Enderby’s Wharf

Above: Enderby’s Wharf in August 1963. The cable-laying ship ‘Mercury’ is moored alongside being loaded with a new cable being made in the nearby factory.

Over the centuries, a large number of wharves have been developed along the banks of the Thames. They were not numbered but, instead, each one was known by a name. Very often the wharf simply took on the name of the owner. When the ownership changed, the name sometimes changed as well. Other wharves were named after a location – like St John’s Wharf, in Wapping, which took its name from being close to the parish church of the same name – but such naming was less common.

Enderby’s Wharf, on the Greenwich riverfront, which is part of the Greenwich Penninsula, was named after Samuel Enderby who owned the wharf and of the successive generations who continued the business. Even after the Enderby family ceased to own the wharf it continued with the same name and it retains that name to this day.

Samuel Enderby & Sons was a whaling and sealing company, founded about 1775 by Samuel Enderby I (1717–1797). By 1785, Samuel Enderby & Sons controlled seventeen ships engaged in this business of whaling mainly in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica but also in the Arctic.

The site was first acquired by Samuel Enderby II, with Morden College assisting in the acquisition of the Naval Ammunition wharf. Before he became an Admiral, Henry Vansitart carried out the initial wharf building along the riverfront. It was Samuel Enderby III who initially developed the site along with brothers Charles and George, who acquired the site for a rope-works.

On the death of Samuel Enderby II (1756-1829), the company was left to three of the five sons –Charles (1797-1876), Henry (1800-76) and George (1802-91). In 1830, Charles became a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society, later serving on its Council on several occasions between 1842 and 1847.

In 1830 the three brothers purchased the site on the Greenwich Peninsula, where they built a rope and sail manufacturing factory known as the Enderby Hemp and Rope Works. This was quite successful and brought over 250 jobs to the area. However, on 8 March 1845, the factory was destroyed by fire. The site was eventually sold in 1857 and, although it continued to be known as Enderby Wharf (and still is today) all connection with the Enderby family at that time.

They were the first company to fit out sailing ships for whaling in the Antarctic. Enderby Land, a projecting land mass in Antarctica, south of the Indian Ocean, is named after the family. While on the subject of names, there is an Enderby Street – just inland from Ballast Quay – as a reminder of this interesting family.

Later History

In late 1849 the house and surrounding Enderby Hemp and Rope Works site were both put up for sale. However, new owners were not found until 1857. George Elliot had met Richard Glass and in 1854 they set up Glass, Elliot and Co at the adjacent Morden Wharf. In 1857 they expanded from the Morden Wharf site next door and Enderby House became their management offices and boardroom. W T Henley’s Telegraph Works Co were nearby and in 1857 he moved his company to North Woolwich.

As well as jointly making the short-lived first transatlantic telegraph cable, Glass, Elliot & Co supplied many early telegraph cables – including the Corsica-Sardinia, Lowestoft-Zandvoort, Malta-Alexandria and Sicily-Algeria cables. During the 1860s Glass, Elliot & Co and the Gutta Percha Company were absorbed into the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) which manufactured a second transatlantic telegraph cable at Enderby’s Wharf. This was successfully laid by the SS Great Eastern. The company went on to manufacture many transatlantic cables for use in Australia, New Zealand, India and Hong Kong.

In 1935 the site came into the ownership of the newly formed company, Submarine Cables Ltd. During the Second World War, some of the cross-channel D-Day equipment was made at the wharf – including the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO). After ownership by BICC and AEI, it passed to Standard Telephones & Cables (STC) in 1970. Manufacture of submarine cables on the site ended in 1975, being transferred to Southampton, and work concentrated on the manufacture of optical repeaters and amplifiers. The site subsequently passed to Northern Telecom and then, in 1994, to Alcatel. In 2006 Alcatel merged with the US company Lucent to create Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN). In 2008 Alcatel-Lucent sold off a large part of its site to Barratt Developments for a housing estate, which will also be called Enderby Wharf.

Enderby House

Enderby House was the original office building on the old site. It was built for Charles Enderby (1797-1876) between June 1845 and April 1846 and he lived there until August 1849. Under STC ownership, in June 1973 it was granted Grade II listed status by English Heritage. When STC owned the factory, the house was still being used as the management offices and boardroom. In 2008 Alcatel-Lucent sold off a large part of their site to Barratt Developments for a housing estate, including Enderby House.

The house stands empty at the time of writing. No commercial use has yet been identified for the building. In September 2014 the Enderby Group was set up by a number of people from the local area – including some with telecommunications connections and others with industrial archaeological experience – to work on a long-term use for the historic Enderby House.

Enderby’s Wharf (Development)

The name Enderby’s Wharf is, at the time of writing, taking on a new meaning as a large piece of land beside the Thames is being cleared to make way for yet another boring housing development, designed by HLM Architects. According to HLM there will be ‘approximately 1,000 new homes, offices, a nursery, a skills centre and retail units.

As if by stealth, the whole history of the wharves in Greenwich is slowly being air-brushed out of history. No developer is interested in preserving the history of a site when good money is to be made by filling the area with profitable housing but more could have been done by Greenwich Council to safeguard the site’s history. It was the Council which gave permission to the builders in the first place.


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