A new slant to a ‘bee’s eye view’ of Greenwich
One of the joys of living by the river as depicted by the Italian master painter Canaletto is to be part of the ‘Greenwich Hospital’ masterpiece circa 1750 showing the wonderful river frontage. ‘The Crane’ can be spotted at the head of our street which alas is no longer there. But do walk down the little ‘Crane Street’ passageway where Frank Dowling has mounted a magnificent floral display throughout the seasons, just recently revitalised by a team of elevated plants men from across the Channel!! Our little street has to be closed during the installation this ‘Fall’. Worth a visit, the Trafalgar Tavern is revitalised to palace standards: paintings galore feature on every wall – so do go and view on the ground floor and on the wonderful first floor riverside grand reception rooms.
Likewise the internationally known Painted Hall, reached by the grand avenue of the Old Royal Naval College – now the University of Greenwich, is open again after its fantastic restoration. Do visit the undercroft where once guests at the State Banquets were primed before climbing up the grand stairs to Britain’s biggest dining room. Through the years I have been fortunate to attend Trafalgar Day celebrations. James Thornhill’s ceiling is indeed another masterpiece to savour in its magnitude, especially in candlelight, with diners celebrating Naval traditions, music provided by the Band of the Royal Marines – wow!!!
As a fellow artist I have depicted such occasions with Guildhall and Fishmongers Hall just as the guests settle after the honoured guests file in. Somehow I think those days are over, but one can recall with pleasure.
I have often thought of Canaletto and his grand clients taking the ferry over to Island Gardens to select and study his viewpoint perched on the then sea wall keeping tide and grazing cattle at bay! Those were days before the camera could hold the view, never mind the architectural and maritime detail. Let’s rejoice in these treasures, now there for all to see.
Don’t forget to see the Bee Hive store in the Painted Hall undercroft – also an excellent shop selling Christmas presents galore!! (The association with bees comes from those that were kept at the Old Friary, later built over by Henry VIII’s Tudor Palace.
I must be the luckiest of enthusiastic river waters on duty every moment of day and night – the outlook through our windows changes according to the state of the tide affecting the amount of shipping and other craft.
When we first came to live in Greenwich high on the Heath, we just heard the hoots and toots of passing vessels. But the reality of living over the river wall is that we hear the break of waves forever changing with the state of tides – beyond one’s dreams of a young man who couldn’t keep away from tidal waters.
It’s some twenty years since we did a house swap from Diamond Terrace to Crane Street – from the Greenwich home of John Masefield to an ancient river-side alley way which has grown into a pedestrian and cyclist escape from busy Trafalgar Road. Now with the amazing growth of East Greenwich with its multitude of multi-storey apartment blocks, runners mix with the strollers and the kids going to school – we old folk having to dodge the plugged speeders who pass without a word!
Our two neighbouring taverns have increased in popularity since the lock down. Many more young fathers taking over from the working mums – so it’s pretty lively with those who rely on a quick half or two! Now the evenings are drawing in, the lights twinkle even more as offices empty. Do come down and see the remarkable changes in the riverside scene, be drawn to the hanging baskets of wonderful flowers adorning the Trafalgar which Frank Dowling has installed, as well as maritime decoration including a formidable parade of Royal Navy emblems which ships were entitled to display. Venture inside to see his amazing collection of maritime paintings and artifacts, surely the most elaborate on any shoreline! Visitors can dine or wine at grand riverside tables both within and on the quayside adjacent to the Old Royal Naval College – now the campus of Greenwich University. What an ideal venue to impress our failing empire!! Let’s hope that the lights of commerce continue to sparkle as tugs and lighters serve the riverside engineers building new tunnels and the remarkable new sewers which become even more essential to our financial investments along Father Thames.
Kent’s Cuttings – Riverwatch returns a plethora of press cuttings which brightened our extended lockdown.
This illuminated scroll prepared by the Stationers Company was delivered by a crew from the Ahoy Sailing Centre, conveyed from the Terrace of the House of Commons by the trim ‘Edwardian’ with her open deck providing a great view of the ceremony ashore and also a cruise downstream to historic Rotherhithe from where the great trans-Atlantic originally sailed. This leaflet tells the tale devised by the late Peter Warwick who dreamt up such historic re-enactments, God bless his soul.
