Saturday, September 28, 2013

Apologies for the incomplete post about the First World War

Sorry about the previous post, now removed.  I am working on a series of posts about Rotherhithe in the First World War, for the centenary next year, and pressed Publish rather than Save by accident.   I've just retrieved it so it won't be visible any more on the blog.  The post is nowhere near to being complete, so apologies for anyone who looked at it and wondered what on earth was going on.

Just a reminder if that you know anything about Rotherhithe during the Great War I would be really glad to hear from you.  I'd really like to know more about family members who either went to war or worked the docks over that period.

It's a beautiful day here in Wales, sunny with blue skies, so I hope that you are having a lovely day in London too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rusting by design: Michael Caine and companions

The recently installed and already rusting Sustrans Portrait Bench at the side of Greenland Dock has actually been designed to rust. Designed to discolour, degrade and become progressively hideous.  Rust is associated with derelict buildings, decay and scrap heaps.  It is ugly.  Rust, last time I looked, was one of the things that the London Dockland Development Corporation spent quite a considerable amount of time and expense removing from the area.  How lovely of Sustrans and Southwark Council to move it back in.

I am particularly vexed that Southwark Council did not make this transparent when they published a planning notification.  When I saw the notification of the planning application in Southwark News I tried to find out more about it and failed.  Not only did the Southwark Council website not have any useful information in their Documents or other sections under the planning application number, but a phone call to the person on the printed notice revealed that she was not the person responsible for that particular planning application.  She gave me the correct contact details, but a phone call followed by an email to the planning bod actually allocated to the job, Terence McLellan, resulted in absolutely no response. 

In response to recent questions by Southwark News investigator Oliver Pugh, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Cabinet Member for Transport, Environment and Recycling said: "The Portrait installation is made of special weathering steel that is commonly used in outdoor sculptures and large structural projects. It is expected to rust particularly within the first year of installation. This in itself forms a protective layer that ensures the art has a long lifespan and avoids the need to fund costly maintenance such as painting."  The Sustrans website itself says that “The Portrait Bench is a simple bench with three life-size characters chosen by the community for the contribution they have made to local life, culture or history. The figures are 2 dimensional cut from Corten steel (like the famous Angel of the North) so they will weather to a fine rust surface and become a natural part of the landscape.”

Errrrrr - just to point out the obvious, rust is not something that residents usually want to become a natural part of a residential landscape, which being full of houses and former dockland features is about as far from natural as one can envisage. This is a man-made landscape and it requires maintenance.

Saving on maintenance expenses at the cost of basic aesthetic considerations cannot look reasonable even on paper, because it must be obvious that decay is likely to alienate anyone who has to live in its vicinity.   This type of pseudo-organic/green argument, employing ideas of natural decay and self-preservation to justify cost-saving and lack of maintenance, undermines the really good work carried out by people who are genuinely committed to both local ecological projects and sustainable public art.   We have plenty of other local outdoor art that has neither rusted nor deteriorated in any other way and is often much-loved by local residents.  The rusty Sustrans sculpture does not come into either category; not only have many local residents expressed how unimpressed they are by the rust, but its condition inspires so little respect that some of the local fishermen have started using it as a convenient coat-hanger.

James Walker, the engineer of the 1900 extension of Greenland Dock, was portrayed by lovely sculptor Michael Rizzello in 1988 and was installed in the same corner of Greenland Dock that the rusting Sustrans structure now inhabits.  James Walker has been standing just 10 feet away from the location of the Sustrans travesty for nearly 20 years without a hint of rust.  That's because Michael Rizzello was a true artist and he had standards, and so did those who commissioned his work.

If anyone took the time to ask Michael Caine's permission to capture his 2-D likeness when planning this sculpture (he being the only one of the three people depicted to remain alive), I do wonder if they told him that he was expected to decay substantially within a year and would be distinguished by an all-over coating of rust for as long as his image lasts.

There is so much good going on in Rotherhithe, and so much to celebrate.  It is a sad reflection on Southwark Council that they should undermine all that by agreeing to place something that is beginning to look like scrap on a nice corner of Greenland Dock. This sort of sloppiness and cost-cutting, dressed up as sustainable art and design, is quite simply insulting to those of us who have to live with it, and to those artists who have contributed excellent public art projects that manage to be both sustainable and attractive at the same time.

It's such a shame.  It looked really quite civilized when it was first erected with its smart, shiny black surface.

Kings College OK'd for Stage 1 of Canada Water Campus

Thanks as usual to the website for today's email update.  Most important to a lot of people will be that King's College has been given the go-ahead for Stage 1 of its project.  The story can be found here on the website:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tonight at 10pm on TV - Depftord High Street

Tonight at 10pm on the Yesterday channel (Freeview), the first in a repeated series, there's a programme called The Secret History of Our Streets.  The first one is looking at Deptford High Street, which is a stone's throw away from Rotherhithe.  The social history series claims to be partially inspired by Charles Booth's project to map London's poverty in the late 1800s (I posted recently about the availability of his maps online, and have an excellent hard copy of them myself - well worth inspecting to see how your area was faring in the 1880s).  This particular episode looks at what happened when areas designated as "slums" were obliterated in the 1960s and communities were broken up.  I managed to miss this when it showed a few months back, and I may not be able to watch it tonight, but it looks as though it would be well worth making a note of if you can catch it.

