150 Years of Enterprise at Greenwich Enderby’s Wharf
By Allan Green with Foreword by José Chesnoy
July 24, 2018
Greenwich is famous for many good reasons, from its maritime history recalled by the presentation of the Cutty Sark, from the international adoption of the Greenwich Meridian reference (paid by the UK country by their commitment to use then the metric system!), and more recently the Millennium Dome (relying on a gigantic vault supported by a cable network….).
In our community, Greenwich is well known as the historical source of the transoceanic telecommunication submarine cable, with all the epic adventures pioneered with the Great Eastern having its homeport in Greenwich.
Allan Green, working with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and the Science Museum in London is offering us a nugget found in year 2000 in the nicest house on the river Thames in Greenwich that dated from the early submarine cable factory installed there. One amazing finding of this paper is that the diversification was from the beginning a strong motivation for constant innovation and that these innovations permitted to cross more than a century period despite high and sometimes low business for submarine cables. One could even say that submarine cables were saved by the invention of Mumetal on the submarine cable factory in Greenwich…Many other interesting findings are presented by Allan Green who is deeply thanked for his contribution.
[This paper was first read at the Fleming Valve Centenary Conference held at University College London. July 1st and 2nd 2004]
Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich SE London is probably best known to historians as the manufacturing site for the 1865/6 Atlantic Telegraph cables and The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company Ltd. (Telcon) who made them. Over the following 80 or so years they manufactured and laid over 70% of all submarine telegraph cables in the world. During the time of Telcon and of their successor companies many other interesting and less well-known engineering activities took place at Enderby’s Wharf. This paper outlines three such enterprises.
1. BACKGROUND TO THIS PAPER
In year 2000, I was made aware of an archive, held in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which relates to industrial activity at Enderby’s Wharf. Standard Telephones and Cables (STC) who were the owners of the site at that time had donated it in 1988.
At the time I discovered the archive it had not been fully catalogued, was little known and by consequence little used. I later discovered that the Museum also held an interesting collection of early submarine telegraph cables many of which were made at Enderby’s Wharf.
In 2003 the Telegraph Museum at Porthcurno took over a further collection of archive material from the site. This comprises manuscripts, books, film and video collections relating to activities at Enderby’s Wharf from earliest times right through to the present optical fibre era. In addition to this a significant collection of early telegraph and telephone cable samples have also been transferred (Fig 1). The collection is currently being catalogued at Porthcurno.