Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1994.
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Individual Wharves and Sites
Blackwall Goods Yard: The East India Company's Pepper Warehouses
An area bounded on the west and north by Leamouth and East India Dock Roads and on the south-east by the River Lea was the site of a group of warehouses and associated buildings erected between 1808 and 1820 by the East India Company (fig. 251). After the company ceased trading in the 1830s the warehouses were sold to the East India Dock Company. In the 1840s they were bought by a railway company and they remained in railway ownership until the 1980s. All the original buildings survived until the Second World War, when some of the warehouses were destroyed by bombing. In 1983 the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) bought the site, which has since been cleared of all standing structures, except for a refurbished but now ex situ gateway.
The East India Company built these warehouses for storing 'bulky goods of small value' imported through the East India Docks, which were not worth transporting by road to the company's principal warehouses in the City. Because it already owned these large City warehouses, the East India Company had not required quayside warehouses to be erected at the docks themselves. But even as the East India Docks opened, in August 1806, it was negotiating for a nearby piece of ground on which to build warehouses for storing pepper, sugar, saltpetre, cotton, asafoetida, arsenic, canes, munjeet, shells, hides and wood. (fn. 21)
The intended site was a 2½-acre plot, between the River Lea and the newly formed road to Orchard House (now Leamouth Road), belonging to the East India Dock Company, which had erected lime kilns and a mortar mill there that were used during the making of the docks. The dock company had also constructed a wooden wharf next to the Lea, where building materials for the docks were landed. (fn. 22) The East India Company's first offer for the site was £5,000, soon raised to £5,250 to include an additional strip required for a cordon sanitaire 'to make the intended building stand distinct and insular from any premises that may hereafter be erected by private persons'. (fn. 23) The sale was completed in April 1807, the dock company agreeing to allow the mortar mill to be left on site 'for a reasonable time' for the East India Company's use. (fn. 24)
The Boundary Wall
The construction of a secure perimeter wall was the first priority. Erected in 1806–7, at a cost of £3,238, it was built for the East India Company by the East India Dock Company, using bricks left over from the construction of the docks. Archibald Ritchie, a bricklayer who had worked on the East India Docks, was the responsible tradesman, under the eye of the dock company's surveyor, Ralph Walker. The original intention was to carry the wall up to a height of 16ft, 'the final height to be afterwards determined'. (fn. 25) In the end it was raised to just over 18ft. (fn. 26) Like the boundary wall of the East India Docks, on which it was explicitly modelled, the perimeter wall was battered in section and buttressed at intervals with battered pilasters (Plate 111a). It was originally pierced by a single gateway in Leamouth Road (see below). Sections of the wall in Leamouth Road and along the south side of the site remained standing until 1991.
Warehouses and other Buildings, 1807–10
In January 1807 the East India Company directors approved a plan for warehouses prepared by their recently appointed surveyor, S. P. Cockerell. His estimate of the cost was so much lower than the eventual cost that there must be some doubt whether this plan (of which no copy is known) was for all the warehouses built here over the next few years. However, it certainly included the large free-standing warehouse with a central courtyard, or 'quadrangular warehouse' as it is called in the company's minutes. At their meeting in January 1807 the directors decided to omit the western range, (fn. 27) and this is how the quadrangular warehouse appears in William Daniell's panorama of the East India Docks published in 1808 (Plate 114a). Daniell also shows two doubled-banked ranges of warehouses against the western and northern boundary walls, and a range of offices against the southern boundary wall, all of which are known to have been built.
Warehouse building began in 1807 and the work was finished by the spring of 1810. (fn. 28) The total cost in tradesmen's bills, including the charges for completing the quadrangular warehouse in 1811, amounted to £49,657. (fn. 29) The largest payments were to Messrs (Richard) Holland and Rowles (carpenters, £21,741), Thomas Poynder & Sons (bricklayers, £10,765), Ann and John Moorman (smiths, £5,365) and Hugh Mclntosh (excavator, £3,766). (fn. 1)
Of the building erected during this first phase of development, only a fragment of the quadrangular warehouse survived into the late 1980s. The two ranges of double-banked warehouses were destroyed during the Second World War. Pre-war aerial photographs show long low brick buildings with stone coped walls, truncated gables and slate roofs. If, like the quadrangular warehouse, they had arcaded elevations, these do not show up in the photographs. The upper floor in these buildings was low and windowless, with a loading door in each of the gables.
Daniell's view (confirmed by later photographs) shows the offices along the southern wall as a single-storey range flanked by two double-storey buildings. Of the latter, the eastern building, which was occupied by the Customs' officers, was a three-bay brick structure, whose ground floor was recessed behind a shallow colonnade of four stone columns supporting a stone entablature. (fn. 30) Still standing in 1938, this building was surmounted by a clock dated 1816. The other two-storey building, at the south-west corner of the site and integral with the boundary wall, was the gate-keeper's house.
The quadrangular warehouse, the centrepiece of the original development, comprised four ranges disposed around a central courtyard, the eastern and western ranges being longer than the north and south ones (Plate 114; fig. 252). The western range — as has been mentioned - was originally omitted. The building had brick walls, with blind arcaded facades, and a slatecovered roof. The walls and the gables were coped with stone, but the gable ends, unlike those in the doublebanked warehouses, were not truncated. (The wooden roof structure with queen-post trusses shown in fig. 252 is conjectural, but Cockerell is known to have used this form of truss for the warehouses built here in 1815–16.) The ground floor was lit by windows with iron grilles, but the upper floor was completely unfenestrated, the only natural light coming from a loading door in the upper part of each gable. The wooden joists for the upper floor were supported on thin cylindrical iron columns, one of the earliest recorded instances of their use in London. They are not separately accounted for in the company's records, and presumably were supplied by the smiths, Ann and John Moorman. The Moormans, who are described in directories as saw-makers and ironfounders, had their foundry in Old Street, Finsbury, where the family had been in business since the late 1760s. (fn. 31) They were presumably also responsible for the iron window-grilles with the short projecting spikes so characteristic of dock warehouses.
In 1811 the directors decided to complete the quadrangular warehouse by building the western range, which was carried out under Cockerell's superintendence and finished by the end of the year. (fn. 32) Stylistically, the newer work followed the pattern of the old, although the arcaded treatment was both taller and narrower (and therefore slightly more repetitious) than its counterpart on the east side (thirteen bays as compared to ten). The window openings were also lower down. Inside, the upper floor was at a lower level than in the earlier ranges — hence the low window openings on the ground floor — but completely unfenestrated. The joists for the upper floor were supported on large stone corbels as well as iron columns.
In 1820–1 the central courtyard was roofed over to provide additional storage space. Built to Cockerell's design, at a cost of £2,152, this roof had cast-iron trusses (and wrought-iron ties), and was covered with slates. (fn. 34) (It was damaged by bombing during the Second World War and had been replaced in asbestos by 1948.) When the courtyard was roofed over, an extra floor was inserted under the new roof, which was partly supported on iron columns.
Later alterations included the enlargement of the two end doorways in the northern range, doubtless to accommodate the railway which was laid through this part of the building in the middle of the nineteenth century. But the most destructive changes took place in the 1950s, when the building was reduced in height and given single-pitched roofs of corrugated-iron sheeting. The central courtyard was left uncovered.
The Leamouth Road Gateway
Daniell's view shows an elaborate gateway in Leamouth Road with an ornate overthrow in what appears to be the 'Hindoo' manner (Plate 114a). This would have been an appropriate style for the East India Company and one with which Cockerell was familiar, having employed it at Sezincote, his brother's house in Gloucestershire. The gateway was not built in this form and it may be that Daniell shows an early, discarded design. Although published while the buildings were still under construction, his view is generally accurate, suggesting that he had access to inside information - perhaps through his uncle, Thomas Daniell, the Indian topographical artist, who assisted Cockerell at Sezincote.
The gateway which was built, although less showy, is hardly less interesting, being an early essay in the Egyptian revival style (Plate 115b; fig. 253). The entrance is flanked by two broad, slightly tapering pylons of rendered brickwork standing on Portland stone plinths and rising to a height of 22ft. Each pylon is decorated with a caduceus, the symbol of Mercury, patron deity of merchants and travellers. (The two original caducei, fashioned in Coade stone, were hacked off by thieves in 1990, but have been replaced by replicas in carved Portland stone.) The design perhaps owes something to J. M. Gandy's suggestion for an Egyptian-style gateway with pylonshaped lodges, published in 1805. (fn. 35) There is no overthrow, but old photographs show a wooden framework behind the piers with a cross-beam from which was suspended a broad plank which could be raised and lowered on pulleys, like a portcullis. When lowered this gave extra strength and security to the wooden gates. Whether this mechanism was an original feature is not known.
The 'portcullis' mechanism was reinstated in 1993 when the gateway was moved some 12ft to the east of its original position to allow for the widening of Leamouth Road. The dismantling of the structure revealed how the original Coade-stone caducei had been fixed to the pylons. Each was made in two pieces with integral lugs consisting of discs of Coade stone which were sunk into the brickwork. They were further secured top and bottom by wrought-iron clamps. (fn. 36)
Directly opposite the Egyptian gateway, there was formerly an entrance through the boundary wall into the East India Docks which predates the building of the pepper warehouses. The alignment of the two gateways facilitated the movement of goods from the docks to the warehouses and was clearly deliberate. In 1810 the East India Company wanted to lay an iron railway into the docks, the path of which would presumably have passed through both gates. Permission was granted, but there is no evidence of its being laid. (fn. 37)
The Extension of the Site and the Construction of New Warehouses and other Buildings, 1812–19
In 1812 the East India Company bought a further 3¼ acres immediately to the north of the pepper warehouses, which were being offered for sale by the East India Dock Company (see fig. 251). (fn. 38) The East India Company had no immediate plans to extend its warehouses, but wanted to forestall any development which might threaten the security of its site.
The ground remained unused until 1815, when the directors decided that the warehouse-keeper at Blackwall should live on site and ordered a house to be built for him. At the same time they authorized the construction of a block of warehouses at the north-west corner of the site, in accordance with a plan already drawn up by Cockerell. (fn. 39)
Both projects were begun in 1815. Most of the tradesmen who had built the earlier warehouses were reengaged, and the work was completed in 1816, at a cost of £25,600. (fn. 40) As was previously the case, the largest bills were for bricklaying (Thomas Poynder & Sons, £5,593), carpentry (Holland & Rowles, £9,290) and smith's work (Ann and Thomas Moorman, £2,401).
The keeper's house, which survived into the 1980s, stood on the north side of the site, separated from the new warehouses by a new north gate. Designed by Cockerell, it was an unadorned brick box, two storeys in height and square in plan, except for a full-height extension on the north side (fig. 254). The exterior was severe to the point of plainness, the south, east and west fronts having virtually identical elevations, relieved only by stone cills and a porticoed doorway in the centre of the south front. In the early twentieth century it was let to private tenants, being then called, somewhat confusingly, East India House.
The new warehouses consisted of two parallel ranges, each of two storeys separated by a courtyard, but originally linked together at the west end by a short connecting block. Yellowish stock brick was used for the walls, stone for the copings and slates for the roofs. The south wall of the south block abutted on to one of the ranges of warehouses built in 1808, while the north wall of the north block faced directly on to the East India Dock Road, and so had no windows, but large recessed panels softened the severity of the plain brick wall. For the two external walls facing each other across the central courtyard, Cockerell reverted to the blind arcaded facade treatment he had used earlier. The elevations of two east-facing end walls were carefully composed to achieve an almost Soanic effect, using only a minimum of stone dressing.
Although taller than the earlier warehouses, these two ranges were similarly subdivided into two floors, of which only the lower floor was fenestrated (fig. 255). Cylindrical iron columns, standing on stone plinths, and stone corbels supported the wooden floor joists. The roof structure, with queen-post trusses, was of wood. The north range survived until 1991, but in a mutilated condition. Its north-east corner had been sliced off in 1932 to allow for the re-alignment of the East India Dock Road, (fn. 41) and it had lost its original roof and iron columns.
Within two years of the completion of the new range in 1816 the warehouses at Blackwall were nearly full, and Cockerell was asked to prepare plans and estimates for another warehouse, to be built in the angle formed by the two ranges of double-banked warehouses (see fig. 251). Approval for the new warehouse, which was to cost no more than £10,235 (exclusive of Cockerell's 2½ per cent commission), was given in August 1818, and the building was completed in 1819. Many of the building tradesmen who had been responsible for erecting the earlier warehouses were re-engaged for this work. (fn. 42) Apart from its triangular shape (dictated by the site), the new warehouse was externally similar to Cockerell's other warehouses, with the same characteristic arcaded wall treatment. It was, however, taller than any of its predecessors and the upper floor was fully fenestrated. (fn. 43) The size of the smith's bill suggests that, following his previous practice, Cockerell probably used iron columns internally. The building was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.
The Wharf Wall
The East India Company's last major undertaking at the pepper warehouse site was the replacement, in 1826, of the wooden wharfing in front of the quadrangular warehouse with a stone-faced wall, which, though raised, still survives. (fn. 44) It is over 450ft long, and has a slightly concave section leaning back against the retained ground typical of dock-wall construction in the early nineteenth century.
Plans and specifications for the wall were drawn up not by the Company's own surveyor, William Wilkins (who succeeded S. P. Cockerell in 1824), but at Wilkins's request by (Sir) John Rennie. (Wilkins may have felt that he lacked the experience for what was essentially an engineering job.)
Rennie's specification, submitted in March 1825, has survived. (fn. 45) In it he proposes a wall of 'curvilinear form drawn from a radius of 60 feet the centre of which is to be on a level with the Top of the Wall'. It was to have been of brick, 10½ft wide at the base narrowing to 4½ft at the top, with stone bonding-courses and a granite coping. There were to be counterforts at 15ft intervals and wooden fenders at every counterfort, their bases resting on projecting stone corbels.