There's a preview on the Radio Times website:

Apologies for the short notice - my father just pointed it out to me, but it will doubtless come on again in the future.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Talbot family in Rotherhithe: 19th and 20th Century barge builders

Photograph (taken between 1858 and 1869) owned by
Elizabeth Lloyd, and used with her permission.
The old man was probably Richard Talbot,
and the photo shows one of the Talbot yards.
A great many thanks are owed to Elizabeth (Liz) Lloyd for sending me much-needed information about one of the barge building families in Rotherhithe, which I've supplemented with some additional hunting around.  Liz's grandmother was Edward J. Talbot's daughter. The Talbots were leading barge builders and important community members in Rotherhithe for more than three generations.

See Liz's article at the end of this post about Robert Talbot, the founder of the Talbot dynasty of barge builders.

Barges and lighters must have been built in their 100s along Rotherhithe's southern banks, but finding out about the companies that built them is far more challenging than looking into the builders of warships, East Indiamen and tea clippers.   

The Talbot and Sons barge building business was started by Robert Talbot, who moved the business to a number of locations.  Robert died in  August 1849, and a copy of his last will and testament are now available on the National Archives website (be warned that the script is archaic and virtually illegible to the untrained eye).

Talbot and Sons was based  at 292 Rotherhithe Street and when Lucy's husband Thomas Talbot died in 1858 it carried on as Lucy Talbot and Sons until she died in 1869 when it became Talbot Bros. Thanks to another reader, "PPM," who says that Lucy Talbot was born Lucy Rabjohn before marrying Thomas.  Liz says that one of the men in the photo above, which was taken between 1858 and 1869, was taken when Lucy was in charge after the death of her husband Thomas. 

Another branch of the family has also conducted a lot of research, which they have published online.  The Talbot Research Organization has published a number of newsletters, amongst which are the Rotherhithe addresses for various family members throughout the mid 1800s:  Robert Taylor, 282 Rotherhithe Street and 5 Charlotte Row 1842;  Richard Talbot, 11 Lucas Street 1842; Richard and Eward Talbot, 26 Church Street and 282 Rotherhithe Street 1851; Richard and Eward Talbot, 26 Church Street and Near Church Stairs 1861; Lucy Talbot and Sons, 298 Rotherhithe Street 1861; Talbot Barge Builders, Ransome's Wharf, Rotherhithe Street, 1861.   

According to a notice that I stumbled across in the London Gazette, shown above and dated 3rd March 1882, Talbot Brothers was dissolved as from 1st January 1882.  The notice announced that the company trading as Talbot Brothers operating out of Norway Wharf and 198 Rotherhithe Street, was dissolved jointly by Edward James Talbot, Thomas William H. Talbot, Francis Thomas Talbot and Robert John Talbot.  Three of the brothers, Edward, William and Francis, started up a new company, somewhat confusingly also under the same name of Talbot Brothers.  

In 1866 the Otago Witness, a New Zealand newspaper, reported under the title of "Disastrous Fires in London" that a fire that broke out in a warehouse belonging to the Talbots in Rotherhithe was one of five fires that stretched the London fire brigade during the night of 28th April 1866.  35 firemen were dispatched to fight the blaze, with "four powerful steam, two hand and two floating engines."  It burned out the Talbot timber shed completely, before spreading to a five-floor granary owned by a Mr Dudin, destroying the roof and top two of the five storeys.  It also damaged the adjacent horsehair and flock manufacturing premises in Church Street owned by Messrs Smith and Co.   The Otago Witness says that it presented "an alarming appearance, happening as it did in a crowded neighbourhood in the midst of a wharf property, much of it highly inflammable."

An 1895 foundation stone from the destroyed Rotherhithe Town Hall lists members of St Mary's Vestry, one of whom is Edward James Talbot.   I have been unable to find out where the stone is now and why it was incorporated into the town hall, but it does demonstrate that the Talbot barge building brothers were people of station and prestige in the area at this time.

Reverend E.J. Beck mentions the Talbot family in his Memorials to Serve for a History for the Parish of St Mary, published in 1907.   At the time that Beck was writing, Edward Talbot, who had been the  the head of the family, had died in 1905. He was much approved of by Beck for being "long connected with parochial affairs:  he was a respected member of the Rotherhithe Vestry, and served all the offices, being sidesman and afterwards churchwarden of the Parish Church.  He was long a member of the Shipwrights Company, of which he was a past-master and treasurer" (p.191).  Beck says that Edward's nephews, Edward James Talbot and Francis Thomas Talbot, "were partners in a large business, building wooden and iron lighter-barges."  Both were both churchwardens and members of the Vestry.  Francis Talbot was also a member and alderman of Bermondsey Borough Council, and a "painstaking trustee of the Parish Charities."   Beck adds that there were other members of the family still living in Rotherhithe at the time.

The London Street Directory for 1921 shows "Talbot Brothers, barge builders," at several addresses on Rotherhithe Street: "145, 147, 149 and 200  (Norway, Ransome's and Carolina Wharves) and Clarence Wharf."  Occupying several premises at the time, they were evidently very successful in the early 1920s.  The London Gazette of 22nd October 1944 reported that Caroline and Norway Wharves were due to be subjected to compulsory purchase orders due to war damage. 

The photo to the left, from the Ideal Homes website, shows a barge being renovated in 1930 at the Talbot Brothers premises at 143 Rotherhithe Street, just down from the South Metropolitan Gas works pier, Clarence Wharf, which still stands today. 

Liz says that the company of Talbot Brothers survived into the 1960s.

Guest Post by Elizabeth Lloyd

This  post is about one individual, Robert Talbot, who established Talbot and Sons barge builders.  His story is not confined to Rotherhithe, but travels around the country.  Following his career  provides an insight into the lives of those connected with ships and boats in the 1800s in the same way that the life of William Shepperd the great grandfather of Ian Walters, a steward on the tea clipper Borealis, was an insight into a certain way of life connected with a world that was held together by riverine and maritime industries.  As Liz's post demonstrates, barge building was taken very seriously, and a 7 year apprenticeships with the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen was required before barge builders, watermen and lightermen could rise through the ranks of the Company to take up prestigious positions.  They became senior members of the Company, and important contributors to the Rotherhithe community.
Many thanks Liz - a great insight into a life well lived!

