Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rotherhithe Heritage #9 - 1825-1843

Bridge and dockhouse at Surrey Grand Canal
entrance to Thames. George Yates.
To recap briefly, the Napoleonic wars had ended in 1815. By the early 1800s, according to the first official population Census of 1801, the population had expanded massively in the southeast London area on the south of the river, and this meant that Southwark, Bermondsey and Newington were all beginning to be closely linked both with each other and with the city of London. Rotherhithe continued to remain apart from the main body of southeast London, with only a relatively small proportion of the peninsulas interior turned over to docks and ponds, but it had a massive industrial frontage onto the Thames where ships continued to be built in the shipyards that fringed the peninsula. It had a population of only 13,000 people by 1831 and was separated from the rest of the area by market gardens and drainage ditches. The above watercolour by George Yates shows the bridge and Dock House where the Surrey Grand Canal met the Thames on the west side of Rotherhithe.

In spite of its relative isolation early in the 1800s the population of Rotherhithe was growing, the shipping industry was healthy and London's infrastructure, and its connections across the Thames continued to be improved. The old London Bridge was replaced in 1831 with a new bridge designed by John Rennie senior and built by his son, John Rennie junior.

Going into the 1820s there were, as already discussed in the previous post, four dock companies operating in Rotherhithe - The Commercial Dock Company (established in 1807), the Grand Surrey Dock Company (established 1801), the East Country Dock Company (established 1807) and the Baltic Dock Company (established 1809). The map to the right shows Rotherhithe in 1828.

In 1822 the King and Queen Granary was erected downstream of the Bull Head Dock on the west of Rotherhithe. It had seven floors and was provided with its own dock for barges.

From the early 1820s it becomes difficult to keep track of the ship yards, their owners and lease holders. Not only were ship yards divided into smaller components or amalgamated into larger enterprises but they were leased out to different owners at different times and owner names changed as new family members joined the business or new partners were included. The uses of these shipyards often changed. Finally, the names of the shipyards were sometimes changed as well.

The Barnard Yard, managed by Frances Barnard since her husband died in 1805, was by now enormous, covering an area to the north of the modern New Caledonian Wharf development on Odessa Street, and was split into two parts. The lower yard was the larger of the two parts and was occupied by the partnership Frances Barnard, Son and Roberts for shipbuilding and repairs. The upper yard was occupied by F.E. and T Barnard and specialized in spar and mast making. Other ship builders leased space from the yards for projects for which their own yards were either too small or too busy.

Nelson Dock dates from before 1800 but it up until the 1820s it was known as the yard at Cuckold's point. Rankin suggests that the name change came about when the lease was taken by a shipwright named Nelson Wake. After the Randalls and Brents left the yard in 1818 it was split into two sections.

The floating dock at Rotherhithe shown above, right, dates to around 1820.

In 1825 construction of the Thames Tunnel began. I have covered the Thames Tunnel in detail on a separate post which can be found here:

Daniel Brent, sole survivor of S and D Brent had left Nelson Dock in 1815 and focused all his activities on Greenland Dock South Shipyard. The construction of the steamships The London Engineer (1818) and the Rising Star (1822) followed in 1826 by the warship Karteria (meaning perseverance). Partly funded by Lord Byron she was commissioned on a privateer basis by Captain Frank A. Hastings who had served at Trafalgar and was now working for the provisional Greek government. As a warship she was something of an innovation in many ways. She was a steam boat with two paddles but was also equipped to travel under sail. She had four 68 pound guns and her on board furnace meant that shot could be heated to the point where it had a lethal impact on opposition ships.  This had a devastating effect on the opposing Turkish ships. The ship, commanded by Hastings, became something of a legend. The success of both the Karteria 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.

In 1829 the South Metropolitan Gas Company was founded in 1829 . It built works along side the Grand Surrey Canal on the Old Kent Rd and these were finsihed in 1833. The company's offices were added a year later.

In 1832 Rotherhithe became part of the Parliamentary Borough of Southwark. In the same year Rotherhithe was devastated by an outbreak of cholera. It extended from Rotherhithe to the rest of London. A massive 10% of the population of Bermondsey and Southwark were killed.

