Chapter 16 Railways and Docks

Up until the middle of the nineteenth century the main transport link between East Greenwich industries and the rest of the world was the River.

The first railway in London came to Greenwich in 1836 – although it didn’t cross Greenwich Park for nearly forty years because of objections from the Royal Observatory. (R.G.Thomas, London’s first railway,  London, 1986). Railways were however becoming an important mode of transport for industrial users as for passengers. If it was not possible to go through the park then the way to get a railway to the industries onto the Greenwich Peninsula was to go round it.

ANGERSTEIN

Angerstein is a name, which keeps cropping up in the East Greenwich area. It originates with the romantic figure of John Julius Angerstein – a Russian financier with mysterious, possibly illustrious, origins. He may well have been the son of the Empress Ann of Russia and a British banker. He spent a long working life in the City of London, regularised Lloyds of London and whose pictures provided the foundation of the National Gallery.

In 1774 Angerstein bought land in Blackheath and built the house which is now Woodlands, Greenwich Local History Library. (When the book was written the Local History Library was indeed at Woodlands – it later moved to the Arsenal to become the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The listed house is now used by the Steiner School.  Up to the time the library moved the ground floor was an Art Gallery which then closed). He had numerous connections within the City of London and political circles. Although Greenwich marsh was a small item in his enormous world of influence, Angerstein, is one of a number of influential people who can be said to have shaped the marsh and its industries. His country home was built to overlook the area of the marsh itself. His area of influence was in the east of the Marsh along Lombard’s Wall.

Angerstein owned the area that roughly covers today’s Westcombe Park. Part of Westcombe Park Road may have been his carriage drive. He, and his family, went on to acquire, by 1856, the whole stretch of land between the River and the Dover Road. Coombe Farm covered much of the lower part of this area with its buildings north of Westcombe Park Station.

John Julius had one son, John, born in 1773 who lived much of the time in Greenwich. He had a large family – the most important members in this context are a younger John Julius (born 1801) and William (born 1812). John Julius himself had died in 1823. (See file of notes at Greenwich Heritage  Centre. . Also cf ‘John Julius Angerstein and Woodlands, Woodlands Art Gallery, 1974).

In 1774 Angerstein bought land in Blackheath and built the house which is now Woodlands, Greenwich Local History Library. He had numerous connections within the City of London and political circles. Although Greenwich marsh was a small item in his enormous world of influence, Angerstein, is one of a number of influential people who can be said to have shaped the marsh and its industries. His country home was built to overlook the area of the marsh itself. His area of influence was in the east of the Marsh along Lombard’s Wall.

Angerstein owned the area that roughly covers today’s Westcombe Park. Part of Westcombe Park Road may have been his carriage drive. He, and his family, went on to acquire, by 1856, the whole stretch of land between the River and the Dover Road. Coombe Farm covered much of the lower part of this area with its buildings north of Westcombe Park Station.

John Julius had one son, John, born in 1773 who lived much of the time in Greenwich. He had a large family – the most important members in this context are a younger John Julius (born 1801) and William (born 1812). John Julius himself had died in 1823.

In 1850 John Angerstein must have seen the stretch of land between Blackheath and the River as full of potential. The North Kent railway line was being built through a tunnel, which ran from Blackheath to a point adjacent to his land. On the other side of the River the new Victoria Dock was to have an entrance almost opposite. All that would be needed was a wharf and a connecting railway and good business would be guaranteed.

ANGERSTEIN’S RAILWAY

angerstein railway
A locomotive on the Angerstein line 1970s. Photo Howard Chard

A railway was planned in 1851 to run on Angerstein’s land from the North Kent Railway as it emerged from its tunnel into a chalk pit. The Angerstein line would then go to a riverside wharf. Built on private land there was no need for an Act of Parliament except for the bridge needed to cross the Lower Turnpike Road between Greenwich and Woolwich. The Act was applied for and passed in May 1851.

The line opened in 1852 but had already been leased to the South Eastern Railway for operation. The spoil removed from the Blackheath/Charlton railway tunnel was used to build the embankment on which the railway goes on its way to the River. It runs parallel with Lombard’s Wall – the Tudor flood defence and property marker.

The railway line was, and has remained, entirely a goods line. As industry grew in East Greenwich and Charlton so it grew and was extended. In the 1890s the line was extended right across the Peninsula to enter the gas works via a bridge across Riverway.