Robert Talbot
by Elizabeth Lloyd

Every descendent of Robert Talbot has been told the story of how he and his brothers brought the family barge building business up to London from Berkshire on a stage coach. Certainly there was a stagecoach route from Thatcham to London along the Bath Road and some time before 1799 Robert and Richard moved to London, as they were both married there in 1799. There is no evidence of any other living brother accompanying them. As Richard and his wife Elizabeth Jenkins do not appear to have had any children, Robert Talbot is seen as the founder of the barge building dynasty.

Robert and Richard were born in the beautiful village of Pangbourne, on the river Thames in Berkshire, the sons of John Talbot and Mary Ivey. Their other brother Edward died in 1792 and their sisters married in Pangbourne. Although there is no proof that John Talbot was a barge builder, there were other Talbots who built barges in Pangbourne at that time. As yet no family connection to these other Talbots has been made. After the death of Mary Ivey in 1795, John Talbot married Mary Kirton and had seven more children before his death in 1837 at the age of 92.

Robert Talbot married Ann Proud at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, near St Paul’s cathedral in 1799. At first they lived in Shadwell, a crowded dock area between Limehouse and Wapping, but by the time of the birth of their second child, Thomas Talbot in 1804 they were living by the Thames in Fore Street, Lambeth. Fore Street, as its name signifies lay on the foreshore of the river Thames. It was a very busy area of boat builders, whiting works and potteries including Doultons, later Royal Doulton. 

Last Will and Testament of Robert Talbot
By 1839 Robert had moved his barge building business to the up and coming boat building area of Rotherhithe Street. It is probable that all their premises were rented. Leaving Fore Street was wise, as by 1866 it was disappearing beneath the Albert Embankment.

Robert and Ann Proud had 8 children, before Ann’s death in 1830. Robert married again twice; to Ann Richards, a widow, in 1833 and to Cricey Finley in 1848, the year before his death of Asiatic cholera. Robert Talbot was buried in a graveyard on Lambeth High Street, near St Mary at Lambeth (The Garden Museum). The stones were moved against the walls by 1950 and have since eroded but it is a peaceful park with a children’s playground.

Four of Robert’s sons, Thomas, Robert, Richard and Edward followed their father, becoming barge builders while Charles became a stationer and printer, with premises in Tooley Street.

The barge building sons undertook 7 year apprenticeships with the Worshipful company of Watermen and Lightermen, and 16 members of the extended family became important officials of the Shipwrights company, including Edward James who was a liveryman of the Shipwrights company and a Freeman of the river Thames. His uncle Edward L. Talbot was Master of the Shipwrights company in 1869, as was John William Talbot in 1880.

Rotherhithe in Victorian times, was a vibrant part of the Pool of London, teeming with Irish labourers, boat builders and sea captains. The “Fighting Temeraire” sailed into port to be broken up here in 1838 and the Mayflower had set sail from Rotherhithe in 1620. There were rope makers, sail makers and oar makers like George Henry Leggett. Large quantities of timber were unloaded here. Grain was unloaded into the flat-bottomed lighters made by the Talbots and other barge builders. The wife of Edward James Talbot, Elizabeth Palmer Hopkins came from several generations of lightermen.

Later Richard Talbot (b. 1813) moved his barge building business to Caversham in Reading, returning to Berkshire where his wife had been born. It was said that this was because so many of his children died in the unhealthy atmosphere of Rotherhithe. Robert Talbot (b. 1828) based his business at Strand on the Green and Percy Sutton Talbot established his at Wood wharf, Greenwich.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Thames foreshore: a very low tide Saturday morning

If you are interested in pootling along the Thames foreshore, there's a particularly low tide tomorrow morning (21st September 2013).  The nearest tide table reference is for Tower Pier, so it's not an exact measure, but generally speaking it will be the lowest tide along the Thames in several weeks.  

At 0.53m at 9.26am this is a good opportunity to see more of the features on the foreshore than you would usually be able to see.  

It's always muddy and it has been considerably rainy recently, which will make matters worse, so if you do go wellies are required, and do be careful of the deeper areas of mud (taking a long stick with which to poke it can be a good idea) and be equally careful of broken glass.  If you want to get the best out of it, arriving in advance of the low tide is always a good idea.  

High tide at Tower Pier is at 1452 and will be at over 7m, so keep an eye on the water if you are spending some time down there!  It can come in quickly, and it will be rising 6.5m in just over 5 hours.  That's a lot of water.

The Thames tide tables are online at:

A visit to the Museum of London Docklands

Yesterday I went with other members of the Surrey Docks Farm Heritage Project to visit the Docklands museum at Canary Wharf.  To my considerable embarrassment I had never been there before today.  I had missed out.  

The museum occupies one of the impressive warehouses at West India Quay (North Dock), a short walk from the Canary Wharf Thames Clipper pier and the West India Quay DLR stop.  It's only a slightly longer walk from the Canary Wharf tube station on the Jubilee Line. 

Admission to the museum is free of charge, but donations are much appreciated and well deserved.  There are four floors of the museum, plus a basement area that has meeting and conference rooms.  The ground floor has the information desk, exhibition areas and a shop.  The first floor is mainly dedicated to the Sainsbury Study Room, but also has some attractive displays about chandlers and Thames barges.  The top two floors comprise a chronological tour through London's docklands.  There is a floorplan on the Museum website at:

By paying insufficient attention to the more than adequate signage (i.e. my fault not theirs) I managed to start at the end of the chronological story, in the modern day, and work my way back through time towards prehistory , which felt a little like being in a time machine.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend that approach to other visitors, but it was certainly an interesting way of approaching local history!

