Chapter 3 – The East Bank

CHAPTER 2. EARLY INDUSTRY ON THE MARSH

3. THE EAST BANK

MR BUGSBY

The east bank of the Peninsula was developed soon after the Gunpowder Depot had closed. This stretch of the River is called ‘Bugsby’s Reach’. The name probably dates from the early eighteenth century. Earlier it was called Cockle’s Reach or Podd’s Elms Reach. The 1744 Roque map shows a great semi circle of trees stretching across both sides of Horn Lane – which must have been a memorable sight from the River. Perhaps it was when the trees died or were felled that the name was changed. (‘Cockle’s Reach’ or Cockpull Reach and  ‘Podd’s Elms’ are shown on a map of 1588. This is discussed by Muriel Searle, The Importance of Being Bugsby. Port of London, January 1975 These two names seem to have gone out of use in the early eighteenth century. In Who was Bugsby? PLA Monthly April 1948 E.W.Green speculated that the circle of elms did not survive the great storm of 1703 – although, in which case, why are they shown on Roque?)

The end of Riverway, then called Marsh Lane, was known as ‘Bugsby’s Hole’. ‘Hole’ is a term used along the Thames, and means a deep part of the riverbed where shipping could lie in safety. Bugsby seems to be someone’s name. Who was he? There was no major landowner or a tenant with that name here in the eighteenth century. One story is that Bugsby was a robber who hid himself and his swag in an osier bed here.

(Bugsby has been the cause of a great deal of speculation, most of which has not got very far. F.W. Nunn raised the question in the Kentish Mercury of 5th January 1923. ‘Who was Bugsby’. He cites a ‘book published about a hundred years ago’ which talked about a robber who had ‘a cabin’ in the osier beds and who, in order to ‘escape the vengeance of the law’ ‘cast himself into the river’ and that later ‘much treasure was found’. He also says that there is a reference in a ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ of 1755 to ‘Williams the pirate’ being hung in chains at Bugsby’s Hole’. A week later a letter from ‘H.Kennard’ pointed out that ‘Hole’ merely means ‘anchorage’. E.W.Green above refers to A.G.Linney who, he says, referred to Bugsby in The Lure and Lore of London’s River, and says that Linney suggests that he was a market gardener – I think Linney may have been right, but first we need to take a very circuitous route. Green pointed out that the area generally known as Bugsby Marshes was reputedly where executed criminals were hung in chains. He therefore suggested that the real name was ‘Bug’s Marsh’ – in that ‘bug’ could mean ‘spook’ and is the origin of the word ‘bogey’. Therefore, he reasoned, people are frightened of the marshes because of the gibbets, therefore they think they are haunted and use a name which says so. He says that the name ‘bug’ meaning beetle dates only from about 1750. The name was then changed out of politeness by map makers. Mr. Green also raised the question of the use of ‘by’ in the name as meaning a Scandinavian Farm. This point has been made to me by endless correspondents in the last couple of years. My answer to them – which is the same conclusion which Mr. Green came to – is that the name is so recent that it cannot relate to any such Dark Ages feature. Green found the first use of the name on a map of 1822. Muriel Searle in ‘The Importance of being Bugsby’ Port of London January 1975 commented on the loneliness of the spot and air of mystery which hangs over the name. To comment on all this: First I think we can discount any ghosts or Scandinavian Farms. Bugsby’s Reach was not particularly lonely since it was adjacent to a particularly busy stretch of river opposite the East India Company’s depot. The story about the robber in the osiers is nice but we have no reference to it, not even to the book from whence it came – and certainly no newspaper reports. The gibbet is discussed below but certainly the reference to Williams in 1755 is the earliest so far traced to Bugsby – and the name seems to date from the early eighteenth century. Pirates in this period have been much studied and I am not aware that a Bugsby has been uncovered among them. Nor am I aware that it is the name of anyone hung in that period. However, Bugsby is not a common name in England – as a trawl of family history sites on the internet will reveal. It is however a common name in parts of America and the West Indies – so was Bugsby perhaps something to do with the eighteenth century trade to those parts or even, heaven forbid, a slaver! I actually think that the answer is much more pedestrian. In 1715 the Commission of Sewers in Greenwich levied a rate payment from a Mr. Busby. I do not know where Mr. Busby’s piece of land was, but it does seem that it is quite a short step from ‘Busby’ to ‘Bugsby’. Perhaps it should also be noted that in the same period there was a ‘Bugg’s Marsh’ on the ‘other’ bit of Greenwich marshes – in the area now covered by Norman Road adjacent to the river Ravensbourne. Perhaps more cheerfully I can point out another entry in Gentleman’s Magazine. This says that in August 1802 a Mr. Barrett took off in a balloon from Greenwich and landed, ‘ into a field in Bugsby’s Hole’.)

