Saturday, 13 January 2018

Siemens ~Woolwich - site notes

Information from Siemens Engineering Society
Siemens Brothers & Co. Ltd., Building Identification and Site AgentslManagement 
Building Identification:
We have done our best to identify the original use of the buildings proposed for conservation.
Our information is a little patchy as virtually all the Members of the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society came from the Telephone side of the business as opposed to the Cable Business
. This was despite the Society being open to all employees.

Map Key No 1  Third Phase of Expansion to Cable Factory 1929-1948

Map Key No 2 Second Phase of Expansion 1900 - 1928Wood-Workers Building, cable drums etc.

Map Key No 3 Third Phase of Expansion 1929 - 1948. Instrument Factory and Marine Radio School

Map Key No 4 Second Phase as above. Copper Wire Factory, known as the IR Building. IR was short for India Rubber, an early form of cable insulation.

Map Key No 5 Not Siemens Brothers - Trinity Wharf 

Map Key No 13 First Phase of Expansion to the original Cable Factory 1865 - 1899, now the earliest surviving building of the Siemens Telegraph Cable Works. Cable insulation and core-testing.

Map Key No 14 First Phase of Expansion as above. Workshop extensions for dynamo shops, milling machinery, armouring and lead sheathing.

Site AgentslManagement
In March 2004 towards the end of the Archive Material Catalogue Project, the Committee decided it would be nice if some form of permanent plaque and/or memorial to Siemens Brothers could be established on the site of the old Woolwich Works. This lead us into contact with the site managing agent, who at the time was The Co-operative Insurance Society(CIS). The CIS were very keen on this idea as a part of their redevelopment and landscaping of the site. This resulted in a sculptress being hired who produced a model of a sculpture based on ideas and equipment we had provided, with an associated plinth, the wording for which had been agreed by all parties. Unfortunately, this project never came to fruition because the entire CIS Property Portfolio was taken over by AXA Real Estate.
We continued liaison with AXA, who took some time to get to grips with a huge portfolio. Although sympathetic, our project took a backseat, but AXA gave us 6 monthly updates on the progress being made on the site. This included liaison, with Greenwich Council,  refurbishment and re-use (leasing) some of the original Siemens buildings and possibly  saving the original and earliest Siemens building, as well as a residential aspect. This 'site regeneration' plan represented a significant investment, but it all depended on the success or otherwise of the AXA plans and the market demand for refurbished warehouse/workshop accommodation. Market demand we believe was low and the situation has now changed completely with the arrival of the Charlton Riverside Development.

During 2011 we were contacted by Mott MacDonald [Consultants for the Greenwich University Technical College] about the previous use of the land [part of our old site] on which the GUTC was to be built. We provided a full background and in short; the Architects were sympathetic to the original building and the wording on the formal plaque [unveiled by HRH The Duke of York] was extended to include a reference to the original factory site. We were invited to the opening and had a guided tour. Recognition for Siemens Brothers at last

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Siemens Woolwich, History

Siemens Brothers had one of the largest and most important works in Woolwich - which closed as long ago as the 1960s.  A consisderable number of buildings remain on the riverside on the Charlton/Woolwich borders.  The area is now being considered for a Riverside Conservation Area and at the time time there are news of Immunity for Listing Orders coming from the Department of the Environment.  The Siemens Brothers Engineering Society have prepared a huge amount of information to support this - and we have been sent copies and now have clearance to put them on this blog.  This is the first few pages - there is a lot more to come!! (and thanks for all this to Brian Middlemiss and his colleagues)

Charlton Riverside Conservation Areas and Locally Listed Buildings Consultation
Supporting Information
The Siemens & Halske Company was founded in London in 1858 and in 1863 with continued expansion bought a piece of land on the Thames in Woolwich and built on it a cable factory,  a mechanical workshop and stores. In 1865 Halske withdrew his support for the Company  and William and Werner Siemens took over the assets and re-registered the business as Siemens Brothers, London.
Siemens Brothers became a Limited Company in 1880 and pioneered research, development, engineering and manufacture of Electrical Cables, Telegraph, Telephone, Signalling and  Measuring Apparatus, Wireless Equipment, Lamps, Lights and Batteries. The Woolwich  Works [now the Westminster Industrial Estate] was bounded by Warspite Road, the Thames, Hardens Manorway and the main Woolwich/Greenwich Road and employed an average of around 8,000 people in the post war years.
A large area of this site between Bowater Road and the main Woolwich/Greenwich Road has  already been lost to modern factory units and the new Greenwich University Technical College. It is therefore imperative that no more is lost and the remaining buildings should be conserved not only as the remaining legacy of Siemens Telegraph & Cable Works, one of the area's biggest industries and employers, which stood at the forefront of technological advancement in the international telecommunications industry, but because these remaining buildings represent a significant part of local heritage.
A book written by LD. Scott, printed in 1958 and published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson [London] provides a detailed history of 'Siemens Brothers 1858 - 1958'. This is a hardback book consisting of 279 pages and was presented to Managers as a part of the Company's centenary celebrations. and to demonstrate the significant role Siemens Brothers played in the telecommunications industry. This book has a pull-out map which details the development of the Woolwich Works, colour coded by building periods.

