Lead thieves causing more damage to Charlton’s listed buildings

Charlton Summer House
The Summer House, with St Luke’s to the left

During the summer, we reported on lead thieves causing damage at St Luke’s Church in Charlton Village. Now two other listed buildings in the village – the Summer House and the Assembly Rooms – have been vandalised by ham-fisted thieves who have caused thousands of pounds of damage while trying to get hold of lead, some of it degraded.

It remains unclear whether they will be able to cover the damage on insurance – a major setback to efforts to restore the buildings. Thieves have also targeted St Richard’s church hall in Swallowfield Road.

The Charlton Society‘s RODEN RICHARDSON looks at why each building is important – and explains the damage done.

The Summer House
With its uniquely classical proportions, this 17th century Grade I protected gem of a building is part of the Charlton House Estate and hence in the care of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, which has recently been carrying out much-needed repair and restoration work. The spectacular curvilinear roof is covered in fine, graded slate tiles, with lead flashing along its 4 curved ridges. After storms in January 2018 and tree damage to the roof, the existing and unsatisfactory asbestos felt flashing was replaced with conservation-standard lead.

However, it wasn’t long before this was torn from all four ridges by thieves in a single operation. It was all replaced in early September this year at a cost running into five figures – a sum vastly greater than the stolen lead. But then, at 2am a few days later, the thieves attacked again. No doubt expecting another easy haul, this time they didn’t reckon with an alarm that had by now been installed and they only got as far as partially lifting a short section of the flashing on a single roof ridge, which the Trust was able to repair by the following evening.

Charlton Assembly Rooms
The damage done to the Assembly Rooms

Assembly Rooms
Completed in 1881 in red, handsomely decorative brick and terracotta, the Assembly Rooms were a gift to the local community from the Maryon Wilson family, the former owners and last occupants of Charlton House. Recently Grade II listed, and now the responsibility of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, the Assembly Rooms remain a great community asset which might have been lost if that same community hadn’t saved them from demolition in the 1970s. A highly ambitious restoration project at the time, one of the key tasks was to replace the domed, multi-facetted roof cupola. This highly skilled work was undertaken at a local college by students specialising in the traditional materials and techniques required. The cupola’s dome is covered in lead, and this has now become the Village’s most recent target for attack by lead thieves.

As the picture shows, they managed to prise some of the lead away until they were either caught in the act or because it was more difficult to remove than anticipated. Once again, the value of the lead is minimal when compared to the cost of restoration and repair work, which also involves the base of the cupola structure, the fine tiled roof that the thieves scaled to reach their objective and serious rainwater damage to the parquet flooring inside the Rooms, which, like Charlton House, have been closed since the onset of Covid-19.

Edward Schofield, visitor and operations manager at the trust, says that the attack comes at a time when the charity is working towards ways of safely and reliably reopening the trust’s buildings to the community. “This criminal damage goes beyond the basic theft of materials – apart from the disruption, the overall repair and replacement costs, not least for the extensive scaffolding required, will be considerable.”

St Luke’s
Built in 1630 – a little before Christopher Wren’s Royal Observatory a couple of miles or so away on the same escarpment – historic St Luke’s is one of London’s most compelling and attractive parish churches. Not immediately visible to the eye from the outside, the roof has two ridges forming a valley and it is from here and the gulley at the side that thieves ripped out lead coverings, causing extensive damage in the process, including to the interior fabric of the building. Churchwarden Rick Newman confirms that the amount stolen was minimal but that the cost of repair will run into the tens of thousands of pounds, considerably more than the limits imposed on claims for what is being deemed as “metal theft”. St Luke’s has ambitious plans for the repair and upkeep of the building – important and essential work on the unique castellated tower has already been completed – but with other works required, this theft and vandalism is a major setback.

It has just been discovered that lead has now also been torn from above the main porch and side door to St Richard’s Church Centre at the corner of Swallowfield and Sundorne Roads. Rick Newman describes the crime as “a frustrating addendum to the current epidemic of lead thefts in Charlton”.

For more information on The Charlton Society, visit charltonsociety.org.

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Stuck at home? Send your friends and family a postcard from SE7

Charlton Champion Postcard

This might be the first warm weekend of the year, but unfortunately, we can’t enjoy it as many of us would like to because of the threat to us all from the coronavirus emergency.

What’s more, many people’s Easter plans will be in tatters with a holiday weekend spent in lockdown rather than visiting friends and family.

If you want to send your loved ones something special for Easter to show you haven’t forgotten them – or just want to tell chums you’re okay – we still have stocks of our popular Greetings from Charlton postcards available.

All you need to do is visit our online shop, and we’ll deliver as quickly as we can (combining it with daily exercise, of course). All proceeds go towards the running costs of this website.

Times may be tough, but at least you can tell everyone you’re having a staycation in SE7 with one of our cards.


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A walk along the Charlton riverside – discover the secrets of the foreshore

The Anchor and Hope pub and foreshore

If you’re looking to take a local stroll over the next few days, you could do it along the Charlton riverside – before it changes forever. Greenwich University landscape architecture student MEREDITH WILL takes us for a walk from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Thames Barrier.