GIBBETS

It has been suggested that the word ‘Bugsby’ has something to do with bogeys and bugaboos. This is because it is possible that Bugsby’s Hole was used as a site for gibbeting the bodies of pirates who had been hung, with due ceremony, at Execution Dock in Wapping. How many such horrible exhibitions took place is not clear but ‘Williams’ was gibbeted here in 1735. When such gibbets were used some security arrangements were necessary because relations of gibbeted criminals naturally tried to reclaim the bodies – pirates had families like everyone else. Was this why there was a watch house on the Marsh? It has been asserted on a number of occasions that Execution Dock was moved from Wapping either to Bugsby’s Hole, or to ‘a site near the gunpowder works’. This story is not discounted but no record has yet been found of executions in this area – something which surely would have received some publicity or appeared in one or other of the official records. F.Nunn ( Kentish Mercury) quotes an 1735 report from the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ of a pirate, hanged at Wapping, being moved and gibbeted at Blackwall.

(Numerous writers about the peninsula have claimed that pirates were actually hung there. For instance Iain Sinclair in an article ‘All change. This train is cancelled” (London Review of Books, 13th May 1999) ‘was once the Execution Dock … the gallows and iron cage moved here from Wapping .. executions and bloated bodies washed over by three tides .. distance and difficulty of access blunted the mob’s appetite for blood’. I think this is nonsense – and the authors should stop and think for a moment about what they are saying. It is a very long time ago in this country (if ever!) hanging manthat criminals were strung up on gallows without the benefit of due course of law, the comforts of religion, a large crowd and the press of the day. If a deterrent is what you want what is point of hanging someone in a place which is difficult to get to! I am sure however that pirates and other criminals were gibbeted around the area. We have the example of Williams being gibbeted at Bugsby’s Hole – but as far the others claimed by Mr. Green (above)? Mr. Green should look more carefully at the gibbet in the picture which I have reproduced above. He will see that it is not anywhere near Bugsby’s Hole but in the area of the gunpowder depot – a much more sensible place to put it since there would have been a ready made armed guard on site. Rosemary Taylor in her book on Blackwall draws attention to a number of gibbetings at Blackwall – one of which, by her account, was definitely downstream of the Point. She also mentions that the ‘Flowery Land’ pirates of 1847 were gibbeted in the area. In fact, according to both the Metropolitan Police web-site and the Newgate Calendar these pirates were hanged at Newgate in 1864. I find it very difficult to believe that a gibbet for five men was set up within half a mile or so of a middle class house (East Lodge) and active factories, which would have been the case in 1864 – and surely the local papers would have mentioned it.

Gibbeting didn’t stop piracy and in 1816 a robbery took place, described as ‘one of the greatest robberies ever to have taken place in this country‘. This involved the theft of £13,000 in dollars, from the hoy, Coromandel, which was transferring it to another ship bound for India. The pirates were caught because they left some of the chests full of money lying on the foreshore. Perhaps they are the men who were gibbeted below Blackwall Point in 1816. If so, they are just another part of the grisly history of this area. (Rod Helps, Piracy on the Thames. Bygone Kent, 16/4 Despite the vast amount of money stolen the robbers were so inept that they deposited it above low water level. It was then found, and purloined, by a number of passing watermen who were later persuaded that honesty was, in the circumstances, a better policy. In ‘Blackwall,The Brunswick and Whitebait Dinners’ Rosemary Taylor 1991 Rosemary Taylor draws attention to four pirates hung in chains ‘on a cross headed gibbet on the south bank just below Blackwall Point having been removed from execution dock in 1816’. The similarity of the date  and the fact that four robbers were involved makes it very likely that they are the same miscreants – and in 1816 the area was still relatively deserted.)

