Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Visitor Ships 4: Canadian Pacific at Surrey Commercial Docks 1920s - 1940

The Surrey Commercial
Docks in the 1920s.
Click to enlarge
This is the fourth in an occasional series about ships that visited the Surrey Commercial Docks.  The docks lived to receive ships that travelled to London from all over the world.  No commentary on Rotherhithe's history would be  complete without a conversation about the ships that occupied and visited the docks, from un-powered lighters and sailing barges to vast cruise ships and cargo carriers.  Although there were exceptions, like the Cunard A-Class liners that moored at Greenland Dock between the wars (discussed on an earlier post), most were cargo transporters.  

This post looks at the the Beaver class cargo ships owned by the enormous Canadian Pacific company, which was as well known for its passenger cruisers and its trains as it was for its cargo ships.  The Beaver class ships that visited the Surrey Commercial Docks specialized in transporting perishables between Canada and Europe, and were an excellent example of strategic planning for the difficult trans-Atlantic crossing, where variable conditions made it difficult to keep to timetables.

A Beaver class cargo ship, with the "goal post masts"
clearly on display.  These were used for loading
and unloading cargo, independently of dockside
The Canadian Pacific's Beaver ships were cargo carriers, and all of them were built to the same basic specification in the late 1920s, at builders on the Tyne and the Clyde in Britain. Canadian Pacific ran cargo ships weekly to London's Surrey Commercial Docks from Canadian ports at Halifax, New Brunswick and St John.  The advertising poster on the right shows a Beaver class ship on the Thames, with the distinctive brown sails of the Thames barges in the background and a steam tug approaching her.

There were five regular ships on the route based at the Surrey Commercial Docks:  Beaverford, Beaverhill, Beaverburn, Beaverdale and Beaverbrea, with other ships also operating on the route, including Beaverfir, Beavercove and Beaverdale.  The latter Beaver ships also used the Royal Docks in London.  The beaver theme derives from the company's logo which, from 1886 onwards, consisted of a crest topped with the image of a beaver, a Canadian national symbol and the ideal of a dedicated hard worker.  The exact form of the logo changed many times but the crest topped with the beaver were usually incorporated.

Beaverford. From Bower's "London Ship types"
All Beaver class ships were 9956 tons, 495ft long and 61ft 6ins wide, with single funnels.  Steam being more dependable at that stage than diesel, the the ships ran their propeller drives (screws) through Parson steam turbines and all the auxiliary equipment required to support them.  Innovative automatic stokers installed as an experiment on two were so successful that they were then installed on the others of the line to replace manual stoking. I love this description of the ships from Frank C. Bowen's 1938 London Ship Types (page 97):

The hull, which is 495 feet long by 61 feet 6 inches, with a load draught of 27 feet, wad designed after careful tank experiments to obtain the utmost seaworthiness and to maintain its speed in a seaway, and with its cut-away stem and cruiser stern achieved these objects most satisfactorily, while it is most sightly to the sailor's eye and has nothing of the sardine-tine lines which are usually associated with a purely cargo ship."

Each of the ships was kitted out with cargo handling machinery to enable swift offloading of the cargo into lighters, so that there was no need to wait around for dock-side machinery to be free or to off-load cargo by hand.  

But it was not all about the machinery. The Canadian company knew that if they were to specialize in high-maintenance perishable cargoes and run efficiently to the precise timetables so important for transporting perishables, they would need a top quality crew as well.  Accordingly, a lot of thought went into the crew's quarters in order to both attract and retain a quality team. The crew was accommodated in cabins on deck rather than in quarters below deck, and these were unusually spacious and comfortable.  Bower again, most entertainingly (page 97):

The traditional forecastle with all its discomfort is abandoned and officers and men are all accommodated in the bridge deck superstructure amidships, having small cabins which ma be compared with the first class accommodation of many ships only a few years ago.  Some of the old timers, it is true, complain that these cabins admit too much fresh air and that it is no longer possible to stop all ventilation with an old pair of trousers, as it used to be in the forecastle, but generally speaking the amenities are fully appreciated by the better type of seamen for who they were designed.

The Canadian Cold Store, 1944
The cargo carried was varied, but included fruit, cheese, bacon, ham and lard, which had to be temperature controlled.  At a lower level of the ships' holds they also carried grain, specialized types of timber and other cargo that required higher than normal levels of care and maintenance.

In Greenland Dock the Canadian Cold Store was established in the early 1900s to accommodate dairy products and other perishables imported from Canada and its use continued until the war.  The warehouse was bombed and burned out during the Blitz in 1940.    The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) archive photograph, left, shows it with flames pouring out of it's roof and windows.  

Tragically, all of the Beaver ships were lost during the Second World War. Beaverdale, for example, was torpedoed in the North Atlantic during April 1941, with the loss of twenty one lives. 

By the 1950s half of the world's ocean going ships were powered by diesel, and steam ships were replaced almost entirely by the mid 1960s.  Many steam ships were re-engineered so that they could run on diesel, in much the same way that over a century previously sailing ships had been re-engineered so that they could run on steam power.

With thanks to Frank C. Bowen's 1938 London Ship Types
for a lot of the information in this post. 

My previous Visitor Ships posts:

Visitor Ships 1: The Cunard A-Class Liners at Greenland Dock

Visitor Ships 2: A snapshot of ships present in the Surrey Commercial Docks in the late 1950s

Visitor Ships 3:  The sailing Onkers at Surrey Commercial Docks

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Southwark Plan Consultation Reminder - expires March 6th

From: planningpolicy
Date: 24 February 2015 11:40:34 GMT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: New Southwark Plan Consultation Reminder

This is a reminder that the consultation on the New Southwark Plan Options Paper will close on Friday 6 March. This is an informal consultation to gain an early understanding of the views of local residents, community groups, businesses and other stakeholders into the main challenges and solutions for the future sustainable development of the borough.

The New Southwark Plan will provide the overarching development strategy for Southwark. It will set out a vision for the borough and for the individual neighbourhoods within the borough. It will set out how we will meet local needs for more high quality housing, employment opportunities and attractive, safe and sustainable environments. It will also set out planning policies that will be used to make decisions on planning applications.

