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The Arrival of Craft Central and the Opening of The Forge

Recently I was contacted by Debbie Levett of the Friends of Island History Trust with news that one of the
the last buildings from the great shipbuilding era of the Island has been renovated and was going to be open to the public.

The building on Westferry Road is known as the Forge, however it was used from the mid 19th century by some of the largest shipbuilding and manufacturing firms.

Following the building of the Great Eastern in the 1850s, the shipbuilder Scott Russell went bankrupt and  the famous  Millwall Iron Works were taken over by C. J. Mare & Company. The Millwall Iron Works of the 1860s was one of the largest industrial complexes ever established in Millwall, employing between 4,000 and 5,000 men. The works not only built ships but also manufactured the iron from which they were built, it was said at the time that the works were one of the most important in Europe.

The works were situated on either side of Westferry Road, linked by a horse-tramway. On the riverside were shipbuilding, wharves, sawmills, joiners’ shops, an engine factory, foundries, sail-lofts and a mast factory. On the other side of the road was located the heavy plant for iron forging including armour-plate and rolling mills for turning out bar-iron,angle-iron and armour-plate.

Like many shipbuilders, Millwall Iron Works suffered economically in the depression of the 1860s. When they went bankrupt, the buildings north of Westferry Road known as Millwall Yard and Klondyke Yard were occupied for many years by Westwoods and Maconochies. Westwoods made some alterations to the premises included building a machine shop, 155ft long, in 1939.

Former machine shop, erected in 1939 by Joseph Westwood & Company Ltd, in 1994

It is the Millwall Yard building that is now known as the Forge, the building remained in use into the 1990s and although partly rebuilt over time still retains the  C. J. Mare’s 1860 plaque and some of its original structural ironwork.

Considering it historical importance, it has gained Grade II-listing and remains one of the last buildings from the golden age of shipbuilding on the Island.

I was delighted to accept an invitation from the new tenants, the Craft Central charity to look around the building and find out about their plans for the building. Although the building is fairly unremarkable from the outside, once inside its industrial past is apparent with old gantries and ironwork dotted around the enormous space.

Craft Central promotes traditional craft industries and have paid respect to the buildings historical past by leaving much of the structure alone, yet creating exhibition space, new studios and workshops in an unusual and imaginative way.

The Craft Central charity, recently moved to the building after nearly 40 years in Clerkenwell and would like to revive the traditional crafts tradition on the Island and provide a creative working space for designers in a whole range of media. Craft Central also offer professional development support to its network of 700 designer-makers.

Another aim of Craft Central is to welcome local people into the Forge with a series of exhibitions, open studio events, workshops and markets. Studios, working spaces, rooms and exhibition space will be available to hire for meetings, talks and workshops.

The Forge will be a welcome addition to the Island and the building provides a tangible link from the craftsmanship of the past to the many designer skills of the present.

From the 19th century, the Island was famous around the world for the remarkable shipbuilding and manufacturing by a number of large firms, perhaps less well-known is that smaller concerns operated on the Island like Frederick Gerrard and his Millwall pottery who worked more in the arts and crafts tradition.

Many thanks to Debbie and Craft Central Staff.

Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall – The Fastest Pedestrian in the World

hewitt state library of victoris - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Last year I wrote a post about John Arthur Trudgen, a local hero  who although virtually unknown now, in his day he was a champion swimmer and  had a stroke named after him.

Recently I came across another 19th century sporting  local hero who found fame here and around the world.

Frank Scurry Hewitt was born in Ireland, but later lived and worked in Millwall, when he began his athletic career he was known as Frank Hewitt from Millwall. When he was an old man he told a newspaper about his origins.

It was in 1863 I ran my first race at Bow running grounds, England, for £5 aside, 440 yards. The old Sporting Life was stakeholder and referee. They paid me all in sovereigns. I had never had so much money in my possession. I wrapped it up in my handkerchief, and was very frightened till I got safely back to Millwall. I gave it to my mate, who backed me and gave me half of the stake. I was then working on the wonderful iron ram Northumberland, and great people came from all parts of the world to look at her. She then was the wonder of the world — only had to get steam! up, ram the other fellow, and that was the end of it.

‘My father’s regiment, Her Majesty’s 24th Green’s, was stationed in Dublin Barracks. My mother, a beautiful woman, could speak seven different languages. They lived in Limerick, in George-street, where I was born on May 8, 1845. My father was Major Francis Scurry — that is my name. As I entered in Sheffield handicaps as Frank Hewitt, I have always been called Hewitt.

(The Northumberland he is referring to is the HMS Northumberland which was built in the Millwall Iron Works and launched in 1866.)

Amateur Athletics of the time was dominated by runners with independent wealth or those who were backed by rich patrons, for others the only way to make a living in running or ‘Pedestrianism’ as it was known was to run in matches against other runners for a cash purse.

This is how Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall made his name by winning a number of races all over England, the Sportsman magazine gives a list of his more notable races.

frank hewitt - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Frank Hewitt of Millwall  is the best  all round’ man the English foot racing arena has possessed for some years,, was born on May 8, 1845, and stands 5ft 8 in. in height His first appearance in the pedestrian arena was in 1863, with Springhall, of London, a quarter of a mile, for £5 a side, at the Bow Running Grounds, Hewitt winning easily.