In 1835 a swing bridge was built over South Dock entrance, designed by James Walker. It was moved to the top of Greenland Dock in 1987, where it can still be seen and is still in use. In the same year an additional set of river stairs were added in a narrow passage next to today's Surrey Docks Farm and they named for a pub which no longer exists.

London's first railway, the London and Greenwich Railway was opened in 1836. Bermondsey Spa Road to Deptford. It was the largest brick structure anywhere in the world with 878 arches made of 19 million bricks. The viaduct was required both because of the marshy land and because the dozens of roads which it crossed. In December 1836 the railway was extended from Bermondsey to London Bridge, and the modern section of the viaduct that leads into London Bridge is original. The extension to Greenwich to the east followed 2 years later in 1838. Apparently there was a plan to enable horse drawn carriages to go up onto trains, and a ramp to enable this survives at Deptford Station but the plan was never actioned. The viaduct carried the railway over the Grand Surrey Canal and an 1845 picture of it by Smith (above left) shows St Mary's church to the left of the picture, surrounded by buildings, another church to the north (Holy Trinity) and a third right next to the railway arches on Deptford Lower Road (All Saints). The canal is clearly visible passing under the railway. Only 150 odd years ago and the traffic on the Thames is heaving with tall-masted ships.

Social work and addtional education continued to see improvement in Rotherhithe.  Edward Blick, Rector of St Mary's between 1835 and 1867, a former Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, carried out significant pastoral work on Rotherhithe, including projects to supply additional churches and to build schools. In 1836 girls ceased to be educated in the school established by Peter Hills and Robert Bell in St Marychurch Street and were instead educated at the new St Mary's School in Lower Road on land granted by Sir William Gomm to Edward Blick. Gomm was a considerable land owner with extensive land ranging over areas south of the Rotherhithe Peninsula which he had inherited in 1822. St Mary's remained a school for some 150 years. Another school, Trinity Halls, later affiliated to Holy Trinity Church, was opened in 1836 on Trinity Street (now part of Rotherhithe Street) and was amalgamated with another local school in 1875. It operated until 1910.

St Mary's Church was the only Anglican place of worship in 1838 but there was a need for more churches as the population grew and extended over a larger area. Three more were added between 1838 and 1850. Holy Trinity was built in Rotherhithe Street in 1837-8 by Sampson Kempthorne on land given by the Commercial Dock Company and was consecrated in 1839. (see picture right). The church that stands on the site now is a 1960s replacement for the original, which was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in November 1940. Christ Church was built in a simple Gothic style on the corner of Jamaica Road and Cathay Street in 1838-9 by Lewis Vulliamy on land given by Field Marshal Sir William Gomm who was buried there in 1875. There's a small photograph of it on the Diocese of Southwark website. It was declared redundant in 1964, was used as storage for the Diocese until 1974, was demolished in 1979, and the site is now occupied by the Bosco centre at the edge of King's Stairs Gardens. All Saints was built on Deptford Lower Road in 1840 was another Gothic style structure with tower and spire and cost £3000.00. It was again built by Samuel Kempthorne on land also donated by Gomm. Finally St Paul's was built in Beatson Street in 1850. None of them survive. St Mary's Church steeple was rebuilt in 1861. The north and south galleries were removed in 1876 and only the western (organ) gallery remains.

Of the non-Anglican churches those which served Rotherhithe residents in the 1800s include the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate conception which was built on Bryan Road in 1858 and included a girls home and a convent. Two Wesleyan Methodist places of worship were established early in the 1800s - a chapel in Silver Street near Nelson Dock which opened in 1800 and lasted until 1926, and a church in Albion Street which opened in 1806. A Primitive Methodist church opened on Jamaica Road in 1856, and the Nonconformist Commercial Dock Chapel which was established in 1800 was served the dockland community.

Queen Victoria came to power in the June of 1837 following the death of her uncle William IV who died leaving no legitimate children. By now the power was very much in the hands of government, but Victoria was considered to be an important symbol of state.

Joseph Horatio Ritchie, operating out of the Greenland Dock South Shipyard where Daniel Brent also constructed ships, built the wooden-hulled paddle tug Dragon in 1838 but after this date the shipyard seems to have been turned over to repairs. The Dragon was made for the Symington Patent Paddle Towing Company.