Brick walls with stone bonding-courses had already been used at the London Docks, and Rennie wanted the West India Dock Company to employ this method of construction at its Limehouse Basin. It is not known when and why a wholly stone-faced wall was substituted, nor is it clear how far Rennie himself was responsible for the final design. He was paid £99 15s for 'a detailed design of the River Wall' in October 1825, but some confusion over the specification delayed the signing of a building contract until July 1826. The construction was undertaken by the bricklayer Henry Lee, who was paid £13,554 10s, the total cost being just over £13,993. (fn. 46)
The Later History of the Pepper Warehouses
In 1833 Parliament stripped the East India Company of all its commercial and trading functions, and over the next few years the company's now redundant warehouses in the City and elsewhere were sold. The pepper warehouses were bought by the East India Dock Company for £30,000 in 1835. (fn. 47) They must have seemed a good investment, close to the East India Docks and with a storage capacity of 15,027 tons. But in 1838 the East India and West India dock companies amalgamated, and the new company found itself with more than enough warehouse capacity inside the dock walls without having recourse to the distant pepper warehouses. Indeed, their 'remote position' was said to have rendered them 'generally unavailable for the ordinary operations of the company'. (fn. 2) In 1842 the pepper warehouses were used to store grain (in preparation for which sash windows were inserted in some of the external walls to improve lighting and ventilation). But the heavy cost of getting the grain on to the site undermined the economic viability of the scheme. Not enough goods were being stored at Blackwall to justify the expense of keeping the warehouses open, and in 1844 the company decided to close them and advertise the property for sale. (fn. 49)
The Eastern Counties Railway Company was interested in the premises, and by an agreement signed in 1846 it took a 999-year lease of the site, at an annual rent of £2,500. Covenants were framed to prevent the railway company entering into direct competition with the dock company. Thus, it had to agree not to use the premises as general wharfingers and warehouse keepers. Goods landed at the wharf were to be sent on by rail into the country, and goods loaded at the wharf had to be brought there by rail from the country. Only grain, flour, malt, oilcake and guano were exempt from these restrictions. (fn. 50)
The Eastern Counties Railway obtained powers to build a branch line to the warehouses from Canning Town goods station, which was opened in June 1848, crossing the Lea on a single-line drawbridge. (fn. 51) Tracks were laid alongside the warehouses, one track being carried right through the northern range of the quadrangular warehouse.
In 1886 the Great Eastern Railway Company, with which the Eastern Counties Railway had merged, bought the freehold of the pepper warehouse site. The price of £73,263 included the wharf in Leamouth Road immediately to the south of the pepper warehouses, and the whole of the narrow peninsula on the Essex side of the Lea. (fn. 52)
The old warehouses continued to be used by the railway companies and their nationalized successor until the 1960s, the premises being known latterly as Blackwall Goods Yard. A slightly earlier name was the Blackwall and Canning Town Warehouses. Coal and coke consigned to the East India Docks were handled here. The yard closed in 1968 and in 1983 British Rail sold the site to the LDDC. (fn. 53)
The Copperas Works
Situated on the west bank of the River Lea, just within the parish of St Leonard's Bromley (see fig. 247), this was one of the earliest industrial sites in the Blackwall area having no connection with shipbuilding. A copperas works was established here in the seventeenth century, and continued in business until the East India Dock Company bought the premises early in the nineteenth century. Leamouth Road bisects the site, which was partly absorbed into the curtilage of the East India Docks. The remainder of the site, between the road and the river (where the copperas house itself stood), became Orchard Wharf, latterly the premises of J. J. Prior (Transport) Ltd.
The manufacture of green copperas (ferrous sulphate), a chemical used in dyeing cloth, tanning and the making of black ink, was an important industry around the Essex coast during the eighteenth century. Its centre was at Walton-on-the-Naze, where copperas was being made by 1690. (fn. 54) Little is known about the origins of the Lea-side works. In the 1690s they belonged to Sir Nicholas Crispe, the 2nd baronet (c1643–98), who held the site on lease from the then freeholder, Sir Thomas Middleton. Crispe was also the joint-owner of another copperas works at Deptford, and it seems likely that he established the Blackwall works. (fn. 55) There is, however, a possibility that the founder was his grandfather, Sir Nicholas Crispe, the 1st baronet (d. 1666), who was certainly interested in copperas, having been farmer of the customs and subsidies of both copperas and alum. (fn. 56) In the eighteenth century the works comprised the copperas house - 'formerly erected and finished for the making of green copperas' - furnaces of lead and iron work, various workshops, sheds and outbuildings, and a timber wharf furnished with a crane. Part of the site, on which the copperas house itself was built, was 'entrenched and Bank'd round with Earth and pailed in'. (fn. 57) According to John Strype, in 1720, it was a 'large' works 'wherein a great Quantity of Copperas is made every Year'. (fn. 58)
The lessees of the works in the early eighteenth century included John Rice and Nathaniel Hawes, the latter taking a 21-year lease in 1737, which his widow later assigned to Albert Schaffer, a London merchant whom she later married. In 1753 the Blackwall Yard shipwright John Perry (d.1771) became the lessee, and he sub-let the works to his brother-in-law, Ephraim Rheinhold Seehl, a 'chymist'. (fn. 59) Seehl is one of only three people with addresses in Poplar and Blackwall to be found in Mortimer's Universal Director of 1763, where his entry reads, 'Seehl, Ephraim Rinhold, Copperas Merchant, Blackwall; or at the Bank Coffee-house, Threadneedlestreet'. (fn. 60) He continued as tenant of the copperas works until his death in the mid-1780s. (fn. 5) (fn. 61) Meanwhile, in 1764 Perry had bought the freehold, (fn. 63) and in 1787 his son John (1743–1810), the shipwright and owner of Blackwall Yard, took over the copperas works. (fn. 64) By 1795 Perry also owned copperas works at Walton-on-the-Naze and at Whitstable in Kent. Though not so large as these, the Blackwall establishment was 'allowed to be the most complete work of its kind in England'. (fn. 65)
The East India Dock Company acquired the site in 1803–4, and while dock building was in progress the copperas house was used as an engineer's residence by Ralph Walker, one of the company's two original engineers. (fn. 66) It afterwards became a dockmaster's house and appears to have survived until late in the nineteenth century. The building can be glimpsed in Daniell's 1808 view of the East India Docks, which shows a two-storey house of five bays (Plate 114a).
Orchard Wharf (Leamouth Road) and Silvocea Wharf
Both of these wharves survived into the late 1980s. Together they occupied a roughly triangular plot straddling the boundary between the parishes of Poplar and Bromley, and bounded by Bow Creek (River Lea), Leamouth Road, and the former Blackwall Goods Yard (Pepper Warehouses). Orchard Wharf was entirely in Bromley, Silvocea Wharf mostly in Poplar. By the end of the eighteenth century the land here belonged to the owners of Blackwall Yard. In 1803–4 it was purchased by the East India Dock Company, in connection with the building of the East India Docks, and it remained part of the docks estate until the Great Eastern Railway Company bought the freehold in 1886. (fn. 67) Railway ownership ceased in 1947 with the sale of both wharves to J. J. Prior (Transport) Ltd, who had long been the tenants of Orchard Wharf. (fn. 68)
Before its purchase by the East India Dock Company, the site of Orchard Wharf had been part of the copperas house property (see above), and the copperas house itself stood on this spot. During the construction of the East India Docks the old house was occupied by the dock company's engineer, Ralph Walker, (fn. 69) and subsequently was used by the company as a residence for dockmasters and other officials. There was an extensive garden to the south and east which survived until the property was let to a barge-builder in the 1870s. (fn. 70)
The adjoining plot to the south, later called Silvocea Wharf, was for many years the site of a purpose-built dockmaster's residence. This was erected by the East India Dock Company in 1815–16 to replace the dockmaster's house demolished when the East India Dock Basin was enlarged. (fn. 71) Designed by Ralph Walker, it was a detached, two-storey, double-fronted house of three bays, with cellars, and an attic contained within a slated mansard roof. The plainness of its south-east-facing brick front was mitigated by several rows of stone bandcoursing and segmentally-headed window-openings (Plate 111b).
In the early 1870s, ten years after one of the dockmasters had complained of the 'unhealthiness' of his house on Bow Creek, (fn. 72) the East and West India Dock Company stopped using the two houses there as employees' residences, and in 1874 both properties were let to a coal merchant, R. M. Bowman, for a bargebuilding yard. (fn. 73) Bowman was bankrupt by 1879, but in partnership with another coal merchant, H. R. Hutton, apparently managed to remain here until about 1887. (fn. 74)
After Bowman's departure the two sites, known collectively during his occupation as Orchard House, were again separately tenanted. At the northern site (Orchard Wharf) the new tenant, from about 1888, was John James Prior, a carman, who set up a business supplying sand, ballast and cement for road construction, which was continued here by his heirs and successors, latterly J. J. Prior (Transport) Ltd, until the wharf closed in the late 1980s. Barges delivered the sand and gravel to the wharf, where it was screened and graded on site before being sent on to customers by road or river. (fn. 75) From the 1930s until the 1950s Priors shared the southern part of Orchard Wharf, where there was a drawdock, with a succession of boat builders. (fn. 76)
Bowman's immediate successor at the southern site may have been the Impervious Stone Company, which is named as the occupier on an undated flood prevention plan. (fn. 77) In about 1891 Maconochie Brothers, the provision merchants, took over the property, which they named Silvocea Wharf, but soon departed for more spacious premises at Millwall. (fn. 78) The new name was retained by the succeeding occupants, who included a firm of oil processors, and the boatbuilders, Nathaniel Hamblin & Company. About 1930 Hamblins were succeeded by A. E. Prior, motor haulage contractors and sand merchants, who set up a ballast screening plant at the wharf, but allowed the old dockmaster's house to remain. (fn. 79) A. E. Prior and J. J. Prior Ltd at Orchard Wharf presumably were associated, although both businesses are listed separately in the directories until at least the 1970s. (In the late 1920s the firm also had premises at nearby Bridge Wharf.) (fn. 80)
As a result of recent road-widening and improvement schemes in the Leamouth Road-Orchard Place area both of these wharves have been completely cleared. Silvocea Wharf has disappeared altogether, while the curtailed site of Orchard Wharf was let by the LDDC in 1993 for a petrol station.
The premises called Bridge Wharf are an amalgam of two properties formerly separated by Lea Passage. The western part, a roughly triangular plot between the Lea, Leamouth Road and Lea Passage, was the product of the re-routing of Leamouth Road and Lea Passage in the 1870s, when the East India Dock Basin was extended. (fn. 6) Also known as Blackwall Wharf, this area has been occupied since the late 1920s by a succession of haulage contractors.
The portion east of Lea Passage, at the north-west corner of Leamouth Road and Orchard Place, was formerly the site of a row of cottages built in the late 1820s, when it comprised the north side of Leamouth Place (see page 653). In 1938 the PLA let this site to the Lea Haulage & Wharfage Company, who already occupied the wharf on the west side of Lea Passage and who used this additional ground to build a large single-storey brick warehouse with a steel-truss roof. (fn. 82)
The two parts of the wharf were united after the closing of Lea Passage in 1969. (fn. 83)
Crown Wharf, on the FitzWigram Estate in Orchard Place, is first listed under that name in the directories in 1871, when it was in the occupation of a barge-builder, William H. Cox. It was then a fairly small wharf, having a river frontage to the Lea of about 30ft. It was bounded on the east by the side wall of No. 4 Duke (later Fryatt) Street, on the south by Duke Street itself, and on the north by another small wharf, tenanted by the wharfinger Thomas Ducas. In 1873 Cox moved his business to larger premises on the east side of Orchard Place, and the name Crown Wharf fell out of use. It was later revived by Vokins & Company Ltd, lightermen and barge-repairers, who by 1915 occupied both Cox's and Ducas's old wharves, and a number of houses in Duke Street. (fn. 84) In the wake of the slum clearances in Orchard Place in the 1930s, the company was able to extend northwards and southwards along the Lea, and eastwards towards Orchard Place, so that by the early 1950s the Crown Wharf enjoyed a riverside frontage of over 300ft. The ground to the south of what had been Duke Street was then largely occupied by single-storey asbestos and steelframed buildings used as workshops and stores. (fn. 85) Vokins & Company remained at Crown Wharf until the early 1970s: (fn. 86) the site has since been absorbed into Acatos & Hutcheson's refinery (see page 666).
Thames Plate Glass Works
Between 1835 and about 1874 the whole of the northern end of the Goodluck Hope peninsula was occupied by the manufacturing works of the Thames Plate Glass Company and its successors. This was one of only halfa-dozen plate-glass manufactories in the country, and the only one in southern England. (fn. 87) In the middle decades of the nineteenth century this firm was an important employer in the Orchard Place district, though a significant proportion of its workforce seemed to have been recruited from the older glass-making centres in the north, and, unlike shipbuilding and some other heavy industries, plate-glass making gave employment to women, who at times made up more than 40 per cent of the firm's workers.
Cast plate-glass had been invented in France in the seventeenth century. In Britain a factory producing cast plate-glass opened at Ravenhead, near St Helens, in 1773, but the heavy excise duty on glass inhibited the growth of the industry, and by the 1830s there were only two factories, both in the north, at Ravenhead and Newcastle upon Tyne. (fn. 88) Partly because of the excise duty, and partly because the manufacturing processes were labourintensive, cast plate-glass was an expensive material, and in the early days of production it was used mainly for the manufacture of mirrors. Its later use in shop windows had become well-established in London by 1835 (the year the Thames Plate Glass Company was founded), when Charles Babbage commented that all the betterclass shops in the capital were fitted with plate-glass windows. (fn. 7) (fn. 89)
Although the Thames Plate Glass Company was well placed to take advantage of this potentially lucrative market, it may at first have been more concerned with the production of plate-glass for mirrors and furnishings. This is suggested by the fact that the original directors included looking-glass manufacturers, cabinet-makers, and carvers and gilders - all with businesses in the City and the West End. (fn. 91)
The formation of the company in 1835 coincided with, and perhaps was encouraged by, the report of an official enquiry which recommended some relaxation of the excise regulations. (fn. 92) A Bill to reduce the duty on plate glass was published, but it was not until 1845 that the duty was finally abolished.
