November’s ceremonies in the capital included the laying of a wreath in the tideway just by Westminster Bridge.
Rob Powell has kindly provided photos taken on board the ‘Havengore’ (she is renowned for carrying Winston Churchill prior to the state funeral when the cranes in the Pool of London dipped their jibs in respect).
The highly-polished plaque records that historic occasion.
Rob, based in Gravesend, photos great and small events up and down the Thames.
He was down at nearby Denton Wharf when ‘Gloriana’ was put to rest in the PLA yard there in safe hands until the Spring when, hopefully, she will return to her famous ceremonial routine up and down the Thames. I look forward to his annual calendar, which always delights.
Other maritime ceremonies besides the Cenotaph were well-reported and held on Tower Green at the Merchant Navy memorial garden. Did you know the Lord Mayor is conveyed by boat to HMS President in the pool prior to the Lord Mayor’s Annual Parade. Here in Greenwich the Sunday service at the Royal Naval College – including a wreath laying ceremony – is most moving, as much of the famous Naval music is performed by the choir from nearby Trinity Laban College of Music.
Time for an Autumn break down by Sussex on the Sea! based at East Dean in the South Downs National Park where acres and acres of unspoilt, rolling countryside meets a series of spectacular chalk cliffs. Beachy Head and the Seven Sister gleamed in the sharp Autumn sunshine staying at a cosy cottage set in a newly-landscaped kitchen garden just behind the Tiger pub on the unspoilt village green – log fires and warming food too!
Close by Alfriston had to be visited where we had honeymooned at the Star Inn some fifty years ago! By chance we ran into Dougie of the Hardy and Trafalgar Tavern fame. He and Dillon Wood had welcomed the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier Illustrious as she steamed into Greenwich, firing a prearranged canon salute and exchange of traditional greetings as once practised out on the steps of the Royal Naval College – what memories! No chance of the R.N’s massive carriers squeezing through the Thames Barrier!
A visit down to Burling Gap and its fast-disappearing coast cottages where the Bratbys once painted – we still have a gem painted by Jean Cooke. Cliff erosion is most evident – a quartet of red poppies recently placed on the brink of the precipice of Beachy Head reminded us of the sanctity of life.
Memories of elevating a diminutive Jean Cooke to a lofty easel at life drawing at the Blackheath Conservatoire reminded us what a gallant soul she was, buzzing around the heath in her sporty open-top Morgan!!
Determined to enjoy ourselves, we jumped onto a super double decker bus to view the amazing cliff top scenery and the rolling Downs, only to be shocked by the developments on either side of this National Park area.
Alighting at the Old Stein in central Brighton, we navigated our way through the once-familiar Lanes and found ourselves following a fisherman on his way to deliver a tray of freshly-caught little beauties, delivering to 64° – a tiny bistro where we savoured a light dish with gusto – what a delight, the sound of a travelling jazz band caught our mood to a treat as we clambered up to the top deck for our scenic ride back to East Dean. What fun!!
A flotilla of yellow canoes from the London Kayak Company cross the main tideway with a startled cormorant taking flight. Fourteen paddles ease their way up stream under the constant watch of two custodians in their own single-seater craft. Each pair of paddlers appear to be full of confidence and no doubt have been fully instructed before they set out. Their departure points seem varied as I have seen them being towed by their ‘mother boat’. I have been somewhat surprised at dusk to see a flotilla of smaller canoes ground onto our firm beach at low tide. The crews disappear into the local hostelry clad in their wet suits, with much surprise. Upon departure at dusk, their twinkling riding lights add to the romance of Greenwich Reach. The bright Autumn Sunday afternoon was an ideal time to take the ease of this other river watch as they scan the ever-changing scene as lofty skyscrapers pop up, providing a spectacular change of scene.
Just before lunch we had driven down Christchurch Way to inspect the progress on Enderby Wharf which is nearing completion. I was warmly greeted by a pretty receptionist yet again, as I have sketched the construction process. I was particularly curious to see how the conservation of the historic Enderby House is progressing, with its adjoining pier and cable-loading gear echoing its earlier days of the Enderby whaling enterprise and manufacture of sub-sea cables. It was the communications centre of both Empire and Commonwealth and, later, at the lead of global enterprises – a fascinating tale which deserves to be celebrated. Perhaps an enterprising entrepreneur might exploit its potential as a tourist visitor venue to everyone’s advantage, alongside the promised cruise ship terminal – an added feature of the new housing source.
As I finish, three empty yellow kayaks return to base having deposited the paying punters on the beach adjacent to the Trafalgar Tavern.