If you follow the arrows, the tour starts at the top of the building with prehistory (of which there is inevitably not a lot surviving), covering Roman, Saxon, Medieval, and Tudor periods in quick succession until you arrive at the Seventeenth Century. At this point there's a vast and beautiful set of models of London Bridge in previous incarnations.

The chronological coverage from the Medieval period until modern times is far more detailed and really well presented.  Large display boards give details of different aspects of dockland life, from early ship building, through whaling and cargo handling in enclosed docks.  Objects are well chosen and provided with detailed labels (although a museum-management friend of mine would disapprove of the lack of accession details on the object labels). Videos provide more information and slideshows run silent black and white photographs.  Shops and workshops are mocked up realistically to give a real feel for what sort of trades and services were essential to dockland industries and living.

Of all the recreations, "sailortown" is the best, a very realistic reconstruction of the dark, narrow alleyways and small shops of the dockland rabbit warren that used to exist in Victorian times before the construction of St Katherine's Dock.  It was quiet in the museum and I was walking through sailortown on my own.  It felt quite eerie and oppressive, a very effective recreation of how many of these dockland areas must have been like.

There is some coverage of the development of the ship building industry and a lot on the development of the docks and the different wares that they handled.  The East India Company and the China tea trade are well represented, and there is a short but excellent narrated video about the tea clippers.

There are large exhibits on the docks during the Second World War (though nothing, interestingly, on the First World War), and a big display on the London Dockland Development Corporation regeneration project and the controversy it created.  I had had no idea that the proposals to develop the docklands for large property projects had been so vehemently opposed, and the displays showing details of the campaigns against the different projects were a considerable revelation.

The displays that cover the periods following the development of photography there are excellent silent black and white slideshows of pre-regeneration dockland areas, and photographs are used wherever possible on information boards to show scenes of everyday dockland life. 

Because the approach is chronological rather than thematic or geographical it is very difficult to achieve a coherent view of any one set of dockland developments.  I mention this not as a criticism, because I am absolutely in favour of the chronological approach, which provides a historical explanation of how things occurred.  It does, however,  make finding out about a specific area rather more of a challenge.  From a specifically Rotherhithe orientated point of view, there are lots of photographs dotted throughout, and several earlier paintings too.  There's a section on whaling from Greenland Dock, and there are two builders' models of ships,  John Randall's 1795 HMS Acasta built at Nelson Dock and John and James Walker's tea clipper Lothair, built at Lavender Dock and covered on an earlier post (which I have now updated with the photograph of the model, which I hadn't known about). 

Surrey Commercial Docks 1888 by
Tatton Mather
From a photography point of view, I checked at the information desk and photography is permitted without flash.  The lighting is quite low and even with my camera set to ISO 3200, it struggled with the available light in many parts of the museum.  There's also a lot of reflection from the glass that makes it difficult to take good photographs of individual objects in display cabinets (see the light spots and reflections in the picture to the left).  Not a complaint - just information for those who, like me, always have a camera in tow.

The museum contains the Sainsbury Study Centre, a drop-in facility where you can go without appointment and which, as well as information about the Sainsbury retail organization, contains information about the docks.  There's a small book case with a mixture of different books about the Thames and the docks, although it's far from complete.  Although there were several books that I didn't have (and have now ordered) I have a dozen or so directly relevant books that their collection lacks - I mention this only because if you're thinking of going there on a research expedition it may not live up to your expectations.  It is a facility that supports light browsing rather than in-depth research.  However, there is also a Search Room, which is only available by appointment and can only handle limited numbers of people.  This gives access to resources from the archive collections, including maps.

HMS Acasta
All in all, the Museum of London Docklands makes for a good day out.  We arrived there at 1130 and all went our own separate ways.  I was there until gone 3.30pm.  That included an hour or so in the Sainsbury Study Centre, but the rest of it was just spent wandering around.   It is well supported by public transport and there are plenty of places to eat in the immediate vicinity, from a good pub immediately next door to some very nice restaurants overlooking the dock. 

In case you are interested in trying to find out about the Museum of London Docklands from their website I should just add that the museum's website can be a bit of a pain.  It is a bolt-on to the Museum of London's main site, and some clicks take you away from the Docklands section back to the main Museum of London site.  It is because many of their excellent centralized online resources are shared across the museums, which makes the shared website approach understandable but still somewhat frustrating! 

My thanks to Germander Speedwell for organizing it - I enjoyed the day enormously.

Friends of Russia Dock Woodland Open Day now this Sunday

The Friends of Russia Dock Woodland Open Day will now take place this coming Sunday the 22nd of September 2013 from 11am til 3.00pm on the woodlands green. 

Please see my previous post for a list of events on the day. If anyone is able to lend a hand with setting up please let the Friends Chair Steve Cornish know: stevecornish49 [at] hotmail .com.

Please spread the word.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Does anyone know anything about Rotherhithe during World War I?

World War I poster
Next year I want to do a post to help commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.  

I've started looking into it now so that I have a bit of a head start and can assemble as much information as possible. So if you know anything about Rotherhithe during the First World War and would like to add any stories or knowledge that you have from family members, friends, photo albums or scrap books I would be most grateful.  I would love to incorporate as much local knowledge on the subject as possible, and particularly talk about any residents who served.  

If you can help out, please do get in touch.  I can always come and meet you to chat.  My email is andie [at] rotherhitheblog .co .uk.