I was invited to witness this occasion but, suffering from a gammy leg joint, enjoyed this all by a well-timed return trip up to Battersea and back, taking note of the newly opened US Embassy, and travelling on the recently restyled Uber Boat by Thames Clippers with its airline-type seating.
Another ‘world first’ was the sight of a vast global inflated world suspended amidst the ORNC Painted Hall’s spacious grandeur – another GDIF triumph in mounting so many occasions in our ever-changing neck of the woods. Bravo to Bradley Hemmings for this year’s 25th anniversary of the
Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.
Just as I was turning into bed, I was woken by the steady beat of a powerful ship’s engine as it glided past the house. A large red lion was painted on to the hull. This was one of the few Royal Navy patrol ships which guard our coasts attempting to keep the number of illegal immigrants at bay. She
was steaming up to the Pool to show off the government’s intent.
Find out more about the Morden Wharf proposals down on the Peninsular ….
… even better attend the Greenwich Society AGM – “come virtually” 10th September 19.00 – best get in early ….!
Just allowing my thoughts to wonder a little ….
…take a stroll downstream on the splendid ORNC frontage – home of The University of Greenwich & Trinity College of Music – carry on along the Canaletto picture to behind the Trafalgar Tavern with its new spectacular hanging gardens along Crane Street – a residential passageway of old – which has been continued to the elegant Trinity Hospital – before it dives into obscurity by the last industrial giant of London Underground’s power station – its Georgian terrace at Ballast Quay- a unique working wharf of old into ancient marsh land now gobbled up by massive housing scheme which grows bigger every year – see the photo (page 4) montage of even more proposals – see if you can spot the giant gas holders, one of a pair which has finally been demolished in spite of Mary Mills pleas. Only Blackwall’s grandiose tunnel entrance remains as London’s magnificent Docklands has been swept away – alas Francis Ward another friend and worthy historian has past on – farewell..
Tug away folks as new energy has been expanded onto the tide. Trying to catch up with the enforced river closure by lockdown. Old new friends claim the right of passage as they return in force. New hooters sound out as full service returns to the regular Thames Clipper timetable – or so it seems – many appearing in fresh identity. It’s been a fortnight since we both took a welcome return trip up to Westminster and back in order to catch up with old Father Thames’ renewed energy, but have to report many anchorages still full of craft.
Our local rowers are back in earnest trying to reactivate their regular summer outings, but only singles are permitted. We miss their crunch on the foreshore making most of the daylight hours between the ever-changing tides as commercial craft proclaim their right of passage. Accurate timing is required when moving great loads.
Late yesterday afternoon I was suddenly aware of the passing shadow of a giant structure on the move as a giant tunnel rig machine is barged up to its launching pad in the Lower Pool.
Months of tunnel boring primed for the launch of its super sewer tunnel machine. (Not too dissimilar to Brunel’s Thames Tunnel back in 1869 – a site worth visiting just down stream in Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, tel: 020 7321 3840).
The sudden silence imposed along the tideway was almost complete as the government clamped down on commercial traffic. For the first time we heard dawn’s bird song from the Isle of Dogs – the silence reflected the stillness which we had never really witnessed. We could hear the clarity of the really early dawn chorus as gulls and waders searched the empty shoreline for breakfast.
The regular patrols from the police, the harbour master continued – and only essential civil engineering took place as tugs towed a new breed of barges to keep giant civil engineering apace up and down their marine building site with its new piers and embankments.
A fortnight of almost complete silence was really scary as mirror like images span from bankside to bank. Even the lofty skyscrapers, highlighted by flashing navigation lights, seem to echo around the jet-free skyways. The lack of road traffic and rumble of commuter trains induced long oversleeping. However the giant workforce will come to life again and that eerie silence will eventually be shattered as energy returns.
Way down stream essential industry and food and fuel distribution, even shipping, staggered back to life. Only the ranks of parked cruise ships in and around Tilbury Docks emphasised the acres of sites where far sprung container ships waited to re-join the great global trade routes and spring into life again.
Superb summer weather teased the furloughed to stir again, and planners to retrain the ambitious, on line, for a return to work. Time will tell how the promised rebound will turn out. This sketch map, first published in 2013, might well re-energise the concepts and hopes of yesteryear and give incentive to upgrade the dreams of creating another Canary Wharf way down stream!!
