Chapter 6 – Coles Child and Coal

COLES CHILD AND GREENWICH WHARF

(This chapter is about the area more generally known as Lovells Wharf  – how it developed and the consitutent parts of it.  Today the developer of the new housing, London and Regional, has renamed it Greenwich Wharf – but as you will see below this was also the original name)

Most industrial land at East Greenwich was owned by charities. These bodies were governed by trustees required to maximise their income for the benefit of the charitable institutions – responsible development of their land was well within their remit.

The charity with the largest holding was, and is, Morden College and in 1838 Morden College asked its surveyor, George Smith, to evaluate their land holdings on Greenwich marsh.

George Smith was an architect who had already been responsible for some important buildings in Greenwich – he was Surveyor to the Cator Estate in Blackheath, and would soon be appointed as architect to the Greenwich Railway. Crucially he was also Surveyor to the Mercer’s Company – managing land holdings on Greenwich Marsh for the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity. Thus he represented the two largest landholders and he held these key positions over the next fifty years.

Smith’s work with Morden College had a very clear pattern. Sites were handed over to key tenants who ‘improved’ them and then sub-let to industrial users – all of whom had to be approved by Morden College. Buildings to be erected were expected to be of a high standard, and had to be approved by Smith. There was usually a requirement for some housing – to be designed by Smith, and the work subjected to his approval. One of the earliest sites to be developed under Smith’s guidance was Dog Kennel Field. (Michael Kerney, The development of an Early Victorian Artisan Estate in east Greenwich. Trans Greenwich and Lewisham, Antiq. Soc., 1983/4, Vol.IX No. 6, pp. 299-313. From which much of the material for this section is taken) . The developer was Coles Child. Coal was his basic trade.

COLES CHILD

William Coles Child’s family business, of coal, iron, cement and lime, was based on the Lambeth riverside, at Belvedere Wharf, near today’s South Bank Centre. The business was typical of many that were beginning to take advantage of the expansion in canals, railways, and industry generally. Coles Child was only in his late teens when he took on the family business after his father’s death. Five years later he approached Morden College for the tenancy of a portion of the ‘Great Meadow’, which stretched, between The Thames, the Enderby works and what is now Pelton Road. He wanted to ‘form wharves, and erect manufactories thereon’.

Morden College told Child that in return for a lease at East Greenwich he would be Coles coles child estatechild estate plan expected to spend at least £3,000 on ‘substantial buildings, a road, an embankment,and drainage’ – making it quite clear that what was expected was an ‘advantageous development’. As negotiations proceeded they intimated that they also expected housing to be built there. Within a few months Child had offered to spend £4,000 on embankments and buildings and an agreement was made on Morden College’s terms.

Morden College’s archives contain abundant material about Coles Child’s and what sometimes seems to be his nuisance value. The Minutes of the Trustees record their refusals to his frequent written requests together with reports from Smith. The quality of the coal that he supplied to the College was a constant cause of complaint. It is very likely, however, that he was personally known to some of the trustees – in particular the Chairman Sir John William Lubbock, and his son and successor, Sir John. They were bankers with strong personal links to the scientific community. The Lubbock home and estates were at High Elms, Farnborough, on the outskirts of Bromley, Kent. They were thus near neighbours of Coles Child who, in 1846, bought the old bishops’ palace in Bromley – now Bromley Civic Centre. Bromley Palace is almost, but not quite, coles childas grand as it sounds. Child’s life style would have been eclipsed by the Lubbocks at High Elms. J.L. Filmer, who wrote about Child’s life in Bromley, speculated that some of his wealth came from selling his Belvedere Road wharf to the Charing Cross Railway in 1863. He was involved with many railway companies in Kent and sat on their boards while deriving profits from commodity sales to them.

Railways are great consumers of coal and coke and a good investment for someone whose money came from the haulage of bricks and coal. Coles Child seems to have set himself to transform the market town of Bromley by his intervention in public affairs and his specially grown prize winning hops. He also intervened in Greenwich politics – as described in a later chapter. His grave is the most prominent in Bromley churchyard.

COAL

Industrial development on the Greenwich riverside quickly went ahead, The river wall was rebuilt and by 1840 Coles Child had erected limekilns and coke ovens. (advertisements in Kentish Mercury 20th June 1840) Gravel from Morden College sites at Blackheath Point was used for these projects. He also considered building a tramway along the Willow Dyke – already taking shape as Pelton Road.