Obviously full credit will go to everyone who contributes, it would be great to have your thoughts and I would very much appreciate your help.   

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Church of St Barnabas 1870-2 and the Gomm School of 1874

The church of St Barnabas and the rectory, from
E.J. Beck's Memorial to Serve for a History of the
Parish of St. Mary, Rotherhithe, 1907
In 1870-2 the church of St Barnabas was constructed on Plough Road, today's Plough Way, designed by William Butterfield. 

The building of churches in Rotherhithe mirrors the expansion of settlement along the edges of the Thames, with residential areas squashed into the ribbon between the river and  the ever-expanding mosaic of docks that eventually covered the interior of Rotherithe.  St Mary's, at the heart of Rotherhithe village, has been the parish church since at least the 15th Century.  It remained in splendid isolation until the 19th Century,  when a programme of local church building resulted in Holy Trinity (1837-8), Christ Church (1838-9), All Saints (1839), and St Paul's Chapel (1850).  St Barnabas came relatively late in this sequence, and was established to meet the needs of eastern Rotherhithe, which Reverend Beck, writing in 1907, described as "a new town of respectable streets" that had sprung up without any nearby church.  

Sir William Maynard Gomm, 1873-4
National Portrait Gallery
The church was the first new one in the area to be overseen by Reverend Beck, who took over the parish of St Mary's on the death of Reverend Blick, who had been partially responsible for many of the above-mentioned new churches.  Reverend Blick had forseen the problem of the growing population in that area and had secured land for the church, which was donated by a Mrs Ram from her own estate.  A fund was opened, with Reverend Beck and local timber broker Charles Churchill acting as joint treasurers.  Charles Churchill contributed to the fund as a subscriber, as did the lord of the manor of Rotherhithe, Sir William Maynard Gomm (1785-1875) who gave £1500.00 ("a most munificent contributor" according to Beck), as did other local people.  Sir William also donated the communion plate and Lady Gomm gave the marble font.

Attracting William Butterfield as its designer was quite a coup.  Butterfield is particularly well known for designing Oxford University's Keble College and Rugby School, both built in different colours of brick.  He agreed to work within the small budgetary constraints of the fund, and the foundation stone was laid on St Barnabas Day, 11th June 1870.  The church cost  total of £4000.00.  Beck gives a lovely description of the accompanying ceremony, which should not be tampered with:

The procession started from the mother church [St Mary's] after a short service.  The clergy and choir walked down the Lower Road preceded by a guard of honour of the Rotherhithe Volunteers with their band playing, and their honorary colonel, Sir Wm. Gomm, brought up the rear.  The patrons of the benefice were represented by several Fellows of Clare and by the Clare boat flag borne aloft by the captain of the college boat club.  The stone was well and truly laid by Sir Wm. Gomm. [Beck 1907, p.67]

From the Illustrated London News
The church was not completed until 1872, when it was consecrated by Bishop Wilberforce.  Like all the other local churches of the 1800s the church of St Barnabas was Gothic revival. It was made of yellow stock brick with red brick banding and a tiled roof, a faint but attractive echo of his earlier work at Keble.  It consisted of a chancel with a vestry, a nave, aisles and a porch.  The interior was red and white brick and stone. It was eventually provided with a stained glass window and a Brindley and Foster organ.  There was no churchyard associated with it, because according to the report by the Illustrated London News it was very closely surrounded by houses and yards. From the above photograph, published in Beck, it seems like quite a substantial creation.

The Illustrated London News of 6th January 1872 celebrated the opening of St Barnabas in typically matter-of-fact tones (with thanks to Nick on the site for posting it):

This new church situated in Plough-road has been built to supply the spiritual needs of a very poor district which has sprung up within the last ten or fifteen year in that portion of the parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe, boarding on Deptford.  The district is inhabited chiefly by the workmen employed in the timer docks, wharves, saw-mills and factories of the neighbourhood.

The former location of the church of
St Barnabas (courtesy Google Maps)
St Barnabas was destroyed in the 1960s and the roads have been so distorted by the redevelopment of the area that it was difficult to pinpoint its exact location at first.  The site is now occupied by Jura House  SE16 2NP.   It could not have been on the site of William Sutton Housing Association offices, which is the location stated in the Diocese of Southwark's records, because that building was erected in 1915, long before the church had been demolished.
A temporary vicar had to be found for the opening of the church, the previous selection having been re-appointed to a parish Yorkshire. The work of the Reverend Herbert Mather "was of a remarkably powerful character," according to Beck.  The first full-term vicar of St Barnabas was the Reverend Robert Russell.  Beck clearly admired Russell with considerable affection, as this rather touching account demonstrates:

The beautiful east window was eventually filled with painted glass, to Mr Russell's great joy.  He would sit in the church and contemplate the noble forms of the Saviour surrounded by His saints, and his face would beam with reverent emotion"

The parish of St Barnabas was constituted in 1873.  Reverend Russell oversaw the construction of the Gomm Schools of 1874.  The foundation stone for the schools was laid on 28th September 1872. The land on which the school was to be built was originally provided by Sir William Gomm, but this was subjected to a compulsory purchase order by the East London Railway.  Instead, the land used was granted by the Surrey Commercial Dock Company at a very low rate.  It cost £2600.00, £2000.00 of which was raised by subscription, including a £1000.00 donation by Sir William Gomm. When completed it too was in a Gothic revival style, designed by Mr G. Legg, and had capacity for 400 children.  I have been unable to find any photographs of the school buildings.

Later, the plan to provide a vicarage was fulfilled, and this was occupied by Reverend Russell with his mother.  The vicarage is shown at the right of the photograph on the top of this post.  Reverend Russell stayed with the church to the end of his life in 1901, and was closely involved during his life with the running of the Gomm Schools, where he taught religious studies, French and Latin. 