As I muse the afternoon away, I admire the enterprise of the London Kayak operators as they tow their empty fleet back towards Enderby Wharf where they carry their craft ashore up the slippery wooden steps, once used by ferrymen who served the cable ships of yesteryear, manned by stalwart watermen including Bob Aynge – a Greenwich worthy and waterman who once maintained our deck in an amazing cavalier fashion. Alas, no longer with us, he told the tales of Thameside to us newcomers in a language and style never to be forgotten.
Do pop down To Christchurch Way to view the various developments taking place – the reception at the Visitors’ Showhouse were more than welcoming. It’s an opportunity to view a new world from the comfort of the first floor show suites. The adjacent old press cuttings will give you an idea of the dramatic changes to expect along the Thames Path as it threads its way around the Greenwich Peninsula.
A remarkable scene on the Thames when Rob Powell captured this unique event at his home town Gravesend. It takes a practiced eye and a lot of luck with a sunny September day to be there, but his knowledge is topped up each day to access what’s happening on our river. His photos of Gloriana, the Queen’s Row Barge, at the Magna Carta celebrations at Runnymede made the front page of the Times. His annual calendars have become a collectors’ favourite.
The bright red lightship usually based on the Medway was towed down to Gravesend Pier for a river festival. The paddle steamer Waverley from the Clyde has been an annual treat for thousands as she cruises around the UK coast each summer and still thrills me day or night as she flap-flaps past our Greenwich house with her powerful paddles. Just behind Waverley a white car transporter can also be spotted as she plies her trade exporting and importing brand new cars and trucks from a pier at the entrance to Tilbury Docks, which now boasts a new wind-powered generator.
My idea of having Gloriana, the Queen’s Row Barge, to winter at Greenwich fell upon deaf ears. By chance she did, indeed, pass last winter on the PLA’S wharf/dock at Denton just a mile or so downstream on the Kentish marshes. To have a light ship moored in Deptford Creek at Dowells Wharf would be another maritime attraction for our Royal Borough – very fitting too as she was one of many guarding our shipways provided by Trinity House who were founded at Deptford Strand, just across the Creek, in 1527! The light ship ‘Gannet’, also based on the Medway, is also on the market and would provide a splendid spectacle illuminating this fast-developing maritime scene moored alongside Waitrose – what a treat!!
Historical footnote: As I write, a Russian battle flotilla headed by their only aircraft carrier smokes its way down the English Channel – including the cruiser Peter the Great. Yes, I remember seeing a Russian destroyer visiting Greenwich anchored just here when the statue of Peter the Great was unveiled by President Putin!!
Through the years I have monitored the tidal Deptford Creek which was, before the arrival of the DLR line to Lewisham, a secret world of warehouses and industry behind high walls and steel fencing.
Norman Road and Creekside were no-go areas for the curious – glimpses from South Eastern trains were all too brief to evaluate the waterside activity. A memorable guided walk at low tide and also a boat trip revealed the natural treasures which once lined the wooden Creekside walls which were designed for coastal shipping serving the giant flour mills clustered around Deptford road bridge.
Invited by the Deptford Inner City group to investigate the wonders of the Mumford giant flour mill prior to development was indeed a revelation. Disturbing the pigeon residents, one eventually made the roof top which provided spectacular views of this historic bridge at the head of the tidal waters. Upstream, Thames Waters reservoirs and pumping station treated the fresh water from the Ravensbourne river which rises beyond Bromley and is joined by a quartet of other streams which gathered at Lewisham, creating power for numerous historic water mills – some used by Henry VIII armourers and cloth mills too.
Barges and lighters abounded, serving shipping in the Thames itself, also in and out of London’s vast dockland system. Surprisingly, Brewery Wharf just by Creek Road and Norman Road still boasts a daily service to the cement distribution wharf. The Prior family business had a fleet of small coasters which sailed from their Fingringhoe sand pits on the River Colne just downstream from Colchester (my home town!) – as a lad I revelled in ship spotting, and Thames Sprit sail barges still remain an interest, especially as they gather for their annual barge matches in and around the Thames Estuary.
Alas, I fear that my daily sighting of Prior’s coaster might well be coming to an end as their production at Fingringhoe pit has finished and their vessels now trade from Denton near Gravesend where sea-dredged ballast is washed and dispatched to the upper tidal reaches of the Capital.
The oncoming construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel is well in hand and construction started on this giant sewage handling enterprise along 25 kilometres of mega tunnels running well below the tideway. Deptford’s original pumping station is the site of major works and can be seen fro the DLR, and also from the Halfpenny Hatch foot bridge.