In the 1840s haulage companies, which today use lorries, were based on sailing barges and they diversified into making the bricks and lime that they carried routinely for others. It is still easy to see the scars of the chalk pits down river at Northfleet and Grays and around the Medway. Many cement manufacturers began their profession as lime burners. (There are many pits in the Charlton/Greenwich areas, most now not easily recognisable following development of over a century.  For i.e. ‘The Valley’ home of Charlton Athletic was Glenton’s pit,  a pit south of Maze Hill station was noted in the book, another was alongside what is now the 102M on the west side, and there were pits either side of Blackheath Hill . There were also many underground workings – for example the notorious Point Hill cavern, the Plumstead mines, etc) Coal was brought from north east ports by fleets of colliers which often carried a cargo of lime on their return trip. It is this trade which Coles Child served. In the eighteenth century lime burning had been an important industry in the Greenwich area, often on sites owned by Morden College to the east of Greenwich South Street and Lewisham Road.  (William Bonwit, Leonard Searles the Elder and
the Development of Blackheath Hill, TGLA, 2 1980.)  Many of these sites were used for residential development in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Pits from which chalk and ballast were dug could be found between Greenwich and Woolwich and at the back of what is now Maze Hill Station and at Charlton Football Ground.  (John Smith, A History of Charlton)

(The coal trade generally is of great interest to Greenwich.  In the book I decided not to cover Ballast Quay – a line had to be drawn somewhere as to what was, and  not, the Peninsula.  On Ballast Quay ‘Harbour Master’s House’ was built as part of the Port of London’s regulatory process for coal ships coming up river to unload. ‘Ballast’ itself was, of course, what the ships took back to the north east)

In 1840 Child was ‘pleased to announce’ his facilities in the Kentish Mercury. (advertisements in Kentish Mercury 20th June 1840).  Coals and coke could be supplied ‘at a considerable reduction in price because of the facilities possessed by no other house’ for ‘purchase of coals at the pit’s mouth’. In Greenwich coal could be ‘loaded directly from the hold of the ship into the wagons’ thus ‘avoiding contingencies caused by severe weather and half the usual breakage’. He boasted that they were the ‘largest manufacturers of oven coke’ and that orders to ‘railways, maltsters, ironfounders and consumers’ would be ‘executed with probity, punctuality and dispatch’.

Child’s activities, aided by Morden College and George Smith, made a visual impact on East Greenwich which continues, – mainly because he built so much housing of a reasonable standard. The wharves, which he developed, are still there and still in use.

MOWLEM

Coles Child intended to lease riverside sites to commercial interests but initially there were problems. In 1841 a limeburner Mr. Walker was on and off site in a year and eventually failed because Coles Child had to take over the works and offer ‘Grey stone and other limes on as advantageous terms as any house in the trade’. A soap-works also had a brief appearance and closed, following complaints about the smell.  (Morden College Trustee’s Minutes 13th
January 1842). In 1852 the largest part of the riverside area, to be known in future as Granite Wharf, was leased to Mowlem, Burt and Freeman – for a while it was a depot for Wimpey and is now operated by Tarmac, but is essentially in the same ownership and use.wimpeys ad

The most visible symbol of the stone trades carried out in Greenwich is at Swanage. The Great Globe at Durlston Head was made in Mowlem’s Stone Yard at Greenwich and shows that this works once had more pretensions than the cartage of aggregate. John Mowlem came from Swanage and worked in the stone quarries there before coming to London. By the time his Greenwich works was opened he had built up a large and successful business. In retirement he returned to live in Swanage and then began to remodel the town and fill it with mementoes of his work in London. The Great Globe is 10 feet in diameter, and weighs 40 tons. It is made up of 15 segments of Portland Stone and its surface is carved in great detail with a map of the world. It was given to Swanage by Mowlem’s successor, George Burt. Why was it made in Greenwich and then moved – presumably by sea? In Swanage it stands on the cliff top surrounded by a strange collection of relics of municipal street furniture culled from London streets.

me and my mum and the globe
Naz Wright and her daughter Mary admire the Globe in 1947. Photograph Harry Wright

(Great Globe at Swanage.  Details about Mowlem in Swanage can be found in David Lewer and J.Bernard Calkin, Curiosities of Swanage or Old London by the Sea, Dorchester, 1971.  The cover of this book shows the Globe being made in Greenwich – and this view is now sold as a postcard at Durleston Head as one of the things of interest about the Globe. In autumn 2000 I had some correspondence about the Globe with Stewart Borrett of Swanage who had consulted David Hayson, the curator of the Museum at Swanage about it.  He confirmed that there is no written evidence to support its manufacture in Greenwich but they  think ‘there is no doubt’ that the story is true.  They felt that it was made in Greenwich because there were skilled masons available there to do it, and George Burt could keep an eye on the work as it progressed).