St Barnabas
According to the Diocese of Southwark, the parish of St Barnabas merged with the parish of St Katharine in 1956 at which point the church was declared redundant and was converted to a boys' club.  Although a demolition order was raised in 1966 it may not have been demolished until a few years later.   

For anyone who, like me, was unfamiliar with Saint Barnabas, he was born on Cyprus to Jewish parents and was named Joseph.  He was a landowner and gave his possessions to the church in Jerusalem. Following his conversion he was renamed Barnabas and was appointed as the leader of the church of Antioch, seeking the assistance of St Paul to help him carry out the task.  He is highly regarded as one of the earliest Apostles.

The National Archive website provides a detailed list of the records of St. Barnabas.  They were deposited by the vicar in The Greater London Record Office, County Hall SE1 on 23rd February 1967 Further records were deposited in The Greater London Record Office, County Hall, London SE1, by the vicar of St. Katherine with St. Barnabas, Rotherhithe on 6th May 1969.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cine footage of Rotherhithe in 1982

Local resident Michael A. Reardon and his family have been recording images of Rotherhithe for at least two generations, and Mike has been putting some of them on You Tube.  Here, on the London's Docklands Past and Present blog are the two parts of a video of Rotherhithe shot on cine film 1982, taken by Mike's father Mick.  The photo on the right is just a screen-grab to give a tiny preview, so go to the above page to see the videos.

Don't be put off by the variable quality of the opening sequence - most of it is very clear and it provides a fascinating glimpse into Rotherhithe just as the area was being turned from derelict industrial landscape (the Surrey Commercial Docks closed in 1969-70) into a thriving residential area, which is still being developed with yet more buildings.  

Footage like this provides an invaluable record of the past.  Mike has his own corner of You Tube where you can see more video footage of the docks, past and present:

HIlton Hotel, Rotherhithe Street - up for sale?

This may be old news to some residents, but I was away for a lot of the summer and may have missed an announcement on the subject, so apologies if I'm posting something you already know.  But whilst looking for something else completely on Google (which is always the way) I found this online document by CBRE Hotels, a company that specializes in the sale of hotels. It is a glossy brochure, proposing the sale of the Hilton Hotel on Rotherhithe Street, the assumption throughout being that it would probably be converted to residential use.

There's no date on this document but the advert for the hotel is currently at the top of the page of the European section of the CBRE Hotels site, together with a broker's name and the broker's telephone number, so the document is evidently current and up to date. 

I understand that Nelson House has been sold to a private purchaser recently (although don't quote me on that, as at the moment it's just hearsay), which would be consistent with the Hilton shedding property.

The hotel occupies both the modern 1990s buildings originally part of the Scandic Crown Hotel operation but it also includes various aspects of very valuable heritage, including one of the best surviving Thames-facing buildings, Columbia Wharf, aw well as the Nelson wet dock, and Thomas Bilbe's patented slip together with its engine house.  Guarantees for their continued well being would of course need to be factored into any change-of-use application.

I haven't looked into it any further at this stage and have no idea whether a change of use has actually been applied for, or whether provision for the continued supply of a ferry service would be factored into any consideration of a transition of the site from commercial to residential use use.   It is something that will require more attention in the near future.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Borealis 1864 - a tea clipper built at Nelson Dock

Nelson House, where William Perry was living
at the time of the construction of Borealis.
Thomas Bilbe, who has already been mentioned as the builder of the tea clipper Wynaud, and  was also responsible, with his partner William Perry, for the construction of the tea clipper Borealis at Nelson Dock. There is more about the remarkable Thomas Bilbe on my earlier post about Wynaud.

Nelson Dock was on Rotherhithe Street at Cuckold's Point (today's postcode SE16 5HW).  In the 1990s it was incorporated into the Scandic Crown Hotel (now the Hilton Hotel) on Rotherhithe Street, but parts of it have been preserved so that some of the original features, like Thomas Bilbe's patented slip, can be picked out.  Nelson Dock has been covered in detail by Stuart Rankin's booklet Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe - The Nelson Dockyard, soon to be published on the Docklands History Group website.  

A plan Stuart Rankin's booklet
Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe - The Nelson Dockyard
showing Nelson Dock as it was in 1862
Thomas Bilbe took over the Nelson dockyard in 1850.  As Rankin observes, Bilbe was not merely an inventor and ship builder, but was also directly involved in illegal opium running into China and shipping of Chinese coolies (unskilled labourers often used for loading and unloading ships in Chinese ports) for use as cheap labour. 

By the time that Borealis was built Bilbe had been in partnership with shipbuilder William Perry for around four years.  The shipyard at that time included the lip with its cradle running on wales with lock gates at the lower end, together with the engine house that held the original machinery that operated the cradle. The original machinery no longer survives but both the slip and the engine house are preserved today.  William Perry was living at the time in Nelson House, and Thomas Bilbe was living in Albion Street.   Rankin states that the rateable value of the site in October 1860 was £406.00.  Rankin's sketch plan of the site as it was in 1862 is shown here.

Borealis was a composite tea clipper (wood on an iron frame, like Cutty Sark), fairly typical of the mid 1860s tea clippers in emulating a general model of clipper design developed by Robert Steel and Co. in Greenock in Scotland, the most famous of which were the fabulous Taeping and Ariel

Borealis was particularly long, at 205ft (most ships before this date were shorter). Length could be considered a benefit not merely because more cargo could be handled but because pilotage rates charged for a ship entering a port were calculated on the basis of the ship's draft, not her length.  Longer ships of less draft were therefore charged less than shorter ships with deeper drafts.  Another advantage of a longer hull was that the foremast could be placed further aft, which reduced the pressure of weight on a ship's bows. She was 32ft wide and 21ft deep. Her tonnage was estimated at 920 tonnes.  

