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Friday, 7 August 2009

Frank Hills and the East Greenwich Tide Mill

Frank Hills did not only operate from the Deptford Chemical Works. In the 1840s he acquired a large site at East Greenwich as part the settlement of his marriage to Ellen Rawlings. This was a tide mill built in 1804, used for corn milling. It had excellent wharfage facilities for a business which depended on water transport.

It seems likely that corn continued to be ground at the East Greenwich mill under Hills ownership but it is not clear if the tide mill continued to work. From 1845 it was described as 'a steam flour mill' and perhaps the tide mill itself was replaced by a 25 horse power steam engine. This had made been by William Joyce whose steam engine factory was alongside Deptford Creek in Greenwich. Beneath the site was an artesian well.

On the riverbank to the north of the mill Frank Hills erected a chemical works. This was gradually extended - for instance in 1869 an ammonia plant was built. Complaints from local people multiplied in particular about a smell of 'an acid and sickening character'. This could be discerned not only in Greenwich and Charlton but 'appeared to annoy the garrison at Woolwich'- three miles away.

In 1865 special tanks were installed to make sulphuric acid. Other acids were made on site- nitric, tartaric and oxalic - as well as dyes. There is a story told by the present day family of a special and very profitable mauve dye. There was also a manure manufactory and for this there were two 30-ft long steam boilers with a chimney as well as an 'Archimedean screw' and a bone crusher. The manure was made from 'shoddy', waste leather, dry bones, bone ash and refuse from sugar bakers - that is whatever organic rubbish could be bought cheaply. It was then piled up and mixed with sulphuric acid. In 1871 Mr. Pink, the Medical Officer of Health for Greenwich, gave 'advice' designed for 'abatement of the nuisance which these works could scarcely have failed to occasion'.

There was a fatal accident at the East Greenwich Mill. In 1846, Francis Levers, Thomas Darby and Richard Middleton died when they climbed into a giant mixing bowl to clean It.. The bottom of the bowl was full of fumes which suffocated them. They were just three more to add to the death toll on this site.

In the 1840s housing was built near the mill in Riverway for Hills' workers. It was called River Terrace and added to the existing Ceylon Place built at the same time as the mill. There was a big house on the riverside, and here lived Hills' works manager, Thomas Davies from Oswestry. Thomas Davies had a family of four daughters who produced a lively and interesting family magazine - much of dealing with their holidays in Anglesey. Was Thomas Davies a connection of D.C.Davies who managed the mines in Wales? They both came from Oswestry and were about the same age. No connection has been traced despite extensive family history research by a descendant of Thomas Davies.

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