You can find out more information about the New Southwark Plan on our web pages.

Please ensure you submit any comments by the 6 March deadline. The council will consult on a preferred option in the autumn of 2015.

We have recently launched an interactive map which allows stakeholders to comment on the potential proposal sites identified in the New Southwark Plan Options Paper. These are the sites identified in Figure 3. If you have any views on the type of development these sites could accommodate, or if you wish to nominate further potential proposal sites, please leave comments on the map.
The map also identifies all council estates, as shown in Figure 1 in the New Southwark Plan Options Paper. The council would like to hear any views about whether these sites could provide opportunities to achieve the council’s commitment to build 11,000 new council homes.
Please provide your comments on the interactive map by Monday 6 April.

Kind regards,

Philip Waters
Planning Policy Officer
5th Floor, Hub 4
Southwark Council
PO Box 64529, London SE1P 5LX
Address for visitors: 160 Tooley Street, London SE1 2QH
Tel: 020 7525 0146

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This morning's Canada Water Regeneration Phase 1 information leaflet

This turned up through my front door this morning - the timetable for the first phase of construction of the Canada Water Regeneration plan, otherwise known as C1.  This does not appear to include the high rise shown in the artist's impression, thank goodness - it looks as though we are going to be spared that for another few years.  I've still not forgiven Southwark Council for Ontario Point, and it's always a worry to find that one's low-rise residential oasis is featuring in Skyscraper News!

The leaflet actually doesn't say a great deal, and its main benefit is the timetable on the first page, so for those who don't know, Site C is currently occupied by the two Decathlon stores and their 224 spaces of car parking.  This is the third part of the project, with sites A &and B now built, including the library and the 26 storey eyesore Ontario Point.  Phase C1, as I understand it (but to feel free to correct me) will be on the site of the Decathlon store next to Albion Channel and will be a set of buildings with a central communal garden, ranging from 5-17 storeys comprising 221 apartments and incorporating the new Decathlon store.

I can email the leaflet to anyone who wants it in PDF format.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rotherhithe's Downtown area

Rotherhithe in 1914, with
Rotherhithe village to the west and
Downtown to the east
Downtown is the area along Rotherhithe Street that sits in the area behind Surrey Docks Farm.  Trinity Church, which was destroyed during the war and replaced by a 1950s version that stands today, was built to serve the Downtown area, and had its own school room attached for local children (I've written about Trinity Church on an earlier post).  Downtown was a village in its own right, just as Rotherhithe village to its west was. Stuart Rankin describes it as:
"formerly a self-contained community with its own church, chapels, schools, shops and pubs.  It was separated from the rest of the civil parish by the great sweep of the docks and the swing bridges giving access to them.  It was said in the 1890s that some elderly residents had never travelled as far as Lower Road."   

Trinity Church, on which work began in 1837
Downtown and the area that we now know as Rotherhithe village were therefore two distinct entities in the Rotherhithe peninsula, connected to each other by Rotherhithe Street, but separated from each other by the docks and probably by the less definable sense of being two separate communities, particularly as their social infrastructure, with a church, school, pubs and other facilities became established and formed the centres of local activity.  People had no need to travel away from the community to find what they needed, and Downtown developed a personality of its own.

Downtown was downriver from both Rotherhithe village and London itself.  If it does not refer to its downriver location I don't know where the name Downtown would have come from, but I am sure that the fact that it was named at all derives from the idea that this was a community in its own right.  It seems likely, looking at the maps of the area, that the Downtown area's housing, consisting of terraces of small houses, was built to accommodate the infusion of dock workers and their families.

The heart of Downtown in 1868. The abrubt
bend of the road to the right is where today the
C10 bus turns off Salter Road to turn down
Rotherhithe Street, past Trinity Church on the
left and the Surrey Docks Farm on the right
The 1868 map shows a small community sandwiched between Acorn Yard and the docks to the west and the Thames with its wharves to the west.  The river frontage included the massive Acorn Wharf timber yard (now Surrey Docks Farm and formerly one of the shipyards of the magnificent Barnard shipbuilding family),  the even bigger Durand's Wharf, Trinity Wharf, Queen's Wharf, the tiny Albion Wharf, a cooperage, another big timber yard, a number of saw mills and Nelson's Dockyard. All of these will eventually be covered in future posts - there's enough to keep me going for another decade!

Whereas today Rotherhithe village, much further along Rotherhithe Street, almost on the opposite side of the peninsula, has a clearly distinctive personality based around St Mary Rotherhithe church, Downtown was bombed fairly catastrophically during the war and retains little of its original architecture.

Trinity Church and its vicarage were destroyed by bombing on 7th September 1940, the first night of the 39-day London Blitz, a tragically memorable day for London.  At 5.30pm 348 German bombers dropped incendiary bombs on London.  A distribution map compiled from Fire Brigade records shows where and how densely the bombs fell on that day across London. Another map, on the Guardian website, shows where they fell in Rotherhithe. The bombs hit Rotherhithe so badly that the fires were uncontrollable and had to be left to burn themselves out, largely due to the intensity of the fires in the timber yards. The area was evacuated and much of the Downtown area of Rotherhithe was lost in the blaze.  Trinity Church was one of the first churches to be destroyed by German bombing.  All that now survives of its interior is a charred metal cross, with a figure of Jesus, returned to Holy Trinity in 2002. In the modern churchyard are some of the old churchyard's rather lovely tombstones, leaned up against the churchyard wall.  As a result of the war, the area has been radically developed since the 1930s, particularly during the 1990s.

However, one or two local buildings survived the Blitz, including what became known as the Dockland Settlement, the fourth location for a charity started by a wealthy playwright called Reginald Kennedy Cox (  The Dockland Settlement incorporated what was clearly once a rather nice chapel, the Ebenezer Chapel (a Norwegian place of worship and seamen mission), together with a contemporary two storey house, which was also obviously once very attractive. The Ebenezer Chapel and the attached house were recorded by archaeologists of the AOC Archaeology Group before it was demolished, and that 33 page report can be found here on the Archaeology Data Service website.  It describes the chapel as follows:  "This was built in 1871 for the local Norwegian population. This building was recorded to Level 2 standard as defined by English Heritage Guidelines."  The photograph on this post is a screen-grab from that report, showing the Ebenezer Chapel, that stood at the site until recently.  There's a brief but good explanation of the background to the word Ebenezer (not a name, as I ignorantly thought, but from the Hebrew, meaning "stone of help") on the Missouri Conference website:

The pastor's house was attached to the chapel.  This was a two storey building with a hipped slate roof that was probably contemporary with the chapel and certainly dated to the 1870s.   The Dockland settlement, complete with chapel and pastor's house, was demolished to make way for a new block of flats in 2013.

