Chapter 22 The rest of the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century continued to be worthy and boring with a gradual decline as industries closed – to be replaced by depots and service industries. It was a long slow way down which ended with the sudden collapse and closure of the upriver docks. If it seems hard to take sixty years development and work in such a short chapter – so much work was been done, so many people using their time and energies – yet it was all a long slide to deindustrialisation.

With the sole exception of Tunnel Glucose, the big companies of the Greenwich Peninsula were all in place by 1920.   For the rest of the twentieth century – with a blip for the Second World War – it was a question of watching them close down, one by one. The demise of manufacturing industry since 1900 is shown here only too clearly. Manufacturing was replaced by haulage, wharfage, and the building industry – stone slabs and aggregate. Incomers were mostly small and mostly short lived. The vitality so clear of the 1860s had been replaced – with what?

DEAD HORSES

When the area was semi-rural there were many horses grazing in the fields who earned their living in the cab trade. As time went by many of the horses to be seen in the fields were actually waiting their turns at the knackers, Harrison Barber, in Blackwall Lane. Most of the information about this slaughterhouse comes from the report of a suicide – an employee who used the patent killer on himself.

What replaced the horses was the internal combustion engine. Garages and motor repair depots were opening quickly. In 1933 the opening of Crossways Service Station was a sign of the times. This was next to the knackers – so the horses’ last moments on earth would be the sight of their real killer – the motor car.

(this site is now being developed for housing)

 

OTHER INDUSTRIES

It would be dishonest not to mention some of the industries which did move on to the Peninsula in the sixty years after the first world war. There was, for instance, A.& S. Henry & Co., sack manufacturers (A.S.Henry. This information comes from a commemorative booklet produced at the end of the war by the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich) and Stewart Carbonising on Morden Wharf .

SWEET SUCCESS

There is one success story among the industries which came to Greenwich in the 1930s. This is the flourishing sugar refinery, known in the 1990s as Amylum UK but previously Tunnel Glucose. Sugar is very much an industry of London’s riverside. (This report is extremely inadequate for this important -and now closed  – factory. I would like to thank Ian Turner for continued support and information.  Material used here is entirely from Amylum’s publicity brochures)

Most of the big names in sugar refining have been here – Tate and Lyle are still in operation on the other side of the river. Tunnel Refineries were specialists, making glucose syrups to specialist formulae to sell to trade outlets. In this they have been very successful with a big modern plant which does credit to the area – why complain too much about the smell!

silos 2
The riverside silos, 1980s

They opened in 1934. In 1998 the refinery covered 27 acres and included a related distillery. They are very proud of their record in enhancing the environment of the riverside.

(When this was written what had been Tunnel Glucose was owned by Amylum, and apparently flourishing. They became part of Tate and Lyle who took over the works.  They sold to a French company, Syrol, and soon after the workforce were given notice.  A team of French demolition contractors moved in, without giving notice to the Council or the PLA, and proceeded to dismantle the entire works – local people and the Alcatel staff discovering plans to blow up the landmark silos. They left the site completely flattened – but while the silos were demolished Greenwich Council managed to prevent destruction of three or four jetties.  Environmental enhancements by Amylum,  riverside art works and the riverside path itself vanished.  The site is owned by Morden College and in 2013 it has been leased to developers, Cathedral)

Perhaps we should take a quick glance at the other big factory still in operation. At Enderby’s wharf Alcatel are now in possession of the factory which has been producing telecommunications equipment since the birth of the industry.

(Alcatel have sold the riverside strip to developers for a cruise liner terminal, but apparently intend to remain in Greenwich because of the value of their skilled staff)

MORE SERVICE INDUSTRY

These final few paragraphs chart some of the industries which moved onto the wharves as manufacturing industry moved away. For instance in 1927 Eastwoods, the wharfage company, were situated on Greig’s Wharf. They are a famous river haulage company – through the early nineteenth century managed by the redoubtable Jane Eastwood. They had a brickworks at Shoeburyness and had a fleet of fifty sailing barges. (Taken from London Business Cavalcade, London, 1951).

Depots for everything flourished. In 1951 the National Benzole Co. moved onto the site where Bethell had had his chemical works. On Victoria Wharf the linoleum factory was replaced by the Metropolitan Storage and Trade Co. Ltd and in 1970 by the Victoria Deep Water Terminal. This was a specialist wharf for handling containers. In 1987 40,000 boxes were being handled on the wharf every year – well below its actual capacity. The two gantry cranes, painted in brilliant colours, were a landmark on the river and hated by incoming yuppies on the Isle of Dogs.

Morden Wharf became a warehousing complex in the 1950s owned by Taylor Brothers Wharfage. They boasted a quay for ships up to 270 feet in length with three waterside cranes and ten overhead cranes. Even Delta gave over part of their enormous site to warehousing. The list of these companies is enormous. Each advertised with pride their vast floor areas, the length of their wharf, and its handling capacity.

AND AGGREGATES

In the 1980s many of the wharves went over to aggregates. When Delta closed in the 1970s the site was taken by Civil and Marine – which specialised in sea dredged aggregates. At that time they operated two 5,000-ton sand and gravel dredgers from a headquarters in Purfleet. In 1995 they were bought by the Hanson Group and at that time had a bulk carrier and four dredgers.

Most of the big names in sugar refining have been here – Tate and Lyle are still in operation on the other side of the river. Tunnel Refineries were specialists, making glucose syrups to specialist formulae to sell to trade outlets. In this they have been very successful with a big modern plant which does credit to the area – why complain too much about the smell!

They opened in 1934. In 1998 the refinery covered 27 acres and included a related distillery. They are very proud of their record in enhancing the environment of the riverside.

Perhaps we should take a quick glance at the other big factory still in operation. At Enderby’s wharf Alcatel are now in possession of the factory which has been producing telecommunications equipment since the birth of the industry.

THE MITRE

A cheerful interlude was provided by events at the Mitre Pub – built in the 1880s on Blackwall Lane to provide something for thirsty gas workers. As the population of drinkers dwindled in the 1960s it became a venue for local bands – in particular the very wonderful Wally Butcher and the Laughing Gravy Orchestra.

International jazz star Dudu Pukwana played to a miniscule audience on Sunday lunch times.

Eventually it became home to Malcolm Hardee’s notorious Tunnel Club (Alternative Comedians v. The Eltham Boys). Once all the acts had been booed off, Malcolm would usually do anything on stage that the audience asked.

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