Cable: Siemens Brothers were one of the major cable making companies of the world between mid-Iv" C and mid-20th C, for underground and submarine use. The Company entered the submarine cable business in the early 1860's, laying cables all over the world. The Company also played a significant role in the design, development and manufacture of  the well-known PLUTO [Pipe Line Under The Ocean] cable, used as a 'pipe' to cany oil across the Channel to Normandy for use by the Allied invading forces. It was originally known as the 'HAIS' cable; H [the initial letter ofthe name of the instigator, Hartley, of
Anglo-Iranian] AI [Anglo-Iranian Oil Company] and S [Siemens Brothers]
. The Company had its own wharf on the Thames at Woolwich and operated its own cable ship, C.S. Faraday,which was purpose designed by William Siemens.

Telegraphy: Siemens Brothers started with this product in the mid-Iv'" C; it being the firstelectrical form of communication and continued well into the 20th C particularly for ships.
Cable ship Faraday

Telephony: Siemens Brothers were one of the five Telephone switching equipment manufactures in the UK to supply to the Post Office who ran the nation-wide network
. They also supplied world-wide. The UK's first electronic exchanges were designed and built by Siemens Brothers, called TXE-4 by the PO. When adopted by the PO, other manufacturers also produced these exchanges.
The Siemens Brothers Engineering Society. The Society was formed in 1897, the 50th anniversary of the founding of Siemens & HalskeIt was a formally constituted organisation and Alexander Siemens was the first President being the nephew and adoptive son of Sir William Siemens. At the time of the formal 
termination in 1968 [when Siemens Brothers closed] there were over 600 members.
The Society was re-formed in 1968 by two former officers of the original Society. 'A Society linked no longer by employment but by memories and fellowship.' The re-formed Society continued to meet regularly right up to 2013 when the age of the members dictated that closure was inevitable, this was 45 years after the closure of the Company! In 1991 the Society, realised that there was little information/archive material in existence around the local libraries about Siemens Brothers & Co. Ltd. This being somewhat alarming for a Company that had a business continuity at Woolwich for 100 + years, the Society set about accumulating its own archive.
Over the succeeding years the Society had accumulated such an immense amount of archive material, donated by Members of the Society, that it became necessary in 2001 to form a six- man Archive Project Committee. The work of this committee resulted in the publication of an Archive Material Catalogue which detailed almost 1400 items of documentation and  hardware. One hundred copies of this catalogue were printed [June 2004] and given wide circulation including six 'New Holders' of the archive material itself Some 80% of this material is held at the Greenwich Heritage Centre [GHC].
Subsequently the Society went on to produce a 'Supplement' to this catalogue, printed in October 2006, which detailed a further 300+ items, and given the same wide distribution. After this period the Society went on to produce its own history. This was printed in two parts '1897 - 2008' [October 2009] and '2009 - 2013 The Final Five Years' [July 2015], again both parts being given the same wide distribution as the archive material catalogue. .
Siemens UK Ltd. Siemens UK is the UK arm of the giant German Company Siemens AG. The former 
Siemens Brothers & Co. Ltd and Siemens UK are often confused, same family but different Companies. However the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society owe a huge debt of thanks to Siemens UK. Following a chance meeting between the Society's Archivist and the Siemens UK Archivist at the old Woolwich Local History Library; Siemens UK went on to support all of the Engineering Society's activities from 1994 to its closure in 2013. In particular this included funding the printing of all four documents detailed above. Before this chance meeting Siemens UK had been unaware that the Engineering Society still existed.
The Siemens plc., [UK] had in 1993 published a book entitled "Sir William Siemens - A Man of Vision". This was in celebration of William Siemens who had begun building Siemens in the UK 150 years previously in 1843. The Archivist dearly wished she had been aware of the Siemens Brothers Engineering Society a few years earlier as this book also covers the history of Siemens Brothers & Co. Ltd., including life at the Woolwich Works, life on board the Faraday and the Cable Business. All Members of the Engineering Society were presented with a copy of this book.