In July 1835 the directors bought the northern end of Goodluck Hope as the site for their new glass-works. Its seven acres had a frontage to Bow Creek of about 1,800ft and were largely unencumbered by existing buildings. (fn. 93) Construction work went ahead quite quickly, and the erection of a temporary jetty at the site suggests that the materials were brought in by boat. (fn. 94) Glass was first produced here in 1836, the furnaces having been brought into partial use on 12 May: the first sales took place in November. (fn. 95)
The only known view shows the works in the early 1850s, by which time the original premises had been considerably enlarged (Plate 115c). Many new buildings were erected in the mid-1840s, following the abolition of the excise duty. (fn. 95) Although not everything shown in the 1850s view can be identified, the general layout of the works is clear enough. Readily distinguished in the centre of the picture is the melting-house, with its row of five chimneys (one of them, at least, built in 1846). (fn. 97) This contained the furnaces where the raw materials (soda and lime) were heated together in pots to produce the molten glass. The rows of smaller chimneys beyond the meltinghouse belonged to the annealing kilns, in which the newly cast sheets of glass were slowly cooled to prevent cracking. (By the 1860s the annealing kilns were heated by gas.) Between the annealing kilns were the casting halls, where molten glass from the furnaces was cast on to metal tables. The tall, free-standing chimney in front of the melting-house served the boiler house. The buildings to the right contained the grinding-shops and the smoothing- and polishing-rooms. These processes were originally all carried out by hand, and smoothing - the process of rubbing the ground-down sheets of glass with emery - was almost exclusively done by women, whose 'superior delicacy of touch . . . leads them to use the moderate force required, and to detect and remove particles of grit'. (fn. 98)
Many of the people employed at the glass-works lived right by the factory gates, in the rows of mean little houses erected in the 1840s on Sir Robert FitzWigram's adjoining property to the south. In 1851, at least 73 inhabitants of the Orchard Place district were employed in the works (including the manager). Of the 32 women employees, 27 were glass smoothers, the other five being described as 'finishers'. Many of the workers had evidently moved to Poplar from the two established glass-making centres in the north: 26 glass-workers came from the Newcastle area and five from St Helens - six if an emery-cloth manufacturer is included. (fn. 99)
For the Great Exhibition of 1851 the company manufactured the largest sheets of plate-glass hitherto produced, but the claim, sometimes advanced, that the company also made glass for the Crystal Palace itself is incorrect: this was produced by the Birmingham firm of Chance Brothers. (fn. 100)
In 1864 the original firm was taken over by a limited liability company with the same name, incorporated under the 1862 Companies Act. Launched with a capital of £250,000 in 10,000 shares of £25 each, the new company planned to develop the existing works to take advantage of their London location, and to increase output. The previous decade had seen a quadrupling of the national output of plate-glass, coupled with a 50-per-cent drop in the price. At the Orchard Place works the weekly output was 10,000 sq.ft (nearly 12 per cent of the national output), a figure which the new company hoped to double immediately by the installation of new machinery. The prospectus stressed the factory's advantageous proximity to the London market, which was 'only accessible to competitors after incurring the cost of freight, carriage, insurance and the risk of breakage in transit', and it forecast dividend-levels 'at least equal to those of other plate glass companies, some of which are dividing 20 per cent and upwards'. (fn. 101)
Many of the old proprietors re-invested in the new company, whose shareholders included several Londonbased architects and surveyors. The largest shareholder, however, was (Sir) Henry Bessemer, the engineer and inventor, who devised a method of casting the glass into sheets of uniform thickness using a system of rollers. This significantly reduced the amount of waste produced when the glass was ground. (fn. 102)
A plan of the works in the 1860s shows that the new firm must have undertaken a considerable amount of building and reconstruction (fig. 256). But the basic layout remained the same, the northern part of the site being used for melting, casting and annealing, and the southern half for grinding, smoothing and polishing. The melting-house range had only four chimneys, which were probably new, and taller than their predecessors. They were long remembered as a conspicuous local landmark. (fn. 103) By the 1860s machinery had taken over many of the processes traditionally performed by hand. Even smoothing, where the touch and experience of the operatives was crucial, was beginning to succumb to mechanization, a machine for this purpose having been invented by the manager of the Thames works, Obediah Blake. (fn. 104)
The new company got off to a confident start, a halfyearly dividend of 5 per cent being declared at the first shareholders' meeting in 1865. (fn. 105) But it soon needed to raise more money, and early in 1866 the entire plant was mortgaged to Thomas Grissell, the public works and railway contractor. (fn. 106) Faced with increasing competition from both home and abroad, the firm attempted to improve its competitiveness by appointing a German superintendent, but the result was a breakdown in industrial relations. (fn. 107) By 1870 the company was on the point of closing down, having agreed to sell the site to the Land & Sea Telegraph Construction Company. (fn. 108) But before this deal could be completed the telegraph company itself failed (in August 1870), (fn. 109) and the glassworks soldiered on for a few more years. In 1871 there were still 46 people living nearby who claimed to be earning their living from glass-making. They included the 21-year-old superintendent of the works, residing on site in the manager's house, but only seven women. (fn. 110) The company finally gave up the struggle in February 1873 and went into voluntary liquidation. (fn. 111)
An eleventh-hour attempt to salvage the works, and keep some plate-glass production in London, was made in the following year when a new company, the Thames Plate Glass Company 1874 Ltd, was formed to acquire the assets and carry on the business. It purchased the land, plant and goodwill of the glass-works in February 1874, but was voluntarily wound up in August. (fn. 112) In 1877 the liquidators sold the premises to Thomas Horsey, an auctioneer and valuer in Billiter Square, (fn. 113) who cleared the ground, leaving only the manager's house standing, extended the roadway northwards, and let or sold sites on both sides of the road to firms and businesses (see below).
The Glass-Works Site: Later History
At the time of his death in 1889 Horsey had disposed of less than half the area of the glass-works, and by 1891, when his executors held an auction sale of the ground, over 2½ acres at the northern end of the promontory were still unoccupied. The separate wharves established here in the 1880s and 1890s largely survived into the 1960s (see fig. 249), and their individual histories are summarised below. Since then the area has been almost entirely taken over by Acatos & Hutcheson, refiners of edible products, who as Edible Oil Products Ltd first established a presence here in 1966, at No. 30 Orchard Place. From there the firm has expanded and its works now cover not only the whole of the former glass-works site but also most of the adjoining premises to the south. On the west side of Orchard Place its property extends southwards to embrace about a half of the former Bridge Wharf, while on the east side of the street most of the sites, as far as and including Jubilee Wharf, have been brought into its ownership. Only a small area immediately to the north of Jubilee Wharf, occupied by rice millers, remains outside the firm's control. (fn. 114)
Nos 27–29 Orchard Place: Lea Wharf
When first leased in 1890 this wharf was still partly occupied by the 'substantial and commodious dwelling house' erected for the manager of the glass-works. It was a two-storey building, with four principal rooms and a conservatory on the ground floor and eight 'good' rooms above. The lessee here was the Blackwall Galvanized Iron Company Ltd, whose main works were directly opposite, at No. 35 Orchard Place, and the company used the northern part of this site for a roofing works. This usage continued after 1902, when the firm was absorbed into Baldwins Ltd, the newly established iron-and-steel conglomerate. (fn. 115) The old house was still standing in 1927, by which time the remainder of the site had been covered with single-storey, top-lit, iron workshops (Plate 112b). (fn. 116) In 1949, four years after Baldwins had merged with Richard Thomas & Company to become Richard Thomas & Baldwins Ltd (see below), these workshops were occupied by the company's platers' department. (fn. 117)
Following the LCC's slum clearances in the area in the mid-1930s, Baldwins extended their premises on the west side of Orchard Place southwards as far as Fryatt (formerly Duke) Street, taking over all the ground between the river and Orchard Place apart from Crown Wharf, which was not part of the clearance area. In the mid-1950s the company erected a tank warehouse and maintenance engineering workshops on part of this site, while using the northern end for the open-air storage of tanks and metal. (fn. 118)
No. 30 Orchard Place: Bow Creek Oil Mills
The ground here was purchased in 1884 by Messrs W. & W. H. Stead, a Liverpool-based firm of seed crushers and oil refiners, who wanted the site for a London oil mill. (fn. 119) They already owned a mill in Liverpool and another in Washington County, Mississippi, which was sold in 1886. (fn. 120) Originally erected in 1884, the firm's Orchard Place mill comprised an oil-crushing mill, a four-storey refinery, warehouse, stores, boiler-house and engine-room with a 100ft-high chimney, stables and a cottage. (fn. 121) W. & W. H. Stead went into liquidation in 1901 and their Orchard Place mill was acquired by the Union Oil & Cake Mills, a branch of the British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd (BOCM). When BOCM moved its seedcrushing business to a new mill at Silvertown in the 1930s, the Orchard Place premises were taken over by a subsidiary, Ocean Harvest Ltd. Founded in 1924 by Lord Leverhulme, and originally based at Port Sunlight (and later at Hull), Ocean Harvest manufactured animal feedstuffs from whale meat, which were marketed under the brand-names 'Gromax' and 'Ovamax'. After 1945 production was centred at the Bow Creek Mills, where in the mid-1950s the annual output of whale-meat products exceeded 20,000 tons. (fn. 122) (fn. 8)
No. 31 Orchard Place: Upper Wharf
The first occupiers of this wharf were the Patent Stamped Steel Railway Axle Box Company Ltd, which took a 21year lease of the site in 1889. This was a new company formed in that year to acquire, make and market the inventions of three engineers in Bermondsey 'for improvements in railway axle boxes and grease box covers', and the inventors themselves were among its principal shareholders. (fn. 124) By 1891 the firm's premises in Orchard Place comprised 'a spacious open factory, about 140 ft deep, with Corrugated Iron Roof', three brick furnaces, a 60ft-high chimney shaft, a galvanized iron shed, and some offices. (fn. 125) The company failed in 1894 and the lease of the wharf was taken by Jacob Steiger, a merchant, who owned some patents for 'the manufacture of artificial stone, preservative paint and other analogous materials known as "Petrifite"'. (fn. 126) Invented in 1891, Petrifite was a white cement, composed chiefly of magnesite, which when mixed with water was capable of 'binding together almost any kind of waste materials, such as slate dust, sea-sand, road sweepings, common earth, slag, sawdust, etc.', enabling them to be cast into cheap and durable blocks of any shape. (fn. 127) To exploit this invention Steiger had purchased a magnesite mine in Greece, and in 1895 he formed a new company, Petrifite Ltd, with himself as one of the directors, to whom he transferred his interests in the patents, the mine and the premises at Orchard Place. (fn. 128) But technical difficulties delayed the commercial production of Petrifite, which was still 'not practically on the market' at the end of 1897. Despite being re-floated in 1897, the company survived for only a few more years, effectively going out of business in 1901–2 when the debenture-holders seized its assets. (fn. 129)
About 1902 the wharf was acquired by the Fowler Brothers, the sugar merchants and refiners already established at Glasshouse Wharf on the opposite side of the road (see below). Fowlers immediately erected a new refinery here which soon superseded the older premises at No. 34. The new building was designed in 1903 by John Clarkson, whose firm and its successors also designed additions to the refinery in 1924 and 1927, as well as a new warehouse (1912–13) and a sugar store (1928). (fn. 130) The largest structure on the wharf was the single-storey, brick-and-corrugated-iron sugar warehouse of 1912–13. Along the north side of this was a range of other premises, including the refinery itself, a three-storey brick-andslate building comprising on the ground floor a caramel room, and two caramel floors above. (fn. 131) Fowlers continued to refine sugar here until the 1970s. (fn. 132)
Nos 32 and 32A Orchard Place: Cooperage Wharf
The northern tip of the peninsula was the last area of the glass-works site to be redeveloped. Sometime before 1902 the north-eastern quadrant - No. 32A Orchard Place - was purchased by the Blackwall Galvanized Iron Company (see No. 35 Orchard Place) and used for a drum-and-keg works, with an attached tinningshop, and a timber yard. (fn. 133) With the assimilation of the Blackwall Galvanized Iron Company into Baldwins Ltd in 1902, No. 32A passed into the ownership of the new firm, which subsequently purchased the adjoining north-west quadrant (No. 32 Orchard Place). Baldwins' acquisition of the latter site must have occurred after the survey made by the Inland Revenue in 1909–15, when it still belonged to Horsey Estates Ltd and the only buildings there were an 'old and dilapidated' building of timber and cast-iron and a small mess room. (fn. 134) By 1927 much of the north-west area had been covered by iron buildings, including warehouses and a machine shop. (fn. 135) These were replaced in the 1950s by a range of top-lit workshops and warehouses with arched concrete roofs on iron-andconcrete columns, erected by Holt & Company Ltd, of Watford, civil engineers and contractors. (fn. 136)
Old School Wharf: Bow Creek Council School
The only non-industrial development on the glass-works site was an elementary school built in 1895–6 by the London School Board. This replaced the existing school in Orchard Place, which occupied a converted warehouse at the corner of Duke Street. (fn. 137) Opened in 1874, the earlier school had been extended in 1891–2, but by 1894 the premises could no longer accommodate the average attendance. (fn. 9) Further enlargement was ruled out on the grounds of cost, so when the opportunity arose to buy part of the glass-works site on 'favourable terms', the Board took it as 'a matter of urgency'. (fn. 139) The Board used the new site, which at just under 23,000 sq.ft was nearly eight times the size of the old, to provide a purpose-built school capable of accommodating up to 350 children. Designed by or under the supervision of Thomas J. Bailey, the Board's Chief Architect, and built by E. Lawrance & Sons of Finsbury, the new school was a pleasant single-storey brick building with a multi-gabled elevation to Orchard Place (Plate 112d). It contained a hall, four classrooms and two infants' school-rooms, and there was a generous-sized playground, though in the interests of safety this was enclosed by high walls which gave a rather 'prison-like appearance'. (fn. 140)
