Fri 04 Oct 2019 09:18

This Saturday the Blood and Sand entertain Old Elthamians.

The Old Elthamians were of course originally the Old Boys of Eltham College - itself formerly the school of the London Missionary Society.

One of the finest buildings in Eltham - is Avery Hill House, built in the 1880s by John North the Nitrate king.

Nitrates were vital both as fertiliser and in the manufacture of explosives. Although saltpetre could be mined,most sources in Europe were depleted. The traditional source was guano - sea bird or bat droppings. Britain and the United States were claiming unoccupied islands in the Pacific but the vast majority of the trade came from Peruvian island - leading to an age of prosperity.

This all changed in 1879 with the war of the Pacific, when Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru and gained control of Tarapaca and the guano islands and more importantly vast deposits of Chilean Saltpetre.

But what of North, he had been born in Leeds the son of a coal merchant, trained as an engineer and moved to South America, working originally as a riveter, and fell in love with the country. He made money from waterworks and set up an import business. He invested in bonds in the Peruvian Nitrate Company while the price was depressed due to the war. He controlled the company even before Bolivia ceded the land to Chile making huge profits.

North raised funds in London and vastly increased production and generated huge wealth - he was able to pay dividends of 20% a year. This brought the guano age to an end as the smaller deposits were not worth pursuing. North's personal fortune was estimated to be $10 million and could afford a 600 acre estate in Eltham and Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. Although never refined, he hobnobbed with the Prince of Wales. He owned race horses winning many races. A racing acquaintance was King Leopold II of Belgium. That led to further investments in the Belgium and in the Congo.

The good times could not last. The Chilean Congress was not impressed with how the President and North treated the Nitrate trade and Tarapaca as a personal fief and eventually this led to civil war, with the Navy backing congress and the Army the President. Congress won and North's empire started to crumble. In 1896, after eating a dish oysters, he collapsed and died. The oysters were suspected but it seems to have been a heart attack. He was still able to make generous donations to Leeds, the Abbey and endowments to the Hospital and college - now the university.

The nitrate trade had only a few more years - before a German chemist Haber discovered how to synthesise ammonia and turn that into saltpetre. Two of the abandoned mines have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oddly with the rise of organic food, there is a move back to using guano.

As part of the settlement of North's estate, Avery Hill House was sold to the London County Council in 1902. The Winter Gardens - the second largest Victorian glass house after Kew - was in a sorry state with significant water ingress and subsequent damage and had been placed on the at risk register but the university is restoring it to its former glories. The grounds are now a public park. The building is owned by the University of Greenwich and is a second campus, home to sports grounds, including their rugby pitches.

Speaking of rugby, what of Old Elthamians. Last season they were second and pressed Ampthill all season. With their major sponsor, Secure Trading, pulling out of rugby - there were questions as to how competitive they would be this season. However, they have managed to keep most of the squad from last season.

They have won two games against Canterbury and Plymouth, but lost to Sale and Rosslyn Park. A try bonus and a losing bonus means they have ten points, one more than Cambridge.

World Cup at Volac Park

Come and enjoy the Rugby World Cup with us at Cambridge Rugby!

This Saturday, 5th October, sees England take on Argentina in a vital group match as both teams try to get out of Pool C.

The game kicks off at 9am, and here at Volac Park we will be showing the game live on the big screen in the Turnstone suite with a special offer of a bacon roll and a coffee or tea for just ££2.50 up until half time.

The bars will also be open from 10am as we build up to the Cambridge 1st team league game Vs Old Elthamians in the afternoon.

To fill that time between the England game and Cambridge's match, why not stay and watch everyone's second favourite team Japan, play Samoa in another massive clash in Pool A

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