Percival Moses Parsons – with a foundry in Banning Street

On the 1867 map Thames Foundry is marked – and directories carry advertisements for the sale of ‘white brass’ a Thames Foundry, East Greenwich, the invention of a Mr.P.M. Parsons.

Neil Rhind says of Parsons – One of the most extraordinary industrial pioneers in our area was Percival Moses Parsons, first of No 44 in 1855, then to the brand new No 136 Shooters Hill Road. He invented manganese bronze in his back garden. His obituary in the Blackheath Local Guide (November 19 1892) was full.   Young Parsons, born in London in 1819, had shown a great interest in engineering, mechanics and invention from an early age. After an education at a private boys’ school in Blackheath (name not known) he worked from the age of 15 at the Portsmouth Dockyard and later on the Eastern County Railways until 1845. While with them he  invented switches and axle boxes.  In 1851 he married Anne Jane Rexford, of Greenwich, whose mother also Jane conducted a private school for girls in Greenwich South Street, and still standing.
In 1855 he achieved what seemed to be an undoubted technical and business success by contriving a system of converting useless cast iron guns into rifled guns by boring them out and inserting steel tubes.  In 1859 he suffered another disappointment, the failure of his plan (with others) to invest in the plans for the Central London Railway, where all the new railway lines coming into London would not finish at the various London termini – King’s Cross, Euston, Waterloo, Victoria etc.
In 1871 Parsons  was appointed Engineer to the Bessemer Steel & Ordnance Company and supervised the building of the whole of the Company’s new works at East Greenwich, a task which occupied him at least two years.
During his research into the re-boring  of guns his attention was turned to study of the use of metals generally;  and his experience with machinery had demonstrated to him the importance of the arrangement of shaft-bearings and other surfaces which rubbed together and for which ordinarily “gun metal” (an alloy of copper and tin) had been used.  Parsons was convinced that he could improve on this and installed a private mechanical laboratory at his house on Shooters Hill Road.  Here he experimented with all sorts of metals and, finally produced a better compound comprised of zinc and lead which he called “white b rass”.  It was another success and came to be used widely through the rest of 19th century especially in marine engines. By his death his invention was known to every engineer in the land as white brass.
More dramatic, perhaps, was his continued quest for a material which while as strong as steel should be free from the risk of corrosion which developed with all preparations which included iron.  After many years work he produced a dramatic result a material with the strength of steel and one that would not corrode. in his back garden furnace.
Parsons hit the jackpot once more with manganese bronze, a combination of ferro-manganese with bronze and brass alloys.  There was at first some difficulty in getting it known and introduced but it was taken up by a commercial company and in due course manganese bronze was fitted to virtually every vessel driven by a propeller.  By the end of 19th century it was in considerable use for the propellers of steamers and in other cases where strength and durability were required equally.
Parsons went on to develop  screw bolts for armour plating and other fixings including a tubular armour-plated bolt that the Russian government adopted with eagerness.

It also seems very likely that he had a foundry in what is now Chester Street, on the east side and the south corner with Derwent Street

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Extract from report prepared by London Rivers Assocaition (late 1980s) on currently working river wharves

This is the largest sea dredged aggregates firm to operate on the Thames. It recently purchased the Delta Wharf site (over 4 acres) with a view to using it to land and Process Sea dredged sand and gravel. At present it has a large plant and Head Quarters at Purfleet but feels that it needs a processing plant on the south side of the Thames.

The company operates two 5,000 ton sand and gravel dredgers. If it can find processing sites it will invest in further dredging vessels. It considers that increasingly building materials such as sand and gravel will have to be obtained from the sea bed because of environmental objections to the use of land derived sources. At present the economics` are finely balanced. Marine dredged aggregates are more expensive to mine (despite the fact that no rent is paid to owners), but cheaper to transport. This gives a premium to landing these aggregates as near as possible to the end use.

The first planning application was turned down because of objections from the houses that are close by and because of a concern that the operation would not generate a significant amount of new employment.

A second planning application has been recently presented which the applicants hope will be more acceptable as it involves a smaller site within the same employment levels and will free parts of the 5 acre site for other employment generating uses.