The King and Queen shipyard to the west of where Globe Wharf stands is identifiable today by the bridge that passes over an inlet which is the remainder of the dry dock that once operated here. The upper part of the yard was taken over by William Elias Evans on the death of Peter Mestaer in 1818. The lower part remained unused for some time but Evans took that over too when his business expanded. He built steamers and carried out repairs. Rankin says that he was a poor businessman and in spite of considerable talent and skill experienced financial setbacks which forced him to give up the lower yard and occupy the upper yard exclusively. once again Rankin describes him as a pioneer who suffered impaired hearing which made him withdrawn and diffident. Between 1821 and 1835 he launched the Lightening and the Meteor (both to the right, above). Both were Post Office packet boats based at Holyhead "which proved for the first time that steamships could operate in the open sea all year round" (Rankin 2005, p.93). In 1826 he launched the Constitutionen for the Norwegian post office (picture left) - the first steamer to operate in the Norwegian fjords. He held the upper yard until his death and it continued to operate as two separate yards afterwards. The upper yard was renamed Prince's Dry Dock and the lower one became King and Queen Dock.

Packet boats and ships were carriers of people, freight and post. They were designed to be stable in heavy seas and could cover either large or small distances. The requirement for transportation of freight, post and passengers to the US saw the development of routes from London and Liverpool to New York. The importance of the Liverpool route expanded shipping -related activities on the Mersey, offering challenges to other ship building and repair centres. Many European migrants to the U.S. travelled on these packet ships. The requirement for packet ships was a boost to ship builders who had the skills and facilities to meet that requirement. An 1886 article reproduced in the New York times gives a lovely description of the joys of passenger travel on a packet between Liverpool and New York in 1842;
At the period of which I speak the sailing packets which ran between London and New-York, and between Liverpool and that port, were ships of 500 to 600 tons burden. The staterooms--as the little cabins ranged on either side of the saloon were termed--were below the sea level. They were incommodious, dark and ill ventilated. In fact, the only light they enjoyed was that furnished by small pieces of ground glass inserted in the deck overhead, and from the fanlights in the doors opening to the saloon, and this was so poor that the occupants of the staterooms could not even dress themselves without making use of a lamp. The sole ventilation of them was that afforded by the removal of the saloon skylights, which , of course, could only be done in fine weather. The consequence was that the closeness of the atmosphere was in the staterooms was at all times most unpleasant; while the smell of of the bilge water was so offensive as to create nausea, independent of that arising from the motion of the vessel. In the Winter, on the other hand, the cold was frequently severe. There was, it is true, a stove in the saloon, but the heat from it scarcely made itself appreciably felt in the side cabins. In other matters there was the same absence of provision for the comfort of the passengers. The fresh water required for drinking and cooking purposes was carried in casks; and when the ship had a full cargo, many of these were placed on deck, with the result that their contents were sometimes impregnated with salt water from the waves shipped in heavy weather. At all times the water was most unpalatable, it being muddy and filled with various impurities from the old worm-eaten barrels in which it was kept. Not only was the water bad, but the supply occasionally proved inadequate and when the voyage was an unusually long one the necessity would arise of placing the passengers upon short allowance. There was always a cow on board, but there was no milk to be had than what she supplied, no way of preserving it having then been discovered. Canned fruit and vegetables were equally unknown. There was commonly a fair provision of mutton and pork, live sheep and pigs being carried; but of other fresh meat and of fish the stock was generally exhausted by the time the vessel had been a few days at sea, refrigerators at that period not having been invented.

Over the next few years other railway were built which connected London and Greenwich.

From the 1830s ship breaking began to take over from ship building. Many ships that had been built to fight in the Napoleonic Wars met their end in Rotherhithe. The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815/16 meant that the skills of shipbuilding and repair were now much less in demand.

It becomes difficult to keep track of the ship yards, their owners and lease holders. Not only were ship yards divided into smaller components or amalgamated into larger enterprises but they were leased out to different owners at different times and owner names changed as new family members joined the business or new partners were included. The uses of these shipyards often changed. Finally, the names of the shipyards were sometimes changed as well.