The 1870s Pastor's House, before demolition
(from the AOC Archaeology Group report)

Ebenzer Chapel, 1871, showing the porch to the southeast of the nave
(from the AOC Archaeology Group report)

The new development on the corner of
Odessa Street, where the Ebenezer Chapel and the
Pastor's house once stood, February 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

St Olave's Infirmary, Rotherhithe, 1875-1985

The Infirmary in 1888
Work on St Olave's Infirmary began in 1873 and opened in 1875 sandwiched between Deptford Lower Road (now Lower Road, SE16 2TU) and Southwark Park. Located next to the St Olave's Poor Law Union workhouse (which I have covered on an earlier post), its creation was a requirement following the Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867, which required that infirmary accommodation be separate from workhouse buildings. 

The new building was a substantial enterprise.  It covered a 2 acre site and was divided into three components -  a male block, a female block, which together had a capacity of 175 patients, and an administrative block in between them. It was run by a Board of Guardians.  The Boards of Guardians were bodies who were responsible, by law (the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834) for the management and administration of workhouses and related buildings. Those serving on a Board of Guardians were elected by the owners of the properties that were liable for the poor rate, a tax gathered by residents in order to provide provision for the disadvantaged. The board was elected annually.  Although the workhouse closed in 1884, the infirmary stayed open until the late 1970s, and its history between those dates is well recorded.  It was so successful that it had already been extended in 1877 and was expanded several times during its career,

The Infirmary in 1914.  The main change from the
1894 map was the addition of a large laundry.
In the 1920s its name changed to the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Infirmary, but locally it continued to be known as St Olave's.On 1st April 1930 control passed from the Board of Guardians to the London City Council, at which point it was renamed St Olave's Hospital.  The main difference between an infirmary and a hospital was the sort of care that was offered.  Whereas in hospitals specialized medical professionals and surgeons performed life-saving services, infirmaries were more about basic procedures, provision of medication, and simple levels of care, often lacking any surgical facilities. Maternity, geriatric and convalescent care made up a large part of their activities. Accordingly, three operating theatres were installed at the hospital, which improved its ability to treat medical patients and enabled it to take on and surgical cases as well.  

The entrance to the infirmary in the 1920s on
Lower Road
Rotherhithe was badly damaged during the Second World War and although the main areas targeted were on the peninsula of Rotherhithe, other areas suffered too, and St Olave's was damaged several times.   The maternity block was first part of the hospital to receive damage and other bombs inflicted minor damage until in August 1944 a V1 flying bomb damaged a third of the hospital buildings. Amazingly no-one was killed. In the 14th November 1944 the third of five V-weapons to hit this immediate vicinity fell on the forecourt of the hospital, which had to be evacuated. Later bombs also continued to inflict damaged and by the end of the war most of the oldest sections of the hospital had been destroyed.  The number of beds available was severely reduced. The last bomb to hit Bermondsey fell on 26th March 1945 and exploded by the nurses home of St Olaves Hospital on Gomm Road.

A London City Council hospital ward in the 1930s
In 1948 the Hospital became part of the National Health Service.  From 1948 St Olave's was administered by the Bermondsey and Southwark Hospital Management Committee under the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board.  In 1954 the hospital had fewer beds than before the war, partly due to the legacy of the war damage, but also because new regulations demanded that beds were more widely spaced, meaning that more space per bed was required, which left the hospital with reduced capacity.  There was also a shortage of nurses, which meant that not all the available beds could actually be used. Nursing numbers were soon supplemented by recruiting from overseas and this resulted in an influx of different nationalities into the area.  Rotherhithe had always had a multi-national component, with a large Scandinavian presence from the days of the Baltic timber trade.

By the end of the 1950s the hospital had 12 wards and had become very antiquated and although a number of improvements were made, including the addition of a children wards, the modernization of three of the wards and the building of a refreshment pavilion, it continued to be under-funded, although the number of beds eventually increased.  

The only surviving gate house, with
the plaque commemorating
the birth of Michael Caine.
Photograph by Martin Addison
In 1966 St Olave's was subsumed into the Guy's Hospital Group under the auspices of the South East Thames Regional Health Authority.  Matters improved considerably, with the expansion of its remit and significant investment into its infrastructure.  It was the first general hospital to take in psychiatric patients, and dedicated facilities were provided to support this new initiative.  Upgrades to the rest of the hospital took place in 1971 and 1973.

Following the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973 St Olave's has been administered by the South Thames Regional Health Authority and in 1974 St Olave's became the responsibility of Lewisham and North Southwark District Health Authority.  In 1979, the hospital was closed to save costs, its patients transferred to other hospitals in the region.  Although the closure was supposed to be temporary the hospital never re-opened and an official announcement of its closure was made in 1985.

Most of the building had already decayed during its period of closure and was eventually demolished.  During the 1990s it was replaced by the Ann Moss Way housing estate.  However, one of the gatehouses is a fortunate and welcome survivor.

A blue plaque commemorates the birth of Sir Michael Caine (born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite), son of a local fish porter, who was born in the charity wing of the Hospital on 14th March 1933.

With particular thanks to the Lost Hospitals of London website at
St Olave's

New website: British Transport Treasures

British Transport Treasures
A warm welcome to the new "British Transport Treasures" website from Stuart Rankin, who as many readers will know wrote a number of excellent pamphlets and three guided walks about Rotherhithe, all of which I have been using over the years as a major source of information for my blog.  The new website is about transport all around Britain, not just London, so there is a lot to discover.  You can find the site at:

The site has been put together to supply printable downloads of classic historical works about transport, as well as attractive souvenir items and printed ephemera, for educational and decorative purposes - collages, decorative screens, scrapbooks etc, including colourful examples of the best in Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Austerity, print and graphic design.   All the publications are high resolution scans, which are in PDF format. 

