There is so much information available about this period that it is quite clear that I am going to find many other gems of information as new books come my way. If I add anything of real significance to any of the heritage posts I'll notify that updates have been made. I am painfully aware of how top-level these posts about the 1800s actually are, but I hope that they give an idea of how busy and commercial life truly was in this area during this century. In an earlier post I put together a few paragraphs to introduce the 1800s.
The fortunes of Greenland Dock were changing in 1763, when the dock changed ownership. It was bought by one of the Wells family who had managed the dock on behalf of the Dukes of Bedford.
In 1802 shipwrights operating on the Thames decided to come out on strike, amongst them shipwrights from shipyards at Greenland Dock. The timing of the strike was designed to put maximum pressure on the industry's customers. As Rankin says (2004, p.58), this was a time "when yards were hurrying to complete the refitting or building of East Indiamen, in time for them to catch the trade winds in the South Atlantic. Any delay and they could not leave for another year." The government acted by lending shipwrights from the Royal Dockyards. One of the major shipyards was Randall and Brent, which had been trading for over 50 years at this time and had operations at Nelson Dock and Greenland Dock. On 22nd August 1802 John Randall went to Greenland Dock to negotiate with the workers who were on strike. The resulting dispute led to Randall's suicide the same day. The company became Samuel and Daniel Brent (S and D Brent). The new company had its own share of bad luck. Rankin (2004, p.74) says that in 1804 the government took them to court over defects in the construction of the ship The Ajax, which had suffered from poor workmanship and materials. She was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line, launched in March 1798, took part in the Battle of Trafalgar and was eventually destroyed by a fire which apparently started in the bread room in 1807.
In 1803 the 1700s victualling yard, on the original site of two water mills, was sold to John and James Mangles. It was known as the King's Mills, a reference to its former royal naval connection.
1805 was the year of the Battle of Trafalgar. The ongoing naval battles effectively supported the ship building industry. Ship building, repairing and breaking companies thrived along the river frontage. Rotherhithe's own river frontage was ideally placed to benefit from the demand, andm became a mass of wet and dry docks. One of the big wharves that lined the Rotherhithe river front was the Commercial Wharf which was owned by the Bedford Estates and had had a history of ship building. The Deptford ship builder William Barnard died in 1805 and the business passed to his son Edward George, but was managed by his mother Frances. This was one of the biggest wharves on Rotherhithe, and part of its former site is now marked by the scotch derrick which lies near the vast New Caledonia Wharf apartment block, just off Odessa Street.
At the point now occupied by the eastern corner of South Dock lock entrance there a dramatic crime carried out in 1805. A timber yard leased to Isaac Blight from the City of
In 1806 Greenland Dock was resold to William Ritchie, a Greenwich timber merchant.
The Commercial Dock Company was established in 1807 and Greenland Dock was purchased in 1808, changing its fortunes and its entire ambience for the next century. It was used for trade in timber, hemp, iron, tar, corn and grain - mostly from northern Europe. The image to the left shows Rotherhithe in 1807, by G. Cooke. The establishment of Commercial Dock Company marked the beginning of the expansion of Rotherhithe, transforming it during the 1800s from a village surrounded by fields into a major industrial hub. The next few paragraphs will illustrate that point - the scale of activity is astonishing.
The first attempt to build a tunnel under the Thames was made in Rotherhithe in 1807. The key names involved in the attempt were the engineers Robert Vazie, Richard Trevithick and Ralph Dodd, the latter of whom was to become involved in the Grand Surrey Canal Project. It failed after an inundation and a negative report by the engineer William Jessop. A separate post will look at the history of the Thames tunnels.
Between 1808 and 1810 the depth of Greenland Dock was increased to 18ft 6 inches and the area was reduced to 980 x 440ft wide, which suggests that the new dock walls were constructed within the old ones. The lock was 204ft long x 42ft wide and was 18ft 6in in depth. Stuart Rankin (2004, p.37) says that delays to the completion of the lock were caused by a latery of Thanet Sand "which kept breaking into the excavations", meaning that for a long time vessels headed into or out of Greenland Dock had to use smaller docks as a thoroughfare.
The engineers behind this work were Ralph Walker, assisted by his nephew James Walker. There is a statue to dock engineer James Walker by Michael Rizzello near to the Moby Dick pub. He was born in
There are various references to a Baltic Dock appearing at 1807 or 1809 but so far I haven't been able to locate it on any maps and one reference seems to imply that it was a renaming of Greenland Dock. The modern Baltic Quay, a building complex at the end of South Dock, retains the name and suggests that Baltic Dock was in the vicinity, but nothing on the maps identifies it and I can find no details of its construction (the company that would have built it, its engineers, acreage etc). If anyone can enlighten me I will be grateful!
The East Country Dock Company was established in 1807 and built the East Country Dock (today South Dock) parallel and to the south-east of Greenland Dock) in 1811. It was a comparatively small dock at 5 and a half acres and was engineered by David Matthews. The granite boulders which flank the dock were unique to it and thought to belong to the earliest incarnation of the dock.
The Rotherhithe section of the
In 1810 the Lower Odessa Wharf building opposite Randall Rents was built, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rotherhithe. It has been restored and converted to apartments.
The London Engineer was put into service in Margate in 1818 as a packet boat which carried passengers between Margate and London. She was made of wood, had 70 horsepower engines and boilers fitted by Maudslay, Sons and Field at Lambeth, and two paddles set to the rear. The painting to the left is by Rudolph Ackermann. There is a lovely engineering drawing of her on the Science and Society Picture Library's website.
Another yard about which some interesting history is available is the Beatson Yard. The yard was owned by William Beatson, John Beatson and Brodie Augustus McGhie, a partnership which owned a vast site which sat just to the east of the land now occupied by the Spice Island public house. After 1810 it incorporated the Bull Head Wharf, formerly owned by the ship building Woolcombe family, which was located off Rotherhithe Street, just to the east of where Salter Road and Rotherhithe Street are linked next to the YHA. Between 1810 and 1873 the Bull Head Wharf became a ship breaker's yard. Following the purchase of the Woolcombe's yard there appear to have been a number of changes to the buildings facing Rotherhithe street, with several being demolished. The Beatson family purchased a number of warships from the Admiralty for breaking. These included the Rotterdam (purchased in 1806), the Texel (purchased 1818), the Tagus (1822) and the Treekronen (1825). It is thought that the Beatson Yard also broke up merchant ships including some bought from the East India Company.
general, and for the future of Rotherhithe in particular.