New student housing proposed in East Greenwich

December 23, 2011 by  

A DEVELOPER has applied for planning permission to build new student accommodation in East Greenwich.

The 49-bed,  five-storey block is proposed in Denham Street, just off Woolwich Road. The site was previously used as  a depot and offices for Lewis Coaches.

The developer hopes to benefit from requirement for student homes from both the University of Greenwich and Ravensbourne College.

A letter from the University of Greenwich submitted with the application confirms they have “unsatisfied demand for student accommodation” in the vicinity of their campus at the Old Royal Naval College.

The applicant behind the scheme is Mr David Purewall of Greenwich. It is proposed that the site be used as a car wash until the planning decision for the student accommodation is reached.

Greenwich archaeology dig opens to public

August 5, 2011 by  

A new viewing area allows the public to see archaeologists at work in Greenwich during August.

The University of Greenwich has opened up the spectator area whilst the dig takes place on land behind Stockwell Street.

The vantage point, accessed at the northern end of Stockwell Street, between John Humphries House and the neighbouring newsagent, overlooks the foundations to a 19th century former brewery.

Spectators can see the month-long dig taking place Monday to Friday, between 10am and 4pm.

Archaeologists were today retrieving items from an old well, including this piece of a plate (pictured below) which is believed to be from around 1710-1720. Significant finds from the dig will be put on public display, says the University.

Construction of the University’s School of Architecture & Construction and campus library is expected to begin later this year.

Greenwich.co.uk guide to… John Humphries House

June 29, 2011 by  

When the University of Greenwich demolishes John Humphries House in Stockwell Street this year to make way for its new School of Architecture, it will be the end of a building which once upon a time was part of the white heat of new technology.

A building that to many just looks like a dated office building had been at the forefront of the computer revolution fifty years ago and provided a lead in showing how local authorities could pool services and resources to maximise efficiency.

The site itself on the eastern side of Stockwell Street had originally been ear marked for a road widening project.

In November 1950, councillors from the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich’s Works Committee adopted a scheme to widen Stockwell Street to deal with “the increasing amount of traffic using the thoroughfare”.

As some of the buildings on the eastern side had suffered damage in the war, it was thought that they would need redeveloping anyway, thus creating an opportunity to buy and demolish the buildings.

The council set about buying up the land necessary to widen the Stockwell Street from the junction of Burney Street to Greenwich High Road.

By April 1961, the council had acquired parcels of land in Stockwell Street but still had to acquire numbers 4, 3 (Sabo’s newsagent) and 2 (the Spread Eagle) if it was to proceed with its widening scheme.

Following a change of heart, councillors decided to “avoid the necessity for purchasing the additional property”, although the council did also subsequently purchase number 4 Stockwell Street, by shifting the scheme across to the western side of the street.

Around about the same as the council found itself with plots of land on the eastern side of Stockwell Street that would no longer feature in the widening scheme, it also was looking for a base for an exciting new project – a computer centre.

Computers had been used for processing activities such as payroll several years and organisations that did not own a computer would purchase processing time on commercial computers.

One man who had worked extensively with the new computers was the Treasurer of the Borough of Greenwich – Mr John Henry Humphries.

Humphries, born in 1904, moved to London from West Hartlepool in the mid 1920s, where he first worked at Hammersmith Council, then Stoke Newington before joining Greenwich Council in 1934. His rise was quick, going from Assistant Borough Treasurer to Deputy Borough Treasurer and then Borough Treasurer in three years.

One of his “many contributions to Greenwich”, according to the local Mercury newspaper, “was the devising of a new formula to fix rents on the council’s housing estates” which was widely praised as one of the fairest to be used by local authorities.”

Humphries has been described as a “pioneer in the application to municipal accountancy of electronic computers” and his department was involved in a complete rewrite of the payroll application on a commercial computer to cope with a newly introduced graduated pension scheme.

He was also one of the key architects in the formation of the  London Boroughs’ Joint Computer Committee.

The JCC included the Metropolitan Borough Councils of Bermondsey, Camberwell, Deptford, Greenwich, Southwark and Woolwich and was created with the intention of purchasing a shared computer so that the member boroughs could pool their data processing requirements.

Its remit was to “provide, operate and manage an automatic data processing service.”