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Victoria Deep Water Wharf

VICTORIA DEEP WATER TERM Extract from report by London Rivers Association (late 1980s) on the state of currently working wharves “This is the only wharf in the Borough that handles containers. Currently over 40,000 boxes a year passes through the 40 acre site. This is somewhat up on previous years but is nowhere near the full capacity of the site. The terminal has two modern gantry cranes and two large 279 metre berths. In the past few years the company has given up operating a two shift system undertaking groupage on site. Employment has fallen from 75 dockworkers and 60 staff four years ago to 20 and 30 respectively today. Two shipping lines account for almost all of their traffic – Bell Lines and Seacon. However both these are currently expanding and are happy with the service provided. The management are worried that by going out to attract new traffic they could alienate their long-standing customers. The company’s biggest problem is the size of their site and their rate bill (over £200,000 per annum). They are looking for a compatible tenant for part their site and are campaigning for all ports to be assessed for rates on the same basis.

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Scholey barge owners and managers

Thomas Scholey notes

Based on Pipers Wharf/Dawsons Wharf

1881 Census. Thames Street, Greenwich Thomas SCHOLEY/M/23/Lighterman (born Bermondsey,Surrey)with wife & daughter

1903 Scholey, Thomas Edward ..21 Chevening-road,Westcombe Park, and trading at Piper’s Lighterman and Barge Owner Greenwich (The Gazette)

1904 Name Pennant Florence Scholey (NMM

1912 tenders received for the removal of ashes from the Greenwich generating station… by barge fora period of 1 or 3 years from 31st July, 1912—Names and addresses of firms. … T. Scholey and Co., Limited, Dawson’s Wharf (LCC Minutes)

1922 Thomas Sholey, Dawson’s Wharf. Owners of Sailing Barge, Thomas Sholey (Oil & Colour Trades Journal) An account of living on Brian Boru in the 1950s

1930 Thomas Sholey of East Greenwich …. owners of the sailing barge Brian Boru (Lloyds List).

1950 T. SCHOLEY & COMPANY LIMITED Motor, Sailing and Dumb Barge Owners Licensed Lightermen, Wharfingers, … month or year OUR MOTTO SERVICE AND DESPATCH Dawson’s Wharf, Christchurch Way, East Greenwich London, S.E.10 (Lloyds List)

Bar on the Embankment, London. This bar and restaurant was originally built in 1926 as a Thames cargo barge by J. Piper of east Greenwich under the name WILFRED.  From 1926 to 1949, she worked in the sand and ballast trade under the ownership of Thomas Scholey & Co. Ltd., out of Dawson Wharf, Greenwich until 1953. From here she was re-named STARGATE and sold to Rochester Trading Co. to trade in general cargoes.  ……………………. In 1991 she moved to Temple Pier along Victoria Embankment where she traded as El Barco Latino, a Latin American bar and restaurant. Recently it has been renamed Bar & Co.offering a Spanish bar by day and popular night club venue by night. (

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In 1997 a society from the north arranged a trip round the Greenwich Peninsula to see the works on-going to remediate the site and build the Dome.  The following notes were written up after the event by one of the participants.



Notes on the project team’s presentation.

Original proposals to retrospective planning brief in 1980s

1992 Planning consent for revised masterplan after intervention by Michael Heseltine

Jubilee Line brought back south of the river by amendment of Bill in Parliament

  1. Better ground for train marshalling
  2. £25m from British Gas [Hansard]

3rd Blackwall Tunnel affirmed

1993 Reports proposing national Millennium Exhibition at Greenwich (incidence of any lottery) Greenwich eventually selected in later Millennium competition.

English Partnerships involved summer 1996

£147 ½ m of infrastructure in the next 2 years

Acquire freehold June/February 1997 from British Gas of whole Peninsula except industries on the west side. Long term renewal irrespective of Millennium Festival. (This followed British Gas’s statutory remediation. English Partnerships now to do development remediation.

Lead consultants W.S.Atkins with sub contractors including Richard Rogers master planners.

Refinements of master plan currently ignoring continued existence of the Millennium Dome.

18 separate development remediation contracts. Starting with the Dome site – first segments handed over in June. ( third of site) Piling able to start day after government announcement confirming the project.