Amongst the shipyards which were prominent in the first half of the nineteenth century was John Beatson’s ship yard at Bull Head Wharf (which was renamed Surrey Canal Wharf). It was located near the Youth Hostel and Spice Island/Old Salt Quay where 165 Rotherhithe Street now stands (a modern building). Beatsons purchased warships from the Admiralty for breaking up. Examples include the Treekronen (74 guns) broken up in 1825 the Grampus (5o guns) broken up in 1832 and the Salisbury (58 guns), broken up in 1837, the Charybdis (10 guns) broken in 1843 and the Admiral Rainer, an East Indiaman converted to a prison ship and renamed the Justitia, broken in 1855. They also broke up two of the most remarkable ships that saw action in naval battles: the Bellerapheron and the the Temeraire. The HMS Bellerophon had been built in 1786 and was broken up at Beatson's in 1836. A 74-gun ship, she was built at Frindsbury (River Medway) by a builder named Graves. She was engaged at the battles of The Glorious First of June, the Nile and Trafalgar and was one of the best known ships of the Napoleonic wars. She is now perhaps best know for having held Napoleon a prisoner from July 15th to August 7th 1815 before he was handed over to the HMS Northumberland which took him to exile to St Helena. She was converted to a prison ship in 1824 , when she was renamed Captivity, before being broken up in Rotherhithe in 1836.

In 1838 the three-decked 98-gun second rate ship of the line HMS Temeraire was purchased for £5530.00 broken up at their yard on Rotherhithe. Built in Chatham in 1798 she had seen action at the Battle of Trafalgar. Like the Bellerophon she had served as a prison ship, and was then used as a receiving ship before being broken up at Rotherhithe. The ship was so famous and such an enormous vessel to travel that far down the Thames that this last voyage attracted crowds of people who gathered to admire and watch her and the event was reported in the London media. She was the largest ship ever to have travelled that far upstream (the biggest ships trusted for construction to private firms were 74-gun ships). She was the subject of Turner’s famous “The Fighting Temeraire”, and even though it seems that many of the details in this painting were incorrect it is still a fabulous testament to a once great ship. Turner may or may not have seen this event, but he certainly captured all the glory and sadness that surrounded her - the unutterable sense of something so magnificent being dragged to a sorry end. I had a copy of the painting hanging on my bedroom wall from when I was sixteen years old.

There is a sketch of her by William Beatson at her final resting place at the yard, where she looks really very sad (at the National Maritime Museum) Some of her timbers were used to build altar rails, a communion table and two bishop's chairs which were installed in St Paul's Church off Rotherhithe Street (now destroyed). The table and chairs are in are now in St. Mary's Church, Rotherhithe where they were moved after the Second World War.

The foundations of John Beatson's house at the yard were found in excavations at the site in 2000 (Heard and Goodburn 2000, p.26). It was a Regency style house to the south-west of the wet dock with bow windows and steps leading up to a front porch, the facade of the house facing the wet dock which opened out onto the Thames to the east. Two rooms at the front were separated by stairs going to an upper storey and there were another two rooms at the back. The house had apparently been destroyed by 1894 because it does not appear on the map of that year. Adjoining the house was brick built warehouse which extended to the river. It can be seen, in part, on William Beatson's sketch of the Temeraire. It consisted of four levels each with a large door for unloading commodities. The site plan copied above is published in Heard and Goodburn 2000 (p.29) with the foundations of the house and warehouse clearly shown facing the dock.

Beatsons were also involved in ship repairs and timber imports, with a big storage building on the south side of Rotherhithe Street, opposite their Thames facing operation. In 1839 they sold 4062 sleepers to Taff Vale Railway.

In 1838 Bull Head Dock became a general engineering workshop for the Thames Bank Ironworks and in the 1840s the victualling yard was used to expand the gasworks and eventually the entire remaining site was sold to form the Surrey Entrance Lock and the Surrey Basin.

In 1840 the first postage stamp was introduced, part of a series of reforms to the postal system which standardized and simplified the formerly expensive and complex process of handling and delivering post.

A report which appeared in 1843 said that 30,000 of Southwark’s residents had no piped water. If you want to see a hair raising account of health and sanitation issues in the Southwark area at this time see Leonard Reilly’s book Southwark: In Illustrated History (1998, particularly p.56-61). Rotherhithe was one of the poorest areas at this time.