On the north bank of the River at Blackwall a large shipbuilding and ship repair depot was in use. This belonged to the powerful East India Company and all the riverside activities on Greenwich marsh from the eighteenth century onwards took place to a background of the movements of the great ships owned by the Company. (this comment is really to try and bring the area into the real world! So much is said about the loneliness and remoteness of the Greenwich marshes. In fact they were alongside a very busy river which was carrying a vast amount of traffic on the cutting edge of world commerce. Immediately opposite as Rosemary Taylor points out was Blackwall Yard – opened in 1614 and described in 1789 as ‘the world’s biggest shipyard’. At that time Brunswick Dock was built, big enough to accommodate 28 East Indiamen and sixty Greenland sloops. By the 1840s it was also an important passenger terminus served by its own railway. I think it is important to bear in mind that until the early twentieth century the natural way to bring traffic into the Greenwich marshes was by river, roads were much less important). East Indiamen sailed to the far corners of the earth to exploit what they found there. To many of the remote people they visited they must have seemed like the alien spacecraft we imagine today – so high-tech that their possibilities could only just be grasped. To Greenwich people they were a sign that the whole world could be grasped by those with enough capital and the right technology.

NEW EAST GREENWICH

In Riverway stands one of the few remains of early nineteenth century industry in Greenwich – ceylon place pilot plaqueThe Pilot pub. A plaque – which might be of any date – reads ‘New East Greenwich, 1804‘. (I have spent a lot of time wondering if that plaque on the outside of the Pilot Pub is genuine – it looks real, but Barnett translated it as ‘Ceylon Place, New Pier, Greenwich’ – perhaps it was crusted with dirt in the 1950s! However, if it is real, then it seems that someone wanted to build something rather more ambitious than just one mill and a row of houses).

In 1804 the site’s owner was George Russell . who was a very successful soapmaker. Beginning from very little he had built up the Old Bargehouse soapworks at Blackfriars until it became the largest soap factory in England.

(Russell is interesting and I know very little about him. There is an obituary in Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1804 p.480. This says that George Russell has died at the age of 75. His father had been a small time soap maker in Clerkenwell and the works had been built up and a large factory opened at Old Bargehouse. Blackfriars. Old Barge House soap works was on the site of today’s Oxo Tower and it was taken over after Russell’s death by the Hawes family. It became the largest soap works in Britain. For information on Hawes I have to thank Ray Vickers in a personal letter of 23rd May 1989. Details of the mill are taken from a Chancery Judgement, Russell v. Sharpe 1808, in the Public Record Office. Sharpe was one of Russell’s executors. The papers consist mainly of a vast list of solicitor’s expenses for the administration of the estate over several years. Clearly this should yield a great of information about the mill but since items are not shown under any particular category it is not possible to discover if a particular load of bricks, or a paint job is for East Greenwich or somewhere in Ireland! Russell lived at Longlands House in Sidcup. From papers about Longlands held in the Bexley Local Studies Centre it can be established that Russell’s son lived at ‘Mill Place, Greenwich’ and it can be assumed that this is the Riverside at Bugsby’s Hole).