To view the extraordinary developments up and down the creek, why not visit the Trinity Laban’s Stirling prize winning building– well worth it. But look hard, as its new high rise neighbours are crowding in. Fine views of the Creek can be seen here where coastal shipping used to swing round in this once-busy reach. Reminders of this activity can be seen at a mixed mooring facility still in use by enthusiasts, and further – on the Greenwich side upstream at the head of the Creek. Let’s have more activity in this once-hidden waterway which will be viewed from the new high rise residential developments. The low rise Laban Dance Centre, set in its almost rural Creekside situation, is a ‘must see’ for our fast changing world. Its in-house coffee house is recommended too – I welcome your comments.
As October progresses, one enjoys summer recollections of the High Days and Holidays along the Thames
For the first time Thames Sailing Barges paraded with the Dutch fleet of visiting tall ships. Sailing up and down between Woolwich and Greenwich and up towards Tower Bridge, which luckily coincided with ‘Open House’ events at the Old Royal Naval College and our neighbours at Trinity Hospital
Celebration along the tidal Thames included events at riverside towns. A visit to Gravesend historic waterfront was enriched with the presence of a light ship, resplendent in a new coating of bright red paint. The local rowing club also took part in the Great River Race which is rowed from the Isle of Dogs all the way through the capital with its crowded bridge and embankments finishing just beyond Richmond at Ham’s tree-lined water meadows. Some 300 craft from the UK and overseas took part!!
The annual Tall Ships visit to the Royal Borough was even more impressive as their Parade of Sail was enhanced by red-sailed Thames Barges flying their pennants won at East Coast Barge matches which the Kent family have participated in years gone by. To jolt our memories we will celebrate Judy’s birthday by lunching at the OXO Tower which was at the hub of this year’s Thames tidal ‘bun fight’s inclusion of the sensational towering inferno of old London Bridge.
A few days ago our next door neighbours at the ~Globe & Curlew Rowing Clubs held a rowing regatta with barbecue to follow – not a spark on our new roof!!
PS – A new pier for Blackfriars sailed past under tow by Bennets/Livetts on her way upstream – two telephone engineers in their new boxes too!!
A letter to the Editor suddenly opens up the possibility of introducing a fascinating, unique opportunity to introduce a 26-year-old British-built merchant ship into the umbrellas of maritime Greenwich.
RMS St Helena is looking for a UK base and, surely, our maritime borough is indeed a contender. Roy Martin’s letter explains the reason why.
A suitable location at Greenwich Ship Tier is indeed a possibility when and if the Cruise Ship Terminal is opened at Enderby Wharf.
A living museum which could tour the UK and be a fascinating addition to the Cutty Sark, even providing accommodation for young and old, serviced by a ship-to-shore tripper boat in the off season. During the summer, she could tour the British Isles like any other cruise ship. Her containerised exhibition could be placed alongside and could tell the world of her working life in the southern oceans. The cost of such an enterprise is extensive, but what a superb memorial for our Merchant Navy and Royal Navy too!
She could be moored just off the newly-opened superb promenade which leads into Central London via the new bridge which will take promenaders into historic Deptford Creek and Dockyard with its massive Convoys wharf redevelopment on stream. Opportunities are of Olympic proportions – only for the brave.
Flying the flag – by sea
A golden opportunity for Maritime Greenwich to add a remarkable vessel to the Royal Borough’s waterfront could occur if the Royal Mail ship ‘St. Helena’ hasn’t found a new base from her South Atlantic duties of some 26 years. As an historic working member of the UK’s merchant navy’s fast-disappearing fleet, she has recently been the victim of the inevitable takeover by aircraft to link the islands of Ascension, St. Helena and the far distant Tristan da Cunha to the continents of South Africa and South America. The newly-built airport on St. Helena has run into runway problems, however, and the regular essential cargo and passenger link might have to be sourced to others. If the sterling services of RMS St. Helena since 1990 are not now required, perhaps this pride of the merchant fleet could remain in the UK at a suitable port or ports as a cruise and exhibition ship which tours our European waters, and winters in Greenwich as a living museum and travel experience.
The proposed cruise ship pier at Enderby Wharf, adjacent to the home of global sub sea telegraph cables which also linked the four corners of the world, could also prove to be a technical innovation. Her cargo of containers could provide an almost instant visitor attraction at global ports – being off-loaded by her own pair of cranes, the contents of each container designed to tell the virtual reality of 164 years of cable laying and ships manufacture, and feature the skill of the men ashore and afloat. The facilities of the new pier and its backup could be utilised not only in the off winter cruise season, but also at further suitable wharf side piers, e.g. at Greenwich Ship Tier, Convoys at Deptford, Trinity Buoy Wharf, the Boat Show venue at Excel and at the expanding marine facilities alongside Woolwich Arsenal. Her capacity of 156 passengers and some 20 containers containing exhibits could be easily offloaded onto shore sides or quaysides at home or abroad, at small ports or city centres.