See English Partnerships ‘The Millennium Riverbank Experience” . Some parts set back to become salt marsh/ reed bed.  Planted stepped terraces rather than vertical piling

Constraints of highways and utilities

Power supply in new tunnel from north side of the river 40MW capacity (including 10MW for the exhibition).

Gas main relocated – just started £27m

Water supply under regeneration – may include pipe jacking

A102M Northern Gateway Junction – new roundabout and four lane widening

Replacement of Horn Lane as distributor road

Outcome of Public Enquiry expected (fast track of four weeks to decision)

Question – How is the regeneration being recorded?? For use and reassurance of future developers

  1. Site investigation records
  2. Statutory remediation – including built records and test data. ‘Health and Safety’ file handed over to English Partnerships.
  3. ‘As built’ records of capping layers, etc. And records of tests etc . in development remediation.

Each contract has outturn survey and formal handover to succeeding contractor.

Not on Global Information Systems (too early)

  1. Will be similar handover to successive developer

Question – Local reactions

Pleased but worried about future traffic

Exhibition will be car free

Question – Extent of breaking out

Foundations being broken to 1m below formation to allow for services, etc.

Hot spots of contamination being dealt with, as found.

Capping layers being suited to end users

Coach park will be solid paved, so no capping.

Removal of 200,000 t in each of two phases of statutory remediation and an equivalent quantity removed subsequently.


Rail congested and trips limited

Road used for disposal to 10 different tips in the south east at contractors discretion

(?? Illegible) material via private river wharves

Exempted from land fill tax

Each consignment fully audited

Quantity of material to each tip agreed with HM Customs and Excise

Dutch guidelines about what must be taken off site based on statistical sampling of soil which is stock piled and retested.

Quantitative and qualitative risk assessment

Retesting of cleansed material.

In situ remediation taking longer period of time than available.


Statutory remediation was aimed at protecting environmental receptors only assuming no site development or public access.

All monitored by the Environment Agency and the London Borough of Greenwich who receive results of all monitoring.


No changes after tender without a Control Order

Contract is ICE 6 with client amendments to fixed price lump sum with most risks lumped onto contractors.

  • Premium found to be quite small. Contractors now experienced in the site and price has come down. (but second and third bidders are within 5%)
  • Outturn price certainly essential for this project
  • Premium at 5 – 6% without contingencies
  • Tenderers offered as much information as is available but not many take this up.
  • 4 weeks to bid and 3 weeks to award
  • Contracts £1m to £5m
  • Demolition of jetty will be £3/4m (programmed Sept –Feb 1999)

Contaminated land work £20m including capping

Statutory decontamination was also £20m.

Disposal costs of waste are the largest

£30m/3 for low grade, free of tax

£50-60m/3 for high grade waste, free of tax

Going away to Kent, Bedfordshire, etc

None came forward with river transport

Relative economies of different sites not the concern of the client


Contingencies for inflation and 10% for extras

£55m on south 1/3 of site outside the Millennium site additional to the £147 ½ m for the Millennium site.

A Charitable Trust will be endowed with a sinking fund to repair the river walls and it will levy a service charge for maintenance of open spaces, etc.

 Notes on tour of Greenwich Gasworks remediation site

The tour of the site was by vehicle with photos taken through the window

Driver/guide was working on the statutory remediation by British Gas followed by the development remediation by English Partnerships this year.

  1. Millennium Dome site. The north end of the Peninsula had a large tar works. Huge tar tanks 30m x 8m full of tar mixed with rubble, replaced with London clay.  Soil was remediated by 300 well points, first subjected to vacuuming to remove volatiles followed by 16 weeks of bio remediation using air blowing. 90% of volatiles removed. Handed over to Dome contractors in three stages June to August 1997.
  2. Dome masts all erected. Bigger than they look. Ventilator stack of 2nd Blackwall Tunnel will peep out of the surface of membrane. Founded on driven piles (except close to the Jubilee Line).
  3. River Wall. Renewed April – September 1997. Sheet piles and grab irons to mainly stepped ‘ecological’ profile. Will incorporate salt marsh plants.
  4. Jubilee Line Station. Curvaceous roof over transport interchange, being clad. Long slot for station box was excavated across the Peninsula just north of the gas works jetty and parallel to its railway approaches. Contiguous bored piles. Space above will be public open space.