Although most of its pupils came from 'very poor homes', and began their school life 'with a considerable handicap', (fn. 141) the school seems consistently to have impressed the authorities with its achievements and high standards. In 1932 the LCC's Education Officer, G. H. Gater, wrote that 'far from being a school which required an apology, it was one which might serve as a demonstration school'. (fn. 142) The curriculum embraced 'careful moral training, including the proper treatment of animals' and, particularly appropriate in an area surrounded by deep water, swimming lessons. The value of the latter was shown in 1909 when a girl at the school was awarded the Royal Humane Society's medal for rescuing another from drowning in the River Lea. (fn. 143)
The Bow Creek school closed in 1936 as a direct result of the LCC's slum clearance schemes in the area, which involved rehousing the population elsewhere. The LCC told the Board of Education that when the clearance scheme was completed 'no children of elementary school age will remain in the area'. (fn. 144) The old building was still standing in 1956, when the LCC sold the site to Metal Scrap & By Products Ltd. (fn. 145)
No. 33 Orchard Place: Davies Wharf
This wharf was first occupied by the Thames Sack & Bag Company, whose proprietors, Robert Davie, junior, and John Davie, took an 80-year lease of the ground in 1882. The firm erected a range of buildings here, including a 'substantial' warehouse, a store-shed and mendingroom, an engine- and boiler-house and stabling for three horses. (fn. 146) A sketch of the river elevation of the warehouse in the 1880s in fact shows a modest two-storey, pitchedroof structure of five bays, with a central loophole door (fig. 257). (fn. 147) This warehouse and the other buildings on the wharf were destroyed by fire in 1912, and another fire in 1935 damaged their successors. (fn. 148) By 1939 the wharf had been completely cleared of buildings; latterly it was occupied by a metal warehouse. (fn. 149)
No. 34 Orchard Place: Glasshouse Wharf
One of the first businesses to set up a manufactory on part of the glass-works site was the firm of Alexander and James Fowler (Fowler Brothers), sugar merchants and refiners of Mark Lane in the City. Fowlers leased this site for 99 years from 1880, and in 1881 they erected a two-storey treacle-and-sugar refinery here, soon to be joined by two warehouses, one of which was a 'substantial' structure of three floors, fitted with loophole doors and a crane. (fn. 150) In the early 1900s the firm erected a second refinery on their newly acquired and larger wharf at No. 31 Orchard Place (see above) and the old refinery at No. 34 fell into disuse. It had been dismantled by the 1930s, when a survey showed that a number of the buildings were derelict and the wharf itself was 'hardly used'. (fn. 151) Fowlers remained here until the 1970s. In later years the wharf was used for offices and for storing barrels. (fn. 152)
No. 35 Orchard Place
In 1877 Horsey agreed to lease this site to a consortium composed mainly of City merchants, but there was no further progress until 1882, when a company called the Blackwall Galvanized Iron Company Ltd was formed to implement this agreement. Its principal shareholders were members of the Baldwin family, ironmasters at Stourport. The company manufactured and sold corrugated-roofing, wrought-iron baths, buckets, ridge-capping, guttering, wire-netting and other similar products. (fn. 153) Umbrellastands and pedestals made of galvanized corrugated-iron which had been japanned or enamelled to imitate majolica, marble or granite, were a particular speciality. (fn. 154)
By 1891 the company's works at No. 35 Orchard Place comprised 'a spacious galvanizing factory, fitted with iron tramways', a covered wharf and warehouse on the river front, a corrugating-room, carpenters' and blacksmiths' shops, and various other structures including a 120fthigh chimney-shaft. By this date the company had already acquired a lease of the wharf opposite, at Nos 27–29 Orchard Place, and by 1902 it had also bought some ground at the northern end of the peninsula (No. 32A Orchard Place) for a keg shop and timber yard.
In the spring of 1902 the Blackwall Galvanized Iron Company was one of several companies which merged to form Baldwins Ltd, a large new industrial conglomerate established 'to carry on trade as iron-smelters, engineers, iron and steel manufacturers, miners, etc.'. This combination of companies, which included mine and colliery owners as well as iron and steel makers, soon developed into one of the country's leading industrial concerns, with iron-and-steel plants at several locations in South Wales and the Midlands. (fn. 155) In January 1945 Baldwins Ltd amalgamated with another large combine, Richard Thomas & Company, to create the giant steel-making conglomerate of Richard Thomas & Baldwins.
After taking over in 1902, Baldwins continued to manufacture galvanized- and corrugated-iron and steel sheds, gutters, kegs, tanks and constructional ironwork at Orchard Place. (fn. 156) Already the biggest industrial undertaking in Orchard Place, operating on three separate sites, the company continued to expand over the adjoining premises until by the late 1930s it occupied more than one-third of the area of the peninsula. An early acquisition, about 1904, was the site of T. A. Young & Son's former iron foundry at Nos 36–37 Orchard Place. By 1927 the Baldwins' galvanizing works covered virtually the whole area between No. 34 and Turner Blewitt's oil mills (now Jubilee Wharf). The works here comprised a mixed assemblage of largely brick buildings housing a variety of activities and processes, including spelter and acid dipping baths, annealing furnaces, pan shop, 'black sheet' shop, tank and iron plate shop, and gutter and bin shop. (fn. 157) After the Second World War many of these buildings were removed, being replaced by a large range of steel-framed, top-lit workshops, 290ft by 150ft, for which Dawnays of Battersea were the structural engineers. (fn. 158)
Former Gas Light & Coke Company's Tar Wharf and Samuda's Shipyard
One of the earliest nineteenth-century industrial developments on the Goodluck Hope peninsula was a tar distillery set up in 1818–19 by the Gas Light & Coke Company to refine the raw coal-tar which was the principal byproduct of gas-making. Held on a 61-year lease from Sir Robert Wigram, the works' riverside site no longer has a separate identity and is now covered by the northern end of Jubilee Wharf and part of the adjoining premises. (fn. 159) The Gas Company chose this spot after a report had recommended the location as being 'sufficiently distant from any buildings to prevent any inconvenience from the process . . . and not more than 200 yards from a navigable river with easy access'. (fn. 160) By 1822 the works comprised a still-house and tar-house, a dwelling-house and kitchen, a warehouse, and outbuildings, all described as 'lately erected'. (fn. 161) Thomas Dalton of Strong's Buildings, East India Dock Road, supplied and supervised the distilling apparatus. (fn. 162)
In 1833 the Gas Light & Coke Company withdrew from direct participation in the distillation business, dismissed the labourers at Blackwall, and sub-let the works to Samuel Turner & Company, a firm of tar refiners and distillers. (fn. 163) Turners operated the distillery until 1840, when they set up their own works on adjoining land to the south, and in 1843 the gas company let the premises on a 33-year lease to the brothers Jacob and Joseph Samuda, then marine-engine makers in Southwark, who laid out the site as a shipbuilding yard specializing in the construction of iron steamships. Joseph Samuda was also involved in the development of the short-lived atmospheric railway which operated between Forest Hill and Croydon in the mid-1840s. (fn. 164)
The early years of the new yard were not auspicious. In 1844 Jacob, the elder brother, was killed in an accident during the trial trip of the Gipsy Queen, one of the first ships to be built by the Samudas, and in 1845 there was a fatal explosion in the yard's engine house. Two years later a fire destroyed some newly built stores, together with their valuable contents. (fn. 165) In spite of these setbacks, Joseph Samuda persevered with the business and was so successful that by the early 1850s the firm needed larger premises. The Orchard Place yard, which had a river frontage of 230ft, could not be extended because it was hemmed in on the north by the Thames Plate Glass works and on the south by Turner's tar distillery, and in 1852 the firm relocated to a site at Cubitt Town with a river frontage of 370ft (see page 535).
Samudas did not relinquish the Orchard Place yard until about 1856, when the site was split up. Turners acquired the southern portion, thereby adding another 105ft of river frontage to their premises, (fn. 166) and by the end of 1857 the northern part was in the hands of Thomas Adam Young of Wapping Wall, a mechanical engineer and iron founder. Young set up an iron foundry and engineering works here which continued in business, latterly as T. A. Young & Sons, until about 1904, when the site, by then Nos 36 and 37 Orchard Place, was absorbed into the adjoining galvanized-iron works at No. 35. (fn. 167)
Jubilee Wharf, as it has been known since 1936, began to emerge as a separately identifiable site in 1839, when the tar and turpentine distillers Samuel Turner & Company took a 60-year lease of ground immediately south of the Gas Light & Coke Company's tar works, which they had occupied since 1833. (fn. 168) This site comprised the southern two-thirds of the present wharf. The northern end, latterly part of Samuda's shipyard, was added in 1856. (fn. 169)
In 1858 William Blewitt took over Turner & Company on the retirement of his partner Samuel Turner, and the firm was then renamed Turner Blewitt & Company. It occupied the wharf until about 1924. During its early years the company's business included the manufacturing of pitch, resin, varnishes and lamp-black; the refining of coal-tar; and the importing and distilling of tar, turpentine and naphtha. Latterly the firm was advertising itself as seed crushers and oil merchants. (fn. 170)
Ten years after Turner Blewitt's departure the premises were described as 'unoccupied and unused . . . and mostly in ruins', and none of the firm's buildings has survived. (fn. 171) The last to go was a 250ft-high furnace chimney-shaft built in 1857: this well-known local landmark was demolished in 1950. (fn. 172)
In 1936 the site was acquired by W. W. Howard Brothers & Company, timber merchants of Trinity Square and Commercial Wharf, Lanrick Road, Poplar, and renamed Jubilee Wharf. Howard Brothers are not, however, the occupants named in the directories, where from 1937 to 1948 Jubilee Wharf appears in the hands of the Crown Sawmills Company. As this company could also be found at Commercial Wharf, Lanrick Road, some kind of association between the two firms seems to be indicated. Whatever the relationship, there can be no question that Howard Brothers was the company responsible for building the two large open-sided timber sheds which dominated the site until recently (Plate 113b). Erected in 1936–7, these sheds were late examples of bow-string or Belfast roof-truss construction, a light but strong and relatively inexpensive means of spanning large spaces invented in Belfast in the late 1860s (see page 307). The characteristic features of this truss are its bowed profile and a lattice of braces connecting the upper and lower members. At Jubilee Wharf the earliest and largest of the sheds (A on fig. 258) had wooden trusses and an asbestos-covered roof carried on steel stanchions set in concrete. The adjoining smaller shed (B on fig. 258) was similar except that, not inappropriately, its roof was carried on double timber columns. The reason for the different supports was presumably that Howards themselves built the smaller shed, in 1937, whereas the larger shed was erected for them, in 1936, by the Structural Engineering Company of Carpenter's Road, Stratford. (fn. 173) Both of these sheds had enjoyed the protection of 'listed building' status, the use of timber having apparently misled the compilers of the Department of the Environment list of buildings of architectural and historic interest into assuming that they were a good deal older than in fact they were. They were 'de-listed' in August 1993 and demolished shortly afterwards. (fn. 174)
Two more timber-sheds were erected here some time after 1939. One was at the north-west corner of the wharf and the other adjoined the 1937 shed. In 1939 the site of the latter was partly occupied by a timber building containing a sawmill. (fn. 175)
Former Union Castle Line Premises
The premises described here comprise the wharves and other sites on the east side of Orchard Place between Jubilee Wharf and the pre-war western boundary of Hercules Wharf. The whole of this area was formerly owned and occupied by the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, whose acquisition of the premises was, however, typically piecemeal. It began in 1878, when (Sir) Donald Currie, the steamship owner and founder of the Castle Line Company, leased some ground here for workshops and stores. This was the northern half of the site, corresponding to the present-day Castle Wharf. The remainder was acquired in two stages, in the 1890s and in 1903. (fn. 8)
The company which was to become the Union Castle Line originated in 1872, when Currie entered the South Africa trade with a new line, which underwent several changes of name before being incorporated as the Castle Mail Packet Company Ltd in 1881. All the ships in the line were named after castles. In 1900 Currie's Castle Line merged with the Union Steamship Company, its chief competitor for the South African mail contract, to form the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company. The lines were managed by the firm of Donald Currie & Company. In 1932 the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company was reconstructed as the Union Castle Line Ltd. (fn. 176)
Currie's reason for acquiring land in Orchard Place was that in the late 1870s he had entered into a berthing agreement with the East and West India Dock Company to lease the north quay of the newly enlarged East India Dock Basin for his South Africa ships, and he needed a site nearby for an engine works and stores for ships' gear. The dock company offered him one on the east side of Orchard Place, with frontages of 320ft to the Lea and 410ft to the roadway, which he took on a 75-year lease beginning in 1878. (fn. 177)
The previous history of this plot falls conveniently into two halves. For many years the southern half formed part of the large cooperage established here by Robert Gordon in the late eighteenth century. In the 1840s Gordon's premises were taken over by the shipbuilders Ditchburn & Mare, who constructed building slips along the river frontage (see fig. 259), but after their successors gave up the site in the late 1850s it again passed into the hands of a cooper, Edwin Dickenson. A survey made in 1865 described the premises as 'spacious' with a range of brick-and-tile coopers' shops and a 'lofty brick tiled skylight louvre lantern cooperage'; but by the end of the decade Dickenson was bankrupt and the site had become 'a complete wreck — not one building being habitable'. (fn. 178) The earlier history of the northern part, which William Bough had included in his abortive building agreement in 1812 (see page 653), emerges less clearly from the records. It was occupied before 1836 by the cooper Robert Gordon, but by the mid-1860s the ground had been divided into two holdings, of which the southern was still in the hands of Gordon's heirs and successors, Robert Gordon & Sons. This cooperage was a modest concern, carried on in a few timber-and-tile sheds. Meanwhile the ground to the north was being used as a repairing yard by the Caledonian Steam Towing Company, a business established in 1843 for 'the purpose of navigating and employing vessels impelled by steam in the towing of ships and vessels'. The yard had a river frontage of 130ft, and included a small shipbuilding slip, as well as a brick-and-tile machine shop, a timber-built office, store and shed, and an old ship's deckhouse used as an office. (fn. 179)