Smith was next pitted against him, at the same enclosure, the latter allowing his opponent 10 yards start in 440, for £10 a-side. when Hewitt was again successful, Hawkins then , opposed Hewitt, the same distance as the previous matches, for £10 a-side ; the men met on the Chatham and Maidstone-road, when Hewitt was again victorious.

A silver challenge cup way given to be competed for at Greenwich, which was also won by Hewitt, beating a field of 15 others. In 1866 he went to Sheffield, and succeeded in carrying off a £40 handicap. The Marquis of Queensberry  and other noblemen and gentlemen having promoted a 150 yards and a quarter of a mile handicaps at the Crystal Palace, Hewitt was one of the men who entered. In the 150 yards race he was defeated by W. Brown, of Manchester (to whom he gave a yard and a half), by a foot He, however, won the 440 yards handicap by five yards, taking the first prize, £25.

He next received £10 forfeit from J. Heeley, .of Lowerhouses, who was matched to run him 250 yards. He also received £2 of Cobbler Wood, from Sheffield, for their match, distance 150 yards. They were afterwards matched for £25 a-side to run the same distance, and the race took place at Hyde park, Sheffield, and was witnessed by upwards of 6,000 spectators. The result was never in doubt, Hewitt winning easily by four yards.

Rothwell of Bury, then matched himself with Hewitt to run 440 yards for £25 a-side, and they met at the Royal Oak-park Grounds, Manchester. Odds of 3 to 1 were laid on Hewitt, who won by a yard. He next competed in Mr Cooper’s quarter of a mile sweepstakes of £5 each, eight of the quickest men in England contesting. Fortune again favoured Hewitt, for he won in a most masterly style, and took the first prize £4o, and a splendid silver cup, given by the promoter ; Hayward, of Rochdale, was second ; and Mole, of Walsall, third.

In September, 1867, he ran J. Nuttall, of Manchester, 440 yards, for £25 a-side, at Hyde-park, Sheffield, Nuttall allowing his opponent four yards start. Hewitt won easily. In April, 1868, he won the first prize in a mile handicap sweep stakes of £5 each, at Manchester, to which was added by Mr Cooper, a silver challenge cup, value 60gs. and £30 in money, Hewitt defeating Albert Bird, who received 15 yards start; R. Hindle, of Paisley; and McInstray, of Glasgow, after an exciting struggle, by a foot, in 4m. 21s. He shortly afterwards ran second to R. Buttery, of Sheffield, in an 800 yards handicap, for which £100 was given by Mr  Cooper, at the Royal Oak Park grounds, Manchester.

On August 17, last year, he beat J. Ridley, of Gateshead, on handicap terms, distance 880 yards, for £50 a-side, at Hyde-park, Hewitt having 12 yards start, and his opponent 25 yards start. The betting was in favour of Hewitt at 5 to 4, a huge amount of money changing hands, and he won a most exciting race by three yards; time, lm. 54s.

In 1869 Frank Hewitt with a few other English pedestrians travelled to Australia and New Zealand and successfully beat many of the local pedestrians.

hewitt harris

State Library of Victoria

One of his most famous series of races was against local champion  J. G.  Harris at what became the Melbourne Cricket ground in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. A local newspaper gives the results.

 One of his principal races is that colony was with Harris. At 100 yards Hewitt won, at 200 yards Harris won, at 300 yards there was a dead heat, and at 440 yards Hewitt won easily. The run-off of 300 yards, for £200 a-side, was won by Hewitt.

dead heat harris

State Library of Victoria

After this great success, Hewitt stayed in Australia and became a great favourite amongst the pedestrian fans.

He carried on running and winning races  into his forties, and was well respected for his opinion on Athletics  in his later life.

A Sydney paper reported his death in 1926

Frank Hewitt

SYDNEY, Saturday.

Frank Hewitt, one of the greatest footrunners Australia has ever known, died here to-day. Fifty-seven years ago Hewitt came to Australia from England, with two other pedestrians. Bird and Topley. He began his Australian career at Melbourne in 1870 where he ran a match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, against J. G. Harris over 100, 200, 300 and 440 yards. They were wonderful contests. Hewitt won the 100 yards by a foot, the 300 yards was a dead-heat, Harris won the 200 yards, and Hewitt easily won the 440 yards event. At the time of his death the old champion was 81.

Although timings were difficult to confirm , Hewitt is credited with running 100 yards in just under 10 secs, 142yds in 13 sec, 300yds in 30sec, 400yds in 43sec. and 880yds in 1 min 53sec.

It was widely reported that he broke the Half Mile world record in Christchurch, New Zealand in the time of  1 min 53.1 secs.

There is no doubt that he was one of the most famous pedestrians in the world before the Olympic movement started and excelled over a wide range of distance from 50 yards to a mile, in his long career in Australia, he never forgot his Millwall connections by always insisting that he was to known as Frank Hewitt of Millwall.