It may be that there are relics of the Globe in Greenwich if anyone could identify them. Old photographs indicate that it was probably made alongside a rough wall – very similar to a wall of random stone that still runs between Cadet Place and the old Mowlem site’s boundary. This wall contains stones of many shapes and types. Are any of these discarded pieces of the Globe?

(I have had a great deal of information from geologist Eric Robinson about the wall and its random stone – describing it as giving an illustration of the stone trade in the English Channel.  A wall has been erected on the station at Watchet in Somerset which in some senses reproduces it.  When the wall was demolished an agreement was made with the developer at Lovells Wharf to keep the stones and re-erect it somewhere on site).

At the end of Cadet Place the inlet was once called ‘Dead Dog Bay’ because of the carcasses of domestic pets washed up there – or, allegedly on some occasions, dead sheep. (Info Ted Barr)

HOUSES

Having got the riverside industrial sites in place Coles Child turned to housing development. In the early 1840s he took over the rest of Great Meadow from Morden College with the condition that he drained ponds and dykes. Some portions of land were set aside for use in brick making. The first houses were built in 1842 and building continued for the next twenty years.

Sub-leases to builders were vetted by Morden College, before being awarded by Child. George Smith, as College Surveyor, monitored the design of the houses and in some cases made proposals himself.

There were sanctions against Child if substandard or unsuitable housing was built – for instance in 1853 he was told that no further leases would be granted unless some lower grade properties were abandoned. He was sometimes reprimanded for not sticking closely enough to Smith’s designs.

THE DURHAM COALFIELD

The street names of the area reflect Coles Child business interests.

‘street names the point about these roads being named after pit villages was Michael Kerney’s. The development of an Early Victorian Artisan Estate in east Greenwich. Trans Greenwich and Lewisham, Antiq. Soc., 1983/4, Vol.IX No. 6, pp. 299-313.   Since then I have wasted a great deal of time and effort trying to find out more – with little success. For some time I thought there might be a link through some of the Durham coal field railways – but that too seems to lead nowhere.  There might be an underlying pattern in that the earlier streets – Pelton and Waldridge – being concerned with sites in mid-Durham and the later ones probably connected with South Hetton.  No connection has been found between any of them and Coles Child or Morden College trustees.  I also have to thank very many very patient people throughout the Durham and Tyneside areas – including J.Clayton of the Tyne and Wear Museum’s service, Russel Wear, Barbara Harris of the North East Institute of Mining. It might also be noted that several of these pit names are also the names of Australian coal mines. In a note posted on mining-history@JISCMAIL.AC.UK on 31st December 2000 Alan Vickers listed types of coal sold on the London Coal Exchange  1852-9.  These included in a total list of 90 names:  Braddyll’s Hetton, Caradoc, Braddyll, Lambton, Northumberland East, Pelton Main, Thornley, Whitworth,  Northumberland”

Pelton Road’ is the main road through the estate and ‘The Pelton Arms’ on the corner was no doubt aimed at the thirsty crews of colliers and riverside workers. Pelton Main was a major colliery in the Durham coalfield – the source of the coal in which Coles Child dealt.

‘(Pelton Road’ –  Pelton Main and Pelton West were pits slightly to the north of Chester le Street. 
Pelton Main had some sort of financial link with the north London based Gas Light and Coke Company. Pit sites are now sometimes difficult to trace. Pelton Main was alongside a rail line which is now a cycle path.  Would be gratefu for info. At a golf course covering a pit site in this area the golfers/staff denied all knowledge of a pit there – but we were very suspicious’.pelton colliery

Waldridge, the original name for Christchurch Way, is another colliery in the same area. ( (Waldridge the two Waldridge Collieries were slightly to the south of Chester-le-Street.  Like Pelton it was adjacent to the Stanhope and Tyne Railway)

Although some street names have changed the original names were usually taken from the Durham coalfield.

Banning Street was originally ‘Chester (le Street) Street, a town in Durham near Pelton and Waldridge. (Chester le Street –  – Pelton is to the north of it, Waldridge to the south. Both are in the Chester Parish).

Derwent Street is probably a reference to the River Derwent, which flows near Chester le Street – or to the Derwent Ironworks nearby. (Derwent – The Stanhope and Tyne Railway went along the line of the river and linked it elsewhere. It is said that the Derwent Iron Works opened because of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway”

Thornley, Whitworth and Caradoc are all names of coal mines, elsewhere in the Durham coalfield. (Thornley and Whitworth were  collieries and colliery villages in County Durham. Caradoc – there was a Caradoc and Unsworth pit near Washington. A local coal owner was Baron Howden whose family name was Caradoc and Caradoc was the name of the first locomotive used at South Hetton Colliery”.