Between the early 1870s and 1878, when Donald Currie became the sole tenant of the three sites just described, the occupiers listed here in the directories include Watson & Jennings, iron cement manufacturers, Watson, Gribble & Company, engineers, and William H. Cox & Company, barge-builders. Cox's yard, established in 1873, was on the site of Gordon & Son's cooperage. Part of the former Caledonian Company's yard was briefly tenanted by the well-known Limehouse-based firm of boatbuilders, Forrestt & Son, suppliers of lifeboats to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The firm does not appear in the directories under Orchard Place and was probably only there for a year or two. In 1875 — 'Mr Forrest [sic] having gone out of his mind' — the East and West India Dock Company let his premises for three years to another firm of lifeboat builders, T. W. Woolfe & Son. (fn. 180)
On taking over these premises in 1878, Donald Currie immediately set about erecting stores, offices and workshops there. The first to be built, by William Bangs & Company of Bow Road in 1878–9, were two long brick ranges flanking an entrance to the wharf from Orchard Place, the southern one of which survives. (fn. 181) It is a twostorey building, which originally contained stores and offices; the northern range contained workshops and was originally a single-storey building. In 1882 an extra storey was added over part of this range for a coppersmiths' shop. (fn. 182) Various other workshops were erected on the wharf in the 1880s and 1890s, including a corrugatediron building designed by the architects Manning & Baynes, for the accommodation of the company's coppersmiths, boilermakers and painters. (fn. 183)
In 1895 the Castle Company bought part of the adjoining premises to the south called Bond's Wharf, and the rest in 1898. (fn. 184) This purchase also included the five early Victorian houses backing on to the wharf known as Ann's Place. Bond's Wharf, so called because it had been occupied since 1884 by John Bond & Son, a firm of contractors, had earlier formed part of the site of Gordon's cooperage. In the late 1870s it was used for a lifeboat depot by T. W. Woolfe & Son, whose premises on the old Caledonian Company's yard had been taken over by Currie in 1878. (fn. 185) The Castle Company's minutes describe the acquisition of Bond's Wharf as 'desirable', but make no mention of any intended use for the premises. Subsequently, the company erected an Lshaped range of stores and offices here, perhaps in 1913. (fn. 186) These buildings are on the western part of the site, next to the road, and are still standing. Built of brick, they are two-storey structures over raised basements, with boarded floors, and pitched-and-slated roofs. The southern (east-west) range has an additional floor contained within the roof space. (fn. 187)
The Castle Line's last acquisition in Orchard Place was White's boatyard, or Old Orchard Yard, as it is called on the 1893 Ordnance Survey plan, which the company bought in 1903. Situated between the former Bond's Wharf and Excelsior (later Hercules) Wharf, it encompassed the site of the Orchard House itself, but since 1878 the ground here had been occupied as a boat- and barge-building yard under a lease to Alfred White, timber merchant and boatbuilder, who also had a yard at Sittingbourne in Kent. His Orchard Place yard included a small drawdock. (fn. 188) In 1908 the Union Castle Company erected a warehouse and stores in the south-west corner of this site which still survives. Built by Mark Patrick & Son of Westminster Bridge Road, it is a plainly utilitarian brick building of two storeys, with pitched-and-slated roofs (Plate 113a). (fn. 189) (fn. 9) In the early 1950s, after the Union Castle Company had given up this building, it was occupied as a soap factory. (fn. 191)
Union Castle Line Ltd retained a presence in Orchard Place until the late 1950s. (fn. 192) By then the premises were entirely freehold, the company having purchased the northern end of the wharf from the PLA in 1927. (fn. 193) This northern part was subsequently taken over by the Lea Haulage & Wharfage Company Ltd, which also had premises directly opposite at Bridge Wharf. By the early 1950s the southern part was mostly in the hands of the timber merchants at the adjoining Hercules Wharf. (fn. 194)
The Orchard Place Premises of Ditchburn & Mare, and their Successors
In the 1840s and 1850s the largest industrial presence in Orchard Place, in terms of area occupied, was that of the shipbuilding firm of Ditchburn & Mare and its immediate successor, C. J. Mare & Company. Founded in 1837 by the shipwright Thomas J. Ditchburn (1801–70) and the engineer and naval architect Charles Mare (1815–98), Ditchburn & Mare were originally based at Deptford, but moved to Orchard Place in 1838 or 1839 after a fire gutted the Deptford yard. In Orchard Place they took over the premises of the bankrupted shipbuilders William and Benjamin Wallis. (fn. 195) These were a Thames-side yard next to Orchard House Stairs (now part of the Shell Marine Store) and a Lea-side yard (now part of Leamouth Wharf). From this relatively modest foothold the firm expanded until its premises in Orchard Place, all of which were leasehold, occupied three riverside sites and one inland site, with a total area of more than 14 acres (fig. 259). (fn. 196)
Among the earliest, though not, as has been claimed, the first builders of iron ships on the Thames, (fn. 197) Ditchburn & Mare began their partnership building small iron paddle-steamers of between 50 and 100 tons. From river steamers, the firm progressed to cross-Channel boats and by 1840 it was producing ships of over 300 tons. Its customers included the London and Blackwall Railway Company, for which it built two paddle steamers in 1842, which operated between Gravesend and the railway's Blackwall terminus on Brunswick Wharf. (fn. 198)
In 1847 Ditchburn retired from the business, (fn. 199) which was then carried on by Mare, the younger partner, under the name of C. J. Mare & Company, the position of naval architect being filled by James Ash. (fn. 200) (In the 1860s Ash opened a yard of his own in Cubitt Town, see page 533.) According to the naval architect G. M. Mackrow, who had served his apprenticeship with the firm, the partnership broke up over Mare's ambitious proposals to establish a large new works, including furnaces and rolling mills, on the Essex side of Bow Creek, where the undeveloped marshes offered opportunities for expansion not available in the narrow confines of Orchard Place. (fn. 201) Whether or not this was the only reason for the split, the period between 1847 and 1855 was one of very considerable growth and expansion for the firm. Mare purchased land on the Essex side of the Lea and established a yard there capable of building ships of between 2,000 and 4,000 tons (the largest ships constructed in Orchard Place were under 1,000 tons). The work carried out there was not confined to shipbuilding. There was also an important civil engineering side to the business, whose undertakings included railway bridges for the North London Railway, the iron roofs at Fenchurch Street station and at the London and Blackwall Railway's terminus on Brunswick Wharf, and, most notably, some of the tubular sections for Stephenson and Fairbairn's Britannia railway bridge over the Menai Strait (1846–9). (fn. 202)
The firm continued to build smaller vessels on the slips in Orchard Place, but, as the plan of 1857 shows, the Middlesex side of the premises was an area where carpentry and woodworking predominated (fig. 259). In 1854 more than 440 joiners were employed there. Each of the four separate yards included one or more smithies where iron fittings for the ships were prepared. There were also shops for smiths, painters, brass finishers, brass founders and sail makers; a rigging shop over 200ft long, and a works for the boatbuilders and block makers. On the north side of Orchard Place was a large sawmill and planing house powered by a 60hp steam-engine. When this was erected in 1845, the District Surveyor noted that the boiler-house chimney shaft did not taper, as required under the Building Acts. (fn. 203)
The two parts of Mare's establishment were linked by a chain-ferry across Bow Creek, capable of carrying up to 200 men. (fn. 204)
In 1855 this large and apparently thriving business, employing between 3,000 and 4,000 hands, was brought to the brink of extinction by the insolvency of C. J. Mare, who in September was declared bankrupt with unsecured debts of £160,000 and total liabilities of £400,000. (fn. 205) Various reasons have been advanced for his difficulties. Mare himself said that they 'arose from the delay in payment of debts due to him for work performed'. (fn. 206) Another explanation was that the firm had seriously underestimated the cost of building gunboats and despatch vessels for the Admiralty, and in 1896, Mackrow hinted that Mare's fondness for the turf was probably a contributory factor. (fn. 207) The firm did not lack orders, for work in hand included six gunboats for the Admiralty and the contract for the new Westminster Bridge, and the principal creditors moved swiftly to keep the business afloat. One of them, the Commercial Bank, was sufficiently convinced of its viability to open a credit of £10,000 for this purpose. (fn. 208) Two employees of the firm, Joseph Westwood and Robert Baillie, who later set up their own works at London Yard in Cubitt Town (see page 533), were appointed acting managers. Early in 1856 The Times reported that the various contracts were being 'prosecuted with great energy'. (fn. 209)
The most important figure in saving the business was Mare's mortgagor, Peter Rolt, a timber merchant and the MP for Greenwich, and a descendant on his mother's side of the Pett family of distinguished seventeenthcentury shipbuilders. He was also Mare's father-in-law. (fn. 210) Rolt purchased the firm's assets in 1856, and in 1857 he assigned them to a new company, with limited liability, called the Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company Ltd. (fn. 211) The Building News commented that the Limited Liability Act (of 1855) has 'thus prevented one of the largest establishments on the Thames . . . from being broken up'. (fn. 212) The objectives of the new company were the 'building of ships, the forging, casting and rolling of iron, the construction of wrought and cast ironwork generally, and all such works and business as may be incident thereto'. It had a nominal capital of £100,000 in 20 shares of £5,000 each, of which Rolt, who was the largest shareholder and chairman of the board of directors, held five. Other shareholders included John Kelk, the builder and public works contractor, three members of the Maudslay family, whose firm made marine engines, and the new company's managing director, Captain John Ford. Of the fourteen original shareholders, six described themselves as engineers. (fn. 213) (fn. 10)
The Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company Ltd was the biggest and most important shipbuilding concern on the Thames. In 1861 the Mechanics' Magazine dubbed its premises 'Leviathan Workshops . . . of a truly Cyclopean type', and in 1871, as the firm was about to undergo another of its periodic reconstructions, readers of Engineering were told that it was 'known as the greatest private shipbuilding establishment in this country'. (fn. 215) On the shipbuilding side the company undertook the largest contracts, and as early as 1863 it had the capacity to build 25,000 tons of warships and 10,000 tons of firstclass mail steamers at the same time. One of its first contracts was HMS Warrior, a 9,000-ton frigate, which at the time of its launch in 1860 was the largest warship in the world. The Warrior was also the Royal Navy's first sea-going ironclad. (fn. 216) On the civil engineering side the firm's work ranged from bridges and roofs to dock gates, iron ships' masts for the local shipbuilders, Messrs Green, and buoys for Trinity House. It included the iron ribs for the domes of the International Exhibition Building at South Kensington of 1862, roofs for the Royal Aquarium in Westminster and Alexandra Palace (east court), Blackfriars railway bridge (1860–9), and Hammersmith suspension bridge (1883–7). (fn. 217)
The bulk of this work, however, was carried out on the Essex side of the Lea, where the firm expanded from just under 10 acres in 1856 to nearly 30 acres by 1891. (fn. 218) Although Orchard Place remained the company's registered address until 1903, its presence there was much reduced. By the early 1860s it had given up three of the four sites shown in fig. 259, retaining only the large plot covering some five acres on the north side of the road, on the eastern part of which were the firm's offices. The sawmills which had occupied the western part of this site in Mare's time burnt down in 1860 and were not rebuilt, and in 1861 most of the ground here was being used as a timber yard. (fn. 219) Although traces of a shipbuilding slip were apparently still visible in 1869, it was never used by the Thames Iron Works Company, which closed the slip when it took over the premises in 1857. (fn. 220) By the early 1870s the firm retained only the eastern portion of this site, including the general offices, which it leased from the East and West India Dock Company. The office buildings, which included 'a spacious and lofty Boardroom' and a 'two storey Drawing Office' occupied a low stucco-faced range fronting the road (Plate 115a). (fn. 221) This range long survived the company's removal from Orchard Place in 1903 and was still standing in 1948. After the departure of the Thames Iron Works, the site was purchased by the adjoining occupier and incorporated into Leamouth Wharf. (fn. 222)
By the time the firm left Orchard Place it was already in decline, the result of heavy reliance on building warships for the Admiralty, which increasingly patronized the less expensive northern yards. There was a brief resurgence in its fortunes in 1909–11, based on the construction of dreadnoughts, but after the launch of HMS Thunderer in 1911 the banks refused further loans and receivers were brought in. Ironically, the firm's closure in 1912 deprived the Thames of its last major shipbuilding concern at the height of the greatest naval shipbuilding boom that Britain had ever experienced. (fn. 223)
The site of Hercules Wharf was one of several freeholds, previously part of the Orchard House estate, which Sir Robert Wigram bought from the East India Dock Company in 1815. (fn. 224) (fn. 11) Wigram already occupied the ground on a lease from John Wells of 1813, under the terms of which he was supposed to spend at least £1,000 on 'good and substantial erections', but it is not clear what, if anything, he built here, or how the site was used. (fn. 225) The engineering firm of Miller & Ravenhill became the lessees in the late 1830s, at the same time as they took over Wigram's old Thames-side premises at Orchard Wharf (see below), but they do not appear to have occupied the Lea-side site, which was soon sub-let to the shipbuilders Ditchburn & Mare and their successors, C. J. Mare & Company, and the Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company Ltd (fig. 259). By 1857, when the Thames Iron Works took over the premises, the ground now comprising Hercules Wharf was occupied by a building slip, smithy, carpenters' shop, fittingshop and press shed. (fn. 226) This company concentrated its operations on the Essex side of the Lea, and withdrew from most of the sites in Orchard Place previously occupied by Mare's company.