Bilbe and Perry's Argonaut, also in service
with Anderson, Anderson and Co. and similar to
the design for Borealis
So far I have been unable to find an image of her., but I will keep looking  The nearest I could get to was  Argonaut, also built by Bilbe and Perry and put into service with Anderson, Anderson and Co., and constructed along similar lines. 

Borealis was launched in 1864.  Her maiden voyage was to Hong Kong, arriving in early 1865. She was initially owned by William Perry and was sold to Anderson, Anderson and Co for the Orient Line in 1876 for the China tea trade.  Basil Lubbock, in The Colonial Clippers, says that the Orient Line "came to be known in Australia for the remarkable speed of its beautiful little composite clippers."  Bilbe and Perry built Coonatto, Yatala and Argonaut for the company as well. For more about the Andersons and the Orient Line (founding members of P and O) see The Allen Collection web page

Anjer by Abraham Salm, 1860. In the Tropenmuseum.
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons
In The Tea Clippers, David MacGregor says that none of her 1860s voyage times under the command of Alexander Henderson seem to have been recorded, but a fast run was recorded from Amoy to New York in 1875-76 (89 days) under the command of Richard Beard (or Bear)  leaving on the 29th December 1875, passing the Cape of Good Hope on 8th February, and arriving on 27th March, with the north-east monsoon.  Other recording sailings under Richard Beard (who also captained the Florence Nightingale) are: from Shanghai to New York in the 1871-2 tea season, Woosung to New York via Anjer in the 1872-3 season (93 days), and Shanghai to London via Anjer in the 1874-5 season (113 days).  David MacGregor in The China Bird says that in the 1871-2 tea season, Borealis, along with a list of other ships, was "loading for London at £3 per ton of 50 cu ft."  She earned a better rate in 1874 because whilst some had loaded at £3.00 Borealis and Wylo loaded slightly later in the year at £3.10s.

As the above list demonstrates, Borealis did a lot of runs to New York, where the American trade had an equally high demand for China tea.  Although the U.S. had an excellent fleet of her own, some British based ships also delivered to New York.  Like most of the British tea clippers serving the China tea trade, Borealis will have returned to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, passing up the west of the African continent.  When traveling to New York another less popular but possible route, sometimes favoured by the U.S. clippers, was to cross the South Pacific instead, braving the perils of Cape Horn to pass into the Atlantic before traveling up the eastern coast of South America.   

Porters carrying tea chests
Borealis was consigned by Killick and Martin (KM and Co) to Jardine Matheson and Co in September 1864 and then again in September 1866.  As KM and Co is not one of the listed owners of the ship, it seems likely that she was chartered by them from William Perry, or Bilbe and Co.  The company Killick and Martin was established by Captain James Killick with James Martin. Jardine Matheson was a company operating out of Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a partnership appears to have been formed between Killick and Martin and Jardine Matheson from 1863 until at least 1875.  KM and Co supplied a total of 80 ships to Jardine and Matheson, which were chartered mainly for the tea trade. 

There is a disturbing reference to Borealis in David MacGregor's The China Bird.   On pages 34-35 MacGregor discusses letters and documents preserved in the Cambridge University Library's Jardine Matheson Archives.  In amongst the letters, one refers to, as MacGregor puts it "such items as the forty Chinese coolies sent out to Hong Kong as passengers in the Borealis, 'belonging to our mutual friends Thomas Bilbe and Co', the Dutch consul being asked to order their disposal" (letter 7643, dated 10th October 1864).  As stated at the beginning of this post, Chinese coolies were desirable as cheap labour, and Thomas Bilbe was involved in shipping them.  The reference to "their disposal" is slightly puzzling if not a little concerning. The term "disposal" can be interpreted in a number of ways - including redistribution to other traders and the more ominous sense of being eliminated.  Most coolies were little more than slaves, although the slave trade had been officially abolished in Britain in 1833, and huge numbers were transferred to sugar cane fields in Cuba (from where they were also moved on to work the Louisiana sugar cane fields), and the guano trade in Peru. Others left China to seek a better life in California and British Columbia. There's an excellent account of the Coolie trade, with reference to one particular ship, the Kate Hooper, on the U.S. National Archives website.  A number of tea clippers ended their days as slave carriers.  A classic story is that of Bald Eagle, which became little better than a slave transport, where the coolies on board revolted (there's a vivid account of the terrible story in Basil Lubbock's The China Clippers).  Another example is the Sea Witch, which sunk off Havana with 500 coolies on board in 1855.  However, in spite of searching I have been unable to find out anything further about this short reference to the coolies on Borealis.   

In 1884 she again changed hands and was owned by G.Brailli and Co, Trieste. She was registered at Orebich and renamed Marietta Brailli. Her transfer at this time was almost certainly a result of the joint pressures on sail ships caused by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the ascendency of steam ships.  All of the Brailli ships were named after family members, and the Marietta Braili joined other similar ships purchased by the Brailli family, including the 1859 Falcon, a fast clipper built for the tea trade in Greenock by Robert Steele and Co. that, under Brailli ownership, was named Sofia B.  
MacGregor says that after 1876 she was "in the Adelaide trade" but doesn't provide further details. 

Borealis was broken up in 1897, so had a good 33 year run.   