We’ve enjoyed the start of summer early as the geese and other early birds on Island Gardens wake up, their calls crossing the silent river as Canary Wharf dreams away. We also hear the dawn chorus from the great Greenwich Hospital Estate, bereft of students, its gates firmly closed to one and all.
No Thames Clipper or incoming aircraft wake us from our slumbers as the capital has shut down because of the dreaded plague. Just the sound of determined runners sprinting by making up for their cancelled marathon. No early rowers from our next-door rowing centre or the splash and rattle of blades as crew set out for their Sunday practice. No commuters chattering their way along our Crane Street ancient passageway to and from their daily business chores.
An on-going project means re-reading Samuel Pepys’ accounts of regular rendezvous with John Evelyn up at the Kings Dockyard in Deptford. This helps me with my graphic visualisation of the Elizabethan manor house at Sayes Court and the peace of those remarkable gardens which so impressed the great and the good. Further investigations made me aware that, just next door to the dock wall in the Royal Dock, an iron foundry was busy building those fine and interesting naval vessels which worked all the hours of daylight. Perhaps we are experiencing the quietest time ever on our great maritime waterway. That’s a thought to savour and enjoy.
This long-lasting project at Deptford can be viewed from my studio’s upstream vista, over both the Rowing Club and Trafalgar Tavern roofs up to Creekmouth with the Royal Dockyard beyond including the Master Shipwright’s House and Convoys Wharf on the bend of Greenwich Reach. Part cleared building land and the famed early Georgian Olympic slipway cover an extensive waterfront all awaiting development. It’s my intention during lockdown to depict various aerial views aided by the excellent monograph published by the Museum of London following the extensive excavations of 2000-2012.
April Riverwatch – From the highest to the deepest.
New reflections revealed across Greenwich Reach
These bright Spring ‘lockdown’ mornings reveal a new joy as the rising sun sparkles on the skyscrapers, forming far-reaching reflections across the tideway.
The last of the solitary high-perched cranes help to tidy up South Quay’s loftiest new build opposite central Canary Wharf – a twin block cheekily sited at an angle to the waterfront, a much admired use of a dockside location close to South Dock DLR.
All is of interest to those who wish to live and work in this premier financial centre which I am sure will survive with its dramatic views across docklands, the river, the startling Canary Wharf architecture, and with the dignity of established Greenwich just across the river a few stops on the DLR. Developers need to complete projects soonest!!! So I have been keeping a beady eye on the crane operator – 70 floors up!!
Meanwhile, under terra firma, tunnellers for the Super Sewer under Deptford Creek need to keep going, so tug-driven barges are bringing raw materials in, including tunnel sections. The essential removal of spoil keeps pace with the use of smaller tugs which can pass under rail and road bridges.
Their passage to Creekmouth is awaited by ‘mother’ tug to haul the heavily loaded spoil barges downstream. They join in the NHS support action by exchanging hooter signals to riverside supporters at the appointed time. Bravo!!
The ebb and flow of the Thames invites leisure craft to get up and go, especially when the SW winds blow setting the sailing craft from Ahoy off for a spin downstream, the escorting tender and youngsters at the ready for a sail back to base at Deptford HQ.
A classic yacht motored down from St Katherines Marina, escaping to open waters away from the capital. A long Dutch houseboat headed upstream from her winter quarters on her way to moorings beyond the capital perhaps. Another classic sailing craft of Dutch origin headed downstream alongside ‘Devout’ – one of our local tugs – on to a summer mooring.
Also using the ebb, our only sand ballast ship plying the tideway on her daily mission heads downstream from Fulham to just beyond Gravesend where she will load another cargo of freshly de-salted, sea-dredged aggregate from the Thames Estuary. Remarkable to think of that Foulness sand bank passing by…
John Greenleaf used to run the Prior fleet out of my home port of Colchester (Fingringhoe Wharf just opposite Wivenhoe) – a daily service to Brewery Wharf on Deptford Creek, where the cement mix was added and then dispatched to building sites here abouts.
As a lad I used to cycle around the Fingringhoe pits – an adventure playground – and wave goodbye to the loaded coasters London bound. Alas, this historic daily service is no more.
Tug ‘Devout’ returns to base after her 50-minute job.