Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rotherhithe Heritage #7 - 1800-1825

This page will be updated on an ongoing basis. By far the most useful reference for this period was Stuart Rankin's "Maritime Rotherhithe - History Walks" (2005, Southwark Council) which has provided the main framework and a lot of the information for this post. I recommend it most sincerely. My own copy, which I bought from the Brunel pumphouse museum, is battered to bits.

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 1801 it was recorded that Rotherhithe was home to nearly 10,300 people. Rotherhithe was still independent from the rest of Southwark in geographical terms in the early 1800s, and was still physically separated from Bermondsey by fields and streams which later became market gardens.

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.
In the same year the Rectory on St Mary Church Street in Rotherhithe village was built (and was enlarged towards the end of the century).

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 London, whose house was adjacent to the yard and faced out onto the Thames. On the 25th November he was sitting in his parlour when he was shot. He survived for some time but was unable to identify his killer. However, it was eventually deduced that Paton, a business acquaintance of Blight’s was the guilty partner and he was arrested by the Bow Street Runners, tried at Horsemanger Lane on the 5th April 1806 and hanged at Kennington on the 7th April 1806. Justice was swift in those days!

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 Scotland in 1787 and was apprenticed to his uncle Ralph in the early 1800s. He worked on both the West India and East India docks and succeeded Thomas Telford as President of the institute of Civil Engineers in 1834. He was engineer to the CDC until his death in 1862.

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.

On July 7th 1807 the HMS York was launched by S & D Brent. The York was a third rate ship of the line built for the Royal Navy. She was a wooden sailing ship built at a time when ship building was about to change forever as steam ships began to prove themselves in a variety of roles. All major naval action in the Napoleonic wars had already taken place by the time she was launched, but she was involved in a number of naval battles. She was stripped of her masts and guns in Portsmouth harbour in 1819, where she was converted into a prison ship. She was fitted to cope with around 500 convicts. In the image on the left, by Edward William Cooke, she is shown in her role as a prison hulk, with laundry hanging between the sad remnants of her masts. I shudder to think what life would have been like on board. She was broken up in March 1854.

In 1801 the Grand Surrey Canal Act was passed, which would permit the construction of a canal, an accompanying dock basin and an entrance lock by the East Country Dock Company. The canal was the inspiration of the engineer Ralph Dodd, about whom more in a moment. The engineer for the Surrey Basin was George Parker Bidder who had been in partnership with Robert Stephensen, and who also worked on a number of railway projects. The works started in 1807 and were to be carried out simultaneously but the company ran into financial difficulties and there was a hiatus in the work before the Grand Surrey Basin was opened in March 1811. The main role of the entrance lock and the basin were to provide access for barges that wished to get into the Grand Surrey Canal from the Thames just to the east of the modern Spice Island public house (the west entrance lock, which survives as an entrance to Surrey Water was built later). This entrance became too small for large cargo ships and they accessed the canal via the Greenland Dock lock entrance which was bigger and was extended in the 1800s.

The Rotherhithe section of the Grand Surrey Canal was eventually completed between 1811 and 1826. It reached Camberwell (Addington Square in 1811) and and Peckham (Canal Head in 1826). It was originally supposed to reach Greenwich, Croydon, Epsom and possibly, in some accounts Portsmouth, but never did. It was designed by the engineer Ralph Dodd.

The designer of the Grand Surrey Canqal, Ralph Dodd, was something of a strange character, involved in numerous engineering projects some of which either failed or which he abandoned. In 1795 he published an Account of the principal Canals in the known World, with reflections on the great utility of Canals. In 1794 he invented a canal cutting machine which was trialled on the Grand Junction Canal at Dawley but was not adopted long-term. In 1801 he was appointed engineer to the Rotherhithe South Dock at £600 a year. However the following year he fell out of favour with the Eastern Dock Company and he was given a gratuity and dismissed as engineer. The principal cause appears to be that he came into conflict with the company’s chairman, but the reasons given were that he was engaged on other work and that his fees were too high. He was replaced with John Lowe. Dodd was also involved in the first attempt to build the world’s first under river tunnel from Rotherhithe. This attempt failed and it was Marc Brunel who eventually succeeded, working a short distance away from the remains of the failed first attempt.

In its final form the Grand Surrey Canal, with its Peckham and Camberwell branches, was used mainly by local market gardens and timber yards. However, it did not stimulate the major development of the area that its investors had hoped would happen. It ran along the end of the Greenland Dock, as it was then. The canal was partly abandoned in 1940, drained in the 1960s and in-filled in 1971. It is now remembered only small features, like the beach next to the water sports centre, which marks its route and gives a good idea of the extend of Greenland Dock in the early 1800s, and in place-names like Surrey Canal Road. Burgess Park is a particularly good piece of use of the former canal's land.

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 Grand Surrey Basin was extended in 1812.

In 1813 Norway Dock was established. Today it is the development known as The Lakes.

By the end of 1813 the docks enclosed an area of 40 acres, which were accompained by warehouses, and wharves. The image on the right shows Rotherhithe in 1813 by William Daniell.

In 1814 Samuel Brent of the ship building company Samuel and Daniel Brent died, and Daniel Brent was left running the company. In 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. In the same year Daniel Brent, now sole owner of what had been Randall and Brent, left Nelson Dock and transferred all operations to Greenland Dock. In his new premises he built steamships, amongst them The London Engineer, the Rising Star and the Karteria. Each of these ships has an interesting history.