William Siemens was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883, sadly only a few months before his death. He had provided communication to many parts of the British Empire via cable laid by the Company, enabling direct contact, for the first time

Monday, 1 January 2018

More news - not all of it depressing.

CLEARLY we are all working very hard on the probable terrible fate of our wonderful gas holder. There is lots of stuff around on many local blogs and newsheets.  Everyone is being urged to contact the Council planners and tell them what they think.  

The Council is in a very difficult position. A Certificate of Immunity from Listing has been issued by the Goverment agency.  Immediately the owners, Southern Gas Networks, have told the Council that they intend to demolish it and are asking the Council to approve their demolition plan.  They have followed the same plan with other local councils, and holders are coming down despite widespread public protests. Local listing can be done -but it has no legal force if the owners decide to go ahead and demolish anyway. That shouldn't stop us making a fuss - at the best we can buy time.

Subterranea Britannica

Their 'magazine' arrived the other day. Full of interest and some of it about Greenwich.

First - they have an item about the work done by veteran underground explorer Harry Pearman and the Chelsea Spelaelogical Society Records, and how good they are and what a collection of information.  They don't say - but some of the best work is about Greenwich - all sorts of things from the Park Conduits, Plumstead Mines and obscure bits of Blackheath can be found there. I know - but they don't say - that Harry worked for Greenwich Planning Department in the 1960s, hence all this info.   Its been a great source for everyone since.

An article by Mark Chatterton describes 'The Road Tunnels of Great Britain' which briefly describes our own Blackwall as 'in the east of London and built  to carry goods between the docks on the north and south banks of the river Thames' - eh?? where does that come from.  Anyway the Blackwall should have had much more than a brief mention - its a triumph of engineering over too much traffic!  He also mentions The Silvertown Tunnel ' it is planned to be open by 2021'. oh ho!

Another article is about the Thames Tunnel Tour in October. In this foray a group of people began on the Waterloo and City line, or at least they looked at it and then went on the Northern Line to Embankment. They then went on the Circle Line to Tower Hill and had a look at the Tower Subway (from above, you can't go down there) So they went on the DLR to Cutty Sark and then lunch, and back over to the Isle of Dogs through the Foot Tunnel. And then back on the DLR to Limehouse and then they walked back through the Rotherhithe Tunnel (aaargh!!).And then - the highlight - to the oldest tunnel of them all, Brunel''s Thames Tunnel and the East London Line. So - Greenwich was their lunch break!!!  They do mention some interesting things though.

You can get copies of this through the Sub Brit web site -


Crossness Record

More news from Crossness Engines

- the chimney. a  whole page article about the chimney which once stood at the works - to keep the many people who ask about it informed

- a report from Petra, their Outreach Worker.  Petra works with local schools - for example in September Charlton's Cherry Orchard School paid a visit - the trust is also now employing an Education Assistant, Calleen Everitt

-  news of RANG - and the arrival of Busy Basil from Haig Hall in Wigan

-  the formation of a wildlife pond - and the possible installation of toad ladders

- and they still need volunteers. If you want information on this get on to Greg


Call for papers on Maritime Animals.  They seem to want not so much marine wildlife but stuff like the ship's cat (and attendant rats).
The conference will be at the National Maritime Museum April 26-27th 2019. Contact
They are also looking for good maritime animal stories in addition to the papers


this includes

- item on Air Quality Strategy for the Port of London as a UK Port first. A consultation paper is available from the PLA consultation ends on 23rd January.

- Thames Skills Academy - first appreentices. This is a scheme for deck apprentices and engineering appentices.

- advert for a new book on the heritage of the Tidal Thames - this is a Museum of London Archaeology book and is really about their work along the foreshore.  Its £15 and you can get it from PLA or the Museum.


We are told by the Council conservation department that they have been told that Historic England have issued an imunity to listing document for the oldest range of Siemens buldings 18-32 Bowater Road.  They do not think that Siemens was significant enough.

I am aware that a lot of people are getting together info to challenge this - and any one interested is encouraged to contact   Siemens - who closed as long ago as the 1950s - were a major international firm working mainly in telecoms and also cable. To say there were no significant is ignorant and insulting.  Please support a bid to get this overturned.


- and while we are on about Siemens- Brian Middlemiss from the Siemens Society send all at GIHS best wishes for Christmas and the New Year


Docklands History Group

Any post-graduate or PhD student working on a subject related to the history of the Port of London and/or the River should contact Edward Sargent for details of a working group and how papers can be contributed.

Please also look at their facebook page


Finally  - we have a copy of a very very good book from Museum of London about the archaeology and history of Deptford Dockyard.  More on that soon