A couple of months ago I wrote about the early copperas works on Deptford Creek and I wondered if I should come back to Creekside industries, writes Mary Mills…
I also wanted to mention how Mick Delap and people from the Ashburnham Triangle are lobbying for the footpath along Creekside to be opened up as the industrial sites become housing. There was lots of industry on the Creek and it will take many episodes of these articles to cover it. One of the earliest industries was milling – so perhaps I will stick with three of the mills.
The Lewisham/Greenwich (originally Kent/ Surrey) boundary ran down the middle of the Creek in the stretch south of Creek Road. There is a riveting description of beating the bounds in 1844 with the parson, the beadle and endless small boys “across planks, some in boats”’. They gave ‘three cheers for the Queen’ at Creek Bridge, and sang the 100th Psalm at Deptford Bridge. Today the boundary has been to the Greenwich side bank – which makes it difficult because water mills tend to lie across the river, which puts them all in Lewisham.
The one mill building most people will be aware of in Greenwich is Mumford’s, now housing. This is behind shops at the top end of Greenwich High Road. It stands near the site of the oldest known mill in the area – The Old Flood Mill, which was north of Deptford Bridge. It probably dated from before Domesday but is first identified in 1157 in the records of Bermondsey Abbey. They kept it until the Dissolution in the 1530s and it was later owned by Christ’s Hospital, but was destroyed by flooding in 1824. Eventually it was re-built by J H Robinson, who turned it into a huge industrial building as an eight- floor steam-powered roller flour mill – and later expanded it. It closed in the 1960s, and was demolished after a fire in 1970. The site later became a Lewisham training centre.
The eastern part of the old flood mill site is in Greenwich where there was a limekiln and wharf by 1481 and this is where Mumford’s Mill now stands. Mumford’s was founded in 1790 and the present building dates from 1897. It includes a ‘towering, visually arresting, technologically sophisticated grain silo’ designed by Aston Webb and it ‘perhaps also signalled in suitably attention grabbing form the final complete change over from traditional stone milling to roller milling”. The mill survived into the 1960s by specialising in cake flours. It then became home to a number of small businesses and has now been converted into flats.
There were other important mills – but we need to go over into Lewisham to find them. In Brookmill Road is, of course, the Brook Mill. This was there from the Middle Ages and in the 17th century it was a corn mill. . In 1701 it became a water works when a Royal Charter allowed the owner to take water from the river and to break open the roads to lay pipes. In 1772 it passed to engineer, John Smeaton who reconditioned it with new water wheels. It became the Kent Water Works and a small rotative beam engine by Boulton and Watt was installed in 1810. Soon they were supplying Woolwich, the Royal Ordnance and Artillery Barracks, the Royal Arsenal, H.M. Dockyards, and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Because of pollution they had to stop using river water and Cold Bath Well was dug in the 1840s followed by Garden Well and The Twins – wells deep in the chalk. The Metropolitan Water Board took the works over in 1903, and sunk another well 40 metres deep in 1930. All these wells are still in use, and supply water to a large area – I suspect water from the Brookmill is in all our taps today.
Further south on Lewisham centre borders is Tesco and the site of the Armoury Mill. This was the mill where they did the rough work for the Royal Armoury in Royal Greenwich. It is first noted in 1299 as a corn mill called Toddesmill. There is a long history of the mill and armaments production there but 1816 it moved to Enfield and became the Royal Small Arms Factory. The mill on the Ravensbourne was sold and was used for ‘throwing’ silk and for gold and silver wire drawing. In the 1880s they began to make what became known as tinsel. The mill survived until the Second World War. In the 1980s Tesco arrived and the site of the mill pond became their car park. Modern flats on the site are now called ‘The Silk Works’.
We think of water mills as being on fast streams with water wheels being pushed round by the flowing water – and Brookmill and the Armoury mill were certainly like that. However on tidal rivers like the Thames, and to some extent the Ravensbourne, there were also tide mills which were worked by the incoming tide. There are several of these round the country – but locally there is a massive tide mill at Three Mills, just off the Southern Approach to the Blackwall Tunnel behind Tesco. They are often open for visits – check out: www.housemill.org.uk/
A few years ago the remains of one of these tide mills dating from the 12th century was found in Greenwich – on the site now with housing called Riverside Gardens, but previously Granite Wharf. There was another early 19th mill on the other side of the Peninsula near where the Pilot Pub is now – and I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that I have just published a major article on this in the current Journal of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. Check out www.glias.org.uk/ for how to get a copy.
This is a tiny summary of a big, big subject. These three mill sites were all very old and as time went on they turned into sites for important industries and very different from their origins.
Further reading could include: John McCartney and Sylvia West. The Lewisham Silk Mills; Jonathan Clarke for English Heritage. Mumford’s Flour Mill. An excellent study of the Old Flood Mill was produced by Christopher Philpotts as part of a planning application for Fairview Homes (I have no idea how you could get hold of it).
The Greenwich Industrial History Society meets once a month.
All welcome. Please see greenwichindustrialhistory.blogspot.com/ for current news and events.
• 15th October David Waller. Men of Iron – Maudslay
• 12th November Pieter Van der Merwe A Great Light in
the East (End): Gas and the Royalty Theatre, Stepney’ 1816
This will be held in the Studio not the Bakehouse
Meetings held at 7.30pm at the
Old Bakehouse, Bennett Park SE3 (rear of Age Exchange)
There is no parking.