Chapter 19 End of the Century

The nineteenth century had been a time of great change on the Greenwich Peninsula. Great efforts had gone into industrialisation but, by the 1890s, things were changing again. Many of the new companies which moved onto sites as the second or third occupants had been established elsewhere and were looking to expand, another trend was the gradual move towards wharfage and haulage activities.

(In this section I was trying to cover many many important factories with little time for research – a lot was left out).


(This important company is little known and proved difficult to research.  Since writing this a great deal of information has been sent to me about their products from around the world – incuding some preserved engines. They are yet another company known everywhere else but in Greenwich. In 2006 a paper on Applebys was given to Greenwich Industrial History Society by Philip Peart)

The Appleby works at east Greenwich

This trend can be seen at work in the late 1870s when Appleby Bros. Engineers moved into the area. Appleby were perhaps the largest general engineering company to come to East Greenwich. They were already a successful company and presumably wanted a larger site in the London area. They leased a site from Morden College in 1879 and also took over some of the Victoria Wharf site, still in Bessemer’s ownership, and stayed there until 1910. They were to call it Star Wharf.

Appleby had been set up in 1782 at the Renishaw Iron works in Derbyshire. One of the founder’s sons, Charles, born in 1828, had been trained at Renishaw. He worked for a Manchester engineering company and then went to Russia to get experience of railways. On his return to England he opened his own engineering works at Emerson Street in Southwark, along with his brother Thomas. It was this factory which, in 1886, moved to Greenwich.

engine at forncett st mary
The engine at Forncett St.Mary

Appleby’s catalogue shows an amazing range of goods, which they claimed to manufacture at Greenwich and their other factories. (copy in Greenwich Heritage Centre. I find it difficult to
believe that they made all that is claimed here at Greenwich or anywhere else). They made railway locomotives and supplied the 2’8″ gauge ‘Edith’ to Robert Campbell of Farringdon in 1871 and they also made their own steam engines. Some were marine engines – in the 1880s they supplied engines to two single screw ships built in Holland for Watkins Tugs, the Australia and the Zealandia. (Frank Bowen, A Hundred Years of Towage, Gravesend, 1933.) Two Appleby engines are known to have survived into the 1990s:-*info from  Tim Smith who identified both engines). A single cylinder horizontal steam engine which survived until recently at Sarson’s Vinegar Works in Southwark (this is now at Crossness Engines and thus almost in Greenwich). Another is preserved in a Museum at Forncett St. Mary, Norfolk – although it may not have been made in Greenwich. It has been suggested that cranes and hoists were in fact Appleby’s most important product. It was cranes that they showed at both the Paris Exhibition of 1876, and the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. They began to become involved with other companies with an interest in cranes and transporters. They acquired the Temperly Transporter Co, in 1908 and a Temperly Transporter was provided to the adjacent Ordnance Wharf Works of the South Metropolitan Gas Co. around this time. (Info Tim Smith)

temperley transporter
The Temperey Transporter at Ordnance Wharf, with apologies for quality of the picture

Appleby came under the control of the Crayford based arms company of Vickers, Son and Maxim, usually known for armaments. Sir Hiram Maxim himself was still alive and lived a few miles away at Bexley. His main work by then was aircraft design and one of his interests was in flying from a fixed point – a ‘ride’ designed by him still survives in Blackpool. Perhaps a company with expertise in cranes and transporters would have been very useful in this context. Vickers had set up the Glasgow Electric Crane and Hoist Co. together with the Scottish shipping company, Beardmore, and Appleby were also involved with them. The focus of their work began to move away from Greenwich and they concentrated themselves at their works in Leicester. By 1910 they were in financial difficulties and the Greenwich works was at last closed. Their business passed to another Crane Company, Arrol.


At some point in the nineteenth century a seed crushing mill was set up adjacent to Appleby’s works. It is this mill, shown on some maps, which has caused a number of historians to claim that there was a windmill on the Peninsula. It was not a windmill but a steam mill and the seed being crushed was almost certainly linseed intended to be used as a source of oil.

The works was also known as the ‘London Seed Crushing Co.’. It was to be joined by a major user of linseed oil. Later the works and the wharf became known as ‘Griegs’ and the name remained. It can only be a matter of speculation if it had any connection with the later Scottish owners of the linoleum works. (Since writing this we have had contacy with John Grieg who has researched this firm and given two talks to Greenwich Industrial History Society)


greenwich inlaid lino
A piece of Greenwich lino – in the Museum at Kirkaldy are several pattern books with numerous examples of what was made in Greenwich

Linoleum was the universal floor covering of the Victorians, enjoying a rather down-market image today. Oil based floor coverings had evolved during the course of the century and many linoleum factories had replaced floorcloth factories – in this respect the Greenwich kampultican factory is famous  (there are numerous reports in Kentish Mercury about this never researched
company).  Linoleum manufacture was, however, the brain child of one man, Frederick Walton who came from near Manchester. (Most of the material used here comes from Walton’s autobiography.  In addition, I would like to thank activists at the Spelthorne Museum, Staines, where Walton had a previous lino works and Roger Strugnell, archivist, at Forbo Nairn in Kirkcaldy and staff of the Kirkaldy Museum.  Walton was a very interesting man and a lot remains to be discovered – in particular of his ‘other’ activities and the international dimension to his several companies).

Walton was the son of an inventor (I have been sent a large amount of archive material about Walton Snr and his Haughton Dale Wire Works by Tameside Local Studies Library). and an inventor he also grew up to be. One of his discoveries was oxidised oil – the skin on top of paint. The material he developed could be rolled out onto a suitable backing – using linseed oil and cork and linoleum was the end product. Walton’s first factory was in Chiswick in 1861, and he later moved to a bigger works at Staines. The Staines factory is famous with an exhibit in a local museum and a local biographer of Walton. (The Staines factory was a huge affair covering a larger area than Staines itself. The Spelthorne Museum, in the old Staines fire station, has a large exhibition on the subject of the lino works.)  Soon Walton’s process was universally used.

The Staines works became independent of Walton and eventually he was to go off and leave it. He seems to have quarrelled with his managers over new developments and determined to go somewhere else with his new invention. That somewhere else was to be Greenwich.

aeriel 2
Greenwich Linoleum Works – part of the factory.

A lease was taken out on Victoria Wharf from the owners. By 1910 the works had become immense and was eventually to be on two sites – the other slightly further north. It made about 20 miles of linoleum each week – a year’s output would have stretched to Warsaw! They used a mixture of cork, oils and colouring. Each sheet was made of tens of thousands of tiny pieces – made up in an original pattern into a template by specialist craftsmen. A vast machine – 50 feet high and weighing 400 tons – produced huge sheets of lino in six different colours. These sheets were then cut and welded into the different designs. (There are a number of pictures of the Greenwich works at Kirkcaldy.  Nairn’s also own a series of pictures of the Duke of York (George VI) visit in the 1930s).

The works operated from two sites – part of Bethell’s Wharf was also used, although the date of the expansion is not clear. The company was taken over by Michael Nairn Co. of Kirkaldy in the 1920s and seems to have been closed in 1934 or shortly afterwards. (When I wrote the book Nairns insisted that they had closed the Greenwich works down in the 1930s.  However, there were reports of activities there later in Kentish Mercury ands elsewhere.  In December 2000 I have had a letter from Roger Strugnell at Nairn’s, with new material which he has discovered making clear that although the factory was not making linoleum during world war II it was remained open on other war work – and could not be economically rebuilt after the war)time flies

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