Charlton Riverside is a unique area within London, and it is about to change dramatically. While Charlton residents will probably be aware of the local master plan and large-scale development proposals, the history of the riverfront in Charlton is less well known, and in need of celebrating.

An easterly amble down the two-mile stretch of the Thames Path from Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park to the Thames Barrier provides a fascinating mix of active industry and remnants of the past along the river.

At the ecology park, you can step back in time to experience the river as it was before the 1800s. The wetland habitats have been reconstructed to emulate the environment that although now almost forgotten, once covered the entire Charlton Riverside area. There you can see the kinds of water birds and insects that would have been common before industry took hold. Now a watery urban oasis, visitors can search for snipes, reed warblers, swifts and the many butterflies and dragonflies that thrive in the wildflower meadow.

Following along the Thames Path, around the Greenwich Yacht Club, you come towards Angerstein and Murphy’s Wharves. Angersteim was the first wharf to be developed to the east of Greenwich, opening up the area for all future industry.

Looking back up the Thames from Riverside Wharf

It was built in the 1850s by John Angerstein, originally born in Russia to a Germany family, who later settled in Greenwich. Angerstein, like many others at the time, made his fortune in the slave trade, profiteering off the trading of enslaved people in Grenada. Angerstein’s extensive art collection became the basis of The National Gallery. Over time the wharf has been involved in dredging, metal works, glassworks, and aggregates industries.

For the last 30 years both Angerstein and Murphy’s wharves have been home to Day Group Ltd, loading and unloading sea-dredged aggregates and supplying material for London’s ever-expanding construction projects. The works are unmissable as you pass by; the many conveyer belts, corrugated irons shacks and mountains of tarmac are like walking onto the set of Mad Max.

A barge being repaired at Cory Environmental

Murphy’s Wharf – originally known as Christie’s Wharf – was built alongside Angerstein in the 1920s for the import and treatment of timber. It was famous for having a concrete pier, instead of the older wooden structures lined along the banks and for the quick unloading time of the dockers who worked there. The pier and cranes remain largely as they were built, but now stand unused and mossy – monuments to the workers and their industry. For the keen eye, the train track linking these wharves to the rail network can still be seen from the line between Charlton and Westcombe Park.

Beyond this lies Cory’s Barge Works. Now Cory Environmental, the company still operates on site, building, maintaining and repairing barges that take domestic waste out of central London. This is probably the only continually-operating boat repair company that has been working on the same site since 1873. Some of the timber sheds may be even older than Cory’s.

Durham Wharf from the Anchor & Hope beer garden

Further downstream is Durham Wharf, built in the early 1900s, which once transferred coal and sand into the city along the narrow gauge railway line which can be seen across the yard. Cory’s last used it in the 1970s and since then it has remained untouched.

Next you’ll reach the jewel in the crown, one of London’s best public houses, and a welcome sight for many a sailor, the Anchor and Hope pub, where the community of workmen have been served since Tudor times. The current building was built in 1898, and is a very popular stop-off point for people attempting to cover the whole Thames Path. A winkle shack is just next door if you fancy a salty snack.

The remains of Castle’s shipbreaking works

If you’ve timed your journey with the low tide, brave the mud and explore the foreshore by going down the steps by the pub. You’ll be rewarded with one of the most important maritime archaeological sites in the country – the remnants of huge Victorian battle ships which were broken up on the foreshore for parts. People have been able to identify what these timbers were used for and which ships they came from. The most famous of these ships was the HMS Duke of Wellington, a first-rate triple-decker flagship, powered by both sail and steam.

Down on the foreshore

A short distance away is the youngest wharf along this stretch, Maybank Wharf, occupied by Westminster Waste. Built in 1966 for transporting paper from it nearby factory, it is no longer in use but is in near-perfect condition. A development from Hyde Housing is set to replace the current buildings with flats and a public park on the jetty.

The Maybank jetty

Next you will come across Riverside Wharf, a striking yellow and red structure which stretches over the Thames Path. This Tarmac plant, as well as Angerstein and Murphy’s wharves, is safeguarded, meaning it has been given special protection by the Mayor of London to prevent their redevelopment.

The final wharf along this walk is the Flint Glass Jetty and Thames Wharf, erected in 1920 by Johnsen and Jorgensen, Swedish cod liver and polar bear traders, for their glass works business. The factory was one of the world’s leading glass works, importing bottles to be made into thermometers and other glass equipment.

Riverside Wharf at high tide

Although just short of two miles long, this amble along Charlton Riverside allows walkers to traverse across 200 years of history, from misty marshland through waves of 19th and 20th century industry and into the next chapter of redevelopment. While the developments will inevitably change the industrial character of this area, there’s hope that Charlton’s unique history will not be lost or forgotten. The redevelopment offers an opportunity to re-engage with this history and ensure its legacy is respected.

A group of students from the University of Greenwich are conducting a project on Charlton and the Thames. If you have any stories relating to the Charlton foreshore, industry past or present or anecdotes and memories, please get in touch with us at CharltonForeshoreStories[at]gmail.com.


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We tell the SE7 stories you won’t read elsewhere. We can’t do it without your help.
– Please tell us about your news and events
Become a monthly supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
Advertise your business with us from just £9.80/per week
Celebrate our neighbourhood and order postcards or a print