(Angerstein Wharf, Southern Railway Magazine, December 1925 & November 1951, and John Hilton, Mr.Angerstein’s Railway’ in Bygone Kent, Vol.20 No.2. February 1999 pp 99-103.  The Angerstein Wharf railway is still with us in January 2013 carrying stone for the aggregate works at Angerstein Wharf. As transport plans for access to the Dome were announced transport campaigners (in particular Richard Pout of Transport 2000) called for it to be opened to passenger traffic – something which fell on deaf ears at London Transport! My only attempts to travel on the line on a ‘spotters’ trip organised by Pathfinder Tours was aborted when, at the junction into the line, it was announced that there was a broken rail.)

ANGERSTEIN WHARF

As industry grew the Angerstein line appears on successive maps with up to fourteen branches fanning out east and west from it to factories and the riverside. In 1925 an article said that goods worth £58,000 were handled in 1859, rising tenfold by the 1920s. The Wharf then handled ‘manure, steel rails, fertiliser, coal, coke, stone, sand, flour, slates and timber’. By 1951 however the 755-foot river frontage with an upper dock ‘too small’ for ‘present day craft’ was mainly taking petroleum spirit and oil – together with ‘Fullers’ Earth from Redhill, … timber, flour, manure, iron and steel, and waste paper’ (Angerstein  Wharf, Southern Railway Magazine, December 1925 & November 1951)

In 1999 the wharf handles aggregate – much of which is carried along the old railway line.

THE DOCK THAT NEVER WAS

(I have written about this is more detail in ‘The Dock That Never Was’. Bygone Kent, Vol. 20 No.4. April 1999, pp 213-219. The main source material for this is the Kentish Mercury for the relevant dates, Trinity College Minutes at the Mercers’ Company, Southern Railway Minutes (PRO) and some associated prospectus, maps and notes, notes by Barbara Ludlow on John Townsend, Fillmer article on Coles Child (see above),  Morden College Trustees Minutes and Deed Collection, items from the Martin Collection (Greenwich Heritage Centre), items in the Kent County Archive, Maidstone, South Metropolitan Gas collection (LMA)).

In the 1850s dock construction was booming in London. Where you had a dock so you had a railway. In the late 1850s plans were made which would have entirely changed the face of the Greenwich Peninsula – there would have been no space for a Dome of any sort! The plans were repeated in the 1880s. There is just the suspicion of hype about them.

Railways were being planned all round the country; some of them were even being built. The Mercer’s Company owned a small piece of land to the south of the Peninsula and they recorded approaches in this period from several railway companies who wanted to build over, or near, their land. In December 1852 they, like Morden College, were approached by the South Eastern Railway, in connection with an extension of the Angerstein line and a plan to join it both to Blackwall via a ferry and the Greenwich Railway from London Bridge. This appears to have come to nothing.

7In May 1853 the Mercers were approached by the, otherwise unknown, Charlton and Blackwall Railway. It was hinted that docks were actually what were planned. Little more was heard of this plan until 1857 when there was a sudden new departure. An application was made to Parliament for a grand dock to be built on the Greenwich Peninsula.

greenwich dock plan
Traced from an original in the Kent County Archive, and redrawn by Chris Grabhame with much thanks

This story is closely interwoven with Greenwich politics. In this period Greenwich saw an astonishing number of Parliamentary elections and by elections with some lively personalities emerging in the context of even livelier election campaigns – at a time when two members were elected to parliament by Greenwich voters. They included local industrialists, like Peter Rolt, colourful local characters like John Townsend, and David Salomans the first Jew to be elected to Parliament. Another contestant was William Angerstein. Local people and local industrialists threw themselves into this succession of election campaigns – one of the most assiduous was Coles Child. In this context it should be noted that Coles Child was a director of the South Eastern Railway during the 1850s. It might be assumed that the South Eastern Railway was behind the great dock scheme in that the plans name it as the ‘Greenwich and South Eastern Docks.’ It seems however, like so many others, to have been legally a separate company – which means that any records are difficult, or impossible to trace. Plans of the proposed dock show an enormous scheme which would have taken up most of the land on the Peninsula – the length of the dock was to run north-south down the length of the land. The whole structure was to be in a ‘T’ shape so that the main north-south dock was met by another at right angles with entrances at Enderbys’ Wharf to the west, and the end of what is now Riverway in the east – where it would also have met the Angerstein Railway.

