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Book reviews — April 2023

'The Industries of Deptford Creek', by Mary Mills
219pp ISBN 979836728115 Available from Amazon £15.00

GLIAS members will doubtless already know Mary Mills through her articles on Greenwich published in London's Industrial Archaeology and elsewhere. I doubt that there is another London Borough with a more redoubtable champion of its industrial history - by my reckoning this is her fifth book on the subject.

As announced in our last Newsletter, this book focuses on Deptford Creek, the tidal reach of the River Ravensbourne as it joins the Thames. It describes the area's rich and diverse industrial history in an informal and individualistic style which makes light of the amount of work that must have gone into its production.

The book has an introductory section comprising several short chapters describing the Creek's early history and industrial past, the most substantial of these being one covering industries in the period after 1800. These are dealt with under categories such as milling, coal and power, brewing, chemicals, road transport and engineering. Brewing one of the less noxious categories describes two breweries and a distillery while the chemicals collection contains half a dozen companies, and excludes soapworks and various tar and asphalt works. The second part of the book is a systematic tour of the area mostly describing industries not covered previously, comprising eight geographical sections: six below Deptford Bridge on the east and west banks of the Creek and two upstream of the bridge.

Despite the risks of this format there is little repetition. Discussion of some topics can feature across different sections, but this is not a serious problem and the useful index helps navigation. One disappointment, however, was the absence of legends to any of the Figures and the poor quality of their reproduction, particularly of the critically important maps. Amongst many industries on and around the Creek, two sites are identified as being of undoubted national importance: the Tudor Armoury Mill near Lewisham Bridge and Ferranti's Deptford Power Station near the junction with the Thames, but among the many industries described there are certainly others that might be considered. I was particularly struck by the world's first factory producing superphosphate fertilizer. It was one of many local enterprises contributing to what must have been distinctly unpleasant air quality, significant enough for the Greenwich Local Board of Works in 1853 to begin an action against them on the grounds that the offensive odours produced were injurious to the health of local inhabitants. That said, the place was clearly not entirely devoid of romance. Sir John Bennett Lawes, inventor of superphosphate and founder (in 1843) of the Rothamsted agricultural research station (the oldest in the world), apparently identified the site for his factory on a honeymoon river boat trip down the Thames. Martin Adams

'The Industries of Deptford Creek', by Mary Mills

© GLIAS, 2023