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St Mary Overy's, Rosings' and Stave wharves, Southwark SE1

Supplement to GLIAS Newsletter 87, August 1983

This Supplement deals briefly with three premises close to Pickford's Wharf (see April 1983 Newsletter No. 85 and Plan below) which will be, or have recently been, demolished. Site surveys were carried out in 1979 and a final visit made in 1983.


The three buildings are within two long thin strips of C19 warehousing and industrial development along both banks of the Thames. In the area of the Pool of London warehouses on the north bank, nearer the City, tended to hold valuable commodities whilst those on the south bank held common foodstuffs and general goods. Two of those discussed here started life as granaries.

All three were built close to St. Mary Overy's Dock at which goods were unloaded, although only one, St. Mary Overy's Wharf, had direct water access. Being upstream of London Bridge, they were served only by lighters and, in earlier days, coastal vessels. Although mechanical handling was used to get goods in and out of the buildings, the unit sizes remained small and all internal handling was by manual means. When Stave Wharf was built, a bridge gave access from the former West Kent Wharves' waterside premises, by then also owned by the Proprietors of Hay's Wharf and a few years later a similar arrangement was made in respect of Rosings' Wharf. The effects of containerisation and decasualisation of dock and wharf labour led to their closure in the 1960s, although various firms did use them intermittently until 1981. All will have been demolished by the end of 1983.


The brick-built warehouse at St. Mary Overy's Wharf was erected as a granary for a Mr. George Doo in 1882. A pleasant and distinguishing architectural feature was the ornate roof-top balustrade in terra cotta (by Doulton Ltd) on the east and north facades, i.e. those visible from the river and London Bridge.



The building had six floors, plus a machinery loft and a brick vaulted cellar. It was divided by a fire resistant wall. The interior was of traditional warehouse construction — cruciform cast iron columns with wooden beams and floors, with a headroom of about 8'. The columns of the first floor and ceiling above had been encased in concrete to give fire protection. Access between floors was by a stone staircase within a brick tower on the south-west corner of the building; directly above was a water tank. The mansard roof had a two-tier queenpost construction; in 1920 alterations were made to fix a landside crane which directly served the loft space within the roof.

Equipment: Almost certainly, it was planned from the outset that hydraulic power would be used. Whilst not the first riverside wharf to use hydraulic power, it became, in September 1883, the first customer of the public hydraulic supply network set up by the wharves & Warehouse Steam Power & Hydraulic Pressure Co. (renamed the London Hydraulic Power Co. in 1884). From the layout of goods doors, it seems there would have been three waterside and three or four landside cranes initially; by 1979 there were two and three respectively. Although removed well before 1979, the building also had a lift from basement to ground floor, grain elevators, travelling band conveyors, a maize crusher and a well-pump in the basement — all powered from the LHP system. (Ref: Ellington E B "The Distribution of Hydraulic Power in London" Min Proc ICE Vol. XCIV 1887/8)



Although alterations, to a greater or lesser degree, had been made to all the cranes, the dock side one nearest to the river (Photo 2) was close to its original 1883 form. The hoisting cylinder had a stroke of about 8%' with 5 pulleys on the bottom and five on the top of the ram, giving a lift of about 80'. The two very small slewing cylinders were, unusually, mounted horizontally in the ceiling of the 5th floor. Another unusual feature, on the wall outside, was a counterbalance weight moving in guides and formerly suspended from a pulley sheave. We deduce that this was to balance the deadweight of the Priestman grab which was originally fitted from handling grain in bulk. The hydraulic equipment was made by the Hydraulic Engineering Co. of Chester.

Other equipment originally included grain sieves/separators, wooden hoppers and chutes for delivering grain between floors. In 1902 — probably earlier — some of the grain handling machinery was powered by a gas engine; although probably not the same one, a gas engine was removed in 1953. Later, in 1929, an incinerator was installed and in 1946 a compressor for spraying pyrethrum (insecticide) on to dried fruit. All the internal equipment had been removed by 1979.

After a short time, Mr. Doo ceased to use the premises exclusively as a granary and the lower floors became a general warehouse; for example, in 1885 these contained locust and Egyptian beans and sugar. At the same time, Mr. Doo was using stables on the site of the later Stave Wharf to store naptha, presumably to keep this dangerous product separate from other goods. He appears to have ceased to use the building in about 1890, being succeeded by Cole & Carey, general wharfingers, who already had other warehouse premises in Mill Street, SE1 and elsewhere.

We have only occasional glimpses of the building's use — in 1900 the vaults contained rubber, in 1902 varnish, in 1929 tinned goods (with labelling being carried out on site) and dried fruit immediately after the Second World War.

In 1948, the Proprietors of Hay's Wharf acquired the premises, although Cole & Carey continued to use it. Having also acquired the adjacent Pickford's Wharf, they replaced its wooden jetty with a concrete one and extended this along the front of St. Mary Overy's Wharf in 1950. At the same time, a large, new, hydraulic crane was erected on Pickford's Wharf which also served the goods doors on the river side of St. Mary Overy's Wharf; smaller cranes remained elsewhere.