Ground was 5m of made ground. Alluvial clays, peats and Terrace gravels. London clay and WRB, surface falling to north.

  1. Gas Works site. Had mass concrete piers to gravel/bedrock. (for walls??) and mass concrete rafts 2 – 3 m thick. (for plant?) crushed for hardcore.  Top metre removed and reclaimed. (The Millpond was deepened into a cooling pond come settling pond in the 1950s. Contained 4m of silt in thin layers, difficult to dig, contaminated with tars),  Jetty awaiting demolition.
  2. Coalite site. Large mounds of earth, largely from the Jubilee Line excavation being placed as capping layer – sandy clay being compacted in layers.   Soil washing plant about to be dismantled. Handled 70,000m 3. Conveyors, rotary washers and screens. Fine filter cake for disposal was 20 – 30% of original soil – coarse particles returned to site after stock piling and testing. There was a water plant to clean the washing water.
  3. South site. C19th to late C20th domestic rubbish
  4. Site south of Bugsby’s Way, partly playing fields. Was remediated some years ago

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We are used to seeing film makers in Greenwich – but this has gone on for a long time, and in the 1980s – as SEGAS Standard said “ANYONE visiting the disused East Greenwich gas works recently could easily have thought they had inadvertently stepped into a fantasy world.sulphate house construction ad

The building where all this was happening was the only building (apart from the gasholder) which was not demolished and cleared away with the rest of the gas works.   And if you went down Riverway – opposite the Pilot “One day you might see the distinctive figure of David Bowie performing his latest single. On another it might be Dempsey and Makepeace playing with explosives and fast cars. Or the majestic figure of Sean Connery, resplendent in period costume of crimson velvet, might stride out of the  gloom“.

Well. I never saw any of them, but there was always something going on for those of us who braved the hole in the fence

SEGAS Standard went on ‘The film, TV and video industry have realised in recent months that they have a unique site right on their doorsteps which combines vast acres of space, a ready made film studio, and almost total privacy.  The part of the works most popular with the film companies is the old sulphate of ammonia building – a vast concrete barn of a structure built in the 1950s to house 10,000 tons of fertiliser, it was the biggest building of its kind in the south of England’.

And it attracted the biggest star of the day

“when Sean Connery was on location at the site a few weeks ago the interior had been transformed into a medieval castle so realistic it was not hard to imagine the castle had been built first and the parabolic ceiling added later. Connery’s film, called Highlander, also starred Christopher Lambert fresh from his role as Tarzan in Greystoke, Lord of the Jungle. It’s a swashbuckling adventure with Connery and Lambert playing immortals locked in a power struggle spanning four centuries,

sulphate house 3and also

“Another spectacular set was built by an advertising company as a backdrop for a series of promotional pictures about Chrysler’s newest high performance car, the Laser.  The music business is in on the act too with former Yazoo singer Vince Clerk following in Bowie’s footsteps for a video promo.  Fashion photographers are also attracted by the atmosphere of the site, and the photos for the Miss Selfridge Autumn Collection were shot at East Greenwich”

Not sure I’ve ever heard of the Laser

Anyway the late 1990s as the Millennium Dome was planned, and as the word ‘listing’ was mentioned in relation to the sulphate house British Gas knocked it down fast, saying it was being used for illegal raves.  So disappeared one of the most interesting and dramatic buildings in the Borough

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The East Greenwich Tide mill – which expensive consultants failed to notice

Sadly the consultants employed to see what sites of interest had been on the Greenwich riverside before development  failed to notice that there had once been a tide mill on the site they were being paid to look at – and thus no need for archaeologists to do anything there.  The East Greenwich Tide Mill – a site soon to be more flats and ‘landscaping’ has been the subject of a number of learned works – the first written in 1803 – and appears in many histories and accounts of tide mills and how they work. It also appears in  many histories of the steam engine, since, in a dramatic accident, the boiler of  a new design of engine by Richard Trevithick exploded – losing Trevithick his reputation and his rivals a financial advantage.