Russell was involved in many activities – and owned many parcels of land, in London, Kent and Ireland. He owned two coal transport ships – colliers – called Nymph and Russell. (PRO, Chancery Judgements, 1807. Russell v. Sharpe) It may be that he also had a riverside house in Greenwich because in 1796 he was burgled by a gang of thieves who escaped by boat. (see cutting in the Greenwich Heritage Centre collection). His main residence was a big house at Longlands near Sidcup in Kent. In 1792 he had bought some land on the east bank of the Greenwich Peninsula. It was used to make bricks, which were probably sold for the many building developments going on in Greenwich at the time. (the site is shown as ‘brickworks’ from this date in the Greenwich Ratebooks. Presumably a patch of brick earth was being exploited here – and conceivably became the area later used for the mill ponds – and now part of the Central Park and/or the ‘Bellway’ block)

In the 1790s Russell’s brickmakers made a hole in the sea wall without permission. Philip Sharpe, the Wall Reeve (a local official) visited the site where he met Russell’s agent, Thomas Taylor. In reply to his questions Taylor said Damn your eyes, Mr. Sharp, if you come here I will poke your teeth and stop your eyes with mud‘ and then he told a bystander, John Bignall, to throw Sharpe off the wall’. Which Bignell proceeded to do. Nothing very much seems to have happened to either Taylor or Bignell for this act of violence – within a year Bignell had got Sharpe’s job as Wall Reeve. (This gem is contained in the Greenwich Commission of Sewers Minutes for 23rd April 1796. Bignell – my suspicion is that this is actually a mis-spelt John Bicknell. Bicknell was
the parish clerk in the 1820s – and he and his son continued with many years of devoted service to the town of Greenwich)
.

WILLIAM PITT

tide mill ad 1842
An advertisement for the tide mill in 1842 – subsequent to which it was acquired by Frank Hills. Thanks to Patrick Hills.

In 1801 part of the site was re-leased to a consortium which included William Pitt, who had recently resigned as Prime Minister. It also involved Pitt’s elder brother, Lord North, and a local landowner, the Hon. John Eliot and his brother. They were all members of the Privy Council, all out of office and related to each other. What exactly did these four elite politicians want with this obscure piece of riverside? We may never know but it is likely that they wanted to invest in a new venture being undertaken there. It is possible that this was a scheme known as the London Flour Company.

(Thanks to Elizabeth Wiggans, the Morden College Archivist, who spotted an advertisement in their records for the Mill’s sale in the early 1840s and which gives details of a sub-lease to Pitt, his brother and the Eliots. The original is in their archive.

London Flour Company. This is one of those bodies about which I am sure someone has written an interesting paper which I have unable to locate! It seems to have been a Government sponsored body to provide food for the poor. In an article in The Engineer of 12th August 1901 it is claimed that
the East Greenwich Tide Mill was built for the London Flour Company. The
article also refers to advertisements and other contemporary material about the mill, but gives no references and I have never been able to trace it )

It is usually assumed that ‘The Pilot’ – the name of the pub in Riverway – refers to pilots who worked on the River but there is a good case to be made out that it derives from a song about William Pitt.

‘When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?

No, – here’s to the pilot that weathered the storm.”11

These verses were composed by George Canning, the future Prime Minister, and sung by a popular tenor, Charles Dignum, at a dinner on Pitt’s birthday in 1802. The Treaty of Amiens had been signed two months earlier and one of the clauses put Ceylon under the protection of the British Crown – hence ‘Ceylon Place’, which is the name of the cottages.

(The Pilot – I think this a good version of why The Pilot is named as it is. Clearly the current owners do not believe this story. I have had a number of arguments with Barbara Ludlow on the subject – she says that her studies of the census reveal river workers and pilots living in Ceylon Place in the period after 1850, therefore it was an area which river pilot used. I have always replied that a Pilot Station needs some buildings and records.

Ceylon Place this version of why Ceylon Place is as it is makes a lot of sense. The original estate consisted of cottages, flats, a big house and the pub. The flats seem to have gone in the 1840s to be replaced by more cottages. The big house went c.1900. By 1998 only the cottages and pub remained and the planning application for the Millennium Dome expressed an intention to demolish the cottages. That was reversed  following a lot of local community pressure and in due course they were listed – partly due to the research information given here. This did not stop the landscape architects for the Dome site once again considering demolition with no public consultation of any sort. They do however remain and have been renovated. Before the area was cleared they were sometimes used as a background for TV and video performances – for example in the video of Blur’s ‘Park Life’).

