Rubber Syndicate’.

Many of these small back street industries undertook a service function. There was always a need for wooden barrels – fulfilled by a William Neale who had a cooperage in the otherwise residential Pelton Road and another, William Armstrong, operated nearby in Bellot Street.

The making of traditional wooden barrels was a simple enough process, albeit needing a high level of skills from the cooper himself. The process needed carpentry tools and lots of water but not much space. In the 1980s a cooper like this could be seen at work in the back streets of Bermondsey, unnoticed by local people who took him and his trade for granted.

BELLOT STREET

The Bellot Street area also supported a pattern maker, John A. Clarke and some small scale metal works, like, in 1903 William Harrod, a brass founder. Another similar works was Flavell, Butler, Montgomery, and Churchill a small engineering firm based in Bellott Street with apparently no relationship to the more famous Flavell Electrical Co. (This is now the site of Flavell Mews. I have to thank the more famous Flavell Electrical Co. for the information that
this was not them! The Greenwich Flavell undertook crane repairs and some information is in my articles on Lovell’s Wharf)

One of the more unlikely trades to be found in the area was the manufacture of manure by a Henry Howard and a Bridge Stondon, who had a ‘Manure Works’ in an area known as ‘Spring Gardens’. This was on the north side of Old Woolwich Road, directly opposite today’s Duke of Wellington Public House and right in the middle of the main housing development. The works included an engine house and was clearly operating on a considerable scale. It must have been very smelly and its existence in the middle of George Smith’s careful residential development is astounding. It is probably no coincidence that it was very short-lived.

In the central section of the Peninsula – at the point where today the motorway crosses Blackwall Lane a number of small companies had a precarious existence. In particular there was a succession of small ammunition works in this area

BLACKWALL LANE

The United Lamp Black Works was situated in the middle of the Peninsula. In 1930 ten inhabitants of Tunnel Avenue forced an action against pollution caused by this factory – and at the same time implied that Greenwich Council was negligent, despite surveys by the Sanitary Inspector over a period of ten years.

Mr. Webb had a ‘dining rooms’ at 159 Tunnel Avenue and he complained of the black specks coming from the factory. He pointed out that fans and ventilators at the factory were defective. He described how he made pastry for a steak pudding and found it full of specks. Customers who tried to eat the pudding, said ‘ Hi Governor. What do you call this? Got a sweep knocking about here?” (This saga appears in the relevant Kentish Mercury).

In the twentieth century a small paint industry grew up alongside the Lamp Black Works. Stevenson and Davies, were succeeded by A.E.D.G.Gay, at the Blackwall Lane site.

SAW MILLS AND MAHOGANY

At the top of Blackwall Lane Listers Saw Mills were in operation from the start of the twentieth century and Greenwich Saw Mills Ltd. were on Imperial Wharf for many years. This small woodworking industry was supplemented by an American company which had a short lived works in Greenwich from 1904 – Segar Emery.

George D. Emery was an American involved in Nicaraguan mahogany. For unknown reasons he decided to open a London branch in 1904 in conjuncion with Samuel Segar. Emery was an important industrialist in the United States and dealings in Nicaragua are said to have been more involved with politics than mahogony. Something small in Greenwich may in fact be a large operation on the international scene. (I have to thank Jeremy Mouat, Associate Professor of History, Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada for information about Segar Emery. He referred me to American Lumbermen, The Personal
History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States. Chicago 1905. I understand Professor Mouat is preparing a book on the Nicaraguan lumber industry)

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