An awful lot of these publications are no longer in print and are difficult to get hold of second hand, so this really is a useful resource.  See, for example, Nathaniel Gould's "Historical notice of the Commercial Docks in the Parish of Rotherhithe, County of Surrey 1844."  The site is in its early stages and many more publications will be added in time.

Fully printable downloads of facsimile books, souvenirs and documents are priced from 50p to £5.00.  It is not a profit-making venture and the charges are made to help cover hosting costs, and for each download purchased a donation of 5p will go to Help For Heroes

The publications are shown in categories on the Home page, and listed by title on the Shopping page.  If you are looking for something in particular (I searched for "Rotherhithe") the search engine works well.  This is not just a catalogue of items, but each has a description setting it an historical context, which can be read without buying the item and some of these provide some really great information in their own right.

A really good resource, with a trusted name behind it.

Free film screening on Saturday 7th March at Sands Film Studios . . . .

The Friends of Southwark Park are delighted to announce the screening of the classic 1972 Thames TV documentary about Bermondsey/Elephant and Castle WE WAS ALL ONE (55'), along with the 2014 film about Southwark Park IT'S OUR PARK (34') at Sands Film Studios in Rotherhithe (venue address below).

This takes place on Saturday 7 March, the double bill of Southwark-themed films will be screened twice, in a matinee session at 2pm and an evening session at 7pm.
Free Entry (advance reservation recommended: - choose matinee or evening tickets).

The organisers are delighted to be presenting a pristine copy of the 1972 film fresh from the Thames TV archives, and to be welcoming the film's Cinematographer Mike Dodds to Rotherhithe to introduce the film and participate in a QandA after both screenings.

Screening Venue:
82 St Marychurch Street
Rotherhithe, London SE16 4HZ
Tube: Canada Water / Bermondsey (Jubilee Line)
Overground: Rotherhithe (East London Line)
Buses: 47, 188

Monday, February 16, 2015

Clarence Wharf, the gasometer and a history of gas supply in Rotherhithe

Up until 1851 the main source of lighting and other domestic fuel in the area was Daniel Bennett and Sons Oil Works, which had provided whale oil for the Rotherhithe area.  According to Stuart Rankin their presence may account for the late arrival of gas in the area.   Daniel Bennett and Son were located on the western side of Rotherhithe, adjacent to the Surrey Basin (now Surrey Water, by the Old Salt Quay pub and the red bascule bridge) and as well as investing in the whaling trade were involved in the South Seas trade, transporting convicts.  Daniel Bennett died in 1826 and son William in 1844. The subsequent gasworks were built over their premises.

Drawing the retorts at the Great Gas Establishment Brick Lane,
from The Monthly Magazine (1821). Sourced from Wikipedia
The earliest gas was manufactured, unlike today's natural gas.  The supply of gas was a major innovation in the early 19th Century. It was the energy that eventually supplied first for street lighting, industrial and eventually for domestic applications.  In 1792 William Murdoch had supplied his own home with light using gas, and went on to work with engineer William Clegg to develop commercial applications. The Birmingham steam engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, for whom he worked, started to build small gas works for factories using Murdoch's designs. At the same time, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries Philippe Lebon displayed his own gas experiments in Paris, influencing German Frederick Albert Winsor who established the Gas Light and Coke Company.  The company was granted a Royal Charter in England in 1812 and supplied lighting to the streets of Westminster in 1813, from where it was eventually run out to most of Britain and then Europe and the United States.

The last remaining Rotherhithe gasometer as it is today,
built in 1935
The earliest application of gas was for street lighting followed by factories and mills.  It was rolled out to profitable private enterprises and homes of the wealthy, before finally finding into ordinary households in the late Nineteenth Century, by which time electricity was becoming established.  Gas for cooking, and the appliances that made it possible, was available from the mid 19th century for the homes of the wealthy.  Homes were only heated by gas from the early 1900s.  Showrooms for light fittings, cookers and heating systems were soon set up on high streets. At the same time, gas engines supplied electricity for factories and public and tramway supplies. Although many other private and municipal companies were established, Winsor's company remained the main private supplier of gas until nationalization in 1948.  

As I have mentioned above, the gas used before the discovery of Natural Gas in the North Sea was manufactured.  Manufactured gas was produced by setting fire to combustible materials to produce carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.  As Winsor's company name indicates,coal was the preferred material, and this was "gasified" by heating coal in enclosed ovens which had low levels of oxygen.  The gas was then burned to produce light and heat.  This required the supply of large quantities of coal, transported in from the country's coal mines, and was a manual process involving men stoking the coal in the ovens at dedicated gasworks.

Making gas from coal.  From the National Gas Museum website.
The initial process in the production of gas took place in the "retorts," where the coal was heated in the oxygen-deprived atmosphere.  Every gasworks had a retort house.  The Rotherhithe retorts are clearly marked on the 1868 map below.  The production and supply of gas was a complicated process that required a considerable amount of technology that was housed in other gaswork buildings. The most obvious visible signal of a gasworks was the gasometer or gas holder.  This innovation was designed to solve the problem of patterns in the use of gas, which was used mainly during mornings and evenings, when lighting was most required.  To prevent wastage and to regulate supply, gas was stored in gas holders, which stored the gas overnight.  Various different designs evolved, and the gas tower is now a familiar part of the urban landscape.  Chimneys were also a noticeable feature, used for disposing of unwanted components of the gas production process, and responsible for the introduction of several toxins into the atmosphere.  None of the Rotherhithe chimneys survive, but some of them are visible in the 1937 photograph below. To see more about the complexities of gas production see the excellent Wikipedia page on the subject.

