Burney Street Benches

Along Burney Street in Greenwich you can find some curious-looking benches.

According to a small nearby plaque they’ve been here since March 1995, part of The Town Centre Improvement Project.

You can also find more stone chunks in the car park around the corner…

Whilst they appear fairly random, they were in fact once part of an interesting charitable venture that stood a short walk from here.

Workshop for the Blind of Kent 

The Workshop for the Blind of Kent was opened in 1875 by Major-General PJ Bainbrigge.

It provided training and employment for blind men, creating a variety of goods in a workshop but it also had a street-facing shop from which goods were sold. The original location was at 83 South Street and items sold included brooms, baskets, rugs and mattresses.

By the late 19th Century there was a need for a later premises and they moved to a larger site on London Road (Renamed Greenwich High Road in the following century). 

In Herbert Fry’s Royal Guide to the London Charities from 1917 it lists the Workshop for the Blind of Kent at 49,55, London Street, Greenwich. It records its purpose as “To teach handicrafts to, and to employ blind workmen, between 15 and 40 years of age.”

The new head quarters could house 32 workers and thanks to the extra space they could now add mattress-making to their repertoire. For context there was clearly a need for this charity work as by 1930 the County of London had a register of 6,268 “blind persons” as well as 15 in the City of London.

In 1958 the London County Council took over the management and in the 1970s the organisation moved to Peckham and the building was demolished. 

The only image that gives us a glimpse inside dates from 1960. It shows two men making ship fenders out of rope (fenders are buffers which are hung off the side of boats).

Similarly the only decent image I could find showing the actual building pre-demolition was from 1951. It’s a chance sighting from behind a tram passing along Greenwich High Road and the photo is from this website.

Copyright © Dewi Williams 1999.

I presume the benches are made from the cornice running close to the top of the building. I suppose it goes to show, you just never know what history you’ll stumble across hiding in plain sight!

A Local Hero

At the other end of Burney Street you can find one of the sweetest little plaques in London.

Doug’s father, Bill was also a dairyman, originally from Hampshire but moved to Greenwich in the 1920s. His dairy was on this site and for 54 years he delivered milk in his red and white hand cart. Doug took over the family business and while he had an electric cart, it was red and white to reflect his father’s old fashioned one.

Bill died in 1980 and Doug followed just 11 years later in 1991. Both funerals saw crowds line the street to say farewell to a local legend.

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