Greenwich’s lead role in the project is illustrated by the decision to make Greenwich’s Town Clerk and Borough Treasurer (Humphries), the Clerk and Treasurer for the JCC respectively.

Stockwell Street was chosen as the site for the JCC’s new Computer Building and contractors for its construction were appointed in July 1962. GE Wallis and Sons of the Strand successfully tendered for the construction contract at a cost of £104,762.

W.H Penfold and Sons of Lewisham got the £579 contract for the demolition of existing buildings on site before the work could begin on the Computer Building, as it was known.

Inside the Computer Building would be a LEO III, ordered from Leo Computers at a cost of £202,008. It was the fourth installation of LEO’s third generation machine and was known as LEOIII/4.


Photo of the LEO III/4.

It was a successor to the original LEO computer which had been the first computer used for commercial business applications. According to Wikipedia, LEO IIIs “allowed concurrent running of as many as 12 application programs through the “Master program” operating system.”

In his article for the Greenwich Industrial History Society, Harry Pearman explains more about the LEO III.

“Files were stored on magnetic tape reels and data was entered by completing batches of forms, which were punched onto paper tape. Programs were written in a wholly numeric language called Intercede, and the primitive operating system required a great deal of operator intervention. LEO’s principal benefit was the ability to print forms and tabulations at speeds of up to 1,000 lines a minute.

The first application was Rate Accounting and this was followed by Payroll, General Ledger Accounting, Job Costing, Stock Control, Creditor Payments, Miscellaneous Debtors, Transport, Housing Rents, Electoral Registration, Library Cataloguing and Land Use Registration. Subsequently The Forest and Bexley Hospitals and the Bloodstock Agency also used the services of the site.”

The LEO III computer was installed and operational in February 1963 but unfortunately, John Humphries would not live to see the Computer Building open. He died at the age of 58 at his home in Courtlands Avenue, Eltham, on November 19th 1962

Tributes were paid to Humphries by councillors and a report presented to a Special Meeting of the Council noted he had “given outstanding service to the Borough and that he will be greatly missed”.

Dense fog had prevented some councillors attending the Special Meeting so further tributes were paid the normal meeting a week later: they “expressed their deep sense of personal loss at his passing.”

His passing was recorded in the Mercury and the Kentish Independent. According to the Kentish Independent, “one of his great interests was music, particularly church music, and he was considered an organist of great accomplishment.”

The minutes of the Finance Committee meeting for December 1962 record the decision of the Joint Computer Committee to approve the name “John Humphries House”.

“The Joint Committee were unanimous that the valuable and untiring efforts in the computer sphere of the late Treasurer to the Committee (and Borough Treasurer of Greenwich) should be recognised in this way.”

The LEO computer was used at John Humphries House until 1975. By that time, local government had been re-organised – the London Borough of Greenwich had been created – and it was also becoming cheaper for organisations, and even home users, to own their own computers.

The building was still used by other council departments – Planning was based there for a time – but it was subsequently sold to a private owner.

As the council moved out, the building and its annex became home to a wide variety of small businesses and art studios. The Village Market was set up in the car park and would take place every weekend, causing much disappointment when it closed in 2009.

Various attempts were made by developers to revamp the site and do away with John Humphries House, and planning permission was given for a large mixed use development but when the housing market tanked, developers shied away from the risky project and the University of Greenwich stepped forward with a plan to redevelop the site and build a new library and School of Architecture.

John Humphries House will soon disappear from the local streetscape but its legacy will be in the pioneering use of computers and demonstrating a way in which boroughs were able to work together on shared services to create efficiencies – something that politicians still aspire to achieve today.

John Humphries House

Thanks to Greenwich Heritage Centre, Harry Pearman, Leo Computers Society and Dr Mary Mills.

Did you work at John Humphries House? Did you know John Humphries? Share your memories in the comments below.

University’s Stockwell Street redevelopment passed by councillors

April 15, 2011 by  

Greenwich Council’s Planning Board gave the the go-ahead to the University of Greenwich’s Stockwell Street redevelopment last night – despite a withering assessment of the project by council leader, Chris Roberts.

The £76 million project will see the construction of a new dedicated School of Architecture and Construction in Greenwich town centre at the site of the old Village Market. A new university library will be also be included, as well as public areas such as a gallery and coffee shop.