The 1843 map to the left shows the extent of the Rotherhithe docks and ponds at this time. The Grand Surrey Canal basin opened out onto the Thames at the west, and the canal had been widened at its northern end to form the Grand Surrey Inner and Outer Docks (the latter later becoming Russia Dock and now incorporated into the main thoroughfare through the Russia Dock Woodland). Greenland Dock to the south was half its present size with the Surrey Grand Canal passing across its end. The East Country Dock had been built in the early 1800s over 5.6 acres on land now covered by South Dock. The other docks, connected to Greenland Dock which had access out onto the Thames to the east of Rotherhithe are marked simply as the Commercial Docks on the map. They were, heading north, Norway Dock (today a housing development built into the shallow remains of the dock called "The Lakes"), Lady Dock, Acorn Pond and Lavender Pond.

The dockland areas of Rotherhithe were now increasingly focused on timber and grain. Timber ponds were used as part of the timber processing system. The timber, imported from Canada and the Baltic, was floated in the ponds in order to remove sap from the wood. Open sided sheds were constructed in order to store the timber. Grain also required dockside storage and granaries were built to accommodate it.

As well as ship building, maintenance and repairs around the edges of Rotherhithe and commodity handling in the centre of Rotherhithe there were numerous supporting businesses in the area. On the river front along the short section between King's Stairs to Elephant Stairs Humphrey (1997, p.41) says that there were 4 mastmakers, 1 shipmaker and 2 shop's blockmakers. Rope makers worked inland because of the space required for rope production but there are deeds in the Southwark Local Studies Library for one between Rotherhithe New Road and Southwark Park Road. A look at the 1843 map of the area shows rope walks at Bermondsey Wall East (formerly Rotherhithe Wall), to the west of Marigold Street.

Humphrey (1997) says that in 1843 the Commercial Dock Company was paying around one fifth of the parish's rates.

One of the most remarkable feats of the early 1800s in London was the design and construction of the Thames Tunnel. In 1842 the Brunel engine house was built and in 1843 the Thames Tunnel opened. The Brunel engine house, now a museum, provided a steam pump to remove water from the Thames Tunnel. It was restored in the late 1970s with a replica of the cast iron chimney added in the early 1990s. The shaft of the Thames Tunnel still survives and when work on the East London Line is completed in 2010 should be opened, once more, for visitors to view in person.

By the mid 1840s there was a clear dichotomy in the shipping activities in Rotherhithe between businesses operating on the Thames fringes of Rotherhithe and those operating in the expanding dock system within the centre of Rotherhithe. Ship builders were building a mixture of wooden, composite and iron ships but ship construction was being gradually replaced by repairs, maintenance and ship breaking. The docks mainly dealt in the handling of commodities - particularly timber and grain.

References in this post can be found in the site bibliography at:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More from Thursday in the park

Opposite Stave Hill pond

Clover at Stave Hill pond

View towards the City from Stave Hill,
with the Michael Rizzello sculpture in the foreground

Downtown pond

Last season nest in the butterfly sanctuary

At the foot of Stave Hill

Friday, November 27, 2009

Yesterday at the Surrey Docks Farm

Here are some of the photos from yesterday's visit to the Surrey Docks Farm. As usual, if you want to see a bigger image just click on the photo.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blue skies and sunshine in late November

The clouds threatened rain but the sushine was out and the sky was blue so we kitted up against the wind and headed into the park. Yesterday there had been ambitious talk of walking into town along the Thames Path but that was before the epic chat-athon which finally ended at 3am accompanied by a trail of empty wine bottles. My father only arrived for a visit yesterday but we're both exhausted already!

We took the meandering path that heads from opposite Onega Gate up towards the main green. Most of the leaves have left the trees and been cleared away from the paths and margins. It all looked beautifully well cared for - apart from a burnt out motorbike that had been tossed next to one of the bridges, which I've reported. There wasn't much to see in the way of flowers or insects and even the berries are few and far between but there were some surprising and enjoyable exceptions. A berberis with dark green shiny leaves had produced some richly yellow flowers. The Cotoneaster wilsoni hedge at the end of the Stave Hill walk was a mass of red berries, there were lovely deep blue cornflowers on the chalk patch in the ecological park near the windmill and there were two violets, endearingly pale with delicate petals near the Stave Hill pond. There was nothing much happening at the Stave Hill pond, although the bulrushes look great and the vetch pods promise another great showing for next year.