THE TIDE MILL

In 1800 steam engines were becoming an ever-present reality and the future of industrial power was with them. In the meantime the heaviest industrial muscle was that provided by the power of the tide. The biggest installations on the Thames were tide mills.

William Johnson had patented a tide mill design in 1801. (BP 2476 Machine with a perpetual motion, or mechanical self-moving power.) In 1802 he approached Morden College and asked if he could lease a site for ‘a water corn mill’ – a tide mill with a wheel which could be adjusted to the ebb and flow of the tide. (Morden College lease collection. lease for further pits in Woolwich marsh on land  held by George Moor). They refused and he then approached the Court of Sewers for permission to open the riverbank and later the City of London Commissioners,(City Conservators Minutes 5/8/1802) who were in charge of the Riverbank itself. While they were happy with his plans, the Greenwich Court was not and an argument ensued. By then Johnson was in discussion with George Russell.

(The little that I know about Johnson is gleaned almost entirely from the addresses on his many patents. So – in the 1780s he was in east London working on a scheme for lever arrangements, in 1800 he was living in Widmore outside Bromley, Kent, where he designed the East Greenwich Mill. 1807 he was living in the Mill House, probably East Lodge, at Greenwich but by 1809 he had moved to Montpelier Row in Blackheath. In 1814 he was in Heybridge, Essex, making salt, moving to Great Totham in 1823. There is a Johnson’s Mill on the navigation nearby. In 1835 he was at the famous Horsley Iron Works in Tipton and in 1846 at Grosvenor Wharf, Millbank, in London. This looks like a sketch of a successful engineering career. He also seems to have been one of the Johnson Brothers who leased and managed the Hayter Quarries near Walkhampton in Devon. There was Johnson Stone Company there. Thanks to Michael Chrimes (Head Librarian Institution of Civil Engineers, letter 6th April 1998) I learn that Johnson was known as William ‘Buffy’ Johnson. The Library holds a report of Johnson’s on the ironworks at Pont Auderner and Evreux from the 1840s.)

By 1803 the mill was under construction on the riverside site adjacent to The Pilot and Ceylon Place. Is it possible that the pits from which Russell’s workers had dug the brick earth were used for the four acres of ponds, which were soon to be constructed behind the mill? Parts of these ponds were to last well into the twentieth century. (The ponds are still shown on the 1927 Goad Insurance Plans.)

(I is far from clear to me if Russell commissioned Johnson to build a mill on his site, or if Johnson had an idea, floated it around, and then came up against official opposition – which melted when Russell backed him)

tide mill eqiuipment
Some of the equipment of this tide mill, and others, illustrated in Gregory’s Mechanics

One afternoon in 1802, Olinthus Gregory, Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, went for a riverside walk. He stopped for a chat with the foreman on the mill site; and later wrote an account of what he had seen there. (Olinthus Gregory, Mechanics, London,1806 pp.463-471 plus plates.) The mill being built was to stand parallel to the Thames with a channel under it. This allowed river water to flow in and fill the ponds behind it with water on the incoming tide. The mill wheel stood in this channel and worked as the tide came in. When the tide went out it reversed and the water in the millponds behind was released – so that it could work continuously.

A lot of money must have been invested in the mill and it was constructed by a leading millwright of the day. This was John Lloyd who also building the Government armaments establishment at Waltham Abbey. (A.E.Robinson & J.G.L.Burnby, Guns and Gunpowder in Enfield. Edmonton 100, No.50). Lloyd knew about steam engines and used them where they would be useful to him. At East Greenwich a steam engine was used in construction work – and this led to the mill site becoming famous. (John Lloyd – of Lloyd and Ostell. Although Gregory says that he was based at Brewers Green in Pimlico he lived in Nelson Square, Blackfriars and there is reputedly a plaque to him in Christ Church, Blackfriars Road).