Professor Neil Garrod, Deputy Vice-Chancellor from the University of Greenwich, told councillors that this was a “once in a generation opportunity.”

He described how the building has been designed to be as “porous as possible”, with the “whole ground floor open to the public.” A new public walkway will be created adjacent to the railway cutting, connecting Stockwell Street and King William Walk, subject to an agreement with Network Rail.

27 objections were raised with the council and residents from King William Walk attended the meeting to voice their concerns that servicing for the building would take place in areas bordering residential properties.

Before the project can begin, the 1960s office building, John Humphreys House, will be demolished. Local industrial historian, and councillor, Mary Mills told the Planning Board that she wanted to see more recognition of the building’s role as a pioneering council computer centre and that “we should be a bit more proud” of it.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) described the the Heneghan Peng-designed proposal as “exciting”, adding that it was “well designed with an intelligent internal organisation.”

Cllr Steve Offord said it would be a “tremendous asset” to Greenwich. Cllr Denise Hyland, said she was “impressed” by the scheme.

Following the expressions of support from his colleagues, Leader of the Council, Cllr Chris Roberts spoke strongly against the proposals.

“I can’t like this building”, he told them, adding that they would “repent at leisure” if the scheme was passed. If he walked passed it, he said, he would look over the road and “prefer the architecture of the Ibis [hotel]“, prompting laughter in the public gallery.

The project received the backing of the Board with a 6-2 vote. The decision is subject to approval by the Mayor of London.

Commenting afterwards, Professor Neil Garrod commented ”We are very pleased to have won the support of the local authority and we will continue to work closely with all our neighbours in Greenwich as the project takes shape.”

University’s £76million Stockwell Street plans submitted

February 4, 2011 by  

Stockwell Street - University of Greenwich

The University of Greenwich has submitted its planning application for a new £76million development in Stockwell Street.

The proposals, designed by Heneghan Peng, include a new campus library, a School of Architecture & Construction and other facilities such as TV studios and editing suites.

The new buildings, which would be bring up to 1,800 additional students into Greenwich each week, would restore Stockwell Street’s traditional curved street line with “an elegant glazed frontage opening onto a gallery, café and exhibition space” which would all be available to the public. ”Living roofs”  have been incorporated, which the University says will create “a haven for wildlife in the centre of the town.”

The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Baroness Blackstone, says: “We hope that people in Greenwich will be as excited by these plans as we are. The high quality design of the new university building will greatly enhance the town centre. With some facilities and services open to local people and organisations, it will add to the creative and cultural energy of Greenwich and benefit our wider community.”

The former Village Market site had previously been ear-marked for a mixed use development but the University acquired the land last year. Most of the buildings have now been cleared although the 60s office block, John Humphries House, remains. The building was originally a pioneering purpose built  computer centre, handling data processing for several Metropolitan boroughs.

The initial designs were exhibited by the University at an eight day consultation last July. When asked if feedback received through the consultation event had resulted in changes to the scheme, a spokesperson told Greenwich.co.uk that there had been a “a reduction of the building mass; in height and stepping it back away from the neighbours gardens” and also a “a relocation of service facilities.”

Local residents and businesses will have another chance to examine the plans at a public exhibition from February 23rd to February 26 – click here for full details of times.

Stockwell Street - University of Greenwich

Tim Barnes awarded honorary degree

October 22, 2010 by  

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A former chair of the Greenwich Society has been honoured by the University of Greenwich for his work with law graduates.

Tim Barnes QC was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws (HonLLD), at a ceremony at the chapel of the Old Royal Naval College on Monday.

The award  is for Tim’s work as chair and founder member of the university’s Law Advisory Forum which was set up three years ago to improve the employability prospects of Greenwich Law graduates

Mr Barnes commented, “This is one of the most beautiful and historic campuses in the world. We owe a debt of gratitude to the University of Greenwich for coming here. Greenwich Law students are the best turned out, best presented and most articulate that attend events at our chambers. They display the commitment and enthusiasm that are crucial qualities for a legal career.”

Kim Everett, from the University of Greenwich, says: “We owe a great debt to Tim for all he has contributed to the university through the Law Advisory Forum. He firmly believes that our Law students can achieve great things and should have the opportunity to do just that.”

Uni’s School of Architecture gets new Head

August 18, 2010 by  

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A new Head of the School of Architecture & Construction at the University of Greenwich has been appointed.