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.

The Rising Star was one of the world's first steam warships, commissioned by the Chilean navy to take part in the war of independence from Spain in 1822. She was 40 tons and 60 horsepower, driven by a mixture of steam and sail, with three masts, and paddles towards the rear. Although she was commissioned by Chile's commissioner in London, Jose Alvarez Condarco, it was at the suggestion of the Scottish agent to Chile Lord Archibald Cochrane who was then commander-in-chief of the Chilean fleet. However,  the ship arrived in Chile too late to take part in the war.

The Karteria was also a warship, built for Greece in another war of independence with Turkey. She was launched in 1826. Her name means "perseverance". She was commissioned on a privateer basis by Captain Frank A. Hastings who had served at Trafalgar and was now serving in the navy under the provisional Greek government. She was partly funded by Lord Byron, and was the only one of six of the same design originally planned. She had two paddles and two steam engines but could also travel under sail. Unlike The Rising Star she was actually used in combat. She had four 68 pound guns and an on board furnace which could heat shot until it was red-hot, which had a devestating effect on the opposing Turkish ships. The ship, commanded by Hastings, became something of a legend. The success of both the Kateria together with the new type of ammunition in naval combat, eventaully led to sailing ships being abandoned by the navy, and to the adoption of armour on ships.

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.

Access over the river between the increasingly important industries of the south bank of the Thames with the main centre of London to the north was improved with Waterloo Bridge, which was built in 1809 and Southwark Bridge, which was finished in 1819. These placed additional pressure on the road infrastructure south of the river, which also had to be expanded.

Rankin (2004, p.66) says that the vast Commercial Wharf, now managed by Frances Barnard, was split into two. Each of the resulting yards was operated by a partnership, both of which were headed by Frances Barnard - Frances Barnard, Son and Roberts (the lower and larger of the two yards, used for ship building and repairs) and F.E. and T. Barnard (the upper yard, used for mast and spar making). Other businesses leased parts of the upper and lower yards. to complete specific projects. One of thse may well have been Marc Brunel's steamer The Regent, built by J.B and Thomas Courthope in 1816.

In 1815-16 the Napoleonic wars came to an end, which had considerable implications for British ship building in

general, and for the future of Rotherhithe in particular.
By 1820 new docks on Rotherhithe covered an area of 50 acres, five times the area that had been under water at the beginning of the 19th century. The map to the left shows it as it was in early 1820.

Timber and grain warehouses were built at this time. Ship building and breaking continued to be of enormous importance as ongoing war continued to ensure Royal Navy demands, and the East India Company required new ships and repairs to existing one.

The Watch House was established in Rotherhithe village in 1821. Parish constables were based here, and as well as pursuing other duties they could keep an eye on the cemetary to prevent illegal exhumations in order to supply Guy's Hospitals with bodies for their anatomy classes.

William Elias Evans launched a number of steam ships from King and Queen dry dock on Rotherhithe. Amongst them were the Lightning and the Meteor, both steam packet boats built for the Post Office and based at Holyhead in 1821. They were used to take both post and passengers to Dublin. The Lightning once had the honour of carrying George IV on a trip to Dublin after his yacht ran into difficulties. This painting shows both ships (click on the image to see the full sized version on the National Maritime Museum's website).
In 1821/22 the Aaron Manby was assembled here. The Aaron Manby was the first iron-built steamship. She was designed by Captain Charles Napier of the Royal Navy. She was built in sections at the Horseley Ironworks in Staffordwhire and then assembled at Rotherhithe. She was named after the master of the Horseley Ironworks, Aaron Manby, whose better known son Charles Manby also worked on the vessel. She was 120 feet long and weighed 116 tons with a quarter-inch iron flat-bottomed hull. She had paddlewheels which were 12ft in diameter. There will be a post dedicated to this fascinating ship later. Infuriatingly, I haven't been able to find out so far which of the Rotherhithe shipyards assembled her, and I haven't been able to find an image of her. I would dearly love to know what she looked like.

Marc Isambard Kingdom Brunel began a tunnel in 1825, following the passing of the Act on 1824, to enable foot-travellers to cross from Rotherhithe to Wapping. Originally conceived as a tunnel to take horse-and-carriage transport it was only ever a pedestrian tunnel due to failure to raise the funds to build the approach ramps. A number of disaters were associated with the building of the tunnel, which took eighteen years to complete instead of the proposed three. However it was an engineering marvel, attracting attention from near and far. The modern Thames Tunnel Wharf occupies the site of the Thames Tunnel Co and was used for bringing in construction materials for the Thames Tunnel and for removing the tunnel spoil. 100 gas jets lit the Thames Tunnel and these were fed by the Phoenix Gas Company which piped gas into the area. There will be a separate post about the tunnel and its construction. The Phoenix Gas Light and Coke Company was established by Act of Parliament in 1824. They purchased a site at Bankside in Southwark for their first works from the South London Gas Co. in 1824.

The main legacy of the first quarter of the 19th Century was the earliest development of the growing number of docks and timber pools on the peninsula. Wharves, wet and dry docks still laced the edges of Rotherhithe. The needs of war and the expansion of trade ensured that this area was all about ship building, ship repairs and the management of cargo. The expansion of the Thames docks and the investment in engineering projects would later see some impressive innovations in the technology associated with the docks in London. But the advances in naval engineering, particularly the innovation of the steamship, would see many changes to the fortunes of Rotherhithe.

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