RICHARD TREVITHICK

engine
Mr. Trevithick’s high pressure engine from Farey, Treatise on the Steam Engine

Richard Trevithick, the ‘Cornish giant’ is one of the pioneers of steam engine development. In 1803 he came to London to promote sales of a new sort of engine. George Russell ordered an eight horsepower high pressure engine from him. (Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick). The engine had a round boiler seated above a fire enclosed inside a brick box. There was also a safety valve to let excess steam off into the open air and so prevent accidents. (W.Farey, A Treatise on the Steam Engine)

The steam engine was used to pump water out from the foundations of the new mill. On Thursday, 8th September 1803, a boy, who had been left in charge of the engine was told to go and catch eels. First, he fastened the safety lever down and wedged it tight with a piece of wood. The result was inevitable – the boiler burst ‘with an explosion as sudden and as dreadful as a powder mill’. (Philosophical Magazine, Vol.16). One piece of boiler, an inch thick and weighing 5 cwt, was thrown 125 yards in the air and ‘landing on the ground made a hole eighteen inches deep‘. Bricks were thrown in a ‘circle of two hundred feet, no two of them stayed together‘. Three men were killed and three more injured. (Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick). One, Thomas Naylor who had been covered in boiling water, died a week later in St.Thomas’s Hospital.(Inquest papers, City of London Record Office. Intriguingly it states that the death was in ‘North Woolwich Parish’). Another was deafened, but, like the boy, was soon back at work. The newspapers were quick to report the accident and it was then taken up by rival steam engine manufacturers, Boulton and Watt. Later, Trevithick was to say that ‘Boulton and Watt are about to do me every injury in their power .. they have done their best to report the explosion both in the newspapers and in private letters very different to what it really was’. (Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick). A week later the Times commented that Mr. Watt’s engines would not explode in this way. (Times. 16th September 1803)

Others in the press said that the incident should be a ‘warning to engineers to construct their safety valves so that common workmen cannot stop them at their pleasure‘. (Philosphical Magazine. Vol.16), In future Trevithick’s boilers had more than one safety vent. (W.Farey, A Treatise on the Steam Engine)

The accident is recounted in almost every account of Trevithick and the steam engine. It had a great deal of influence for many years – perhaps the history of the steam engine would be different if it had not happened.

(Trevithick – this account is based on information as follows: Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick, Spon, 1872; John Farey, A Treatise on Steam Engines, Weale, 1827, London Journal, 1803, Vol.16.p.372, Repertory of Arts November 1803, p.221, Times, 16th September 1803, p.3, Report of Select Committee on Steam Ships, John Taylor evidence, p.190, Philosophical Magazine, Vol.16, James Watt papers, 6/31 8 (with thanks to Rev. Richard Hills for drawing this account to my attention). I am also aware that the Russell v. Sharpe Chancery papers (see above) list an item for expenses for witnesses to give evidence to an enquiry on this explosion. I have never traced this. I have also covered this story in An Industrial Accident at East Greenwich, Bygone Kent, 17/11, Nov. 1996, pp. 661-664. After this was published a member of the Trevithick Society wrote to me complaining about the article, saying that it contained inaccuracies (something which I would contest) but that the whole episode put Trevithick in a bad light (something again I would contest since the accident was not his fault). More recently the Trevithick Trust Newsletter (No.19 October 2000) has carried a review of the book but omits to mention that it contains anything about Trevithick!)

THE MILL IN USE

The mill was first operated for two or three years by William Johnson.There are no records as to why he left or if it was a success. He went on to have a distinguished engineering career. (see above)

After Johnson a number of other millers worked at East Greenwich. George Russell had died in 1804 and the mill became the subject of a lengthy Chancery case. Ultimately the freehold appears to have continued with his son, another George, and in some directories ‘George Russell’ is given as the miller. More often it was whoever was currently actually operating the mill – as with a Mr. Doust, who paid rates for some years. (William Doust –appears in the 1810 Greenwich Ratebooks for “corn mill and its appurtenances and plot and house”). The most frequently mentioned was Thomas Pattrick – indeed it was sometimes known as ‘Pattrick’s Mill’. Pattrick – with that spelling – was the name of a milling family in the Manningtree area, which may indicate a connection with Johnson’s possible relations in a Heybridge Mill. (Thomas Pattrick seems to have had the mill from c.1812 until it was sold in the mid 1840s. The Mill seems to have been known commonly locally as ‘Pattrick’s Mill’. Interestingly there was another ‘Pattrick’s Mill’ in Harwich. This was a windmill owned by a John Pattrick who had moved there from Thorpe le Soken in 1829. (Leonard Weaver, Harwich Gateway to the Continent, Lavenham, 1990). I wonder if there is connection, given the unusual spelling of ‘Pattrick’ and the nearness of Thorpe, and indeed Harwich, to the area in which William Johnson had gone to from Greenwich)