7In May 1853 the Mercers were approached by the, otherwise unknown, Charlton and Blackwall Railway. It was hinted that docks were actually what were planned. Little more was heard of this plan until 1857 when there was a sudden new departure. An application was made to Parliament for a grand dock to be built on the Greenwich Peninsula.

This story is closely interwoven with Greenwich politics. In this period Greenwich saw an astonishing number of Parliamentary elections and by elections with some lively personalities emerging in the context of even livelier election campaigns – at a time when two members were elected to parliament by Greenwich voters. They included local industrialists, like Peter Rolt, colourful local characters like John Townsend, and David Salomans the first Jew to be elected to Parliament. Another contestant was William Angerstein. Local people and local industrialists threw themselves into this succession of election campaigns – one of the most assiduous was Coles Child. In this context it should be noted that Coles Child was a director of the South Eastern Railway during the 1850s. It might be assumed that the South Eastern Railway was behind the great dock scheme in that the plans name it as the ‘Greenwich and South Eastern Docks.’ It seems however, like so many others, to have been legally a separate company – which means that any records are difficult, or impossible to trace. Plans of the proposed dock show an enormous scheme which would have taken up most of the land on the Peninsula – the length of the dock was to run north-south down the length of the land. The whole structure was to be in a ‘T’ shape so that the main north-south dock was met by another at right angles with entrances at Enderbys’ Wharf to the west, and the end of what is now Riverway in the east – where it would also have met the Angerstein Railway.

The scheme was noted with approval by the Kentish Mercury in 1858 just before yet another election. Their leader writer spoke of the miserable time people were having in Greenwich ‘the silence is only broken at intervals by the sepulchral sound of the wheels of an empty omnibus…. even if you see some active pedestrian approaching the public baths, from having nothing else do to, his gloomy countenance renders it doubtful whether he is about to enter for the purposes of ablution or to drown himself’.

In 1858 the Dock was being presented as part of a package. The North and South Metropolitan Junction Railway would change everything – make travel throughout the capital easy and bring peace and prosperity to Greenwich. At the same time in 1858 another election was under way. In this one of the candidates was William Angerstein who had inherited the land around the Angerstein Railway in Greenwich.’A Reader’ wrote to the Mercury ‘At last there seems a chance of poor Greenwich being resuscitated and rising from the ashes. I and others have hailed the advent of the Greenwich and South Eastern Docks’. The question was of course – where did the candidates for Parliament stand on this issue?

Votes were not secret then and in the run up to any election the Mercury was happy to print on proposed new greenwich docksits front page lists of names of voters with their voting intentions, week by week, as the election approached. On December 2nd ‘Straight’ wrote to them and enquired whether the candidates would ‘put their hands in their pockets .. and assist projects’. The Mercury’s leader writer was happy to point out that some 40 acres of land which would be needed to build the dock were owned by William Angerstein.

Angerstein was pressed to accept a seat on the Board of the Dock Company – which he refused and it is likely that an acceptance would have led to charges of corruption. Instead he found himself accused in the Mercury by Coles Child of not supporting improvements which would benefit Greenwich people – followed by the public announcement that Coles Child would no longer remain on the list of Angerstein’s election supporters. In the following week’s paper Coles Child asked if Angerstein would be prepared to ‘make the Company a present of the land required’? Needless to say this gift was not forthcoming from Angerstein who went on to lose the election.

A SECOND DOCK SCHEME

After 1859 the issue of the dock scheme went very quiet. It was raised again in the 1860s when proposals were made to extend the railway from Greenwich or Blackheath to Angerstein wharf. Nothing came of any of it.

The dock scheme came up again in the 1880s. Ostensibly it was not put forward by the South Eastern Railway although, as they paid for the parliamentary deposit, it must have had something to do with them. It no longer included a dock along the length of the Peninsula, only the cross head of the ‘T’ junction. It proved a severe embarrassment to the South Metropolitan Gas Company whose East Greenwich works were then under consideration.

 

032MaryMillsWebsite
On the Angerstein Line crossing between Fairthorn Road and Westcombe Hill. Photo Rob Powell 2013
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