A Curious Iron Door

See this, folks? The little red arrow points to a curious little iron door in the back wall of the house on Crooms Hill that has the erroneous Benjamin Waugh plaque, snapped by Stephen. Here it is close up:

The inscription is for an ironmongers in Nelson Street (as it was back in the day – we’re not quite sure when it became a ‘road’), one T.R Thame. I’ve been able to find out precious little about Mr Thame, save for the records of what looks like a lease from 1829 from a bundle of documents from the Admiralty, Greenwich Hospital and the Chatham Chest, held at the public records office in Kew. Greenwich Hospital, of course, still holds the freehold.

Stephen’s brother found a record for a Thomas William Thame, smith and general furnishing ironmonger at 23, Nelson street; I’m assuming it’s the same one as in the Greenwich Directory of 1849, and if so the guv’nor at the Kings Arms just round the corner at the time was also a Thame. I don’t know anything else about the ironmongers, so it’s possible that it had been already around for yonks – perhaps long enough to have supplied the little door when the buildings were first erected between 1791 and 1809.

But what was it for? My first thought is some kind of soot/ash hole for fireplaces – a handy place for a chimney sweep to pop his rods up the flue (ooh- er- missus) without having to bother the household. But there aren’t any chimneys in that bit of the building - though of course the circus was badly damaged in the war. Is it possible that the walls were rebuilt without the chimneys, but the little hatch was kept because it wasn’t damaged?

Or am I getting this totally wrong? Has anyone any idea what this little door was originally for?

the attachments to this post:

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8 Comments to “A Curious Iron Door”

  1. Paul says:

    Assuming the building is a mirror of the one next door, there would have been chimneys in that corner of the building, so your hypothesis about it being damaged in the war look likely.

    To me, it does look like an access hatch for a sweep’s brush.

    Furthermore, the brickwork for the top storey on both houses looks different, so perhaps a storey has been added anyway.

  2. Emma says:

    If I remember correctly there is something similar to that on the outside wall of Halstow School, but that’s at street level so I always thought it was some sort of letter box. Obviously this isn’t a letter box (unless the postmen wore stilts…?).

  3. Peter says:

    maybe a coal delivery chute? positioned high would mean the coal could be shovelled directly off the back of a wagon? – just a guess really.

  4. Matthew says:

    I used to live in a Victorian house that used to have a very similar door (albeit not one made by Mr Thame) at ground level. It was, as you first suggested, a means of accessing the back of a grate without needing to carry ash through the interior of the house.

    Something I noticed in the first photo – follow an imaginary line up from the door towards the roof. On the next floor up there is a line in the brickwork at an equivalent position – perhaps once chimney-related?

  5. Ebspig says:

    Surely it is the door to a flue. The back of the house appears to have at least two stages of rebuilding.

    It was the home of the Sewell family for many years. Sadly, they lost three of their five sons in the First World War, one of them (Cecil Harold Sewell) winning a VC as he died.

  6. Stephen says:

    “If I remember correctly there is something similar to that on the outside wall of Halstow School”.

    I’ve just had a look on Google earth and yes there is a rectangular black thing next to a blue gate. Will need a closer inspection to see what it is.

  7. The newer brickwork looks like Blitz repair damage – as TGP says, the area suffered heavily during the Blitz and looking at the Logs, it probably dates from October/November 1940 which is when the area seemed to receive the greatest concentration of bombing.

  8. Alain de Valois says:

    It is indeed a soot door. I’ve seen a few of these things which are still used to afford access to flues from outside a building. You can even buy new ones, although they are seldom as attractive as this one. There’s a restored antique one here:- http://www.ukarchitecturalantiques.com/cast_iron_chimney_soot_door_2371