Victorian Wood Wharf and Greenwich Riverside 1820-2010

Take a look at the photo on the front of this book. It may be colourised but to all intents and purposes wouldn’t you think it was just another one of those dozens of black and white pictures you can see anywhere – invaluable as a record of the town’s history but, frankly, anonymous?

Well, in this case, that’s not true. The chap mending the boat on the Thames foreshore has a name. He is Christy John Bayliss, who was born and worked at Wood Wharf all his life. He is also the man to whom this wonderful little book is dedicated.

And before you tell me it can’t be Wood Wharf because the power station’s the wrong side, this is Deptford power station, not Greenwich, which closed down in the 1980s. Just one of the brilliant little nuggets you’ll find in Victorian Wood Wharf and Greenwich Riverside 1820-2010. The writers, Ronald A. Richards and Derek J. Bayliss make a simple statement – they worked at Wood Wharf most of their lives and “thought it worthwhile to record the inside knowledge they have of this historic maritime area.”

Part history book, part memoir, part industrial manual, it’s an odd volume that I suspect is going to be extremely hard to find in years to come. It has all the hallmarks of self-publication – no publisher, no date, no ISBN and no contact details. It feels like Print-On-Demand but could just be a short run. I got my copy in the Tourist Information Centre in Greenwich, which does all kinds of local books you just can’t get anywhere else. I don’t know how many copies they have behind the desk, but I’d suggest you get in quick if you want a copy at the stunningly-cheap-price-for-something-like-this of just a fiver.

The stuff about the well-known areas is pretty basic but that’s not what this book is about. You can read about the palaces, Cutty Sark, Naval College etc. in dozens of volumes. What you can’t read about is the working lives of real folk in Greenwich. The little passageways and goods yards, the public houses and boatyards in a very specific area that exists chiefly in retreating memory now and even daily is becoming lost to us.

The photos are largely by Richards and Bayliss themselves – and are worth paying your fiver for alone – unless you’ve been privy to the family album you won’t have seen these before. And the joy of that is that the 1925 ¬†monochrome photo of a load of employees of the Orient Lighterage Company isn’t just ¬†bunch of blokes in a row. Their names are recorded posterity, alongside their jobs.

Because they’re largely focusing on one very specific area, the authors go into detail (though not always depth) about companies, buildings and businesses, from the early days of fishing at Billingsgate to the last on-river concern (the fabulous Greenwich Book Boat which appears in two photos here). Wood Wharf Studios are covered as well as all the many, many lighterage and industrial businesses, though in a volume as slim as this, often more as a springboard to more research than an exhaustive study. It’s worth reading the book in tandem with Greenwich Industrial History Society and its sister blog to get the most from it.

What I love about this work is that you’ll be ticking along with a bit about the history of an old inn that ended up as a bungalow pub after the war, or the fleet of barges owned by Orient Lighterage and all of a sudden there will be a photo of a couple of little neighbour-girls with a dog, a diagram of how a portable furnace for rivet heating works or a (and I particularly enjoyed this one) a drawing of the sort of kitchen stove you used to get in numbers 19-55 Wood Wharf Cottages. Brilliant. I don’t know where else you would find stuff like this.

Little anecdotes abound, and if told in a slightly bashful fashion – more nudged-aside than party-piece – are charming for it. Ditto names and incidents, photos of residents and mentions of places.

Okay, so this book could have benefited from a serious dose of proof-reading (somewhere out there is a greengrocer running dangerously short of apostrophes) but hell, who couldn’t benefit from such attentions from time to time. I tell you now, if you’re into the history of Greenwich or Deptford, this book is worth every penny of your five British pounds.

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7 Comments to “Victorian Wood Wharf and Greenwich Riverside 1820-2010”

  1. Stephen Kent says:

    I really enjoyed reading this entertaining review by the Greenwich Phantom. I also recently bought a copy of this little book in the Greenwich Tourist Information Centre having seen an article about it in the Greenwich Mercury local newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The book brought back lots of fond memories for me of an area that has changed, and continues to change, out of all recognition in recent years.

  2. Dave says:

    My Father has asked me to thank you for your very kind words.
    If any of your blog readers are interested in purchasing a copy of the book then I can arrange via e-mail at:

    £5 plus postage. This is a non profit making project, and will cover some costs. My father undertook the project out of his love for the area, and not as a commercial venture.

  3. Julie Austen says:

    My nan and grandad lived at 55 wood wharf up until they died in 1968. I have many happy memories of visiting their cottage and the wharf where we used to go out on his boat.

  4. Nick Martin says:

    Some of my ancestors (the Nesmiths) lived and worked on Wood Wharf in the 1840′s. I’m getting a copy of this book !

  5. Linda King says:

    Thank you so much, R Richards and D Bayliss – I have had much pleasure in reading your book about Woodwharf.

    My mother, Rhoda Lloyd, was born at The Retreat Cottages in 1926 and lived there until about 1936. I believe these were previously named Bishop’s Buildings.

    Her grandfather, Edward Seago Lloyd lived at number 28 Woodwharf and appears there with his family (including Rhoda’s father, Edward) on the census of 1901.

    With kind regards
    Linda King.

  6. Ronald A Richards says:

    Both Derek Bayliss and myself would like to thank The Greenwich Phantom for the very generous review of our book.

    We would also like to thank the readers of The Greenwich Phantom who have kindly taken the time to contribute their own thoughts and comments.

    It gives us enormous pleasure to see that our book has generated such warm memories of Wood Wharf and its families from down the years.

    Not having done anything like this before, this was our hope when we embarked on this project. Getting this positive feedback makes our “labour of love” all the more worthwhile.

    With best regards
    Ronald A Richards

  7. Dawne Morgan says:

    My great grandmother Maria Willsone lived at 5 Wood Wharf in 1881. She was a widow and lived there with 2 sons and 3 daughters and he sister-in-law…will certainly be buying this book to see if I can get any further details about their life there :)