Lighting in the Thames
Tunnel, Rotherhithe, 1843
Gas first found its way into Rotherhithe in response to a commercial need.  When the Thames Tunnel opened in Rotherhithe in 1843, illuminated by 100 gas jets, the gas was supplied by the Phoenix Gas Company.  The Phoenix Gas Company had gasworks at Deptford Creek and Bankside and pumped the necessary gas into the area. The Phoenix Gas Light and Coke Company was established by Act of Parliament in 1824, and purchased the gasworks at Bankside in Southwark, from the South London Gas Company in the same year.  The Phoenix Gas Works was a very successful company, financed by subscription.  The Early London Gas Industry website describes it as follows:

In its company history ‘A Century of Gas Lighting' the South Metropolitan Gas Company described the original Phoenix Company as having ‘a philanthropic, if not a Whiggish, tinge’ - and this is certainly true. The original Phoenix subscribers list, given below, includes many of the great and good of the era - Whigs, Quakers, Anti-Slavers - together with a strong element of local Southwark business men, and many of them would fit into several of these categories. It is a deeply impressive list - it is also, in contrast to some others, a list, which contains some highly principled politicians. There are also a number who can be identified as family and connections of the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry. Even Derek Matthews in ‘Rogues, Speculators and Competing Monopolies’ was unable to find evidence of corruption - except in the dishonesty of a company secretary in the early 1830s.

The Rotherhithe Gasworks was established in 1851 following the foundation of the Surrey Consumers Gas Company (also known as the Surrey Consumers Gas Association) in 1849, opening in 1855 in competition with Phoenix, occupying the land that had formerly housed the Daniel Bennett and Sons Oil Works.   The small company already owned a small gasworks in Deptford, and with the establishment of the Rotherhithe site were able to supply the Rotherhithe peninsula, extend into Bermondsey and eventually parts of Southwark. At the time of construction a wharf was built to accompany the gasworks, and an iron bridge was built to transport coal across Rotherhithe Street to the gasworks beyond, in barrows. The coal was shipped in from the northeast, where it was mined. The gasometers were established at that time. Numbers 1 and 2 had a capacity of 1,600,000 cubic feet between them.  There were three by 1868. 

In 1879 the South Metropolitan Gas Company took over the site, with its three gasometers.  The South Metropolitan Gas Company was founded in 1829 and incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1842 and their gasworks were established on the Grand Surrey Canal on the eastern side of Old Kent Road, enabling them to receive coal delivered from ships to Rotherhithe wharves, via barges on the canal. By 1856 they had seven gasholders on the site. In 1879, the South Metropolitan Gas Company merged with the Surrey Consumers Gas Works and later in the same year Phoenix Gas Company and the South Metropolitan Gas Company were also amalgamated. These mergers gave the South Metropolitan Gas Company the gasworks at Rotherhithe, Vauxhall, Bankside and Greenwich.

Maps showing the same site in 1868 and 1894. The major difference
between the two maps is the extension of the jetty and the establishment
(shown in dark lines) of the single track railway on the jetty to run
between thejetty and the gaswork site, via the bridge over Rotherhithe.
Click to see the maps properly.

Women Working in a Gas Retort House during the
First World War: South Metropolitan
Gas Company, London. 1918,
by Anna Airy. Imperial War Museum
The Rotherhithe site was extended to six and a half acres and the company acquired three riverside properties to improve efficiencies; F.Powell's sea-biscuit bakery at King's Mill Wharf, Mangle Wharf granary, which was owned by Timothy and Company, and Clarence Wharf, then in the hands of S.Cooper.  The South Metropolitan Gas Company immediately replaced the existing waterside infrastructure with a new iron jetty in 1882/1883, which received sufficient coal to supply both the Rotherhithe Gasworks and the South Metropolitan Gas Works on the Old Kent Road, to which it was delivered via lighters (un-powered boats) along the Grand Surrey Canal.  The bridge over Rotherhithe Street was still furnished with the single track railway. The three gasometers were still there in 1894, by which time the gas jetty had been expanded and a single track railway put in place to connect the jetty and the gasworks, the coal supplied by sea on collier ships from the north-east. The jetty was again expanded in 1908.

During the First World War many men went to war, and much of their work was taken over by women, in a situation that presaged the factory work carried out by women in the Second World War.

In his book The Story of Rotherhithe, Stephen Humphrey describes how the South Metropolitan Gas Company "was one of the most enlightened industrial employers in south London."  Housing built for their employees included seven houses in Brunel Road in 1926, which were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War.  Another housing development was erected in 1931 in Moodkee Street, which consisted of 30 flats in three buildings - Murdock House, Clegg House and Neptune House. Murdock and Clegg houses were named for the British innovators of gas mentioned above.

South Metropolitan Gas Works, 1937, with a collier
moored against the wharf
In 1932 a 18,000 cubit ft gasometer was built (known as number 4), followed in 1935 by one with a capacity of 800,000 cubit ft (number 3).  During the Second World War gasometers Numbers 1 and 2 were destroyed.

After the war the jetty was again expanded, this time extended to 200ft so that it could handle colliers that could each transport coal cargoes of up to 2500 tons.  Four cranes were installed at the same time and these could shift up to 75 tons an hour each.

Gas supply was nationalized in 1948. The Rotherhithe gas works closed in 1959.

Today, apart from the one remaining gas tower, used to support a cell transmitter, the entire site of the gasworks has been replaced by residential housing built by Bellway Homes in the late 1990s.  The bridge between the jetty and the wharf was still in place, when it was in use for a different purpose, in the 1990s (I've not yet found out what the site was used for after the closure of the gasworks).  The wharf, in the form of the grey jetty, is still in place, preserved as a condition of the housing development behind it thanks to local protests at its intended demolition. It is substantially smaller than it was.  It was supposed to be made available for public use, as part of the Thames Path, but for reasons that no-one seems to know it remains closed, but is a favourite sunbathing spot for cormorants (or shags - I've never been able to tell the difference).

The gas jetty today

A different view of the 1935 gasometer tower today.
Photograph by Stephen Craven.
Neptune House, built by the South Metropolitan Gas
Company in 1931 for its employees.
Photograph by Chris Lordan.