By 1873 the Hercules Wharf site, soon to be named Orchard House Yard but later shortened to Orchard Yard, was in the hands of an iron-steamboat- and ship-builder, Joseph Spencer Watson, who maintained a yard here until 1887. (fn. 227) After Watson's departure there were brief tenancies of the site by two barge-builders, W. H. Jolly (1889) and H. H. Mackenzie (1890), by the Hydraulic Appliances Shipbuilding Patents Company Ltd (1893), and by the London Excelsior Lawn Mower Manufacturers (1896). (fn. 228) The lawn-mower company renamed the premises Excelsior Wharf. In 1897 it was superseded by O'Brien, Thomas & Company, hardware merchants, who stayed until 1910. During this firm's occupation of the wharf, which they leased from the FitzWigram Estate, the buildings on the site comprised an old stable and loft used as a workshop, an old but 'substantial' two-storey workshop, and a top-lit timber-store. (fn. 229)
The next occupant was the rope-making firm of Hawkins & Tipson. Founded in 1881, Hawkins & Tipson's works were in East Ferry Road (see page 513), but by 1910, when they took over Excelsior Wharf, they also needed some riverside premises for landing and storing materials. The firm converted one of the existing buildings on the wharf into a spinning-mill, with 30 spinners, which went into production in February 1911. Extended in 1912. and rebuilt after a fire in 1917, the spinningmill was on the southern part of the site, with a frontage to Orchard Place. By 1927 the northern part of the wharf was largely taken up by a hemp-store or warehouse, a single-storey, weatherboarded-and-corrugated-iron structure with skylights. The Hercules Rope Works, as the Orchard Place premises were then called, were destroyed by enemy action in 1940. (fn. 230) The site was afterwards in the hands of timber merchants. Ingram Perkins & Company Ltd, who by 1951 had erected the three opensided metal timber-sheds, each one rising to 30ft, which still dominate the wharf (Plate 113a). (fn. 231)
From the early nineteenth century until 1902 there were two quite separately tenanted properties here. The eastern and larger portion, with a road frontage of 214ft, was first called 'Lea Mouth Wharf in the early 1870s, (fn. 232) when it was the site of a short-lived iron-foundry. It had previously been occupied by a Roman cement manufactory and subsequently by an asphalt works. Before 1902 the slightly smaller western portion had formed part of the premises of the Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company and its predecessors.
The independent history of the eastern section began in 1812 when a Roman cement works was set up there by James Warne Simpson of Billiter Square, described as a 'manufacturer', who leased the ground from John Wells, the tenant of the Orchard House estate. (fn. 233) (fn. 12) In its earliest days the works comprised an engine house and grinding mill (in one building) and a kiln. Many years later George Mackrow, the naval architect, wrote that as a boy he had often 'watched the old Sun and Planet engine, by Watt, at work grinding the material for the manufacture of this Roman cement'. (fn. 234) This was presumably Parker's Roman cement, which was made by burning and grinding nodules found in the Thames estuary by Sheppey. It had been invented in 1796 by the Reverend James Parker, whose patent had expired in 1810 (fn. 235) Roman cement dominated the stucco market during the first half of the nineteenth century and the business prospered. Under Simpson and his successors (variously Turner & Simpson, Turner & Montague, David Montague and Frederick Morton Eden) cement making continued here for the next 50 years. Both David Montague and F. M. Eden, who took over the cement works from Montague at the end of 1858, had other commercial interests, which included the Royal Victoria Potteries at Leigh, near Southend, where they made glazed pipes and brown-stone earthenware. (fn. 236)
By the early 1860s the cement business was in decline, and Eden sub-let part of the site to a road contractor for landing stone and other materials. (fn. 237) A survey in 1865 found the works 'dismantled' and the buildings 'out of repair'. The buildings then comprised a brick dwellinghouse and offices, a single-storey brick mill, a lofty opensided tiled shed, two kilns, a cooperage and a stable. (fn. 238)
Eden relinquished the premises on the expiry of the lease in 1867, having been unable to persuade the freeholders, the East and West India Dock Company, to grant him a new one. In 1870 the dock company granted a 21-year lease to Joshua James Eamonson, an ironmonger in Dowgate Hill, and by his own admission 'an elderly man', who immediately set up an iron-foundry there known as the Docks Foundry. (fn. 239) A bird's-eye view of the works, standing in splendid isolation, embellished the firm's stationery (fig. 262).
A fresh survey in 1870 found the buildings in better shape, but concluded that the amount of business the firm appeared to be doing 'does not encourage the hope they will long continue tenants to the [dock] company'. (fn. 240) This prediction was soon borne out, when in June 1872 Eamonson sold his lease to the Asphalte Paving Company Limited of Lime Street, a recently incorporated firm already in possession of paving contracts for London and Dublin, and soon to obtain another for Paris. (fn. 241)
The manufacture of asphalt at Leamouth Wharf lasted for nearly 100 years. It was not the most environmentally friendly of industrial processes, and in 1877 the firm was successfully prosecuted for causing a nuisance by discharging vapours of 'an offensive nature and injurious to health'. (fn. 242)
The company bought the freehold of the site in 1902, and at the same time it purchased all the adjoining ground westwards as far as Hercules (then Excelsior) Wharf, thereby nearly doubling the area of its premises. In 1813 this additional ground had been leased by John Wells to a plumber and lead merchant in Wapping, Sawyer Spencer. (fn. 243) It had been mainly occupied by a succession of shipbuilders, passing in 1857 into the control of the Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company (see above), which had its offices there. From 1872 until 1902 the western half of this site, initially as Trinity Yard and later as Orchard Yard, had been let for boat building to William Watkins & Company, which specialized in making steam-yachts and launches. (fn. 244)
Having extended Leamouth Wharf, the asphalt company embarked on an extensive campaign of new building there in 1903–4, in order to cope with the demands of an expanding business. The new works comprised factories, workshops, stables, offices, stores, residential accommodation, and a new wharf wall and quay for landing and shipping materials. Designed by Messrs Clarkson of Poplar and Bloomsbury, the buildings were of stock brick, with fireproof floors on steel stanchions, the steel joists being embedded in concrete and covered with the company's mineral rock mastic asphalt. The company's own new patent paving, known as 'Lithofalt', was used in the stables. The contractors were F. & H. F. Higgs for the buildings and G. Munday & Sons for the river frontage. The Building News commented that everything 'bears quite an up-to-date appearance' and noted that the new machinery was driven by electricity 'taken direct from the mains of Poplar Borough Council'. (fn. 245) Although most of the old premises were rebuilt at this time, the range containing the Thames Iron Works' former offices was allowed to remain, and was still standing in 1948. (fn. 246)
The Limmer & Trinidad Lake Asphalte Company Ltd, as the firm was renamed in 1916, continued operating at Leamouth Wharf until c1970, latterly as Limmer Holdings Ltd. In 1973 the site was redeveloped by IDC Property Investments Ltd of London, which erected the present two large prefabricated warehouses, each of 22,200 sq.ft gross, with Sir Frederick Snow & Partners as consulting engineers. (fn. 247) The former river walls have been replaced by interlocking steel sheet-piling.
Former Trinity House Buoy Wharf
For nearly 200 years, from 1803 to 1988, the land on the west side of the Thames-Lea confluence was occupied by the Corporation of Trinity House, initially for storing buoys and sea-marks, and latterly as workshops for testing, repairing and making equipment. In modern times, no other riverside site in Poplar has remained so long in the same continuous ownership (Plates 116–18; figs 260–1).
Trinity House began storing buoys at Blackwall in the 1760s, when Richard Stewart, a local cooper in Coldharbour, became the Corporation's buoy-maker and provided storage space in his warehouses. At this date buoys, like barrels, were made of wood and iron. In 1787–8 a purpose-built buoy-loft, designed by Thomas Mutter, the Trinity House surveyor, was erected at Coldharbour by John Stewart, Richard's son and successor in business, who also allowed the Corporation to use his wharf and crane there for landing and shipping their buoys. (fn. 248)
These arrangements came to an end with the construction of the West India Docks and the City Canal, whose Blackwall entrances swallowed the site of the buoyloft, and also Richard Govey's dry dock, used by the Trinity House yacht. (fn. 249) The Corporation's Buoy Warden had been looking at alternative sites and in 1801 he recommended one at the easternmost extremity of the Orchard House property, where the Lea joins the Thames, which the Corporation secured on a 60-year lease, expiring in 1864. The plot covered just over an acre and had a long frontage to the Lea of 465ft and a shorter one to the Thames of 155ft. (fn. 250)
This original site has been twice extended, in 1815 and 1875. In 1815 Trinity House took a lease of the adjoining Thames-side wharf, adding just under half an acre to the site and 60ft to the river frontage, and later that year the Corporation purchased the freehold of both pieces of ground. In 1875 it bought just over an acre of the adjoining shipyard to the west, further extending the Thames-side frontage by 140ft. (fn. 251)
The First Buoy Store and Superintendent's House
The first building to be raised on the new wharf was a buoy store and superintendent's dwelling-house, erected in 1803–4. At the same time, part of the frontage on the Lea was embanked, with an embrasure for tying-up the Trinity House yacht. The superintendent's house evolved out of an intention to include a 'Room for a Person to reside as a Security to the Premises'. These works were not designed by the Corporation's own surveyor, the architect Samuel Wyatt, but by a consulting engineer, Ralph Walker, who also supervised their construction, and received £150 for his services. When work started Walker was one of two engineers employed by the West India Dock Company: by the time it was finished he had been dismissed from his post at the West India Docks and had become joint engineer for the East India Docks. He continued to act as consulting engineer to Trinity House until his death in 1824, being succeeded by his nephew, James Walker. The building and excavation work at the new wharf was carried out by William Bough, who was paid £4,312. Small sums paid to other tradesmen included £37 for making a garden. In 1809 a further £57 was paid to a gardener for planting. The grove of trees which was such an attractive feature of the wharf in the middle decades of the nineteenth century was probably planted about this time. (fn. 252)
The original buoy store does not survive, but the building can be partly seen in a photograph of 1866 (Plate 116a). Standing approximately on the site later occupied by a garage and packing shed (3–4 on fig. 260), it was a low, plain, single-storey brick structure, 85ft by 30ft, with a slate-covered roof. Attached to its southern end was the superintendent's house, originally a plain, square building of two storeys and an attic, with a porticoed front entrance in the centre of the south elevation, and probably stuccoed. The only known illustration is the photograph of 1866, which shows the house after it had been altered and enlarged to accommodate the occupant's growing family. The elegant two-storey bow on the east front was added in 1841; at the same time two extra rooms were formed out of the adjoining buoy store. (fn. 253) The third storey at the back, over the buoy store, is probably the 'sleeping room' added in 1852–3 for the superintendent's children. (fn. 254) Stucco, or perhaps white paint, was used to differentiate the superintendent's quarters from the buoy store.
The River Wall
The original river wall of 1803–4 was a timber structure which extended along only part of the Lea frontage, to make a wharf for ballast and for transferring buoys on and off the Trinity House yacht. The southern end of the Lea frontage and the whole of the Thames frontage were originally left unembanked. In 1822 the timber wharfing was rebuilt in brick, with stone coping and wooden fenders, from the designs of Ralph Walker, who gave a smoother contour to the original embrasure. The contractor was George Munday of Old Ford, and the cost was £1,000. (fn. 255) Although heightened and repaired at various dates, this brick wall still stands, and is the oldest surviving structure at the wharf (Plate 117c).
The southern end of the wall on the Lea side and about two-thirds of the Thames-side wall, including the steps to the foreshore, were constructed in 1851–2. This length, of 400ft, was designed by James Walker and built by Thomas Earle. Because Earle's tender of £4,540 was relatively low, fine ashlared stone facings were substituted for the brick that was originally intended, except at the base. (fn. 256) There was serious flooding in the mid-1870s, and in 1881 the wall was raised and extended westwards 140ft in front of the recently acquired addition to the wharf. (fn. 257)
The surface of the wharf, which was raised in 1881, is now mostly covered in recent tarmac and concrete, but in places patches of granite sets survive. These were first introduced in 1861, to replace wooden blocks. (fn. 258) There are also some traces of the system of railway tracks first laid down in the 1860s.
New Buildings, 1822–62
Nearly all the buildings erected on the wharf during the first half of the nineteenth century have been demolished and in most cases their sites cannot be identified with certainty. They included a white-smith's shop (1844); workshops and a butchers' shop (1845); a chain warehouse, built by Cubitt & Company, whose first floor was connected to a jetty by an elevated passage and railway (1847); and a salting-house (1849). (fn. 259)
The one surviving building from these years is the former oil-storehouse of 1836, much altered and latterly occupied as an electrical and radio shop (7 on fig. 260). Designed by James Walker and built by George Munday (brickwork), Gates & Horne (carpentry) and North & Company (slater's work), it is a single-storey brick shed of 50ft by 87ft over a raised basement, with a slated roof and timber queen-post roof trusses. Cruciform-section cast-iron columns in the basement are used to support the two principal beams carrying the floor (Plate 113b). A house for the store-keeper was built at the same time to the north of the oil-storehouse, just inside the wharf's main gate. Long disused, it was demolished in 1950. (fn. 260)
The New Chain and Buoy Store and Experimental Lighthouse
James Walker had been remunerated with a fee and a percentage of the cost of the work, (fn. 261) but following his death in 1862 the opportunity was taken to create a new salaried position of Engineer-in-Chief. (fn. 262) The first holder of this post, from 1863 to 1892, was (Sir) James N. Douglass, the designer of many famous lighthouses, (fn. 263) one of whose earliest jobs was to prepare proposals for increasing the accommodation at the Blackwall wharf. These included the replacement of the existing chain store with a new chain and buoy store.