Braddyll, was the name of a coal owner, after which a railway and – today – a preserved locomotive are named. (Braddyll – Edward Braddyll was the duel fighting coal owner.  ‘Braddyll’ was  the name of a preserved locomotive, once used at South Hetton Colliery, and kept at what was the Timothy Hackworth Museum at Shildon. Braddyll needs more investigation but the locomotive preserved at what is now the Shildon branch of the National Railway Museum has now been named ‘Nelson’ – requests for information about this at the Museum only led to the statement that it had been ‘decided by a load of academics’).

pelton road houses
Design for elevations on the Coles Child Estate. By kind permission of the Trustees of the Martin Collection

At one time terraces within these roads had separate names and these too had coalfield related names -‘Lambton Terrace’ in Pelton Road referred to a colliery in the Durham coalfield, as did Stanley Terrace. (Lambton –  the local Lord and big house. There was also at least one colliery with this name. Stanley – a town near Chester le Street – which, like a great deal of Durham, had a local  pit. It too had connections with the Stanhope and Tyne railway)

Although much of this housing is now in private hands on several buildings can still be seen Morden College’s distinctive ‘Invicta’ plaque – often mistaken for a fire insurance sign.

WHITEWAY 

Coles Child continued to expand and gradually took on more parcels of land from Morden College for development. In due course he retired to his home in Bromley and William Whiteway, who had been his manager, took over the business in partnership with a Mr. Rowton. Whiteway was active in local politics and a keen conservative. He built 11 Westcombe Park Road and lived there. (Whiteway – I have covered both Whiteway and Coles Child’s wharfage activities in Greenwich in a series of articles written for Bygone Kent.  They are: Lovell’s Wharf,  Vol.20, No.11.  11/99 pp. 687-691, Vol.20. No.12, 12/99, pp. 731-736, Vol. 21, No.3. 3/2000, pp. 141-147)

COLLIERS AND THE COAL TRADE

In the nineteenth century coal ships from north east England, ‘colliers’, began to crowd out the River, as more coal came from the North Eastern ports to supply London’s industry.

Adjacent to Greenwich marsh were areas very important to the organisation of the coal trade. In the 1830s, down river at Charlton, ‘collier stands’ were developed where ships waited their turn to go into the wharves where their cargoes of coal would be unloaded. The system to regulate the incoming traffic, based on the Coal Exchange in London, was reordered in the early 1840s and one of the key areas for this was Ballast Quay – on the south west edge of the Peninsula and part of the area in which Coles Child was active. (Colliers and the coal trade. see: Alan Pearsall, Greenwich and the River in the 19th century, Trans. Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Soc. Vol. VIII, No.1. 1973 pp. 20-26,  Raymond,  Smith, Raymond, Sea Coal for London, Longmans, London, 1961)

Railway companies developed their own coal delivery network around London based on collier ships coming into Poplar Dock on the opposite side of the River. (Michael Robbins, The North London Line Railway, Oakwood,  1937). Colliers had to wait in Bugsby’s Reach to enter the Dock at Blackwall. Slightly down river of Angerstein Wharf in Charlton, William Cory erected a vast coal handling plant mounted on a floating platform called Atlas.   In this area was ‘Durham Wharf’.  (Durham Wharf’ is still there between Angerstein Wharf and Anchor and Hope Lane but since writing this I understand that it was associated with the – orginally Durham based – glass industry.   However Cory are still on that stretch of riverside with a business based around the transport of rubbish by barge. Nearby housing – Atlas and Derrick Gardens – was built for their staff working on Atlas on which the cranes were known as Derricks).

No one should underestimate the importance of this coal trade to London – without it the capital city would have remained medieval. Coal provided the power and raw materials that allowed the city to grow.

gas works jetty
The huge coal shipment jetty at East Greenwich Gas Works pictured in the 1920s. Some remains of this structure lie under the Queen Elizabeth Pier. From a Century of Gas in South London.

It was with great excitement in 1852 that the John Bowes was received in Poplar Dock loaded with coal from the north east of England. She was the first purpose built steam collier to carry coal to London and she opened up a whole new era of coal delivery. Steam driven carriers could carry more coal with more reliability down the treacherous East Coast than could the sailing ships. (‘John Bowes’ – Dick Keys & Ken Smith, Black Diamonds by Sea, City of Newcastle, 1998, Dick Keys & Ken Smith, Steamers at the Staiths, City of Newcastle, 2000. There is a great deal of contemporary information about the John Bowes and related subjects in Illustrated London News and similar papers)

After 1870 the use of ‘sea coal’ from the Tyne ports escalated and it appealed to new customers who needed a regular large supply of coal. Large gas works and power stations were built on both sides of the River in east and south east London because this coal supply was available.

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