From the end of the 1960's, the building was occupied intermittently and the waterside cranes ceased to be used. The last tenant was a grocery wholesaler who left behind some racking, food tins, sacks of shelled peanuts and many boxes of liqueur chocolates.

A fire destroyed part of the roof in 1979. Only a small portion of the rounded southwest corner of the building will be retained.

ROSINGS' WHARF (once part of West Kent Warehouses)

The building was a warehouse of 5 storeys and basement. In the C19 it and some smaller adjacent premises were collectively known as West Kent Warehouses. For much of its life it was operated in conjunction with West Kent Wharf across the street (see Plan). It was of some structural interest in that the floors had been raised and considerably strengthened around the end of the C19. From the evidence of the fabric, it is possible to reconstruct its previous form.



Although described as "old" in 1870, the building was probably constructed in the second quarter of the C19 with low storey heights typical of warehouses for the storage of grain and similar commodities in sacks. The walls were of soft, pinkish brick and had small, wooden-framed windows under segmented heads. The main section had floors of timber with massive 15” square beams, on elaborate cruciform-section cast iron columns to a grid pattern, typical of the middle of the century, though these may have replaced timber columns. The stairs were of timber, unenclosed. There were also two small extensions to the west. From some time before 1863, the whole of the West Kent Warehouses site was occupied by J. Hartley & Co, wharfingers, who also occupied and had rebuilt in 1858, the nearby West Kent Wharf. A narrow passage, Primrose Alley, separated it from a "yard full of staves" on the north.

In 1870, hops, sugar, seeds and corn were stored in the main warehouse and corn, flour and bags of feathers in the others. From 1872 a small portion was occupied separately by a Danish provision broker with butter, bacon and cheese. However, in 1886 the warehouse was noted as old and unoccupied.

In 1890, Messrs. Rosing Brothers & Co., coffee cleaners and merchants, appeared in Kelly's Directory as at West Kent Warehouse, which was in 1891 renamed West Kent Mill.

It is probably at this time that the interior of the building was reconstructed to reflect this change in use and to accommodate machinery, with lower floors being strengthened and the floor-to-floor height being raised from 8'9" to 10'3" by the insertion of cast iron extension pieces above the existing column heads (Photo 3).

Associated with this, alterations were made to the walls, windows raised and reset and the top storey rebuilt in yellow brick. The party wall to the south appears to have been rebuilt to the new levels, possibly when offices for the Borough Market Trust were built on the site of the smaller granary in 1897. A flat roof probably re-placed a loft after damage in the Second World War.

Rosings' left in 1921 and the premises, by then known as Rosings' Wharf, were taken over by the Proprietors of Hay's Wharf, who already occupied Stave Wharf (see below) and West Kent Wharf (itself integrated into Hibernia Wharf, also occupied by Hay's).

Fortuitously, the internal alterations had brought the floor levels of Rosings' Wharf into line with those of West Kent Wharf and two linking footbridges were built; similarly, access was provided from Stave Wharf across the site of the former Primrose Alley.

In 1964, the building ceased to be used for public storage. A wine importer, Michael Wooley Ltd, the last occupier, installed new offices and toilets in 1967, but it was disused by 1979. Equipment then remaining comprised a modern bottling machine, a roller conveyor, a single line of trap doors and sites of chutes. A re-mounted C19 wall crane rated at 10 cwt, was powered by a C20 hydraulic jigger by Waygood Otis Ltd.


This warehouse was built in 1912/13 on an irregular-shaped site which had been occupied for many years by a cottage, stables, an open yard for storing staves and, to the north, the narrow Primrose Alley. The premises were purpose-built as an extension to the former West Kent Warehouses, already occupied by the Proprietors of Hay's Wharf and by then part of their Hibernia Wharf complex; a connecting concrete and steel bridge was erected on to a platform at a high level on the first floor of Stave Wharf.



The building, of non-combustible materials, had a windowless basement. Above, the ground and first floors had brick walls with steel beams and columns encased in concrete and re-enforced concrete floor slabs. The roof was of steel frame with north lights and slate. Two brick-enclosed staircases connected the floors. A chute delivered goods to floor level from the platform referred to above. A spiral sack chute was added on the west side in 1916. Although blocked at both ends, part of Primrose Alley remained; when Rosings' Wharf was taken over by Hay's Wharf an access way bridged the gap.

The building was for most part of its life used for the storing, working and showing of rubber although it also held canned goods and the cellars, which were sometimes used for wine storage, were designated as an air-raid shelter during World War II. From the mid-1960s the building was let as a store, its last occupiers being Cosmos Freightways.

As well as the two chutes mentioned, there was evidence of an electric hoist above Winchester Square and a hydraulic hoist alongside Cathedral Street.


Heavy reliance has been placed on the Wharves & Warehouse Surveyor's Reports for historic data and we wish to thank the Staff of the Guildhall Library EC4, in assisting researches. Thanks are also due to the Staff at John Harvard Library, Southwark. Access to the sites was by kind permission of Hay's Wharf (1979) and Messrs. Twigg, Brown & Partners (1983).

No less than 21 GLIAS members have helped at various times in production of this report.

© GLIAS, 1983