Erected in 1864–6, this new store is the largest of the surviving nineteenth-century structures on the wharf (fig. 261 and 1 on fig. 260). Its most prominent feature is an experimental lighthouse tower incorporated into the east wall. This was not, however, in Douglass's first design. He had originally intended that an already existing experimental lantern, put up in 1854 on one of the older storehouses, should be re-erected in a central position on the roof of the new building. (fn. 264) In the mid-1850s this lantern had been used for the electric lighting trials carried out under the direction of Michael Faraday, the Corporation's scientific adviser, which led in 1858 to electric lighting being installed for the first time in an operational lighthouse (at South Foreland, near Dover). (fn. 265) (fn. 13) When Faraday asked for a 'chamber' with a rigid iron floor for examining optical apparatus to be included in the new stores, Douglass proposed moving the lantern to a 'Semi-tower at the East end', thus permitting the construction of a long narrow room within the roof space. Douglass's revised plans were approved in June 1864 and in October the building contract was signed with T. F. Stewart (son of Thomas Stewart, a builder in Mile End), whose tender was for £4,065. (fn. 267)
The new store was a brick shed in two divisions, each measuring 50ft by 90ft, with double-pitched slate-covered roofs and timber queen-post roof trusses. Faraday's 'chamber' for examining optical apparatus does not survive. Presumably it was situated between the rows of queen posts under the south roof, and was lit by skylights, which have been removed. Access would have been via the staircase in the adjoining lighthouse tower. A railway track laid down to facilitate the movement of buoys and chains around the wharf originally went right through the building, passing under the large double-door openings in the middle of the north and south elevations (Plates 116b, 117a).
The polygonal brick lighthouse tower rises against, and is integral with, the east wall of the building. It is surmounted by an octagonal stone cornice which supports the railed gallery or platform surrounding the base of the lantern. The height of the tower is 36ft up to the gallery and 57ft to the top of the lantern. Instead of re-erecting the old lantern, as had been intended, a new lantern was installed, which still survives, although altered. It was made by Campbell, Johnstone & Company of Founder's Court, Lothbury, engineers who specialized in structural iron- and steel-work. (fn. 268) Chance Brothers, the Birmingham glass-manufacturers, supplied the thick diamond-shaped panes of glass. (fn. 269) The conical roof was originally topped by a decorative finial carrying a feather-shaped weathervane. Some time before 1930 a ventilation cowl was added and in the 1950s the weathervane was replaced by an anemometer.
The original lantern of 1854 was installed at the apex of the south-west gable of the chain and buoy store and remained there until the 1920s. It was enlarged in 1858 by Messrs Wilkins & Company, suppliers of lighthouse lights. (fn. 270) Both lanterns were used in 1869 for trials of 'Electro Magnetic Machines', and experiments in connection with the Wolf Rock light, designed 'to render its red flash equal to white'. White light was exhibited from the western lantern, coloured light from the eastern, and the results observed from Charlton. (fn. 271) After the Second World War the tower was used in the training of lighthouse keepers. (fn. 16)
During the post-war reconstruction of the early 1950s the interior of the chain and buoy store was divided up to make workshops, and in the process many of the original external door openings were partially blocked and filled with windows.
The New Engineering Establishment and the Extension of the Wharf
In 1869 the Corporation set up an engineering establishment at the wharf to repair and test the new iron buoys, then rapidly replacing the old wooden ones. Hitherto repair work had been contracted out, the wharf being used chiefly for storage. The Board of Trade, to which financial control of the lighthouse revenues had passed under an Act of 1854, was sceptical of the Corporation's ability to control the costs of undertaking the work 'in house'. Nevertheless, it sanctioned the expenditure of £3,580 in fitting up workshops 'as an experiment'. Once established, however, there was no turning back, and between 1870 and 1906 the numbers employed in the workshops rose considerably, from 28 to around 150. (fn. 273)
As more and more buoys sent to Blackwall for repair piled up on the wharf awaiting attention, overcrowding soon became a problem, and the Corporation began to consider extending the wharf. Only two options for expansion were available: north-westwards over Eamonson's ironfoundry next to Bow Creek, or westwards along the Thames over Green's Lower Shipyard. Eamonson was ready to oblige, but his title proved to be unsatisfactory. Henry Green, the shipyard's owner and an 'old friend' of the Corporation, was similarly willing to cooperate. The lease of his premises expired in 1874, but he was negotiating to buy the freehold, and offered to sell the eastern portion to Trinity House. (fn. 274)
The Board of Trade viewed these proposals to extend the wharf as a surreptitious attempt to put the 'experimental' workshops on a permanent footing. But events played into the Corporation's hands when in 1872 Lloyd's Register of Shipping withdrew from the business of testing cables, chains and anchors in London, and an embarrassed Board of Trade had to ask Trinity House to take over this work. (fn. 275)
The statutory testing of cables, chains and anchors had been introduced (for a limited period) in 1864. (fn. 276) In London the work was carried out by Lloyd's Register of Shipping, at its proving-house in the West India Docks (see page 321). In 1871 an amending Act put statutory testing on a permanent footing, with Lloyd's Register as the sole licensed authority for London. (fn. 277) Thus its decision to close the proving-house threatened to deprive the Port of London of adequate testing facilities just as the new Act was about to come into force. (fn. 278)
Trinity House reluctantly agreed to take on the work, although in the Corporation's view it could only be made to pay if carried out on or near its own premises. As there was no room available on the wharf, it asked the Board of Trade to sanction the purchase of part of the adjoining shipyard. In the meantime it would carry on using Lloyd's Register's old proving-house in the West India Docks, an arrangement which continued until 1875. (fn. 279)
In the circumstances the Board of Trade had no alternative but to agree to the purchase of the eastern part of Green's yard, which was completed early in 1875. (fn. 280)
The Proving-House Range
Plans for a proving-house and other workshops destined for this newly acquired site were drawn up by James Douglass and approved in May 1875. Building started in September, the contract having been awarded to a local firm, Robert Abraham & Company of North Street, and the work was finished by the end of the year. (fn. 281)
The proving-house is a long and low single-storey range abutting against the western boundary wall (Plate 118a; 12 on fig. 260). Built of brick, with a mono-pitched slate roof, it is 20ft wide and was originally just over 200ft long (about 20ft has been lost at the northern end). It is not known if the test shed originally extended the whole length, or if, as appears in a later plan, it only occupied the southern 135ft, the remainder being divided up for store rooms. Trinity House purchased the testing machinery from Lloyd's Register and transferred it here from the West India Docks. Although still in working order in 1954, it was scrapped because of its age. (fn. 282) No machinery remains in the building and the test shed has been subdivided.
When built the proving-house formed the long arm of [inverted capital L]-shaped range, the short arm of which extended along the north side of the wharf next to Orchard Place. This northern range was split in two by a new entrance from Orchard Place: the eastern section contained a pattern shop and wood-store, and the western one a carpenters' shop. (fn. 283) Both this range and the northern end of the proving-house range were demolished in the early 1950s.
The New Superintendent's House
In November 1875 an exceptionally high tide caused flooding at the wharf and so damaged the old superintendent's house that the occupant was forced into lodgings. As a result the Corporation decided to rebuild the house on a new site a little to the east of the chain and buoy store, though this meant felling most of the grove of trees. Designed by Douglass, the new house was erected in 1876–7 by a local builder, Adin Sheffield, at a tender price of £2,088. (fn. 284)
Compared to its attractive predecessor, the new house was severely utilitarian in appearance, with a hard-nosed symmetry in which the hand of the engineer may perhaps be detected. Rectangular in plan, it was a doubled-fronted building, two storeys high, with an attic, whose window and door openings were subjected to an odd, yet relentlessly applied, tripartite treatment. The internal planning, too, was unyieldingly symmetrical. This house had been demolished by the early 1950s, when its site was used for stores (2 on fig. 260).
New Buildings, 1880–1939
The largest of the later nineteenth-century buildings on the wharf was a [two sides of a square]-shaped range of corrugated-iron workshops to the north and west of the chain and buoy store. Erected in two phases, in 1880–1 and 1886, it survived until 1954, being by then in 'a disgraceful state of disrepair'. (fn. 285) In 1881 a single-storey lean-to boat-house, paint store and men's mess was built against the west side of the chain and buoy store. This, too, survived until the early 1950s. (fn. 286) The original buoy store and superintendent's house were demolished c1885 and the site was used for another single-storey brick range of stores, which, re-roofed, was latterly used as a garage and a packing shed (3–4 on fig. 260). A new office and store erected just inside the main gate in 1886, (fn. 287) was rebuilt in the 1950s, except for a small section which survives at the south-west corner of the building.
The increasing use of acetylene gas to fuel the lights on the buoys led in 1908 to the building of a new, larger gas works in the north-west corner of the wharf, replacing an earlier gas plant of 1886. The new works consisted of a low single-storey brick range, with segmental-headed window openings, and a separate circular gas-holder to the south. Damaged in the Second World War, the building was re-roofed in the early 1950s and converted to a canteen and kitchen (11 on fig. 260). (fn. 288)
Several buildings were damaged by wartime bombing, including the iron workshops whose future had been under review in the mid-1930s. In 1945 a scheme was drawn up to replace the old workshops with permanent structures, at a cost of £100,000. This led to the reconsideration of a proposal to move the depot out of London altogether, which had been mentioned by the Royal Commission on Lighthouse Administration in 1908 and was again mooted in the early 1930s. In 1932 Parkestone, Harwich and Felixstowe were under consideration; in 1945 Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey was the preferred location. In the event, it was decided to keep the workshops at Blackwall and transfer the marine side to Harwich. (fn. 289)
Reconstruction work lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The first phase, up to 1954, included the building of a workshops' store on the site of the former storekeeper's house (1950) and a new office block just inside the main gate (1951). The new buildings are plain and functional with no architectural pretensions — the workshops' store displays a small plaque with the Corporation's arms, perhaps salvaged from the old Superintendent's house. The construction work for this and succeeding phases was carried out by J. A. Porter & Company Ltd (later the Porter Construction Company) under the Corporation's Engineer-in-Chief.
The largest of the post-war buildings are the new fitting-shop, erected along the northern boundary of the property in the early 1950s, and the boiler-makers' shop of the same date (Plate 118b, c; 6 and 13 on fig. 260). With their large expanse of windows and brick construction, both of these buildings exude something of the flavour of the Festival of Britain. This is particularly the case with the fitting-shop, whose undulating concreteshell roof, a feature especially redolent of 1951, was added when the designs were revised in 1952 (the preliminary design of 1949 shows a flat roof). In 1954 the original designs, by the Corporation's former Engineer-in-Chief, were said to have been 'modernised economically as regards methods of construction'. (fn. 290) The fitting-shop contained a Smith-Keighley three-ton overhead travelling crane (1954) (Plate 118c).
Other buildings and structures erected during the reconstruction included a single-storey compressor and siren test house next to the Thames (1956) and the adjacent buoy shed with an overhead travelling crane (1962–3). The buoy shed is a steel-framed prefabricated structure by Coseley Buildings Ltd of Lanesfield near Wolverhampton. (fn. 291)
The workshops closed on 31 December 1988, and in 1989 the Corporation sold the wharf to the LDDC. In 1994 the LDDC is proposing to refurbish the former chain and buoy store and experimental lighthouse (a listed building) for temporary exhibitions use. (fn. 292)
Shell Marine Store, Orchard Place
Situated on the south side of Orchard Place, between Orchard House Stairs and the former Trinity House Buoy Wharf, the site of the Shell Oil Company's Marine Store has had a typically varied history of mixed industrial and commercial usage, though for many years shipbuilding and ship-repairing predominated. Physical evidence of this industry survives in the listed remains of a much-reconstructed nineteenth-century dry dock, which itself was converted from an earlier tidal fittingout basin (Plate 113c).