William Shepperd, long-serving Steward on Borealis
All information supplied by Ian Walters

It is always so difficult to find out about crew members so I am immensely grateful to his great grandson Ian Walters for letting me know that for around a decade the steward on Borealis was William Shepperd.  Ian has done a lot of research into Borealis and his great grandfather.  The particular interest of what follows for me is that it is fascinating to see what sort of life one of the crew members had after he left one of the China tea clippers.

It was very unusual for any ship's crew, apart from the Captain and sometimes the First Mate, to be associated with a single ship over a series of voyages.  The crew was generally paid off at the end of a voyage and sought work on other ships that were due to depart.  William Shepperd was one of the exceptions. Ian suggests that William, a Baptist and a lifelong teetotaler, may have been a sought-after candidate for the position of ship's steward by owners and masters intent on running a disciplined and sober ship. 

A steward was responsible for looking after the officers.  Depending on the terms under which he had been hired he might care exclusively for the Captain but at the other extreme he might also help out on deck.  The steward had the considerable advantage of being allocated his own cabin. 

All of the following research into William Shepperd was provided by Ian, with my very sincere thanks.

Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters
Borealis 1868
William Shepperd was born in Colchester in about 1842, although Ian has not been able to find a clear record of William Shepperd's probable 1842 birth, despite doing lots of research at the Essex Records Office.  In the 1861 Census he may be the William Sheppard born in Colchester and an 'Ord. seaman' on board the William Fraser of Colchester, or maybe he is the 'William Chas. Shepperd' born in Colchester, 'waiter' in a Colchester hotel.  He was married to Anna Maria at the Baptist Chapel in Colchester 28 December 1865 'age 22 years Ship's Steward'.

The first substantive record of William Shepperd at sea was found by Ian on the 'Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters' site from the 2nd May 1868 Crew List for Borealis of London, Alexander Henderson, Master. London to Sydney 2 May 1868, where he is is 'Steward, 26, Colchester,' a voyage on which there is one passenger recorded.  It is not known how he was recruited for work on Borealis.

Ian's research into Borealis provides a fascinating account of her comings and goings.  The Sydney Morning Herald of May 9, 1868 and the Illustrated Sydney News of 16 May 1868 list Borealis as 'from London 3rd February'.  The Herald and Illustrated Sydney News both agree that she left on the 24th June of that year but The Herald says she left for Shanghai' whilst the Illustrated Sydney News says that she called initially at Singapore, carrying 'Exports' of '1400 tons coal, 100 bags oats'.   She arrived in Shanghai on 28th August 1868.  Ian's research finds Borealis being  chartered by Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong for a voyage from Saigon to Yokohama 17 January 1870. The arrival is recorded in the Japan Weekly Mail as 7 April 'from Saigon, rice.' Next, the Mariners and ships in Australian waters list of 19th August 1871 records William as 'Steward age 28 Essex' on Borealis at Sydney from London, with two passengers, 1360 tons of coal 'Exports per Borealis, for Shanghai', arriving in Shanghai on 8th November 1871.  William was back again in Sydney from London on Borealis ('Passengers NIL'), on 13 August 1872. The Herald notes that Borealis arrived 'from Isle of Wight 83 days'. On 7 September the paper included an ad for "The A1 Clipper Ship Borealis being under charter ... For Shanghai Direct...  Has unrivalled accommodation for PASSENGERS, for which early application is necessary." [capitals sic]. As Ian says, it seems that a concerted effort was being made to make the passenger cabins revenue-producing after reporting 'Passengers NIL' from England. A Crew List transcribed to 'Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters', lists William as steward aboard Borealis arriving at Sydney from Adelaide on 2nd May 1874 with three passengers) from where she departed on 10the June  for Shanghai.  Borealis arrived in Sydney 26 July 1875 from London with six passengers, William as steward, with a German cook.

The former Temperance Hotel run by
William and Anna Maria Shepperd
West Devon Diary
William Shepperd's daughter Annie Emma May Shepperd was born in Colchester on 22 July 1868, whilst her father was en route from Sydney to Shanghai.  He and Anna Maria had two sons and three daughters, William, Percy, Florence, Annie and Lilian. 

In 1877 William opened a temperance cafe in the old Corn Market.  In 1878 William and his family became proprietors of the "British Workman" Temperance Hotel in Tavistock at 1 Kilworthy Hill, although the British Workman label, a brand created in 1867 in Leeds, was dropped. That would have been a long move away from roots in Colchester. William Shepperd became a "much-respected townsman" in the Tavistock community, and was at one time the vice-chairman of the Urban District Council. He was proprietor of (Shepperd's) Temperance Hotel for 34 years until his retirement in 1912.  The hotel survived under the name South Western Private Hotel until 1926.  For a while it became the district council offices and is now a pub called the Ordulph Arms, of which William was unlikely to approve.

William died in November 1922 at the age of 81
and was noted as "a sound business man... held in very high esteem by all who knew him, and was very conscientious and generous."   His wife Annie Maria (originally Anna Maria) passed away in September of the following year at the age of 78 and is recorded as a "kindly-hearted philanthropist... many of the local poor benefited by her gifts of money and necessities."

William's daughter Annie became a school teacher, first in the Cookham district of Maidenhead, and subsequently as headteacher at Milton Abbot girls' school outside Tavistock. She married John Walters in Tavistock in 1899. They had two children, Cyril Shepperd Walters and Ian's father Jack Dudley Walters.  Jack was born in London in 1904 and was christened in Tavistock at St. Eustachius, the same church in which Sir Francis Drake was baptized.  William's great grandson is Jack's son Ian Walters, who provided the information for this section of the post.   During Ian's childhood his father inherited some ornately-carved mirrored Chinese blackwood furniture and an ivory Chinese junk under a glass dome, which were almost certainly passed down through the family from William's days on Borealis.