We had the park almost to ourselves. Apart from a couple of dog walkers and a woman with a pushchair there was simply no-one else to be seen. We saw a single squirrel, a sparrow, a great tit, a couple of magpies, dozens of pigeons and some crows. Apart from that only the ducks and coots were out in force. It is good to see the ponds looking so healthy The Downtown pond had enough water for it to cascade gently into the channel, and the ducks were clearly enjoying it. Globe pond has stayed clear of duck week and there were dozens of mallards and mallard hybrids pootling around in the sun.

After the important job of feeding the ducks at the Downtown and Globe ponds we went to the top of Stave Hill and leaned into the wind, admiring the views in the bright light. Whenever I'm walking through the woodland I get a sense of open walks and spaces but from the top of Stave Hill you can see just why it is referred to as a woodland - the trees seem so dense and appear to extend for miles. Although the leaves have gone the bark still provides a patchwork of different colours.

After a good circuit of the park we headed past the travesty of the Downtown site and over the bridge to the Thames Path and walked the short distance along the river to the Surrey Docks Farm. The light on Canary Wharf and the neighbouring buildings was quite extraordinary and very beautiful.

The Farm itself was nearly empty of people, but the farm animals were terrific - all looking so healthy, happy and full of life. The goats have thick shining coats (I must ask what Kath feeds them - I could do with that sort of a shine myself and L'Oreal Elvive doesn't seem to be doing the trick, whether I'm worth it or not!). The donkeys were munching contentedly in the warmth of their blankets (in Barcelona FC colours, I was pleased to note) and the pigs were as delightful as usual. In all, the farm was as much of a pleasure as usual and we lingered with the pigs for a good long time. The vegetable garden is thriving and the peas are actually in flower. There was one of the biggest cabbages I have ever seen. The farm is advertising free range meat for sale (goat, pork and lamb) which as soon as I have some space in the freezer I shall go and try. I shall post some of the farm photos tomorrow.

It was again nice to see the sculptures which had to be brought just within the farm gates (a few metres from where they were originally located) following the theft of the owl. As one would expect, they continue to be well cared for and none have gone missing.

As we left the Thames Path, intending to do a circuit of South Dock to look at the boats before returning along Greenland Dock to Russell Place the skies opened so we simply hurtled down the side of Greenland Dock arriving home damp but not sodden. I noticed that the pontoon in the inlet to Norway Dock ("The Lakes") has begun to sink. I derived huge amusement earlier in the year from watching a pair of great crested grebes and a pair of coots sharing the pontoon as a nesting site, and I am very sad to see it sinking. I'll try to find out who to report that to and see if it cannot be saved for future nesting activity.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Autumn colours

I've been in Wales for so long that the entire area has changed in my absence. There are more leaves on the floor than in the trees, and everything is orange, yellow and brown with only a few silvers and greens picked out in the sun. It was a lovely day today, cold but clear and full of sun-filled light.

There was a limited range of flowers, which was to be expected, but far fewer berries than I had anticipated. The highlight of the entire walk was the first violet of the season. It was absolutely lovely, its open face completely perfect and fresh.

The cherry laurel next to Downtown pond is already recovering after being cut right back.

The new toad moat and butterfly tower still look absolutely dreadful - crude scars in the ecological park, but the plan is that the harsh borders should be allowed to develop natural vegetation so that toads and newts will be attracted to the water and butterflies to the small mound behind. It seems a shame that the trees immediately adjacent to the moat should have been cut down. The raw stumps look awful and it is seems odd that trees in an ecological park should have to be sacrificed, but as usual I am conscious of my ignorance of the management of this type of environment.

There were lots of birds in the shrubberies, but none visible. A Canada goose, several mallards and some coots and moorhens were pottering around on the ponds, all of which were happily full of water. I saw a single squirrel. Apart from that life was very quiet.

There were very few people around but the sad remains of Guy Fawkes night were evident in the form of an abandoned disposable barbeque and some disposable firework settings. I guess that there will be yet more to clear up after tonight.