Friday, November 27, 2009

Day trip to Rochester

The historic city of Rochester is one of my favourite places to visit in Kent.

The town's skyline is dominated by the Norman Castle built by Gundulf Bishop of Rochester in around 1087.

Gundulf was a Norman monk who came to England in 1070 shortly after the Battle of Hastings and subsequent conquest by William the Conqueror. Gundulf was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1077 and died in 1108.

His statue is carved into the nearby Cathedral together with Bishop John I who held the position from 1125 until his death in 1137.

The first Cathedral in Rochester was founded by the Saxons in around 600 AD.

We would have liked to have had a look inside the Cathedral but there was a wedding taking place that day and we thought it best not to gate crash.

There are several things I like about Rochester..... for one it has a variety of small family owned shops and a distinct abscence of the major chains that you can find in any High Street anywhere in the country. This gives it a refrsehing individuality and character which you don't often find nowadays.

Junior was certainly impressed with the Christmas window displays!

Another thing that is good about Rochester is the large number of traditional pubs and restaurants making it a great location for a pleasant evening out. Due to it's close proximity to the Naval Dockyards in Chatham and location on the River Medway, the town was always a favourite haunt of sailors......

In December 1762 one ship's officer wrote the following in a letter to his family....
On Monday last a Sailor went into the late Mr. Pickerring's Brewhouse at Rochester, and took it into his Head that he would swim in a Tun of Strong Beer, and being in Liquor, whether his Foot slipped as he was looking in, or that he did it wilfully, is uncertain, but he pitched in Head foremost; and although he was taken out immediately, he died in a few Minutes afterwards.

There are a wide variety of historic buildings in the High Street dating back to the 1500's...

The tall building on the left is the town's visitor vcentre and tourist information. The building below, complete with ship weather cock, is the Guildhall and was built in 1687. It now houses the town museum.

The town clock on the Old Corn Exchange.

The lion and unicorn emblem of King George III and Queen Charlotte adorn the Royal and Victoria Bull Hotel which is over four hundred years old.

The Hotel was originally a coaching inn called the Bull but got the grander name following an overnight stay by the then Princess, later Queen Victoria in 1836.

A regular visitor to the Hotel was Charles Dickens who lived nearby at Gads Hill.

In my next post I will tell the story of the preposterously named former MP for Rochester, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his colourful career and later tragic demise....

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

W T Henleys / AEI Cable Works Northfleet

In October it was announced that one of the last manufacturing companies based by the River Thames in Northfleet, Henleys/AEI, would be moving it's remaining operations to a new site in Sandwich after more than 100 years in the town.

Cable making finished in Northfleet a couple of years ago but one division of the company continued to make specialist compounds (used to cover cables). Some of the last submarine cables manufactured at the plant were used on the Kentish Flats wind farm project in the Thames Estuary off the North Kent Coast.

A public footpath starting in Crete Hall Road runs alongside the River Thames in front of the now closed and semi derelict cable works. A few weekends ago I thought I'd take some pictures for prosterity and before it is turned into another faceless housing estate (more of that later.....)

William Thomas Henley was born in Midhurst, Sussex in 1814 and started his working life as a porter and docker working in London. Through force of character, hard work and by educating himself in the sciences, Henley was later able to found his own business.

He took an active interest in new technologies of the era which included telegraphic cable. He developed the first machine to cover wire cables. His machine is displayed at the Science Museum in London.

Business grew rapidly and in 1859 he set up his cable works at North Woolwich. Henley was an early pioneer of submarine cable manufacture and was involved in many prestigious projects including the first cable across the North Atlantic. The company operated their own cable laying ships. Not bad for a man who started as a docker.

In 1906 a bigger site was needed and the cable works next to the Thames in Northfleet was established. In 1959, W T Henley & Co was taken over by the AEI conglomerate. AEI was in turn taken over by industrial giant GEC in 1967. Finally in 1997 the cable operations were divested to T T Electronics.

W T Henley's fine looking disused office building on Crete Hall Road is unfortunately already attracting attention from vandals. I don't know if this building is listed but in my opinion it should be. I would guess it dates back to the 1930's but if any readers have any further details please let me know.

Henley's main entrance and ship emblem in between each set of windows.

View along Crete Hall Road showing factory buildings which I believe were built around 1939.

View from the riverside footpath of some factory units in poor condition. These buildings look older, maybe from 1906?

This office overlooking the river is in a terrible state.

I believe the cable may have been run out from this tower to the works own jetty where it was loaded onto specialist cable ships.

Some of the cable ships were attended by local shipping company Wavecrest Ltd.

When ships were loading at the jetty the cable used to run in one continuous length from the factory and was wound onto special drums on board the ships. Loading continued 24/7 until finished.

The depth of water at the jetty was too shallow to accomodate some of the modern cable ships. Barges used to be brought alongside the jetty and the cable ships would then more up to them in deeper water.

Getting on and off the ships was an interesting exercise involving scaling a number of ladders from the main jetty up and over the barges and then finally onto the ship. A bit of a marathon especially when carrying ship's papers, sea charts, ship's spares and trying not to drop them in the river!

A view between two factory buildings. Please note the steel rails set in the ground which run in direction of the loading jetty. I believe Henleys may have had locomotives or trams operating at the factory but have not been able to find any information about this so far. If anyone knows what the rails were used for, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Henleys had their own research laboratory. During the second world war, Henleys were involved in several important military projects. They manufactured degaussing equipment for ships to counteract the threat of German magnetic mines and submarine indicator loops. They made components for PLUTO (pipeline under the ocean) that was used to pump fuel from England to France after the D-Day landings in 1944.

Demolition of the Henleys/AEI site was due to commence on 9th November. A 2.5 kilometre stretch of the Thames riverfront at Northfleet has been aquired by SEEDA for redevelopment which will include up to 25000 news homes, a school and other amenities.

I do wonder where all these new inhabitants will end up working when the local manufacturing industry has all but disappeared.....

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy the following......

Milton Church Gravesend Porcupines & Masons

The Saxon Shore Way