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Sunday, 9 August 2009


Enderby, the Greenwich based whalers and rope makers were interested in something called ‘composition’ and discussed its manufacture in 1835 with the City of London Gas Company. Contact with the gas company suggests, of course, that it is tar that they were after for their 'composition'.

A mysterious super hard cement is said to have been found in the cellar of Enderby House in Greenwich ‑ and just might be something to do with it? The family built the house on the Greenwich riverside in the 1840s and it has since been used as offices by subsequent occupiers of the wharf.

‘Composition’ is a vague term that can mean any number of things. Its nature was discussed in Mechanics Magazine in 1838 when a report was given of a 'new Paving Composition in Paris' - this turned out to be 'pebbles in pitch’.

‘Compo’ can mean anything from an unreliable mortar to a rubbery constituent of cricket balls. An 1826 recipe in Philosophical Magazine gave a mixture of oil of turpentine and coal tar as ingredients together with resin, size and ochre.

In the 1780s James Wyatt, the architect and builder, had invented something he called 'compo-cement’ for use as stucco. He was to use this in the 'self destructing' Fonthill Abbey'. Observers noted in its ruined walls 'tarred packthread'. At that date coal tar is unlikely to have been used, but Wyatt's successors very probably found it very useful indeed. It is not hard to imagine that coal tar was a real boon for those builders who wanted something sticky, quick and cheap.

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