Neil Spiller, currently a Vice Dean at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London,  will take up the post on September 1st.

The University plans for the School of Architecture to move from its current site at Avery Hill to a new purpose built facility in Stockwell Street.

Professor Spiller commented: “It is a great time to be joining the University of Greenwich as the School of Architecture & Construction makes plans for its new building in central Greenwich.”

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, Baroness Blackstone, added: “Neil will play an important role in the development of our plans for a new building for the School; taking advantage of its new location, close to the City and Docklands, which will provide many opportunities to enhance its academic profile and reputation.”

Stockwell Street exhibition begins

July 1, 2010 by  

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A public exhibition showing the University of Greenwich’s plans for the run down site in Stockwell Street begins today.

The exhibitions opens to the public today at 5pm at Queen Mary Court and will be open every day up until the 9th July.

The University proposes replacing the existing 60s office building, John Humpreys House, with a brand new library and School of Architecture, which would be moved from its current site in Avery Hill.

The redevelopment would open up a new public walkway between Stockwell Street and King William Walk and include a gallery and cafe for the community at ground level.

The University is keen to receive feedback on the proposals so visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to submit their own thoughts and ideas using either paper-based forms or computer terminals which have been set up in the exhibition room. For details on the exhibition’s opening hours, visit the dedicated website.

Updated – 06/07/2010

Nick Raynsford MP has told Greenwich.co.uk that he believes the proposed new development is “a good scheme” that is  ”high quality” in terms of architecture.

He does, however, think that the designers “need to have a further look at making a decent public space” at the main entrance as he thinks the proposed approach and entrance looks “rather mean and disappointing”.

I asked Mr Raysnford if a larger public space should incorporate a resurrected Village Market as some critics have asked for, but he said that as Greenwich was already served by the covered market and Clocktower Market, he was “not convinced that there needs to be an additional market” at the Stockwell Street site.

The following official artwork from the proposals has been supplied by the University of Greenwich.

Stockwell Street

Stockwell Street

Stockwell Street

University to consult on Stockwell Street designs

June 9, 2010 by  

The University of Greenwich will be putting its new Stockwell Street designs on show in July.

The planned £76 million investment would see the creation of a new university library, TV studios and the School of Architecture & Construction at the site which was until last year used for the weekend Village Market.

The designs, created by architects Heneghan Peng, will also include a gallery and cafe, open to the community, at the ground floor level. A new pedestrian path will link Stockwell Street with King William Walk alongside the railway cutting.

The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Baroness Blackstone, says: “I am delighted that the university has been able to purchase this site, much of which has been derelict for many years. I believe our new buildings will greatly enhance Greenwich town centre and benefit the people of Greenwich as well as our students and staff.”

The public consultation will be run from Thursday 1 July until Friday 9 July in Room 015 at Queen Mary Court in the Old Royal Naval College.

Full details on opening times are available here.

University studies Stockwell Street land

March 15, 2010 by  

The University of Greenwich will soon start work on the site of the old Village Market in Stockwell Street.

Archaeological, ecological and geological surveys will take place and some of the disused buildings on the site will be pulled down.

The University plans to submit a planning application later this year for a new School of Architecture and campus on the site.

They have provided details on some of the investigations they will be carrying out on the site before any work can take place:

Before construction work begins, detailed studies are planned. Test pits will be dug to look at the archaeology of the site, which has been in use since at least the medieval period. Initial research indicates that building work over the centuries, and war-time bombs, have destroyed evidence from early periods, but the university will pay special attention to what remains of the 19th century maltings, which once supplied ale to the Spread Eagle Tavern.

Another investigation will establish whether there are still old petrol tanks beneath the forecourt of the disused petrol station on the site. If necessary, an expert team will carry out clean-up and remediation works. Greenwich Council has given permission for the removal of the petrol station, along with some other empty structures and hard landscaping. In order to preserve the streetscape for as long as possible, two large blocks on the frontage of Stockwell Street, John Humphries House and the disused storage unit at number 18-19, will remain standing for the time being.

Next weekend will mark the one year anniversary of the end of the much-loved Village Market which was held every weekend at the Stockwell Street site.

The land, which includes the John Humphries House office block, was sold to a developer who had planning permission for a mixed use development on the site but instead sold it on to the University of Greenwich.

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