I got a major insight when writing this post about a dig I was on when I was an archaeologist working in Chester in the 80s.  I was working on a Roman site where the Crown Courts are now located, near the former gasworks, which were long defunct. We had excavated a badly subsided Roman road and were now digging through an earlier Roman drain beneath it, which took us very deep.  As we dug down below 6ft, our regulation hard-hats firmly on our heads, we found ourselves paddling in tar.  The state we were in!  I've never seen so much gunge spread so far and wide.  We couldn't dig any lower because as fast was we dug the tar oozed in from the vertical sections in which we were standing.  Looking at the diagram above, it is quite clear where it was coming from!

With thanks to Stephen Humphrey's and Stuart Rankin's excellent works for the usual kick-start. For those wanting to investigate further, the National Gas Archive might be a good place to start:  The National Gas Museum is located in Leicester and has an excellent website: 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The 1866 clipper "Shun Lee," built at Rotherhithe's Lavendar Dock

Shun Lee by Montague Dawson
Shun Lee was built in 1866 by John and William Walker at Lavender Dock in Rotherhithe.  The site is now occupied by the east end of the modern residential Sovereign View development (SE16 5XH) near to the Lavender pump-house and the Lavender Lock, both of which survive today.  More about John and William Walker can be found on my previous posts about the tea clippers Ambassador and the fast ship Lothair, which was the  last large sailing ship to be built in Rotherhithe.

As with the other Walker ships, Shun Lee was a composite,with wooden planking laid over an iron frame.  To get an understanding of what the wrought iron frame looked like and how it worked, see the last photograph on my post about Ambassador or go and visit the wonderful Cutty Sark in Greenwich, London.  Composites had many benefits over ships made entirely of wood.  The wood made ships light and streamlined but the iron frames provided longevity and strength. Most importantly, a composite had no need of the giant beams required by a wooden ship, which left more room for cargo.  The earliest known composite hull was the schooner Excelsior of 1850, built by John Jordan, and one of the earliest clippers to be built was Bilbe and Perry of Rotherhithe's 720 ton Red Riding Hood.  Although built by John and William Walker, the work was overseen by Bernard Waymouth, who was a renowned surveyor for Lloyd's Register and became an authority on composite ships.  The experience he gained working with shipbuilders like John Walker stood him in good stead when later, as a naval architect, he went on to design the famous Thermophylae.   

Lavender Dock
She was 674grt (650 nt), 158ft long, with a 31ft beam and was Register A1 at Lloyds.  The only unusual design features were longer than average overhangs at both bow and stern. A description of her was published in the "London and China Telegraph" at the time of her launch:
The frame is of double-angle iron, diagonally trussed, with extra angle and bulb iron stringers worked longitudinally on frames right fore and aft.   The bottom is double to the underside of the wales, the inner bottom being fastened to the frames with galvanized iron bolts, and the outer bottom being worked diagonally and fastened to the inner bottom with pure copper bolts.

The above description, full of technical details, illustrates the real interest in shipbuilding innovation that existed at the time. 

Advert for passage on Shun Lee, from The London
and China Telegraph, Volume 11, 1869
Shun Lee was owned and operated by the Walker company for the first years following construction.  Although ostensibly designed for the China tea trade, Shun Lee's first voyage under Captain Milbank was to Australia.  She did one China trade trip and was sold in 1871 to Potter and Co. of London for work on New Zealand trade routes.  Shun Lee changed hands several times.  In 1874 she was sold to M. Ion & Co. and subsequently to J. Graham who apparently re-sold her to M. Ion & Co.  In 1885 she was purchased by J. Henkins and in 1891 by J. Carew.

In 1880 her full rig was reduced to barque rigging, a standard procedure for former tea clippers when they were no longer required to achieve the high speeds demanded by the tea trade over such long distances. With shorter rigging they were easier to handle and required fewer crew hands to man them. 

Shun Lee by Thomas Goldsworth Dutton
Royal Museum Greenwich, London (PY8575)
There are no particular tales to tell about Shun Lee.  There seems to be no record of her China voyage, how long it took or what cargo she was carrying.  In his book "White Wings," Sir Henry Brett says that under Captain Langlands, sailed from England on May 18th 1871, arrived Port Chalmers, Otago in New Zealand on December 2nd with  passengers on board.  Emigration to New Zealand provided the clippers with an outward cargo that contributed to their profitability.

Shun Lee never saw the end of 1891.  In the September of that year she was in Rio de Janeiro when she caught fire and burned.  Three crew members falsely accused the mate of deliberately setting fire to the ship, were found to be lying and had to pay the costs of the inquiry.  The cause was actually declared as internal combustion.

Shun Lee by Montague Dawson

Friday, February 6, 2015

The 1869 tea clipper Ambassador, built in Rotherhithe's Lavender Dock

Ambassador in the year of her launch.
Thomas J. Duggan 1869
Ambassador was built in 1869 by was built by John and William Walker at Lavender Dock in Rotherhithe, a site which is now occupied by the east end of the modern residential Sovereign View development (SE16 5XH) near to the Lavender pump-house and the Lavender Lock, both of which survive today.

She was 714grt (692nrt), and measured 176ft by 31.3ft and 19.1ft.  Apparently she was fitted with the figurehead of an eighteen century diplomat, but I've been unable to find which one.

The 1868 Ordnance Survey map shows
the Lavender Dock where
Ambassador and the other Walker tea
clippers were constructed, right at the
apex of Rotherhithe.
William Walker was a shipbuilder who operated, at different times, out of Rotherhithe, Deptford, Poplar and Millwall.  Of John Walker there is no surviving record, apart from the name of the business, although he was clearly related to William Walker.  William Walker specialized in composite ships.  The company had also previously built Shun Lee, Mikado and a year later built their fastest and biggest clipper Lothair, all composites.  Lothair was described in a previous post. Composites were wooden ships built on iron frames, providing additional strength to the hull (a famous example is the Cutty Sark, which has been restored and is now in dry dock in Greenwich, London). They were lighter, requiring much less internal structural work, which also provided more internal space.  Composite ships were only accepted as a recognized class in 1867, when they were described in the Lloyds Register, which gave guidelines for their construction.  The photograph at the end of the post shows Ambassador as she is today, with only the iron frame remaining, bright orange with rust, showing how the precise form of the frame with its once beautiful lines.