The first local article of recent years on the mill was by Julian Watson and appeared in Transactions of the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society (Vol VII No.6 1972) and the best thing we can do is to quote some of what he wrote , below:

(If either Julian or the Greenwich Historical Association thinks I am invading their copyright, please get in touch – just trying to get a forty year old article out to a wider audience)

In a book published a few years ago on the life and work of Richard Trevithick (1771-1833)*, the Cornish pioneer of steam engines, there are one or two interesting references to Greenwich. “

It says that by the time the London steam carriage was running its trials in the spring of 1803, Trevithick’s high-pressure engines were at work in the London area, in Shropshire and in Derbyshire as well as in his native county. Some were working pumps, others driving mills or boring machines. Men marvelled that an engine so small by comparison with Watt’s great beam engines could produce so much power and so, with each new engine installed, the engineer’s fame spread. Probably Trevithick stood nearer to worldly success and riches at this moment than at any other time in his life but then, in September, he suffered a cruel stroke of ill-fortune. One of his engines was working at Greenwich, pumping water out of the foundations of a new corn mill which was being built beside the river. As his patent specification shows, Trevithick was using two different types of high-pressure boiler at this time. One was the cylindrical boiler with the internal flues such as he had used on the two steam carriages: the other consisted simply of a great hollow sphere of cast iron over an inch thick, mounted in brickwork and heated by a furnace underneath. The boiler at Greenwich was of the latter kind, and on 8th September, 1803, it exploded with tremendous violence. Hugh pieces of cast iron weighing several hundredweight hurtled through the air destroying everything in their path until they buried themselves in the ground a hundred yards or more away. Three men who were working nearby were killed instantly, while a fourth was so terribly injured that he died soon afterwards. As soon as he received the news of this disaster Trevithick hurried down to Greenwich to investigate its cause. This he might never have been able to establish but for the fact that a youth who was in charge of the boiler miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. This youth admitted to Trevithick that he had hung a heavy spanner over the arm of the safety valve before going off to fish for eels in the foundations of the new building, -‘leaving a labourer to keep an eye on his engine and boiler. This man was totally ignorant and when the youth returned from his eel fishing after an hour’s absence he saw that the engine had been stopped but that the spanner was still holding down the safety valve. Evidently the man had become alarmed by the increased speed of the engine as the pressure rose in the boiler so he had stopped it, but he had not the wit to free the safety valve, and so the pressure then mounted very rapidly. The youth claimed that he was just stretching out his arm to remove the spanner from the safety valve when the boiler exploded, so if he was speaking the truth he was indeed lucky to escape with his life …. The explosion at Greenwich taught men that Trevithick’s boilers caged a power which was not to be trifled with; which could kill a man as easily as we swat a tiresome fly. Trevithick himself realised as a result of this explosion that he must devise more precautions to protect his fellow men from the results of their own ignorance or folly when working his engines. In future he fitted all his boilers with two safety valves, one of them of the “lock-up” type which could not be tampered with. He also devised a mercurial steam gauge which would blowout before an explosion could occur even if both the safety valves failed to function. Another safety device which Trevithick thought of at this time was the lead safety plug which has been fitted to steam boilers ever since.

The “new corn mill” at which this accident occurred was the Greenwich Tide Mill which stood just to the north of where Blackwall Point Power Station now is, on the edge of the river, in what was then a very isolated position. Behind the mill was the great mill pond in which water from the river was trapped at high tide, providing power as the tide fell. Both mill and pond are clearly shown on Morris’s map of the parish of Greenwich c. 1831, and on the Tithe map of 1843. In the schedule to the latter map the mill and pond are part of Francis Hills’s chemical works. Between 1881 and 1885 the South Metropolitan Gas Co. bought the land and incorporated the mill into their works (the pond had long since been drained although its outline can clearly

 *****The Cornish Giant by L. T. C. Rolt. Lutterworth Press, 1960. Trevithick died at the Bull Hotel, Dartford in 1833 (while working with John Hall whose new engineering business afterwards became world famous) and he is buried in the graveyard of St. Edmund the Martyr there.

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