It seems likely, however, that the mill was never a real success and was eventually advertised for sale in June 1842. It was bought by a Frank Hills, and as soon as it was sold he hurried to the Court of Sewers demanding a rate reduction. He said that it had not been used for years and was very dilapidated – it was, in fact, just a ‘stack of materials‘. He got his rate reduction so perhaps there was some truth in what he said. (Greenwich Commission of Sewers minutes 23rd October 1846)

What Frank Hills did with the mill belongs to another chapter but it survived him and was still there, with its wheels and everything intact when he died in the 1890s. By the 1920s the buildings had gone but some of the ponds remained, crossed by a boardwalk. (Goad Plan, 1927)

plan 1842
Plan of the mill drawn up as part of the 1842 sale. Thanks to Patrick Hills

‘New East Greenwich’ was never really more than a street of houses surrounded by some very dirty industry. The inhabitants were the first permanent residents on the Marsh – a community that was to grow and flourish over the next hundred and fifty years. Today only the oldest cottages and the pub are still there.

It may be that these were not the first buildings in this area and this leads to another mystery. A house appears to have been built, perhaps at the same time as the mill, and was later called East Lodge. There are several unsubstantiated stories of a structure under East Lodge – of vaulted cellars and of a passageway which led out towards the road. The house was demolished at the start of the twentieth century, Greenwich Yacht Club were on this site for many years but no investigations have ever been done to show what have been there. A Davies daughter writing in Kentish Mercury in 1932 recalls vaulted cellars ‘like those at the College’. A number of ex-residents of Riverway recall cellars and passages. Mr. Bridgeman who was brought up in a coffee shop at the end of the terrace remembers a passageway through into the area where East Lodge once stood.

A notorious resident of East Lodge was a Mr. Hewes who lived there in the 1840s and is said to have disrupted church services by sitting on the upstairs window ledge and playing the trumpet. He used it as a ‘house of pleasure’.

East Lodge became an island of peace in the middle of an increasingly dirty and oppressive industrial area. In the middle of the nineteenth century the daughters of the chemical work’s manager lived there and remembered their riverside home as a place of beauty and happiness. ( Almost everything we know about East Lodge comes from this one source. From the 1980s the site was used by Greenwich  Yacht Club and they were aware that there had once been a big house on the site, before the factory buildings which they occupied. Woodlands Local History Library was approached with a family history enquiry by a Mrs Maj Wagstaff of Dorchester who turned out to have an enormous amount of material about the house, including a painting, and photographs. Most interesting was the family magazine kept by the daughters of Mr. Davies, Manager of the Chemical Works, who occupied the house during the mid-nineteenth century. In this magazine, circulated to relatives mainly in London and North Wales, the girls wrote articles, poems, and small sketches – including some of their lives at East Lodge. In Kentish Mercury 29th April 1932 is an article in which Anne Askew Davies (aged 84) describes her memories of East Lodge. Anne said that it had ‘brick arched cellars… like those at the College’. There are also a number of stories which arise from residents in the cottages, now demolished, in Riverway. Many of them spoke of an elaborate network of cellars and tunnels – hardly to be expected in a marshland. This area seems to be a piece of land different to much else of the marsh – and there is always the possibility that some Tudor, or earlier, defensive structure, was sited here. This information was passed to the archaeologists with a suggestion that an investigation was carried out before the area was ploughed up and landscaped for the Millennium Park – unfortunately that fell on deaf ears and a large block of flats sits on the site).

east lodge in colour
East Lodge from a painting by Dora Sainsbury. Thanks to Maj Wagstaff

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