"Setting Topgallants, The China Clipper Ambassador,"
1870, by Derek Gardner. Note the steamship in the
background at the right - steam eventually saw
the demise of sailing ships.
Ambassador was built for William Lund.  W. Lund and Sons established the Blue Anchor shipping line in 1869, and Ambassador was bought as the first ship of the new line specifically for the tea trade (the company was sold to the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. in 1910).  The Blue Anchor shipping line, like many others at this time, was engaged in the China shipping industry.  Ships like this are known as tea clippers but not only carried tea (although that was one of their most profitable cargoes) but china, fabrics, sundry other cargoes and quite often passengers too. As David MacGregor says in The China Bird, 1869 was a "boom" year for tea clipper building.  Other clippers built around the country in the same year were Cutty Sark, Norman Court, Deerhound, Duke of Abercorn and Caliph, whilst orders were placed for Wylo, Miako and Osaka. It is ironic that so many tea clippers were built in the same year that the Suez Canal was built, an innovation that gave steam shippers the edge over sail for the first time. 

Ships in the Tea Race of 1870
From Brian Lubbock, 1914.
Although Ambassador was a beautiful looking ship and considered to be reasonably fast, she never attained the crossing speeds of the best of the tea clippers.  In his book The China Clippers, all Brian Lubbock has to say about her was that she was  "very cranky and overmasted, though a fast ship."  She only made six tea voyages in total (a two-way voyage a season or year was standard for tea clippers travelling distances which would usually take over 100 days). Her first passage to the UK was from Foochow in the 1870-71 season under Captain P. Duggan took 115 days (she left Foochow on 25th July and arrived off Deal on the 15th November), whilst the clippers Lahloo and Leander took only 98 days to complete the same route in the same season.  She wasn't the slowest though, by any means - the slowest ships that year was Eme (135 days), who took a different route from most of the other vessels and was becalmed for some days. Ambassador's fastest crossing between Foochow and London was 108 days, in 1872. 

Ambassador's sister ship, Lothair
In 1874 Ambassador was reduced to a barque rig and changed routes  Steam ships were becoming increasingly successful and with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 steamers could reach China from London in much better time, making sailing ships in the China trade progressively redundant. Tea clippers were unable to use the Suez Canal due to the difficulty of the winds in the Red Sea, where the Suez Canal terminated.  Instead, the clippers were used on a more diversified set of routes where steam was still unable to compete due to the need to store fuel at convenient points along their routes. Accordingly,  Ambassador began to serve the Australian wool industry, which was still out of the reach of steamships who needed multiple re-fuelling bases along their routes, and also sailed between Hong Kong and New York and Yokohama and New York.  In the 1876-77 season she went up against her sister ship, the notoriously fast Lothair, also made by Walker at Lavender Dock a year after Ambassador in 1870. Both ships were sailing from Yokohama to New York.  Here's MacGregor's account of that race, which contains an intriguing temporal ambiguity:

Ever since Ambassador and Lothair found themselves together in Sunda Straits bound for the same port they must have made a race of it.  Lothair had knocked eight days off her lead down the China Sea and although the shipping reports give her a lead of two days off the Cape of God Hope, the two ships were also report in company on 11 January at 11 January in 35degreesS, 19degreesE.  Lothair still held her two-day lead on paper as she crossed the Equator two days ahead in longitude 25degreesW.  Ambassador crossed it at 34degreesW and went on to get into port four days ahead, although her overall time was four days greater.  Maury recommended ships bound for America to cross the Equator at about 33Degrees30'W, and Ambassador's gain of six days on Lothair ably proves his point.
Ambassador towards the end of her life, with
reduced rigging
David MacGregor in "The Tea Clippers describes how in 1877 a rather more traumatic journey took place.  Travelling from New York to Melbourne under the command of Captain C. Prehn running before a westerly gale force 10 in the South Atlantic, Ambassador's deck "was swept by a enormous sea, carrying overboard her master, four crew her steering wheel and the boats."

In 1888 Ambassador sold to George Milne of the Inver Line in Aberdeen, but he kept her for only a year, after which she was sold to G. Shaddick, Swansea, in 1889.  Again, she exchanged hands very rapidly and in 1891 Sold to Burgess and Co. of London.  Three years later, in 1894, she was again sold, this time to Aktieselskabet Kristians and then to Ole G. Olsen, Kristians and was employed on the routes between the Atlantic ports to the Pacific around Cape Horn, sailing under a Norwegian flag.  The rounding of Cape Horn was notoriously dangerous and is the subject of numerous seamen's shanties.  Brian Lubbock says that in  July 1895 a hurricane around Cape Horn was so bad that 14 ships put back for repairs, six of which went into Port Stanley and the remainder into Monte Video.  En route from Florida to Hawaii, Ambassador, damaged and leaking, was one of the ships that put into Port Stanley, together with Priorhill, GW Wolff, Eagle Crag, Ratharina and Gladys.  Sadly, Ambassador never sailed again.  She was condemned in Port Stanley in December 1895 and put up for sale.  

The remains of Ambassador today
On 10 January 1896 sold to Frank Townsend for £850.  Townsend was presumably hoping to re-sell her for a profit because he had her moved to Ponte Arenas off the Chilean coast, where she was again put up for sale.  This time she was purchased by  a company called Jose Menendez and Mauricio Braun for £1,250.  Although they were ship owners, as well as merchants, they used her as a storage hulk. Her career as a sailing ship was over but she was retained for storage purposed for another forty years, passing into the hands of the  Sociedad Ganadera y Comercial Menendez. In 1899, when they no longer required her, she was towed to her present location at Punta Arenas, in the Straits of Magellan, Chile, and beached.  She survives today as an iron frame with virtually none of her wooden covering surviving.  She was placed on the National Historic Landmarks List of Chile in 1973.