The Eastern Half
The eastern half of the Shell site was formerly part of a large plot with a river frontage of 200ft which John Wells leased in 1813 to William Hewison, a local wharfinger, who built two stacks of warehouses and a counting-house there. (fn. 293) By 1819 Hewison's wharf had been sub-divided, the eastern portion, which included the warehouses and counting-house, being then in the occupation of Stewart Marjoribanks, of S. Marjoribanks & Company, a firm of City merchants, which stayed until the late 1830s. (fn. 294) Marjoribanks had connections with the East India Company and in the 1820s the Company leased his warehouses here for ships' stores. (fn. 295) The western portion of Hewison's wharf was sub-let to the shipbuilders Gladstone, Snook & Company, whose occupation of the site began in 1816 and lasted until 1844. In 1830 the only structures at the yard were a joiners' loft, sawpits and a shipbuilding slip: the firm later constructed a tidal fittingout basin here. (fn. 296)
In the 1840s the whole of Hewison's old wharf was taken over by the Blackwall Yard shipbuilders R. & H. Green, who established a second shipyard here known as Green's Lower Yard or Dock. (fn. 297) With a river frontage of 274ft, the Lower Yard comprised not only Hewison's former wharf but also the adjoining wharf eastwards which Wells had leased in 1812 to William and James Sims and John A. Cumberlege, then described as merchants of the City of London. (fn. 298) This property, on which the lessees had erected a warehouse, remained in the occupation of members of the Sims family until 1838: (fn. 299) (fn. 17) between about 1839 and 1844 it was used as a wharf by the Butterly Steam (Packet) Company. (fn. 301) In 1860–1 the Greens laid out large sums on improvements at their Lower Yard, (fn. 302) much of which was probably spent on improving the dry dock there which they had earlier created out of the old tidal fitting-out basin (see below). A survey in 1865 shows that many of the buildings in the yard were wooden structures, with pantile, slate or galvanized-iron roofs. They included a skylighted boatbuilding shop, rigging houses, woodsheds, stables and piggeries. The main brick buildings were some dwelling houses, a mast-house, sail-loft and sail stores, and an engine house. (fn. 303)
In 1874 R. & H. Green bought the freehold of the Lower Yard from the East and West India Dock Company, but by previous agreement they immediately sold the eastern half of the site to Trinity House, which wanted to extend its Buoy Wharf. (fn. 304) (fn. 18) The curtailed yard, which included the dry dock, continued to be used by the Greens until 1886, when they sold it to the Dry Docks Corporation of London Ltd, a newly formed firm of ship-repairers who renamed the premises Orchard Dry Dock. (fn. 305) Green's dry dock was only one of a large number of Thames-side graving docks below the Pool which the Corporation either bought or leased, presumably in an attempt to secure for itself a predominant, not to say monopolistic, position in the local ship-repairing business. (fn. 19) But the firm was soon in financial difficulties. Orchard Dock had to be closed in May 1887 and the Corporation went into liquidation in 1888. (fn. 307) Two years later the liquidator sold the yard to A. Chivas Adam, a steamship owner with offices in Gracechurch Street, who transferred it to the London Graving Dock Company, another newly established ship-repairing firm, of which Adam himself was a director and the first chairman. (fn. 308)
The Graving Dock Company immediately put in hand improvements which included a new joiners' shop, new stores, the rebuilding of the boundary wall, and new steam cranes. (fn. 309) In 1892 the company renamed the premises the East India Dry Dock, but in 1949 the name Orchard Dry Dock was reinstated 'in deference to tradition'. (fn. 310) Many of the buildings were replaced during another campaign of improvements in 1928–9, for which the architects were R. A. Andrews and Joseph Peascod. (fn. 311) The Graving Dock Company remained here until the late 1960s, when Shell Tankers Ltd leased (and subsequently purchased) the premises for storing large tail-shafts, propellers and anchors. (fn. 312)
The Orchard Dry Dock.
R. & H. Green appear to have converted Gladstone, Snook & Company's tidal fitting-out basin into a dry dock soon after taking over the premises in the 1840s — they themselves mention the dry dock in 1848 (fn. 313) — but it was undoubtedly improved during the refurbishments of 1860–1, when a new wrought-iron caisson was fitted. Reputedly made nearby at the Thames Iron Works, this still-surviving feature is described in the 1865 survey both as 'new' and as 'having been fitted at the entrance within a few years'. The same source describes the dock as being 272ft long, 55ft wide and 20ft deep, with timber sides and bottom and a circular (brick) head. (fn. 314) Later changes were made by the London Graving Dock Company. In 1892 the timber floor was replaced in concrete, at a lower level, and in 1903 the dock was widened and lengthened, to 290ft, and given concrete walls. (fn. 315) In 1928–9 a new pump-room was built, and new electric pumps and an electric overhead travelling crane installed. (fn. 316) During the Second World War the concussive effect of bombs exploding nearby caused cracks in the walls and floor, and part of the dock was condemned as a dangerous structure. It was urgently repaired by Wimpey & Company in 1946 (to plans and specifications drawn up by F. W. D. Davis), when the old floor was replaced by a reinforced-concrete invert slab. Although damaged, the walls were not rebuilt but were strengthened by the insertion of reinforced-concrete buttresses at 15ft centres with connecting slabs across the floor. The cill and apron were renewed and the old iron caisson renovated and strengthened. (fn. 317) In the early 1970s Shell Tankers filled in the dry dock, but the Green's iron caisson has been allowed to remain in situ (Plate 113c). (fn. 318)
The Western Half
The western half of the Shell site, next to Orchard House Stairs, was leased by Wells in 1813 to William Wallis, a local shipwright, whose occupation of the ground here as a shipyard probably goes back to the mid-1790s. During the Napoleonic period Wallis built warships for the Navy. (fn. 319) With a river frontage of a little over 100ft and only one building slip, Wallis's newly leased yard was a little smaller than his earlier premises, but was nevertheless capable of turning out naval frigates. Competition from Indian-built ships badly affected business, and in April 1814 it was reported that Wallis's yard had neither work nor employees. (fn. 320) Later Wallis seems also to have had a yard fronting the River Lea on the north side of Orchard Place, whose site is now part of Leamouth Wharf. (fn. 321)
In 1824, the year of Wallis's death, the Thames-side premises comprised 'a shipbuilder's yard, with slip, and excellent ways, . . . blacksmith's shop, mould lofts, large covered saw-pits, warehouses, sheds, lotts, countinghouse, dwelling-house, etc.'. (fn. 322) After Wallis's death the yard remained in the family, being acquired in 1825 (from William's trustees) by Benjamin Wallis of Blackwall, shipwright, who was later joined in partnership by Robert Wallis, also a shipwright. (fn. 323) (fn. 18) The Wallis family's association with this site came to an end in 1837, when the two partners were declared bankrupt. (fn. 325) (fn. 19)
The Wallises were succeeded here in 1838 by another shipbuilding partnership, that of Thomas Ditchburn and C. J. Mare, whose yard at Deptford had recently been destroyed in a fire. This firm built iron riversteamers, cross-Channel ships and packets for the Admiralty. (fn. 326) After Ditchburn's retirement in 1847 the business was continued by C. J. Mare, who built a graving dock here, probably in 1848, when it was described as a 'temporary dock' (see fig. 259). (fn. 327) An earlier proposal by Ditchburn & Mare to build a dry dock 'capable of admitting the largest class of steam ship yet built or building' had remained on the drawing-board because the East and West India Dock Company would not extend the firm's lease of the site. (fn. 328)
Mare became bankrupt in 1855, and in 1857 the firm's assets, including the Thames-side site, were transferred to a newly formed company called the Thames Iron Works & Ship Building Company Ltd. In 1861 this new company sub-let the Thames-side premises for a mastfactory to Charles A. Ferguson, recently failed mast-and block-maker of Millwall (see page 469). By then the old yard was in a poor state of repair, the buildings dilapidated, the graving dock choked up, and the wharfage along the river front in ruins. Fergusons planned to erect some mast-houses and a three-storey brick block-makers' house on the wharf (which they called Bell Yard) but, like Ditchburn & Mare before them, they were unable to persuade the East and West India Dock Company to extend their lease, and the work did not go ahead. (fn. 329)
When the head lease expired in 1867, the dock company was undecided about the future of the premises. A report in 1870 remarked that the site was a good one, with deep water close to the bank, but that most of the buildings had been demolished by the local residents, 'without authority'. (fn. 330) By 1873 Ferguson's Wharf, as it was then called, was in the hands of a stone merchant, John Freeman, and being used for stone breaking, an activity which gave rise to yet another name, that of Ballast Wharf. (fn. 331) R. & H. Green bought the freehold in 1874, but did not incorporate the site into their adjoining Lower Yard, and in 1877 they sold it to the Union Lighterage Company Ltd, which stayed until about 1902, having renamed the premises Union Wharf. (fn. 331) A sale notice in 1903 described the property as 'a Plot of Freehold Building Land . . . of about 4,100 sq. yards, together with mould loft, timber stores and boiler house, tarpaulin loft, smith's shop, furnace shed, general store, gate office, cottage, etc.'. The last occupant of Union Wharf, prior to its purchase by Shell Tankers Ltd in 1971, was Porter-Hill Ltd, stevedores and later wharfingers, who took over the premises in 1923. (fn. 333)
Orchard House Stairs
Between the Shell Marine Store and Orchard Wharf is a narrow passage leading to the river which terminates in the remains of a stone jetty or causeway. Known latterly as Orchard House Stairs, it appears on plans of 1804 and 1806 as a 'causeway' leading from the river to the Orchard House tea room. (fn. 334) In a deed of 1815 it is designated the 'passage from ferry', and in a survey of 1838 'Ferry 'Passage'. (fn. 335) The history of the ferry implied by these last two descriptions is unclear. It seems unlikely to have been a service across the Thames between Orchard House and the desolate uninhabited stretch of Greenwich Marshes opposite, and may have been a new and probably short-lived ferry connecting Orchard Place with Old Blackwall, the old road-link between the two having been severed by the East India Docks. After 1803 the journey by road was indeed a long one, taking in a stretch of the East India Dock Road and Leamouth Road.
Orchard Wharf, Orchard Place
Situated between Orchard House Stairs and the old East India Docks, Orchard Wharf has a river frontage of nearly 500ft and a street frontage to Orchard Place of 450ft. The river frontage was formerly longer, being curtailed in 1881 when a piece of ground in the southwest corner, with a frontage of 53ft, was given up for improvements at the East India Dock Basin. (fn. 336) On the other hand, following the removal of some houses in Orchard Place under a slum clearance order in the mid1930s, the wharf was extended north-westwards over part of the cleared area.
The site of Orchard Wharf acquired a separate identity in 1769, when the lessee of the Orchard House estate, John Staples, sub-let the estate, but reserved this area for his own use as a ship-breaking yard. (fn. 337) (Strictly, the area thus reserved was slightly smaller than that of the future Orchard Wharf.) Staples occupied the site only until the end of 1770, when he leased the premises to the timber merchant, Thomas Weston, who had briefly been the lessee of the Orchard House property in 1768. (fn. 338) By the late 1790s the site was in the hands of the East India merchant (Sir) Robert Wigram, who used the ground for a ship or timber yard: the premises then included at least one warehouse. (fn. 339) In 1812, after the laying out of the road to the Trinity House buoy wharf, Wigram was able to extend the site north-eastwards to this new road and eastwards to Orchard House Stairs, (fn. 340) and in 1815 he bought the freehold, having virtually blackmailed his fellow directors on the Board of the East India Dock Company into agreeing to this sale in return for his refraining from 'any interference' in the company's intended purchase of the Orchard House estate. (fn. 341) By this date there were five warehouses on the wharf, plus a counting-house and store-room, and a rigging-house and sail-loft. (fn. 342) Two of the warehouses were newish structures that had been erected since 1812. The most impressive of them was a long brick-built warehouse of nine bays and two storeys, with a slightly projecting pedimented centre of three bays. To the south-west of this was the older store-room and counting-house, a narrow two-storey building with a canted front. Another feature of the wharf at this time was a large, irregularly shaped, tidal dock. Wigram used the wharf and the warehouses for his own business, and although in 1819 he offered to sell all or part of the premises to the East India Company, they remained in his ownership and occupation until his death in 1830. (fn. 343)
About 1838 the wharf was taken over by the engineering firm of Miller & Ravenhill, marine-engine makers of Glasshouse Fields, Ratcliff, who wanted a riverside site where ships could lay up alongside to have their engines installed or removed. (fn. 344) (fn. 20) The firm did not restrict itself to making engines, however. Almost immediately they began building iron ships on the site, the first of which, a Rhine paddle-steamer called the Victoria, was completed in 1839. (fn. 346) Most of the ships built here between 1839 and 1847 were paddle steamers, and a view of the yard in the 1840s shows two of them under construction on the slips (Plate 149c). It is evident from this picture that Miller & Ravenhill had retained many of the existing buildings, adapting them to suit their business. In the centre of the view is Wigram's old counting-house, easily distinguished by its canted front. To the left (west) of this can be seen the hipped roofs of the old warehouses, and to the right (east) the large pedimented warehouse, to which has been added a tall central chimney, and the name of the firm, painted in big letters along the cornice. The warehouse was probably used for the manufacture of marine engines, which the firm continued to make here until the early 1870s. In fact, the ratebooks describe the Orchard Wharf premises as an engine manufactory rather than a shipyard, and although Miller & Ravenhill were still listed as iron shipbuilders in the directories, building of ships here seems to have fallen off sharply after 1847, and may have ceased altogether. One feature of Wigram's wharf the firm did not retain was the large tidal dock, which was replaced by the smaller, but still surviving, rectangular dock next to Orchard House stairs. The new dock is shown in the 1840s view Behind it, the large building of five bays with a glazed lantern in the roof is the second of the two warehouses erected by Wigram between 1812 and 1815
After Miller retired in 1852, the firm became Ravenhill & Salkeld, and from 1855 it also operated at the Low Walker Shipyard at Newcastle upon Tyne. The business started to decline in the late 1860s, when the firm was known as Ravenhill, Hodgson & Company, and is said to have closed in 1872, although its last appearance in the directories, under the name Ravenhill, Eastons & Company, was in 1874. (fn. 347)
From early in 1875 Orchard Wharf was occupied by a firm of wharfingers, Hyatt, Devitt & Parker, and used to store fibres. Hyatt & Parker soon dropped out, to be supplanted in 1876 by another wharfinger, J. W. Cooke, who became the sole occupant in 1878, and whose firm, J. W. Cooke & Company Ltd, continued here until the early 1960s. (fn. 348) Cooke kept the name Orchard Wharf, which Miller & Ravenhill had adopted early in their occupation of the site, though it usually appeared in the form Orchard (Sufferance) Wharf. (fn. 349) Most of the existing buildings were retained, and the storage capacity of the wharf was extended by the construction at various times of single-storey brick or corrugated-iron sheds. (fn. 350) Although most of the warehouses and sheds were used for fibres, other products were occasionally stored at the wharf, including lucifer matches, canes and sticks, antimony, saltpetre and molasses. (fn. 351) In 1880 Cooke sublet Wigram's old warehouse at the corner of Orchard Place and Orchard House Stairs to a beer bottler. (fn. 352) This building was one of several on the wharf destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War: (fn. 353) those which survived have since been removed.