With thanks to Brian Lubbock and David R. MacGregor for their great books.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Hope Sufferance Wharf and Granary, Rotherhithe village, 1850 - 2014

Hope Wharf today, with the tower of St Mary Rotherhithe
clearly in the background to the left of the photograph,
and the red hoist or crane just visible to the right.
There are three buildings that make up the Hope Wharf enterprise:  one with a Thames frontage, and two others facing onto St Mary Rotherhithe Street, which changed function over time but were originally storage and stables.  There is a small cobbled corridor between the building that fronts onto the Thames and those that front onto St Mary Rotherhithe Street, and they are connected by a first floor gantry walkway (see the fourth image on this page), a common model for this particular part of Rotherhithe.  Grice's Granary, for example, had the same relationship between Thames-fronting wharf and a separate granary connected by a walkway.  The Hope Wharf buildings are in the heart of Rotherhithe Village, very near to the 18th Century church of St Mary Rotherhithe and its churchyard.

Hope Wharf in 1868
On the 1868 Ordnance Survey map to the right the riverside building is highlighted but behind it are the other two buildings that made up the complete property.  All three were in poor condition before they were restored, and it is thanks to the quality of their original build that are still standing.  The two overlooking St Mary Church Street are clearly painted with their names (see the photographs at the end of this post).  Apart from the church in its grounds and the large tree-framed burial ground, this is an area dominated by closely-packed buildings.  If you click on the map to enlarge it, you will see that the Thames frontage is an almost unbroken ribbon of wharves punctuated by waterman's stairs and open yards.  Set back of the Thames are granaries, timber yards, mills and, inevitably pubs (four in the immediate vicinity).  Beyond them are dense terraces of housing. The East London railway runs close by, with Rotherhithe Station clearly marked.  Hope Wharf was located in one of Rotherhithe's busiest commercial areas.  It was well set up for connections by river and rail, employed dozens of people, many of whom lived nearby, and it was well served by those fundamental opposites of community life:  a church and a lot of pubs.

Hope Sufferance Wharf in 1937
The three buildings dates to the early 19th Century, probably around 1810.  They were all built of yellow London stock brick, a ubiquitous building material in Rotherhithe (see my post about London stock here).  The building that looks onto the Thames consists of three storeys with attics.  Key features are wooden storey-posts and a hipped queenpost roof with eaves at the front. Inside, at least one post was the reused part of a ship's mast.

I have been unable to find out what it was used for when it was built but by the 1850s Hope Wharf was occupied by Joseph Goddard, when it was used as an open coal wharf and depot.  He was there at least until 1858, when he is mentioned in the February 27th issue of the London Gazette.  By 1890 it was occupied by L. Farrel.  In 1902 it was taken over by H.F Gardiner and Company, who were wharfingers.  Wharfingers were general cargo handlers who provide docking facilities and are responsible for receiving cargo and storing it, and ensuring that it is forwarded correctly. 

Between the 1920s and 1960s it was operated by A.J. Gardiner and Sons as a sufferance wharf for the handling of foodstuffs, flour and metals.   Sufferance wharves were buildings that were licensed to handle dutiable goods.  H.M. Customs regulations that were brought in during the 19th Century dictated that all dutiable goods were to be offloaded at special Legal Quays, all of which were on the north bank of the Upper Pool, a stretch of the river between London Bridge and the Tower of London.  The Legal Quays often reached and exceeded capacity, unable to cope with the cargo that they were required to handle.  Sufferance wharves were introduced to assist with the traffic jam - places that were permitted or "suffered" to land good that attracted lower duties. Five sufferance wharves were licensed on the north bank of the Thames and sixteen on the south.   The wall-mounted hoist or crane has been preserved today belongs to this period, shown in the photograph above in 1937, below in 1979, and at the end of this post as it is today.   It was made by the East Ferry Road Engineering Works in the 1930s on the Isle of Dogs and was capable of lifting 12.5cwt.  In the 1937 photograph above, the space to the left of the building (at the right of the photograph) is the yard into which much of the cargo was offloaded, and it too has a crane in it.  This yard has been preserved today and is a good place to see the wall-mounted hoist (and has great views of the river).

Hope Wharf in 1979 showing the overhead connecting
walkways, the 1930s hoist and the the walkway
that leads to Rotherhithe village. 
From the John Harvard Library
The building now known as the granary was used for storage during the sufferance wharf phase, and only later became a granary, serving the nearby Thames Tunnel Mills. 

In 1974 part of the property was acquired by the Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust and was converted by Duffy Lange Giffone Worthington to premises for crafts workers, including silversmiths, potters and knitters.  It is worth noting that this was done over a decade before the regeneration of the area by the London Development Corporation.  There's a nice description of the conversion in the Time and Talents booklet mentioned above (page 7):
"The main structure was general sound but the floors had sagged alarmingly because of the heavy loadings they had to bear.  The top of the parapet was rebuilt and a new roof constructed with dormer windows lighting a third floor display area.  Glazed doors opened onto patio giving fine views across the Thames; a small opens paces was created along the river side of the building, with benches and brick planters; and the warehouse hoists were restored and pointed as a reminder of its past.  The scheme took a year to complete and cost £160,000.  The first occupants were craftsmen: potters, silversmiths, glassblowers, ceramicists and carvers."

The journalist who started today's invaluable local newspaper, Southwark News (Bermondsey News in its first iteration), was at that time running a news agency and had a small office there.  It's rather a nice story (from the Southwark News website - see the page for full story):

Cartoon of Dave Clark at his
Hope Sufferance Wharf premises.
(from the Southwark News website)
"The Southwark News, London’s only paid for, independent weekly newspaper, was born in 1987 – the brainchild of respected journalist Dave Clark.  At the time, Dave had left behind a successful career in national newspapers and was running his own news agency, South East News, out of a rundown warehouse in Hope Sufferance Wharf, Rotherhithe . . . .  Seeing the need for a local community paper in the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe area, Dave decided to launch an A4 photocopied sheet of paper, and sell it for 20p, hand delivering it to a few newsagents.

Hope Wharf was transferred into the hands of Southwark Council in 1977 and closed a few years later in a "rundown" condition, according to the Southwark News excerpt above.  It's really rather sad that this particular brave experiment failed.

In 1997 the properties that made up Hope Wharf were converted to apartments. There is a small garden immediately to the west of the Thames frontage, on the site of Wilson's Yard, from where the side of the building can be seen, together with its hoist. The current state of the buildings can be seen below.

The buildings are Grade II listed.

With thanks to "London's Changing Riverscape" for the names and dates of the occupiers up to the 1960s.